Clairvoyance In Time: The Past

Clairvoyance in time--that is to say, the power of reading the past

and the future--is, like all the other varieties, possessed by

different people in very varying degrees, ranging from the man who has

both faculties fully at his command, down to one who only occasionally

gets involuntary and very imperfect glimpses or reflections of these

scenes of other days. A person of the latter type might have, let us

say, a visi
n of some event in the past; but it would be liable to the

most serious distortion, and even if it happened to be fairly accurate

it would almost certainly be a mere isolated picture, and he would

probably be quite unable to relate it to what had occurred before or

after it, or to account for anything unusual which might appear in it.

The trained man, on the other hand, could follow the drama connected

with his picture backwards or forwards to any extent that might seem

desirable, and trace out with equal ease the causes which had led up

to it or the results which it in turn would produce.

We shall probably find it easier to grasp this somewhat difficult

section of our subject if we consider it in the subdivisions which

naturally suggest themselves, and deal first with the vision which

looks backwards into the past, leaving for later examination that

which pierces the veil of the future. In each case it will be well for

us to try to understand what we can of the modus operandi, even

though our success can at best be only a very modified one, owing

first to the imperfect information on some parts of the subject at

present possessed by our investigators, and secondly to the

ever-recurring failure of physical words to express a hundredth part

even of the little we do know about higher planes and faculties.

In the case then of a detailed vision of the remote past, how is it

obtained, and to what plane of nature does it really belong? The

answer to both these questions is contained in the reply that it is

read from the akashic records; but that statement in return will

require a certain amount of explanation for many readers. The word is

in truth somewhat of a misnomer, for though the records are

undoubtedly read from the akasha, or matter of the mental plane, yet

it is not to it that they really belong. Still worse is the

alternative title, "records of the astral light," which has sometimes

been employed, for these records lie far beyond the astral plane, and

all that can be obtained on it are only broken glimpses of a kind of

double reflection of them, as will presently be explained.

Like so many others of our Theosophical terms, the word akasha has

been very loosely used. In some of our earlier books it was considered

as synonymous with astral light, and in others it was employed to

signify any kind of invisible matter, from mulaprakriti down to the

physical ether. In later books its use has been restricted to the

matter of the mental plane, and it is in that sense that the records

may be spoken of as akashic, for although they are not originally made

on that plane any more than on the astral, yet it is there that we

first come definitely into contact with them and find it possible to

do reliable work with them.

This subject of the records is by no means an easy one to deal with,

for it is one of that numerous class which requires for its perfect

comprehension faculties of a far higher order than any which humanity

has yet evolved. The real solution of its problems lies on planes far

beyond any that we can possibly know at present, and any view that we

take of it must necessarily be of the most imperfect character, since

we cannot but look at it from below instead of from above. The idea

which we form of it must therefore be only partial, yet it need not

mislead us unless we allow ourselves to think of the tiny fragment

which is all that we can see as though it were the perfect whole. If

we are careful that such conceptions as we may form shall be accurate

as far as they go, we shall have nothing to unlearn, though much to

add, when in the course of our further progress we gradually acquire

the higher wisdom. Be it understood then at the commencement that a

thorough grasp of our subject is an impossibility at the present stage

of our evolution, and that many points will arise as to which no exact

explanation is yet obtainable, though it may often be possible to

suggest analogies and to indicate the lines along which an explanation

must lie.

Let us then try to carry back our thoughts to the beginning of this

solar system to which we belong. We are all familiar with the ordinary

astronomical theory of its origin--that which is commonly called the

nebular hypothesis--according to which it first came into existence as

a gigantic glowing nebula, of a diameter far exceeding that of the

orbit of even the outermost of the planets, and then, as in the course

of countless ages that enormous sphere gradually cooled and

contracted, the system as we know it was formed.

Occult science accepts that theory, in its broad outline, as correctly

representing the purely physical side of the evolution of our system,

but it would add that if we confine our attention to this physical

side only we shall have a very incomplete and incoherent idea of what

really happened. It would postulate, to begin with, that the exalted

Being who undertakes the formation of a system (whom we sometimes

call the Logos of the system) first of all forms in His mind a

complete conception of the whole of it with all its successive chains

of worlds. By the very act of forming that conception He calls the

whole into simultaneous objective existence on the plane of His

thought--a plane of course far above all those of which we know

anything--from which the various globes descend when required into

whatever state of further objectivity may be respectively destined for

them. Unless we constantly bear in mind this fact of the real

existence of the whole system from the very beginning on a higher

plane, we shall be perpetually misunderstanding the physical evolution

which we see taking place down here.

