The Way of Power

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The Way of Power

By Lily Adams Beck

The Occult of Today Is the Science of Tomorrow

I have chosen this motto for my book relating to the occult, for it is an attempt to describe the (at first) very small experiences and knowledge which led me to see the reality of the true occult world lying like an almost uncharted country behind the thick jungle of fraud and charlatanry, and which have led me also to state in comparative detail what I found on my journey and the conclusions it compelled. I use the illustration of "going through the Looking Glass" for two excellent reasons. Firstly, everyone knows that remarkable story of Alice, dear to two or three generations, and how she passed through the Looking Glass to the queer upside-down sort of country behind it. Secondly, few people realize that the book is a wonderful parable of how you can get through the mere reflections of things into the reality behind them if only you know the way. Carroll, who was a great mathematician, knew of the undiscovered country from that point of view. I found a very different road and as a matter of fact there are almost as many roads as there are people. The country behind the Looking Glass, generally called the Occult world, is reality, and the daily world we live in is Shadow-land though the reflections look so hard and bright and real that they take most of us in.

The world is a great mirror. A man sees himself in it as the foremost figure and around him the persons and things which make his surroundings. The Japanese have called it the Mirror of the Passing Show--an uncommonly good name. Seeing it with our eyes we take this reflection for reality and are quite content to believe our senses and go comfortably or uncomfortably on our way. Very few people know what blind feelers the five senses are--feeble, faulty, mistaken, and yet (until we know better) our only means of approach to anything outside the prison of ourselves. We pity a blind, deaf, dumb man, but are much in the same case ourselves. It is only a question of degree, and the microscope, telephone, and so forth carry us a few steps farther into the dark. They are simply extensions. That is what makes the occult world so amazingly interesting.

We see, no longer blinded by our eyes,
And hear, no longer deafened by our ears

which is distinctly good business in such a fascinating universe.

Like others I lived in perfect satisfaction with the gay ordinary reflections in the Looking Glass World until the first doubt overtook me in childhood. My mother, who had trained me to be perfectly fearless in matters of the imagination, told me a strange experience which had befallen her and her sisters and it set me thinking.

Her father owned many ships. A little dance was to be given, and she and her sister were practicing some dance music two evenings before, with a third sister to turn the leaves--three happy girls. The drawing-room was a very large one with dividing folding doors thrown back. As they played, the standing sister suddenly caught my mother's hands and the tune crashed in discord. Leaning round the folding door was a man roughly dressed in a thick short coat. He called out authoritatively "Stop the music," and, as they thought, drew back behind the folding doors and was gone. I should explain that only two of the three saw. One saw nothing, which is curious but not unusual in such cases. Two saw and heard. My mother said that no thought of what is called the supernatural struck them, but they were frightened because a strange sudden man in the house when it is shut up for the night is not altogether a pleasant visitation. Still, it might have been someone to see their father on business. The three rushed into the dining room with their tale and behold their father was dozing in his armchair at the head of the empty table after dinner, his glass of punch beside him. When the house was searched and nothing found they could not explain the man though they could not dismiss him from their minds; and the dance arrangements went on until next evening. Then, as again they were rattling off their music, came interruption. My grandfather put his head round the folding doors exactly as the stranger had done. . . . "Stop the music," he said. "One of the ships has gone down with all hands. There can be no dance tomorrow." The man they had seen sounded, he thought, very like the captain of the lost ship. They could get no nearer to a clue but the thing was as certain to the two from whom I heard it as the sight of each other.

Now when one hears a personal experience like this from people one knows do not lie, it is either dismissed as hallucination, or makes an impression coloring all opinion. I turned it over and over in a very young mind and accepted it as what people called "a ghost," but that did not last. A ghost is only a symptom. Why did ghosts come to some people and not to others? And, if they came at all, from where and for what purpose? Was their country far or near? I had no fear, but deep curiosity, and from that moment knew that the shining surface of the mirror of the world may be jarred by quite other reflections than those one reckons on. But the question in my mind was, Where do they come from? Is there another world beside this which is their domain? Even then, I did not think this covered all the ground.

My next experience, a personal one, was startling. My grandmother was strongly clairvoyant. Though I did not even know the word then, I knew that when she dreamed a thing it had an odd way of coming true; and always in the disagreeable things no one likes to face. In particular, she had an ominous recurrent dream which was followed by the Unpleasant as surely as a dog follows his master. I hated that dream, but set it down to some crank in grandmothers from which young people had nothing to fear. It coincided more or less. That was all, but it had a kind of interest difficult to escape.

