OLD DIARY LEAVES, First Series (1874-78)
by Henry Steel Olcott
APPARENT POSSESSION BY FOREIGN
OUR next question is, did she write Isis in the capacity of an ordinary spiritual medium, i.e., under the control of spirits of the dead? I answer, Assuredly not. If she did, then the power controlling her organism worked differently from any that is recorded in books or that I, personally, ever saw operating during the many years in which I was interested in that movement. I have known mediums of all sorts—speaking, trance, writing, phenomena-making, medical, clairvoyant, and materialising; have seen them at work, attended their séances and observed the signs of their obsession and possession. H. P. B.’s case resembled none of them. Nearly all they did she could do; but at her own will and pleasure, by day or by night, without forming “circles,” choosing the witnesses, or imposing the usual conditions. Then, again, I had ocular proof that at least some of those who worked with us were living men, from having seen them in the flesh in
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India after having seen them in the astral body in America and Europe; from having touched and talked with them. Instead of telling me that they were spirits, they told me they were as much alive as myself, and that each of them had his own peculiarities and capabilities; in short, his complete individuality. They told me that what they had attained to, I should, one day, myself acquire; how soon, would depend entirely upon myself; and that I might anticipate nothing whatever from favour; but, like them, must gain every step, every inch of progress by my own exertions.
One of the greatest of them, the Master of the two Masters about whom the public has heard a few facts and circulated much foul abuse, wrote me on June 22, 1875: “The time is come to let you know who I am. I am not a disembodied spirit, Brother, I am a living man; gifted with such powers by our Lodge as are in store for yourself some day. I cannot be with you otherwise than in spirit, for thousands of miles separate us at present. Be patient and of good cheer, untiring labourer of the sacred Brotherhood! Work on and toil too for yourself, for self-reliance is the most powerful factor of success. Help your needy brother and you shall be helped yourself in virtue of the never-failing and ever active Law of Compensation”: the law of Karma, in short, which, as the reader perceives, was taught me from almost the beginning of my intercourse with H. P. B. and the Masters.
And yet, despite the above, I was made to believe
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that we worked in collaboration with at least one disincarnate entity—the pure soul of one of the wisest philosophers of modern times, one who was an ornament to our race, a glory to his country. He was a great Platonist, and I was told that, so absorbed was he in his life-study, he had become earth-bound, i.e., he could not snap the ties which held him to the Earth, but sat in an astral library of his own mental creation, plunged in his philosophical reflections, oblivious to the lapse of time, and anxious to promote the turning of men’s minds towards the solid philosophical basis of true religion. His desire did not draw him to taking a new birth among us, but made him seek out those who, like our Masters and their agents, wished to work for the spread of truth and the overthrow of superstition. I was told that he was so pure and so unselfish that all the Masters held him in profound respect, and, being forbidden to meddle with his Karma, they could only leave him to work his way out of his (Kâmalokaic) illusions, and pass on to the goal of formless being and absolute spirituality according to the natural order of Evolution. His mind had been so in-tensely employed in purely intellectual speculation that his spirituality had been temporarily stifled. Meanwhile there he was, willing and eager to work with H. P. B. on this epoch-making book, towards the philosophical portion of which he contributed much. He did not materialise and sit with us, nor obsess H. P. B., medium-fashion; he would simply talk with her psychically, by the hour together, dictating copy, telling her what
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references to hunt up, answering my questions about details, instructing me as to principles, and, in fact, playing the part of a third person in our literary symposium. He gave me his portrait once—a rough sketch in colored crayons of flimsy paper—and sometimes would drop me a brief note about some personal matter, but from first to last his relation to us both was that of a mild, kind, extremely learned teacher and elder friend. He never dropped a word to indicate that he thought himself aught but a living man, and, in fact, I was told that he did not realise that he had died out of the body. Of the lapse of time, he seemed to have so little perception that, I remember, H. P. B. and I laughed, one morning at 2:30 A.M., when, after an unusually hard night’s work, while we were taking a parting smoke he quietly asked H. P. B. “Are you ready to begin?”; under the impression that we were at the beginning instead of the end of the evening! And I also recollect how she said: “For Heaven’s sake don’t laugh deep in your thought, else the ‘old gentleman’ will surely hear you and feel hurt!” That gave me an idea: to laugh superficially is ordinary laughter, but to laugh deeply is to shift your merriment to the plane of psychic perception! So emotions may, like beauty, be sometimes but skin-deep, Sins, also: think of that!
