You can also download this book in PDF, epub, and Kindle ebook formats, here:
Religion is a large word, of good import and of evil import, and with the general discussion of religion we are not in this place concerned. Its quintessential core—which is the art of finding our emotional relationship to the world conceived as a whole—is all that here matters, and it is best termed “Mysticism.” No doubt it needs some courage to use that word. It is the common label of abuse applied to every pseudo-spiritual thing that is held up for contempt. Yet it would be foolish to allow ourselves to be deflected from the right use of a word by the accident of its abuse. “Mysticism,” however often misused, will here be used, because it is the correct term for the relationship of the Self to the Not-Self, of the individual to a Whole, when, going beyond his own personal ends, he discovers his adjustment to larger ends, in harmony or devotion or love.
It has become a commonplace among the unthinking, or those who think badly, to assume an opposition of hostility between mysticism and science. If “science” is, as we have some reason to believe, an art, if “mysticism” also is an art, the opposition can scarcely be radical since they must both spring from the same root in natural human activity.
If, indeed, by “science” we mean the organisation of an intellectual relationship to the world we live in adequate to give us some degree of power over that world, and if by “mysticism” we mean the joyful organisation of an emotional relationship to the world conceived as a whole, the opposition which we usually assume to exist between them is of comparatively modern origin.
Among savage peoples such an opposition can scarcely be said to have any existence. The very fact that science, in the strict sense, seems often to begin with the stars might itself have suggested that the basis of science is mystical contemplation. Not only is there usually no opposition between the “scientific” and the “mystical” attitude among peoples we may fairly call primitive, but the two attitudes may be combined in the same person. The “medicine-man” is not more an embryonic man of science than he is an embryonic mystic; he is both equally. He cultivates not only magic but holiness, he achieves the conquest of his own soul, he enters into harmony with the universe; and in doing this, and partly, indeed, through doing this, his knowledge is increased, his sensations and power of observation are rendered acute, and he is enabled so to gain organised knowledge of natural processes that he can to some extent foresee or even control those processes. He is the ancestor alike of the hermit following after sanctity and of the inventor crystallising discoveries into profitable patents. Such is the medicine-man wherever we may find him in his typical shape—which he cannot always adequately achieve—all over the world, around Torres Straits just as much as around Behring’s Straits. Yet we have failed to grasp the significance of this fact.
It is the business of the Shaman, as on the mystical side we may conveniently term the medicine-man, to place himself under the conditions—and even in primitive life those conditions are varied and subtle—which bring his will into harmony with the essence of the world, so that he grows one with that essence, that its will becomes his will, and, reversely, that, in a sense, his will becomes its. Herewith, in this unity with the spirit of the world, the possibility of magic and the power to control the operation of Nature are introduced into human thought, with its core of reality and its endless trail of absurdity, persisting even into advanced civilisation.
But this harmony with the essence of the universe, this control of Nature through oneness with Nature, is not only at the heart of religion; it is also at the heart of science. It is only by the possession of an acquired or inborn temperament attuned to the temperament of Nature that a Faraday or an Edison, that any scientific discoverer or inventor, can achieve his results. And the primitive medicine-man, who on the religious side has attained harmony of the self with the Not-Self, and by obeying learnt to command, cannot fail on the scientific side also, under the special conditions of his isolated life, to acquire an insight into natural methods, a practical power over human activities and over the treatment of disease, such as on the imaginative and emotional side he already possesses. If we are able to see this essential and double attitude of the Shaman—medicine-man—if we are able to eliminate all the extraneous absurdities and the extravagancies which conceal the real nature of his function in the primitive world, the problem of science and mysticism, and their relationship to each other, ceases to have difficulties for us.
It is as well to point out, before passing on, that the investigators of primitive thought are not altogether in agreement with one another on this question of the relation of science to magic, and have complicated the question by drawing a distinction between magic (understood as man’s claim to control Nature) and religion (understood as man’s submission to Nature). The difficulties seem due to an attempt to introduce clear-cut definitions at a stage of thought where none such existed. That medicine-men and priests cultivated science, while wrapping it up in occult and magical forms, seems indicated by the earliest historical traditions of the Near East. Herbert Spencer long ago brought together much of the evidence on this point. McDougall to-day in his “Social Psychology” (Chapter XIII) accepts magic as the origin of science, and Frazer in the early edition of his “Golden Bough” regarded magic as “the savage equivalent of our natural science.” Marett “profoundly doubts” this, and declares that if we can use the word “science” at all in such a context, magic is occult science and the very antithesis of natural science. While all that Marett states is admirably true on the basis of his own definitions, he scarcely seems to realise the virtue of the word “equivalent,” while at the same time, it may be, his definition of magic is too narrow. Silberer, from the psycho-analytic standpoint, accepting the development of exact science from one branch of magic, points out that science is, on the one hand, the recognition of concealed natural laws and, on the other, the dynamisation of psychic power, and thus falls into two great classes, according as its operation is external or internal. This seems a true and subtle distinction which Marett has overlooked. In the latest edition of his work, Frazer has not insisted on the relation or analogy of science to magic, but has been content to point out that Man has passed through the three stages of magic, religion, and science. “In magic Man depends on his own strength to meet the difficulties and dangers that beset him on every side. He believes in a certain established order of Nature on which he can surely count, and which he can manipulate for his own ends.” Then he finds he has overestimated his own powers and he humbly takes the road of religion, leaving the universe to the more or less capricious will of a higher power. But he finds this view inadequate and he proceeds to revert in a measure to the older standpoint of magic by postulating explicitly what in magic had only been implicitly assumed, “to wit, an inflexible regularity in the order of natural events which, if carefully observed, enables us to foresee their course with certainty, and to act accordingly.” So that science, in Frazer’s view, is not so much directly derived from magic as itself in its original shape one with magic, and Man has proceeded, not in a straight line, but in a spiral.
The profound significance of this early personage is, however, surely clear. If science and mysticism are alike based on fundamental natural instincts, appearing spontaneously all over the world; if, moreover, they naturally tend to be embodied in the same individual, in such a way that each impulse would seem to be dependent on the other for its full development; then there can be no ground for accepting any disharmony between them. The course of human evolution involves a division of labour, a specialisation of science and of mysticism along special lines and in separate individuals. But a fundamental antagonism of the two, it becomes evident, is not to be thought of; it is unthinkable, even absurd. If at some period in the course of civilisation we seriously find that our science and our religion are antagonistic, then there must be something wrong either with our science or with our religion. Perhaps not seldom there may be something wrong with both. For if the natural impulses which normally work best together are separated and specialised in different persons, we may expect to find a concomitant state of atrophy and hypertrophy, both alike morbid. The scientific person will become atrophied on the mystical side, the mystical person will become atrophied on the scientific side. Each will become morbidly hypertrophied on his own side. But the assumption that, because there is a lack of harmony between opposing pathological states, there must also be a similar lack of harmony in the normal state, is unreasonable. We must severely put out of count alike the hypertrophied scientific people with atrophied religious instincts, and the hypertrophied religious people with atrophied scientific instincts. Neither group can help us here; they only introduce confusion. We have to examine the matter critically, to go back to the beginning, to take so wide a survey of the phenomena that their seemingly conflicting elements fall into harmony.
The fact, in the first place, that the person with an overdeveloped religious sense combined with an underdeveloped scientific sense necessarily conflicts with a person in whom the reverse state of affairs exists, cannot be doubted, nor is the reason of it obscure. It is difficult to conceive a Darwin and a St. Theresa entering with full and genuine sympathy into each other’s point of view. And that is so by no means because the two attitudes, stripped of all but their essentials, are irreconcilable. If we strip St. Theresa of her atrophied pseudo-science, which in her case was mostly theological “science,” there was nothing in her attitude which would not have seemed to harmonise and to exalt that absolute adoration and service to natural truth which inspired Darwin. If we strip Darwin of that atrophied sense of poetry and the arts which he deplored, and that anæmic secular conception of the universe as a whole which he seems to have accepted without deploring, there was nothing in his attitude which would not have served to fertilise and enrich the spiritual exaltation of Theresa and even to have removed far from her that temptation to acedia or slothfulness which all the mystics who are mystics only have recognised as their besetting sin, minimised as it was, in Theresa, by her practical activities. Yet, being as they were persons of supreme genius developed on opposite sides of their common human nature, an impassable gulf lies between them. It lies equally between much more ordinary people who yet show the same common character of being undergrown on one side, overgrown on the other.
