We have of course no means now of knowing what evidence Jung Stilling had of the truth of this story, though he declares himself to have been quite satisfied with the authority on which he relates it; but so many similar things have happened that there is no reason to doubt its accuracy. The seer, however, must either have developed his faculty for himself or learnt it in some school other than that from which most of our Theosophical information is derived; for in our case there is a well-understood regulation expressly forbidding the pupils from giving any manifestation of such power which can be definitely proved at both ends in that way, and so constitute what is called "a phenomenon." That this regulation is emphatically a wise one is proved to all who know anything of the history of our Society by the disastrous results which followed from a very slight temporary relaxation of it.
I have given some quite modern cases almost exactly parallel to the above in my little book on Invisible Helpers. An instance of a lady well-known to myself, who frequently thus appears to friends at a distance, is given by Mr. Stead in Real Ghost Stories (p. 27); and Mr. Andrew Lang gives, in his Dreams and Ghosts (p. 89), an account of how Mr. Cleave, then at Portsmouth, appeared intentionally on two occasions to a young lady in London, and alarmed her considerably. There is any amount of evidence to be had on the subject by any one who cares to study it seriously.
This paying of intentional astral visits seems very often to become possible when the principles are loosened at the approach of death for people who were unable to perform such a feat at any other time. There are even more examples of this class than of the other; I epitomize a good one given by Mr. Andrew Lang on p. 100 of the book last cited—one of which he himself says, "Not many stories have such good evidence in their favour."
"Mary, the wife of John Goffe of Rochester, being afflicted with a long illness, removed to her father's house at West Malling, about nine miles from her own.
"The day before her death she grew very impatiently desirous to see her two children, whom she had left at home to the care of a nurse. She was too ill to be moved, and between one and two o'clock in the morning she fell into a trance. One widow Turner, who watched with her that night, says that her eyes were open and fixed, and her jaw fallen. Mrs. Turner put her hand upon her mouth, but could perceive no breath. She thought her to be in a fit, and doubted whether she were dead or alive.
"The next morning the dying woman told her mother that she had been at home with her children, saying, I was with them last night when I was asleep.'
"The nurse at Rochester, widow Alexander by name, affirms that a little before two o'clock that morning she saw the likeness of the said Mary Goffe come out of the next chamber (where the elder child lay in a bed by itself), the door being left open, and stood by her bedside for about a quarter of an hour; the younger child was there lying by her. Her eyes moved and her mouth went, but she said nothing. The nurse, moreover, says that she was perfectly awake; it was then daylight, being one of the longest days in the year. She sat up in bed and looked steadfastly on the apparition. In that time she heard the bridge clock strike two, and a while after said: 'In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, what art thou?' Thereupon the apparition removed and went away; she slipped on her clothes and followed, but what became on't, she cannot tell."
The nurse apparently was more frightened by its disappearance than its presence, for after this she was afraid to stay in the house, and so spent the rest of the time until six o'clock in walking up and down outside. When the neighbours were awake she told her tale to them, and they of course said she had dreamt it all; she naturally enough warmly repudiated that idea, but could obtain no credence until the news of the other side of the story arrived from West Malling, when people had to admit that there might have been something in it.
A noteworthy circumstance in this story is that the mother found it necessary to pass from ordinary sleep into the profounder trance condition before she could consciously visit her children; it can, however, be paralleled here and there among the large number of similar accounts which may be found in the literature of the subject.
Two other stories of precisely the same type—in which a dying mother, earnestly desiring to see her children, falls into a deep sleep, visits them and returns to say that she has done so—are given by Dr. F. G. Lee. In one of them the mother, when dying in Egypt, appears to her children at Torquay, and is clearly seen in broad daylight by all five of the children and also by the nursemaid. (Glimpses of the Supernatural, vol. ii., p. 64.) In the other a Quaker lady dying at Cockermouth is clearly seen and recognized in daylight by her three children at Settle, the remainder of the story being practically identical with the one given above. (Glimpses in the Twilight, p. 94.) Though these cases appear to be less widely known than that of Mary Goffe, the evidence of their authenticity seems to be quite as good, as will be seen by the attestations obtained by the reverend author of the works from which they are quoted.
The man who fully possesses this fourth type of clairvoyance has many and great advantages at his disposal, even in addition to those already mentioned. Not only can he visit without trouble or expense all the beautiful and famous places of the earth, but if he happens to be a scholar, think what it must mean to him that he has access to all the libraries of the world! What must it be for the scientifically-minded man to see taking place before his eyes so many of the processes of the secret chemistry of nature, or for the philosopher to have revealed to him so much more than ever before of the working of the great mysteries of life and death? To him those who are gone from this plane are dead no longer, but living and within reach for a long time to come; for him many of the conceptions of religion are no longer matters of faith, but of knowledge. Above all, he can join the army of invisible helpers, and really be of use on a large scale. Undoubtedly clairvoyance, even when confined to the astral plane, is a great boon to the student.
Certainly it has its dangers also, especially for the untrained; danger from evil entities of various kinds, which may terrify or injure those who allow themselves to lose the courage to face them boldly; danger of deception of all sorts, of misconceiving and mis-interpreting what is seen; greatest of all, the danger of becoming conceited about the thing and of thinking it impossible to make a mistake. But a little common-sense and a little experience should easily guard a man against these.
5. By travelling in the mental body.—This is simply a higher and, as it were, glorified form of the last type. The vehicle employed is no longer the astral body, but the mind-body—a vehicle, therefore, belonging to the mental plane, and having within it all the potentialities of the wonderful sense of that plane, so transcendent in its action yet so impossible to describe. A man functioning in this leaves his astral body behind him along with the physical, and if he wishes to show himself upon the astral plane for any reason, he does not send for his own astral vehicle, but just by a single action of his will materializes one for his temporary need. Such an astral materialization is sometimes called the mayavirupa, and to form it for the first time usually needs the assistance of a qualified Master.
The enormous advantages given by the possession of this power are the capacity of entering upon all the glory and the beauty of the higher land of bliss, and the possession, even when working on the astral plane, of the far more comprehensive mental sense which opens up to the student such marvellous vistas of knowledge, and practically renders error all but impossible. This higher flight, however, is possible for the trained man only, since only under definite training can a man at this stage of evolution learn to employ his mental body as a vehicle.
Before leaving the subject of full and intentional clairvoyance, it may be well to devote a few words to answering one or two questions as to its limitations, which constantly occur to students. Is it possible, we are often asked, for the seer to find any person with whom he wishes to communicate, anywhere in the world, whether he be living or dead?
To this reply must be a conditional affirmative. Yes, it is possible to find any person if the experimenter can, in some way or other, put himself en rapport with that person. It would be hopeless to plunge vaguely into space to find a total stranger among all the millions around us without any kind of clue; but, on the other hand, a very slight clue would usually be sufficient.
If the clairvoyant knows anything of the man whom he seeks, he will have no difficulty in finding him, for every man has what may be called a kind of musical chord of his own—a chord which is the expression of him as a whole, produced perhaps by a sort of average of the rates of vibration of all his different vehicles on their respective planes. If the operator knows how to discern that chord and to strike it, it will by sympathetic vibration attract the attention of the man instantly wherever he may be, and will evoke an immediate response from him.
Whether the man were living or recently dead would make no difference at all, and clairvoyance of the fifth class could at once find him even among the countless millions in the heaven-world, though in that case the man himself would be unconscious that he was under observation. Naturally a seer whose consciousness did not range higher than the astral plane—who employed therefore one of the earlier methods of seeing—would not be able to find a person upon the mental plane at all; yet even he would at least be able to tell that the man sought for was upon that plane, from the mere fact that the striking of the chord as far up as the astral level produced no response.
If the man sought be a stranger to the seeker, the latter will need something connected with him to act as a clue—a photograph, a letter written by him, an article which has belonged to him, and is impregnated with his personal magnetism; any of these would do in the hands of a practised seer.
