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vol. 3, p. 139
from Adyar archives of the International Theosophical Society
vol. 3 (1875-1878)


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< Voluntary Trances (continued from page 3-138) >

bring on a condition approximating so nearly to death, as to render it difficult to tell whether dissolution has not really taken place. The case of Colonel Townsend is perhaps one of the most remarkable that we have on record, as taking place in this country, at all events. This man possessed the power of stopping completely the action of the heart, and thus simulating death, a power which one gentleman with whom I am personally acquainted says he possesses, but which it is only fair to say I have never seen him exercise. Colonel Townsend’s case is recorded as follows by the late Dr. Cheyne, of Dublin, and when we take into consideration the deservedly high estimation in which Dr. Cheyne was held as a practical physician, possessed of high talents and scientific attainments, and the high character he bore as a Christian man and a gentleman, it is impossible to have had the Colonel’s interesting and uncommon case attested and recorded more satisfactorily. Dr. Cheyne narrates the case as follows:—“He could die or expire when he pleased, and yet by an effort or somehow he could come to life again. He insisted so much upon us seeing the trial made, that we were at last forced to comply. We all three felt his pulse first, it was distinct, though small and thready, and his heart had its usual beating. He composed himself on his back, and lay in a still posture for some time; while I held his right hand, Dr. Baynard laid his hand on his heart, and Mr. Skreine held a clean looking-glass to his mouth. I found his pulse sink gradually, till at last I could not feel any by the most exact and nice touch. Dr. Baynard could not feel the least motion in the heart, nor Mr. Skreine perceive the least soil of breath on the bright mirror he held to his mouth. Then each of us by turns examined his arm, heart, and breath, but could not by the nicest scrutiny discover the least symptom of life in him. We reasoned a long time about this odd appearance, as well as we could, and finding he still continued in that condition, we began to conclude that he had indeed carried the experiment too far, and at last we were satisfied that he was actually dead and were just ready to leave him. This continued about half an hour. By nine in the morning in autumn, as we were going away, we observed some motion about the body, and upon examination found his pulse, and the motion of his heart gradually returning. He began to breathe heavily and speak softly. We were all astonished to the last degree at this unexpected change, and after some further conversation with him and among ourselves went away fully satisfied as to all the particulars of this fact, but confounded and puzzled and not able to form any rational scheme that might account for it.”


The most remarkable cases on record of this character and those of the fakirs of India, who seem to possess the power of simulating death so perfectly that they actually consent to be buried and to remain entombed for a considerable period. The tales told of these men are so extraordinary, that they would seem perfectly fabulous did we not know from strong and conclusive evidence that they are based upon fact. The late Mr. Braid, of Manchester, took a great deal of trouble in investigating the cases, and published a little volume containing conclusive evidence of their truth. I should have been glad to have made some lengthy extracts from this little book, had my time permitted; but I intend hereafter to reprint the entire volume, probably in the Spiritual Magazine. The following case occurred under the eye of Lieutenant A. Boilleau, a British officer, and is recorded in his Narrative of a Journey in Rajwarra, in 1835, and is that referred to above by Sir C. E. Trevelyan. “Just before our arrival at Jesulmer, the Rawul had adopted a most singular expedient to obtain an heir to his throne, and the circumstances of the case are altogether so extra- ordinary that we should hardly have given them credence, had they not occurred so immediately under our notice. We were told soon after our coming that a man had been buried alive of his own free will, at the back of the tank close to our tents, and that he was to remain under ground for a whole month before the process of exhumation should take place. The prescribed period elapsed on the 1st of April, 1835, and in the forenoon of that day he was dug out alive, in the presence of Goshur Lal, one of the ministers who had also superintended his interment. The place in which he was buried is a small building of stone, about twelve feet long and eight feet broad, built on the west edge of the large tank called Gurressie, so often mentioned. In the floor of the house was a hole about three feet long, two and a half broad, and the same depth, or perhaps a yard deep, in which he was placed in a sitting posture, sewed up in a linen shroud, with his knees doubled up towards the chin, his feet turned inward towards the stomach, and his hands also pointed inward towards the chest. The cell or grave was lined with masonry, and floored with many folds of woollen and other cloth, that the white ant and such insects should be the less able to molest him. Two heavy slabs of stone, five or six feet long, several inches thick, and broad enough to cover the mouth of the grave, were then placed over him, so that he could not escape; and I believe a little earth was plastered over the hole so as to make the surface of the ground smooth and compact. The door of the house was also built up, and people placed outside to mount guard during the whole month, so that no tricks might be played or deception practised… Lieutenant Trevelyan and I set off together to see what might remain to be seen. The outer wall of the house door had been broken up, the covering of the grave removed, and the covering lifted out in the presence of Goshur Lal. The moonshee arrived in time to see the opening of the shroud as above mentioned, and stated that he was taken out in a perfectly senseless state, with his eyes closed, his hands cramped and powerless, his stomach very much shrunken, and his teeth joined so fast together that the bystanders were obliged to force open his mouth with an iron instrument in order to pour a little water down his throat. Under this treatment he gradually recovered his senses, and was restored to the use of his limbs… He conversed with us in a low gentle tone of voice, as if his animal functions were still in a very feeble state; but so far from appearing distressed in mind by the long interment from which <... continues on page 3-140 >