Published by Blavatsky Study Center. Online Edition copyright 2004.

Occult Phenomena

by A.P. Sinnett

[First published in The Pioneer (Allahabad, India), October 27, 1880, p. 4. 
Although the article was signed by "A.," the writer was A.P. Sinnett. 
This is the first article in which Mr. Sinnett related
the beginning of his correspondence with the Mahatma K.H.]

SIR,---As many jokes have been cut in the papers lately about the recent brooch incident, it seems desirable to show the public that believers in Madame Blavatsky’s theories and powers have a good deal more than that to go upon. Writers of light-hearted criticism on the "folly" of the persons who attested that incident, would have shown considerable self-confidence in any case, under the circumstances, but this letter may perhaps help to account for what seems no doubt to even your more cautious readers so strange, the fact that several men of cultivated understanding have been induced to build (what seems) a new and startling faith on (what seems) a small foundation.

Firstly. -- Let the reader understand that phenomena of the kind with which I am dealing have nothing to do with spiritualism. A generation slow to take in new ideas will persist in talking as if occultism and spiritualism were one and the same. They are not only different in reality, but antagonistic. The theory of Theosophists, -- I say "theory" in deference to the frame of mind in which most of your readers will approach this letter, though I might as well talk of the theory that Simla is a place situated on the skirts of the Himalayas, -- the theory of the Theosophists is that a development of their higher faculties has enabled certain persons to comprehend and practise a science that has been secretly handed down from Adept to Adept during a long course of ages. This science embodies various discoveries concerning the laws of matter and force, especially those of animal magnetism, and the Human Will as trained, not by clumsy self-mortification, but by a perfectly refined moral and intellectual discipline. If Adepts are scarce, that may be held as explained sufficiently for practical purposes by remembering that an Adept must be a man who, for a long course of years, has been absolutely chaste, absolutely abstemious, totally cleansed of all selfish aims and ambitions in life, and caring so little for the world that he is willing, by prolonged exile from it, to purify himself by degrees from all the "bad magnetism" which contact with the common herd engenders.

Now the Adepts, though not mixing with the World more than they can help -- and by means of their own they can do what they have to do, while almost entirely withdrawn from the World, -- are deeply interested in the World, as regards the humanity that inhabits it. It would take too long to explain even the little, relatively to what might apparently be learned in time, that I have been able to learn so far about them; but having said thus much I have cleared the way for an explanation as to the position in which Madame Blavatsky stands -- one which is constantly misconstrued to her disadvantage. Madame Blavatsky has climbed some of the rough steps which lead to Adeptship, but constantly assures us that she is not an Adept herself. From her childhood, however, she has been clairvoyant, and what spiritualists call "mediumistic." In other words, she has natural peculiarities which have facilitated the development in her of the faculties required for the lower grades of Adeptship. The faculties, as I say, have been cultivated up to a certain point, and the result is that Madame Blavatsky is now en rapport with the Adepts, in a way which no person not gifted in a remarkable way and possessing considerable occult training, could be en rapport. This preliminary explanation is, of course, mere assertion. For brevity’s sake I had to give it in a straightforward way unsupported by evidence. I come now to this part of my story. Madame Blavatsky certainly has the power of making any solid object she likes, -- any piece of furniture or any window pane, -- emit the sounds which are known as "spirit-raps" at will. I have seen her do this in a hundred different ways, and most of her friends have seen it too. The force employed is sometimes strong, sometimes weak. I have never known it fail altogether, but when it is strong, I have repeatedly seen Madame Blavatsky stand or sit quite clear of the table at which she might be trying the experiment, and, -- no one else being anywhere nearly in contact with it, -- by merely making mesmeric passes at it, cause it, at each motion of her hand, to emit sounds as if knocked with a knuckle. Many respectable people here would be quite ready to swear, or give their words of honour, that they have heard this in the way I describe. Now, in course of time, any sane person studying these phenomena, must grow absolutely certain that they are produced by the agency of a force which ordinary science does not understand. I have heard them under so many different conditions that there is no conceivable theory of imposture, which could be otherwise than absurd as applied to them. Next we come to another manifestation. At will, -- though as in the case of the raps, the power varies, -- Madame Blavatsky can cause bell-sounds to ring out of the air where there is no tangible body of any kind to produce them. I should add explicitly that I have heard the bell-sounds scores of times in all sorts of different ways and places, in rooms and in the open air, when no one else but myself has been by, and when parties of people have been present. There are plenty of other witnesses to them besides myself.

