The Key of the Mysteries

Part III

The Mysteries of Nature


Chapter II

Life and Death — Sleep and Waking

Sleep is an incomplete death; death is a complete sleep.
Nature subjects us to sleep in order to accustom us to the idea of death, and warns us by dreams of the persistence of another life.
The astral light into which sleep plunges us is like an ocean in which innumerable images are afloat, flotsam of wrecked existences, mirages and reflections of those which pass, presentiments of those which are about to be.
Our nervous disposition attracts to us those images which correspond to our agitation, to the nature of our fatigue, just as a magnet, moved among particles of various metals, would attract to itself and choose particularly the iron filings.
Dreams reveal to us the sickness or the health, the calm or the disturbance, of our plastic medium, and consequently, also, that of our nervous apparatus.
They formulate our presentiments by the analogy which the images bear to them.
For all ideas have a double significance for us, relating to our double life.
There exists a language of sleep; in the waking state it is impossible to understand it, or even to order its words.
The language of slumber is that of nature, hieroglyphic in its character, and rhythmical in its sounds.
Slumber may be either giddy or lucid.
Madness is a permanent state of vertiginous somnambulism.
A violent disturbance may wake madmen to sense, or kill them.
Hallucinations, when they obtain the adhesion of the intelligence, are transitory attacks of madness.
Every mental fatigue provokes slumber; but if the fatigue is accompanied by nervous irritation, the slumber may be incomplete, and take on the character of somnambulism.
One sometimes goes to sleep without knowing it in the midst of real life; and then instead of thinking, one dreams.
How is it that we remember things which have never happened to us? Because we dreamt them when wide awake.
This phenomenon of involuntary and unperceived sleep when it suddenly traverses real life, often happens to those who over-excite their nervous organism by excesses either of work, vigil, drink, or erethism.
Monomaniacs are asleep when they perform unreasonable acts. They no longer remember anything on waking.
When Papvoine was arrested by the police, he calmly said to them these remarkable words: You are taking the other for me.
It was the somnambulist who was still speaking.
Edgar Poe, that unhappy man of genius who used to intoxicate himself, has terribly described the somnambulism of monomaniacs. Sometimes it is an assassin who hears, and who thinks that everybody hears, through the wall of the tomb, the beating of his victim's heart; sometimes it is a poisoner who, by dint of saying to himself, "I am safe, provided I do not go and denounce myself," ends by dreaming aloud that he is denouncing himself, and in fact does so. Edgar Poe himself invented neither the persons nor the facts of these strange novels; he dreamt them waking, and that is why he clothed them so well with all the colours of a shocking reality.
Dr. Briere de Boismont in his remarkable work on "Hallucinations," tells the story of an Englishman otherwise quite sane, who thought that he had met a stranger and made his acquaintance, who took him to lunch at his tavern, and then having asked him to visit St. Paul's in his company, had tried to throw him from the top of the tower which they had climbed together.
From that moment the Englishman was obsessed by this stranger, whom he alone could see, and whom he always met when he was alone, and had dined well.
Precipices attract; drunkenness calls to drunkenness; madness has invincible charms for madness. When a man succumbs to sleep, he holds in horror everything which might wake him. It is the same with the hallucinated, with statical somnambulists, maniacs, epileptics, and all those who abandon themselves to the delirium of a passion. They have heard the fatal music, they have entered into the dance of death; and they feel themselves dragged away into the whirl of vertigo. You speak to them, they no more hear you; you warn them, they no longer understand you, but your voice annoys them; they are asleep with the sleep of death.
Death is a current which carries you away, a whirlpool which draws you down, but from the bottom of which the least movement may make you climb again. The force or repulsion being equal to that of attraction, at the very moment of expiring, one often attaches oneself again violent to life. Often also, by the same law of equilibrium, one passes from sleep to death through complaisance for sleep.
A shallop sways upon the shores of the lake. The child enters the water, which, shining with a thousand reflections, dances around him and calls him; the chain which retains the boat stretches and seems to wish to break itself; then a marvellous bird shoots out from the bank, and skims, singing, upon the joyous waves; the child wishes to follow it, he puts his hand upon the chain, he detaches the ring.
