Psychic Self-Defense by Dion Fortune
IT is with a sense of the seriousness of the issues involved that I set myself to the task of writing a book on psychic attack and the best methods of defence against it. The undertaking is beset with pitfalls. It is hardly possible to give practical information on the methods of psychic defence without at the same time giving practical information on the methods of psychic attack. It is not without reason that initiates have always guarded their secret science behind closed doors. To disclose sufficient to be adequate without disclosing sufficient to be dangerous is my problem. But as so much has already been made known concerning the esoteric teachings, and as the circle of students of the occult is becoming rapidly wider every day, it may well be that the time has now come for plain speaking. The task is not of my seeking, but as it has come into my hands, I will do my best to discharge it honourably, making available the knowledge which has come to me in the course of many years’ experience of the strange by-ways of the mind which the mystic shares with the lunatic. This knowledge has not been attained without cost, nor, I suspect, will the divulging of it be altogether free from cost, either.
I have endeavoured to avoid, as far as possible, the use of second-hand material. We all know the person who has a friend whose friend saw the ghost with her own eyes. That is not of very much use to anybody. What we need is to have the eye-witness under cross-examination. For this reason I have not drawn upon the vast literature of the subject for illustrations of my thesis, but have preferred to rely upon cases that have come within the range of my own experience and which I have been able to examine.
I think I may fairly claim to have practical, and not merely theoretical, qualifications for the task. My attention was first turned to psychology, and subsequently to occultism as the real key to psychology, by the personal experience of a psychic attack which left me with shattered health for a considerable period. I know for myself the peculiar horror of such an experience, its insidiousness, its potency, and its disastrous effects on mind and body.
It is not easy to get people to come forward and bear witness to psychic attacks. Firstly, because they know there is very little likelihood of their being believed, and that they will be more likely to earn themselves a reputation for mental unbalance than for anything else. Secondly, because any tampering with the foundations of the personality is an experience of such peculiar and unique horror that the mind shrinks from the contemplation of it and one cannot talk about.
I am of the opinion that psychic attacks are far commoner than is generally realised, even by occultists themselves. Certainly the general public has no conception at all of the sort of things that are done by people who have a knowledge of the powers of the human mind and set to work to exploit them. I am convinced that this factor played a large part in the witch-cult, and was the real cause of the universal horror and detestation of the witch. These powers have always been known to students of occultism, but nowadays they are known and used by people who would be exceedingly surprised to find who are their fellow-practitioners. Mrs. Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, stumbled on to these methods empirically without ever acquiring any rational knowledge as to their modus operandi. She endeavoured to teach them in such a way that they could only be used for good and their power for evil should be concealed; but that she herself was well aware of their possibilities if abused is witnessed by the dread of what she called “Malicious Animal Magnetism,” which shadowed her whole life.
The methods of Christian Science, without its strict discipline and careful organisation, were developed and exploited by the innumerable schools and sects of the New Thought Movement. In many of the developments the religious aspect was lost sight of, and they simply became a method of mental manipulation for purely personal ends, though not necessarily deliberately evil. Their exponents advertised that they would teach the art of salesmanship, of making oneself popular and dominant in society, of attracting the opposite sex, of drawing to oneself money and success. The amazing number of these courses advertised shows their popularity; in a recent issue of an American magazine I counted advertisements for sixty-three different courses in various forms of mind-power. They would not be so popular if they achieved no results at all. Let us consider some of these advertisements and see what they indicate, reading between the lines and drawing our own conclusions.
“Transfer your thoughts to others. Send for free folder, Telepathy, or Mental Radio.”
“Troubled – health, love, money? Let me help you. No failures, instructions being followed. Strictly personal and professional. Careful as family physician. Five dollars must accompany enquiry. Money back if not satisfied.”
“What do you want? Whatever it is, we can help you to get it. Just give us the chance by writing for ‘Clouds Dispelled.’ Absolutely free. You will be delighted.”
