It was, in a way, a misfortune that certain of my mystic faculties appeared at an age when my knowledge of human nature was so sketchy as to be useless in urging me to wariness and caution when displaying these strange talents.
My parents were simple souls. When they discovered their six-year-old indulging in feats of mental magic, they immediately called in the local doctor. He was a little man with a white goatee beard and shiny black clothes. I was fascinated by the top hat he wore. Jovially he examined my tongue and felt my pulse, listening to my parents' tale of woe with that air of inattention that the medical fraternity has so well perfected. He pondered long and thoughtfully before giving his decision, delivering it at last with masterful authority.
Let me paint a rough background of the situation.
I was an only child, born in Prague amid sober and prosaic surroundings. There were no clairvoyants, spiritualists or occultists in my family, and no specially gifted personalities. We were not even highly religious.
My mother was an uncomplicated woman, as far as any human being can be uncomplicated. The memories I retain of here are a little immature, as she died before I was seventeen years old, but to the best of my knowledge her life was completely taken up by ordinary family affairs and house-management. My father was a business man of very ordinary means. He came from a village, and although he had received no high degree of education he had an enormous practical knowledge of life. He was a restless character, erratic and unstable in his interests. I do not think he had any particular aim in Life, but would turn his hand to anything. He had a jovial sense of humour that made him popular with all.
In the whole circle of my relations not one was in any way remarkable. I am drawing attention to this so it may be clear that there appears to be no hereditary foundation for my unusual gifts - at least in the upper branches of my family tree.
In early childhood I had little need of other children to play with me, amusing myself contentedly with toys and games of my own creation. For this purpose I collected a variety of objects from about the house, and would occasionally surprise my family circle with questions and information that were quite baffling.
For example, I once borrowed a spoon which was a present from my grandmother to my mother. The following day I told my father a number of accurate stories about grandmother, whom I never saw in my life, and asked if he could explain her sadness and solitude and why she had continued to live in a lonely house that she disliked.
This grandmother lived in the country. She had nine children, who settled in various towns, and after her husband’s death she remained alone in spite of invitations from several of her children to go and live with them. She was known to be lonely and unhappy, but for some reason she would never accept these invitations.
It was the spoon which revealed to me this somewhat uncanny knowledge - a knowledge, I may say, which I made known in a very naïve and childish manner. My parents thought it was 'funny', and promptly forgot the affair.
On other occasions it happened that I gave descriptions of people who were never recognized, yet even at that time I was vaguely aware of the intuitive faculty within me that was responsible for my unusual conceptions. After a number of mildly abnormal manifestations of this type, I finally cooked my own gosling in no uncertain manner.
A distant relation of my mother chanced to live in a remote village in the upper reaches of the Elbe. We had seen and heard nothing of this woman for about three years. For myself - a boy of six or seven - she was 'before my time', and I had no memory of ever having seen her. One day my mother was entertaining a lady visitor of some standing in the neighbourhood. The agony of the family album was being placidly inflicted and stoically endured. I was resting my chin on the table, listening and watching as well as I could.
My mother came to the photograph of the distant relation, and mentioned that she must certainly be getting on in years for a single woman. Unaware of any impropriety, I announced that the lady in question had a little boy baby. The impression had come to me in some way via the photograph, and I had offered it as a matter of fact.
My mother's embarrassment and consternation were profound, and her annoyance was even greater. A few weeks later, my statement was found to be correct. Cousin Mary had been married for eighteen months, and had, in the usual and conventional way, produced the offspring of which I had spoken. It was at this juncture that my mother and father decided to call in the doctor. I can only imagine that they believed I was suffering from a form of mental measles.
The doctor, although a kindly man, as I have said, appeared to be a pioneer of the theory later developed by Mussolini.
'Castor oil!' he pronounced with complete confidence. He only differed fro his Italian disciple in that he also recommended plenty of fresh air.
In this way I received my first lesson in the futility of talent without prudence. Later my family and circle of friends became accustomed to my oddness. The failure of the castor oil cure resulted in the doctor adopting the theory that I was merely an example of a sensitive precocity, and he pleased my parents by saying that I was of exceptional intelligence, poor man.
This, for me, was a relief from a very unpleasant situation.
With the passing of my nursery and playroom days I attended school, and soon became of great annoyance to many a pedagogue in unconsciously making him aware of the inadequacy of his knowledge.
I remember once our school planned a country outing in which, of course, the weather was to be a decisive factor.
