V. RECOLLECTIONS OF PAST LIVES
WE passed through an alley formed by oleander bushes in full bloom, and arrived at a small round pavilion standing upon a little eminence, which afforded a beautiful view of the country and the tall mountain tops in the distance. The roof of the pavilion was supported by marble columns surrounded by ivy, which grew around the pillars and nearly covered the roof, hanging down at intervals in the open spaces. We seated ourselves, and after a short pause, my friend, whom I will call Leila, said: “I owe you an explanation in regard to the remarks I made when I saw your astonishment at seeing the female sex represented among the Brothers of the Golden and Rosy Cross. Your intuition told you right. It does not indeed very often happen that an individual attains adeptship while inhabiting a female organism, because such an organism is not as well adapted as a male one to develop energy and strength, and it is, therefore frequently the case that those women who have far advanced on the road to adeptship must reincarnate in a male organism, before they can achieve the final result. Nevertheless, exceptions are found. You know that the organism of a man is not fundamentally different from that of a woman, and in each human being are male and female elements combined. In women usually the female elements preponderate, and in men the male ones are usually most active, although we meet with women of a masculine character, and with men who are of a womanish nature. In a perfect human being the male and female elements are nearly equally strong, with a slight preponderance of the male element, which represents the productive power in nature, while the female element represents the formative principle. This occult law, which to explain at present would lead us deep into the mysteries of nature, will become comprehensible to you if you will study the laws of harmony. You will then find that the Moll-accord is the harmonious counterpart of theDur-accord, but that the greatest beauty finds its expression in Dur. Other and numerous analogies may be found, and we shall leave it to your own ingenuity to find them out.
“If you therefore find an Adept inhabiting a female organism, you will be right in concluding that such an abnormal circumstance is due to some extraordinary conditions and experiences through which such an Adept has passed during his last incarnation. A plant in a hot-house will grow faster than one which is not cared for, and, likewise, extraordinary suffering may cause the early development of the flower of spirituality, which without such suffering would have taken place, perhaps, much later in some other incarnation.”
This revelation stirred my curiosity, and I begged the lady to give me an account of her past life, as it was before she became an Adept.
“It is sometimes painful,” answered Leila, “to dwell on the memories of the past, but perhaps our sister Helen will give you such an account of her life.”
The lady addressed smiled, and said: “I will certainly do so to afford a pleasure to our visitor, but my life in comparison with yours has been very uninteresting. If you will proceed with your history, I will add mine at the end.”
“Very well, then,” answered Leila; “but to simplify matters, and to save time, I will show you its pictorial representation in the Astral Light. Look upon the table before you.”
I looked upon the polished surface of the round marble table standing in the centre of the pavilion, and, as I looked, there appeared upon its surface the life-like image of a battlefield.
There were the contending armies fighting with swords and spears, men on horseback and men on foot, knights in glistening armour, and common soldiers. Hot grows the fight; the dead and wounded cover the ground, and the soldiers to the left begin to give way, while those to the right press forward. Suddenly there appears at the left a beautiful woman, dressed in armour, carrying a sword in one hand and in the other a banner. Her features resemble those of the Lady-Adept. At sight of her the men to the left seem to become filled with strength, while their enemies seem to be stricken with terror. The latter flee, pursued by the men on the left, and a shout of triumph arises, and the picture fades away.
Now there appears another picture upon the table. It seems to be the interior of a Catholic church. There is a great assembly of dignitaries of church and state, of knights and nobles, bishops and priests, and a multitude of people. In front of the altar kneels an armoured knight, who seems to be the king, and a bishop, ornamented with the insignia of his office, puts a golden crown upon his head; but by the side of the king stands again that noble-looking woman, with a smile of triumph upon her face and holding a banner. A solemn music is heard, but as the crown rests upon the head of the king and he arises, a thousand voices hail him, and the picture fades away.
The next picture represents a dungeon filled with instruments of torture, such as were used at the time of the Inquisition. There are some men dressed in black, and in their eyes burns the fire of hate; there are others dressed in red; they are evidently the executioners. Some people with torches appear, and in their midst is Leila bound with chains. She looks at the men in black with pity and contempt. They ask her some silly questions, which she refuses to answer, and then they begin to torture her in a most cruel manner. I averted my sight, and when I looked again, the picture was gone.