But occultism has more than this to teach us on the subject. It tells

us not only that all this wonderful system to which we belong is

called into existence by the Logos, both on lower and on higher

planes, but also that its relation to Him is closer even than that,

for it is absolutely a part of Him--a partial expression of Him upon

the physical plane--and that the movement and energy of the whole

system is His energy, and is all carried on within the limits of His

aura. Stupendous as this conception is, it will yet not be wholly

unthinkable to those of us who have made any study of the subject of

the aura.

We are familiar with the idea that as a person progresses on the

upward path his causal body, which is the determining limit of his

aura, distinctly increases in size as well as in luminosity and purity

of colour. Many of us know from experience that the aura of a pupil

who has already made considerable advance on the Path is very much

larger than that of one who is but just setting his foot upon its

first step, while in the case of an Adept the proportional increase is

far greater still. We read in quite exoteric Oriental scriptures of

the immense extension of the aura of the Buddha; I think that three

miles is mentioned on one occasion as its limit, but whatever the

exact measurement may be, it is obvious that we have here another

record of this fact of the extremely rapid growth of the causal body

as man passes on his upward way. There can be little doubt that the

rate of this growth would itself increase in geometrical progression,

so that it need not surprise us to hear of an Adept on a still higher

level whose aura is capable of including the entire world at once; and

from this we may gradually lead our minds up to the conception that

there is a Being so exalted as to comprehend within Himself the whole

of our solar system. And we should remember that, enormous as this

seems to us, it is but as the tiniest drop in the vast ocean of space.

So of the Logos (who has in Him all the capacities and qualities with

which we can possibly endow the highest God we can imagine) it is

literally true, as was said of old, that "of Him and through Him, and

to Him are all things," and "in Him we live and move and have our


Now if this be so, it is clear that whatever happens within our system

happens absolutely within the consciousness of its Logos, and so we at

once see that the true record must be His memory; and furthermore, it

is obvious that on whatever plane that wondrous memory exists, it

cannot but be far above anything that we know, and consequently

whatever records we may find ourselves able to read must be only a

reflection of that great dominant fact, mirrored in the denser media

of the lower planes.

On the astral plane it is at once evident that this is so--that what

we are dealing with is only a reflection of a reflection, and an

exceedingly imperfect one, for such records as can be reached there

are fragmentary in the extreme, and often seriously distorted. We know

how universally water is used as a symbol of the astral light, and in

this particular case it is a remarkably apt one. From the surface of

still water we may get a clear reflection of the surrounding objects,

just as from a mirror; but at the best it is only a reflection--a

representation in two dimensions of three-dimensional objects, and

therefore differing in all its qualities, except colour, from that

which it represents; and in addition to this, it is always reversed.

But let the surface of the water be ruffled by the wind and what do we

find then? A reflection still, certainly, but so broken up and

distorted as to be quite useless or even misleading as a guide to the

shape and real appearance of the objects reflected. Here and there for

a moment we might happen to get a clear reflection of some minute part

of the scene--of a single leaf from a tree, for example; but it would

need long labour and considerable knowledge of natural laws to build

up anything like a true conception of the object reflected by putting

together even a large number of such isolated fragments of an image of


Now in the astral plane we can never have anything approaching to what

we have imaged as a still surface, but on the contrary we have always

to deal with one in rapid and bewildering motion; judge, therefore,

how little we can depend upon getting a clear and definite reflection.

Thus a clairvoyant who possesses only the faculty of astral sight can

never rely upon any picture of the past that comes before him as being

accurate and perfect; here and there some part of it may be so, but

he has no means of knowing which it is. If he is under the care of a

competent teacher he may, by long and careful training, be shown how

to distinguish between reliable and unreliable impressions, and to

construct from the broken reflections some kind of image of the

object reflected; but usually long before he has mastered those

difficulties he will have developed the mental sight, which renders

such labour unnecessary.

On the next plane, which we call the mental, conditions are very

different. There the record is full and accurate, and it would be

impossible to make any mistake in the reading. That is to say, if

three clairvoyants possessing the powers of the mental plane agreed to

examine a certain record there, what would be presented to their

vision would be absolutely the same reflection in each case, and each

would acquire a correct impression from it in reading it. It does not

however follow that when they all compared notes later on the physical

plane their reports would agree exactly. It is well known that if

three people who witness an occurrence down here in the physical world

set to work to describe it afterwards, their accounts will differ

considerably, for each will have noticed especially those items which

most appeal to him, and will insensibly have made them the prominent

features of the event, sometimes ignoring other points which were in

reality much more important.

