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There was a woman who talked perpetually of "the divine spark"
within her, until Madame Blavatsky stopped her with--"Yes, my dear, you
have a divine spark within you and if you are not very careful you will
hear it snore." A certain Salvation Army captain probably pleased her, for
if vociferous and loud of voice, he had much animation. He had known
hardship and spoke of his visions while starving in the streets and he
was still perhaps a little light in the head. I wondered what he could
preach to ignorant men, his head ablaze with wild mysticism, till I met a
man who had heard him talking near Covent Garden to some crowd in the
street. "My friends," he was saying, "you have the kingdom of heaven
within you and it would take a pretty big pill to get that out."

Meanwhile I had got no nearer to proving that the sage Ahasuerus "dwells
in a sea cavern 'mid the Demonesi," nor did I learn any more of those
"Masters" whose representative Madame Blavatsky claimed to be. All there
seemed to feel their presence, and all spoke of them as if they were more
important than any visible inhabitant of the house. When Madame Blavatsky
was more silent, less vivid than usual, it was "because her Masters were
angry;" they had rebuked her because of some error, and she professed
constant error. Once I seemed in their presence, or that of some messenger
of theirs. It was about nine at night, and half a dozen of us sat round
her big table cloth, when the room seemed to fill with the odour of
incense. Somebody came from upstairs, but could smell nothing--had been
outside the influence it seems--but to myself and the others, it was very
strong. Madame Blavatsky said it was a common Indian incense, and that
some pupil of her master's was present; she seemed anxious to make light
of the matter and turned the conversation to something else. Certainly it
was a romantic house, and I did not separate myself from it by my own
will. I had learned from Blake to hate all abstraction, and, affected by
the abstraction of what were called "esoteric teachings," I began a series
of experiments. Some book or magazine published by the society had quoted
from that essay of magic, which Sibley, the eighteenth century astrologer,
had bound up with his big book upon astrology. If you burnt a flower to
ashes and put the ashes under, I think, the receiver of an air pump, and
stood the receiver in the moonlight for so many nights, the ghost of the
flower would appear hovering over its ashes. I got together a committee
which performed this experiment without results. The "esoteric teachings"
had declared that a certain very pure kind of indigo was the symbol of one
of the seven principles into which they divided human nature. I got with
some difficulty a little of this pure indigo, and gave portions of it to
members of the committee, and asked them to put it under their pillows at
night and record their dreams. I argued that all natural scenery must be
divided into seven types according to these principles, and by their study
we could rid the mind of abstraction. Presently a secretary, a friendly,
intelligent man, asked me to come and see him, and, when I did, complained
that I was causing discussion and disturbance. A certain fanatical hungry
face had been noticed red and tearful, and it was quite plain that I was
not in agreement with their methods or their philosophy. "We have certain
definite ideas," he said, "and we have but one duty, to spread them
through the world. I know that all these people become dogmatic, that they
believe what they can never prove, that their withdrawal from family life
is for them a great misfortune, but what are we to do? We have been told
that all spiritual influx into the society will come to an end in 1897 for
exactly one hundred years; before that date our fundamental ideas must be
spread in all countries." I knew the doctrine, and it made me wonder why
that old woman, or the "masters" from whom, whatever they were or were
not, her genius had come, insisted upon it; for influx of some kind there
must always be. Did they dread heresy, or had they no purpose but the
greatest possible immediate effect?


