OLD DIARY LEAVES, Fourth Series (1887-92)
by Henry Steel Olcott
MEDIUMS, MENDACITY, AND OTHER
THE predicted coming of a messenger from the Great White Lodge, and the order to hold myself in readiness to go and meet him, put not only me, but others to whom I told it, in a flutter of excitement. The Master had fixed no date, and so all I had to do was to keep my trunk packed, ready to start on receipt of a telegram. My surmise was that this messenger would be Damodar, and that he would turn up from across the Himâlayas, at Darjeeling, whence he had started on his memorable journey in search of the Ashram. So I wrote to Babu Sreenath Chatterji, our active colleague at that hill station—whose house had always been a sort of dharma-sala or traveller’s shelter for Tibetan Lamas passing between Tibet and northern India—asking him to be on the look-out, and giving him a code by which he could telegraph me when occasion required. With her usual impetuosity, Miss Müller went there so as to have the first innings with the messenger; so did others, and quite an active correspondence by
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mail and telegraph went on between them and myself. Days were fixed for the expected arrival, and when they failed, others were substituted; but the messenger came not, and the enterprising watchers at last grew tired of waiting, came away, and then intimated to me that no such message had probably been given, but it was only my own illusion. The same was thought and said at London and New York, and in the long-run my news was quite discredited. Meanwhile I said nothing, kept my trunk packed, and waited. I waited more than eighteen months, and when, though my trunk was still packed, I had put off the arrival to the ides of March, the messenger came. I shall come to that at the proper time.
We have some queer visitors at Adyar. Elsewhere I have described the visits of Indian ascetics. My entry for the last day of February records that of a contortionist of the North Arcot District, named Subramanya Aiyar, who handled his physical body after a fashion which would have insured him a handsome living at Western circuses, music-halls, and side-shows. The most sensational of his feats was the reversal of his head, so that his face looked at us from between his shoulders. In that position he spoke and ate plantains: really a man to be held in honor among
The Anthropophagi, and men whose heads
Do grow beneath their shoulders.
Another inconsequential thing that he did was to dislocate his shoulder and bring that arm around his neck, so that it would hang down parallel with the
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other arm. I know there is no Theosophy in this, but it is just a bit of realism that helps to make up the picture of our simple life at Adyar.
One of the small annoyances which I tried at this time to remove was the growing habit of adopting for new Branches names previously chosen by existing ones. Such duplications inevitably breed confusion, as similar things do where titles of books are plagiarised. It is unfair for a senior Branch, as, for example, the original Blavatsky Lodge, which has made its name known all over the world, to have an old Branch like the Bombay T. S., whose charter dates back to 1880, and which had begun to make itself known by Mr. Tookaram Tatya’s useful, classical publications and reprints, suddenly wiping out its reputable past, and continuing work under an improperly appropriated title. In an Executive Notice which I issued in that month of March, I enumerated other cases of this copying of titles, viz., “two Olcott T. S.’s (Kanigiri, India, and Sydney, N.S.W.); two Siddharthas (Weligama, Ceylon, and Vicksburg, Mass., U.S.A.); two Tatwagnanas (Jessore and Tipperah, India); two Krishnas (Guntur, India, and Philadelphia, U.S.A.); an Aryan (N.Y.), and an Aryan Patriotic (Aligarh, India); a Satya (Los Angeles, U.S.A.), and Satya (Lucknow, India), and so on. So long as a Branch sleeps, its name is unnoticed; but when it grows active, then its title, if copied after some other, becomes a perplexity.” I then added the following remarks, which are as pertinent at the present time as they were then:
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“The President calls attention to the matter in the hope that henceforth the General Secretaries of Sections and the responsible Director of the Headquarters Record Office will refuse charters to any Branches applying for enrolment under borrowed or accidentally duplicated titles. Experience also dictates that the choice of fancy and complimentary names in place of local ones, which at once designate the town or city where the Branch is situated, is an inconvenience; but where several Branches are formed in one city, the oldest should adopt the city’s name, and the others different ones. As regards names already duplicated, the proper course would seem to be that the first chartered should retain its name, and the later ones take others not already registered at these Headquarters.
