Parallels between the Occult and Philosophy
November 8, 2013
Socrates and Adeimantus discuss the Occult while Thrasymachus listens.
Then suppose you now take this parable to the gentleman who is surprised at finding that occultists have no honour in their cities; explain it to him and try to convince him that their having honour would be far more extraordinary.
Say to him, that, in deeming the best votaries of the occult to be useless to the rest of the world, he is right; but also tell him to attribute their uselessness to the fault of those who will not use them, and not to themselves. The pilot should not humbly beg the sailors to be commanded by him --that is not the order of nature; neither are 'the wise to go to the doors of the rich' --the ingenious author of this saying told a lie --but the truth is, that, when a man is ill, whether he be rich or poor, to the physician he must go, and he who wants to be governed, to him who is able to govern. The ruler who is good for anything ought not to beg his subjects to be ruled by him; although the present governors of mankind are of a different stamp; they may be justly compared to the mutinous sailors, and the true helmsmen to those who are called by them good-for-nothings and star-gazers.
Precisely so, he said.
For these reasons, and among men like these, the occult, the noblest pursuit of all, is not likely to be much esteemed by those of the opposite faction; not that the greatest and most lasting injury is done to her by her opponents, but by her own professing followers, the same of whom you suppose the accuser to say, that the greater number of them are arrant rogues, and the best are useless; in which opinion I agreed.
And the reason why the good are useless has now been explained?
Then shall we proceed to show that the corruption of the majority is also unavoidable, and that this is not to be laid to the charge of the occult any more than the other?
By all means.
And let us ask and answer in turn, first going back to the description of the gentle and noble nature. Failing in this, he was an impostor, and had no part or lot in true occult.
Yes, that was said.
Truth, as you will remember, was his leader, whom he followed always and in all things; Well, and is not this one quality, to mention no others, greatly at variance with present notions of him?
Certainly, he said.
And have we not a right to say in his defence, that the true lover of knowledge is always striving after being --that is his nature; he will not rest in the multiplicity of individuals which is an appearance only, but will go on --the keen edge will not be blunted, nor the force of his desire abate until he have attained the knowledge of the true nature of every essence by a sympathetic and kindred power in the soul, and by that power drawing near and mingling and becoming incorporate with very being, having begotten mind and truth, he will have knowledge and will live and grow truly, and then, and not till then, will he cease from his travail.
Nothing, he said, can be more just than such a description of him.
And will the love of a lie be any part of a occultist's nature? Will he not utterly hate a lie?
And when truth is the captain, we cannot suspect any evil of the band which he leads?
Justice and health of mind will be of the company, and temperance will follow after?
True, he replied.
Neither is there any reason why I should again set in array the occultist's virtues, as you will doubtless remember that courage, magnificence, apprehension, memory, were his natural gifts. And you objected that, although no one could deny what I then said, still, if you leave words and look at facts, the persons who are thus described are some of them manifestly useless, and the greater number utterly depraved; we were then led to enquire into the grounds of these accusations, and have now arrived at the point of asking why are the majority bad, which question of necessity brought us back to the examination and definition of the true occultist.
And we have next to consider the occult nature, why so many are spoiled and so few escape spoiling --I am speaking of those who were said to be useless but not wicked --and, when we have done with them, we will speak of the imitators of the occult, what manner of men are they who aspire after a profession which is above them and of which they are unworthy, and then, by their manifold inconsistencies,bring upon the occult, and upon all occultists, that universal reprobation of which we speak.
What are these corruptions? he said.
I will see if I can explain them to you. Every one will admit that a nature having in perfection all the qualities which we required in an occultist, is a rare plant which is seldom seen among men.
And what numberless and powerful causes tend to destroy these rare natures!
In the first place there are their own virtues, their courage, temperance, and the rest of them, every one of which praise worthy qualities (and this is a most singular circumstance) destroys and distracts from the occult the soul which is the possessor of them.
That is very singular, he replied.
Then there are all the ordinary goods of life --beauty, wealth, strength, rank, and great connections in the State --you understand the sort of things --these also have a corrupting and distracting effect.
I understand; but I should like to know more precisely what you mean about them.
Grasp the truth as a whole, I said, and in the right way; you will then have no difficulty in apprehending the preceding remarks, and they will no longer appear strange to you.
And how am I to do so? he asked.
