The Tell-Tale Picture Gallery
The Path, June, 1889
Although the gallery of pictures about which I now write has long ago been abandoned, and never since its keepers left the spot where it was has it been seen there, similar galleries are still to be found in places that one cannot get into until guided to them. They are now secreted in distant and inaccessible spots; in the Himalaya mountains, beyond them, in Tibet, in underground India, and such mysterious localities. The need for reports by spies or for confessions by transgressors is not felt by secret fraternities which possess such strange recorders of the doings, thoughts, and condition of those whom they portray. In the brotherhoods of the Roman Catholic Church or in Freemasonry, no failure to abide by rules could ever be dealt with unless some one reported the delinquent or he himself made a confession. Every day mason after mason breaks both letter and spirit of the vows he made, but, no one knowing or making charges, he remains a mason in good standing. The soldier in camp or field oversteps the strictest rules of discipline, yet if done out of sight of those who could divulge or punish he remains untouched. And in the various religious bodies, the members continually break, either in act or in thought, all the commandments, unknown to their fellows and the heads of the Church, with no loss of standing. But neither the great Roman Church, the Freemasons, nor any religious sect possesses such a gallery as that of which I will try to tell you, one in which is registered every smallest deed and thought.
I do not mean the great Astral Light that retains faithful pictures of all we do, whether we be Theosophists or Scoffers, Catholics or Freemasons, but a vertable collection of simulacra deliberately constructed so as to specialise one of the many functions of the Astral Light.
It was during one of my talks with the old man who turned into a wandering eye that I first heard of this wonderful gallery, and after his death I was shown the place itself. It was kept on the Sacred Island where of old many weird and magical things existed and events occurred. You may ask why these are not now found there, but you might as well request that I explain why Atlantis sank beneath the wave or why the great Assyrian Empire has disappeared. They have had their day, just as our present boasted civilization will come to its end and be extinguished. Cyclic law cannot be held from its operation, and just as sure as tides change on the globe and blood flows in the body, so sure is it that great doings reach their conclusion and powerful nations disappear.
It was only a few months previous to the old man’s death, when approaching dissolution or superior orders, I know not which, caused him to reveal many things and let slip hints as to others. He had been regretting his numerous errors one day, and turning to me said,
“And have you never seen the gallery where your actual spiritual state records itself?”
Not knowing what he meant I replied, “I did not know they had one here.”
“Oh yes; it is in the old temple over by the mountain, and the diamond gives more light there than anywhere else.”
Fearing to reveal my dense ignorance, not only of what he meant but also of the nature of this gallery, I continued the conversation in a way to elicit more information, and he, supposing I had known of others, began to describe, this one. But in the very important part of the description he turned the subject as quickly as he had introduced it, so, that I remained a prey to curiosity. And until the day of his death he did not again refer to it. The extraordinary manner of his decease, followed by the weird wandering eye, drove the thought of the pictures out of my head.
But it would seem that the effect of this floating, lonely, intelligent eye upon my character was a shadow or foretoken of my introduction to the gallery. His casual question, in connection with his own shortcomings and the lesson impressed on me by the intensification and concentration of all his nature into one eye that ever wandered about the Island, made me turn my thoughts inward so as to discover and destroy the seeds of evil in myself. Meanwhile all duties in the temple where I lived were assiduously performed. One night after attaining to some humility of spirit, I fell quietly asleep with the white moonlight falling over the floor and dreamed that I met the old man again as when alive, and that he asked me if I had yet seen the picture gallery. “No,” said I in the dream, “I had forgotten it,” awakening then at sound of my own voice. Looking up, I saw standing in the moonlight a figure of one I had not seen in any of the temples. This being gazed at me with clear, cold eyes, and far off sounded what I supposed its voice,
“Come with me.”
Rising from the bed I went out into the night, following this laconic guide. The moon was full, high in her course, and all the place was full of her radiance. In the distance the walls of the temple nearest the diamond mountain appeared self-luminous. To that the guide walked, and we reached the door now standing wide open. As I came to the threshold, suddenly the lonely, grey, wandering eye of my old dead friend and co-disciple floated past looking deep into my own, and I read its expression as if it would say,
“The picture gallery is here.”
We entered, and, although some priests were there, no one seemed to notice me. Through a court, across a hall, down a long corridor we went, and then into a wide and high roofless place with but one door. Only the stars in heaven adorned the space above, while streams of more than moonlight poured into it from the diamond, so that there were no shadows nor any need for lights. As the noiseless door swung softly to behind us, sad music floated down the place and ceased; just then a sudden shadow seemed to grow in one spot, but was quickly swallowed in the light.
