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Searchable Full Text of A Modern Revival of Ancient Wisdom by Alvin Boyd Kuhn





A Modern Revival

Of Ancient Wisdom


Alvin Boyd Kuhn


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Searchable Full Text of

The Secret Doctrine by H P Blavatsky



Since this work was designed to be one of a series of studies in American

religions, the treatment of the subject was consciously limited to those aspects

of Theosophy which are in some manner distinctively related to America. This

restriction has been difficult to enforce for the reason that, though officially

born here, Theosophy has never since its inception had its headquarters on this

continent. The springs of the movement have emanated from foreign sources and

influences. Its prime inspiration has come from ancient Oriental cultures.

America in this case has rather adopted an exotic cult than evolved it from the

conditions of her native milieu. The main events in American Theosophic history

have been mostly repercussions of events transpiring in English, Continental, or

Indian Theosophy. It was thus virtually impossible to segregate American

Theosophy from its connections with foreign leadership. But the attempt to do so

has made it necessary to give meagre treatment to some of the major currents of

world-wide Theosophic development. The book does not purport to be a complete

history of Theosophy, but it is an attempt to present a unified picture of the

movement in its larger aspects. No effort has been made to weigh the truth or

falsity of Theosophic principles, but an effort has been made to understand

their significance in relation to the historical situation and psychological

disposition of those who have adopted it.

The author wises to express his obligation to several persons without whose

assistance the enterprise would have been more onerous and less successful. His

thanks are due in largest measure to Professor Roy F. Mitchell of New York

University, and to Mrs. Mitchell, for placing at his disposal much of their time

and of their wide knowledge of Theosophical material; to Mr. L. W. Rogers,

President of the American Theosophical Society, Wheaton, Illinois, for cordial

co-operation in the matter of the questionnaire, and to the many members of the

Society who took pains to reply to the questions; to Mr. John Garrigues, of the

United Lodge of Theosophists, New York, for valuable data out of his great store

of Theosophic information, and to several of the ladies at the U.L.T. Reading

Room for library assistance; to Professor Louis H. Gray, of Columbia University,

for technical criticism in Sanskrit terminology; to Mr. Arthur E. Christy, of

Columbia University, for data showing Emerson's indebtedness to Oriental

philosophy; and to Professor Herbert W. Schneider, of Columbia University, for

his painstaking criticism of the study throughout.

A. B. K.

New York City

September, 1930.3




I. THEOSOPHY, AN ANCIENT TRADITION……………………………………………………………………………………..4

II. THE AMERICAN BACKGROUND OF THEOSOPHY…………………………………………………………………..12


IV. FROM SPIRITUALISM TO THEOSOPHY…………………………………………………………………………………..50

V. ISIS UNVEILED…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..65

VI. THE MAHATMAS AND THEIR LETTERS…………………………………………………………………………………..83

VII. STORM, WRECK, AND REBUILDING…………………………………………………………………………………..100

VIII. THE SECRET DOCTRINE………………………………………………………………………………………………………..110

IX. EVOLUTION, REBIRTH, AND KARMA…………………………………………………………………………………..131

X. ESOTERIC WISDOM AND PHYSICAL SCIENCE…………………………………………………………………..142

XI. THEOSOPHY IN ETHICAL PRACTICE…………………………………………………………………………………….149

XII. LATER THEOSOPHICAL HISTORY………………………………………………………………………………………..170

XIII. SOME FACTS AND FIGURES………………………………………………………………………………………………..190



INDEX …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….237.4



In the mind of the general public Theosophy is classed with Spiritualism, New

Thought, Unity and Christian Science, as one of the modern cults. It needs but a

slight acquaintance with the facts in the case to reveal that Theosophy is

amenable to this classification only in the most superficial sense. Though the

Theosophical Society is recent, theosophy, in the sense of an esoteric

philosophic mystic system of religious thought, must be ranked as one of the

most ancient traditions. It is not a mere cult, in the sense of being the

expression of a quite specialized form of devotion, practice, or theory,

propagated by a small group. It is a summation and synthesis of many cults of

all times. It is as broad and universal a motif, let us say, as mysticism. It is

one of the most permanent phases of religion, and as such it has welled up again

and again in the life of mankind. It is that "wisdom of the divine" which has

been in the world practically continuously since ancient times. The movement of

today is but another periodical recurrence of a phenomenon which has marked the

course of history from classical antiquity. Not always visible in outward

organization-indeed never formally organized as Theosophy under that name until

now-the thread of theosophic teaching and temperament can be traced in almost

unbroken course from ancient times to the present. It has often been

subterranean, inasmuch as esotericism and secrecy have been essential elements

of its very constitution. The modern presentation of theosophy differs from all

the past ones chiefly in that it has lifted the veil that cloaked its teachings

in mystery, and offered alleged secrets freely to the world. Theosophists tell

us that before the launching of the latest "drive" to promulgate Theosophy in

the world, the councils of the Great White Brotherhood of Adepts, or Mahatmas,

long debated whether the times were ripe for the free propagation of the secret

Gnosis; whether the modern world, with its Western dominance and with the

prevalence of materialistic standards, could appropriate the sacred knowledge

without the risk of serious misuse of high spiritual forces, which might be

diverted into selfish channels. We are told that in these councils it was the

majority opinion that broadcasting the Ancient Wisdom over the Occidental areas

would be a veritable casting of pearls before swine; yet two of the Mahatmas

settled the question by undertaking to assume all karmic debts for the move, to

take the responsibility for all possible disturbances and ill effects.

If we look at the matter through Theosophic eyes, we are led to believe that

when in the fall of 1875 Madame Blavatsky, Col. H. S. Olcott, and Mr. W. Q.

Judge took out the charter for the Theosophical Society in New York, the world

was witnessing a really major event in human history. Not only did it signify

that one more of the many recurrent waves of esoteric cultism was launched but

that this time practically the whole body of occult lore, which had been so

sedulously guarded in mystery schools, brotherhoods, secret societies, religious

orders, and other varieties of organization, was finally to be given to the.5

world en pleine lumiθre! At last the lid of antiquity's treasure chest would be

lifted and the contents exposed to public gaze. There might even be found

therein the solution to the riddle of the Sphynx! The great Secret Doctrine was

to be taught openly; Isis was to be unveiled!

To understand the periodical recurrence of the theosophic tendency in history it

is necessary to note two cardinal features of the Theosophic theory of

development. The first is that progress in religion, philosophy, science, or art

is not a direct advance, but in advance in cyclical swirls. When you view

progress in small sections, it may appear to be a development in a straight

line; but if your gaze takes in the whole course of history, you will see the

outline of a quite different method of progress. You will not see uninterrupted

unfolding of human life, but advances and retreats, plunges and recessions.

Spring does not emerge from winter by a steady rise of temperature, but by

successive rushes of heat, each carrying the season a bit ahead. Movement in

nature is cyclical and periodic. History progresses through the rise and fall of

nations. The true symbol of progress is the helix, motion round and round, but

tending upward at each swirl. But we must have large perspectives if we are to

see the gyrations of the helix.

The application of this interpretation of progress to philosophy and religion is

this: the evolution of ideas apparently repeats itself at intervals time after

time, a closed circuit of theories running through the same succession at many

points in history. Scholars have discerned this fact in regard to the various

types of government: monarchy working over into oligarchy, which shifts to

democracy, out of which monarchy arises again. The round has also been observed

in the domain of philosophy, where development starts with revelation and

proceeds through rationalism to empiricism, and, in revulsion from that, swings

back to authority or mystic revelation once more. Hegel's theory that progress

was not in a straight line but in cycles formed by the manifestation of thesis,

antithesis, and then synthesis, which in turn becomes the ground of a new

thesis, is but a variation of this general theme.

Theosophists, then, regard their movement as but the renaissance of the esoteric

and occult aspect of human thought in this particular swing of the spiral.

The second aspect of the occult theory of development is a method of

interpretation which claims to furnish a key to the understanding of religious

history. Briefly, the theory is that religions never evolve; they always

degenerate. Contrary to the assumptions of comparative mythology, they do not

originate in crude primitive feelings or ideas, and then transform themselves

slowly into loftier and purer ones. They begin lofty and pure, and deteriorate

into crasser forms. They come forth in the glow of spirituality and living power

and later pass into empty forms and lifeless practices. From the might of the

spirit they contract into the materialism of the letter. No religion can rise

above its source, can surpass its founder; and the more exalted the founder and

his message, the more certainly is degeneration to be looked for. There is

always gradual change in the direction of obscuration and loss of primal vision,

initial force. Religions tend constantly to wane, and need repeated revivals and

reformations. Nowhere is it possible to discern anything remotely like steady

growth in spiritual unfolding.

It is the occult theory that what we find when we search the many religions of

the earth is but the fragments, the dissociated and distorted units of what were

once profound and coherent systems. It is difficult to trace in the isolated

remnants the contour of the original structure. But it is this completed system

which the Theosophist seeks to reconstruct from the scattered remnants..6

Religion, then, is a phase of human life which is alleged to operate on a

principle exactly opposite to evolution, and theosophy believes this key makes

it intelligible. Religions never claim to have evolved from human society; they

claim to be gifts to humanity. They come to man with the seal of some divine

authority and the stamp of supreme perfection. Not only are they born above the

world, but they are brought to the world by the embodied divinity of a great

Messenger, a Savior, a World-Teacher, a Prophet, a Sage, a Son of God. These

bring their own credentials in the form of a divine life. Their words and works

bespeak the glory that earth can not engender.

The two phases of theosophic explanation can now be linked into a unified

principle. Religions come periodically; and they are given to men from high

sources, by supermen. The theory of growth from crude beginnings to spirituality

tacitly assumes that man is alone in the universe and left entirely to his own

devices; that he must learn everything for himself from experience, which

somehow enlarges his faculties and quickens them for higher conceptions. This

view, says occultism, does unnatural violence to the fundamental economy of the

universe, wrenching humanity out of its proper setting and relationship in an

order of harmony and fitness. Humankind is made to be the sole manipulator of

intelligence, the favored beneficiary of evolution, and as such is severed from

its natural connection with the rest of the cosmic scheme. So small and poor a

view does pitiable injustice to the wealth of the cosmic resources. Bruno,

Copernicus, and modern science have taught us that man is not the darling of

creation, nor the only child in the cosmic family, the pampered ward of the

gods. Far from it; he is one among the order of beings, occupying his proper

place in relation to vaster hierarchies than he has knowledge of, above and

below him.1

What is the character of that relationship? It is, says the esoteric teaching,

that of guardian and ward; of a young race in the tutelage of an older; of

infant humanity being taught by more highly evolved beings, whose intelligence

is to that of early man as an adept's to a tyro's. It is the relationship of

children to parents or guardians. Throughout our history we have been the wards

of an elder race, or at least of the elder brothers of our own race. The members

of a former evolutionary school have turned back often, like the guardians in

Plato's cave allegory, to instruct us in vital knowledge. The wisdom of the

ages, the knowledge of the very Ancient of Days, has at times been handed down

to us. The human family has produced some advanced Sages, Seers, Adepts,

Christs, and these have cared for the less-advanced classes, and have from time

to time given out a body of deeper wisdom than man's own. Theosophy claims that

it is the traditional memory of these noble characters, their lives and

messages, which has left the ancient field strewn with the legends of its Gods,

Kings, Magi, Rishis, Avatars and its great semi-divine heroes. Such wisdom and

knowledge as they could wisely and safely impart they have handed down, either

coming themselves to earth from more ethereal realms, or commissioning competent

representatives. And thus the world has periodically been given the boon of a

new religion and a new stimulus from the earthly presence of a savior regarded

as divine. And always the gospel contained milk for the babes and meat for grown

men. There was both an exoteric and an esoteric doctrine. The former was

broadcast among the masses, and did its proper and salutary work for them; the

latter, however, was imparted only to the fit and disciplined initiates in

secret organizations. Much real truth was hidden behind the veil of allegory;

myth and symbol were employed. This aggregate of precious knowledge, this

innermost heart of the secret teaching of the gods to mankind, is, needless to

say, the Ancient Wisdom-is Theosophy. Or at least Theosophy claims the key to.7

all this body of wisdom. It has always been in the world, but never publicly

promulgated until now.

To trace the currents of esoteric influence in ancient religious literature

would be the work of volumes. Theosophic or kindred doctrines are to be found in

a large number of the world's sacred books or bibles. The lore of India, China,

Persia, Babylon, Egypt, Greece, yields material for Theosophy.

Philosophy, not less than religion, bears the stamp of theosophical ideology.

Traces of the occult doctrine permeate most of the thought systems of the past.

All histories of philosophy in the western world begin, with or without brief

apology to the venerable systems of the Orient, with Thales of Miletus and the

early Greek thinkers of about the sixth century B.C. In the dim background stand

Homer and Hesiod and Pindar and the myths of the Olympian pantheon. Contemporary

religious faiths, too, such as the cult of Pythagoreanism,2 and the Orphic and

Eleusinian Mysteries, influenced philosophical speculation.

It needs no extraordinary erudition to trace the stream of esoteric teaching

through the field of Greek philosophy. What is really surprising is that the

world of modern scholarship should have so long assumed that Greek speculation

developed without reference to the wide-spread religious cult systems which

transfused the thought of the near-Eastern nations. Esotericism was an ingrained

characteristic of the Oriental mind and Greece could no more escape the

contagion than could Egypt or Persia. The occultist endeavors to make the point

that practically all of early Greek philosophy dealt with material presented by

the Dionysiac and Orphic Mysteries and later by the Pythagorean revisions of


Thales' fragments contain Theosophical ideas in his identification of the physis

with the soul of the universe, and in his affirmation that "the materiality of

physis is supersensible." Thales thought that this physis or natural world was

"full of gods."4 Both these conceptions of the impersonal and the personal

physis, the latter a reasoning substance approaching Nous, came out of the

continuum of the group soul, as a vehicle of magic power.5 Man was believed to

stand in a sympathetic relation to this nature or physis, and the deepening of

his sympathetic attitude was supposed to give him nothing less than magical

control over its elements.

Prominent among the Orphic tenets was that of reincarnation, possibly a

transference to man of the annual rebirth in nature. Worship of heavenly bodies

as aiding periodical harvests found a place here also.6 The conception of the

wheel of Dike and Moira, the allotted flow and apportionment in time as well as

place, of all things, nature and man together, was underlying in the ancient

Greek mind. Persian occult ideas may have influenced the Orphic systems.7

Anaximander added to the scientific doctrines of Thales the idea of compensatory

retribution for the transgression of Moira's bounds which suggests Karma. The

sum of Heraclitus' teaching is the One Soul of the universe, in ever-running

cycles of expression-"Fire8 lives the death of air, air lives the death of fire;

earth lives the death of water, water lives the death of earth."9 And interwoven

with it is a sort of justice which resembles karmic force.10

Dionysiac influence brought the theme of reincarnation prominently to the fore

in metaphysical thinking.11

Socrates, in the Phaedo, speaks of "the ancient doctrine that souls pass out of

this world to the other, and there exist, and then come back hither from the.8

dead, and are born again." In Hesiod's Works and Days there is the image of the

Wheel of Life. In the mystical tradition there was prominent the wide-spread

notion of a fall of higher forms of life into the human sphere of limitation and

misery. The Orphics definitely taught that the soul of man fell from the stars

into the prison of this earthly body, sinking from the upper regions of fire and

light into the misty darkness of this dismal vale. The fall is ascribed to some

original sin, which entailed expulsion from the purity and perfection of divine

existence and had to be expiated by life on earth and by purgation in the nether


The philosophies of Parmenides, Empedocles, and Plato came directly out of the

Pythagorean movement.13 Aristotle described Empedocles' poems as "Esoteric," and

it is thought that Parmenides' poems were similarly so. Parmenides' theory that

the earth is the plane of life outermost, most remotely descended from God, is

re-echoed in theosophic schematism. Also his idea-"The downward fall of life

from the heavenly fires is countered by an upward impulse which 'sends the soul

back from the seen to the unseen'"-completes the Theosophic picture of outgoing

and return. Parmenides "was really the 'associate' of a Pythagorean, Ameinias,

son of Diochartas, a poor but noble man, to whom he afterwards built a shrine,

as to a hero."14 "Strabo describes Parmenides and Zeno as Pythagoreans."15

Cornford's comment on the philosophy of Empedocles leaves little doubt as to its

origin in the Mysteries. 16 Strife causes the fall, love brings the return.

Empedocles was a member of a Pythagorean society or school, for Diogenes tells

us that he and Plato were expelled from the organization for having revealed the

secret teachings.17

Of Pythagoras as a Theosophic type of philosopher there is no need to speak at

any length. What is known of Pythagoreanism strongly resembles Theosophy.

As to Socrates, it is interesting to note that Cornford's argument "points to

the conclusion that Socrates was more familiar with Pythagorean ideas than has

commonly been supposed."18 Socrates gave utterance to many Pythagorean

sentiments and he was associated with members of the Pythagorean community at

Phlious, near Thebes.

R. D. Hicks comments on Plato's "imaginative sympathy with the whole mass of

floating legend, myth and dogma, of a partly religious, partly ethical

character, which found a wide, but not universal acceptance, at an early time in

the Orphic and Pythagorean associations and brotherhoods."19

"The Platonic myths afford ample evidence that Plato was perfectly familiar with

all the leading features of this strange creed. The divine origin of the soul,

its fall from bliss and the society of the gods, its long pilgrimage of penance

through hundreds of generations, its task of purification from earthly

pollution, its reincarnation in successive bodies, its upward and downward

progress, and the law of retribution for all offences . . ."20

There is evidence pointing to the fact that Plato was quite familiar with the

Mystery teachings, if not actually an initiate.21 In the Phaedrus he says:

". . . being initiated into those Mysteries which it is lawful to call the most

blessed of all Mysteries . . . we were freed from the molestation of evils which

otherwise await us in a future period of time. Likewise in consequence of this

divine initiation, we become spectators of entire, simple, immovable and blessed

visions resident in the pure light."22.9

And his immersion in the prevalent esoteric attitude is hinted at in another


"You say that, in my former discourse, I have not sufficiently explained to you

the nature of the First. I purposely spoke enigmatically, for in case the tablet

should have happened with any accident, either by land or sea, a person, without

some previous knowledge of the subject, might not be able to understand its


Aristotle left the esoteric tradition, and went in the direction of naturalism

and empiricism. Yet in him too there are many points of distinctly esoteric

ideology. His distinction between the vegetative animal soul and the rational

soul, the latter alone surviving while the former perished; his dualism of

heavenly and terrestrial life; his belief that the heavenly bodies were great

living beings among the hierarchies; and his theory that development is the

passing of potentiality over into actualization, are all items of Theosophic


Greek philosophy is said to have ended with Neo-Platonism-which is one of

history's greatest waves of the esoteric tendency. It would be a long task to

detail the theosophic ideas of the great Plotinus. He, Origen and Herrennius

were pupils of Ammonius Saccas, whose teachings they promised never to reveal,

as being occult. Plotinus' own teachings were given only to initiated circles of

students.24 Proclus25 gives astonishing corroboration to a fragment of

Theosophic doctrine in any excerpt quoted in Isis Unveiled:

"After death, the soul (the spirit) continueth to linger in the aerial (astral)

form till it is entirely purified from all angry and voluptuous passions . . .

then doth it put off by a second dying the aerial body as it did the earthly

one. Whereupon the ancients say that there is a celestial body always joined

with the soul, and which is immortal, luminous and star-like."26

The esotericist feels that the evidence, a meagre portion of which has been thus

cursorily submitted, is highly indicative that beneath the surface of ancient

pagan civilization there were undercurrents of sacred wisdom, esoteric

traditions of high knowledge, descended from revered sources, and really

cherished in secret.

Presumably the Christian religion itself drew many of its basic concepts

directly or indirectly from esoteric sources. It was born amid the various cults

and faiths that then occupied the field of the Alexandrian East and the Roman

Empire, and it was unable to escape the influences emanating from these sources.

Its immediate predecessors were the Mystery-Religions, the Jewish faith, and the

syncretistic blend of these with Syrian Orientalism and Greek philosophy.

Judaism was itself deeply tinctured with Hellenistic and oriental influences.

The Mystery cults were more or less esoteric; Judaism had received a highly

allegorical formulation at the hands of Philo; the Hermetic Literature was

similar to Theosophy; the Syrian faiths were saturated with the strain of

"Chaldean" occultism; and Greek rationalism had yielded that final mysticism

which culminated in Plotinus. Christianity was indebted to many of these sources

and many scholars believe that it triumphed only because it was the most

successful syncretism of many diverse elements. Numerous streams of esoteric

doctrine contributed to Christianity; we can merely hint at the large body of

evidence available on this point.

Christianity grew up in the milieu of the Mysteries, and those early Fathers who

formulated the body of Christian doctrine did not step drastically outside the.10

traditions of the prevalent faiths. Their work was rather an incorporation of

some new elements into the accepted systems of the time. In some cases, as in

Alexandria, the two faiths were actually blended, for many Christians in the

Egyptian city were at the same time connected with the Mystery cult of Serapis,

as many in Greece and Judea were connected with that of Dionysus. But perhaps

the most direct and prominent product of the two systems is to be seen in St.