In its place appeared another. There is a pile of wood, and in its midst a stake to which a chain is fastened. A procession approaches, led by villainous-looking monks and guarded by soldiers. Crowds of people surround the pile, but they give way as the procession approaches. In the midst of the monks and hangmen walks Leila, looking pale and emaciated from torture and sufferings; her hands are tied, and a rope is fastened round her neck. She mounts the pile and is fastened to the stake. She attempts to speak, but the praying monks dash water into her face to force her to remain silent. A hangman appears with a brand of fire; the wood begins to burn; the flames touch the body of the beautiful woman. I desired to see no more; I buried my face in my hands; I knew who Leila was.
After I had recovered from the impression which this horrible sight had made upon my mind, I expressed to Leila my admiration for her valour and virtue. I had always admired her as a historical character, and desired to see her portrait. Now she stood before me, the living original, youthful and strong, noble and beautiful, and yet, according to history, over 450 years of age.
It is useless to attempt to conceal a thought in the presence of the Adepts. Leila observed my thought, and answered it.
“No,” she said, “I am much older than you think. I and you, and we all, are as old as creation. When the spirit began to breathe after the GreatPralaya was over, sending out of the centre the light of the Logos, which called the world into existence, we lived already, and we shall continue to live until this light returns to its source. God in us knows no age; He is eternal and independent of the conditions of time. Nor can our spiritual bodies be destroyed by fire.”
“But,” I said, “your body was destroyed by fire.”
“That which was destroyed,” answered Leila, “was merely the grossest material substance of my physical organisation. As the fire consumed the gross matter, my ethereal form arose above the fire and the smoke; it was invisible to the multitude present, whose senses are so gross that they can only perceive gross matter; but it was visible to the Adepts who were present in their ethereal forms, and who took care of me, and after a short period of unconsciousness I awoke again to external life. Gradually my body hardened again by the action of the influences prevailing in my new home, and therefore I am now as visible and tangible to you as if I were still inhabiting my material form.”
“Then, I presume,” I said, “that the astral body of every human being or animal could be so hardened, after having left the physical form, and thus the spirits of the dead could be made to appear in a tangible and visible form.”
“It could be done, and it has often been done,” answered Leila, “by the vile practices of the necromantic art. It can be done with the earth-bound astral shades of some who have suddenly died by accident or murder, and in whose astral forms is therefore still a great deal of molecular adhesion; but the astral forms of those who have died long ago cannot be thus evoked, because their astral corpses have already been decomposed by the influences of the astral plane. But those materialised’ forms have no life of their own, and cannot endure. They only live by the life-principle infused into them by the necromancer who performs such acts consciously, or by the medium who performs them unconsciously. To enable an astral form to continue to live after the death of the physical form, it must have attained spiritual life during the life of the physical body.”
“Surely,” I said, “in every human being the astral form contained within the physical body has life.”
“True,” she answered, “but not in every human being is it the centre of life and of consciousness. In ordinary mortals the seat of life is in the blood contained in the veins and arteries of the physical form, and the astral form lives only, so to say, from the reflex of that physical life. In the Adept, the centre of life and consciousness has been established in the organism of his soul, clothed with the astral form, and is therefore self-conscious and independent of the life of the physical body. I had already during former incarnations acquired that life and consciousness of the spirit. I was on the way to adeptship before I was born in a peasant’s hut. During my childhood I had spiritual intercourse with Adepts, although I knew them not intellectually, because my intellectual activity, the result of my physical organisation, was then not sufficiently perfect to understand that which my spirit perceived. But,” she continued, “let us drop these metaphysical speculations, which I see fatigue your brain, and which are still more difficult of comprehension, in that there is no rule without some exception, and the laws of nature are liable to produce endless varieties.”
“Many thanks for your kindness in giving me so much information,” I said; “but permit me to ask one more question. What were the voices you heard and the apparition you saw? Was it truly the archangel Michael who gave you your mission and aided you in your victories?”
“No,” was the reply. “Angels do not interfere personally in mundane matters; spiritually developed man is higher than they. It was the influence of one of our Brothers, who was formerly a great warrior and patriot, whose power entered within myself and took the shape of a knight, representing the archangel for whom I always had a great veneration and whose image was foremost in my mind . . . But see. . . .”
To my great astonishment Leila became suddenly transformed into the luminous shape of a knight in a brilliant armour, which shone like the sun, so that I had to avert my eyes for fear of getting blinded. The apparition disappeared within a few moments, and Leila stood there again in her previous form.