“HYPNOTISM. Would you possess that strange mysterious power which charms and fascinates men and women, influences their thoughts, controls their desires and makes you supreme master of every situation? Life is full of alluring possibilities for those who master the secrets of hypnotic influence, for those who develop their magnetic powers. You can learn at home, cure diseases and bad habits without drugs, win the friendship and love of others, increase your income, gratify your ambitions, drive worry and trouble from your mind, improve your memory, overcome domestic difficulties, give the most thrilling entertainment ever witnessed and develop a wonderfully magnetic will power that will enable you to overcome all obstacles to your success.
“You can hypnotise people instantly – quick as a flash – put yourself or anyone else to sleep at any hour of the day or night, or banish pain and suffering. Our free book tells you the secrets of this wonderful science. It explains exactly how you can use this power to better your condition in life. It is enthusiastically endorsed by ministers of the gospel, lawyers, doctors, business men and society women. It benefits everybody. It costs nothing. We give it away to advertise our institution.”
These are a few specimens chosen from among the sixty- three similar advertisements counted in this single issue of a popular weekly magazine. They are given in extenso, in no way edited save by the omission of addresses.
Let us now consider what such advertisements as these signify from the point of view of the persons to whom they are not addressed, the persons over whom the reader is presumed to want to acquire power. What will be their position should he break the tenth commandment and covet his neighbour’s wife, or his ox, or his ass, or any of his other valuables? Supposing the diligent student of these methods wants something he ought not to have? Supposing he is on the shady side of the law? Or is nursing a sense of injury and desires to be revenged? Or merely loves power for its own sake? What is the fate of the cannon-fodder that supplies the student of mind-power with the material for his experiments? What does it feel like to be dominated by these methods, and what results may ultimately be obtained by a competent experimenter?
Let me give my own experience, painful though it is, for someone has got to be the first to come forward and uncover these abuses which are only able to flourish because of the general failure to realise their significance.
As a young girl of twenty I entered the employment of a woman who I now know must have had a considerable knowledge of occultism obtained during a long residence in India, and concerning which she used to drop hints that I could make nothing of at the time, but which, in the light of later knowledge, I have come to understand. It was her custom to control her staff by means of her knowledge of mind-power, and she had a steady succession of most peculiar breakdowns among the people working under her.
I had not been with her very long when she wanted me to give evidence in a lawsuit. She was a woman of violent temper, and had dismissed an employee without notice and without wages, and he was sueing her for the money due to him. She wanted me to say that his behaviour had been such that she was justified in thus dismissing him. Her method of collecting my evidence was to look into my eyes with a concentrated gaze and say, “Such and such things happened.” Fortunately for all concerned I had kept a diary and had a day-to-day record of the whole transaction. If it had not been for this I should not have known where I was. At the end of the interview I was dazed and exhausted, and lay down on my bed in my clothes and slept the sleep of utter exhaustion till next morning. I suppose I slept for about fifteen hours.
Soon after this she wanted my testimony again. She wished to get rid of my immediate superior, and wanted to find sufficient grounds to justify her in doing so. She repeated her previous maneuvers, but this time I had not got a diary record to fall back upon, and to my intense surprise I found myself agreeing with her in a series of entirely baseless charges against the character of a man I had no reason to believe to be otherwise than perfectly straight. The same exhaustion and the same dead sleep descended upon me immediately after this interview as aft& the preceding one, but an additional symptom now manifested itself. As I walked out of the room at the end of the interview I had a curious sensation as if my feet were not in the place I expected them to be. Anyone who has walked across a carpet that is bellying up with the under-floor draught will know what I mean. Occultists will recognise it as having to do with the extrusion of the etheric double.
The next incident to occur in this curious menage did not concern myself, but another girl, an orphan with considerable means. My employer kept this girl constantly with her, and finally persuaded her to put the whole of her capital into her schemes. However, trustees descended in wrath, forced my employer to disgorge, and took the girl away with them then and there, leaving all her belongings behind, to be packed up and sent on to her afterwards.
