OLD DIARY LEAVES, Fifth Series (1893-96)
by Henry Steel Olcott
PSYCHOMETRY AND ÂKÂSHIC READINGS
WE were discussing the question of the possibility of tracing back the evolutionary progress of any given entity, following his trail, as it were, along his particular orbit, and noting the interruptions of his progress by his successive entrances into the incarnations on the physical plane. To the uninstructed reader this may seem an extravagant assumption, but really, when one takes the trouble to inform himself as to the results obtained already in different countries, by different observers in the department of psychometric research, the idea loses all its miraculous character and seems to be as reasonable a statement as one regarding the movement of planetary bodies. It is now more than a half-century since in 1849 an American physician, Dr. J. R. Buchanan, announced to the world his splendid discovery of Psychometry.
The germ of the idea was given to him in 1840 by the late Bishop Polk of Tennessee, who informed him, in conversation, that his nervous sensibility “was so acute, that if he should by accident touch a
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piece of brass, even in the night, when he could not see what he touched, he immediately felt the influence through his system, and could recognise the offensive metallic taste”. This remark made to an ordinary person, might have led to nothing further, but, as Denton says: “In this case the right thing was told to the right man, and he commenced a series of experiments, placing metals of various kinds into the hands of persons of great sensibility, and in this way found that there were a number who possessed the power of naming metals, without any knowledge but that which was communicated in this way by touch.” Pushing his investigations further, he found that these same sensitives, if given to hold in their hands substances of a decided taste, such as sugar, salt, pepper, acids, bitters, etc., could get so distinct an impression in each case as to be able to recognise and name the substance; and this, even when the substance that was being tested was wrapped in paper and concealed from the knowledge of the sensitive. Out of a class of 130 students at the Eclectic Medical College, Cincinnati, 43 signed a declaration that they were able to do this.
In the course of time, Buchanan pushed his researches into a new and most interesting field. He found that his sensitives could, by applying to their foreheads a writing document, no matter whether ancient or modern, or a painting, or a piece of tissue, or any article that had been handled or fabricated by man, get into psychic, or auric, touch with the individual with whom the article was associated.
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Thus an immense area of human history was laid open to research. In 1853 Mr. Wm. Denton, a geologist and palæontologist, reading about these things, and pondering over them, conceived the idea that “if there could be impressed upon a letter the image of the writer and his surroundings, during the brief space of time that the paper was subjected to their influence, why could not rocks receive impressions of surrounding objects. . . and why could they not in a similar manner, communicate these to sensitive persons”. So he began, cautiously, to test the psychometric faculty of his sister, wife, and ultimately his young son, by giving them bits of mineral, fossil, and other geological remains. He found, to his great joy, that his surmise was correct, and then onward for fifteen or twenty years he pursued his experiments and recorded the results in that most interesting book, The Soul of Things. To his discovery Buchanan gave the name, Psychometry.
For almost all of the time since his announcement of it, I have been familiar with it and in connection with the present article have just gone through the three volumes of Professor Denton’s most interesting work above mentioned. It is not too much to say that if one would have a complete understanding of the revelations given us by Leadbeater, Mr. Scott-Elliot, and some others, and if one would understand the secret of Madame Blavatsky’s writing her marvellous books about things quite outside her field of education, one should familiarise himself with the principles and history of psychometry. Although modern Hindus do not
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know it, the name of their mystical deity, Chitra Gupta, is virtually a synonym of psychometry for, as every Sanskritist knows, the name signifies “hidden pictures,” and in a Japanese religious painting which hangs on the wall of the room where I am writing, the god Yama is pronouncing judgment upon a culprit arraigned before him, and whose secret sins during life are being exhibited to his gaze in a magic mirror which stands to the right-hand side of Chitra Gupta, the “Record Keeper”.
If it were possible for man to pass along his evolutionary career, leaving no more trace behind him than the keel of a boat passing through water, then it would be waste of time to discuss the question of recovering our historical pictures from the past. One of the most striking books in literature is the Jâtakatthavannanâ, or stories of 550 births of the Buddha. The Enlightened One is supposed to be recalling from time to time the stories of his different reincarnations and the relationships which had been borne to him by certain of his disciples. This, also, is a work which should be read by thoughtful Theosophists after they have prepared their minds by reading Buchanan, Denton, and some of our own contemporary workers. Professor Rhys Davids believes that these “Birth Stories” are the source from which a great body of the world’s folklore has been derived, and it really does not make much difference whether they are authentic in the way of reincarnations of Sakya Muni, for the object in view was to show how the seeds of present events are sown in our past incarnations.
