HOW DID WE GET HERE?
In the early seventeenth century, manuscripts purported to be pre-Mosaic in origin began to circulate in Germany. These so-called Rosicrucian manifestos were the purported ancient truths, the “perennial philosophy” held to be the origin of all human religions. The manifestos not only contained spiritual philosophy, but had a clear political intent of setting forth an alternative to the Jesuit Order.1(p42) These manuscripts were “The Fama,” “The Confessio,” and “The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkruetz.” The full title of “The Fama” is translated as follows:
Universal and General Reformation of the whole wide world; together with the Fama Fraternitias of the Laudable Fraternity of the Rosy Cross, written to all the Learned and Rulers of Europe; also a short reply sent by Herr Haselmayer, for which he was seized by the Jesuits and put in irons on a Galley. Now put forth in print and communicated to all true hearts. Printed at Cassel by Wilhelm Wessel, 1614.1(p42)
Attributed to Hermes Trismegistos—Hermes the Thrice-Blessed, a mythical conflation of Mercury and Thoth—these are the Gnostic texts purported to be the originals of the Chaldean (Syrian)-Egyptian mysteries. They are a blend of celestial magic, natural magic, alchemy, and cabala, synthesized with neo-Platonism and Christianity. The alchemy derives from Paracelsus (b. 1493), the cabala from Hebrew mysticism. The magic was rooted in the belief that the ancient Egyptians had the knowledge, obtained from the Chaldeans, to call down the gods to inhabit statues made for that possession. This was accomplished by the construction of talismans, as well as the concentrated imagination of the magus on the correspondences of all things earthly with all things celestial. Throughout history, these forms of irrationalism are correlated with astronomy, the chief science of its day, along with alchemy. Alchemy was not only a protochemistry derived chiefly from Egyptian goldsmithing techniques, but was also an allegory for the gnosis: the transmutation of the material mortal to the self-initiated divine. Implicit in this is the idea of ego death and spiritual rebirth. The aim was to transcend the gross condition of being human and to prepare a transcendent vessel for the incarnation of a spiritual essence. This concept was taken further in occult practice. The adept prepared for deincarnation of the ego and possession by what was believed to be an actual spiritual entity.
Hermes, or the author using that name, claimed divine revelation gained through meditation. Mastery of matter through magical means was essential for the fallen—i.e., material—human to respiritualize and return to the one spiritual source, the Godhead from which it had originally emanated.2(p134)
These manifestos and the rumors of the existence of the Rosicrucians took Europe by storm. The tracts were distributed widely and were seen as a call for the intelligentsia, the educated and theological elite, to join this order of reformers, who would establish a utopian nation of scientific Christianity sans the rule of Rome or of monarchs. This would be an open, hierarchical society blending magic, science, theology, and the arts, ruled by the Elect Initiates of the Rosicrucian Brotherhood. While tolerance was touted and anyone could join, the idea of an elite ruling class was implicit in the idea of graded initiation. Many philosophers, clerics, and scientists of the day wrote tracts setting out their own personal qualifications for membership in the Rosicrucians.
No original member of the order was ever found and no one was ever invited to join. Instead, the idea of the Rosicrucian Brotherhood became a self-fulfilling prophecy and Orders of Rosicrucians began to form around those who were fired with the utopian ideals contained within the Rosicrucian manifestos.
Then began the myth of immortal masters of magic: invisible, able to communicate telepathically, with a supernatural command of all things material through their spiritual genius and control of ancient, and therefore superior, wisdom. In fact, these ancient texts were eventually dated to around the third century C.E., during a brief pagan reformation under the rule of Julian the Apostate. Julian, the last pagan emperor of Rome, briefly instituted a return to a golden age of paganism by reversing the Christianization of the Roman Empire, begun by the Emperor Constantine. Julian was Constantine’s nephew. One of the ideas set forth by the manifestos was that of microcosm and macrocosm: “As Above, So Below.” This is one of the foundational tenets of all High Magick, esotericism, and the occult. Frances Yates, in her historical analysis of 16thand 17th-century Europe, attributes the third portion of these manifestos, “The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkruetz” as well as perhaps the entire Heremetic collection, to a Lutheran clergyman, Johann Valentin Andrea.1(pp30–33,50,59–69) Andrea later said he wrote them as a “joke,” a frivolous fantasy.
