In the Conclusion to The Key to Theosophy, speaking of the attempt made by the Great Lodge of Adepts during the last quarter of every century to help on the spiritual progress of humanity, H.P.B. says:
Some one or more persons have appeared in the world as their agents, and a greater or less amount of occult knowledge and teaching has been given out. If you care to do so, you can trace these movements back, century by century, as far as our detailed historical records extend.
W. Q. Judge, in Chapter I of The Ocean of Theosophy, names some of the extraordinary characters who have appeared in Western civilization—Paracelsus, Jacob Boehme, Saint-Martin, Mesmer, Cagliostro and Saint-Germain—all of whom were connected with the centenary movements that H.P.B. refers to in the above quotation. Mr. Judge writes that, though generally reviled and classed as impostors by people who had no original philosophy of their own, these characters are looked upon by students of Theosophy as members of one single Brotherhood, having a single doctrine.
Chronologically, Paracelsus (the symbolic name adopted by Theophrastus Bombast von Hohenheim) was the first to appear. He was born in 1493 in the canton of Zurich, and was the originator of valuable methods of treatment in medicine that are now gaining recognition. However, if one looks over the qualifications which he declared were needed by a physician, only an Adept would properly qualify. He wrote that a physician must be a Philosopher; possessing true knowledge, he must see the Unity of Nature and recognize man to be a faithful copy of the Universe. He must also know the "law of correspondence," for the principles of man are connected intimately with the planets; this would require a physician to be an Astronomer. He must, besides, be an Alchemist, that is, he must understand the processes of life before he attempts to heal. Added to this, the healer's moral nature must be above reproach. We can therefore see how few, if any, of our present-day physicians could come anywhere near fulfilling any of these qualifications.
At the age of 16 Paracelsus entered the University of Basel, where, among other things, he studied alchemy. When he was 20 he left on his travels, which took him to almost every important country in Europe, to Tartary and ultimately to India, where, possibly, he may have met the Mahatmas in Tibet. It was during these travels that he made the acquaintance of an Initiate who instructed him in the secret doctrines of the East.
Eventually he returned to Europe at the age of 32 and was appointed a professor of physic, medicine and surgery in the University of Basel. His condemnation of the medical practices of those days aroused the hatred and jealousy of his colleagues, who accused him of being in league with the devil; as a result of their persecution he resigned his position and eventually settled at Salzburg and died there in 1541, at the age of 48, leaving behind him a number of works which are to this day greatly valued by Kabbalists and Occultists, and by some of the medical men.
In The Theosophical Glossary H.P.B. calls him the "greatest Occultist of the middle ages." She further states that he never had a friend, but was surrounded by enemies, the most bitter of whom were the Churchmen; therefore it is not to be wondered at that he was murdered by some unknown foe. In addition to being "the cleverest physician of his age," one who could cure almost any illness by the power of talismans prepared by himself, he was also, we are told, "a clairvoyant of great powers, one of the most learned and erudite philosophers and mystics, and a distinguished Alchemist."
Jacob Boehme (1575-1624) comes next in the chronological order. The son of poor German peasants, he was educated only as far as being able to read and write; yet we are told that he was able to write works full of scientific truths. In describing him, H.P.B. says that he was one of those very rare persons "whose material envelope impedes in no way the direct, even if only occasional, intercommunion between the intellectual and the spiritual Ego." She has called him "a natural clairvoyant of most wonderful powers," "a thorough-born Mystic," "a great Theosophist," "the nursling of the genii (Nirmanakayas) who watched over and guided him." It has been said that Newton derived his knowledge of gravitation and its laws from Boehme, who had thorough view of the universe and could see inside of things, while modern physical science is content with looking at the outside. Some of the modern scientific discoveries go to prove his profound and intuitive insight into the most secret workings of nature.
Boehme, too, had his enemies and it is no wonder that after the publication of his Aurora, a work symbolically setting forth the fundamental ideas of Cosmogenesis which are given in Volume I of The Secret Doctrine, he was accused of heresy and ordered to refrain from further writing. Seven years were to go by during which he confined himself to his cobbler's trade; but later he again started writing, and about a year before his death some of his devotional works were published. This resulted in his banishment, and he died in Dresden at the age of 49.