This difficulty is not diminished when the person who is thus hypertrophied on one side and atrophied on the other suddenly wakes up to his one-sided state and hastily attempts to remedy it. The very fact that such a one-sided development has come about indicates that there has probably been a congenital basis for it, an innate disharmony which must require infinite patience and special personal experience to overcome. But the heroic and ostentatious manner in which these ill-balanced people hastily attempt the athletic feat of restoring their spiritual balance has frequently aroused the interest, and too often the amusement, of the spectator. Sir Isaac Newton, one of the most quintessentially scientific persons the world has seen, a searcher who made the most stupendous effort to picture the universe intelligently on its purely intelligible side, seems to have realised in old age, when he was, indeed, approaching senility, that the vast hypertrophy of his faculties on that side had not been compensated by any development on the religious side. He forthwith set himself to the interpretation of the Book of Daniel and puzzled over the prophecies of the Book of Revelation, with the same scientifically serious air as though he were analysing the spectrum. In reality he had not reached the sphere of religion at all; he had merely exchanged good science for bad science. Such senile efforts to penetrate, ere yet life is quite over, the mystery of religion recall, and, indeed, have a real analogy to, that final effort of the emotionally starved to grasp at love which has been called “old maid’s insanity”; and just as in this aberration the woman who has all her life put love into the subconscious background of her mind is overcome by an eruption of the suppressed emotions and driven to create baseless legends of which she is herself the heroine, so the scientific man who has put religion into the subconscious and scarcely known that there is such a thing may become in the end the victim of an imaginary religion. In our own time we may have witnessed attempts of the scientific mind to become religious, which, without amounting to mental aberration, are yet highly instructive. It would be a double-edged compliment, in this connection, to compare Sir Oliver Lodge to Sir Isaac Newton. But after devoting himself for many years to purely physical research, Lodge also, as he has confessed, found that he had overlooked the religious side of life, and therefore set himself with characteristic energy to the task—the stages of which are described in a long series of books—of developing this atrophied side of his nature. Unlike Newton, who was worried about the future, Lodge became worried about the past. Just as Newton found what he was contented to regard as religious peace in speculating on the meaning of the Books of Daniel and Revelation, so Lodge found a similar satisfaction in speculations concerning the origin of the soul and in hunting out tags from the poets to support his speculations. So fascinating was this occupation that it seemed to him to constitute a great “message” to the world. “My message is that there is some great truth in the idea of preëxistence, not an obvious truth, nor one easy to formulate—a truth difficult to express—not to be identified with the guesses of reincarnation and transmigration, which may be fanciful. We may not have been individuals before, but we are chips or fragments of a great mass of mind, of spirit, and of life—drops, as it were, taken out of a germinal reservoir of life, and incubated until incarnate in a material body.” The genuine mystic would smile if asked to accept as a divine message these phraseological gropings in the darkness, with their culmination in the gospel of “incubated drops.” They certainly represent an attempt to get at a real fact. But the mystic is not troubled by speculations about the origin of the individual, or theories of preëxistence, fantastic myths which belong to the earlier Plato’s stage of thought. It is abundantly evident that when the hypertrophied man of science seeks to cultivate his atrophied religious instincts it is with the utmost difficulty that he escapes from science. His conversion to religion merely means, for the most part, that he has exchanged sound science for pseudo-science.
Similarly, when the man with hypertrophied religious instincts seeks to cultivate his atrophied scientific instincts, the results are scarcely satisfactory. Here, indeed, we are concerned with a phenomenon that is rarer than the reverse process. The reason may not be far to seek. The instinct of religion develops earlier in the history of a race than the instinct of science. The man who has found the massive satisfaction of his religious cravings is seldom at any stage conscious of scientific cravings; he is apt to feel that he already possesses the supreme knowledge. The religious doubters who vaguely feel that their faith is at variance with science are merely the creatures of creeds, the product of Churches; they are not the genuine mystics. The genuine mystics who have exercised their scientific instincts have generally found scope for such exercise within an enlarged theological scheme which they regarded as part of their religion. So it was that St. Augustine found scope for his full and vivid, if capricious, intellectual impulses; so also Aquinas, in whom there was doubtless less of the mystic and more of the scientist, found scope for the rational and orderly development of a keen intelligence which has made him an authority and even a pioneer for many who are absolutely indifferent to his theology.
Again we see that to understand the real relations of science and mysticism, we must return to ages when, on neither side, had any accumulated mass of dead traditions effected an artificial divorce between two great natural instincts. It has already been pointed out that if we go outside civilisation the divorce is not found; the savage mystic is also the savage man of science, the priest and the doctor are one. It is so also for the most part in barbarism, among the ancient Hebrews for instance, and not only among their priests, but even among their prophets. It appears that the most usual Hebrew word for what we term the “prophet” signified “one who bursts forth,” presumably into the utterance of spiritual verities, and the less usual words signify “seer.” That is to say, the prophet was primarily a man of religion, secondarily a man of science. And that predictive element in the prophet’s function, which to persons lacking in religious instinct seems the whole of his function, has no relationship at all to religion; it is a function of science. It is an insight into cause and effect, a conception of sequences based on extended observation and enabling the “prophet” to assert that certain lines of action will probably lead to the degeneration of a stock, or to the decay of a nation. It is a sort of applied history. “Prophecy” has no more to do with religion than have the forecasts of the Meteorological Bureau, which also are a kind of applied science in earlier stages associated with religion.
If, keeping within the sphere of civilisation, we go back as far as we can, the conclusion we reach is not greatly different. The earliest of the great mystics in historical times is Lao-tze. He lived six hundred years earlier than Jesus, a hundred years earlier than Sakya-Muni, and he was more quintessentially a mystic than either. He was, moreover, incomparably nearer than either to the point of view of science. Even his occupation in life was, in relation to his age and land, of a scientific character; he was, if we may trust uncertain tradition, keeper of the archives. In the substance of his work this harmony of religion and science is throughout traceable, the very word “Tao,” which to Lao-tze is the symbol of all that to which religion may mystically unite us, is susceptible of being translated “Reason,” although that word remains inadequate to its full meaning. There are no theological or metaphysical speculations here concerning God (the very word only occurs once and may be a later interpolation), the soul, or immortality. The delicate and profound art of Lao-tze largely lies in the skill with which he expresses spiritual verities in the form of natural truths. His affirmations not only go to the core of religion, but they express the essential methods of science. This man has the mystic’s heart, but he has also the physicist’s touch and the biologist’s eye. He moves in a sphere in which religion and science are one.
If we pass to more modern times and the little European corner of the world, around the Mediterranean shores, which is the cradle of our latter-day civilisation, again and again we find traces of this fundamental unity of mysticism and science. It may well be that we never again find it in quite so pure a form as in Lao-tze, quite so free from all admixture alike of bad religion and bad science. The exuberant unbalanced activity of our race, the restless acquisitiveness—already manifested in the sphere of ideas and traditions before it led to the production of millionaires—soon became an ever-growing impediment to such unity of spiritual impulses. Among the supple and yet ferocious Greeks, indeed, versatility and recklessness seem at a first glance always to have stood in the way of approach to the essential terms of this problem. It was only when the Greeks began to absorb Oriental influences, we are inclined to say, that they became genuine mystics, and as they approached mysticism they left science behind.
