OLD DIARY LEAVES, Fifth Series (1893-96)
by Henry Steel Olcott
THE matter of the purchase of the house at Gaya for visiting priests connected with the Mahâ-Bodhi Society was the subject of frequent discussions among us, and it was decided that the title should be taken in my name. The Treasurer of that Society, my dear old friend, Neel Comul Mukerji, gave me a cheque for rupees three thousand, and on the 19th of the month (February), I took the mail train at Howrah for Gaya. On reaching there the next morning I was met by Babus Nanda Kissore Lall and Indrasekara, with whom I spent the day in viewing the house and also a plot of land which Dharmapala had bought. I decided not to buy the house but to recommend the building of one on Dharmapala’s ground. The evening was agreeably spent in the company of the above-named two gentlemen and another Theosophist, Babu Priya Nath Mukerji, Overseer of the District Board. I left Gaya for the return journey on Friday morning at 10.30, spent the day and night in the train and reached Calcutta at 5.45 a.m.,
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on Saturday. An important meeting was held that day between myself and Messrs. Manmohan Ghose and Cotton, the Counsel of the adversary to our Maha-Bodhi project, the Hindu Mahant of Buddha Gaya, whose remote predecessor had squatted on the Buddhist land, got a grant for it from the then ruling Mussalman Sovereign and had erected a monastery with stones taken from the ruined Maha-Bodhi Stûpa. We agreed upon a draft of heads for discussion with our respective principals. But nothing conclusive was arrived at and the thing dragged on through the Courts, involving very heavy expenses for both parties.
I forgot to mention that during this visit to Calcutta I successfully arbitrated in a dispute between the Bengal Theosophical Society and one of its members, Dr. Rakhal Chandra Sen, about the title to the building occupied by the Branch. The basis of the dispute was really the conflict of opinion as to the propriety and legality of teaching the Vedas to Sudras. While it lasted the dispute was acrimonious, but it ultimately subsided.
Among other visits paid by me in Calcutta was one to a famous astrologer named Pandit Tarini Prasad Jyotishi, whose visiting card is a bit of a curiosity. He describes himself as what one might call the possessor of universal occult knowledge. For example, he is “Exhibitor of Great Universal Horoscope of the Queen, Late Master of Yoga and Astrological Exhibition in Calcutta, Professor of the Yoga-Darshan, Astrology, Tantra Vidya, Physical and
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Occult Sciences, Palmist, Thought-Reader, Natural Clairvoyant, Present Antiquarian, Prophet and Zadkiel of India”. One wonders how he could sleep sound with such a burden of titles weighing upon his mind.
A Western person can form no idea whatever of the universality of recourse to astrologers in India. I suppose that not a child is born but that its horoscope is cast at the time, and this document is kept as a family treasure throughout life and consulted on all occasions. I have mentioned above that sometimes the prophecies of the astrologers have been surprisingly correct. Their fulfilment is sometimes due to an entirely unexpected circumstance as, for instance, an accident occurring at the very time foretold. It is not for me to undertake the defence of Astrology when it has such clever champions as Alan Leo,Walter Old, George Wyld, and others whose fame has been heralded in Western papers.
On the 23rd, at 7 a.m., I left by train from Sealdah for Diamond Harbor, where I boarded the “Eridan” and sailed for Madras; Dr. Hübbe-Schleiden seeing me off. This being the fair weather season of the year, the Bay of Bengal, breeding-place of cyclones and other terrific tempests at other times, was now as tranquil as a river, and the sun shone brightly, to the great comfort of us, voyagers. Among the passengers I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. and Mrs. Allen Forman, of New York, and Mrs. Alexander Forman, his mother. Reaching Madras on the third day I
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took these friends to Adyar to spend the day and sent them back in the afternoon to the ship delighted. During my absence Dr. Scrogin had left for America, but Mr. Clark and the Englishes were left to keep me company. Office work filled up my time during the next few days and the editorial work of the Theosophist occupied a good deal of my attention, naturally enough.
