OLD DIARY LEAVES, Sixth Series (1896-98)
by Henry Steel Olcott
ALL business being finished satisfactorily, I left Ceylon on the 3rd of May and reached home on the 5th. Dr. Peebles was there and my Hawaiian friend, to whom I was able to give striking proof of the reality of Madame Mongruel’s clairvoyant powers. Some time previously, wishing to get information as to the causes of his father’s illness, he had given me a scrap of his writing to send to the great seeress as an experiment to test her psychical gifts. A letter from her, returning the specimen with a diagnosis, was awaiting me at Adyar on my return. K. was perfectly astonished at her revelations, the genuineness of which he unreservedly endorsed and which struck him as being the more wonderful because there was no indication whatever either in his father’s writing or in what I wrote her about it, to give her any clue even as to his sex. The next evening, when we were all sitting out in the moonlight on the terrace I got the hoary
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“Pilgrim” Peebles, to show the company how they used to dance and prance around at Spiritualistic séances when Indian “guides” controlled mediums. Those who have only known him as a combative sage and propagandist of Spiritualism would have surely shared our merriment at seeing him bouncing about in quasi-elephantine gambols more or less resembling the original.
The next afternoon I presided at the formal opening of the new building erected by our printers, Messrs. Thompson & Co. On the 8th the masons began building in our Convention Hall pilasters to support the steel girders that were to bear the new roof that had been planned. In the afternoon the sixth anniversary of White Lotus Day was celebrated, speeches being made by Dr. Peebles, Dr. English, Mr. Knudsen, myself and others. This being the hot season, the thermometer was standing at 106° F. and perforce I was driven to working out of doors under shelter. It seems that to avoid the excessive heat, I did what many Government officials and judges of the Court do, I worked from day-break on for three or four hours, rested in the heat of the day, and resumed work in the evening. On the 9th—this may be another surprise for the friends of Dr. Peebles—he took from me, at his own request, the Five Precepts which make a man a Buddhist, and which, under a commission from
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Sumangala and the Kandyan High Priests, I am empowered to administer to such as wish to enter into Buddhism.
The state of our movement in Australasia since the death of the beloved General Secretary, Mr. Staples, did not suit me and I felt a strong impulse to go there and look over the ground; Miss Edger was making a tour among the Australasian Branches and I thought that my presence might help her. I, therefore, made up my mind to go, without waiting to get the views of my local colleagues. Accordingly, after writing two or three chapters of O. D. L. and arranging matters in general, I left for Colombo via Tuticorin and got there on the 16th May; on the 18th I sailed for Townsville in the SS. Duke of Westminster, the Captain of which proved to be one of the best sailors and most agreeable of men that I ever sailed under. Besides myself there were only four passengers, of whom one was a most charming, little boy baby. The South-East trades were blowing at the time and made the ship roll continually: but at least we were kept cool, which was a blessed relief after our thermometrical torment of the Indian Hot Season.
On the 25th, after having skirted the west coast of Sumatra, we were entering the Staits of Sunda, Bound for Batavia. On our way, on a smooth sea
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and with brilliant sky overhead, we passed the site of Krakatoa which, in August, 1883, had been the locality of the most fearful volcanic explosion ‘in history’. As I stood on the deck looking at the sun-gilt, tranquil water and the three fragments of what had been a volcanic cone, from which leaped out a seismic force so resistless and appalling that it caused the death of, some say 50,000, some 100,000 human beings, it was hard to believe that any such catastrophe had occurred at this smiling spot.