This fantasy, says Yates, was an organizing tool utilized by anti-Catholic political forces intent on the overthrow of the Roman Church and the Hapsburg monarchy. She traces the influence of the Rosicrucian manifestos and of Andrea’s fiction on European and English politics, the division leading to the Thirty Years’ War and the Protestant Reformation.
After the Reformation, the esoteric believers had to deal with the Protestants. How surprised they must have been to find that many within the new political power structure had even less tolerance for magic than did the more mystical Catholic Church. The notorious suppression of philosophy, science, and mathematics by the English parliamentarians, led by Oliver Cromwell, may have stemmed less from the desire to destroy knowledge than the desire to remove magical practice from religion and the emerging scientific method in England and in continental Europe. Much has been written condemning the Protestants for book burning and ruthless suppression of such luminaries as Giordano Bruno, but it is feasible that the suppression and destruction were reactions to the refusal of the esoterics to renounce magic. The reformers were not necessarily friends of science, especially where it contradicted orthodox Christianity, but they were understandably appalled by the consistent inclusion of magic, astrology, alchemy, and cabala into mathematics, physics, medicine, and, inevitably, theology.
As Kenneth and Talita Paolini write in 400 Years of Imaginary Friends (1999):
Secret societies were thought to be the government that guided mankind. These societies included grades, degrees, and a ladder of initiation. . . . Manly P. Hall clearly states: “Organizations may perish, but the Great School is indestructible.”3 Groups changed in different eras as eternal truths were applied to new concepts and viewpoints. Later groups attempted to gain credibility and authority by claiming kinship with ancient and honorable names, but there is no reason to believe that all have such lineage. With advancements in science, belief in secret societies diminished, and people withdrew their support. But some have always clung to magical thinking. . . . Teachings of spiritual hierarchies and gnostic beliefs have remained the same, but are clothed in raiment that appeals to our time.”2(p130)
Religious and political reformers believed in the existence of magic, demons, and the supernatural. Their actions were aimed at the elimination of these perceived enemies. The infamous witch burnings of the period eventually halted due to the great amount of civil unrest and expense they caused. Examination of the historicity of the burnings reveals far fewer than is claimed by modern adherents of Wicca. The major offense became the professing of witchcraft, not its purported practice.
As scientific inquiry advanced in the 17th and 18th centuries, rationality and critical thinking were applied to the ancient teachings, advancing the radical idea that the greater age of beliefs did not assure their truth. However, just as in our present era, there remained advocates who felt disenfranchised by the new intellectual ferment. These people kept alive the secret societies and belief in magic. They advanced the idea of a spiritual science alongside magical mysticism.
Today, we face another attempt to join spiritual beliefs in the irrational with the advances in quantum physics to produce an ungainly hybrid: quantum mysticism. During the Enlightenment and the following centuries, illiteracy and lack of scientific and mathematical understanding combined to allow the uneducated to retain old folk beliefs. Belief remained an organizing tool of the esoteric underground. They could then manipulate the human fear of change and distrust of the new to keep old beliefs alive. They could also demonize in the eyes of the masses the accomplishments of rational thinkers of the time.
Science’s advocates have had to fight such detractors from the beginning. The esoterics had some allies against scientific advancement among the churches, both Catholic and Protestant, for with scientific explanations of our natural world, religious belief was to wane. Fortunately for rationality, many theologians’ distaste for science was equaled and often surpassed by their distaste for magic and sorcery.
Esotericism’s sympathizers have shifted their alliance between theology and science, but they have not done so to further the advance of either one. It is the stated aim of esotericism to combine science and formal religious spiritual belief to eclipse both, leaving the esoteric worldview preeminent.
The Paolinis quote from a 1932 edition of the Rosicrucian Manual:
If any real knowledge of truly practical help to sincere students of occultism and mysticism is known to any group of students anywhere, it soon becomes a part of the Rosicrucian teachings, IF IT IS NOT ALREADY PART OF IT.2(p145)
After more than a century of the Enlightenment, the end of the 19th century saw a revival of esoteric and occult belief. This built upon the scholarly work in philology and folklore from the early and mid–19th century, which was academically derived from the Classical (Greek and Roman) studies that were a major interest of the Enlightenment. While the Western world raced into the Age of Reason, there were still those who looked backward to the Golden Age of antiquity, to Rome, to Greece, and even further back into the imagined purity of the dawn of humanity.
