We are asked by a "Subscriber" in
America to "comment" upon a curious report in the Chicago
Tribune, which he sends us. We do so the more willingly as
it contains a very ingenuous, newly-invented "dodge"
to detect the real nature of the "mango-tree growing,"
"boy and basket" performance and other like phenomena
produced by Indian "jugglers," and an alleged "scientific"
explanation of the same. The latter, however, is as old as the
hills, and known to every Occultist, and has never been made a
secret of. The heading of the article "IT IS ONLY HYPNOTISM" (is
it only that?) pretends to let the cat out of the bag,
and the "Chicagoan" interviewer seems very proud of
this achievement of his countryman. But, to facts; let us see
HOW INDIAN FAKIRS DECEIVE
THOSE WHO WATCH THEM.
FRED S. ELLMORE, A YOUNG CHICAGOAN, DEMONSTRATES
THE TRUTH OF HIS THEORY AT GAYA, INDIA MANGO TREES, BABIES, AND
OTHER OBJECTS CREATED BY THE FAKIR SHOWN TO BE CREATURES OF THE
IMAGINATION HOW A CLEVER SCHEME WAS WORKED.
Nearly every traveller
who comes back from India brings with him
more or less marvellous stories of the performances of Indian
fakirs or jugglers. No one ever heard of one of these tales without
being curious to know the explanation of the mystery. All sorts
of theories have been offered, all of which are more or less unsatisfactory.
It has remained for a young Chicagoan to furnish an explanation
that explains and to present what must be accepted as absolute
proof of the correctness of his idea. His discovery may attract
attention in all parts of the world and he may become as widely
known as the discoverer of electricity.
Well, he might, no doubt, but for two trifling facts: (a) if
what he has discovered had not been known in the East, for ages,
by the Occultists as GUPTA MAYA or "Secret Illusion"; and (b) had not the Theosophical
Society existed for over fifteen years to tell the "Ellmore"
tale to every gobe-mouche inclined to believe in the miraculous
and supernatural character of Indian, so-called "jugglery."
It is over ten years ago that all such phenomena the more wondrous
and phenomenal, for being simply scientific and explicable
on natural principles were repeatedly characterized by
the present writer, when at Simla, as "psychological tricks,"
to the great disgust of her over-enthusiastic friends. What these psychological tricks are in reality and the difference
between them and "conjuring" will be explained further
on. And now to the Tribune narrative. After stating every
particular about Mr. Frederick S. Ellmore, describing his childhood
and college life, giving the color of his hair and the address
and number of his family residence, the interviewer shows him,
with a friend and class-mate, Mr. George Lessing one "an
enthusiastic photographer," the other a clever artist and
draughtsman in the land of the Sacred Cow and the wily fakir.
In talking to a Tribune man of his remarkable experience
in India, Mr. Ellmore said: "We had done West India pretty
thoroughly, and had spent some time in Calcutta. From there we
went North, stopping for a short time at Rajmahal and Dinapur.
from the latter city we went south to Gaya, which we reached in
July last. Lessing and I had frequently talked over the Indian
fakirs and their marvellous performances. and had determined upon
making a careful test of their powers. So we were constantly on
the alert for some first-class juggler. One afternoon Lessing
rushed into the room where I was taking a snooze and told me there
was a fakir in front about ready to begin his performances. I
was as pleased as he. Neither of us had been able previous to
this time to see one of these fellows, but we had arranged a little
plan which we were to put into operation when opportunity offered.
I had been impressed by a theory that the explanation of all their
alleged supernatural performances would be found in hypnotism,
but I did not know just how to get at it, until Lessing proposed
this plan to test my theory. While the fakir was going through
his performances Lessing was to make a rapid pencil sketch of
what he saw while I at the same moment would take a snap-shot
with my kodak.
Being prepared to put this plan into operation we went out from
our abode, and there found the fakir and a crowd of natives and
one or two Europeans. The fakir was a queer-looking chap. His
hair was long and matted and his beard hung low on his breast.
His only decoration was a copper ring or bracelet worn about his
right arm between the wrist and the elbow. His eyes were remarkable
both for their brilliancy and their intense depth, if I may so
term it. They seemed to be almost jet black and were set unusually
deep in his head. When we stepped into the little circle about
him those eyes took us in from sole to crown. He had spread upon
the ground a coarse carpet of peculiar texture about four feet
wide and six feet long. At his right [stood a small earthen bowl,
and across his knees lay a strange looking musical instrument.
Having received the signal that all was ready he took the bowl
in his hands and turned the contents a reddish, sand-like mixture out
upon the carpet. He mixed it about with his fingers, apparently
to show that it contained no concealed objects. Replacing the
sand in the bowl he stood it in the centre of the carpet, several
feet in front of his knees, and covered it with a small shawl,
first placing in the mixture several seeds of the mango fruit.
