OLD DIARY LEAVES, First Series (1874-78)
by Henry Steel Olcott
VARIOUS PHENOMENA DESCRIBED
ALTHOUGH sad experience has taught us that psychical phenomena are weak things to build a great spiritual movement upon, yet they have a distinct value in their proper place when strictly controlled. That place is within the limits of the third of the Declared Objects of our Society. They have a paramount importance as elementary proofs of the power of the trained human will over the brute forces of nature. In this respect they bear upon the problem of the intelligence behind mediumistic phenomena. I think that the early phenomena of H. P. B. dealt a distinct blow at the theory, until then generally held, that the messages received through mediums must of necessity be from the dead for here were things done in the absence of presumably necessary conditions, sometimes apparently in defiance of them. The records of them now survive only in clippings from contemporary newspapers, and in the memory of witnesses who have not yet put their experiences into print, but who, being still alive, are able to
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corroborate or correct my stories of phenomena that we saw together in her presence.
While highly suggestive in themselves, H. P. B.'s wonders were not usually led up to in conversation. When we were alone, she might produce some phenomenon to illustrate a teaching; or they might happen as if in answer to a query arising in my own mind as to the agency of some particular force in a given physical operation. Usually they were made, as it were, on the spur of the moment and independently of any prefatory suggestion by anybody present. Let me give an instance or two out of many that might be cited, to make my meaning clear.
One day an English Spiritualist and his friend called, and with the former his little son, a lad of 10 or 12 years. The boy amused himself for awhile by going about the room, rummaging among our books, examining our curios, trying the piano, and indulging in other freaks of curiosity. He then began fretting to go, pulling his father's sleeve and trying to make him break off a very interesting conversation with H. P. B. The father could not stop his importunities and was about to leave, when H. P. B. said: Oh, don't mind him, he merely wants something to amuse him; let me see if I can find him a toy." Thereupon she rose from her chair, reached her hand around one of the sliding doors just behind her, and pulled out a large toy sheep mounted on wheels, which, to my positive knowledge, had not been there the moment before!
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On a Christmas eve my sister came down from her flat, on the floor above the" Lamasery," to ask us to step up and see the Christmas-tree she had prepared for her children-then asleep in their beds. We looked the presents all over, and H.P.B. expressed her regret that she had not had any money to buy something for the tree herself. She asked my sister what one of the lads, a favourite of hers, would like, and being told a loud whistle, said: "Well, wait a minute." Taking her bunch of keys from her pocket, she clutched three of them together in one hand, and a moment later showed us a large iron whistle hanging in their stead on the key-ring. To make it she had used up the iron of the three keys and had to get duplicates made the next day by a locksmith. Again. For a year or so after we took up housekeeping at the" Lamasery," my family silver was used for the table, but at last it had to be sent away, and H. P. B. helped me to pack it up. That day after dinner, when we were to have coffee, we noticed that there were no sugar tongs, and in handing her the sugar basin I put in it a teaspoon instead. She asked where were our sugar tongs, and upon my replying that we had packed it up to send away with the other silver, she said: "Well, we must have another one, mustn't we?" and, reaching her hand down beside her chair, brought up a nondescript tongs, the like of which one would scarcely find in a jeweller's shop. It had the legs much longer than usual, and the two claws slit like the prongs of a pickle-fork; while inside the shoulder of one of the legs
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was engraved the cryptograph of Mahâtmâ " M". I have the curio now at Adyar.
An important law is illustrated here. To create any-thing objective out of the diffused matter of space, the first step is to think of the desired object—its form, pattern, colour, material, weight, and other characteristics; the picture of it must be sharp and distinct as to every detail; the next step is to put the trained Will in action, employ one's knowledge of the laws of matter and the process of its conglomeration, and compel the elemental spirits to form and fashion what one wishes made. If
HYBRID SUGAR-TONGS PHENOMENALLY PRODUCED
the operator fails in either of these details, his results will be imperfect. In this case before us it is evident that H.P.B. had confused in her memory the two different shapes of sugar-tongs and a pickle-fork and combined them together into this nondescript or hybrid table implement. Of course, the result was to give stronger proof of the genuineness of her phenomenon than if she had made perfect sugar-tongs: for such may be bought in shops anywhere.
