CLAIRVOYANCE IN TIME: THE FUTURE
Even if, in a dim sort of way, we feel ourselves able to grasp the idea that the whole of the past may be simultaneously and actively present in a sufficiently exalted consciousness, we are confronted by a far greater difficulty when we endeavour to realize how all the future may also be comprehended in that consciousness. If we could believe in the Mohammedan doctrine of kismet, or the Calvinistic theory of predestination, the conception would be easy enough, but knowing as we do that both these are grotesque distortions of the truth, we must look round for a more acceptable hypothesis.
There may still be some people who deny the possibility of prevision, but such denial simply shows their ignorance of the evidence on the subject. The large number of authenticated cases leaves no room for doubt as to the fact, but many of them are of such a nature as to render a reasonable explanation by no means easy to find. It is evident that the ego possesses a certain amount of previsional faculty, and if the events foreseen were always of great importance, one might suppose that an extraordinary stimulus had enabled him for that occasion only to make a clear impression of what he saw upon his lower personality. No doubt that is the explanation of many of the cases in which death or grave disaster is foreseen, but there are a large number of instances on record to which it does not seem to apply, since the events foretold are frequently exceedingly trivial and unimportant.
A well-know story of second-sight in Scotland will illustrate what I mean. A man who had no belief in the occult was forewarned by a Highland seer of the approaching death of neighbour. The prophecy was given with considerable wealth of detail, including a full description of the funeral, with the names of the four pallbearers and others who would be present. The auditor seems to have laughed at the whole story and promptly forgotten it, but the death of his neighbour at the time foretold recalled the warning to mind, and he determined to falsify part of the prediction at any rate by being one of the pallbearers himself. He succeeded in getting matters arranged as he wished, but just as the funeral was about to start he was called away from his post by some small matter which detained him only a minute or two. As he came hurrying back he saw with surprise that the procession had started without him, and that the prediction had been exactly fulfilled, for the four pallbearers were those who had been indicated in the vision.
Now here is a very trifling matter, which could have been of no possible importance to anybody, definitely foreseen months beforehand; and although a man makes a determined effort to alter the arrangement indicated he fails entirely to affect it in the least. Certainly this looks very much like predestination, even down to the smallest detail, and it is only when we examine this question from higher planes that we are able to see our way to escape that theory. Of course, as I said before about another branch of the subject, a full explanation eludes us as yet, and obviously must do so until our knowledge is infinitely greater than it is now; the most that we can hope to do for the present is to indicate the line along which an explanation may be found.
There is no doubt whatever that, just as what is happening now is the result of causes set in motion in the past, so what will happen in the future will be the result of causes already in operation. Even down here we can calculate that if certain actions are performed certain results will follow, but our reckoning is constantly liable to be disturbed by the interference of factors which we have not been able to take into account. But if we raise our consciousness to the mental plane we can see very much farther into the results of our actions.
We can trace, for example, the effect of a casual word, not only upon the person to whom it was addressed, but through him on many others as it is passed on in widening circles, until it seems to have affected the whole country; and one glimpse of such a vision is far more efficient than any number of moral precepts in pressing upon us the necessity of extreme circumspection in thought, word, and deed. Not only can we from that plane see thus fully the result of every action, but we can also see where and in what way the results of other actions apparently quite unconnected with it will interfere with and modify it. In fact, it may be said that the results of all causes at present in action are clearly visible - that the future, as it would be if no entirely new causes should arise, lies open before our gaze.
New causes of course do arise, because man's will is free; but in the case of all ordinary people the use which they will make of their freedom can be calculated beforehand with considerable accuracy. The average man has so little real will that he is very much the creature of circumstances; his action im previous lives places him amid certain surroundings, and their influence upon him is so very much the most important factor in his life-story that his future course may be predicted with almost mathematical certainty. With the developed man the case is different; for him also the main events of life are arranged by his past actions, but the way in which he will allow them to affect him, the methods by which he will deal with them and perhaps triumph over them — these are all his own, and they cannot be foreseen even on the mental (devachanic) plane except as probabilities.