Now in the case of an observation on the mental plane this personal

equation would not appreciably affect the impressions received, for

since each would thoroughly grasp the entire subject it would be

impossible for him to see its parts out of due proportion; but,

except in the case of carefully trained and experienced persons, this

factor does come into play in transferring the impressions to the

lower planes. It is in the nature of things impossible that any

account given down here of a vision or experience on the mental plane

can be complete, since nine-tenths of what is seen and felt there

could not be expressed by physical words at all; and, since all

expression must therefore be partial, there is obviously some

possibility of selection as to the part expressed. It is for this

reason that in all our Theosophical investigations of recent years so

much stress has been laid upon the constant checking and verifying of

clairvoyant testimony, nothing which rests upon the vision of one

person only having been allowed to appear in our later books.

But even when the possibility of error from this factor of personal

equation has been reduced to a minimum by a careful system of

counter-checking, there still remains the very serious difficulty which

is inherent in the operation of bringing down impressions from a higher

plane to a lower one. This is something analogous to the difficulty

experienced by a painter in his endeavour to reproduce a

three-dimensional landscape on a flat surface--that is, practically in

two dimensions. Just as the artist needs long and careful training of

eye and hand before he can produce a satisfactory representation of

nature, so does the clairvoyant need long and careful training before he

can describe accurately on a lower plane what he sees on a higher one;

and the probability of getting an exact description from an untrained

person is about equal to that of getting a perfectly-finished landscape

from one who has never learnt how to draw.

It must be remembered, too, that the most perfect picture is in

reality infinitely far from being a reproduction of the scene which it

represents, for hardly a single line or angle in it can ever be the

same as those in the object copied. It is simply a very ingenious

attempt to make upon one only of our five senses, by means of lines

and colours on a flat surface, an impression similar to that which

would have been made if we had actually had before us the scene

depicted. Except by a suggestion dependent entirely on our own

previous experience, it can convey to us nothing of the roar of the

sea, of the scent of the flowers, of the taste of the fruit, or of the

softness or hardness of the surface drawn.

Of exactly similar nature, though far greater in degree, are the

difficulties experienced by a clairvoyant in his attempt to describe

upon the physical plane what he has seen upon the astral; and they are

furthermore greatly enhanced by the fact that, instead of having

merely to recall to the minds of his hearers conceptions with which

they are already familiar, as the artist does when he paints men or

animals, fields or trees, he has to endeavour by the very imperfect

means at his disposal to suggest to them conceptions which in most

cases are absolutely new to them.

Small wonder then that, however vivid and striking his descriptions

may seem to his audience, he himself should constantly be impressed

with their total inadequacy, and should feel that his best efforts

have entirely failed to convey any idea of what he really sees. And we

must remember that in the case of the report given down here of a

record read on the mental plane, this difficult operation of

transference from the higher to the lower has taken place not once but

twice, since the memory has been brought through the intervening

astral plane. Even in a case where the investigator has the advantage

of having developed his mental faculties so that he has the use of

them while awake in the physical body, he is still hampered by the

absolute incapacity of physical language to express what he sees.

Try for a moment to realize fully what is called the fourth dimension,

of which we said something in an earlier chapter. It is easy enough to

think of our own three dimensions--to image in our minds the length,

breadth and height of any object; and we see that each of these three

dimensions is expressed by a line at right angles to both of the

others. The idea of the fourth dimension is that it might be possible

to draw a fourth line which shall be at right angles to all three of

those already existing.

Now the ordinary mind cannot grasp this idea in the least, though some

few who have made a special study of the subject have gradually come

to be able to realize one or two very simple four-dimensional figures.

Still, no words that they can use on this plane can bring any image of

these figures before the minds of others, and if any reader who has

not specially trained himself along that line will make the effort to

visualize such a shape he will find it quite impossible. Now to

express such a form clearly in physical words would be, in effect, to

describe accurately a single object on the astral plane; but in

examining the records on the mental plane we should have to face the

additional difficulties of a fifth dimension! So that the

impossibility of fully explaining these records will be obvious to

even the most superficial observation.

We have spoken of the records as the memory of the Logos, yet they are

very much more than a memory in an ordinary sense of the word.

Hopeless as it may be to imagine how these images appear from His

point of view, we yet know that as we rise higher and higher we must

be drawing nearer to the true memory--must be seeing more nearly as He

sees; so that great interest attaches to the experience of the

clairvoyant with reference to these records when he stands upon the

buddhic plane--the highest which his consciousness can reach even

when away from the physical body until he attains the level of the


Here time and space no longer limit him; he no longer needs, as on the

mental plane, to pass a series of events in review, for past, present

and future are all alike simultaneously present to him, meaningless as

that sounds down here. Indeed, infinitely below the consciousness of

the Logos as even that exalted plane is, it is yet abundantly clear

from what we see there that to Him the record must be far more than

what we call a memory, for all that has happened in the past and all

that will happen in the future is happening now before His eyes just

as are the events of what we call the present time. Utterly

incredible, wildly incomprehensible, of course, to our limited

understanding; yet absolutely true for all that.

