Spiritualism and Theosophy (july 1927)
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
See also his previous answer about the same debate: Spiritualism and Theosophy (april 1927).
Spiritualism and Theosophy
To the Editor of the Occult Review.
Sir, — Surely Mrs. Davey could not have read Mr. Chaylor's letter when she asks how he had offended, and what truth believed in by spiritualists he had denied. If she had read the letter she would have found that he quoted with approval the words "Pure spirits... cannot, even if they would, span the abyss which separates their world from ours." This is against the experience of thousands of spiritualists, and it is obviously a statement which "goes out of its way to offend."
I should be sorry to attack Theosophy. There are Theosophists for whom I have a deep respect. But so long as they follow Madame Blavatsky in describing the spirits of the dead as astral shells I have no faith in their speculations. I am aware, however, that many of them have learned by experience how false are such views, and how much harm was done by their promulgation. The reason why the teaching of psychic truths has been left largely in the hands of earnest but unlettered men is that the educated students of occult matters have been led away to the Himalayas when England needed them so badly. They are in cloudy mountain-tops, and out of touch with the work-a-day world which lives in the shadow of death.
As to Madame Blavatsky, I see no reason why the acceptance of the ancient wisdom of the East should be coupled with her debatable career. In my letter I made the true statement that she was originally a furious spiritualist, and that she abandoned the cult when under a temporary eclipse in America, and that Koot Hoomi seemed to take the vacancy left by John King. Mrs. Davey asks what all this has to do with Mr. Chaylor's article. The answer is obvious. It was this action of Mrs. Blavatsky’s which gave Theosophy that anti-spiritualistic bias which has kept the two movements apart when they should have been in close sympathy and alliance.
A long letter from Madame, dated Dec. 3, 1874, appeared in the Boston Spiritual Scientist. In it she said, speaking of spiritualism, "For fifteen years I have fought my battle for the blessed truth. For the sake of spiritualism I have left my home, an easy life among civilised society, and have become a wanderer on the face of the earth. Knowing this country [America] to be the cradle of modem spiritualism I came over from France with feelings like a Mohammedan approaching the birthplace of the prophet. I will defend it so long as I have a breath of life in me."
This surely proves my point that she was a complete spiritualist, though it might be reinforced by very many quotations. Within a year came the great reaction against spiritualism in America, due to the alleged exposure of the Holmes mediumship. This was followed by her recantation and her compilation of Isis Unveiled, which was edited rather than written by her. Mr. Coleman, in a careful analysis, has shown that a hundred books were used for its production, and that when the unacknowledged quotations are taken out there is practically nothing left. Industry and selective ability were there, however, in their extreme form, and for this at least she deserves the credit. She was, like most people, a mixed character, with abnormal strength to balance an abnormal weakness. But her greatest and most permanent error was to give a false view of the possible relations between the living and the dead. It was that, and not anything which spiritualists have done or said, which has made a rift between the two great bodies of psychic thought.
- Yours faithfully,
- ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE.