WHAT CLAIRVOYANCE IS
Clairvoyance means literally nothing more than "clear seeing", and it is a word which has been sorely misused, and even degraded so far as to be employed to describe the trickery of a mountebank in a variety show. Even in its more restricted sense it covers a wide range of phenomena, differing so greatly in character that it is not easy to give a definition of the word which shall be at once succinct and accurate. It has been called "spiritual vision", but no rendering could well be more misleading than that, for in the vast majority of cases there is no faculty connected with it which has the slightest claim to be honoured by so lofty a name.
For the purpose of this treatise we may, perhaps, define it as the power to see what is hidden from ordinary physical sight. It will be as well to premise that it is very frequently ( though by no means always ) accompanied by what is called clairaudience, or the power to hear what would be inaudible to the ordinary physical ear; and we will for the nonce take our title as covering this faculty also, in order to avoid the clumsiness of perpetually using two long words where one will suffice.
Let me make two points clear before I begin. First, I am not writing for those who do not believe that there is such a thing as clairvoyance, nor am I seeking to convince those who are in doubt about the matter. In so small a work as this I have no space for that; such people must study the many books containing lists of cases, or make experiments for themselves along mesmeric lines. I am addressing myself to the better-instructed class who know that clairvoyance exists, and are sufficiently interested in the subject to be glad of information as to its methods and possibilities; and I would assure them that what I write is the result of much careful study and experiment, and that though some of the powers which I shall have to describe may seem new and wonderful to them, I mention no single one of which I have not myself seen examples.
Secondly, though I shall endeavour to avoid technicalities as far as possible, yet as I am writing in the main for students of Theosophy, I shall feel myself at liberty sometimes to use, for brevity's sake and without detailed explanation, the ordinary Theosophical terms with which I may safely assume them to be familiar.
Should this document fall into the hands of any to whom the occasional use of such terms constitutes a difficulty, I can only apologize to them and refer them for these preliminary explanations to any elementary Theosophical work, such as Mrs. Besant's Ancient Wisdom or Man and His Bodies. The truth is that the whole Theosophical system hangs together so closely, and its various parts are so interdependent, that to give a full explanation of every term used would necessitate an exhaustive treatise on Theosophy as a preface even to this short account of clairvoyance.
Before a detailed explanation of clairvoyance can usefully be attempted, however, it will be necessary for us to devote a little time to some preliminary considerations, in order that we may have clearly in mind a few broad facts as to the different planes on which clairvoyant vision may be exercised, and the conditions which renders its exercise possible.
We are constantly assured in Theosophical literature that all these higher faculties are presently to be the heritage of mankind in general — that the capacity of clairvoyance, for example, lies latent in every one, and those in whom it already manifests itself are simply in that one particular a little in advance of the rest of us. Now this statement is a true one, and yet it seems quite vague and unreal to the majority of people, simply because they regard such a faculty as something absolutely different from anything they have yet experienced, and feel fairly confident that they themselves, at any rate, are not within measurable distance of its development.
It may help to dispel this sense of unreality if we try to understand that clairvoyance, like so many other things in nature is mainly a question of vibrations, and is in fact nothing but an extension of powers which we are all using every day of our lives. We are living all the while surrounded by a vast sea of mingled air and ether, the latter interpenetrating the former, as it does all physical matter; and it is chiefly by means of vibrations in that vast sea of matter that impressions reach us from the outside. This much we all know, but it may perhaps never have occurred to many of us that the number of these vibrations to which we are capable of responding is in reality quite infinitesimal.
Up among the exceedingly rapid vibrations which affect the ether there is a certain small section — a very small section — to which the retina of the human eye is capable of responding, and these particular vibrations produce in us the sensation which we call light. That is to say, we are capable of seeing only those objects from which light of that particular kind can either issue or be reflected.
In exactly the same way the tympanum of the human ear is capable of responding to a certain very small range of comparatively slow vibrations — slow enough to affect the air which surrounds us; and so the only sounds which we can hear are those made by objects which are able to vibrate at some rate within that particular range.
In both cases it is a matter perfectly well known to science that there are large numbers of vibrations both above and below these two sections, and that consequently there is much light that we cannot see, and there are many sounds to which our ears are deaf. In these case of light the action of these higher and lower vibrations is easily perceptible in the effects produced by the actinic rays at one end of the spectrum and the heat rays at the other.
As a matter of fact there exist vibrations of every conceivable degree of rapidity, filling the whole vast space intervening between the slow sound waves and the swift light waves; nor is even that all, for there are undoubtedly vibrations slower than those of sound, and a whole infinity of them which are swifter than those know to us as light. So we begin to understand that the vibrations by which we see and hear are only like two tiny groups of a few strings selected from an enormous harp of practically infinite extent, and when we think how much we have been able to learn and infer from the use of those minute fragments, we see vaguely what possibilities might lie before us if we were enabled to utilize the vast and wonderful whole.
Another fact which needs to be considered in this connection is that different human beings vary considerably, though within relatively narrow limits, in their capacity of response even to the very few vibrations which are within reach of our physical senses. I am not referring to the keenness of sight or of hearing that enables one man to see a fainter object or hear a slighter sound than another; it is not in the least a question of strength of vision, but of extent of susceptibility.
For example, if anyone will take a good bisulphide-of-carbon prism, and by its means throw a clear spectrum on a sheet of white paper, and then get a number of people to mark upon the paper the extreme limits of the spectrum as it appears to them, he is fairly certain to find that their powers of vision differ appreciably. Some will see the violet extending much farther than the majority do; others will perhaps see rather less violet than most, while gaining a corresponding extension of vision at the red end. Some few there will perhaps be who can see farther than ordinary at both ends, and these will almost certainly be what we call sensitive people — susceptible in fact to a great range of vibrations than are most men of the present day.
In hearing, the same difference can be tested by taking some sound which is just not too high to be audible — on the very verge of audibility as it were — and discovering how many among a given number of people re able to hear it. The squeaks of a bat is a familiar instance of such a sound, and experiment will show that on a summer evening, when the whole air is full of the shrill, needle-like cries of these little animals, quite a large number of men will be absolutely unconscious of them, and unable to hear anything at all.
Now these examples clearly show that there is no hard-and-fast limit to man's power of response to either etheric or aerial vibrations, but that some among us already have that power to a wider extent than others; and it will even be found that the same man's capacity varies on different occasions. It is therefore not difficult for us to imagine that it might be possible for a man to develop this power, and thus in time to learn to see much that is invisible to his fellow-men, and hear much that is inaudible to them, since we know perfectly well that enormous numbers of these additional vibrations do exist, and are simply, as it were, awaiting recognition.
The experiments with the Röntgen rays give us an example of the startling results which are produced when even a very few of these additional vibrations are brought within human ken, and the transparency to these rays of many substances hitherto considered opaque at once shows us one way at least in which we may explain such elementary clairvoyance as is involved in reading a letter inside a closed box, or describing those present in an adjoining apartment. To learn to see by means of the Röntgen rays in addition to those ordinarily employed would be quite sufficient to enable anyone to perform a feat of magic of this order.
So far we have thought only of an extension of the purely physical senses of man; and when we remember that a man's etheric body is in reality merely the finer part of his physical frame, and that therefore all his sense-organs contain a large amount of etheric matter of various degrees of density, the capacities of which are still practically latent in most of us, we shall see that even if we confine ourselves to this line of development alone there are enormous possibilities of all kinds already opening out before us.