Paul, about whose intimate relation to the Mysteries several volumes have been

written. Much of his language so strikingly suggests his close contact with

Mystery formulae that it is a moot question whether or not he was actually an

Initiate.28 At all events many are of the opinion that he must have been

powerfully influenced by the cult teachings and practices.29 He mentions some

psychic experiences of his own, which are cited as savoring strongly of the

character of the mystical exercises taught in the Mysteries.30

When in the third and fourth centuries the Church Fathers began the task of

shaping a body of doctrine for the new movement, the same theosophic tendencies

pressed upon them from every side. Clement and Origen brought many phases of

theosophic doctrine to prominence, a fact which tended later to exclude their

writings from the canon. And when Augustine drew up the dogmatic schematism of

the new religion, he was tremendously swayed by the work of the Neo-Platonist

Plotinus, who, along with Ammonius Saccas, Numenius, Porphyry, and Proclus, had

been a member of one or several of the Mystery bodies.31

The presence of powerful currents of Neo-Platonic idealism in the early church

is attested by the effects upon it of Manichaeism, Gnosticism and the Antioch

heresy, which tendencies had to be exterminated before Christianity definitely

took its course of orthodox development. Occult writers32 have indicated the

forces at work in the formative period of the church's dogma which eradicated

the theory of reincarnation and other aspects of esoteric knowledge from the

orthodox canons. The point remains true, nevertheless, that Christianity took

its rise in an atmosphere saturated with ideas resembling those of Theosophy.

Theosophy, the Gnosis, having been to a large extant rejected from Catholic

theology, nevertheless did not disappear from history. It possessed an

unquenchable vitality and made its way through more or less submerged channels

down the centuries. Movements, sects, and individuals that embodied its

cherished principles could be enumerated at great length. A list would include

Paulicians, the Bogomiles, the Bulgars, the Paterenes, the Comacines, the

Cathari; Albigensians, and pietists; Joachim of Floris, Roger Bacon, Robert

Bradwardine, Raymond Lully; the Alchemists, the Fire Philosophers; Paracelsus,

B. Figulus; the Friends of God, led by Nicholas of Basle; L'Homme de Cuir, in

Switzerland in the Engadine; the early Waldenses; the Bohemian tradition given

in the Tarot; the great Aldus' Academy at Venice; the Rosicrucians and the

Florentine Academy founded by Pletho. Some theosophists have attempted to find

esoteric meanings in the literature of the Troubadours, and in such writings as

The Romance of the Rose, the Holy Grail legends and the Arthurian Cycle, if read

in an esoteric sense; Gower's Confessio Amantis, Spencer's Faλrie Queen, the

works of Dietrich of Berne, Wayland Smith, the Peredur Stories, and the

Mabinogian compilations. German pietism expressed fundamentally Theosophic ideas

through Eckhardt, Tauler, Suso, and Jacob Boehme. The names of such figures as

Count Rakowczi, Cagliostro, Count St. Germain, and Francis Bacon have been

linked with the secret orders. In fact there was hardly a period when the ghosts

of occult wisdom did not hover in the background of European thought.

Sometimes its predominant manifestation was mystically religious; again it was

cosmological and philosophical; never did it quite lose its attachment to the

conceptions of science, which was at times reduced nearly to magic. And it is.11

upon the implications of this scientific interest that the occult theorist bases

his claim that science, along with religion and philosophy, has sprung in the

beginning from esoteric knowledge. Not overlooking the oldest scientific lore to

be found in the sacred books of the East, our attention is called to the

astronomical science of the "Chaldeans"; the similar knowledge among the

Egyptians, such, for instance, as led them to construct the Pyramids on lines

conformable to sidereal measurements and movements; the reputed knowledge of the

precession of the equinoxes among the Persian Magi and the "Chaldeans"; the

later work of the scientists among the Alexandrian savants, which had so

important a bearing upon the direction of the nascent science in the minds of

Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and Newton; the known achievements of Roger Bacon,

Robert Grosseteste, Agrippa von Nettesheim, and Jerome Cardano in incipient

empiricism. It has always been assumed that the strange mixture of true science

and grotesque magic found, for instance, in the work of Roger Bacon, justifies

the implication that the concern with magic operated as a hindrance to the

development of science. It should not be forgotten that the stimulus to

scientific discovery sprang from the presuppositions embodied in magical theory.

It is now beyond dispute that the magnificent achievements of Copernicus,

Kepler, and Galileo were actuated by their brooding over the significance of the

Pythagorean theories of number and harmony. Both science and magic aim, each in

its special modus, at the control of nature. Through the gateway of electricity,

says theosophy, science has been admitted, part way at least, into the inner

sanctum of nature's dynamic heart. Magic has sought an entry to the same citadel

by another road.

The Theosophist, then, believes, on the strength of evidence only a fragment of

which has been touched upon here, that esotericism has been weaving its web of

influence, powerful even if subtle and unseen, throughout the religions,

philosophies, and sciences of the world. It makes little difference what names

have been attached from time to time to this esoteric tradition; and certainly

no attempt is made here to prove an underlying unity or continuity in all this

"wisdom literature." Suffice it to point out that in all ages there have been

movements analogous to modern Theosophy, and that the modern cult regards itself

as merely a regular revelation in the periodic resurgence of an ancient




An outline of the circumstances which may be said to constitute the background

for the American development of Theosophy should begin with the mass of strange

phenomena which took place, and were widely reported, in connection with the

religious revivals from 1740 through the Civil War period. A veritable epidemic

of what were known as the "barks" and the "jerks" swept over the land. They were

most frequent in evangelical meetings, but also became common outside. The

Kentucky revivals in the early years of the nineteenth century produced many odd

phenomena, such as speaking in strange tongues, a condition of trance and swoon

frequently attendant upon conversion, occasional illumination and ecstasy,

resembling medieval mystic sainthood, and the apparently miraculous reformation

of many criminals and drunkards. These phenomena impressed the general mind with

the sense of a higher source of power that might be invoked in behalf of human


During this period, too, several mathematical prodigies were publicly exhibited

in the performance of quite unaccountable calculations, giving instantaneously

the correct results of complicated manipulations of numbers.1 From about 1820,

rumors were beginning to be heard of exceptional psychic powers possessed by the


But a more notable stir was occasioned a little later when the country began to

be flooded with reports of exhibitions of mesmerism and hypnotism. Couιism had

not yet come, but the work of Mesmer, Janet, Charcot, Bernheim, and others in

France had excited the amazement of the world by its revelations of an

apparently supernormal segment of the human mind. "Healing by faith" had always

been a wide-spread tradition; but when such people as Quimby and others added to

the cult of healing the practice of mesmerism, and subjoined both to a set of

metaphysical or spiritual formulae, the imaginative susceptibilities of the

people were vigorously stimulated, and the ferment resulted in cults of "mind

healing." Quimby was active with his public demonstrations throughout New

England in the fifties and sixties.

The cult of Swedenborgianism, coming in chiefly from England, survived from the

preceding century as a tremendous contribution to the feeling of mystic

supernaturalism. Emanuel Swedenborg, who gave up his work as a noted

mineralogist to take up the writing of his visions and prophecies, had

profoundly impressed the religious world by the publication of his enormous

works, the Arcana Coelestia, The Apocalypse Revealed, The Apocalypse Explained,

and others, in which he claimed that his inner vision had been opened to a view

of celestial verities. His descriptions of the heavenly spheres, and of the

relation of the life of the Infinite to our finite existence, and his theory of

the actual correspondence of every physical fact to some eternal truth,.13

impressed the mystic sense of many people, who became his followers and

organized his Church of the New Jerusalem. Though this following was never large

in number, it was influential in the spread of a type of "arcane wisdom." In the

first place, Swedenborg's statements that he had been granted direct glimpses of

the angelic worlds carried a certain impressiveness in view of his detailed

descriptions of what was there seen. He announced that the causes of all things

are in the Divine Mind. The end of existence and creation is to bring man into

conjunction with the higher spirit of the universe, so that he may become the

image of his creator. The law of correspondence is the key to all the divine

treasures of wisdom. He declared that he had witnessed the Last Judgment and

that he was told of the second coming of the Lord. His teachings influenced

among others Coleridge, Blake, Balzac, and, of course, Emerson and the James

family. Though not so much of this influence was specifically Theosophic in

character, it all served to bring much grist to the later Theosophical mill.

A certain identity of aims and characters between Theosophy and Swedenborgianism

is revealed in the fact that "in December, 1783, a little company of

sympathizers, with similar aims, met in London and founded the 'Theosophical

Society,' among the members of which were John Flaxman, the sculptor, William

Sharpe, the engraver, and F. H. Barthelemon, the composer."2 It was dissolved

about 1788 when the Swedenborgian churches began to function. Many such

religious organizations could well be called theosophical associations, as was

the one founded by Brand in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1825.

Another organization which dealt hardly less with heavenly revelations, and

which must also be regarded as conducive to theosophical attitudes, was the

"Children of the Light," the Friends, or Quakers. With a history antedating the

nineteenth century by more than a hundred and fifty years, these people held a

significant place in the religious life of America during the period we are

delineating. Their intense emphasis upon the direct and spontaneous irradiation

of the spirit of God into the human consciousness strikes a deep note of genuine

mysticism. In fact, like Methodism, Quakerism was born in the midst of a series

of spiritualistic occurrences. George Fox heard the heavenly voices and received

inspirational messages directly from spiritual visitants. The report of his

supernatural experiences, and of the miracles of healing which he was enabled to

perform through spirit-given powers, caused hundreds of people to flock to his

banner and gave the movement its primary impetus. His gospel was essentially one

of spirit manifestation, and his whole ethical system grew out of his conception

of the rιgime of personal life, conduct and mentality which was best designed to

induce the visitations of spirit influence. The spiritistic and mystical

experiences of the celebrated Madame Guyon, of France, enhanced the force of

Fox's testimony.Not less inclined than the Friends to transcendental experiences

were the Shakers, who had settled in eighteen communistic associations or

colonies in the United States. They claimed to enjoy the power of apostolic

healing, prophecy, glossolalia, and the singing of inspired songs. They were led

by the spirit into deep and holy experiences, and claimed to be inspired by high

spiritual intelligences with whom they were in hourly communion. One of their

number, F. W. Evans, wrote to Robert Dale Owen, the Spiritualist, that the

Shakers had predicted the advent of Spiritualism seven years previously, and

that the Shaker order was the great medium between this world and the world of

spirits. He asserted that "Spiritualism originated among the Shakers of America;

that there were hundreds of mediums in the eighteen Shaker communities, and

that, in fact, nearly all the Shakers were mediums. Mediumistic manifestations

are as common among us as gold in California."3 He maintained that there were

three degrees of spiritual manifestation, the third of which is the

"ministration of millennial truths to various nations, tribes, kindred and

people in the spirit world who were hungering and thirsting after.14

righteousness."4 He further pronounced a panegyric upon Spiritualism, which is

evidence that the Shakers were in sympathy with any phenomena which seemed to

indicate a connection with the celestial planes:

"Spiritualism has banished scepticism and infidelity from the minds of

thousands, comforted the mourner with angelic consolations, lifted up the

unfortunate, the outcast, the inebriate, taking away the sting of death, which

has kept mankind under perpetual bondage through fear-so that death is now, to

its millions of believers,

The kind and gentle servant who unlocks,

With noiseless hand, life's flower-encircled door,

To show us those we loved."5

Still another movement which had its origin in alleged supernaturalistic

manifestations and helped to intensify a general belief in them, was the Church

of the Latter Day Saints, or Mormons. In 1820, and again in 1823, Joseph Smith

had a vision of an angel, who revealed to him the repository of certain records

inscribed on plates of gold, containing the history of the aboriginal peoples of

America. The ability to employ the mystic powers of Urim and Thummim, which are

embodied in these records, constituted the special attribute of the seers of

antiquity. The inscriptions on the gold plates were represented as the key to

the understanding of ancient scriptures, and were said to be in a script known

as Reformed Egyptian. The Book of Mormon claims to be an English translation of

these plates of gold.

It is not necessary here to follow the history of Smith and his church, but it

is interesting to point out the features of the case that touch either

Spiritualism or Theosophy. We have already noted the origin of Smith's

motivating idea in a direct message from the spirit world. We have also a

curious resemblance to Theosophy in the fact that an alleged ancient document

was brought to light as a book of authority, and that the material therein was

asserted to furnish a key to the interpretation of the archaic scriptures of the

world. Of the twelve articles of the Mormon creed, seven sections show a spirit

not incongruous with the tendency of Theosophic sentiment. Article One professes

belief in the Trinity; article Two asserts that men will be punished for their

own sins, not for Adam's; Three refers to the salvation of all without

exception; Seven sets forth belief in the gift of tongues, prophecy,

revelations, visions, healing, etc.; Eight questions the Bible's accurate

translation; Nine expresses the assurance that God will yet reveal many great

and important things pertaining to his kingdom; and Eleven proclaims freedom of

worship and the principle of toleration.

Orson Pratt, one of the leading publicists of the Mormon cult, said that where

there is an end of manifestation of new phenomena, such as visions, revelations

and inspiration, the people are lost in blindness. When prophecies fail,

darkness hangs over the people. In a tract issued by Pratt it is stated that the

Book of Mormon has been abundantly confirmed by miracles.

"Nearly every branch of the church has been blessed by miraculous signs and

gifts of the Holy Ghost, by which they have been confirmed, and by which we know

of a surety that this is the Church of Christ. They know that the blind see, the

lame walk, the deaf hear, the dumb speak, that lepers are cleansed, that bones

are set, that the cholera is rebuked, and that the most virulent diseases give

way through faith in the name of Christ and the power of His gospel."6.15

About 1825, in a meeting at the home of Josiah Quincy in Boston, a philosophic-religious

movement was launched which may seem to have had but meagre influence

on the advent of Theosophy later in the century, but which in its motive and

animating spirit was probably one of the cult's most immediate precursors. The

Unitarian faith, courageously agitated from 1812 to 1814 by William E. Channing,

Edward Everett, and Francis Parkman, flowered into a religious denomination in

1825 and thenceforth exercised, in a measure out of all proportion to its

numerical strength, a powerful influence on American religious thought. Under

Emerson and Parker a little later the principle of free expression of opinion

was carried to such length that the formulation of an orthodox creed was next to


They questioned not only the Trinitarian doctrine, as pagan rather than

Christian (the identical position taken by Madame Blavatsky in the volumes of

Isis Unveiled), but the whole orthodox structure. The Bible was not to be

regarded as God's infallible and inspired word, but a work of exalted human

agencies. Christ was no heaven-born savior, but a worthy son of man. If he was

man and anything more, his life is worthless to mere men. His life was a man's

life, his gospel a man's gospel-otherwise inapplicable to us. Salvation is

within every person. Death does not determine the state of the soul for all

eternity; the soul passes on into spirit with all its earth-won character. In

the life that is to be, as well as in the life that now is, the soul must reap

what it sows. If there were a Unitarian creed, it might be summarized as

follows: The fatherhood of God; the brotherhood of man; the leadership of Jesus;

salvation by character; the progress of mankind onward and upward forever. All

this, as far it goes, is strikingly harmonious with the Theosophic position.

That there was an evident community of interests between the two movements is

indicated by the fact that Unitarianism, like Theosophy, sought Hindu

connections, and strangely enough made a sympathetic entente with the Brahmo-Somaj

Society, while Theosophy later affiliated with the Arya-Somaj.7

No examination of the American background of Theosophy can fail to take account

of that movement which carried the minds of New England thinkers to a lofty

pitch during the early half of the nineteenth century, Transcendentalism. It has

generally been attributed to the impact of German Romanticism, transmitted by

way of England through Carlyle, Coleridge, and Wordsworth. French influence was

really more direct and dominating, but the powerful effect of Oriental religion

and philosophy on Emerson, hitherto not considered seriously, should not be

overlooked. "All of Emerson's notes on Oriental scriptures have been deleted

from Bliss Perry's Heart of Emerson's Journals."8 No student conversant with the

characteristic marks of Indian philosophy needs documentary corroboration of the

fact that Emerson's thought was saturated with typically Eastern conceptions.

The evidence runs through nearly all his works like a design in a woven cloth.

"Scores upon scores of passages in his Journals and Essays show that he leaned

often on the Vedas for inspiration, and paraphrased lines of the Puranas in his

poems."9 But direct testimony from Emerson himself is not wanting. His Journals

prove that his reading of the ancient Oriental classics was not sporadic, but

more or less constant.10 He refers to some of them in the lists of each year's

sources. In 1840 he tells how in the heated days he read nothing but the "Bible

of the tropics, which I find I come back upon every three or four years. It is

sublime as heat and night and the breathless ocean. It contains every religious

sentiment. . . . It is no use to put away the book; if I trust myself in the

woods or in a boat upon the pond, Nature makes a Brahmin of me presently."11

This was at the age of twenty-seven. In the Journal of 1845 he writes:

"The Indian teaching, through its cloud of legends, has yet a simple and grand

religion, like a queenly countenance seen through a rich veil. It teaches to.16

speak the truth, love others as yourself, and to despise trifles. The East is

grand-and makes Europe appear the land of trifles. Identity! Identity! Friend

and foe are of one stuff . . . Cheerful and noble is the genius of this


Lecturing before graduate classes at Harvard he later said: "Thought has

subsisted for the most part on one root; the Norse mythology, the Vedas,

Shakespeare have served the ages." In referring in one passage to the Bible he


"I have used in the above remarks the Bible for the ethical revelation

considered generally, including, that is, the Vedas, the sacred writings of

every nation, and not of the Hebrews alone."13

Elsewhere he says:

"Yes, the Zoroastrian, the Indian, the Persian scriptures are majestic and more

to our daily purpose than this year's almanac or this day's newspaper. I owed-my

friend and I owed-a magnificent day to the Bhagavat-Gita. It was the first of

books; it was as if an empire spoke to us, nothing small or unworthy, but large,

serene, consistent, the voice of an old intelligence which in another age and

another climate had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions which

exercise us. . . . Let us cherish the venerable oracle."14

The first stanza of Emerson's poem "Brahma, Song of the Soul," runs as follows:

"If the red slayer thinks he slays,

Or if the slain thinks he is slain,

They know not well the subtle ways

I keep, and pass and turn again."

Could the strange ideas and hardly less strange language of this verse have been

drawn elsewhere than from the 19th verse of the Second Valli, of the Katha

Upanishad,15 which reads?:

"If the slayer thinks I slay; if the slain thinks I am slain, then both of them

do not know well. It (the soul) does not slay nor is it slain."

His poem "Hamatreya" comes next in importance as showing Hindu influence. In

another poem, "Celestial Love," the wheel of birth and death is referred to:

"In a region where the wheel

On which all beings ride,

Visibly revolves."

Emerson argues for reincarnation in the Journal of 1845. "Traveling the path of

life through thousands of births."

"By the long rotation of fidelity they meet again in worthy forms." Emerson's

"oversoul" is synonymous with a Sanskrit term. He regarded matter as the

negative manifestation of the Universal Spirit. Mind was the expression of the

same Spirit in its positive power. Man, himself, is nothing but the universal

spirit present in a material organism. Soul is "part and parcel of God." He says

that "the soul in man is not an organ, but animates and exercises all organs;

from within and from behind a light shines through us upon things, and makes us

aware that we are nothing, that the light is all."16 This is Vedanta philosophy.

In the Journal of 1866 he wrote:.17

"In the history of intellect, there is no more important fact than the Hindu

theology, teaching that the beatitude or supreme good is to be attained through

science: namely, by the perception of the real from the unreal, setting aside

matter, and qualities or affections or emotions, and persons and actions, as

mayas or illusions, and thus arriving at the conception of the One eternal Life

and Cause, and a perpetual approach and assimilation to Him, thus escaping new

births and transmigrations. . . . Truth is the principle and the moral of Hindu

theology, Truth as against the Maya which deceives Gods and men; Truth, the

principle, and Retirement and Self-denial the means of attaining it."17

Mr. Christy18 states that Emerson's concept of evolution must be thought of in

terms of emanation; and a detailed examination of his concept of compensation

reduces it to the doctrine of Karma.

The Journals are full of quotable passages upon one or another phase of

Hinduism. And there are his other poems "Illusions" and "Maya," whose names

bespeak Oriental presentations. But Mr. Christy thinks the following excerpt is

Emerson's supreme tribute to Orientalism:

"There is no remedy for musty, self-conceited English life made up of fictitious

hating ideas-like Orientalism. That astonishes and disconcerts English decorum.

For once there is thunder he never heard, light he never saw, and power which

trifles with time and space."19

It may seem ludicrous to suggest that Emerson was the chief forerunner of Madame

Blavatsky, her John the Baptist. Yet seriously, without Emerson, Madame

Blavatsky could hardly have launched her gospel when she did with equal hope of

success. There is every justification for the assertion that Emerson's

Orientalistic contribution to the general Transcendental trend of thought was

preparatory to Theosophy. It must not be forgotten that his advocacy of

Brahmanic ideas and doctrines came at a time when the expression of a laudatory

opinion of the Asiatic religions called forth an opprobrium from evangelistic

quarters hardly less than vicious in its bitterness. Theosophy could not hope to

make headway until the virulent edge of that orthodox prejudice had been

considerably blunted. It was Emerson's magnanimous eclecticism which

administered the first and severest rebuke to that prejudice, and inaugurated

that gradual mollification of sentiment toward the Orientals which made possible

the welcome which Hindu Yogis and Swamis received toward the end of the century.

