Clairvoyance in time, that is to say, the power of reading the past and the future, is, like all the other varieties, possessed by different people in very varying degrees, ranging from the man who has both faculties fully at his command, down to one who only occasionally gets involuntary and very imperfect glimpses or reflections of these scenes of other days. A person of the latter type might have, let us say, a vision of some event in the past; but it would be liable to the most serious distortion, and even if it happened to be fairly accurate it would almost certainly be a mere isolated picture, and he would probably be quite unable to relate it to what had occurred before or after it, or account for anything unusual which might appear in it. The trained man, on the other hand, could follow the drama connected with his picture backwards or forwards to any extent that might seem desirable, and trace out with equal ease the causes which had led up to it or the results which it in turn would produce.
We shall probably find it easier to grasp this somewhat difficult section of our subject if we consider it in the subdivisions which naturally suggest themselves, and deal first with the vision which looks backwards into the past, leaving for later examination that which pieces the veil of the future. In each case it will be well for us to try to understand what we can of the modus operandi, even though our success can at best be only very modified one, owing first to the imperfect information on some parts of the subject at present possessed by our investigators, and secondly to the recurring failure of physical words to express a hundred part even of the little we do known about higher planes and faculties.
In the case then of a detailed vision of the remote past, how is it obtained, and to what plane of Nature does it really belong? The answer to both these questions is contained in the reply that it is read from the ākāshic records; but that statement in return will require a certain amount of explanation for many readers. The word is in truth somewhat of a misnomer, for though the records are undoubtedly read from the ākāsha, or matter of the mental plane, yet it is not to it that they really belong. Still worse is the alternative title, “records of the astral light”, which has sometimes been employed, for these records lie far beyond the astral plane, and all that can be obtained on it are only broken glimpses of a kind of double reflection of them, as will presently be explained.
Like so many others of our Theosophical terms, the word ākāsha has been very loosely used. In some of our earlier books it was considered as synonymous with astral light, and in others it was employed to signify any kind of invisible matter, from mūlaprakriti down to the physical ether. In later books its use has been restricted to the matter of the mental plane, and it is in that sense that the records may be spoken of as ākāshic, for although they are not originally made on that plane any more than on the astral, yet it is there that we first come definitely into contact with them and find it possible to do reliable work with them.
This subject of the records is by no means an easy one to deal with, for it is one of that numerous class which requires for its perfect comprehension faculties of a far higher order than any which humanity has yet evolved. The real solution of its problems lies on planes far beyond any that we can possibly know at present, and any view that we take of it must necessarily be of the most imperfect character, since we cannot but look at it from below instead of from above. The idea which we form of it must therefore be only partial, yet it need not mislead us unless we allow ourselves to think of the tiny fragment which is all that we can see as though it were the perfect whole. If we are careful that such conceptions as we may form shall be accurate as far as they go, we shall have nothing to unlearn, though much to add, when in the course of our further progress we gradually acquire the higher wisdom. Be it understood then at the commencement that a thorough grasp of our subject is an impossibility at the present stage of our evolution, and that many points will arise as to which no exact explanation is yet obtainable, though it may often be possible to suggest analogies and to indicate the lines along which an explanation must lie.
Let us then try to carry back our thoughts to the beginning of this solar system to which we belong. We are all familiar with the ordinary astronomical theory of its origin—that which is commonly called the nebular hypothesis—according to which it first came into existence as a gigantic glowing nebula, of a diameter fax exceeding that of the orbit of even the outermost of the planets, and then, as in the course of countless ages that enormous sphere gradually cooled and contracted, the system as we know it was formed.
Occult science accepts that theory, in its broad outline, as correctly representing the purely physical side of the evolution of our system, but it would add that if we confine our attention to this physical side only we shall have a very incomplete and incoherent idea of what really happened. It would postulate, to begin with, that the exalted Being who undertakes the formation of a system (whom we sometimes call the Logos of the system) first of all forms in His mind a complete conception of the whole of it with all its successive chains of worlds. By the very act of forming that conception He calls the whole into simultaneous objective existence on the plane of His thought, a plane of course far above all those of which we know anything, from which the various globes descend when required into whatever state of further objectivity may be respectively destined for them. Unless we constantly bear in mind this fact of the real existence of the whole system from the very beginning on a higher plane, we shall be perpetually misunderstanding the physical evolution which we see taking place down here.
