OLD DIARY LEAVES, First Series (1874-78)
by Henry Steel Olcott
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READERS of Lane’s Modern Egyptians, will recall the story of a young man who, upon visiting a certain wonder-working sheikh, obtained some marvellous proofs of his occult powers. His father, then at a distant place, being somewhat ailing, the son asked that he might have news of his condition. The sheikh consenting, told him to write the father a note of enquiry; which was done, handed him by the anxious son, and by the sheikh placed under the back-pillow against which he was leaning. Presently, the sheikh drew from the same place a letter answering the young man’s enquiries. It was written by the father’s own hand, and, if my memory serves—for I am trusting to recollection only—stamped with his seal. At his request, also, coffee was served to the company in the father’s own cups (fingân), which he had every reason to believe had been at the moment of asking in the paternal house in that far-off village. H. P. B. gave me one evening,
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without fuss or parade, a fact of the first of these two orders. I wished to hear from a certain Adept upon a certain subject. She bade me write my questions, put them in a sealed envelope, and placed the letter where I could watch it for the time being. This was even better than the Egyptian sheikh incident, for in that case the letter was hidden from the enquirer by the back-pillow. As I was sitting at the moment before the grate, I put my letter behind the clock on the mantel, leaving just one edge of the envelope projecting far enough for me to see it. My colleague and I went on talking about a variety of things for perhaps an hour, when she said my answer had come. I drew out the letter, found my own envelope with its seal unbroken, inside it my own letter, and inside that the answer in the Adept’s familiar manuscript, written upon a sheet of green paper of peculiar make, the like of which—I have every reason to believe—was not in the house. We were in New York, the Adept in Asia. This phenomenon was, I submit, of a class to which the theory of trickery could not apply, and therefore has much weight. There is just one explanation possible—a very lame one—besides that which I conceive to be the true theory. Granting H. P. B. to be possessed of extraordinary hypnotic power, she might have instantaneously benumbed my waking faculties, so as to prevent my seeing her rise from her chair, take my letter from behind the clock, steam the gum, open the cover, read my letter, write the reply in forged handwriting, replace the contents of the envelope, refasten
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it, place it back again on the mantel-shelf, and then restore me to the waking state without leaving in my memory the least trace of my experiences! But I had and still preserve a perfect consciousness of having carried on the hour’s conversation, of her moving about hither and thither, of her making and smoking a number of cigarettes, of my filling, smoking, and refilling my pipe, and, generally, doing what any waking person might do when his senses were alert as to a psychical phenomenon then in progress. If some forty years of familiarity with hypnotic and mesmeric phenomena and their laws go for anything, then I can positively declare that I was fully conscious of what was going on, and that I have accurately stated the facts. Perhaps even twice forty years’ experience on the plane of physical Mâyâ would not qualify one to grasp the possibilities in Oriental hypnotic science. Perhaps I am no more capable than the tyro of knowing what really passed between the times of writing my note and getting the answer. That is quite possible. But in such case what infinitesimally little weight should be given to the aspersions of H. P. B.’s several hostile critics, learned and lay, who have judged her an unmitigated trickster, without having had even a fourth of my own familiarity with the laws of psychical phenomena! In the (London) Spiritualist for January 28, 1876, I described this incident with other psychical matters, and the reader is referred to my letter for the particulars.
I am not aware of there being a special class of
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hirsute phenomena but if there is, then the following incident may be included in it, along with that of the sudden elongation of H. P. B.’s hair at Philadelphia, described in one of my earlier chapters. After having shaved my chin for many years I began to grow a full beard, under medical advice, as a protection to a naturally delicate throat, and at the time I speak of, it was about four inches long. One morning, when making my toilet after my bath, I discovered a tangle of long hair under my chin next the throat. Not knowing what to make of it, I very carefully undid the mass at the expense of almost an hour’s trouble, and found, to my great amazement, that I had a lock of beard, fourteen inches long, coming down as far as the pit of the stomach! Whence or why it had come no reading or experience helped me to guess; but there it was, a palpable fact and permanent phenomenon. Upon my showing it to H. P. B. she said it had been purposely done by our Guru while I slept, and advised me to take care of it as it would serve me as a reservoir of his helpful aura. I showed it to many friends, but none could venture any better theory to account for it, while all agreed that I ought not to cut it back to its former length. So I used to tuck it away inside my collar to hide it, and did so for years, until the rest of the beard had grown to match it. This accounts for the “Rishi beard,” so often mentioned in friendly allusions to my personal appearance, and explains why I have not yielded to my long-felt wish to clip it into a more convenient and less conspicuous
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shape. Whatever the fact may be called, it assuredly is not a Mâyâ, but a very real and tangible verity.
