Nocturnal Thoughts on Newspaper Clippings
Theosophist, December, 1879
We begin with a strange story from the Gainesville Eagle—an American journal:—
“Some time ago Dr. Stephenson was prospecting the vast hornblende and chloritic slate formation between Gainesville and Jefferson, and found a singular rock on the land of Mr. Frank Harrison, which he considers one of the most interesting and inexplicable productions of the laws of chemical affinity. The boulder of hornblende weighs nearly a ton, is black, and crystallized through it in seams about one-eighth of an inch thick of white quartz are the figures 1791. They are about four inches long and placed at equal distances from each other. It is common in all plutonic rock to see seams of quartz traverse the granite, gneiss, hornblende and other classes of rocks in various directions, from one-eighth of an inch to a foot or more, which sometimes cross each other, but never with the regularity and symmetry of this. It has not been one thousand years since the Arab invented our numerals, from 1 to 10, and we find here in perfect form the same figures, made by the laws of chemical affinity on the oldest rocks, which formed the crust of the earth countless millions of years before there was a vegetable or animal in existence.”
It may be a meaningless freak of nature, and it may be the freak of a sensational and not over scrupulous reporter: either is possible, and a great caution is certainly required, before we credit such an extraordinary piece of news. But what is a freak of nature? The effect of a natural cause; not even a “freak” can happen otherwise. And yet, when this cause is evident who ever presumes to go any deeper into its origination? Not the scientists; for these generally leave the prior causes to take care of themselves. Some superstitious souls and the Christians might attribute the mysterious figures to some occult and even a most intelligent cause. Some may see a connection between them and the French Revolution; others with the finger of God Himself, who traced them for some unfathomable reason, to seek to penetrate which would be a sacrilege. But now, times and men are changed. The strong-backed, convenient, maid-of-all-work called “Will of God” and “Providence,” upon which these amiable and unconscious blasphemers (regarded as very pious Christians) pile all the garbage and evils of imperfect nature—has a time of rest. The All-Perfect is no more held responsible for every calamity and inexplicable event, except by a few of the above-named pious souls. Least of all by the men of science. The Christian “Will of God” in company with the Mohammedan Kismet are handed over to the emotional Methodist and the irrepressible Moolah.
Hence, the cause of the figures—if figures there are—comes within the category of scientific research. Only, in this case, the latter must be taken in its broadest sense, that which embraces within the area of natural sciences psychology, and even metaphysics. Consequently, if this story of the marvellous boulder should prove something more than a newspaper hoax, originating with an idle reporter, we will have, perhaps, some comments to offer. We may then, strengthen our arguments by giving a few sentences from a curious manuscript belonging to a Fellow of the Theosophical Society in Germany, a learned mystic, who tells us that the document is already on its way to India. It is a sort of diary, written in those mystical characters, half ciphers, half alphabet, adopted by the Rosicrucians during the previous two centuries, and the key to which, is now possessed by only a very few mystics. Its author is the famous and mysterious Count de Saint-Germain; he, who before and during the French Revolution puzzled and almost terrified every capital of Europe, and some crowned Heads; and of whom such a number of weird stories are told. All comment now would be premature. The bare suggestion of there being anything more mysterious than a blind “freak” of nature in this particular find, is calculated to raise a scornful laugh from every quarter, with the exception, perhaps, of some Spiritualists and their natural allies, the Theosophists.
Our space is scant, so we will make room for another, and far more extraordinary story, endorsed by no less a personage than Marshal Mac-Mahon, ex-President of the Republic of France, and credited—as in religious duty bound—by some hundred millions of Roman Catholics. We admit it the more willingly since, had any such story originated with either the Theosophists or the Spiritualists, it would have been straightway ridiculed and set down as a cock-and-bull fable. But circumstances alter cases—with the Catholics; none, however skeptical at heart, will dare laugh (above his breath) at a story of supernatural “miracles” worked by the Madonna and her Saints, or by Satan and his imps. For such “miracles” the Church holds a patent. The fact tacitly conceded, if not always secretly believed, by such a tremendous body of Christians, for anyone to discredit the power of the devil, even in this age of free thought, makes him ranked at once with the despised infidels. Only the Spiritualists and Theosophists have made themselves culpable in the eyes of the panegyrists of reason, and deserve to be called “lunatics” for believing in phenomena produced by natural causes. Even Protestants are warned against pooh-poohing the story we here quote; for they too are bound by their Calvanistic and other dogmas to believe in the power of Satan—a power accorded the Enemy of Man by the ever inscrutable—“Will of God.”
