This book is a trip to yesteryear, when the English-speaking world was rediscovering the occult, when the East was still mysterious (in that superficial comic-book way), and occult authors generally felt a need to showboat (for example, by writing, under the name of a non-existent Indian Swami, a book which could not possibly have been written by an Indian in 1916). It is a wonderful experience, sort of like discovering a really good magic text among the chapbooks about dreams and lottery numbers at your local botanica.
If I never read this book again (unlikely), I would still take it down occasionally and enjoy Jeff Hoke’s cover art.
If this review is your introduction to the amazing William Walker Atkinson, go read the Wikipedia page first. I’ll wait … (once you have the book, you can read the excellent introduction by Clint Marsh, which covers all that and more).
Good. Now you know about the author’s amazing output, and his habit of, shall we say, enhancing his discourse through the use of many (what are now known as) sock puppets. This is his impresario persona, a conceit common enough in the author’s era. It also extends to things like the author’s habit of introducing a point of his own opinion with “As all the best occultists say”. The modern reader will end up filtering all of this out, and actually can start reading on page 47, if the protracted wind-up be not to one’s taste.
Once you get there, you will find two streams of interesting material: the actual descriptions and exercises aimed at developing clairvoyance, which are quite fine; and the steady stream of anecdotes and descriptions of experiences and experiments culled from a variety of sources, largely the annals of the Society for Psychical Research. I really want to find time to look up the original sources of some of those, having not realized just how amazing they were (my prior knowledge of parapsychology starts with Rhine and runs through the PEAR experiments of the 1980s, approximately).
Along the way (pp. 75-78), you will encounter one instance of the Victorian/Edwardian animus against hypnotism, which is based on a complete misunderstanding of the matter. Other than that, the good Swami’s advice seems generally quite sane and potentially useful. I plan to incorporate some of it into my own practice.
The book develops, in narrative, a theoretical framework for the operation of clairvoyance and the astral senses. This is based in part on an intelligent layman’s view of cosmology in the year after Einstein’s first paper on General Relativity was published, and before the one extending Relativity to cosmology. It is also before any of the major papers on Quantum Mechanics, Goedel’s Theorem, Shannon’s work on Information Theory … so one can see that it would need some restating today, as would anything written in that era. Even so, the author seems to have had the idea of a space-time continuum down, at least in outline. It is interesting to compare this part of the book to Peter J. Carroll’s cosmology in The Apophrenion (and presumably in Octavo as well): the latter has an intellectual sophistication to which Atkinson can only pretend (but is still only provisional and may be flat wrong).
Despite all of these contextual obstacles, this book is full of interesting and valuable suggestions about what may be possible, and it thus deserves attention. After all, sometimes being told something is possible is all it takes (the good horse runs at the shadow of the whip).
Swami Panchadasi’s Clairvoyance and Occult Powers
A Lost Classic
William Walker Atkinson, Edited by Clint Marsh
6 x 9
April 1, 2011
[Pre-press review copy gratefully acknowledged, opinions my own, YMMV, etc.]