Chapter XX - Induced Imagination in India

Chapter XX

Induced Imagination in India

At this point I wish to call your attention to a feature of the subject that has received but scant attention at the hands of western writers. I allude to the wonderful manifestations of induced imagination displayed by some of the magicians of the orient, particularly of India and Persia. These feats are being performed today in those lands and are equal to any of the wonderful instances related of the ancient Persian or Egyptian magicians. Without going into an extended consideration of the subject in question I will mention a few of the recorded instances of induced imagination among the oriental people, in order to give you an idea of the degree of power possible to an adept in the practice. One writer describes an exhibition of this kind in India, witnessed by himself. The writer was a profound skeptic, who believed that it was all “hanky-panky” along the lines of sleight-of-hand or similar methods—that is, he so believed until he actually witnessed the demonstration. He goes on to relate that the magician was a native Hindu, of dignified and imposing appearance, surrounded by a number of assistants of his own race.

The magician seated himself on the ground, with several jars, boxes, implements, and other paraphernalia before him. He opened the seance by the production of a number of tiny snakes, which he lifted from one of the boxes, and placed on the ground before him, in full sight of the audience, after allowing the latter to examine the serpents and thereby satisfy themselves regarding their reality. An English naturalist present identified the snakes as belonging to a well known native variety. The magician then began a slow, mournful, droning, monotonous song, the predominant sound of which was “um-m-m-m-m-m-m-m,” like the droning of a bumble bee or a distant saw mill. The snakes reared themselves up and moved their heads from side to side at the sound of the chant, the magician touching them softly with his wand from time to time. To the eyes of the audience the snakes seemed to gradually grow from their original tiny proportions until finally they appeared as immense boa constrictors, which caused great alarm among the audience, both Englishmen and native. The magician bade the audience remain quiet and assured them that there was no danger—then he reversed the process, and the snakes were seen to gradually decrease in size until they vanished from sight altogether. The next act was equally as wonderful. The magician placed one of his assistants in the center of a circle described on the sand, and with appropriate gestures and ceremony went through some magical incantation. The boy was then seen to spin around, faster and faster, like a large top, and then began to gradually ascend in the air, still spinning around, until he vanished from sight. Then the magician reversed the process and brought him down from the aerial heights, the boy appearing like a small speck at first, gradually growing larger as he neared the earth, until he stood before the audience, bowing and smiling.

The next act was the placing of some mango seeds in the sand, building a tiny hillock around them. The magician then began his chant and waved his hands over the hillock. In a moment a tiny shoot was seen to appear, and then a little bush which gradually grew up until a mature mango tree was seen, bearing leaves. Then blossoms were seen, and the ripe fruit appeared, which was passed among the audience. Then, reversing the process, the tree disappeared gradually, and at the end the magician dug up the original seeds and showed them to his audience. And, wonderful to relate, the fruit that had been distributed among the people also disappeared.

The concluding act was as startling as those preceding it. The magician produced a coil of real rope, which was passed around for examination. Then he knotted one end of it and then tossed the knot into the air. The rope rapidly uncoiled itself, and the knot was seen away up in the air, and still ascending. When the rope was completely uncoiled, and the end left dangling on the ground as if supported by some hook holding the knotted end hundreds of feet up in the air, one of the assistants approached the rope and took hold of it. At a shout from the magician he began climbing rapidly up the rope, and in a short time disappeared from view, after appearing as a tiny speck in the air.

Then at another word from the magician the rope itself flew up in the air and vanished from sight.

This concluded the performance. But here is a remarkable sequel An Englishman present took a snap-shot with a pocket camera, just as the boy began to climb the rope. When the negative was developed there was no trace of rope, boy or anything else appertaining to the manifestation. Even the magician was absent from the center of the scene and was shown on the plate as sitting down on one side, with an amused smile on his face. This fact demonstrated that which similar tests have also proven; i. e., that the feats were not really performed at all, but were simply illusions produced by impressions upon the minds of the audience. In fact, they were examples of induced imagination. I shall give you another proof of this in a moment or two, after I have related a few more instances of this wonderful manifestation. Another writer, a correspondent of an American paper, relates that he was once on a steamer plying up one of the rivers in India, when, at a stopping place, there scrambled up the side as nimbly as a monkey a native Hindu, clad only in a loin cloth and having a tight-rolled red bundle fastened at the back of his neck to keep it safe from the water while swimming from shore. There was nothing about the man to distinguish him from the ordinary fakirs, but he soon showed his quality.