A STARTLING STORY: MARSHAL MCMAHON’S STRANGE ADVENTURE IN ALGIERS,—is the sensational title given to the letter of a correspondent, by the Catholic Mirror of Baltimore (Sept. 13, 1879), in copying it from the New-York World. We print the narrative in full:
“Sir—One day when talking with a well-known man in London the subject of Spiritualism came up. Referring to the late Emperor Napoleon’s belief in the great delusion of the day, my friend told me that he was once at a grand dinner in Paris, at which many notables were present, and the following incident occurred. A member of the Imperial Court was telling about Mr. D.D. Home’s exploits at the Tuileries; how that in his presence a table was caused to float from the floor to the ceiling with the Emperor seated upon it, and by no visible power; and other similar tales. When the gentleman had finished, Marshal MacMahon, who was present, said ‘That reminds me of an experience of mind,’ which was as follows: ‘It was when I was a sub-officer in Algiers that the affair I am about to speak of took place. The men of my command were mostly natives, and we had been much troubled by the large number of deaths and mysterious disappearances which had taken place among them, and we had taken great pains to find out the causes, but were unable to do so. I had understood that the men were given to the practice of necromancy and the worship of strange gods. Indeed, I had myself seen many remarkable feats performed by them, and it was therefore no great surprise to me when an old sergeant, who had heard me express my intention to ferret out the mysteries, came to me and in a timid manner, suggested that it was generally believed by the soldiers that a certain corporal could tell more about them than any one else if he chose. This corporal I had noticed as a man who did his duty perfectly, bu had little or nothing to say to any one, and always went about alone. He was from the interior of Africa, tall, guant, with long, clear-cut features of remarkably stern expression, and the most remarkable eyes I ever beheld. Indeed, it was not extraordinary that he should be said to have ‘the evil eye,’ for is anyone ever possessed that power it was he.
‘Bent on finding out the mysteries, I sent for the corporal, and told him that I had understood that he could tell me about them and that he must do it. At first he appeared confused, and began to mutter to himself, finally saying he knew nothing about the matter; but, when I, putting on my sternest look, told him that I knew he could make an explanation, and that, unless he did so, I would have him punished, he drew himself up, and, giving me a long and penetrating look, said that being punished would make no difference to him, but that, if I was so anxious to know the mysteries, I must go with him alone to a certain place at midnight, when the moon was in the third quarter, if I had the courage enough to do so without telling any one of my object of trip, and that then he would show me the causes of the deaths and disappearances; otherwise, he would tell me nothing, punish him as I might. Without aceeding to or refusing his strange request, I dismissed him, and, pondering on his proposal, I walked towards the mess. The place the corporal had mentioned was a clump of half a dozen trees, situated about three-quarters of a mile outside of our lines on the edge of the desert. At first, I was inclined to think that it was a plot to rob or murder me, and my impulse was to think no more of it; accordingly, I told the officers at the mess, and various was the advice I received, some to do and some not. However, on thinking the matter more, I resolved not to appear afraid to go at any rate; so, after having quietly examined the spot to see if there were any pit-falls or chances for ambush, and finding the ground smooth and solid and no chance for approach in any direction without discovery, I resolved to go, and, sending for the corporal, told him my intention of accepting his proposal. As he turned away, I noticed his eyes gleam with almost fiendish delight, which was not calculated to reassure me. On the appointed night, I started out with him, and nothing was said by either until we reached the spot; here his manner suddenly changed, and, from the subdued and almost servile bearing of the soldier, became stern and authoritative. Then he ordered me to remove everything metallic from my person; at this I felt sure that he had a plan to rob me, but, as I had gone too far to withdraw, and partly thinking it might be only a part of his performance to require this, I accordingly took off my sword, and my purse and watch from my pockets, and hung them on a convenient branch, thinking this would be enough; but he insisted that I must remove everything metallic or all would be in vain. I then rook of everything except my underclothing and said all was gone. At this he appeared pleased, and stripped himself entirely, then, drawing a circle around himself on the ground, he commanded me that, whatever should happen, I should not venture within it.