Again I say, it must not therefore be supposed that pupils who have been taught how to use this art are at liberty to set up a kind of intelligence office through which communication can be had with missing or dead relatives. A message given from this side to such an one might or might not be handed on, according to circumstances, but even if it were, no reply might be brought, lest the transaction should partake of the nature of a phenomenon—something which could be proved on the physical plane to have been an act of magic.
Another question often raised is as to whether, in the action of psychic vision, there is any limitation as to distance. The reply would seem to be that there should be no limit but that of the respective planes. It must be remembered that the astral and mental planes of our earth are as definitely its own as its atmosphere, though they extend considerably further from it even in our three-dimensional space than does the physical air. Consequently the passage to, or the detailed sight of, other planets would not be possible for any system of clairvoyance connected with these planes. It is quite possible and easy for the man who can raise his consciousness to the buddhic plane to pass to any other globe belonging to our chain of worlds, but that is outside our present subject.
Still a good deal of additional information about other planets can be obtained by the use of such clairvoyant faculties as we have been describing. It is possible to make sight enormously clearer by passing outside of the constant disturbances of the earth's atmosphere, and it is also not difficult to learn how to put on an exceedingly high magnifying power, so that even by ordinary clairvoyance a good deal of very interesting astronomical knowledge may be gained. But as far as this earth and its immediate surroundings are concerned, there is practically no limitation.
CLAIRVOYANCE IN SPACE: SEMI-INTENTIONAL.
Under this rather curious title I am grouping together the cases of all those people who definitely set themselves to see something, but have no idea what the something will be, and no control over the sight after the visions have begun—psychic Micawbers, who put themselves into a receptive condition, and then simply wait for something to turn up. Many trance-mediums would come under this heading; they either in some way hypnotize themselves or are hypnotized by some "spirit-guide," and then they describe the scenes or persons that happen to float before their vision. Sometimes, however, when in this condition they see what is taking place at a distance, and so they come to have a place among our "clairvoyants in space."
But the largest and most widely-spread band of these semi-intentional clairvoyants are the various kinds of crystal-gazers—those who, as Mr. Andrew Lang puts it, "stare into a crystal ball, a cup, a mirror, a blob of ink (Egypt and India), a drop of blood (among the Maories of New Zealand), a bowl of water (Red Indian), a pond (Roman and African), water in a glass bowl (in Fez), or almost any polished surface" (Dreams and Ghosts, p. 57).
Two pages later Mr. Lang gives us a very good example of the kind of vision most frequently seen in this way. "I had given a glass ball," he says, "to a young lady, Miss Baillie, who had scarcely any success with it. She lent it to Miss Leslie, who saw a large square, old-fashioned red sofa covered with muslin, which she found in the next country-house she visited. Miss Baillie's brother, a young athlete, laughed at these experiments, took the ball into the study, and came back looking 'gey gash.' He admitted that he had seen a vision—somebody he knew under a lamp. He would discover during the week whether he saw right or not. This was at 5.30 on a Sunday afternoon.
"On Tuesday, Mr. Baillie was at a dance in a town some forty miles from his home, and met a Miss Preston. 'On Sunday,' he said, 'about half-past five you were sitting under a standard lamp in a dress I never saw you wear, a blue blouse with lace over the shoulders, pouring out tea for a man in blue serge, whose back was towards me, so that I only saw the tip of his moustache.'
"'Why, the blinds must have been up,' said Miss Preston.
"'I was at Dulby,' said Mr. Baillie, and he undeniably was."
This is quite a typical case of crystal-gazing—the picture correct in every detail, you see, and yet absolutely unimportant and bearing no apparent signification of any sort to either party, except that it served to prove to Mr. Baillie that there was something in crystal-gazing. Perhaps more frequently the visions tend to be of a romantic character—men in foreign dress, or beautiful though generally unknown landscapes.
Now what is the rationale of this kind of clairvoyance? As I have indicated above, it belongs usually to the "astral-current" type, and the crystal or other object simply acts as a focus for the will-power of the seer, and a convenient starting-point for his astral tube. There are some who can influence what they will see by their will, that is to say they have the power of pointing their telescope as they wish; but the great majority just form a fortuitous tube and see whatever happens to present itself at the end of it.
Sometimes it may be a scene comparatively near at hand, as in the case just quoted; at other times it will be a far-away Oriental landscape; at others yet it may be a reflection of some fragment of an akashic record, and then the picture will contain figures in some antique dress, and the phenomenon belongs to our third large division of "clairvoyance in time." It is said that visions of the future are sometimes seen in crystals also—a further development to which we must refer later.
I have seen a clairvoyant use instead of the ordinary shining surface a dead black one, produced by a handful of powdered charcoal in a saucer. Indeed it does not seem to matter much what is used as a focus, except that pure crystal has an undoubted advantage over other substances in that its peculiar arrangement of elemental essence renders it specially stimulating to the psychic faculties.
It seems probable, however, that in cases where a tiny brilliant object is employed—such as a point of light, or the drop of blood used by the Maories—the instance is in reality merely one of self-hypnotization. Among non-European nations the experiment is very frequently preceded or accompanied by magical ceremonies and invocations, so that it is quite likely that such sight as is gained may sometimes be really that of some foreign entity, and so the phenomenon may in fact be merely a case of temporary possession, and not of clairvoyance at all.
CLAIRVOYANCE IN SPACE: UNINTENTIONAL.
Under this heading we may group together all those cases in which visions of some event which is taking place at a distance are seen quite unexpectedly and without any kind of preparation. There are people who are subject to such visions, while there are many others to whom such a thing will happen only once in a life-time. The visions are of all kinds and of all degrees of completeness, and apparently may be produced by various causes. Sometimes the reason of the vision is obvious, and the subject matter of the gravest importance; at other times no reason at all is discoverable, and the events shown seem of the most trivial nature.
Sometimes these glimpses of the super-physical faculty come as waking visions, and sometimes they manifest during sleep as vivid or oft-repeated dreams. In this latter case the sight employed is perhaps usually of the kind assigned to our fourth subdivision of clairvoyance in space, for the sleeping man often travels in his astral body to some spot with which his affections or interests are closely connected, and simply watches what takes place there; in the former it seems probable that the second type of clairvoyance, by means of the astral current, is called into requisition. But in this case the current or tube is formed quite unconsciously, and is often the automatic result of a strong thought or emotion projected from one end or the other—either from the seer or the person who is seen.
The simplest plan will be to give a few instances of the different kinds, and to intersperse among them such further explanations as may seem necessary. Mr. Stead has collected a large and varied assortment of recent and well-authenticated cases in his Real Ghost Stories, and I will select some of my examples from them, occasionally condensing slightly to save space.
There are cases in which it is at once obvious to any Theosophical student that the exceptional instance of clairvoyance was specially brought about by one of the band whom we have called "Invisible Helpers" in order that aid might be rendered to some one in sore need. To this class, undoubtedly, belongs the story told by Captain Yonnt, of the Napa Valley in California, to Dr. Bushnell, who repeats it in his Nature and the Supernatural (p. 14).
"About six or seven years previous, in a mid-winter's night, he had a dream in which he saw what appeared to be a company of emigrants arrested by the snows of the mountains, and perishing rapidly by cold and hunger. He noted the very cast of the scenery, marked by a huge, perpendicular front of white rock cliff; he saw the men cutting off what appeared to be tree-tops rising out of deep gulfs of snow; he distinguished the very features of the persons and the look of their particular distress.
"He awoke profoundly impressed by the distinctness and apparent reality of the dream. He at length fell asleep, and dreamed exactly the same dream over again. In the morning he could not expel it from his mind. Falling in shortly after with an old hunter comrade, he told his story, and was only the more deeply impressed by his recognizing without hesitation the scenery of the dream. This comrade came over the Sierra by the Carson Valley Pass, and declared that a spot in the Pass exactly answered his description.