Except in the case of this old Platonist, I never had, with or without H. P. B.’s help, consciously to do with another disincarnate entity during the progress of our work; unless Paracelsus may be called one, about which,
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in common with the Alsatians, I have grave doubts. I remember that one evening, at about twilight, while we lived in West Thirty-fourth Street, we had been talking about the greatness of Paracelsus and the ignominious treatment he had had to endure during his life and after his apparent death. H. P. B. and I were standing in the passage between the front and back rooms, when her manner and voice suddenly changed, she took my hand as if to express friendship, and asked, “Will you have Theophrastus for a friend, Henry?” I murmured a reply, when the strange mood passed away, H. P. B. was herself again, and we applied ourselves to our work. That evening I wrote the paragraphs about him that now stand on p. 500 of Vol. II of Isis. As for his being dead, the odds are always against any given Adept’s having actually died when to ordinary men he seemed to. With his knowledge of the science of mâyâvic illusion, even his seeming corpse screwed into a coffin and laid away in a tomb, would not be sufficient proof that he was really dead. Barring accidents, which may happen to him as well as to a common man if he be off his guard, an Adept chooses his own place to die in, and his body is so disposed of as to leave no trace behind. For example, what became of the gifted, the noble-souled Count St. Germain, the “adventurer” and “spy” of the encyclopædias, who dazzled the courts of Europe a century ago, moved in the highest and the most erudite circles, was admitted to the intimacy of Louis XV, built hospitals and otherwise lavished vast sums in charities, took nothing
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for even the greatest personal services, retired to Holstein, and--disappeared as mysteriously as he had appeared?1 Après nous le Deluge, said the King’s mistress; after St. Germain came the French Revolution and the upheaval of mankind.
Rejecting the idea that H.P.B. wrote Isis as an ordinary spirit medium “under control,” we have seen, however, that some portions of it were actually written to a
1No one ever knew his origin or his real name. The Maréchale de Belle Isle, who met him in Germany, induced him to come to Paris. He had a noble personal appearance and polished address, “considerable erudition and a wonderful memory, spoke English; German, Spanish, and Portuguese to perfection, and French with a slight Piedmontese accent. . . . He occupied for many years a remarkable social position at the French Court. . . . He was in the habit of telling the credulous that he had lived 350 years, and some old men, who pretended to have known him in their youth, declared that in 60 or 70 years his appearance had in no wise changed. Frederic the Great, having asked Voltaire for some particulars respecting this mysterious person, was told that he was ‘a man who never dies and who knows everything.’” No one knowing his motives or the sources of his wealth, they settled it to their own satisfaction in the same way as that which Hodgson, the spy of the S.P.R., resorted to in the case of H. P. B. to explain her presence in India; he was alleged “to have been employed during the greater part of his life as a spy at the courts at which he resided” (Am. Cyc., Ed. 1868, vol. xiv, pp. 266-7). But, all the same, no evidence whatever to support this calumny has ever been forthcoming. The Encyclopaedia Britannica takes the same view of St.Germain, and the Dictionnaire Universel d’ Histoire et de Geographie echoing the falsehood, says that “this will account for his riches and the mystery with which he enwrapped himself!” If Mme. de Fadeef—H. P. B.’s aunt—could only be induced to translate and publish certain documents in her famous library, the world would have a nearer approach to a true history of the pre-Revolutionary European mission of this Eastern Adept than has until now been available.
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spirit’s dictation: a most extraordinary and exceptional entity, yet still a man out of the physical body. The method of work with him as above described tallies closely with that she described in a family letter, when explaining how she wrote her book without any previous training for such work.
“Whenever I am told to write, I sit down and obey, and then I can write easily upon almost any thing—metaphysics, psychology, philosophy, ancient religions, zoology, natural sciences, or what not. . . . Why? Because somebody who knows all dictates to me. My Master, and occasionally others whom I knew on my travels years ago.” (Incidents, page 205.)
This is exactly what happened between her and the old Platonist, but he was not her “Master,” nor could she have met him on her travels on this physical plane, since he died before she was born—this time. Then arises the question whether the Platonist was really a spirit disincarnate, or an Adept who had lived in that philosopher’s body and seemed to, but really did not, die out of it on September 1, 1687. It is certainly a difficult problem to solve. Considering that the ordinary concomitants of spirit-possession and spirit-intercourse were wanting, and that H.P.B. served the Platonist in the most matter-of-fact way as amanuensis, their relation differing in nothing from that of any Private Secretary with his employer, save that the latter was invisible to me but visible to her, it does look more as if we were dealing with a living than with a disincarnate person.
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He seemed not quite a “Brother”—as we used to call the Adepts then—yet more that than anything else; and as far as the literary work itself was concerned, it went on exactly as the other parts of it did when the dictator, or writer, as the case might be, was professedly a Master (Cf. Theory 1). The dictator or writer, I say, and this requires some explanation.