We next turn to several famous persons, all of whom lived and worked in the 18th century: Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, Friedrich Anton Mesmer and Alessandro Cagliostro. The Count de Saint-Germain, whose date of birth is unknown, was on the scene at the same time.
Louis Claude de Saint-Martin (1743-1803), who gave up a promising career in the French army to devote himself to his philosophical studies, is called the "unknown philosopher" of the 18th century. He belonged to the same mystic brotherhood, the Fratres Lucis or "Brothers of Light," as did Saint-Germain, Cagliostro and Mesmer. All of them were Masons.
Saint-Martin was an ardent disciple of Jacob Boehme and studied under Martinez Pasqualis, whom H.P.B. describes as "a very learned man, a mystic and occultist." It was with Masonry that Saint-Martin was most concerned and he tried to restore it to its original character of Occultism and Theurgy through a mystical semi-Masonic Lodge, the "Rectified Rite of Saint-Martin." From this attempt was born an organization known as the Martinists. Saint-Martin tried to teach the Martinists that moral development, and not the development of occult powers, is the true basis of Occultism, and that powers by themselves are dangerous; but the Martinists movement failed.
Saint-Martin's philosophy was based on the time-honoured propositions of the ancient Wisdom-Religion. There have been attempts to dishonour his name, but he was a true Theosophist who lived and wrote his works with but one aim—to benefit mankind. His one burning desire was to alleviate man's suffering and to help him regenerate himself as also all nature, which he has polluted.
Three names form a triad: Mesmer, Cagliostro and Saint-Germain. Mesmer was an initiated member of two powerful occult Fraternities, the Fratres Lucis and the Brotherhood of Luxor. It was the Council of Luxor which selected him, under the orders of the "Great Brotherhood," to act in the 18th century as their messenger and to enlighten a portion of the Western nations in the occult lore. Saint-Germain was appointed to supervise the development of events, and later Cagliostro was commissioned to help.
Mesmer (1734-1815) was keenly interested in the writings of Paracelsus, and this fired him with the determination to become a doctor. After obtaining his medical degree he settled in Vienna and began to use magnetized objects in the curing of diseases; he magnetized his patients' clothing, bedding, the water they drank and bathed in, etc. News of his cures spread. In 1776 he received a visit from the Count de Saint-Germain, and it was the latter who instructed him in the higher aspects of magnetism. After this Mesmer discarded the use of magnetized objects and began to heal by direct vital transmission, which he called "animal magnetism" and which has been known since then as Mesmerism.
This, however, aroused the criticism of his colleagues, and the Medical Council of Vienna appealed to the Empress of Austria to have Mesmer denounced as an impostor. Forced to leave Vienna, he settled down in Paris. In France he became the friend of Marie Antoinette and many of the nobility supported him. The Academies of Science and Medicine, however, refused to respect his theories, though he was at that time the rage of Paris. The King looked upon his cures with suspicion and ordered an investigation of his methods by a committee chosen from among the members of the Academies of Science and Medicine. In summing up the results of their investigations they concluded that "where nothing is to be seen, felt, tasted or smelled, there nothing can exist." Hence the amazing cures which they had witnessed must be entirely to "the imagination of the patients themselves." The Clergy attributed his cures to the work of the devil, and orthodox physicians denounced him as a charlatan.
Mesmer left for a village near Zurich, refusing to return to Paris or to go to Germany, from both of which places he had invitations. He preferred working among the poor and carrying on his research work, making it permanently useful to those who would follow him. Though his work was denounced during his life, it later gained recognition. H.P.B. says in the Glossary that "Mesmer is already vindicated. The justification of the two others [Saint-Germain and Cagliostro] will follow in the next century." It needs to be recognized that Mesmerism, which effects cures with the help of the magnetic fluid in man, works from within without and involves no interference with the free will of the patient. It is, therefore, quite different from hypnotism, which is a most dangerous practice both physically and morally as it paralyses the free will of the subject and prevents him from receiving any other impressions than those suggested by the operator.
