Published by The Blavatsky Archives Online. Online Edition copyright 1999.
[Madame Blavatsky's Occult Phenomena
By William Quan Judge
[First published in A.P. Sinnett's Incidents
in the Life of Madame Blavatsky,
1886, pp. 186-199.]
My first acquaintance with H. P. Blavatsky began in the winter of the year 1874. She was then living in apartments in Irving Place, New York City, United States. She had several rooms en suite. The front rooms looked out on Irving Place, and the back upon the garden. My first visit was made in the evening, and I saw her there among a large number of persons who were always attracted to her presence. Several languages were to be heard among them, and Mme. Blavatsky, while conversing volubly in Russian, apparently quite absorbed, would suddenly turn round and inject an observation in English into a discussion between other persons upon a different topic to the one she was engaged with. This never disturbed her, for she at once returned to her Russian talk, taking it up just where it had been dropped.
Very much was said on the first evening that arrested my attention and enchained my imagination. I found my secret thoughts read, my private affairs known to her. Unasked, and certainly without any possibility of her having inquired about me, she referred to several private and peculiar circumstances in a way that showed at once that she had a perfect knowledge of my family, my history, my surroundings, and my idiosyncrasies. On that first evening I brought with me a friend, a perfect stranger to her. He was a native of the Sandwich Islands, who was studying law in New York, and who had formed all his plans for a lifelong stay in that city. He was a young man, and had then no intention of marrying. But she carelessly told him, before we left for home, that before six months he would cross the continent of America, then make a long voyage, and, stranger yet to him, that before all of this he would marry. Of course the idea was pooh-poohed by him. Still fate was too much for him. In a few months he was invited to fill an official position in his native land, and before leaving for that country he married a lady who was not in America at the time the prophecy was uttered.
The next day I thought I would try an experiment with Mme. Blavatsky. I took an ancient scarabaeus that she had never seen, had it wrapped up and sent to her through the mails by a clerk in the employment of a friend. My hand did not touch the package, nor did I know where it was posted. But when I called on her at the end of the week the second time, she greeted me with thanks for the scarabaeus. I pretended ignorance. But she said it was useless to pretend, and then informed me how I had sent it, and where the clerk had posted it. During the time that elapsed between my seeing her and the sending of the package no one had heard from me a word about the matter.
Very soon after I met her, she moved to 34th Street, and while there I visited her very often. In those rooms I used to hear the raps in furniture, in glasses, mirrors, windows and walls, which are usually the accompaniment of dark "spiritist" seances. But with her they occurred in the light, and never except when ordered by her. Nor could they be induced to continue once that she ordered them to stop. They exhibited intelligence also, and would at her request change from weak to strong, or from many to few at a time.
She remained in 34th Street only a few months, and then removed to 47th Street, where she stayed until her departure to India in December 1878. I was a constant visitor, and know, as all others do who were as intimate with her as I was, that the suspicions which have been breathed about her, and the open charges that have from time to time been made, are the foulest injustice or the basest ingratitude. At times she has been incensed by these things, and declared that one more such incident would forever close the door against all phenomena. But over and over again she has relented and forgiven her enemies.
After she had comfortably settled herself in 47th Street, where, as usual, she was from morning till night surrounded by all sorts of visitors, mysterious events, extraordinary sights and sounds continued to occur. I have sat there many an evening, and seen in broad gas light, large luminous balls creeping over the furniture, or playfully jumping from point to point, while the most beautiful liquid bell sounds now and again burst out from the air of the room. These sounds often imitated either the piano or a gamut of sounds whistled by either myself or some other person. While all this was going, H. P. Blavatsky sat unconcernedly reading or writing at Isis Unveiled.
It should be remarked here that Mme. Blavatsky never exhibited either hysteria or the slightest appearance of trance. She was always in the full possession of all her faculties - and apparently of more than those of average people - whenever she was producing any phenomena.