Another incident followed quick on the heels of this one. There was an elderly woman in the establishment who was slightly “minus” mentally. A dear old thing, but childlike and eccentric. My employer now turned her attention to her, and we watched the same process of domination beginning. In this case there were no trustees to interfere, and the poor old lady was being persuaded to take her affairs out of the hands of her brother, who had hitherto managed them, and commit them to the tender mercies of my employer. My suspicions had by now been thoroughly aroused. It was more than I could bear to see old” Auntie” rooked, so I took a hand in the game, woke “Auntie” up to the situation, pushed her belongings into a box, and got her off to her relatives while my employer was away for a brief absence.
I hoped my complicity in the affair would not become known, but I was soon disillusioned. My employer’s secretary came to my room one night, after “lights out,” and warned me that the Warden, as we called our employer, had found out who it was that had engineered “Auntie’s” escape, and I had better look out for trouble. Knowing her to be of an exceedingly revengeful nature, I knew that my best refuge was flight, but flight was not altogether easy to achieve. The institution in which I was employed was an educational one, and a term’s notice had to be given before leaving. I did not look forward to working out that term under the unchecked control of a spiteful woman. So I watched for an opportunity that should justify me in walking out. With my employer’s uncontrolled temper it was not long to seek. I was up late the following night packing, in preparation for my intended flight, when there came to my room another member of the staff, a girl who seldom spoke, had no friends, and went about her work like an automaton. I had never had any dealings with her, and was more than surprised at her visit.
It was soon explained, however.
“You are going to leave?” she said.
I admitted that it was so.
“Then go without seeing the Warden. You will not get away if you don’t. I have tried several times, and I cannot get away.”
However, I was young and confident in my untried strength, with no means of gauging the forces arrayed against me, and next morning, dressed for the journey and suitcase in hand, I went down and bearded my formidable employer in her den, determined to tell her what I thought of her and her methods, quite unsuspicious that anything save ordinary knavery and bullying was afoot.
I was not allowed to get started with my carefully prepared speech, however. As soon as she learnt that I was leaving, she said:
“Very well, if you want to go, go you shall. But before you go you have got to admit that you are incompetent and have no self-confidence.”
To which I replied, being still full of fight, that if I were incompetent, why did she not dismiss me herself, and anyway, I was the product of her own training-school. Which remark naturally did not improve matters.
Then commenced a most extraordinary litany. She resumed her old trick of fixing me with an intent gaze, and said:
“You are incompetent, and you know it. You have no self-confidence, and you have got to admit it.”
To which I replied, “That is not true. I know my work, and you know I know it.”
Now there was no doubt that much could be said concerning my competency in my first post at the age of twenty, with a great deal of responsibility on my shoulders, and newly inducted into a disorganised department; but nothing whatever could be said against my self- confidence, except that I had too much of it. I was quite prepared to rush in where archangels would have hung back in the collar.
My employer did not argue or abuse me. She kept on with these two statements repeated like the responses of a litany. I entered her room at ten o’clock, and I left it at two. She must have said these two phrases several hundreds of times. I entered it a strong and healthy girl. I left it a mental and physical wreck and was ill for three years.
Some instinct warned me that if I admitted I were incompetent and had no self-confidence my nerve would be broken, and I would never be good for anything afterwards, and I recognised that this peculiar maneuver on the part of my employer was an act of revenge. Why I did not pursue the obvious remedy of taking refuge in flight, I do not know, but by the time one realises that something abnormal is toward on these occasions, one is more or less glamoured, and just as the bird before the snake cannot use its wings, so one cannot move or turn away.
Gradually everything began to feel unreal. All I knew was that I had to hold on at all costs to the integrity of my soul. Once I agreed to her suggestions, I was done for. We went on with our litany.
But I was getting near the end of my resources. I had a curious sensation as if my field of vision were narrowing. This, I believe, is a characteristic phenomenon of hysteria. Out of the corners of my eyes I could see two walls of darkness creeping up behind me on either side, as if one stood with one’s back to the angle of a screen, and it were being slowly closed upon one. I knew that when those two walls of darkness met, I should be broken.