But Occultism has more than this to teach us on the subject. It tells us not only that all this wonderful system to which we belong is called into existence by the Logos, both on lower and on higher planes, but also that its relation to Him is closer even than that, for it is absolutely a part of Him, a partial expression of Him upon the physical plane, and that the movement and energy of the whole system is His energy, and is all carried on within the limits of His aura. Stupendous as this conception is, it will yet not be wholly unthinkable to those of us who have made any study of the subject of the aura.
We are familiar with the idea that as a person progresses on the upward path his causal body, which is the determining limit of his aura, distinctly increases in size as well as in luminosity and purity of colour. Many of us know from experience that the aura of a pupil who has already made considerable advance on the Path is very much larger than that of one who is but just setting his foot upon its first step, while in the case of an Adept the proportional increase is far greater still. We read in quite exoteric Oriental scriptures of the immense extension of the aura of the Buddha; I think that three miles is mentioned on one occasion as its limit, but whatever the exact measurement may be, it is obvious that we have here another record of this fact of the extremely rapid growth of the causal body as man passes on his upward way. There can be little doubt that the rate of this growth would itself increase in geometrical progression, so that it need not surprise us to hear of an Adept on a still higher level whose aura is capable of including the entire world at once; and from this we may gradually lead our minds up to the conception that there is a Being so exalted as to comprehend within Himself the whole of our solar system. And we should remember that, enormous as this seems to us, it is but as the tiniest drop in the vast ocean of space.
So of the Logos (who has in Him all the capacities and qualities with which we can possibly endow the highest God we can imagine) it is literally true, as was said of old, that “of Him and through Him, and to Him are all things”, and “in Him we live and move and have our being.”
Now if this be so, it is clear that whatever happens within our system happens absolutely within the consciousness of its Logos, and so we at once see that the true record must be His memory; and furthermore, it is obvious that on whatever plane that wondrous memory exists, it cannot but be far above anything that we know, and consequently whatever records we may find ourselves able to read must be only a reflection of that great dominant fact, mirrored in the denser media of the lower planes.
On the astral plane it is at once evident that this is so, that what we are dealing with is only a reflection of a reflection, and an exceedingly imperfect one, for such records as can be reached there are fragmentary in the extreme, and often seriously distorted. We know how universally water is used as a symbol of the astral light, and in this particular case it is a remarkably apt one. From the surface of still water we may get a clear reflection of the surrounding objects, just as from a mirror; but at the best it is only a reflection—a representation in two dimensions of three-dimensional objects, and therefore differing in all its qualities, except colour, from that which it represents; and in addition to this, it is always reversed.
But let the surface of the water be ruffled by the wind and what do we find then? A reflection still, certainly, but so broken up and distorted as to be quite useless or even misleading as a guide to the shape and real appearance of the objects reflected. Here and there for a moment we might happen to get a clear reflection of some minute part of the scene, of a single leaf from a tree, for example; but it would need long labour and considerable knowledge of natural laws to build up anything like a true conception of the object reflected by putting together even a large number of such isolated fragments of an image of it.
Now in the astral plane we can never have anything approaching to what we have imaged as a still surface, but on the contrary we have always to deal with one in rapid and bewildering motion; judge, therefore, how little we can depend upon getting a clear and definite reflection. Thus a clairvoyant who possesses only the faculty of astral sight can never rely upon ay picture of the past that comes before him as being accurate and perfect; here and there some part of it may be so, but he has no means of knowing which it is. If he is under the care of a competent teacher he may, by long and careful training, be shown how to distinguish between reliable and unreliable impressions, and to construct from the broken reflections some kind of image of the object reflected; but usually long before he has mastered those difficulties he will have developed the mental sight, which renders such labour unnecessary.
On the next plane, which we call the mental, conditions are very different. There the record is full and accurate, and it would be impossible to make any mistake in the reading. That is to say, if three clairvoyants possessing the powers of the mental plane agreed to examine a certain record there, what would be presented to their vision would be absolutely the same reflection in each case, and each would acquire a correct impression from it in reading it. It does not, however, follow that when they all compared notes later on the physical plane their reports would agree exactly. It is well known that, if three people who witness an occurrence down here in the physical world set to work to describe it afterwards, their accounts will differ considerably, for each will have noticed especially those items which most appeal to him, and will insensibly have made them the prominent features of the event, sometimes ignoring other points which were in reality much more important.