Yet there was a vein of mysticism in the Greeks from the first, not alone due to seeds from the East flung to germinate fruitfully in Greek soil, though perhaps to that Ionian element of the Near East which was an essential part of the Greek spirit. All that Karl Joël of Basel has sought to work out concerning the evolution of the Greek philosophic spirit has a bearing on this point. We are wrong, he believes, to look on the early Greek philosophers of Nature as mainly physicists, treating the religious and poetic mystic elements in them as mere archaisms, concessions, or contradictions. Hellas needed, and possessed, an early Romantic spirit, if we understand the Romantic spirit, not merely through its reactionary offshoots, but as a deep mystico-lyrical expression; it was comparable in early Greece to the Romantic spirit of the great creative men of the early Renaissance or the early nineteenth century, and the Apollinian classic spirit was developed out of an ordered discipline and formulation of the Dionysian spirit more mystically near to Nature. If we bear this in mind we are helped to understand much in the religious life of Greece which seems not to harmonise with what we conventionally call “classic.”
In the dim figure of Pythagoras we perhaps see not only a great leader of physical science, but also a great initiator in spiritual mystery. It is, at any rate, fairly clear that he established religious brotherhoods of carefully selected candidates, women as well as men being eligible, and living on so lofty and aristocratic a level that the populace of Magna Grecia, who could not understand them, decided out of resentment to burn them alive, and the whole order was annihilated about B.C. 500. But exactly how far these early Pythagoreans, whose community has been compared to the mediæval orders of chivalry, were mystics, we may imagine as we list, in the light of the Pythagorean echoes we find here and there in Plato. On the whole we scarcely go to the Greeks for a clear exposition of what we now term “mysticism.” We see more of it in Lucretius than we can divine in his master Epicurus. And we see it still more clearly in the Stoics. We can, indeed, nowhere find a more pure and concise statement than in Marcus Aurelius of the mystical core of religion as the union in love and harmony and devotion of the self with the Not-Self.
If Lucretius may be accounted the first of moderns in the identification of mysticism and science, he has been followed by many, even though, one sometimes thinks, with an ever-increasing difficulty, a drooping of the wings of mystical aspiration, a limping of the feet of scientific progress. Leonardo and Giordano Bruno and Spinoza and Goethe, each with a little imperfection on one side or the other, if not on both sides, have moved in a sphere in which the impulses of religion are felt to spring from the same centre as the impulses of science. Einstein, whose attitude in many ways is so interesting, closely associates the longing for pure knowledge with religious feeling, and he has remarked that “in every true searcher of Nature there is a kind of religious reverence.” He is inclined to attach significance to the fact that so many great men of science—Newton, Descartes, Gauss, Helmholtz—have been in one way or another religious. If we cannot altogether include such men as Swedenborg and Faraday in the same group, it is because we cannot feel that in them the two impulses, however highly developed, really spring from the same centre or really make a true harmony. We suspect that these men and their like kept their mysticism in a science-proof compartment of their minds, and their science in a mysticism-proof compartment; we tremble for the explosive result, should the wall of partition ever be broken down.
The difficulty, we see again, has been that, on each hand, there has been a growth of non-essential traditions around the pure and vital impulse, and the obvious disharmony of these two sets of accretions conceals the underlying harmony of the impulses themselves. The possibility of reaching the natural harmony is thus not necessarily by virtue of any rare degree of intellectual attainment, nor by any rare gift of inborn spiritual temperament,—though either of these may in some cases be operative,—but rather by the happy chance that the burden of tradition on each side has fallen and that the mystical impulse is free to play without a dead metaphysical theology, the scientific impulse without a dead metaphysical formalism. It is a happy chance that may befall the simple more easily than the wise and learned.
The foregoing considerations have perhaps cleared the way to a realisation that when we look broadly at the matter, when we clear away all the accumulated superstitions, the unreasoned prepossessions, on either side, and so reach firm ground, not only is there no opposition between science and mysticism, but in their essence, and at the outset, they are closely related. The seeming divorce between them is due to a false and unbalanced development on either side, if not on both sides.
Yet all such considerations cannot suffice to make present to us this unity of apparent opposites. There is, indeed, it has often seemed to me, a certain futility in all discussion of the relative claims of science and religion. This is a matter which, in the last resort, lies beyond the sphere of argument. It depends not only on a man’s entire psychic equipment, brought with him at birth and never to be fundamentally changed, but it is the outcome of his own intimate experience during life. It cannot be profitably discussed because it is experiential.
It seems to me, therefore, that, having gone so far, and stated what I consider to be the relations of mysticism and science as revealed in human history, I am bound to go further and to state my personal grounds for believing that the harmonious satisfaction alike of the religious impulse and the scientific impulse may be attained to-day by an ordinarily balanced person in whom both impulses crave for satisfaction. There is, indeed, a serious difficulty. To set forth a personal religious experience for the first time requires considerable resolution, and not least to one who is inclined to suspect that the experiences usually so set forth can be of no profound or significant nature; that if the underlying motives of a man’s life can be brought to the surface and put into words their vital motive power is gone. Even the fact that more than forty years have passed since the experience took place scarcely suffices to make the confession of it easy. But I recall to mind that the first original book I ever planned (and in fact began to write) was a book, impersonal though suggested by personal experience, on the foundations of religion. I put it aside, saying to myself I would complete it in old age, because it seemed to me that the problem of religion will always be fresh, while there were other problems more pressingly in need of speedy investigation. Now, it may be, I begin to feel the time has come to carry that early project a stage further.
Like many of the generation to which I belonged, I was brought up far from the Sunday-school atmosphere of conventional religiosity. I received little religious instruction outside the home, but there I was made to feel, from my earliest years, that religion is a very vital and personal matter with which the world and the fashion of it had nothing to do. To that teaching, while still scarcely more than a child, I responded in a wholehearted way. Necessarily the exercise of this early impulse followed the paths prescribed for it by my environment. I accepted the creed set before me; I privately studied the New Testament for my own satisfaction; I honestly endeavoured, strictly in private, to mould my actions and impulses on what seemed to be Christian lines. There was no obtrusive outward evidence of this; outside the home, moreover, I moved in a world which might be indifferent but was not actively hostile to my inner aspirations, and, if the need for any external affirmation had become inevitable, I should, I am certain, have invoked other than religious grounds for my protest. Religion, as I instinctively felt then and as I consciously believe now, is a private matter, as love is. This was my mental state at the age of twelve.
Then came the period of emotional and intellectual expansion, when the scientific and critical instincts began to germinate. These were completely spontaneous and not stimulated by any influences of the environment. To inquire, to question, to investigate the qualities of the things around us and to search out their causes, is as native an impulse as the religious impulse would be found to be if only we would refrain from exciting it artificially. In the first place, this scientific impulse was not greatly concerned with the traditional body of beliefs which were then inextricably entwined in my mind with the exercise of the religious instinct. In so far, indeed, as it touched them it took up their defence. Thus I read Renan’s “Life of Jesus,” and the facile sentiment of this book, the attitude of artistic reconstruction, aroused a criticism which led me to overlook any underlying sounder qualities. Yet all the time the inquiring and critical impulse was a slowly permeating and invading influence, and its application to religion was from time to time stimulated by books, although such application was in no slightest degree favoured by the social environment. When, too, at the age of fifteen, I came to read Swinburne’s “Songs before Sunrise,”—although the book made no very personal appeal to me,—I realised that it was possible to present in an attractively modern emotional light religious beliefs which were incompatible with Christianity, and even actively hostile to its creed. The process of disintegration took place in slow stages that were not perceived until the process was complete. Then at last I realised that I no longer possessed any religious faith. All the Christian dogmas I had been brought up to accept unquestioned had slipped away, and they had dragged with them what I had experienced of religion, for I could not then so far analyse all that is roughly lumped together as “religion” as to disentangle the essential from the accidental. Such analysis, to be effectively convincing, demanded personal experiences I was not possessed of.
