OLD DIARY LEAVES, First Series(1874-78)
by Henry Steel Olcott
EARLY DAYS OF THE SOCIETY
AMONG the public events which contributed to give notoriety to our Society in its early days, was the rescue of a party of pauper Arabs from threatened starvation, and their shipment to Tunis. It was theosophical only in the limited sense of being humanitarian, hence an act of altruism; and all altruistic endeavours are essentially theosophical. Moreover, in this case, the element of religion was a factor. The story, in brief, is as follows:
One Sunday morning, in July, 1876, H. P. B. and I, being alone in the “Lamasery,” read in the morning papers that a party of nine ship-wrecked Mussulman Arabs had been landed from the schooner Kate Foster, just arrived from Trinidad. They were penniless and friendless, could not speak a word of English, and had wandered about the streets for two days without food, until the secretary of the Turkish Consul gave them some loaves of bread, and, by order of His Honour the Mayor of New York, temporary shelter had been given
EARLY DAYS OF THE SOCIETY 299
them at Bellevue Hospital. Unfortunately for them, certain New Regulations about emigrants had been adopted in the March preceding by the Commissioners of Public Charities and the Emigration Board, which made both those public bodies powerless to deal with cases like the present. The papers stated that the Arabs had brought no documents with them to prove their nationality, and thereby fix upon some foreign Consul the responsibility for their custody and relief; in vain they had been taken to the consuls of Turkey and France; and, unless private relief were forthcoming, a bitter prospect was before them. How well I remember the scene when we had read the narrative! H. P. B. and I stood shoulder-to-shoulder, looking out of the south front window, each deploring the lot of the poor cast-aways. The fact which appealed strongest to our feelings was that they were Mussulmans—Heathen, whose religion placed them outside the bounds of ready sympathy in a community of Christians, who, to say nothing about popular prejudice, had too frequent appeals to relieve the wants of their co-religionists. These unfortunates had a right, then, to the kind offices of fellow Heathen like ourselves, and then and there it was decided that I should go to work. The result was that I succeeded, under the favour of the Mayor of New York, in collecting some $2000, with which their necessities were supplied, and they were sent to Tunis under charge of a member of our Society. All the details will be found in the Theosophist for September, 1893.
300 OLD DIARY LEAVES
As said in a previous chapter, among the most delightful reminiscences of those early theosophic years is our correspondence with thoughtful, cultured persons of both sexes, of whom two are most lovingly remembered. They are Charles Carleton Massey and William Stainton Moseyn (or, as corrupted, Moses). The general topic of our correspondence was mentioned above (Cf. Chapter IV), and the names of these two loyal friends can never pass out of my memory. We, of course, represented the conservative party of Oriental Occultism; Stainton Moseyn (Moses) was a progressive, truth-seeking, highly-educated Spiritualist, taking him all-in-all the ablest man among them; and Massey was between the two extremes, a candid and convinced investigator of the phenomena, with a deeply metaphysical mental bias, ready to meet half-way any new facts or ideas we might put forward. The interchange of letters—some so long as to be rather essays—continued between us four during several years, and our discussions covered a very wide range of interesting, important, even vital questions relating to psychological subjects. The one most thoroughly threshed out was, I fancy, that of the Elmental Spirits, their place in nature, and their relations with humanity. I had lightly touched upon this question in our first European manifesto above alluded to, but it was now gone into in all its chief bearings. I deeply regret that those in charge of Stainton Moseyn’s papers, have not yet sent me those which might have helped me in my present work, as I might have made it
EARLY DAYS OF THE SOCIETY 301
much more interesting by comparing H. P. B.’s and my letters with the replies of our friends, which I have preserved. S. M. had gone into the investigation of mediumistic phenomena with the sole purpose of satisfying himself whether they were real or not, but shortly found himself a medium despite himself, and the subject of phenomena of the most extraordinary kind. By night and by day, whether alone or in company, they would occur, and soon all the scientific and philosophical ideas he had brought away from Oxford, were scattered to the four winds, and he had to accept new theories of matter and force, man and nature. His revered friend and benefactress, Mrs. Speer, gave in Light, weekly reports of the séances held by S.M. at Dr. Speer’s house, and, I venture to say, a more interesting record of mediumship has never been written, for, in past ages or the present, there has hardly ever been a more gifted medium than my heart-brother, now dead and gone. His pre-eminence consisted in the surprising variety of his phenomena, which were both physical and psychical and all highly instructive, added to his trained mental endowments, which reflected themselves in the quality of the psychically transmitted intelligence, and his dogged determination to believe nothing taught him by the alleged spirits which he could not perfectly understand. The major part of these teachings he received by automatic writing through his own hand, just as Mr. Stead seems now to be getting his own spirit-teachings from Julia; he might give his whole attention to reading a book or conversation, but
302 OLD DIARY LEAVES
his disengaged hand would go on writing and writing by the half-hour together, and when he turned his eyes upon the pages thus covered, he would find original thoughts, conveying new ideas foreign to his own beliefs, or successfully answering his questions previously put, perhaps, on another occasion. He was always convinced, and vehemently so declared in his letters to us, that the intelligence controlling his hand was not his own; neither his waking or latent consciousness, but just simply a spirit or spirits; he claimed to know them perfectly by sight (clairvoyant), speech (clairaudient), and writing, as unmistakably as he knew any living person. We, on the other hand, urged that the question was not yet proven, and that there was at least an even chance that his “Imperator,” or chief spirit-teacher, was his latent self, and that his circle phenomena were produced by Elementals coming for the time being under the dominion of his own masterful will. It appeared upon comparing notes that several of his most striking mediumistic phenomena were almost identical with those with which H. P. B. was edifying us in New York, and, since hers were admittedly produced by her subject Elementals, I could not see why his might not be also. Among these were the ringing of sweet “fairy bells” in the air; the production of delicious scents in the air and as exudations from the psychic’s body, which, with H. P. B., bedewed the palms of her hands, and in S. M.’s case the scalp of his head; lights floating through the air; precipitations of writing on surfaces beyond the operator’s reach;
EARLY DAYS OF THE SOCIETY 303
apports of gems and other objects; air-born music; the possession by each of gems which changed colour and grew dull or black when the possessor fell ill; the dis-integration of crayons or leads to be used in precipitated writings; identical Oriental perfumes perceived when certain invisible intelligences versed in occult science were present; Oxon’s perceiving in the astral light glowing points of coloured light arranged in a triangle so as to form the mystic symbol of the Eastern Lodge of our Mahâtmâs; and finally, the power of leaving the physical body in the “double,” retaining consciousness and resuming bodily occupancy at the end of the soul-flight. So close a resemblance in experiences would naturally create a strong mutual interest between the two great psychics, and naturally enough S.M. was most eager to profit by any instructions or hints that H. P. B., could give him as to how he might improve his knowledge of the other world and gain that complete control over his psychical nature which the completed training for adeptship implies. What effect our interchange of views had upon S.M.’s mind and the teachings of “Imperator” to the Speer circle, will be considered in the next chapter. I shall also have something to say with respect to the view taken by educated Hindus as to the danger and puerility of psychical phenomena, whether produced by mediums or mântrikas—possessors of charms of power.