Jacolliot, Louis - Occult Science in India - 02 Fakirs The Leaf Dance
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Jacolliot, Louis - Occult Science in India
THE LEAF DANCE.
We select at random some facts that fell under our own observation, as they were noted down at the time, grouping them, however, according to the method adopted by us, to make the Hindu classification more clear.
What we call spirit force is called by the Hindus arta-ahancârasya or the force of I.
I had been a resident of Pondichéry, the capital of the French possessions in the Carnatic, for several years, when one morning, between eleven and twelve o'clock, my dobachy or valet-de-chambre informed me that a Fakir wanted to see me.
I had left Europe without the slightest idea of the phenomena which the spiritualists attribute to their mediums. I was ignorant of the very principles lying at the bottom of a faith which I then believed to be new, but which I now know to be as old as the temples of India, Chaldea, and Egypt for all religions commenced with the belief in spirits and outward manifestations, the source of a revelation claimed to be divine. I had not even seen a single case of table-tipping. The extravagances of the faith in invisible spirits in which its adepts sincerely believed, and which always formed a prominent feature of their stories, were so like the ecstasies, the mysterious apparitions, and the whole machinery of the Catholic church, that it had never occurred to me, ardent naturalist as I was, to attend or witness one of the experiments which had stirred up such a general interest in every direction.
As for the Hindu Fakirs, I conceived them to be simple magicians, and I unceremoniously dismissed them whenever they presented themselves. Yet I had heard a great deal of their marvellous skill, and I was anxious to see a specimen of it.
The Hindu having been admitted, I received him in one of the interior verandas of my house. I was struck first by his extreme leanness; his face was as thin and bony as that of an anchorite, and his eyes, which seemed half dead, produced a sensation such as I once experienced when looking at the motionless, green orbs of a large deep-water shark.
He was waiting for me in a squatting posture upon the marble floor; when he saw me he arose slowly. Bowing with his hands raised to his forehead, he murmured the following:
"Saranai aya" (I greet you respectfully, Sahib), "it is I, Salvanadin-Odéar, son of Canagarayen-Odéar. May the immortals watch over your days."
"Salam, Salvanadin-Odéar, son of Canagarayen-Odéar, may you die upon the sacred banks of the Tircangey, and may that transformation be your last."
"The guru of the pagoda said to me this morning," continued the Hindu, "go and glean at random, like the birds in the rice-fields, and Ganésa, the god of travellers, has led me to your house."
"You are welcome."
"What do you want of me?"
"You are said to possess the faculty of communicating movement to inert bodies without touching them. I should like to see a specimen of your power."
"Salvanadin-Odéar has no such power; he merely evokes spirits, who lend him their aid."
"Well, let Salvanadin-Odéar evoke the spirits, and show me what they can do."
The words were hardly out of my mouth when the Fakir resumed his squatting position upon the pavement, placing his seven-knotted stick between his crossed legs.
He then asked to have my dobachy bring seven small flower-pots full of earth, seven thin sticks of wood each about two cubits long, and seven leaves taken from any tree, no matter what.
When these different articles had been brought, without touching them himself, he had them placed in a horizontal line, about two yards from his outstretched arm. He instructed my servant to plant a stick of wood in each pot of earth, and to put on each stick a tree leaf with a hole in the middle.
This being done, all the leaves dropped down the sticks, acting as covers to the pots. The Fakir then joined his hands and raised them above his head, and I heard him distinctly utter, in the Tamoul language, the following invocation:
"May all the powers that watch over the intellectual principle of life (kche’tradjna) and over the principle of matter (boûtatoma) protect me from the wrath of the pisatchas (evil spirits), and may the immortal spirit, which has three forms (mahatatridandi, the trinity), shield me from the vengeance of Yama."
At the close of the invocation he stretched out his hands in the direction of the flower-pots, and stood motionless, in a sort of ecstasy. From time to time his lips moved as if he were continuing his occult invocation, but no sound reached my ears.