The exposition of Emerson's orientalism makes it unnecessary to trace the

evidences of a similar influence running through the philosophical thinking of

Thoreau and Walt Whitman. The robust cosmopolitanism of these two intellects

lifted them out of the provincialisms of the current denominations into the

realm of universal sympathies. We know that Thoreau became the recipient of

forty-four volumes of the Hindu texts in 1854; but it is evident that he, like

Emerson, had had contact with Brahmanical literature previous to that. His works

are replete with references to Eastern ideas and beliefs. He could hardly have

associated so closely with Emerson as he did and escaped the contagion of the

latter's Oriental enthusiasm.

Mr. Horace L. Traubel, one of the three literary executors of Whitman, had in

his possession the poet's own copy of the Bhagavad Gita. Perry and Binns, in

their biographies of Whitman, give lists of the literature with which he was

familiar; and many ancient authors are mentioned. Among them are Confucius, the

Hindu poets, Persian poets, Zoroaster; portions of the Vedas and Puranas,

Alger's Oriental Poetry and other Eastern sources. Dr. Richard M. Bucke, another.18

of the three literary executors, and a close friend and associate of "the good

gray poet," was one of the prominent early Theosophists, and it is reasonable to

presume that Whitman was familiar with Theosophic theory through the channel of

this friendship. Whitman likewise gave form and body to another volume of

sentiment which has contributed, no one can say how much, to the adoption of

Theosophy. This was America's own native mysticism. It created an atmosphere in

which the traditions of the supernatural grew robust and realistic.

Attention must now be directed to that wide-spread movement in America which has

come to be known as New Thought. It came, as has been hinted at, out of the

spiritualization, or one might say, doctrinization, of mesmerism. Observation of

the surprising effects of hypnotic control, indicating the presence of a psychic

energy in man susceptible to external or self-generated suggestion, led to the

inference that a linking of spiritual affirmation with the unconscious dynamism

would conduce to invariably beneficent results, that might be made permanent for

character. If a jocular suggestion by the stage mesmerist could lead the subject

into a ludicrous performance; if a suggestion of illness, of pain, of a

headache, could produce the veritable symptoms; why could not a suggestion of

adequate strength and authority lead to the actualization of health, of

personality, of well-being, of spirituality? The task was merely to transform

animal magnetism into spiritual suggestion. The aim was to indoctrinate the

subconscious mind with a fixation of spiritual sufficiency and opulence, until

the personality came to embody and manifest on the physical plane of life the

character of the inner motivation. Seeing what an obsession of a fixed abnormal

idea had done to the body and mind in many cases, New Thought tried to

regenerate the life in a positive and salutary direction by the conscious

implantation of a higher spiritual concept, until it, too, became obsessive, and

wrought an effect on the outer life coφrdinate with its own nature. The process

of hypnotic suggestion became a moral technique, with a potent religious

formula, according to which spiritual truth functioned in place of personal

magnetic force. Essentially it reduced itself to the business of self-hypnotization

by a lofty conception. Thought itself was seen to possess mesmeric

power. "As a man thinketh in his heart" became the slogan of New Thought, and

the kindred Biblical adjuration-"Be ye transformed by the renewing of your

mind"-furnished the needed incentive to positive mental aggression. The world of

today is familiar with the line of phrases which convey the basic ideology of

the New Thought cults. One hears much of being in tune with the Infinite, of

making the at-one-ment with the powers of life, of getting into harmony with the

universe, of making contact with the reservoir of Eternal Supply, of getting en

rapport with the Cosmic Consciousness, of keeping ourselves puny and stunted

because we do not ask more determinedly from the Boundless.

Here is unmistakable evidence of a somewhat diluted Hinduism. Under the

pioneering of P. P. Quimby, Horatio W. Dresser, and others, study clubs were

formed and lecture courses given. Charles Brodie Patterson, W. J. Colville,

James Lane Allen, C. D. Larson, Orison S. Marden, and a host of others, aided in

the popularization of these ideas, until in the past few decades there has been

witnessed an almost endless brood of ramifications from the parent conception,

with associations of Spiritual Science, Divine Science, Cosmic Truth, Universal

Light and Harmony carrying the message. So we have been called upon to witness

the odd spectacle of what was essentially Hindu Yoga philosophy masquerading in

the guise of commanding personality and forceful salesmanship! But grotesque as

these developments have been, there is no doubting their importance in the

Theosophical background. They have served to introduce the thought of the Orient

to thousands, and have become stepping-stones to its deeper investigation..19

A concomitant episode in the expansion of New Thought and Transcendentalism was

the direct program of Hindu propaganda fathered by Hindu spokesmen themselves.

When it became profitable, numerous Yogis, Swamis, "Adepts," and "Mahatmas" came

to this country and lectured on the doctrines and principles of Orientalism to

audiences of ιlite people with mystical susceptibilities. Some time in the

seventies, Boston was galvanized into a veritable quiver of interest in Eastern

doctrines by the eloquent P. C. Mazoomdar, author of The Oriental Christ, whose

campaign left its deep impress. His work, in fact, formed one of the links

between Unitarianism and Brahmanic thought, already noted. In 1893 Swami

Vivekananda, chosen as a delegate to the World Congress of Religions at the

Columbian Exposition at Chicago, and author of Yoga Philosophy, began preaching

the Yoga principles of thought and discipline, and instituted in New York the

Vedanta Society. Almost every year since his coming has brought public lectures

and private instruction courses by native Hindus in the large American cities.

Concomitant with the evolution of New Thought came the sensational dissemination

of Mrs. Eddy's Christian Science. Offspring of P. P. Quimby's mesmeric science,

and erected by Mrs. Eddy's strange enthusiasm into a healing cult based on a

reinterpretation of Christian doctrines-the allness of Spirit and the

nothingness of matter-the organization has enjoyed a steady and pronounced

growth and drawn into its pale thousands of Christian communicants who felt the

need of a more dynamic or more fruitful gospel. The conception of the impotence

of matter, as non-being, is as old as Greek and Hindu philosophy. Mrs. Eddy's

contribution in the matter was her use of the philosophical idea as a

psychological mantram for healing, and her adroitness in lining up the Christian

scriptures to support the idea.

It would require a fairly discerning insight to mark out clearly the inter-connection

of Christian Science and Theosophy. There is basically little

similarity between the two schools, or little common ground on which they might

meet. On the contrary there is much direct antagonism in their views and dogma.

Nevertheless the Boston cult tended indirectly to bring some of its votaries

along the path toward occultism. In the first place, like Unitarianism, it had

induced thousands of sincere seekers for a new and liberal faith to sever the

ties of their former servile attachment to an uninspiring orthodoxy. Secondly,

Christian Science does yeoman service in "demonstrating" the spiritual

viewpoint. Its emphasis on spirit, as opposed to material concepts of reality,

is entirely favorable to the general theses of Theosophy. Thirdly, the

intellectual limitations of the system develop the need of a larger philosophy,

which Theosophy stands ready to supply. Christian Science, being primarily a

Christian healing cult, with a body of ideas adequate to that function, often

leads the intelligent and open-minded student in its ranks to become aware that

it falls far short of offering a comprehensive philosophy of life. It has little

or nothing to say about man's origin, his present rank in a universal order, or

his destiny. It leaves the pivotal question of immortality in the same status as

does conventional Christianity. Many Christian Science adherents have seen that

Theosophy offers a fuller and more adequate cosmograph, and accordingly adopted

it. Their experience in the Eddy system brought them to the outer court of the

Occult Temple.20

Among major movements that paved the way for Theosophy, the one perhaps most

directly conducive to it is Spiritualism, for the founder of the Theosophical

Society began her career in the Spiritualistic ranks. On account of this close

relationship it is necessary to outline the origin and spread of this strange

movement more fully..20

The weird behavior of two country girls, the one twelve and the other nine, in

the hamlet of Hydesville, near Rochester, New York, in the spring of 1847, was

like a spark to power for the release of religious fancy; for Margaret and Kate

Fox were supposed to have picked up again the thread of communication between

the world of human consciousness and the world of disembodied spirits, and thus

to have given fresh reinforcement to man's assurance of immortality. From this

bizarre beginning the movement spread rapidly to all parts of America, England,

and France. In nearly every town in America groups were soon meeting, eager for

manifestations and fervently invoking the denizens of the unseen worlds. Various

methods and means were provided whereby the disembodied entities could

communicate with dull mundane faculties. Many and varied were the types of

response. Besides the simple "raps," there were tinklings of tiny aerial bells,

flashings of light, tipping of tables, levitation of furniture and of human

bodies, messages through the planchette, free voice messages, trumpet speaking,

alphabet rapping, materialization of the hands and of complete forms, trance

catalepsis and inspiration, automatic writing, slate writing, glossolalia, and

many other variety of phenomena. Mediums, clairvoyants, inspirational speakers

sprang forward plentifully; and each one became the focus of a group activity.

It is somewhat difficult for us to reconstruct the picture of this flare of

interest and activity, the scope of this absorbing passion for spirit

manifestation. It attests the eagerness of the human heart for tangible evidence

of survival. With periodical ebb and flow it has persisted to the present day,

when its vogue is hardly less general than at any former time. In the fifties

and sixties the Spiritualistic agitation was in full flush, with many

extraordinary occurrences accredited to its exponents.21

Spiritualism encountered opposition among the clergy and the materialistic

scientists, yet it has hardly ever been wanting in adherents among the members

of both groups. An acquaintance with its supporters would reveal a surprising

list of high civil and government officials, attorneys, clergymen, physicians,

professors, and scientists.22

One of the first Spiritualistic writers of this country was Robert Dale Owen,

whose Footfalls on the Boundary of Another World and The Debatable Land were

notable contributions. Two of the most eminent representatives of the movement

in its earliest days were Prof. Robert Hare, an eminent scientist and the

inventor of the oxyhydrogen blow-pipe, and Judge Edmonds, a leading jurist. Both

these men had approached the subject at first in a skeptical spirit, with the

intention of disclosing its unsound premises; but they were fair enough to study

the evidence impartially, with the result that both were convinced of the

genuineness of the phenomena. Both avowed their convictions courageously in

public, and Judge Edmonds made extensive lecture tours of the country, the

propaganda effect of which was great.23 Before the actual launching of the

Theosophical Society in 1875 at least four prominent later Theosophists had

played more or less important rτles in the drama of Spiritualism. Madame

Blavatsky, as we shall see, had identified herself with its activities; Mr. J.

R. Newton was a vigorous worker; and it was Col. Olcott himself who brought the

manifestations taking place in 1873 at the Eddy farmhouse near Chittenden,

Vermont, to public notice and who put forth one of the first large volumes

covering these and other phenomena in 1874, People From the Other World. The

fourth member was Mrs. Emma Hardinge Britten, who had served as a medium with

the Bulwer-Lytton group of psychic investigators in England, and who added two

books to Spiritualistic literature-Art Magic and Nineteenth Century Miracles.

Col. Olcott, Madame Blavatsky, and Mrs. Britten made material contributions to

several Spiritualistic magazines, especially The Spiritual Scientist, edited in


Meantime Spiritualistic investigation got under way and after the sixties a

stream of reports, case histories, accounts of phenomena, and books from

prominent advocates flooded the country. The Seybert Commission on Spiritualism,

composed of leading officers and professors at the University of Pennsylvania,

submitted its report in 1888. In the same year R. B. Davenport undertook to turn

the world away from what he considered a delusion with his book Deathblow to

Spiritualism: The True Story of the Fox Sisters; but he found that Spiritualism

had a strange vitality that enabled it to survive many a "deathblow." As a

result of studies in psychic phenomena in England came F. W. H. Myers'

impressive work, The Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death, in

which the foundations for the theory of the subliminal or subconscious mind were


But the work of the mediums themselves kept public feeling most keenly alert. A

list of some of the most prominent ones includes Mrs. Hayden, Henry Slade,

Pierre L. O. A. Keeler, the slate-writer, Robert Houdin (who bequeathed his name

and exploits to the later Houdini), Ira and William Davenport, Anna Eva Fay,

Charles Slade, Eusapia Paladino, Mrs. Leonara Piper. Robert Dale Owen, already

mentioned as author, was a medium of no mean ability. In the same category was

J. M. Peebles, of California, whose books, Seers of the Ages and Who Are These

Spiritualists? and whose public lecture tours, rendered him one of the most

prominent of all the advocates of the cult. A career of inspirational public

speaking was staged by Cora V. Richmond, who gave lectures on erudite themes

with an uncommon flow of eloquence. W. J. Colville began where she ended, giving

unprepared addresses on topics suggested by the audience.

The three most famous American mediums deserve somewhat more extended treatment.

The first of the trio is Daniel Dunglas Home, who was a poor Scottish boy

adopted in America. While a child, spiritual power manifested itself to him to

his terror and annoyance. Raps came around him on the table or desk, on the

chairs or walls. The furniture moved about and was attracted toward him. His

aunt, with whom he lived was in consternation at these phenomena, and, deeming

him possessed, sent for three clergymen to exorcise the spirit; when they did

not succeed, she threw his Sunday suit and linen out the window and pushed him

out-of-doors. He was thus cast on the world without friends, but the power that

he possessed raised him friends and sent him forth from America to be the

planter of Spiritualism all over Europe.24

The second of the triumvirate was Andrew Jackson Davis. His function seemed to

be that of the seer and the scribe, rather than of the producer of material

operations. He was born of poor parents, in 1826, in Orange Country, New York.

He seems to have inherited a clairvoyant faculty. He received only five months'

schooling in the village, it being "found impossible to teach him anything

there."25 During his solitary hours in the fields he saw visions and heard

voices. Removing to Poughkeepsie, he became the clairvoyant of a mesmeric

lecturer, and in this capacity began to excite wonder by his revelations. This

was before the Rochester knockings were heard. He diagnosed and healed diseases,

and prescribed for scores who came to him, surprising both patients and

physicians by his competence. Then he began to see "into the heart of things,"

to descry the essential nature of the world and the spiritual constitution of

the universe. He could see the interior of bodies and the metals hidden in the

earth. Adding his testimony to that of Fox and Swedenborg, he asserted that

every animal represented some human quality, some vice or virtue. He gave Greek

and Latin names of things, without having a knowledge of these languages. In a

vision he beheld The Magic Staff on which he was urged to learn during life; on

it was written his life's motto: "Under all circumstances keep an open mind." In

1845 he delivered one hundred and fifty-seven lectures in New York which.22

announced a new philosophy of the universe. They were published under the title,

Nature's Divine Revelation, a book of eight hundred pages. Davis then became a

voluminous writer.26

Thomas L. Harris, the third great representative, was much attracted by Davis'

The Divine Revelations of Nature, but developed spiritistic powers along a

somewhat different line, that of poetic inspiration. In his early exhibitions of

this supernormal faculty he dictated who epics, containing occasionally

excellent verse, under the alleged influence of Byron, Shelley, Keats and

others. The interesting manner in which these poems-a whole volume of three or

four hundred pages at a time-were created, is more amazing than their poetic

merit. Mr. Brittan, an English publisher, tells us that Harris dictated and he

wrote down The Lyric of the Golden Age, a poem of 381 pages, in ninety-four

hours! The Lyric of the Morning Land and other pretentious works were produced

in a similar manner.

"But," says William Howitt in his History of the Supernatural, "the progress of

Harris into an inspirational oratory is still more surprising. He claims, by

opening up his interior being, to receive influx of divine intuition in such

abundance and power as to throw off under its influence the most astonishing

strains of eloquence. This receptive and communicative power he attributes to an

internal spiritual breathing corresponding to the outer natural breathing. As

the body lungs imbibe air, so, he contends, the spiritual lungs inspire and

respire the divine aura, refluent with the highest thought and purest sentiment,

and that without any labor or trial of brain."27

Spiritualism is one of the most direct lines of approach to Theosophy, since an

acceptance of the possibility of spiritistic phenomena is a prerequisite for the

adoption of the larger scheme of occult truth. Spiritualism covers a portion of

the ground embraced by the belief in reincarnation, and in so far constitutes an

introduction to it. Theosophy is further, an endorsement of the primary position

of the Spiritualists regarding the survival of the soul entity, and thus

commends itself to their approbation. The Spiritualists have been considerably

vexed by the question of reincarnation, and their ranks are split over the

subject. Some of the message seem to endorse it, others evade it, and some

negate the idea. What is significant at this point is that the Spiritualistic

agitation prepared the way for Theosophic conceptions. A large percentage of the

first membership came from the ranks of the Spiritualists.

But Spiritualism is but one facet of a human interest which has expressed itself

in all ages, embracing the various forms of mysticism, occultism, esotericism,

magic, healing, wonder-working, arcane science, and theurgy. The growing

acquaintance with Yoga practice and Hindu philosophy in this country under the

stimulus of many eloquent Eastern representatives has already been mentioned.

The demonstrations of mesmeric power lent much plausibility to Oriental

pretensions to extraordinary genius for that sort of thing. More than might be

supposed, there was prevalent in Europe and America alike a never-dying

tradition of magical art, a survival of Medieval European beliefs in superhuman

activities and powers both in man and nature. Among the rural and unschooled

populations this tradition assumed the form of harmless superstitions. Among

more learned peoples it issued in philosophic speculations dealing with the

spiritual energies of nature, the hidden faculties of man, such as prophecy,

tongues and ecstatic vision, and the extent and possibility of man's control

over the external world through the manipulation of a subtle ether possessing

magnetic quality. The heritage of Paracelsus, Robert Fludd, Thomas Vaughn and

Roger Bacon, Agrippa von Nettesheim, the Florentine Platonists and their German,

French, and English heirs still lingered. The Christian scriptures were.23

themselves replete with incidents of the supernatural, with necromancy,

witchcraft, miracles, ghost-walking, spirit messages, symbolical dreams, and the

whole armory of thaumaturgical exploits. The doctrine of Satan was itself

calculated to enliven the imagination with ideas of demoniac possession, and was

all the more credible by reason of the prevalence of insanity which was ascribed

to spirit obsession. The early nineteenth century was must closer to the Middle

Ages than our own time is, not only because education was less general, but also

because a far larger proportion of the population was agrarian instead of

metropolitan. Such cults were, however, by no means restricted to "backwoods"

sections. They were astonishingly prevalent in the larger centers. More

enlightened groups accepted a less crude form of the practices. Where knowledge

ceases superstition may begin; and the problems of life that press upon us for

solution and that are still beyond our grasp, lead the mind into every sort of

rationalization or speculation.

Perhaps more people than acknowledge God in church pews believe in the existence

of intelligences that play a part in life, whether in answer to prayer, in

suggestive dreams, in occasional vision and apparitions, in messages through

mediums, or in whatever guise; and out of such an unreflective theology arise

many of the types of superstitious philosophy. To analyze this situation in its

entirety would take us into extensive fields of folk-lore and involve every sort

of old wives' tale imaginable. The chief point is that the varieties of chimney-corner

legend and omnipresent superstition have had their origin in a larger

primitive interpretation of the facts and forces of nature. They must be

recognized as the modern progeny of ancient hylozoism and animism. In the

childhood of our culture, as well as in the childhood of the race and of the

individual, there is a close sympathy between man and nature which leads him to

ascribe living quality to the external world. Countryside fables are doubtless

the jejune remnant of what was once felt to be a vital magnetic relation between

man's spirit and the spirit of the world. They are the distorted forms of some

of the ancient rites for effecting magical intercourse between man and nature.

While it is not to be inferred that Theosophy itself was built on the material

embodied in countryside credulity, it will be seen that the native inclination

toward an animistic interpretation of phenomena was in a measure true to the

deeper theses which the new cult presented. Madame Blavatsky herself says in

Isis Unveiled that the spontaneous responsiveness of the peasant mind is likely

to lead to a closer apprehension of the living spirit of Nature than can be

attained by the sophistications of reason.

The major tendencies in the direction of Theosophy have now been enumerated. It

remains only to mention the scattering of American students before 1875 whose

researches were taking them into the realm where the fundamentals of Theosophy

itself were to be found. We refer to the Rosicrucians, the Freemasons, the

Kabalists, Hermeticists, Egyptologists, Assyriologists, students of the

Mysteries, of the Christian origins, of the pagan cults, and the small but

gradually increasing number of Comparative Religionists and Philologists.28

There were men of intelligence both in Europe and America, who had kept on the

track of ancient and medieval esotericism, and the opening up of Sanskrit

literature gave a decided impetus to a renaissance of research in those realms.

The material that went into Frazer's Golden Bough, Ignatius Donnelley's

Atlantis: the Antediluvian World, Hargrave Jennings' The Rosicrucians,and many

other compendious works of the sort, was being collated out of the flotsam and

jetsam of ancient survival and assembled into a picture beginning to assume

definite outline and more than haphazard meaning. The great system of Neo-Platonism,

the Gnostics, with Apollonius of Tyana, and Philo Judaeus were coming

under inspection. The universality of religious myths and rites was being noted..24

In short, the large body of ancient thought, so deeply imbued with the occult,

was beginning to be scrutinized by the scholars of the nineteenth century.