Antiquity divined the mystery of the attraction of death, and represented it in the fable of Hylas. Weary with a long voyage, Hylas has arrived in a flowered, enamelled isle; he approaches a fountain to draw water; a gracious mirage smiles at him; he sees a nymph stretch out her arms to him, his own lose nerve, and cannot draw back the heavy jar; the fresh fragrance of the spring put him to sleep; the perfumes of the bank intoxicate him. There he is, bent over the water like a narcissus whose stalk has been broken by a child at play; the full jar falls to the bottom, and Hylas follows it; he dies, dreaming that nymphs caress him, and no longer hears the voice of Hercules recalling him to the labours of life; Hercules, who runs wildly everywhere, crying, "Hylas! Hylas!"
Another fable, not less touching, which steps forth from the shadows of the Orphic initiation, is that of Eurydice recalled to life by the miracles of harmony and love, of Eurydice, that sensitive broken on the very day of her marriage, who takes refuge in the tomb, trembling with modesty. Soon she hears the lyre of Orpheus, and slowly climbs again towards the light; the terrible divinities of Erebus dare not bar her passage. She follows the poet, or rather the poetry which adores. … But, woe to the lover if he changes the magnetic current and pursues in his turn, with a single look, her whom he should only attract! The sacred love, the virginal love, the love which is stronger than the tomb, seeks only devotion, and flies in terror before the egoism of desire. Orpheus knows it; but, for an instant, he forgets it. Eurydice, in her white bridal dress, lies upon the marriage bed; he wears the vestments of Grand Hierophant, he stands upright, his lyre in his hand, his head crowned with the sacred laurel, his eyes turned towards the East, and he sings. He sings of the luminous arrows of love that traverse the shadows of old Chaos, the waves of soft, clear light, flowing from the black teats of the mother of the gods, from which hang the two children, Eros and Anteros. He says the song of Adonis returning to life in answer to the complaint of Venus, reviving like a flower under the shining dew of her tears; the song of Castor and Pollux, whom death could not divide, and who love alternately in hell and upon earth. … Then he calls softly Eurydice, his dear Eurydice, his so much loved Eurydice:
Ah! miseram Eurydicen anima fugiente vocabat,
Eurydicen! toto referebant flumine ripae.
While he sings, that pallid statue of the sculptor death takes on the colour of the first tint of life, its white lips begin to redden like the dawn … Orpheus sees her, he trembles, he stammers, the hymn almost dies upon his lips, but she pales anew; then the Grand Hierophant tears from his lyre sublime heartrending songs, he looks no more save upon Heaven, he weeps, he prays, and Eurydice opens her eyes … Unhappy one, do not look at her! sing! sing! do not scare away the butterfly of Psyche, which is about to alight on this flower! But the insensate man has seen the look of the woman whom he has raised from the dead, the Grand Hierophant gives place to the lover, his lyre falls from his hands, he looks upon Eurydice, he darts towards her, …. he clasps her in his arms, he finds her frozen still, her eyes are closed again, her lips are paler and colder than ever, the sensitive soul has trembled, the frail cord is broken anew — and for ever. … Eurydice is dead, and the hymns of Orpheus can no longer recall her to life!
In our Dogme et rituel de la haute magie, we had the temerity to say that the resurrection of the dead is not an impossible phenomenon even on the physical plane; and in saying that, we have not denied or in any way contradicted the fatal law of death. A death which can discontinue is only lethargy and slumber; but it is by lethargy and slumber that death always begins. The state of profound peace which succeeds the agitations of life carries away the relaxed and sleeping soul; one cannot make it return, and force it to plunge anew into life, except by exciting violently all its affections and all its desires. When Jesus, the Saviour of the world, was upon earth, the earth was more beautiful and more desirable than Heaven; and yet it was necessary for Jesus to cry aloud and apply a shock in order to awaken Jairus's daughter. It was by dint of shudderings and tears that he called back his friend Lazarus from the tomb, so difficult is it to interrupt a tired soul who is sleeping his beauty-sleep!