I had for a long time observed the features of the other Lady-Adept; and it seemed to me as if I had seen her somewhere, perhaps in my dreams. Yes, I remember that when I was a mere child I once had a vision, while in a state between sleeping and waking, when it seemed to me as if an angel or a super-terrestrial being, clad in white and holding a white lily in her hand, were floating in the air over my head, extending the lily towards me. How often had I prayed in my heart to see that beautiful form again; and now, if I did not mistake, this lady was the form I had seen in my dream.
She was of exceeding great beauty; her long, black, waving hair formed a strong contrast to her plain, white, and flowing robe, covering her form with graceful folds. Her tint was pale and delicate, her profile was pure Greek; her dark eyes seemed to penetrate to the innermost centre of my soul, and to kindle there a fire of pure love and admiration without any admixture of the animal element.
“My life,” said Helen, “was one of little importance. I was born at St. Petersburg, and my father was an officer in the imperial army. He died while I was very young, and left his family in great poverty. Besides the company of my mother, my relatives, and a teacher, there was nothing to attract me to earth. My mind unfolded and revelled in superterrestrial joys; I loved poetry; I loved to look at the clouds sailing in the sky, and to see in them objects of beauty; I communicated in spirit with the heroes of the past. But the development of my physical form could not keep step with the unfoldment of the mind. Cold, starvation, and want hastened its dissolution. After having reached my eighteenth year, I left my wasted, consumptive form, and was kindly received by the Brothers.”
Her plain and modest tale filled my heart with pity. “And was there no one,” I said, “among your country people intelligent enough to perceive your genius and to give you support?”
“They erected a costly monument to my memory,” she answered, “after my body had succumbed. A part of the money expended for it would have procured me the necessaries to prolong my life. Those who knew me while living admired my poetry and my talents, but they were poor like myself. But let that pass. The conditions under which men live are the effects of previously acquired Karma. My poverty and suffering were my gain. I have cause to be well satisfied with my lot.”
While the lady spoke, I scanned her features. Was it really she who had appeared to me years ago in a dream? Was it she who waved that lily as if pronouncing a blessing? Was it the magnetic current which seemed to stream through that symbol into the depths of my heart, and to call there a higher life into activity? Could that event have been a dream? Did it not fill my whole being with happiness at the time when it happened? Did its memory not remain deeply engraved in my heart, when thousands of other dreams had faded away?
Helen rose, and reaching out through one of the open spaces between the pillars, she broke a white lily flower which grew close by the wall. This she gave to me, and said, “Keep this flower; it will not fade like a dream; and when you see it you will know that I am not a product of hallucination.”
I thanked her and begged her to remain my protector in the future, as she had been in the past. To this she answered: “We can only assist those who protect themselves. We can only influence those who are ready to receive our influence. We can only approach those who spiritually approach our own sphere. Love causes mutual attraction; the pure will be attracted to the pure, the evil ones to that which is evil. To give presupposes the capacity to receive on the part of him who is to receive. The sunlight is open to all, but not all are able to see it. The eternal fountain of truth is inexhaustible and universal; but those who open their hearts to the sunshine of truth are few. Seek continually to rise above the sphere of selfishness, and you will be in company of those who have thrown off their animal elements and live in the spirit.”
As the lady finished speaking, another Adept approached the pavilion. He was a man of small stature, but with a highly intellectual expression upon his face which at once indicated that he must be a Master. His head was almost bald on the top, and showed a most remarkable formation of his skull; at each side, however, there were gray locks of hair, and I immediately recognised in him one whose picture I had often seen and whose presence I had often felt, and whom I will call Theodorus. He had been a great Adept and Rosicrucian during his earthly life; he had been a great physician, and performed most wonderful cures. He had been a great alchemist, and knew the secret of the Cross and the Rose, of the Red Lion and the White Eagle.
As he entered, he announced that the Imperator had been called away to attend to some important affairs connected with politics on the mundane plane. He jocularly remarked that he had gone to prevent a certain statesman from committing an act of imbecility, which would, if he did not succeed in stopping it, be productive of a great war. He was therefore deputed by the Imperator to show me the alchemical laboratory and to correct some of my misconceptions in regard to alchemy. I was rather reluctant to leave the presence of the ladies, and I would have been willing to die at that moment to enable my soul to remain in their presence; but I could not with propriety decline the invitation. The ladies permitted me to retire, and I went with Theodorus into the halls of the Monastery.