OLD DIARY LEAVES, Third Series (1883-87)
by Henry Steel Olcott
AFTER a residence of only five months, Mrs. CooperOakley found her health suffering so much in India that about this time she had to leave us for home under medical orders. Our loss has been the very great gain of the London Headquarters, where, under a more bracing climate, she has done a prodigious amount of work.
Our London news of that week was more calming, as it appeared that, besides Mr. F. W. H. Myers of the S.P.R., nobody had resigned his membership. Whether or not a popular disbelief in the infallibility of professional handwriting experts influenced public opinion, or whether it was just the instinctive feeling that an accused person ought to have the benefit of the doubt, the fact above stated was gratifying to the colleagues of H.P.B. There was in the Theosophist (June, 1898) a reference to the late Mr. Montague Williams, Q.C.'s opinion of the value of this expert testimony. Since then a copy of Mr. Williams' Leaves from a Life (Macmillan & Co., 1890) has been sent me by a friend in New Zealand, and I am able to show, by the testimony of that eminent leading counsel,
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how unnecessary was our grief and distress on hearing that Mr. Netherclift had declared the K.H. letters forgeries by H.P.B. Mr. Williams tells (op. cit., p. 263) the story of a case of alleged libel by publication on a postal card, brought against Sir Francis Wyatt Truscott by one John Kearn. Messrs. Poland and Grain conducted the prosecution, while Sir John Holker, Mr. Williams, and Horace Avory represented the accused. The prosecutor and a lady swore to the identity of the handwriting, and the evidence of Charles Chabot and Frederick George Netherclift, professional experts, was then taken. Both swore positively to the writing on the postcard as being that of the defendant, Chabot pointing out in detail to the jury the turns of letters and flourishes, the dots, cross lines, and up and down strokes which bore him out in his decision; and Netherclift, pet of the S.P.R. and slayer of the Blavatsky Medusa, said “he had made handwriting a study during more than thirty years . . . and that, after minutely comparing the letters (of the defendant) with the postcard, he had independently come to the conclusion that the writer in both cases was the same. He produced a most elaborately written report, calling attention to the various similarities existing between the handwriting on the different documents, and, on being cross-examined, he adhered absolutely to the position he had taken up.” Alas! for the poor man. The defence put upon the stand one Mr. Thomas Flight Smith, an acquaintance of both the parties, the accused and accuser, who swore that he had himself written the
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postcard as a friendly warning to Sir Francis, yet without malice to Mr. Kearn! His father, Mr. T. J. Smith, bore him out in the assertion, and produced three other postcards written by his son, Mr. Alderman Swan Nottage, who stated that he was a friend of the accused and the witness, Mr. T. F. Smith, and had received many letters from both, and was acquainted with their respective handwritting, swore "that the postcard was undoubtedly written, not by Sir Francis, but by Mr. Smith". Mr. Williams adds: "The jury stated that they did not wish to hear any further evidence, and proceeded at once to pronounce a verdict of 'Not Guilty'. So much for the evidence of experts in handwriting!"
So much, indeed; and notwithstanding the Arab proverb about the malodorousness of proffered advice, I will venture to recommend that copies of Mr. Montague Williams' book and of the Report of the Parnell case be placed in the library of the S.P.R., for the benefit of those who care to know what the professional opinions of handwriting experts are sometimes worth. Poor H. P. B., how those S(leuthounds) of P(sychical) R(esearch) made thee suffer under the knouts of these experts!