"By this the unsophistical patriarch was decided. He immediately collected a company of men, with mules and blankets and all necessary provisions. The neighbours were laughing meantime at his credulity. 'No matter,' he said, 'I am able to do this, and I will, for I verily believe that the fact is according to my dream.' The men were sent into the mountains one hundred and fifty miles distant direct to the Carson Valley Pass. And there they found the company exactly in the condition of the dream, and brought in the remnant alive."
Since it is not stated that Captain Yonnt was in the habit of seeing visions, it seems clear that some helper, observing the forlorn condition of the emigrant party, took the nearest impressionable and otherwise suitable person (who happened to be the Captain) to the spot in the astral body, and aroused him sufficiently to fix the scene firmly in his memory. The helper may possibly have arranged an "astral current" for the Captain instead, but the former suggestion is more probable. At any rate the motive, and broadly the method, of the work are obvious enough in this case.
Sometimes the "astral current" may be set going by a strong emotional thought at the other end of the line, and this may happen even though the thinker has no such intention in his mind. In the rather striking story which I am about to quote, it is evident that the link was formed by the doctor's frequent thought about Mrs. Broughton, yet he had clearly no especial wish that she should see what he was doing at the time. That it was this kind of clairvoyance that was employed is shown by the fixity of her point of view—which, be it observed, is not the doctor's point of view sympathetically transferred (as it might have been) since she sees his back without recognizing him. The story is to be found in the Proceedings of the Psychical Research Society (vol. ii., p. 160).
"Mrs. Broughton awoke one night in 1844, and roused her husband, telling him that something dreadful had happened in France. He begged her to go to sleep again, and not trouble him. She assured him that she was not asleep when she saw what she insisted on telling him—what she saw in fact.
"First a carriage accident—which she did not actually see, but what she saw was the result—a broken carriage, a crowd collected, a figure gently raised and carried into the nearest house, then a figure lying on a bed which she then recognized as the Duke of Orleans. Gradually friends collecting round the bed—among them several members of the French royal family—the queen, then the king, all silently, tearfully, watching the evidently dying duke. One man (she could see his back, but did not know who he was) was a doctor. He stood bending over the duke, feeling his pulse, with his watch in the other hand. And then all passed away, and she saw no more.
"As soon as it was daylight she wrote down in her journal all that she had seen. It was before the days of electric telegraph, and two or more days passed before the Times announced 'The Death of the Duke of Orleans.' Visiting Paris a short time afterwards she saw and recognized the place of the accident and received the explanation of her impression. The doctor who attended the dying duke was an old friend of hers, and as he watched by the bed his mind had been constantly occupied with her and her family."
A commoner instance is that in which strong affection sets up the necessary current; probably a fairly steady stream of mutual thought is constantly flowing between the two parties in the case, and some sudden need or dire extremity on the part of one of them endues this stream temporarily with the polarizing power which is needful to create the astral telescope. An illustrative example is quoted from the same Proceedings (vol. i., p. 30).
"On September 9th, 1848, at the siege of Mooltan, Major-General R——, C.B., then adjutant of his regiment, was most severely and dangerously wounded; and, supposing himself to be dying, asked one of the officers with him to take the ring off his finger and send it to his wife, who at the time was fully one hundred and fifty miles distant at Ferozepore.
"'On the night of September 9th, 1848,' writes his wife, 'I was lying on my bed, between sleeping and waking, when I distinctly saw my husband being carried off the field seriously wounded, and heard his voice saying, "Take this ring off my finger and send it to my wife." All the next day I could not get the sight or the voice out of my mind.
"'In due time I heard of General R—— having been severely wounded in the assault of Mooltan. He survived, however, and is still living. It was not for some time after the siege that I heard from General L——, the officer who helped to carry my husband off the field, that the request as to the ring was actually made by him, just as I heard it at Ferozepore at that very time."
Then there is the very large class of casual clairvoyant visions which have no traceable cause—which are apparently quite meaningless, and have no recognizable relation to any events known to the seer. To this class belong many of the landscapes seen by some people just before they fall asleep. I quote a capital and very realistic account of an experience of this sort from Mr. W. T. Stead's Real Ghost Stories (p. 65).
"I got into bed but was not able to go to sleep. I shut my eyes and waited for sleep to come; instead of sleep, however, there came to me a succession of curiously vivid clairvoyant pictures. There was no light in the room, and it was perfectly dark; I had my eyes shut also. But notwithstanding the darkness I suddenly was conscious of looking at a scene of singular beauty. It was as if I saw a living miniature about the size of a magic-lantern slide. At this moment I can recall the scene as if I saw it again. It was a seaside piece. The moon was shining upon the water, which rippled slowly on to the beach. Right before me a long mole ran into the water.
"On either side of the mole irregular rocks stood up above the sea-level. On the shore stood several houses, square and rude, which resembled nothing that I had ever seen in house architecture. No one was stirring, but the moon was there and the sea and the gleam of the moonlight on the rippling waters, just as if I had been looking on the actual scene.
"It was so beautiful that I remember thinking that if it continued I should be so interested in looking at it that I should never go to sleep. I was wide awake, and at the same time that I saw the scene I distinctly heard the dripping of the rain outside the window. Then suddenly, without any apparent object or reason, the scene changed.
"The moonlit sea vanished, and in its place I was looking right into the interior of a reading-room. It seemed as if it had been used as a schoolroom in the daytime, and was employed as a reading-room in the evening. I remember seeing one reader who had a curious resemblance to Tim Harrington, although it was not he, hold up a magazine or book in his hand and laugh. It was not a picture—it was there.
"The scene was just as if you were looking through an opera-glass; you saw the play of the muscles, the gleaming of the eye, every movement of the unknown persons in the unnamed place into which you were gazing. I saw all that without opening my eyes, nor did my eyes have anything to do with it. You see such things as these as it were with another sense which is more inside your head than in your eyes.
"This was a very poor and paltry experience, but it enabled me to understand better how it is that clairvoyants see than any amount of disquisition.
"The pictures were apropos of nothing; they had been suggested by nothing I had been reading or talking of; they simply came as if I had been able to look through a glass at what was occurring somewhere else in the world. I had my peep, and then it passed, nor have I had a recurrence of a similar experience."
Mr. Stead regards that as a "poor and paltry experience," and it may perhaps be considered so when compared with the greater possibilities, yet I know many students who would be very thankful to have even so much of direct personal experience to tell. Small though it may be in itself, it at once gives the seer a clue to the whole thing, and clairvoyance would be a living actuality to a man who had seen even that much in a way that it could never have been without that little touch with the unseen world.
These pictures were much too clear to have been mere reflections of the thought of others, and besides, the description unmistakably shows that they were views seen through an astral telescope; so either Mr. Stead must quite unconsciously have set a current going for himself, or (which is much more probable) some kindly astral entity set it in motion for him, and gave him, to while away a tedious delay, any pictures that happened to come handy at the end of the tube.
CLAIRVOYANCE IN TIME: THE PAST.
Clairvoyance in time—that is to say, the power of reading the past and the future—is, like all the other varieties, possessed by different people in very varying degrees, ranging from the man who has both faculties fully at his command, down to one who only occasionally gets involuntary and very imperfect glimpses or reflections of these scenes of other days. A person of the latter type might have, let us say, a vision of some event in the past; but it would be liable to the most serious distortion, and even if it happened to be fairly accurate it would almost certainly be a mere isolated picture, and he would probably be quite unable to relate it to what had occurred before or after it, or to account for anything unusual which might appear in it. The trained man, on the other hand, could follow the drama connected with his picture backwards or forwards to any extent that might seem desirable, and trace out with equal ease the causes which had led up to it or the results which it in turn would produce.
