OLD DIARY LEAVES, Third Series (1883-87)
by Henry Steel Olcott
REALITY OF THOUGHT-TRANSFERENCE
OF the various methods of propaganda, I am not sure but that I should give first place to the conversaziones at private houses. True that from the lecture platform one addresses his hundreds or thousands, yet I doubt if conviction is so driven home to individual minds, if so many real inquiries are made, and so many members won for the Society, as when one is brought into close relation with the smaller company of a drawing-room. This idea first occurred to me on seeing Mohini leaning against the mantel-shelf at Mr. Sinnett's house in London, and, after a brief exposition of some given theme, answering, seriatim, the questions put by the interested company. Since then I have held many such soirées in various countries, and been present at many at which the incomparable Mrs. Besant was the expositor of our teachings, and my conviction has been strengthened by experience. I can now recommend the practice to all our Branches and groups with perfect confidence. At the house of Mrs. Campbell-Praed, in Talbot Square, there was such a gathering on the evening of May 24th, 1884, and by the request of our gifted hostess I explained the
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principles and scheme of our Society to as brilliant a party of literary notables as even London could bring together. Questions followed each other rapidly and were answered, and thus in the simplest of ways everybody present came to know something of our great work. Conversaziones like this have been constantly held over the United Kingdom ever since, and, in fact, throughout the whole world wherever there is an English Colony; for the literature of Theosophy has penetrated everywhere, and in most countries its name is familiar as household words.
On the evening of 28th May, at the private house where Mohini and I were guests, I tried the now famous experiment with our colleague, Mr. E. D. Ewen, of Scotland, which suggested the means of proving the nature of thought and the process of its evolution, that has been several times described by me, but which has its place also in this detailed historical sketch. As it interested both Mr. (now Sir William) Crookes and Prof. Balfour Stewart, besides other men of science, at the time, it is not right that I should omit it from my present narrative.
The reader of Stewart and Tait's Unseen Universe will remember its being said in that suggestive work that, as the evolution of a thought is accompanied by a sort of galvanic discharge from the grey matter of the brain, and as this vibration passed beyond the periphery of the brain into the ether, and no one can say how far it may extend, it is conceivable that the evolution of thought in a human brain may affect
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a distant plant. (I am now quoting from memory while writing on the ocean, and from a book read many years ago, yet the above is substantially the idea as expressed by the learned authors of the work in question.) Now, this was but a scientific hypothesis, and at the time, I believed, had not been experimentally supported. It was my object to see if any facts could be obtained that might throw light upon this great problem. Circumstances came to my aid at this juncture. Mr. Ewen inherits from his Scotch forebears the gift of second sight; not one that he can exercise at pleasure, but which comes sporadically; he finds he has it on awaking some morning; the next, it is gone and he cannot recall it at will, but must wait until it chooses to reappear. It is usually active throughout the day.
At that time I was, at the urgent request of the lady's husband, giving psychopathic treatment to a well-known literary lady, and, with her permission, one day brought Ewen with me. The lady was confined to her bed, and I treated her as she lay. Mr. Ewen was present. I made the "long passes" over her, downward from her chest towards her feet: not always, however, with "mesmeric intention"—i.e., with concentration of the will—but mechanically, yet without making the passes differently in the one case than in the other. To my surprise, Mr. Ewen suddenly said that he could see that my mind was not always equally bent upon the work in hand; that sometimes I made the vital fluid to flow from me,
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sometimes not: the difference was most palpable to his clairvoyant sight. Thereupon, I put his powers to the test, but found that he could unerringly distinguish my real from my simulated curative passes. He described it to me in this way: The patient's body was enveloped in a pale bluish aura, seemingly elastic and compressible, like a loosely-inflated toy balloon. Over the pelvic region—the seat of her disease—the aura was of a yellowish color. When I made by will a curative pass with my hands, there flowed from my finger-tips strong, clear streams of vital force, in color a bright and clear sapphire. This strong current, impinging upon the patient's pale blue aura, was met with a feeble resistance from the latter, but, overcoming this by its own strong rush, it mingled with the weaker aura, tinged it with its own hue, and set it into quick vibration; the result being a reinvigoration of the invalid's system, and the creating of a tendency towards convalescence. I am convinced of the accuracy of this description, and, in fact, in the case under mention, the lady, instead of lying in bed for months, as her doctor had predicted she must, was up and about within the next ten days. The improvement was so striking, after even the first treatment, that her medical attendant was astounded at his next visit, and said she must have something uncanny about her constitution, some extra spring in her machinery that was out of the common run. This she conveyed to me in a gleeful note the next day, and said that she and her nurse were laughing together
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over the doctor's illusion as to the success of his remedies, and his ignorance of the fact of my having treated her and thus put in the suspected "spring" that had worked such a wonder.
