OLD DIARY LEAVES, First Series (1874-78)
by Henry Steel Olcott
PROJECTION OF THE DOUBLE
ALL theories and speculations upon the duplex corporeity of man, i.e., of his possession of an astral, or phantasmal, body as well as a physical body, only lead up to the point where one demands proof before going further. It is so incredible to the materialistic mind as transcending common experience, that it is most likely to be pushed aside as a dream than accepted as even a working hypothesis. This, in fact has been its handling by the average scientist, and when a braver investigator than the ordinary affirms it as his belief, he risks that reputation for cold caution which is presumed, with laughable inconsistency nevertheless, to be the mark of the true scientific discoverer. Yet many books as precise and suggestive as D’Assier’s1 have been published at different times, chief among them being the Phartasms of the Living, by Messrs. Gurney, Myers, and Podmore, and present a solid front of facts
1Posthumous Humanity: a Study of Phantoms.
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impossible to deny, however difficult to believe. The case seems now to have been amply proved by the compilation of several thousand observed phenomena of this class; and the time seems to have come when the metaphysician who ignores them has no right to claim to be regarded as a trustworthy teacher of men. Yet, while the reason may be convinced by this array of facts, the real existence of the astral body, and the possibility of its separation from the physical “sheath” during life can only be known in one of two ways—by one’s seeing the astral body of another person, or by projecting one’s own and viewing one’s physical body ab extrâ. With either of these experiences, one can say he KNOWS; with both, his knowledge becomes absolute and unshakable. I have had both. I take the witness-stand, and testify to the truth for the helping of my fellow-workers. I pass over with a bare mention the incidents of my seeing H. P. B. in her astral body in a New York street, while her physical body was in Philadelphia; of my seeing similarly a friend who was then in body in a Southern State, several hundred miles away; of seeing in an American railway train and on an American steamboat, a certain adept then physically in Asia; of receiving from the hand of another, at Jummu, a telegram sent me there by H. P. B. from Madras, and delivered to me by the adept under the guise of the Kashmiri telegraph-peon, whose appearance he borrowed momentarily for the purpose, and dissolved a moment later in full moonlight when I stepped to the door to
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watch him; of being saluted on Worli Bridge, Bombay, by another of these majestic men on another tropical evening as H. P. B., Damodar, and I sat in our phaeton enjoying the heat lightening and the cooling breeze off the sea; of seeing him moving towards us from a little distance, advance to the very carriage side, lay his hand on H. P. B.’s, walk fifty yards away, and suddenly disappear from our sight on the causeway, bare of trees, shrubs, or other places of concealment, in the full sheen of the lightning: I pass these and other such experiences, and come to the one which of all was the most momentous in its consequences upon the course of my life. The story has been told before, but it had its place in the present retrospect, for it was the chief among the causes of my abandonment of the world and my coming out to my Indian home. Hence it was one of the chief factors in the upbuilding of the Theosophical Society. I do not mean to say that without it I should not have come to India, for my heart had been leaping within me to come, from the time when I learned what India had been to the world, what she might be made again. An insatiable longing had possessed me to come to the land of the Rishis and the Buddhas, the Sacred Land among lands; but I could not see my way clear to breaking the ties of circumstance which bound me to America, and I might have felt compelled to put it off to that “convenient season” which so often never comes to the procrastinator and waiter upon the turn of events. This experience in question, however, settled my fate; in an instant doubts melted
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away, the clear foresight of a fixed will showed the way, and before the dawn of that sleepless night came, I began to devise the means and to bend all things to that end. The happening was thus:
Our evening’s work on Isis was finished, I had bade good-night to H. P. B., retired to my own room, closed the door as usual, sat me down to read and smoke, and was soon absorbed in my book; which, if I remember aright, was Stephens’ Travels in Yucatan; at all events, not a book on ghosts, nor one calculated in the least to stimulate one’s imagination to the seeing of spectres. My chair and table were to the left in front of the door, my camp-cot to the right, the window facing the door, and over the table a wall gas-jet. The following simple ground plan will convey the correct idea of the premises of the “Lamasery”, although not accurate as to the measurements.