“To close the subject, once for all, the undersigned recommends that, so far as practicable, the calling of Branches after individuals should be avoided. At best, it is but a species of hero-worship and fosters vanity. As for the Founders and the fifteen other persons who were present when it was voted to form this now great organisation, the whole Society and its results are their best and only permanent memorial.”
As we have been celebrating the anniversary of H. P. B.’s death now for eight years, and as, undoubtedly, the ceremony will be continued, it may be as well to put on record the Executive Notice of 17th April, 1892, which led to the observance of the event. It was worded as follows:
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“In her last Will, H. P. Blavatsky expressed the wish that yearly, on the anniversary of her death, some of her friends ‘should assemble at the Headquarters of the Theosophical Society and read a chapter of The Light of Asia and (extracts from) Bhagavad-Gîtâ; and since it is meet that her surviving colleagues should keep green the memory of her services to humanity and her devoted love for our Society, the undersigned suggests that the anniversary be known among us as White Lotus Day, and makes the following official order and recommendation:
“1. At noon, on 8th May, 1892, and on the same day in each succeeding year, there will be held a commemorative meeting at the Headquarters, at which extracts from the before-mentioned works will be read and brief addresses made by the Chairman of the meeting and others who may volunteer.
“2. A dole of food will be given in her name to the poor fishermen of Adyar and their families.
“3. The flag will be half-masted from sunrise until sunset, and the Convention Hall decorated with White Lotus flowers.
“4. Members living outside Madras can arrange for their food by applying to the Recording Secretary at least one week in advance.
“5. The undersigned recommends to all Sections and Branches throughout the world to meet annually on the anniversary day, and, in some simple, unsectarian, yet dignified way, avoiding all slavish adulation and empty compliments, express the general
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feeling of loving regard for her who brought us the chart of the climbing Path which leads to the summits of Knowledge.”
Copies of this were sent at once to the London and New York Headquarters, thence it spread to the Branches, and now I presume each of our hundreds of Branches throughout the world annually renews the recollections of the character and services of H. P. B.
Since her death the mediums have been taking unwarranted liberties with her personality, making her materialise at their séances, write them communications, and even write a volume of posthumous memoirs. At about the time of which I am writing, the American and British papers contained many paragraphs about her spook having appeared at some American mediums’ circles, and there has recently come into my possession a book which it is pretended she, as a spirit, dictated to G. W. Yost, a spirit, inventor of the Yost typewriter, it being written out on one of his instruments procured for the purpose, and placed in a sort of cabinet several feet distant from the nearest living spectator. Under these conditions, it is affirmed, the typewriter wrote out this entire book, by itself, automatically, so far as could be seen. At stated times the members of the circle would meet, some phenomena would occur, and then the clickety-click of the typewriter would go on for hours together. Apparently the thing was all fair and there was no collusion. This makes it all the more queer that such a hopelessly absurd and transparently mendacious narrative of H. P. B.’s life,
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motives, and feelings, and her impressions about her colleagues in the Theosophical movement, should have been compiled. One can trace, from Mr. Sinnett’s books and mine, from the Theosophist and other sources, the origin of nearly all the portions which bear the remotest semblance of verisimilitude; while the compiler, whether “a spirit of health, or goblin damn’d,” has put things into her mouth which she was quite incapable of saying, and made her cast insults upon her dearest friends which she would never have uttered. Given the bona-fides of the parties concerned, it is one of the most instructive phenomena in modern spiritualism.