One evening, when our writing-room was full of visitors, she and I sitting at opposite sides of the room, she
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motioned to me to lend her a large signet intaglio that I was wearing that evening as a scarf-ring. She took it between her closed hands, without saying anything to anybody or attracting anyone's attention save mine, and rubbed the hands together for a minute or two, when I presently heard the clink of metal upon metal. Catching my eye, she smiled, and, opening her hands, showed me my ring and along with it another, equally large but of a different pattern: the seal-tablet also being of dark green bloodstone, whereas mine was of red carnelian. That ring she wore until her death, and it is now worn by Mrs. Annie Besant and is familiar to thousands. The stone was broken on our voyage out to India, and if I remember aright, the present one was engraved and set at Bombay. Here, again, not a word of the passing conversation led up to the phenomenon; on the contrary, nobody save myself knew of its occurring until afterwards.
Another instance. I had to go to Albany as special counsel to the Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York, to argue in Committee of the Legislature against a bill then under consideration. H.P.B. profited by the chance of an escort to go with me and make a long-promised visit to Dr. and Mrs. Ditson, of Albany. She was an unpractical creature as to common affairs, and a good deal dependent upon the kind offices of friends, for her packings and unpackings of trunks, among other things. Her former friend, Dr. L.M. Marquette, on this occasion packed the Gladstone bag she was to take, and it lay open in her room at the moment when the
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carriage drove up to take us to the Albany train. The bag was very full, and I had to repack some of the things on top and employ some strength to close the bag and lock it. I then carried it myself to the carriage, from the carriage to the railway carriage, and our train sped on its way. My reason for mentioning these details will presently be seen. Half way to Albany, a large bottle of sticky cough-medicine in her pocket got broken and made a mess of her tobacco, cigarette-papers, handkerchief, and the other contents of the pocket. This necessitated the re-opening of the bag and the taking out of a lot of things, to search for other smoking materials, etc. I did this myself, re-packed, closed, and re-locked the bag, and on reaching Albany I again carried it to the carriage and, at Dr. Ditson’s house, took it up a flight of stairs and set it down on the landing outside the drawing-room door. The hostess at once began an animated conversation with H.P.B., whom she was seeing for the first time. Mrs. Ditson's little daughter was in the room and made friends with H.P.B., standing at her knee and patting her hand. The mysterious lady in question did not too highly appreciate this interruption of her talk with the mother, and finally said: “There, there, my child, keep quiet a few moments and I’ll give you a nice present.” “Where is it? Please give it me now,” the child replied. I, believing that the alleged present was still in some Albany toy-shop from which I should be asked to presently fetch it, maliciously whispered the little one to ask Madame where she was hiding
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the present, and she did. H.P.B. said: “Now don’t bother, my dear, I have it in my bag.” That was enough for me: I asked her for her keys, went outside and opened the bag and—found packed most artistically among the clothing, and right before one’s eyes upon the bag being opened, a harmonicon, or glass piano, of say 15 in. x 4 in. in size, with its cork mallet lying beside it! Now, H. P. B. did not pack her bag at New York; had not handled it up to that moment; I had closed and locked it before starting, reopened, unpacked, re-packed, and re-locked it midway on the journey; and besides that bag, H.P.B. had no other luggage. Whence the harmonicon came, and how in the world it could have been packed into a bag that was previously full to bursting, I do not know. Perhaps some S.P.R. will suggest that the engine-driver of the train had been bribed and rendered invisible by H.P.B., had opened the bag on the floor at my feet by a ghostly picklock and had made room for the musical toy by throwing some of H.P.B.’s clothes out of the car-window! Or—perhaps it was a genuine phenomenon and she was not an absolute trickster, after all. If Dr. Marquette still lives, she can testify to seeing us and our luggage aboard the train; and if Dr. Ditson is alive, he can affirm that he took us and the veritable Gladstone bag from the station at Albany to his house. My part, to tell the story as truthfully as I can, and leave it on record as an instance of the way in which my dear old colleague sometimes did a wonder merely to gratify a child, who had
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not the least idea of the importance of what had occurred.