EXPLANATION.—A, our working and only reception room; B, bed-room of H. P. B.; C, my bed-room; D, a small, dark bed-room; E, passage; F, kitchen; G, dining-room; H, bath-room; I, hanging closet; J, exterior door of the flat opening upon the house staircase; always closed with a spring-latch and locked at night. In my room, a is the chair where I sat reading; b the table; c the chair where my visitor seated himself during the interview; d my camp-cot. In our work-room e is where the cuckoo clock hung, and f the place of the hanging shelves against which I bruised myself. In B, g represents the place of H. P. B.’s bed. The door of
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my room, it will be seen, was to my right as I sat, and any opening of it would have at once been noticed; the more so, since it was locked, to the best of my present recollection. That I am not more positive will not seem strange in view of the mental excitement into which the passing events threw me; events so astonishing as to make me forget various minor details which, under a cooler frame of mind, would perhaps have been retained in my memory.
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I was quietly reading, with all my attention centered on my book. Nothing in the evening’s incidents had prepared me for seeing an adept in his astral body; I had not wished for it, tried to conjure it up in my fancy, nor in the least expected it. All at once, as I read with my shoulder a little turned from the door, there came a gleam of something white in the right-hand corner of my right eye; I turned my head, dropped my book in astonishment, and saw towering above me in his great stature an Oriental clad in white garments, and wearing a head-cloth or turban of amber-striped fabric, hand-embroidered in yellow floss-silk. Long raven hair hung from under his turban to the shoulders; his black beard, parted vertically on the chin in the Rajput fashion, was twisted up at the ends and carried over the ears; his eyes were alive with soul-fire; eyes which were at once benignant and piercing in glance; the eyes of a mentor and a judge, but softened by the love of a father who gazes on a son needing counsel and guidance. He was so grand a man, so imbued with the majesty of moral strength, so luminously spiritual, so evidently above average humanity, that I felt abashed in his presence, and bowed my head and bent my knee as one does before a god or a god-like personage. A hand was lightly laid on my head, a sweet though strong voice bade me be seated, and when I raised my eyes, the Presence was seated in the other chair beyond the table. He told me he had come at the crisis when I needed him; that my actions had brought me to this point; that it lay with me alone
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whether he and I should meet often in this life as co-workers for the good of mankind; that a great work was to be done for humanity, and I had the right to share in it if I wished; that a mysterious tie, not now to be explained to me, had drawn my colleague and myself together; a tie which could not be broken, however strained it might be at times. He told me things about H. P. B. that I may not repeat, as well as things about myself, that do not concern third parties. How long he was there I cannot tell: it might have been a half-hour or an hour; it seemed but a minute, so little did I take note of the flight of time. At last he rose, I wondering at his great height and observing the sort of splendour in his countenance—not an external shining, but the soft gleam, as it were, of an inner light—that of the spirit. Suddenly the thought came into my mind: “What if this be but hallucination; what if H. P. B. has cast a hypnotic glamour over me? I wish I had some tangible object to prove to me that he has really been here; something that I might handle after he is gone!” The Master smiled kindly as if reading my thought, untwisted the fehtâ from his head, benignantly saluted me in farewell and—was gone: his chair was empty; I was alone with my emotions! Not quite alone, though, for on the table lay the embroidered head-cloth; a tangible and enduring proof that I had not been “overlooked,” or psychically befooled, but had been face to face with one of the Elder Brothers of Humanity, one of the Masters of our dull pupil-race. To run and beat at H. P. B.’s
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door and tell her my experience, was the first natural impulse, and she was as glad to hear my story as I was to tell it. I returned to my room to think, and the gray morning found me still thinking and resolving. Out of those thoughts and those resolves developed all my subsequent theosophical activities, and that loyalty to the Masters behind our movement which the rudest shocks and the cruellest disillusioning have never shaken. I have been blessed with meetings with this Master and others since then, but little profit is to be reaped in repeating tales of experiences of which the foregoing is a sufficient example. However others less fortunate may doubt, I KNOW.
As due to my ideal of candour, I must recall a circumstance which threw a doubt once upon my competency as a witness as to the above incident. While in London in 1884, I was examined as a witness before a Special Committee of the Society for Psychical Research, and told the above story among others. A member of the committee in cross-examination, so to say, put to me the question how I could be sure that Madame Blavatsky had not employed some tall Hindu to play this farce on me, and that as to the supposed mysterious details my fancy might not have played me false. I was thereupon seized with such a disgust for their cruel suspicion of H. P. B., and their seemingly dishonourable shirking of palpable spiritual facts under cover of assumed astuteness, that I hastily answered, among other things, that I had never until that moment seen a Hindu in my life. The
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circumstance of my having actually made in 1870 the voyage across the Atlantic with two Hindu gentlemen, one of whom was later our close friend at Bombay—Mooljee Thackersey—entirely slipped out of my mind. This was a clear case of amnesia (loss of memory) for I had not the least intention or interest in concealing so commonplace a circumstance; the meeting of 1870, fourteen years before the examination of me by the S. P. R., had left no such mark in my memory as to be recalled in my moment of anger, and so the force of my testimony was weakened to that extent. A meeting with Hindus five years or so before I knew H. P. B., and, through her, the real India, would not have been of paramount importance to a man of such multifarious acquaintance-ships and adventures as myself. Yes, it was amnesia; but amnesia is not lying, and my story is true, even though some may doubt it. And this is the fitting place for me to say that, as some of my chapters were written while travelling, away from my books and papers, and especially as much of it is written from memory only of the long-past events, I beg indulgence for any unintentional mistakes that may be discovered. I try my best to be accurate and certainly shall be truthful.