The evening after our visit to Mrs. M. C., I was called upon by Mr. Herbert Stack to arrange for a meeting between myself and the S.P.R. Committee, and, as he was a man of high culture and of scientific tastes, I told him of Ewen's powers, and suggested that this would be a good chance for us to see whether Stewart and Tait's theory of thought-evolution was a sound one. As our Scottish friend was still possessed of the vision, and willing to assist in the experiment, it was thus arranged: We were to sit in the unlighted back drawing-room, he with his back to the solid partition to the right of the sliding doors, we two facing him, over against the opposite wall; one of us was to concentrate his thought upon any subject he might choose; if Ewen should be able to fix the moment of concentration, he was simply to say the word "Now!" and we all should then be able to see whether his power extended so far or not. The object in giving him but the one word to utter was to preclude the necessity for his making any sustained mental effort at the time when his consciousness would be functioning on the other and higher plane. Two experiments made by Mr. Stack were successful; the moment of mental concentration being detected by the clairvoyant watcher. Mr. Stack then asked me to try, as, he said, I was much more in the habit of doing these mental feats
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than himself. Just as I was about to do so and Ewen was all ready, it occurred to me that if I should hold Mr. Stack's hand and press it at the moment of concentrating my thoughts, both he and I could know whether or not Ewen's power was real, and the evidence would be doubly strong. So we agreed; I took Mr. Stack's hand, and, after a moment's calming of the mind, concentrated. Instantly, before I could transmit the order to my finger muscles, Ewen cried out “Now!” and our plan was frustrated. I was vexed at this, for some instinct made me anxious that the committeeman of the S.P.R. should get such a bit of valuable proof at first hand. His ingenuity, however, was equal to the occasion, for he proposed that he should hold my hand and give me the signal for concentration. This proved all sufficient; he pressed my hand, I fixed my thought, and Ewen, as before, detected the moment of the act. So far so good; we had now four tests between us two, but I suggested, as an extension of the experiment, that we should see if Ewen could trace the direction of thought if it were fixed upon a certain point within the two rooms. Of the two tests made, both were successes. The first time he said: "I think your thought is directed to the ceiling over my head"; the second time he said: "I see the thought-current passing by me, to the left, as if directed to some point in the front drawing-room." In both cases he was right: the thinker, at the second attempt, directed his attention to a lady, Mme. De Steiger, who sat at the farther end of the lighted front drawing-room.
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Mr. Ewen's description of the luminous appearance of a thought-current was very interesting. When one concentrates his mind upon some subject, not of an exciting nature, a shimmer of light goes forth from his brain, like the pulses of light in an electrically charged cloud on a warm summer night. When, on the other hand, the mind sends its outflowing aura to a fixed spot or object, a ray darts from the brain towards its target, like the flash of lightning in a thunderstorm. These revelations, it will be remembered, were made in May, 1884; they received no corroboration for twelve years, but then the accuracy of Mr. Ewen's observations was, I think, fully proven by those of other and more highly trained students of occult science, as will presently appear.
An acute scientific mind like Mr. Crookes' could not fail to be interested with facts like these, which pointed the way towards a splendid field of psychological research. I took Mr. Ewen to him the next morning and described what Mr. Stack and I had seen. He frankly said that this was an important matter, and he would like to follow it up if Mr. Ewen would be so obliging as to lend his services to the inquiry: he further wished to test the physical nature of the thought-current, and see whether it would pass without deflection through sheets of glass and other materials; whether the luminous wave could be focussed by lenses, reflected by mirrors, etc.; in short, whether it had any properties which would make it function on the physical plane, in any degree to be tested by laboratory
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appliances.1 Unfortunately, Mr. Ewen's clairvoyance had not shown itself that day, and he had to leave for Scotland in the afternoon, so that he could not aid in the suggested experiments—much to his own regret, for he is deeply interested in this branch of scientific investigation, and needed no urging. At a large public meeting of the S.P.R., on the evening of May 28th, Mr. Stack and I made our reports on the preliminary experiments, and thus made it a matter of historical record.
The bearing which this discovery has upon certain familiar phenomena will be evident to the intelligent reader; for instance, the jettatura and mal occhio, or killing glance and "evil eye", with which certain persons are congenitally cursed—the late Pope Pius IXth among them. Ignorant persons like to call this a superstitious folly, but it must be confessed that no popular belief has been more strongly supported by evidence. And it is one that is not confined to one nation or country, but is spread all over the world and recorded in all history. The glance of a human eye may either soothe or slay, according to the mental impulse behind it, provided that the person thought of is sensitive to its vibration. Find the key-note of a glass vessel or globe, and, by playing it with the right intensity on a violin, the glass will be shattered, while no other note will affect it. So man, the most
1 Writing from memory, without notes, and so many thousand miles away from London, I beg the indulgence of Sir William Crookes for any minor inaccuracies that may have crept into my narrative of the incidents of fourteen years ago.
