PSYCHISM, however genuine, is a fruitful cause of self-delusion. A psychic is invariably highly sensitive and suggestible. This is the basis of his gifts. Psychism not being a normal development, among Europeans at any rate, the psychic is, in the language of nautical engineers, "over-engined for his hull." He is consequently unstable, liable to violent emotional reactions, and in general exhibits those aberrations of conduct we are accustomed to associate with artistic genius. Unless a psychic is trained, disciplined, protected and watched over by those who understand his condition, his psychism is never reliable because he is blown about by every wind of influence. The psychic and the neurotic are closely akin in their reactions to life, but the neurotic differs from the psychic in that, instead of being over-engined for his hull, he is under-hulled for his engines. The result is the same, however - a discrepancy between the force and form with the consequent inability to maintain a central, reasoned, directing control. The technique of the occult discipline is largely directed towards maintaining control of the disparate forces, compensating the sensitiveness of the psychic, and protecting him from unwanted impressions. It is never well to learn how to open the door of the Unseen unless at the same time one learns how to close and latch it.
As was noted in the Introduction, it is comparatively seldom that the Unseen comes in search of human beings. As the Caterpillar told Alice concerning the Puppy-dog, "You let it alone, and it will let you alone." But if we begin to study occultism, or even to dabble in it, sooner or later we are liable to obtain results, provided, of course, that the system we are using contains the germs of efficacy.
In the case of a person who is coming on to the Path for the first time, progress is necessarily slow and laborious; but a soul that has taken initiation in previous incarnations may reopen the latent psychic faculties so rapidly that the problem of maintaining the harmonised co-ordination of the personality becomes a serious one. It is exceedingly common for a person who is making his first contact with the occult movement to experience psychic disturbance. This is sometimes attributed to evil influences, sometimes to evil entities. Neither of these inferences may be just. There is a third possibility, which is responsible for by far the greater percentage of victims - the mere fact that consciousness is being disturbed by an unaccustomed force. How common a thing it is to see a child feverish and fretful during the first few days of a seaside holiday. It is not necessarily sickening for an illness. The strong air and unaccustomed food and the excitement of its new surroundings are disturbing its sensitive physical equilibrium. So it is when the neophyte is disturbed at the outset of his occult career. The unaccustomed vibrations are upsetting him, and he is having an attack of occult indigestion. In both cases the treatment is the same - temporary restriction of the diet which has caused the disturbance.
Another cause of psychic upset may lie in the partial recovery of the memories of past incarnations if these include any painful episodes, especially such as are connected with esoteric studies. The entry of occult concepts into the conscious mind tends to awaken the subconscious memory of similar experiences in past lives. The emotion surrounding a memory is invariably recovered before the actual image of the incident. (This is one of the best tests for the accuracy of memories of past lives.) This foreshadowing emotion may hang about for a long time on the threshold of consciousness before the images clarify sufficiently to became tangible. If the emotion that is rising over the horizon is of a painful nature it may cause considerable disturbance, and in the absence of an experienced adviser may be attributed to an occult attack, or to the psychic perception of evil influences in the occult group to which the neophyte is affiliated. It is necessary to use very great caution in drawing conclusions from the psychic impressions of an inexperienced student, who is apt to be as full of alarms as a two-year-old thorough bred.
On the other hand, the instinctive reactions of a pure and sensitive soul are not to be ignored. There are such things as Black Lodges and evil entities. We must not allow the cry of "Wolf! Wolf!" to make us either callous or careless. In any case, the victim is suffering remediable discomfort.
It is an exceedingly difficult thing to determine psychic ally whether the complainant has reasonable grounds for his feelings, for his own imagination will have filled his atmosphere with menacing thought-forms. It is no simple matter to decide whether these thought-forms are subjective or objective. The wisest way is to rely 'on such evidence as is capable of objective examination, and enquire into the record of the particular group or occultist against whom the charges are being brought. But it is equally necessary to enquire into the record of the person who is bringing the charges. That that person is filled with the loftiest ideals is no proof that he has a level head, a clear and unbiassed judgment, or appreciation of the nature of evidence. A person need not be a deliberate liar to make statements that are very far from the truth.
Another factor which has to be reckoned with is the vagaries of the sex instinct in a person in whom that instinct is repressed. Consider the case of a woman, perhaps no longer young, whose circumstances for the first time permit her to follow her own inclinations; a very common case with home-keeping women, who have to wait for dead men's shoes before they can set out on life's journey. She takes up occultism, towards which she may always have had a leaning, and joins some circle for study and possibly ritual initiation. The leader of that circle will in all probability be a person of strong individuality. The inexperienced, love-starved new-comer is glamoured. Ritual is a very stimulating thing, as Anglo-Catholic clergy have found to their cost. The woman, possibly quite ignorant of the facts of life, finds herself strangely stirred. She is frightened, she senses that something of the Kingdom of Pan is approaching. Her instincts will usually guide her truly enough in divining the source from which the disturbing influence proceeds. She will point an unerring finger at the magnetic male. She will seldom take into account the reactions of the female in the presence of the male.