In my friend, Dr. Upham’s History of Salem Witchcraft, he tells us that in the case of one of the poor victims of that terrible, fanatical persecution of 1695, it was brought against her as proof of her compact with Satan, that she had walked with spotless skirts through mud and rain to a certain meeting. Upon which, the learned author suggests that the probability rather is that the accused was a tidy woman and so could keep her garments unspotted along the muddy road. Throughout his book he takes up the attitude of incredulity as to any spiritual agency having been at work behind the phenomena of obsession, without, it must be confessed, making good his case. Once, H.P.B. and I being in Boston, on a very rainy and muddy day, she walked through the streets in a pelting rain and reached her lodgings without a drop of rain or splash of mud soiling her dress; and once, I remember, we had been talking on the balcony outside her drawing-room window in Irving Place, New York, and being driven indoors by a heavy rain which lasted through the greater part of the night, I carelessly left outside a handsome velvet or brocade-covered chair. In the morning, when I called as usual on H. P. B. before going to my office, I recollected the chair and went and brought it in, expecting to find it sodden and spoilt by the rain. It was as dry as possible, on the contrary; why or how I cannot explain.
Mr. O’Sullivan’s story of the duplicated China crape
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handkerchiefs in the preceding chapter will be fresh in the reader’s memory. I saw her do a notable thing one evening for Wong Chin Fu, a Chinese lecturer, since well known in the United States. We three were chatting about the pictures of his country as lacking the elements of perspective, whereupon he said how admirable were the figure-paintings of their artists, how rich in colour and bold in drawing. H. P. B. concurred and, in the most casual way, as it seemed, opened the drawer where she kept her writing-paper, and drew forth a finely-executed painting of a Chinese lady dressed in full Court robes. I am sure as I can be that it was not there before, but as Wong Chin Fu was not specially interested in the occult science which for us had so great a charm, I made no remark. Our visitor took the picture in his hand, looked at it, remarked upon its beauty, but said: “This is not Chinese, Madam; it has no Chinese writing in the corner. It is probably Japanese.” H. P. B. looked at me with an amused expression, returned the picture to the drawer, shut it for a moment, and then re-opening it, drew forth a second picture of a Chinese lady, but wearing different coloured robes, and handed it to Wong Chin Fu. This he recognised as unmistakably from his country, for it bore Chinese lettering in the left-hand lower corner, and he at once read it!
Here is an incident by which certain information about three members of my family was phenomenally communicated to me. H. P. B. and I were alone in the
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house, conversing about these persons, when a crash was suddenly heard in the next room. I hurried in there to ascertain the cause, and found that the photographic portrait of one of them, which stood on the mantel-shelf, had been turned face inward towards the wall, the large water-colour portrait of another had been pulled from the nail and lay on the floor with the glass smashed, and the photo of the third stood on the mantel-shelf undisturbed. My questions were answered. An incorrect and fabulous version of this story having been circulated, I give the facts exactly as they occurred. Not a person save us two was in the flat at the time, and nobody save myself was interested in the questions at issue.
What a strange woman she was, and what a great variety in her psychical phenomena! We have seen her duplicating tissues, let me recall incidents where letters were doubled. I received one day a letter from a certain person who had done me a great wrong, and read it aloud to H. P. B. “We must have a copy of that,” she exclaimed, and, taking the sheet of note-paper from me, held it daintily by one corner and actually peeled off a duplicate, paper and all, before my very eyes! It was as though she had split the sheet between its two surfaces. Another example, perhaps even more interesting, is the following: Under date of December 22, 1887, Stainton Moses wrote her a five-paged letter of a rather controversial, or, at any rate, critical, character. The paper was of square, full letter size, and bore the embossed heading “University College, London,” and
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near the left-hand upper corner his monogram,—a W and M interlaced and crossed by the name “STAINTON” is small capitals. She said we must have a duplicate of this too, so I took from the desk five half-sheets of foreign letter-paper of the same size as Oxon’s and gave her them. She laid them against the five pages of his letter, and then placed the whole in a drawer of the desk just in front of me as I sat. We went on with our conversation for some time, until she said she thought the copy was made and I had better look and see if that were so. I opened the drawer, took out the papers, and found that one page of each of my five pieces had received from the page with which it was in contact the impression of that page. So nearly alike were the original and copies that I thought them—as the reader recollects I did the copy of the Britten-Louis portrait—exact duplicates. I had been thinking so all these subsequent sixteen years, but since I hunted up the documents for description in this chapter, I see that this is not the case. The writings are almost duplicates, yet not quite so. They are rather like two original writings by the same hand. If H. P. B. had had time to prepare this surprise for me, the explanation of forgery would suffice to cover the case; but she had not. The whole thing occurred as described, and I submit that it has an un-questionable evidential value as to the problem of her possessing psychical powers. I have tried the test of placing one page over the other to see how the letters and marks correspond. I find they do not, and that is
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proof, at any rate, that the transfer was not made by the absorption of the ink by the blank sheet from the other; moreover, the inks are different, and Oxon’s is not copying-ink. The time occupied by the whole phenomenon might have been five or ten minutes, and the papers lay the whole time in the drawer in front of my breast, so there was no trick of taking it out and substituting other sheets for the blank ones I had just then handed her. Let it pass to the credit of her good name, and help to make the case which her friends would offset against the intemperate slanders circulated against her by her enemies.