To sensible Theosophists all these pretended apparitions and communications from H. P. B. will seem both false and cruel, in view of the joint notification which she and I published in our magazine, that after our death neither of us would, under any circumstances, appear to or communicate through a medium, and that our friends were authorised and requested to denounce as fraudulent any such pretended phenomenon. By turning to the Theosophist for March, 1883, the reader will find, in an article entitled “Under the Shadow of Great Names,” what Madame Blavatsky and I said about this. After noticing various fraudulent platform sermons and books ascribed to deceased leading spiritualists, the editors say: “The future has a gloomy look indeed to us when we think that, despite their best endeavors to the contrary, the Founders of the Theosophical Society are quite as liable as either of the eminent gentlemen above mentioned to an
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involuntary postmortem recantation of their most cherished and avowed ideas . . . While it is yet time, both the Founders of the Theosophical Society place upon record their solemn promise that they will let trance-mediums severely alone after they get to the ‘other side’. If, after this, any of the talking fraternity take their names in vain, they hope that at least their Theosophical confrères will unearth this paragraph and warn the trespassers off their astral premises.” This warning embodies the very deep feeling entertained by both of us in regard to these mediumistic communications, which are not offered to the public upon their intrinsic merit, but under the glamor of borrowed names.
I have been led into this discussion by my Diary notes about the pretended appearance of Madame Blavatsky to the American medium, and also by an entry which reminds me that just before dawn on the 14th of March my Guru’s voice told me that I “had no occasion to worry about H. P. B.’s condition, as she was now safe, and her bad and good record was made up and could not be changed”. Under all these circumstances, I feel perfectly warranted in saying that since her death Madame Blavatsky has neither shown herself nor spoken to or through any spiritualistic medium, and that the book of her posthumous memoirs is an absolute fraud. By whom committed I cannot say, but in all probability by some one of those irresponsible “controls” which make poor mediums the channels of their mendacity. One of
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the most shameless outrages of the kind that has come to my notice is the frequent appearance of materialised or semi-materialised shapes under the semblance of H. P. B. and one of our Masters, which come to a certain very noted female medium, and by the help of which she has been enabled to make some very excellent persons blindly accept her as the recognised agent and mouth-piece of these two personages. Some years ago there was at Boston a lady medium who, while sitting in her chair, and perhaps knitting or sewing, would be suddenly enwrapped in an astral mask or shell, which would entirely change her personal appearances; instead of looking like herself, she would be transformed into a bearded man, or a woman of a different age, complexion, and features from herself. The case was reported and commented upon in The Banner of Light of that time. Similarly, the medium to whom I have just referred will suddenly take on the semblance of H. P. B. and speak as her; sometimes the form of H. P. B. will be seen standing behind her chair and nodding assent to what she says; again, it will be the form of the Master, who is made to play this harlequinade. I recollect reading a published letter from Mr. Peebles about a medium in a Western State who was able to cause materialised forms to appear on a public platform, among them that of Jesus Christ, who, according to Mr. Peebles, stood there while he himself was speaking, and bowed assent to the good things he said! Now these two cases seem identical, and I leave the sensible reader to decide whether he believes
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either of these nodding apparitions genuine, or whether they are just what H. P. B. used to call “psychological tricks”.
On the 6th of May I went to the Chingleput Registrar’s office, had H. P. B.’s Will opened and recorded, and took an official copy of it.