I watched all these elaborate preparations with considerable interest and amusement, without suspecting what was to follow. Suddenly it seemed to me that my hair was moved by a slight current of air, which blew in my face like one of those gusts that we often see in the tropics after sunset, and yet the large straw curtains of vétivert, hanging in the vacant spaces between the columns of the veranda, were undisturbed. I thought that my senses had deceived me, but the phenomenon was repeated several times.
At the end of about a quarter of an hour, though there had been no change of position on the part of the Fakir, the fig-leaves began to move slowly upward along the sticks of wood, and then as slowly descend.
I approached and watched them as they continued their motion with the closest attention. I must confess that when I saw that there was no visible means of communication between the Hindu and the leaves I was very much surprised.
I passed and repassed several times in the space which separated the juggler from the pots of earth, but there was no interruption in the ascent or descent of the leaves.
I asked to examine his arrangements and was unhesitatingly allowed to do so. I removed the leaves from the sticks, and the sticks from the pots, and emptied their contents upon the pavement. Having rung for the cousicara (or cook) I ordered seven goblets to be brought from the kitchen, and some earth and fresh leaves from the garden. I divided the bamboo stick myself into seven pieces, and I arranged everything as it had been done previously, placing it all at about four yards from the Fakir, who looked on unconcernedly during the whole operation, without making any remark or movement whatever.
"Do you think," I then asked him, "that the spirits will act now?"
He made no answer, but merely extended his arms, as he had done before.
Five minutes had hardly elapsed, when the upward and downward motion of the leaves along the sticks was repeated.
I was amazed and it must be confessed that I had ample reason.
Still I would not acknowledge my defeat. I asked the Fakir if the pots of earth were essential to the production of the phenomena, and, being answered in the negative, I had seven holes bored in a plank, in which I placed the bamboo sticks. In a short time, the same phenomena occurred as before.
During the next two hours, I repeated the experiment in twenty different ways, but always with the same result.
The only way in which I could account for it was by supposing that I was under some powerful magnetic influence. The Fakir said to: "Is there not some question you wish to put to the invisible spirits before they go?"
The question was totally unexpected, but as I had heard that European mediums use an alphabet in conversing with spirits, as they claim, I explained the matter to the Hindu, and asked him if I could enter into communication with them by any such means.
He answered me in these words, "Ask anything you please, the leaves will remain still, if the spirits have nothing to say. If, on the contrary, those who guide them have any communication to make, they will move upward along the sticks."
I was about to write an alphabet upon a sheet of paper when a very simple device occurred to me. I had a set of raised brass letters and figures upon zinc blocks which I used to stamp my name and a number upon the books in my library. I threw them pell-mell into a small linen bag, and the Fakir having resumed his position of invocation, I thought of a friend, who had died twenty years before, and proceeded to extract the letters and numbers, one by one.
Upon taking up each of the zinc blocks I looked at the letter or figure as I called it off, and kept a watchful eye upon the leaves so that the least movement would not escape me.
I had already taken out fourteen blocks and nothing unusual had occurred, when upon the appearance of the letter A, the leaves began to move, and after ascending to the top of the sticks, fell again to the boards in which the pieces of bamboo had been placed.
I could not help betraying some emotion, when I observed that the motion of the leaves corresponded to the appearance of the first letter of my friend's name. When the bag was empty, I put the letters and figures in again, and continued as before. Letter by letter and figure by figure I obtained the following words:
Albain Brunier, died at Bourg-en-bresse (Ain) January 3, 1856.
The name, the date, the place, everything was correct; the blood rushed to my head as I read over and over again, the words which shone strangely in my eyes.
What made my astonishment still greater was the fact that I had no conception of phenomena of this class. I was totally unprepared for them; I wanted to be alone and to reflect. I therefore dismissed the Fakir, without making any further observations on that day. I made him promise, however, to come on the morrow, at the same hour. He was punctual to the appointment.
We repeated the same series of experiments, and the result was the same as before.