We shall probably find it easier to grasp this somewhat difficult section of our subject if we consider it in the subdivisions which naturally suggest themselves, and deal first with the vision which looks backwards into the past, leaving for later examination that which pierces the veil of the future. In each case it will be well for us to try to understand what we can of the modus operandi, even though our success can at best be only a very modified one, owing first to the imperfect information on some parts of the subject at present possessed by our investigators, and secondly to the ever-recurring failure of physical words to express a hundredth part even of the little we do know about higher planes and faculties.
In the case then of a detailed vision of the remote past, how is it obtained, and to what plane of nature does it really belong? The answer to both these questions is contained in the reply that it is read from the akashic records; but that statement in return will require a certain amount of explanation for many readers. The word is in truth somewhat of a misnomer, for though the records are undoubtedly read from the akasha, or matter of the mental plane, yet it is not to it that they really belong. Still worse is the alternative title, "records of the astral light," which has sometimes been employed, for these records lie far beyond the astral plane, and all that can be obtained on it are only broken glimpses of a kind of double reflection of them, as will presently be explained.
Like so many others of our Theosophical terms, the word akasha has been very loosely used. In some of our earlier books it was considered as synonymous with astral light, and in others it was employed to signify any kind of invisible matter, from mulaprakriti down to the physical ether. In later books its use has been restricted to the matter of the mental plane, and it is in that sense that the records may be spoken of as akashic, for although they are not originally made on that plane any more than on the astral, yet it is there that we first come definitely into contact with them and find it possible to do reliable work with them.
This subject of the records is by no means an easy one to deal with, for it is one of that numerous class which requires for its perfect comprehension faculties of a far higher order than any which humanity has yet evolved. The real solution of its problems lies on planes far beyond any that we can possibly know at present, and any view that we take of it must necessarily be of the most imperfect character, since we cannot but look at it from below instead of from above. The idea which we form of it must therefore be only partial, yet it need not mislead us unless we allow ourselves to think of the tiny fragment which is all that we can see as though it were the perfect whole. If we are careful that such conceptions as we may form shall be accurate as far as they go, we shall have nothing to unlearn, though much to add, when in the course of our further progress we gradually acquire the higher wisdom. Be it understood then at the commencement that a thorough grasp of our subject is an impossibility at the present stage of our evolution, and that many points will arise as to which no exact explanation is yet obtainable, though it may often be possible to suggest analogies and to indicate the lines along which an explanation must lie.
Let us then try to carry back our thoughts to the beginning of this solar system to which we belong. We are all familiar with the ordinary astronomical theory of its origin—that which is commonly called the nebular hypothesis—according to which it first came into existence as a gigantic glowing nebula, of a diameter far exceeding that of the orbit of even the outermost of the planets, and then, as in the course of countless ages that enormous sphere gradually cooled and contracted, the system as we know it was formed.
Occult science accepts that theory, in its broad outline, as correctly representing the purely physical side of the evolution of our system, but it would add that if we confine our attention to this physical side only we shall have a very incomplete and incoherent idea of what really happened. It would postulate, to begin with, that the exalted Being who undertakes the formation of a system (whom we sometimes call the Logos of the system) first of all forms in His mind a complete conception of the whole of it with all its successive chains of worlds. By the very act of forming that conception He calls the whole into simultaneous objective existence on the plane of His thought—a plane of course far above all those of which we know anything—from which the various globes descend when required into whatever state of further objectivity may be respectively destined for them. Unless we constantly bear in mind this fact of the real existence of the whole system from the very beginning on a higher plane, we shall be perpetually misunderstanding the physical evolution which we see taking place down here.
But occultism has more than this to teach us on the subject. It tells us not only that all this wonderful system to which we belong is called into existence by the Logos, both on lower and on higher planes, but also that its relation to Him is closer even than that, for it is absolutely a part of Him—a partial expression of Him upon the physical plane—and that the movement and energy of the whole system is His energy, and is all carried on within the limits of His aura. Stupendous as this conception is, it will yet not be wholly unthinkable to those of us who have made any study of the subject of the aura.
We are familiar with the idea that as a person progresses on the upward path his causal body, which is the determining limit of his aura, distinctly increases in size as well as in luminosity and purity of colour. Many of us know from experience that the aura of a pupil who has already made considerable advance on the Path is very much larger than that of one who is but just setting his foot upon its first step, while in the case of an Adept the proportional increase is far greater still. We read in quite exoteric Oriental scriptures of the immense extension of the aura of the Buddha; I think that three miles is mentioned on one occasion as its limit, but whatever the exact measurement may be, it is obvious that we have here another record of this fact of the extremely rapid growth of the causal body as man passes on his upward way. There can be little doubt that the rate of this growth would itself increase in geometrical progression, so that it need not surprise us to hear of an Adept on a still higher level whose aura is capable of including the entire world at once; and from this we may gradually lead our minds up to the conception that there is a Being so exalted as to comprehend within Himself the whole of our solar system. And we should remember that, enormous as this seems to us, it is but as the tiniest drop in the vast ocean of space.
So of the Logos (who has in Him all the capacities and qualities with which we can possibly endow the highest God we can imagine) it is literally true, as was said of old, that "of Him and through Him, and to Him are all things," and "in Him we live and move and have our being."
Now if this be so, it is clear that whatever happens within our system happens absolutely within the consciousness of its Logos, and so we at once see that the true record must be His memory; and furthermore, it is obvious that on whatever plane that wondrous memory exists, it cannot but be far above anything that we know, and consequently whatever records we may find ourselves able to read must be only a reflection of that great dominant fact, mirrored in the denser media of the lower planes.
On the astral plane it is at once evident that this is so—that what we are dealing with is only a reflection of a reflection, and an exceedingly imperfect one, for such records as can be reached there are fragmentary in the extreme, and often seriously distorted. We know how universally water is used as a symbol of the astral light, and in this particular case it is a remarkably apt one. From the surface of still water we may get a clear reflection of the surrounding objects, just as from a mirror; but at the best it is only a reflection—a representation in two dimensions of three-dimensional objects, and therefore differing in all its qualities, except colour, from that which it represents; and in addition to this, it is always reversed.
But let the surface of the water be ruffled by the wind and what do we find then? A reflection still, certainly, but so broken up and distorted as to be quite useless or even misleading as a guide to the shape and real appearance of the objects reflected. Here and there for a moment we might happen to get a clear reflection of some minute part of the scene—of a single leaf from a tree, for example; but it would need long labour and considerable knowledge of natural laws to build up anything like a true conception of the object reflected by putting together even a large number of such isolated fragments of an image of it.
Now in the astral plane we can never have anything approaching to what we have imaged as a still surface, but on the contrary we have always to deal with one in rapid and bewildering motion; judge, therefore, how little we can depend upon getting a clear and definite reflection. Thus a clairvoyant who possesses only the faculty of astral sight can never rely upon any picture of the past that comes before him as being accurate and perfect; here and there some part of it may be so, but he has no means of knowing which it is. If he is under the care of a competent teacher he may, by long and careful training, be shown how to distinguish between reliable and unreliable impressions, and to construct from the broken reflections some kind of image of the object reflected; but usually long before he has mastered those difficulties he will have developed the mental sight, which renders such labour unnecessary.
On the next plane, which we call the mental, conditions are very different. There the record is full and accurate, and it would be impossible to make any mistake in the reading. That is to say, if three clairvoyants possessing the powers of the mental plane agreed to examine a certain record there, what would be presented to their vision would be absolutely the same reflection in each case, and each would acquire a correct impression from it in reading it. It does not however follow that when they all compared notes later on the physical plane their reports would agree exactly. It is well known that if three people who witness an occurrence down here in the physical world set to work to describe it afterwards, their accounts will differ considerably, for each will have noticed especially those items which most appeal to him, and will insensibly have made them the prominent features of the event, sometimes ignoring other points which were in reality much more important.