If she is a woman ignorant of the facts of life, the charge she brings will usually take the form of an accusation of hypnotic influence. She does not realise that nature is the hypnotist. If she is a woman who knows something of the world, the charge may be of improper advances. One glance at the woman is usually enough to tell us whether there is likely to be any foundation in this charge or not. It is seldom the young and pretty girl, who might reasonably be apprehensive, who is the teller of these stories. It is a curious fact that it never seems to occur to the complainants either to take refuge in flight or put the matter in the hands of a solicitor. If at the end of a long tale, full of dark hints and unspeakable innuendos, the question is asked, "What exactly did he do? "the answer usually is, "He looked at me in a meaning way."
When one of these stories is being told we should be wise to give more attention to the bearing of the person who is telling it than to the facts alleged. This will usually yield the more valuable information. It is the most difficult thing in the world to get a genuine victim to speak. A woman who is broadcasting the tale of her own shame is usually a woman scorned, and the reliability of her testimony in the matter is in inverse ratio to her loquacity. Do not let us forget that it takes two to make a scandal as well as a quarrel, and the person who admits a mistake and asks for help to retrace wandering footsteps is much more likely to be worth helping than the one who claims to be even as the angels in heaven, where there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage.
So great is the need for caution in assessing the facts in a charge of immorality that the law courts will not accept the evidence of the victim, even on oath and under cross-examination, unless it is supported by additional testimony. Equally well does the doctor know the same type of mentality, and a common form of mental derangement is called Old Maid's Insanity, even in the textbooks.
I could cite cases by the dozen in exemplification of the preceding statements, but they have not sufficient occult interest to justify their inclusion in these pages.
If the leader of the group is a woman, a different set of reactions comes into play though the same causes are at work. It is not generally realised that the fixation, or "crush" of one woman for another is really a substitute love affair, as is proved by the fact that the girl who has plenty of admirers, or the woman who is happily married is never given to them. In this case, just as much as in the normal, heterosexual attraction, "hell knows no fury like a woman scorned"; it is not, for obvious reasons, possible to bring charges of improper behaviour. (Though in one accusation this was alleged against me, and I was accused of being a man in disguise and attempting to seduce the complainant, and the charge found believers.) The charge brought in such cases usually takes one of two forms, the mechanism being either, "You don't love me, therefore you are cruel. I have been badly treated"; and the most far-fetched instances are raked up in support of this charge. Or, "You don't love me, therefore I hate you. The attraction you have for me is hypnotic."
It must be borne in mind in assessing these charges that a trained occultist, especially if of high grade, has an exceedingly magnetic personality, and this is apt to prove disturbing to those who are unaccustomed to high-tension psychic forces. For whereas the person who is ripe for development will unfold the higher consciousness rapidly in the atmosphere of a high-grade initiate, the person who is not ready may find these influences profoundly disturbing. An adept who allows unsuitable persons to enter his magnetic field is blameworthy for his lack of discrimination and discretion, but he cannot justly be charged with abuse of occult powers. He emanates force involuntarily and cannot help himself. The greater adepts always live in seclusion, for not only do they need solitude for their work, but their influence upon unprepared souls produces too violent a reaction, and it ends in the Cross or the hemlock cup.
We must not be unmindful of the fact that the person who comes to us with a long tale of occult attack and asks for assistance, especially financial assistance, may simply be "pitching a yarn," and should use the same discrimination that we would in listening to any other "hard-luck story," trying to differentiate between the deserving and the undeserving. I knew a man who allowed an alleged adept who was undergoing an alleged occult attack to take refuge in his studio, and returned after a short absence to find that the alleged one had been selling the furniture to buy drink; and there was every reason to believe that the only spirits who were in any way concerned with his troubles had entered the studio in bottles.
The complaints of occult attack may have their source in nothing more or less than the delusions of the insane, and it does not necessarily invalidate this fact that a second person can be found to give supporting evidence. There is a curious form of insanity known to alienists called folie des deux, in which two people intimately associated together share the same delusions. It is usually found in such cases that one is definitely insane, and that the other is of a hysterical type and has become imbued with the delusions of her associate by means of suggestion. I use the feminine pronoun because this form of insanity is rare with males. It usually occurs with two sisters, or with two women living together.