The following rude diagram shows the position of the three remaining fragments of the island, and the asterisk the point of explosion. Though the Captain and passengers told me about the tragedy, I could not create in my mind an adequate picture of this appalling catastrophe. The water was too smooth, the golden light of the sun on it too brilliant, the surroundings too lovely to allow me to make the mental picture. So now, eight years later, the scene comes up before my memory all brilliant and lovely, not as it was on that day in August, 1883, when the pent-up forces down in the bosom of the ocean-bed tore away the superincumbent masses of rock and made for themselves a passage into the outer air. In view of the details of the event, the press of the whole world occupied itself off and on
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for several years in recording the facts so far as they could be arrived at, and in 1889 a report of a committee appointed by the British Royal Society to investigate the eruption and the subsequent phenomena, came as near to describing the tragical incidents as was possible. The reader who may not have access to a file of the Royal Society’s Transactions will find extracts in the Encyclopædia Britannica (Art. Geology, XXVIII). It says:
“On 26th August, a succession of paroxysmal explosions began which lasted till the morning of the 28th, but of which the four most violent took place on the morning of the 27th. The whole of the northern and lower portion of the island of Krakatoa, lying within the original crater ring of prehistoric times, was blown away; the northern part of the cone of Rakata almost entirely disappeared, leaving a vertical cliff which laid bare the inner structure of that volcano. Instead of the volcanic island which had previously existed, and rose from 300 to 1,400 feet above the sea, there was now left a submarine cavity the bottom of which is here and there more than 1,000 feet below the sea-level.
* * * * *
“So much was the sea filled up that a number of new islands rose above its level. But a vast body of the fine dust was carried far and wide by ærial currents, while the floating pumice was transported
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for many hundreds of miles on the surface of the ocean. At Batavia, 100 miles from the centre of eruption, the sky was darkened by the quantity of ashes borne across it, and lamps had to be used in the houses at mid-day. The darkness even reached as far as Bandong, a distance of nearly 150 miles. It was computed that the column of stones, dust, and ashes projected from the volcano shot up into the air for a height of seventeen miles or more. The finer particles coming into the higher layers of the atmosphere were diffused over a large part of the surface of the earth, and showed their presence by the brilliant sunset glows to which they gave rise. It was computed that within the tropics they were at first borne along by air-currents at the rate of about seventy-three miles an hour from east to west until within a period of six weeks they were diffused over nearly the whole space between the latitudes 30° N. and 45° S. Eventually they spread northwards and southwards and were carried over North and South America, Europe, Asia, South Africa, and Australasia. In the Old World they spread from the north of Scandinavia to the Cape of Good Hope.
“The actual sounds of the volcanic explosions were heard over a vast area of the earth’s surface, especially towards the west. Thus they were noticed at Rodriguez, nearly 3,000 English miles away, at Bangkok in Siam (1,413 miles), in the
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Philippine Islands (about 1,450 miles), in Ceylon (2,058 miles), and in West and South Australia (from 1,300 to 2,250 miles). On no other occasion have sound-waves ever been perceived at anything like the extreme distances to which the detonations of Krakatoa reached.
“Not less manifest and far more serious were the effects of the successive explosions of the volcano upon the waters of the ocean. A succession of waves were generated which appear to have been of two kinds, long waves with periods of more than an hour, and shorter but higher waves, with irregular and much briefer intervals. The greatest disturbance, probably resulting from a combination of both kinds of waves, reached a height of about 50 feet. The destruction caused by the rush of such a body of sea-water along the coasts and low islands was enormous. All vessels lying in harbour or near the shore were stranded, the towns, villages, and settlements close to the sea were either at once, or by successive inundations, entirely destroyed, and more than 36,000 human beings perished. The sea-waves travelled to vast distances from the centre of propagation. The long wave reached Cape Horn (7,818 geographical miles) and possibly the English channel (11,040 miles). The shorter waves reached Ceylon and perhaps Mauritius (2,900 miles).”