Then he played a weird air on his pipe, swayed back and forth,
and as he did so, slowly took in each member of the crowd of the
spectators with those marvellous eyes of his. The swaying and
pipe-playing lasted two or three minutes. Then he suddenly stopped
and raised one corner of the shawl. We saw several green shoots
two or three inches high. He replaced the shawl, played a little
more on his pipe, and I could have sworn I saw the shawl pushed
three feet into the air. Again he stopped and removed the shawl.
This time there was a perfect tree, two feet or more in height,
with long slender flat leaves. Lessing nudged me and I took my
picture while he made a skeleton sketch. While we were watching
this creation of the queer old man it seemed to vanish before
our eyes. When it was gone he removed the bowl and spread the
shawl on the ground before him. Then there was more music and
more swaying, more looking at the ground, and as we watched the
dirty square of cloth he had placed on the ground, we saw outlined
beneath it some moving object. As we watched he grasped the shawl by each of two corners and
snatched it from the ground. Upon the spot where it had rested
but a moment before, there sat the queerest dimpled Indian baby
that I had seen in my travels. Lessing kept his nerve better than
I did. I would have forgotten what I was doing if he had not reminded
me. I took the picture and he made his sketch. The baby remained
but a moment, before Mr. Fakir recovered it with the shawl, and
drawing a knife cut and slashed at the spot where the infant sat.
In another instant he threw away the shawl and there was nothing
We had scarce time to recover from our astonishment when the fakir
drew from under his knee a ball of grey twine. Taking the loose
end between his teeth, he, with a quick upward motion, tossed
the ball into the air. Instead of coming back to him it kept on
going up and up until out of sight, and there remained only the
long swaying end. When we looked down after trying to see where
the ball had gone, we were all astonished to see standing beside
the fakir a boy about six years old. He had not been there when
the ball was tossed into the air, but he was there now, and at
a word from the fakir he walked over to the twine and began climbing
it, a good deal after the fashion of a monkey climbing a grape
vine. As he was starting I got his range and made a picture of
him, Lessing at the same time making a sketch. The boy disappeared
when he had reached a point thirty or forty feet from the ground,
at least we could not see him. A moment later the twine disappeared.
Then the fakir arose, rolled up his carpet, took the bowl away,
and passed among the crowd soliciting contributions.
I had no facilities for developing the kodak films, and it was
these Lessing took with him, as well as a thousand or more other
negatives, to be developed. The fakir pictures with a few others,
I received this afternoon. After the fakir's departure Lessing
filled in his sketches and these he left with me. You'll see by
comparing the ones Lessing made with the photographs that in no
instance did the camera record the marvellous features of the
performance. For instance, Lessing's sketch shows the tree grown
from the bush, while the camera shows there was no bush there.
Lessing saw a baby, and so did I, and he has got it in his sketch,
but the camera demonstrates that there was no baby. Lessing's
sketch of the boy climbing the twine is evidence that he saw it,
but the camera says there was no boy and no twine. From which
I'm compelled to believe that my theory is absolutely correct that
Mr. Fakir had simply hypnotized the entire crowd, but couldn't
hypnotize the camera. I'm going to write an history of the affair
and have copies made of the pictures and forward them to the London
Society for Psychical Research. I have no doubt it will make good
use of them.
Nor have we any doubt, upon this. The "S.P.R."
is sure to make "as good use" of the sketches, by Mr.
Lessing, and the photographic pictures by Mr. Ellmore, as it has
made of the hundreds of its séances with spiritual mediums,
and the evidence furnished by the Theosophist: unable to trace
the things to its much beloved "telepathic impact,"
it will brand the whole round of the above enumerated well-known
"juggler" phenomena as prestidigitation, sleight of
hand and conjuring tricks à la "Maskelyne
and Cook." For this is usually the only explanation given
by the "learned" Society, of all that it does not understand
and is incapable of understanding.
We wish Messrs. Ellmore and Lessing joy, and must say a few words
on the subject, for their further and personal benefit.
First of all, we ask them why they call the "juggler"
a "fakir"? If he is the one he cannot be the other;
for a fakir is simply a Mussulman Devotee whose whole time
is taken up by acts of holiness, such as standing for days on
one leg, or on the top of his head, and who pays no attention
to any other phenomena. Nor could their "juggler" be
a Yogi, the latter title being incompatible with "taking
up collections" after the exhibition of his psychic powers.
The man they saw then at Gaya was simply as they very correctly
state a public juggler, or as he is generally called in India,
a jadoowalla (sorcerer) and a "producer of illusions," whether Hindu or Mohammedan. As a genuine juggler, i.e., one who makes us professions of showing the supernatural phenomena
or Siddhis of a Yogi, he would be quite as entitled to
the use of conjuring tricks as a Hoffman or Maskelyne and Cook.