I was now seventeen years of age. The loss of religious faith had produced no change in conduct, save that religious observances, which had never been ostentatiously performed, were dropped, so far as they might be without hurting the feelings of others. The revolution was so gradual and so natural that even inwardly the shock was not great, while various activities, the growth of mental aptitudes, sufficiently served to occupy the mind. It was only during periods of depression that the absence of faith as a satisfaction of the religious impulse became at all acutely felt. Possibly it might have been felt less acutely if I could have realised that there was even a real benefit in the cutting down and clearing away of traditional and non-vital beliefs. Not only was it a wholesome and strenuous effort to obey at all costs the call of what was felt as “truth,” and therefore having in it a spirit of religion even though directed against religion, but it was evidently favourable to the training of intelligence. The man who has never wrestled with his early faith, the faith that he was brought up with and that yet is not truly his own,—for no faith is our own that we have not arduously won,—has missed not only a moral but an intellectual discipline. The absence of that discipline may mark a man for life and render all his work in the world ineffective. He has missed a training in criticism, in analysis, in open-mindedness, in the resolutely impersonal treatment of personal problems, which no other training can compensate. He is, for the most part, condemned to live in a mental jungle where his arm will soon be too feeble to clear away the growths that enclose him and his eyes too weak to find the light.
While, however, I had adopted, without knowing it, the best course to steel the power of thinking and to render possible a patient, humble, self-forgetful attitude towards Nature, there were times when I became painfully, almost despairingly, conscious of the unsatisfied cravings of the religious impulse. These moods were emphasised even by the books I read which argued that religion, in the only sense in which I understood religion, was unnecessary, and that science, whether or not formulated into a creed, furnished all that we need to ask in this direction. I well remember the painful feelings with which I read at this time D. F. Strauss’s “The Old Faith and the New.” It is a scientific creed set down in old age, with much comfortable complacency, by a man who found considerable satisfaction in the evening of life in the enjoyment of Haydn’s quartets and Munich brown beer. They are both excellent things, as I am now willing to grant, but they are a sorry source of inspiration when one is seventeen and consumed by a thirst for impossibly remote ideals. Moreover, the philosophic horizon of this man was as limited and as prosaic as the æsthetic atmosphere in which he lived. I had to acknowledge to myself that the scientific principles of the universe as Strauss laid them down presented, so far as I knew, the utmost scope in which the human spirit could move. But what a poor scope! I knew nothing of the way that Nietzsche, about that time, had demolished Strauss. But I had the feeling that the universe was represented as a sort of factory filled by an inextricable web of wheels and looms and flying shuttles, in a deafening din. That, it seemed, was the world as the most competent scientific authorities declared it to be made. It was a world I was prepared to accept, and yet a world in which, I felt, I could only wander restlessly, an ignorant and homeless child. Sometimes, no doubt, there were other visions of the universe a little less disheartening, such as that presented by Herbert Spencer’s “First Principles.” But the dominant feeling always was that while the scientific outlook, by which I mainly meant the outlook of Darwin and Huxley, commended itself to me as presenting a sound view of the world, on the emotional side I was a stranger to that world, if, indeed, I would not, with Omar, “shatter it to bits.”
At the same time, it must be noted, there was no fault to find with the general trend of my life and activities. I was fully occupied, with daily duties as well as with the actively interested contemplation of an ever-enlarging intellectual horizon. This was very notably the case at the age of nineteen, three years after all vestiges of religious faith had disappeared from the psychic surface.
I was still interested in religious and philosophic questions, and it so chanced that at this time I read the “Life in Nature” of James Hinton, who had already attracted my attention as a genuine man of science with yet an original and personal grasp of religion. I had read the book six months before and it had not greatly impressed me. Now, I no longer know why, I read it again, and the effect was very different. Evidently by this time my mind had reached a stage of saturated solution which needed but the shock of the right contact to recrystallise in forms that were a revelation to me. Here evidently the right contact was applied. Hinton in this book showed himself a scientific biologist who carried the mechanistic explanation of life even further than was then usual. But he was a man of highly passionate type of intellect, and what might otherwise be formal and abstract was for him soaked in emotion. Thus, while he saw the world as an orderly mechanism, he was not content, like Strauss, to stop there and see in it nothing else. As he viewed it, the mechanism was not the mechanism of a factory, it was vital, with all the glow and warmth and beauty of life; it was, therefore, something which not only the intellect might accept, but the heart might cling to. The bearing of this conception on my state of mind is obvious. It acted with the swiftness of an electric contact; the dull aching tension was removed; the two opposing psychic tendencies were fused in delicious harmony, and my whole attitude towards the universe was changed. It was no longer an attitude of hostility and dread, but of confidence and love. My self was one with the Not-Self, my will one with the universal will. I seemed to walk in light; my feet scarcely touched the ground; I had entered a new world.
The effect of that swift revolution was permanent. At first there was a moment or two of wavering, and then the primary exaltation subsided into an attitude of calm serenity towards all those questions that had once seemed so torturing. In regard to all these matters I had become permanently satisfied and at rest, yet absolutely unfettered and free. I was not troubled about the origin of the “soul” or about its destiny; I was entirely prepared to accept any analysis of the “soul” which might commend itself as reasonable. Neither was I troubled about the existence of any superior being or beings, and I was ready to see that all the words and forms by which men try to picture spiritual realities are mere metaphors and images of an inward experience. There was not a single clause in my religious creed because I held no creed. I had found that dogmas were—not, as I had once imagined, true, not, as I had afterwards supposed, false,—but the mere empty shadows of intimate personal experience. I had become indifferent to shadows, for I held the substance. I had sacrificed what I held dearest at the call of what seemed to be Truth, and now I was repaid a thousand-fold. Henceforth I could face life with confidence and joy, for my heart was at one with the world and whatever might prove to be in harmony with the world could not be out of harmony with me.
Thus, it might seem to many, nothing whatever had happened; I had not gained one single definite belief that could be expressed in a scientific formula or hardened into a religious creed. That, indeed, is the essence of such a process. A “conversion” is not, as is often assumed, a turning towards a belief. More strictly, it is a turning round, a revolution; it has no primary reference to any external object. As the greater mystics have often understood, “the Kingdom of Heaven is within.” To put the matter a little more precisely, the change is fundamentally a readjustment of psychic elements to each other, enabling the whole machine to work harmoniously. There is no necessary introduction of new ideas; there is much more likely to be a casting out of dead ideas which have clogged the vital process. The psychic organism—which in conventional religion is called the “soul”—had not been in harmony with itself; now it is revolving truly on its own axis, and in doing so it simultaneously finds its true orbit in the cosmic system. In becoming one with itself, it becomes one with the universe.
The process, it will be seen, is thus really rather analogous to that which on the physical plane takes place in a person whose jaw or arm is dislocated, whether by some inordinate effort or some sudden shock with the external world. The miserable man with a dislocated jaw is out of harmony with himself and with the universe. All his efforts cannot reduce the dislocation, nor can his friends help him; he may even come to think there is no cure. But a surgeon comes along, and with a slight pressure of his two thumbs, applied at the right spot, downwards and backwards, the jaw springs into place, the man is restored to harmony—and the universe is transformed. If he is ignorant enough, he will be ready to fall on his knees before his deliverer as a divine being. We are concerned with what is called a “spiritual” process,—for it is an accepted and necessary convention to distinguish between the “spiritual” and the “physical,”—but this crude and imperfect analogy may help some minds to understand what is meant.
Thus may be explained what may seem to some the curious fact that I never for a moment thought of accepting as a gospel the book which had brought me a stimulus of such inestimable value. The person in whom “conversion” takes place is too often told that the process is connected in some magical manner with a supernatural influence of some kind, a book, a creed, a church, or what not. I had read this book before and it had left me unmoved; I knew that the book was merely the surgeon’s touch, that the change had its source in me and not in the book. I never looked into the book again; I cannot tell where or how my copy of it disappeared; for all that I know, having accomplished its mission, it was drawn up again to Heaven in a sheet. As regards James Hinton, I was interested in him before the date of the episode here narrated; I am interested in him still.