Now in the case of an observation on the mental plane this personal equation would not appreciably affect the impressions received, for since each would thoroughly grasp the entire subject it would be impossible for him to see its parts out of due proportion; but, except in the case of carefully trained and experienced persons, this factor does come into play in transferring the impressions to the lower planes. It is in the nature of things impossible that any account given down here of a vision or experience on the mental plane can be complete, since nine-tenths of what is seen and felt there could not be expressed by physical words at all; and, since all expression must therefore be partial, there is obviously some possibility of selection as to the part expressed. It is for this reason that in all our Theosophical investigations of recent years so much stress has been laid upon the constant checking and verifying of clairvoyant testimony, nothing which rests upon the vision of one person only having been allowed to appear in our later books.
But even when the possibility of errors from this factor of personal equation has been reduced to a minimum by a careful system of counterchecking, there still remains the very serious difficulty, which is inherent in the operation of bringing down impressions from a higher plane to a lower one. This is something analogous to the difficulty experienced by a painted in his endeavour to reproduce a three-dimensional landscape on a flat surface, that is, practically in two dimensions. Just as the artist needs long and careful training of eye and hand before he can produce a satisfactory representation of Nature, so does the clairvoyant need long and careful training before he can describe accurately on a lower plane what he sees on a higher one; and the probability of getting an exact description from an untrained person is about equal to that of getting a perfectly-finished landscape from one who has never learn how to draw.
It must be remembered, too, that the most perfect picture is in reality infinitely far from being a reproduction of the scene which it represents, for hardly a single line or angle in it can ever be the same as those in the object copied. It is simply a very ingenious attempt to make upon one only of our five senses, by means of lines and colours on a flat surface, an impression similar to that which would have been made if we had actually had before us the scene depicted. Except by a suggestion dependent entirely on our own previous experience, it can convey to us nothing of the roar of the sea, of the scent of the flowers, of the taste of the fruit, of of the softness or hardness of the surface drawn.
Of exactly similar nature, though far greater in degree, are the difficulties experienced by a clairvoyant in his attempt to describe upon the physical plane what he has seen upon the astral; and they are furthermore greatly enhanced by the fact that, instead of having merely to recall to the minds of his hearers conceptions with which they are already familiar, as the artist does when he paints men or animals, fields or trees, he has to endeavour by the very imperfect means at his disposal to suggest to them conceptions which in most cases are absolutely new to them.
Small wonder then that, however vivid and striking his descriptions may seem to his audience, he himself should constantly be impressed with their total inadequacy, and should feel that his best efforts have entirely failed to convey any idea of what he really sees. And we must remember that in the case of the report given down here of a record read on the mental plane, this difficult operation of transference from the higher to the lower has taken place not once but twice, since the memory has been brought through the intervening astral plane. Even in a case where the investigator has the advantage of having developed his mental faculties so that he has the use of them while awake in the physical body, he is still hampered by the absolute incapacity of physical language to express what he sees.
Try for a moment to realize fully what is called the fourth dimension, of which we said something in an earlier chapter. It is easy enough to think of our own three dimensions, to image in our minds the length, breadth and height of any object; and we see that each of these three dimensions is expressed by a line at right angles to both of the others. The idea of the fourth dimension is that it might be possible to draw a fourth line which shall be at right angles to all three of those already existing.
Now the ordinary mind cannot grasp this idea in the least, though some few who have a special study of the subject have gradually come to be able to realize one or two very simple four-dimensional figures.
Still, no words that they can use on this plane can bring any image of these figures before the mind of others, and if any reader who has not specially trained himself along that line will make the effort to visualize such a shape he will find it quite impossible. Now to express such a form clearly in physical words would be, in effect, to describe accurately a single object of the astral plane; but in examining the records on the mental plane we should have to face the additional difficulties of a fifth dimension! So that the impossibility of fully explaining these records will be obvious to even the most superficial observation.
We have spoken of the records as the memory of the Logos, yet they are very much more than a memory in an ordinary sense of the word. Hopeless as it may be to imagine how these images appear from His point of view, we yet known that as we rise higher and higher we must be drawing nearer to the true memory, must be seeing more nearly as He sees; so that great interest attaches to the experience of the clairvoyant with reference to these records when he stands upon the Buddhic plane; the higher which his consciousness can reach even when away from the physical body until he attains the level of the Arhats.
