Psychicism and Spirituality
An investigation of the difference between the psychic and the spiritual and the dangers of psychic powers
Although the two words are often conflated, Psychicism is to be distinguished from Psychism, though the latter has now largely supplanted it in common usage. The dictionary defines psychicism as "belief in or the study of psychic phenomena; spiritualism," whereas psychism is the term coined in the 19th century to describe the now discredited scientific theory that there is an invisible fluid universally diffused throughout Nature which animates all things. This 'fluid' is, of course, the mysterious 'Aether' of occult science which we discussed in a previous article. What we are investigating now is the difference between the psychic and the spiritual. The word psychic comes to us from the Greek word psukhikós—meaning that which is related to the psukhé—the ancient Greek term for 'soul.' Herein lies the root of the problem under discussion, for, as we shall see, the Greeks did not have any clear or consistent idea of what the soul was or meant. Hence, they had no clear idea what the difference between the psychic and the spiritual was either.
We have not entered into this digression to pad out this investigation, least of all to demonstrate our learning (always assuming we have any!). Neither is it our wish to bore the reader with a long lexicological dissertation. Our aim is simply to make it quite clear what psychicism is and what it isn't. To do this we need to explain what the Greeks understood by the words psukhikós and psukhé which have their cognates in such English terms as 'psychic', 'psychology' and 'psychosis.' Let us begin with psukhé or the Latin psyche as it is more commonly written. We said earlier that this was the term for 'soul' among the ancient Greeks. But they also had another word for soul—pneuma, meaning 'breath', from which we derive such words as pneumonia. In fact both words meant 'breath' and both were used indiscriminately at various times by different Greek philosophers to refer to what we now call the 'soul' or 'spirit.' Confused? You're not alone. In making no very clear distinction between the purely spiritual and the psychical the Greeks were just as hazy as their modern counterparts about what either word really meant. So our first task is to establish what they are and mean. Only then can we discuss psychicism and spirituality to discover the differences between them. Otherwise, what we have to say about the dangers of psychic powers in our afterword will make little sense.
Psukhé and Pneuma
If you ask ten ordinary people what the words 'soul' (Psukhé) and 'spirit' (Pneuma) mean the odds are you will receive ten different answers. Much the same applies to the average occultist or mystic who might be supposed to know what the soul and spirit are, but again will likely give you different and often contradictory definitions. The Greeks were not alone in confusing Spirit with soul and Soul with spirit and having no clear idea what either stood for. The system of Jewish Mysticism known as the Kabbalah divides the soul of man into three main parts: Neshamah, Ruach and Nefesh. The Nefesh is considered to be the animal part of the soul consisting of the inherited instincts and bodily desires and passions. This cannot be anything other than the lower self or mind. The Ruach is said to consist of the moral virtues and possess the innate ability to distinguish between good and evil. This may have originally referred to the Higher Self but we cannot be sure.
The Neshamah is said to be a 'higher kind of soul' which only man possesses that allows him to enjoy and benefit from the afterlife. Perhaps the astral body is meant here, but if so, why deny a Neshamah to animals when generations of psychics and occultists have left us their testimony that some part of an animal's consciousness survives death and has been seen by those who have the 'sight'? Hence, we see no reason why an animal should not enjoy an afterlife just as much as man. On the other hand, the Zohar tells us that "When a man falls asleep, his Neshamah leaves him and, ascending on high, gives account of his deeds and acts and words." This sounds more like the Higher Self than the astral body. But when we read in the same book that "should a person strive towards purity in life, he or she is aided by a holy neshamah," we are inclined to think it is the Divine Soul that is meant and not the Higher Mind or astral body.
From this it seems that the Kabbalists' notions about the soul and spirit were just as hazy as the Greeks'. When they further tell us that the Nefesh is the 'engine of physical life', the Ruach is the 'emotional self' and the Neshamah the 'intellectual self', we are quite certain they are groping in the dark. Perhaps this is where the psychologists—who babble about the 'emotional brain", the 'genius brain' and the 'empathic brain'—obtained their nonsensical theories of consciousness, without having the slightest idea what it is or where it is kept. It seems to us that the Hindus with their ancient division of the soul of man into Atma, Buddhi and Manas, later adopted by H. P. Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society she founded, were closer to the occult truth than either the Greek or Jewish ideas. Having said that, we are in no doubt that some Greek philosophers, such as Heraclitus, Plato and Pythagoras did know the truth about the occult constitution of man. The same may also be true of some Kabbalists, but if so, they concealed their knowledge.