It may further be noted that this process of “conversion” cannot be regarded as the outcome of despair or as a protective regression towards childhood. The unfortunate individual, we sometimes imagine, who is bereft of religious faith sinks deeper and deeper into despondency, until finally he unconsciously seeks the relief of his woes by plunging into an abyss of emotions, thereby committing intellectual suicide. On the contrary, the period in which this event occurred was not a period of dejection either mental or physical. I was fully occupied; I lived a healthy, open-air life, in a fine climate, amid beautiful scenery; I was revelling in new studies and the growing consciousness of new powers. Instead of being the ultimate stage in a process of descent, or a return to childhood, such psychic revolution may much more fittingly be regarded as the climax of an ascensional movement. It is the final casting off of childish things, the initiation into complete manhood.
There is nothing ascetic in such a process. One is sometimes tempted to think that to approve mysticism is to preach asceticism. Certainly many mystics have been ascetic. But that has been the accident of their philosophy, and not the essence of their religion. Asceticism has, indeed, nothing to do with normal religion. It is, at the best, the outcome of a set of philosophical dogmas concerning the relationship of the body to the soul and the existence of a transcendental spiritual world. That is philosophy, of a sort, not religion. Plotinus, who has been so immensely influential in our Western world because he was the main channel by which Greek spiritual tendencies reached us, to become later embodied in Christianity, is usually regarded as a typical mystic, though he was primarily a philosopher, and he was inclined to be ascetic. Therein we may not consider him typically Greek, but the early philosophical doctrine of Plato concerning the transcendental world of “Ideas” easily lent itself to developments favourable to an ascetic life. Plotinus, indeed, was not disposed to any extreme ascetic position. The purification of the soul meant for him “to detach it from the body, and to elevate it to a spiritual world.” But he would not have sympathised with the harsh dualism of flesh and spirit which often flourished among Christian ascetics. He lived celibate, but he was willing to regard sex desire as beautiful, though a delusion. When we put aside the philosophic doctrines with which it may be associated, it is seen that asceticism is merely an adjuvant discipline to what we must regard as pathological forms of mysticism.
People who come in contact with the phenomenon of “conversion” are obsessed by the notion that it must have something to do with morality. They seem to fancy that it is something that happens to a person leading a bad life whereby he suddenly leads a good life. That is a delusion. Whatever virtue morality may possess, it is outside the mystic’s sphere. No doubt a person who has been initiated into this mystery is likely to be moral because he is henceforth in harmony with himself, and such a man is usually, by a natural impulse, in harmony also with others. Like Leonardo, who through the glow of his adoration of Nature was as truly a mystic as St. Francis, even by contact with him “every broken heart is made serene.” But a religious man is not necessarily a moral man. That is to say that we must by no means expect to find that the religious man, even when he is in harmony with his fellows, is necessarily in harmony with the moral laws of his age. We fall into sad confusion if we take for granted that a mystic is what we conventionally term a “moral” man. Jesus, as we know, was almost as immoral from the standpoint of the society in which he moved as he would be in our society. That, no doubt, is an extreme example, yet the same holds good, in a minor degree, of many other mystics, even in very recent times. The satyrs and the fauns were minor divinities in antiquity, and in later times we have been apt to misunderstand their holy functions and abuse their sacred names.
Not only is there no necessary moral change in such a process, still less is there any necessary intellectual change. Religion need not involve intellectual suicide. On the intellectual side there may be no obvious change whatever. No new creed or dogma had been adopted. It might rather be said that, on the contrary, some prepossessions, hitherto unconscious, had been realised and cast out. The operations of reason, so far from being fettered, can be effected with greater freedom and on a larger scale. Under favourable conditions the religious process, indeed, throughout directly contributes to strengthen the scientific attitude. The mere fact that one has been impelled by the sincerity of one’s religious faith to question, to analyse, and finally to destroy one’s religious creed, is itself an incomparable training for the intelligence. In this task reason is submitted to the hardest tests; it has every temptation to allow itself to be lulled into sleepy repose or cajoled into specious reconciliations. If it is true to itself here it is steeled for every other task in the world, for no other task can ever demand so complete a self-sacrifice at the call of Truth. Indeed, the final restoration of the religious impulse on a higher plane may itself be said to reënforce the scientific impulse, for it removes that sense of psychic disharmony which is a subconscious fetter on the rational activity. The new inward harmony, proceeding from a psychic centre that is at one alike with itself and with the Not-Self, imparts confidence to every operation of the intellect. All the metaphysical images of faith in the unseen—too familiar in the mystical experiences of men of all religions to need specification—are now on the side of science. For he who is thus held in his path can pursue that path with serenity and trust, however daring its course may sometimes seem.
It appears to me, therefore, on the basis of personal experience, that the process thus outlined is a natural process. The harmony of the religious impulse and of the scientific impulse is not merely a conclusion to be deduced from the history of the past. It is a living fact to-day. However obscured it may sometimes be, the process lies in human nature and is still open to all to experience.
If the development of the religious instinct and the development of the scientific instinct are alike natural, and if the possibility of the harmony of the two instincts is a verifiable fact of experience, how is it, one may ask, that there has ever been any dispute on the matter? Why has not this natural experience been the experience of all?
Various considerations may help to make clear to us how it has happened that a process which might reasonably be supposed to be intimate and sacred should have become so obscured and so deformed that it has been fiercely bandied about by opposing factions. At the outset, as we have seen, among comparatively primitive peoples, it really is a simple and natural process carried out harmoniously with no sense of conflict. A man, it would seem, was not then overburdened by the still unwritten traditions of the race. He was comparatively free to exercise his own impulses unfettered by the chains forged out of the dead impulses of those who had gone before him.
It is the same still among uncultivated persons of our own race in civilisation. I well remember how once, during a long ride through the Australian bush with a settler, a quiet, uncommunicative man with whom I had long been acquainted, he suddenly told me how at times he would ascend to the top of a hill and become lost to himself and to everything as he stood in contemplation of the scene around him. Those moments of ecstasy, of self-forgetful union with the divine beauty of Nature, were entirely compatible with the rational outlook of a simple, hard-working man who never went to church, for there was no church of any kind to go to, but at such moments had in his own humble way, like Moses, met God in a mountain. There can be no doubt that such an experience is not uncommon among simple folk unencumbered by tradition, even when of civilised race.
The burden of traditions, of conventions, of castes has too often proved fatal alike to the manifestation of the religious impulse and the scientific impulse. It is unnecessary to point out how easily this happens in the case of the religious impulse. It is only too familiar a fact how, when the impulse of religion first germinates in the young soul, the ghouls of the Churches rush out of their caverns, seize on the unhappy victim of the divine effluence and proceed to assure him that his rapture is, not a natural manifestation, as free as the sunlight and as gracious as the unfolding of a rose, but the manifest sign that he has been branded by a supernatural force and fettered for ever to a dead theological creed. Too often he is thus caught by the bait of his own rapture; the hook is firmly fixed in his jaw and he is drawn whither his blind guides will; his wings droop and fall away; so far as the finer issues of life are concerned, he is done for and damned.
But the process is not so very different on the scientific side, though here it is more subtly concealed. The youth in whom the natural impulse of science arises is sternly told that the spontaneous movement of his intelligence towards Nature and truth is nothing, for the one thing needful is that he shall be put to discipline, and trained in the scientific traditions of the ages. The desirability of such training for the effective questioning of Nature is so clear that both teacher and pupil are apt to overlook the fact that it involves much that is not science at all: all sorts of dead traditions, unrealised fragments of ancient metaphysical systems, prepossessions and limitations, conscious or unconscious, the obedience to arbitrary authorities. It is never made clear to him that science also is an art. So that the actual outcome may be that the finally accomplished man of science has as little of the scientific impulse as the fully fledged religious man need have of the religious impulse; he becomes the victim of another kind of ecclesiastical sectarianism.