In the month of November or the beginning of December of the same winter, a photograph was received from a correspondent at Boston by Col. Olcott, which was the occasion of two very striking phenomena. It purported to be the portrait of a person said to have written the books called Art Magic and Ghost Land. The sender required Col. Olcott to return it almost immediately; which he did on the following evening, and I myself, being there as a caller, posted it in the nearest post-box. Two or three days later a demand was made upon Mme. Blavatsky for a duplicate of the picture, in the belief that it would be beyond even her powers, since she had no model to copy from. But she actually did it; the process consisting merely in her cutting a piece of cardboard to the requisite size, laying it under a blotting-paper, placing her hand upon it, and in a moment producing the copy demanded. Col. Olcott took possession of this picture, and laid it away in a book that he was then reading, and which he took to bed with him. The next morning the portrait had entirely faded out, and only the name, written in pencil, was left. A week or two later, seeing this blank card lying in Col. Olcott's room, I took it to Mme. Blavatsky, and requested her to cause the portrait to reappear. Complying, she again laid the card under another sheet of paper, placed her hand upon it, and presently the face of the man had come back as before; this time indelibly imprinted.
In the front room where she wrote, there was a bookcase that stood for some time directly opposite her writing-desk. Upon its top stood a stuffed owl, whose glassy, never closing eye frequently seemed to follow your movements. Indeed, I could relate things apropos of that same defunct bird, but - in the words of Jacolliot - "We have seen things such as one does not relate for fear of making his readers doubt his sanity. . . Still we have seen them." Well, over the top of the doors of the bookcase was a blank space, about 3 inches wide, and running the breadth of the case. One evening we were sitting talking of magic as usual, and of "the Brothers," when Madame said, "Look at the bookcase!"
We looked up at once, and as we did so, we could see appear, upon the blank space I have described, several letters apparently in gold, that came out upon the surface of the wood. They covered nearly all of the space. Examination showed that they were in gold, and in a character that I had often seen upon some of her papers.
This precipitation of messages or sentences occurred very frequently, and I will relate one which took place under my own hand and eyes, in such a way as to be unimpeachable for me.
I was one day, about four o'clock, reading a book by P. B. Randolph, that had just been brought in by a friend of Colonel Olcott. I was sitting some six feet distant from H. P. Blavatsky, who was busy writing. I had carefully read the title-page of the book, but had forgotten the exact title. But I knew that there was not one word of writing upon it. As I began to read the first paragraph, I heard a bell sound in the air, and looking, saw that Mme. Blavatsky was intently regarding me.
"'What book do you read?" said she.
Turning back to the title-page, I was about to read aloud the name, when my eye was arrested by a message written in ink across the top of the page which, a few minutes before, I had looked at, and found clear. It was a message in about seven lines, and the fluid had not yet quite dried on the page - its contents were a warning about the book. I am positive that when I took the volume in my hand not one word was written in it.
On one occasion the address of a business firm in Philadelphia was needed for the purpose of sending a letter through the mail, and no one present could remember the street or number, nor could any directory of Philadelphia be found in the neighborhood. The business being very urgent, it was proposed that one of us should go down nearly four miles to the General Post Office, so as to see a Philadelphia directory. But H. P.B. said: "Wait a moment, and perhaps we can get the address some other way." She then waved her hand, and we instantly heard a signal bell in the air over our heads. We expected no less than that a heavy directory would rush at our heads from the empty space, but no such thing took place. She sat down, took up a flat tin paper-cutter, japanned black on both sides, and without having any painting on it. Holding this in her left hand, she gently stroked it with her right, all the while looking at us with an intense expression. After she had rubbed thus for a few moments, faint outlines of letters began to show themselves upon the black, shining surface, and presently the complete advertisement of the firm whose address we desired was plainly imprinted upon the paper-cutter in gilt letters, just as they had it done on slips of blotting-paper, such as are widely distributed as advertising media in America - a fact I afterwards found out. On a close examination, we saw that the street and number, which were the doubtful points in our memories, were precipitated with great brilliancy, the other words and figures being rather dimmer. Mme. Blavatsky said that this was because the mind of the operator was directed almost entirely to the street and number, so that their reproduction was brought about with much greater distinctness than the rest of the advertisement, which was, so to speak, dragged in in a rather accidental way.