It was into this situation that Madame Blavatsky came. Her office, she said, was

that of a clavigera; she bore a key which would provide students with a

principle of integration for the loose material which would enable them to piece

together the scattered stones and glittering jewels picked up here and there

into a structure of surpassing grandeur and priceless worth. She would show that

the gems of literature, whose mystic profundity astonished and perplexed the

savants, were but the fragments of a once-glorious spiritual Gnosis..25





Who was Madame Blavatsky? Every new rιgime of belief or of social organization

must be studied with a view to determining as far as possible how much of the

movement is a contribution of the individuality of the founder and how much

represents a traditional deposit. This inquiry is of first importance in a

consideration of the Theosophical Society, because, more than in most systems,

the personal endowment of its founder gave it its specific coloring, character

and form. It should be said at this point that the career of Madame Blavatsky as

outlined here does not purport to be a complete or authoritative biography. It

was obviously impossible to undertake such an investigation of her life, as the

difficulties of obscure research in three or four continents were practically

prohibitive. We have been forced to base our study upon the body of biographical

material that has been assembled around her name, emanating, first, from her

relatives, secondly, from her followers and admirers, and thirdly, from her

critics. Her life, up to the age of forty-two, narrowly escaped consignment to

the realm of mythology, if not total oblivion, but was at least partially

redeemed to the status of history by the exertions of Mr. A. P. Sinnett, who

procured information from members of her own family in Russia. His book,

Incidents in the Life of Madame Blavatsky, has been our chief source of

information about her youth and early career. The Countess Wachtmeister's

Reminiscences, Col. Olcott's Old Diary Leaves, V. Solovyoff's A Modern Priestess

of Isis and William Kingsland's The Real Helena P. Blavatsky, together with

Madame Blavatsky's own letters, especially those to Mr. And Mrs. A. P. Sinnett,

are the main works relied upon to guide our story. If the eventful life of our

subject is to be further redeemed from mystery and sheer tradition into which it

already seems to be fading, a more thorough critical study of it should be

undertaken, based upon authentic data collected from first-hand sources as far

as this is possible.

It is to be understood, then, that the aim in this treatise is to present her

career as it is told and believed by Theosophists, although it is admittedly

already partly legendary. The precise extent it is to be regarded as

mythological must be left to the individual reader, and to future study, to


Helena Petrovna Blavatsky was born in the Ukrainian city of Ekaterinoslaw on the

night between the 30th and 31st of July, 1831. Her father was Col. Peter Hahn,

and her mother previous to her marriage, Helene Fadeef. The father was the son

of Gen. Alexis Hahn von Rottenstern Hahn, from a noble family of Mecklenberg,

Germany, settled in Russia. Her mother's parents were Privy Councillor Andrew

Fadeef and the Princess Helene Dolgorouky. Madame Blavatsky's grandfather was a

cousin of Countess Ida Hahn-Hahn, the authoress. Her own mother was known in the

literary world between 1830 and 1840 under the nom de plume of Zenaοda R.-the.26

first novel writer that had ever appeared in Russia, says the account. Though

she died before her twenty-fifth year, she left some dozen novels of the

romantic school, most of which have been translated into German. The theory of

heredity would thus give us, apparently, abundant background for whatever

literary propensities the daughter was later to display. On her mother's side

she was a scion of the noble lineage of the Dolgorouky's, who could trace direct

connections with Russia's founder, Rurik, and the Imperial line.

Madame Blavatsky came on to the Russian scene during a year fatal to the Slavic

nation, as to all Europe, owing to the decimation of the population by the first

visitation of the cholera. Her own birth was quickened by several deaths in the

household. She was ushered into the world amid coffins and sorrowing. The infant

was so sickly that a hurried baptism was resorted to in the effort to anticipate

death. During the ceremony, which was signalized with elaborate Greek Catholic

paraphernalia of lighted tapers, the child-aunt of the baby accidentally set

fire to the long robes of the priest, who was severely burned. This incident was

interpreted as a bad omen, and in the eyes of the townsfolk the infant was

doomed to a life of trouble.

From the very date of her birth, a peculiar tradition operated to invest the

life of the growing child with an odor of superstition and mystic awe. In Russia

each household was supposed to be under the tutelary supervision of a Domovoy,

or house goblin, whose guardianship was propitious, except on March 30th, when,

for mysterious reasons, he became mischievous. But the tradition strangely

excepted from this malevolent spell of the Domovoy those born on the night of

July 30-31, a time closely associated in the annals of popular belief with

witches and their doings. The child came early to learn why it was that, on

every recurring March 30th, she was carried around the house, stables and cowpen

and made personally to sprinkle the four corners with water, while the nurse

repeated some mystic incantation. Her first conscious recognition of herself

must thus have been tinged with a feeling that she was in some particular

fashion set apart, that she was somehow the object of special care and attention

from invisible powers.

The Dnieper aided in weaving a spell of enchantment about her infancy. No

Cossack of Southern Ukraine ever crosses it without preparing himself for death.

Along its banks, where the child strolled with her nurses, the Rusalky (undines,

nymphs) haunted the willow trees and the rushes. She was told that she was

impervious to their influences, and in this sense of superiority she alone dared

to approach those sandy shores. She had heard the servants' tales of these

nymphs. Filled with this realization of her favored standing with the Rusalky,

she one day threatened a youngster who had roused her displeasure that she would

have the nymphs tickle him to death, whereupon the lad ran wildly away and was

found dead on the sands-whether from fright or from having stumbled into one of

the treacherous sandpits which the swirling waters quickly turn into whirlpools.

Her mother died when Mlle. Hahn was still a child. She and her younger sister

were taken to live with her father, in barracks with his regiment, and until the

age of eleven, they were entertained, amused and spoiled as les enfants du

rιgiment. After that they went to live at Saratow with their grandmother, where

their grandfather was civil governor. The child was "alternately petted and

punished, spoiled and hardened," and was difficult to manage. She was of

uncertain health, "ever sick and dying," a sleep walker, and given to abnormal

psychic peculiarities, ascribed by her orthodox nurses to possession by the

devil; so that, as she afterwards said, "she was drenched with enough holy water

to float a ship," and exorcised by priests. She was a born rebel against

restraint, and went into ungovernable fits of passion, which left her violently.27

shaken; but at the opposite apogee of her disposition she was filled with

impulses of the extremest kindliness and affection. Through life she had this

dual temper. Those who knew her better nature tolerated the irascible element.

She was lively, highly-gifted, full of humor, and of remarkable doing. She had a

passionate curiosity for everything savoring of the weird, the uncanny, the

mysterious; she was strangely attracted by the theme of death. Her imagination,

wildly roaming, appeared to create about her a world of fairy or elfish

creatures with whom she held converse in whispers by the hour. She defied all

and everything. She had to be watched lest she escape from the house and mingle

with ragged urchins. She preferred to listen to the tales of Madame Peigneur

(her governess) than do her lessons. She would openly rebel against her text-books

and run off to the woods or hide in the dusky corridors of the basement of

the great house where her grandfather lived. In a secluded dark recess in the

"Catacombs" she had erected a barrier of old broken chairs and tables, and

there, up near the ceiling under an iron-barred window, she would secrete

herself for hours, reading a book of popular legends known as Solomon's Wisdom.

At times she bent to her books in a spasm of scholarly devotion to amend for

mischief making. Her grandparents' enormous library was then the object of her

constant interest. No less passionately would she drink in the wonders of

narratives given in her presence. Every fairy-tale became a living event to her.

She would be found speaking to the stuffed animals and birds in the museum in

the old house. She said the pigeons were cooing fairy-tales to her. She heard a

voice in every natural object; nature was animate and, to her, articulate. She

seemed to know the inner life and secrets of every species of insect, bird, and

reptile found about the place. She would recreate their past and describe

vividly their feelings. At this early date she detailed the events of the past

incarnations of the stuffed animals in the museum.

Times without number the little girl was heard conversing with playmates of her

own age, invisible to others. There was in particular a little hunchback boy, a

favorite phantom companion of her solitude, for whose neglect by the servants

and nurses she was often excited to resentment.

"But amidst the strange double life she thus led from her earliest

recollections, she would sometimes have visions of a mature protector, whose

imposing appearance dominated her imagination from a very early period. This

protector was always the same, his features never changed; in after life she met

him as a living man and knew him as though she had been brought up in his


In the neighborhood of the residence was an old man, a magician, whose doings

filled the mind of the young seeress with wonder. The old man, a centenarian,

learned to know the young girl and he used to say of her: "This little lady is

quite different from all of you. There are great events lying in wait for her in

the future. I feel sorry in thinking that I will not live to see my predictions

of her verified; but they will all come to pass!"

Her whole career is dotted with miraculous escapes from danger and still more

miraculous recoveries from wounds, sicknesses and fevers. One of the first

appearances of a protective hand in her life came far back in her childhood. She

had always entertained a marked curiosity about a curtained portrait in her

grandfather's castle at Saratow. It was hung so high that it was far beyond her

reach. Denied permission to see it, she awaited her opportunity to catch a

glimpse of it by stealth; and when left alone on one occasion she dragged a

table to the wall, set another table on that, and a chair on top, and managed to

clamber up. On tiptoe she just contrived to pull back the curtain. The sight of.28

the picture was so startling that she made an involuntary movement backwards,

lost her balance and toppled with her pyramid to the floor. In falling she lost

consciousness; but when she came to her senses some moments afterwards, she was

amazed to see the tables, chairs, and everything in proper order in the room.

The curtain was slipped back again on the rings, and no mark of the episode was

left except the imprint of her small hand on the wall high up beside the


At another time, when she was nearing the age of fourteen, her riding horse

bolted and flung her, with her foot caught in the stirrup. As the animal plunged

forward she expected to be dragged to death, but felt herself buoyed up by a

strange force, and escaped without a scratch.

It was not many years more until the young girl's possession of gifts and

extraordinary faculties, commonly classed as mediumistic, became an admitted

fact among her relatives and close associates. She would answer questions

locating lost property, or solving other perplexities of the household. She

sometimes blurted out to visitors that they would die, or meet with misfortune

or accident; and her prophecies usually came true.

In 1844 the father, Col. Hahn, took Helena for her first journey abroad. She

went with him to Paris and London, but proved a troublesome charge.

Her youthful marriage deserves narration with some fulness, if only because it

precipitated the lady out of her home and into that phase of her career which

has been referred to as her period of preparation and apprenticeship. As her

aunt, Madame Fadeef, describes her marriage:

"she cared not whether she should get married or not. She had been simply defied

one day by her governess to find any man who would be her husband, in view of

her temper and disposition. The governess, to emphasize the taunt, said that

even the old man she had found so ugly and had laughed at so much calling him a

'plumeless raven,' that even he would decline her for his wife. That was enough;

three days afterwards she made him propose, and then, frightened at what she had

done, sought to escape from her joking acceptance of his offer. But it was too

late. All she knew and understood was-when too late-that she was now forced to

accept a master she cared nothing for, nay, that she hated; that she was tied to

him by the law of the country, hand and foot. A 'great horror' crept upon her,

as she explained it later; one desire, ardent, unceasing, irresistible, got hold

of her entire being, led her on, so to say, by the hand, forcing her to act

instinctively, as she would have done if, in the act of saving her life, she had

been running away from a mortal danger. There had been a distinct attempt to

impress her with the solemnity of marriage, with her future obligations and her

duties to her husband and married life. A few hours later at the altar she heard

the priest saying to her: 'Thou shalt honor and obey thy husband,' and at this

hated word 'shalt' her young face-for she was hardly seventeen-was seen to flush

angrily, then to become deadly pale. She was overheard to mutter in response

through her set teeth-'Surely I shall not.'

"And surely she has not. Forthwith she determined to take the law and her future

life into her own hands, and-she left her husband forever, without giving him an

opportunity to ever even think of her as his wife.

"Thus Madame Blavatsky abandoned her country at seventeen and passed ten long

years in strange and out-of-the-way places,--in Central Asia, India, South

America, Africa and Eastern Europe."2.29

True, before taking this drastic step she acceded to her father's plea to do the

conventional thing; and she let the old General take her, though even then not

without attempts to escape, on what may by courtesy of language be called a

honeymoon, which drawled out, amid bickerings, to a length of three months, and

was terminated after a bitter quarrel by the bride's dash for freedom on

horseback. Gen. Blavatsky by this time saw the impossibility of the situation

and acceded to the inevitable.

Tracing the life of Madame Blavatsky from this event through her personally-conducted

globe-roaming becomes difficult, owing to the meagreness of

information. Her relatives and her later Theosophic associates have done their

best to piece together the crazy-quilt design of her wanderings and attendant

events of any significance. She herself kept no chronicle of her journeys, and

it was only at long intervals, when she emerged out of the deserts or jungles of

a country to visit its metropolis, or when she needed to write for money, that

she sent letters back home. The family was at first alarmed by her defection

from the fireside, but were constrained to acquiesce in the situation by their

recognition of her immitigable distaste for her veteran husband. If no other tie

kept her attached to the home circle, her need of funds obliged her to keep in

touch with her father, who supplied her with money without betraying her

confidences as to her successive destinations. He acceded to her plans because

he had tried in vain to secure a Russian divorce; and he felt that a few years

of travel for his daughter might best ease the family situation. Ten years

elapsed before the fugitive saw her relatives again.

Her first emergence after her disappearance was in Egypt. She seems to have

traveled there with a Countess K------, and at that time began to pick up some

occult teaching of a poorer sort. She encountered an old Copt, a man with a

great reputation as a magician. She proved an apt pupil, and the instructor

became so much interested in her that when she revisited Egypt years later, the

special attention he (then a retired ascetic) showed her, attracted the notice

of the populace at Bulak.

After her appearance in Egypt she seems to have bobbed up in Paris, where she

made the acquaintance of many literary people, and where a famous mesmerist,

struck with her psychic gifts, was eager to put her to work as a sensitive. To

escape his importunities she appears to have gone to London. There she stayed

for a time with an old Russian lady, a Countess B., at Mivart's Hotel. She

remained for some time after her friend's departure, but could not afterwards

recall where she resided.

Occasionally in her travels she fell in with fellow Russians who were glad to

accompany her and sometimes to befriend her. She indulged in a tour about Europe

in 1850 with the Countess B., but was again in Paris when the New Year of 1851

was acclaimed. Her next move was actuated by a passionate interest in the North

American Indians, which she had acquired from a perusal of Fenimore Cooper's

Leatherstocking Tales. Her zeal in this pursuit took her to Canada in July of

1851. At Quebec her idealizations suffered a rude shock, when, being introduced

to a party of Indians, both the noble Redskins and some articles of her property

disappeared while she was trying to pry from the squaws a recital of the secret

powers of their medicine men. Dropping the Indians, she turned her interest to

the rising sect of the Mormons, being attracted doubtless by their possession of

an alleged Hermetic document obtained through psychic revelation. But the

destruction of the original Mormon city of Nauvoo, Missouri, by a mob, scattered

the sect across the plains, and Madame Blavatsky thought the time propitious for

exploring the traditions and arcana of Mexico. She came to New Orleans. Here the

Voodoo practices of a settlement of Negroes from the West Indies engaged her.30

interest, and her reckless curiosity might have led her into dangerous contact

with these magicians; but her protective power reappeared to warn her in a

vision of the risk she was running, and she hastened on to new experiences.

Through Texas she reached Mexico, protected only by her own reckless daring and

by the occasional intercession of some chance companion. She seems to have owed

much in this way to an old Canadian, Pθre Jacques, who steered her safely

through many perils. At Copau in Mexico she chanced to meet a Hindu, who styled

himself a "chela" of the Masters (or adepts in Oriental occult science), and she

resolved to seek that land of mystic enchantment and penetrate northward into

the very lairs of the mystic Brotherhood. She wrote to an Englishman, whom she

had met two years before in Germany, and who shared her interest, to join them

in the West Indies. Upon his arrival the three pilgrims took boat for India. The

party arrived at Bombay, via the Cape to Ceylon, near the end of 1852. Madame's

own headstrong bent to enter Tibet via Nepal in search of her Mahatmas broke up

the trio. She made the hazardous attempt to enter the Forbidden Land of the

Lamas, but was prevented, she always believed, by the opposition of a British

resident then in Nepal. Baffled, she returned to Southern India, thence to Java

and Singapore and thence back to England.

But that country's embroilment in the Crimean War distressed her sense of

patriotism, and about the end of the year 1853 she passed over again to America,

going to New York, thence west to Chicago and on to the Far West across the

Rockies with emigrant caravans. She halted a while at San Francisco. Her stay in

America this time lengthened to nearly two years. She then once more made her

way to India, via Japan and the Straits. She reached Calcutta in 1855.

In India, in 1856, she was joined at Lahore by a German gentleman who had been

requested by Col. Hahn to find his errant daughter. With him and his two

companions Madame Blavatsky traveled through Kashmir to Leli in Ladakh in

company with a Tatar Shaman, who was instrumental in procuring for the party the

favor of witnessing some magic rites performed at a Buddhist monastery. Her

experiences there she afterwards described in Isis,3 and they are too long for

recital here. One of the exploits of the old priest was the psychic vivification

of the body of an infant who (not yet of walking age) arose and spoke eloquently

of spiritual things and prophesied, while dominated by a magnetic current from

the operator.4 The psychic feat performed by her Shaman guide was even more

wonderful. Yielding to Madame's importunities at a time when she was herself in

grave danger, he released himself from his body as he lay in a tent, and carried

a message to a friend of the young woman residing in Wallachia, from whom he

brought back an answer.5 Shortly after this incident, perceiving their danger,

the Shaman, by mental telepathy apprised a friendly tribal ruler of their

situation, and a band of twenty-five horsemen was sent to rescue the two

travelers, finding them in a locality to which they had been directed by their

chief, yet of which the two had had no possible earthly means of informing him.

Safely out of the Tibetan wilds-and she came out by roads and passes of which

she had no previous knowledge-she was directed by her occult guardian to leave

the country, shortly before the troubles which began in 1857. In 1858 she was

once more in Europe.

By this time her name had accumulated some renown, and it was freely mentioned

in connection with both the low and the high life of Vienna, Berlin, Warsaw, and

Paris. Her alleged absence from these places at the times throws doubt on the

accuracy of these reports. After spending some months in France and Germany upon

her return from India, she finally ended her self-imposed exile and rejoined her

own people in Russia, arriving at Pskoff, about 180 miles from St. Petersburg,.31

in the midst of a family wedding party on Christmas night. Her reason for going

to Pskoff was that her sister Vera-then Madame Yahontoff-was at the time

residing there with the family of her late husband, son of the General N. A.

Yahontoff, Marechal de Noblesse of the place.

Soon afterwards, early in 1859, Madame Blavatsky and her sister went to reside

with their father in a country house belonging to Madame Yahontoff. This was at

Rougodevo, about 200 versts from St. Petersburg. About a year later, in the

spring of 1860, both sisters left Rougodevo for the Caucasus on a visit to their

grandparents, whom they had not seen for years. It was a three weeks' journey

from Moscow to Tiflis, in coach with post horses. Madame Blavatsky remained in

Tiflis less than two years, adding another year of roaming about in Imeretia,

Georgia, and Mingrelia, exciting the superstitious sensibilities of the

inhabitants of the Mingrelia region to an inordinate degree and gaining a

reputation for witchcraft and sorcery. She was there taken down with a wasting

fever, which an old army surgeon could make nothing of; but he had the good

sense to send her off to Tiflis to her friends. Recovering after a time, she

left the Caucasus and went to Italy. Here, the legend goes, she, with some other

European women, volunteered to serve with Garibaldi and was under severe fire in

the battle of Mentana.6

The four years intervening between 1863 and 1867 seem to have been spent in

European travel, though the records are barren of accurate detail. But the three

from 1867 to 1870 were passed in the East,7 and were quite fruitful and


In 1870 she returned from the Orient, coming through the newly opened Suez

Canal, spent a short time in Piraeus, and from there took passage for Spezzia on

board a Greek vessel. On this voyage she was one of the very few saved from

death in a terrible catastrophe, the vessel being blown to bits by an explosion

of gunpowder and fireworks in the cargo. Rescued with only the clothes they

wore, the survivors were looked after by the Greek government, which forwarded

them to various destinations. Madame Blavatsky went to Alexandria and to Cairo,

tarrying at the latter place until money reached her from Russia.

While awaiting the arrival of funds, the energetic woman determined to found a

Sociιtι Spirite, for the investigation of mediums and manifestations according

to the theories and philosophy of Allen Kardec. The latter was an outstanding

advocate of Spiritualistic philosophy on the Continent. He had correlated the

commonly reported spiritistic exploits to a more profound and involved theory of

cosmic evolution and a higher spirituality in man. His work, Life and Destiny,

written under the pseudonym of Leon Denis, unfolded a comprehensive system of

spiritual truth identical in its main features with Theosophy itself. His

interests were not primarily in spiritistic phenomena for themselves, but for

what they revealed of the inner spiritual capacities and potentialities of our

evolving Psyche.

It required but a few weeks to disgust Madame Blavatsky with her fruitless

undertaking. Some French female spiritists, whom she had drafted for service as

mediums, in lack of better, proved to be adventuresses following in the wake of

M. de Lesseps' army of engineers and workmen, and they concluded by stealing the

Society's funds. She wrote home:

"To wind up the comedy with a drama, I got nearly shot by a madman-a Greek, who

had been present at the only two public sιances we held, and got possessed I

suppose, by some vile spook."8.32

She terminated the affairs of her Sociιtι and went to Bulak, where she renewed

her previous acquaintance with the old Copt. His unconcealed interest in his

visitor aroused some slanderous talk about her. Disgusted with the growing

gossip, she went home by way of Palestine, making a side voyage to Palmyra and

other ruins, and meeting there some Russian friends. At the end of 1872 she

returned without warning to her family, then at Odessa.