Then a curious thing happened. I distinctly heard an inner voice say: “Pretend you are beaten before you really are. Then she will let up the attack and you will be able to get away.” What this voice was, I have never known.
I immediately followed its advice. With my tongue in my cheek I asked my employer’s pardon for everything I had ever done or ever should do. I promised to remain on in my post and to go softly all the days of my life. I remember I went down on my knees to her, and she purred complacently over me, well satisfied with the morning’s work, as she had every reason to be.
Then she let me go, and I went up to my room and lay down on the bed. But I could not rest until I had written her a letter. What that letter contained, I do not know. As soon as I had written it and put it where she would get it, I fell into a sort of stupor, and lay in this state with my mind completely in abeyance till the following evening. That is to say, from two o’clock one afternoon till about eight o’clock of the following day, thirty hours. It was a cold spring day with snow on the ground. A window close to the head of the bed was wide open and the room unheated. I had no covering over me, but I felt neither cold nor hunger, and all the processes of the body were in abeyance. I never stirred. Heartbeat and respiration were very slow, and continued so for several days.
I was found eventually by the housekeeper, who revived me by the simple application of a good shaking and a cold sponge. I was dazed, and disinclined to move or even to eat. I was left to lie in bed, my work taking care of itself, the housekeeper coming to look at me from time to time, but making no comment on my condition. My employer never showed herself.
After about three days my especial friend, who thought I had left the house, learnt of my continued presence, and came along to see me; an act requiring some courage, for our mutual employer was a formidable antagonist. She asked me what had happened at my interview with the Warden, but I could not tell her. My mind was a blank and all memory of that interview had gone as if a sponge had been passed over a slate. All I knew was that out of the depths of my mind a most terrible state of fear was rising up and obsessing me. Not fear of any thing or person. Just plain fear without an object, but none the less terrible for that. I lay in bed with all the physical symptoms of intense fear. Dry mouth, sweating palms, thumping heart and shallow, hasty breathing. My heart was beating so hard that at each beat a loose brass knob on the bedstead rattled. Fortunately for me, my friend saw that something was seriously wrong and she sent for my family, who fetched me away. They were exceedingly suspicious. The Warden was exceedingly uncomfortable, but no one could prove anything, so nothing was said. My mind was a blank. I was thoroughly cowed and very exhausted, and my one desire was to get away.
I did not recover, however, as had been expected. The intensity of the symptoms wore off, but I continued to be exceedingly easily tired, as if I had been drained of all vitality. I knew that, somewhere at the back of my mind, was hidden the memory of a terrible experience, and I dared not think of it, because if I did, the shock and strain would be so severe that my mind would give way altogether. My chief consolation was an old school arithmetic book, and I used to spend hour upon hour doing simple sums to keep my mind from racing itself to pieces in wondering what had been done to me and sidling up towards the memory, and then shying away from it like a frightened horse. Finally I gained some measure of peace by coming to the conclusion that I had simply had a breakdown from overwork, and that the whole queer transaction was the fruit of my imagination. And yet there was a lingering feeling that it was real and this feeling would not let me rest.
About a year after the incident, my health still being very poor, I went away to the country to recuperate, and there came across a friend who had been on the spot at the time of my breakdown. It had apparently caused a good deal of talk, and I found here one who was not inclined to explain away my experience, but asked pertinent questions. Another new friend became interested in my case and haled me off to the family doctor, who bluntly gave it as his opinion that I had been hypnotised. It was before the days of psycho therapy, and his ministrations to a mind diseased were limited to patting me on the back and giving me a tonic and bromide. The tonic was useful, but the bromide was not, as it lowered my powers of resistance, and I speedily discarded it, preferring to put up with my discomfort rather than to render myself defenceless. For all the time I was obsessed by the fear that this strange force, which had been applied to me so effectually, would be applied again. But although I feared this mysterious power, which I now realised was abroad in the world, I cannot tell what a relief it was to me to find that the whole transaction was not an hallucination, but an actual fact that one could rise up and cope with.