If any rational person will seriously think of the matter, he will see that having obtained, as I have described, absolute certainty, that Madame Blavatsky produces many superordinary effects by the exercise of peculiar forces and powers, one approaches the consideration of incidents like the brooch phenomenon in a frame of mind which would be impossible otherwise. It is not claimed that the more startling feats are accomplished by Madame Blavatsky’s agency alone. They are said to be the work of superior Adepts with whom she is in occult communication. But, either way, a scientific observation of which Madame Blavatsky is the visible agent, leads us from comparatively small beginnings like the raps and bells to the disintegration of matter and psychological telegraphy with persons at a distance. I may now describe some recent incidents which fortify the position of believers in the brooch incident.

About ten days or a fortnight ago my wife accompanied our Theosophists one afternoon to the top of Prospect Hill. When there, Madame Blavatsky asked her in a joking way, what was her heart’s desire. She said at random and on the spur of the moment, "to get a note from one of the ‘Brothers.’"  "The Brothers," I should explain, are the superior Adepts. Madame Blavatsky took from her pocket a piece of blank pink paper that had been torn off a note she had received that day. Folding this up into a small compass, she took it to the edge of the hill, held it up for a moment or two between her hands, and returned saying that it had gone. She presently, after communicating mentally, by her own occult methods, with the distant "Brother," said he asked where my wife would have the letter. After some conversation it was decided that she should search for the note in a particular tree. Getting up a little way into this she looked all about for a time and could not find any note, but presently turning back her face to a branch right before her at which she had looked a few moments before, she perceived a pink three-cornered note stuck on the stalk of a leaf where no such note had previously been. The leaf, that must have belonged to the stalk, must have been freshly torn off, because the stalk, was still green and moist, — not withered as it would naturally have become if its leaf had been removed for any length of time. The note was found to contain these few words: — "I have been asked to have a note here for you. What can I do for you?" signed by some Thibetan characters. Neither Madame Blavatsky nor Colonel Olcott had approached the tree during my wife’s search for the note. The pink paper on which it was written appeared to be the same that my wife had seen, blank, in Madame Blavatsky’s hand shortly before.

A few days after this Madame Blavatsky accompanied a few friends one morning on a little picnic in the direction of the waterfalls. There were originally to have been six persons present, including myself, but a seventh joined the party just as it was starting. When a place had been chosen in the wood near the upper waterfall for the breakfast, the things brought, were spread out on the ground. It turned out that there were only six cups and saucers for seven people. Through some joking about this deficiency, or through some one professing to be very thirsty, and to think the cups would be too small, — I cannot feel sure how the idea arose, but it does not matter, — one of the party laughingly asked Madame Blavatsky to create another cup. There was no serious idea in the proposal at first, but when Madame Blavatsky said it would be very difficult, but that, if we liked, she would try, the notion was taken up in earnest. Madame Blavatsky as usual held mental conversations with "the Brothers," and then wandered a little about in the immediate neighbourhood of where we were sitting, and asked one of the gentleman with us to bring a knife. The place so chosen was the edge of a little slope covered with thick weeds and grass and shrubby undergrowth. The gentleman with the knife tore up these, in the first instance, with some difficulty, as their roots were tough and closely interlaced. Cutting, then, into the matted roots and earth with the knife and pulling away the debris with his hand, he came at last on the edge of something white, which turned out, as it was completely excavated, to be the required cup. The saucer was also found after a little more digging. The cup and saucer both corresponded exactly, as regards their pattern, with those that had been brought to the picnic, and constituted a seventh cup and saucer when brought back to the place where we were to have breakfast. At first all the party appeared to be entirely satisfied with the bona fides of this phenomenon, and were greatly struck by it, but in the course of the morning some one conceived that it was not scientifically perfect, because it was theoretically possible that by means of some excavation below the place where the cup and saucer were exhumed, they might have been thrust up into the place where we found them, by ordinary means. Every one knew that the surface of the ground where we dug had certainly not been disturbed, nor were any signs of excavation discoverable anywhere in the neighborhood, but it was contended that the earth we had ourselves thrown about in digging for the cup might have obliterated the traces of these. I mention the objection raised not because it is otherwise than preposterous as a hypothesis, but because three of the persons who were at the picnic have since considered that the flaw described spoilt the phenomenon as a test phenomenon. In any case, it is not worth while to discuss the matter further, because I come now to another experience, besides the perfection of which as a test experiment, the two above described cannot but appear unimportant (though in reality to a student of the occult mysteries the cup phenomenon is by far the greater.) It had come to pass that I had been permitted to enter into some direct correspondence with one of the Brothers. Of the letters I have received, I will only say that they are unequivocally written by a man of great culture, thought, and brightness of intelligence, that only here and there do they show the faintest traces of unfamiliarity with English idioms, though the writer, I have reason to know, is a native of this county, and that I cannot exaggerate my sense of the privilege of having thus formed the gifted Brother’s acquaintance. We were bound on another picnic to the top of Prospect Hill. Just before starting, I received a short note from my correspondent. It told me that something would be given to my wife on the hill as a sign from him. While we were having our lunch, Madame Blavatsky said the Brother directed her to ask what was the most unlikely place we could think of in which we would like to find a note from him, and the object which he proposed to send us. After a little talk on the subject, I and my wife selected the inside of her jampan cushion, against which she was then leaning. This is a strong cushion of velvet and worsted work that we have had some years. We were shortly told that the cushion would do. My wife was directed to cut the cushion open. This we found a task of some difficulty as the edges were all very tightly sewn, but a pen-knife conquered them in a little while. I should add that while I was ripping at the cushion Madame Blavatsky said there was no hurry, that the letter was only then being written, and was not quite finished. When we got the velvet and worsted work cover cut open, we found the inner cushion containing the feathers sewn up in a case of its own. This in turn had to be cut open, we found the inner cushion containing the feathers sewn up in a case of its own. This in turn had to be cut open, and then, buried in the feathers, my wife found a note addressed to me and a brooch — an old familiar brooch which she had had for many years, and which, she tells me, she remembers having picked up off her dressing-table that morning while getting ready to go out, though she afterwards put it down again, and chose another instead. The note to me ran as follows: — "My dear Brother, — This brooch, No. 2, is placed in this very strange place, simply to show to you how very easily a real phenomenon is produced, and how still easier it is to suspect its genuineness. Make of it what you like, even to classing me with confederates. The difficulty you spoke of last night with respect to the interchange of our letters I will try to remove... An address will be sent to you which you can always use; unless, indeed, you really would prefer corresponding through pillows. Please to remark that the present is not dated from a ‘Lodge,’ but from a Kashmir Valley."  The allusions in this note have reference to various remarks I made in the course of conversation during dinner the preceding evening.