Naturally we could not expect to understand at our present stage of

knowledge how so marvellous a result is produced, and to attempt an

explanation would only be to involve ourselves in a mist of words from

which we should gain no real information. Yet a line of thought recurs

to my mind which perhaps suggests the direction in which it is

possible that that explanation may lie: and whatever helps us to

realize that so astounding a statement may after all not be wholly

impossible will be of assistance in broadening our minds.

Some thirty years ago I remember reading a very curious little book,

called, I think, The Stars and the Earth, the object of which was to

endeavour to show how it was scientifically possible that to the mind

of God the past and the present might be absolutely simultaneous. Its

arguments struck me at the time as decidedly ingenious, and I will

proceed to summarize them, as I think they will be found somewhat

suggestive in connection with the subject which we have been


When we see anything, whether it be the book which we hold in our

hands or a star millions of miles away, we do so by means of a

vibration in the ether, commonly called a ray of light, which passes

from the object seen to our eyes. Now the speed with which this

vibration passes is so great--about 186,000 miles in a second--that

when we are considering any object in our own world we may regard it

as practically instantaneous. When, however, we come to deal with

interplanetary distances we have to take the speed of light into

consideration, for an appreciable period is occupied in traversing

these vast spaces. For example it takes eight minutes and a quarter

for light to travel to us from the sun, so that when we look at the

solar orb we see it by means of a ray of light which left it more than

eight minutes ago.

From this follows a very curious result. The ray of light by which we

see the sun can obviously report to us only the state of affairs

which existed in that luminary when it started on its journey, and

would not be in the least affected by anything that happened there

after it left; so that we really see the sun not as he is, but as he

was eight minutes ago. That is to say that if anything important took

place in the sun--the formation of a new sun-spot, for instance--an

astronomer who was watching the orb through his telescope at the time

would be quite unaware of the incident while it was happening, since

the ray of light bearing the news would not reach him until more than

eight minutes later.

The difference is more striking when we consider the fixed stars,

because in their case the distances are so enormously greater. The

pole star, for example, is so far off that light, travelling at the

inconceivable speed above mentioned, takes a little more than fifty

years to reach our eyes; and from that follows the strange but

inevitable inference that we see the pole star not as and where it is

at this moment, but as and where it was fifty years ago. Nay, if

to-morrow some cosmic catastrophe were to shatter the pole star into

fragments, we should still see it peacefully shining in the sky all

the rest of our lives; our children would grow up to middle age and

gather their children about them in turn before the news of that

tremendous accident reached any terrestrial eye. In the same way there

are other stars so far distant that light takes thousands of years to

travel from them to us, and with reference to their condition our

information is therefore thousands of years behind time.

Now carry the argument a step farther. Suppose that we were able to

place a man at the distance of 186,000 miles from the earth, and yet

to endow him with the wonderful faculty of being able from that

distance to see what was happening here as clearly as though he were

still close beside us. It is evident that a man so placed would see

everything a second after the time when it really happened, and so at

the present moment he would be seeing what happened a second ago.

Double the distance, and he would be two seconds behind time, and so

on; remove him to the distance of the sun (still allowing him to

preserve the same mysterious power of sight) and he would look down

and watch you doing not what you are doing now, but what you were

doing eight minutes and a quarter ago. Carry him away to the pole

star, and he would see passing before his eyes the events of fifty

years ago; he would be watching the childish gambols of those who at

the very same moment were really middle-aged men. Marvellous as this

may sound, it is literally and scientifically true, and cannot be


The little book went on to argue logically enough that God, being

almighty, must possess the wonderful power of sight which we have

been postulating for our observer; and further, that being

omnipresent, He must be at each of the stations which we mentioned,

and also at every intermediate point, not successively but

simultaneously. Granting these premises, the inevitable deduction

follows that everything which has ever happened from the very

beginning of the world must be at this very moment taking place

before the eye of God--not a mere memory of it, but the actual

occurrence itself being now under His observation.

All this is materialistic enough, and on the plane of purely physical

science, and we may therefore be assured that it is not the way in

which the memory of the Logos acts; yet it is neatly worked out and

absolutely incontrovertible, and as I have said before, it is not

without its use, since it gives us a glimpse of some possibilities

which otherwise might not occur to us.