As the writing of “Old Diary Leaves” proceeded, I had to confront the question whether I ought to tell the story of H. P. B.’s second marriage, the one at Philadelphia, which happened while I was making her a visit. Personally, I was convinced of its necessity, for I intended my historical narrative to be absolutely trustworthy; and if I, from mistaken sentimentality, suppressed so important a fact, I felt sure that it would be caught at by her enemies and the worst possible construction be given to an event which is itself innocent of wrong-doing, however ill-advised it might seem to me and others. I therefore presented the case to two persons—her sister Mme. Jelihovsky and Mr. Judge, who acted as her attorney in the subsequent divorce proceedings—asking their opinions. Their replies left me free to exercise my discretion; and while I was waiting to take up the compilation of Chapter IV of my work, there appeared in an American paper a most virulent and savage attack on her reputation in connection with this very affair, giving publicity to names and dates. Of course, after this, my duty was plainly to tell the story in a calm, dispassionate way, yet as a friend disposed to do her the justice which others had denied her, which I did,
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as the reader will find on referring back to the chapter in question.1
The preparation of my mountain cottage at Ootacamund being far enough advanced, I left Madras for the hills on the 17th of May, and was much struck with the coincidence, to which Mr. S. V. Edge called my attention, that this was the 17th day of the 7th month of the 17th year of the Society’s existence. To go from the stifling heat of the plains, where the mercury was then standing at 104, to this mountain retreat, 7,000 feet above sea-level, where the thermometer marked only 56°, and heavy clothing and fires in the rooms were indispensable, is a pleasure beyond words. It has been the opinion of all who live in it that “Gulistan,” though small, is the very ideal of snug comfort, and that the outlook is simply superb. The cottage stands on the shoulder of a hill, with the peak of Snowdon towering a thousand more feet above it; it is sheltered from blustering winds by a grove of eucalypti on the north and east sides, and the hill rising behind it effectually protects it from gales from that quarter. Looking from the windows of the drawing-room and library, the great panorama of the Mysore Plain lies out like a map, while around the house are hedges of cluster roses and beds of lilies, heliotrope, roses, geraniums, verbenas, and many other flowers, and climbing honeysuckles and roses ascend to the verandah roof. My original idea was that “Gulistan” should be the home for us two Founders
1 [O. D. L., vol. i, p. 55.--ED.]
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in our old age; but as things have turned out, H. P. B. never saw it, and my visits have hitherto been few and far between, by reason of my unremitting official duties. On coming there I took with me H. P. B.’s writing-table, her armchair, carved Bombay rosewood cabinet, and other familiar objects that would make her feel at home, and that keep the memory of her ever present when I am there. Repairs, constructions, changes, and improvements were pushed ahead by a gang of masons and carpenters, under my superintendence. Simultaneously with these building operations, I occupied myself with the very heavy task of sorting and arranging the correspondence and documents of sorts about the Society’s affairs which had been accumulating for years, and never systematised in consequence of lack of time. There must have been several thousands of them, and the work was so troublesome that I was obliged to hire an English-speaking Hindu to help me.
Our cause in Spain at this time suffered a most serious loss in the untimely death of Señor Don Francisco de Montoliu y de Tagores, F.T.S., of Barcelona. So far as our propaganda in Spanish-speaking countries was concerned, the blow was of only less severity than the departure of H. P. B. to the whole Society. Thanks to his rare genius, industry, and self-sacrifice, our literature was beginning to be spread and be welcomed throughout Spain, Mexico, Cuba, Central and South America, the Philippines, and the West Indies. He had translated into classical Spanish Isis Unveiled and
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other important Theosophical works, and was publishing the former by subscription in monthly numbers. From his aristocratic and bigoted Roman Catholic family he met with angry opposition, and yet threw himself into the arduous work of our Society with generous self-abandonment and quenchless zeal. Every one of his letters to me breathed the holy influence of unselfishness and a courage not to be daunted by opposition. Looking through the whole Society, I could pick out no one more devoted to conscience, more ardently loving for mankind, more free from local and sectarian narrowness. His death was entirely unexpected. An unanswered letter of his was lying on my writing-table when the touching official and personal notice of the calamity came to me from our beloved friend, his colleague Señor Don José Xifré. The circumstances of his deathbed were mournfully tragic. “He left us,” said Señor Xifré, “on 10th May after a week’s illness, caused by catching a cold in his chest, which turned into typhoid fever—the result, I fear, of nervous exhaustion from over-work.” Señors Xifré, Roveratta, and Bosch were present to the end, at the wish of our dying brother, in spite of the insults heaped upon them and him by the family and the Jesuit priests. “The death,” said Señor Xifré, “was admirable, an example which none of us can ever forget.” Despite all the dictates of propriety and deference to the wishes of the dying Theosophist, the priests made a sectarian ceremonial, which seems to me to have been, under the circumstances, nothing
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better than a profanation of true religious feeling, and then spread the cruel falsehood that the victim had been “converted”—the usual dodge of the clergy to cover defeat in the case of nearly every freethinker. Our watchful Fellows with difficulty managed to save the more important among Montoliu’s T. S. documents; the priests—poor, blind fools, who have learnt nothing from history—seized the rest and burnt them to ashes. Far from sitting idle in blank despair, our surviving Spanish comrades instantly took up the torch as it dropped from dear Montoliu’s dead hand, and have ever since kept actively at work.