On the Good Friday of that year I had had an interview with a Telugu Brahmin astrologer, the possessor of a palm-leaf copy of that wonderful old book of prophecies, the Bhima Grantham, who had greatly astonished me by his readings in that volume. In the Theosophist for May, 1885 (Vol. vi, number 8),
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will be found my account of it, under the title "Indian Sibylline Books". As prophecies acquire no value until their fulfilment, but after that become most important as proofs of the predictive faculty in man, my habit is to put on record all I hear of this sort, so that they may be cited at the proper time. That is why I published the revelations of the Telugu Brahmin at the time, and as thirteen years have now passed since then, it will be interesting to turn back to that number of the Theosophist and see what he foretold and how he did it. Several friends of ours told us that they had had read out of one of these ancient olas accurate details of their own lives, and prophecies about their affairs which had been literally fulfilled. They had also been allowed to verify the astrologer's readings by consulting the book themselves. These friends told me, moreover, that in the course of their consultations it had transpired that their connection with our Society had been mentioned, and that the book contained much about the Society itself. On this account they had arranged the interview between the astrologer and myself, but only with much difficulty and after overcoming his objections to have a sitting with an European. Even then he would not do it until he had consulted the book itself, and learned from it the day, hour, and minute for the interview, the number of witnesses permissible, and the positions (relative to the cardinal points) to be assumed by the Brahmin and myself. At the appointed time we took our seats on the floor, on mats, in the Indian
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fashion. The book, on being unwrapped, proved to be an ordinary palm-leaf volume, the characters etched on the leaves with a stylus. I judged it to be very old. The edges were much discolored and worn, and the characters black with age. The book was laid before me, the edges of the leaves upward, and I was told to take in my two hands the unwound binding-cord which passes through holes punched in every leaf, insert it between any two leaves I chose, and open it at that place. I did so, and the astrologer then read the contents of that and following pages. Notes were taken by one of the witnesses. The book said: "The inquirer is not a Hindu, but of foreign birth. He was born with the Moon in the constellation Pleiades, having the sign Leo in the ascendant." Here follow some particulars of the personal sacrifices which I was said to have made for the public welfare. It then continued: "With a colleague, he organised a society for the propagation of Esoteric Philosophy (Brahmagnyanum). This colleague is a woman, of great power (sakti), high family, and, like himself, a foreigner. Though born so well, she too gave up everything, and for thirty years has been working in this same direction. Yet her karma is such as to compel her to endure great trouble and anxiety; and she is hated by her own kind (the white race), for whom she has worked so hard." It then spoke of two white persons who had been most friendly, but had turned about, published bad stories about her, and tried to make the public doubt the genuineness of our movement.
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"Many phenomena have been shown in connection with the Society," it went on to say, "and letters received by the Founders from their Teachers have been injudiciously made public: this has been the cause of all the present trouble." The prophecy then followed that our Society would survive me by many years, and, to my surprise, for the two friends present were not aware of it any more than the astrologer, the book told about a private meeting of myself and others (that at Dewan Bahadur Raghoonath Row's private house which I have mentioned in the last chapter) held the day before, with the subject of our discussion, and prophesied the issue correctly. "The Society," said the book, "is now passing through a dark cycle, which began seven months and fourteen days ago, and will last nine months and sixteen days more; making for the whole period seventeen months exactly."
Counting backward from the date of the interview, we come to the time, in 1884, of the attack of the Missionaries upon H.P.B., which goes to the book's credit; and, tracing forward in the light of events, the prophecy as to the passing away of the Society's dark cycle and the beginning of a brighter one we find corroborated. Meanwhile, what had happened was my Indian tour of 1885, which proved a very great success, adding seventeen new Branches to our roll, and which certainly was not to be anticipated by either the astrologer or my two Hindu friends who brought him to me. That "dark cycle" of 1885 was a more serious crisis' than any we have traversed since, even that of the Judge secession,
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for the Society was not then as impregnable in its organisation, the numerical strength of its membership, or its geographical distribution, as it was when the great blow was struck at its life by its quondam VicePresident across the Atlantic.