We turn next to perhaps the most tragic figure of that time, Caglistro. Though H.P.B. calls him in the Glossary "a famous Adept," and further states that his real story has never been told, he apparently failed in his mission, for H.P.B. says that "having made a series of mistakes, more or less fatal, he was recalled." One of those mistakes consisted in breaking his vow of chastity. He married a lady who later turned out to be a tool of the Jesuits, and who eventually brought about his downfall.
As a young lad he studied under and travelled in the company of a mysterious foreigner, of whom little is known. Their travels took them to Egypt, and there he was taken by the temple-priests through palaces never shown to strangers. It was because of his knowledge of Egyptian Mysteries that he later founded an Egyptian Rite in Masonry, the aim of which was the moral and spiritual regeneration of mankind. He had, as had Mesmer, certain occult powers and was a magnetic healer. This led to his being looked upon as a supernatural being on the one hand and denounced as a charlatan on the other. Though he gave himself up to altruistic service and the healing of the sick, without accepting any compensation for his services, and though he was the friend and adviser of the highest and mightiest of every land that he visited, yet he was, as it were, "stoned to death" by persecution, lies and infamous accusations.
While in England, he was accused by the French spy, Morande, of being the notorious Giuseppe Balsamo. This accusation Cagliostro refuted in an "Open Letter to the English People." Morande was forced to retract his statements and to apologize. However, to this day Caglistro continues to be confounded with Balsamo. He left England and wandered to Rome in 1789, where he made one final effort to revive his Egyptian Rite, but he made the mistake of initiating two men who turned out to be spies of the Inquisition. He was arrested and imprisoned, the sole charge against him being that he was a Mason and therefore engaged in unlawful studies. Everything he possessed was publicly burned. He is believed to have died in 1795, during his confinement, but mystery surrounds his death, and we have H.P.B.'s statement that he was "recalled."
Perhaps the most fascinating and mysterious of all the characters who worked as emissaries of the Masters was the Count of Saint-Germain. In The Theosophist of May 1881, H.P.B. wrote that
the treatment this great man, this pupil of Indian and Egyptian hierophants, this proficient in the secret wisdom of the East, has had from Western writers is a stigma upon human nature. And so has the stupid world behaved towards every other person who, like St. Germain, has revisited it after long seclusion devoted to study, with his stores of accumulated esoteric wisdom, in the hope of bettering it, and making it wiser and happier.
And in the Glossary H.P.B. says that no one really knew him. "By some he is regarded as an incarnate god, by other as a clever Alsatian Jew." Not only was he a great linguist, speaking almost all the European and many of the Oriental languages, but he was also a great musician, and in addition an adept in transmuting metals, in making gold and the most marvellous diamonds, which he gave away as presents. His spiritual powers included the prophesying of futurity, without ever making a mistake. Perhaps he was the best known for his work behind the scenes in the various political events of his time; for, besides being the friend and confidant of kings and princes and other influential men, he predicted the French Revolution long before it actually precipitated itself and tried to change the course of events by inducing Louis XVI to take timely action, but the latter would not listen to him.
We have H.P.B.'s word that he "was certainly the greatest Oriental Adept Europe has seen during the last centuries. But Europe knew him not." He worked in Europe for more than a century, and by some he was believed to have been deathless. Confiding his future plans to his Austrian friend, Franz Graeffer, the Count said in 1790:
Tomorrow night I am off. I am much needed in Constantinople, then in England, there to prepare two new inventions which you will have in the next century—trains and steamboats. Toward the end of this century I shall disappear out of Europe, and betake myself to the region of the Himalayas. I will rest; I must rest. Exactly in 85 years will people set eyes on me. Farewell.
And so we drop the curtain on a few of the characters who played prominent parts in the Theosophical Movement from the 15th to the 18th centuries. It was raised again in the 19th century, 85 years after Saint-Germain left, when H.P.B. launched her Movement in 1875.
The work of the Movement has assumed different phases according to the conditions obtaining at the time and place at which a particular effort was made. H.P.B., coming as she did at a time when thought and religion were free, could speak and write more plainly and definitely than could her predecessors.