first published in The Theosophist, 1909, May, p199-204
How the Vision was Analysed
by Johan van Manen
In our theosophical literature we find an unprecedented mass of information acquired by the use of the clairvoyant faculty, and it is often presented in realistic and matter-of-fact language. To the expert seer the exercise of clairvoyant power has usually become a quite normal function, in no way more miraculous or out-of-the-way than the exercise of physical sight is to ordinary mankind. The result is that the seer confines himself as a rule to a description of the outcome of this exercise of his higher powers, saying nothing about himself or the circumstances of his research work. Indeed, such a description would be difficult for the seer to write, since he lacks the necessary perspective with regard to himself. Naturally, therefore, the information which he gives assumes more or less the form of revelation. We thankfully receive the result of his work, but we have no opportunity of watching its growth, its genesis, though this, if known, would strengthen our sense of the reality both of the proceeding itself and of its outcome, and would tend to make superphysical research work seem more natural and comprehensible than at present it often does to the majority, who have not the privilege of regular intercourse in every-day life with trained Occultists. Every contribution, however small, to the knowledge of this aspect of the subject is therefore not without importance; hence these notes.
Recently I had the opportunity of witnessing a clairvoyant investigation into the nature and value of a very unusual vision, the remarkable analysis of which has already been described in the pages of this journal. (See "A Vision and the Facts behind it", p47) Not only was the case itself very instructive, but an account of the investigation involves an interesting description of the use of a certain form of trained clairvoyance, showing it in action from a practical and (so to say) human point of view, which may be a useful addition to the theoretical explanations of the books.
Some time ago I had the pleasure of staying and working with Mr Leadbeater in the lovely island of Sicily, and while there I was able to give him some assistance in the answering of a small part of the voluminous correspondence which flows in upon him incessantly from all parts of the world. One day he handed me for perusal a letter which had come in that morning from a stranger in America. On account of its appalling length, and also because it was written with a pale violet pencil which made it trying to the eyes to decipher it, Mr Leadbeater glanced only at the first few pages, and then handed it over to me to report upon its contents. I found that it contained a description of a long and complicated vision, or rather series of visions, about twenty closely-written pages in all, with a request for information upon their nature and value. Extracts from this letter are given in Mr Leadbeater's article, so I need not repeat them. After I had read it, we discussed its contents, and agreed that, fantastic as it sounded, there must be behind it some basis of real experience; so I suggested to Mr Leadbeater that during sleep he should visit the author in his astral body in order to investigate the matter. That is his usual way of dealing with the innumerable cases in which his help is asked for newly-dead people or people with some psychic trouble, so it was quite to my surprise that he took the matter up then and there, saying: "Let us see what we can find."
It should be stated that he had not done more than glance hurriedly over a small portion of the letter before handing it to me, and that first hurried glance had rather given him the impression that this was only another specimen of the fanciful and quite unimportant types of psychic experience of which he regularly receives very large numbers for explanation. So it was only after I had indicated the points of unusual interest in it that he was induced to go more fully into the matter. I mention this so that it may be clear that he had not built up in his mind beforehand any theory as to an explanation of its contents. Of course I am not trying here to prove the reality of clairvoyant powers either in general or in this particular case, but I prefer to omit as few details as possible in my description.
It was late in the afternoon. We were seated on a high terrace, overlooking the glorious prismatic Ionian Sea, which rolled more than two hundred yards beneath us. To our left on a small elevated peninsula stood the imposing ruins of a noble Greek theatre, a silent witness to the past splendor of this temporary residence of ours, where for twenty-eight centuries successive civilisations had held sway. To our right, in the distance, stretched the plain where the first Greek colonists in these parts had landed and founded a great city, once far-famed, but which has now totally disappeared. Behind us a range of undulating hills hid the horizon. Silence and tranquillity pervaded this beautiful scene, and seemed to create an atmosphere in which the inner man might unfold his powers under the most favorable circumstances.
Seated in an easy chair, sometimes with his eyes shut, or covered with both hands, and sometimes open in the normal way, Mr Leadbeater began to relate what he saw. "It is more interesting than I thought", he said; "really this is a good woman; it is not she who thought herself of such importance; that was only the guide." In this way, with occasional pauses, in longer or shorter sentences, in exclamations, and in answers to my questions, the whole story slowly unfolded itself step by step, just as it had happened - but along lines to me most unexpected.
Those who have read Mr Mead's Did Jesus live 100BC? will remember that in the Introduction to that interesting work the author describes in simple direct language how some of his clairvoyant friends furnished him with data from the records of the past. Such a plain, straightforward description is needed to give a true impression of the exceeding naturalness of the exercise of the higher powers for those who have mastered them - the entire absence of anything miraculous, even when the most startling results are being produced. The trained clairvoyant needs no stage properties; he does not wrap himself in gorgeous garments, or make magical signs and gestures, or murmur kabalistic words in mysterious moonlight. On the contrary, it seems to me that the more one is really master of these rare powers the more is he without any artificiality in their exercise. Though he would never make them a public exhibition for the unintelligent multitude, he will use them among trusted friends just as a professor of physics, when among students or in his own private circle, applies in the most matter-of-fact way forces of nature which seem strange and miraculous to the layman. We should never forget that Occultism is by no means an exhibition of sensational melodrama. Nor is it necessary to surround the investigator's head with a halo of glory, or to maintain towards him an attitude of awe and reverence which would prevent a calm and discriminating analysis of his methods. It has often seemed to me that where there is amazement there is no understanding, and where there is no understanding, there no exercise of higher powers is shown by the Occultist.