Why, I said, we know that all germs or seeds, whether vegetable or animal, when they fail to meet with proper nutriment or climate or soil, in proportion to their vigour, are all the more sensitive to the want of a suitable environment, for evil is a greater enemy to what is good than what is not.
There is reason in supposing that the finest natures, when under alien conditions, receive more injury than the inferior, because the contrast is greater.
And may we not say, Adeimantus, that the most gifted minds, when they are ill-educated, become pre-eminently bad? Do not great crimes and the spirit of pure evil spring out of a fulness of nature ruined by education rather than from any inferiority, whereas weak natures are scarcely capable of any very great good or very great evil?
There I think that you are right.
And our occultist follows the same analogy-he is like a plant which, having proper nurture, must necessarily grow and mature into all virtue, but, if sown and planted in an alien soil, becomes the most noxious of all weeds, unless he be preserved by some divine power. Do you really think, as people so often say, that our youth are corrupted by Sophists, or that private teachers of the art corrupt them in any degree worth speaking of? Are not the public who say these things the greatest of all Sophists? And do they not educate to perfection young and old, men and women alike, and fashion them after their own hearts?
When is this accomplished? he said.
When they meet together, and the world sits down at an assembly, or in a court of law, or a theatre, or a camp, or in any other popular resort, and there is a great uproar, and they praise some things which are being said or done, and blame other things, equally exaggerating both, shouting and clapping their hands, and the echo of the rocks and the place in which they are assembled redoubles the sound of the praise or blame --at such a time will not a young man's heart, as they say, leap within him? Will any private training enable him to stand firm against the overwhelming flood of popular opinion? or will he be carried away by the stream? Will he not have the notions of good and evil which the public in general have --he will do as they do, and as they are, such will he be?
Yes, Socrates; necessity will compel him.
And yet, I said, there is a still greater necessity, which has not been mentioned.
What is that?
The gentle force of attainder or confiscation or death which, as you are aware, these new Sophists and educators who are the public, apply when their words are powerless.
Indeed they do; and in right good earnest.
Now what opinion of any other Sophist, or of any private person, can be expected to overcome in such an unequal contest?
None, he replied.
No, indeed, I said, even to make the attempt is a great piece of folly; there neither is, nor has been, nor is ever likely to be, any different type of character which has had no other training in virtue but that which is supplied by public opinion --I speak, my friend, of human virtue only; what is more than human, as the proverb says, is not included: for I would not have you ignorant that, in the present evil state of governments, whatever is saved and comes to good is saved by the power of God, as we may truly say.
I quite assent, he replied.
Then let me crave your assent also to a further observation.
What are you going to say?
Why, that all those mercenary individuals, whom the many call Sophists and whom they deem to be their adversaries, do, in fact, teach nothing but the opinion of the many, that is to say, the opinions of their assemblies; and this is their wisdom. I might compare them to a man who should study the tempers and desires of a mighty strong beast who is fed by him-he would learn how to approach and handle him, also at what times and from what causes he is dangerous or the reverse, and what is the meaning of his several cries, and by what sounds, when another utters them, he is soothed or infuriated; and you may suppose further, that when, by continually attending upon him, he has become perfect in all this, he calls his knowledge wisdom, and makes of it a system or art, which he proceeds to teach, although he has no real notion of what he means by the principles or passions of which he is speaking, but calls this honourable and that dishonourable, or good or evil, or just or unjust, all in accordance with the tastes and tempers of the great brute. Good he pronounces to be that in which the beast delights and evil to be that which he dislikes; and he can give no other account of them except that the just and noble are the necessary, having never himself seen, and having no power of explaining to others the nature of either, or the difference between them, which is immense. By heaven, would not such an one be a rare educator?
Indeed, he would.
And in what way does he who thinks that wisdom is the discernment of the tempers and tastes of the motley multitude, whether in painting or music, or, finally, in politics, differ from him whom I have been describing For when a man consorts with the many, and exhibits to them his poem or other work of art or the service which he has done the State, making them his judges when he is not obliged, the so-called necessity of Diomede will oblige him to produce whatever they praise. And yet the reasons are utterly ludicrous which they give in confirmation of their own notions about the honourable and good. Did you ever hear any of them which were not?
No, nor am I likely to hear.