The excitement which I had at first experienced, and which was perfectly natural under the circumstances, had disappeared, but I was no nearer than before to a belief in the supernatural and in the reality of the Fakir's evocations. I was merely led to formulate in my own mind the following supposition:
"If these phenomena were not the result of pure charlatanism, magnetic influence, or hallucination, perhaps there is a natural force, the laws of which we are yet ignorant of, and which enables its possessor to act upon inanimate objects, and interpret thoughts, as the telegraph puts two minds in communication in different and opposite parts of the globe,"
I spent a portion of the night in reflection upon this point. On the morrow I repeated the phenomena of the previous day at an early sitting. I then asked the Fakir to do them over again, and I watched them, having in mind the supposition above named.
When I asked the Fakir, for instance, to repeat the communication of the previous day, I changed in my mind the orthography of the name, dwelling strongly upon each letter. The following variations were the result:
Halbin Pruniet, died, etc.
I may add, however, that when I tried to change the name of the city, or of the date of the occurrence, I was unsuccessful at that time and that the message was always the same and always correct in those respects:
Died at Bourg-en-Bresse (Ain) January 3, 1856.
During fifteen days I had the Fakir at my house every day, and he always submitted, with the utmost readiness, to all my requirements. I varied my experiments as follows:
Bearing in mind always the exact words of the message as I first received it, I wanted to know positively, whether it was possible to effect a complete change in its terms.
At one time I obtained changes in the letters composing the name, so that no one would have recognized it; at another time, the changes referred to the date of the day, of the month, or of the year, but I never obtained the slightest alteration in the name of the city, which was invariably the same:
Hence I concluded—referring always to the supposition under which I was acting, that there really was a natural force, which had established a communication between myself and the Fakir and the leaves—that I could not sufficiently isolate my mind from the correct orthography of all the words in the sentence.
On several different occasions I made similar attempts, with different subjects, but with no better result.
While, on the one hand, the material phenomena were repeated with scarcely any variation to speak of, still, there were constant changes in the interpretation of my thoughts, which were sometimes designed on my part, and sometimes, on the contrary, in direct opposition to what I had intended. In the last sitting the Fakir gave, he lowered one balance of a pair of scales simply with a peacock's feather, when the other balance contained a weight of about a hundred and seventy pounds. By the mere imposition of hands, he made a crown of flowers float in the air, the atmosphere was filled with vague and indistinct sounds and a shadowy hand drew luminous figures in space. At that time I considered the two latter phenomena simply as phantasmagoria—I did not even give them the benefit of a doubt. For this reason, my notes of this sitting do not contain a full and accurate account of the facts. I shall describe them farther on with suitable details in the case of other magicians by whom they were also performed.
In short, with regard to purely material facts, I may say that I never detected the slightest deception, and I applied the severest tests in order to discover any fraud.
As for physiological facts, dismissing the hypothesis of supernatural intervention, and on the simple supposition of a spiritual communication between the operator and his assistant, I am bound to say that I personally obtained nothing fixed, nothing invariable.
Such were my first observations at Pondichéry. My judicial duties and special studies concerning ancient India did not give me time to continue them, particularly in view of the results obtained, which were positive enough with regard to all material phenomena, it is true, but were doubtful and uncertain with regard to the transmission of mental messages between two persons in full possession of their faculties, but claimed to be in spiritual communication.
Perhaps there were grounds that might have warranted a further investigation into this material force, and, supposing that it really existed, for attempting to free it from the elaborate appliances and clap-trap by which it was encompassed, in order to strike the popular imagination. It was not, however, my business to do so, being otherwise occupied, as I have already said, by my professional duties and studies in relation to primitive society in Asia.
Still, while I took no further active interest in these phenomena, I was in the habit of setting apart anything I might meet with, in the course of my studies, relating to the doctrine of the Pitris, with the idea of publishing subsequently whatever I might come across upon a subject which seems to interest the Western, as much as it does the Asiatic world.
From this time forward I also made notes of all the material phenomena by whose aid the Fakirs seek to prove the existence of the power they claim, for it seems to me that such facts were strongly corroborative of their theory.
