Ghost Stories Galore
Theosophist, April, 1884
Article from 1877 by D.A.C. | Note by H.P.B.
[Note: the notes to this article are all signed “Editor,” with the exception of Note 3, which is signed “H.P.B.”]
The following article appeared some years ago in the N. Y. World. It is an account given by Mme. Lydia de Paschkoff, a well-known Russian lady and a great traveller, of an event that took place in the Desert. Written by a fellow of the Theosophical Society, in days when Theosophy had hardly loomed upon the horizon of America and published in a daily paper, that would have refused to receive anything of the kind except in a spirit of fun, the narrative was, of course, viewed as a humouristic production, but its humour takes away nothing from the substantial veracity of the story itself. “The Eighth Avenue Lamasery” was the name by which the Head-quarters of our Society were generally known in New York, ever since the name was given to it by the writer – one of the wittiest and cleverest reporters of New York.
A Night of Many Wonders.
(At second hand in “the Eighth Avenue Lamasery.”)
The Science of Apparitions Made Clear—Magic Rites in Far Off Eastern Deserts.
“Well, it may not have been a ghost,” said Hierophant Olcott, “but all the same, it may.” Then a silence fell on the little party that sat smoking in one of the inner chambers of the Lamasery at 302, West Forty-seventh street, at the corner of Eighth Avenue. It was rather a reflective calm that resembled that of the miniature sphinx on the mantel piece of the mysterious Egyptian chamber. Besides the divans on which the party reclined, there was little furniture in the room, but a huge crystal ball was held suspended in the centre by an invisible cord. From the interior of this globe gleamed strange pictures of deserts and pyramids and things fixed there by some cunning art that, for all the reporter knows, may have been magic. The walls were sombre, but the hall was luminous and filled the room with a sort of pale twilight. Tea, talk and tobacco from Arabia entertained the group, and the fragrant blue clouds grew into phantoms as the weird conversation grew gruesome.
Madame Blavatsky was entertaining, in better than royal style, a friend and compatriot, like herself a traveller in strange lands, like herself a firm believer in the occult, and a Russian Countess, Madame P———, whose card, blazoned with her ancestral arms, bears three legends and a tantalizing “&c.” in delicate type, is in her way as wonderful a woman as her hostess. According to one of these legends she is “Member of the Geographical Society of France.” Another tells that she is a correspondent of the Figaro, and a third that she is corresponding member of the Tour du Monde. She has spent years in the East, and was the guest in Egypt of the Khedive, whose mother presented her with a rare souvenir of friendship at parting. It is an immense pearl that now hangs from the Countess’s breast-pin in shape and size not unlike the largest molar tooth of Barnum’s giant. Other jewels, distinguished among them her black eyes, gleamed as she half reclined in gorgeous raiment on a divan, pretending to smoke a cigarette. Besides those named, there were a French diplomatist, the reporter and another and far profounder journalist. Two others should be mentioned, a Turk, who smoked his own nargileh and drank coffee, and a table servant who passed around tea, tobacco, and sweetmeats. The one a picture of the automatic chess-player was ornamental; the other the counterfeit of a Nubian god was useful. Neither spoke.
“A ghost, yes. Why not?” said Mme. Blavatsky, presently. “I have seen many ghosts. It is not a question of whether there are ghosts, but of whether they are seen. Doubtless the ghost of old Shep was there. The only doubt is whether the officer really saw him as he says he did. I believe he did.”
The Turk opened his mouth as if to speak.
“What, then, is a ghost?” asked the diplomate. The Turk nodded slowly and closed his lips on his amber mouthpiece.
“There are ghosts and ghosts,” replied the occultist. “The air that we breathe is permeated by a subtler fluid that corresponds to it as the soul corresponds to the body of man. It is the astral fluid and in it are the thoughts of all men, the possibilities of all acts—as on the photographer’s plate are images that remain unseen until revealed by chemical action. So the last dying thought of any person, if it be intense enough, becomes objective, and under favorable conditions is very apt to be seen. Only a little while ago the newspapers of this city reported the case of a man who committed suicide in his bathroom. A friend ran for a doctor, against the remonstrance of the dying man. On the way he was startled at seeing for a moment the image of the dying man, clad only in his night-shirt, grasping his pistol and bleeding from his death wound. It was at a considerable distance from the house. The apparition disappeared almost instantly.1 It was the intense desire to stop his friend that became objective, as the astral man left the physical. So it is with many other apparitions. In haunted houses the last thought of the victim of a crime may remain, and the tragedy be reenacted perhaps thousands of times before it fades away. It is likely that in the case of old Shep, the watchman, he does not know that he is dead, and his last thought was probably that he was going on his rounds until that thought fades away, and under certain conditions he will be visible to the physical eyes of those around him.”2
“Pardon me,” said the elder journalist, “did you say that perhaps he did not know he was dead?”
