Julius LeVallon, by Algernon Blackwood

Chapter xxv

“Let us consider wisdom first.

“Can we be wiser by reason of something which we have forgotten? Unquestionably we can. . . . A man who dies after acquiring knowledge — and all men acquire some — might enter his new life, deprived indeed of his knowledge, but not deprived of the increased strength and delicacy of mind which he had gained in acquiring the knowledge. And if so, he will he wiser in the second life because of what has happened in the first.

“Of course he loses something in losing the actual knowledge. . . . But . . . is not even this loss really a gain? For the mere accumulation of knowledge, if memory never ceased, would soon become overwhelming, and worse than useless. What better fate would we wish for than to leave such accumulations behind us, preserving their greatest value in the mental faculties which have been strengthened by their acquisition.” — J. M’Taggart

As I sit here in the little library of my Streatham house, trying to record faithfully events of so many years ago, I find myself at a point now where the difficulty well-nigh overwhelms me. For what happened in that valley rises before me now as though it had been some strange and prolonged enchantment; it comes back to me almost in the terms of dream or vision.

If it be possible for a man to enjoy two states of consciousness simultaneously, then that possibility was mine. I know not. I can merely state that at the time my normal consciousness seemed replaced by another mode, another order, that usurped it, and that this usurping consciousness was incalculably older than anything known to men today; further, also, that the three of us had revived it from some immemorial preexistence. It was memory.

Thus it seemed to me at the time; thus, therefore, I must record it. And so completely was the change effected in me that belief came with it. In no one of us, indeed, lay the slightest hint of doubt. What happened must otherwise have been the tawdriest superstition, whereas actually there was solemnity in it, even grandeur. The performance our sacramental attitude of mind made holy, was true with the reality of an older time when Nature — Worship was effective in some spiritual sense far beyond what we term animism in our retrospective summary of the past. We did, each one of us, and in more or less degree, share the life of Nature by the inner process of feeling-with that life. Her natural forces augmented us indubitably — there was intelligent cooperation.

Today, of course, the forces in humanity drive in quite another direction; Nature is inanimate and Pan is dead; another attitude obtains — thinking, not feeling, is our ideal; men’s souls are scattered beyond the hope of unity and the sword of formal creeds sharply separates them’ everywhere. We regard ourselves proudly as separate from Nature. Yet, even now, as I struggle to complete this record in the suburban refuge my old age has provided for me, I seem aware of changes stealing over the face of the world once more. Like another vast dream beginning, I feel, perhaps, that man’s consciousness is slowly spreading outwards once again; it is reentering Nature, too, in various movements; the wireless note is marvellously sounding; on all sides singular phenomena that seem new suggest that there is no limit — to extension of consciousness — to interior human activity. Some voice from the long ago is divinely trumpeting across our little globe.

This, possibly, is an old man’s dream. Yet it helps me vaguely to understand how, in that enchanted valley, the three of us may actually have realised another, older point of view which amounted even to a different type of consciousness. The slight analogy presents itself; I venture to record it. Only on some such supposition could I, a normal, commonplace product of the day, have consented to remain in the valley without repugnance and distress, much less to have participated willingly as I did in all that happened. For I was almost wholeheartedly in and of it. My moments of criticism emerged, but passed. I saw existence from some cosmic point of view that presented a human life as an insignificant moment in an eternal journey that was related both to the armies of the stars and to the blades of grass along the small, cool rivulet. At the same time this vast perspective lifted each tiny detail into a whole that inspired these details with sacramental value whose meaning affected everything. To live with the universe made life the performance of a majestic ceremony; to live against it was to creep aside into a cul de sac. And so this small item of balance we three, as a group, desired to restore was both an insignificant and a mighty act of worship.

Yet, whereas to myself the happenings were so intense as to seem terrific even, to one who had not felt them — as I did — they must seem hardly events or happenings at all. I say “felt,” because my perception of what occurred was “feeling” more than anything else. I enjoyed this other mode of existence known to the human spirit in an earlier day, and brought, apparently, to earth from our experience upon another planet.

The happenings, to me, seemed momentous — yet they consisted largely of interior changes. They were inner facts. And such inner facts “Today” regards as less real than outer events, dismissing them as subjective. The collapse of a roof is real, the perception of an eternal verity is a mood! And if my attempt to describe halts between what is alternately bald and overstrained, it is because modern words can only stammer in dealing with experiences that have so entirely left the racial memory.