But besides and beyond all this we know that man possesses an astral and a mental body, each of which can in process of time be aroused into activity, and will respond in turn to the vibrations of the matter of its own plane, thus opening up before the Ego, as he learns to function through these vehicles, two entirely new and far wider worlds of knowledge and power. Now these new worlds, though they are all around us and freely interpenetrate one another, are not to be thought of as distinct and entirely unconnected in substance, but rather as melting the one into the other, the lowest astral forming a direct series with the highest physical, just as the lowest mental in its turn forms a direct series with the highest astral. We are not called upon in thinking of them to imagine some new and strange kind of matter, but simply to think of the ordinary physical kind as subdivided so very much more finely and vibrating so very much more rapidly as to introduce us to what are practically entirely new conditions and qualities.
It is not then difficult for us to grasp the possibility of a steady and progressive extension of our senses, so that both by sight and by hearing we may be able to appreciate vibrations far higher and far lower than those which are ordinarily recognized. A large section of these additional vibrations will still belong to the physical plane, and will merely enable us to obtain impressions from the etheric part of that plane, which is at present as a closed book to us. Such impressions will still be received through the retina of the eye; of course they will affect its etheric rather than its solid matter, but we may nevertheless regard them as still appealing only to an organ specialized to receive them, and not to the whole surface of the etheric body.
There are some abnormal cases, however, in which other parts of the etheric body respond to these additional vibrations as readily as, or even more readily than, the eye. Such vagaries are explicable in various ways, but principally as effects of some partial astral development, for it will be found that the sensitive parts of the body almost invariably correspond with one or other of the chakrams, or centres of vitality in the astral body. And though, if astral consciousness be not yet developed, these centres may not be available on their own plane, they are still strong enough to stimulate into keener activity the etheric matter which they interpenetrate.
When we come to deal with the astral senses themselves the methods of working are very different. The astral body has not specialized sense-organs — a fact which perhaps needs some explanation, since many students who are trying to comprehend its physiology seem to find it difficult to reconcile with the statements that have been made as to the perfect interpenetration of the physical body by astral matter, the exact correspondence between the two vehicles and the fact that every physical object has necessarily its astral counterpart.
Now all these statements are true, and yet it is quite possible for people who do not normally see astrally to misunderstand them. Every order of physical matter has its corresponding order of astral matter in constant association with it — not to be separated from it except by a very considerable exertion of occult force, and even then only to be held apart from it as long as force is being definitely exerted to that end. But for all that the relation of the astral particles one to another is far looser than is the case with their physical correspondences.
In a bar of iron, for example, we have a mass of physical molecules in the solid condition — that is to say, capable of comparatively little change in their relative positions, though each vibrating with immense rapidity in its own sphere. The astral counterpart of this consists of what we often call solid astral matter — that is, matter of the lowest and densest sub-plane of the astral; but nevertheless its particles are constantly and rapidly changing their relative positions, moving among one another as easily as those of a liquid on the physical plane might do. So that there is no permanent association between any one physical particle and that amount of astral matter which happens at any given moment to be acting as its counter part.
This is equally true with respect to the astral body of man, which for our purpose at the moment we may regard as consisting of two parts — the denser aggregation which occupies the exact position of the physical body, and the cloud of rarer astral matter which surrounds that aggregation. In both these parts, and between them both, there is going on at every moment of time the rapid inter-circulation of the particles which has been described, so that as one watches the movement of the molecules in the astral body one is reminded of the appearance of those in fiercely boiling water.
This being so, it will be readily understood that though any given organ of the physical body must always have as its counterpart a certain amount of astral matter, it does not retain the same particles for more than a few seconds at a time, and consequently there is nothing corresponding to the specialization of physical nerve-matter into optic or auditory nerves, and so on. So that though the physical eye or ear has undoubtedly always its counterpart of astral matter, that particular fragment of astral matter is no more ( and no less) capable of responding to the vibrations which produce astral sight or astral hearing than any other part of the vehicle.
It must never be forgotten that though we constantly have to speak of "astral sight" or "astral hearing" in order to make ourselves intelligible, all that we mean by those expressions is the faculty of responding to such vibrations as convey to the man's consciousness, when he is functioning in his astral body, information of the same character as that conveyed to him by his eyes and ears while he is in the physical body. But in the entirely different astral conditions, specialized organs are not necessary for the attainment of this result; there is matter in every part of the astral body which is capable of such response, and consequently the man functioning in that vehicle sees equally well objects behind him, beneath him, above him, without needing to turn his head.
