OLD DIARY LEAVES, First Series (1874-78)
by Henry Steel Olcott
AN experiment, made by H. P. B., with myself as a passive agent, shortly after my coming to her house in Philadelphia, narrows the phenomena of letter-transport, with precipitation of writing inside sealed covers, to very close limits. The facts were these: she was tipping tables for me, with and without the contact between her hands and the table; making loud and tiny raps—sometimes while holding her hand six inches above the wood, and sometimes while resting her hand upon mine as it lay flat upon the table; and spelling out messages to me from the pretended John King which, as rapped out by the alphabet, I recorded on scraps of paper that were subsequently torn up and thrown away. At last some of these messages relating to third parties seemed worth keeping so one day, on my way home, I bought a reporter’s note-book, and, on getting to the house, showed it to her and explained its intended use. She was seated at the time and I
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standing. Without touching the book or making any mystical pass or sign, she told me to put it in my bosom. I did so, and after a moment’s pause she bade me take it out and look within. This is what I found: inside the first cover, written and drawn on ,the white lining paper in lead pencil:—
HENRY DE MORGAN,
4th of the Fourth month in A. D. 1875.”
Underneath this, the drawing of a Rosicrucian jewel; over the arch of the jewelled crown, the word FATE; beneath which is her name, “Helen,” followed by what looks, after the rubbing of these seventeen years, like 99, something smudged out, and then a simple+. At the narrowest point, where the head of the compasses enters the crown, are the initials I.S.F.; beneath that a monogram, blending the Capital letters A, T, D, and R, the T much larger than the others. At one foot of the compasses is my name, at the other the name of another man, a resident of Philadelphia; and along the segment of the arch connecting the two points of the pair of compasses run the words “Ways of Providence.” I, have the book on my table as I write, and my description is taken from the drawing itself. One striking feature of this example of psycho-dynamics is the fact that no one but myself had touched the book
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after it was purchased; I had had it in my pocket until it was shown to H. P. B., from the distance of two or three feet, had myself held it in my bosom, removed it a moment later when bidden, and the precipitation of the lead-pencil writing and drawing had been done while the book was inside my waistcoat. Now the writing inside the cover of my notebook is very peculiar; the e’s being all like the Greek epsilon, and the n’s something like the Greek pi: it is a quaint and quite individual handwriting, not like H. P. B.’s, but identical with that in all the written messages I had from first to last from “John King”. H. P. B. having then, the power of precipitation, must have transferred from her mind to the paper the images of words traced in this special style of script; or, if not she, but, some other expert in this art did it, then that other person must have done it in that same way—i. e., have first pictured to him-self mentally the images of those words and that drawing, and then precipitated; that is, made them visible on the paper, as though written with a lead pencil. After seven-teen years this psychograph remains legible, and some—not all—of the characters have the shine of plumbago: those that have not seem as though the lines had been sunken into the fabric of the paper. I have records of precipitations made in crayon, water colors, blue, red, and green pencils, ink and gold paint, as well as the formation of solid substances, but on scientific principle
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underlies them all, viz., the objectivation of images, previously “visualised,” or formed in the mind of the expert, by the employment of cosmic force and the diffused matter of space. The imagination is the creative hidden deity; force and matter its working tools.
The days and evenings of my Philadelphia visit were symposia of occult reading, teaching, and phenomena. Among H. P. B.’s most pleasant and sympathetic friends were Mr. and Mrs. Amer, and Messrs. M. D. Evans and J. Pusey, in whose presence a variety of phenomena were wrought. I remember among others, that one afternoon she caused a photograph on the wall to suddenly disappear from its frame and give place to a sketch portrait of John King while a person present was actually looking at it. By degrees my mind was taking in the Eastern theories of spirit and spirits, of matter and materialism. Without being asked by H. P. B. to give up the spiritualistic hypothesis, I was made to see and to feel that, as a true science, Spiritualism could only be said to exist in the East, and its only proficients were pupils and teachers of the Oriental schools of occultism. With the sincerest desire to be fair to the Spiritualists, I must say that up to the present moment no scientific theory of mediumistic phenomena that covers the ground and is generally accepted among them, has been put forward, nor have I seen convincing proof that among Western adherents to
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the movement there has been discovered a system by which spirits may be evoked or physical phenomena compelled at will. Not a medium that I have ever met or heard of possesses a mantram or Vidya (scientific method) for those purposes, such as are common and have been known for ages in all Eastern countries. See, for example, the article “An Evocation by Sorcery,” in The Theosophist for May, 1892. Thus for instance, while I and H. P. B.’s other friends were made to believe the John King (almost daily) phenomena were done by a disembodied man, once the famed buccaneer, Sir H. Morgan, and that she was serving him as medium, or, at least, contented helper, H. P. B. did things which implied a knowledge of magic. Let me give a homely example while at the same time remarking that great scientific inductions have been reached by the chance observation of equally commonplace facts—e.g., the falling of an apple, the jumping of the lid of a boiling kettle. One day, bethinking me that a sufficiency of towels was but too evidently lacking in her house, I bought some and brought them home with me in a parcel. We cuts them apart, and she was for putting them into immediate use without hemming, but, as I protested against such bad housekeeping, she good-naturally set to plying her needle. She had hardly commenced when she gave angry kick beneath the work-table at which she sat, and said, “Get out, you fool!” “What is the matter?” I asked.