In 1873 she again abandoned her home, and Paris was her first objective. She

stayed there with a cousin, Nicholas Hahn, for two months. While in Paris she

was directed by her "spiritual overseers" to visit the United States, "where she

would meet a man by the name of Olcott," with whom she was to undertake an

important enterprise. Obedient to her orders she arrived at New York on July

7th, 1873.9 She was for a time practically without funds; actually, as Col.

Olcott avers, "in the most dismal want, having . . . to boil her coffee-dregs

over and over again for lack of pence for buying a fresh supply; and to keep off

starvation, at last had to work with her needle for a maker of cravats."10

During this interval she was lodged in a wretched tenement house in the East

Side, and made cravats for a kindly old Jew, whose help at this time she never

forgot.11 In her squalid quarters she was sought out by a veteran journalist,

Miss Anna Ballard, in search of copy for a Russian story. She received, in late

October, a legacy from the estate of her father, who had died early in that

month. A draft of one thousand rubles was first sent her, and later the entire

sum bequeathed to her. Then in affluence she moved to better quarters, first to

Union Square, then to East 16th Street, then to Irving Place. But her money did

not abide in her keeping long. In regard to the sources of her income after her

patrimony had been flung generously to the winds, we are told, upon Col.

Olcott's pledged honor, that both his and her wants, after the organization of

the Theosophical Society, were frequently provided for by the occult

ministrations of the Masters. He claims that during the many years of their

joint campaigns for Theosophy, especially in India, the treasure-chest at

headquarters, after having been depleted, would be found supplied with funds

from unknown sources. Shopping one day in New York with Colonel, she made

purchases to the amount of about fifty dollars. He paid the bills. On returning

home she thrust some banknotes into his hand, saying: "There are your fifty

dollars." He is certain she had no money of her own, and no visitor had come in

from whom she could have borrowed. Once during this period she created the

duplicate of a thousand dollar note while it was held in the hand of the Hon.

John L. O'Sullivan, formerly Ambassador to Portugal; but it faded away during

the two following days. Its serial number was identical with that of its

prototype. The knowledge that financial help would come at need, however, did

not dispose Madame Blavatsky to relax her effort toward her own sustenance.12

During this time, and for nearly all the remainder of her life, the Russian

noblewoman spent large stretches of her time in writing occult, mystic, and

scientific articles for Russian periodicals. This constituted her main source of

income. Col. Olcott states that her Russian articles were so highly prized that

"the conductor of the most important of their reviews actually besought her to

write constantly for it, on terms as high as they gave Turgenev."13

A chronicle of her life during this epoch may not omit her second marriage,

which proved ill-fated at the first. It came about as follows: A Mr. B., a

Russian subject, learning of her psychic gifts through Col. Olcott, asked the

Colonel to arrange for him a meeting with his countrywoman. He proceeded to fall

into a profound state of admiration for Madame Blavatsky, which deepened though

he was persistently rebuffed, and he finally threatened to take his life unless

she would relent. He proclaimed his motives to be only protective, and expressly

waived a husband's claims to the privileges of married life. In what appears to

have been madness or some sort of desperation, she agreed finally, on these.33

terms, to be his wife. Even then it was specified that she retain her own name

and be free from all restraint, for the sake of her work. A Unitarian clergyman

married them in Philadelphia, and they lived for some few months in a house on

Sansom Street. When taken to task by her friend Olcott, she explained that it

was a misfortune to which she was doomed by an inexorable Karma; that it was a

punishment to her for a streak of pride which was hindering her spiritual

development; but that it would result in no harm to the young man. The husband

forgot his earlier protestations of Platonic detachment, and became an

importunate lover. Madame Blavatsky developed a dangerous illness at this time

as a result of a fall upon an icy sidewalk in New York the previous winter, and

her knee became so violently inflamed that a partial mortification of the leg

set in. The physician declared that nothing but instant amputation could save

her life; but she discarded his advice, called upon that source of help which

had come to her in a number of exigencies, recovered immediately and left her

husband's "bed and board." He, after some months of waiting, saw her obduracy

and procured a divorce on the ground of desertion.14

During the latter part of her stay in New York she and Col. Olcott took an

apartment of seven rooms at the corner of 47th Street and 8th Avenue, which came

to be called "The Lamasery," in jocular reference to her Tibetan connections.

"The Lamasery" became a social and intellectual center during her residence

there. Col. Olcott says:

". . . her mirthfulness, epigrammatic wit, brilliance of conversation, careless

friendliness to those she liked . . ., her fund of anecdote, and, chiefest

attraction to most of her callers, her amazing psychical phenomena, made the

'Lamasery' the most attractive salon of the metropolis from 1876 to the close of


Madame spent her day-hours in writing, her custom for years; and held open house

for visitors in the evening. There was always discussion of one or another

aspect of occult philosophy, in which she naturally took the commanding part.

She would pour out an endless flow of argument and supporting data, augmented at

favorable times by a sudden exhibition of magical power. She seemed tireless in

her psychic energy.

Several persons have left good word-pictures of her. Col. Olcott graphically

describes her appearance upon the occasion of their first meeting in the old

Eddy farmhouse, in Vermont, where they both came in '74 to study the "spooks."

Col. Olcott had been on the scene for some time, as a representative of the New

York Daily Graphic, when Madame Blavatsky arrived. He was struck by her general

appearance, and he contrived to introduce himself to her through the medium of a

gallant offer of a light for her cigarette.

"It was a massive Kalmuc face," he writes, "contrasting in its suggestion of

power, culture and impressiveness, as strangely with the commonplace visages

about the room, as her red garment did with the gray and white tones of the wall

and the woodwork, and the dull costumes of the rest of the guests. All sorts of

cranky people were continually coming and going at Eddy's, and it only struck

me, on seeing this eccentric lady, that this was but one more of the sort.

Pausing on the doorstep I whispered to Kappes, 'Good Gracious! Look at that

specimen, will you!'"16

In her autobiography the Princess Helene von Racowitza makes some interesting

references to Madame Blavatsky, whom she knew intimately..34

"I discovered in her the most remarkable being (for one hardly dare designate

her with the simple name of woman). She gave me new life; . . . she brought new

interest into my existence. Regarding her personal appearance, the head, which

rose from the dark flowing garments, was immensely characteristic, although far

more ugly than beautiful. A true Russian type, a short thick nose, prominent

cheek bones, a small clever mobile mouth, with little fine teeth, brown and very

curly hair, and almost like that of a negro's; a sallow complexion, but a pair

of eyes the like of which I had never seen; pale blue, grey as water, but with a

glance deep and penetrating, and as compelling as if it beheld the inner heart

of things. Sometimes they held an expression as though fixed on something afar,

high and immeasurably above all earthly things. She always wore long dark

flowing garments and had ideally beautiful hands.

"But how shall I attempt to describe . . . her being, her power, her abilities

and her character? She was a combination of the most heterogeneous qualities. By

all she was considered as a sort of Cagliostro or St. Germain. She conversed

with equal facility in Russian, English, French, German, Italian and certain

dialects of Hindustani; yet she lacked all positive knowledge-even the most

superficial European school training.

"In matters of social life she . . . joined an irresistible charm in

conversation, that comprised chiefly an intense comprehension of everything

noble and great, with the most original and often coarse humor, a mode of

expression which was the comical despair of prudish Anglo-Saxons.

"Her contempt for and rebellion against all social conventions made her appear

sometimes even coarser than was her wont, and she hated and fought conventional

lying with real Don Quixotic courage. But whoever approached her in poverty or

rags, hungry and needing comfort, could be sure to find in her a warm heart and

an open hand. . . . No drop of wine, beer or fermented liquors ever passed her

lips, and she had a most fanatical hatred of everything intoxicating. Her

hospitality was genuinely Oriental. She placed everything she possessed at the

disposal of her friends."17

Mr. J. Ranson Bridges, a none too kindly critic, who had considerable

correspondence with her from 1888 till her death, says:

"Whatever may be the ultimate verdict upon the life and work of this woman, her

place in history will be unique. There was a Titanic display of strength in

everything she did. The storms that raged within her were cyclones. Those

exposed to them often felt, with Solovyoff, that if there were holy and sage

Mahatmas, they could not remain holy and sage and have anything to do with

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. Yet she could be as tender and sympathetic as any

mother. Her mastery of some natures seemed complete. . . . To these disciples

she was the greatest thaumaturgist known to the world since the time of


In a moment of gayety she once dashed off the following description of herself:

"An old woman, whether 40, 50, 60 or 90 years old, it matters not; an old woman

whose Kalmuco-Buddhisto-Tartaric features, even in youth, never made her appear

pretty; a woman whose ungainly garb, uncouth manners, and masculine habits are

enough to frighten any bustled and corseted fine lady of fashionable society out

of her wits."19

For all her psychic insight, she seemed unable to protect herself against those

who fawned upon her, cultivated her society, and then repaid her by desertion or.35

slander. She was open to any one who professed occult interest, and she readily

took up with many such persons who later became bitter critics.

Much ado was made by delicate ladies in her day of her cigarette addiction. Her

evident masculinity, her lack of many of the niceties which ladies commonly

affect, her scorn of conventions, her failure to put on the airs of a woman of

noble rank, her occasional coarse language, and her violence of temper over

petty things, have led many people to infer that the message that she brought

could not have been pure and lofty.

Theosophists put forward an explanation of her irascibility and nervous

instability, in a theory which must sound exotic to the uninitiated. They state

that when she studied in Tibet under her Masters, and was initiated into the

mysteries of their occult knowledge, they extricated, by processes in which they

are alleged to be adepts, one of her astral bodies and retained it so as to be

able to maintain, through an etheric radio vibration, a constant line of

communication with her in any part of the world. This left her in a state of

unstable equilibrium nervously, and rendered her subject to a greater degree of

irritation than would normally have been the case.

Madame Blavatsky's life story, covered now in its outward phases, is not

complete without consideration of that remarkable series of psychic phenomena

which give inner meaning to her career. In and of themselves they form a

narrative of great interest, on a par with the legendary lives of many other

saints. The story is a long one; a complete record of all her wonder-working, as

told in the Theosophic accounts, would alone fill the space of this volume. A

digest of this material must be made here, though a critical examination is, as

said above, not attempted.

When, in 1858, she returned home from her first exile of ten years, Spiritualism

was just looming on the horizon of Europe. Nothing seems to be mentioned in the

several biographical sketches, of her coming in contact with the sweep of the

Spiritualistic wave that was at full height in the United States during the

early fifties, when she passed through that country. However the case may be,

she returned home in 1858 with her occult powers already fully developed, and

proceeded to make frequent display of them.

At Pskoff, with her sister's husband's family, the Yahontoff's, raps, knocks,

and other sounds occurred incessantly; furniture moved without any contact;

particles changed their weight; and either absent living folk or the dead were

seen both by herself and her relatives many times. Wherever the young woman went

"things" happened. Laughing at the continued recurrence of these mysterious

activities, she averred to her sisters that she could make them cease or

redouble their frequency and power, by the sheer force of her own will.20 The

psychic demonstrations supposedly took place in entire independence of her

coφperation, but she could, if she chose, interject her will and assume control.

Her sister, Madame de Jelihowsky, remembers Helena's laughing when addressed as

a medium, and assuring her friends that "she was no medium, but only a mediator

between mortals and beings we know nothing about."21 The reports of her

wonderful exploits following her arrival at Pskoff in 1858 threw that town into

a swirl of excited gossip. There was a great deal of fashionable company at the

Yahontoff home in those days. Madame's presence itself attracted many. Seldom

did any of the numerous callers go away unsatisfied, for to their inquiries the

raps gave answer, often long ones in different languages, some of which were not

in Madame Blavatsky's repertoire. The willing "medium" was subjected to every

kind of test, to which she submitted gracefully..36

An instance of her power was her mystification of her own brother, Leonide de

Hahn. A company was gathered in the drawing room, and Leonide was walking

leisurely about, unconcerned with the stunts which his gifted sister was

producing for the diversion of the visitors. He stopped behind the girl's chair

just as some one was telling how magicians change the avoirdupois of objects.

"And you mean to say that you can do it?" he asked his sister ironically.

"Mediums can, and I have done it occasionally," was the reply. "But would you

try?" some one asked. "I will try, but promise nothing." Hereupon one of the

young men advanced and lifted a light chess table with great ease. Madame then

told them to leave it alone and stand back. She was not near it herself. In the

expectant silence that ensued she merely looked intently at the table. Then she

invited the same young man who had just lifted it to do so again. He tried, with

great assurance of his ability, but could not stir the table an inch. He grew

red with the effort, but without avail. The brother, thinking that his sister

had arranged the play with his friend as a little joke on him, now advanced.

"May I also try?" he asked her. "Please do, my dear," she laughed. He seized the

table and struggled; whereat his smile vanished. Try as he would, his effort was

futile. Others tried it with the same result. After a while Helena urged Leonide

to try it once more. He lifted it now with no effort.

A few months later, Madame Blavatsky, her father and sister, having left Pskoff

and lodging at a hotel in St. Petersburg, were visited by two old friends of

Col. Hahn, both now much interested in Spiritualism. After witnessing some of

Helena's performances, the two guests expressed great surprise at the father's

continued apathy toward his daughter's abilities. After some bantering they

began to insist that he should at least consent to an experiment, before denying

the importance of the phenomena. They suggested that he retire to an adjoining

room, write a word on a slip of paper, conceal it and see if his daughter could

persuade the raps to reveal it. The old gentleman consented, believing he could

discredit the foolish nonsense, as he termed it, once for all. He retired, wrote

the word and returned, venturing in his confidence the assertion that if this

experiment were successful, he "would believe in the devil, undines, sorcerers,

and witches, in the whole paraphernalia, in short, of old woman's superstitions;

and you may prepare to offer me as an inmate of a lunatic asylum."22 He went on

with his solitaire in a corner, while the friends took note of the raps now

beginning. The younger sister was repeating the alphabet, the raps sounding at

the desired letter; one of the visitors marked it down. Madame Blavatsky did

nothing apparently. By this means one single word was got, but it seemed so

grotesque and meaningless that a sense of failure filled the minds of the

experimenters. Questioning whether that one word was the entire message, the

raps sounded "Yes-yes-yes!" The younger girl then turned to her father and told

them that they had got but one word. "Well what is it?" he demanded.

"Zaοchik."23 It was a sight indeed to witness the change that came over the old

man's face at hearing this one word. He became deadly pale. Adjusting his

spectacles with a trembling hand, he stretched it out, saying, "Let me see it!

Hand it over. Is it really so?" He took the slips of paper and read in a very

agitated voice "Zaοchik." Yes; Zaοchik; so it is. How very strange!" Taking out

of his pocket the paper he had written on in the next room, he handed it in

silence to his daughter and guests. On it they found he had written: "What was

the name of my favorite horse which I rode during my first Turkish campaign?"

And lower down, in parenthesis, the answer,--" Zaοchik."

The old Colonel, now assured there was more than child's play in his daughter's

pretensions, rushed into the region of phenomena with great zeal. He did not

matriculate at an asylum; instead he set Helena to work investigating his family

tree. He was stimulated to this inquiry by having received the date of a certain

event in his ancestral history of several hundred years before, which he.37

verified by reference to old documents. Scores of historical events connected

with his family were now given him; names unheard of, relationships unknown,

positions held, marriages, deaths; and all were found on painstaking research to

have been correct in every item! All this information was given rapidly and

unhesitatingly. The investigation lasted for months.

In the spring of 1858 both sisters were living with their father in the country-house

in a village belonging to Mme. Yahontoff. In consequence of a murder

committed near their property, the Superintendent of the District Police passed

through the villages and stopped at their house to make some inquiries. No one

in the village knew who had committed the crime. During tea, as all were sitting

around the table, the raps came, and there were the usual disturbances around

the room. Col. Hahn suggested to the Superintendent that he had better try his

daughter's invisible helpers for information. He laughed incredulously. He had

heard of "spirits," he said, but was derisive of their ability to give

information in "a real case." This scorn of her powers caused the young girl to

desire to humble the arrogant officer. She turned fiercely upon him. "And

suppose I prove to you the contrary?" she defiantly asked him. "Then," he

answered, "I would resign my office and offer it to you, Madame, or, better

still, I would strongly urge the authorities to place you at the head of the

Secret Police Department." "Now look here, Captain," she said indignantly. "I do

not like meddling in such dirty business and helping you detectives. Yet, since

you defy me, let my father say over the alphabet and you put down the letters

and record what will be rapped out. My presence is not needed for this, and with

your permission I shall even leave the room." She went out, with a book, to

read. The inquiry in the next room produced the name of the murderer, the fact

that he had crossed over into the next district and was then hiding in the hay

in the loft of a peasant, Andrew Vlassof, in the village of Oreshkino. Further

information was elicited to the effect that the murderer was an old soldier on

leave; he was drunk and had quarreled with his victim. The murder was not

premeditated; rather a misfortune than a crime. The Superintendent rushed

precipitately out of the house and drove off to Oreshkino, more than 30 miles

distant. A letter came by courier the following morning saying that everything

given by the raps had proved absolutely correct. This incident produced a great

uproar in the district and Madame's work was viewed in a more serious light. Her

family, however, had some difficulty convincing the more distant authorities

that they had no natural means of being familiar with the crime.

One evening while all sat in the dining room, loud chords of music were struck

on the closed piano in the next room, visible to all through the open door. On

another occasion Madame's tobacco pouch, her box of matches and her handkerchief

came rushing to her through the air, upon a mere look from her. Many visitors to

her apartment in later years witnessed this same procedure. Again, one evening,

all lights were suddenly extinguished, an amazing noise was heard, and though a

match was struck in a moment, all the heavy furniture was found overturned on

the floor. The locked piano played a loud march. The manifestations taking place

when the home circle was unmixed with visitors were usually of the most

pronounced character.

Sometimes there were alleged communications from the spirits of historical

personages, not the inevitable Napoleon and Cleopatra, but Socrates, Cicero and

Martin Luther, and they ranged from great power and vigor of thought to almost

flippant silliness. Some from the shade of the Russian poet Pushkin were quite


While the family read aloud the Memoirs of Catherine Romanovna Dashkoff, they

were interrupted many times by the alleged spirit of the authoress herself,

interjecting remarks, making additions, offering explanations and refutations.

In the early part of 1859 the sister, Madame Jelihowsky, inherited a country

village from the estate of her late husband at Rougodevo, and there the family,

including Helena, went to reside for a period. No one in the party had ever

known any of the previous occupants of the estate. Soon after settling down in

the old mansion, Madame discerned the shades of half a dozen of the former

inhabitants in one of the unoccupied wings and described them to her sister.

Seeking out several old servants, she found that every one of the wraiths could

be identified and named by the aged domestics. The young woman's description of

one man was that he had long finger nails, like a Chinaman's. The servant stated

that one of the former residents had contracted a disease in Lithuania, which

renders cutting of the nails a certain road to death through bleeding.

Sometimes the other members of the family would converse with the rapping forces

without disturbing Helena at all. The forces played more strongly than every, it

seemed, when Madame was asleep or sick. A physician once attending her illness

was almost frightened away by the noises and moving furniture in the bedroom.

A terrible illness befell her near the end of the stay at Rougodevo. Years

before, her relatives believed during her solitary travels over the steppes of

Asia, she had received a wound. This wound reopened occasionally, and then she

suffered intense agony, which lasted three or four days and then the wound would

heal as suddenly as it had opened, and her illness would vanish. On one occasion

a physician was called; but he proved of little use, because the prodigious

phenomena which he witnessed left him almost powerless to act. Having examined

the wound, the patient being prostrated and unconscious, he saw a large dark

hand between his own and the wound he was about to dress. The wound was near the

heart, and the hand moved back and forth between the neck and the waist. To make

the apparition worse, there came in the room a terrific noise, from ceiling,

floor, windows, and furniture, so that the poor man begged not to be left alone

in the room with the patient.

In the spring of 1860 the two sisters left Rougodevo for a visit to their

grandparents in the south of Russia, and during the long slow journey many

incidents took place. At one station, where a surly, half-drunken station-master

refused to lend them a fresh relay of horses, and there was no fit room for

their accommodation over the night, Helena terrified him into sense and reason

by whispering into his ear some strange secret of his, which he believed no one

knew and which it was to his interest to keep hidden.

At Jadonsk, where a halt was made, they attended a church service, where the

prelate, the famous and learned Isidore, who had known them in childhood,

recognized them and invited them to visit him at the Metropolitan's house. He

received them when they came with great kindliness; but hardly had they entered

the drawing room than a terrible hubbub of noise and raps burst forth in every

direction. Every piece of furniture strained and cracked, rocked and thumped.

The women were confused by this demoniacal demonstration in the presence of the

amazed Churchman, though the culprit in the case was hardly able to repress her

sense of humor. But the priest saw the embarrassment of his guests and

understood the cause of it. He inquired which of the two women possessed such

strange potencies. He was told. Then he asked permission to put to her invisible

guide a mental question. She assented. His query, a serious one, received an

instant reply, precise and to the point; and he was so struck with it all that

he detained his visitors for over three hours. He continued his conversation.39

with the unseen presences and paid unstinted tribute to their seeming all-knowledge.

His farewell words to his gifted guest were:

"As for you, let not your heart be troubled by the gift you are possessed of . .

. for it was surely given to you for some purpose, and you could not be held

responsible for it. Quite the reverse! For if you but use it with discrimination

you will be enabled to do much good to your fellow-creatures."