I now pass on to my personal experiences in projections of the Double. In connection with this phenomenon let me give a word of caution to the less advanced student of practical psychology; the power of withdrawing the astral body from the physical is no necessary proof of high spiritual development. The contrary is
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believed, by perhaps the majority of dabblers in occultism, but they are wrong. A first and sufficient proof is that the emergence of the astral body happens very often with men and women who have given little or no time to occult research, have followed no yogic system, have made no attempts to do the thing, have usually been frightened or much ashamed and vexed when convicted of it, and have not been in the least remarkable above the average of persons for purity of life and thought, spirituality of ideal, or the “gifts of the spirit” of which the Scripture speaks; often the very opposite. Then, again, the annals of the Black Art teem with numberless instances of the visible, and invisible (save clairvoyantly), projection of the Double by wicked persons bent on mischief; of bilocations, hauntings of hated victims, lycanthropical masqueradings, and other “damnable witchcrafts ”. Then, again, there are the three or four or more thousand cases of projections of the Double by all sorts and conditions of men, some no better than they should be, if not a good deal worse occasionally, that have been recorded and winnowed down by the S.P.R., and the yet more thousands not garnered into their cast-iron granary; all combining to prove the truth of my warning, that one must not in the least take the mere fact that a certain person can travel—whether consciously or unconsciously it matters not—in the astral body as evidence that that person is either better, wiser, more spiritually advanced, or better qualified to serve as Guru, than any other person not so endowed. It is simply the sign
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that the subject of the experience has, either congenitally or by subsequent effort, loosened the astral body in its sheath, and so made it easier for it to go out and return again, when the outer body is naturally or hypnotically asleep, hence un-obstructive. The reader will recall, in this connection, the satin picture of M. A. Oxon’s experiments in this direction which H. P. B. made for me. Somehow or other, I have never found the time for self-training in yoga since I took up my line of practical work in our theosophical movement. I never seemed to care whether I acquired any psychical powers or not, never aspired to guruship, nor cared whether I could or could not attain Liberation during this life. To serve mankind always seemed to me the best of yogas, and the ability to do even a little towards spreading knowledge and diminishing ignorance, an ample reward. So it never entered my mind in the early days that I might train myself as a seer or a wonder-worker, a metaphysician or an adept; but I have been going on all these years on the hint given me by a Master, that the best way to seek them was through the Theosophical Society: a humble sphere, perhaps, yet one well within my limited capabilities, thoroughly congenial and at the same time useful. In telling about my early goings out of the body, I must not be thought, therefore, to be pluming myself upon my supposed high spiritual development, nor intending to boast of special cleverness as a psychic. The fact is, I presume, I was helped to get this, along with many other psychical experiences, as a basis of the special education
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needed by one who had such work as mine cut out for him.
Here is one of my facts: H. P. B. and I had one evening in 1876, while we were living in West 34th St.,1 finished writing a chapter of the original draft of Isis Unveiled, and on parting for the night, laid away the great pile of “copy” in a pasteboard box, with the first page on top, the last at the bottom of the heap. She occupied the flat directly under my own, in the second story of the apartment-house, and both of us, of course, locked our outer doors to keep out thieves. While undressing it occurred to me that if I had added certain three words to the final sentence of the last paragraph, the sense of the whole paragraph would have been strengthened. I was afraid I might forget them in the morning, so the whim came to me that I might try to go down to the writing-room below stairs in my Double and perhaps write them phenomenally. Consciously, I had never travelled thus before, but I knew how it must be attempted, viz., by fixing the intention to do it firmly in the mind when falling asleep, and I did so. I knew nothing more until the next morning, when, after dressing and taking my breakfast, I stopped in at H. P. B.’s flat to bid her good-bye on my way to my office. “Well”, she said, “pray tell me what the deuce you were doing here last night after you went to bed?” “Doing”, I replied, “what do you mean?” “Why”, she rejoined,
1Not the “Lamasery”, but the place we occupied before going there.