In the department of “precipitation”1 of writings and pictures, H. P. B. was exceptionally strong, as will have been inferred from all that has preceded. It was one of M. A. Oxon’s strong points likewise. On an evening of 1875 I sat at the house of the President of the Photographic Section of the American Institute, Mr. H.J. Newton, with a private medium named Cozine, to witness his slate-writings, which were far more wonderful than Dr. Slade’s. The communications came upon the slate in bright blue and red colours; no pencil or crayon was used in the experiment, and I myself held one end of the slate. Upon mentioning this to H. P. B., she said: “I think I could do that; at any rate, I will try.” So I went out and bought a slate and brought it home; she took it, without crayons or pencil, into a small, pitch-dark closet bed-room and lay upon the couch, while I went out, closed the door, and waited outside. After a very few minutes she reappeared with the slate in her hand, her forehead damp with perspiration, and she seeming very tired. “By Jove!” she exclaimed, “that took it out of me, but I’ve done it; see!” On the slate was writing in red and the blue crayons, in handwritings not her own. M. A. Oxon once wrote me an account of a similar experience of his own, save that in his case Imperator was the agent and he the
1A term, originally of my own invention, which seems to convey best of all an idea of the method employed.
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passive medium, which is quite another affair. At his request Imperator wrote messages to him in various coloured inks, one after the other, inside the pocket-book he had in the breast pocket of his coat at the time. Imperator being still the x of Oxon’s psychic life, perhaps it was the ethereal body of my friend which precipitated the coloured writings to appease the clamorous scepticism of his physical brain-consciousness, in which case his phenomenon and H. P. B.’s would be somewhat akin.
Elsewhere I have mentioned H. P. B.’s having done for me a precipitated picture on satin, which showed me the stage that Oxon had reached in his attempt to gain the power of projecting his Double by force of concentrated will-power. I had better now give the details:
One evening, in the autumn of 1876, she and I were working, as usual, upon Isis, at opposite sides of our writing-table, and dropped into a discussion of the principles involved in the conscious projection of the Double. Through lack of early familiarity with those subjects, she was not good then at explaining scientific matters, and I found it difficult to grasp her meaning. Her fiery temperament made her prone to abuse me for an idiot in such cases, and this time she did not spare her expressions of impatience at my alleged obtuseness. Finally, she did the very best thing by offering to show me in a picture how Oxon’s evolution was proceeding, and at once made good her promise. Rising from the table, she went and opened a drawer from which she
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took a small roll of white satin—the remnant, I believe, of a piece she had had given her at Philadelphia—and laying it on the table before me, proceeded to cut off a piece of the size she wanted; after which she returned the roll to its place and sat down. She laid the piece of satin, face down, before her, almost covered it with a sheet of clean blotting-paper, and rested her elbows on it while she rolled for herself and lighted a fresh cigarette. Presently she asked me to fetch her a glass of water. I said I would, but first put her some question which involved an answer and some delay. Meanwhile I kept my eye upon an exposed edge of the satin, determined not to lose sight of it. Soon noticing that I made no sign of moving, she asked me if I did not mean to fetch her the water. I said: “Oh, certainly.” “Then what do you wait for?” she asked. “I only wait to see what you are about to do with that satin,” I replied. She gave me one angry glance, as though seeing that I did not mean to trust her alone with the satin, and then brought down her clenched fist upon the blotting-paper, saying: “I shall have it now—this minute!” Then, raising the paper and turning over the satin, she tossed it over to me. Imagine, if you can, my surprise! On the sheeny side I found a picture, in colours, of a most extraordinary character.1 There was an excellent portrait, of the head only, of Stainton
1The photo-engraving process not having as yet advanced to the point of photographing in colours, our cut but very poorly represents the original picture on satin.
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Moses as he looked at that age, the almost duplicate of one of his photographs that hung “above the line” on the wall of the room, over the mantel-shelf. From the crown of the head shot out spikes of golden flame; at the place of the heart and the solar plexus were red and golden fires, as it might be bursting forth from little craters; the head and the place of the thorax were involved in rolling clouds of pure blue aura, bespeckled throughout with flecks of gold; and the lower half of space where the body should be was enwrapped in similarly rolling clouds of pinkish and greyish vapour, that is, of auras of a meaner quality than the superior cumuli.