Here time and space no longer limit him; he no longer needs, as on the mental plane, to pass a series of events in review, for past, present and future are all alike simultaneously present to him, meaningless as that sounds down here. Indeed, infinitely below the consciousness of the Logos as even that exalted plane is, it is yet abundantly clear from what we see there that to Him the record must be far more than what we call a memory, for all that has happened in the past and all that will happen in the future is happening now before His eyes just as are the events of what we call the present time. Utterly incredible, widely incomprehensible, of course, to our limited understanding; yet absolutely true for all that.
Naturally we could not expect to understand at our present stage of knowledge how so marvellous a result is produced, and to attempt an explanation would only be to involve ourselves in a mist of words from which we should gain no real information. Yet a line of though recurs to my mind which perhaps suggests the direction in which it is possible that that explanation may lie; and whatever helps us to realize that so astounding a statement may after all not be wholly impossible will be of assistance in broadening our minds.
Some thirty years ago I remember reading a very curious little book, called, I think, The Stars and the Earth, the objects of which was to endeavour to show how it was scientifically possible that to the mind of God the past and the present might be absolutely simultaneous. Its arguments struck me at the time as decidedly ingenious, and I will proceed to summarize them, as I think they will be found somewhat suggestive in a connection with the subject, which we have been considering.
When we see anything, whether it be the book which we hold in our hands or a star millions of miles away, we do so by means of a vibration in the ether, commonly called a ray of light, which passes from the object seen to our eyes. Now the speed with which this vibration passes is so great, about 186,000 miles in a second, that when we are considering any object in our own world we may regard it as practically instantaneous. When, however, we come to deal with interplanetary distances we have to take the speed of light into consideration, for an appreciable period is occupied in traversing these vast spaces. For example it takes eight minutes and a quarter for light to travel to us from the sun, so that when we look at the solar orb we see it by means of a ray of light which left it more than eight minutes ago.
From this follows a very curious result. The ray of light by which we see the sun can obviously reports to us only the state of affairs which existed in that luminary when it started on its journey, and would not be in the least affected by anything that happened there after it left; so that we really see the sun not as he is, but as he was eight minutes ago. That is to say that if anything important took place in the sun—the formation of a new sunspot, for instance—an astronomer who was watching the orb through his telescope at the time would be quite unaware of the incident while it was happening, since the ray of light bearing the news would not reach him until more than eight minutes later.
The difference is more striking when we consider the fixed stars, because in their case the distances are so enormously greater. The pole star, for example, is so far off that light, travelling at the inconceivable speed above mentioned, takes a little more than fifty years to reach our eyes; and from that follows the strange but inevitable inference that we see the pole star no as and where it is at this moment, but as and where it was fifty years ago. Nay, if tomorrow some cosmic catastrophe were to shatter the pole star into fragments, we should still see it peacefully shining in the sky all the rest of our lives; our children would grow up to middle age and gather their children about them in turn before the news of that tremendous accident reached any terrestrial eye. In the same way there are other stars so far distance that light takes thousands of years to travel from them to us, and with reference to their condition our information is therefore thousands of years behind time.
Now carry the argument a step farther. Suppose that we were able to place a man at the distance of 186,000 miles form the earth, and yet to endow him with the wonderful faculty of being able from that distance to see what was happening here as clearly as though he were still close beside us. It is evident that a man so placed would see everything a second later the time when it really happened, and so at the present moment he would be seeing what happened a second ago. Double the distance, and he would be two seconds behind time, and so on; remove him to the distance of the sun (still allowing him to preserve the same mysterious power of sight) and he would look down and watch you doing not what you are doing now, but what you were doing eight minutes and a quarter ago. Carry him away to the pole star, and he would see passing before his eyes the events of fifty years ago; he would be watching the childish gambols of those who at the very same moment were really middle-aged men. Marvellous as this may sound, it is literally and scientifically true, and cannot be denied.
The little book went on to argue logically enough that God, being almighty, must possess the wonderful power of sight which we have been postulating for our observed; and further, that being omnipresent, He must be at each of the stations which we mentioned, and also at every intermediate point, not successively but simultaneously. Granting these premises, the inevitable deduction follows that everything which has ever happened from the very beginning of the world must be at this very moment taking place before the eye of God; not a mere memory of it, but the actual occurrence itself being under His observation.
All this is materialistic enough, and on the plane of purely physical science, and we may therefore be assured that it is not the way in which the memory of the Logos acts; yet it is neatly worked out and absolutely incontrovertible, and as I have said before, it is not without its use, since it gives us a glimpse of some possibilities which otherwise might not occur to us.