Looking down on man's life in this way from above, it seems as though his free will could be exercised only at certain crises in his career. He arrives at a point in his life where there are obviously two or three alternative courses open before him; he is absolutely free to choose which of them he pleases, and although someone who knew his nature thoroughly well might feel almost certain what his choice would be, such knowledge on his friend's part is in no sense a compelling force.
But when he has chosen, he has to go through with it and take the consequences; having entered upon a particular path he may, in many cases, be forced to go on for a very long way before he has any opportunity to turn aside. His position is somewhat like that of the driver of a train; when he comes to a junction he may have the points set either this way or that, and so can pass on to whichever line he pleases, but when he has passed on to one of them he is compelled to run on along the line which he has selected until he reaches another set of points, where again an opportunity of choice is offered to him.
Now, in looking down from the mental plane, these points of new departure would be clearly visible, and all the results of each choice would lie open before us, certain to be worked out even to the smallest detail. The only point which would remain uncertain would be the all-important one as to which choice the man would make. We should, in fact, have not one but several futures mapped out before our eyes, without necessarily being able to determine which of them would materialize itself into accomplished fact. In most instances we should see so strong a probability that we should not hesitate to come to a decision, but the case which I have described is certainly theoretically possible. Still, even this much knowledge would enable us to do with safety a good deal of prediction; and it is not difficult for us to imagine that a far higher power than ours might always be able to foresee which way every choice would go, and consequently to prophesy with absolute certainty.
On the buddhic plane, however, no such elaborate process of conscious calculation is necessary, for, as I said before, in some manner which down here is totally inexplicable, the past, the present, and the future are there all existing simultaneously. One can only accept this fact, for its cause lies in the faculty of the plane, and the way in which this higher faculty works is naturally quite incomprehensible to the physical brain. Yet now and then one may meet with a hint that seems to bring us a trifle nearer to a dim possibility of comprehension. One such hint was given by Sir Olive Lodge in his address to the British Association at Cardiff. He said:
"A luminous and helpful idea is that time is but a relative mode of regarding things; we progress through phenomena at a certain definite pace and this subjective advance we interpret in an objective manner, as if events moved necessarily in this order and at this precise rate. But that may be only one mode of regarding them. The events may be in some sense in existence always, both past and future, and it may be we who are arriving at them, not they which happening. The analogy of a traveler in a railway train is useful; if he could never leave the train nor alter its pace he would probably consider the landscapes as necessarily successive and be unable to conceive their coexistence... We perceive, therefore, a possible fourth dimensional aspect about time, the inexorableness of whose flow may be a natural part of our present limitations. And if we once grasp the idea that past and future may be actually existing, we can recognize that they may have a controlling influence on all present action, and the two together may constitute the 'higher plane' or totality of things after which, as it seems to me, we are impelled to seek, in connection with the directing of form or determinism, and the action of living beings consciously directed to a definite and preconceived end".
Time is not in reality the fourth dimension at all; yet to look at it for the moment from that point of view is some slight help towards grasping the ungraspable. Suppose that we hold a wooden cone at right angles to a sheet of paper, and slowly push it through its point first. A microbe living on the surface of that sheet of paper, and having no power of conceiving anything outside of that surface, could not only never see the cone as a whole, but could form no sort of conception of such a body at all. All that he would see would be the sudden appearance of a tiny circle, which would gradually and mysteriously grow larger and larger until it vanished from his world as suddenly and incomprehensibly as it had come into it.
Thus, what were in reality a series of sections of the cone would appear to him to be successive stages in the life of a circle, and it would be impossible for him to grasp the idea that these successive stages could be seen simultaneously. Yet it is, of course, easy enough for us, looking down upon the transaction from another dimension, to see that the microbe is simply under a delusion arising from its own limitations, and that the cone exists as a whole all the while. Our own delusion as to past, present, and future is possibly not dissimilar, and the view that is gained of any sequence of events from the buddhic plane corresponds to the view of the cone as a whole. Naturally, any attempt to work out this suggestion lands us in a series of startling paradoxes; but the fact remains a fact, nevertheless, and the time will come when it will be clear as noonday to our comprehension.