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The astounding fact in Buchanan’s discovery is that the whole of Nature surrounding us is proved to be a sort of photographic film in which we, our actions, our words, even our characters, are indelibly recorded, losing nothing of vividness by the lapse of time, but the picture of a million years ago showing itself to the psychometer as vivid, life-like, and full of color as though it were made an hour before. I am tempted to illustrate this by numerous citations from the psychometrical records collected in Professor Denton’s books, but as space forbids that, I may just give one or two brief extracts to show what I mean. For instance, a small bit of fresco-painting picked from the wall of “Cicero’s House,” Pompeii, is given to a psychometer who places it against her forehead. Then pictures come crowding before her. She sees Pompeiian houses with their furniture, decorations, and inhabitants; throngs of people in the street; men driving in chariots; soldiers carrying lances in their hands and wearing the armor of that period; a public assemblage where a multitude is listening to music and looking at spectacles—all in as vivid colors and as life-like as though she were looking at the scenes of to-day.
Another experiment was made with a portion of volcanic tufa, not larger than a small bean, which was obtained from the excavations at Pompeii. The psychometer sees the same city but other scenes, and now her attention is attracted by a great. mountain (Vesuvius, in fact) which is in violent eruption. She then proceeds to describe, as though an eye-witness
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that appalling catastrophe which in the year A.D. 79 buried out of the sight of man for seventeen centuries that gay and pleasure-loving city, where luxury was carried to its greatest height and voluptuousness made the end and aim of high society. We have, as the reader knows, but one trustworthy description of that great tragedy, whose writer, Pliny the Younger, was also an eye-witness. Now, as I have said before, when alluding to this fact, if one places side by side the narrative of Pliny and the psychometric description of Mrs. Denton, one will see that she has not plagiarised in the least degree but has given us a description which none but a witness of the scenes could have constructed. And yet, her source of inspiration is a little fragment of the tufa belched out in overwhelming floods by Vesuvius at the time of the catastrophe. Everything is real and vivid to her perception, sight, and hearing. “I hear the mountain bellow. What a depth that comes from! . . . The amount vomited out is immense. It is not like lava, but spreads out in a great black cloud that rolls over and over and covers the country like a flood. I can hardly believe that what I see is correct. It looks as if it would bury everything all around it. What a sight! There it goes pouring, spreading, foaming, as it rolls down the mountainside in a great black wave. It seems to me that there is water too, running down the side of the mountain.” How true this is to life, every visitor to the now excavated city of Pompeii will appreciate. And now she sees the inhabitants, in a paroxysm of terror, flying to the
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open field in the vain hope of escape. “I feel the influence of human terror that I cannot describe; it is awful . . . I feel like screaming. There are many different sensations commingled; but there is a horror more overpowering than all. This is either Herculaneum of Pompeii. There is no fancy about this; it is too terribly real. Some seem to regard it as a judgment of the gods. There is wild agony, prayer, and blind dread. Now I see them. Some wring their hands; others throw out their arms wildly. . . Now I see a very large crowd of persons, some hurrying along, and occasionally looking back; others seem to feel as if they could never leave, but are compelled to go, to save their lives. The scene is agonising in the extreme. I see one woman dart from the rest, and rush back, as if she had left a helpless parent or child to perish, that she was now determined to save; but she is compelled to give it up in despair, for there is a fresh burst from the mountain, and she sees there is no hope. A darkness almost as great as night is now around them. How wild they seem! Many know not what to do or where to go. They act as if they thought there was hardly any place left in the wide world for them.”
Now let us go back to ancient Egypt, to a time which “cannot have been less than about two thousand years ago, and may have been very much earlier”. The psychometer in this case is not Mrs. Denton, but Mrs. Clapp, the wife of an acquaintance of Professor Denton. The latter sent her husband a fragment of a
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fruit-stone taken from an ancient tomb in Thebes, Upper Egypt. The specimen was about as large as a grain of corn. Professor Denton gave Mr. Clapp no idea of its nature so that it was impossible to explain what followed on the theory of thought-transference from husband to wife. The first impression she gets is of a sort of cave that looks as if it might be a tomb. She enters and in the dark interior sees sarcophagi, “coffins strange-looking, and different from ours in this country,—very narrow at the foot, and broad at the shoulders; and at the foot on the end a strange cross.