It is stated above that the H.P.B. manuscript varied at times, and that there were several variants of the one prevailing script; also that each change in the writing was accompanied by a marked alteration in the manner, motions, expression, and literary capacity of H.P.B. When she was left to her own devices, it was often not difficult to know it, for then the untrained literary apprentice became manifest and the cutting and pasting began; then the copy that was turned over to me for revision was terribly faulty, and having been converted into a great smudge of interlineations, erasures, orthographic corrections and substitutions, would end in being dictated by me to her to re-write (Cf. Theory 7). Now often things were, after a while, said to me that would be more than hints that other intelligences than H.P.B.’s were at times using her body as a writing machine: it was never expressly said, for example, “I am so and so,” or “Now this is A or B.” It did not need that after we “twins” had been working together long enough for me to become familiar with her every peculiarity of speech, moods, and impulses. The change was as plain as day, and by and by after she had been
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out of the room and returned, a brief study of her features and actions enabled me to say to myself, “This is——,or——,or,——” and presently my suspicion would be confirmed by what happened. One of these Alter Egos of hers, one whom I have since personally met, wears a full beard and long moustache that are twisted, Rajput fashion, into his side whiskers. He has the habit of constantly pulling at his moustache when deeply pondering: he does it mechanically and unconsciously. Well, there were times when H.P.B.’s personality had melted away and she was “Somebody else,” when I would sit and watch her hand as if pulling at and twisting a moustache that certainly was not growing visibly on H.P.B.’s upper lip, and the far-away look would be in the eyes, until presently resuming attention of passing things, the moustached Somebody would look up, catch me watching him, hastily remove the hand from the face, and go on with the work of writing. Then there was another Somebody, who disliked English so much that he never willingly talked with me in anything but French: he had a fine artistic talent and a passionate fondness for mechanical invention. Another one would now and then sit there, scrawling something with a pencil and reeling off for me dozens of poetical stanzas which embodied, now sublime, now humorous ideas. So each of the several Somebodies had his peculiarities distinctly marked, as recognisable as those of any of our ordinary acquaintances or friends. One was jovial, fond of good stories and witty to a degree; another, all
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dignity, reserve, and erudition. One would be calm, patient, and benevolently helpful, another testy and sometimes exasperating. One Somebody would always be willing to emphasise his philosophical or scientific explanations of the subjects I was to write upon, by doing phenomena for my edification, while to another Somebody I dared not even mention them. I got an awful rebuke one evening. I had brought home a while before two nice, soft pencils, just the thing for our desk work, and had given one to H.P.B. and kept one myself. She had the very bad habit of borrowing pen-knives, pencils, rubber, and other articles of stationery and forgetting to return them: once put into her drawer or writing-desk, there they would stay, no matter how much of a protest you might make over it. On this particular evening, the artistic Somebody was sketching a navy’s face on a sheet of common paper and chatting with me about something, when he asked me to lend him another pencil. The thought flashed into my mind, “If I once lend this nice pencil it will go into her drawer and I shall have none for my own use.” I did not say this, I only thought it, but the Somebody gave me a mildly sarcastic look, reached out to the pen-tray between us laid his pencil in it, handled it with his fingers of that hand for a moment, and lo! a dozen pencils of the identical make and quality! He said not a word, did not even give me a look, but the blood rushed to my temples and I felt more humble than I ever did in my life. All the same, I scarcely think I deserved the
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rebuke, considering what a stationery-annexer H.P.B. was!
Now when either of these Somebodies was “on guard,” as I used to term it, the H.P.B. manuscript would present the identical peculiarities that it had on the last occasion when he had taken his turn at the literary work. He would, by preference, write about the class of subjects that were to his taste, and instead of H.P.B. playing the part of an amanuensis, she would then have become for the time being that other person (Cf. Theory 3). If you had given me in those days any page of Isis manuscript, I could almost certainly have told you by which Somebody it had been written. Where, then, was H.P.B.’s self at those times of replacement? Ah, that is the question; and that is one of the mysteries which are not given to the first comer. 1 As I under stood it, she herself had loaned her body as one might one’s type-writer, and had gone off on other occult business that she could transact in her astral body; a certain group of Adepts occupying and manœuvring the body by turns. When they knew that I could distinguish between them, so as to even have invented a name for each by which H.P.B. and I might designate them in our conversation in their absence, they would frequently give me a grave bow or a friendly farewell nod when about to leave the room and give place to the next relief-
1Nearly two years after the above was published H. P. B. explained to her relatives (cf. Path articles above cited) the secret; she was not in her body, but seemingly near it, with full consciousness watching its manipulation by third parties.
