OLD DIARY LEAVES, Sixth Series (1896-98)
by Henry Steel Olcott
A FEW days after the events above narrated there arrived at Adyar a gentleman whose connection with us was brought about in the most singular way. His name was Augustus F. K. He was of mixed Norwegian and Scotch parentage and his father was a wealthy owner of sugar and other estates and a sugar factory on Kauai, one of the Sandwich1 Islands. The son had been educated at Harvard and on his return from college had been put in charge of one of the paternal estates. He was of a very thoughtful mind, deeply interested in the religious problem, over which he had long and deeply brooded. His intellectual strivings had carried him far along the right path, but still, with all his desire and earnestness he could not get beyond a certain point; the nature of the Universe, the origin of things, and the explanation of existing social problems, puzzled him and brought him to a full stop. In this mood of mind, riding on his horse over the plantation one day, he
1I.e., Hawaii. Ed.
CURIOUS COINCIDENCES 131
said to himself, “Where can I get this puzzle solved, how can I learn the truth?” The answer came in a most unexpected and phenomenal way. Glancing up at the sky, he saw the word “India” as if it were written in space. He rubbed his eyes, shut them to see whether it was an illusion, opened them again and saw the word still imprinted on the sky. He did not at once connect this with his self-question, but was rather inclined to ascribe it to some mental disturbance. After a time the letters faded out and the day’s business went on as usual. But the word “India” seemed to haunt him; he saw it in the embers of the wood fire at night, among the leaves of the trees, sometimes on the ground. The repetition of this experience at last forced him to recognise that some powerful intelligence or other, whether subjective or objective, was indicating to him that in India he could get the reading of his puzzles. So after a while he managed so to arrange his affairs as to leave him free to absent himself from home, and he took his passage for India by a mail steamer. When the ship was some days at sea the impression came to him that before reaching Hong Kong he would find out where to go in India and whom to seek.
As usual on those Pacific boats, there were several missionaries China-bound among K.’s fellow-passengers. According to the custom of their class they
132 OLD DIARY LEAVES
spent their time on shipboard in theological discussions and the singing of hymns. One pleasant evening they drew out my friend on the subject of religion and he gave them his views, which were not at all satisfactory to their orthodox proclivities. When, finally, they went below, a man who had been sitting quietly listening without taking part in the discussion—in short, the Purser—came over to K. and said: “I see you are a Theosophist.”
“A Theosophist,” he replied, “what is that? I hardly know what you mean?”
“Why,” said the Purser, “those views that you have been expressing are pure Theosophy.”
“I don’t know what you may call them,” answered K. “but they are the conclusions to which I have arrived by independent thinking and without taking them out of books. As for Theosophy, I have read nothing or almost nothing about it.”
“Since you are going to India,” continued the Purser, “I suppose you are bound for Madras to see Colonel Olcott.”
“No, I know nothing about him; I am just going to India to gratify a notion of mine and without any definite plan.”
“Well, if you want to learn about Theosophy you must go and talk with the Colonel; he is the man who can tell you all you want to know. He crossed
CURIOUS COINCIDENCES 133
the Pacific once with me in this ship, and if you like I will give you a letter of introduction.”
This strange fulfilment of his subjective premonition impressed K. so that he took the letter and in due time reached Madras. He went to a hotel but did not make his presence known until the second day after, for with hereditary caution he did not care to expose his private thoughts and aspirations to a stranger who might prove to be an undesirable acquaintance and guide. Meanwhile, he enquired of the hotel people, who spoke well of me, and of a fellow-guest, an influential civilian, who told him that he need not hesitate to call on me, for I bore a good character and was on the Government House list. Thereupon the visitor from Hawaii took a carriage, came to Adyar and sent up his card. I received him down in the main hall and we began a very interesting conversation. As we sat together on the bench, I received, subjectively, a message to the effect that this young man had been sent to me for a purpose. So at the end of the interview I invited him to fetch his luggage from the hotel and become my guest for any time, longer or shorter, as he might choose: I would make him free of the library and give him as much time as I could spare to clearing up the difficulties that were troubling his mind. He accepted the invitation, came, and was with us about a year;
134 OLD DIARY LEAVES
during which time he became thoroughly acquainted with our Theosophical literature and an ardent member of the Society. At the end of the time specified he was recalled by cable in consequence of his father’s death. This was one of the most interesting cases within my experience. This young man had gone along the Path step by step, thinking out the whole occult scheme of evolution as far as he could go without the help of the one and only key, the one with two wards—Karma and Reincarnation: when this idea was once grasped he was in possession of the means of solving every mental doubt and difficulty.
