Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The Rationale of Psychism

by Dion Fortune
An adequate study of the psychology of psychism is subject-matter for a  book. When such a study is made, it is readily seen how inadequate is the average clairvoyant's explanation of his vision. He declares that he sees the presences he describes. As a matter of fact he no more sees them on the astral plane than he sees chairs and tables on the physical plane, as anyone who understands the physiology of vision is aware. He reacts to their  emanations, and he reacts according to certain reaction-habits which have become stereotyped by experience.
Even in the vision of the physical eye on the material plane, we never "see" the object to which we react, we only feel the sensations which the reactions of the cells of the retina to the light, reflected from the object on to their surface, cause to take place among the cells of the brain. Impair the retina, the connecting nerve, or the brain-cells concerned with vision, and the object disappears. In all vision we never "see" the object, we only look into our own consciousness as the Lady of Shallott looked into the magic mirror. It is by practice and habit we learn to refer an object to position in space, and this power of judgment is the result of binocular vision. We judge distance by the angle of convergence of the focus of our two eyes. Moreover, in dealing with a familiar object, we do not look at it in detail, we recognise it by a general impression of its salient features, and infer the rest.
I well remember an experience which befell me as a child, and which I have often quoted in my lectures, for it is very illustrative of the psychology of vision: awakening in the dim light of dawn, I saw on the windowsill of my nursery an unfamiliar object which appeared to me to be a large rabbit. I gazed at it enraptured till the growing light revealed it to be a little pile of clean linen. Some familiar curve of the bundle had suggested the rabbit's fat back,  and my imagination had supplied the rest of its anatomy from memory.
Exactly the same mechanism is at work with the clairvoyant. Upon a newly  developed sense-centre in consciousness impinge vibrations of an unfamiliar character. He is receiving in a higher octave than is available for the five physical senses. Accustomed, however, to transmission via these senses, he interprets the unfamiliar vibrations in the nearest stock image he has got in consciousness. He generally gets an accurate analogy, and provided it be  recognised that what he interprets in terms of sense consciousness is but a symbolic representation of the psychic actuality no harm is done. He translates his impressions back into terms of their own plane, and the result becomes clear.
Trouble arises, however, when, with what is termed naive psychology, he  accepts what he perceives as being an exact representation of the objects represented, and concludes that the inner planes are but etherial copies of the material planes with which his senses have made him familiar.
Image of Spirits Illuminated by Self-Made LightA little consideration will show why this not, and cannot be, so. Take first of all the robed forms of angels which appear to the vision of the seer. We know that they have no physical bodies, but are intelligences. Upon what, then, do they hang their robes? We are seeing our own thought-forms of what we think such presences ought to look like, and our concepts are determined by traditional religious art which always puts its sacred figures into classical draperies. It is very interesting to note that in the visions of Asiatics, a similar conventionalising of the angelic presence occurs, which is invariably seen in terms of Oriental art. I shall always remember the gasp which the audience gave when in the Annunciation scene in Rutland Boughton's "Bethlehem," the archangel Gabriel appeared in tunic and tights.
The effect produced by the production of Shakespeare in modern dress throws a very great deal of light on the psychology of clairvoyance. It is my contention that  the clairvoyants see nothing but the reactions in their own consciousness produced by the  influences impinging upon them, and that it is the translation of these impressions into the nearest equivalent image in memory which endows the angelic visitant with form and voice.
The trained occultist, properly tuning-in on the planes, does not employ this visual consciousness, but perceives direct without the need of translation from a symbolic rendering. He perceives the thought-impressions of the mental plane as ideas, and the forces of the astral plane as emotions. All form is subjective. It is out of this realisation that comes his dominion over them.
Accustomed to refer an object to position in space according to its size and clarity, the untrained clairvoyant does with the visual images evoked from his subconscious mind  by psychic stimulus exactly the same thing that he is in the habit of doing with the visual images evoked by the stimulation of his retina. In the language of psychology, he "projects"  them. It is the same mechanism which occurs when the lunatic, having good cause for self-reproach, refuses to recognise his memories as concerning himself, and "hears" the voice of a demon shouting obscenities at him from the picture-rail.
