[An Eye-witness Account of Wonders in India]
Theosophist, December, 1883
Editor’s Note by H.P.B. on a selection from Col. Stephen Fraser’s Twelve Years in India, titled “The Bhattah Mirrors”
Editor’s Note. [H.P.B.]—This curious passage found in the Memoirs of Col. S. Fraser, and transcribed for our journal by our brother, Mr. P. Davidson (Banchory, Scotland) is republished for good reasons. First, to show that but about two dozens of years ago (namely, before the Mutiny), no English gentleman was afraid of being laughed at for telling the truth—however wonderful and, as in this case, incredible and unscientific in the eyes of the profane. Secondly, with an eye to the considerable number of overwise (in their conceit, of course) European critics (many of them Spiritualists with a firm belief in their materializing grand dames and relatives) of Isis and The Theosophist, we shall not miss this good opportunity of turning the tables upon them. To do it we have but to oppose to some narratives of eye-witnesses given in Isis, and so vehemently cried down on the ground “of their inaccuracy” those of Col. Fraser, an author who “clearly and distinctly affirms, on the hitherto unsullied honor of an English gentleman, and a Colonel in Her Majesty’s service” that he was an eye-witness to all the wonders he relates above.
Indeed, the strange confusion in the above accounts between a “Sheik” (who can be but a Mohammedan) and a Brahman, is by itself highly instructive. It shows that even a comparatively long residence (twelve years) in India, and a Colonel’s commission in H. M.’s Army does not procure immunity from blunders in connection with the mystic side of India. Nevertheless, Col. Fraser, whose veracity as to magicians and their psychological phenomena seen by himself is as unimpeachable as his blundering with regard to mystic names and things is self-evident—was never, to our knowledge either doubted or publicly traduced as a liar? Even the undeniable inaccuracies of a Colonel in “Her Majesty’s Army” become “probable facts,” while plain and accurate statements of realities and truth when given out by a foreigner—have to be not only doubted but publicly set down without investigation as deliberate falsehoods. What can the author mean, when speaking of the “Sebeiyeh” dance, the Brahman “Sheik,” the fire of the Garoonahs (?!) or the “Ardom who begat the Universe”? All of these words are unknown and un-Brahmanical. Yet from the substance of the narrative however muddled up, we know who are the members of that “renowned Brotherhood of Mystics, Philosophers and Magicians.” They are a Fraternity of true magicians, now disbanded and so widely scattered about the country as to be virtually extinct. They are “left-hand” adepts, Mohammedans belonging nominally to the sect of the Wahabees, who learned throughout centuries their magical art (or rather added to the knowledge brought by their ancestors from Arabia and Central Asia), from the Tantrikas of Eastern Bengal and Assam. That part of the country has been famous for its magic and sorcery from a very remote period of antiquity. In the Mahabharata, we read of a fight between Sri Krishna and the king of the Magicians, Anusalva, to the utter discomfiture of the latter. The proximity of the Dugpas of Bhootan and the neighboring hill-tribes, famous for their sorcery and magical practices, has had a good share in the growth of the black arts in those parts of the country. To this day their fame survives in Bengal; Kamarupa in Assam is still an enchanted city to the many. But the manufacturers of the “Bhattah Mirrors” are not regular practitioners of Black magic. The knowledge they have acquired by the “left-hand” path is used for good or bad purposes according to the inclination of the practitioner. It is a curious feature in the mystic sects of Indian Mussulmans that they always make a jumble of Mohammedanism and Hinduism in their rites and ceremonies. Their magical formulæ we know are partly in Arabic or rather its dialects in India and in Sanskrit, or one of its living representatives; the Hindu Gods and Goddesses are also freely invoked therein. The whole account of Col. Fraser, with the exception of inaccuracies above adverted to, is substantially correct. But at the same time it is but proper that attention should be called to his blunders, for otherwise the statements of any well-informed writer—especially a foreigner, if clashing with those of any of the numerous authors of the stamp of Col. Fraser, will render the former liable to be set down as “an impostor or charlatan”—the latter epithets having now become the most aromatic flowers of rhetoric of the leading representatives of the English Press.