Although I have been careful to avoid any departure from the part which I have assumed as a simple historian, I have desired, in the present chapter, to give an account of the only attempts I have ever seriously made to inform myself regarding this force which the Fakirs appear to possess and by means of which, they claim, they hold communication with invisible spirits, a claim which many persons of our time, even of the highest intelligence, are disposed to allow. It seems to me that a reply is due to the reader who may ask: Why does the author disavow any personal responsibility? has he no opinion whatever upon this question?
I have indeed no scientific opinion upon this subject, as yet.
I am convinced that there are in nature, and in man, who is a part of nature, immense forces, the laws of which are yet unknown to us.
I think that man will some day discover these laws, that things that we now regard as dreams, will appear to us, in the future, as realities, and that we shall one day witness phenomena of which we have now no conception.
In the world of ideas, as in the material world, there is a period of gestation, as of birth. Who knows whether this psychic force, as the English call it—this force of the Ego, according to the Hindus, which the humble Fakir exhibited in my presence, will not be shown to be one of the grandest forces in nature?
I may be told that for more than ten thousand years, during which the Hindus have given it their attention, they have never succeeded in formulating the laws of this pretended force, and that we cannot afford to lose our time, now or in the future, as they have done.
The Brahmins have made everything subordinate to their religion, and we know that in religious matters there are no scientific experiments or proof. See what the middle ages produced in the domain of the exact sciences by taking their axioms from the words of the Bible!
From the remotest antiquity the pundits of the pagodas have been in the habit of bursting vessels by the use of compressed steam. They have also observed many electrical phenomena, but that has not led to the construction of railroads or telegraphs. Among ourselves, have we not seen scientific societies of the highest order officially treat Fulton like a crazy man, and regard the telegraph as a toy, only fit for sending messages from one room to another in the same dwelling. In the open air, and with atmospheric disturbances, the telegraph wire was not to be relied upon.
It has now, however, put a girdle round the earth, and we have sunk it at the bottom of the deepest seas.
See what human society as a whole has done. Every age turns an idea over and over again in all its phases; scientific men develop it and set forth their theory, from which they refuse to swerve; every scientific body has an opinion, to which it stoutly clings. If it does not say in so many words, "Thus far shalt thou go and no farther," everybody knows that it thinks so, for it rejects every idea that does not originate in its own bosom, everything new and startling. Then the new generation comes upon the stage and the sons rebel against their fathers, as behind the time. The screw traverses the ocean, regardless of wind or tide, and the electric fluid transmits thought to the four corners of the globe.
As I have been led to speak of my own views I will say that the conclusion that I have drawn from what I have seen in India, laying aside the clap-trap by which it is surrounded, and of which the Hindus are very fond, is that there is in man a special force acting in an unknown direction, and often intelligently, the laws of which require to be studied by unprejudiced and liberal-minded specialists.
Perhaps it is this force, developed by education and by a certain system of training, that the priests in the ancient temples set in motion, in order to impress the popular imagination by pretended prodigies.
In that case there would seem to be some foundation for the ancient stories and there probably was a real development of a natural force, in connection with an exhibition of the grossest superstition, moving the tree leaves at a distance, as well as the floral garlands and tapestry hung in the temples, adding several pounds to the weight of peacock's feathers, and producing musical sounds by the aid of concealed instruments.
It is to be hoped that our scientists will some day or other make a serious investigation into the production of some of these phenomena, which I saw repeated before my eyes, and which left no room for the slightest suspicion of charlatanism. I do not know that such is their intention, but it would be of some use, at any rate, whether it results in the exposure of a fraud, or whether it ends in the discovery of a new force in nature.
As I was putting in order for the press the different portions of this volume, which was written at Pondichéry in 1866, and which had slumbered in my drawer until then, for special reasons, I intended at first to omit that part of the present chapter where, departing from my rôle as a simple observer, I seemed to take sides in favor of a force, purely natural, it is true, but which produced phenomena that were apparently supernatural.
So far, I had rigidly excluded my personal opinions; should I now depart from this rule in that part of my book which treated of the more or less fantastical practices of the Hindus?