“It is recorded,” said the Hierophant gravely, “that many persons do not know when they are dead, and that they go around afterwards in great perplexity, because no one pays attention to them. They feel as well as ever, and talk to their friends, and are almost frantic at not being able to get replies.”
Then there was another silence.
“I have many times hunted ghosts,” said the reporter, plaintively after a time, “but I was never lucky enough to shoot one. They are very shy birds.”
“In America, yes,” said Mme. Blavatsky. “But in the northern countries and in the East it is different. The conditions are different.” Then she turned to the Countess Paschkoff and spoke rapidly to her, presumably in Russian.
While the two ladies conversed, Hierophant Olcott waxed encyclopaedic. “The theory of crime being propagated by invisible seeds as disease is, and epidemics of crime devastating countries was first supposed to be a mere figure of speech. Many writers have spoken of it.” (Here he quoted many writers.) “But it has its foundation in fact. The astral crimes remain and influence all those who come in contact with them. Thus, it happens that the air and the very ground become saturated with sin in some communities. I have been told that.—”
“I remember,” said Mme. Blavatsky suddenly in English “a governess I had when I was a child. She had a passion for keeping fruit until it rotted away and she had her bureau full of it. She was an elderly woman, and she fell sick. While she lay abed, my aunt, in whose house I was, had the bureau cleaned out and the rotten fruit thrown away. Suddenly, the sick woman, when at the point of death, asked for one of her nice ripe apples. They knew she meant a rotten one, and they were at their wits’ end to know what to do, for there were none in the house. My aunt went herself to the servant’s room to send for a rotten apple, and while she was there, they came running to say that the old woman was dead. My aunt ran upstairs, and I and some of the servants followed her. As we passed the door of the room where the bureau was my aunt shrieked with horror. We looked in, and there was the old woman eating an apple. She disappeared at once, and we rushed into the bed room. There she lay dead on the bed, and the nurse was with her (having never left her one minute for the last hour).3 It was her last thought made objective.”
The Countess Paschkoff understands a little English but does not speak it. She had listened attentively, but without any manifest surprise, and now she spoke. It is perhaps to be regretted that the only record of her talk the reporter has, is derived from Col. Olcott’s running translation. This, notwithstanding the Hierophant’s enormous linguistic ability, can hardly be supposed to be literal. The lady spoke rapidly, vivaciously musically, and, throwing away her cigarette, gesticulated gracefully. The Hierophant spoke sententiously, dropping into the vernacular frequently and using no gesture, excepting when he stroked his ample beard. Thus ran the American end of the duo:
“In the North there are many apparitions. In the East there is much magic. I have seen both apparitions and magic scores oft times. In St. Petersburg there is standing at the present time a house that was built by one of the male friends of the Empress Catherine. I hired this house, and the day after people began to tell me I was foolish. They said it was haunted. But I went to live there. I was brave enough till I was really in the house, and then I got frightened. The principal salon of the house was an immense room with marble pillars. On the wall was a picture of the soldier4 who built the house. He was all rigged out with crosses and diamonds and ribbons and sich on his breast. They said he walked around at night. So we all sat up waiting for him the first night, and at 12 o’clock we looked for him. All was still. Our hearts jumped up and down. Suddenly the close struck 12. We looked at the picture, and then we looked out into the hall. We saw nothing.
“Another night and another we looked. We saw nothing. We were all afraid. I had a maid to sleep in my room.
“Many nights we slept thus. At length one night, just after 12, a lackey came running upstairs. He was pale. ‘Come, come,’ he whispered, ‘the ghost walks.’ We threw on something or other (I can’t make out the name of it), and all went downstairs to the grand hall. The soldier was walking up and down. We watched him. He had all his diamonds and things on his coat. They sparkled in the faint light of the hall lamp. He walked to the door of the salon, which was closed. He walked through without opening it. We opened it and followed. He was walking up and down the room. We looked for the picture. It was not there. Where it had been the wall was black. He went to the middle of the room. Suddenly, he stopped. He shuddered. He was no longer there. We looked at the wall. The picture was in its place. Voila!”
