Probing the Occult

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The following appeared in The Pitt News, 2000.

This was my first-ever news story for a daily paper,

which began a long and illustrious career of reporting

unusual subcultures. In the next two years,

I would attend a Candomblé séance, a Cao Ðài ritual,

and an ill-advised Thelemite blood sacrifice.

Power is ethically neutral—it’s how a person uses it that makes it good or evil.

Using this theme, Dr. Richard Brooks lectured before a small group yesterday in Posvar Hall about the evolving message of the occult. The presentation continued a lecture series hosted by the Theosophical Society in Pittsburgh.

“The word ‘occult’ simply means ‘hidden,'” he said. “It is generally associated with gaining certain powers to attain superiority.”

Brooks discussed the basic principles of occultism, distinguishing between the traditional, or “Faustian,” and modern, “theosophical” occultist views.

The Faustian view, named after the German folk character Dr. Faustus, asserts that there is a separation between mind and matter. It also assumes that life is meaningless, that the occult is satanic in nature, and that humanity’s only aims are material, he said.

The theosophical occult suggests that mind and matter are interconnected, or “poles of the same being.” The universe is maintained by laws and a cyclical time frame.

“Life has a fundamental and underlying purpose,” Brooks argued. “We are in a cosmos, not a chaos.”

Brooks joined the Theosophical Society in 1953 after an “existential crisis.”

After losing his university scholarship, he enlisted in the Navy and served on board a U.S. submarine.

“That was interesting for about two days,” he said, chuckling.

Unable to choose a major, he was inspired by the book Elementary Theosophy, by then-society President L.W. Rogers.

Now Brooks is an emeritus professor of philosophy at Oakland University, near Detroit. He is a member of the Parapsychological Association, the Co-Masonic Order and the Liberal Catholic Church. He has lectured across the United States, as well as in Canada and India.

“My goal is to give people a deeper philosophy of life,” he said. “When you probe the occult view of ourselves, you find something enabling and exciting.”

The Theosophical Society in America is a national organization devoted to “form[ing] a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood & Sisterhood of Humanity regardless of race, sex, caste, creed or color.”

It also encourages the study of comparative religion, philosophy and science, and investigates unexplained laws of nature and the powers latent in humanity. Acceptance of these maxims is the only requisite for admission in the society.

The Pittsburgh chapter is more than 90 years old and was founded by Anne Bessant, who was active in politics and the women’s suffrage movement. Andrew Nesky, president of the Theosophical Society in Pittsburgh, coordinates the group’s weekly lectures.

“My goal is to perpetuate the forum,” he said. “My job is to be as unbiased as possible. If a speaker is biased towards a particular view, that’s all right; that’s his business. What’s important is that I bring in a person with a conflicting idea next week.”

Nesky is also a local actor, a high-school public-speaking coach, and a lecturer on metaphysics and human development.

Lectures are held on Sundays at 1:30 p.m. in Room 1K56 Posvar Hall. Future lectures will discuss the history of the Theosophical Society, featuring speaker Ivan Marcus, and the nature of human caring and indifference, with missionary John W. Tsai. These lectures are free and open to the public.

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