A COUNCIL IN THE FOREST
night, to repose my soul from the labors I had undertaken, I retired to a
pine forest upon the earth, in one of the New England States. Thinking to be
alone, I had sought the place; but no sooner had I drifted into meditation
than a strange sound fell upon my ears. It was not like the sounds of earth,
it was more subtle yet more penetrating; and I knew that I was listening to
a song (if you may call it a song) by some of my fellow sojourners in the
region beyond the sunlight.
Suddenly with a rush they leaped past me
into the clearing, and forming in a circle, they waited. Then I saw a light
that was not of earthly origin, the light of a campfire, and I knew that I
had been surprised by a band of Indians who were preparing to hold some rite
of their old religion.
Though I had not been invited to their ceremony, neither had I
invited them to intrude upon my contemplation, so I remained and watched
(Yes, there is less secrecy out here, for the reason that there
is greater understanding and greater tolerance.)
Soon I was looking on at a strange dance. All in a circle they
swung round and round the blazing fire, singing and leaping. I did not know
the meaning of the words they sang; but I could read their minds by the
thought-images they formed, and I knew that they were celebrating the
date—reached by what lunar reckoning I knew not—of some great Indian
massacre in which they had taken part a hundred or two hundred years ago.
And the impulse of their dance, the motive
power of it, was hatred of the white man who had scattered them and driven
them away from their old hunting grounds.
Shocked, yet fascinated by this inner glimpse at the souls of
the American aborigines, I watched them.
Though I am not skilled in magic rituals, I soon perceived that
there was form and method in this dance, method and form and a hostile
They were, by exciting themselves and by fixity of thought,
trying to excite a scattered company of men in these United States—men of a
low grade of intellect but of psychic temperament—to deeds of violence and
“So that is the way they do it!” I thought.
Then I drew a veil around my thoughts, that they might not be
perceived by the beings before me. Yes, I can do that, and so can many men
upon the earth.
I could smell the keen fresh odors of the pine grove, and I
could feel the rising wind as it swept across the clearing; for the wind
seemed to respond to their call and to offer its forces to them. You must
know that the elements are impersonal, though semi-personalities inhabit
them, and that the elements and these semi-personalities can be used
and guided, for purposes good or evil, by any being who has gained that
peculiar power in one or many lives.
And looking off in the distance, I could
see that the wind as it swept along carried the thoughts and passions of
these long dead men, these souls that by reason of their own downward
tendencies had not broken away from the attraction of matter, the astral
gravitation that makes so many souls earth-bound.
Still looking off and projecting my consciousness in a way I
have learned to do, I saw the influence of this magic ritual of revenge and
menace as it touched the minds of men far scattered. I saw their thoughts
take on suddenly the tinge of hatred, hatred for the civilization in which
they had failed to realize their personal desires.
And I knew that on that night and on the morrow, and at
intervals for many days, deeds of violence would be committed, that property
would be destroyed, and men of order threatened.
My heart was sad, for I had not understood
before how real was the danger to my country in these times of crisis from
the karma the old settlers had made. Of course they believed they were doing
right in ridding themselves and their adopted land from the simple but
complex natives, whose civilization was older than the civilization of
Europe, and who had loved this land as only those can love a land who have
known the freedom of its spaces.
When the magic dance was over, and one by one and two by two the
communicants slipped away among the shadows, I strode forward into the
circle to have speech with any who should willingly respond to my desire for
Suddenly I found myself face to face with a majestic chieftain,
wearing one of those long feather bonnets whose every feather marks some
deed of daring or achievement. (What a splendid custom was that! What an
incentive to action! Truly among the red men, deed won a feather in the
His face was like that of a hawk, and his
eyes were bright with an inner fire, that intensity of feeling and thought
commingled which marks the leader and master of men and him alone.
And I said to him in the forms of thought, for I knew no word of
his old language:
“I have been an unintentional witness to your ceremony this
evening. Will you enlighten me further as to its purpose? for I see that it
was directed towards the land of breathing men.”
With a sweep of his authoritative arm he dismissed the few of
his companions who had not already moved away among the trees, and we two
were alone together.
“I come as a friend,” I said, seeing that he hesitated.
And the word was true; for I saw that
whatever harm he mistakenly sought to accomplish, in his soul was the
consciousness of justice, that fundamental balance between right and wrong,
that proposition of law, which when native in the mind gives it dignity and
attracts respect. This was no dabbler in aboriginal and nasty sorcery, but a
kind of priest of retribution, a tribal demi-god who might perhaps some day
be made constructive and not destructive, an instrument of the great Genius
of America of which I have spoken in a former letter, the Weaver of Destiny
who has our land in charge.
We measured each other with the eyes, and I cast aside the veil
that I had before drawn around my thoughts, that he might see me mind to
mind and realize that I respected and to a degree understood him.
“You have seen what you have seen,” he
“And you do not resent my presence?”
The fresh odor of the pine grove was keen in my senses, and my
new-found companion threw back his head with a splendid motion as if to
drink it in.
