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 there.
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 seq.
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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 active agent."
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