Mr. Sinnett prints in his Incidents in the Life of Madame Blavatsky (p. 199), a story given him by Mr. Judge about the production by her of some water colours for him to use in making an Egyptian drawing. I was present at the time and will add my testimony to his as an eye-witness. It happened one afternoon at the “Lamasery”. Judge was sketching for her—I think—the figure of a god forming man on a potter’s wheel, but for lack of colours could not finish it. H. P. B. asked him which shades he needed, and on being told, stepped over to the cottage piano just behind Judge’s chair, and facing towards the corner made by the end of the piano and the wall, held her dress as an apron to receive something. She presently poured from the dress upon the table before Judge thirteen bottles of Winsor and Newton’s dry colours, among which were those he had asked for. A little while after he said he would like some gold
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paint, whereupon she told him to fetch a saucer from the dining-room, which he did. She then asked him to hand her the brass door-key and, holding the two under the edge of the table, rubbed the key smartly upon the bottom of the saucer. In another moment she brought them into view again, and the flat part of the saucer bottom was found covered with a layer of gold-paint of the purest quality. To my question as to the function of the door-key in the experiment, she said that the soul of the metal was needed as a nucleus in which to collect together from the âkâúa the atoms of any other metal she meant to precipitate. For the same reason she had needed my signet ring as a help to form the other one that she made for her own use on the occasion above described. Is no hint given here of the principle at work when the alleged transmutation of metals is accomplished by the alchemist? Is, I say, for it is pretended that this art is known to various living fakirs and sanyâsis of modern India. And, moreover, do not the discoveries of Prof. Crookes as to the genesis of the elementsbring us to a point where, if science is to advance and not retrogress, she must move on to the Aryan hypothesis of Purusha and Prakriti? And does not this latter theory show us the possibility of shifting the elements of one metal into fresh combinations which would result in the development of another metal by employing the irresistible power of the Will? To do this by physical
1Viz., that the atom is not a unity, but a composite of the world-stuff of space, resulting from the play of electricity.
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methods means—as Professor Crookes says—the carrying back of the elements of a given metal to that extreme point where they might be shunted off on the line which would develop and bring into aggregation the elements of the other desired metal; a thing not yet reached by physical science, even by employing the enormous resources of electricity. But what is so monstrously difficult for the chemist and electrician, who depend entirely upon the help of brute forces, may be quite easy to the Adept, whose active agent is the power of spirit, which he has learnt to bring into function: the power, in fact, which builds the Cosmos.
Between the point at which Crookes stood on the evening of January 15, 1891, when he delivered his Inaugural Address, as President of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, and made the brilliant experiments which proved the truth of his immortal hypothesis, and that occupied by European science only a quarter century before, there is a distance immeasurably greater than there is between it and the Gupta Vidyâ of our Aryan ancestors. Crookes, hero-like, while recognising the obstacles ahead and noting that “a formidable amount of hard work remains to be completed,” is not in the least degree discouraged. “As for myself,” he says,1 “I hold the firm conviction that unflagging research will be rewarded by an insight into natural mysteries, such as now can scarcely be conceived. Difficulties, said a keen old statesman, are things to be overcome;
1Vide Jour. Inst. Elec. Engineers, No. Vol. XX, p. 49.
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and to my thinking Science should disdain the notion of finality.”
To have got so far as that is the harbinger of the brighter day, when men of science will see that their inductive method multiplies a hundredfold the difficulties of learning “natural mysteries;” that the key to all mysteries is the knowledge of spirit; and that the way to that knowledge leads, not through the laboratory fire, but through that fiercer flame which is fed by egoism, kept alight by the fuel of passion and fanned by the blast of desires.
When spirit is once more recognised as the supreme factor in the genesis of the elements and the building of the Cosmos, psychical phenomena like those of our lamented H. P. B. will acquire transcendent importance as elementary scientific facts, and no longer be looked on by one party as tricks of conjuring, by the other as miracles for the surfeiting of the gobe-mouches.