For myself the test of their actuality lies in the death that resulted — an indubitable fact at any rate! — and in the birth that followed it a little later — another unquestionable “fact.”

I may advantageously summarise the essential gist of the entire matter. I would do so for this reason: that physical memory grows dim on looking back so many years and that the events in the chalet grow more and more elusive, so that I find a sharp general outline helpful to guide me in this subsequent record. Further, the portion I am now about to describe depends wholly upon a yet older memory, the memory — as it seemed to me — of thousands of years ago. This more ancient memory came partially to me only. I saw much I could not understand or realise, and so can merely report baldly. There was fluctuation. Perhaps, after all, my earlier consciousness was never restored with sufficient completeness to reconstitute the entire comprehension that had belonged to it when it was my natural means of perceiving, knowing, being. Words, therefore, obviously fail.

Let me say then, as Julius himself might have said, that in some far-off earlier existence the three of us had offended a cosmic law, and that for the inevitable readjustment of this error, its expiation, the three of us must first of all find ourselves reincarnated once again together. This, after numerous intervening centuries, had come to pass.

The nature of the offence seemed crudely this: that, in the days when elemental Nature–Powers were accessible to men, we used two of these — those operating behind wind and fire — for selfish instead of for racial purposes. Apparently they had been evoked by means of a human body which furnished their channel of approach. It was available because untenanted, as already described. I state merely the belief and practice of an earlier day. Special guardians protected the vacated bodies from undesirable invasion, and while Julius and the woman performed this duty, they had been tempted to unlawful use for purposes of their own. The particular body was my own: I was the channel of evocation. That I had, however, been persuaded to permit such usage was as certain as that it was the love between the woman and myself that was the reason of such permission. How and why I cannot state, because, simply, I could not — remember. But that the failure of their experiment resulted in my sudden recall into the body, and the loss, therefore, of teaching and knowledge I should have otherwise enjoyed — this had delayed my soul’s advance and explained also why, Today, memory failed in me and my soul had lagged behind in its advance. Somewhat in this way LeVallon stated it.

Where this ancient experiment took place, in what country and age, I cannot pretend to affirm. The knowledge-made use of, however, seems to have been, in its turn, a yet earlier memory still, and of an existence upon a planet nearer to the sun, since Fire and Wind were there recognised as a means by which deific Powers became accessible — through worship. That the human spirit was then clothed in bodies of lighter mould, and that Wind and Fire were viewed as manifestations of deity, turns my imagination, if not my definite memory, to a planet like Mercury, where gigantic Heat and therefore mighty Winds would be imposing vehicles of conveying energy from their source — the Sun.

For the expiation of the error, a reenactment of the actual scene of its committal was necessary. It must be acted out to be effective — a ceremony. The channel, again, of a human system was essential as before. The struggles that eventually ensued, complicated by the stress of personal emotion — the individual attempts each participator made to become the channel and so the possible sacrifice — this caused, apparently, the awful failure. Emotion destroyed the unity of the group. For Julius was unable to direct the Powers evoked. They were compelled to seek a channel elsewhere, and they automatically availed themselves of that which offered the least resistance. The birth that subsequently followed, accordingly, was a human body informed literally by these two elemental Powers; and it is in the hope that of those who chance to read these notes, someone may perhaps be aware of the existence in the world of this unique being — it is in this hope primarily, I say, that the record I have attempted is made, that it may survive my death which cannot now be very long delayed.

One word more, however, I am compelled to add:

I am aware that my so easy surrender to the spell of LeVallon’s personality and ideas must seem difficult to justify. Even those of my intimates, who may read this record after I am gone, may feel that my capitulation was due to what men now term hypnotic influence; whereas, that some part of me accepted with joy and welcome is the actual truth — it was some lesser part that objected and disapproved.

To myself, as to those few who may find these notes, I owe this somewhat tardy confession of personal bias. That I have concealed it in this Record hitherto seems because my “educated” self must ever struggle to deny it.

For there have always been two men in me — more than in the usual sense of good and evil. One, up to date and commonplace, enjoys the game of nineteenth century life, interests itself in motors, telephones, and mechanical progress generally, finds Socialism intriguing and even politics absorbing; while the other, holding all that activity of which such things are symbols, in curious contempt, belongs to the gods alone know what. It remains essentially inscrutable, incalculable, its face masked by an indecipherable smile. It worships the sun, believes in Magic, accepts the influences of the stars, and acknowledges with sweet reverence extended hierarchies of Beings, both lower and higher than the stage at which humanity now finds itself.