The question, so often put me as to my belief in astrology, will naturally recur in this connection. I must answer it as I always have, that I have not yet had evidence enough to warrant my saying I either believe or disbelieve. Many facts in the experience of others, some in my own, go towards proving the truth of this alleged science, yet not enough for a cautious man to base thereon a positive belief. I am waiting, most ready to be convinced, yet determined not to say I am unless I have a good case to go with to the jury of sensible men. It seems as if we can never say what there is in astrology until we have learned all there is in thought-transference. Who is to say that when I sat with that Telugu astrologer he may not have clairvoyantly read my history and traced out his sequel in my own mind or my aura? And although I was permitted to examine his time-worn book of palm-leaves, and his readings were verified by the two Telugu friends who took notes of his readings, that leaves open two questions, viz. (1) Did he throw a glamor (hypnotic) over our eyes to make us see what was not on the pages? (2) Was he a cheat who had by hook or by crook found out about the T.S. and its founders, prepared fresh pages of olas, made them look old by discoloring them, and inserted them among
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the rest? There is not much weight in either of these hypotheses, still one must think of all alternatives and suspend judgment until all the needed proofs are in. The astrologer, or let us say his book, ventured one prophecy which ought to be recalled from time to time as a test of the science. He said that at the time of my death "the Society would have 156 principal Branches, not counting minor ones, and in them will be enrolled 5000 members. Many Branches will rise and expire, many members come and go before then". I, myself, was to live from this hour (viz., 3rd April, 1885, afternoon) "28 years, 5 months, 6 days, 14 hours," which would bring us to early morning of September 9, A.D. 1913. Here we have accuracy, beyond dispute, and it only remains for somebody who survives me to enter this prognostic in his commonplace book and write to the then Editor of Theosophist about a thing which, probably, everybody else will have forgotten! I am quite ready to believe that the prophecy will be correct to within a year or two. As to the strength of the Society at that time, it seems as if there is a mistake, for already we have about 400 living charters and more members. However, we shall see.
The interested reader will find much about the books of the Cumæan and other Roman Sibyls, and those of Egypt, in the article above mentioned (May, 1885, Theosophist). It is a historical fact that the Sibylline Books were so accurate in all their fateful prophecies about the Roman state, that for over two
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centuries they were kept under the strict custody of duumvirs, until Sulla increased the number to fifteen. They were consulted only at times of great national crisis. St. Augustine (De Civitate Dei, lib. xviii, c. 23) defends their veracious character, and the Early Fathers generally held them in reverence, as it is alleged they prophesied the advent, life, and sufferings of Jesus Christ.
Whatever the actual value of the astrologer's revelations to me on that Good Friday, it is the fact that they cheered us up at a time of gloom, and no doubt helped to give me the courage to go forth on my public tours of that year. Mr. T. Subba Row went with Judge P. Sreenivasrow to consult another astrologer in Madras, who also possessed a nadigrantham, but with most unsatisfactory results, as he tells the public in an article on "Nadigranthams and Their Interpreters ", which he contributed to the Theosophist for July, 1885. He was an extremely enlightened and advanced esotericist, and his views are entitled to the most serious consideration. The astrologer visited failed in every instance to give a correct answer, and what he read or pretended to read from his book proved to be rubbish. The one case therefore offsets the other and leaves us as far as ever from having a satisfactory answer to the question whether the Nadigranthams deserve to be held in the high repute they enjoy throughout India. But then, again, we have the verified prognostics of my astrologer, and still further, the open question of telepathy and clairvoyance. The late Mr. Judge took a hand in the discussion of the question,
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giving his views in an article ("The Nadigranthams") in the Theosophist for October, 1885. He contends that my case and that of Mr. Subba Row are not identical, as I seem to have got hold of a genuine nadi, and the other gentleman of a false one and a tricky astrologer. "It is," he writes, "by no means proved that no nadi is trustworthy, and that at no time could they be relied on . . . Can, then, books or leaves be made or procured which may be used in the way pretended? I say that they can, and that there are two or more modes of doing it." He first postulates the astrologer's having the faculty of prevision or clairvoyance with which" he could have given all the details related quite easily with the aid of a few figures, letters, or verses". His second is that" it is possible to cast up certain astrological figures to be used on certain days and hours, and for certain classes of questions, from which a large number of replies and predictions can be given that would startle the average hearer, and be true not only to the past but also to the future . . . . A large number of leaves could be prepared which would enable one to make replies to any kind of question at once "—i.e., at that same sitting. This again I give for what it may be worth, having no great belief in Mr. Judge's having possessed any very notable predictive power of an occult kind. The one fact that there is throughout the world at this present moment an intense and growing interest in astrology and all the "occult" sciences is sufficient excuse for my having diverged so widely from the episode of the
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astrologer's visit to Headquarters, at the time with which our historical narrative is now concerned.