There is one special piece of ancient metaphysics which until recently scientific and religious sects have alike combined to support: the fiction of “matter,” which we passingly came upon when considering the art of thinking. It is a fiction that has much to answer for in distorting the scientific spirit and in creating an artificial opposition between science and religion. All sorts of antique metaphysical peculiarities, inherited from the decadence of Greek philosophy, were attributed to “matter” and they were mostly of a bad character; all the good qualities were attributed to “spirit”; “matter” played the Devil’s part to this more divine “spirit.” Thus it was that “materialistic” came to be a term signifying all that is most heavy, opaque, depressing, soul-destroying, and diabolical in the universe. The party of traditionalised religion fostered this fiction and the party of traditionalised science frequently adopted it, cheerily proposing to find infinite potentialities in this despised metaphysical substance. So that “matter” which was on one side trodden underfoot was on the other side brandished overhead as a glorious banner.
Yet “matter,” as psychologically minded philosophers at last began to point out, is merely a substance we have ourselves invented to account for our sensations. We see, we touch, we hear, we smell, and by a brilliant synthetic effort of imagination we put together all those sensations and picture to ourselves “matter” as being the source of them. Science itself is now purging “matter” of its complicated metaphysical properties. That “matter,” the nature of which Dr. Johnson, as Boswell tells us, thought he had settled by “striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone,” is coming to be regarded as merely an electrical emanation. We now accept even that transmutation of the elements of which the alchemists dreamed. It is true that we still think of “matter” as having weight. But so cautious a physicist as Sir Joseph Thomson long ago pointed out that weight is only an “apparently” invariable property of matter. So that “matter” becomes almost as “ethereal” as “spirit,” and, indeed, scarcely distinguishable from “spirit.” The spontaneous affirmation of the mystic that he lives in the spiritual world here and now will then be, in other words, merely the same affirmation which the man of science has more laboriously reached. The man, therefore, who is terrified by “materialism” has reached the final outpost of absurdity. He is a simple-minded person who places his own hand before his eyes and cries out in horror: The Universe has disappeared!
We have not only to realise how our own prepossessions and the metaphysical figments of our own creation have obscured the simple realities of religion and science alike; we have also to see that our timid dread lest religion should kill our science, or science kill our religion, is equally fatal here. He who would gain his life must be willing to lose it, and it is by being honest to one’s self and to the facts by applying courageously the measuring rod of Truth, that in the end salvation is found. Here, it is true, there are those who smilingly assure us that by adopting such a method we shall merely put ourselves in the wrong and endure much unnecessary suffering. There is no such thing as “Truth,” they declare, regarded as an objective impersonal reality; we do not “discover” truth, we invent it. Therefore your business is to invent a truth which shall harmoniously satisfy the needs of your nature and aid your efficiency in practical life. That we are justified in being dishonest towards truth has even been argued from the doctrine of relativity by some who failed to realise that that doctrine is here hardly relative. Certainly the philosophers of recent times, from Nietzsche to Croce, have loved to analyse the idea of “truth” and to show that it by no means signifies what we used to suppose it signified. But to show that truth is fluid, or even the creation of the individual mind, is by no means to show that we can at will play fast and loose with it to suit our own momentary convenience. If we do we merely find ourselves, at the end, in a pool where we must tramp round and round in intellectual slush out of which there is no issue. One may well doubt whether any Pragmatist has ever really invented his truth that way. Practically, just as the best result is attained by the man who acts as though free-will were a reality and who exerts it, so in this matter, also, practically, in the end the best result is attained by assuming that truth is an objective reality which we must patiently seek, and in accordance with which we must discipline our own wayward impulses. There is no transcendent objective truth, each one of us is an artist creating his own truth from the phenomena presented to him, but if in that creation he allows any alien emotional or practical considerations to influence him he is a bad artist and his work is wrought for destruction. From the pragmatic point of view, it may thus be said that if the use of the measuring-rod of truth as an objective standard produces the best practical results, that use is pragmatically justified. But if so, we are exactly in the same position as we were before the pragmatist arrived; we can get on as well without him, if not better, for we run the risk that he may confuse the issues for us. It is really on the theoretic rather than the practical side that he is helpful.
It is not only the Pragmatist whose well-meant efforts to find an easy reconciliation of belief and practice, and indirectly the concord of religion and science, come to grief because he has not realised that the walls of the spiritual world can only be scaled with much expenditure of treasure, not without blood and sweat, that we cannot glide luxuriously to Heaven in his motor-car. We are also met by the old-fashioned Intuitionist. It is no accident that the Intuitionist so often walks hand in hand with the Pragmatist; they are engaged in the same tasks. There is, we have seen, the impulse of science which must work through intelligence; there is, also, the impulse of religion in the satisfaction of which intelligence can only take a very humble place at the antechamber of the sanctuary. To admit, therefore, that reason cannot extend into the religious sphere is absolutely sound so long as we realise that reason has a coordinate right to lay down the rules in its own sphere of intelligence. But in men of a certain mental type the two tendencies are alike so deeply implanted that they cannot escape them: they are not only impelled to go beyond intelligence, but they are also impelled to carry intelligence with them outside its sphere. The sphere of intelligence is limited, they say, and rightly; the soul has other impulses besides that of intelligence and life needs more than knowledge for its complete satisfaction. But in the hands of these people the faculty of “intuition,” which is to supplant that of intelligence, itself results in a product which by them is called “knowledge,” and so spuriously bears the hall-mark which belongs to the product of intelligence.
But the result is disastrous. Not only is an illegitimate confusion introduced, but, by attributing to the impulse of religion a character which it is neither entitled to nor in need of, we merely discredit it in the eyes of intelligence. The philosopher of intuition, even in denying intelligence, is apt to remain so predominantly intelligent that, even in entering what is for him the sphere of religion, he still moves in an atmosphere of rarefied intelligence. He is farther from the Kingdom of Heaven than the simple man who is quite incapable of understanding the philosopher’s theory, but yet may be able to follow his own religious impulse without foisting into it an intellectual content. For even the simple man may be one with the great mystics who all declare that the unspeakable quality they have acquired, as Eckhart puts it, “hath no image.” It is not in the sphere of intellection, it brings no knowledge; it is the outcome of the natural instinct of the individual soul.
No doubt there really are people in whom the instincts of religion and of science alike are developed in so rudimentary a degree, if developed at all, that they never become conscious. The religious instinct is not an essential instinct. Even the instinct of sex, which is much more fundamental than either of these, is not absolutely essential. A very little bundle of instincts and impulses is indispensable to a man on his way down the path of life to a peaceful and humble grave. A man’s equipment of tendencies, on the lowest plane, needs to be more complex and diverse than an oyster’s, yet not so very much more. The equipment of the higher animals, moreover, is needed less for the good of the individual than for the good of the race. We cannot, therefore, be surprised if the persons in whom the superfluous instincts are rudimentary fail to understand them, confusing them and overlaying them with each other and with much that is outside both. The wonder would be if it were otherwise.
When all deduction has been made of the mental and emotional confusions which have obscured men’s vision, we cannot fail to conclude, it seems to me, that Science and Mysticism are nearer to each other than some would have us believe. At the beginning of human cultures, far from being opposed, they may even be said to be identical. From time to time, in later ages, brilliant examples have appeared of men who have possessed both instincts in a high degree and have even fused the two together, while among the humble in spirit and the lowly in intellect it is probable that in all ages innumerable men have by instinct harmonised their religion with their intelligence. But as the accumulated experiences of civilisation have been preserved and handed on from generation to generation, this free and vital play of the instincts has been largely paralysed. On each side fossilised traditions have accumulated so thickly, the garments of dead metaphysics have been wrapped so closely around every manifestation alike of the religious instinct and the scientific instinct—for even what we call “common sense” is really a hardened mass of dead metaphysics—that not many persons can succeed in revealing one of these instincts in its naked beauty, and very few can succeed in so revealing both instincts. Hence a perpetual antagonism. It may be, however, we are beginning to realise that there are no metaphysical formulas to suit all men, but that every man must be the artist of his own philosophy. As we realise that, it becomes easier than it was before to liberate ourselves from a dead metaphysics, and so to give free play alike to the religious instinct and the scientific instinct. A man must not swallow more beliefs than he can digest; no man can absorb all the traditions of the past; what he fills himself with will only be a poison to work to his own auto-intoxication.