Teachers and children debated among themselves as to whether the next day would bring sunshine or rain. I was as keen as the rest of the children to go on the outing, but for some reason inexplicable to myself I found that I could not join in the speculation about the coming weather because I simply wasn't able to believe that we should ever get on the train.
It was no surprise to me, on arriving at the station, to hear that the teacher in charge of the excursion had made a mistake over the time of the train. Enquiries showed that the next suitable train would leave many hours later. Disconsolate, we were discharged to our various homes. These are mild, unrelated examples of the earliest manifestations of my incipient psychic faculties that I can remember, but they serve to show how things began.
My school and student days brought many such surprises to both my teachers and myself. I was definitely not a bad pupil in the uses sense of the word; but only in those subjects where I could reach a vivid visual concept of things was I able to gain satisfactory marks. History and geography I could, as it were, relive and visualize clearly, and therefore my success here was better than in such subjects as arithmetic, where my imagination was useless. I found that in one hour's listening I was able to retain more than in days and days of book study. In this way I broadened my powers of concentration, which later became the main instrument in the development of various mental faculties.
To understand clearly what is meant by concentration, it is necessary to realize that the mind is basically composed of the conscious and subconscious.
The conscious mind is paramount when we are awake. It is the awareness that the mind has of its own activities and feelings. It is that which receives messages from the various sensory nerves of sight, smell, touch, etc., and registers them as certain feelings and perceptions.
The subconscious is paramount when we sleep. It is not trammelled by the logic and reasoning of the conscious mind, and it is far more profound. Upon the subconscious is written every single aspect of our lives that has ever impinged upon the consciousness, and much that has become part of us without our ever being aware of it.
In matters of memory, we try to open the door between the subconscious and conscious minds, but in general we can only manage to attain a very small gap through which a mere trickle of memory can pour. Concentration, in this respect, is the procedure of forcing a wider opening in the gateway between the conscious and the subconscious. When we say that somebody has a good memory it simply means that he has the knack of selecting at will more items from the storehouse of his subconscious mind than have most people, and of transferring them to his conscious mind.
This is a subject to which many volumes have been devoted and it is impossible to do more than touch upon the matter in the space of a few sentences. The point is that the power of concentration plays an overwhelming part in the abilities I am able to display, and was an important element in a rather mysterious game that I used to play when I was a child.
Everybody has, at one time or another, lost or misplaced some personal belonging. Many have realized that the best way to find such a thing is to stop looking for it. If it is merely a matter of misplacement, then the subconscious mind has not forgotten and, if given an opportunity, will provide a clue to the conscious mind and the mystery will be solved. Continuous seeking and forced racking of the brain is bound to produce thousands of new impressions and ideas. Try to divert the conscious mind, and you will find that better results will follow.
The game of 'Hunt-the-Thimble', conducted with any small object, made one of the most fascinating experiments of my childhood. It was a great favourite with my friends, too. They would hide some little object and then, in a few seconds, I would locate the hiding-place. There was no question of hit-and-miss searching; the success was based on psychic ability.
Let me insist that this was not telepathy. I was completely independent of my friends' thoughts. To me the object “lived', and I was able to reconstruct in my own mind exactly what had occurred, and the way in which the thing had passed to its hiding-place.
It is easier to explain this by an illustration.
Young Henry is the owner of a particularly big marble. I handle the marble, get the 'feel' of it, and then go from the room. Now Henry, or anybody else, can hide the marble where he wishes. When I come into the room again, the marble betrays to me exactly what has happened to it and where it now rests.
For these experiments, all I had to in order to make contact with the hidden object was to shut out all other impressions and conceptions that continually stream into one's consciousness. Very often I had the feeling that it was not I that was looking for the hidden object. The object itself seemed to be trying to find me.
This phenomenon is one of great interest and will be dealt with more deeply when we come to other and more intriguing examples during my adult years. At the moment I am simply describing my feelings as they came to me at that particular period of my childhood.
To spectators of my childish pranks, as they were considered, I made no secret of how I found the object, explaining my sensations in a simple juvenile fashion. But nobody could either comprehend or believe me. My 'public' much preferred to regard me as a mind-reader, though their ideas, even on that subject, were nebulous in the extreme.
Children are content to play the same simple game over and over again without becoming bored, consequently I had plenty of mental practice. After a while my friends began to make conditions more complicated, and thus I found myself giving various descriptive statements about the owner of the hidden object. It occasionally happened that a statement did not apparently tally with the facts, but my general success was not questioned.
