The Bijli of the Flaming Torch

The Bijli of the Flaming Torch Death with flaming torch, Jan Punt, 1758

The Bijli of the Flaming Torch Death with flaming torch, Jan Punt, 1758,226

I’ve been knocked down by the flu and haven’t yet quite rejoined the land of the living, so you’ll excuse me if I stretch a conceit and, just as the Winter Olympics kick off, share the story of



[I give the following narrative as nearly as possible as it was told to me by my friend, who experienced this adventure while out in India.—H. M. Y.*]

*This record has been personally checked, corrected and corroborated by Colonel __, to whom the adventure occurred. He observes in his letter: “I do not wish my name to appear at all, as a large number of people would, at once almost, recognize it, who knew and remembered my accident in India.”—Ed.

The strange event I am about to relate happened to me, some sixteen years ago, when I was out in India. I had started on a shooting expedition with my bearer and khansamah, and after having been the greater part of the day in the saddle, I arrived, towards evening, thoroughly fagged out, hungry and dust-stained, at a little out-of-the-way busti, in the midst of a wide stretch of cotton fields.

I encamped close to a natural tank, on the outskirts of the village, and under the shelter of a wide-spreading, leafy banyan tree, I took up my quarters for the night. There my native servants set about preparing me the evening meal, from the inevitable up-country chicken. While these preparations were in progress I made a tour of inspection of my surroundings, and came across an aged fakir, one of those wandering religious mendicants whom one so frequently meets in all parts of India. With long matted hair, and a dirty loin cloth, covering his mud-stained emaciated body, he sat absorbed in meditation by the tank. These religious fanatics are held in great veneration and awe, by the natives, on account of the occult powers which they possess. So strong is their control of mind over body, that they can at will, produce in themselves, the phenomena of self-hypnotism and catalepsy, and while the body lies cold and inert, the spirit is free to travel into space. As I passed by this old fakir, he looked up from his devotions, and salaaming me, begged of me not to touch nor drink the water of that tank, lest some evil should befall me.

[I have let the text stand, but the Colonel here comments. ” I did not pass him, a native later actually came to my camp and interviewed me.”—Ed.]

Imagining some selfish motive behind these words, and being in no frame of mind to be trifled with, I told him to be silent, and informed him that, as for not drinking of the water of that tank, neither he, nor any one else, should prevent me from doing so.

My servants were terrified at his words, and in fear and trembling my bearer brought me the water from the tank, and after a cold bath and a rub down, I felt considerably refreshed, and thought no more of the old man and his warning, until my attention was arrested by the sight of the villagers and my servants, all trooping off to a more distant tank to draw water, and to slack their thirst. Inquiring the reason of then-aversion for the water of the nearer tank, I then learnt that a man who had murdered his wife had drowned himself in it, and it was firmly believed that any one who drank or bathed in that water would either be killed by this Earth bound spirit, or else some dire misfortune would overtake him.

About ten o’clock that night, I sent on my two servants with the coolies bearing my tent and next kit, to our intended camping ground, while I snatched a few hours sleep, rolled up in my blanket under the banyan tree. At 2 a.m., I set out, rifle in hand, to ride across the black loamy fields by a shorter cut to my destination, accompanied by a native guide and my “Boy.” It was now about 3 a.m., and the air was beautifully cool and fresh, and we were able to travel for some time at a good pace, I on horseback, my two attendants running by my side.

By this time we had reached the middle of a wide stretch of cotton fields, when happening to glance ahead, I saw in the far distance, a tiny glimmer of light. At first I mistook it for a light, in some native hut, but as I looked more intently at it, I noticed that it appeared to be moving rapidly towards us, amd that in reality it seemed to come from a flaming torch. Turning to the two natives, I asked them what was this moving light? To my great astonishment they uttered cries of terror, and trembling with fear, they gasped out, “It is the Bijli ” (an evil spirit), and the next moment, the two cowards turned tail and fled for their lives in the opposite direction. Cursing them for their cowairdly desertion, I spurred up my horse, and rode forward to meet the advancing object. I could now see that the torch was apparently held by a native runner, so I called out as loudly as I could in Hindi to him to halt; for I was determined to find out the cause of the baseless fear of my two guides. The figure took no heed of my call, but came gliding along towards me with unslackened speed. Enraged at such disobedience, I spurred on my horse, to run him down, when suddenly the animal planted his feet, snorted, and nearly unseated me. Trembling in every limb he refused to advance a foot nearer. There was nothing else to do, but to dismount and continue my journey on foot. Scarcely had I released the reins, than the frightened brute bolted back towards the village we had left an hour or so previously.