Now in the case of an observation on the mental plane this personal equation would not appreciably affect the impressions received, for since each would thoroughly grasp the entire subject it would be impossible for him to see its parts out of due proportion; but, except in the case of carefully trained and experienced persons, this factor does come into play in transferring the impressions to the lower planes. It is in the nature of things impossible that any account given down here of a vision or experience on the mental plane can be complete, since nine-tenths of what is seen and felt there could not be expressed by physical words at all; and, since all expression must therefore be partial, there is obviously some possibility of selection as to the part expressed. It is for this reason that in all our Theosophical investigations of recent years so much stress has been laid upon the constant checking and verifying of clairvoyant testimony, nothing which rests upon the vision of one person only having been allowed to appear in our later books.
But even when the possibility of error from this factor of personal equation has been reduced to a minimum by a careful system of counter-checking, there still remains the very serious difficulty which is inherent in the operation of bringing down impressions from a higher plane to a lower one. This is something analogous to the difficulty experienced by a painter in his endeavour to reproduce a three-dimensional landscape on a flat surface—that is, practically in two dimensions. Just as the artist needs long and careful training of eye and hand before he can produce a satisfactory representation of nature, so does the clairvoyant need long and careful training before he can describe accurately on a lower plane what he sees on a higher one; and the probability of getting an exact description from an untrained person is about equal to that of getting a perfectly-finished landscape from one who has never learnt how to draw.
It must be remembered, too, that the most perfect picture is in reality infinitely far from being a reproduction of the scene which it represents, for hardly a single line or angle in it can ever be the same as those in the object copied. It is simply a very ingenious attempt to make upon one only of our five senses, by means of lines and colours on a flat surface, an impression similar to that which would have been made if we had actually had before us the scene depicted. Except by a suggestion dependent entirely on our own previous experience, it can convey to us nothing of the roar of the sea, of the scent of the flowers, of the taste of the fruit, or of the softness or hardness of the surface drawn.
Of exactly similar nature, though far greater in degree, are the difficulties experienced by a clairvoyant in his attempt to describe upon the physical plane what he has seen upon the astral; and they are furthermore greatly enhanced by the fact that, instead of having merely to recall to the minds of his hearers conceptions with which they are already familiar, as the artist does when he paints men or animals, fields or trees, he has to endeavour by the very imperfect means at his disposal to suggest to them conceptions which in most cases are absolutely new to them.
Small wonder then that, however vivid and striking his descriptions may seem to his audience, he himself should constantly be impressed with their total inadequacy, and should feel that his best efforts have entirely failed to convey any idea of what he really sees. And we must remember that in the case of the report given down here of a record read on the mental plane, this difficult operation of transference from the higher to the lower has taken place not once but twice, since the memory has been brought through the intervening astral plane. Even in a case where the investigator has the advantage of having developed his mental faculties so that he has the use of them while awake in the physical body, he is still hampered by the absolute incapacity of physical language to express what he sees.
Try for a moment to realize fully what is called the fourth dimension, of which we said something in an earlier chapter. It is easy enough to think of our own three dimensions—to image in our minds the length, breadth and height of any object; and we see that each of these three dimensions is expressed by a line at right angles to both of the others. The idea of the fourth dimension is that it might be possible to draw a fourth line which shall be at right angles to all three of those already existing.
Now the ordinary mind cannot grasp this idea in the least, though some few who have made a special study of the subject have gradually come to be able to realize one or two very simple four-dimensional figures. Still, no words that they can use on this plane can bring any image of these figures before the minds of others, and if any reader who has not specially trained himself along that line will make the effort to visualize such a shape he will find it quite impossible. Now to express such a form clearly in physical words would be, in effect, to describe accurately a single object on the astral plane; but in examining the records on the mental plane we should have to face the additional difficulties of a fifth dimension! So that the impossibility of fully explaining these records will be obvious to even the most superficial observation.
We have spoken of the records as the memory of the Logos, yet they are very much more than a memory in an ordinary sense of the word. Hopeless as it may be to imagine how these images appear from His point of view, we yet know that as we rise higher and higher we must be drawing nearer to the true memory—must be seeing more nearly as He sees; so that great interest attaches to the experience of the clairvoyant with reference to these records when he stands upon the buddhic plane—the highest which his consciousness can reach even when away from the physical body until he attains the level of the Arhats.
Here time and space no longer limit him; he no longer needs, as on the mental plane, to pass a series of events in review, for past, present and future are all alike simultaneously present to him, meaningless as that sounds down here. Indeed, infinitely below the consciousness of the Logos as even that exalted plane is, it is yet abundantly clear from what we see there that to Him the record must be far more than what we call a memory, for all that has happened in the past and all that will happen in the future is happening now before His eyes just as are the events of what we call the present time. Utterly incredible, wildly incomprehensible, of course, to our limited understanding; yet absolutely true for all that.
Naturally we could not expect to understand at our present stage of knowledge how so marvellous a result is produced, and to attempt an explanation would only be to involve ourselves in a mist of words from which we should gain no real information. Yet a line of thought recurs to my mind which perhaps suggests the direction in which it is possible that that explanation may lie: and whatever helps us to realize that so astounding a statement may after all not be wholly impossible will be of assistance in broadening our minds.
Some thirty years ago I remember reading a very curious little book, called, I think, The Stars and the Earth, the object of which was to endeavour to show how it was scientifically possible that to the mind of God the past and the present might be absolutely simultaneous. Its arguments struck me at the time as decidedly ingenious, and I will proceed to summarize them, as I think they will be found somewhat suggestive in connection with the subject which we have been considering.
When we see anything, whether it be the book which we hold in our hands or a star millions of miles away, we do so by means of a vibration in the ether, commonly called a ray of light, which passes from the object seen to our eyes. Now the speed with which this vibration passes is so great—about 186,000 miles in a second—that when we are considering any object in our own world we may regard it as practically instantaneous. When, however, we come to deal with interplanetary distances we have to take the speed of light into consideration, for an appreciable period is occupied in traversing these vast spaces. For example it takes eight minutes and a quarter for light to travel to us from the sun, so that when we look at the solar orb we see it by means of a ray of light which left it more than eight minutes ago.
From this follows a very curious result. The ray of light by which we see the sun can obviously report to us only the state of affairs which existed in that luminary when it started on its journey, and would not be in the least affected by anything that happened there after it left; so that we really see the sun not as he is, but as he was eight minutes ago. That is to say that if anything important took place in the sun—the formation of a new sun-spot, for instance—an astronomer who was watching the orb through his telescope at the time would be quite unaware of the incident while it was happening, since the ray of light bearing the news would not reach him until more than eight minutes later.
The difference is more striking when we consider the fixed stars, because in their case the distances are so enormously greater. The pole star, for example, is so far off that light, travelling at the inconceivable speed above mentioned, takes a little more than fifty years to reach our eyes; and from that follows the strange but inevitable inference that we see the pole star not as and where it is at this moment, but as and where it was fifty years ago. Nay, if to-morrow some cosmic catastrophe were to shatter the pole star into fragments, we should still see it peacefully shining in the sky all the rest of our lives; our children would grow up to middle age and gather their children about them in turn before the news of that tremendous accident reached any terrestrial eye. In the same way there are other stars so far distant that light takes thousands of years to travel from them to us, and with reference to their condition our information is therefore thousands of years behind time.
Now carry the argument a step farther. Suppose that we were able to place a man at the distance of 186,000 miles from the earth, and yet to endow him with the wonderful faculty of being able from that distance to see what was happening here as clearly as though he were still close beside us. It is evident that a man so placed would see everything a second after the time when it really happened, and so at the present moment he would be seeing what happened a second ago. Double the distance, and he would be two seconds behind time, and so on; remove him to the distance of the sun (still allowing him to preserve the same mysterious power of sight) and he would look down and watch you doing not what you are doing now, but what you were doing eight minutes and a quarter ago. Carry him away to the pole star, and he would see passing before his eyes the events of fifty years ago; he would be watching the childish gambols of those who at the very same moment were really middle-aged men. Marvellous as this may sound, it is literally and scientifically true, and cannot be denied.