Passing along the deck he picked up a ball of thin rope which was lying there, and, unwinding an end, he knotted it and tossed the knot up in the air, where it ascended, rapidly unwinding the ball, until the whole of the rope disappeared in the air, just as in the instance previously related. Then passing a sailor who was holding in his hand a broken cocoanut shell containing the liquid or “water” of the nut, he lifted the shell from his hand and holding it high up over a ship’s bucket standing nearby he emptied the liquid until it filled the bucket, and repeated the process upon another bucket, and so on until twelve buckets had been filled from the half cocoanut shell. Then he picked up one of the buckets filled with the liquid and, holding it in his hand, he caused it to gradually shrink until it completely disappeared. Then a moment later he exhibited a tiny speck in his hand, which gradually grew until it was again the bucket of water filled to the brim with the liquid, which he then poured out on the deck.

Witnessing the strange performance was a young mother with her babe beside her and a young nurse girl several feet away. To her horror the mother then beheld the nurse girl rising a few feet in the air and moving rapidly toward the babe, reaching down for the infant as she glided over it, and then rising high into the air with the child clasped in her arms, until both were lost in the clouds. The mother burst into frantic cries and shrieks and gazed upward; and as she gazed she saw a fleecy cloud appear, which gradually took the shape of the nurse girl, who grew larger and larger as she descended, until she finally reached the deck again and handed the babe to the rejoiced mother. The mother, after clasping her babe close to her bosom, cried out, “How dare you take my child away?” when to her surprise the girl answered, “Why, ma’am, the baby has been asleep all the time and I have not touched him.” And then the fakir smiled and said, “Mem Sahib has only been dreaming strange things.” It was merely an instance of induced imagination of a remarkable degree of power, produced by the Mental Imagery of the fakir; and his previous feats were also so performed.

But this was only the beginning. The fakir then untied his red bundle, and, extracting therefrom a cocoanut he exhibited it to the passengers, passing it around for inspection. Then, placing the nut on the end of a bamboo stick, and, balancing it there, he commanded it in Hindi to spout as a fountain, and immediately a great Jet of water sprang from it, falling over the deck in great showers. He then caused it to stop flowing, and it obeyed; then he restarted it. This is repeated several times. Then he materialized a cobra from the air and caused it to disappear at his command, after he had terrified the passengers with it.

Then he materialized several human forms in broad sunlight in full view of the passengers, and afterwards caused them to melt away gradually until they disappeared like a cloud of steam.

Then taking up a collection, which was quite liberal, he jumped over the side and swam rapidly to shore.