Her occult powers grew at this period to their full development, and she seemed

to have completed the subjection of every phase of manifestation to her own

volitional control. Her fame throughout the Caucasus increased, breeding both

hostility and admiration. She had risen above the necessity of resorting to the

slow process of raps, and read people's states and gave them answers through her

own clairvoyance. She seemed able, she said, to see a cloud around people in

whose luminous substance their thoughts took visible form. The purely sporadic

phenomena were dying away.

Her illness at the end of her stay in Mingrelia has already been noted. A

psychic experience of unusual nature even for her, through which she passed

during this severe sickness, seems to have marked a definite epoch in her occult

development. She apparently acquired the ability from that time to step out of

her physical body, investigate distant scenes or events, and bring back reports

to her normal consciousness. Sometimes she felt herself as now one person, H. P.

Blavatsky, and again some one else. Returning to her own personality she could

remember herself as the other character, but while functioning as the other

person she could not remember herself as Madame Blavatsky. She later wrote of

these experiences: "I was in another far-off country, a totally different

individuality from myself, and had no connection at all with my actual life."24

The sickness, prostrated her and appears to have brought a crisis in her inner

life. She herself felt that she had barely escaped the fate that she afterwards

spoke of as befalling so many mediums. She wrote in a letter to a relative:

"The last vestige of my psycho-physical weakness is gone, to return no more. I

am cleansed and purified of that dreadful attraction to myself of stray spooks

and ethereal affinities. I am free, free, thanks to Those whom I now bless at

every hour of my life." (Her Guardians in Tibet.)25

Madame Jelihowsky writes too:

"After her extraordinary and protracted illness at Tiflis she seemed to defy and

subject the manifestations entirely to her will. In short, it is the firm belief

of all that there where a less strong nature would have been surely wrecked in

the struggle, her indomitable will found somehow or other the means of

subjecting the world of the invisibles-to the denizens of which she had ever

refused the name of 'spirits' and souls-to her own control."26

As a sequel to this experience her conception of a great and definite mission in

the world formulated itself before her vision. It is seen to provide the motive

for her abortive enterprise in Cairo in 1871; it is again seen to be operative

in her propagation of Theosophy in 1875. It will be considered more at length in

the discussion of her connection with American Spiritualism.

By 1871 her power in certain phases had been greatly enhanced. She was able,

merely by looking fixedly at objects, to set them in motion. In an illustrated

paper of the time there was a story of her by a gentleman, who met her with some

friends in a hotel at Alexandria. After dinner he engaged her in a long

discussion. Before them stood a little tea tray, on which the waiter had placed.40

a bottle of liquor, some wine, a wine glass and a tumbler. As the gentleman

raised the glass to his lips it broke to pieces in his hands. Madame Blavatsky

laughed at the occurrence, remarking that she hated liquor and could hardly

tolerate those who drank. He knew the glass was thick and strong, but, to draw

her out, declared it must have been an accidental crumbling of a thin glass in

his grasp. "What do you bet I do not do it again?" she flashed at him. He then

half-filled another tumbler. In his own words:

"But no sooner had the glass touched my lips than I felt it shattered between my

fingers, and my hand bled, wounded by a broken piece in my instinctive act of

grasping the tumbler together when I felt myself losing hold of it."

"Entre les lθvres et la coupe, il y a quelquefois une grande distance," she

observed, and left the room, laughing in his face "most outrageously."27

Another gentleman, a Russian, who encountered her in Egypt, sent the most

enthusiastic letters to his friends about her wonders.

"She is a marvel, an unfathomable mystery. That which she produces is simply

phenomenal; and without believing any more in spirits than I ever did, I am

ready to believe in witchcraft. If it is after all but jugglery, then we have in

Madame Blavatsky a woman who beats all the Boscos and Robert Houdin's of the

country by her address. . . . Once I showed her a closed medallion containing a

portrait of one person and the hair of another, an object which I had had in my

possession but a few months, which was made at Moscow, and of which very few

knew, and she told me without touching it: 'Oh! It is your godmother's portrait

and your cousin's hair. Both are dead,' and she proceeded forthwith to describe

them, as though she had both before her eyes. How could she know?"28

At Cairo she wrote her sister Vera that she had seen the astral forms of two of

the family's domestics and chided her sister for not having written her about

their death during her absence. She described the hospital in which one of them

had passed away, and other circumstances connected with their history since she

had last been in touch with them. It was only afterwards that she learned that

when her letter from Egypt was received by Madame Jelihowsky, the latter was

herself not aware of the death of the two servants. Upon inquiry she found every

circumstance in relation to their late years and their death precisely as Helena

had depicted it.

Upon Madame Blavatsky's arrival in America her open espousal of the cause of

Theosophy was prefaced by much work done in and for the Spiritualistic movement.

Col. Olcott has brought out the fact that the phenomena taking place at the Eddy

farmhouse in Vermont in 1873 changed character quite decidedly the day she

entered the household. Up to the time of her appearance on the scene the figures

that had shown themselves were either Red Indians or Americans or Europeans

related to some one present. But on the first evening of her stay spirits of

other nationalities came up. A Georgian servant body from the Caucasus, a

Mussulman merchant from Tiflis, a Russian peasant girl, and others, appeared.

Later a Kurdish cavalier and a devilish-looking Negro sorcerer from Africa

joined the motley group.

From the Vermont homestead Madame Blavatsky went to New York, where Col. Olcott

joined her shortly afterwards. Rappings and messages were much in evidence

during this sojourn in the metropolis, the disembodied intelligence in the

background purporting to be one "John King," a name familiar to all spiritists

for many years before. The spirit finally declared itself to be the earth-haunting

soul of Sir Henry Morgan, famous buccaneer, and so showed itself to the.41

sight of Col. Olcott during the sιances with the Holmes mediums some months

later in Philadelphia. From him as ostensible source came many messages both

grave and gay.

All the while Madame Blavatsky posed as a Spiritualist and mingled in the Holmes

sιances in Philadelphia for the purpose of lending some of her own power to the

rather feeble demonstrations effected by Mr. and Mrs. Holmes to bolster their

reputation in the face of Robert Dale Owen's public denunciation of them as

cheats. She says that on one occasion Mrs. Holmes was herself frightened at the

real appearance of spirits summoned by herself.

One of the first indications Col. Olcott was to have of the interest of her

distant sages in his own career was shown during the time that Madame Blavatsky

was in Philadelphia. At her urgent invitation the Colonel determined quite

suddenly to run over and spend a few days with her. On the evening of the same

day on which he left his address at the Philadelphia Post Office the postman

brought him several letters from widely distant places, all bearing the stamp of

the sending station, but none that of the receiving station, New York. They were

addressed to him at his New York office address, yet had come straight to him at

Philadelphia without passing through the New York office. And nobody in New York

knew his Philadelphia address. He took them himself from the postman's hand; so

they could not have been tampered with by his occult friend. But the marvel did

not end there. Upon opening them he found inside each something written in the

same handwriting as that in letters he had received in New York from the

Masters, the writing having been made either in the margins or on any other

space left blank by the writers.

"These were the precursors of a whole series of those phenomenal surprises

during the fortnight or so that I spent in Philadelphia. I had many, and no

letter of the lot bore the New York stamp, though all were addressed to me at my

office in that city."29

The series of vivid phenomena which took place during the Philadelphia visit may

be listed briefly as follows:

1.-Col. Olcott purchased a note-book in which to record the rap messages. On

taking it out of the store wrapper he found inside the first cover: "John King,

Henry de Morgan, his book, 4th of the fourth month in A.D. 1875." And underneath

this was a whole pictorial design of Rosicrucian symbols, the word Fate, the

name Helen, the phrase "Way of Providence," a monogram, a pair of compasses, and

various letters and signs. No one had touched it since its purchase at the

stationary shop.

2.-Madame Blavatsky caused a photograph on the wall to disappear suddenly from

its frame and give place to a sketch portrait of "John King" while a spectator

was looking at it.

3.-Col. Olcott had bought a dozen unhemmed towels. As his companion was no

seamstress, he bantered her to let an elemental do the hemstitching on the lot.

She told him to put the towels, needle and thread inside a bookcase, which had

glass doors curtained with green silk. He did so. After twenty minutes she

announced that the job was finished. He found them actually, if crudely, hemmed.

It was four P.M., and no other persons were in the room.

4.-Madame Blavatsky once suddenly disappeared from the Colonel's sight, could

not be seen for a period, and then as suddenly reappeared. She could not explain

to him how she did it..42

5.-The increase overnight in the length of her hair, of about four to five

inches, and its later recession to its normal length.

6.-The projection of a drawing of a man's head on the ceiling above the

Colonel's head, where he had seen nothing a minute before.

7.-The precipitation by "John King," in answer to the Colonel's challenge to

duplicate a letter he had in his pocket, of the said duplicate, correct in every


8.-The precipitation of a letter into the traveling bag of a Mr. B. while on the

train, the letter not having been packed there originally.

9.-The same Mr. B. begged Madame Blavatsky to create for him a portrait of his

deceased grandmother. She went to the window, put a blank piece of paper against

the pane, and handed it to him in a moment with the portrait of a little old

woman with many wrinkles and a large wart, which Mr. B. declared a perfect

likeness of his ancestor.

10.-The actual production by an Italian artist, through "his control of the

spirits of the air," during one evening of entirely clear sky, of a small shower

of rain, sufficient to wet the sidewalks. Previously Madame Blavatsky had

created a butterfly, following a similar production by the Italian visitor.

11.-The materialization by Madame Blavatsky of a heavy gold ring in the heart of

a rose which had been "created" shortly before by Mrs. Thayer, a medium whom

Col. Olcott was testing with a view to sending her to Russia for experimentation

at a university there.

12.-The Colonel's own beard grew in one night from his chin down to his chest.30

After the return from Philadelphia psychic events continued with great frequency

at the apartments in New York. In December of 1875, Madame Blavatsky, having

invited a challenge to reproduce the portrait of the Chevalier Louis, reputed

Adept author of Mrs. Emma Hardinge Britten's Art Magic, rubbed her hand over a

sheet of paper and the desired photograph appeared on the under side. She had

laid the bare sheet on the surface of the table. Col. Olcott had the opportunity

nine years later of comparing this reproduction with the original photograph of

the Chevalier Louis, and found the likeness perfect, yet the lines would not

meet precisely when the one was superimposed on the other. It could not have

been a lithographic reproduction.

Early in 1878, Mr. O'Sullivan asked Madame Blavatsky for one of a chaplet of

large wooden beads which she was wearing. She placed one in a bowl and produced

the bowlful of them.

For the same gentleman in plain sight of several people, she triplicated a

beautiful handkerchief which he had admired.

To amuse the child of a caller, an English Spiritualist, one day she produced a

large toy sheep mounted on wheels. Col. Olcott claimed it had not been there a

moment before.

On Christmas eve of that year when she and the Colonel, went to his sister's

apartment, Madame expressed regret that she had brought nothing for the

youngsters. But saying, "Wait a minute," she took her bunch of keys from her.43

pocket, clutched three of them together in one hand, and a moment later showed

the party a large iron whistle hanging on the ring instead of the three keys.

Col. Olcott had to get three new keys from a locksmith.

Another time to placate a little girl Madame promised her "a nice present," and

indicated to Col. Olcott that he should take it out of their luggage bag in the

hall. He unlocked the already stuffed bag and immediately on top was a

harmonica, or glass piano, about fifteen inches by four in size, with its cork

mallet beside it. Colonel had himself packed the bag, having to use all his

strength to close it, had reopened it on the train, and there was not a moment

when his friend could have slipped an object of such size into it.

It was in New York at this epoch that she took Col. Olcott's large signet ring,

rubbed it in her hands and presently handed him his original and another like it

except that the new one was mounted with a dark green bloodstone, whereas the

original was set with a red carnelian. That ring she wore till her death, and it

has since been the valued possession of Mrs. Annie Besant.

Once, in Boston, Madame walked through the streets in a pelting rain and reached

her lodgings without the trace of dampness or mud on her dress or shoes.

Similarly the Colonel found a handsome velvet-covered chair entirely dry, not

even damp, after being left out all night in a driving rain.

One time when the two were talking about three members of the Colonel's family,

a crash was heard in the next room. Rushing in he found that the photograph of

one of the three had been turned face inward, the large water-color picture of

another lay smashed on the floor, while the photograph of the third was


Madame once made instantly a copy of a scurrilous letter received by the Colonel

from a person who had done him an injustice. Again she duplicated a five-page

letter from the eminent Spiritualist, W. Stainton Moses. There was not time for

the receipt of the letter until its duplication for any one to have copied it.

The second sheets were copies, but not strictly duplicate, as the lines would

not match when the two were placed together and held before the light.

At "The Lamasery" she produced an entire set of watercolors, which Mr. W. Q.

Judge needed in making an Egyptian drawing. Next he needed some gold paint,

whereupon she took a brass key, scraped it over the bottom of an empty saucer,

and found the required paint instantly. The brass key was not consumed in the

process, but was needed, she explained, to help aggregate the atomic material

for the gold color.

When Olcott stated one evening that he would like to hear from one of the Adepts

(in India) upon a certain subject, Madame told him to write his questions, seal

them in an envelope, and place it where he could watch it. He did so, putting it

behind the clock on the mantel, with one end projecting in plain view. The two

went on talking for an hour, when she announced that the answer had come. He

drew out his own envelope, the seal unbroken, found inside it his own letter,

and inside that the Mahatma's answer in the script familiar to him, written on a

sheet of green paper, such as he had not had in the house.

Through her agency the portrait of the Rev. W. Stainton Moses was precipitated

on satin. It was a distinct likeness, and the head was rayed around with

spiculae of light. It was surrounded with rolling clouds of vapor, his astral


Olcott, Judge and a Dr. Marquette one evening asked her to produce the portrait

of a particular Hindu Yogi on some stationery of the Lotus Club that the Colonel

had brought home that same evening. She scraped some lead from a pencil on a

half sheet of the paper, laid the other half-sheet over it, placed them between

her hands, and showed the result. The likeness to the original could not be

verified, but it was pronounced by Le Clear, the noted portrait painter, to be

one "that no living artist within his knowledge could have produced."

Once Col. Olcott desired a picture of his Guru, or Hindu teacher, as yet unseen

by him, and Madame essayed to have it painted through the hand of a French

artist, M. Herisse. The artist's only instructions were that his subject was a

Hindu. Madame concentrated, and he painted. The features, finished in an hour,

were afterwards vouched for by Col. Olcott as being the likeness of his Guru,

whom he met years later.

The Colonel testified to having seen Madame Blavatsky's astral form in a New

York street while she was in Philadelphia; also that of a friend of his then in

the South; again that of one of the Adepts, then in Asia, in an American railway

train and on a steamboat. He stated that he took from the hand of another

Mahatma at Jummu a telegram from H.P.B.31 who was in Madras, the messenger

vanishing a moment later; and that he, H.P.B. and Damodar, a young Hindu devotee

of hers, were greeted by one of these Teachers one evening in India. But the

occurrence of this kind which he regarded as the most striking, affecting as it

did his whole future career, happened at the close of one of his busy days, when

his evening's toil with the composition of Isis was finished. He had retired to

his own room and was reading, the room door locked. Suddenly he perceived a

white radiance at his side and turning saw towering above him the great stature

of an Oriental, clad in white garments and wearing a head-cloth of amber-striped

fabric, hand-embroidered in yellow floss silk.

"Long raven hair hung from under his turban to the shoulders; his black beard,

parted vertically on the chin in the Rajput fashion, was twisted up at the ends

and carried over the ears; his eyes were alive with soul-fire; eyes which were

at once benignant and piercing in glance; the eyes of a mentor and judge, but

softened by the love of a father who gazes on a son needing counsel and

guidance. He was so grand a man, so imbued with the majesty of moral strength,

so luminously spiritual, so evidently above average humanity, that I felt

abashed in his presence, and bowed my head and bent my knee as one does before a

god or a god-like personage. A hand was laid lightly on my head, a sweet though

strong voice bade me be seated, and when I raised my eyes the Presence was

seated in the other chair beyond the table. He told me that he had come at the

crisis when I needed him; that my actions had brought me to this point; that it

lay with me alone whether he and I should meet often in this life as coworkers

for the good of mankind; that a great work was to be done for humanity and I had

the right to share in it if I wished; that a mysterious tie, not now to be

explained to me, had drawn my colleague and myself together; a tie which could

not be broken, however strained it might be at times."32

Then he arose and reading the Colonel's sudden but unexpressed wish that he

might leave behind him some token of his visit, he untwisted the fehta from his

head, laid it on the table, saluted benignantly and was gone.

Many a time, according to the Colonel's version, they were regaled with most

exquisite music, or single bell sounds, coming from anywhere in the room and

softly dying away..45

Olcott tells of the deposit of one thousand dollars to his bank account by a

person described by the bank clerk as a Hindu, while he (Olcott) was absent from

the city for two months on business which he had undertaken at the behest of the

Master through H.P.B. He had told her that his errand would cost him about five

hundred dollars per month through his neglect of his business for the time.

In 1878 the Countess Paschkoff brought to light an adventure which she had had

years before while traveling with Madame Blavatsky in the Libanus. The two women

encountered each other in the desert and camped together one night near the

river Orontes. Nearby stood a great monument on the border of the village. The

Countess asked Madame to tell her the history of the monument. At night the

thaumaturgist built a fire, drew a circle about it and repeated several

"spells." Soon balls of white flame appeared on the monument, then from a cloud

of vapor emerged the spirit of the person to whom it had been dedicated. "Who

are you?" asked the woman. "I am Hiero, one of the priests of the temple," said

the voice of the spirit.

He then showed them the temple in the midst of a vast city. Then the image

vanished and the priest with it.

To round out the story of her phenomena it is necessary to relate with the

utmost brevity the incidents of the kind that transpired from the time of the

departure from America to India at the end of 1878 until the latter days of her

life. This narrative will include occurrences taking place in India, France,

Germany, and England.

It was in India that the so-called Mahatma Letters were precipitated, upon which

the basic structure of Theosophy is seen to rest. Mr. A. P. Sinnett, British

journalist, editor of "The Pioneer," living in India, is the main authority for

the events of the Indian period in Madame Blavatsky's life.

During the first visit of six weeks to Mr. Sinnett's home at Allahabad there

were comparatively few incidents, apart from raps. A convincing exploit of her

power was granted, however, for one evening while the party was sitting in the

large hall of the house of the Maharajah of Vizianagaram at Benares, three or

four large cut roses fell from the ceiling. The ceiling was bare and the room

well lighted.

About the beginning of September 1880 she visited the Sinnetts at their home in

Simla. Here some more striking incidents took place. During an evening walk with

Mrs. Sinnett to a neighboring hilltop, Madame, in response to a suddenly-expressed

wish of her companion, obtained for her a little note from one of the

"Brothers." Madame had torn off a blank corner of a sheet of a letter received

that day and held it in her hand for the Master's use. It disappeared. Then Mrs.

Sinnett was asked where she would like the paper to reappear. She whimsically

pointed up into a tree a little to one side. Clambering up into the branches she

found the same little corner of pink paper sticking on a sharp twig, now

containing a brief message and signed by some Tibetan characters.

A little later the most spectacular of the marvels said to have been performed

by the "Messenger of the Great White Brotherhood" took place. A picnic party to

the woods some miles distant was planned one morning and six persons prepared to

set off. Lunches were packed for six, but a seventh person unexpectedly joined

the group at the moment of departure. As the luncheon was unpacked for the

noontide meal, there was a shortage of a coffee cup and saucer. Some one

laughingly suggested that Madame should materialize an extra set. Madame

Blavatsky held a moment's mental communication with one of her distant Brothers.46

and then indicated a particular spot, covered with grass, weeds, and shrubbery.

A gentleman of the party, with a knife, undertook to dig at the spot. A little

persistence brought him shortly to the rim of a white object, which proved to be

a cup, and close to it was a saucer, both of the design matching the other six

brought along from the Sinnett cupboard. The plant roots around the China pieces

were manifestly undisturbed by recent digging such as would have been necessary

if they had been "planted" in anticipation of their being needed. Moreover, when

the party reached home and Mrs. Sinnett counted their supply of cups and saucers

of that design, the new ones were found to be additional to their previous

stock. And none of that design could have been purchased in Simla.33

Before this same party had disbanded it was permitted to witness another feat of

equal strangeness. The gentleman who had dug up the buried pottery was so

impressed that he decided then and there to join the Theosophical Society. As

Col. Olcott, President of the Society, was in the party, all that was needed was

the usual parchment diploma. Madame Blavatsky agreed to ask the Master to

produce such a document for them. In a moment all were told to search in the

underbrush. It was soon found and used in the induction ceremony.

This eventful picnic brought forth still another wonder.

Every one of the water bottles brought along had been emptied when the need for

more coffee arose. The water in a neighborhood stream was unfit. A servant, sent

across the fields to obtain some at a brewery, stupidly returned without any. In

the dilemma Madame Blavatsky took one of the empty bottles, placed it in one of

the baskets, and in a moment took it out filled with good water.

Some days later the famous "brooch" incident occurred. The Sinnett party had

gone up the hill to spend an evening with Mr. and Mrs. A. O. Hume, who were

likewise much interested in the Blavatskian theories. Eleven persons were seated

around the table and some one hinted at the possibility of a psychic exploit.