Something which had occurred about that time caused me to search the Library for matter for an article on “Jugglers and Sorcerers,” which will be found in Vol. XVII, p. 419, of the Theosophist and is worth reading. For the benefit, however, of those who have not access to a complete file of our magazine, I will make citations from the article in question, upon this always interesting and instructive subject. I took advantage of the presence of Mr. Tokuzawa in the house, to get him to write me some notes on his personal experience with jugglers in his native land—Japan. They possess the special value of coming from a gentleman of undoubted veracity and great intelligence, one selected by the High Priest of his sect to form one of the group of young theological students (Samaneras) who were to come to Ceylon to study the Pali language and then return to assist in the comparison of the sacred books of Northern and Southern Buddhism. Mr. Tokuzawa says:
“When I was a boy of fourteen I was taken to the house of a famous juggler, and after we had paid an
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admission fee, we were introduced into an apartment where Japanese cushions were spread on the floor for the use of visitors. The juggler threw upon a brazier of lighted charcoal some drug or other which, presently, caused a strange odor to spread throughout the room. He called his own boy, and, making him stand near him, placed a small pitcher on the floor, within reach, and began an incantation, which I now know to have been a monotonous repetition of what the Hindus call Mantras. After a while I saw, through the perfumed vapors, the boy becoming smaller. I could not believe my senses, but as I looked the phenomenon proceeded. The child visibly decreased in bulk and height: every moment a year’s growth seemed to have disappeared. I have heard stories of a thing something like this happening at American mediumistic seances, where the figure of a child ‘spirit’ will gradually descend through the floor of a room until it disappears, in full sight of the spectators, again reappear by a reverse process, and finally vanish. Of course, I do not know if the stories are true or not. This is very clever, but, as above appears, not identical with what I saw in Japan: in the latter case the juggler’s boy does not sink through the floor, but only grows smaller and smaller while standing in the same spot. He finally reduced himself to the dimensions of a child’s doll. He was then picked up by the juggler, put by him—like another Hop-o’my-thumb—into the jug, and covered over with his hand. The next minute we were amazed to see him coming,
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at the call of his father, from another part of the room and giving us a salutation with a smiling face.
“On a certain occasion, a renowned juggler came to my father’s house and. exhibited his skill. Among the things which he did, one struck me with extreme wonder. The cross-beams of the roofing of our buildings come down quite low, as everybody knows. This juggler put a drop of water—whether plain or medicated, I do not know—on the under surface of one of these beams; then lighting a candle of the vegetable wax commonly used in my country, he held it in mid-air under the drop of moisture, muttering spells, and moving it up down and to right and left, as though he were seeking a point where some force of attraction would affect it. Having at length apparently found what he desired, he carefully removed his hand and the candle remained, as it seemed, self-supported in the air. The flame burnt on steadily and the candle was motionless. The juggler kept his eyes fixed upon the spot of moisture and the candle until the last vestige of the former evaporated, and the candle then dropped to the ground. How it was done, unless by an invisible thread, I cannot imagine. At the same time it seems to me that if a thread had been used it would have been burnt by the flame, and it could not have been stuck to the beam without a pinch of wax, which must have been large enough to have been seen by us all.
“One of the most famous juggling tricks is to make a flood of water inside a house. This is often seen and can be attested by thousands of witnesses. The
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juggler sprinkles water all over the floor, pronounces his charms, and fans all over the place. Then water begins to pour into the house, as though a river were in flood. Of course, there is nothing of the kind, but it has all the appearance of reality. The water rises and rises until all the furniture in the room seems soaked and ready to float away. This continues about twenty minutes, when the water subsides and the closest examination shows no sign of anything having been wet.1
“The following trick is often seen in Western countries in a modified form. The juggler brings a pan of charcoal, ignites it, and after fanning it briskly until all the coals are alight, swallows the pieces one by one. Before beginning, he, of course, shows his mouth to the audience and asks them to satisfy themselves that no chemical or other trickery is used.
1Hynotism of course. Rain-making is a well-known art among the African tribes, both when in their own country and in slavery. A number of instances are cited by the author of the pamphlet on “Obeah Wanga”. Among other rain-making stories Mr. H. J. Bell, in his work on Obeah, tells us about a little girl (race not mentioned) in St. Lucia (W.I.) “who possessed the undesirable power of making rain fall wherever she might be. The first shower came on quite suddenly, and one day the mother of the child was astounded on being told that rain was falling in the bedroom at that moment occupied by the little girl. Rushing upstairs, at once, the lady actually did find a smart shower of water falling from the ceiling and soaking into the floor. . . although perfectly fine and dry outside, rain was undoubtedly falling in broad daylight in the room. The child was taken into another room with the immediate effect of producing another equally smart shower, whereas the room she had just vacated became quite dry again”. They took the child into the garden where the vegetables badly needed watering, but no shower fell; the phenomenon occurred only indoors.
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When the last glowing coal has been swallowed, he again opens his mouth for examination. After the lapse of ten minutes or so, he begins to throw up the coals, one by one, until the pan is full as before. The peculiarity of this trick is that the coals are as red-hot when ejected as they were when he swallowed them.
“We have in Japan a certain class of religious ascetics called Yamabushi, whose lives are devoted to religious austerities, and they are said to have power to do what the vulgar call miracles. They are, in fact, the Yogis or white magicians of Japan; and, so universal is the belief in them, that if a person is suffering from any trouble brought about by supposed non-human agency, he is sure to consult them. Numberless stories are connected with them.1 But the following will be sufficient for giving an idea of this singular sect.