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Fancy what must have been the sensations of the onlookers. Another account (New National Encyclopædia, Vol. II, Art. Krakatoa) amplifies the story as follows: “The sky presented the most terrible appearance, fierce flashes of lightning penetrating the dense masses of cloud over the island, clouds of black matter were rushing across the sky, rapidly recurring detonations like discharges of artillery, with a crackling noise in the atmosphere, were heard continuously, and large pieces of pumice, quite warm, rained down at a distance of ten miles. At a point 76 miles from Krakatoa the height of the black cloud projected from the volcano was estimated at 17 miles. At 40 miles distance this cloud looked like an immense wall with bursts of forked lightning at times like large serpents rushing through the air. Balls of fire (corpogants) rested on ships’ mastheads and on the extremities of the yard-arms. During the night the intense darkness was relieved by a ‘peculiar pinky flame’ which seemed to come from clouds and touch the ship, chains of fire seemed to be ascending from the volcano to the sky.”
The same Encyclopædia dwells upon one very beautiful effect of this explosion, the exquisite new tints that were infused into the sunrises and sunsets. It says:
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“The autumn of 1883 and the succeeding few months were noteworthy for the occurrence of brilliant phenomena in the western sky in every part of the globe, but especially in the Indian ocean and the South Pacific. Shortly after sunset a vivid red glow suffused the entire western sky, remaining for upwards of an hour, when it would slowly fade away. This strange sight was first noticed in India, where, it is said, the sun assumed a distinct greenish tinge on nearing the horizon. In the latitudes of N. Am. these red sunsets were of almost nightly occurrence for several months.”
All of us at Adyar can bear testimony to the greenish afterglow and to its great beauty as a new element in the color scheme. The delicacy of the tint was indescribable, it was, as it were, a sublimation of the hue of the emerald, such as one finds in rising to supramundane planes; to belong to what Mr. Leadbeater describes as a “higher octave of colour,” and reports of similar observations in nearly all parts of the world found their way into print. But now, if there had been standing beside me on the deck of the ship on that sunbright twenty-fifth day of May, 1897, a person with developed clairvoyant or psychometric sensitiveness, he would not have seen, as I did, a smooth pavement of seawater lying there between the remaining fragments of Krakatoa which still showed themselves above the
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surface, and all traces of the eruption covered over with a sort of golden carpet of sunlight, but he would have seen and felt in the akashic records the eruption still going on; to him, the Titanic submarine forces would be still smashing the volcanic cone into bits and flinging them up into the air and then, later, scooping out in the bowels of the rock a basin so deep that a plummet with a line of two hundred fathoms would not touch bottom; to him, the explosions, louder than ten thousand cannon belching at once, would be heard sending out their waves of sound to travel a distance of 3,000 miles; to him, there would have been no sunlit or smiling water, but the black pall of darkness hiding the face of Nature to a distance of 150 miles. And what he would be seeing would be seen with equal vividness a thousand or ten thousand or uncountable thousands of years later, for, as Denton tells us, in his classical work, The Soul of Things, which, certainly, every Theosophist who would learn about the Astral Plane ought to read: “incredible as it may appear, all forces that operate upon bodies leave their impress upon them just as indelibly as the radiant forces. Or in other words, what we call insensible matter receives the impression of whatever force is applied to it, treasures it up and can impart it to a sufficiently sensitive individual.” In
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another place he says: “This I have frequently observed in psychometric examinations; so that the examiner can frequently see what occurs millions of years ago better than if he had been on the spot at the time.” In his three volumes he gives numerous reports of psychometric observation of volcanic explosions which occurred far back in the night of time. Here is onewhere the psychometer says: “I see a volcano in the water, and lots of hilly islands. One has sunk down. There is a little lake in the middle and a round island like a ring. The lava flows into the water; and the steam rushes up in clouds. I can barely see the fire. There is quite a high mountain in the water. It makes an awful noise,—worse than any thunder . . . Great red-hot rocks come down with a terrible splash.” And these akashic pictures came before a boy-psychometer’s interior vision when he placed a fragment of calciferous sandstone against his forehead, without the least knowledge as to what the hard fragment was: and this rock, remember, belongs to the lowest level of the Lower Silurian Era, that is to say, to a geological period millions of years back in time.
But we have said enough about Krakatoa and its tragical memories, as we are due to arrive at Batavia in the morning and must be getting ready to go ashore.
1Op. cit., Vol. III, p. 24.