In the case of the lunatic, it is recognised that a dissociation of personality has occurred, and that the mind is no longer being held together by the unifying ego. A part has  got into a state which is analogous to that of an artificial elemental. We are now in a position to understand the psychology of the untrained psychic. A part of his personality is dissociated for the purposes of his psychism, but whereas in the lunatic it is a part of the lower self which thus becomes separated, because it is felt to be too base for admittance to the fabric of co-ordinations which makes up the soul, in the case of the psychic it is a part of the higher self which thus becomes disconnected, because the rest of the personality is not sufficiently evolved to admit of its integration.
Although the cause is different, the result may end by being the same, for  when once dissociation of personality is permitted to take place, there is no saying how far it may continue. The little rift can become a deep fissure in a surprisingly short time.
The trained occultist is well aware of the power of the dissociated personality to obtain special psychic results, and he employs this faculty at his discretion. He knows that if he desires to function with a power of the soul which is not yet developed to an equal degree with the five physical senses, he must close down those senses in order that the faint vibrations registered by the higher centres may become audible to consciousness, instead of being swamped by the louder vibrations of a lower octave. He also knows that if he wants to hear  the vibrations of the mental plane, he must close down the emotional reactions of the astral plane. He has a regular system of inducing these successive closings-down, known as "rising on the planes," and it is produced by a concentration on the chosen plane of such a degree of  intensity that all else is automatically excluded from consciousness.
In this way he does not cause a faculty to split off and function independently, but inhibits all planes below the one on which he elects to operate, and the chosen faculty then functions in full correlation with the ego. A little thought will reveal the fundamental difference between this method and that of the naive psychic who allows a dissociation of personality to take place through repeated "projections" of mental images.
The trained occultist, moreover, is exceedingly careful not to swim out further than he can be sure of swimming back, for he knows that if the silver cord be loosed, the golden bowl of the integrity of the personality will be broken. He employs a regular system of connected ideas to carry consciousness up the planes by means of an association-chain, and he comes down the planes by reversing the order of the images in his contemplation. He thus translates the symbolism accurately down the planes, and so the chain of associated ideas is not broken, and memory is brought through.
The highest development of occult work occurs when the objective  consciousness of the different planes can be synthesised into a single chord, as we synthesise the sensory consciousness of the physical plane when we see, hear, smell and feel an object simultaneously, and out of this combination of impressions gain a far richer idea of the nature of that object than we could from any one of them taken singly.
For a full understanding of any form of existence, more than one plane of  consciousness is necessary. The combined consciousness of the planes is to the psychic what binocular vision is to the ordinary mortal. For each added faculty of consciousness, there is an added dimension of existence.
It is only the supreme adept, however, who is thus able to coordinate  consciousness simultaneously; most occultists rely on the method already described of inhibiting the unwanted faculties until the desired one is laid bare and freed for function.
The weakness of the uninitiated psychic lies in the fact that he  misunderstands his own modus operandi. Projection and dissociation, as already described, undermine the integrity of his mind. Moreover, by the method he uses, he can only touch the fringe of the Unseen. Unlike the occultist, he cannot rise on the stepping stones of the symbols. He stops short at the first symbol that is evoked in consciousness, and that symbol may have little power of rendering the philosophical subtleties of the higher planes of mind.
Psychism is always limited by the contents of the psychic's subconscious  mind. The control is like an artist working in mosaic, he has to put his picture together out of the little blocks of coloured marble, and he is limited by their characteristics. We therefore find that the psychic of limited intellectual content relies chiefly on pictureconsciousness for his symbols, whereas the more educated psychic brings through actual teaching in verbal form, for his subconscious content has been enriched by the study of the spoken and written word.
It is not very common, however, to find psychics among highly educated  people, for when the mind is enriched by study, it is also apt to be stereotyped, for the ideas it receives from its studies do not enter it as detached units, but as parts of systems from which they cannot readily be detached; therefore it is not possible for the spirit designer to rearrange the mosaic of his ideas to represent some new design. When he picks up one idea, a whole mass of others come with it. He cannot take a symbol from psychology, and a symbol from dynamics and a symbol from religion and recombine them into a new concept to be represented to the mind. The integrated systems of the educated intellect resist this process. But where there can be found an educated mind with a wide range of intellectual content, wherein it is possible to close down the directive intelligence and permit the spirit-entity to manipulate the images available in the subconscious memory, then is a high degree of mediumship possible.
Image of the Human Wireless
The above article first appeared in The Occult Review, Vol. XLVIII, No 3; Sept I928.

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