But, it may be asked, how is it possible, amid the bewildering

confusion of these records of the past, to find any particular picture

when it is wanted? As a matter of fact, the untrained clairvoyant

usually cannot do so without some special link to put him en rapport

with the subject required. Psychometry is an instance in point, and it

is quite probable that our ordinary memory is really only another

presentment of the same idea. It seems as though there were a sort of

magnetic attachment or affinity between any particle of matter and the

record which contains its history--an affinity which enables it to act

as a kind of conductor between that record and the faculties of anyone

who can read it.

For example, I once brought from Stonehenge a tiny fragment of stone,

not larger than a pin's head, and on putting this into an envelope and

handing it to a psychometer who had no idea what it was, she at once

began to describe that wonderful ruin and the desolate country

surrounding it, and then went on to picture vividly what were

evidently scenes from its early history, showing that that

infinitesimal fragment had been sufficient to put her into

communication with the records connected with the spot from which it

came. The scenes through which we pass in the course of our life seem

to act in the same manner upon the cells of our brain as did the

history of Stonehenge upon that particle of stone: they establish a

connection with those cells by means of which our mind is put en

rapport with that particular portion of the records, and so we

"remember" what we have seen.

Even a trained clairvoyant needs some link to enable him to find the

record of an event of which he has no previous knowledge. If, for

example, he wished to observe the landing of Julius Caesar on the

shores of England, there are several ways in which he might approach

the subject. If he happened to have visited the scene of the

occurrence, the simplest way would probably be to call up the image of

that spot, and then run back through its records until he reached the

period desired. If he had not seen the place, he might run back in

time to the date of the event, and then search the Channel for a fleet

of Roman galleys; or he might examine the records of Roman life at

about that period, where he would have no difficulty in identifying so

prominent a figure as Caesar, or in tracing him when found through all

his Gallic wars until he set his foot upon British land.

People often enquire as to the aspect of these records--whether they

appear near or far away from the eye, whether the figures in them are

large or small, whether the pictures follow one another as in a

panorama or melt into one another like dissolving views, and so on.

One can only reply that their appearance varies to a certain extent

according to the conditions under which they are seen. Upon the astral

plane the reflection is most often a simple picture, though

occasionally the figures seen would be endowed with motion; in this

latter case, instead of a mere snapshot a rather longer and more

perfect reflection has taken place.

On the mental plane they have two widely different aspects. When the

visitor to that plane is not thinking specially of them in any way,

the records simply form a background to whatever is going on, just as

the reflections in a pier-glass at the end of a room might form a

background to the life of the people in it. It must always be borne in

mind that under these conditions they are really merely reflections

from the ceaseless activity of a great Consciousness upon a far higher

plane, and have very much the appearance of an endless succession of

the recently invented cinematographe, or living photographs. They do

not melt into one another like dissolving views, nor do a series of

ordinary pictures follow one another; but the action of the reflected

figures constantly goes on, as though one were watching the actors on

a distant stage.

But if the trained investigator turns his attention specially to any

one scene, or wishes to call it up before him, an extraordinary change

at once takes place, for this is the plane of thought, and to think of

anything is to bring it instantaneously before you. For example, if a

man wills to see the record of that event to which we before

referred--the landing of Julius Caesar--he finds himself in a moment

not looking at any picture, but standing on the shore among the

legionaries, with the whole scene being enacted around him, precisely

in every respect as he would have seen it if he had stood there in the

flesh on that autumn morning in the year 55 B.C. Since what he sees is

but a reflection, the actors are of course entirely unconscious of

him, nor can any effort of his change the course of their action in

the smallest degree, except only that he can control the rate at which

the drama shall pass before him--can have the events of a whole year

rehearsed before his eyes in a single hour, or can at any moment stop

the movement altogether, and hold any particular scene in view as a

picture as long as he chooses.

In truth he observes not only what he would have seen if he had been

there at the time in the flesh, but much more. He hears and

understands all that the people say, and he is conscious of all their

thoughts and motives; and one of the most interesting of the many

possibilities which open up before one who has learnt to read the

records is the study of the thought of ages long past--the thought of

the cave-men and the lake-dwellers as well as that which ruled the

mighty civilisations of Atlantis, of Egypt or Chaldaea. What splendid

possibilities open up before the man who is in full possession of this

power may easily be imagined. He has before him a field of historical

research of most entrancing interest. Not only can he review at his

leisure all history with which we are acquainted, correcting as he

examines it the many errors and misconceptions which have crept into

the accounts handed down to us; he can also range at will over the

whole story of the world from its very beginning, watching the slow

development of intellect in man, the descent of the Lords of the

Flame, and the growth of the mighty civilisations which they founded.