When the pupil's consciousness is fully developed upon the buddhic plane, therefore, perfect prevision is possible to him, though he may not — nay, he certainly will not be able to bring the whole result of this sight through fully and in order into this life. Still, a great deal of clear foresight is obviously within his power, whenever he likes to exercise it; and even when he is not exercising it, frequent flashes of foreknowledge come through into his ordinary life, so that he often has an instantaneous intuition as to how things will turn out even before their inception.
Short of this perfect prevision we find, as in the previous cases, that all degrees of this type of clairvoyance exist, from the occasional vague premonitions which cannot in any true sense be called sight at all, up to frequent and fairly complete second-sight. The faculty to which this latter somewhat misleading name has been given is an extremely interesting one and would well repay more careful and systematic study than has ever higher to been given to it.
It is best know to us as a not infrequent possession of the Scottish Highlanders, though it is by no means confirmed to them. Occasional instances of it have appeared in almost every nation, but it has always been commonest among mountaineers and men of lonely life. With us in England it is often spoken of as though it were the exclusive appanage of the Celtic race, but in reality it has appeared among similarly situated peoples the world over. It is stated, for example, to be very common among the Westphalian peasantry.
Sometimes the second-sight consists of a picture clearly foreshowing some coming event; more frequently, perhaps, the glimpse of the future is given by some symbolical appearance. It is noteworthy that the events foreseen are invariably unpleasant ones - death being the commonest of all; I do not recollect a single instance in which the second-sight has shown anything which was not of the most gloomy nature. It has a ghastly symbolism which is all its own — a symbolism of shrouds and corpse-candles, and other funeral horrors. In some cases it appears to be to a certain extent dependent on locality, for it is stated that inhabitants of the Isle of Skye who possess the faculty often lose it when they leave the island, even though it be only to cross to the mainland. The gift of such sight is sometimes hereditary in a family for generations, but this is not an invariable rule, for it often appears sporadically in one member of a family otherwise free from its lugubrious influence.
An example in which an accurate vision of a coming event was seen some months beforehand by second-sight has already been given. Here is another and perhaps a more striking one, which I give exactly as it was related to me by one of the actors in the scene.
"We plunged into the jungle, and had walked on for about an hour without much success, when Cameron, who happened to be next to me, stopped suddenly, turned pale as death, and, pointing straight before him, cried in accents of horror:
"'See! see! merciful heaven, look there!'
"'Where? what? what is it?' we all shouted confusedly, as we rushed up to him and looked round in expectation of encountering a tiger — a cobra — we hardly knew what, but assuredly something terrible, since it had been sufficient to cause such evident emotion in our usually self-contained comrade. But neither tiger nor cobra was visible - nothing but Cameron pointing with ghastly, haggard face and staring eyeballs at something we could not see.
"'Cameron! Cameron!' cried I, seizing his arm, 'for heaven's sake, speak! What is the matter?'
"Scarcely were the words out of my mouth when a low, but very peculiar sound struck on my ear, and Cameron, dropping his pointing hand, said in a hoarse, strained voice, 'There! you heard it? Thank God it's over!' and fell to the ground insensible.
"There was a momentary confusion while we unfastened his collar, and I dashed in his face some water which I fortunately had in my flask, while another tried to pour brandy between his clenched teeth; and under cover of it, I whispered to the man next to me (one of our greatest sceptics, by the way), " Beauchamp , did you hear anything?'
"'Why, yes,' he replied, ' a curious sound, very; a sort of crash or rattle far away in the distance, yet very distinct; if the thing were not utterly impossible, I could have sworn it was the rattle of musketry'.
"'Just my impression', murmured I; 'but hush! he is recovering'.
"In a minute or two he was able to speak feebly, and began to thank us and apologize for giving trouble; and soon he sat up, leaning against a tree, and in a firm, though still low voice said:
"'My dear friends, I feel I owe you an explanation of my extraordinary behaviour. It is an explanation that I would fain avoid giving; but it must come some time, and so may as well be given now. You may perhaps have noticed that when during our voyage you all joined in scoffing at dreams, portents and visions, I invariably avoided giving any opinion on the subject. I did so because, while I had no desire to court ridicule or provoke discussion, I was unable to agree with you, knowing only too well from my own dread experience that the world which men agree to call that of the supernatural is just as real as — nay, perhaps, even far more real than this world we see about us. In other words, I, like many of my country men, am cursed with the gift of second-sight — that awful faculty which foretells in vision calamities that are shortly to occur.