Today I realize why some of my cryptaesthesic experiments failed - they were already cryptaesthesic, be it understood. It was because we are not always able to find an inner connection with any object at random. The barely understood laws of sympathy and antipathy play a decisive part in such matters, and it is obvious that by using any convenient object for the experiment I was not always sure of getting something entirely personal. More often than not, no doubt, the objects concerned were exuding a hotch-potch of emanations from various personalities.
It is not always given to us to know why we sometimes hate or love people without any logical reason, and there is no question but that there are certain deep and enigmatic laws of life guiding and regulating, attracting and repelling. These same principles apply to so-called 'dead' objects.
It is nonsense to speak of dead objects in so far as we mean that they are without some innate quality of self. True as it may be that inanimate objects have no life in our sense of the word, I have proved time and time again that they possess some quality of being.
We know little enough about our own lives, and even less of the lives of animals. But one can say that as yet we know nothing at all about the life (as I am compelled to call it) of inanimate objects. Yet I am convinced that such objects draw their innate characteristics from the human beings with whom they come in contact. For example, a hatter may make five hundred identical hats. There is absolutely nothing to distinguish one from another. But after those hats have been worn for some time by different individuals, then each hat will possess an individuality as sharply defined as that of the person to whom it belongs.
It is fairly obvious that during my student days there was nobody, even among my teachers, who could provide any satisfactory explanation of my unusual faculties. They tended, all the time, to draw me along the well-trodden road of normal education and permitted no development of what they termed extravagant philosophies and theories.
Had I persisted in an open attempt to find scientific reasons for such powers as I possessed, I am afraid I might have been considered a mental case. As a matter of fact, I was destined, later in life, to become well acquainted with the interior of a lunatic asylum - but to speak of that now would be a digression, and the rather entertaining details must be reserved for a later chapter.
My latter school years passed more harmoniously, partly because I ceased drawing attention to my peculiarities and party because other grew accustomed to an occasional lapse on my part. One boy perhaps kept white mice; another was extraordinarily expert in putting both legs behind his neck and walking on his hands; young Marion was the occasional perpetrator of 'nice little tricks'. Such was the way in which my companions regarded me.
As time went by I learned, perforce, the art of presenting my talents in the form of pure entertainment, and carefully camouflaged my inner scientific interest in the mystic laws which permitted me to perform my clever little tricks. In this way I sometimes gave demonstrations at local concerts and school entertainments. But all the time I pursued my own investigations into the strange phenomena I was able to create. This self-reliance was good training for me, as in later life (and even today) I found I gained little more assistance from the pundits of the world than I had received from the limited minds of my school-teachers.
The development of psychic faculties is mainly dependent upon the extent to which you can lose yourself in yourself and isolate the mind from contradictory influences. Anybody who is able to blot out the conscious mind to a sufficient degree, and thus allow the subconscious free reign, can attain and develop psychic powers.
I have been overlong in coming to a word that has an intimate bearing upon all these matters, and we must have a clear idea of its meaning before proceeding. Throughout my life I have tried to investigate the first principle s of Nature and Thought by studying strange happenings and powers outside the scope of normal workaday life. This study is a science known as Metaphysics.
Metaphysics is concerned with tree things - Time, Space and Causality. Time and Space, though simple everyday words, are very profound when we start to think about them in an abstract fashion. The thousands of people who have read the clearly written and wonderful books of the late Sir James Jeans, The Stars in Their Courses, The Mysterious Universe, etc., will have some idea of the tremendous problems which arise when we come to consider Time and Space. The greatest brains in the world are only able to hint at the nature of these mysterious factors, and we can but touch upon them lightly when occasion arises throughout this book. Causality is also something that has baffled men since they first began to think. Great thinkers have come to the conclusion that our lives, our world, our universe, exist by virtue of a chain of causes and effects.
This chain of cause-and -effect can be traced down to the most minute action in the life of every one of us; but to start from a broader basis, we might say - 'The world was caused by a mass of gaseous matter becoming detached from the sun.'
And the sun itself? What brought that into existence? Of what cause is our sun the effect?
If we continue to ask this sort of question, then we find ourselves trying to discover the Cause which created our universe - and other universes.
And so we come to what is known to metaphysics and philosophy as The First Cause - what is known to all religions as the world of God.
If I have wondered from the path of my narrative, I can only plead once again that it was in order to make clear the meaning of certain words in which I am compelled to deal.