So where does that leave us? Quite a bit further along. We have learnt that Psukhé may originally have referred to the Higher Self and Pneuma to the Divine Soul. This conjecture is reinforced by the fact that Aristotle favoured a division of Psukhé into a higher and lower part, but regarded Pneuma as indivisible. This is expounded in his Nicomachean Ethics, wherein reasoning (logistikos) is what we may call the lower Psukhé and "knowing" (epistemonikos) the Higher Psukhé. However, we doubt whether Aristotle realised the full significance of this. Like so many thinkers on the mind—past and present—the division of the soul into two distinct selves is sensed but not really understood. This is not surprising when we consider how closely the two minds interact within the body, to all intents and purposes forming one—albeit often contradictory—self. It is these contradictions—in behaviour, in desires and, above all, in the nature and manner of our thinking—that reveal we do have two distinct minds which pull us in opposite directions.
So, we have now accomplished our first task which, you will recall, was to establish what the words 'soul' and 'spirit'—or Psukhé and Pneuma—are and mean. The former means and is the Higher Self or Mind; the latter the true, Divine Soul that never incarnates in a material body, but watches over it at all times. To remove any lingering confusion or ambiguity in our readers' minds let us briefly recap what we say about this in the first of our Occult Studies Course articles. There are three main principles of man:
- The Lower self or mind which is one with the physical body during life on earth. This is the only mind which is active in most persons.
- The Higher Self or Mind, which incarnates in a body to gain experience of the material world and is only partially 'awake' in most persons.
- The true or Divine Soul which never incarnates, but watches over both minds.
Now, as we discuss in our Occult Studies Course, the Higher Self is free to gravitate toward the lower self and body or the Soul. In the degree that it does so will it either turn to the darkness of the material or to the light of the spiritual. So we may now say that the main difference between the psychic and the spiritual is that the former leads to the dark, the latter to the light. The psychic has more to do with matter and the material realms or planes and the latter with pure spirit and the spiritual realms or planes. A simple analogy may help to clarify what we mean. Day and Night merge into one another during twilight. They are absolutes only when unmixed with their opposite. Occult science states that the nature of the Astral Light and the astral world mirrors this natural phenomenon. At one end, we find pure spirit, at the other, gross matter. Psychic abilities allow one to see and experience the non-physical, but still material planes of the Astral World such as we find described in Vision 5 of The Golden Star. Spiritual sight, on the other hand, allows one to behold the spiritual realities described in Visions 6, 10 and 11 of the same book. To make this distinction even clearer we will now examine these differences in more depth.
The Psychic versus the Spiritual
The difference between the Psychic and the Spiritual has never been better defined than in The Secret Doctrine by H. P. Blavatsky. In volume 2, page 272, she writes: "No sooner had the mental eye of man been opened to understanding, than. . .feeling in himself his inner God, each felt he was a Man-God in his nature, though an animal in his physical Self. The struggle between the two began from the very day they tasted of the fruit of the Tree of Wisdom; a struggle for life between the spiritual and the psychic, the psychic and the physical. Those who conquered the lower principles by obtaining mastery over the body, joined the 'Sons of Light.' Those who fell victims to their lower natures, became the slaves of Matter. From 'Sons of Light and Wisdom' they ended by becoming the 'Sons of Darkness.' They had fallen in the battle of mortal life with Life immortal. . ."
From this it will be clear to you that there are two kinds of seership—that of the Higher Self or Psukhé and that of the true Soul, or Pneuma. The former sees by the light of the psychic senses, the latter by spiritual sight alone. The psychic abilities of the Greek Pythonesses who uttered their oracular prophecies at Delphi and other places differed but little from the modern hypnotized subject, spiritualistic medium or New Age 'channeler', that is, when such displays were the result of genuine clairvoyance and clairaudience and not vulgar trickery. In all cases psychic abilities depend upon the greater or lesser sensitivity of the senses of the astral body which we all possess, but are dormant in most people. The natural born psychic has generally some peculiar arrangement of the nervous system and brain that allows him or her to 'tune in' and 'pick up' on that which their astral senses experience. The person who has no such innate abilities has to acquire this sensitivity by long and arduous training either with or without a teacher. In theory at least, the trained psychic is more likely to obtain clearer and more accurate results than the natural psychic who generally speaking lacks the occult scientific knowledge to make complete sense of what they may see, hear or experience. We will discuss the implications of this more fully in our afterword.