"'Such a vision I had just now, and its exceptional horror moved me as you have seen. I saw before me a corpse — not that of one who has died a peaceful natural death, but that of the victim of some terrible accident; a ghastly, shapeless mass, with a face swollen, crushed, unrecognisable. I saw this dreadful object placed in a coffin, and the funeral service performed over it. I saw the burial ground, I saw the clergyman; and though I had never seen either before, I can picture both perfectly in my mind's eye now; I saw you, myself, Beauchamp, all of us and many more, standing round as mourners; I saw the soldiers raise their muskets after the service was over; I heard the volley they fired — and then I knew no more'.
"As he spoke of that volley of musketry I glanced across with a shudder at Beauchamp, and the look of stony horror on that handsome sceptic's face was not to be forgotten".
This is only one incident (and by no means the principal one) in a very remarkable story of psychic experience, but as for the moment we are concerned merely with the example of second-sight which it gives us, I need only say that later in the day the party of young soldiers discovered the body of their commanding officer in the terrible condition so graphically described by Mr. Cameron. The narrative continues:
"When, on the following evening, we arrived at our destination, and our melancholy deposition had been taken down by the proper authorities, Cameron and I went out for a quiet walk, to endeavour with the assistance of the soothing influence of nature to shake off something of the gloom which paralyzed our spirits. Suddenly he clutched my arm, and pointing through some rude railings, said in a trembling voice. "Yes, there it is! that is the burial-ground I saw yesterday'. And when later on we were introduced to the chaplain of the post, I noticed, though my friends did not, the irrepressible shudder with which Cameron took his hand, and I knew that he had recognized the clergyman of his vision".
As for the occult rational of al this, I presume Mr. Cameron's vision was a pure case of second-sight, and if so the fact that the two men who were evidently nearest to him (certainly one — probably both — actually touching him) participated in it to the limited extent of hearing the concluding volley, while the others who were not so close did not, would show that the intensity with which the vision impressed itself upon the seer occasioned vibrations in his mind-body which were communicated to those of the persons in contact with him, as in ordinary thought-transference. Anyone who wishes to read the rest of the story will find it in the pages of Lucifer, Vol. 2, page 457.
Scores of examples of similar nature to these might easily be collected. With regard to the symbolical variety of this sight, it is commonly stated among those who possess it that if on meeting a living person they see a phantom shroud wrapped around him, it is a sure prognostication of his death. The date of the approaching decease is indicated either by the extent to which the shroud covers the body, or by the time of day at which the vision is seen; for if it be in the early morning they say that the man will die during the same day, but if it be in the evening, then it will be only some time within a year.
Another variant (and a remarkable one) of the symbolic form of second-sight is that in which the headless apparition of the person whose death is foretold manifests itself to the seer. An example of that class is given in Signs before Death as having happened in the family of Dr. Ferrier, though in that case, if I recollect rightly, the vision did not occur until the time of the death, or very near it.
Turning from seers who are regularly in possession of a certain faculty, although its manifestations are only occasionally fully under their control, we are confronted by a large number of isolated instances of prevision in the case of people with whom it is not in any way a regular faculty. Perhaps the majority of these occur in dreams, although examples of the waking vision are by no means wanting. Sometimes the prevision refers to an event of distinct importance to the seer, and so justifies the action of the Ego in taking the trouble to impress it. In other cases, the event is one which is of no apparent importance, or is not in any way connected with the man to whom the vision comes. Sometimes it is clear that the intention of the Ego (or the communicating entity, whatever it may be) is to warn the lower self of the approach of some calamity, either in order that it may be prevented or, if that be not possible, that the shock may be minimized by preparation.
The event most frequently thus foreshadowed is, perhaps not unnaturally, death — sometimes the death of the seer himself, sometimes that of one dear to him. This type of prevision is so common in the literature of the subject, and its object is so obvious, that we need hardly cite examples of it; but one or two instances in which the prophetic sight, though clearly useful, was yet of a less sombre character, will prove not uninteresting to the reader. The following is culled from that storehouse of the student of the uncanny, Mrs. Crowe's Night Side of Nature, page 72.