There is, however, another point which it would hardly be fair to leave entirely out of account, and that is the question of the chakrams referred to above. Theosophical students are familiar with the idea of the existence in both the astral and the etheric bodies of man of certain centres of force which have to vivified in turn by the sacred serpent-fire as the man advances in evolution. Though these cannot be described as organs in the ordinary sense of the word, since it is not through them that the man sees and hears, as he does in physical life through eyes and ears, yet it is apparently very largely upon their vivification that the power of exercising these astral senses depends each of them as it is developed giving to the whole astral body the power of response to a new set of vibrations.
Neither have these centres, however, any permanent collection of astral matter connected with them. They are simply vortices in the matter of the body — vortices through which all these particles pass in turn — points, perhaps, at which the higher force from planes above impinges upon the astral body. Even this description gives but a very partial idea of their appearance, for they are in reality four dimensional vortices, so that the force which comes through them and is the cause of their existence seems to well up from nowhere. But at any rate, since all particles in turn pass through each of them, it will be clear that it is thus possible for each in turn to evoke in all the particles of the body the power of receptivity to a certain set of vibrations, so that all the astral senses are equally active in all parts of the body.
The vision of the mental plane is again totally different, for in this case we can no longer speak of separate senses such as sight and hearing, but rather have to postulate one general sense which responds so fully to the vibrations reaching it that, when any object comes within its cognition, it at once comprehends it fully, and as it were sees it, hears it, feels it, and knows all there is to know about it by the one instantaneous operation. Yet even this wonderful faculty differs in degree only and not in kind from those which are at our command at the present time; one the mental plane, just as on the physical, impressions are still conveyed by means of vibrations traveling from the object seen to the seer.
On the buddhic plane we meet for the first time with a quite new faculty having nothing in common with those of which we have spoken, for there a man cognizes any object by an entirely different method, in which external vibrations play no part. The object becomes part of himself, and he studies it from the inside instead of from the outside. But with this power ordinary clairvoyance has nothing to do.
The development, either entire or partial, of any one of these faculties would come under our definition of clairvoyance — the power to see what is hidden from ordinary physical sight. But these faculties may be developed in various ways, and it will be well to say a few words as to these different lines.
We may presume that if it were possible for a man to be isolated during his evolution from all but the gentlest outside influences, and to unfold from the beginning in perfectly regular and normal fashion, he would probably develop his senses in regular order also. He would find his physical senses gradually extending their scope until they responded to all the physical vibrations, of etheric as well as of denser matter; then in orderly sequence would come sensibility to the coarser part of the astral plane, and presently the finer part also would be included, until in due course the faculty of the mental plane dawned in its turn.
In real life, however, development so regular as this is hardly ever known, and many a man has occasional flashes of astral consciousness without any awakening of etheric vision at all. And this irregularity of development is one of the principal causes of man's extraordinary liability to error in matters of clairvoyance — a liability from which there is no escape except by a long course of careful training under a qualified teacher.
Students of Theosophical literature are well aware that there are such teachers to be found — that even in this materialistic nineteenth century the old saying is still true, that "when the pupil is ready, the Master is ready also" and that "in the hall of learning, when he is capable of entering there, the disciple will always find his Master". They are well aware also that only under such guidance can a man develop his latent powers in safety and with certainty, since they know how fatally easy it is for the untrained clairvoyant to deceive himself as to the meaning and value of what he sees, or even absolutely to distort his vision completely in bringing it down into his physical consciousness.
It does not follow that even the pupil who is receiving regular instruction in the use of occult powers will find them unfolding themselves exactly in the regular order which was suggested above as probably idea. His previous progress may not have been such as to make this for him the easiest or most desirable road; but at any rate he is in the hands of one who is perfectly competent to be his guide in spiritual development, and he rests in perfect contentment that the way along which he is taken will be that which is the best way for him.