“Examine with care, but touch not and fear nothing,” said my taciturn cicerone. With these words he turned and let me alone.
But how could I say I was alone? The place was full of faces. They were ranged up and down the long hall; near the floor, above it, higher, on the walls, in the air, everywhere except in one aisle, but not a single one moved from its place, yet each was seemingly alive. And at intervals strange watchful creatures of the elemental world that moved about from place to place. Were they watching me or the faces? Now I felt they had me in view, for sudden glances out of the corners of their eyes shot my way; but in a moment something happened showing they guarded or watched the faces.
I was standing looking at the face of an old friend about my own age who had been sent to another part of the island, and it filled me with sadness unaccountably. One of the curious elemental creatures moved silently up near it. In amazement I strained my eyes, for the picture of my friend was apparently discolouring. Its expression altered every moment. It turned from white to grey and yellow, and back to grey, and then suddenly it grew all black as if with rapid decomposition. Then again that same sad music I had heard on entering floated past me, while the blackness of the face seemed to cast a shadow, but not long. The elemental pounced upon the blackened face now soulless, tore it in pieces, and by some process known to itself dissipated the atoms and restored the brightness of the spot. But alas! my old friend’s picture was gone, and I felt within me a heavy, almost unendurable gloom as of despair.
As I grew accustomed to the surroundings, my senses perceived every now and then sweet but low musical sounds that appeared to emanate from or around these faces. So, selecting one, I stood in front of it and watched. It was bright and pure. Its eyes looked into mine with the half-intelligence of a dream. Yes, it grew now and then a little brighter, and as that happened I heard the gentle music. This convinced me that the changes in expression were connected with the music.
But fearing I would be called away, I began to carefully scan the collection, and found that all my co-disciples were represented there, as well as hundreds whom I had never seen, and every priest high or low whom I had observed about the island. Yet the same saddening music every now and then reminded me of the scene of the blackening of my friend’s picture. I knew it meant others blackened and being destroyed by the watchful elementals who I could vaguely perceive were pouncing upon something whenever those notes sounded. They were like the wails of angels when they see another mortal going to moral suicide.
Dimly after a while there grew upon me an explanation of this gallery. Here were the living pictures of every student or priest of the order founded by the Adepts of the Diamond Mountain. These vitalized pictures were connected by invisible cords with the character of those they represented, and like a telegraph instrument they instantly recorded the exact state of the disciple’s mind; when he made a complete failure, they grew black and were destroyed; when he progressed in spiritual life, their degrees of brightness or beauty showed his exact standing. As these conclusions were reached, louder and stronger musical tones filled the hall. Directly before me was a beautiful, peaceful face; its brilliance outshone the light around, and I knew that some unseen brother—how far or near was unknown to me—had reached some height of advancement that corresponded to such tones. Just then my guide reentered; I found I was near the door; it was open, and together we passed out, retracing the same course by which we had entered. Outside again the setting of the moon showed how long I had been in the gallery. The silence of my guide prevented speech, and he returned with me to the room I had left. There he stood looking at me, and once more I heard as it were from afar his voice in inquiry, as if he said but
Into my mind came the question “How are those faces made?” From all about him, but not from his lips came the answer,
“You cannot understand. They are not the persons, and yet they are made from their minds and bodies.”
“Was I right in the idea that they were connected with those they pictured by invisible cords along which the person’s condition was carried?”
“Yes, perfectly. And they never err. From day to day they change for better or for worse. Once the disciple has entered this path his picture forms there; and we need no spies, no officious fellow disciples to prefer charges, no reports, no machinery. Everything registers itself. We have but to inspect the images to know just how the disciple gets on or goes back.”
“And those curious elementals,” thought I, “do they feed on the blackened images?”
“They are our scavengers. They gather up and dissipate the decomposed and deleterious atoms that formed the image before it grew black—no longer fit for such good company.”
“And the music,—did it come from the images?”
“Ah, boy, you have much to learn. It came from them, but it belongs also to every other soul. It is the vibration of the disciple’s thoughts and spiritual life; it is the music of his good deeds and his brotherly love.”
Then there came to me a dreadful thought, “How can one—if at all—restore his image once it has blackened in the gallery?”
But my guide was no longer there. A faint rustling sound was all—and three deep far notes as if upon a large bronze bell!