"A few years ago Dr. Watson, now residing at Glasgow, dreamt that he received a summons to attend a patient at a place some miles from where he was living; that he started on horseback, and that as he was crossing a moor he saw a bull making furiously at him, whose horns he only escaped by taking refuge on a spot inaccessible to the animal, where he waiting a long time till some people, observing his situation, came to his assistance and released him.
"Whilst at breakfast on the following morning the summons came, and smiling at the odd coincidence (as he thought it), he started on horseback. He was quite ignorant of the road he had to go, but by and by he arrived at the moor, which he recognized, and presently the bull appeared, coming full tilt towards him. But his dream had shown him the place of refuge for which he instantly made, and there he spent three or four hours, besieged by the animal, till the country people set him free. Dr Watson declares that but for the dream he should not have known in what direction to run for safety".
Another case, in which a much longer interval separated the warning and its fulfillment, is given by Dr. F. G. Lee, in Glimpses of the Supernatural, Volume 1, page 240.
"Mrs. Hannah Green, the housekeeper of a country family in Oxfordshire, dreamt one night that she had been left alone in the house upon a Sunday evening, and that hearing a knock at the door of the chief entrance she went to it, and there found an ill-looking tramp armed with a bludgeon, who insisted on forcing himself into the house. She thought that she struggled for some time to prevent him so doing, but quite ineffectually, and that, being struck down by him and rendered insensible, he thereupon gained ingress to the mansion. On this she awoke.
"As nothing happened for a considerable period, the circumstance of the dream was soon forgotten, and, as she herself asserts, had altogether passed away from her mind. However, seven years afterwards this same housekeeper was left with two other servants to take charge of an isolated mansion at Kensington (subsequently the town residence of the family), when on a certain Sunday evening, her fellow-servants having gone out and left her alone, she was suddenly startled by a loud knock at the front door.
"All of a sudden the remembrance of her former dream returned to her with singular vividness and remarkable force, and she felt her lonely isolation greatly. Accordingly, having at once lighted a lamp on the hall table — during which act the loud knock was repeated with vigour — she took the precaution to go up to a landing on the stair and throw up the window; and there to her intense terror she saw in the flesh the very man who years previously she had seen in her dream, armed with the bludgeon and demanding an entrance.
"With great presence of mind she went down to the chief entrance, made that and other doors and windows more secure, and then rang the various bells of the house violently, and placed lights in the upper rooms. It was concluded that by the acts the intruder was scared away.
Evidently in this case also the dream was of practical use, as without it the worthy housekeeper would without doubt from sheer force of habit have opened the door in the ordinary way in answer to the knock.
It is not, however, only in dream that the ego impresses his lower self with what he thinks it well for it to know. Many instances showing this might be taken from the books, but instead of quoting from them I will give a case related only a few weeks ago by a lady of my acquaintance — a case which, although not surrounded with any romantics incident, has at least the merit of being new.
My friend, then, has two quite young children, and a little while ago the elder of them caught (as was supposed) a bad cold, and suffered for some days from a complete stoppage in the upper part of the nose. The mother thought little of this, expecting it to pass off, until one day she suddenly saw before her in the air what she describes as a picture of a room, in the centre of which was a table on which her child was lying insensible or dead, with some people bending over her. The minutest details of the scene were clear to her, and she particularly noticed that the child wore a white nightdress, whereas she knew that all garments of that description possessed by her little daughter happened to be pink.
The vision impressed her considerably, and suggested to her for the first time that the child might be suffering from something more serious than a cold, so she carried her off to a hospital for examination. The surgeon who attended to her discovered the presence of dangerous growth in the nose, which he pronounced must be removed. A few days later the child was taken to the hospital for the operation, and was put to bed. When the mother arrived at the hospital she found she had forgotten to bring one of the child's night-dresses, and so the nurses had to supply one, which was white. In this white dress the operation was performed on the girl the next day, in the room that her mother saw in her vision, every circumstance being exactly reproduced.