In this case at any rate Mr Leadbeater worked simply enough. Seated in his chair, he concentrated himself upon the picture that he examined, and related bit by bit what he saw as he followed up the various details of the subject. There was no necessity for him to leave the body, and during the whole of the time he did not lose his physical consciousness for a single moment. As he spoke I put questions to him, or directed his attention to this or that point, which he then examined and described. From time to time throughout the enquiry we discussed problems connected with the points observed, and so we kept up a constant conversation, just as one might with some one looking through a telescope and describing what he sees to a friend standing at his side.
After some time Mr Leadbeater rose from his chair, walked to and fro on the terrace or stood still leaning against the balustrade, but all the time continued to gaze on the picture before him in America. I noticed that his physical eyes were by no means always turned in the same direction, but rested indifferently upon any part of the far-away horizon. These investigations lasted about an hour, and we gained from them a complete outline of the whole case.
At the moment I considered this as exhausting the whole problem before us, and completing our enquiry, so we dropped the subject for the time being. Next day, however, having in the meantime thought carefully over the notes which I had taken, and having re-read the letter, comparing the two minutely, I brought up the matter again in the afternoon, asking for some further details. Mr Leadbeater seemed willing to respond, and a second hour was then spent in investigation under precisely the same conditions as the day before. So it will be seen that both series of answers to my questions were given at a moment's notice, without any preparation, and yet in an unbroken, unfaltering sequence.
As to the physical condition of our seer a few points may be noticed. Having during the last year witnessed so many cases of his exercise of that subtle power, I have come to recognise certain characteristic marks of it. Unless it is a matter of a very few moments only, I notice that during such investigations his face grows more or less flushed, his eyes watery and bluish. He seems to become somewhat abstracted, though still fully conscious physically, able to speak, answer questions and observe his physical surroundings. After some time he becomes drowsy, seeking a comfortable position for the body, and with this comes a seemingly irresistible tendency to yawn. When this drowsiness reaches a certain point he either brings his researches to an abrupt end, or falls asleep. This termination may come in a quarter of an hour, half an hour, or sometimes it may be postponed for as long as an hour, but I never remember having seen him 'see' for more than that period without intermission. In one sense the seeing is always intermittent, for it is often interspersed with conversation, or interrupted by physical actions, such as walking about. Once I remember that he examined and described an early incarnation of the late Colonel Olcott (in which the latter was a Persian King) in the interval between two cups of tea!
I hope some time we may be able to measure pulse and temperature during these efforts, and see whether they show any appreciable difference from their condition in his normal state. Certain factors in the surrounding conditions appear to have considerable influence upon the ease or difficulty with which he exercises his power, or in other words the amount of force which he has to spend in order to get the same result, thus determining whether he will be specially tired or not after the process. Among these factors I have noticed the purity of the atmosphere, the presence or absence of sunlight or of noise, and the temperature. Heat, purity of air, sunlight, absence of noise and smells - all these seem to make things much easier, though it would seem that none of them is indispensable. I observe that, as a rule, when for any reason he is physically tired he does not undertake researches.
I do not wish to speak here of the limits of his powers, which I think I can to a certain extent deduce from my observations, nor to attempt to describe the special forms of vision and occult power of which I sometimes caught glimpses. To avoid grave misunderstandings such a description would need to be very carefully worded, and the most subtle distinctions should be made. Besides, it would more or less partake of the nature of an intrusion into a private life of which none but the man himself has the right to speak in public. Further, an Occultist is an evolving and growing entity, forever 'in the making', and so he can do to-morrow what he cannot do to-day; he changes his methods pari passu with his ever-widening experience. Still, I hope that on this subject too we shall some day receive precious teachings, which will be veritable contributions to the science of living occult psychology.
One anecdote I may add without indiscretion, and it shows very clearly how natural all these things are. One day I interested Mr Leadbeater in a theory about man's constitution, involving the conception of an ensouling of the permanent atoms. According to this theory, each permanent atom should have a soul consisting of matter of the next cosmic plane above the prâkritic - what may be called the astral cosmic plane. Mr Leadbeater tried to verify this theory, and put all his energy into the effort. The astral cosmic plane being, however, entirely beyond the reach of his powers, the result was that ten minutes of this strain were enough to give him first of all a violent headache for a few days, and secondly a feeling of fatigue and brain-fag which lasted for a whole month, during which he found that he had to abstain from any form of work along this line. Evidently therefore these faculties correspond in this way also to those of the physical body; it is quite possible to overstrain them, and if that is done they can be restored only by prolonged rest, just as would be the case with physical muscles.