‘He then said he was prepared and would make everything clear to me provided I said nothing and did nothing. Then, naked as he was, standing on the grass, he began a series of incantations, and, standing up straight in front of me, and looking me in the eye, he suddenly became rigid and as suddenly disappeared like a flash. Until then the moon was shining brightly around, and his form stood out clear-cut against the sky, but as I rubbed my eyes to look, it suddenly became dark and a clap of thunder sounded, after which it became clear again, and as it did so a column of smoke arose from where the man had stood. This gradually resolved itself, strange to say, into the man himself, but he appeared transfigured; his face, which before was stern, had now become fiendish and terrible, and his eyes flashed fire. As I looked, his gaze transfixed me and my hair began to rise. As his look continued I head screams as of agony, and his expression suddenly changing to one of terror, he cried, pointing to my breast, ‘You have lied.’ As he said this there was a flash of light with a loud report, and he had again disappeared, and all was clear moonlight around. As he had pointed to my breast, I involuntarily put my hand up and felt a little leaden medal of the Virgin under my shirt, which I had quite forgotten when removing my clothes. Almost thunder struck with the whole scene, seeing no man visible and fearing then an attack, I rushed to the tree where my things were, I seized my sword, and was astonished to find it so hot that I could hardly hold it. Calling aloud the man’s name, I ran quickly around the clump of trees and looked in vain in every direction for him. The moon was then shining brightly,and any dark figure running or lying down could easily be seen on the light sand. Seizing my clothed I hastily pulled them on and ran as fast as I could to the barracks. At once I called out the guard and, mounting myself, gave orders to scour the country in every direction, and bring everyone found to me. But it was all in vain, for after hours searching no traces could be found of any one, and all I had for my pains was that the men, surprised that I had become temporarily insane. I said nothing, however, and the next day after roll-call the corporal was reported absent. I had search quietly made for him for some time, but he had never turned up from that day to this.’ Silence reigned for some time at that table, various dignified heads were scratched and quizzical expressions assumed. Finally the silence was broken by the question, ‘How do you account for it, Marshal?’ The marshal quietly smiled, and said, ‘I don’t account for it.’ ‘And your watch?’ said another gentleman. ‘Ah,’ replied the Marshal, ‘that is what I consider the most remarkable thing. The next day when I went back to the place I not only found my watch and the remainder of my things, but the corporal’s things were also there, and the whole place seemed undisturbed.’” 1
Unlike the Marshal, we have something to say. The Spiritualists would advance a very easy and well-known theory to “account” for it, and the Theosophists—though, perhaps, slightly modifying it, would follow suit. But then, they would have the great body of Roman Catholics against them. Their theory, or, shall we say, “infallible dogma”?— is, if the story be true, that the Arab corporal had sold his soul to the Father of Evil. But, though presumably all-powerful for mischief, old Nick found his match in the leaden charm, or medal of the Virgin; and, gnashing his teeth, had to take to his heels before the presence of the image of the Queen of Heaven. Well, one theory is as good as any other when we come to hypotheses. But then,—the infidels might ask—why not give a slight extra stretch to that divine power, and rid humanity at once and for ever of that eternal mischief-maker, who, “as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour”? Weak is humanity and faltering the steps of man! Why not, at one clip, save it from the snares of the devil; the more so as humanity, if incapable of resisting such a power, is weak through no fault of its own, but again because it so pleased kind Providence? Surely, if a simple leaden amulet has such a virtue of putting to flight the devil, how much more ought the blessed Virgin herself do. Especially, since of late she has taken to visiting in person and so often the famous grotto at Lourdes.
But then—dreadful thought!—how could the wicked be sentenced to eternal perdition? Whither could the sinner direct his trembling steps, when once that kingdom “where the worm dieth not, and the fire is never quenched” is annexed by the Romish Imperial Raj of Heaven? Impassable chasm, sharp horns of a dilemma! So long as it bears its name, Christianity cannot get rid of the devil, without, so to say, committing a most dreadful, unthinkable suicide. Some years ago the pious and holy Cardinal, Father Ventura di Raulica, expressed his opinion upon the subject. “To demonstrate,” he says, “the existence of Satan, is to reestablish one of the fundamental dogmas of the Church, which serve as a basis for Christianity, and without which it would be but a name. . . .” And, the very Catholic Chevalier Gougenot des Mousseaux adds,—Satan is “the Chief Pillar of Faith. . . . But for him, the Saviour, the Crucified, the Redeemer, would be but the most ridiculous of supernumeraries, and the Cross an insult to good sense” (Moeurs et Pratiques des Démons—p. 10).
Thus we see that the next and most logical move of the infallible Church would be to institute a yearly vote of thanks—a Te Deum—to the Devil. This happy thought is not copyrighted, and His Holiness is welcome to it.