Another great advantage which he gains is that whatever faculties he may acquire are definitely under his command and can be used fully and constantly when he needs them for his Theosophical work; whereas in the case of the untrained man such powers often manifest themselves only very partially and spasmodically, and appear to come and go, as it were, at their own sweet will.
It may reasonably be objected that if clairvoyant faculty is, as stated, a part of the occult development of man, and so a sign of a certain amount of progress along that line, it seems strange that it should often be possessed by primitive peoples, or by the ignorant and uncultured among our own race — persons who are obviously quite undeveloped, from whatever point of view one regards them. No doubt this does appear remarkable at first sight; but the fact is that the sensitiveness of the savage or of the coarse and vulgar European ignoramus is not really at all the same thing as the faculty of his properly trained brother, nor is it arrived at in the same way.
An exact and detailed explanation of the difference would lead us into rather recondite technicalities, but perhaps the general idea of the distinction between the two may be caught from an example taken from the very lowest plane of clairvoyance, in close contact with the denser physical. The etheric double in man is in exceedingly close relation to his nervous system, and any kind of action upon one of them speedily reacts on the other. Now in the sporadic appearance of etheric sight in the savage, whether of Central Africa or of Western Europe, it has been observed that the corresponding nervous disturbance is almost entirely in the sympathetic system, and that the whole affair is practically beyond the man's control — is in fact a sort of massive sensation vaguely belonging to the whole etheric body, rather than an exact and definite sense-perception communicated through a specialized organ.
As in later races and amid higher development the strength of the man is more and more thrown into the evolution of the mental faculties, this vague sensitiveness usually disappears; but still later, when the spiritual man begins to unfold, he regains his clairvoyant power. This time, however, the faculty is a precise and exact one, under the control of the man's will, and exercised through a definite sense-organ; and it is noteworthy that any nervous action set up in sympathy with it is now almost exclusively in the cerebro-spinal system.
On this subject Mrs. Besant writes:
"The lower forms of psychism are more frequent in animals and in very unintelligent human beings than in men and women in whom the intellectual powers are well developed. They appear to be connected with the sympathetic system, not with the cerebro-spinal. The large nucleated ganglionic cells in this system contain a very large proportion of etheric matter, and are hence more easily affected by the coarser astral vibrations than are the cells in which the proportion is less. As the cerebro-spinal system develops, and the brain becomes more highly evolved, the sympathetic system subsides into a subordinate position, and the sensitiveness to psychic vibrations is dominated by the stronger and more active vibrations of the higher nervous system. It is true that at a later stage of evolution psychic sensitiveness reappears but it is then developed in connection with the cerebro-spinal centres, and is brought under the control of the will. But the hysterical and ill-regulated psychism of which we see so many lamentable examples is due to the small development of the brain and the dominance of the sympathetic system."
Occasional flashes of clairvoyance do, however, sometimes come to the highly cultured and spiritual-minded man, even though he may never have heard of the possibility of training such a faculty. In his case such glimpses usually signify that he is approaching that stage in his evolution when these powers will naturally begin to manifest themselves, and their appearance should serve as an additional stimulus to him strive to maintain that high standard of moral purity and mental balance without which clairvoyance is a curse and not a blessing to its possessor.
Between those who are entirely unimpressible and those who are in full possession of clairvoyant power there are many intermediate stages. One to which it will be worth while to give a passing glance is the stage in which a man, though he has no clairvoyant faculty in ordinary life, yet exhibits it more or less fully under the influence of mesmerism. This is a case in which the psychic nature is already sensitive, but the consciousness is not yet capable of functioning in it amidst the manifold distractions of physical life. It needs to be set free by the temporary suspension of the outer senses in the mesmeric trance before it can use the diviner faculties which are but just beginning to dawn within it. But of course even in the mesmeric trance there are innumerable degrees of lucidity, from the ordinary patient who is blankly unintelligent to the man whose power of sight is fully under the control of the operator, and can be directed whithersoever he wills, or to the more advanced stage in which, when the consciousness is once set free, it escapes altogether from the grasp of the magnetizer, and soars into fields of exalted vision where it is entirely beyond his reach.