About any object that might be transported mysteriously around her room, or that came into it through the air by supermundane means, there always lingered for a greater or less space of time a very peculiar though pleasant odor. It was not always the same. At one time it was sandal-wood mixed with what I thought was otto of roses; at another time some unknown Eastern perfume, and again it came like the incense burnt in temples.
One day she asked me if I would care to smell again the perfume. Upon my replying affirmatively, she took my handkerchief in her hand, held it for a few moments, and when she gave it back to me it was heavy with the well known odor. Then, in order to show me that her hand was not covered with something that would come off upon the handkerchief, she permitted me to examine both hands. They were without perfume. But after I had convinced myself that there was no perfumery or odoriferous objects concealed in her hands, I found from one hand beginning to exhale one peculiar strong perfume, while from the other there rolled out strong waves of the incense.
On the table at which Isis Unveiled was written stood a little Chinese cabinet with many small drawers. A few of the drawers contained small trifles, but there were several that were always kept empty. The cabinet was an ordinary one of its class, and repeated examination showed that there were no devices or mechanical arrangements in it or connected with it; but many a time has one or other of those empty drawers become the vanishing point of various articles, and as often, on the other hand, was the birth-place of some object which had not before been seen in the rooms. I have often seen her put small coins, or a ring or amulet, and have put things in there myself, closed the drawer, almost instantly re-opening it, and nothing was visible. It had disappeared from sight. Clever conjurers have been known to produce such illusions, but they always require some confederacy, or else they delude you into believing that they had put the object it, when in reality they did not. With H. P. B. there was no preparation. I repeatedly examined the cabinet, and positively say that there was no means by which things could be dropped out of sight or out of the drawer; it stood on found small legs, elevated about two inches above the desk, which was quite clear and unbroken underneath. Several times I have seen her put a ring into one of the drawers and then leave the room. I then looked in the drawer, saw the ring in it, and closed it again. She then returned, and without coming near the cabinet showed me the same ring on her finger. I then looked again in the drawer before she again came near it, and the ring was gone.
One day Mrs. Elizabeth Thompson, the philanthropist, who had a great regard for H. P. B., called to see her. I was present. When about to leave, the visitor asked Madame to lend her some object which she had worn, as a reminder and as a talisman. The request being acceded to, the choice was left to the lady, who hesitated a moment; Madame then said, "Take this ring," immediately drawing it off and handing it to her friend, who placed it upon her finger, absorbed in admiring the stones. But I was looking at H. P. B.'s ringers, and saw that the ring was yet on her hand. Hardly believing my eyes, I looked at the other. There was no mistake. There were now two rings; but the lady did not observe this, and went off satisfied she had the right one. In a few days she returned it to Madame, who then told me that one of the rings was an illusion, leaving it to me to guess which one. I could not decide, for she pushed the returned ring up along her finger against the old one, and both merged into one.
One evening several persons were present after dinner, all, of course, talking about theosophy and occultism. H. P. B. was sitting at her desk. While we were all engaged in conversation somebody said that he heard music, and went out into the hall where he thought it came from. While he was examining the hall, the person sitting near the fire-place said that instead of being in the hall, the music, which was that of a musical box, was playing up in the chimney. The gentleman who had gone into the passage then returned and said that he had lost the music, but at once was thoroughly amazed to find us all listening at the fire-place, when he in turn heard the music plainly. Just as he began to listen, the music floated out into the room, and very distinctly finished the tune in the air over our heads. I have on various occasions heard this music in many ways, and always when there was not any instrument to produce it.