Along all these lines we see more clearly than before the real harmony between Mysticism and Science. We see, also, that all arguments are meaningless until we gain personal experience. One must win one’s own place in the spiritual world painfully and alone. There is no other way of salvation. The Promised Land always lies on the other side of a wilderness.
It may seem that we have been harping overmuch on a single string of what is really a very rich instrument, when the whole exalted art of religion is brought down to the argument of its relationship to science. The core of religion is mysticism, it is admitted. And yet where are all the great mystics? Why nothing of the Neo-Platonists in whom the whole movement of modern mysticism began, of their glorious pupils in the Moslem world, of Ramon Lull and Francis of Assisi and François Xavier and John of the Cross and George Fox and the “De Imitatione Christi” and “Towards Democracy”? There is no end to that list of glorious names, and they are all passed by.
To write of the mystics, whether Pagan or Christian or Islamic, is a most delightful task. It has been done, and often very well done. The mystics are not only themselves an incarnation of beauty, but they reflect beauty on all who with understanding approach them.
Moreover, in the phenomena of religious mysticism we have a key—if we only knew it—to many of the most precious human things which on the surface may seem to have nothing in them of religion. For this is an art which instinctively reveals to us the secrets of other arts. It presents to us in the most naked and essential way the inward experience which has inspired men to find modes of expression which are transmutations of the art of religion and yet have on the surface nothing to indicate that this is so. It has often been seen in poetry and in music and in painting. One might say that it is scarcely possible to understand completely the poetry of Shelley or the music of César Franck or the pictures of Van Gogh unless there is somewhere within an intimation of the secret of mysticism. This is so not because of any imperfection in the achieved work of such men in poetry and in music and in painting,—for work that fails to contain its own justification is always bad work,—but because we shall not be in possession of the clue to explain the existence of that work. We may even go beyond the sphere of the recognised arts altogether, and say that the whole love of Nature and landscape, which in modern times has been so greatly developed, largely through Rousseau, the chief creator of our modern spiritual world, is not intelligible if we are altogether ignorant of what religion means.
But we are not so much concerned here with the rich and variegated garments the impulse of religion puts on, or with its possible transmutations, as with the simple and naked shape of those impulses when bared of all garments. It was peculiarly important to present the impulse of mysticism naked because, of all the fundamental human impulses, that is the one most often so richly wrapped round with gorgeous and fantastic garments that, alike to the eye of the ordinary man and the acute philosopher, there has seemed to be no living thing inside at all. It was necessary to strip off all these garments, to appeal to simple personal direct experience for the actual core of fact, and to show that that core, so far from being soluble by analysis into what science counts as nothing, is itself, like every other natural organic function, a fact of science.
It is enough here, where we are concerned only with the primary stuff of art, the bare simple technique of the human dance, to have brought into as clear a light as may be the altogether natural mechanism which lies behind all the most magnificent fantasies of the mystic impulse, and would still subsist and operate even though they were all cast into the flames. That is why it has seemed necessary to dwell all the time on the deep-lying harmony of the mystic’s attitude with the scientific man’s attitude. It is a harmony which rests on the faith that they are eternally separate, however close, however intimately coöperative. When the mystic professes that, as such, he has knowledge of the same order as the man of science, or when the scientist claims that, as such, he has emotion which is like that of the man of religion, each of them deceives himself. He has introduced a confusion where no confusion need be; perhaps, indeed, he has even committed that sin against the Holy Ghost of his own spiritual integrity for which there is no forgiveness. The function of intellectual thought—which is that of the art of science—may, certainly, be invaluable for religion; it makes possible the purgation of all that pseudo-science, all that philosophy, good or bad, which has poisoned and encrusted the simple spontaneous impulse of mysticism in the open air of Nature and in the face of the sun. The man of science may be a mystic, but cannot be a true mystic unless he is so relentless a man of science that he can tolerate no alien science in his mysticism. The mystic may be a man of science, but he will not be a good man of science unless he understands that science must be kept for ever bright and pure from all admixture of mystical emotion; the fountain of his emotion must never rust the keenness of his analytic scalpel. It is useless to pretend that any such rustiness can ever convert the scalpel into a mystical implement, though it can be an admirable aid in cutting towards the mystical core of things, and perhaps if there were more relentless scientific men there would be more men of pure mystic vision. Science by itself, good or bad, can never be religion, any more than religion by itself can ever be science, or even philosophy.
It is by looking back into the past that we see the facts in an essential simplicity less easy to reach in more sophisticated ages. We need not again go so far back as the medicine-men of Africa and Siberia. Mysticism in pagan antiquity, however less intimate to us and less seductive than that of later times, is perhaps better fitted to reveal to us its true nature. The Greeks believed in the spiritual value of “conversion” as devoutly as our Christian sects and they went beyond most such sects in their elaborately systematic methods for obtaining it, no doubt for the most part as superficially as has been common among Christians. It is supposed that almost the whole population of Athens must have experienced the Eleusinian initiation. These methods, as we know, were embodied in the Mysteries associated with Dionysus and Demeter and Orpheus and the rest, the most famous and typical being those of Attic Eleusis. We too often see those ancient Greek Mysteries through a concealing mist, partly because it was rightly felt that matters of spiritual experience were not things to talk about, so that precise information is lacking, partly because the early Christians, having their own very similar Mysteries to uphold, were careful to speak evil of Pagan Mysteries, and partly because the Pagan Mysteries no doubt really tended to degenerate with the general decay of classic culture. But in their large simple essential outlines they seem to be fairly clear. For just as there was nothing “orgiastic” in our sense in the Greek “orgies,” which were simply ritual acts, so there was nothing, in our sense, “mysterious” in the Mysteries. We are not to suppose, as is sometimes supposed, that their essence was a secret doctrine, or even that the exhibition of a secret rite was the sole object, although it came in as part of the method. A mystery meant a spiritual process of initiation, which was, indeed, necessarily a secret to those who had not yet experienced it, but had nothing in itself “mysterious” beyond what inheres to-day to the process in any Christian “revival,” which is the nearest analogue to the Greek Mystery. It is only “mysterious” in the sense that it cannot be expressed, any more than the sexual embrace can be expressed, in words, but can only be known by experience. A preliminary process of purification, the influence of suggestion, a certain religious faith, a solemn and dramatic ritual carried out under the most impressive circumstances, having a real analogy to the Catholic’s Mass, which also is a function, at once dramatic and sacred, which culminates in a spiritual communion with the Divine—all this may contribute to the end which was, as it always must be in religion, simply a change of inner attitude, a sudden exalting realisation of a new relationship to eternal things. The philosophers understood this; Aristotle was careful to point out, in an extant fragment, that what was gained in the Mysteries was not instruction but impressions and emotions, and Plato had not hesitated to regard the illumination which came to the initiate in philosophy as of the nature of that acquired in the Mysteries. So it was natural that when Christianity took the place of Paganism the same process went on with only a change in external circumstances. Baptism in the early Church—before it sank to the mere magical sort of rite it later became—was of the nature of initiation into a Mystery, preceded by careful preparation, and the baptised initiate was sometimes crowned with a garland as the initiated were at Eleusis.