Another step along the same path is that upon which such perfect suppression of the physical as that which occurs in the hypnotic trance is not necessary, but the power of supernormal sight, though still out of reach during waking life, becomes available when the body is held in the bonds of ordinary sleep. At this stage of development stood many of the prophets and seers of whom we read, who were "warned of God in a dream", or communed with beings far higher than themselves in the silent watches of the night.
Most cultured people of the higher races of the world have this development to some extent: that is to say, the senses of their astral bodies are in full working order, and perfectly capable of receiving impressions from objects and entities of their own plane. But to make that fact of any use to them down here in the physical body, two changes are usually necessary: first, the the Ego shall be awakened to the realities of the astral plane, and induced to emerge from the chrysalis formed by his own waking thoughts, and look round him to observe and to learn; and secondly, that the consciousness shall be so far retained during the return of the Ego into his physical body as to enable him to impress upon his physical brain the recollection of what he has seen or learnt.
If the first of these changes has taken place, the second is of little importance, since the Ego, the true man, will be able to profit by the information to be obtained upon that plane, even though he may not have the satisfaction of bringing through any remembrance of it into his waking life down here.
Students often ask how this clairvoyant faculty will first be manifested in themselves — how they may know when they have reached the stage at which its first faint foreshadowings are beginning to be visible. Cases differ so widely that it is impossible to give to this question any answer that will be universally applicable.
Some people begin by a plunge, as it were, and under some unusual stimulus become able just for once to see some striving vision; and very often in such a case, because the experience does not repeat itself, the seer comes in time to believe that on that occasion he must have been the victim of hallucination. Others begin by becoming intermittently conscious of the brilliant colours and vibrations of the human aura; yet others find themselves with increasing frequency seeing and hearing something to which those around them are blind and deaf; others, again, see faces, landscapes, or coloured clouds floating before their eyes in the dark before they sink to rest; while perhaps the commonest experience of all is that of those who begin to recollect with greater and greater clearness what they have seen and heard on the other planes during sleep.
Having now to some extent cleared our ground, we may proceed to consider the various phenomena of clairvoyance.
They differ so widely both in character and in degree that it is not very easy to decide how they can most satisfactorily be classified. We might, for example, arrange them according to the kind of sight employed — whether it were mental, astral, or merely etheric. We might divine them according to the capacity of the clairvoyant, taking into consideration whether he was trained or untrained; whether his vision was regular and under his command, or spasmodic and independent of his volition; whether he could exercise it only when under mesmeric influence, or whether that assistance was unnecessary for him; whether he was able to use his faculty when awake in the physical body, or whether it was available only when he was temporarily away from that body in sleep or trance.
All these distinctions are of importance, and we shall have to take them all into consideration as we go on, but perhaps on the whole the most useful classification will be one something on the lines of that adopted by Mr. Sinnett in his Rationale of Mesmerism — a book, by the way, which all students of clairvoyance ought to read. In dealing with the phenomena, then, we will arrange them rather according to the capacity of the sight employed than to the plane upon which it is exercised, so that we may group instances of clairvoyance under some such headings as these:
1— Simple clairvoyance — that is to say, a mere opening of sight, enabling its possessor to see whatever astral or etheric entities happen to be present around him, but not including the power of observing either distant places or scenes belonging to any other time than the present.
2 — Clairvoyance in space — the capacity to see scenes or events removed from the seer in space, and either too far distant for ordinary observation or concealed by intermediate objects.
3 — Clairvoyance in time — that is to say, the capacity to see objects or events which are removed from the seer in time, or, in other words, the power of looking into the past or the future.