The little book went on to argue logically enough that God, being almighty, must possess the wonderful power of sight which we have been postulating for our observer; and further, that being omnipresent, He must be at each of the stations which we mentioned, and also at every intermediate point, not successively but simultaneously. Granting these premises, the inevitable deduction follows that everything which has ever happened from the very beginning of the world must be at this very moment taking place before the eye of God—not a mere memory of it, but the actual occurrence itself being now under His observation.
All this is materialistic enough, and on the plane of purely physical science, and we may therefore be assured that it is not the way in which the memory of the Logos acts; yet it is neatly worked out and absolutely incontrovertible, and as I have said before, it is not without its use, since it gives us a glimpse of some possibilities which otherwise might not occur to us.
But, it may be asked, how is it possible, amid the bewildering confusion of these records of the past, to find any particular picture when it is wanted? As a matter of fact, the untrained clairvoyant usually cannot do so without some special link to put him en rapport with the subject required. Psychometry is an instance in point, and it is quite probable that our ordinary memory is really only another presentment of the same idea. It seems as though there were a sort of magnetic attachment or affinity between any particle of matter and the record which contains its history—an affinity which enables it to act as a kind of conductor between that record and the faculties of anyone who can read it.
For example, I once brought from Stonehenge a tiny fragment of stone, not larger than a pin's head, and on putting this into an envelope and handing it to a psychometer who had no idea what it was, she at once began to describe that wonderful ruin and the desolate country surrounding it, and then went on to picture vividly what were evidently scenes from its early history, showing that that infinitesimal fragment had been sufficient to put her into communication with the records connected with the spot from which it came. The scenes through which we pass in the course of our life seem to act in the same manner upon the cells of our brain as did the history of Stonehenge upon that particle of stone: they establish a connection with those cells by means of which our mind is put en rapport with that particular portion of the records, and so we "remember" what we have seen.
Even a trained clairvoyant needs some link to enable him to find the record of an event of which he has no previous knowledge. If, for example, he wished to observe the landing of Julius Caesar on the shores of England, there are several ways in which he might approach the subject. If he happened to have visited the scene of the occurrence, the simplest way would probably be to call up the image of that spot, and then run back through its records until he reached the period desired. If he had not seen the place, he might run back in time to the date of the event, and then search the Channel for a fleet of Roman galleys; or he might examine the records of Roman life at about that period, where he would have no difficulty in identifying so prominent a figure as Caesar, or in tracing him when found through all his Gallic wars until he set his foot upon British land.
People often enquire as to the aspect of these records—whether they appear near or far away from the eye, whether the figures in them are large or small, whether the pictures follow one another as in a panorama or melt into one another like dissolving views, and so on. One can only reply that their appearance varies to a certain extent according to the conditions under which they are seen. Upon the astral plane the reflection is most often a simple picture, though occasionally the figures seen would be endowed with motion; in this latter case, instead of a mere snapshot a rather longer and more perfect reflection has taken place.
On the mental plane they have two widely different aspects. When the visitor to that plane is not thinking specially of them in any way, the records simply form a background to whatever is going on, just as the reflections in a pier-glass at the end of a room might form a background to the life of the people in it. It must always be borne in mind that under these conditions they are really merely reflections from the ceaseless activity of a great Consciousness upon a far higher plane, and have very much the appearance of an endless succession of the recently invented cinematographe, or living photographs. They do not melt into one another like dissolving views, nor do a series of ordinary pictures follow one another; but the action of the reflected figures constantly goes on, as though one were watching the actors on a distant stage.
But if the trained investigator turns his attention specially to any one scene, or wishes to call it up before him, an extraordinary change at once takes place, for this is the plane of thought, and to think of anything is to bring it instantaneously before you. For example, if a man wills to see the record of that event to which we before referred—the landing of Julius Caesar—he finds himself in a moment not looking at any picture, but standing on the shore among the legionaries, with the whole scene being enacted around him, precisely in every respect as he would have seen it if he had stood there in the flesh on that autumn morning in the year 55 B.C. Since what he sees is but a reflection, the actors are of course entirely unconscious of him, nor can any effort of his change the course of their action in the smallest degree, except only that he can control the rate at which the drama shall pass before him—can have the events of a whole year rehearsed before his eyes in a single hour, or can at any moment stop the movement altogether, and hold any particular scene in view as a picture as long as he chooses.
In truth he observes not only what he would have seen if he had been there at the time in the flesh, but much more. He hears and understands all that the people say, and he is conscious of all their thoughts and motives; and one of the most interesting of the many possibilities which open up before one who has learnt to read the records is the study of the thought of ages long past—the thought of the cave-men and the lake-dwellers as well as that which ruled the mighty civilisations of Atlantis, of Egypt or Chaldaea. What splendid possibilities open up before the man who is in full possession of this power may easily be imagined. He has before him a field of historical research of most entrancing interest. Not only can he review at his leisure all history with which we are acquainted, correcting as he examines it the many errors and misconceptions which have crept into the accounts handed down to us; he can also range at will over the whole story of the world from its very beginning, watching the slow development of intellect in man, the descent of the Lords of the Flame, and the growth of the mighty civilisations which they founded.
Nor is his study confined to the progress of humanity alone; he has before him, as in a museum, all the strange animal and vegetable forms which occupied the stage in days when the world was young; he can follow all the wonderful geological changes which have taken place, and watch the course of the great cataclysms which have altered the whole face of the earth again and again.
In one especial case an even closer sympathy with the past is possible to the reader of the records. If in the course of his enquiries he has to look upon some scene in which he himself has in a former birth taken part, he may deal with it in two ways; he can either regard it in the usual manner as a spectator (though always, be it remembered, as a spectator whose insight and sympathy are perfect) or he may once more identify himself with that long-dead personality of his—may throw himself back for the time into that life of long ago, and absolutely experience over again the thoughts and the emotions, the pleasures and the pains of a prehistoric past. No wilder and more vivid adventures can be conceived than some of those through which he thus may pass; yet through it all he must never lose hold of the consciousness of his own individuality—must retain the power to return at will to his present personality.
It is often asked how it is possible for an investigator accurately to determine the date of any picture from the far-distant past which he disinters from the records. The fact is that it is sometimes rather tedious work to find an exact date, but the thing can usually be done if it is worth while to spend the time and trouble over it. If we are dealing with Greek or Roman times the simplest method is usually to look into the mind of the most intelligent person present in the picture, and see what date he supposes it to be; or the investigator might watch him writing a letter or other document and observe what date, if any, was included in what was written. When once the Roman or Greek date is thus obtained, to reduce it to our own system of chronology is merely a matter of calculation.
Another way which is frequently adopted is to turn from the scene under examination to a contemporary picture in some great and well-known city such as Rome, and note what monarch is reigning there, or who are the consuls for the year; and when such data are discovered a glance at any good history will give the rest. Sometimes a date can be obtained by examining some public proclamation or some legal document; in fact in the times of which we are speaking the difficulty is easily surmounted.
The matter is by no means so simple, however, when we come to deal with periods much earlier than this—with a scene from early Egypt, Chaldaea, or China, or to go further back still, from Atlantis itself or any of its numerous colonies. A date can still be obtained easily enough from the mind of any educated man, but there is no longer any means of relating it to our own system of dates, since the man will be reckoning by eras of which we know nothing, or by the reigns of kings whose history is lost in the night of time.
Our methods, nevertheless, are not yet exhausted. It must be remembered that it is possible for the investigator to pass the records before him at any speed that he may desire—at the rate of a year in a second if he will, or even very much faster still. Now there are one or two events in ancient history whose dates have already been accurately fixed—as, for example, the sinking of Poseidonis in the year 9564 B.C. It is therefore obvious that if from the general appearance of the surroundings it seems probable that a picture seen is within measurable distance of one of these events, it can be related to that event by the simple process of running through the record rapidly, and counting the years between the two as they pass.