I obtained my release from the bondage of this fear by facing the whole situation and determining to find out exactly what had been done to me and how I could protect myself against a repetition of the experience. It was an exceedingly unpleasant process, in fact the reaction caused by recovering the lost memories was only a little less violent than the original one; but I finally succeeded in freeing myself from my hag-ridden condition of fear, although it was a very long time before my physical health became normal. My body was like an electric battery that has been completely discharged. It took a long time to charge up again, and every time it was used before the charging was completed, it ran down again rapidly. For a long time I had no reserves of energy, and after the least exertion would fall into a dead sleep at any hour of the day. In the language of occultism, the etheric double had been damaged, and leaked prana. It did not become normal until I took initiation into the occult order in which I subsequently trained. Within an hour of the ceremony I felt a change, and it is only upon the rarest occasions since then, after some psychic injury, that I have had a temporary return of those depleting attacks of exhaustion.
I have told this story in detail because it is a useful illustration of the manner in which the little-known powers of the mind can be abused by an unscrupulous person. First-hand experience is of far more value than any amount of illustration from the pages of history, however well authenticated.
If such a transaction had taken place during the Middle Ages, the parish priest would have organised a witch-hunt. In the light of my own experiences I am not at all surprised that people who had acquired a reputation for the practice of witchcraft were lynched, the methods are so terrible and so intangible. We may think the records of the witch-trials are ridiculous, with their tales of wax images melting in front of slow fires, or the crucifying of christened toads, or the reciting of little jingles, such as “Horse, hattock, To ride, to ride.” But if we understand the use of mind-power we soon realise that these things were simply aids to concentration. There is no essential difference between sticking pins into a wax image of an enemy and burning candles in front of a wax image of the Virgin. You may think that both these practices are gross superstition, but you can hardly think that one is real and potent and deny reality and potency to the other. “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal may as truly be said of the practitioners of Black Magic as of the Church.
My own case belongs more to the realm of psychology than to occultism, the method employed being an application of hypnotic power to improper ends; I have given it, however, because I am convinced that hypnotic methods are very largely used in Black Magic, and that telepathic suggestion is the key to a large proportion of its phenomena. I cite my own case, painful as it is to me to do so, because an ounce of experience is worth a pound of theory. It was this experience which led me to take up the study of analytical psychology, and subsequently of occultism.
As soon as I touched the deeper aspects of practical psychology and watched the dissection of the mind under psycho-analysis, I realised that there was very much more in the mind than was accounted for by the accepted psycho logical theories. I saw that we stood in the centre of a small circle of light thrown by accurate scientific knowledge, but around us was a vast, circumambient sphere of darkness, and in that darkness dim shapes were moving. It was in order to understand the hidden aspects of the mind that I originally took up the study of occultism.
I have had my full share of the adventures of the Path; have known men and women who could indubitably be ranked as adepts; seen phenomena such as no seance room has ever known, and borne my share in it; taken part in psychic feuds, and stood my watch on the roster of the occult police force which, under the Masters of the Great White Lodge, keeps guard over the nations, each according to its race; kept the occult vigil when one dare not sleep while the sun is below the horizon; and hung on desperately, matching my staying-power against the attack until the moon-tides changed and the force of the onslaught blew itself out.
And through all these experiences I was learning to interpret occultism in the light of psychology and psychology in the light of occultism, the one counterchecking and explaining the other.
Because of my specialised knowledge people came to me when an occult attack was suspected, and their experience reinforces and supplements my own. Moreover, there is a considerable literature on the subject to be found in quarters where one would least expect it – in accounts of folk-lore and ethnology, in the State Records of witch-trials, and even under the guise of fiction. These independent records, by people in no way interested in psychic phenomena, confirm the statements made by those who have experienced occult attacks.
