The Theosophical Forum – February 1946

THE BORDERLAND OF THE OCCULT — Charles J. Ryan

If correctly reported, some curious things have recently happened in the world — not war news — which are worth notice. While, as already mentioned, certain advanced thinkers are greatly widening the outlook on natural laws even to a close approach to Theosophical fundamental principles, the majority of scientists are still very hesitant to study natural phenomena which do not apparently lead to practical results as they regard them, but which are destined to be found exceedingly practical when properly understood. A small movement "toward the left," the occult, has been made lately in regard to the tremendous mystery of Time. This was touched on in THE THEOSOPHICAL FORUM for April, 1945. Other phenomena, however, of importance in the revelation of the inner workings of Nature are still ignored. Ancient scholars, in India, Greece or elsewhere, made no hard and fast distinction between science, philosophy and religion, or even between what we regard as separate sciences. They looked upon life more as a whole and these things as merely aspects of the whole, and today a few daring scientific writers are trying to revive this point of view. It may be a very "practical" one, and one that would help in solving many of our problems such for instance as war and juvenile delinquency!

It would certainly be a great help to educationalists and reformers if they would learn about the potency of the "Astral Light" to reflect back the worst as well as the better deeds and thoughts of men, though of course unknowingly to the majority of human beings. The Astral Light is that "plane" of Nature which, as William Q. Judge says in The Ocean of Theosophy "contains, retains and reflects pictures of each and everything that happened to anyone, and also every thought; it permeates the globe and the atmosphere around it; the transmission of vibration through it is practically instantaneous. .. ." It resembles the sensitive photographic plate which receives and retains images, and like the films which contain the potency that under proper conditions appears as a picture on the screen it occasionally flashes into physical visibility the images imprinted upon its substance, and sometimes, by a shifting of time values perhaps (?) presents the image of a coming event. H. P. Blavatsky said that the partition between the physical and astral planes is exceedingly thin and the wonder is that so few persons are consciously able to penetrate it. This is fortunate for us in our present stage of development, for as Mr. Judge says:

As an enormous screen or reflector the astral light hangs over the earth and becomes a powerful universal hypnotizer of human beings. The pictures of all acts good and bad done by our ancestors as by ourselves being ever present to our inner selves, we constantly are impressed by them by way of suggestion and go then and do likewise. — Echoes of the Orient

For this reason a clear understanding of the properties of the Astral Light should be a matter of common knowledge and careful study by all who are working for the elevation of the race. Its presentation to the ignorant western world in this critical transition age is one of the outstanding benefits brought by the Theosophical Movement. Of course western science may have to discover it by its own methods, as has happened in so many cases of the re-discovery of ancient wisdom before they were accepted, but when it is accepted the knowledge will be found to be an infinitely greater boon to real progress than that of the interatomic forces.

One of the flashes of revelation from inner planes which Nature occasionally provides, perhaps to test our advance in intuition, has lately been reported from England. According to the published reports, at least two thousand persons in the city of Ipswich and surrounding villages declared a few months ago that they saw a mysterious apparition in the late afternoon sky. It took the form of Christ on the Cross, even to such details as the nails. Military and naval officers were among the witnesses and many persons insisted upon making legal affidavits of what they saw. The vicar of the ancient church of St. Nicholas, the Rev. H. G. Green, made a careful investigation of the accounts, traveling considerable distances to examine people who had seen the phenomenon. As could be expected, the usual "explanation" of autosuggestion was offered, and one learned expert said, "the power of suggestion is terrific. If a person thinks he is going to see a vision, he will see it." Another said it was probably produced by particles of ice in the upper regions, but he does not explain how the ice shaped itself into a perfectly definite form whose details were observed by thousands of supposedly intelligent people; and the two theories are hardly compatible.