But, it may be asked, how is it possible, amid the bewildering confusion of these records of the past, to find any particular picture when it is wanted? As a matter of fact, the untrained clairvoyant usually cannot do so without some special link to put him en rapport with the subject required. Psychometry is an instance in point, and it is quite probable that our ordinary memory is really only another presentment of the same idea. It seems as though there were a sort of magnetic attached or affinity between any particle of matter and the record which contains its history, an affinity which enables it to act as a kind of conductor between that record and the faculties of anyone who can read it.
For example, I once brought from Stonehenge a tiny fragment of stone, not larger than a pin’s head, and on putting this into an envelope and having it to a psychometer who had no idea what it was, she at once began to describe that wonderful ruin and the desolate country surrounding it, and then went on to picture vividly what were evidently scenes from its early history, showing that that infinitesimal fragment had been sufficient to put her into communication with the records connected with the spot from which it came. The scenes through which we pass in the course of our life seem to act in the same manner upon the cells of our brain as did the history of Stonehenge upon that particle of stone; they establish a connection with those cells by means of which our mind is put en rapport with that particular portion of the records, and so we “remember” what we have seen.
Even a trained clairvoyant needs some link to enable him to find the record of an event of which he has no previous knowledge. If, for example, he wished to observe the landing of Julius Cæsar on the shores of England, there are several ways in which he might approach the subject. If he happened to have visited the scene of the occurrence, the simplest way would probably be to call up the image of that spot, and then run back through its records until he reached the period desired. If he had not seen the place, he might run back in time to the date of the event, and then search the Channel for a fleet of Roman galleys; or he might examine the records of Roman life at about that period, where he would have no difficulty in identifying so prominent a figure as Cæsar, or in tracing him when found through all his Gallic wars until he set his foot upon British land.
People often enquire as to the aspect of these records; whether they appear near or far away from the eye, whether the figures in them are large or small, whether the pictures follow one another as in a panorama or melt into another like dissolving views, and so on. One can only reply that their appearance varies to a certain extent according to the conditions under which they are seen. Upon the astral plane the reflection is most often a simple picture, though occasionally the figures seen would be endowed with motion; in this latter case, instead of a mere snapshot a rather longer and more perfect reflections has taken place.
On the mental plane they have two widely different aspects. When the visitor to that plane is not thinking specially of them in any way, the records simply for a background to whatever is going on, just as the reflections in a pier-glass at the end of a room might form a background to the life of the people in it. It must always be borne in mind that under these conditions they are really merely reflections from the ceaseless activity of a great Consciousness upon a far higher plane, and have very much the appearance of an endless succession of the recently invented cinematographs, or living photographs. They do not melt into one another like dissolving views, nor do a series of ordinary pictures follow one another; but the action of the reflection figures constantly goes on, as though one were watching the actors on a distant stage.
But if the trained investigator turns his attention especially to any one scene, or wishes to call it up before him, an extraordinary change at once takes place, for this is the plane of thought, and to think of anything is to bring it instantaneously before you. For example, if a man wills to see the records of that event to which we before referred, the landing of Julius Cæsar, he finds himself in a moment not looking at any picture, but standing on the shore among the legionaries, with the whole scene being enacted around him, precisely in every respect as he would have seen it if he had stood there in the flesh on that autumn morning in the year 55 b.c.. Since what he sees is but a reflection, the actors are of course entirely unconscious of him, nor can any effort of his change the course of their action in the smallest degree, except only that he can control the rate at which the drama shall pass before him, can have the events of a whole year rehearsed before his eyes in a single hour, or can at any moment stop the movement altogether, and hold any particular scene in view as a picture as long as he chooses.
In truth he observes not only what he would have seen if he had been there at the time in the flesh, but much more. He hears and understands all that the people say, and he is conscious of all their thoughts and motives; and one of the most interesting of the many possibilities which open up before one who has learnt to read the records is the study of the thought of ages long past- the thought of the cavemen and the lake-dwellers as well as that which ruled the mighty civilisations of Atlantis, of Egypt or Chaldæa. What splendid possibilities open up before the man who is in full possession of this power may easily be imagined. He has before him a field of historical research of most entrancing interest. Not only can he review at his leisure all history with which we are acquainted, correcting as he examines it the many errors and misconceptions which have crept into the accounts handed down to us; he can also range at will over the whole story of the world from its very beginning, watching the slow development of intellect in man, the descent of the Lords of the Flame, and the growth of the mighty civilizations which They founded.