On the other hand, should I hesitate to acknowledge what seemed to be the few probably real facts, apart from the supernatural, which seemed to me to result from what I had seen?
I had not yet come to a decision on this point when, through the politeness of Dr. Puel, I was made acquainted with an article upon the psychic force, published by William Crookes, the eminent scientist and member of the Royal Society of London, in the Quarterly Journal of Science, one of the most respectable scientific organs of England.
I was not in England when the article appeared, and distance and my other studies made it impracticable for me to keep up my familiarity with works of this nature.
Imagine my surprise to see that the eminent chemist and physiologist had arrived at the positive conclusion, as the result of experiments similar to those I had seen in India, that there exists a new force in the human organism, as I had timidly suggested, several years before, as a matter of supposition.
I immediately came to the determination to leave my chapter as I had written it, but to refer the reader to the article in question, as confirmatory of the position I had assumed.
If, in spite of all the precautions I have taken to banish anything in favor of a belief in the supernatural and to express my own opinion in the most hypothetical manner, I have laid myself open to the reproach of being too credulous, I shall bear the blame cheerfully, in the company of one of the most distinguished of English scientists.
It appears that this force, which first suggested itself to my mind in 1866, in order to explain the phenomena which were then taking place in India before my face and eyes (the hypothesis that it was supernatural being totally inadmissible), had recently been recognized by physicians, astronomers, naturalists, and others, members of the Royal Society of London—which contains all who are eminent for their learning in England, as our Academy of Sciences contains men who are known and esteemed for their labors the world over—not, as I had done, by suggesting it as an hypothesis to explain certain phenomena, but by maintaining, after two years of experiments:
First, that there exists a force capable of moving heavy bodies without material contact, which depends in some unknown manner upon the presence of human beings.
Second, that nothing certain was known with regard to the nature and source of this force, but there is conclusive evidence that it exists.
Third, that movements can be produced in solid bodies without material contact by this hitherto unknown force, acting at an indefinite distance from the human organism, and wholly independent of muscular action.
Fourth, that this force makes solid bodies, which have no contact or visible or material connection with the bodies of any persons present, emit sounds which are distinctly heard by all present, and it is proved that these sounds proceed from these objects, by vibrations which are perfectly perceptible to the touch.
Fifth, that this force is frequently directed with intelligence.
The question is whether this is the force which the Hindus, who have known of its existence for thousands of years, have sought to develop in all subjects who were willing to become their tools, and who have afterward, with a view to religious domination, attributed its manifestations to superior spirits. We rather incline to think so, though we express no opinion as to its nature or origin. It is not with a view to elucidate this question, by showing what arguments may be urged on either hand, that we have given this brief sketch of what has been accomplished by English scientists upon this point. Our intention was simply to show that scientific men in England have officially recognized the existence of a force, independent of muscular action, capable of moving bodies, of sometimes emitting melodious sounds, and which, is frequently directed with intelligence, and to draw the conclusion, from the similarity of the phenomena witnessed in England and in India, that the laws which govern them, in either country, are identical.
If some of the facts observed in India seem to be more wonderful than any which have formed the subject of experiment in England (I speak of the latter more particularly on account of the scientific endorsement they have received), the two following reasons may be given:
It is very possible that the Hindus, in addition to the real force they possess, also display a skill so great that it is difficult to detect them in any act of deception.
Perhaps, too, as they have been in possession, for several thousand years, of this special force, they have discovered the laws which the Englishmen were unable to formulate, though they had proved the existence of the force itself.
It would follow therefrom that the discovery of the laws in question may have led to a more marked and decided progress in the production of these phenomena.
With these remarks, and without guaranteeing their scientific value, we will continue our account of the extraordinary manifestations which the Brahmins attribute to superior spirits, and which they hold to be a part of their religion..
We shall continue also, however, to indicate the efforts made by us to test them, as far as we were able. The accounts, as we have said before, are taken from our notes of travel in upper Bengal and the Himalaya Valleys. We have only omitted the descriptive portions and such facts as are of no general importance, being wholly personal.