There is another pitfall for which the inexperienced do well to watch out in their dealings with the person who complains of an occult attack. Insanity may be periodic in its manifestation, outbreaks of acute mania alternating with periods of complete sanity. This periodic aspect should always be watched for in the case of women, in whom any temperamental instability becomes greatly exaggerated during the times of the monthly periods, at the change of life, during pregnancy, and, in fact, at any period when the sex life is stirred to activity, whether emotionally or physically. It is also well to bear in mind that in pathological cases the periodicity of a woman's function may be greatly disturbed.
I had a sharp lesson in this respect upon one occasion, which exemplifies the need of caution. We had, at the introduction of one of our members, received into one of our community houses a woman whose husband, a well-known man in public life, refused to live with her, so I was told, and had made several attempts to do away with her, and threatened to have her certified insane if she in any way resisted him. These facts were vouched for by a circle of friends to whom both husband and wife were known. I kept this lady under observation for a month in order to see whether there was anything to justify the charge of insanity, and seeing nothing, took up her case, At the seventh week, however, trouble ensued. She got into a great state of excitement, declared that she was being starved, and ill-treated by the person who, in my absence, was responsible for the house. Seven weeks later we had another bout, in which she said that evil influences were proceeding from a certain cupboard in her room, wandered about the house in exceedingly inadequate apparel, and lost all self-control. This attack also passed off in a few days. It came out in the end that she suffered from chronic appendicitis which involved the right ovary, and whenever her exceedingly irregular menstruation occurred, she went right off her head for a few days. The position was greatly complicated by the fact that in the interregnum she was to all outward appearances perfectly sane. After she left our community house she told exactly the same stories about us that she had previously been telling about her husband. The out-and-out lunatic is a much less serious problem to society than these border line cases. They need dealing with extremely cautiously, for they can cause an immense amount of trouble.
When an insanity has once become well developed anyone who has had experience of lunatics has little difficulty in recognising it. Each type of insanity has its characteristic facial expression and even gait. But it is not so simple a matter for even the expert to recognise an insanity in its incipient stages. Lunatics are exceedingly plausible, and if they have picked up something of the jargon of the occultist or spiritualist, can make out an extraordinarily good case for themselves. Even the experienced alienist often has to keep a case under observation in order to ascertain whether it is an actual insanity or not.
In a field where experts are frequently in doubt, what is the layman to do who finds himself confronted by a case which rouses his suspicions? He cannot be expected to recognise insanity when he sees it, but his own common sense ought to be sufficient to enable him to recognise sanity. In other words, let him suspend judgment upon the alleged facts and concentrate upon the question of motive. It is here he will find his best indication. If a person can offer no valid explanation as to the reasons for the attack that is being made upon him, nor as to its cause or origin, we can probably rest assured that it originates in his own imagination.
In one case which came into my hands for help, the victim declared that he was being persecuted by telepathic suggestion. I enquired as to the origin of this persecution, and he said that some people who lived in the next flat used to sit in a circle and concentrate upon him. I asked him why they did this. He did not know. I asked him how he knew they did it, and he could not tell me. He merely reiterated that they did it, although he admitted that he had never been inside their flat, never, in fact, even spoken to them except to exchange a good morning on the stairs. It was immediately apparent that there was no conceivable motive that could cause these people to go to the trouble of persecuting him. If anyone has ever tried any experiments with telepathic suggestion, they will know what intense concentration it requires, and, in fact, what hard work it is, and one cannot possibly imagine anybody putting them selves to the trouble of doing it over long periods of time without a very definite motive. I have, however, heard of a well-authenticated case of a woman who had a liaison with a married man attacking his wife in this way. I have also myself known of two cases in which a certain individual, at one time prominent in transcendental circles, in connection with what the newspapers impolitely called his "Prayer Shop," and equally well known in the City in connection with his efforts to obtain gold from sea-water, used telepathic suggestion in order to induce the signing of cheques and documents. Before a visitor was expected for an interview, he would sit down and concentrate upon him. So strong was the influence thus exerted that a man of my acquaintance threw up a post he held under him because of the undue mental influence he felt was being exerted over himself, and another resigned off the board of one of his companies for the same reason.
In both these cases an adequate motive for the mental attack is not far to seek. Compare these two cases with the previous one, and the difference can readily be perceived. We should, however, be just as cautious in deciding there is nothing wrong as in accepting at their face value any statements that may be made to us. Moreover, we should always bear in mind when dealing with a person who is obviously mentally unbalanced and who alleges a psychic attack, that the mental unbalance may have been induced by the psychic attack. Life is a strange thing at best, and many things that are stranger than usual can happen to those who move in occult circles.
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