“Once upon a time—say, about five years ago—there lived a certain well-to-do man in a village situated a few miles from Tokyo. One night some villagers under the disguise of Negroes, with blackened faces, entered his house and robbed him of a large sum of money. The police and detectives tried very hard to find the culprits, but in vain. As a last resource he applied to a Yamabushi. It was a strange sight when the holy man began his work. He caused the whole village to assemble and, glancing around, said he
1For an admirable example see Madame Blavatsky’s stirring narrative of “A Bewitched Life,” in her Nightmare Tales. A Yamabushi gave me, in Japan, a scroll picture of En-no-gio-ja, the founder of their sect, in which he has two elementals crouching at his feet. I gave it to H. P. B.
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should most assuredly find the robbers; a cauldron which he had brought was placed upon the ground, a lot of pebbles were poured into it, and he ordered that a strong fire should be built and fed until the pot and the pebbles were red-hot. When this had been done, he addressed the audience to the effect that he would throw handfuls of the hot pebbles at the crowd indiscriminately, and that, while they would not in the least harm the innocent, they would stick to the faces of the robbers. Then, plunging his hands into the pot, he threw double handfuls of the hot pebbles into the crowd until the quantity was exhausted. It was then seen that, out of those present, some persons had their faces stuck full of pebbles and were writhing in agony. The Yamabushi threupon charged them with the robbery, and, to the astonishment of the whole village, they confessed their guilt.”
It would appear that there has been in Japan from remote antiquity a great centre of magical science. Whether the knowledge travelled, as some suppose, from India eastward through Tibet, China, and Korea, or was developed primarily in Japan itself, is not known. I think it quite likely, however, that the magic which Marco Polo saw practised at the Court of Kublai Khan was of Japanese derivation, for—and this I only learnt the other day from Mr. Tokuzawa—Ghengis Khan, the great conqueror, was a Japanese Prince of whose exploits record is made in Japanese history. Readers of Marco Polo’s invaluable narrative—see Bohn’s Edition, page 156—will remember him as saying:
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“When the Grand Khan sits at meals, in his hall of state, the table which is placed in the centre is elevated to the height of about eight cubits, and at a distance from it stands a large buffet, where all the drinking vessels are arranged. Now, by means of their supernatural art, they cause the flagons of wine, milk, or any other beverage, to fill the cups spontaneously, without being touched by the attendants, and the cups to move through the air the distance of ten paces, until they reach the hand of the Grand Khan. As he empties them, they return to the place from whence they came; and this is done in the presence of such persons as are invited by his Majesty to witness the performance.”
From the same book we learn that the Tibetans “are necromancers, and by their infernal art perform the most extraordinary and delusive enchantments that were ever seen or heard of. They cause tempests to arise, accompanied with flashes of lightning and thunderbolts, and produce many other miraculous effects”. What will Colonel Younghusband say to this?
In the Island of Socotra, says Marco Polo, the inhabitants are great sorcerers “and if any vessel belonging to a pirate should injure one of theirs, they do not fail to lay him under a spell, so that he cannot proceed on his cruise until he has made satisfaction for the damage”—an exhibition of practical hypnotic skill remarkable enough to make Professor Bernheim jealous!
All ancient histories teem with accounts of magical wonders. We find them among the Greeks, Romans,
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Hebrews, Norsemen, Bohemians, Etruscans, Chinese, Egyptians, and Saxons, and, in fact, among all European nations. When the Troubadour degenerated to a vagabond he became a jongleur, whence the word juggler. The names of the most remarkable jugglers of modern times among us, Westerns, are familiar to all. Among them, the most eminent was Robert Houdin who—as the American Cyclopedia justly observes—“applied to his art not only true genius but the resources of science”.
Hermann, a very noted expert, has astonished the Americans by allowing six sharp-shooters to fire at him marked bullets from army rifles without his having touched the bullets, and then showing the latter—still hot to the touch, and perfectly identified by the private marks—on a plate. This is no new trick, for Madame Blavatsky tells us, in Isis Unveiled, that she saw it done in Africa by a sorcerer; and Laing, the first European to visit the Soulimas, “saw a native chief perform the same trick on a grand scale and in a curious manner, the muskets always flashing in the pan when aimed at him, but shooting well when turned, however unexpectedly, to other objects”. This is far better than Hermann has done.