The natives among the ship’s passengers smiled at the wonder of the Europeans present and laughed at the latter’s talk of jugglery or magic power, informing them that it was merely an instance of Hindu Telepathy, or Mental Influence, and that those among them who resisted the spell saw nothing except the fakir with glistening eyes showing every evidence of a powerful and concentrated exercise of his Imagination. These feats are quite common in some parts of India, but they are known to be but mental illusions, for all attempts to catch the exhibition on photographic plates have failed, the plate showing nothing but the magician in a state of mental concentration. The magicians have developed the power of causing many persons at the same time to have the illusion of seeing, hearing, tasting and smelling things that have no material existence. It is induced imagination in a developed degree, but differs only in degree from the phenomena more familiar to the Western World. In this connection I would like to add the testimony and explanation given to me personally by a greatly esteemed friend of mine—a Hindu sage traveling in this country, who in addition to his Oriental learning has received the highest English education and who is “a highly educated man” in both the eastern and western meanings of the term. This gentleman told me that when a youth he had witnessed exhibitions of the kind just related in his native land. At first he was puzzled and mystified by them, but his naturally scientific turn of mind caused him to seek for the solution. He began experimenting, and soon at least was able to classify the phenomena as pure mental illusion. He found that the crowd would gather close around the magician in order to see what was going on, although all were required to keep a certain number of yards away from the wonder-worker by the latter’s instructions and requirements. My friend found that if he retreated a few yards beyond the outer edge of the crowd he could see nothing but the magician, all the “magical doings” disappearing. When he would join the crowd the mystic appearances were again plainly seen. He tried the experiment in several ways, with the same result. Then he tried a riskier one and pushed nearer to the magician than was allowable—and with the same result. In short, the influence was confined to a certain area and the mental influence was doubtless increased by the “contagion” of the different minds in the crowd. My friend tested the well-known “Mango feat” and the “Rope-disappearing feat” (as related in these pages) in this way and determined that they came well under the rule of mental illusion, instead of being an occurrence defying the established laws of Nature. The testimony of this gentleman corroborated the opinion that I had already formed to that effect, which opinion agrees with that of the best authorities. In closing this chapter I wish to point out to the students of the work an erroneous idea that has crept into some of the Western works along the lines of hypnotism, etc., and which I shall now mention and explain. The Hindu magicians, or mesmerists, frequently sit in a squatting position during their “enchantments,” droning a monotonous, soothing chant, as has been described, and at the same time moving the body from the waist upward, in a circling, twisting motion, from the hips, at the same time fixing their gaze firmly upon their audience.

This motion and twisting is merely an accompaniment to the droning chant akin to the motions of the Oriental dancers who twist their bodies in a similar manner in rhythm to the music. The motion is merely a custom among these people and has nothing to do with the production of the phenomena, as all Hindu occultists know and will tell you. In fact, the higher magicians among the Hindus do nothing of the sort, but maintain a dignified, calm, standing position, or the firm “yogi” seat,” in which the body is evenly and firmly poised in a position of dignified rest, the hands resting on the lap, the back of one hand in the palm of the other.

All native Hindus understand the above matter, but western visitors jump at the conclusion that this gyrating circling of the body from the hips has something to do with the “power” manifested. And, as I have said, some of the western works on the subject have gone into considerable detail regarding this wonderful “Oriental Magic,” which they assert is accomplished because of this twisting of the body. They might just as well point out some physical trick of motion of each leading western hypnotist and assert that the motion was the “secret of his power.” I do not think that further comment is necessary in this case. The motions and attitudes, etc., are merely part of the setting of the piece, or possibly bits of “stage business,” designed to heighten the impression of mystery. That’s all. I have been informed by an authority whose word is entitled to the greatest respect, and who has spent many years in India and other oriental countries, that the following method is used by these oriental magicians in developing within themselves the power to induce these strong mental images in the minds of those witnessing their performances: The magician starts when a youth and practices mental imagery in his own mind. This process is akin to Visualization, as mentioned by me in other chapters of this work. The magician at first uses his will in an endeavor to form a clear and distinct mental image of some familiar object, a rose, for instance. He practices until he is able to actually see the thing before him “in his mind’s eye,” just as certain eminent painters have acquired the faculty of “visualizing” the faces of persons they meet, so that they can reproduce them on canvas without further sittings. Then he experiments upon larger objects, and then upon groups of objects, and so on to more complex pictures. After years of constant experimentation and practice a few of those undertaking the work find themselves able to picture any of the scenes described in this chapter as “feats”—that is, they are able to clearly picture them in their own minds. And this being accomplished, the magician is able by his highly-developed concentrated will to project the mental image into the mind of those around him. It is induced imagination raised to a high degree of manifestation.

The people of the west will not devote the time and attention to the cultivation of such faculties, while the oriental will willingly give up half of his life for the attainment. But, on the other hand, the western man will devote his time to the acquirement of Will-Power and concentration in the direction of becoming a ruler of men and a general of finance. Each to his taste and temperament—and neither would “trade” places nor power with the other. They are both dealing with the same force, however, as little as they realize it.

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