Yet both types of psychicism—and the stages of partial clairvoyance between them—differ widely from purely spiritual seership. The psychic, however gifted, can obtain but glimpses of the truth, through the veil which physical nature interposes between this world and the next. He or she sees by the light of the Astral World, a light no less illusory than that which illuminates the physical plane. The only difference between these 'lights' is one of vibration—one being denser than the other—not of kind. Moreover, unless the psychic is also an initiate—and very few of those who plied their trade in the past were, and still fewer are today—what they experience will be conditioned by the preconceptions and prejudices of their lower selves and so more or less distorted. When the mystic philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg had his great visions, he had no idea which plane or planes of the Astral World he was seeing into. To him they were all 'Heaven' and every inhabitant was an 'Angel.' For this reason many of his descriptions have been challenged by other psychics who did not know the real differences either. The same errors have been made by generations of seers and are still being made by much less gifted psychics today as we shall see later on.
There is yet another aspect to all this, and that is that while we dwell within a material body, the clearness and correctness of our spiritual vision depends on the strength of the link—called Antahkarana in Hinduism—between the Higher and lower selves. While it exists in everyone, antahkarana is mostly dormant in the average person and has to be consciously activated, either through occult exercises, meditation or some other means. In the degree that our thinking is directed toward spiritual rather than material concerns and ideas, so will we strengthen this link or bridge. We may also liken antahkarana to the communication between two separate radio sets. Unless one is tuned in to the other communication between them will be haphazard at best and non-existent at worst. This occult fact alone will explain why so much (we almost said all) of modern channeled 'teachings', as well as the visions of psychics are such complete and utter nonsense, and childish nonsense at that; the confused ramblings of the lower self utterly incapable of translating, much less correctly interpreting, what the Higher Self has beheld while away from the body for a time.
So, we have now learnt what the differences between the psychic and the spiritual are and something about the mechanism of psychic abilities. Let us now examine these abilities and their spiritual counterpart more closely. When the physical body is so completely relaxed that it cannot be felt and the mind itself is stilled to the point that no thoughts intrude, a state akin to catalepsy is attained. Then, the Higher Self of the psychic may liberate itself, and perceive things subjectively. And yet, as the sentient principle of the brain is alive and active, these pictures of the past, present, and future will be overlaid by the perceptions of the physical world; the earthly memory, beliefs, preconceptions, etc., all stand in the way of clear vision. But the trained spiritual seer knows how to suspend the mechanical action of the brain and paralyse the lower self so that no impressions from either interfere with his visions. They will be as clear as truth itself, uncoloured and undistorted, whereas the untrained psychic, who is influenced by his lower self and more less at the mercy of the blind elemental forces of the Astral Light discussed in our occult studies course, will perceive more or less fragmentary and confusing images through the medium of the brain. The seer, on the other hand, can never be deceived by taking flickering shadows for realities. His physical body, brain and lower self being completely subjected to his will there is nothing to intervene between his Higher Self and his Soul who lends him its eyes as it were, which see truly and fully by the Soul's internal Light.
This is real spiritual sight—genuine seership—as far removed from psychic vision as a miasmic fog is removed from a clear, sunlit day. This is the state which such seers as Plato, Plotinus and Apollonius of Tyana called the 'Union to the Deity', meaning assimilation to and of, God. We repeat for the benefit of any psychics who may be reading this, spiritual sight is as far above clairvoyance as the stars are above a guttering candle in a dark cellar full of bemused bats. Is this sublime vision easy to attain? No——a thousand times no! It is only the most determined and virtuous of occultists and mystics who can ever hope to behold what Plato, Apollonius and other seekers after Truth saw. Plotinus, in his Letter to Flaccus, says: "it is only now and then that we can enjoy the elevation made possible for us, above the limits of the body and the world. I myself have realised it but three times as yet, and Porphyry hitherto not once." Plotinus wrote this when he was more than sixty years of age! This tells us that spiritual sight, unlike psychicism, is not acquired easily or quickly.