XX

At the British Museum reading room I often saw a man of thirty-six, or
thirty-seven, in a brown velveteen coat, with a gaunt resolute face, and
an athletic body, who seemed before I heard his name, or knew the nature
of his studies, a figure of romance. Presently I was introduced, where or
by what man or woman I do not remember. He was called Liddle Mathers, but
would soon, under the touch of "The Celtic Movement," become Macgregor
Mathers, and then plain Macgregor. He was the author of _The Kabbala
Unveiled_, and his studies were two only--magic and the theory of war, for
he believed himself a born commander and all but equal in wisdom and in
power to that old Jew. He had copied many manuscripts on magic ceremonial
and doctrine in the British Museum, and was to copy many more in
Continental libraries, and it was through him mainly that I began certain
studies and experiences, that were to convince me that images well up
before the mind's eye from a deeper source than conscious or subconscious
memory. I believe that his mind in those early days did not belie his face
and body, though in later years it became unhinged, for he kept a proud
head amid great poverty. One that boxed with him nightly has told me that
for many weeks he could knock him down, though Mathers was the stronger
man, and only knew long after that during those weeks Mathers starved.
With him I met an old white-haired Oxfordshire clergyman, the most
panic-stricken person I have ever known, though Mathers' introduction had
been "he unites us to the great adepts of antiquity." This old man took me
aside that he might say--"I hope you never invoke spirits--that is a very
dangerous thing to do. I am told that even the planetary spirits turn upon
us in the end." I said, "Have you ever seen an apparition?" "O yes, once,"
he said. "I have my alchemical laboratory in a cellar under my house where
the Bishop cannot see it. One day I was walking up and down there when I
heard another footstep walking up and down beside me. I turned and saw a
girl I had been in love with when I was a young man, but she died long
ago. She wanted me to kiss her. O no, I would not do that." "Why not?" I
said. "O she might have got power over me." "Has your alchemical research
had any success?" I said. "Yes, I once made the elixir of life. A French
alchemist said it had the right smell and the right colour" (the alchemist
may have been Eliphas Levi, who visited England in the 'sixties, and would
have said anything) "but the first effect of the elixir is that your nails
fall out and your hair falls off. I was afraid that I might have made a
mistake and that nothing else might happen, so I put it away on a shelf. I
meant to drink it when I was an old man, but when I got it down the other
day it had all dried up."

Soon after my first meeting with Mathers he emerged into brief prosperity,
becoming for two or three years Curator of a private museum at Forest
Hill, and marrying a young and beautiful wife, the sister of the
philosopher, Henri Bergson. His house at Forest Hill was soon a romantic
place to a little group, Florence Farr, myself, and some dozen fellow
students. I think that it was she, her curiosity being insatiable, who
first brought news of that house and that she brought it in mockery and in
wonder. Mathers had taken her for a walk through a field of sheep and had
said, "Look at the sheep. I am going to imagine myself a ram," and at once
all the sheep ran after him; another day he had tried to quell a thunder
storm by making symbols in the air with a masonic sword, but the storm had
not been quelled; and then came the crowning wonder. He had given her a
piece of cardboard on which was a coloured geometrical symbol and had told
her to hold it to her forehead and she had found herself walking upon a
cliff above the sea, seagulls shrieking overhead. I did not think the ram
story impossible, and even tried half a dozen times to excite a cat by
imagining a mouse in front of its nose, but still some chance movement of
the flock might have deceived her. But what could have deceived her in
that final marvel? Then another brought a like report, and presently my
own turn came. He gave me a cardboard symbol and I closed my eyes. Sight
came slowly, there was not that sudden miracle as if the darkness had been
cut with a knife, for that miracle is mostly a woman's privilege, but
there rose before me mental images that I could not control: a desert and
black Titan raising himself up by his two hands from the middle of a heap
of ancient ruins. Mathers explained that I had seen a being of the order
of Salamanders because he had shown me their symbol, but it was not
necessary even to show the symbol, it would have been sufficient that he
imagined it. I had already written in my diary, under some date in 1887,
that Madame Blavatsky's Masters were "trance personalities," and I must
have meant such beings as my black Titan, only more lasting and more
powerful. I had found when a boy in Dublin on a table in the Royal Irish
Academy a pamphlet on Japanese art and read there of an animal painter so
remarkable that horses he had painted upon a Temple wall, had slipped down
after dark and trampled the neighbours' fields of rice. Somebody had come
into the temple in the early morning, had been startled by a shower of
water drops, had looked up and seen painted horses still wet from the
dew-covered fields, but now "trembling into stillness."

I had soon mastered Mathers' symbolic system, and discovered that for a
considerable minority--whom I could select by certain unanalysable
characteristics--the visible world would completely vanish, and that
world, summoned by the symbol, take its place. One day when alone in a
third-class carriage, in the very middle of the railway bridge that
crosses the Thames near Victoria, I smelt incense. I was on my way to
Forest Hill; might it not come from some spirit Mathers had called up?



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