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“I had got into bed and was lying there quietly, when lo! I saw my Olcott’s astral body oozing through the wall. And stupid and sleepy enough you seemed, too! I spoke to you, but you did not reply. You went to the writing-room and I heard you fumbling with the papers; and that’s all. What were you about?” I then told her of my intended experiment: we went together into the other room, emptied out the pile of MS., and on the last page, at the end of the concluding paragraph, found two of the intended three words fully written out in my own handwriting and the third begun, but not finished: the power of concentration seeming to have become exhausted, and the word ending in a scrawl! How I handled the pencil, if I did handle it, or how I wrote the words without handling it, I cannot say: perhaps I was able just that once to precipitate the writing with the help of one of H. P. B.’s benevolent elementals, by utilising molecules of the plumbago from either of the lead pencils lying on the table along with the manuscript. Be it as it may, the experience was useful.
The reader should take note of the fact that my writing in the phenomenal way stopped at the point where, from inexperience, I let my will wander away from the work in hand. To fix it immovably is the one thing indispensable, just as it is the necessary concomitant of good work on the normal intellectual plane. In the Theosophist for July, 1888 (Art. “Precipitated Pictures at New York”), I explained the connection between the concentration of trained will-power and the permanency
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of precipitated writings, pictures, and other similar proofs of the creative power of the mind. I instanced the very interesting and suggestive details of the projection of the Double and the precipitation of writing, given by Wilkie Collins in his novel, The Two Destinies-a book, in its way, as well worth reading by any student of occultism,1 as Zanoni, A Strange Story, or The Coming Race. I cited, further, the case of the Louis portrait precipitated for Mlle. Liebert and myself, which faded out by the next morning, but was caused by H. P. B. to subsequently reappear at Mr. Judge’s request, and to be so “fixed” as to be still as sharp and fresh after the lapse of many years as when first made. But no amount of reading or experimentation at second hand can compare with even one little original experience, like the one of mine above described, in its power to make one realise the truth of the universal cosmic operation of thought creating form. The sloka Bahûsyam Prajâyeyaiti, etc. (VIth Anuvâka, 2nd Valli, Taittiryiâka-Upanishad), “He (Brahmâ) wished, may I be many, may I grow forth. He brooded over himself. After he had thus brooded, he sent forth all, whatever there is. Having sent forth, he entered it”; is to me profoundly instructive. It has a meaning immeasurably deeper, truer, more suggestive to one who has himself meditated and then created form,
1It was this article which caused Mr. Collins to write me that, among the incidents of his life, none had more surprised him than his finding from my notice of his book that he had by the mere exercise of the imagination, apparently stumbled on one of the mysterious laws of occult science.
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than to him whose eyes have but read the words on the page, without the echoing assent coming from within one’s being.
I recall another case of my projecting my Double, which illustrates the law known as “repercussion”. The reader may find the amplest materials for forming a correct opinion on this subject in the literature of Witchcraft, Sorcery, and Magic. The word “repercussion” means, in this connection, the reacting upon one’s physical body of a blow, stab, or other injury, inflicted upon the Double while it is projected and moving about as a separate entity: “bilocation” is the simultaneous appearance of a person in two places; one appearance that of the physical, the other that of the astral body, or Double. M. d’Assier discusses both in his Posthumous Humanity, and in my English version of that excellent work, I add remarks of my own upon the subject. Speaking of the infliction of injuries upon their victims by sorcerers who could duplicate their bodies and visit them in the Double, the author says (p. 224): “The sorceress entered into the house of him against whom she had a revenge to gratify, and vexed him in a thousand ways. If the latter were resolute, and had a weapon available, it would often happen that he would strike the phantom, and upon recovering from her trance, the sorceress would find upon her own body the wounds she had received in the phantasmal struggle.”
Des Mousseaux, the Catholic writer against Sorcery and other “black arts”, quotes from the judicial archives
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of England, the case of Jane Brooks, who persecuted a child named Richard Jones after a very malicious fashion. At one of her visitations, the child screamed out that the phantom of Jane was present and pretended to touch it with the point of his finger. A witness named Gilson, springing to the place indicated, slashed at it with a knife, although the phantom was visible only to the child. The house of Jane Brooks was at once visited by Gilson, with the child’s father and a constable, and she was found sitting on her stool holding one of her hands with the other. She denied that anything had happened to her hand, but the other being snatched away, the concealed one was found covered with blood, and bearing just such a wound as the child had said had been inflicted on the hand of the phantom by Gilson’s knife. A great number of similar cases are on record, all going to prove that any accident or injury to the projected Double reacts and reproduces itself upon the physical body in the identical spot.1 This brings me to my own experience.
