Upon some people they work like a magic charm, like the announcement of something to which they feel attracted by the innermost powers of their soul; to others there is in the words something repellent, calling forth contempt, derision, or a compassionate smile. By many, occult science is looked upon as a lofty goal of human effort, the crown of all other knowledge and cognition; others, who are devoting themselves with the greatest earnestness and noble love of truth to that which appears to them true science, deem occult science mere idle dreaming and fantasy, in the same category with what is called superstition. To some, occult science is like a light without which life would be valueless; to others, it represents a spiritual danger, calculated to lead astray immature minds and weak souls, while between these two extremes is to be found every possible intermediate shade of opinion.
Strange feelings are awakened in one who has attained a certain impartiality of judgment in regard to occult science, its adherents and its opponents, when one sees how people, undoubtedly possessed of a genuine feeling for freedom in many matters, become intolerant when they meet with this particular line of thought. And an unprejudiced observer will scarcely fail in this case to admit that what attracts many adherents of occult science — or occultism — is nothing but the fatal craving for what is unknown and mysterious, or even vague. And he will also be ready to own that there is much cogency in the reasons put forward against what is fantastic and visionary by serious opponents of the cause in question. In fact, one who studies occult science will do well not to lose sight of the fact that the impulse toward the mysterious leads many people on a vain chase after worthless and dangerous will-o’-the-wisps.
Even though the occult scientist keeps a watchful eye on all errors and vagaries on the part of adherents of his views, and on all justifiable antagonism, yet there are reasons which hold him back from the immediate defence of his own efforts and aspirations. These reasons will become apparent to anyone entering more deeply into occult science. It would, therefore, be superfluous to discuss them here. If they were cited before the threshold of this science had been crossed, they would not suffice to convince one who, held back by irresistible repugnance, refuses to cross that threshold. But to one who effects an entry, the reasons will soon manifest themselves, with unmistakable clearness from within.
This much, however, implies that the reasons in question point to a certain attitude as the only right one for an occult scientist. He avoids, as much as he possibly can, any kind of outer defence or conflict, and lets the cause speak for itself. He simply puts forward occult science; and in what it has to say about various matters, he shows how his knowledge is related to other departments of life and science, what antagonism it may encounter, and in what way reality stands witness to the truth of his cognitions. He knows that an attempted vindication would, — not merely on account of current defective thinking but by virtue of a certain inner necessity, — lead into the domain of artful persuasion; and he desires nothing else than to let occult science work its own way quite independently.
The first point in occult science is by no means the advancing of assertions or opinions which are to be proven, but the communication, in a purely narrative form, of experiences which are to be met within a world other than the one that is to be seen with physical eyes and touched with physical hands. And further, it is an important point that through this science the methods are described by which man may verify for himself the truth of such communications. For one who makes a serious study of genuine occult science will soon find that thereby much becomes changed in the conceptions and ideas which are formed — and rightly formed — in other spheres of life. A wholly new conception necessarily arises also about what has hitherto been called a “proof.” We come to see that in certain domains such a word loses its usual meaning, and that there are other grounds for insight and understanding than “proofs” of this kind.
All occult science is born from two thoughts, which may take root in any human being. To the occult scientist, these thoughts express facts which may be experienced if the right methods for the purpose are used. But to many people, these same thoughts represent highly disputable assertions, which may arouse fierce contention, even if they are not regarded as something which may be “proven” impossible.
These two thoughts are, first, that behind the visible world there is another, the world invisible, which is hidden from the senses and also from the thought that is fettered by these senses; and secondly, that it is possible for man to penetrate into that unseen world by developing certain faculties dormant within him.
Some will say that there is no such hidden world. The world perceived by man through his senses is the only one. Its enigmas can be solved out of itself. Even if the man is still very far from being able to answer all the questions of existence, the time will certainly come when sense-experience and the science based upon it will be able to give the answers to all such questions.
Others say that it cannot be asserted that there is no unseen world behind the visible one, but that human powers of perception are not able to penetrate into that world. Those powers have bounds which they cannot pass. Faith, with its urgent cravings, may take refuge in such a world; but true science, based on ascertained facts, can have nothing to do with it.
A third class looks upon it as a kind of presumption for man to attempt to penetrate, by his own efforts of cognition, into a domain with regard to which he should give up all claim to knowledge and be content with faith. The adherents of this view feel it to be wrong for weak human beings to wish to force their way into a world which should belong to religious life.
It is also alleged that a common knowledge of the facts of the sense-world is possible for mankind, but that in regard to supersensible things it can be merely a question of the individual’s personal opinion, and that in these matters there can be no possibility of a certainty universally recognized. And many other assertions are made on the subject.
The occult scientist has convinced himself that a consideration of the visible world propounds enigmas to man which can never be solved out of the facts of that world itself. Their solution in this way will never be possible, however, far advanced a knowledge of those facts may be. For visible facts plainly point, through their own inner nature, to the existence of a hidden world. One who does not see this closes his eyes to the problems which obviously spring up everywhere out of the facts of the sense-world. He refuses to recognize certain questions and problems, and therefore thinks that all questions can be answered through facts within reach of sense perception. The questions which he is willing to ask are all capable of being answered by the facts which he is convinced will be discovered in the course of time. Every genuine occultist admits this. But why should one, when he asks no questions, expect answers on certain subjects? The occult scientist says that to him such questioning is natural, and must be regarded as a wholly justifiable expression of the human soul. Science is surely not to be confined within limits which prohibit impartial inquiry.
The opinion that there are bounds to human knowledge which it is impossible to pass, compelling man to stop short of the invisible world, is thus met by the occult scientist: he says that there can exist no doubt concerning the impossibility of penetrating into the unseen world by means of the kind of cognition here meant. One who considers it the only kind can come to no other opinion than that man is not permitted to penetrate into a possibly existing higher world. But the occult scientist goes on to say that it is possible to develop a different sort of cognition and that this leads into the unseen world. If this kind of cognition is held to be impossible, we arrive at a point of view from which any mention of an invisible world appears as sheer nonsense. But to an unbiased judgment, there can be no basis for such an opinion as this, except that its adherent is a stranger to that other kind of cognition. But how can a person form an opinion about a subject of which he declares himself ignorant? Occult science must, in this case, maintain the principle that people should speak only of what they know, and should not make assertions about anything of which they are ignorant. It can only recognize every man’s right to communicate his own experiences, not every man’s right to declare the impossibility of what he does not, or will not, know. The occult scientist disputes no one’s right to ignore the invisible world; but there can be no real reason why a person should declare himself an authority, not only on what he may know, but also on things considered unknowable.
To those who say that it is presumption to penetrate into unseen regions, the occult scientist would merely point out that this can be done, and that it is sinning against the faculties with which man has been endowed if he allows them to waste instead of developing and using them.