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“Oh,” she replied, “it is only a little beast of an elemental that pulled my dress and wants something to do.” “Capital!” I said; “here is just the thing; make it hem these towels. Why should you bother about them, and you such an atrocious needlewoman as that very hem proves you to be?” She laughed, and abused me for my uncomplimentary speech, but at first would not gratify the poor little bond-slave under the table that was ready to play the kindly leprechaun if given the chance. I, however, persuaded her at last: she told me to lock up the towels, the needles and thread, in a bookcase with glass doors lined with thick green silk, that stood at the farther side of the room. I did so and resumed my seat near her, and we fell to talking on the inexhaustible and unique theme that occupied our thoughts—occult science. After perhaps a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes, I heard a little squeaky sound, like a mouse’s pipe, beneath the table, whereupon H. P. B. told me that “that nuisance” had finished the towels. So I unlocked the bookcase door, and found the dozen towels were actually hemmed, though after a clumsy fashion that would disgrace the youngest child in an infant-school sewing-class. Hemmed they were, beyond the possibility of doubt, and inside a locked bookcase which H. P. B. never approached while the thing was going on. The time was about 4 P.M., and, of course, it was broad daylight. We were the only persons in the room, and no third person entered it until all was finished.
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Her house in Philadelphia was built on the usual local plan, with a front building and a wing at the back which contained the dining-room below and sitting or bedrooms above. H. P. B.’s bedroom was the front one on the first floor (the second, it is called in America) of the main building; at the turn of the staircase was the sitting-room where the towels were hemmed, and from its open door one could look straight along the passage into H. P. B.’s room if her door also stood open. She had been sitting in the former apartment conversing with me, but left to get something from her bedroom. I saw her mount the few steps to her floor, enter her room and leave the door open. Time passed, but she did not return. I waited and waited until, fearing she might have fainted, I called her name. There was no reply, so now, being a little anxious and knowing she could not be engaged privately, since the door had not been closed, I went there, called again, and looked in; she was not visible, though I even opened the closet and looked under the bed. She had vanished, without the chance of having walked out in the normal way, for, save the door giving upon the landing, there was no other means of exit; the room was a cul de sac. I was a cool one about phenomena after my long course of experiences, but this puzzled and worried me. I went back to the sitting-room, lit a pipe, and tried to puzzle out the mystery. This was in 1875, it must be remembered, many years before the Salpétrière school’s experiments in hypnotism had been vulgarised, so it never occurred to
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me that I was the subject of a neat experiment in mental suggestion, and that H. P. B. had simply inhibited my organs of sight from perceiving her presence, perhaps within two paces of me in the room. After a while she calmly came out of her room into the passage and returned to the sitting-room to me. When I asked where she had been, she laughed and said she had had some occult business to attend to, and had made herself invisible. But how, she would not explain. She played me and others the same trick at other times, before and after our going to India, but even the latest instance happened long before the easy hypnotic solution of the problem would have occurred to me. As explained in the first chapter of this series, the superior neatness of Oriental over Western hypnotic suggestion is that in such cases as this, the inhibitory effect upon the subject’s perceptive organs results from mental, not spoken, command or suggestion. The subject is not put on his guard to resist the illusion, and it is done before he has the least suspicion that any experiment is being made at his expense.
