I am going to use the description of Tahra Bey provided in Paul Brunton's book A Search in Secret Egypt, which provides an excellent potted biography of the person who was at one time one of the most famous magicians in Egypt. So famous was he at one time that King Faud of Egypt, King Carol of Rumania, King Victor Emmanuel of Italy and even Mussolini honoured him with invitations to perform for them.
You may expect the lank emaciated figure of an ascetic. Instead, picture a short, distinguished looking man with black hair and olive skin, grave, peaceful, bearded face, who sometimes wears the Arab burnous over his head, at others a ordinary European soft felt hat.
He is slightly under medium height. He slips out of his Arab robes into a well cut European tailored suit and finds himself equally at home in both. His piercing, beautiful eyes are exceptionally interesting because the white irises are strongly noticeable and lend depth and mystery to the jet black pupils. His manner is always soft and gentle, while he is as courteous and as polished as all the better Egyptians inevitably are.
He murmurs his sentences so quietly and so humbly that no one might guess from his tone that he was a man with some of the most mysterious forces of nature under his command and control.
He carries himself with an unhurried ease and self-possession, a marked air of self-control, such as one always observes in really advanced fakirs. He smokes innumerable cigarettes during the course of a day.
“I was born in 1897, at Tanta, the busy little town in the Nile Delta which also contains the tomb of the famous thirteenth-century fakir Sheikh Ayid Ahmad el Badawi, visited by pilgrims from all parts of the East. My mother died while giving me birth and my father belonged to the race of Copts, the Christians of Egypt. My father was himself well acquainted with the teachings of the fakirs, he had friends with similar tendencies; hence I grew up in an atmosphere favourable to my future work.
At quite an early age I was initiated into the exercises and practises traditionally followed by fakirs, my own father being one of my teachers. Whilst I was yet a child, internal troubles in my country led to our change of residence, and so my father, myself and a teacher went to Turkey, where we settled down in Constantinople.
Here I received a good modern education, studied medicine, and received a doctor's degree.
This education was extremely valuable to me psychologically, as it enabled me to submit my own psychic experiences to scientific analysis. I opened a clinic in Greece and conducted it for a short time, and it was there that I undertook the feat which I regard as the most marvellous of all that are within the capacities of fakirs – the resurrection.
I permitted myself to be buried for no less than twenty-eight days, to be lowered into the very abyss of death, from which at the end of that time I emerged alive and unharmed.
The Metropolitan and other Christian dignitaries were opposed to me and tried to prevent my feat, because they fancied they saw in it, and in the doctrines it illustrated, a menace to their religion. Nevertheless the government authorities defended me and answered that, being a doctor, I had the right to be buried if I wished.
My scientific training and doctor’s degree have been a help to smooth my path on other occasions, too.
I visited Bulgaria and Serbia and Italy. In the latter country I permitted the best-known scientists to investigate my feats and allowed them to put me in a coffin made of lead . My body was completely covered with sand. The lid was nailed down and I was then sunk to the bottom of a swimming bath.
After about half a hour, the police interfered and stopped the demonstration, but so far, of course, it was successful. Then I came to France and there I was not only permitted to repeat the same experiment but actually to extend it. For 24 hours I remained in the coffin under water, my body in a state of catalepsy, while police and others guarded the demonstration all the time to prevent trickery.
Although I am fond of the comforts of European life, I am also attached to my own country, and thus I make it a point to divide part of my time each year between Egypt and Europe.
I like Europeans and some of them appreciate and welcome me. Once when the Queen of Spain telegraphed for me to go to her country, she even sent an official escort to conduct me.
I do not feel vain about my achievements. The past now moves before my eyes like a wonderful film. A true fakir is above such things as vanity and greed; he lives an inner life detached from excessive worldly desires. You know the fakir of the Orient, and I think you will agree that my case is almost unique because the others, where genuine, do not care to visit Europe and are too proud to submit themselves to critical investigations; in fact they think it is useless to show you their feats, as you Europeans are sure to attribute such to charlatanry or jugglery – in short, to anything but the right causes. And, much more important, they do not possess my knowledge of your languages - I know Italian and French - while I do not remember one of them who has taken a university course in medicine and the sciences and accepted modern education for what it is worth.
As you have noticed, they generally despise such education and regard it as a hindrance. Of course, I do not agree with them.
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