Folktales were of great interest and one of the attractions of this field of study was the wish to prove that there had once been a prototypical religion, an Ur-Faith. The aim of some of these studies was to prove the universality of the solar myth, to disprove the historical Jesus and therefore to disprove Christianity as a revelation. One of the chief irritations for the esoterics was the Jewish origin of Jesus and, therefore, of Christianity. If they could not have a non-Judaic Christianity, then they would have a pagan theology in which Christ figured as a solar deity. Along the way, philologists divided Semitic language families from so-called Aryan language families. These divisions helped set in motion the racial theories of the 19th century and led to the Holocausts of the early and mid–20th century.
ENTER THEOSOPHY AND ANTHROPOSOPHY
The stage was then set for one of the seminal irrationalities of the modern era: Theosophy. Its founder, Madame Helena Blavatsy, is so well-known that little needs to be added here. In brief, she was a charismatic charlatan who evidenced great dislike for both Judaism and Christianity. She preferred the Oriental religions—possibly because they were exotic, from distant lands, and in obscure languages and therefore not easily checked for either consistency and historical or theological veracity. She also was the most famous “channeler” of the period and she is the major modern source of the Ascended Master cults of the 20th century. She began as a Spiritualist, producing a vast array of fraudulent phenomena, but soon grew from Spiritualism to found her own religion, Theosophy. Very much like the Rosicrucian furor of the 16th and 17th centuries, Blavatsky’s belief system was based on personal fantasy, what we today would call science fiction, and the purported existence of invisible ascended masters.
The Paolinis write:
One of the goals of the society [Theosophy] was to reveal scientific spiritual laws and to replace superstition with knowledge. The possibility that Blavatsky’s own ideas were superstitious never entered the picture. Here is one of the original objectives as set forth by Blavatsky: “To oppose materialism and theological dogmatism in every possible way, by demonstrating the existence of occult forces unknown to science, in nature, and the presence of psychic and spiritual powers in man; trying, at the same time to enlarge the views of the Spiritualists by showing them that there are other, many other agencies at work in the production of phenomena besides the ‘Spirits’ of the dead. Superstition had to be exposed and avoided; and the occult forces, beneficent and maleficent—ever surrounding us and manifesting their presence in various ways— demonstrated to the best of our ability.”2(p174)
As the Bradford Theosophical Society’s Web site shows, the aim of Blavatsky’s followers has not changed: to prove the occult spiritual truths, seemingly with the methods of science, while eclipsing science and exoteric religion on all fronts and, not incidentally, establishing Theosophy as preeminent among the purveyors of the rejected knowledge of the preceeding millennia.4
Statement of the Theosophical Society, updated February 1999:
By the latter half of the nineteenth century western thought had, over the centuries, moved from physical materialism and superstitious belief to intellectual materialism. The idea behind The Theosophical Society was to counteract this materialistic trend by gathering in the West a group of people who would investigate the inner laws of nature, and so restore a direct knowledge of the effect of the unseen on daily life. Such a group would be able to reassert the spiritual nature of man as the valid basis of an all-inclusive human brotherhood. Another objective, with the same end in view, was to stimulate the comparative method of study whereby the good in many religions, philosophies and scientific teachings, as well as in racial customs and cultures, might be sifted out and shown to be part of one great whole. This approach to ideas is synthetic and unifying, as compared with the contentiousness of the analytical mind, which is separative in its action.5
An example of this agenda in action is Theosophist Dora Kunz, Therapeutic Touch’s cofounder and a past president of the Theosophical Society of America. She also claimed to be a “fifth-generation sensitive” as coauthor with Delores Kreiger, RN, a professor of nursing, on the seminal paper published in the American Journal of Nursing in the early 1970s.6,7
But Theosophy was to be eclipsed by what James Webb rightly calls “a more highly organized occult group . . . Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophical Society.”8(p61) Where Theosophy had simply appropriated a term from the Renaissance and capitalized it, Steiner invented a totally new appellation: Anthropo (“man”) sophie (“wisdom”). He crated a syncretic combination of Heremetic magic, gnostic Christianity, tantric Buddhism, and what began as “channeled” dictations from the same ascended masters of the Theosophists, but which he later “confessed” were his own “clairvoyant discoveries.”