“It is nothing,” said Mme. Blavatsky. “There are many such houses in Russia. In Pavlovsk, stood a house that no one would enter, for the windows were all broken out and there were noises there at night. It was in the time of the Emperor Nicholas I. He said he would stop the foolish stories, and he had new windows put in and surrounded the house with troops. At midnight a crash was heard and the windows were broken out from the inside. The Emperor entered. There was no one there. Many nights he did this, and it was the same. This is historical.”
The Countess Paschkoff spoke again and again. Col. Olcott translated for the reporter:
“I have seen the procession that goes every year to the shrine between Cairo and Alexandria. The dervishes go on camels and horses and ride over the people that throw themselves down to make a road for them. Little children and men and women lie, and the beasts walk over them, and no one is hurt. Then there are the dancing dervishes that spin around, till they go up in the air, and it takes three or four men to pull them down. And some of them stick knives through their legs and through their throats. The points of the knives come out on the other side. Blood runs down. They pull out the knives. They pass their hands over the wound. It is healed. There is not even a scar. Hoopla! I mean Voila!”
“Superstition,” muttered the elder journalist, not meaning to be heard. The Turk opened his mouth to speak.
“It is no more superstitious,” said the interpreter (for the Countess had caught the word and was talking again) “than the practices of our Christians. I have seen an image of the Virgin that was worshipped. It is the custom to take it on certain days, in a procession from house to house. The women and children who want to be learned take school-books in their aprons and allow the image to be carried over them, and they think that as it passes all the knowledge in the books passes into their heads.”
The Turk shut his lips—
“I was once travelling between Baalbek and the river Orontes,” continued the two speakers, “and in the desert I saw a caravan. It was Mme. Blavatsky’s. We camped together. There was a great monument standing there near the village of Dair Mar Maroon. It was between Lebanon and the Anti-Lebanon. On the monument were inscriptions that no one could ever read. Mme. Blavatsky could do strange things with the ‘spirits,’ as I knew, and I asked her to find out what the monument was. We waited until night. She drew a circle and we went in it.5 We built a fire and put much incense on it. Then she [rather he—Ed.] said many spells. Then we put on more incense. Then she pointed with her wand [something she never had—Ed.] at the monument and we saw a great ball of white flame on it. There was a sycamore tree near by. We saw many little white flames on it. The jackals came and howled in the darkness a little way off. We put on more incense. Then Mme. Blavatsky commanded the spirit of the person to whom the monument was reared to appear.6 Soon a cloud of vapour arose and obscured the little moonlight there was. We put on more incense. The cloud took the indistinct shape of an old man with a beard, and a voice came as it seemed from a great distance through the image. He said that the monument was once the altar of a temple that had long since disappeared. It was reared to a god that had long since gone to another world. ‘Who are you?’ said Mme. Blavatsky? ‘I am * * *, one of the priests of the temple,’ said the voice. Then Mme. Blavatsky commanded him to show us the place as it was when the temple stood. He bowed, and for one instant we had a glimpse of the temple and of a vast city filling the plain as far as the eye could reach. Then it was gone, and the image faded away. Then we built up big fires to keep off the jackals and went to sleep.”
“Yes, and she was finely scared, I can tell you,” said Mme. Blavatsky, laughing.
The Countess then told many merry tales that were of the true Arabian Nights’ style about the adventures of Mme. Blavatsky and herself as they went around together, the former, summoning spirits at will and doing magical feats out of pure fun, and finished with one about going into the great pyramid at night and performing incantations in the Queen’s chamber.
D. A. C. (F. T. S.)
1. A fact corroborated by many eye-witnesses at the time, and which happened in a town on the Hudson River in 1876.—Ed.
2. This was written in 1877; and it proves that the Theosophists taught at the time the same doctrines, as they do now, notwithstanding assertions to the contrary.—Ed.
3. A perfectly true story, a fact witnessed by myself in 1843. But then the woman had just died, and even her spirit could make itself consciously objective.—H.P.B.
4. Count Orloff.—Ed.
5. Not so. It was the person—a Syrian who accompanied Mme. Blavatsky who drew the circle, not she, and the strange things he did do!—Ed.
6. Mme. Blavatsky never did anything of the kind. It was the Syrian ascetic again, who produced these wonders, and far more extraordinary were the phenomena than given by the humourous writer.—Ed.