Nor is his study confined to the progress of humanity alone; he has before him, as in a museum, all the strange animal and vegetable forms which occupied the stage in days when the world was young; he can follow all the wonderful geological changes which have taken place, and watch the course of the great cataclysms which have altered the whole face of the earth again and again.
In one especial case an even closer sympathy with the past is possible to the reader of the records. If in the course of his enquiries he has to look upon some scene in which he himself has in a former birth taken part, he may deal with it in two ways: he can either regard it in the usual manner as a spectator (though always, be it remembered, as a spectator whose insight and sympathy are perfect) or he may once more identify himself with that long-dead personality of his, may throw himself back for the time into that life of long ago, and absolutely experience over again the thoughts and the emotions, the pleasures and the pains of a prehistoric past. No wilder and more vivid adventures can be conceived than some of those through which he thus may pass; yet though it all he must never lose hold of the consciousness of his own individuality, must retain the power to return at will to his present personality.
It is often asked how it is possible for an investigator accurately to determine the date of any picture from the far-distance past, which he disinters from the records. The fact is that it is sometimes rather tedious work to find an exact date, but the thing can usually be done if it is worth while to spend the time and trouble over it. It we are dealing with Greek or Roman times the simplest method is usually to look into the mind of the most intelligent person present in the picture, and see what date he supposes it to be; or the investigator might watch him writing a letter, or other document and observe what date, if any, was included in what was written. When once the Roman or Greek date is thus obtained, to reduce it to our own system of chronology is merely a matter of calculation.
Another way, which is frequently adopted, is to turn from the scene under examination to a contemporary picture in some great and well-known city such as Rome, and note what monarch is reigning there, or who are the consuls for the year; and when such data are discovered a glance at any good history will give the rest. Sometimes a date can be obtained by examining some public proclamation or some legal document; in fact in the times of which we are speaking the difficulty is easily surmounted.
The matter is by no means so simple, however, when we come to deal with periods much earlier than this, with a scene from early Egypt, Chaldæa, or China, or to go further back still, from Atlantis itself or any of its numerous colonies. A date can still be obtained easily enough from the mind of any educated man, but there is no longer any means of relating it to our own system of dates, since the man will be reckoning by eras of which we know nothing, or by the reigns of kings, whose history is lost in the night of time.
Our methods, nevertheless, are not yet exhausted. It must be remembered that it is possible for the investigator to pass the records before him at any speed that he may desire, at the rate of a year in a second if he will, or even very much faster still. Now there are one or two events in ancient history whose dates have already been accurately fixed, as, for example, the sinking of Poseidonis in the year 9,564 b.c. It is therefore obvious that if from the general appearance of the surroundings it seems probable that a picture seen is within measurable distance of one of these events, it can be related to that event by the simple process of running through the record rapidly, and counting the years between the two as they pass.
Still, if those years ran into a thousand, as they might sometimes do, this plan would be insufferably tedious. In that case we are driven back upon the astronomical method. In consequence of the movement, which is commonly called the precession of the equinoxes, though it might more accurately be described as a kind of second rotation of the earth, the angle between the equator and the ecliptic steadily but very slow varies. Thus, after long intervals of time we find the pole of the earth no longer pointing towards the same spot in the apparent sphere of the heavens, or in other words, our pole star is not, as at present, α Ursæ Minoris, but some other celestial body; and from this position of the pole of the earth, which can easily be ascertained by careful observation of the night-sky of the picture under consideration, an approximate date can be calculated without difficulty.
In estimating the date of occurrences which took place millions of years ago in earlier races, the period of a secondary rotation (or the precession of the equinoxes) is frequently used as a unit, but of course absolute accuracy is not usually required in such cases, round numbers being sufficient for all practical purposes in dealing with epochs so remote.
The accurate reading of the records, whether of one’s own past lives or those of others, must not, however, be thought of as an achievement possible to anyone without careful previous training. As has been already remarked, though occasional reflections may be had upon the astral plane, the power to use the mental sense is necessary before any reliable reading can be done. Indeed, to minimise the possibility of error, that sense ought to be fully at the command of the investigator while awake in the physical body; and to acquire that faculty needs years of ceaseless labour and rigid self-discipline.