As I had no mind to accept blindly the revelations of the Bhima Grantham—the palm-leaf book in question—and as I had not had time to handle and examine it during the séance with the Telugu Brahmin, I went to Mylapore with Ânanda to hunt him up. I was allowed to examine it as closely as I chose. Any doubt I may have had about the Pandit's having befooled me with bogus leaves intercalated among the others was set at rest, for every leaf was unquestionably ancient and equally time-worn with the rest. My notes say: "I saw the book, handled and examined it. It contains 300 answers to questions written with an iron stylus on palm olas, is perhaps 500 years old, and written in Telugu. There seems no doubt as to its genuineness." And yet the wonder but deepens that out of those mere 300 answers, the Pandit should have found a number relating to the history and destiny of our Society. Had these verses been waiting five centuries to be read to the right questioner when he should appear in the year 1885? It seems absurd on the face of it, yet the incidents of the interview have been truthfully reported, and my account will be corroborated, I am sure, by Mr. G. Soobbiah Chetty, now the incumbent of an influential office in the Madras Sea-Customs Bureau. How, then, explain the riddle? First, fraudulent conspiracy between the Pandit and the brothers Chetty who brought him to me. But they were ignorant of facts read, or seemingly read,
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from the Bhima Grantham; for example, the private meeting at Dewan Bahadur R. Raghoonath Row's house, the nature of our discussion, and the policy determined upon; then as to the outcome of the events at that crisis, with the fixing of the exact times of their fruition. Secondly (if the Pandit had the faculty of psychic vision), the reading by him of the pictures stored up in the "Astral Light". Thirdly, his power to compel subservient elementals to cast a glamor over the eyes of the two Telugu witnesses, to compel them to be blind to the actual writing on the leaves turned over, and to read there the totally different sentences about the Society and its Founders which he read out to us. Fourthly (and lastly, for I can form no other hypothesis), instead of his compelling enslaved elementals to cast the glamor over our eyes, it is conceivable that he might have been an ordinary medium, like the famed Govind Chetty, of Kumbakonam, and under the control of elementals or other entities who made him, their passive agent, see what they wished him to see, and not what was on the page before his eyes. In either case it is a very interesting problem.
The Council decided, April 18th, to finish the re-building of the former "Shrine Room" upstairs, which, in disgust at its defilement by the Coulomb conspirators, I had had demolished on my return from Europe, and to use it as a library, collecting together our several small stores of books. Our modest plan was very soon altered by the rapid accumulation
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of Sanskrit MSS. and other literature which about this time began. The Adyar Library building was soon projected and built, as we shall see later on.
Meanwhile our dear H.P.B. and party were on their way to Europe. I heard from them from each port of call, and, May 20th, their arrival at Naples and landing. They found cheap lodgings at Torre del Greco, near Vesuvius, and settled down to bear their exile as best they might.
To be able to answer one of Mme. Coulomb's shocking slanders about H.P.B. having been the mother of illicit offspring at Cairo, I sent for a respectable Tamil woman who had helped nurse H.P.B. throughout her dangerous illnesses of February, and, of course, had had to discover her exact physical state. As might have been expected by all who knew H.P.B.'s character intimately, the ayah affirmed and declared her willingness to go into court and testify that her late mistress had never been a mother. She even went so far as to say that whatever marriage she had contracted must have been a merely nominal one. Adult readers will understand my meaning.