Still, if those years ran into thousands, as they might sometimes do, this plan would be insufferably tedious. In that case we are driven back upon the astronomical method. In consequence of the movement which is commonly called the precession of the equinoxes, though it might more accurately be described as a kind of second rotation of the earth, the angle between the equator and the ecliptic steadily but very slowly varies. Thus, after long intervals of time we find the pole of the earth no longer pointing towards the same spot in the apparent sphere of the heavens, or in other words, our pole-star is not, as at present, [Greek: a] Ursae Minoris, but some other celestial body; and from this position of the pole of the earth, which can easily be ascertained by careful observation of the night-sky of the picture under consideration, an approximate date can be calculated without difficulty.
In estimating the date of occurrences which took place millions of years ago in earlier races, the period of a secondary rotation (or the precession of the equinoxes) is frequently used as a unit, but of course absolute accuracy is not usually required in such cases, round numbers being sufficient for all practical purposes in dealing with epochs so remote.
The accurate reading of the records, whether of one's own past lives or those of others, must not, however, be thought of as an achievement possible to anyone without careful previous training. As has been already remarked, though occasional reflections may be had upon the astral plane, the power to use the mental sense is necessary before any reliable reading can be done. Indeed, to minimize the possibility of error, that sense ought to be fully at the command of the investigator while awake in the physical body; and to acquire that faculty needs years of ceaseless labour and rigid self-discipline.
Many people seem to expect that as soon as they have signed their application and joined the Theosophical Society they will at once remember at least three or four of their past births; indeed, some of them promptly begin to imagine recollections and declare that in their last incarnation they were Mary Queen of Scots, Cleopatra, or Julius Caesar! Of course such extravagant claims simply bring discredit upon those who are so foolish as to make them but unfortunately some of that discredit is liable to be reflected, however unjustly, upon the Society to which they belong, so that a man who feels seething within him the conviction that he was Homer or Shakespeare would do well to pause and apply common-sense tests on the physical plane before publishing the news to the world.
It is quite true that some people have had glimpses of scenes from their past lives in dreams, but naturally these are usually fragmentary and unreliable. I had myself in earlier life an experience of this nature. Among my dreams I found that one was constantly recurring—a dream of a house with a portico over-looking a beautiful bay, not far from a hill on the top of which rose a graceful building. I knew that house perfectly, and was as familiar with the position of its rooms and the view from its door as I was with those of my home, in this present life. In those days I knew nothing about reincarnation, so that it seemed to me simply a curious coincidence that this dream should repeat itself so often; and it was not until some time after I had joined the Society that, when one who knew was showing me some pictures of my last incarnation, I discovered that this persistent dream had been in reality a partial recollection, and that the house which I knew so well was the one in which I was born more than two thousand years ago.
But although there are several cases on record in which some well-remembered scene has thus come through from one life to another, a considerable development of occult faculty is necessary before an investigator can definitely trace a line of incarnations, whether they be his own or another man's. This will be obvious if we remember the conditions of the problem which has to be worked out. To follow a person from this life to the one preceding it, it is necessary first of all to trace his present life backwards to his birth and then to follow up in reverse order the stages by which the Ego descended into incarnation.
This will obviously take us back eventually to the condition of the Ego upon the higher levels of the mental plane; so it will be seen that to perform this task effectually the investigator must be able to use the sense corresponding to that exalted level while awake in his physical body—in other words, his consciousness must be centred in the reincarnating Ego itself, and no longer in the lower personality. In that case, the memory of the Ego being aroused, his own past incarnations will be spread out before him like an open book, and he would be able, if he wished, to examine the conditions of another Ego upon that level and trace him backwards through the lower mental and astral lives which led up to it, until he came to the last physical death of that Ego, and through it to his previous life.
There is no way but this in which the chain of lives can be followed through with absolute certainty: and consequently we may at once put aside as conscious or unconscious impostors those people who advertise that they are able to trace out anyone's past incarnations for so many shillings a head. Needless to say, the true occultist does not advertise, and never under any circumstances accepts money for any exhibition of his powers.
Assuredly the student who wishes to acquire the power of following up a line of incarnations can do so only by learning from a qualified teacher how the work is to be done. There have been those who persistently asserted that it was only necessary for a man to feel good and devotional and "brotherly," and all the wisdom of the ages would immediately flow in upon him; but a little common-sense will at once expose the absurdity of such a position. However good a child may be, if he wants to know the multiplication table he must set to work and learn it; and the case is precisely similar with the capacity to use spiritual faculties. The faculties themselves will no doubt manifest as the man evolves, but he can learn how to use them reliably and to the best advantage only by steady hard work and persevering effort.
Take the case of those who wish to help others while on the astral plane during sleep; it is obvious that the more knowledge they possess here, the more valuable will their services be on that higher plane. For example, the knowledge of languages would be useful to them, for though on the mental plane men can communicate directly by thought-transference, whatever their languages may be, on the astral plane this is not so, and a thought must be definitely formulated in words before it is comprehensible. If, therefore, you wish to help a man on that plane, you must have some language in common by means of which you can communicate with him, and consequently the more languages you know the more widely useful you will be. In fact there is perhaps no kind of knowledge for which a use cannot be found in the work of the occultist.
It would be well for all students to bear in mind that occultism is the apotheosis of common-sense, and that every vision which comes to them is not necessarily a picture from the akashic records, nor every experience a revelation from on high. It is better far to err on the side of healthy scepticism than of over-credulity; and it is an admirable rule never to hunt about for an occult explanation of anything when a plain and obvious physical one is available. Our duty is to endeavour to keep our balance always, and never to lose our self-control, but to take a reasonable, common-sense view of whatever may happen to us; so shall we be better Theosophists, wiser occultists, and more useful helpers than we have ever been before.
As usual, we find examples of all degrees of the power to see into this memory of nature, from the trained man who can consult the record for himself at will, down to the person who gets nothing but occasional vague glimpses, or has even perhaps had only one such glimpse. But even the man who possesses this faculty only partially and occasionally still finds it of the deepest interest. The psychometer, who needs an object physically connected with the past in order to bring it all into life again around him, and the crystal-gazer who can sometimes direct his less certain astral telescope to some historic scene of long ago, may both derive the greatest enjoyment from the exercise of their respective gifts, even though they may not always understand exactly how their results are produced, and may not have them fully under control under all circumstances.
In many cases of the lower manifestations of these powers we find that they are exercised unconsciously; many a crystal-gazer watches scenes from the past without being able to distinguish them from visions of the present, and many a vaguely-psychic person finds pictures constantly arising before his eyes without ever realizing that he is in effect psychometrizing the various objects around him as he happens to touch them or stand near them.
An interesting variant of this class of psychics is the man who is able to psychometrize persons only, and not inanimate objects as is more usual. In most cases this faculty shows itself erratically, so that such a psychic will, when introduced to a stranger, often see in a flash some prominent event in that stranger's earlier life, but on other similar occasions will receive no special impression. More rarely we meet with someone who gets detailed visions of the past life of everyone whom he encounters. Perhaps one of the best examples of this class was the German writer Zschokke, who describes in his autobiography this extraordinary power of which he found himself possessed. He says:—
"It has happened to me occasionally at the first meeting with a total stranger, when I have been listening in silence to his conversation, that his past life up to the present moment, with many minute circumstances belonging to one or other particular scene in it, has come across me like a dream, but distinctly, entirely involuntarily and unsought, occupying in duration a few minutes.
"For a long time I was disposed to consider these fleeting visions as a trick of the fancy—the more so as my dream-vision displayed to me the dress and movements of the actors, the appearance of the room, the furniture, and other accidents of the scene; till on one occasion, in a gamesome mood, I narrated to my family the secret history of a sempstress who had just before quitted the room. I had never seen the person before. Nevertheless the hearers were astonished, and laughed and would not be persuaded but that I had a previous acquaintance with the former life of the person, inasmuch as what I had stated was perfectly true.
