Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews A Dweller on Two Planets: Or the Dividing of the Way [Amazon, Abebooks, Internet Archive, Local Library] by Phylos the Thibetan (Walter Pierson, Frederick Spencer Oliver).
“Phylos the Thibetan” was the mantonym of Walter Pierson, a gold miner who is the contemporary narrator of this 19th-century work. Frederick S. Oliver, who wrote it in 1886, claimed to have been the amanuensis for the adept Phylos. Oliver was a seventeen-year-old in Reno, Nevada when he received the book by intermittent dictation from its author. Although later secondary references often describe the production as a case of “automatic writing,” Oliver himself expressly disclaimed that his hand was moved by any other force or that he was in a trance, insisting that he heard Phylos’ speech and set it down, with chapters being delivered out of sequence and often backwards, sentence by sentence.
However, the book wasn’t published until 1905 after Oliver’s death, and a great deal of editorial treatment may have been involved. Most of the book reads like a straightforward novel of the reincarnation romance genre–already a popular mode of fiction when it was written–although it is notable for having its principal earlier age set in antediluvian Atlantis or “Poseid.” In that period, Pierson was Zailm, an up-and-coming Atlantean gold miner. (No reader should be too surprised to find out that the teenage Oliver was involved with his family’s mining claims in Nevada.)
Ancient Atlantis has a great deal of super-technology, which Phylos assures us will be surpassed by modern America, the new Atlantis. It is also an enlightened socialist state with a religion of solar deism. There is, however, a fairly plain prophecy of Christianity (72). A bit more than the first half of the book consists of the Atlantean tale, which gradually culminates in great tragedy.
Part II picks up with the life of Pierson in the mid-1800s. Eventually, he is received by a society of adepts who dwell in Mount Shasta. These recognize his development (largely the work of prior lifetimes) and he is taken by one as a student to the other of the “Two Planets” of the title. The second planet is Venus, or as its inhabitants call it, Hesper. Phylos explains a scheme according to which spiritual progress involves centripetal migration through the solar system, with the interior spheres acting through finer sorts of matter, so that when Phylos goes to Venus, he does so in his consciousness only, a new, more spiritual body being supplied for him there.
Another doctrine important to the story is that of the original sexless soul divided into differently-sexed complementary beings who are mutually dependent for spiritual attainment (311-2). This process is expected to take long ages to resolve in any given case, so no one should assume that they have access to their own destined spiritual partner. But of course we see it worked out in the story. In addition to this accomplishment, Phylos is provided with a guardian angel (379ff., interestingly with explicit reference to John 16.13). Then he undergoes the Ordeal of the Abyss, under the figure of the Tempting of Christ in the desert.
The much shorter Part III has three main features: 1) It ties up the whole Phylos narrative, bringing him to perfected adeptship and confirming the continuous identities of his reincarnating associates in the Atlantean and modern settings. 2) It gives an account of the Fall of Atlantis, involving moral decline and physical catastrophe. 3) It offers prophecies regarding the United States, taken as the Atlantis of our current historical cycle, and many of these are dire. This third section is thick with Bible exegesis. But the Bible is placed by Phylos on a par with the Vedas.
The book is a real smorgasbord of American metaphysical religion. While recounting his trials as Zailm in Part I, Phylos indulges in some New Thought. The interludes between incarnations take place in devachan, a term doubtless taken from Theosophical sources. He has an occultist’s contempt for Spiritualism. While anti-racist, he also manages to give voice to some strident Nativisim (252-3), and he expresses a species of feminism (305, e.g.). His praise for Atlantean socialism is paired with an indictment of modern Capitalism as “denying the God-born declaration that all men are created free and equal, and warping it to seem a giant lie” (419).
The prose style of this book is dated and plodding. There are many digressions of little consequence. Although Oliver was greatly impressed at the prophetic accuracy of Phylos regarding Atlantean technology and modern science, I think it rates as tepid science-fictional insight. The religious elements were far more interesting to me, and I did catch glimpses of some genuine esoteric doctrines. It seems likely that Oliver did have some unusual experiences that resulted in the original text of this book, but what made it to print has the style of a weak imitation of Bulwer-Lytton.
I think there was as much genuine spiritual insight, greater moral sophistication, and far higher literary quality in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Years of Rice and Salt, another saga of reincarnation published a century after A Dweller on Two Planets. But given my interests in that peculiar period when Oliver’s book was written and published, I don’t regret the effort that I put into reading it.