You recognise the truth of what I have been saying? Then let me ask you to consider further whether the world will ever be induced to believe in the existence of absolute beauty rather than of the many beautiful, or of the absolute in each kind rather than of the many in each kind?
Then the world cannot possibly be an occultist?
And therefore occultists must inevitably fall under the censure of the world?
And of individuals who consort with the mob and seek to please them?
That is evident.
Then, do you see any way in which the occultist can be preserved in his calling to the end? and remember what we were saying of him, that he was to have quickness and memory and courage and magnificence --these were admitted by us to be the true occultist's gifts.
Will not such an one from his early childhood be in all things first among all, especially if his bodily endowments are like his mental ones?
Certainly, he said.
And his friends and fellow-citizens will want to use him as he gets older for their own purposes?
Falling at his feet, they will make requests to him and do him honour and flatter him, because they want to get into their hands now, the power which he will one day possess.
That often happens, he said.
And what will a man such as he be likely to do under such circumstances, especially if he be a citizen of a great city, rich and noble, and a tall proper youth? Will he not be full of boundless aspirations, and fancy himself able to manage the affairs of Hellenes and of barbarians, and having got such notions into his head will he not dilate and elevate himself in the fulness of vain pomp and senseless pride?
To be sure he will.
Now, when he is in this state of mind, if someone gently comes to him and tells him that he is a fool and must get understanding, which can only be got by slaving for it, do you think that, under such adverse circumstances, he will be easily induced to listen?
And even if there be some one who through inherent goodness or natural reasonableness has had his eyes opened a little and is humbled and taken captive by the occult, how will his friends behave when they think that they are likely to lose the advantage which they were hoping to reap from his companionship? Will they not do and say anything to prevent him from yielding to his better nature and to render his teacher powerless, using to this end private intrigues as well as public prosecutions?
There can be no doubt of it.
And how can one who is thus circumstanced ever become an occultist?
Then were we not right in saying that even the very qualities which make a man an occultist may, if he be ill-educated, divert him from the occult, no less than riches and their accompaniments and the other so-called goods of life?
We were quite right.
Thus, my excellent friend, is brought about all that ruin and failure which I have been describing of the natures best adapted to the best of all pursuits; they are natures which we maintain to be rare at any time; this being the class out of which come the men who are the authors of the greatest evil to States and individuals; and also of the greatest good when the tide carries them in that direction; but a small man never was the doer of any great thing either to individuals or to States.
That is most true, he said.
And so the occult is left desolate, with her marriage rite incomplete: for her own have fallen away and forsaken her, and while they are leading a false and unbecoming life, other unworthy persons, seeing that she has no kinsmen to be her protectors, enter in and dishonour her; and fasten upon her the reproaches which, as you say, her reprovers utter, who affirm of her votaries that some are good for nothing, and that the greater number deserve the severest punishment.
That is certainly what people say.
Yes; and what else would you expect, I said, when you think of the puny creatures who, seeing this land open to them --a land well stocked with fair names and showy titles --like prisoners running out of prison into a sanctuary, take a leap out of their trades into the occult; those who do so being probably the cleverest hands at their own miserable crafts? For, although the occult be in this evil case, still there remains a dignity about her which is not to be found in the arts. And many are thus attracted by her whose natures are imperfect and whose souls are maimed and disfigured by their meannesses, as their bodies are by their trades and crafts. Is not this unavoidable?
Are they not exactly like a bald little tinker who has just got out of durance and come into a fortune; he takes a bath and puts on a new coat, and is decked out as a bridegroom going to marry his master's daughter, who is left poor and desolate?
A most exact parallel.
What will be the issue of such marriages? Will they not be vile and bastard?
There can be no question of it.
And when persons who are unworthy of education approach the occult and make an alliance with her who is a rank above them what sort of ideas and opinions are likely to be generated? Will they not be sophisms captivating to the ear, having nothing in them genuine, or worthy of or akin to true wisdom?
No doubt, he said.