In youth, of course, this other self was stronger than in later years; yet, though submerged, it has never been destroyed. It seemed an older aspect of my divided being that declined to die. For periods of varying duration, the modern part would deny it as the superstition of primitive animistic ignorance; but, biding its time, it would rise to the surface and take the reins again. The modern supremacy passed, the older attitude held authoritative sway. The Universe then belonged to it, alive in every detail; there was communion with trees and winds and streams; the thrill of night became articulate; it was concerned with distant stars; the sun changed the earth once more into a vast temple-floor. I was not apart from any item, large or small, on earth or in the heavens, while myth and legend, poetry and folk-lore were but the broken remnants of a once extended faith, a mighty worship that was both of God and knew the gods.

At such times the drift of modern life seemed in another — a minor — direction altogether. The two selves in me could not mingle, could not even compromise. The recent one seemed trivial, but the older one pure gold. It dwelt, this latter, in loneliness, sweetly-prized, perhaps, but isolated from all minds of today worth knowing, because its mode of being was not theirs. A loneliness, however, not intolerable, since it was aware of lifting joy, of power no mere contrivance could conceive, and of a majestic beauty nothing of today could even simulate. . . . Societies, moreover, called secret, fraternities labelled magical and hierophantic, were all too trumpery to feed its ancient longings, too charlatan to offer it companionship, too compromising to obtain results. Among modern conditions I found no mode of life that answered to its imperious call in me. It seemed an echo and a memory.

As I grew older, both science and religion told me it must be denied. Respectful of the former, I sought some reasonable basis for these strange burning beliefs that flamed up with this older self — in vain. Unjustifiable, according to all knowledge at my disposal, they remained. History went back step by step to that darkness whence ignorance emerged; evolution traced a gradual rise from animal conditions; to no dim, former state of exalted civilisation, either remembered or imagined, could this deeper part of me track its home and origin. Yet that home, that origin, I felt, existed, and were accessible. I could no more resign their actuality than I could cease to love, to hate, to live. The mere thought of them woke emotions independent of my will, contemptuous of my intellect — emotions that were of indubitable reality. They remained convictions.

Had I, then, known some state antedating history altogether, some unfabled land of which storied Atlantis, itself a fragment, lingered as a remnant of some immenser life? Had I experienced a mode of being less cabined than the one I now experienced in a body of blood and flesh — another order of consciousness, yet identity retained — upon another star? . . . The centuries geology counts backwards were but moments, the life of a planet only a little instant in the universal calendar. Was there, a million years ago, a civilisation of another kind, too ethereal to leave its signatures in sand and rocks, yet in its natural simplicity nearer, perhaps, to deity? Was here the origin of my unrewarded yearnings? Could reincarnation, casting back across the aeons to lovelier or braver planets, give the clue? And did this older self trail literally clouds of glory from a golden age of light and heat and splendour that lay nearer to the shining centre of our corner of the heavens . . .?

At intervals I flung my queries like leaves upon the wind; and the leaves came back to me upon the wind. I found no answer. Speculation became gradually less insistent, though the yearnings never died. Deeper than doubt or question, they seemed ingrained — that my preexistence has been endless, that I continue always. . . . And it was this strange, buried self in me, already beginning to fade a little when I went to Motfield Close to train my modern mind in modem knowledge — it was this curious older self that Julius LeVallon vitalised anew. Back came the flood of mighty questions:— Whence have we come? From what dim corner of the unmeasured cosmos are we derived, descended, making our little way on to the earth? Where have these hints of an immenser life their sweet, terrific origin, and — why this unbridged hiatus in our memory . . .?

The subsequent events lie somewhat confused in me until the night that heralded the Equinox. Whether two days or three intervened between the night-scene of Mrs. LeVallon’s Older Self already described, and the actual climax, I cannot remember clearly. The sequence of hours went so queerly sliding; incidents of external kind were so few that the interval remained unmarked; little happened in the sense of outward happenings on which the mind can fasten by way of measurement. We lived, it seems, so close to Nature that those time-divisions we call hours and days flowed with us in a smooth undifferentiated stream. I think we were too much in Nature to observe the size or length of any particular parcels. We just flowed forward with the tide itself. Yet to explain this, now that for years I am grown normal and ordinary again, is hardly possible. I only remember that larger scale; I can no longer realise it.