On the other hand, we have to distinguish very carefully between psychic experience and subjective hallucination; we have to be sure that the person who complains of a psychic assault is not hearing the reverberation of his own dissociated complexes. The differential diagnosis between hysteria, insanity and psychic attack is an exceedingly delicate and difficult operation, for so frequently a case is not clear-cut, more than one element being present; a severe psychic attack causing a mental breakdown, and a mental breakdown laying its victim open to invasion from the Unseen. All these factors have to be borne in mind when investigating an alleged occult attack, and it shall be my task in these pages not only to indicate the methods of occult defence, but also to show the methods of differential diagnosis.
It is very necessary, with so much occult knowledge about, that people should know an occult attack when they see it. These things are much more common than is generally realised. The recent tragedy in Iona gives point to this assertion. No occultist is under any illusion as to that death being from natural causes. In my own experience I have known of similar deaths.
In my novel, The Secrets of Dr. Taverner, there were presented, under the guise of fiction, a number of cases illustrative of the hypotheses of occult science. Some of these stories were built up to show the operation of the invisible forces; others were drawn from actual cases; and some of these were written down rather than written up in order to render them readable by the general public.
So much first-hand experience, confirmed by independent evidence, should not go unregarded, especially since rational explanations are difficult to find save in terms of the occult hypotheses. It may be possible to explain away each individual case mentioned in these pages by alleging hallucination, fraud, hysteria, or plain lying, but it is not possible to explain the sum-total of them in this way. There cannot be so much smoke without some fire. It is not possible that the prestige of the magician in antiquity and the dread of the witch in the Middle Ages could have arisen without some basis in experience. The vapourings of the wise woman would be no more heeded than those of the village idiot if no painful consequences had ever been found to follow upon them. Fear was the motive of these persecutions, and fear founded upon bitter experience; for it was not officialdom which incited the witch-burnings, but whole country-sides that rose up for a lynching. The universal horror of the witch must have some cause behind it.
The labyrinthine windings of the Left-hand Path are as extensive as they are devious; but while exposing them in something, at any rate, of their horror, I still maintain that the Right-hand Path of initiation and occult knowledge is a way to the loftiest mystical experiences and a means of lifting the burden of human suffering. Not every student of this knowledge necessarily abuses it; there are many, nay, the great majority, who hold it selflessly in trust for mankind, using it to heal and bless and redeem that which is lost. It may well be asked, If this knowledge can be so disastrously abused, why should its veil ever be lifted? What answer is made to this question is a matter of temperament. Some will maintain that knowledge of whatever kind cannot be without its value. Other may say we had better let sleeping dogs lie. The trouble is, however, that sleeping dogs have an unfortunate knack of waking up spontaneously. So much occult knowledge is abroad in the world, so much of the kind of things described in these pages is going on unknown and unsuspected in our midst, that it is very desirable that men of goodwill should investigate the forces which men of evil will have perverted to their own ends. These things are the pathologies of the mystic life, and if they were better understood, many tragedies might be averted.
On the other hand, it is not well that everybody should indulge in the study of textbooks of pathology. A vivid imagination and a weak head are a disastrous combination. The readers of that one-time “best seller,” Three Men in a Boat, may remember the fate of the individual who spent a wet Sunday afternoon reading a medical textbook. At the finish he was firmly convinced he had got every single disease described therein with the single exception of house maid’s knee.
This book is not intended merely to make the flesh creep, but is designed as a serious contribution to a little-understood aspect of abnormal psychology, perverted, in some instances, to the purposes of crime. It is a book intended for serious students and for those who find themselves confronted by the problems it describes, and who are trying to understand them and find a way out. My chief aim in speaking so frankly is to open the eyes of men and women to the nature of the forces that are at work below the surface of everyday life. It may happen to any one of us to break through the thin crust of normality and find ourselves face to face with these forces. Reading of the cases cited in this book, we may well say that there, but for the grace of God, goes any one of us. If I can give in these pages the knowledge which protects, I shall have fulfilled my purpose.
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