Since I took no measurement at the time, I must concede that the following also may have been a case of suggested illusion. H. P. B. was wearing her hair at that time in a bushy mop, without comb or pins or twists, and in length it might have been about to the lobes of her ears. I came home to tiffin one day, and, her bedroom door standing open as usual, stopped for a minute’s chat, before mounting to my own room on the floor
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above. She was standing near one of the windows, and her head being in high light, I noticed particularly the mass of her hair and its tousled appearance. I also observed the shine of the daylight, upon the glossy, pale grey paper with which the ceiling was covered. After a few words together I ran upstairs, but had not been there a minute before I heard her calling me to come down. I did so at once, saw her standing in the same place, but her hair was now so much longer that it almost touched her shoulders. She said nothing about that, but pointed to the ceiling over her head and said: “Here is something that John has drawn for you.” My recollection is now very dim as to what it was, but, as I remember it, it was a huge sketch of a man’s head, with some writing or symbols near it; all done in lead-pencil, at the spot where I had noticed the blank surface to be when I passed upstairs. I then took hold of her lengthened hair, and asked her, laughing, where she bought her pomade, as it was certainly very efficacious if it could cause hair to grow two inches within three minutes. She made some merry rejoinder, and said I should not meddle with things that were of no consequence; such freaks of nature sometimes happened to her; it was not to see that she had called me, but only to show me what John King had done on the ceiling. Considering the time that had elapsed from my leaving to my re-entering the room, and the fact that the ceiling was too high for her to reach, even by standing on a chair or table, my present inference is that the drawing was done in one of two ways, viz.,
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either by herself at her leisure, while I was out, by mounting upon a step-ladder, and inhibiting me from seeing the work until she chose; or by the process of instantaneous precipitation while I was ascending and descending one short flight of stairs. That it was not visible to me when I was first in the room, I can positively aver, and if the reader chooses to speculate as to the rationale of the matter, he must take my statement as made for what it is worth. What makes me suspect that the apparent lengthening of H. P. B.’s hair was illusory, is the fact that, try as I may, I cannot remember whether it continued to seem long or apparently resumed its previous length that day or the next. People in India, and others subsequently, in Europe, saw her hair twisted up into a knot and confined by a comb, but it was years after we met before she would let it grow long enough for that purpose; I am not sure that it was not when we went to visit the Sinnetts at Simla; so I am probably right in suspecting that the apparent sudden lengthening was a Maya done by way of a joke. But very, very strange things happened with her hair on several occasions, to be hereafter narrated. And strangest of all, was that which happened to my beard one night, as we shall see in good time. Speaking of her jokes, it may be said that, throughout all our years of intimacy, she wasted enough psychic force on useless phenomena to have sufficed to convince the whole Royal Society if it had been judiciously employed. I have heard her ring astral bells that were drowned in the
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noise of conversation, make raps that nobody heard save myself, and do other phenomena that passed unnoticed, but which would have greatly strengthened her credit as a thaumaturgist if she had but chosen the favourable moment and given the right chances for observation. However, all that is past and gone, and my task is to record, as remembered, the psychical experiments which satisfied my critical reason as to the reality of the science of Eastern Magic. In doing which, shall I not be acting as a true friend to H. P. B., whose character has been vilified and whose occult powers denied because she fed rogues at her table and warmed traitors in her bosom? These days and events of which I write, were in the pre-Coulombian era, when real adepts taught eager pupils and genuine phenomena happened. And they were days when I knew my colleague as a human being, before she had been half-deified by friends who had known nothing of her human failings, hence of her humanity. As I shall present her, the now fading ideal image of the writer of Isis and the S. D., will become clothed in flesh and blood; a real (masculinised) woman; living like other people when awake, but going into another world and dealing with nobler people, when asleep or in waking clairvoyance; a personality inhabiting an enfeebled female body, “in which. . . a vital cyclone is raging much of the time”—to quote the words of a Master. So fitful, so capricious, so unreliable, so exacting, so tempestuous as to call for heroic forbearance and self-control if one would live and work with her in an
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unselfish spirit. These phenomena of hers that I saw, the manifold proofs she gave of the existence behind her of teachers whose feet she felt she was scarce worthy to dust, and the later epistasis, when the turbulent and exasperating woman became a writing and teaching sage and a benefactress to the soul-seeker;—all these, and the books she left behind her, combine to prove her exceptional greatness and make her eccentricities forgotten, even by those to whom they caused most mental suffering. In showing us the Path, she laid us all under such a weight of obligation that it is impossible to harbour any feeling save gratitude for her.