I recall, however, the night of that conversation when Julius left me to my hurricane of thoughts and feelings, and think I am right in saying it immediately preceded the September day that ushered in the particular “attitude” of our earth towards the rest of the Universe we call the Autumnal Equinox.

Sleep and resistance were equally impossible; I swam with an enormous current upon a rising tide. And this tide bore stars and worlds within its irresistible momentum. It bore also little flowers; moisture felt, before it is seen, as dew or rain; heat that is latent before the actual flame is visible; and air that lies everywhere until the rush of wind insists on recognition. I was aware of a prophecy that included almost menace. An uneasy sense that preparations of immense, portentous character were incessantly in progress, not in the house and in ourselves alone, but in the entire sweep of forest, vale and mountain, pressed upon me from all sides. Nature conspired, I felt, through her most usual channels to drive into a corner where she would drip over, so to speak, into amazing manifestation. And that corner, waiting and inviting, was ourselves. . . .

Towards morning I fell asleep, and when I woke a cloudless day lay clear and fresh upon the world, the meadows shone with dew, cobwebs shimmered past my open window, and a keen breeze from the heights stung my nostrils with the scent from miles of forest. A sparkling vitality poured almost visibly with the air and sunshine into my human blood. I bathed and dressed. Frost had laid silvery fingers upon the valley during the night, and the shadows beneath the woods still shone in white irregular patches of a pristine loveliness. The feeling that Nature brimmed over was even stronger than before, and I went downstairs half conscious that the “corner” we prepared would show itself somehow fuller, different. The little arena waiting for it — that arena occupied by our human selves — would proclaim the risen tide. I almost expected to find Julius and his wife expressing in their physical persons the advent of this power, their very bodies, gestures, voices increased and grown upon a larger scale. And when I met them at the breakfast table, two normal, ordinary persons, merely full of the exhilarating autumn morning, I knew a moment of surprise that at the same time included relief, though possibly, too, a touch of disappointment. They were both so simple and so natural.

It brought me up short, as though before a promised hope not justified, a balked anticipation. But the next moment my mistake was clear. The sense of something dwindled gave place to its very opposite — a fuller realisation. The three of us were so intimate — I might say so divinely intimate — that my failure to see them “grander” arose from my attempt to see them “separate” — from myself. For actually we floated, all three, upon the risen tide together. It was the “mind” in me that sounded the old false note. Having increased like themselves, I was of equal stature with them; to see them “different” was impossible.

And this amazing quality was characteristic of all that followed. Ever since my arrival I had been slowly rising with the tide that brimmed the valley now to the very lips of the surrounding mountains. It brimmed our hearts as well. My companions were quiet because they, like myself, were part of it. There was no sense of disproportion or exaggeration, much less of dislocation; we shared Nature’s powers without effort, without struggle, as naturally as sunshine, wind or rain. We stood within; the day contained all three. The Ceremony, which was living-with Nature, tuned to the universal life, had been in progress from the instant Julius had welcomed me a week ago. Our attitude and the earth’s were one. The Equinox was in us too.

In that moment when we met at breakfast, the flash of clearer sight left all this beyond dispute. Memory shot back in a lightning glance over recent sensations and events. I realised my gradual growth into the larger scale, I grasped the significance of the various moods and tenses my changing consciousness had known as in a kind of initiation. Premonitions of another mode of mind had stolen upon me out of ordinary things. The habitual had revealed its marvellous hidden beauty. There had been transmutation. The ensouling life behind broke loose everywhere, even through the elements themselves: but particularly through the two of them that are so closely levelled to the little division we call human life: air-things and fire-things had become alert and eager. There was commotion in the palaces of Wind and Fire.

And so the bigger truth explained itself to me. What happened later seems only incredible on looking back at it from my present dwindled consciousness. At the time it was natural and quiet. A tourist, passing through our lonely valley, need not have been aware either of tumult or of wonder. He would have been too remote from us, too centred in the consciousness of Today that accepts only what is expected, or explicable — too different, in a word, to have noticed anything beyond the presence of three strangely quiet people in a lonely chalet of the mountains.

But for us, the gamut of experience had stretched; there was in our altered state both a microscope and telescope; but a casual intruder, unprovided with either, must have gone his way, I think, unaware, unstimulated, and uninformed.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31