“Here comes a procession all dressed in black. Eight men are carrying a rough-looking bier, and on it a coffin, covered over with a black cloth. They are clad in priestly-looking robes, peaked crape caps, and black tape-strings tied around the right ankle of each man that carries the bier. They have placed it in front of the tomb and are all looking down on it. There are some more waiting at the entrance, or gateway, close by two large stone posts. Four of the eight have each placed a green twig on the coffin—two at the head, and two at the feet. Now the other four are tying a piece of something black on each twig, and are making motions over the coffin,—bidding it adieu, I suppose. Now the rest are marching up to the tomb, and are forming a line on each side of it. Each man places his right hand on his heart, and his left on the side of his cap.”
The psychometer follows the funeral ceremony to its conclusion, mounting a flight of six stone steps
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along with the burial party. They enter a large hall. A continuous bench or seat runs around the whole hall; there are desks, or what looks like them, at the sides; and in the front, opposite the entrance, an altar, or speaker’s stand, and in front of it a large box. They all march up to it, take off their mourning regalia, untie the tape on their ankles and place everything in the big chest or box; they then pass out and disappear from the field of observation.
So, in the course of the series of experiments conducted by Professor Denton throughout a series of years, psychometrical examinations were made of different races of mankind in a great many countries and in the most widely different epochs and in every imaginable sort of environment; to say nothing of observations of the earth at different geological epochs; ante-diluvian as well as post-diluvian birds, fishes, animals, savage and tame; industrial arts practised, and in short, a multitude of facts which enable us to have a very good idea of the history of our planet. Now will anyone say that, provided we have a solid basis of belief in the permanency of human records in Nature’s “unfading galleries,” it is impossible for one possessed of the psychometric faculty, supplemented by a knowledge of the sevenfold constitution of man and the convincing reality of the fact of reincarnation, that the past lives of anyone of us may not be traced as accurately as the movement of the planet in its orbit can be calculated and predicted by the astronomer? Of course, it is but fair to say that at the present moment
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the scientific value of psychometrical research is very far from having been proved; a mass of interesting data have been collected, some capable of verification, some possibly correct, and some seemingly improbable. The field stretches out mainly before us, and it is one most worthy of investigation. As regards the tracings back of the births of some of us, in the Society, it is but fair to say that they should not be accepted as absolute truth until our observers have developed their clairvoyant sight much more than it is at present, and until they have become able to divest themselves of all feelings of personal preferences or antagonisms to the subject whose evolutionary career is being observed.
The case of Professor Hitchcock, detailed by himself in the New Englander, is one of the most striking on record. “He had, during a fit of sickness, day after day, visions of strange landscapes spread out before him; mountain and lake and forest—vast rocks, strata upon strata, piled to the clouds—the panorama of a world shattered and upheaved, disclosing the grim secrets of creation, the unshapely and monstrous rudiments of organic being.”1 If sufficiently sensitive this was no wonder, when he was handling from day to day the rocks that contained those landscapes, and was continually surrounded by them. In his Religion of Geology speaking of the influence of light upon bodies, and the formation of pictures upon them by means of it, he says:
1Dream Land and Ghost Land, by E. P.Hood.
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“It seems then that this photographic influence pervades all nature; nor can we say where it stops. We do not know but it may imprint upon the world around us our features, as they are modified by various passions, and thus fill nature with daguerreotype impressions of all our actions that are performed in daylight. It may be, too, that there are tests by which nature, more skilfully than any human photographer, can bring out and fix these portraits, so that acuter senses than ours shall see them as on a great canvas spread over the material universe. Perhaps, too, they may never fade from that canvas, but become specimens in the great picture gallery of nature.”
One stupendous fact established by psychometrical research is that the means of recalling a given scene or a given personage of some past era is obtained equally well from a small grain of matter taken from the locality or the house of the person in question; nay not even a mass as small as a wheat corn is necessary, for in many cases, a little fragment of plaster or lava was reduced to powder and a smudge of it made on the centre of the psychometer’s forehead and equally clear visions were obtained as when he was holding a piece as large as an apple or a mango in his hand. We may go even further and remark that a little piece of a mummy’s shroud or a curtain that once hung in a legislative hall, or an object like a pen or a sword, or a casque that had been in contact with the body of a deceased historical character, would enable the psychometer to give us a vivid word-picture of the person and
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even of his character and motives. Thus, when psychometry is perfected we shall have the means within our reach of correcting the inaccuracies of written history, and of reading in the “hidden pictures” of our Hindu Chitra Gupta the now concealed story of the world’s evolution and the origin and vicissitudes of human races. One can realise the pertinency of the Psalmist’s declaration (PS. CXXXIX.) that there is no place either in Heaven or hell or in the uttermost parts of the sea, where man can escape the divine power, and it is useless for him to call on the darkness to cover him, for “the darkness hideth not from Thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to Thee,” when one sees how the most hidden, remote, and unimagined events of the past are traced out by psychometric vision. Professor Denton’s psychometers found men working in the deepest mines, saw the denizens of the lowest depths of the ocean, recalled historical scenes of many different epochs and even saw the primeval monsters of the earth, the sea, and the air, moving about in quest of food, devouring each other or engaging in life—or death—struggles. It must be a dull intellect indeed that can read these accounts without being impressed with the thought that isolation for man, bird, or beast is absolutely impossible and unthinkable, and that however concealed may be one’s crimes, its trace in Âkâshic records is imperishable.