Well, the latter gentlemen, and all the "Wizards of the North"
as well, are invited to repeat if they can, even such juggling
phenomena as the above, clad, or rather unclad, as
such jugglers are, and under the canopy of the heavens, instead
of the roof and ceiling of a hall or a theatre. They will never
be able to do so. And why? Because these "jugglers"
are not sleight of hand conjurors. They are regular and genuine
psychologists, mesmerisers endowed with the most phenomenal powers,
hitherto unknown to, and quite unpractised in Europe, save in
a few exceptional cases. And with regard to this point, basing
our questions on the logic of analogy, if such phenomenal
powers of fascination as throwing glamour over audiences often
numbering several hundreds and even thousands, are once proven
to exist in simple professional jugglers, who can deny the same
powers, only twenty times as strong, in trained adepts in Occultism? This is the future nut for the Society for Psychical Research
to crack if it ever accepts Mr. Ellmore's testimony, which we doubt. But if it is accepted, what right will its members or the
public have to doubt the claims made on behalf of great Yogis
and learned adepts and "Mahatmas" to produce far more
wonderful phenomena? The fact alone forsooth, that a whole audience
sees a twine thrown into the air,1 the end of which
seems fastened in the clouds, a boy climbing up it, a baby under
a basket, and a mango-tree growing, when there is, in truth, neither
twine nor boy, neither baby nor mango-tree may well give us the
right to call it the greatest mental miracle possible; a "psychological trick" true enough. but one never to be rivalled,
nor even approached by a physical phenomenon, however astounding. "It is only Hypnotism," you say. Then those who say so, do not know
the difference between hypnotism, which, at best, is only a
purely physiological manifestation even in the hands of the
most powerful and learned experimenters, and real mesmerism, let
alone mahamaya or even the gupta-maya of ancient
and modern India. We defy all, and every one, from Charcot and
Richet down to all the second rate hypnotizers, including the
greatest physical mediums, to produce that with which Messrs.
Ellmore and Lessing credit their "juggler."
To those who are incapable of appreciating the all-importance
of that psycho-spiritual power in man which the Tribune calls
so ignorantly and so foolishly "hypnotism," all we may
say would be useless. We simply refuse to answer them. As to those
others who will understand us, we say yes; it is glamour, fascination, psychology, call it what you will, but it is
not "hypnotism." The latter is an aberration produced
on several persons in turn by another person, through contact,
through gazing at a bright spot or manipulation; but what is it
in comparison with the collective and instantaneous fascination produced on hundreds by one passing gaze of the "juggler" (Vide supra), even though that gaze did "take in every
man" "from sole to crown." No Theosophist who understands
anything of Occultism, has ever explained such phenomena on any
principle but that of magic-spell and fascination; and
to claim for them anything else would amount to teaching supernaturalism and miracle; i.e., an impossibility in nature.
There is a host of Theosophists in England alone, who would testify
any day that they have been taught for now many years that physical
phenomena in India are due to glamour and the psychological powers
of the performers. Yet no one in the Theosophical Society ever
thought of claiming for himself the discovery and explanation
of the mango tree mystery, as it is a teaching known for long
ages, and now once more taught to all who want to know.
Nevertheless, as said at the beginning of this article, we all
owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Ellmore and his friend, for their
clever idea of applying to these tricks, the photographic test;
as, no glamour (or, as the reporter makes Ellmore say, "hypnotism")
could affect the camera. Moreover, both the young traveller and
the Tribune reporter seem to have worked only for the Theosophical
Society. Indeed, it is safe to prophesy that no one, including the Society for Psychical Research, will pay much attention to
Mr. Ellmore's "discovery" since the latter, the erroneous
name of hypnotism notwithstanding, is only a fact and a truth.
Thus, it is the Theosophical Society alone which will benefit
by having one more of its teachings corroborated by independent
and undeniable evidence.2
Lucifer, September, 1890
H. P. Blavatsky
1 Vide "Isis Unveiled" 1, 73, 495, et
back to text
2 Additional corroboration of occult teaching is given
in a pamphlet entitled "Materialism, Agnosticism, and Theosophy"
issued by the Pacific Coast Committee for Theosophical
Works: "In connection with this very point (i.e.,
nebulæ), some three years ago, Madame Blavatsky, that bête
noire of both religion and science, declared that if scientists
could perfect instruments sufficiently powerful to penetrate these
nebulæ, they would perceive the falsity of this assumption
of the universal action of gravitation It passed without notice
. . . But quite recently a California scientist has most unexpectedly
confirmed this seemingly idle statement. One of the first results
of the inspection of the heavens through the great Lick telescope,
was the cautious announcement by Professor Holden that the arrangement
of matter in many of the nebulæ would seem to point directly
to the conclusion that some other force than gravitation was the
back to text