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sensitive of organisations, has each his key-note which, if found and played by a thought-current, will carry him out of his equilibrium, perhaps upset his moral nature, or even destroy his life. The world-history of magic and sorcery proves this amply. Thus, it is a truism of ancient date that the hateful will-current of a black magician, if hurled at a pure and saintly person, fails to harm him and is thrown back against the sender, to his possible destruction. No woman was ever seduced, no young man ever made a criminal, unless in their moral systems there was some sympathetic tendency which had been set to quivering and vibrating by the impact of the influences of their environment. It was Horace who said: Hic murus œneus esto, nil conscire sibi, nulla pallescere culpa. And the experience of mankind teaches that this innocence of evil, this absence of consciousness of sin, is indeed a wall of everlasting bronze about us. Mr. Ewen's second-sight makes it possible for us to realise the truth of this old mystery. So, also, does it make clear the rationale of the charming power of animals and men. It has been denied by some scientists that the bird-charming of serpents is a fact, yet here we have the key to it. We once had at Adyar a yellow cat, which I have seen sitting under the branches of a tall tree and gazing up at a squirrel. The pretty little rodent would move uneasily, squeal, and then drop to the ground before the cat, which would quietly catch it and carry it off to her young. In Isis Unveiled (i, 380) is told the story of Jacques Pelissier, a French
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peasant of Le Var, "who made a living by killing birds by simple will power." His case is reported by a savant, Dr. D'Alger, who saw him at work, and declares that the man, by merely fixing his gaze on a sparrow, robin, goldfinch, or meadow-lark, from a distance of twenty, twenty-five, or even thirty paces, would cause it to drop paralysed on the ground, when he would walk up to and do what he liked with it. If asked, he would not completely paralyse his victims, but only partially, and then restore them to animation. Or, if asked, he would kill them absolutely, before laying his hand upon them. Mme. Blavatsky says that this destructive current is a "bolt of the astral fluid", or ether, and warns against the misuse or cultivation of a power which enables one to commit murder at a distance, without detection, leaving no visible mark upon the victim's person. In such cases, she says, "the Coroner's inquest will never disclose anything but sudden death, apparently resulting from heart disease, an apoplectic fit, or some other natural but still not veritable cause."
The great mesmeriser, Regazzoni, is reported to have stricken down and instantly paralysed a blindfolded girl-subject, by his unspoken will, when the scientific observers present requested him to give them this proof of his power.
The facts above cited deal mainly with the effect of a thought-current which operates upon objects visible to the eye. Many others offer themselves for use in the argument, but I shall take only one or two. In
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India, if a cultivator has a good crop of paddy or other grain that is likely to excite the envy or cupidity or passers-by, he drives a stake in the ground near the middle of the field, and hangs on it an inverted clay pot (ghurra) with a grotesque face smeared on it with lime, so that the evil glance may see it first and be "drawn" before it can injure the crop; for it is the first glance that does the mischief. So, too, the Hindu mother of a handsome child will smear its face with some charcoal or mud to protect its young life from the envious glance of some childless woman. This bolt of hate or envy, if hurled, cannot quickly be followed by a second, and hence these devices to draw it away from its target.
If the reader will now turn to the number or Lucifer for September, 1896, and read Mrs. Besant's, striking article on "Thought-forms", he will see how completely her observations and those of her advanced fellow-students support the descriptions of Mr. Ewen, given me twelve years earlier, and also the folk-lore teachings about the evil eye, and the observed facts of healing of the sick by gaze alone. Here she describes, from actual vision, the luminous flashes of color that come when the thought is of a general character, and the sharp, dagger-like, darting flash when an evil thought is shot against an individual. The colored illustrations given with the text make the law of thought-evolution very clear to us. Her Figure 4 shows a zigzag flash of dull red aura breaking out of a mental storm-cloud, for all the world like the lightning-bolt
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that rives an oak in a thunderstorm. This is the thought of brutal violence, sent by a man who has just striken down a woman in an East London slum. The thought-form in Figure 5 is that of a murderer, and exactly like the blade of a poniard. Such must have been the "air-drawn dagger" that the guilty Macbeth saw, yet could not clutch: a "one-pointed" thought, indeed; a wicked, life-taking thought. Human speech is full of expressions which indicate that their first users had an instinctive, if not a clairvoyant, sense of their fitness. For example, the common one: "He looks daggers at me", exactly represents the shape and motion of a thought of hatred when directed towards someone: a "bright mind", a "sunny mood", a "clouded intellect", the often reiterated confession of the murderer that "all looked red about me", "green eyed jealousy", “his glance seemed to pierce me through and through", etc., similarly support these observations of our clairvoyants.
The same rule holds as to the loving, helping, un-selfish thought that would help instead of harming, do good instead of evil. No ocean is too wide, no continent too vast, to obstruct the running of such a good thought to its goal. The ancient shastras teach that it will even bridge the chasm of death, and follow its object into the trans-sepulchral states of existence. The moral to be drawn from these observations, none the less powerful from its being so evident, is that we nave it in our power to ban or bless our fellow-men by the one-pointed thought-currents we send forth
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from our minds. But this has been indicated by so many speakers and writers of our literature in that of the ages which preceded our own, that I need not dwell upon it, but for the one moment needed to drive it in upon the mind of everyone who aims at spiritual advancement and the doing of good to the race.