With poetic insight, Longfellow expresses his ideas in the following charming verses.
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All houses wherein men have lived and died
Are haunted houses. Through the open doors
The harmless phantoms on their errands glide
With feet that make no sound upon the floors.
We meet them at the doorway, on the stair,
Along the passages they come and go,
Impalpable impressions on the air,
A sense of something moving to and fro.
There are more guests at table than the hosts
Invited the illuminated hall
Is thronged with quiet, inoffensive ghosts,
As silent as the pictures on the wall.
The stranger at the fireside cannot see
The forms I see, nor hear the sounds I hear;
He but perceives what is; while unto me
All that has been is visible and clear.
We have no title deeds to house or lands;
Owners and occupants of earlier dates,
From graves forgotten, stretch their dusky hands,
And hold in mortmain still their old estates.
On the same day when these Âkâshic readings were made for me (September 18) I received a letter from an old friend of my mother’s, then eighty-three years of age, in which she gave me the interesting information that she remembered perfectly well the day of my birth. What a pity that I had not bethought me of asking her about the hour so that my industrious friends, the astrologers, might have a fair chance of erecting a horoscope that would be approximately correct! On the 19th, Mrs. Besant lectured at the Blavatsky Lodge, on “Man’s Relation to Nature.”
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On the 21st she and Leadbeater jointly traced out some of my Âkâshic history, this time finding me in the capital of Atlantis when one of our Masters was the ruling sovereign and H. P. B. his son. A scene in the Royal gardens where the young Prince was attacked by a band of conspirators and I had the chance of coming to his rescue at the right time was most interesting and picturesque1. On the 24th, Mrs. Besant being away at Bristol lecturing, I got Leadbeater to examine psychometrically the “flowerborn” ring, the making of which to come out of the heart of a rose that I was holding in my hand, is described in O.D.L., First Series. He pleased me much by finding that the phenomenon was genuine and untainted with fraud.
On the same day our dear colleague, Madame Meulemann, “the Mother of Dutch Theosophy,” arrived from Amsterdam. On the 28th, leaving my sister in London, I went to Margate where I was received as usual most hospitably by Mr. and Mrs. Holmes, and in the evening went with the latter to Ramsgate where I was appointed to conduct a question meeting on Theosophy. On the following evening there was a similar meeting at the house of the Holmes’ at Margate.
On Tuesday, the 1st, I returned to London, arriving at headquarters just in time to say good-bye to Madame Meulemann. On the next evening I lectured before
1 [See the chapter, “Faithful unto Death,” by C. W. Leadbeater, in the book “Reminiscences of Colonel H. S. Olcott for a fuller description of this incident of long ago—C.J.]
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the North London T.S.; there was a nice audience and the meeting was successful. On Thursday evening Mr. Sinnett lectured at the Blavatsky Lodge; on Friday I took my dear sister to Southampton whence she sailed for New York the following day; after which I returned to town. On the Sunday evening we all went to the last lecture of Mrs. Besant, of that year’s Sunday evening course, the subject being “Karma,” for the treatment of which no lecturer within my acquaintance has anything like her talent. On Monday morning I got my papers packed for shipment and in the evening had a farewell reception given me. The Lodge room was very prettily arranged and deco-rated and a large number of friends were present. On the following day I left London for Paris, en route for India, most of the influential London members seeing me off from the station. At Paris I was met by my friends, Madame Savalle and Señor Xifré. The following two days were agreeably spent with those friends in seeing people and receiving visits, and on Friday, October 11th, I left for Marseilles, which I reached on Saturday morning after an all-night journey. Here, as usual, I made a call on that dear and respected old friend of ours, the Baron Spedalieri, one of the two surviving and most important pupils of Eliphas Lévi, and the same afternoon embarked for Colombo on the M. M. steamer “Irawaddy,” thus ending my European tour of 1895.