In all these cases the prevision achieved its result, but the books are full of stories of warnings neglected or scouted, and of the disaster that consequently followed. In some cases the information is given to someone who has practically no power to interfere in the matter, as in the historic instance when John Williams, a Cornish mine-manager, foresaw in the minutest detail, eight or nine days before it took place, the assassination of Mr. Spencer Perceval, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the lobby of the House of Commons. Even in this case, however, it is just possible that something might have been done, for we read that Mr. Williams was so much impressed that he consulted his friends as to whether he ought not to go up to London to warn Mr. Perceval. Unfortunately they dissuaded him, and the assassination took place. It does not seem very probable that, even if he had gone up to town and related his story, much attention would have been paid to him; still there is just the possibility that some precautions might have been taken which would have prevented the murder.
There is little to show us what particular action on higher planes led to this curious prophetic vision. The parties were entirely unknown to one another, so that it was not caused by any close sympathy between them. If it was an attempt made by some helper to avert the threatened doom, it seems strange that no one who was sufficiently impressible could be found nearer than Cornwall. Perhaps Mr. Williams, when on the astral plane during sleep, somehow came across this reflection of the future, and being naturally horrified thereby, passed it on to his lower mind in the hope that somehow something might be done to prevent it; but it is impossible to diagnose the case with certainty without examining the âkâshic records to see what actually took place.
A typical instance of the absolutely purposeless foresight is that related by Mr. Stead, in his Real Ghost Stories (page 83), of his friend Miss Freer, commonly known as Miss X. When staying at a country house this lady, being wide awake and fully conscious, once saw a dogcart drawn by a white horse standing at the hall door, with two strangers in it, one of whom got out of the cart and stood playing with a terrier. She noticed that he was wearing an ulster, and also particularly observed the fresh wheel-marks made by the cart on the gravel. Nevertheless there was no cart there at the time; but half an hour later two strangers did drive up in such an equipage, and every detail of the lady's vision was accurately fulfilled. Mr. Stead goes on to cite another instance of equally purposeless prevision where seven years separated the dream (for in this case it was a dream) and its fulfillment.
All these instances (and they are merely random selections from many hundreds) show that a certain amount of prevision is undoubtedly possible to the ego, and such cases would evidently be much more frequent if it were not for the exceeding density and lack of response in the lower vehicles of the majority of what we call civilized mankind — qualities chiefly attributable to the gross practical materialism of the present age. I am not thinking of any profession of materialistic belief as common, but of the fact that in all practical affairs of daily life nearly everyone is guided solely by considerations of worldly interest in some shape or other.
In many cases the ego himself may be an undeveloped one, and his prevision consequently very vague; in others he himself may see clearly, but may find his lower vehicles so unimpressible that all he can succeed in getting through into his physical brain may be an indefinite presage of coming disaster. Again, there are cases in which a premonition is not the work of the ego at all, but of some outside entity, who for some reasons takes a friendly interest in the person to whom the feeling comes. In the work which I quote above, Mr. Stead tells us of the certainty which he felt many months beforehand that he would be left in change of the Pall Mall Gazette, through from an ordinary point of view nothing seemed less probable. Whether that foreknowledge was the result of an impression made by his own ego or of a friendly hint from someone else it is impossible to say without definite investigation, but his confidence in it was fully justified.
There is one more variety of clairvoyance in time which ought not to be left without mention. It is a comparatively rare one, but there are enough examples on record to claim our attention, though unfortunately the particulars given do not usually include those which we should require in order to be able to diagnose it with certainty. I refer to the cases in which spectral armies or phantom flocks of animals have been seen. In The Night Side of Nature (page 462 et seq.) we have accounts of several such visions. We are there told how at Havarah Park, near Ripley, a body of soldiers in white uniform, amounting to several hundreds, was seen by reputable people to go through various evolutions and then vanish; and how some years earlier a similar visionary army was seen in the neighbourhood of Inverness by a respectable farmer and his son.
In this case also the number of troops was very great, and the spectators had not the slightest doubt at first that they were substantial forms of flesh and blood. They counted at least sixteen pairs of columns, and had abundance of time to observe every particular. The front ranks marched seven abreast, and were accompanied by a good many women and children, who were carrying tin cans and other implements of cookery. The men were clothed in red, and their arms shone brightly in the sun. In the midst of them was an animal, a deer or horse, they could not distinguish which, that they were driving furiously forward with their bayonets.