The more so, as it seems that again, for some inscrutable and providential reasons better known in heaven than comprehended upon earth, not only the Devil, but even simple mortals are allowed to do the deeds of darkness. In the following horrifying trick, played lately at the above-mentioned miracle-working grotto of Lourdes, we find the “Protectress” utterly incapable of protecting even herself. We copy this sad tale of human infamy also from our pious contemporary—The Catholic Mirror:
DESECRATION AT LOURDES.—A very strange story comes to us from France—a story difficult to credit, but our authority is trustworthy. All who have been at the miraculous shrine at Lourdes must have been struck by the number of trophies that are the offerings of pious pilgrims, or that the quick recurring miracles have collected in the place. There is a touching appropriateness in the devotion that makes the grateful pilgrim offer at the shrine the mementoes of his disease which the mercy of heaven has rendered useless. All the walls at Lourdes were hung with crutches, and wooden legs, and wooden arms, to which scrolls were attached with dates and names authenticating the miracles. These trophies, it appears, excited the malignity of the unbelievers. It was a hard thing to scoff at the miracles with such visible testimony of their truth before the eyes of the world. Therefore it was resolved that the testimony must be destroyed. In the dead of the night some miscreants penetrated to the shrine, the religious trophies were collected in a heap and set in flames. They were reduced to ashes. A beautiful rose tree that sprang from a cleft in the rocks was destroyed by the fire, and the face of the statue of the Virgin was scorched and blackened by the smoke. It would be difficult in all history to find a parallel for this dastardly and disgraceful outrage by these “apostles of reason and liberty.”
The “apostles of reason and liberty” are criminals, and ought to be punished—as incendiaries. But the majesty of the Law once vindicated, ought they not, as “apostles of reason” to be allowed to respectfully put a few questions to their judges? As, for instance: how is it that “our blessed Lady of Lourdes,” so prompt at producing “miracles” of the most astounding character, passively suffered such an appalling personal outrage? That was just the moment to show her power, confound the “infidels,” and vindicate her “miracles.” A better opportunity was never lost. As it is, the criminals scorch and blacken the face of the statue and—get away unscorched, even by the fire of (the Catholic) heaven. Really, it was very indiscreet in our contemporary to publish this story! Perhaps these “apostles” were the disciples and followers of the Zouave Jacob, whose fame as a healer is not inferior to that of our Lady of Lourdes and the miraculous water. Or, it may be, they had known J. R. Newton, the celebrated American mesmeric “healer,” whose large reception rooms are always hung, and no less than the walls of the grotto, with “trophies” of his mesmeric power, “with crutches, wooden legs, and wooden . . . arms” (?)—no! not with wooden arms, for this implies previous amputations of natural arms. And almost magical as are the healing powers of our respected friend Dr. Newton, we doubt whether he has ever claimed the gift of endowing human beings with the extraordinary peculiarity of a cray-fish—i.e., of having a new arm to grow out of an amputated stump, as seems to have been the case at Lourdes according to the Catholic Mirror.
But it is not alone the wondrous “grotto” that proved powerless before the destructive element. The lightning (of God?) showed itself no more a respecter of the house of God and holy shrines than those firebolts, the “apostles of reason and liberty.” The number of churches, camp meeting tents, tabernacles and altars destroyed, during these last two years, by hurricane and lightning, in Europe and America, is appalling. And now:—
“The famous sanctuary of Madonna de Valmala, situated in the valley of the same name in Switzerland, was struck by lightning on Sunday, August 24th, while the priest was saying Mass at the altar. Six people were struck down by the fatal fluid, one of whom, a little girl was kneeling near her parents, was killed on the spot, and the others are injured beyond hope of recovery. Several persons who were near the door had the soles of their shoes torn off.” (Catholic Mirror, Sept. 13th)
Dear, dear! The little girl killed while kneeling in prayer, must have been a very wicked child—perhaps the daughter of an “apostle of reason,”—and all the rest “sinners.” Truly inscrutable are thy ways, O kind Providence! Not understanding, we have but to submit. Moreover, to fully satisfy our doubts, and tranquillize our unrestful brains, we have but to bear in mind that which the good and pious Jesuit padris of St. Xavier’s College, Bombay—known throughout Christendom as the most acute of logicians—teach us: namely, that it is but in the wicked logic of men that 2 and 2 necessarily make 4; God, for whom everything is possible, is not so circumscribed; if it pleases Him to command that by a miracle 2 x 2 should become 5, why, even Sir Isaac Newton would have to put up with the new formula.
1. See the follow-up article on this story here: Cock-and-Bull (Theosophist, April, 1880)