Madame appeared disinclined, but suddenly gave a sign that the Master was

himself present. Then she asked Mrs. Hume if there was anything in particular

that she wished to have. Mrs. Hume thought of an old brooch which her mother had

given her long ago and which had been lost. Neither she nor Mr. Hume had thought

of it for years. She described it, saying it contained a lock of hair. The party

was told to search for it in the garden at a certain spot; and there it was

found. Mrs. Hume testified that it was the lost brooch, or one indistinguishable

from it.

According to the statements of Alice Gordon, a visitor at the Sinnett home,

Madame Blavatsky rolled a cigarette, and projected it ethereally to the house of

a Mrs. O'Meara in another part of Simla, in advance of Miss Gordon's going

thither. To identify it she tore off a small corner of the wrapper jaggedly, and

gave it to Miss Gordon. The latter found it at the other home and the corner

piece matched.

Captain P. J. Maitland recites a "cigarette" incident which occurred in Mr.

Sinnett's drawing room. Madame took two cigarette papers, with a pencil drew

several parallel lines clear across the face of both, then tore off across these

lines a piece of the end of each paper and handed the short end pieces to

Captain Maitland; then she rolled cigarettes out of the two larger portions,

moistened them on her tongue, and caused them to disappear from her hands. The

Captain was told he would find one on the piano and the other on a bracket. He

found them there, still moist along the "seam," and unrolling them found that

the ragged edges of the torn sections and the pencil lines exactly matched..47

Some days later came the "pillow incident." Mr. Sinnett had the impression that

he had been in communication with the Master one night. During the course of an

outing to a nearby hill the following day, Madame Blavatsky turned to him (he

had not mentioned his experience to her) and asked him where he would like some

evidence of the Master's visit to him to appear. Thinking to choose a most

unlikely place, he thought of the inside of a cushion against which one of the

ladies was leaning. Then he changed to another. Cutting the latter open, they

found among the feathers, inside two cloth casings, a little note in the now

familiar Mahatma script, in the writing on which were the phrases-"the

difficulty you spoke of last night" and "corresponding through-pillows!" While

he was reading this his wife discovered a brooch in the feathers. It was one

which she had left at home.

Perhaps it was these cigarette feats which assured Madame Blavatsky that she now

had sufficient power to dispatch a long letter to her Mahatma mentors. Mr.

Sinnett first suggested the idea to her, and her success in that first attempt

was the beginning of one of the most eventful and unique correspondences in the

world's history. It began his exchange of letters with the Master Koot Hoomi Lal

Singh (abbreviated usually to K.H.), on which Theosophy so largely rests.

On several telegrams received by Mr. Sinnett were snatches of writing in K.H.'s

hand speaking of events that transpired after the telegram had been sent.

Replies were received a number of times in less time than it would have taken

Madame Blavatsky to write them (instantaneously in a few cases), yet they dealt

in specific detail with the material in his own missives. More than once his

unexpressed doubts and queries were treated. In many cases his own letter in a

sealed envelope would remain in sight and within a very short interval (thirty

seconds in one instance) be found to contain the distant Master's reply, folded

inside his own sheets, with an appropriate answer,--the seal not even having

been broken. Sometimes he would place his letter in plain view on the table, and

shortly it would be gone. For a time when the Master K.H. was called away to

other business, Mr. Sinnett continued to receive communications from the brother

Adept, Master Morya, while Madame Blavatsky was hundreds of miles away. They

continued in the distant absence of both H.P.B. and Col. Olcott. And not only

were such letters received by Mr. Sinnett, and Mr. Hume, but by other persons as

well. The list includes Damodar K. Mavalankar; Ramaswamy, an educated English-speaking

native of Southern India in Government service; Dharbagiri Nath; Mohini

Chatterji; and Bhavani Rao. Dr. Hόbbe-Schleiden received a missive of the kind

later on a railway train in Germany. Mr. Sinnett would frequently find the

letters on the inside of his locked desk drawers or would see them drop upon his

desk. Their production was attended with all manner of remarkable circumstances.

Then there was the notable episode of the transmission by the Master of a mental

message to a Mr. Eglinton, a Spiritualist, on board a vessel, the Vega, far out

at sea, and the instantaneous transmission of the letter's response, written on

board ship, to some of his friends in India, the whole thing done in accordance

with an arrangement made by letter to Mr. Sinnett by the Adept two days before.

This incident has a certain importance from the fact that the Master had said in

the preliminary letter that he would visit Mr. Eglinton on the ship on a certain

night, impress him with the untenability of the general Spiritualistic

hypothesis regarding communications, and if possible lead him to a change of

mind on the point. Mr. Eglinton's reply recorded the visit of the Mahatma on the

ship and admitted the desirability of a change to the Theosophic theory of the

existence of the Brothers.

An interesting


CHAPTER of events in the sojourn of the two Theosophic leaders in

India is that of the thousands of healings made by Col. Olcott, who states that.48

he was given the power by the Overlords of his activities for a limited time

with a special object in view. He is said to have cured some eight thousand

Hindus of various ailments by a sort of "laying on of hands." Like Christ he

felt "virtue" go out of his body until exhaustion ensued; and he stated that he

was instructed to recharge his nervous depletion by sitting with his back

against the base of a pine tree.

In 1885 Madame Blavatsky herself experienced the healing touch of her Masters

when she was ordered to meet them in the flesh north of Darjeeling. Going north

on this errand, she was in the utmost despondency and near the point of death.

After two days spent with the Adepts she emerged with physical health and morale

restored, her dynamic self once more.

The last sheaf of "miracles" takes us from India to France, Germany, Belgium,

and England. In Paris, in 1884, her rooms were the resort of many people who

came if haply they might get sight of a marvel, her thaumaturgic fame being now

world-wide. A Prof. Thurmann reported that in his presence she filled the air of

the room with musical sounds, from a variety of instruments. She demonstrated

that darkness was not necessary for such manifestations.

Madame Jelihowsky is authority for the account of the appearance and

disappearance of her sister's picture in a medallion containing only the small

photograph of K.H.

A most baffling display of Madame's gifts took place in the reception room of

the Paris Theosophical Society on the morning of June 11th, 1884. Madame

Jelihowsky, Col. Olcott, W. Q. Judge, V. Solovyoff and two others were present

and attested the bona fide nature of the incident in a public letter. In sight

of all a servant took a letter from the postman and brought it directly to

Madame Jelihowsky. It was addressed to a lady, a relative of Madame Blavatsky,

who was then visiting her, and came from another relative in Russia. Madame

Blavatsky, seeing that it was a family letter, remarked that she would like to

know its contents. Her sister ventured the suggestion that she read it before it

was opened. Helena held the letter against her forehead and proceeded to read

aloud and then write down what she said were the contents. Then, to demonstrate

her power further, she declared that she would underscore her own name, wherever

it occurred within the letter, in red crayon, and would precipitate in red a

double interlaced triangle, or "Solomon's Seal," beneath the signature. When the

addressee opened the letter, not only was H.P.B.'s version of its contents

correct to the word, but the underscoring of her name and the monogram in red

were found, and oddly enough, the wavering in several of the straight lines in

the triangle, as drawn first by Madame Blavatsky outside the letter, were

precisely matched by the red triangle inside. Postmarks indicated it had

actually come from Russia.34

While at Elberfeld, Germany, with her hospitable benefactress, Madame Gebhard,

some of the usual manifestations were in evidence. Mr. Rudolph Gebhard, a son,

recounts several of them. One was the receipt of a letter from one of the

Masters, giving intelligence about an absent member of the household, found to

be correct.

The Countess Constance Wachtmeister, who became Madame Blavatsky's guardian

angel, domestically speaking, during the years of the composition of The Secret

Doctrine in Germany and Belgium, has printed her account of a number of

extraordinary occurrences of the period. She speaks of a succession of raps in

H.P.B.'s sleeping room when there was special need of her Guardians' care. She

also tells of the thrice-relighted lamp at the sleeper's bedside, she herself.49

having twice extinguished it. She tells of her receiving a letter from the

Master, inside the store-wrapper of a bar of soap which she had just purchased

at a drug store.

It was under the Countess Wachtmeister's notice that there occurred the last of

Madame Blavatsky's "miraculous" restorations to health. She had suffered for

years from a dropsical or renal affection, which in those latter days had

progressed to such an alarming stage that her highly competent physicians at one

crisis were convinced that she could not survive a certain night. The great work

she was writing was far from completed; the Countess was heart-broken to think

that, after all, that heroic career was to be cut off just before the

consummation of its labors for humanity; and she spent the night in grief and

despair. Arising in the morning she found Madame at her desk, busy as before at

her task. She had been revivified and restored during the night, and would not

say how.

The Countess records the occasion of an intercession of the Masters in her own

affairs, on behalf of their messenger. At her home in Sweden, while she was

packing her trunks in preparation for a journey to some relatives in Italy, she

clairaudiently heard a voice, which told her to place in her trunk a certain

note-book of her containing notes on the Bohemian Tarot and the Kabala. It was

not a printed volume but a collection of quotations from the above works in her

own hand. Surprised, and not knowing the possible significance of the order, she

nevertheless complied. Before reaching Italy she suddenly changed her plans, and

postponed the trip to Italy and visited Madame Blavatsky in Belgium instead.

Upon arriving and shortly after greeting her beloved friend, she was startled to

hear Madame say to her that her Master had informed her that her guest was

bringing her a book dealing with the Tarot and the Kabala, of which she was to

make use in the writing of The Secret Doctrine.

This must end, but does not by any means complete, the chronicle of "the

Blavatsky phenomena." The list, long as it has become, is but a fragment of the

whole. Without the narration of these phenomena an adequate impression of the

personality and the legend back of them could not be given. Moreover they belong

in any study of Theosophy, and their significance in relation to the principles

of the cult is perhaps far other than casual or incidental. If her own display

of such powers was made as a demonstration of what man is destined to become

capable of achieving in his interior evolution, these things are to be regarded

as an integral part of her message. They became, apparently in spite of herself,

a part of her program and furnished a considerable impetus toward its

advancement. Theosophy itself re-publishes the theory of man's inherent theurgic

capacity. It can hardly be taken as an anomaly or as an irrelevant circumstance,

then, that its founder should have been regarded as exemplifying the possession

of that capacity in her own person..50




Nothing seems more certain than that Madame Blavatsky had no definite idea of

what the finished product was to be when she gave the initial impulse to the

movement. She knew the general direction in which it would have to move and also

many objectives which it would have to seek. In her mind there had been

assembled a body of material of a unique sort. She had spent many years of her

novitiate in moving from continent to continent1 in search of data having to do

with a widespread tradition as to the existence of a hidden knowledge and secret

cultivation of man's higher psychic and spiritual capabilities. Supposedly the

wielder of unusual abilities in this line, she was driven by the very character

of her endowment to seek for the deeper science which pertained to the evolution

of such gifts, and at the same time a philosophy of life in general which would

explain their hidden significance. To establish, first, the reality of such

phenomena, and then to construct a system that would furnish the possibility of

understanding this mystifying segment of experience, was unquestionably the main

drive of her mental interests in early middle life. Already well equipped to be

the exponent of the higher psychological and theurgic science, she aimed to

become its philosophic expounder.

But the philosophy Madame Blavatsky was to give forth could not be oriented with

the science of the universe as then generally conceived. To make her message

intelligible she was forced to reconstruct the whole picture of the cosmos. She

had to frame a universe in which her doctrine would be seen to have relevance

and into whose total order it would fall with perfect articulation. She felt

sure that she had in her possession an array of vital facts, but she could not

at once discern the total implication of those facts for the cosmos which

explained them, and which in turn they tended to explain. We may feel certain

that her ideas grow more systematic from stage to stage, whether indeed they

were the product of her own unaided intellect, or whether she but transcribed

the knowledge and wisdom of more learned living men, the Mahatmas, as the

Theosophic legend has it.

Guided by the character of the situation in which she found herself, and also,

it seems, by the advice of her Master, she chose to ride into her new venture

upon the crest of the Spiritualist waves. America was chosen to be the hatching

center of Theosophy because it was at the time the heart and center of the

Spiritualist movement. It was felt that Theosophy would elicit a quick response

from persons already imbued with spiritistic ideas. It cannot be disputed that

Madame Blavatsky and Col. Olcott worked with the Spiritualists for a brief

period and launched the Society from within the ranks of the cult. As a matter

of fact it was the work of this pair of Theosophists that gave Spiritualism a

fresh impetus in this country after a period of waning interest about 1874. Col.

Olcott's letters in the Daily Graphic about the Eddy phenomena, and his book,.51

People From the Other World, did much to revive popular discussion, and his

colleague's show of new manifestations was giving encouragement to

Spiritualists. But the Russian noblewoman suddenly disappointed the expectations

thus engendered by assigning a different interpretation and much lower value to

the phenomena. Before this she and Col. Olcott not only lent moral support to a

leading Spiritualist journal, The Spiritual Scientist, of Boston, edited by Mr.

E. Gerry Brown, but contributed its leading editorials and even advanced it


The motive behind their participation in a movement which they so soon abandoned

has been misconstrued.

Spiritualists, and the public generally, assumed that of course their activity

indicated that they subscribed to the usual tenets of the sect; that they

accepted the phenomena for what they purported to be, i.e., actual

communications in all cases from the spirits of former human beings. However

true this estimate may have been as appertaining to Col. Olcott-and even to him

it had a fast diminishing applicability after his meeting with H.P.B.-it was

certainly not true of her. Madame Blavatsky shortly became the mark of

Spiritualistic attack for the falsification of her original attitude toward the

movement and her presumed betrayal of the cause.

Her ill-timed attempt to launch her Sociιtι Spirite at Cairo in 1871

foreshadowed her true spirit and motive in this activity. It is evident to the

student of her life that she felt a contempt for the banal type of sιance

phenomena. She so expressed herself in writing from Cairo at the time. She felt

that while these things were real and largely genuine, they were insignificant

in the view that took in a larger field of psychic power. But the higher

phenomena of that more important science were known to few, whereas she was

constantly encountering interest in the other type. If she was to introduce a

nobler psychism to the world, she seemed driven to resort to the method of

picking up people who were absorbed in the lower modes of the spiritual science

and leading them on into the higher. She would gather a nucleus of the best

Spiritualists and go forward with them to the higher Spiritualism. To win their

confidence in herself, it was necessary for her to start at their level, to make

a gesture of friendliness toward their work and a show of interest in it.

Her own words may bring light to the situation:

"As it is I have only done my duty; first, toward Spiritualism, that I have

defended as well as I could from the attacks of imposture under the too

transparent mask of science; then towards two helpless slandered mediums [the

Holmeses]. . . . But I am obliged to confess that I really do not believe in

having done any good-to Spiritualism itself. . . . It is with a profound sadness

in my heart that I acknowledge this fact, for I begin to think there is no help

for it. For over fifteen years have I fought my battle for the blessed truth;

have traveled and preached it-though I never was born for a lecturer-from the

snow-covered tops of the Caucasian Mountains, as well as from the sandy valleys

of the Nile. I have proved the truth of it practically and by persuasion. For

the sake of Spiritualism2 I have left my home, an easy life amongst a civilized

society, and have become a wanderer upon the face of the earth. I had already

seen my hopes realized, beyond my most sanguine expectations, when my unlucky

star brought me to America. Knowing this country to be the cradle of modern

Spiritualism, I came over here from France with feelings not unlike those of a

Mohammedan approaching the birthplace of his Prophet."3.52

After her death Col. Olcott found among her papers a memorandum in her hand

entitled "Important Note." In it she wrote:

"Yes, I am sorry to say that I had to identify myself, during that shameful

exposure of the Holmes mediums, with the Spiritualists. I had to save the

situation, for I was sent from Paris to America on purpose to prove the

phenomena and their reality, and show the fallacy of the spiritualistic theory

of spirits. But how could I do it best? I did not want people at large to know

that I could produce the same thing at will. I had received orders to the

contrary, and yet I had to keep alive the reality, the genuineness and the

possibility of such phenomena in the hearts of those who from Materialists had

turned Spiritualists, but now, owing to the exposure of several mediums, fell

back again and returned to their scepticism. . . . Did I do wrong? The world is

not prepared yet to understand the philosophy of Occult Science; let them first

assure themselves that there are beings in an invisible world, whether 'spirits'

of the dead or elementals; and that there are hidden powers in man which are

capable of making a god of him on earth."

"When I am dead and gone people will, perhaps, appreciate my disinterested

motives. I have pledged my word to help people on to Truth while living and I

will keep my word. Let them abuse and revile me; let some call me a medium and a

Spiritualist, others an impostor. The day will come when posterity will learn to

know me better."4

As long as it was a question of the actuality of the phenomena, she was alert in

defence of Spiritualism. In the Daily Graphic of November. 13, 1874, she printed

one of her very first newspaper contributions in America, replying to an attack

of a Dr. George M. Beard, an electropathic physician of New York, on the

validity of the Eddy phenomena. She went so far in this article as to wager five

hundred dollars that he could not make good his boast that he could imitate the

form-apparitions "with three dollars' worth of drapery." She refers to herself

as a Spiritualist. In her first letter to Co. Olcott after leaving Vermont she

wrote as follows:

"I speak to you as a true friend to yourself and as a Spiritualist anxious to

save Spiritualism from a danger."5

A little later she even mentioned to her friend that the outburst of mediumistic

phenomena had been caused by the Brotherhood of Adepts as an evolutionary

agency. She could, of course, not believe the whole trend maleficent if it was

in the slightest degree engineered by her trusted Confederates. She added later,

however, that the Master soon realized the impracticability of using the

Spiritualistic movement as a channel for the dissemination of the deeper occult

science and instructed her to cease her advocacy of it.

Along with her reply and challenge to Beard in the Graphic there was printed an

outline of her biography from notes furnished by herself. In it she says:

"In 1858 I returned to Paris and made the acquaintance of Daniel Home, the

Spiritualist. . . . Home converted me to Spiritualism. . . . After this I went

to Russia. I converted my father to Spiritualism."

Elsewhere she speaks of Spiritualism as "our belief" and "our cause." In an

article in the Spiritual Scientist of March eighth she uses the phrases "the

divine truth of our faith (Spiritualism) and the teachings of our invisible

guardians (the spirits of the circles).".53

Madame Blavatsky's apparently double-faced attitude toward Spiritualism is

reflected in the posture of most Theosophists toward the same subject today.

When Spiritualism, as a demonstration of the possibility and actuality of

spiritistic phenomena, is attacked by materialists or unbelievers, they at once

bristle in its defense; when it is a question of the reliability and value of

the messages, or the dignity and wholesomeness of the sιance procedure, they

respond negatively.

It is the opinion of some Theosophic leaders, like Sinnett and Olcott, that

Madame Blavatsky made a mistake in affiliating herself actively with

Spiritualism, inasmuch as the early group of Spiritualistic members of her

Theosophic Society, as soon as they were apprised of her true attitude, fell

away, and the incipient movement was beset with much ill-feeling.

The controversy between the two schools is important, since Madame Blavatsky's

dissent from Spiritualistic theory gave rise to her first attempts to formulate

Theosophy. To justify her defection from the movement she was led to enunciate

at least some of the major postulates and principles of her higher science.

Theosophy was born in this labor. It is necessary, therefore, to go into the

issues involved in the perennial controversy.

To Spiritualists the phenomena which purported to be communications from the

still-living spirits of former human beings with those on the earth plane, were

assumed to be genuinely what they seemed. As such they were believed to be far

the most significant data in man's religious life, as furnishing a practically

irrefutable demonstration of the truth of the soul's immortality. They were

regarded as the central fact in any attempt to formulate an adequate religious

philosophy. Spiritualists therefore elevated this assumption to the place of

supreme importance and made everything else secondary.

Not so Madame Blavatsky. To her the Spiritistic phenomena were but a meagre part

of a larger whole. Furthermore-and this was her chief point of divergence,--she

vigorously protested their being what Spiritualists asserted them to be. They

were not at all genuine messages from genuine spirits of earth people-or were

not so in the vast majority of cases. And besides, they were not any more

"divine" or "spiritual" than ordinary human utterances, and were even in large

part impish and elfin, when not downright demoniacal. They were mostly, she

said, the mere "shells" or wraiths of the dead, animated not by their former

souls but by sprightly roving nature-spirits or elementals, if nothing worse,--

such, for instance, as the lowest and most besotted type of human spirit that

was held close to earth by fiendish sensuality or hate. There were plenty of

these, she affirmed, in the lower astral plane watching for opportunities to

vampirize negative human beings. The souls of average well-meaning or of saintly

people are not within human reach in the sιance. They have gone on into realms

of higher purity, more etherealized being, and can not easily descend into the

heavy atmosphere of the near-earth plane to give messages about that investment

or that journey westward or that health condition that needs attention. At best

it is only on rare and exceptional occasions that the real intelligence of a

disembodied mortal comes "through." There are many types of living entities in

various realms of nature, other than human souls. Certain of these rove the

astral plane and take pleasure in playing upon gullible people who sit gravely

in the dark. Most of the occurrences at circles are so much astral plane

rubbish; and, besides, sιance-mongering is dangerous to all concerned and

eventually ruinous to the medium. If the mediums, she bantered, were really in

the hands of benevolent "guides" and "controls," why do not the latter shield

their protιgιs from the wrecked health and insanity so frequent among them? She.54

affirmed that she had never seen a medium who had not developed scrofula or a

phthisical affection.6

Inevitably the Spiritualists were stunned by their one-time champion's sudden

and amazed reversal of her position. A campaign of abuse and condemnation began

in their ranks, echoes of which are still heard at times.