At the same time, the countenance of death has not the same serenity for every soul that contemplates it. When one has missed the goal of life, when one carries away with one frenzied greeds or unassuaged hates, eternity appears to the ignorant or guilty soul with such a formidable proportion of sorrows, that it sometimes tries to fling itself back into mortal life. How many souls, urged by the nightmare of hell, have taken refuge in their frozen bodies, their bodies already covered with funereal marble! Men have found skeletons turned over, convulsed, twisted, and they have said, "Here are men who have been buried alive." Often this was not the case. These may always be waifs of death, men raised from the tomb, who, before they could abandon themselves altogether to the anguish of the threshold of eternity, were obliged to make a second attempt.
A celebrated magnetist, Baron Dupotet, teaches in his secret book on Magic that one can kill by magic as by electricity. There is nothing strange in this revelation for anyone who is well acquainted with the analogies of Nature. It is certain that in diluting beyond measure, or in coagulating suddenly, the plastic medium of a subject, it is possible to loose the body from the soul. It is sometimes sufficient to arouse a violent anger, or an overmastering fear in anyone, to kill him suddenly.
The habitual use of magnetism usually puts the subject who abandons himself to it at the mercy of the magnetizer. When communication is well-established, and the magnetizer can produce at will slumber, insensibility, catalepsy, and so on, it will only require a little further effort to bring on death.
We have been told as an actual fact a story whose authenticity we will not altogether guarantee.
We are about to repeat it because it may be true.
Certain persons who doubted both religion and magnetism, of that incredulous class which is ready for all superstitions and all fanaticisms, had persuaded a poor girl to submit to their experiments for a fee. This girl was of an impressionable and nervous nature, fatigued moreover by the excesses of a life which had been more than irregular, while she was already disgusted with existence. They put her to sleep; bade her see; she weeps and struggles. They speak to her of God; she trembles in every limb.
"No," said she, "no;" He frightens me; I will not look at Him."
"Look at Him, I wish it."
She opens her eyes, her pupils expand; she is terrifying.
"What do you see?"
"I should not know how to say it. … Oh for pity's sake awaken me!"
"No, look, and say what you see."
"I see a black night in which whirl sparks of every colour around two great ever-rolling eyes. From these eyes leap rays whose spiral whorls fill space. … Ho, it hurts me! Wake me!"
"No, look."
"Where do you wish me to look now?"
"Look into Paradise."
"No, I cannot climb there; the great night pushes me back, I always fall back."
"Very well then, look into hell."
Here the sleep-waker became convulsively agitated.
"No, no!" she cried sobbing; "I will not! I shall be giddy; I should fall! Oh, hold me back! Hold me back!"
"No, descend."
"Where do you want me to descend?"
"Into hell."
"But it is horrible! No! No! I will not go there!"
"Go there."
"Go there. It is my will."
The features of the sleep-waker become terrible to behold; her hair stands on end; her wide-opened eyes show only the white; her breast heaves, and a sort of death-rattle escapes from her throat.
"Go there. It is my will," repeats the magnetizer.
"I am there!" says the unhappy girl between her teeth, falling back exhausted. Then she no longer answers; her head hangs heavy on her shoulder; her arms fall idly by her side. They approach her. They touch her. They try to waken her, but it is too late; the crime was accomplished; the woman was dead. It was to the public incredulity in the matter of magnetism that the authors of this sacrilegious experiment owed their own immunity from prosecution. The authorities held an inquest, and death was attributed to the rupture of an aneurism. The body, anyhow, bore no trace of violence; they had it buried, and there was an end of the matter.
Here is another anecdote which we heard from a travelling companion.
Two friends were staying in the same inn, and sharing the same room. One of them had a habit of talking in his sleep, and, at that time, would answer the questions which his comrade put to him. One night, he suddenly uttered stifled cries; his companion woke up and asked him what was the matter.
"But, don't you see," said the sleeper, "don't you see that enormous stone … it is becoming loose from the mountain … it is falling on me, it is going to crush me."
"Oh, well, get out of its way!"
"Impossible! My feet are caught in brambles that cling ever closer. Ah! Help! Help! There is the great stone coming right upon me!"
"Well, there it is!" said the other laughing, throwing the pillow at his head in order to wake him.
A terrible cry, suddenly strangled in his throat, a convulsion, a sigh, then nothing more. The practical joker gets up, pulls his comrade's arm, calls him; in his turn, he becomes frightened, he cries out, people come with lights … the unfortunate sleep-waker was dead.
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