[An Experience of the Astral World]
The Path, February, 1887
Recently the tea-table was chatting about the Widow’s escape from the Romish fold. She was nearly converted by the urbane Monsignor Capel, but escaped at the critical moment, she said, “by reason of a sudden preoccupation.” This turned out to be the death of her worthy husband. The Widow is a pretty and amiable creature, approved even by the ladies who say “she is a good little soul and mourns most expensively.” Hence she never appears at the tea-table without an escort, and the most frequent of these is one Didymus, lawyer by profession, good humored, sceptic by nature, whose careless, semi-flippant manner makes it difficult to know him, though he and I frequent the same clubs and make our bows in the sam e drawing rooms. On the day in question the lady said that she brought him often because she “wanted him converted to Theosophy.”
“But, my dear Madam,” said I, “you know we don’t believe in converts. Theosophy is simply an extension of previous beliefs and like Victor Hugo it says, ‘in the name of Religion, I protest against religions.’ People have to grow into it. When they are ready for it a crisis of some kind, now moral, now physical, seems to occur just before they accept the Light from the East as a man receives back something he has lost. It seems as if those elemental creatures, who attend man, foresaw his determination and strove to frighten him away from the initial moment of choice. Great momentum, even of misapplied energies, often indicates the nearness of radical change.”
“Yes,” broke in Didymus quietly, “I believe that of the Elemental and the astral world. I’ve been there myself, don’t you know!”
Imagine the feelings of Balaam upon a noted occasion! Unlike the excellent but misunderstood animal of scripture, Didymus was urged to continue.
“No,” said he, “I can’t profess to explain my experiences, but I’ll tell them by way of illustrating Mr. Julius’ remark, as I find most people do go through a climax of some kind before they round the turning point of the Age.” The tea-table settled itself comfortably and Didymus proceeded.
“I was in a good deal of trouble last winter, trouble of various kinds, and needless to specify, and I had foolishly taken to a pretty lively life. I don’t mind saying that one of the chief causes of my trouble was the fact that I couldn’t believe in anything that made life worth living; all my ideals were pretty well played out. One Sunday I awoke with an overwhelming sense of terrible calamity, I recalled the events of the previous day, but all was in due order from the matutinal cock tail to the vesper toddy, so I finally concluded that my depression was a hint that I had been living too hard and I resolved to stop it. This resolve, by the way, I carried out from that hour, nor have I ever touched liquor since. I passed the day otherwise as usual with various friends and dined out with a glorious appetite. Returning to my hotel, I was engaged in making notes of one of Herbert Spencer’s works, when my attention was attracted by voices in the adjoining room, and I was astounded to find that they were detailing with startling accuracy, certain of my affairs which I not unnaturally supposed were hidden from the world at large. Conquering my blank amazement I sprang in to the corridor, when the voices as suddenly ceased and I found my neighbor’s door ajar and the room entirely empty. This rather took me down, and I concluded to turn in, and was just falling asleep, when I seemed to see two fellows in evening dress whom I somehow knew to be jugglers. They advanced, bowed, and thereupon began a series of the most fascinating and laughable tricks I ever saw. I looked on with interest for what appeared to me a long time but at last the rapidity and variety of the illusions produced a feeling of in tense weariness, and I said, ‘Gentlemen, thanks for your interesting performance, but you will pardon my remarking that it is late, and I am very tired.’ They bowed, said nothing, and continued their performance which became even more ludicrous. I repeated my request; again the bows and tricks of increasing absurdity. Worn out I exclaimed angrily, ‘I consider this a beastly imposition, you know, and if you persist I shall b e obliged—’ but I never finished the sentence, for the two distorted their faces into masks of indescribable comicality and were off while I laughed—and awoke. As I did so, I was amazed to see a broad patch of vivid scarlet light slide down the wall from ceiling to floor and before I could give a second thought to this phenomenon, a big white cat sprang from the foot of my bed and vanished in the darkness.
“This aroused me thoroughly, for though I had never experienced the like before, I said to myself ‘Old Boy, you must have a touch of D. T. though why the devil you should have with your seasoned head, I can’t say.’ I got up and lit my gas; it was after midnight but I concluded to go out and get some medicine. The halls were quite dark save for a light in the front vestibule and I felt my way down by the balustrade. Turning the corner of the staircase I became aware of a shape—I cannot call it a form which was distinguishable from the surrounding darkness only by being more intensely black. It seemed about seven feet high, the body was indistinct but in the sharply defined head two fiery eyes glowed with a malice and menace that were truly appalling. The shape stood directly before me and barred my way. I felt an icy chill down my back, and I’d wager that my hair stood up, but summoning all my courage I said, ‘Well; what do you want?’ The silent shape bowed mockingly and the eyes became more malignant and threatening. My temper, which is really hasty,” (cries of “Oh! no!” from the ladies,) “got the better of my fears, and advancing in furious anger I cried; ‘Stand aside and let me pass.’ The shape vanished and I reached the front door without further incident.