"I was not less astonished to find that my dream-vision agreed with reality. I then gave more attention to the subject, and as often as propriety allowed of it, I related to those whose lives had so passed before me the substance of my dream-vision, to obtain from them its contradiction or confirmation. On every occasion its confirmation followed, not without amazement on the part of those who gave it.
"On a certain fair-day I went into the town of Waldshut accompanied by two young foresters, who are still alive. It was evening, and, tired with our walk, we went into an inn called the 'Vine.' We took our supper with a numerous company at the public table, when it happened that they made themselves merry over the peculiarities and simplicity of the Swiss in connection with the belief in mesmerism, Lavater's physiognomical system and the like. One of my companions, whose national pride was touched by their raillery, begged me to make some reply, particularly in answer to a young man of superior appearance who sat opposite, and had indulged in unrestrained ridicule.
"It happened that the events of this person's life had just previously passed before my mind. I turned to him with the question whether he would reply to me with truth and candour if I narrated to him the most secret passages of his history, he being as little known to me as I to him? That would, I suggested, go something beyond Lavater's physiognomical skill. He promised if I told the truth to admit it openly. Then I narrated the events with which my dream-vision had furnished me, and the table learnt the history of the young tradesman's life, of his school years, his peccadilloes, and, finally, of a little act of roguery committed by him on the strong-box of his employer. I described the uninhabited room with its white walls, where to the right of the brown door there had stood upon the table the small black money-chest, etc. The man, much struck, admitted the correctness of each circumstance—even, which I could not expect, of the last."
And after narrating this incident, the worthy Zschokke calmly goes on to wonder whether perhaps after all this remarkable power, which he had so often displayed, might not really have been always the result of mere chance coincidence!
Comparatively few accounts of persons possessing this faculty of looking back into the past are to be found in the literature of the subject, and it might therefore be supposed to be much less common than prevision. I suspect, however, that the truth is rather that it is much less commonly recognized. As I said before, it may very easily happen that a person may see a picture of the past without recognizing it as such, unless there happens to be in it something which attracts special attention, such as a figure in armour or in antique costume. A prevision also might not always be recognized as such at the time; but the occurrence of the event foreseen recalls it vividly at the same time that it manifests its nature, so that it is unlikely to be overlooked. It is probable, therefore, that occasional glimpses of these astral reflections of the akashic records are commoner than the published accounts would lead us to believe.
CLAIRVOYANCE IN TIME: THE FUTURE.
Even if, in a dim sort of way, we feel ourselves able to grasp the idea that the whole of the past may be simultaneously and actively present in a sufficiently exalted consciousness, we are confronted by a far greater difficulty when we endeavour to realize how all the future may also be comprehended in that consciousness. If we could believe in the Mohammedan doctrine of kismet, or the Calvinistic theory of predestination, the conception would be easy enough, but knowing as we do that both these are grotesque distortions of the truth, we must look round for a more acceptable hypothesis.
There may still be some people who deny the possibility of prevision, but such denial simply shows their ignorance of the evidence on the subject. The large number of authenticated cases leaves no room for doubt as to the fact, but many of them are of such a nature as to render a reasonable explanation by no means easy to find. It is evident that the Ego possesses a certain amount of previsional faculty, and if the events foreseen were always of great importance, one might suppose that an extraordinary stimulus had enabled him for that occasion only to make a clear impression of what he saw upon his lower personality. No doubt that is the explanation of many of the cases in which death or grave disaster is foreseen, but there are a large number of instances on record to which it does not seem to apply, since the events foretold are frequently exceedingly trivial and unimportant.
A well-known story of second-sight in Scotland will illustrate what I mean. A man who had no belief in the occult was forewarned by a Highland seer of the approaching death of a neighbour. The prophecy was given with considerable wealth of detail, including a full description of the funeral, with the names of the four pall-bearers and others who would be present. The auditor seems to have laughed at the whole story and promptly forgotten it, but the death of his neighbour at the time foretold recalled the warning to his mind, and he determined to falsify part of the prediction at any rate by being one of the pall-bearers himself. He succeeded in getting matters arranged as he wished, but just as the funeral was about to start he was called away from his post by some small matter which detained him only a minute or two. As he came hurrying back he saw with surprise that the procession had started without him, and that the prediction had been exactly fulfilled, for the four pall-bearers were those who had been indicated in the vision.
Now here is a very trifling matter, which could have been of no possible importance to anybody, definitely foreseen months beforehand; and although a man makes a determined effort to alter the arrangement indicated he fails entirely to affect it in the least. Certainly this looks very much like predestination, even down to the smallest detail, and it is only when we examine this question from higher planes that we are able to see our way to escape that theory. Of course, as I said before about another branch of the subject, a full explanation eludes us as yet, and obviously must do so until our knowledge is infinitely greater than it is now; the most that we can hope to do for the present is to indicate the line along which an explanation may be found.
There is no doubt whatever that, just as what is happening now is the result of causes set in motion in the past, so what will happen in the future will be the result of causes already in operation. Even down here we can calculate that if certain actions are performed certain results will follow, but our reckoning is constantly liable to be disturbed by the interference of factors which we have not been able to take into account. But if we raise our consciousness to the mental plane we can see very much farther into the results of our actions.
We can trace, for example, the effect of a casual word, not only upon the person to whom it was addressed, but through him on many others as it is passed on in widening circles, until it seems to have affected the whole country; and one glimpse of such a vision is far more efficient than any number of moral precepts in impressing upon us the necessity of extreme circumspection in thought, word, and deed. Not only can we from that plane see thus fully the result of every action, but we can also see where and in what way the results of other actions apparently quite unconnected with it will interfere with and modify it. In fact, it may be said that the results of all causes at present in action are clearly visible—that the future, as it would be if no entirely new causes should arise, lies open before our gaze.
New causes of course do arise, because man's will is free; but in the case of all ordinary people the use which they will make of their freedom can be calculated beforehand with considerable accuracy. The average man has so little real will that he is very much the creature of circumstances; his action in previous lives places him amid certain surroundings, and their influence upon him is so very much the most important factor in his life-story that his future course may be predicted with almost mathematical certainty. With the developed man the case is different; for him also the main events of life are arranged by his past actions, but the way in which he will allow them to affect him, the methods by which he will deal with them and perhaps triumph over them—these are all his own, and they cannot be foreseen even on the mental plane except as probabilities.
Looking down on man's life in this way from above, it seems as though his free will could be exercised only at certain crises in his career. He arrives at a point in his life where there are obviously two or three alternative courses open before him; he is absolutely free to choose which of them he pleases, and although some one who knew his nature thoroughly well might feel almost certain what his choice would be, such knowledge on his friend's part is in no sense a compelling force.
But when he has chosen, he has to go through with it and take the consequences; having entered upon a particular path he may, in many cases, be forced to go on for a very long way before he has any opportunity to turn aside. His position is somewhat like that of the driver of a train; when he comes to a junction he may have the points set either this way or that, and so can pass on to whichever line he pleases, but when he has passed on to one of them he is compelled to run on along the line which he has selected until he reaches another set of points, where again an opportunity of choice is offered to him.
Now, in looking down from the mental plane, these points of new departure would be clearly visible, and all the results of each choice would lie open before us, certain to be worked out even to the smallest detail. The only point which would remain uncertain would be the all-important one as to which choice the man would make. We should, in fact, have not one but several futures mapped out before our eyes, without necessarily being able to determine which of them would materialize itself into accomplished fact. In most instances we should see so strong a probability that we should not hesitate to come to a decision, but the case which I have described is certainly theoretically possible. Still, even this much knowledge would enable us to do with safety a good deal of prediction; and it is not difficult for us to imagine that a far higher power than ours might always be able to foresee which way every choice would go, and consequently to prophesy with absolute certainty.