I have stated that anybody can produce psychic phenomena, if only he can lose himself within himself. In other words, the mind, at such times, must strip off the veneer of normal materialistic habits and strive to reach a unity with something beyond time, space and causality.
There is no word entirely suitable for describing such a condition of the mind, and for lack of a more accurate term I must use the word 'concentration'. It is impossible to direct another person as to how the condition may be reached, because if that person is rudimentarily psychic, then he will know within himself the best way to induce this condition. Every man travels by a different path, and any advice from me will be purely personal; not only may it fail to suit the novice but it may even divert him from success.
One sometimes hears that certain exercises or physical asceticism opens the way to perfect mental concentration - as in the art of Yogi. For myself, I cannot agree that I might lose myself in myself with any greater success simply by standing on my head and breathing up one nostril and down the other.
If I am asked for advice as to how this mental condition of perfect concentration can be attained, I can only say: Advice is useless. The power comes with the inner conviction of possessing it. It is a matter of faith - and I am not speaking of religious faith at the moment. I firmly believe that mountains can be moved by faith, but there is no known mental process by which we can induce that faith within ourselves.
In just the same way that faith is (or is not) innate in us, so is the power to use our senses in paranormal ways. The unusual powers that I have so often displayed in my lifetime are certainly not new and undetected senses that I have developed.
During my student days I studied everything that came my way concerning occult forces and the powers of the mind. At one time I went in seriously for mnemotechnics, which is the science of memory systems. I used my own particular approach to these various systems, combining them with the unusual abilities I possessed in order to get better results. At this time I found that to have what is called a good memory one must have a very plastic memory.
It is not only essential to be able to remember, but it is equally essential to be able to forget efficiently. Unnecessary items which clutter up the mind must be pushed right into the background, for they make it difficult for the conscious mind to sort out the particular thought required from the lumber-room of the subconscious. For example, if I am going on a jaunt down Oxford Street and I am asked to bring back a bar of soap with me, I make no effort at all to remember this, but write it down on a piece of paper. What is the use of fixing in my mind the fact that I must buy a bar of soap, when I know perfectly well that if I do so, then in twenty years' time I shall still have the idea firmly embedded in my memory?
It is quite remarkable how the efficiency of memory grows when one eliminates the unnecessary. Nine out of ten people who complain of a poor memory would soon remedy this if they would learn how to get rid of all the cumbersome ballast from their minds.
My work in this direction was very useful to me at one period of my student days when it was necessary for me to take a certain examination. Earlier, I had failed in only one subject - mathematics - and because of the system of progress at this school this meant that I had to swat up on the subject during my two months of summer holidays, and then take that one subject again.
I am still very certain that the mathematics professor, who was in my opinion a varlet, had contrived to fail me. However, faced with the problem of preparing myself for a second examination, I was completely unworried. Combining mnemotechnics with my own gifts, I made an excellent job of the required swotting and, at the beginning of the following term, presented myself for the examination in good spirits.
In company with my own professor was another teacher. This was according to the laid-down rules of my school. It was not a written examination, being a personal business in which I was expected to work on the blackboard. The first exercise was given me, and with little hesitation I ran straight through it.
My own professor nodded, and was about to proceed, when his companion pointed out that there were certain gaps in the working of the problem - gaps far to wide to be bridged by mental arithmetic.
They questioned me closely and I reluctantly revealed the fact that I had learned by heart every exercise and problem of arithmetic, algebra and logarithms in the whole of the four-hundred-page book which was our text book. They were incredulous, and I thereupon told them the page on which would be found the particular problem they had set me.
Successful proof of this resulted in a lengthy examination of my capabilities, not as a mathematician but as a mental prodigy. It was not hard to prove that I had indeed learned the ponderous volume of problems and formulae from beginning to end, and I passed the examination with flying colours, for the puzzled professors had no choice in the matter. The fact that quite possibly I did not understand what I was doing provided no grounds upon which they could fail me. Such was the value of the educational system of my youth. It is worthy of note that immediately the need for remembering had passed, I cleansed my mind of all the mathematical ballast with which it was burdened.
Although I had always been rather chary of displaying my gifts, it was inevitable that as I grew older and my abilities became more highly developed, they also became more and more widely known, particularly among my student friends. A chance remark that I happened to drop in this youthful circle was instrumental in setting my foot upon the road that was to lead me into the glare of music-hall footlights all over the world.
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