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guard. And they would sometimes talk to me of each other as friends do about absent third parties, by which means I came to know bits of their several personal histories; and would also speak about the absent H.P.B., distinguishing her from the physical body they had borrowed from her. One Mahâtma, writing me about some occult business, speaks of it—the H.P.B. body—as “the old appearance”; again, in 1876, he writes about “it and the Brother inside it”; another Master asks me—à propos of a terrific fit of anger to which I had (unintentionally) provoked H.P.B.—“Do you want to kill the body?”; and the same one, in a note of 1875, speaks of “those who represent us in the shell”—the underscoring of the word being his. Can any one understand my feelings upon discovering on a certain evening that I had unsuspiciously greeted the staid philosopher described in the next few sentences of the main text, with an hilarious levity that quite upset his usual calm? Fancying that I was addressing only my “chum” H.P.B., I said: “Well, Old Horse, let us get to work!” The next minute I was blushing for shame, for the blended expression of surprise and startled dignity that came into the face, showed me with whom I had to deal. It was as bad a gaucherie as that committed by good old Peter Cooper at the New York Academy Ball to the Heir Apparent, when he slapped him on the shoulder and said: “Well, Wales, what do you think of this?” This was the one of them for whom I had the most filial reverence. It was not alone for his profound,
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learning, lofty character and dignified demeanour, but also for his really paternal kindness and patience. It seemed as if he alone had read to the bottom of my heart, and wished to bring out every little spiritual germ that lay there as a latent potentiality. He was—I was told—a South Indian personage of long spiritual experience, a Teacher of Teachers; still living among men ostensibly as a landed proprietor, yet known for what he was by nobody around him. Oh, the evenings of high thinking I passed with him; how shall I ever compare with them any other experiences of my life! Most vividly of all I remember one evening when, by half hints more than anything else, he awakened my intuition so that it grasped the theory of the relationship of cosmic cycles with fixed points in steller constellations, the attractive centre shifting from point to point in an orderly sequence. Recall your sensations the first time you ever looked through a large telescope at the starry heaven—the awe, the wonder, the instant mental expansion experienced in looking from the familiar and, by comparison, commonplace Earth to the measureless depths of space and the countless starry worlds that bestrew the azure infinity. That was a faint approach to my feeling at the moment, when that majestic concept of cosmic order rushed into my consciousness; so overpowering was it, I actually gasped for breath. If there had previously been the least lingering hereditary leaning towards the geocentric theory, upon which men have built their paltry theologies; it was then swept away
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like a dried leaf before the hurricane. I was borne into a higher plane of thought, I was a free man.
It was this Master who dictated to H.P.B. the Replies to an English F.T.S. on questions suggested by a reading of “Esoteric Buddhism,” which was published in the Theosophist for September, October, and November, 1883. It was at Ootacamund, at the house of Maj.-Gen. Morgan, when, shivering with the cold, and, her lower limbs swadled in rugs, she sat writing them. One morning I was in her room reading a book, when she turned her head and said: “I’ll be hanged if I ever heard of the laphygians. Did you ever read of such a tribe, Olcott?” I said I had not, why did she ask? “Well,” she replied, “the old gentleman tells me to write it down, but I’m afraid there is some mistake; what do you say?” I answered that if the Master in question gave her the name, she should write it without fear as he was always right. And she did. This is an example of multitudinous cases where she wrote from dictation things quite outside her personal knowledge. She never studied Hind, nor, normally, could she speak or write it; yet I have a Hindî note in Devanâgari characters that I saw her write and hand to Swami Dayânand Saraswati at the Vizianagram garden-house at Benares, where we were guest in 1880. The Swami read it, wrote and signed his answer on the same sheet, and H.P.B. left it on the table, from which I took it.
But I wish to say again, as distinctly as possible, that, not even from the wisest and noblest of these H.P.B.
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Somebodies did I ever get the least encouragement to either regard them as infallible, omniscient, or omnipotent. There was never the least show of a wish on their part that I should worship them, mention them with bated breath, or regard as inspired what they either wrote with H.P.B.’s body, or dictated to her as their amanuensis. I was made simply to look upon them as men, my fellow-mortals; wiser, truly, infinitely more advanced than I, but only because of their having preceded me in the normal path of human evolution. Slavishness and indiscriminate adulation they loathed, telling me that they were usually but the cloaks to selfishness, conceit, and moral limpness. Their candid opinions were frequently vouchsafed to me after the departure of some of these flattering visitors, and it would have sent any of my readers into a fit of laughter if they had been there one evening after a gushing lady had bade us good-night. Before leaving she petted H.P.B., sat on the arm of her chair, patted her hand and kissed her on the cheek; I standing near by and seeing the blank despair depicted in the (male) Somebody’s face. I conducted the lady to the door, returned to the room, and almost exploded with merriment when the ascetic Somebody—a sexless sadhoo if there ever was one—turned his mournful eyes at me and in an accent of indescribable melancholy said, “She KISSED me!” It was too much; I had to sit down.
