India's Wonder-Workers

Interview with W. Q. Judge

"The term fakir is not properly applied when used to designate the Brahman wonder-worker," remarked William Q. Judge, the great theosophist who is now in Stockton, to a Mail reporter today.

Mr. Judge was seated in an easy chair in the library of Mrs. Kelsey's residence, where he is a guest, and was whiffing a cigarette as he spoke. His object in visiting this city is to deliver public lectures explanatory of Theosophy, as he is the head of the American Theosophical Society. In an introductory conversation with the reporter, Mr. Judge, when asked to describe the wonders he had seen performed in India, said he cared nothing for the so-called miracles of the Brahmans, and intimated that in his opinion the public ought to devote its attention to the underlying principles of Theosophy rather than to the wonders which the Brahmans can work.

"But," said the reporter, "the public does not take kindly to didactic discourses. People generally are more interested in the marvelous side of Theosophy, and even the local theosophists themselves would probably be more interested in a description of the fakirs' feats, and your explanation of them, than any explanation of the religion of India."

"The fakirs," said Mr. Judge, "are really Mohammedans. The Brahmanistic class of wonder-workers are the yogis. Both the yogi and the Mohammedan fakir perform their feats in India.

"The wonder-workers are divided into two great classes. The one class consists of common jugglers, who rely simply on sleight of hand. The other class is gifted with powers not popularly understood. Some of the feats performed by the latter class are imitated by the former, and hence you will sometimes find the same trick performed in different ways.

"An instance of this is the basket trick, which is accomplished by two different methods, the one through jugglery and the other through a power that would be called superhuman by the majority of people. I had the good fortune to discover by an accidental circumstance the method in which the jugglers perform the feat. A woman was placed in a basket, and the cover of the basket was put on. The juggler then ran a sword through the basket in every direction. When the cover was removed the woman was found to be unhurt. The explanation was very simple. I happened to be sitting in such a position that the sunlight, reflected from the floor through the basket, enabled me to see the woman within it. She was moving about constantly. The sword would go under her arm at one thrust, then under her chin, and then she would rise in the basket and the sword would pass under her body -- and so on. Her movements were preconcerted. There was a systematic arrangement, and by practice between the two she knew just how to move in order to avoid the sword thrust.

"There is, however, what might be called a legitimate way of performing the basket trick -- that is to say, a method in which the element of trickery does not enter. That is where the yogi thrusts his sword in and draws it out covered with blood. You can hear the woman's screams. When the cover is removed from the basket nobody is within."

"How do you account for that feat?" was asked.

"On the theory of hypnotism. The yogi by reason of his metaphysical power makes you think you see what you do not."

Mr. Judge then went on to describe other wonders which in his opinion were, like the basket trick first described, accomplished by means of trickery. On one occasion a fakir placed a stone in a bag, Mr. Judge standing by and seeing the stone dropped into it. In a few moments the fakir opened his mouth, wide-open, and indicated that the stone was about to come out of his mouth. Mr. Judge looked down the fellow's throat and saw the stone come up, covered with slime. Two tenpenny nails followed it up. When the bag was opened the stone was gone from within it. In Mr. Judge's opinion the stone was got rid of by sleight-of-hand when being apparently put into the bag. The stone which came from the fakir's mouth was a duplicate which was in his stomach when he began the trick. The fakirs and the yogi both perform their feats practically naked. In sleight-of-hand tricks they far excel the European juggler, who is assisted by his clothing, his pockets and his mechanical appliances.

Another feat performed by trickery is this: Four or five powders of different colors are mixed together and swallowed by the juggler, who then spits them out on a sheet of paper, and each powder is spat out separately, according to its color.

The feats into which no element of fraud enters are accomplished by the intervention of natural laws. One is this: The yogi places half a dozen coins of different denominations on your table and then steps to the opposite side of the room. You are at liberty to examine the coins and the table, and satisfy yourself that there is no tangible connection (such as a thread, for instance) between the table and the yogi. You are then requested to name any one of the coins. When you name it it rises, as if animated, on its rim, and traverses the table. It will advance and retire at your bidding and roll off the table when you so command. Mr. Judge has seen the feat performed.

Another wonder, quite as remarkable as that just described, was narrated to Mr. Judge by a friend who witnessed it. There were two large earthen jars, about five feet high, standing in one end of a room. They were nearly full of water. The yogi who performed the feat stood in the other end of the room. At his bidding the jars fell upon their sides and rolled along the floor without spilling the water. The eye-witness of the performance looked into the jars as they were rolling and saw that the water within them was whirling around rapidly, making an eddy-like depression in the surface.

"I attribute the secret of these two tricks -- the performance with the coin and that with the water jars," remarked Mr. Judge to the reporter, "to the control which the yogi is able to exercise in the way of overcoming certain natural laws with certain other laws equally as natural but not well understood by the world at large. I do not think that in feats of this class hypnotism cuts any figure."

"What is the most remarkable wonder in the hypnotic class?" was asked.

"Well, a singular performance was described to me a few months ago by Mr. E. T. Greaves, a correspondent for the New York World, who said he saw the thing done in Algiers. It was performed by a man and a boy -- presumably father and son. The father took a coil of rope and tossed the rope up into the air, holding onto one end of it. Up and up the rope went until the upper end disappeared in the sky. The rope seemed to stretch from earth to Heaven. Then the man sent the boy up the rope. The youngster climbed and climbed until he, too, disappeared in the sky. The man called him down. The boy did not come. The man, feigning anger, put a knife between his teeth and climbed the rope also, swearing he would kill the boy. Soon shrieks were heard in the sky. A dismembered leg suddenly dropped from above. Then an arm; then the other leg; then the boy's head -- and so on. Soon the man was seen descending the rope with his bloody knife. He gathered the remains together, covered them with a sheet and pulled the rope down out of the air. Then he removed the sheet. The boy was beneath it, whole, safe and sound."

From the Stockton Mail, October 9, 1891.