I was very young and in the rather conceitedly skeptical stage of that youth of whom the great Master of Trinity, Cambridge, remarked, "We are none of us infallible; not even the youngest of us." However, one morning she came down to breakfast with a very grave face and began at once.

"A very curious thing happened last night. No, not a dream. I was awake, and I saw in my room a tall man in a turban and a sort of robe. He knocked three times on the wall. I saw him do it, and somehow I knew it meant the three-syllabled name of a place and that some terrible misfortune had happened there. Mark my words, we shall hear something from Bermuda."

A very near relation was holding a high position there at the time and for a moment I was startled, but youth is always a little over-clever and I said arrogantly, "As nobody in Bermuda wears a turban that doesn't seem likely!" and went my way in peace.

She said no more; and letters came from Bermuda and all was well and I triumphed. But we had not done with the gods. At the earliest possible moment news came that her nephew, a young officer in the army, loved by her as a son, had been stabbed to death in the bazaar at Kandahar by an Indian lunatic. The man, who had apparently never seen him before, came up behind and drove a knife deep down between his shoulders and so an end.

Then indeed I began to think, for I had known my cousin well; he was a real person to me and here was a thing done before my eyes. How had this strange message fled overseas from India (for the time matched)? Why had it not come to his mother? Why had my grandmother misread it? Why, when my cousin had been promoted and we all were glad, had that news come in a slow letter? Why had the murderer, for it seemed it must be he, announced it to a woman he had never heard of? Then there must be some natural affinity with misfortune in this mysterious kind of intelligence! And had God or the Devil anything to do with it? And what good did it do?

Youth can think when it chooses, and no answer given by the elders to the questions I propounded met the facts to my satisfaction. They didn't know. They retired on "coincidence," but I reflected that a world where such coincidences happen would really be such a miracle in itself that it only brought the difficulty a step nearer. And again when, not long after, another case happened which I could verify--the mother of a sailor hearing his voice crying for help, and finding that that night his boat had been overturned on the way to his ship and his life all but lost--it was clear to me that behind the well-polished mirror into which we all look for our impressions of the world was a dark hinterland where very strange forces played or worked on lines of their own, having no relation at all to anything we know and yet with a queer wireless which they used with people whose aerials were ready to tune in. How and why? But I called it the private telegraph wire, for wireless had not yet been reflected on the Mirror of the Passing Show--the world we lived in.

So then I began to read hungrily, untiringly, and for years such books as those of Podmore, Myers, Flammarion, and many more--the adventures and experiments of Sir William Crookes and the leading men of the Society for Psychical Research in England deserving special mention because they were so flawlessly honest and possessed by the desire for truth. They led me gradually into divergent paths, the magic of the ancient world and of the medieval times, and still I got no light. The more I studied the subject, the more impossible seemed any theory that the spirits of the dead should return to communicate with the living for the purpose of uttering the platitudes attributed to them. For one thing, these books admitted that the phantasms of the living could be seen also, and as a girl my own eyes had seen the appearance of a relation then at a distance pass through a room when I was alone. Nothing happened as a result, but I had seen and realized that my first belief that these things were always connected with death and misfortune was.. mistaken. And as to any instruction from departed spirits worth the paper it is written on, from that day to this I have never heard of or read any remark from a supposed departed spirit which is not platitude pure and simple. Even the spirits of the mightiest are not exempt from this unlucky law of platitude and become as tedious and obvious as the rest. But I came to the conclusion that when a very large amount of fraud is excluded there remains certain evidence of some strange forces at work in some of these dubious manifestations and materializations. But what? And where could any sort of evidence be got hold of which would lead to a clue?

Meanwhile I had some interesting personal experiences as the years went by. I touch briefly on a few of these. I was staying with the mother and sisters of a very near relation who was on a voyage. One night I dreamed I saw him limping along the deck in great pain; I told them at breakfast and met with the usual laughter. But I wrote, and--yes--he had fallen down a hatchway, had not meant to tell us, and how had I known? I developed too a curious faculty of sensing some people's thoughts if I held their hands. A tingle seemed to run up my arm from theirs and then I knew to a large extent what was in their minds, and this applied also to things they had held for a while. This did not come off with everyone. There had to be some underlying connecting force, and one might find that in a stranger and miss it in people of one's own blood. It was interesting but I gave it up very soon, for physically it was wearying and I dislike playing about with forces I do not understand. At the entreaty of a friend now dead I attended one séance, saw what was considered an extremely fine program of materializations, voices and so forth, heard the usual explanations, recognized glimpses of the unknown force. But that approach I considered neither scientific nor spiritual. A good deal of it seemed grotesque. I never went to another. There were things I could not explain, but it carried no conviction whatever and the semi-religious flavor was unpleasant.