“Freedom is good,” he said, “and the land was ours.”
So I perceived that by excusing himself and his associates he
had perceived that I accused them. Then I knew that I could really commune
with him mind to mind, and I was glad; for I ever seek to extend the range
of my knowledge and to form acquaintance with those of sturdy will.
“But the land is free to all the world,” I said, “to you and to
me, and to those of both our races.”
“We do not see it so,” was his reply.
“But,” I insisted, “are we not now, you and I, enjoying it in
It is difficult to translate in words the rapid give and take of
our thoughts, the pictures that flashed back and forth between us, as I
strove with kindliness and will to make him understand that the welfare of
his race did not call for the destruction of mine.
I told him—and the idea was so new to him that, lacking words, I
had to draw my story on the canvas of thought in the minutest detail—how the
soul that leaves the earth for a time returns to it in another form. And I
explained how hundreds upon hundreds of his people, and the most advanced
among them, had already come back in material form to that America they had
loved before, that they wore white bodies, and could only be distinguished
from other white men by the keenness of their eyes, their gait, and certain
peculiarities of speech and manner.
He followed my story with astonished,
almost painful, intensity; for he knew, with that inner knowledge which on
this side of life is almost impossible to deceive, that I spoke honestly and
believed that which I told him.
“And do you not deceive yourself?” was his inevitable question.
Then I told him of those recent and former lives of my own which
I most vividly remember, and cited proofs that I did not deceive myself.
“But what a life is that of the white man for one of my people?”
Then he flashed me picture after picture of
the simple white man’s life in America, the schoolhouse with the choking-hot
stove and the bad air, the house and home with closed doors and windows, the
“meeting-house” where a droning or a noisy preacher prated of things he did
not understand, to others who believe or did not believe that they believed
him. He held up before me as for ridicule the clothing of the white man in
the lower walks of life, the confining and uncomfortable shoes, the binding
trousers, the ugly hat that makes bald the head, and the collar. The one he
pictured was a paper collar, soiled and wilted at the edges.
Then he showed me—as if to prove the breadth of his
observations—an office in a city, with the clerks seated upon stools and
bent with aching backs over ledgers that contained figures, figures, long
lines of figures that were the symbols of the white man’s wampum, which
seemed so trivial when made the principal occupation of a soul that had
rejoiced in the red man’s forest.
“And is it for this that they come back to
their native land?” he asked.
“But the soul must gain all experience,” I said.
The idea seemed new to him, and he pondered it with knitted
“Why should the soul gain all experience?” he asked.
“That it may return to its God rich in knowledge,” I replied.
“Its God.” At that thought the strange eyes of him lighted,
though his face remained immobile.
“Yes,” I said, “for your God and my God are both God.”
“There are many gods,” he replied. “There is the Great Spirit,
and there are the others.”
“In the centre of each of them,” I assured
him, “there is a spot, a core of the heart that is the same in all, that
exists everywhere, and in every heart is one, that knows no division; and
that centre is also in your heart and mine and in that of our respective
“Did you learn that in one of those hot schoolhouses?” he asked.
“No. I did not learn it even when I was an old man upon the
earth, but after I came out here. On earth I rather prided myself on my
“Then one can learn new religions out here?” he asked, in
“If one finds a teacher,” I replied.
“But what need is there of new religions?”
“There is,” I said, “in the core of every
religion also that central spot where all are one. And there is in all
races,” I pursued, for I saw that he watched with half-belief , “there is in
all races a core of unity. The red man is the brother and not the permanent
enemy of the white man. So why should you injure the descendants of those
who followed what they believed to be right in extending their holdings in
this land long ago?”
“But I was not seeking to injure them for injury’s sake.”
“Then I misunderstood the purpose of your magic song.”
“Oh!” he exclaimed. “You caught the feeling of my children, who
cannot see beyond feeling. My purpose is only to destroy the present to make
way for the old life.”
“But the present is always a stage,” I
said, “on the highroad that leads to the future. And my people reincarnated,
and yours reincarnated—or so many of them as are ready to go on—shall go on
together and in this land. They will form, with those who join them from
beyond the seas, a new race. And thanks to the labors of a few among the
white men who have studied and appreciated the traditions and civilization
of the red man and sought to save them from utter obliteration, the old
forest lore will become a part of the inheritance of that new race which is
to grow out of the union of yours and mine and the others. And for a part of
every year, when the life of the new race is adjusted, the boys and girls
and men and women will go out to the wilds and enjoy the freedom of the tent
and the society round the campfire, and we shall be brothers—real
blood-brothers—at last, and all the old wounds shall be healed. Can you not
recognize me as your brother?”
He nodded his head.
“And will you not spread among your people
the glad tidings of the new race, in all of whose possessions they will
We stood long looking in each other’s eyes, and I told him more
than I could record here if I held the use of your pencil for many hours. In
the end he understood me.
It is my belief that he will spread the story among his people,
and that one danger will be lessened thereby, to some degree, for the
children of the new race.