It is most interesting to look back and see how some of our staunchest and most useful workers have been brought, often by unconsidered trifles or seeming accidents, into the Theosophical movement. To begin at the beginning, it was my unpremeditated purchase of a copy of the Banner of Light which took me to Chittenden, brought H. P. B. and myself into contact, and led to the formation of our Society; it was the sending of a book to Mrs. Besant for review that brought her ultimately out of the camp of Materialism into that of Theosophy. The lesson to learn is that the Watchers who concern themselves with human affairs and special movements among men know how to turn the future worker into the path that leads to our door.
CURIOUS COINCIDENCES 135
There is a certain class of people who are so afraid of over-stepping the narrow boundaries of scientific orthodoxy that they at once try to explain away such facts as the above by the childish theory of “curious coincidences”. If anybody wishes to know how sarcastically H. P. B. could write upon this theme let them refer to Isis Unveiled1. She says: “In Mr. Proctor’s book, astronomers seem especially doomed by Providence to encounter all kinds of curious ‘coincidences,’ for he gives us many cases out of the ‘multitude’ and even of the ‘thousands’ of facts (sic). To this list we may add the army of Egyptologists and archæologists who of late have been the chosen pets of the capricious Dame Chance, who, moreover, generally selects ‘well-to-do Arabs’ and other Eastern gentlemen to play the part of benevolent genii to Oriental scholars in difficulties. Professor Ebers is one of the latest favoured ones. It is a well-known fact, that whenever Champollion needed important links he fell in with them in the most various and unexpected ways.” Defending the theory that the Universe is governed by law, she quotes Voltaire’s saying: “I have consumed forty years of my pilgrimage . . . seeking the philosopher’s stone called truth . . . I still remain in ignorance . . . all that I have been able to
1Vol. I, Chap. VIII, p. 268.
136 OLD DIARY LEAVES
obtain . . . is this: Chance is a word void of sense. The world is arranged according to mathematical law.” A couplet which she puts at the head of this chapter reflects as perfectly as possible her temperament:
Who dares think one thing and another tell
My heart detests him as the gates of hell!
As stated in the previous chapter, there was a good deal of excitement in Madras at this time over Vivekananda, on his return to India after a prolonged absence in America and England. I am very sorry that I cannot put my hand upon a copy of the Hindu for 8th February, 1897, which contained a splendid criticism upon the bad taste of Vivekananda in coarsely attacking Mrs. Besant and our Society: as I said, previously, he hurt himself far more than he did us. He seems to have found that out for, on reaching Calcutta, in the course of a superb speech, referring to his venerated guru, Ramakrishna, he said:
“If there has been anything achieved by me, by thoughts, or words, or deeds; if from my lips has ever fallen one word that has helped anyone in the world, I lay no claim to it, it was his. But if there have been curses falling from my lips, if there has been hatred coming out of me, it was all mine, and not his. All that has been weak has been mine, and all that has been life-giving, strengthening, pure
CURIOUS COINCIDENCES 137
and holy, has been his inspiration, his words, and he himself.”
This change of sentiment led me to address a letter to the Indian public through the Hindu of March 7th, in which I said:
“If he keeps his feet on the golden carpet of love that is spread in his superb Calcutta address, he will have the goodwill and help of every Theosophist.”
On the 11th March, the then Governor of Madras, Sir Arthur E. Havelock, with an aide-de-camp and some European friends, visited our pioneer Pariah school. In an address signed by P. Armogam Pillay, Manager; P. Krishnaswamy, Headmaster; T. Satchuthanunthum, Assistant Master; and T. Tiruvady Pillay, Committee Manager, it was stated that the school was opened in June, 1894; that in the first year of its recognition by Government, 1895, fourteen pupils were presented for Result Grant examination, of whom twelve passed creditably; that in 1896, out of twenty-four children examined, twenty-three passed. His Excellency and friends expressed themselves as highly pleased with what they saw, and on the following day the Governor sent to the Manager and Head Master the following letter:
To the Manager and Head Master, Olcott Free School.
138 OLD DIARY LEAVES
Gentlemen,—In regard to my visit of yesterday to the Olcott Free School, and the Report on its principles and working which was then read to me, I wish to say that I listened to that Report with interest, and that I considered the scheme of training an excellent one, likely, if carried out, to produce most useful results. I will add that Colonel Olcott’s effort to benefit this class is worthy of praise and should elicit the sympathy of everyone interested in its improvement.
Government House, Gentlemen,
Guindy, Yours faithfully,
12th March, 1897. (Signed) A. E. HAVELOCK.