I had an amusing visit one morning from a Salvation Army “captain”. The Army has a sanitarium at Ootacamund for their people, which they have called “Cheerful Cottage,” and this man was recuperating there. The object of his call was, of course, to get a contribution. Seeing at a glance that he was an honest fanatic, whose sincerity entitled him to kindly consideration, I asked him in, had a substantial meal prepared for him, and afterwards gave him a cigar and a little money. We had an interesting chat about the Army and its prospects in India, and he put me a number of questions about Theosophy, which showed that he did not have even a rudimentary idea of any philosophy, let alone that of India. He told me that he was the son of an English agricultural laborer, which, of course, made his efforts to do good in his own simple way all the more creditable. Our interview was very friendly, although
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I made no attempt to conceal the fact that I was not a Christian, and that I did not at all think that it was a good thing to convert Hindus from their own splendid religion; therefore, that I would not give the Army any money for that branch of their work, but that I would gladly help them in their “rescue work,” and that if they could devise any plan for converting the self-styled Christians in India to Christianity, they might count on me for my share of the expense. He laughed at that, and said that, so for as his experience at Ootacamund was concerned, he would say that I had behaved towards him more like a Christian than any of them. When taking leave and directing himself towards the door, he suddenly turned and, as if asking me in a friendly way to have a drink, said: “Colonel, shall we have a bit of a prayer?” It was so funny that I had to laugh, and said: “No, thanks; I can pray myself in two or three languages!”
Mr. Edge—who had come up for a change—and I amused ourselves at this time with the Tarot cards, and certainly got some strange prognostications. In one memorandum of the 26th of June, which, at my request, Mr. Edge put into writing and signed, and which is pasted in my Diary, I find a prophecy which seems to have pointed directly to the action of Mr. Judge. What other interpretation can be given to these words: “There is serious trouble and danger from somewhere, and a woman has a hand in it; there are folly and deception to be feared which will give rise to enmity and trouble—this seems serious; there
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is moral death for someone—perhaps a foolish affair on the part of a leading member; at all events, some act of suicidal folly.” There is also the following prognostic: “A sacrifice on the part of someone is indicated, and the Society will benefit thereby”: to which of the sacrifices that have been subsequently made by individuals for the benefit of the Society this points I shall not undertake to say. Mr. Edge and I noticed one very curious thing, viz., that time after time, and in succession, the card which we agreed should represent my Guru would turn up when I cut the pack. Of course there is a great deal of nonsense in these divinations by cards, coffee-grounds, and other agencies, but there is also a great deal of the other sort. The faculty of what the late Major Buckley called “conscious clairvoyance” very frequently comes into play, and truly remarkable revelations are often given. For instance, at this moment in Paris, a lady who earns a very handsome living by reading fortunes in coffee-grounds, and the noble army of card-reading fortune-tellers, would never have been kept in profitable practice if their prognostications had not been often verified.
On the 2nd of July Mr. Keightley came from Madras and joined us two in discussing the situation of affairs in all parts of the world. I had calls from a number of pleasant residents of the station, and received every civility from the then Governor, Lord Wenlock, and Lady Wenlock, the latter inviting me to her At Homes, and his Excellency sending me
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cards for her Majesty’s Birthday Ball. Government House at Ootacamund is the hot-weather resort of the Governors of Madras, who spend fully half the year in the lovely surroundings of this queen of Indian hill-stations.