Nor is his study confined to the progress of humanity alone; he has

before him, as in a museum, all the strange animal and vegetable forms

which occupied the stage in days when the world was young; he can

follow all the wonderful geological changes which have taken place,

and watch the course of the great cataclysms which have altered the

whole face of the earth again and again.

In one especial case an even closer sympathy with the past is possible

to the reader of the records. If in the course of his enquiries he has

to look upon some scene in which he himself has in a former birth

taken part, he may deal with it in two ways; he can either regard it

in the usual manner as a spectator (though always, be it remembered,

as a spectator whose insight and sympathy are perfect) or he may once

more identify himself with that long-dead personality of his--may

throw himself back for the time into that life of long ago, and

absolutely experience over again the thoughts and the emotions, the

pleasures and the pains of a prehistoric past. No wilder and more

vivid adventures can be conceived than some of those through which he

thus may pass; yet through it all he must never lose hold of the

consciousness of his own individuality--must retain the power to

return at will to his present personality.

It is often asked how it is possible for an investigator accurately to

determine the date of any picture from the far-distant past which he

disinters from the records. The fact is that it is sometimes rather

tedious work to find an exact date, but the thing can usually be done

if it is worth while to spend the time and trouble over it. If we are

dealing with Greek or Roman times the simplest method is usually to

look into the mind of the most intelligent person present in the

picture, and see what date he supposes it to be; or the investigator

might watch him writing a letter or other document and observe what

date, if any, was included in what was written. When once the Roman or

Greek date is thus obtained, to reduce it to our own system of

chronology is merely a matter of calculation.

Another way which is frequently adopted is to turn from the scene

under examination to a contemporary picture in some great and

well-known city such as Rome, and note what monarch is reigning there,

or who are the consuls for the year; and when such data are discovered

a glance at any good history will give the rest. Sometimes a date can

be obtained by examining some public proclamation or some legal

document; in fact in the times of which we are speaking the difficulty

is easily surmounted.

The matter is by no means so simple, however, when we come to deal

with periods much earlier than this--with a scene from early Egypt,

Chaldaea, or China, or to go further back still, from Atlantis itself

or any of its numerous colonies. A date can still be obtained easily

enough from the mind of any educated man, but there is no longer any

means of relating it to our own system of dates, since the man will be

reckoning by eras of which we know nothing, or by the reigns of kings

whose history is lost in the night of time.

Our methods, nevertheless, are not yet exhausted. It must be

remembered that it is possible for the investigator to pass the

records before him at any speed that he may desire--at the rate of a

year in a second if he will, or even very much faster still. Now there

are one or two events in ancient history whose dates have already been

accurately fixed--as, for example, the sinking of Poseidonis in the

year 9564 B.C. It is therefore obvious that if from the general

appearance of the surroundings it seems probable that a picture seen

is within measurable distance of one of these events, it can be

related to that event by the simple process of running through the

record rapidly, and counting the years between the two as they pass.

Still, if those years ran into thousands, as they might sometimes do,

this plan would be insufferably tedious. In that case we are driven

back upon the astronomical method. In consequence of the movement

which is commonly called the precession of the equinoxes, though it

might more accurately be described as a kind of second rotation of

the earth, the angle between the equator and the ecliptic steadily but

very slowly varies. Thus, after long intervals of time we find the

pole of the earth no longer pointing towards the same spot in the

apparent sphere of the heavens, or in other words, our pole-star is

not, as at present, [Greek: a] Ursae Minoris, but some other celestial

body; and from this position of the pole of the earth, which can

easily be ascertained by careful observation of the night-sky of the

picture under consideration, an approximate date can be calculated

without difficulty.

In estimating the date of occurrences which took place millions of

years ago in earlier races, the period of a secondary rotation (or the

precession of the equinoxes) is frequently used as a unit, but of

course absolute accuracy is not usually required in such cases, round

numbers being sufficient for all practical purposes in dealing with

epochs so remote.

The accurate reading of the records, whether of one's own past lives

or those of others, must not, however, be thought of as an achievement

possible to anyone without careful previous training. As has been

already remarked, though occasional reflections may be had upon the

astral plane, the power to use the mental sense is necessary before

any reliable reading can be done. Indeed, to minimize the possibility

of error, that sense ought to be fully at the command of the

investigator while awake in the physical body; and to acquire that

faculty needs years of ceaseless labour and rigid self-discipline.