As I had no Private Secretary at that time I had to work double tides in preparing matter for The Theosophist, writing “Diary Leaves,” working on the revision of the Buddhist Catechism and disposing of my heavy correspondence. Among the articles written was one entitled “The Coming Calamities,” provoked by the pessimistic prophecies of Mlle. Couëdon, A pseudonymous writer in L’Initiation for February, 1897, proved by an assemblage of facts that from twenty to thirty seers and seeresses, chiefly modern, have prophesied the most direful woes to France, Europe in general, the Papacy and, in fact, to the whole globe. Crops are to fail; famine rage; plague—imported from Asia—
CURIOUS COINCIDENCES 139
sweep away half the population within the brief space of forty to fifty days; a fell disease that science cannot even diagnose, let alone cure, to affect men, animals, even plants; France was to be again invaded, debased, trampled down and dishonored, yet revive under the leadership of a Bourbon prince, whose personal description is given, even to unimportant details, such as his lameness in one foot; Paris is to be overwhelmed, her splendid monuments and public buildings are to be upset and made piles of dust and crumbled fragments; the river Seine is to run red with blood, shed by fratricidal hands, and the Père Mectou, one of the prophets, as pessimistic as the creator of the solitary New Zealander in devastated London, says that fathers will point out to their children the site of once splendid Paris and say: “Here stood a great city which God destroyed because of its crimes.” To add to the dread horrors of the doomed gay capital there is to be a pall of darkness enwrapping it for three consecutive days, a darkness that “no artificial illuminant shall be able to overcome; and a reign of sulphur, or poisonous sulphurous acid gas which shall stifle the wicked: the good having been warned in advance to flee from the dies irœ.” Now the coincidence and concurrence of these numerous prophecies is a fact to strike the attention of even the cursory student of mysticism and history. For
140 OLD DIARY LEAVES
the very calamities prefigured by our modern psychics were anticipated, even to minute details, by Nostradamus in the sixteenth century. The facts are too striking to be explained away as accidental, and, as I say in my article: “it looks as if one idea—whether true or false, time will prove—had been put into the heads of prophets and prophetesses or into their hands or mouths, that France and her joy-provoking capital, Paris, would be crushed and the population slain by war, plague, pestilence, atmospheric meteors and famine, at about the close of the Nineteenth Century . . . What makes these modern prophecies more interesting to a Hindu is their perfect agreement with those in the Puranas as to be expected at this end of the first 5000 years cycle of Kali Yuga.” I might have been tempted to pass these by but for the radical change which has been wrought in the equilibrium of the European political world by the marvellous triumphs of Japan on sea and land, the mutterings of coming battle between Germany and France, and the desperate haste shown in the new military arrangement in India in view of the possible contingency of a Russian invasion of Afghanistan. Then we have the secession of Norway from Sweden, the
bloody revolution ready to break out in Russia, the other which may wrest Hungary from Austria on the death of the ruling sovereign, and other
CURIOUS COINCIDENCES 141
faithful portents of national and international disturbance.
As above noticed, the terrestrial calamities foreseen by the prophets were to be accompanied by atmospheric cataclysms and portents, e.g., the pall of darkness for three consecutive days, the rain of sulphur, and the evolution of poisonous gases which should stifle the wicked. As for this latter, we need go back no further than the eruption of Mount Pélè which was accompanied by an outpouring of stifling gas which destroyed, virtually, the whole population of Saint Pierre.
But besides seismic and other disturbances, many great catastrophes to nations and cities and ruling sovereigns have been accompanied by most extraordinary heavenly portents. Nostradamus predicted that the French catastrophes—those of the French revolution—would be ushered in by a comet, and their subsidence by the appearance of a sort of Star of Bethlehem. Similar predictions were made by the Prince Höhenlohe, in 1830, and the Curé de Malétable has put on record some prophecies of supplementary catastrophes, as has also our latest Cassandra, Mlle. Couedon. If we are to believe the author of that quaint work, Curiositës Infernales, the war waged by the French for the conquest of Naples was preceded by a celestial disturbance hardly ever equalled: “Three suns appeared at
142 OLD DIARY LEAVES
night in the sky of Apulia, surrounded by clouds, horrible lightnings and thunderings.” In the territory of Arezza multitudes of spectres of armed men on horseback, with a deafening clamor of trumpets and drums, thronged the heavens. The Milanese horrors were preceded by a fall of twelve hundred great hailstones of the color of rusted iron, extremely hard and smelling of sulphur, one of them weighed sixty pounds, another twice as much. When Cardinal Ximenes was starting on the campaign against the Moors of Barbary a cross shone in the sky over the village of Vaiona, where he was, and was a presage of victory; on his embarking on the sea the cross showed itself over the African coast. Arluno states (in his Histoire de Milan) that a little before the capture of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, clashings of arms, sounds of drums and blasts of trumpets sounded around the castle; fire-balls dashed against the walls, and spectral dogs and other animals rushed barking and crying through the rooms and suddenly disappeared. Before the invasions of Xerxes and Attila the inhabitants of the doomed countries saw horrible and awe-inspiring meteors. The fall of Jerusalem is said to have been presaged by apparitional bodies of soldiers in the air, marching towards each other as if to join battle. Appianus, Pliny and other classical writers have recorded the strange portents
CURIOUS COINCIDENCES 143
that went before the civil and foreign wars; the armour hung in the Lacedæmonian temples clanged of itself, the doors of the temple of Hercules, at Thebes, opened of themselves and the arms suspended on the inner walls were found in the morning flung to the floor, as Cicero tells us. Coming forward in time, in the reign of Theodosius a blazing star attached to a sword was seen in the heaven. So we might go on almost ad infinitum repeating these tales, more or less credible, of signs, portents and wonders which have heralded in great national disasters and international conflicts, while of the personal warnings above mentioned there are an incalculable number. Yet the student of Occult Science will see no proof of supernaturalism in any of these. One and all are produced by the elemental spirits, or forces, attached to the nation or the individual, and provoked by some Adept or other high mystic who has the interest of the one, or some friend or relative who has that of the other at heart.