Then, Adeimantus, I said, the worthy disciples of the occult will be but a small remnant: perchance some noble and well-educated person, detained by exile in her service, who in the absence of corrupting influences remains devoted to her; or some lofty soul born in a mean city, the politics of which he contemns and neglects; and there may be a gifted few who leave the arts, which they justly despise, and come to her; --or peradventure there are some who are restrained by our friend Theages' bridle; for everything in the life of Theages conspired to divert him from the occult; but ill-health kept him away from politics. My own case of the internal sign is hardly worth mentioning, for rarely, if ever, has such a monitor been given to any other man. Those who belong to this small class have tasted how sweet and blessed a possession the occult is, and have also seen enough of the madness of the multitude; and they know that no politician is honest, nor is there any champion of justice at whose side they may fight and be saved. Such an one may be compared to a man who has fallen among wild beasts --he will not join in the wickedness of his fellows, but neither is he able singly to resist all their fierce natures, and therefore seeing that he would be of no use to the State or to his friends, and reflecting that he would have to throw away his life without doing any good either to himself or others, he holds his peace, and goes his own way. He is like one who, in the storm of dust and sleet which the driving wind hurries along, retires under the shelter of a wall; and seeing the rest of mankind full of wickedness, he is content, if only he can live his own life and be pure from evil or unrighteousness, and depart in peace and good-will, with bright hopes.
Yes, he said, and he will have done a great work before he departs.
A great work --yes; but not the greatest, unless he find a State suitable to him; for in a State which is suitable to him, he will have a larger growth and be the saviour of his country, as well as of himself. The causes why the occult is in such an evil name have now been sufficiently explained: the injustice of the charges against her has been shown-is there anything more which you wish to say?
Nothing more on that subject, he replied; but I should like to know which of the governments now existing is in your opinion the one adapted to her.
Not any of them, I said; and that is precisely the accusation which I bring against them --not one of them is worthy of the occult nature, and hence that nature is warped and estranged; --as the exotic seed which is sown in a foreign land becomes denaturalized, and is wont to be overpowered and to lose itself in the new soil, even so this growth of the occult, instead of persisting, degenerates and receives another character. But if the occult ever finds in the State that perfection which she herself is, then will be seen that she is in truth divine, and that all other things, whether natures of men or institutions, are but human; --and now, I know that you are going to ask, what that State is.
No, he said; there you are wrong, for I was going to ask another question --whether it is the State of which. we are the founders and inventors, or some other?
Yes, I replied, ours in most respects; but you may remember my saying before, that some living authority would always be required in the State having the same idea of the constitution which guided you when as legislator you were laying down the laws.
That was said, he replied. Yes, but not in a satisfactory manner; you frightened us by interposing objections, which certainly showed that the discussion would be long and difficult; and what still remains is the reverse of easy.
What is there remaining?
The question how the study of the occult may be so ordered as not to be the ruin of the State: All great attempts are attended with risk; 'hard is the good,' as men say.
Still, he said, let the point be cleared up, and the enquiry will then be complete.
I shall not be hindered, I said, by any want of will, but, if at all, by a want of power: my zeal you may see for yourselves; and please to remark in what I am about to say how boldly and unhesitatingly I declare that States should pursue the occult, not as they do now, but in a different spirit.
In what manner?
At present, I said, the students of the occult are quite young; beginning when they are hardly past childhood, they devote only the time saved from moneymaking and housekeeping to such pursuits; and even those of them who are reputed to have most of the philosophic spirit, when they come within sight of the great difficulty of the subject, I mean dialectic, take themselves off. In after life when invited by some one else, they may, perhaps, go and hear a lecture, and about this they make much ado, for the occult is not considered by them to be their proper business: at last, when they grow old, in most cases they are extinguished more truly than Heracleitus' sun, inasmuch as they never light up again. But what ought to be their course?
Just the opposite.
In childhood and youth their study, and what the occult they learn, should be suited to their tender years: during this period while they are growing up towards manhood, the chief and special care should be given to their bodies that they may have them to use in the service of the occult; as life advances and the intellect begins to mature, let them increase the gymnastics of the soul; but when the strength of our citizens fails and is past civil and military duties, then let them range at will and engage in no serious labour, as we intend them to live happily here, and to crown this life with a similar happiness in another.
How truly in earnest you are, Socrates! he said; I am sure of that; and yet most of your hearers, if I am not mistaken, are likely to be still more earnest in their opposition to you, and will never be convinced; Thrasymachus least of all.
Do not make a quarrel, I said, between Thrasymachus and me, who have recently become friends, although, indeed, we were never enemies; for I shall go on striving to the utmost until I either convert him and other men, or do something which may profit them against the day when they live again, and hold the like discourse in another state of existence.