Many people seem to expect that as soon as they have signed their

application and joined the Theosophical Society they will at once

remember at least three or four of their past births; indeed, some of

them promptly begin to imagine recollections and declare that in their

last incarnation they were Mary Queen of Scots, Cleopatra, or Julius

Caesar! Of course such extravagant claims simply bring discredit upon

those who are so foolish as to make them but unfortunately some of

that discredit is liable to be reflected, however unjustly, upon the

Society to which they belong, so that a man who feels seething within

him the conviction that he was Homer or Shakespeare would do well to

pause and apply common-sense tests on the physical plane before

publishing the news to the world.

It is quite true that some people have had glimpses of scenes from

their past lives in dreams, but naturally these are usually

fragmentary and unreliable. I had myself in earlier life an experience

of this nature. Among my dreams I found that one was constantly

recurring--a dream of a house with a portico over-looking a beautiful

bay, not far from a hill on the top of which rose a graceful building.

I knew that house perfectly, and was as familiar with the position of

its rooms and the view from its door as I was with those of my home,

in this present life. In those days I knew nothing about

reincarnation, so that it seemed to me simply a curious coincidence

that this dream should repeat itself so often; and it was not until

some time after I had joined the Society that, when one who knew was

showing me some pictures of my last incarnation, I discovered that

this persistent dream had been in reality a partial recollection, and

that the house which I knew so well was the one in which I was born

more than two thousand years ago.

But although there are several cases on record in which some

well-remembered scene has thus come through from one life to another,

a considerable development of occult faculty is necessary before an

investigator can definitely trace a line of incarnations, whether they

be his own or another man's. This will be obvious if we remember the

conditions of the problem which has to be worked out. To follow a

person from this life to the one preceding it, it is necessary first

of all to trace his present life backwards to his birth and then to

follow up in reverse order the stages by which the Ego descended into


This will obviously take us back eventually to the condition of the

Ego upon the higher levels of the mental plane; so it will be seen

that to perform this task effectually the investigator must be able to

use the sense corresponding to that exalted level while awake in his

physical body--in other words, his consciousness must be centred in

the reincarnating Ego itself, and no longer in the lower personality.

In that case, the memory of the Ego being aroused, his own past

incarnations will be spread out before him like an open book, and he

would be able, if he wished, to examine the conditions of another Ego

upon that level and trace him backwards through the lower mental and

astral lives which led up to it, until he came to the last physical

death of that Ego, and through it to his previous life.

There is no way but this in which the chain of lives can be followed

through with absolute certainty: and consequently we may at once put

aside as conscious or unconscious impostors those people who advertise

that they are able to trace out anyone's past incarnations for so many

shillings a head. Needless to say, the true occultist does not

advertise, and never under any circumstances accepts money for any

exhibition of his powers.

Assuredly the student who wishes to acquire the power of following up

a line of incarnations can do so only by learning from a qualified

teacher how the work is to be done. There have been those who

persistently asserted that it was only necessary for a man to feel

good and devotional and "brotherly," and all the wisdom of the ages

would immediately flow in upon him; but a little common-sense will at

once expose the absurdity of such a position. However good a child

may be, if he wants to know the multiplication table he must set to

work and learn it; and the case is precisely similar with the capacity

to use spiritual faculties. The faculties themselves will no doubt

manifest as the man evolves, but he can learn how to use them reliably

and to the best advantage only by steady hard work and persevering


Take the case of those who wish to help others while on the astral

plane during sleep; it is obvious that the more knowledge they possess

here, the more valuable will their services be on that higher plane.

For example, the knowledge of languages would be useful to them, for

though on the mental plane men can communicate directly by

thought-transference, whatever their languages may be, on the astral

plane this is not so, and a thought must be definitely formulated in

words before it is comprehensible. If, therefore, you wish to help a

man on that plane, you must have some language in common by means of

which you can communicate with him, and consequently the more

languages you know the more widely useful you will be. In fact there

is perhaps no kind of knowledge for which a use cannot be found in the

work of the occultist.

It would be well for all students to bear in mind that occultism is

the apotheosis of common-sense, and that every vision which comes to

them is not necessarily a picture from the akashic records, nor every

experience a revelation from on high. It is better far to err on the

side of healthy scepticism than of over-credulity; and it is an

admirable rule never to hunt about for an occult explanation of

anything when a plain and obvious physical one is available. Our duty

is to endeavour to keep our balance always, and never to lose our

self-control, but to take a reasonable, common-sense view of whatever

may happen to us; so shall we be better Theosophists, wiser

occultists, and more useful helpers than we have ever been before.