At that stage of my occult education I had heard nothing about the six chakrams, or psychical evolutionary centres in the human body, which are mentioned in Yoga Sâstras, and are familiar to every student of Patanjali. I therefore did not grasp the significance of the two flaming vortices over the cardiac and umbilical regions; but my later acquaintance with the subject gives this satin picture an enhanced value, as showing that the practical occultist who made it apparently knew that, in the process of disentangling the astral from the physical body, the will must be focussed in succession at the several nerve-centres, and the disengagement completed at each in turn before moving on to the next centre in the order of sequence. I take the picture to mean that Stainton Moses’ experiment was being conducted as an intellectual rather than as a spiritual process,
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wherefore he had completely formed and got ready for projection his head, while the other parts of his astral body were in a state of nebulous disturbance, but had not yet settled into the stage of rûpa, or form. The blue clouds would represent the pure but not most luminous quality of the human aura—described as shining, or radiant; a silver nimbus. The flecks of gold, however, that are seen floating in the blue, typify sparks of the spirit, the “silvery spark in the brain,” that Bulwer so beautifully describes in his Strange Story; while the greyish and pinkish vapours of the inferior portions show the auras of our animalistic, corporeal qualities. This grey becomes darker and darker as a man’s animalism preponderates over his intellect, his moral and spiritual qualities, until in the wholly depraved, as the clairvoyants tell us, it is inky black. The aura of adeptship is described as a blended tint of silver and gold, as some of my readers, I am sure, must know from personal observation, and as the poets and painters of all ages have depicted in their sublimer flights of spiritual perception. This Téjas or soul-light, shines out through the mystic’s face, lighting it up with a glow which, once seen, can never thereafter be mistaken. It is the “shining countenance” of the Biblical angels, the “glory of the Lord,” the light that beamed in the face of Moses when descending from the Mount with such splendour that men could not bear to look upon his countenance; a radiance that even transfigures the wearer’s robes into “shining garments.” The Hebrews call it shekinah, and
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I once heard the term used by some Bagdad Jews to describe the face of a spiritual-minded visitor on that occasion. So, too, the word “shining” is applied similarly by various other nations; the pure spirits and pure men glow with the white light, the vicious and evil ones are veiled in blackness.
In the case of another precipitated portrait, made by H. P. B., there was no aura shown: I refer to that of an Indian yogi, which is described in Sinnett’s Occult World and Incidents in the Life of Mme. Blavatsky; the documents respecting which were originally published in the Spiritualist shortly after the occurrence of the incident. It happened in this wise: On my way home to “The Lamasery” one day, I stopped at the Lotos Club and got some of the club note-paper and envelopes to use at home as occasion might require. It was late when I reached the house, and H. P. B. was at the dinner table already, with Mr. Judge and Dr. Marquette as guests. I laid the package of stationery on my desk in the writing-room (between which and the dining-room there was a dead wall, by the way), made a hurried toilet, and went to my seat at the table. At the close of the dinner we had drifted into talk about precipitations, and Judge asked H. P. B. if she would not make somebody’s portrait for us. As we were moving towards the writing-room, she asked him whose portrait he wished made, and he chose that of this particular yogi, whom we knew by name as one held in great respect by the Masters. She crossed to my table, took a sheet of my crested
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club-paper, tore it in halves, kept the half which had no imprint, and laid it down on her own blotting-paper. She then scraped perhaps a grain of the plumbago of a Faber lead pencil on it, and then rubbed the surface for a minute or so with a circular motion of the palm of her right hand; after which she handed us the result. On the paper had come the desired portrait and, setting wholly aside the question of its phenomenal character, it is an artistic production of power and genius. Le Clear, the Noted American portrait painter, declared it unique, distinctly an “individual” in the technical sense; one that no living artist within his knowledge could have produced. The yogi is depicted in Samâdhi, the head drawn partly aside, the eyes profoundly introspective and dead to external things, the body seemingly that of an absent tenant. There is a beard and hair of moderate length, the latter drawn with such skill that one sees through the upstanding locks, as it were—an effect obtained in good photographs, but hard to imitate with pencil or crayon. The portrait is in a medium not easy to distinguish: it might be black crayon, without stumping, or black lead; but there is neither dust nor gloss on the surface to indicate which, nor any marks of the stump or the point used: hold the paper horizontally towards the light and you might fancy the pigment was below the surface, combined with the fibres. This incomparable picture was subjected in India later to the outrage of being rubbed with India—rubber to satisfy the curiosity of one of our Indian members, who had borrowed it as a special favour
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“to show his mother”, and who wished to see if the pigment was really on or under the surface! The effect of his vandal-like experiment is now seen in the obliteration of a part of the beard, and my sorrow over the disaster is not in the least mitigated by the knowledge that it was not due to malice but to ignorance and the spirit of childish curiosity. The yogi’s name was always pronounced by H. P.B. “Tiravâlâ”, but since coming to live in Madras Presidency, I can very well imagine that she meant Tiruvalluvar, and that the portrait, now hanging in the Picture Annex of the Adyar Library, is really that of the revered philosopher of ancient Mylapur, the friend and teacher of the poor Pariahs. As to the question whether he is still in the body or not I can venture no assertion, but from what H. P. B. used to say about him I always inferred that he was. And yet to all save Hindus that would seem incredible, since he is said to have written his immortal “Kural” something like a thousand years ago! He is classed in Southern India as one of the Siddhas, and like the other seventeen, is said to be still living in the Tirupati and Nilgiri Hills; keeping watch and ward over the Hindu religion. Themselves unseen, these Great Souls help, by their potent will-power, its friends and promoters and all lovers of mankind. May their benediction be with us!
