Extract from Michael Mitchell's biography

VIVO: The Life of Gustav Meyrink

Meyrink's transformation from dandy to serious seeker after esoteric truth took place gradually during the 1890s, but the event that initiated it was dramatic. His account may have a touch of self-dramatisation, but the result was certainly genuine. There is another, very similar version of the event to the one below in The Awakening of my Clairvoyant Faculty, in which he says he was twenty-three at the time and suffering from a ‘disappointment in love’. That, and the date he gives in The Transformation of the Blood suggests the experience occurred in 1891, a year before his first marriage.

The Pilot

Tomorrow is the twenty-fourth anniversary of that day, the Feast of the Assumption. Sitting at my desk in my bachelor's room in Prague, I put the farewell letter I had written to my mother in an envelope and picked up the revolver on the desk in front of me. I intended to set off on my journey across the Styx, to cast away a life that seemed shallow and worthless, with no prospect ever of solace.

At that moment the ‘Pilot with the mask of invisibility over his face’, as I have since called him, boarded the ship of my life and swung the helm round. I heard a rustling at the door onto the landing and when I turned round I saw something white being pushed under the door across the threshold into the room. It was a printed pamphlet. That I put the revolver down, picked up the pamphlet and read the title was due neither to a stirring of curiosity, nor to some secret desire to postpone my death — my heart was empty.

I read: On Life after Death.

‘Strange coincidence!’ The thought tried to stir in my mind, but the first word scarcely reached my lips. Since then I have not believed in coincidence, I believe in the Pilot.

With trembling hand — earlier it had not trembled for one moment, neither when writing the farewell letter to my mother, nor when I picked up the revolver — I lit the lamp, for it had grown dark, and read the pamphlet — obviously pushed under the door by my bookseller's delivery boy — from beginning to end, my heart pounding. It was all about spiritualism, mainly describing the experiences those who had done important research in that area — William Cookes, Prof. Zöllner, Fechner and others — had had with various mediums: Slade, Eglinstone, Home, etc.

I sat awake the whole night through until the first light appeared and burning thoughts, until then alien to me, were going round and round in my brain. Could such outstanding scientists as the aforementioned be mistaken? It was almost inconceivable. But in that case what strange, incomprehensible laws of nature, which made a mockery of all known norms of physics, had manifested themselves? During that night the searing desire to see such things with my own eyes, grasp them with my own hands, to check their genuineness and comprehend the secrets that must lie behind them, burnt until it glowed with an inextinguishable white-hot flame.

I took the revolver, for the moment redundant, and locked it in the drawer; I still have it today. It has died of rust, the cylinder won't revolve any more, never will revolve again.