The younger of the two men observed to the other that every now and then the rear ranks were obliged to run to overtake the van; and the elder one, who had been a soldier, remarked that that was always the case, and recommended him if he ever served to try to march in the front. There was only one mounted officer; he rode a grey dragoon horse, and wore a gold-laced hat and blue Hussar cloak, with wide open sleeves lined with red. The two spectators observed him so particularly that they said afterwards they should recognize him anywhere. They were, however, afraid of being ill-treated or forced to go along with the troops, whom they concluded to have come from Ireland, and landed at Hyntyre; and whilst they were climbing over a dyke to get out of their way, the whole thing vanished.
A phenomenon of the same sort was observed in the earlier part of this century at Paderborn in Westphalia, and seen by at least thirty people; but as, some years later, a review of twenty thousand men was held on the very same spot, it was concluded that the vision must have been some sort of second-sight — a faculty not uncommon in the district.
Such spectral hosts, however, are sometimes seen where an army of ordinary men could by no possibility have marched, either before or after. One of the most remarkable accounts of such apparitions is given by Miss Harriet Martineau, in her description of The English Lakes. She writes as follows:
"This Souter or Soutra Fell is the mountain on which ghosts appeared in myriads, at intervals during ten years of the last century, presenting the same appearances to twenty-six chosen witnesses, and to all the inhabitants of all the cottages within view of the mountain, and for a space of two hours and a half at one time — the spectral show being closed by darkness! The mountain, be it remembered is full of precipices, which defy all marching of bodies of men; and the north and west sides present a sheer perpendicular of 900 feet.
"On Midsummer Eve, 1735, a farm servant of Mr. Lancaster, half a mile from the mountain, saw the eastern side of its summit covered with troops, which pursued their onward march for an hour. They came, indistinct bodies, from an eminence on the north and disappeared in a niche in the summit. When the poor fellow told his tale, he was insulted on all hands, as original observers usually are when they see anything wonderful. Two years after, also on a Midsummer Eve, Mr. Lancaster saw some men there, apparently following their horses, as if they had returned from hunting. He thought nothing of this; but he happened to look up again ten minutes after, and saw the figures, now mounted, and followed by an interminable array of troops, five abreast, marching from the eminence and over the cleft as before. All the family saw this, and the manoeuvres of the force, as each company was kept in order by a mounted officer, who galloped this way and that. As the shades of twilight came on, the disciple appeared to relax, and the troops intermingled, and rode at unequal paces till all was lost in darkness. Now of course all the Lancasters were insulted, as their servant had been; but their justification was not long delayed.
"On the Midsummer Eve of the fearful 1745, twenty-six persons, expressly summoned by the family, saw all that had been seen before, and more. Carriages were now interspersed with the troops; and everybody knew that no carriages had been, or could be, on the summit of Souter Fell. The multitude was beyond imagination; for the troops filled a space of half a mile, and marched quickly till night hid them — still marching. There was nothing vaporous or indistinct about the appearance of the spectres. So real did they seem, that some of the people went up the next morning, to look for the hoof-marks of the horses; and awful it was to them to find not one footprint on heather or grass. The witnesses attested the whole story on oath before a magistrate; and fearful were the expectations held by the whole countryside about the coming events of the Scotch rebellion.
"It now comes out that two other persons had seen something of the sort in the interval — viz., in 1743 — but had concealed it, to escape the insults to which their neighbours were subjected. Mr. Wren, of Wilton Hall, and his farm servant, saw, one summer evening, a man and a dog on the mountain, pursuing some horses along a place so steep that a horse could hardly by any possibility keep a footing on it. Their speed was prodigious, and their disappearance at the south end of the fell so rapid, that Mr. Wren and the servant went up, the next morning, to find the body of the man who must have been killed. Of man, horse, or dog, they found not a trace; and they came down and held their tongues. When they did speak, they fared not much better for having twenty-six sworn comrades in their disgrace.