“The cold night somewhat calmed me, but as I crossed Madison Square I imagined that some one was fol lowing me. I turned sharply about; the square was deserted. I resumed my walk; again the swift footsteps ever coming closer: again I turned; nothing! By this time I began to be alarmed. For visible foes a man cares little, but those ghastly footsteps, they curdled my very blood, by Jove! I walked on and reaching Broadway, I was struck with the tumult of voices that filled the air though there were but few people about. The street cars seemed crowded with noisy men, laughing, swearing, telling more or less questionable stories, and from every cab and wagon came similar sounds: it was like the rumpus on the Stock Exchange on a field day. The invisible footsteps, at first drowned in the noise recommenced, and constantly turning, I found myself ever duped. By this time I began to think the whole thing an illusion, but presently I saw a man just ahead of me look out from a doorway. As I approached, he apparently drew back, but getting opposite the door I found it closed by barred iron shutters: this occurred over and over. Then as I would approach anyone, pedestrian or driver, he would shout at me, mockingly, jovially, profanely or inconsequently, yet I could see that his lips were closed and that he was only mechanically aware of my presence.
“I now began to feel that there were two of me, so to speak. One recognized that this was all a delusion; the other self was alarmed and unstrung. I walked quietly but rapidly, attracting no attention. Looking at myself in a chance mirror I saw that in outward appearance I was the same as ever. Reaching the drug store by the Herald Office, I sat d own completely unstrung, but my voice was steady as I asked for some Bromide of Potash, and the attendant gave me a dose in a glass of soda water at my request without remark: Having no excuse for remaining I reluctantly turned homeward, hoping that fatigue and the drug would dissipate my delusions. In vain! I no longer heard the dogging steps or saw the peeping men, but the voices were louder and more confusing in a perfect chorus of commonplace talk, intensified in volume. Arrived home, I took another dose of Bromide and threw myself on the bed. Instantly it seemed to sink under me and then rose violently. I rose, lit the gas and my cigar, but the voices began again in the next room. Though tired out, I sought the street again. By this time the sense of being ‘double’ was intensified, and I recognized with anger that my higher self was under the control of a lower portion which it ridiculed and reprobated. I walked up Broadway this time, and as I passed the hotels from doors and windows came invitations to drink, to dine, to play billiards and less innocent suggestions. A man and woman came towards me, and I was amazed at the breadth, or depth of their conversation, ranging over topics not whispered in general, much less proclaimed on the high way, yet as I met them I saw that their lips moved not; with heads bent slightly against the keen air of the winter morning they sped silently on their way. Jeers and mockeries saluted me from the cab stands, yet the cabbies dozed on their boxes. Hour after hour I walked thus, ready to drop with hunger and fatigue but unable to stop. At last in the cold grey of the morning I returned home, took a tub and a meal, and went to my Doctor, having heard the irrational tumult of voices all the while. The Doctor was vastly amused at some points of my narration; he thought my cat might be D. T. but could make nothing out of all the rest except a threatening of insanity, and giving me some beastly powders, advised me to live quietly, and keep out of doors as much as possible. I attended to my routine business, all the time hearing the voices, except when someone addressed me. Getting restless as the day wore on I walked down along the East River piers, went on board vessels, into holds and engine rooms, climbed over cargo and chatted with stevedores. No one saw anything unusual about me; friends asked me to wine and dine, yet still the hateful voices mingled with the real ones till I hardly knew them apart and feared I should commit some noticeable indiscretion. The day passed in misery; as I got to my bed at last, a red setter appeared by my side. An inmate owned a dog of this species, and at first I thought this was he, but my door was locked and as I turned to him he vanquished, which upset my nerves again. Again I sought my Doctor’s aid, and taking a second worse prescription, passed another hideous night in desperate wandering, ever with the voices at my ear. It was useless to try to sleep or even to lie down; my bed heaved like a ship in a tempest. The next day I passed at my office again or with any acquaintances I could muster, talking as much as possible in the hope of a brief respite from the maddening sounds. At last the medicines did their work; the next day found me clear headed, the sights and sounds of the astral plane had vanished; I don’t want to experience them again, but I believe in them, you bet! Later I found out what they really were when my life had wholly changed, and I had joined the Theosophical Society.”
The ladies turned on him with one voice. “You! A Theosophist! And you never told us!”
“Well,” said he humbly, “I tried hard, but—you never gave me a chance.”
Pretty Polly says that under cower of the laughter the Widow whispered to Didymus that she had thought he was trying to tell her something else. But I don’t believe it, for Didymus is still a bachelor; some say he is a chela.
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In answer to queries, I would say that all occurrences related in this department1 are strictly true, as is the above experience of an F. T. S. communicated since the published invitation to correspondents in our last number. All such will be hospitably received by the Tea-Table. I may add further that “Julius” is now the name of a department merely; though it has at times sheltered groups of personalties of both sexes, there has always been one fixed quantity directing these, and that’s he who now signs, Julius.
1. The department in question is the series titled “Tea Table Talk,” a regular section in The Path periodical.