Strange as may seem to us these ominous marshallings of troops in the air, these fightings of battles, these clangors of arms and armor and other signs of military conflict, the apparition of unexpected and quasi inexplicable comets, hailstorms, volleys of thunder and terrific lightning, the throwing of fire-balls against fortresses and the rush of
144 OLD DIARY LEAVES
howling, barking and screaming phantom animals through castle corridors, it is not surprising that researchers of the class of our contemporary writers on psychical phenomena should try to brush away all the mass of cumulative testimony as to these phenomena by the easy process of contemptuous denial. But then, the day of these blinded word-weavers is past, and their mock sun is setting behind the clouds of matter which have been engendered by the vapors of their mental speculations. When the thoughtful public were struggling to break through the meshes of the net of dogma cast over them by interested theologians, the strong, muscular hand of Materialism stretched out towards them by modern science was grasped eagerly in the hope that it might lift them out of the mire of their doubts on to the firm ground of demonstrable truth. But the scientists overdid their part, and a thousand failures to account for the simplest psychical phenomena destroyed their influence and forced the once-submissive reading public to resort to original experiment, backed up by the reading of the works of mystics and mystical students of our own and preceding generations. Thus it has come about, through that ancient teaching, that the forces of nature manifesting in its several component kingdoms can be identified, classified, brought into relations with us, and made
CURIOUS COINCIDENCES 145
subject to the developed will-power of students who have been under the teaching of Adepts or Masters of Wisdom. The mystic, therefore, would be inclined to accept as true the testimony of a cloud of witnesses of various generations, to the real occurrence of phenomena like those above recorded. Have we not in this very chapter, had the unimpeachable testimony of our educated colleague, Mr. K., to the fact that the answer to his yearning soul-cry for help to discover the truth, came in the form of a written message in the sky, the glowing embers, the tree-foliage and the sand of the soil? How much more difficult would it be then for the same presumed Intelligence that gave him this message to have marshalled the tribes of the sylphs to form themselves into a sky-built picture of moving troops, or prancing horses, or even of our Adyar headquarters, with the concomitants of the Hall where I should receive him and a simulacrum of myself figured as I would be, sitting before him on the occasion of his visit? Finally, if the reader will take the trouble to refer to The Theosophist,1 he will see that our honorable and respected colleague, Dr. English, writes in connection with this question of celestial portents: “The late Mrs. English was a natural clairvoyant and throughout her whole life had psychical experiences,
1Vol. XVIII, p. 417, footnote.
146 OLD DIARY LEAVES
often of a prophetic character. About a year before the outbreak of the American civil war she saw appear in the sky, one morning in broad daylight and distinctly outlined, a spectral troop of cavalry in rapid march, moving in a southerly direction.”
Is it not more than probable that the occurrence of these premonitory warnings in the form of phenomena, terrestrial and atmospheric, gave rise to the folk-lore proverb: “Coming events cast their shadows before?” And did Campbell, who embodies it in his famous poem, Lochiel’s Warning, know that these portents could be read by one who had developed the psychical faculty? For his couplet runs thus:
’Tis the sunset of life gives me mystical lore,
And coming events cast their shadows before.
For, in the name of common sense, how could an impersonal, as set non-existing occurrence, unembodied, hence incapable of casting a shadow, nevertheless make the physical impression upon the physical plane before itself—the event—had occurred? But this old saw becomes quite intelligible to those of us who know of the existence of the astral plane and of the possibilities within reach of an advanced ego to create and make visible to ordinary sight all these pictures and phenomena which are above classified as portents.