Many people seem to expect that as soon as they have signed their application and joined the Theosophical Society they will at once remember at least three of our of their past births; indeed, some of them promptly begin to imagine recollections and declare that in their last incarnation they were Mary Queen of Scots, Cleopatra, or Julius Cæsar! Of course such extravagant claims simply bring discredit upon those who are so foolish as to make them; but unfortunately some of that discredit is liable to be reflected, however unjustly, upon the Society to which they belong, so that a man who feels seething within him the conviction that he was Homer or Shakespeare would do well to pause and apply commonsense tests on the physical plane before publishing the news to the world.
It is quite true that some people have had glimpses of scenes from their past lives in dreams, but naturally these are usually fragmentary and unreliable. I had myself in earlier life an experience of this nature. Among my dreams I found that one was constantly recurring; a dream of a house with a portico overlooking a beautiful bay, not far from a hill on the top of which rose a graceful building. I knew that house perfectly, and was as familiar with the position of its rooms and the view from its door as I was with those of my home, in this present Life. In those days I knew nothing bout reincarnation, so that it seemed to me simply a curious coincidence that this dream should repeat itself so often; and it was not until some time after I had joined the Society that, when one who knew was showing me some pictures of my last incarnation, I discovered that this persistent dream had been in a reality a partial recollection, and that the house which I knew so well was the one in I was born more than two thousands years ago.
But although there are several cases on record in which some well-remembered scene has thus come through from one life to another, a considerable development of occult faculty is necessary before an investigator can definitely trace a line of incarnations, whether they be his own or another man’s. This will be obvious if we remember the conditions of the problem, which has o be worked out. To follow a person from this life to the one preceding it, it is necessary first of all to trace his present life backwards to his birth and then to follow up in reverse order the stages by which the Ego descended into incarnation.
This will obviously take us back eventually to the condition of the Ego upon the highest levels of the mental plane; so it will be seen that to perform this task effectually the investigator must be able to use the sense corresponding to that exalted level while awake in his physical body—in other words, his consciousness must be centred in the reincarnating Ego itself, and no longer in the lower personality. In that case, the memory of the Ego being aroused, his own past incarnations will be spread out before him like an open book, and he would be able, if he wished, to examine the conditions of another Ego upon that level and trace him backwards through the lower mental and astral lives which led up to it, until he came to the last physical death of that Ego, and through it to his previous life.
There is no way but this in which the chain of lives can be followed through with absolute certainty; and consequently we may at once put aside as conscious or unconscious impostors those people who advertise that they are able to race out anyone’s past incarnations for so many shillings a head. Needless to say, the true occultist does not advertise, and never under any circumstances accepts money for any exhibition of his powers.
Assuredly the student who wishes to acquire the power of following up a line of incarnations can do so only by learning from a qualified teacher how the work is to be done. There have been those who persistently asserted that it was only necessary for a man to feel good and devotional and “brotherly”, and all the wisdom of the ages would immediately flow in upon him; but a little common-sense will at once expose the absurdity of such a position. However good a child may be, if he wants to know the multiplication table he must set to work and learn it; and the case is precisely similar with the capacity to use spiritual faculties. The faculties themselves will not doubt manifest as the man evolves, but he can learn how use them reliable and to the best advantage only by steady hard work and persevering effort.
Take the case of those who wish to help others while on the astral plane during sleep; it is obvious that the more knowledge they possess here, the more valuable will their services be on that higher plane. For example, the knowledge of languages would be useful to them, for though on the mental plane men can communicate directly by thought-transference, whatever their languages may be, on the astral plane this is not so, and a thought must be definitely formulated in words before it is comprehensible. If, therefore, you wish to help a man on that plane, you must have some language in common by means of which you can communicate with him, and consequently the more languages you know the more widely useful you will be. In fact there is perhaps no kind of knowledge for which a use cannot be found in the work of the occultist.
It would be well for all students to bear in mind that occultism is the apotheosis of commonsense, and that every vision which comes to them is not necessarily a picture from the ākāshic records, nor every experience a revelation from on high. It is better far to err on the side of healthy skepticism than of over-credulity; and it is an admirable rule never to hunt about for an occult explanation of anything when a plain and obvious physical one is available. Our duty is to endeavour to keep our balance always, and never to lose our self-control, but to take a reasonable, commonsense view of whatever may happen to us; so shall we be better Theosophists, wiser occultists, and more useful helpers than we have ever been before.