On this evening, a little while after the music, Madame opened one of the drawers of the Chinese cabinet and took from it an Oriental necklace of curious beads. This she gave to a lady present. One of the gentlemen allowed to escape him an expression of regret that he had not received such a testimonial. Thereupon H. P. B. reached over and grasped one of the beads of the necklace which the lady was still holding in her hands, and the bead at once came off in Madame's hand. She then passed it to the gentleman, who exclaimed that it was not merely a bead but was now a breast-pin, as there was a gold pin fastened securely in it. The necklace meanwhile remained intact, and its recipient was examining it in wonder that one of its beads could have been thus pulled off without breaking it.
I have heard it said that when H. P. B. was a young woman, after coming back to her family for the first time in many years, everyone in her company was amazed and affrighted to see material objects such as cups, books, her tobacco pouch and match-box, and so forth, come flying through the air into her hand, merely when she gazed intently at them. The stories of her early days can be readily credited by those who saw similar things done at the New York head-quarters. Such aerial flights were many times performed by objects at her command in my presence. One evening I was in a hurry to copy a drawing I had made, and looked about on the table for a paper-cutter with which to rub the back of the drawing so as to transfer the surplus carbon to a clean sheet.
As I searched, it was suggested by some one that the round smooth back of a spoon bowl would be the best means, and I arose to go to the kitchen at the end of the hall for a spoon. But Mme. Blavatsky said, "Stop, you need not go there; wait a moment." I stopped at the door, and she, sitting in her chair, held up her left hand. At that instant a large table-spoon flew through the air across the room from out of the opposite wall and into her hand. No one was there to throw it to her, and the dining-room from which it had been transported was about thirty feet distant; two brick walls separating it from the front room.
In the next room - the wall between being solid - there hung near the window a water-color portrait in a frame with glass. I had just gone into that room and looked at the picture. No one was in the room but myself, and no one went there afterwards until I returned there. When I came into the place where H. P. B. was sitting, and after I had been sitting down a few moments, she took up a piece of paper and wrote upon it a few words, handing it over to me to put away without looking at it. This I did. She then asked me to return to the other room. I went there, and at once saw that the picture which, a few moments before, I had looked at, had in some way been either moved or broken. On examining it I found that the glass was smashed, and that the securely fastened back had been opened, allowing the picture within to fall to the floor. Looking down I saw it lying there. Going back to the other room I opened and read what had been written on the slip of paper, it was:--
"The picture of ------- in the dining-room has just been opened; the glass is smashed and the painting is on the floor."
One day, while she was talking with me, she suddenly stopped and said --- "So-and-so is now talking of me to -------, and says, &c." I made a note of the hour, and on the first opportunity discovered that she had actually heard the person named saying just what she told me had been said at the very time noted.
My office was at least three miles away from her rooms. One day, at about 2 P.M., I was sitting in my office engaged in reading a legal document, my mind intent on the subject of the paper. No one else was in the office, and in fact the nearest room was separated from me by a wide opening, or well, in the building, made to let light into the inner chambers. Suddenly I felt on my hand a peculiar tingling sensation that always preceded any strange thing to happen in the presence of H. P. B., and at that moment there fell from the ceiling upon the edge of my desk, and from there to the floor, a triangularly-folded note from Madame to myself. It was written upon the clean back of a printed Jain sutra or text. The message was in her handwriting, and was addressed to me in her writing across the printed face.
I remember one phenomenon in connection with the making of a water-colour drawing of an Egyptian subject for her, which also illustrates what the Spiritualists call apport, or the bringing phenomenally of objects from some distant place. I was in want of certain dry colors which she could not furnish me from her collection, and as the drawing must be finished at that sitting, and there was no shop near by where I could purchase them, it seemed a dilemma until she stepped towards the cottage piano, and, holding up the skirt of her robe-de-chambre with both hands, received into it seventeen bottles of Winsor & Newton dry colours, among them those I required. I still wanted some gold-paint, so she caused me to bring her a saucer from the dining-room, and to give her the brass key of the door. She rubbed the key upon the bottom of the saucer for a minute or two, and then, returning them to me, I found a supply of the paint I required coating the porcelain.