When we go out of Athens along the beautiful road that leads to the wretched village of Eleusis and linger among the vast and complicated ruins of the chief shrine of mysticism in our Western world, rich in associations that seem to stretch back to the Neolithic Age and suggest a time when the mystery of the blossoming of the soul was one with the mystery of the upspringing of the corn, it may be that our thoughts by no unnatural transition pass from the myth of Demeter and Kore to the remembrance of what we may have heard or know of the manifestations of the spirit among barbarian northerners of other faiths or of no faith in far Britain and America and even of their meetings of so-called “revival.” For it is always the same thing that Man is doing, however various and fantastic the disguises he adopts. And sometimes the revelation of the new life, springing up from within, comes amid the crowd in the feverish atmosphere of artificial shrines, maybe soon to shrivel up, and sometimes the blossoming forth takes place, perhaps more favourably, in the open air and under the light of the sun and amid the flowers, as it were to a happy faun among the hills. But when all disguises have been stripped away, it is always and everywhere the same simple process, a spiritual function which is almost a physiological function, an art which Nature makes. That is all.
/ Contents /
 It is scarcely necessary to remark that if we choose to give to “mysticism” a definition incompatible with “science,” the opposition cannot be removed. This is, for example, done by Croce, who yet recognises as highly important a process of “conversion” which is nothing else but mysticism as here understood. (See, e.g., Piccoli, Benedetto Croce, p. 184.) Only he has left himself no name to apply to it.
 “The endeavour of the human mind to enjoy the blessedness of actual communion with the highest,” which is Pringle Pattison’s widely accepted definition of mysticism, I prefer not to use because it is ambiguous. The “endeavour,” while it indicates that we are concerned with an art, also suggests its strained pathological forms, while “actual communion” lends itself to ontological interpretations.
 Farnell even asserts (in his Greek Hero Cults) that “it is impossible to quote a single example of any one of the higher world-religions working in harmony with the development of physical science.” He finds a “special and unique” exception in the cult of Asclepios at Cos and Epidauros and Pergamon, where, after the fourth century B.C., were physicians, practising a rational medical science, who were also official priests of the Asclepios temples.
 It is scarcely necessary to point out that a differentiation of function has to be made sooner or later, and sometimes it is made soon. This was so among the Todas of India. “Certain Todas,” says Dr. Rivers (The Todas, 1906, p. 249), “have the power of divination, others are sorcerers, and others again have the power of curing diseases by means of spells and rites, while all three functions are quite separate from those of the priest or sharman. The Todas have advanced some way towards civilisation of function in this respect, and have as separate members of the community their prophets, their magicians, and their medicine-men in addition to their priests.”
 It must be remembered that for science the mechanistic assumption always remains; it is, as Vaihinger would say, a necessary fiction. To abandon it is to abandon science. Driesch, the most prominent vitalist of our time, has realised this, and in his account of his own mental development (Die Deutsche Philosophie der Gegenwart, vol. I, 1921) he shows how, beginning as a pupil of Haeckel and working at zoölogy for many years, after adopting the theory of vitalism he abandoned all zoölogical work and became a professor of philosophy. When the religious spectator, or the æsthetic spectator (as is well illustrated in the French review L’Esprit Nouveau), sees the “machinery” as something else than machinery he is legitimately going outside the sphere of science, but he is not thereby destroying the basic assumption of science.
 Long ago Edith Simcox (in a passage of her Natural Law which chanced to strike my attention very soon after the episode above narrated) well described “conversion” as a “spiritual revolution,” not based on any single rational consideration, but due to the “cumulative evidence of cognate impressions” resulting, at a particular moment, not in a change of belief, but in a total rearrangement and recolouring of beliefs and impressions, with the supreme result that the order of the universe is apprehended no longer as hostile, but as friendly. This is the fundamental fact of “conversion,” which is the gate of mysticism.
 How we are to analyse the conception of “universe”—apart from its personal emotional tone, which is what mainly concerns us—is, of course, a matter that must be left altogether open and free. Sir James Frazer at the end of his Golden Bough (“Balder the Beautiful,” vol. II, p. 306) finds that the “universe” is an “ever-shifting phantasmagoria of thought,” or, he adds, suddenly shifting to a less idealistic and more realistic standpoint, “shadows on the screen.” That is a literary artist’s metaphysical way of describing the matter and could not occur to any one who was not familiar with the magic lantern which has now developed into the cinema, beloved of philosophers for its symbolic significance. Mr. Bertrand Russell, a more abstract artist, who would reject any such “imaginative admixture” as he would find in Frazer’s view, once severely refused to recognise any such thing as a “universe,” but has since less austerely admitted that there is, after all, a “set of appearances,” which may fairly be labelled “reality,” so long as we do not assume “a mysterious Thing-in-Itself behind the appearances.” (Nation, 6th January, 1923.) But there are always some people who think that an “appearance” must be an appearance of Something, and that when a “shadow” is cast on the screen of our sensory apparatus it must be cast by Something. So every one defines the “universe” in his own way, and no two people—not even the same person long—can define it in the same way. We have to recognise that even the humblest of us is entitled to his own “universe.”
 The simple and essential outlines of “conversion” have been obscured because chiefly studied in the Churches among people whose prepossessions and superstitions have rendered it a highly complex process, and mixed up with questions of right and wrong living which, important as they are, properly form no part of religion. The man who waits to lead a decent life until he has “saved his soul” is not likely to possess a soul that is worth saving. How much ignorance prevails in regard to “conversion,” even among the leaders of religious opinion, and what violent contrasts of opinion—in which sometimes both the opposing parties are mistaken—was well illustrated by a discussion on the subject at the Church Congress at Sheffield in 1922. A distinguished Churchman well defined “conversion” as a unification of character, involving the whole man,—will, intellect, and emotion,—by which a “new self” was achieved; but he also thought that this great revolutionary process consisted usually in giving up some “definite bad habit,” very much doubted whether sudden conversion was a normal phenomenon at all, and made no attempt to distinguish between that kind of “conversion” which is merely the result of suggestion and auto-suggestion, after a kind of hysterical attack produced by feverish emotional appeals, and that which is spontaneous and of lifelong effect. Another speaker went to the opposite extreme by asserting that “conversion” is an absolutely necessary process, and an Archbishop finally swept away “conversion” altogether by declaring that the whole of the religious life (and the whole of the irreligious life?) is a process of conversion. (The Times, 12th October, 1922.) It may be a satisfaction to some to realise that this is a matter on which it is vain to go to the Churches for light.
 Jules de Gaultier (La Philosophie officielle et la Philosophie, p. 150) refers to those Buddhist monks the symbol of whose faith was contained in one syllable: Om. But those monks, he adds, belonged to “the only philosophic race that ever existed” and by the aid of their pure faith, placed on a foundation which no argumentation can upset, all the religious philosophies of the Judeo-Helleno-Christian tradition are but as fairy-tales told to children.
 We must always remember that “Church” and “religion,” though often confused, are far from being interchangeable terms. “Religion” is a natural impulse, “Church” is a social institution. The confusion is unfortunate. Thus Freud (Group Psychology, p. 51) speaks of the probability of religion disappearing and Socialism taking its place. He means not “religion,” but a “Church.” We cannot speak of a natural impulse disappearing, an institution easily may.
 It must be remembered that “intuition” is a word with all sorts of philosophical meanings, in addition to its psychological meanings (which were studied some years ago by Dearborn in the Psychological Review). For the ancient philosophic writers, from the Neo-Platonists on, it was usually a sort of special organ for coming in contact with supernatural realities; for Bergson it is at once a method superior to the intellect for obtaining knowledge and a method of æsthetic contemplation; for Croce it is solely æsthetic, and art is at once “intuition” and “expression” (by which he means the formation of internal images). For Croce, when the mind “intuits” by “expressing,” the result is art. There is no “religion” for Croce except philosophy.
 The modern literature of the Mysteries, especially of Eleusis, is very extensive and elaborate in many languages. I will only mention here a small and not very recent book, Cheetham’s Hulsean Lectures on The Mysteries Pagan and Christian (1897) as for ordinary readers sufficiently indicating the general significance of the Mysteries. There is, yet briefer, a more modern discussion of the matter in the Chapter on “Religion” by Dr. W. R. Inge in R. W. Livingstone’s useful collection of essays, The Legacy of Greece (1921).