Most of the biographical information available on Steiner comes from the prolific Anthroposophical Press and various anthroposophical and esoteric publishing sources. These are mostly derived from Steiner’s own autobiography, The Course of My Life.9
An unofficial biography is found in The Occult Establishment: “Steiner was born in 1861, in Kraljevec, in what is now Yugoslavia, more specifically in Croatia.” The family moved to various posts as dictated by his father’s employment with the railroad in the Austrian Southern Region. “In 1879, the family moved near Vienna so the boy could visit the Technische Hochschule.”8(p62)
“Steiner was influenced by a rustic herbalist, Felix Kogutzki and later by Professor Karl Julius Schroer, a teacher of German language and literature who specialized in the collection of folklore.” He soon became a frequenter of the esoteric and occult Bohemian circles of Vienna in his day, “studied Oriental thought, medieval mysticism, Neoplatonism and the Cabala. Through his reading of Schiller, he later claimed to have arrived at a mathematically precise spiritual perception.” He earned a PhD in 1891 for his studies of Goethe. His intellect was far-ranging and he seemed to have a general knowledge of an array of human endeavor, intellectual, academic, and practical. “His main influences were Theosophy, education, and a philosophical allegiance the German Idealism,” along with a veneration of Goethe, not only as a literary genius but as a philosopher of science. Goethe’s phenomenology was an immense influence.8(pp61–63)
A contemporary example of Steiner’s pedagogy survives in the Waldorf School Movement and his approach to medicine in anthroposophical medicine, which is reappearing in the present; both areas will be presented in more depth in later articles. However, this formerly obscure occultist, who failed to influence science, politics, or education outside of his cult devotees during his lifetime, is today one of the intellectual lights of the Irrational Reformation. His influence appears in the pervasiveness of his educational theories and alternative medical and agricultural ideas within the so-called integral culture.
The Natural Science Section of the Anthroposophical Society has a similar aim to that of the Theosophical Society. It is the stated mission of this section to present the esoteric methodology of the occultist Steiner to scientists, in order to have the revelations verified. Recruitment of scientific and medical professionals to the beliefs of Anthroposophy is also a stated goal, along with integration of these professionals in the various practical expressions of the movement. Funding of such researchers is also part of the published agenda to conflate esoteric spiritualism with evidence-based scientific method.10
In brief, the method employed by Anthropsophists is metaepistemology: thinking about the act of thinking. It is a tenet of Anthroposophy that there should be no sole reliance upon dry, dead facts and theories gained from reading about what others have discovered; and the converse, that only that which one has discovered through one’s own observation of the natural world, one’s own cognition of that observation, and the internal self-observation of that process can be respected as scientific. Spiritual freedom is the responsibility and goal of each individual; this appears to be the freedom to emulate the methods of the master Steiner and to come to his conclusions independently. Much of the phenomenological approach is taken from the philosophical works of Goethe, who stands next to Steiner in the anthroposophical pantheon. Steiner’s revelations, arrived at through clairvoyant perception of the supersensible world, are taken as givens. It is one of the aims of the sincere Anthroposophist to repeat these perceptions by using the meditational exercises Steiner taught to his followers. This is what is meant by “spiritual science” in an anthroposophical context. There are countless publications from universities and fringe research organizations that supposedly verify Steiner’s pronouncements. Upon examination, these scientists and their institutions are funded indirectly or overtly by anthroposphical foundations or sympathetic individual Anthropsophists. Among these claimed scientific discoveries are:
- The heart is not a mechanical pump, and that the blood moves itself through the force of will manifested by the movement of the limbs.
- There is a force opposing gravity, known as “levity.”
- The configurations of the moon, the planets, and the stars affect the growth of plants in a reproducible manner.
- The germ theory of disease is wrong and microorganisms come to live in human tissue depending upon various emotional and karmic attributes of the individual.
Anthroposophical physicians, who are also licensed medical doctors, oppose vaccination. They believe that it is essential for the spiritual development of the child that the various infectious diseases be experienced instead of avoided.*
Blavtsky and Steiner are still prime influences on the pervasive alternative culture of the developed Western world. Various religious cults accept many of their revelations. They include those based on ascended masters, such as I Am and Church United and Triumphant; revivalist Odinist and Wodin cults of the neo-Nazi pagans; and the Wicca cult begun in Britain in 1948. All of these groups accept the unity of matter and spirit, the existence of multitudinous good and evil spiritual beings, and magical practice.
These cults are described or redefined in postmodern terms as new religious movements. Academics in universities and institutions call for tolerance and respect for them. Apologists and advocates deny the existence of cults, refusing to recognize cults’ features of mind control and their sociopolitical-economic agendas.