If such phenomena were hitherto unknown some farfetched explanation, such as suggestion from a single individual spreading instantly among thousands of people spread over many square miles might appear plausible to simple reasoners, absurd as it sounds; but many such cases are on record though not all so well attested. Constantine's alleged vision of the Cross in the sky which helped to change history may have been a pious fraud, but to deny or to attempt to explain on normal lines the many other unexplained apparitions reported from the sky in ancient and modern times requires considerable hardihood. It is easy to call them "mirages" and let it stand at that. Certainly ordinary mirages such as the textbooks on light and optics describe are explained by well known laws of reflexion and refraction. They may always be expected when the conditions are favorable and can even be artificially reproduced in miniature. But such types as the Ipswich Cross do not follow the rules.

Putting aside the comparatively few well authenticated cases where the weird sky pictures showed events such as battles or funerals that took place after the vision, many cases of the Ipswich type are recorded which cannot be attributed to the ordinary laws of refraction by the wildest stretch of imagination. Fraud and practical joking is also ruled out by the conditions. Here are a few examples from our files.

Everyone has heard of Vanderdecken, the Flying Dutchman, whose spectral ship has long been said to haunt the seas near South Africa, and generally to bring ill-luck to the ship that encounters it. The evidence in one case is unusually responsible, being contributed by Royalty and officially published not long after the event. When King George V, father of the present King of England, was a midshipman on board a warship with his brother they kept a Diary which was published in 1886 under the title The Cruise of H. M. S. Bacchante, describing their voyage round the world. When the ship was near the Cape the following incident occurred as reported in the book:

July 11 (1881) At 4 a. m. the Flying Dutchman crossed our bows. A strange red light as of a phantom ship all aglow, in the midst of which light the masts, spars and sails of a brig 200 yards distant stood out in strong relief as she came up on the port bow. The look-out man on the forecastle reported her close on the port bow, where also the officer of the watch from the bridge clearly saw her, as did also the quarter-deck midshipman, who was sent forward at once to the forecastle; but on arriving there no vestige nor any sign whatever of any material ship was to be seen either near or right away to the horizon, the night being clear and the sea calm. Thirteen persons altogether saw her. . . . The Tourmaline and Cleopatra, who were sailing on our starboard bow, flashed to ask whether we had seen the strange red light. At 10.44 a.m. the ordinary seaman who had this morning reported the Flying Dutchman fell from the foretopmast cross-trees and was smashed to atoms.

Then follows an account of the admiral having been "stricken down."

Other "phantom ships" which could not have been of the nature of the familiar mirages of vessels often seen in the Arctic regions have been seen in British seas, the New England coast, the St. Lawrence river and other places. Here is a well evidenced instance which aroused great interest and much discussion in the press. Shortly before the destructive eruption of 1886 of Mount Tarawera and the wonderful colored terraces of New Zealand a Maori war canoe was seen on the adjoining lake which seems to have been a very definite astral image conveying a warning to the Maoris of trouble. The Dunedin Evening Star of June 17, 1886, contains a long account of the phenomenon, saying in part:

While skirting the southern shore those in the tourists" canoe distinctly saw a Maori war canoe gliding along nearly parallel to and apparently racing them. The Maoris in the tourists" canoe hailed those in the war canoe, but received no answer. . . . They said there was no war canoe in the district, and therefore this must be a phantom, indicative of evil. When the natives and the tourists returned to Wairoa they made inquiries of the oldest natives, all of whom declared that such a canoe as had been described had never been seen by them. Mr. McRae, who has been seventeen years in Te Wairoa, also said that he never knew a war canoe upon the waters of the Lake country. The day was beautifully clear.

Troops of soldiers have frequently been seen when there were none in the vicinity. A striking case is given by General Lord Roberts, the famous English Commander-in-Chief, in his Forty-one Years in India. During the Indian Mutiny in 1858 he and a friend with whom he was riding saw what appeared to be a body of hostile cavalry charging them. The illusion was perfect, and he writes:

We thought our last hour had come . . . when lo! as suddenly as they had appeared, the horsemen vanished as though the ground had opened and swallowed them; there was nothing to be seen but the plain, where a second before there had been a crowd of mounted men.


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