In our writing-room at the “Lamasery” there hung upon the wall, beside the chimney, a Swiss cuckoo-clock,
1The exact duplexity of the astral and physical bodies in man has been affirmed from the remotest ages. It is the Eastern theory that the astral man is the product of his past Karma, and that it moulds the outer encasement according to its own innate qualities, making it a visible representation of the same. This idea is succinctly embodied in the verse in Spenser’s Faerie Queene:
“For of the soul the body form doth take,
For soul is form, and doth the body make.”
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which it was my methodical custom to wind up nightly before retiring to my own room. One morning, on going to my toilet-glass after my bath, I noticed that my right eye was black and blue, as though I had received a blow from a fist. I could not account for it in the least, and I was the more puzzled on finding that I had no pain in the injured part. In vain I racked my brain for an explanation. In my bed-room there was no post pillar, projecting corner, or other obstruction from which I could have received injury, supposing that I had been walking about in my sleep—a habit I had never acquired, by the way. Then, again, a shock, rude enough to have blackened my eye like this, must, of necessity, have wakened me instantaneously at the time, whereas I had slept the night through as quietly as usual. So my bewilderment continued, until I met H. P. B. and a lady friend, who had shared her bed that night, at the breakfast table. The lady friend gave me the clue to the enigma. She said: “Why, Colonel, you must have hit yourself last night when you came in to wind the cuckoo clock!” “Wind the clock,” I replied, “what do you mean by that? Did you not lock the door when I went to my room?” “Yes,” she said, “I locked it myself; and however could you have come in? Yet both Madame and I saw you pass the sliding-doors of our bed-room and heard you pulling the chain to wind the clock. I called, but you did not answer, and I saw nothing more.” Well, then, I thought, if I did enter the room in my Double and wind the clock, two things are inevitable, (a)
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the clock must show that it was wound last night and not have run down; (b) there must be some obstacle on my path between the door and the opposite chimney against which I could have hit my eye. We examined the premises and found:
1. That the clock was going and had apparently been wound up at the usual time.
2. Just near the door hung a small hanging bookshelf, the farthest front corner of one of whose shelves was of the exact height to catch my eye if I had run against it. Then there came back to me the dim recollection of myself moving towards the door from the far side of the room, with my right hand outstretched as if to feel for the door, a sudden shock, “the seeing of stars”—as it is commonly expressed—and then oblivion until morning.
That is curious, it seems to me; very curious that a blow which, received upon the physical head, must almost inevitably have at once awakened one, should, when falling upon the projected Double, have left its substantial mark behind it by repercussion upon the physical body, without bringing me to consciousness. And the case is instructive in other aspects, as well. It shows that, provided the conditions are favourable for the slipping of the Double out of the physical body, the “duplication” is likely to occur under the stimulus of a thought-prepossession, for instance, that of a daily habit of doing any certain thing at a fixed hour. Supposing the conditions unfavourable for “projection” or
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“duplication”, the subject would, under another set of conditions, become somnambulistic, rise from bed, go and do what was on his or her mind, and return to bed and to deep slumber without remembering anything that had occurred. The editors of the English version of the Dabistan say: “It is impossible to fix the epoch at which particular opinions and practices orginated. . . particularly the belief that a man may attain the faculty to quit and to reassume his body, or to consider it as a loose garment, which he may put off at pleasure for ascending to the world of light, and on his return be reunited with the material elements. All these matters are considered very ancient” (Dabistan, Preface, lxxix). One of my most interesting experiences has been to encounter persons in different parts of the world, until then strangers, who have averred that they had seen me in public places, that I had visited them in the astral body, sometimes talked on occult matters with them, sometimes healed them of diseases, sometimes even gone with them on the astral plane to visit our Masters; yet without my keeping any remembrance of the several incidents. Yet, when one comes to think of it, it is not so improbable, after all, that one whose whole life and every waking thought and wish is bound up in this great movement of ours; who has no desire save for its success, no ambition save to push it forward to its ultimate goal, should carry his prepossession into the realms of sleep, and float through the currents of the Astral Light towards the kindred beings who are held
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by the same magnet to the same attractive centre of wish and aspiration. In its truest sense—
“It is the secret sympathy,
The silver link, the silver tie,
Which heart to heart, and mind to mind,
In body and in soul can bind.”