I have remarked above that the dictation and literary collaboration between the old Platonist and H.P.B.
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was identical with that between her and the actual Adepts; and that, as he delighted in one branch of work, so each of the others had their individual preferences. But there was the difference that while they at times would dictate to her and at others occupy her body and write through it as if it were their own (just as the spirit of Mary Roff utilised the body of Lurancy Vennum and felt it as natural as if she had been born in it), the Platonist never obsessed her: he only used her as his amanuensis. Then, again, I have spoken of the part of the Isis writing that was done by H.P.B. in propriâ personâ, which was inferior to that done for her by the Somebodies. This is perfectly comprehensible, for how could H.P.B., who had had no previous knowledge of this sort, write correctly about the multifarious subjects treated in her book? In her (seemingly) normal state, she would read a book, mark the portions that struck her, write about them, make mistakes, correct them, discuss them with me, set me to writing, help my intuitions, get friends to supply materials, and go on thus as best she might, so long as there were none of the teachers within call of her psychic appeals. And they were not with us always, by any means. She did a vast deal of splendid writing, for she was endowed with marvellous natural literary capacity; she was never dull or uninteresting, and, as I have elsewhere noted, she was equally brilliant in three languages when the full power was upon her. She writes her Aunt that when her Master was busy elsewhere he left his substitute with her, and
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then it was her “Luminous Self,” her Augoeides, which thought and wrote for her (Cf. Theory 2). About this, I cannot venture an opinion, for I never observed her in this state: I only knew her in three capacities, viz., her proper H. P. B. self; with her body possessed or overshadowed by the Masters; and as an amanuensis taking down from dictation. It may be that her Augoeides, taking possession of her physical brain, gave me the impression that it was one of the Masters that was at work: I cannot say. But what she omits telling her Aunt is that there were many, many times, when she was neither possessed, controlled nor dictated to by any superior intelligence, but was simply and palpably H. P. B., our familiar and beloved friend, latterly our teacher; who was trying as well as she could to carry out the object of her literary mission. Yet, despite the mixed agencies at work in producing Isis, there is an expression of individuality running throughout it and her other works— something peculiar to herself. Epes Sargent and other American literati expressed to me their wonder at the grasp she showed of our language, and one gentleman went to the length of publishing the opinion that we had no living author who could excel her in writing English. This, of course, is vague exaggeration, but happily her style has been made the subject of a close comparison with those of others by a philologist of scientific training.
In his work on the Origin, Progress, and Destiny of the English Language and Literature, the learned author, Dr. John A. Weisse, publishes a number of analytical
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tables which show the sources of the words used by English writers of renown. In the following excerpts will be seen the derivations of the English of Isis Unveiled in comparison with those of the words employed by some other authors. Dr. Weisse says the book is “a thesaurus of new phases and facts, so sprightfully related that even the uninitiated may read them with interest.” Following is the analysis:
Which Author and Work Greco- Gotho- Celtic Semitic
Analysed. Latin German- Words. Words.
Words. ic words.
Robert Burton, A.D. 1621,
Anatomy of Melancholy…… 54 46 0 0
John Bunyan, 1682, Pilgrim’s
Progress.............................. 31 68 1 0
Sir Thomas Browne, 1682,
Hydriotaphia........................ 51 47 2 0
Sam, Johnson, 1784, (1780?)
Lives of the English Poets. 47 51 2 0
R. C. Trench, On the Study
of Words........................... 30 68 2 0
George P. Marsh, Lectures
on the English Language,
p. 133............................... 58 41 1 0
S. A. Allibone, 1872, Grit.
Dict. Eng. Literature, etc. 53 46 1 0
Darwin, Origin of Species. 53 46 1 0
H. P. Blavatsky, Isis
Unveiled......................... 46 51 1 2
Her Majesty the Queen,
Leaves of our Jour. High-
lands 36 63 0 1
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It seems, therefore, that the English of Madame Blavatsky is practically identical with that of Dr. Samuel Johnson, which one might say is as nearly classically perfect as one could ask. The same test applied to her French writings would, doubtless, prove her to be as facile in the use of that beautiful language as the greatest of modern French authors.