Gustave Doré — The Crowned Virgin: A Vision of John — engraving on copper, 1866
Psychics and Psychicism
We hope we have now made it abundantly clear that the psychic is not the spiritual and that psychic abilities are not the same as spiritual faculties and powers. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that there is nothing spiritual about being psychic at all. Nowadays many people confuse these two terms which have become virtually synonymous. This has led to the erroneous and widespread belief that someone with psychic abilities—whether genuine or merely feigned—must be spiritually advanced. Nothing could be further from the truth as you can read in The Quest of Ruru. In it an evil wizard with psychic powers today's would-be magicians can only dream about, seeks to sacrifice two babies to gain his wicked ends. It is unclear when and where the dangerous notion that spirituality is synonymous with psychicism first arose, nor does it matter very much. What matters is that it was neither held nor taught by any of the great spiritual masters of the past. The teachings of the Ancient Wisdom, from all times and climes, are quite unanimous in drawing a clear distinction between the psychic and the spiritual. It is not generally known that H. P. Blavatsky, the great 19th century occultist, was herself a gifted psychic from a very early age. It took her many years of hard mental discipline and rigorous occult training before she was able to bring what some call a 'gift', but is more often a curse, under her full, conscious control.
Joan Grant, whose terrifying visions of the Great War we discuss in our afterword, was another natural-born psychic, a gift she probably inherited from her mother who famously foresaw the sinking of the Titanic days before the liner disappeared beneath the icy waters of the Atlantic, taking 1,500 souls with her. Like Blavatsky, it took Joan the better part of her life to gain control of her psychic abilities, rather than being controlled by them. Then and now, those seekers who wish to apply their minds, intelligence, and effort to making real spiritual progress are outnumbered 1000 to 1 by those craving psychic phenomena. It was this hunger for magical 'thrills' and 'wonders' that played a large part in the schisms that tore the Theosophical Society apart and undermined the work of its founder. "Show me a miracle and I'll believe!" has been the cry of every unworthy and unready occult student since time immemorial. Such demands are the bane of the True Teacher's work. Those who, from compassion, acquiesce to them, as Blavatsky did early in her mission, often pay a heavy price for their misguided charity. The seeker after 'miracles' is never satisfied. No matter how many 'wonders' they are shown, they still crave more whilst their scepticism remains undimmed. It is for this reason that Blavatsky was at pains to explain that a psychic merely 'sees' or 'hears' on a different plane of material density than the average person. Sadly, such explanations fall mainly on deaf ears, just as they did in Blavatsky's day.
In using the term 'psychic', we don't just mean those who call themselves such and offer (or more commonly sell) their 'services' to the public, although of course, they are included under the term, but anyone who displays supernormal abilities such as telepathy, precognition and clairvoyance or clairaudience. Such individuals are generally highly-strung and given to displays of fantastical or dramatic behaviour. They may also boast of their high spiritual status and contact with elevated beings such as Jesus, Gautama Buddha, or nowadays, gods, goddesses and demons, who they either claim to hear clairaudiently, see clairvoyantly or channel mediumistically. Those of you who have spent any appreciable time exploring the Occult Jungle will be aware that such people prey upon the gullibility, desperation and loneliness of the modern, Western seeker, who is usually ignorant of the dangers of psychic powers and the low nature of most psychic phenomena. Such people are inevitably drawn towards channeling, spiritualism and so-called 'healing'. The various 'light worker' and 'ascension' crazes that have grown out of the New Age movement which now flourish like a plague of poisonous mushrooms also attract them in droves. What characterises all these practises, beliefs and crazes is heightened emotionalism and sentimentality. Those who promote them and take part in them tend to be uninterested in, or dismissive of, and even antagonistic toward, any form of spirituality which is founded on the age-old occult scientific principles we discuss in our many articles.
The psychic realm
It is relatively easy to obtain psychic experiences. Some people carry such innate abilities over from their past lives, while others develop them in the present lifetime, often unintentionally and as a result of engaging in harmful occult practices. By harmful we mean anything that hinders or retards spiritual progress as well as practises which, though not harmful in themselves, become so when they are employed without the necessary preliminary mental and moral preparation. Examples of the former include channeling, summoning so-called 'spirits', 'demons' and 'angels', and other forms of grey, if not black magic. Examples of the latter include attempting to awaken Kundalini, astral projection, 'balancing' chakras, trying to open the so-called 'third eye', and unfocused and undisciplined meditation of all kinds.