"As for the explanation, the editor of the Lonsdale Magazine declared (volume II, page 313) that it was discovered that on the Midsummer Eve of 1745 the rebels were 'exercising on the western cost of Scotland, whose movements had been reflected by some transparent vapour, similar to the Fata Morgana'. This is not much in the way of explanation; but it is, as far as we know, all that can be had at present. These facts, however, brought out a good many more; as the spectral march of the same kind seen in Leicestershire in 1707, and the tradition of the tramp of armies over Helvellyn, on the eve of the battle of Marston Moor".
Other cases are cited in which flocks of spectral sheep have been seen on certain roads, and there are of course various German stories of phantom cavalcades of hunters and robbers.
Now in these cases, as so often happens in the investigation of occult phenomena, there are several possible causes, any one of which would be quite adequate to the production of the observed occurrences, but in the absence of fuller information it is hardly feasible to do more than guess as to which of these possible causes were in operation in any particular instance.
The explanation usually suggested (whenever the whole story is not ridiculed as a falsehood) is that what is seen is a reflection by mirage of the movements of a real body and troops, taking place at a considerable distance. I have myself seen the ordinary mirage on several occasions and know something therefore of its wonderful powers of deception; but it seems to me that we should need some entirely new variety of mirage, quite different form that at present known to science, to account for these tales of phantom armies, some of which pass the spectator within a few years.
First of all, they may be, as apparently in the Westphalian case above mentioned, simply instances of prevision on a gigantic scale — by whom arranged, and for what purpose, it is not easy to divine. Again, they may often belong to the past instead of the future, and be in fact the reflection of scenes from the akashic records — though here again the reason and method of such reflection is not obvious.
There are plenty of tribes of nature-spirits perfectly capable, if for any reason they wished to do so, of producing such appearances by their wonderful power of glamour (See Theosophical Manual, No 5, page 86), and such action would be quite in keeping with their delight in mystifying and impressing human beings. Or it may even sometimes be kindly intended by them as a warning to their friends of events that they know to be about to take place. It seems as though some explanation along these lines would be the most reasonable method of accounting for the extraordinary series of phenomena described by Miss Martineau — that is, if the stories told to her can be relied upon.
Another possibility is that in some cases what have been taken for soldiers were simply the nature-spirits themselves going through some of the ordered evolutions in which they take so much delight, though it must be admitted that these are rarely of a character which could be mistaken for military manoeuvres except by the most ignorant.
The flocks of animals are probably in most instances mere records, but there are cases where they, like the "wild huntsmen" of German story, belong to an entirely different class of phenomena which is altogether outside of our present subject. Students of the occult will be familiar with the fact that the circumstances surrounding any scene of intense terror or passion, such as an exceptionally horrible murder, are liable to be occasionally reproduced in a form which it needs a very slight development of psychic faculty to be able to see; and it has sometimes happened that various animals formed part of such surroundings, and consequently they also are periodically reproduced by the action of the guilty conscience of the murderer. (See Manual 5).
Probably whatever foundation of fact underlies the various stories of spectral horsemen and hunting-troops may generally be referred to this category. This is also the explanation, evidently, of some of the visions of ghostly armies, such as that remarkable reenactment of the battle of Edgehill which seems to have taken place at intervals for some months after the date of the real struggle, as testified by a justice of the peace, a clergyman, and other eyewitnesses in a curious contemporary pamphlet entitled Prodigious Noises of War and Battle, at Edgehill, near Keinton, in Northamptonshire. According to the pamphlet this case was investigated at the time by some officers of the army, who clearly recognized many of the phantom figures that they saw. This looks decidedly like an instance of the terrible power of man's unrestrained passions to reproduce themselves, and to cause in some strange way a kind of materialization of their record.
In some cases it is clear that the flocks of animals seen have been simply hordes of unclean artificial elementals taking that form in order to feed upon the loathsome emanations of peculiarly horrible places, such as would be the site of a gallows. An instance of this kind is furnished by the celebrated "Gyb Ghosts", or ghosts of the gibbet, describe in More Glimpses of the World Unseen, page 109, as being repeatedly seen in the form of herds of misshapen swine-like creatures, rushing, rooting and fighting night after night on the site of that foul monument of crime. But these belong to the subject of apparitions rather than to that of clairvoyance.