The real plant-growing phenomenon of India, an imitation of which is shown to every globe-trotter, is well-known among the North American Red Indians, especially among the Arapahoes and Cheyennes. Their “mystery-men” will go out on the bare, sunburnt, sandy plain, in full daylight; huddle together
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in a close circle around a certain spot; chant some peculiar verses, move away from the spot; and lo! a crop of fresh, green grass is seen to be growing there. The late General Cass, of Michigan, described what he had seen done by a Chippewa squaw who, like himself, was looking on at a great “medicine dance”. She was holding in her hand a curious bag made of a dried snake-skin which, on being asked by him, she said contained certain charms and articles of magical value. He laughed at her assertion, whereupon, growing very angry, she threw the bag on the ground; the next minute it was changed into a living snake and chased the General out of the tent. This was at Mackinaw, where he was in an official capacity at the time.
A recent writer in the San Francisco Examiner says:
“The late Garrick Mallery of the Bureau of Ethnology once told me of something quite unaccountable which he witnessed at White Earth, in 1860. There was present a famous mystery-man, who made a bet with the local Government agent that the latter could not tie him with ropes in such a manner that he would not be able to disengage himself offhand. The agent, assisted by Mallery and other white men, tied the Indian up in the most elaborate fashion and put him inside a conical wigwam in the middle of an open space. Nobody else was permitted to come near him. As quickly as they had withdrawn, tremendous thumping sounds were heard from the hut, which swayed from side to side as if it would be torn to pieces. Two or three
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minutes later the Indian called out, telling them to go to a certain house several hundred yards away, where they would find their ropes. One of the white men was sent to the house, and he found the ropes, with all of the complicated knots untied. The tying committee opened the wigwam then, and found the wizard smoking a pipe, with his black magic stone in his lap. Neither pipe nor stone had been there previously. The head priest of the wizard’s society, having heard of this exhibition, sent word that he would be killed if he repeated such a performance for gain. Evidently it was deemed improper that religious business of that sort should be thus prostituted.
“The Wabeno tribe has a great reputation for certain kinds of juggling. These Indians are called by others the Players with Fire. They perform many horrible ceremonies at night, in which fire is concerned. They handle fire and walk through it. It is said that they can cause flames to issue from their ears, mouths, and nostrils. It is a common belief that they are able to transform themselves into animals with fiery eyes. One trick which they really perform seems fairly unaccountable. A Wabeno mystery-man seats himself in his lodge, while the young men surround it entirely with a ring of brightly blazing fire. At the same time an empty lodge at a distance of fifty paces will be encircled with fire in like manner. Both lodges are closed tightly, all the people of the village looking on intently, and yet, after the space of a few moments, the magician, the faggots having been kicked away,
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is discovered calmly sitting in what was before the empty lodge, while the one which he previously occupied is left vacant.
“Belonging to a tribe with which I had acquaintance was a no-account Indian, generally despised by his fellow redskins, who always carried about with him a medicine bag made of an old duck skin. On one occasion—so the story was told to me—he joined a fishing party. While they were off on the expedition, several boat-loads of hostile savages appeared. They tried to escape, but their foes could paddle faster, and apparently they had no chance to get away. The pursuers came on so swiftly that the pursued were demoralised. One of the latter remarked to the no-account Indian: ‘If your duck-skin is any good, make medicine with it now; and make it quick.’ In response the owner of the duck-skin bag held it in the water, and at once the speed of the boat increased so much that the hunting party escaped. Seemingly, the spirit of the duck operated after the manner of a paddle-wheel and pushed the craft along.”
The officer above quoted, Lieut.-Colonel Garrick Mallery, U. S. A., was an old army friend of mine, and at the time of his death occupied a position of influence in the scientific world, in connection with the Bureau of Ethnology.
Egypt has always been a home of magic and sorcery, the Copts having, perhaps, derived it from their forbears, the Atlanteans. Mr. E. W. Lane narrates—see his Modem Egyptians, Vol. II, p. 106—some very
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wonderful things. They are all worth reading, but I mention only one:
The juggler, stripping himself to his pyjamas, “tells two persons to bind him, hands and feet, and put him in a sack. This done, he asks for a piastre, and some one tells him that he shall have it if he will put out his hand and take it. He puts out his hand free; draws it back; and is then taken out of the sack bound as at first. He is put in again; and comes out unbound; handing to the spectators a small tray upon which are four or five little plates filled with various eatables, and if the performance be at night, several small lighted candles placed round. The spectators eat the food”.
I saw a few things of the kind, myself, in Japan but not nearly so much as I wished. They were mostly feats of balancing and legerdemain. Whether to include among the latter the following, I can hardly say. It was in a temple at Nagoya, where I was put up. The juggler gave me several examples of his marvellous skill in top-spinning, and finally called for a bowl of water, over which he passed his hand two or three times, and then, re-winding his top, drew the string and made the top spin on the surface of the water. If anyone can explain that, by any mechanical theory, I should like to know it. Perhaps it was hypnotism.