The situation was now getting exciting. Deprived of my horse, and two guides, and in the midst of pathless fields, I felt it would be difficult for me to proceed, so raising the rifle to my shoulder, I cried “Stand still, or I fire at you! ” Hardly had I uttered the words, when I was horrified to see that the figure, which seemed to fly along, and was now only some few yards distant, was no human being at all. All that was visible was a grinning, bony skull and eye sockets, with long lank hair, and a fleshless arm holding a flaming torch ; the rest of the figure being a mere trail of grey mist.

As I stood there, unflinching, with my finger on the trigger, the apparition, which was now only ten or fifteen feet distant, suddenly diverged from me, and rapidly sank into the ground, some twenty feet past me, so that I had a good view of IT. I rushed up to the spot where it had disappeared, but no trace of it was to be found. I stamped upon the ground, but the only proof of the apparition was a sprinkling of red hot embers, which a moment before had formed the flaming torch. To reassure myself of the reality of what I had just witnessed, I stooped down, and picked up some of these embers, which, however, I had hastily to throw down, as I discovered they were too hot to handle. Somewhat startled I retraced my steps for a short distance, and as good luck would have it, I found my horse quietly grazing some distance away, and so remounting him, and after much hallooing having got back my guide and boy, I at last reached my destination at daylight.

My guide then spread the news, and the headman of the village having come to see me, said, “Sahib has seen the face of the Bijli, and evil will overtake him.” He and my servants implored me not to go shooting in that neighbourhood, “for does not the Sahib remember the Engineer Sahib, who saw the Bijli, and how the next night he was killed by a panther in his tent? ” “Do not go, Sahib,” they entreated, “evil will only come of it.” They also told me that a native (who drank of the tank a year before) had been found dead with a burnt gash in his head on that plain I had traversed. Laughing at their superstition, I set out for my “shikar” (shooting).

A fortnight after, as we came near one of the hill caves, I heard that a couple of bears had been sighted there the previous night. Sending in the beaters to arouse the animals from their lair, I waited at the mouth of the cave for their approach.

Suddenly the two bears rushed out, and firing at one of them, I mortally wounded him, but as I turned, I found to my astonishment, that I was unexpectedly confronted by a third, too near to fire upon. Stepping back in order to take careful aim and avoid him, I stumbled and fell down a precipitous rock. In my fall, I broke an arm, and dislocated my elbow, while a splinter from a fallen tree badly gashed my cheek. Staunching my wound as best I could, and with the help of the natives, I managed to get astride my horse and somehow gained my camp. There I lay for several days in great pain and in high fever, till at last I was strong enough to travel to the nearest station, and put myself into the doctor’s hands.

I feel perfectly sure that had I shown any trace of fear, when face to face with The Bijli of the Flaming Torch, or had its eyes looked closely into mine, or had it in any way touched me, Death would have been the sequel to this ghostly encounter or contact.

The Occult Review November 1906: p. 270-272

I feel certain that if the Colonel had not laughed at the “superstition” of his sensible servants, he might have spared himself a good deal of trouble.

The person sharing this thrilling account was the Rev. H. Mayne Young, grandson of the distinguished English actor, Charles Mayne Young, whose son Julian took holy orders. The little I have found about H.M.Y. suggests a perfectly orthodox C of E clergyman without any special interest in the supernatural. One wonders why his intervention was necessary, why the Colonel could not have contributed the story to The Occult Review under a pseudonym? The Colonel was obviously a man with a wealth of experiences and a writer with a gift for the vivid turn of phrase.

Nothing worse of the Rev. Young is found in the papers than his preaching schedule and a sad story about the destruction of “Bruce,” an Alsatian guide dog “formerly owned by the Reverend Henry Mayne-Young and used as a guide dog for his wife,” condemned to death for killing chickens. (The Ottawa [Ont.] Journal 20 April 1949: p. 8)  This gripping yarn is apparently the only time he wrote on occult matters unless his sermon on “The Holy Angels” counts.

The Bijli of the Flaming Torch Death lights the Olympic Torch with a flaming arrow. [Death-dealing Arrows, John Everett Millais, 1868]

Other spirits bearing flaming torches? Send to the feverish chriswoodyard8 AT

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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