As usual, we find examples of all degrees of the power to see into this memory of nature, from the trained man who can consult the record for himself at will, down to the person who gets nothing but occasional vague glimpses, or has even perhaps had only one such glimpse. But the man who possesses this faculty only partially and occasionally still finds it of the deepest interest. The psychometer, who needs an object physically connected with the past in order to bring it all into life again around him, and the crystal-gazer who can sometimes direct his less certain astral telescope to some historic scene of long ago, may both derive the greatest enjoyment from the exercise of their respective gifts, even thought they may not always understand exactly how their results are produced, and may not have them fully under control under all circumstances.
In many cases of the lower manifestations of these powers we find that they are exercised unconsciously; many a crystal-gazer watches scenes from the past without being able to distinguish them from visions of the present, and many a vaguely-psychic person finds pictures constantly arising before his eyes without ever realizing that he is in effect psychometrizing the various objects around him as he happens to touch them or stand near them.
An interesting variant of this class of psychics is the man who is able to psychometrize persons only, and not inanimate objects as is more usual. In most cases this faculty shows itself erratically, so that such a psychic will, when introduced to a stranger, often see in a flash some prominent event in that stranger’s earlier life, but on other similar occasions will receive no special impression. More rarely we meet with someone who gets details visions of the past life of everyone whom he encounters. Perhaps one of the best examples of this class was the German writer Zschokke, who describes in his autobiography this extraordinary power of which he found himself possessed. He says:
“It has happened to me occasionally at the first meeting with a total stranger, when I have been listening in silence to his conversation, that his past life up to the present moment, with many minute circumstances belonging to one or other particular scene in it, has come across me like a dream, but distinctly, entirely involuntarily and unsought, occupying in duration a few minutes.
“For a long time I was disposed to consider these fleeting visions as a trick of the fancy, the more so as my dream-vision displayed to me the dress and movements of the actors, the appearance of the room, the furniture, and other accidents of the scene; till on one occasion, in a awesome mood, I narrated to my family the secret history of a sempstress who had just before quitted the room. I had never seen the person before. Nevertheless the hearers were astonished, and laughed and would not be persuaded but that I had a previous acquaintance with the former life of the person, inasmuch as what I had stated was perfectly true.
“I was not less astonished to find that my dream-vision agreed with reality. I then gave more attention to the subject, and as often as propriety allowed of it, I related to those whose lives had so passed before me the substance of my dream-vision, to obtain from them its contradiction or confirmation. On every occasion its confirmation followed, not without amazement on the part of those who gave it.
“On a certain fair-day I went into the two of Waldshut accompanied by two young foresters, who are still alive It was evening, and, tired with our walk, we went into an inn called the ‘Vine’. We took our supper with a numerous company at the public table, when it happened that they made themselves merry over the peculiarities and simplicity of the Swiss in connection with the belief in mesmerism. Lavater’s physiognomical system and the like. One of my companions, whose national pride was touched by their raillery, begged me to make some reply, particularly in answer to a young man of superior appearance who sat opposite, and had indulged in unrestrained ridicule.
‘It happened that the events of this person’s life had just previously passed before my mind. I turned to him with the question whether he would reply to me with truth and candour if I narrated to him the most secret passages of his history, he being as little known to me as I to him? That would, I suggested, go something beyond Lavater’s physiognomical skill. He promised if I told the truth to admit it openly. Then I narrated the events with which my dream vision had furnished me, and the stable learnt the history of the young tradesman’s life of his school years, his peccadilloes, and finally, of a little act of roguery committed by him on the strongbox of his employer. I described the uninhabited room with its white walls, where to the right of the brown door there had stood upon the table the small back money-chest, etc. The man, much struck, admitted the correctness of each circumstance, even, which I could not expect, of the last.”
And after narrating this incident, the worthy Zschokke calmly goes on to wonder whether perhaps after all this remarkable power, which he had so often displayed, might not really have been always the result of mere chance coincidence!
Comparatively few accounts of persons possessing this faculty of looking back into the past are to be found in the literature of the subject, and it might therefore be supposed to be much less common than prevision, I suspect, however, that the truth is rather that it is much less commonly recognized. As I said before, it may very easily happen that a person may see a picture of the past without recognizing it as such, unless there happens to be in it something which attracts special attention, such as a figure in armour or in antique costume. A prevision also might not always be recognized as such at the time; but the occurrence of the event foreseen recalls it vividly at the same time that it manifests its nature, so that it is unlikely to be overlooked. It is probable, therefore, that occasional glimpses of these astral reflections of the ākāshic records are commoner than the published accounts would lead us to believe.