This is the core dilemma: The Irrational presents society with choices it had not anticipated when it insisted on tolerance of ideologically mystical systems. At what point do tolerance and respect for “new religions” also allow acceptance of their denigration of rationality? Is it hate speech to point out the influence of the Irrational on the Nazi horror of the mid–20th century? Is it politically incorrect bias to laugh at absurd medical treatments being revived from an ideological corpse interred for hundreds of years? Must we accept folklore, superstition, and magical practice as deserving recognition side by side with the most advanced physics, and with the most material and medical advances in history?
Is it incumbent upon rational scientific culture to allow parents to choose an antirational education for their children, condemning them to being outside the mainstream of society and convenient prey for charismatic cult leaders? Is it enlightened to condone rejection of childhood vaccination in the name of freedom of philosophical choice, even if it leads to serious epidemics and involvement of others who may be vulnerable?
This unannounced culture war advanced by esoteric movements is a contention for the hearts and minds not only of the uneducated and naive, but of the academic elite. In many ways they have succeeded. Advocates in this ancient conflict utilize tactics that transduce esotericism into scientific thought and into established religious teachings. The movement is funded by the resources of the Theosophical Society, the Anthroposophical Society, the Tempelton Foundation, several orders of Catholic mystics, and various wealthy foundations. Their money and influence are found at many universities and frontier science laboratories, at institutions of science, education, and medicine worldwide.11
Some of its fruits are the inclusion of pseudoscience and energy therapies in modern medical education and the inclusion of meditation and other esoteric practices into the public schools in North America. These practices can be found as well in charismatic Christian churches, Roman Catholic convents, admittedly gnostic Unitarian Universalist churches, and are being introduced via Buddhist chanting and Zen meditation into formerly conservative Jewish synagogues. Its proofs are published without question in peer-reviewed scientific and medical journals as well as in the popular media. These are too numerous to list, but a perusal of the past decade’s issues of many peer-reviewed, professional, and popular publications will verify this as an actuality. Books, movies, and other pastimes become vehicles for the embedding of the esoteric within the popular culture.
In the name of and under cover of tolerance, cultural sensitivity, political correctness, diversity, and inclusion, the Irrational Reformation has helped form the Integral Society. A branch of that society is “Integrative Medicine,” which accepts irrational, personal experience as valid knowledge equal to that obtained by painstaking experimental work. Empirical, falsifiable scientific method as well as those whose faith is in an external deity whose commandments are rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition are tolerated for the present. The alliance of the conventionally religious with the scientifically skeptical, as unlikely as it may appear, is the worst nightmare of the irrationalists. Irrationalists are equally dismissive of both, and are confident that skeptics and believers will continue to be divided. If they are correct, we will miss the opportunity for a Rational Restoration any time soon.
* Articles regarding this point of view can be found at: The Vaccination/Immunization Paradigm: News and Discoveries (www.trufax.org/vaccine/mmr4.html); Anthroposophical Medicine Initiative (www.paam.net/sl-atopy.htm); and “How Vaccinations Work” at Vaccination News (www.vaccinationnews.com/DailyNews/June2001/HowVaxWork.htm).
- Yates F. The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. New York: Routledge; 1972.
- Paolini K, Paolini T. 400 Years of Imaginary Friends: A Journey into the World of Adepts, Masters, Ascended Masters, and Their Messengers. Livingston, Mont: Paolini International LLC; 1999.
- Hall MP. Adepts in the Western Esoteric Tradition. Kila, Mont: Kessinger; 1949: 80.
- Bradford Theosophical Society Web site. Available at: www.trasi.fsnet.co.uk/public_html/theosoc.htm.
- The Theosophical Society Web site. Available at www.trasi.fsnet.co.uk/public_html/tssociet.htm.
- Boguslawski M. Therapeutic Touch: a facilitator of pain relief. Top Clin Nurs. 1980;2(1): 27–37.
- Courcey K. Further notes on Therapeutic Touch. Available at: www.quackwatch.com/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/tt2.html.
- Webb J. The Occult Establishment. LaSalle, Ill: Open Court; 1976.
- Steiner R. The Course of My Life. 2d ed. Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Press; 1951.
- Anthroposophical Society home page. Available at: section.goetheaneum.ch/english.html.
- Sampson W. The braid of the alternative medicine movement. Sci Rev Alt Med. 1998;2(2): 4–11.