In recalling the incident for the present narrative, I note the fact that no aura or spiritual glow is depicted around the yogi’s head, although H. P. B.’s account of him confirms that of his Indian admirers, that he was
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a person of the highest spirituality of aspiration and purest character.
The same remark applies to the first portrait of my Guru, the one done in black and white crayons at New York by M. Harrisse: there is no nimbus. In this case at least, I can testify to the likeness, along with others who have had the happiness of seeing him. Its production was, like that done in oils at London in 1884 by Herr Schmiechen, an example of thought-transference. I think I have never published the facts before, but in any case they should have a place in this historical retrospect.
One naturally likes to possess the portrait of a distant correspondent with whom one has had important relations; how much more, then, that of a spiritual teacher, the beginning of relations with whom has substituted a nobler for a commonplace idea of life in one’s consciousness. I most earnestly wished to be able to have in my room at least the likeness of my reverend teacher, if I might not see him in life; had long importuned H. P. B. to procure it for me; and had been promised it at a favourable time. In this case my colleague was not permitted to precipitate it for me, but a simpler yet most instructive method was resorted to: a non-medium and non-occultist was made to draw it for me without knowing what he was doing. M. Harrisse, our French friend, was a bit of an artist, and one evening when the conversation turned upon India and Rajput bravery, H. P. B. whispered to me that she would try to get him to
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draw our Master’s portrait if I could supply the materials. There were none in the house, but I went to a shop close by and purchased a sheet of suitable paper and black and white crayons. The shopkeeper did up the parcel, handed it me across the counter, took the half-dollar coin I gave him, and I left the shop. On reaching home I unrolled my parcel and, as I finished doing it, the sum of half a dollar, in two silver pieces of a quarter-dollar each dropped on the floor! The Master, it will be seen, meant to give me his portrait without cost to myself. Harrisse was then asked by H. P. B. to draw us the head of a Hindu chieftain, as he should conceive one might look. He said he had no clear idea in his mind to go upon, and wanted to sketch us something else; but to gratify my importunity went to drawing a Hindu head. H. P. B. motioned me to remain quiet at the other side of the room, and herself went and sat down near the artist and quietly smoked. From time to time she went softly behind him as if to watch the progress of his work, but did not speak until it was finished, say an hour later. I thankfully received it, had it framed, and hung it in my little bed-room. But a strange thing had happened. After we gave the picture a last glance as it lay before the artist, and while H. P. B. was taking it from him and handing it to me, the cryptograph signature of my Guru came upon the paper; thus affixing, as it were, his imprimatur upon, and largely enhancing the value of his gift. But at that time I did not know if it resembled the Guru or not, as I had not yet seen him. When I did,
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later on, I found it a true likeness and, moreover, was presented by him with the turban which the amateur artist had drawn in the picture as his head-covering. Here was a genuine case of thought-transference, the transfer of the likeness of an absent person to the brain-consciousness of a perfect stranger. Was it or was it not passed through the thought of H. P. B.? I think so. I think it was effected in the identical way in which the thought-images of geometrical and other figures were transferred to third parties in the convincing experiments recorded by the S.P.R. in its earlier published reports. With the difference, however, that H. P. B.’s own memory supplied the portrait to be transferred to Harrisse’s mind, and her trained occult powers enabled her to effect the transfer direct, viz., without an intermediary; that is to say, without the necessity of having the drawing first made on a card, for her to visualise it in her own mind and then pass it on to the recipient brain. The painting by Schmiechen, of the magnificent portraits in oils of the same and another Master, which now hang in the Adyar Library, was an even more interesting circumstance, for the likenesses are so perfect and so striking as to seem endowed with life. Their eyes speak to one and search one to the bottom of his heart; their glance follows one everywhere as he moves about; their lips seem about to utter, as one may deserve, words of kindness or of reproach. They are an inspiration rather than an illustration of thought-transference. The artist has made two or three copies of them, but
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not one has the soul in it that is in the originals. They were not done in the divine mood of inspiration, and the Masters’ will-power is not focussed in them. The originals are the palladium of our headquarters; the copies like images seen in a mirror, possess the details of form and colour, but are devoid of the energising spirit.