As usual, we find examples of all degrees of the power to see into

this memory of nature, from the trained man who can consult the record

for himself at will, down to the person who gets nothing but

occasional vague glimpses, or has even perhaps had only one such

glimpse. But even the man who possesses this faculty only partially

and occasionally still finds it of the deepest interest. The

psychometer, who needs an object physically connected with the past in

order to bring it all into life again around him, and the

crystal-gazer who can sometimes direct his less certain astral

telescope to some historic scene of long ago, may both derive the

greatest enjoyment from the exercise of their respective gifts, even

though they may not always understand exactly how their results are

produced, and may not have them fully under control under all


In many cases of the lower manifestations of these powers we find that

they are exercised unconsciously; many a crystal-gazer watches scenes

from the past without being able to distinguish them from visions of

the present, and many a vaguely-psychic person finds pictures

constantly arising before his eyes without ever realizing that he is

in effect psychometrizing the various objects around him as he happens

to touch them or stand near them.

An interesting variant of this class of psychics is the man who is

able to psychometrize persons only, and not inanimate objects as is

more usual. In most cases this faculty shows itself erratically, so

that such a psychic will, when introduced to a stranger, often see in

a flash some prominent event in that stranger's earlier life, but on

other similar occasions will receive no special impression. More

rarely we meet with someone who gets detailed visions of the past life

of everyone whom he encounters. Perhaps one of the best examples of

this class was the German writer Zschokke, who describes in his

autobiography this extraordinary power of which he found himself

possessed. He says:--

"It has happened to me occasionally at the first meeting with a total

stranger, when I have been listening in silence to his conversation,

that his past life up to the present moment, with many minute

circumstances belonging to one or other particular scene in it, has

come across me like a dream, but distinctly, entirely involuntarily

and unsought, occupying in duration a few minutes.

"For a long time I was disposed to consider these fleeting visions as

a trick of the fancy--the more so as my dream-vision displayed to me

the dress and movements of the actors, the appearance of the room, the

furniture, and other accidents of the scene; till on one occasion, in

a gamesome mood, I narrated to my family the secret history of a

sempstress who had just before quitted the room. I had never seen the

person before. Nevertheless the hearers were astonished, and laughed

and would not be persuaded but that I had a previous acquaintance with

the former life of the person, inasmuch as what I had stated was

perfectly true.

"I was not less astonished to find that my dream-vision agreed with

reality. I then gave more attention to the subject, and as often as

propriety allowed of it, I related to those whose lives had so passed

before me the substance of my dream-vision, to obtain from them its

contradiction or confirmation. On every occasion its confirmation

followed, not without amazement on the part of those who gave it.

"On a certain fair-day I went into the town of Waldshut accompanied by

two young foresters, who are still alive. It was evening, and, tired

with our walk, we went into an inn called the 'Vine.' We took our

supper with a numerous company at the public table, when it happened

that they made themselves merry over the peculiarities and simplicity

of the Swiss in connection with the belief in mesmerism, Lavater's

physiognomical system and the like. One of my companions, whose

national pride was touched by their raillery, begged me to make some

reply, particularly in answer to a young man of superior appearance

who sat opposite, and had indulged in unrestrained ridicule.

"It happened that the events of this person's life had just previously

passed before my mind. I turned to him with the question whether he

would reply to me with truth and candour if I narrated to him the most

secret passages of his history, he being as little known to me as I to

him? That would, I suggested, go something beyond Lavater's

physiognomical skill. He promised if I told the truth to admit it

openly. Then I narrated the events with which my dream-vision had

furnished me, and the table learnt the history of the young

tradesman's life, of his school years, his peccadilloes, and, finally,

of a little act of roguery committed by him on the strong-box of his

employer. I described the uninhabited room with its white walls, where

to the right of the brown door there had stood upon the table the

small black money-chest, etc. The man, much struck, admitted the

correctness of each circumstance--even, which I could not expect, of

the last."

And after narrating this incident, the worthy Zschokke calmly goes on

to wonder whether perhaps after all this remarkable power, which he

had so often displayed, might not really have been always the result

of mere chance coincidence!

Comparatively few accounts of persons possessing this faculty of

looking back into the past are to be found in the literature of the

subject, and it might therefore be supposed to be much less common

than prevision. I suspect, however, that the truth is rather that it

is much less commonly recognized. As I said before, it may very easily

happen that a person may see a picture of the past without recognizing

it as such, unless there happens to be in it something which attracts

special attention, such as a figure in armour or in antique costume. A

prevision also might not always be recognized as such at the time; but

the occurrence of the event foreseen recalls it vividly at the same

time that it manifests its nature, so that it is unlikely to be

overlooked. It is probable, therefore, that occasional glimpses of

these astral reflections of the akashic records are commoner than the

published accounts would lead us to believe.