At about this time news was received from Paris that our sole surviving French Honorary Fellow Alphonse Cahagnet, was dead. He and the late Baron Du Potét were our only two, and both were distinguished authorities in psychical science. The first book of Cahagnet's that I read was his Celestial Telegraph, which appeared in its English translation at New York in about the year 1851. It was almost the first
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of my reading about the clairvoyant faculty and modern ecstatical visions of the world of spirits. Unfortunately I never had the chance of conversing with its honest and enthusiastic author, but he sent me his photograph and that of his wife, the ecstatic "Adéle", which I keep hanging in my private rooms. Not a visitor has ever guessed that the heavy-bodied peasant woman of the picture was even a clairvoyant at all, let alone that soaring visionary whose soul-flights through space took her to supernal planes, where she was swallowed up in a great blinding light, that drove back the less ethereal clairvoyants whom Cahagnet sometimes set to watching her in her upward progress. Elsewhere, when writing on the subject of clairvoyance, I have quoted from Cahagnet's book his description of the agony felt by him on finding himself powerless to draw Adéle's soul back into her body when she felt so merged in the spirit sphere as to declare she should never re-enter the "corpse" that seemed so repugnant to her. He tells us that the body began to even change color like a real corpse, and show the preliminary signs of decomposition; while he, in the greatest distress and fear, vainly brought his strongest will to bear upon her soul to come back, and not leave him to be perhaps tried for murdering the adored wife of his bosom. Poor man! his plight is one that many have, and anyone may, experience. The last resource that he employed was prayer to God, which succeeded. Of course it would in the case of a man of his temperament, for by praying he raised his
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consciousness and yearning to the celestial levels on which Adéle was functioning, and so got into touch with her as he could not by the mere use of his brain-power. If one sets out to chase a bird, one must get bird's wings and fly after it; to walk on the ground will be useless.
In pursuance of the policy of propaganda adopted by the Council, I left Madras, May 9, for Vellore, in company with Messrs. R. Raghoonath Row, P. Sreenivas Row, C. Ramiah, and L. V. V. Naidu. Addresses were delivered by the Dewan Bahadur in Tamil, and myself in English. The Councillors returned to Madras, but Doraswamy kept on with me. Our next station was Arcot, where we reorganised the local Branch, then in that sort of compulsory pralaya because of the transfer to other stations of active members in Government service, which is so often happening throughout India. We went to Arnee next, where a new Branch was organised; thence to Chittoor, where there was prepared for our delectation much music, many fragrant garlands, and a procession of the 90 boys in the Sanskrit school that our Branch had formed. At 8 p.m. on the 17th we started for Madras and got home the following morning. The results of this short tour were: 1 Branch revived, 1 new one formed, 10 new members admitted, and the T. S. movement put on a healthy footing throughout that district.
Another short tour began on the 21st when I started for Madura, where a lecture was given and two candidates admitted to membership. "But for the Coulomb blight", says my Diary, "the number would have
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been from 20 to 30." Yet the visit stopped the retro grade tendency, and the two men gained being of influential standing, I felt that we had done well. At Trichinopoly my audiences were large, especially that in an inner court of the ancient Sreerangam Temple, where the people massed in thousands. As on the occasion of my visit in 1882, the scene was most picturesque and striking, the dark-skinned multitude and the massive stone walls, huge gateway and carved monolithic columns being lit up by hundreds of torches, and the Brahmin priests with their snowy cloths thrown up into dazzling whiteness in the glare. With this picture vivid in my mind I left at 1.30 that same night for Tanjore. My first public discourse there was given at the Reading Room; my second, in the vast open enclosure of the Temple, standing on the plinth of the colossal Bull, a monster measuring about twelve feet from the ground to its shoulder in the sitting posture. One feels dwarfed in such an environment, and as I stood with the Bull beside me and the lofty pyramid, or Gopuram, in front, towering up towards the sky, its numberless life-sized figures of Indian gods, goddesses, and mythological heroes brought out in high lights and deep shadows by the moonlight, the thought of the strangeness of it all rushed in upon me and gave a peculiar tone to my impromptu discourse. The sense of my American modernity, in contrast with the hoary antiquity of the temple and the race which worship in it, was overpoweringly real. A visit was paid, as usual, to the Tanjore Royal Library, once
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the richest literary collection in India, and even now extremely important; but it was a not too cheerful experience, for the library is but little used by scholars, since scholarship is so poorly recompensed in these utilitarian days. These repositories of the high thoughts of ancient sages are like so many granaries where the seed-corn of future harvests is kept against the time of sowing.