But still, behind all these changing scenes lay the belief in power, uncharted, misunderstood, played with, but--power! And such experiences brushed me here and there with passing wings as if on their own errands and left me startled but ignorant.

Then on a day very memorable for myself I stumbled on books relating to the thought of Asia, but especially India. But does one ever stumble? Is not everything that befalls a man the direct, inevitable result of his own deeds and thoughts? I read in astonishment, realizing that here was a nation which had made what we call "the other world" its chief and engrossing study. In other words, the wise and great among the Indian people moved with ease in the mysterious World behind the Looking Glass and found it so much more interesting than the Mirror of the Passing Show that they really concerned themselves very little with the latter and gave its prizes the go-by. They had for three thousand years and more devoted themselves to the study of the soul and its powers as, let us say, the Western nations have devoted themselves to the literature of love, and they had done this to the exclusion of the dreams and delights which tempt us in the West and engross us in that polished surface reflecting us and our doings in home and mart as the be-all and end-all, until we never dream that anything lies behind the Looking Glass which can interest or concern us. And that belief is the state of mind called by wise men Materialism, and when it possesses a nation it points straight down the road to national and individual ruin.

Then for the first time I began to see glimpses of light on the horizon, for I saw that these Indian people spoke of a law which could be tested and followed and that the "occult" like all the rest of the universe may have its being within the limits of law. Their books said:

"Yes, there are mighty forces at work all round us, and by obeying certain rules some of us know how to bend them and make them obedient. When you understand how to make the wheels go round, then these things are no more wonderful than telegraphy. As a matter of fact there is nothing supernatural. There are only things which don't happen commonly because the rules are not known."

Here was an astonishing thought to meet at large! I resolved to begin at the beginning and study some of their doings before I probed their reason. Fate threw in my way a connection by marriage, a naval man, who on board his ship at Bombay had had a visit from a wandering Hindu who offered to show a sight the sahibs could never have seen before. He agreed, and standing a great brass vessel of water on the deck the man stood off at a great distance and in the sight of many people beckoned, and the water rose snake-like in the jar and crept over the edge and slipped down the side a bright snake of water, and so along the deck until he halted it with a sign, released it with a beckon, and so on until it crept to his feet and there dissolved into a pool of common water, leaving the jar empty.

I asked, "How did you explain it?" and the captain answered, "I couldn't. It couldn't have happened, but all the same he made a lot of us see it."

"But that kind of mass-hypnotism could be almost as wonderful as the reality," I suggested. "A really terrible power for good or ill! And besides you saw the empty jar. What about that?"

He laughed and gave it up. But I pondered. What was the law?

My own turn came to go to India, not credulous at all in the ordinary sense of the word--quite prepared to meet with fraud and the sleight-of-hand man, but still confident that behind the Looking Glass lies the world where things happen not at all according to our logic but on a very different logic of its own. You can see that in the brilliant "Through the Looking Glass." First comes the punishment, then the crime. The White Queen begins to scream and cuts her finger afterwards, and the part may be greater than the whole. I saw that our little maxims end with the Looking Glass and have no currency behind it; that it has its laws.

There was at one of the most sacred towns a man who was said to perform the mango trick extremely well, and we invited him to sit on the veranda of the little hotel and there, under my very eyes, to show his skill. He sat at my feet, he planted the mango stone in a pot at my feet, then sitting far off he returned and raised the covering at intervals, holding it at arm's length and touching neither pot nor plant, that I might see the growth.

Finally, when the plant had grown to a height of over two feet I picked two leaves from it and sent one to a friend at home. And the curious thing is that though I know I sent this and a friend standing beside me saw the whole incident, the man to whom I sent the leaf declares to this day he never received it. He returned all my letters in case I should wish to use them as a travel record and among them is the one in which I speak of the leaf, but he never saw it. Could it have dropped out and how? A mango leaf is not a small one. I do not know. I have seen that same performance several times since and done on obvious lines of juggling. The difference can be seen and felt very easily.



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