Madame Blavatsky, you will observe, claims no more in connection with this phenomenon than having been the occult messenger between ourselves and the Brother in Kashmir who, you will observe, appears to have written the letter in Kashmir within a few moments of the time at which we found it inside our cushion. That persons having these extraordinary powers could produce even more sensational effects if they chose, you will naturally argue. Why then play tricks which, however conclusive for the one or two people who may define their conditions, can hardly be so regarded by others, while the public generally will be apt to suppose the persons who relate them liars or lunatics, rather than believe that anything can take place in Nature except with the permission and approval of the Royal Society. Well, I think I perceive some of the reasons why they refrain, but these would take too long to tell. Still longer would it take to answer by serious argument the nonsense which the publication of the brooch incident No. 1 has evoked all over India. Let the jokers enjoy themselves. They think we, the occult minority, are wrong: we know they are, and joking breaks no bones, though perhaps it is going a little too far, and trespassing beyond the limits of good form, when the question whether Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott are cheats and impostors is openly discussed. They are people, at all events, who have sacrificed for these works all that the world generally holds dear, having possessed these good things originally in ample measure in lands that would seem to most of us happier lands than this. They have come to labour here for the rest of their lives at a task which they have set before themselves as a duty, the spread of the ideas which they receive from the Brothers about the "Universal Brotherhood," and the development of their society. If Madame Blavatsky fails to convince this or that person that she has learned anything more than the general run of people know, there are ways in which men of good feeling may express their incredulity, — and other ways which, in their eagerness to get as much fun as possible out of Mrs. Hume’s brooch, too many writers in the Indian Press have preferred.


Simla, 23rd October.

[When this article was reprinted several months later in The Theosophist, Vol. II, January 1881, pp. 70-72, the following editorial remark was appended:]

"The above narrative is transferred to these pages not to provoke the idle curiosity of the reader, but as a bit of collateral proof that certain branches of natural law may be more thoroughly learned in India than in Europe. The exhibition of these Siddhis, or powers, was made at Simla solely to convince persons educated after the Western methods that the occult forces of Nature are far better understood by Asiatic proficients than by even the most eminent authorities of modern Physical Science. This object, it will be seen, was gained. While, therefore, it has been most disagreeable for Madame Blavatsky to see her motives and personal character so grossly traduced as they have been by the ignorant, yet in provoking a wide interest in, and discussion of, Occult Science, there has been at least some adequate compensation. If she has suffered, the cause of truth has unquestionably been the gainer."