This reminded me of a curious episode which happened in America, when I had a serious disagreement with the spirits. I was asked to view some paintings which were alleged to have been done by an obsessed woman. Up to that time, the woman knew nothing about art and had never touched a brush. I saw a series of strange paintings, obviously painted in various technics and by different hands.
On one and the same canvas, one could see the characteristic technic of a French impressionist, and besides it an equally clear Japanese technic. Here also were Egyptian temples with a decidedly German romantic turn. Thereupon, I remarked to the artist that it seemed peculiar to me that such varied styles should be painted together and on one canvas without any coordination whatsoever. But the artist stated that the painting had been done thus not accidentally, because the spirits who guided her were indeed of various nationalities. Thereupon I observed that this technical medley did not contribute to a completeness of painting. Upon this the artist reflected for a long time and then said sharply, “They find it very good so!” I continued to persist in my opinion and the spirits in a very brusk and rough manner persisted in their own wish that the painting remain as it was. Thus proceeded a quarrel with the spirits which continued with some vigor… “I do not know anything of your American incident,” interrupted the skeptic. “But after all I have seen and heard, I now consider it entirely possible. But I would not like to leave the Buryat woman in her present situation. I think that I ought to go there again and try to take some measures.”
I attempted to explain to the skeptic that with his complete ignorance of the subject he would only bring harm to the woman, and that he might easily cause her to commit suicide or take other extreme measures. Finally we exchanged roles completely. I tried to dissuade my friend from all further visits to the Chinese, while he, like a drunkard who smells wine, began ingeniously to invent all kinds of excuses to continue this adventure ... It was strange to see how the old lawyer, recently so staid, was trying to find every invention decently possible to justify himself and to show his need of continuing his visits to the Chinese. Naturally, he did not overlook poor science: he had to continue his excursions in the name of science! And again, it was in the name of science that humanity had to be warned. But behind all these important considerations, there was clearly revealed an instinct suddenly aroused to the knowledge of invisible worlds.
The wife of the skeptic, who was also present and who had previously upheld me, now insisted by every measure that I should dissuade her husband from his excursion, for during the last days he had been talking only about the Buryat woman and the Germans. Finally the recent skeptic gave his promise to drop the matter, after I assured him that if he would but look around him, he would see many far more significant things.
On leaving, he suddenly suggested to me that I accompany him just once to a Mongolian witch—”You know, it is the same woman who foretold to Ungarn the day of his death and all his immediate future, which was exactly fulfilled. She lives near here now.”
I declined to visit the sorceress but I wonder whether the skeptic did not go to see her himself!
As always happens, an unusual conversation does not cease at once. Hardly had the skeptic left our house, when two other visitors came. One of them, a local Mongol, was highly educated and had lived abroad. The other, an ex-officer, had served throughout the war. The conversation began with some entirely unrelated matters The Mongol was telling of the natural wealth of Mongolia, where mineral oil flows in streams through the desert and where the rivers carry inexhaustible gold. Then describing the gold districts, he added in the same calm narrative tone, “And those murdered Chinamen allowed us no sleep all the time we were staying at the mines.”
“But how could the dead disturb your sleep?”
“Those were the dead Chinamen who were killed during the riots, after the war and the revolution.”
“But look here, how could people, killed long since, prevent you from sleeping?”
“Exactly by walking around, talking, knocking the ashes out of their pipes and rattling the crockery.”
“You are certainly joking.”
“No,” was the serious reply. “We could not see them but all through the night we could hear them. A lot of them had been killed there and, as people say, they were killed unawares. They went to bed quite calmly that night, not suspecting an attack. It is always so; people who are unexpectedly killed cannot give up their daily habits. The Chinese are especially like that. They love their ground and their houses. And when people are attached to their earthly possessions, it is always difficult for them to leave them behind.” So seriously spoke the Mongol.
The officer who had thus far been silent, then added, “Yes, with the Chinese this often happens. In Mukden there is an old house in which no one wants to live. A Chinaman was killed there and he gives no one any peace. Each night he screams out as if he was being killed again. We wanted to verify this rumor once, and we went there and stopped overnight. But about one o’clock we noticed a bright blue sphere descending from the top floor along the railing of the staircase. That was enough for us, I admit, and we packed off.
“But now I remember another case that happened during the war near the Prussian border. The whole staff had stopped over night in a small hut. At midnight we all suddenly awoke together, each one shouting something about horses. One man shouted, ‘Who brought the horses in here!’ Another roared, ‘Look at the horses running away!’ I also awoke and in the darkness near me, I saw some horses pass me by in a flash neighing as though in fright. The guards stationed outside had heard nothing. But in the morning we discovered that our drove of horses had been blown up by a shell.”
The Mongol became lively thereupon and confirmed this, “I also have heard about invisible animals. It was in the Yurta of our Shaman-sorcerer. The Shaman invoked the lower elementary powers and we all could hear the galloping and neighing of whole droves of horses; we could hear the flight of entire flocks of eagles and the hissing of innumerable snakes right inside the yurta . . . you should speak to our minister of war. He is a fortune teller and he could tell you numberless unsuspected things.”
“But why do you think they are unsuspected?” “Well, I have become accustomed to think that all foreigners regard our customary occurrences as most strange…”
Ulan Bator Khoto