A little tired and used up by the heat and travel, I laid my straw mat and cotton rugs on the stone platform of the station that night and slept a deep sleep, despite hurrying trains, until 3 a.m., when I left for Kumbakonam, a two-hours' journey. I was kindly welcomed at the station, and lectured that evening at the porter Town Hall, a fine and large room, to a very large, attentive, and appreciative audience. Kumbakonam, known as "the Cambridge of Southern India", is a centre of culture and, of course, of religious scepticism—the two going too much together. Naturally I attacked materialistic agnosticism, vindicated our Society's policy and record of usefulness, and defended H. P. B. as a true and brave friend of India, whose unselfish exertions on its behalf put to shame the majority of modern educated Hindus, who acted as if it were a shame, instead of an honor, to have been born in the land of the Rishis. Whether I did any permanent good is impossible to say, but most assuredly the sleepers were aroused to enthusiasm for the passing moment, and who knows what are the consequences of even a moment's awakening
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to the sense of duties neglected and opportunities slipping away? The next day's audience, in the same hall, were extremely demonstrative as I went on to treat Idols and Idol Worship from the side of psychological science. There were many college men present who had no clear conception of the actual process by which a mere block of stone, metal, or wood, carved into a certain conventional shape, is changed into a sort of psychic dynamo, soaked with human aura and efficacious for the production of psychological and physiological effects upon sensitive worshippers. The process is called in Sanskrit Prana pratishta—the focalising of auric power (prana)—and is intensely interesting to the amateur of mesmerism. Without going into details, it will suffice to say that the image goes through a process which extends over forty days and includes the withdrawing from the image of all innate impurities, and the subsequent imbuing or saturating of it with a purified human magnetism—i.e., aura. Then to fix this supply, as it were, it is customary for the officiating adept, or Chief Brahmin, to prepare, or have engraved on a sheet of copper, a geometrical symbol, called chakram, into which a magic power is imparted by the concentration of the trained Will.l This copper-plate is placed under the image when fixed in its place, and there left so long as the temple stands. Now, the wiser and purer the adept-consecrator,
1 Vide the standard Western books on Magic for an explanation of the occult connection between geometrical signs and the Powers of the Elementary kingdoms.
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the more real, effective, and permanent the infusion of prana into the image; and the more carefully the chakram is prepared and placed, the more lasting its efficacy as a storage-battery of divine power. One sees, from all this, that the good Bishop Heber was more or less silly in saying:
The Heathen in his blindness
Bows down to wood and stone.
In point of fact, neither is the Heathen blind, nor does he bow down to wood and stone: quite the contrary, and the average Missionary is the real blind one, since he knows nothing at all about the Powers, symbols, customs, or ceremonies which he reviles.
On to Cuddalore, my last station of this tour, where I lectured on Idols in the Temple, where I was surrounded by them; and on 1st June I got back to Adyar, with a thankful heart for having escaped sunstroke or heat-apoplexy, and, despite the high temperature, having done so much to restore the old kindly feeling between the South Indian people and ourselves.