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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/461

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THE MODERN OCCULT.

well while bearing in mind the particular form of occultism or mysticism, or it may be merely of superstition and error, which one or another of the occult movements exhibits, to emphasize the importance of the intellectual motive or temperament that inclines to the occult. It is important to inquire not only what is believed, but what is the nature of the evidence that induces belief, what attracts and then makes converts, what the influences by which the belief spreads. Two classes of motives or interests are conspicuous; the one prominently intellectual or theoretical, the other moderately or grossly practical. Movements in which the former interest dominates contain elements that command respect even when they do not engage sympathy; they frequently appeal, though it may be unwisely, to worthy impulses and lofty aspirations. Amongst the movements presenting prominent practical aspects are to be found instances of the most irreverent and pernicious, as well as of the most vulgar, ignorant and fraudulent schemes which have been devised to mislead the human mind. Most occult movements, however, are of a mixed character, and in their career the speculative and the practical change in importance at different times or in different lands, or at the hands of variously minded leaders. Few escape and some seem especially designed for the partisanship of that class who are seeking whom they may devour; and stimulated by the greed for gain or the love for notoriety, set their snares for the eternally gullible. Fortunately, it must be added that the interest in the occult is under the sway of the law of fashion, and many a mental garment which is donned in spite of the protest of reason and propriety, is quietly laid aside when the dictum of the hour pronounces it unbecoming.

Historically considered, the occult points back to distant epochs and foreign civilizations; to ages when the facts of nature were but weakly grasped, when belief was largely dominated by the authority of tradition, when even the ablest minds fostered or assented to superstition, when the social conditions of life were inimical to independent thought and the mass of men were cut off from intellectual growth of even the most elementary kind. Pseudo-science flourished in the absence of true knowledge, and imaginative insight and unfounded belief held the office intended for inductive reason. Ignorance inevitably led to error and false views to false practices. In a sympathetic environment of this kind the occultist flourished and displayed the impressive insignia of exclusive wisdom. His attitude was that of one seeking to solve an enigma, to find the key to a strange puzzle; his search was for some mystic charm, some talismanic formula, some magical procedure, which shall dispel the mist that hides the face of nature and expose her secrets to his ecstatic gaze. By one all-encompassing, masterful effort the correct solution was to be discovered or revealed; and at once and for all, ignorance would give place to true knowledge, science and nature be-