The psychic realm is only one step removed from physical realm we are all familiar with; in fact it interpenetrates it to a very large extent. This is the reason the natural-born psychic is able to sense, and in some cases see and hear, the inhabitants of the Astral World and the conditions to be found there. We discuss this in some detail in our occult Studies course so will not repeat ourselves except to say that the lower planes of the Astral World are indelibly imprinted with every thought, word, emotion, imagination, experience, and action human beings have ever expressed. It acts both like a vast repository and like a mirror, reflecting the thought-forms and emotions of humanity back to earth. And if you wish to call it a kind of 'collective unconscious' you would not be wrong, for it is the contents of the Astral World, or Light as it is also known, which influences the behaviour of human beings, mostly, it has to be said, to their detriment! Yet this is the realm those seeking psychic 'thrills' hanker to enter in their dire ignorance!
Those who do enter it without any training or a reliable guide open themselves up to deception, delusion and confusion. The lower astral planes are brimming with phantasmagorical scenery and strange entities which seem to be real and genuine, but so easily lead astray not only the psychic who beholds them but anyone foolish or gullible enough to believe their descriptions and claims. This is not to say that a highly gifted psychic who is also spiritually advanced, may not obtain glimpses of real beings and true conditions existing in the higher regions of the Astral World. Swedenborg is an example of someone who beheld scenes and beings of unimaginable beauty, glory and wonder during his visions. But such gifted seers are very rare indeed. But even he was led astray as we said earlier and shall discuss more fully in our afterword.
Before we conclude this investigation we wish to make it quite clear that psychism is not evil. Like everything else it has its positive and negative sides. The fact that psychic abilities are so often prostituted to selfish ends for personal gain rather than being used to help others does not make them evil. Nor does the fact that their use so often leads to greater illusion and confusion rather than wisdom. Clairvoyance, telepathy, clairaudience, psychometry, and all the other powers called 'supernatural' by the ignorant are no less natural than our ability to hear or see. The former belong to the astral body; the latter to the physical body, and that is the only difference between them.
Madame Blavatsky described the Astral World as "the great deceiver" and emphasised that psychic vision can never penetrate into the higher, purely spiritual realms. This is correct, for as we saw earlier, spiritual sight—which is true clairvoyance, clairaudience, and so on and so forth—is not psychic but spiritual. The difference between them is like the difference between night and day. It is no exaggeration to say that the tiny handful of advanced souls who are in possession of true spiritual sight invariably keep quiet about their abilities. They work entirely in secret, silently, wisely and intelligently for the good of humanity, without ever drawing attention to themselves.
To recap: just because something is invisible to our physical sight or inaudible to our physical ears, does not make it spiritual. The spooks which may manifest at séances are no less material than the sitters who are thrilled and terrified by them. The same is true of the so-called 'spirits' summoned by magicians and witches—that is when such apparitions are genuine and not the product of the overheated imaginations of the participants which is more often the case. The colourful cavalcade of supernatural entities from ghosts to ghouls beloved of fiction writers and would-be 'maguses' are all material beings, not spirits. The only difference between them and you and the writer is that their bodies are made of finer or coarser matter than that which we are familiar with here on earth.
From this it should be obvious that because someone can see 'ghosts', read minds, predict the future or accurately describe persons and events hundreds or thousands of miles away, does not make them more 'spiritual'. Such people are more or less psychic, that is all. They may be spiritually advanced. They may also have high moral standards and display great occult knowledge or even wisdom, but the two do not necessarily—or even usually—go together. For every Swedenborg there are a thousand psychics who are not one whit kinder or wiser than the man in the street, and often much less so. If you doubt us, consult the many books written by reliable researchers in the 19th and 20th centuries about the phenomena of spiritualism. Therein you will find countless descriptions of mediums and psychics addicted to drink and drugs and steeped in vice of all kinds.
We repeat: the psychic is not the spiritual. Unless this fact is kept firmly in mind at all times the seeker after occult knowledge and truth is apt to be misled at best, and go very far astray at worst. This is the principal reason we have written this article. The present interest in psychic phenomena, in the supernatural and especially the fascination with occultism among many troubled young people can lead to Heaven or hell. It can elevate humanity to undreamed of heights of spirituality or it can lead to its utter destruction through the misuse of psychic powers in the pursuit of personal power and selfish materialism. For make no mistake; the psychic—whether born or made—bears a terrible responsibility toward his or her fellow human beings. They can pull humanity back from the brink of the abyss before which it totters, or they can push it into the pit of spiritual perdition.
© Copyright occult-mysteries.org. Article published 26 January 2020.