What Madame Blavatsky aimed to do was to teach that the phenomena of true

Spiritualism bore not the faintest resemblance to those of table-tipping. True

Spiritualism should envisage the phenomena of the divine spirit of man in their

higher manifestations, the cultivation of which by the ancients and the East has

given man his most sacred science and most vital knowledge. She wrote in a

letter to her sister about 1875 that one of the purposes of her new Society was

"to show certain fallacies of the Spiritualist. If we are anything we are

Spiritualists, only not in the modern American fashion, but in that of the

ancient Alexandria with its Theodidaktoi, Hypatias and Porphyries."7 In one of

the letters of Mahatma K.H. to A. P. Sinnett the Master writes:

"It was H.P.B. who, acting under the orders of Atrya (one whom you do not know)

was the first to explain in the 'Spiritualist' the difference between psyche and

nous, nefesh and ruach-Soul and Spirit. She had to bring the whole arsenal of

proofs with her quotations from Paul to Plato, from Plutarch and James before

the Spiritualists admitted that the Theosophists were right."8

In 1879 she wrote in the magazine which she had just founded in India:

"We can never know how much of the mediumistic phenomena we must attribute to

the disembodied until it is settled how much can be done by the embodied human

soul, and to blind but active powers at work within those regions which are yet

unexplored by science."9

In other words Spiritualism should be a culture of the spirits of the living,

not a commerce with the souls of the dead. To live the life of the immortal

spirit while here in the body is true Spiritualism. We can readily see that with

such a purpose in mind she would not be long in discerning that the

Spiritualistic enterprise could not be used to promulgate the type of spiritual

philosophy that she had learned in the East.

When this conclusion had fully ripened in her mind, she began the undisguised

formulation of her own independent teaching. Her new philosophy was in effect

tantamount to an attack on Spiritualism, and that from a quarter from which

Spiritualism was not prepared to repulse an assault. It came not from the old

arch-enemy, materialistic scepticism, but from a source which admitted the

authenticity of the phenomena.

Her first aim was to set forth the misconceptions under which the Spiritualists

labored. She says:

"We believe that few of those physical phenomena which are genuine are caused by

disembodied human spirits."10

Again she "ventures the prediction that unless Spiritualists set about the study

of ancient philosophy so as to learn to discriminate between spirits and to

guard themselves against the baser sort, twenty-five years will not elapse

before they will have to fly to the Romish communion to escape these 'guides'

and 'controls' that they have fondled so long. The signs of this catastrophe

already exhibit themselves."11.55

Again she declares that

"it is not mediums, real, true and genuine mediums, that we would ever blame,

but their patrons, the Spiritualists."12

In Isis Unveiled she rebukes Spiritualists for claiming that the Bible is full

of phenomena just like those of modern mediums. She asserts that there were

Spiritualistic phenomena in the Bible, but not mediumistic,--a distinction of

great import to her. She declares that the ancients could tell the difference

between mediums who harbored good spirits and those haunted by evil ones, and

branded the latter type unclean, while reverencing the former. She positively

asserts that "pure spirits will not and cannot show themselves objectively;

those that do are not pure spirits, but elementary and impure. Woe to the medium

that falls a prey to such!"13

Col. Olcott quotes her as writing:

"Spiritualism in the hands of an Adept becomes Magic, for he is learned in the

art of blending together the laws of the universe without breaking any of them.

. . . In the hands of an inexperienced medium Spiritualism becomes unconscious

sorcery, for . . . he opens, unknown to himself, a door of communication between

the two worlds through which emerges the blind forces of nature lurking in the

Astral Light, as well as good and bad spirits."14

In The Key to Theosophy15 written near the end of her life, she states what may

be assumed to be the official Theosophic attitude on the subject:

"We assert that the spirits of the dead cannot return to earth-save in rare and

exceptional cases-nor do they communicate with men except by entirely subjective

means. That which does appear objectively is often the phantom of the ex-physical

man. But in psychic and, so to say, 'spiritual' Spiritualism we do

believe most decidedly."16

One of her most vigorous expressions upon this issue occurs toward the end of


According to Olcott the Hon. A. Aksakoff, eminent Russian Professor, states that

"Prince A. Dolgorouki, the great authority on mesmerism, has written me that he

has ascertained that spirits which play the most prominent part at sιances are

elementaries,--gnomes, etc. His clairvoyants have seen them and describe them


"The totally insufficient theory of the constant agency of disembodied human

spirits in the production of Spiritualistic phenomena has been the bane of the

Cause. A thousand mortifying rebuffs have failed to open their reason or

intuition to the truth. Ignoring the teachings of the past, they have discovered

no substitute. We offer them philosophical deduction instead of unverifiable

hypothesis, scientific analysis and demonstration instead of indiscriminating

faith. Occult philosophy gives them the means of meeting the reasonable

requirements of science, and frees them from the humiliating necessity to accept

the oracular teachings of 'intelligences' which, as a rule, have less

intelligence than a child at school. So based and so strengthened, modern

phenomena would be in a position to command the attention and enforce the

respect of those who carry with them public opinion. Without invoking such help

Spiritualism must continue to vegetate, equally repulsed-not without cause-both.56

by science and theologians. In its modern aspect it is neither science, a

religion nor a philosophy."17

In 1876, the writing of Isis was committing her to a stand which made further

compromise with Spiritualism impossible. Her statement reveals what she would

ostensibly have labored to do for that movement had it shown itself more plastic

in her hands. She would have striven to buttress the phenomena with a more

historical interpretation and a more respectable rationale.

In this context, however, the following passage from Isis is a bit difficult to

understand. It seems to make a gesture of conciliation toward the Spiritualistic

hypothesis after all. She says:

"We are far from believing that all the spirits that communicate at circles are

of the classes called 'Elemental' and 'Elementary.' Many-especially among those

who control the medium subjectively to speak, write and otherwise act in various

ways-are human disembodied spirits. Whether the majority of such spirits are

good or bad, largely depends on the private morality of the medium, much on the

circle present, and a good deal on the intensity and object of their purpose. .

. . But in any case, human spirits can never materialize themselves in propria


If this seems a recession from her consistent position elsewhere assumed, it

must be remembered that she never, before or after, denied the possibility of

the occasional descent of genuinely human spirits "in rare and exceptional


Before 1875 she wrote to her sister that there was a law that sporadically,

though periodically, the souls of the dead invade the realms of the living in an

epidemic, and the intensity of the epidemic depends on the welcome they receive.

She called it "the law of forced post-mortem assimilation." She elsewhere

clarified this idea by the statement that our spirits here and now, being of

kindred nature with the totality of spirit energy about us, unconsciously draw

certain vibrations or currents from the life of the supermundane entities,

whether we know it or not. Through this wireless circuit we sometimes drink in

emanations, radiations, thought effluvia, so to speak, from the disembodied

lives. The veil, she affirmed, between the two worlds is so thin that

unsuspected messages are constantly passing across the divide, which is not

spatial but only a discrepancy in receiving sets. And both she and the Master

K.H. stated that during normal sleep we are en rapport with our loved ones as

much as our hearts could desire. The reason we do not ordinarily know it is that

the rate and wave length of that celestial communication can not be registered

on the clumsy apparatus of our brains. It takes place through our astral or

spiritual brains and can not arouse the coarser physical brain to synchronous


Her critique of the Spiritualistic thesis in general would be that something

like ninety per cent of all ordinary "spirit" messages contain nothing to which

the quality of spirituality, as we understand that term in its best

significance, can in any measure be ascribed.

In rebuttal, Spiritualists point to many previsions, admonitory dreams, verified

prophecies and other messages of great beauty and lofty spirituality, some of

them leading to genuine reform of character, and they advance the claim, that

genuine transference of intelligence from the spirit realms to earth is vastly

more general than that fraction of experience which could be subsumed under her

"rare and exceptional cases of "spirituality.".57

In one of the last works issued by Mr. Sinnett19 he deplores the unfortunate

clash that has come between the two cults, points out that it is foolish and

unfounded, and reminds both parties of the broad bases of agreement which are

found in the two systems. He feels that there can be no insurmountable points of

antagonism, inasmuch as Spiritualism, too, he asserts, is under the watch and

ward of a member of the Great White Brotherhood, the Master known as Hilarion;

and that it would be illogical to assume that members of that same spiritual

Fraternity could foster movements among mankind that work at cross purposes with

each other. But Mr. Sinnett does not give any authority for his statement as to

Hilarion's regency over Spiritualism, and many Theosophists are inclined to

doubt it. He feels that there is every good reason why Spiritualism should go

forward with Theosophy in such a unity of purpose as would render their combined

influence the most potent force in the world today against the menace of

materialism. Whenever Spiritualists display an interest in the formulation of

some scheme of life or cosmology in which their phenomena may find a meaningful

allocation, they can hardly go in any other direction than straight into

Theosophy. This is shown by their Articles of Faith, in which the idea of Karma,

the divine nature of man, his spiritual constitution and other conceptions

equally theosophic have found a place.

Perhaps Theosophists and Spiritualists alike may discern the bases of harmony

between their opposing faiths in a singular passage from The Mahatma Letters, an

utterance of the Master K.H.

"It is this [sweet blissful dream of devachanic Maya] during such a condition of

complete Maya that the Souls or actual Egos of pure loving sensitivities,

laboring under the same illusion, think their loved ones come down to them on

earth, while it is their own Spirits that are raised towards those in the

Devachan. Many of the subjective spiritual communications-most of them when the

sensitives are pure-minded-are real; but it is most difficult for the

uninitiated medium to fix in his mind the true and correct pictures of what he

sees and hears. Some of the phenomena called psychography (though more rarely)

are also real. The spirit of the sensitive getting idylized, so to say, by the

aura of the Spirit in the Devachan, becomes for a few minutes that departed

personality, and writes in the handwriting of the latter, in his language and in

his thoughts, as they were during his life-time. The two spirits become blended

in one; and, the preponderance of one over the other during such phenomena

determines the preponderance of personality in the characteristics exhibited in

such writings and 'trance-speaking.' What you call 'rapport' is in plain fact an

identity of molecular vibration between the astral part of the incarnate medium

and the astral part of the discarnate personality . . . there is rapport between

medium and 'control' when their astral molecules move in accord. And the

question whether the communication shall reflect more of the one personal

idiosyncrasy or the other, is determined by the relative intensity of the two

sets of vibrations in the compound wave of Akasha. The less identical the

vibratory impulses the more mediumistic and less spiritual will be the message.

So then measure your medium's moral state by that of the alleged 'controlling'

Intelligence, and your tests of genuineness leave nothing to be desired."20

This plank in the Theosophic platform not having been laid down in 1875 to

bridge the chasm between the two movements, Madame Blavatsky drew away from her

Spiritualistic associates, and it became but a matter of time until some

propitious circumstance should give to her divergent tendency a body and a name.

The break with Spiritualism and the launching of the Theosophical Society were

practically contemporary. The actual formation of the new organization does not.58

on the surface appear to have been a deliberate act of Madame Blavatsky. While

it would never have been organized without her presence and her influence, still

she was not the prime mover in the steps which brought it into being. She seems

merely to have gone along while others led. However her Society grew out of the

stimulus that had gone forth from her.

It was Col. Henry Steele Olcott who assumed the rτle of outward leader in the

young movement. He gave over (eventually) a lucrative profession as a

corporation lawyer, an agricultural expert, and an official of the government,

to expend all his energies in this enterprise. He had acquired the title of

colonel during the Civil War in the Union army's manoeuvres in North Carolina.

At the close of the war he had been chosen by the government to conduct some

investigations into conditions relative to army contracts in the Quartermaster's

Department and had discharged his duties with great efficiency, receiving the

approbation of higher officials. He was regarded as an authority on agriculture

and lectured before representative bodies on that subject. He had established a

successful practice as a corporation counsel, numbering the Metropolitan Life

Insurance Company among his clients. In addition to these activities he had done

much reportorial work for the press, notably in connection with his

Spiritualistic researches. His authorship of several works on the phenomena has

already been mentioned. His career had achieved for him a record of high

intelligence, great ability, and a character of probity and integrity.

It is the belief of Theosophists that he was expressly chosen by the Mahatmas to

share with Madame Blavatsky the honor and the labor of spreading her message in

the world. A passage from the Mahatma Letters puts this in clear light. The

Master K.H. there says:

"So, casting about, we found in America the man to stand as leader-a man of

great moral courage, unselfish, and having other good qualities. He was far from

being the best, but-he was the best one available. . . . We sent her to America,

brought them together-and the trial began. From the first both she and he were

given to understand that the issue lay entirely with themselves."

In spite of difficulties, caused by the clash of temperaments and policies, this

odd, "divinely-constituted" partnership held firmly together until the end.

Their relationship was one of a loyal camaraderie, both being actuated by an

uncommon devotion to the same cause.

As early as May, 1875, the Colonel had suggested the formation of a "Miracle

Club," to continue spiritistic investigation. His proposal was made in the

interest of psychic research. It was not taken up. But Madame Blavatsky's

sprightly evening chatter and her reported magical feats continued to draw

groups of intelligent people to her rooms. Among those thus attracted was Mr.

George H. Felt, who had made some careful studies in phases of Egyptology. He

was asked to lecture on these subjects and on the 7th of September, 1875, a

score of people had gathered in H.P.B.'s parlors to hear his address on "The

Lost Canon of Proportion of the Egyptians." Dr. Seth Pancoast, a most erudite

Kabbalist was present, and after the lecture he led the discussion to the

subject of the occult powers of the ancient magicians. Mr. Felt said he had

proven those powers and had with them evoked elemental creatures and "hundreds

of shadowy forms." As the tense debate proceeded, acting on an impulse, Col.

Olcott wrote on a scrap of paper, which he passed over to Madame Blavatsky

through the hands of Mr. W. Q. Judge, the following: "Would it not be a good

thing to form a Society for this kind of study?" She read it and indicated


Col. Olcott arose and "after briefly sketching the present condition of the

Spiritualistic movement; the attitude of its antagonists, the Materialists; the

irrepressible conflict between science and the religious sectaries; the

philosophical character of the ancient theosophies and their sufficiency to

reconcile all existing antagonisms; . . . he proposed to form a nucleus around

which might gather all the enlightened and brave souls who are willing to work

together for the collection and diffusion of knowledge. His plan was to organize

a Society of Occultists and begin at once to collect a library; and to diffuse

information concerning those secret laws of Nature which were so familiar to the

Chaldeans and Egyptians, but are totally unknown to our modern world of


It was a plain proposal to organize for occult research, for the extension of

human knowledge of the esoteric sciences, and for a study of the psychic

possibilities in man's nature. No religious or ethical or even philosophical

interest can be detected in the first aims. The Brotherhood plank was a later

development, and the philosophy was an outgrowth of the necessity of

rationalizing the scientific data brought to light. The very nature of the

movement committed it, of course, to an anti-materialistic view. Col. Olcott was

still predominantly concerned to get demonstrative psychic displays. He was made

Chairman, and Mr. Judge, Secretary.

It is interesting to note the personnel of this first gathering of Theosophists.

"The company included several persons of great learning and some of wide

personal influence. The Managing Editors of two religious papers; the co-editors

of two literary magazines; an Oxford LL.D.; a venerable Jewish scholar and

traveler of repute; an editorial writer of one of the New York morning dailies;

the President of the New York Society of Spiritualists; Mr. C. C. Massey an

English barrister at law; Mrs. Emma Hardinge Britten and Dr. Britten; two New

York lawyers besides Col. Olcott; a partner in a Philadelphia publishing house;

a well-known physician; and . . . Madame Blavatsky herself."22

At a late hour the meeting adjourned until the following evening, when

organization could be more fully effected. Those who were present at the Sept.

8th meeting, and who thus became the actual formers (Col. Olcott insists on the

word instead of Founders, reserving that title to Madame Blavatsky and himself)

of the Theosophical Society, were: Col. Olcott, H. P. Blavatsky, Chas. Sotheran,

Dr. Chas. E. Simmons, H. D. Monachesi, C. C. Massey, of London, W. L. Alden, G.

H. Felt, D. E. deLara, Dr. W. Britten, Mrs. E. H. Britten, Henry J. Newton, John

Storer Cobb, J. Hyslop. W. Q. Judge, H. M. Stevens. A By-Law Committee was

named, other routine business attended to, a general discussion held and

adjournment taken to Sept. 13th. Mr. Felt gave another lecture on Sept. 18th,

after which several additional members were nominated, the name, "The

Theosophical Society," proposed, and a committee on rooms chosen. Several

October meetings were held in furtherance of the Society; and on the 17th of

November, 1875, the movement reached the final stage of constitutional

organization. Its President was Col. Henry Olcott; Vice-Presidents, Dr. Seth

Pancoast and G. H. Felt; Corresponding Secretary, Madame H. P. Blavatsky;

Recording Secretary, John S. Cobb; Treasurer, Henry J. Newton; Librarian, Chas.

Sotheran; Councillors, Rev. H. Wiggin, R. P. Westbrook, LL. D., Mrs. E. H.

Britten, C. E. Simmons, and Herbert D. Monachesi; Counsel to the Society, W. Q.

Judge. Mr. John W. Lovell, the New York publisher, has the distinction of having

paid the first five dollars (initiation fee) into the treasury, and is at the

present writing the only surviving member of the founding group. At the November

17th meeting the President delivered his inaugural address. It was an

amplification of his remarks made at the meeting of Sept. 7th, with some.60

prognostications of what the work of the Society was destined to mean in the

changing conceptions of modern thought.

The infant Society did not at once proceed to grow and expand. The chief reason

for this was that Mr. Felt, whose theories had been the immediate object of

strongest interest, and who was expected to be the leader and teacher in their

quest of the secrets of ancient magic, for some unaccountable reason failed them

utterly. His promised lectures were never scheduled, his demonstrations of

spirit-evocation never shown. This disappointment weighed heavily upon some of

the members. Mrs. Britten, Mr. Newton, and the other Spiritualists in the group,

finding that Madame Blavatsky was not disposed to investigate mediums in the

conventional fashion, or in any way to make the Society an adjunct of the

Spiritualistic movement, suffered another disappointment and became inactive or

openly withdrew. Mr. Judge and Col. Olcott were busy with their professional

labors, and Madame Blavatsky had plunged into the writing of Isis Unveiled. The

Society fell into the state of "innocuous desuetude," and was domiciled solely

in the hearts of three persons, Olcott, Judge, and Madame Blavatsky. However

dead it might be to all outward appearance, it still lived in the deep

convictions of this trio. True, an occasional new recruit was admitted, two

names in particular being worthy of remark. On April 5th, 1878, Col. Olcott

received the signed application for membership from a young inventor, one Thomas

Alva Edison, and near the same time General Abner W. Doubleday, veteran Major-General

in the Union Army, united with the Society. Edison had been attracted by

the objects of the Society, largely because of certain experiences he had had in

connection with the genesis of some of his ideas for inventions. They had seemed

to come to him from an inner intelligence independent of his voluntary thought

control. Also he had experimented to determine the possibility of moving

physical objects by exertion of the will. He was doubtless in close sympathy

with the purposes of the Society, but the main currents of his mechanical

interests drew him away from active coφperation with it. As for Major-General

Doubleday, Theosophy gave articulate voice to theories as to life, death, and

human destiny which he had long cherished without a formal label. He stated that

it was the Theosophic idea of Karma which had maintained his courage throughout

the ordeals of the Civil War and he testified that his understanding of this

doctrine nerved him to pass with entire fearlessness through those crises in

which he was exposed to fire.23 When Theosophy was brought to his notice he cast

in his lot with the movement and was a devoted student and worker while he

lived. When the two Founders left America at the end of 1878 for India, Col.

Olcott constituted General Doubleday the President of the American body.24

Concerning Mr. W. Q. Judge, there is only to be said that he was a young

barrister at the time, practicing in New York and making his home in Brooklyn,

where until about 1928 a brother, John Judge, survived him. He was a man of

upright character and had always manifested a quick interest in such matters as

Theosophy brought to his attention. It is reported among Theosophists that

Madame Blavatsky immediately saw in him a pupil upon whose entire sympathy with

her own deeper aims and understanding of her esoteric situation she could rely

implicitly. He is believed always to have stood closer to her in a spiritual

sense than Col. Olcott; in fact it is hinted that there was a secret

understanding between them as to the inner motivations behind the Society. Later

developments in the history of the movement seem to give weight to this theory.

Mr. Judge and General Doubleday were the captains of the frail Theosophic craft

in America during something like four years, from 1878 to 1882, following the

sailing of the two Founders for India. If little activity was displayed by the

Society during this period, it was not in any measure the fault of those left in

charge. They were not lacking in zeal for the cause. It is to be attributed.61

chiefly to a state of suspended animation in which it was left by the departure

of the official heads. This condition itself was brought about by the long

protracted delay in carrying out a measure which in 1878 Col. Olcott had

designed to adopt for the future expansion of the Society. Madame Blavatsky's

work in Isis had disclosed the fact that there was an almost complete sympathy

of aims in certain respects between the new Society and the Masonic Fraternity;

that the latter had been the recipient and custodian down the ages of much of

the ancient esoteric tradition which it was the purpose of Theosophy to revive.

The idea of converting the Theosophical Society into a Masonic body with ritual

and degrees had been under contemplation for some time, and overtures toward

that end had been made to persons in the Masonic order. In fact the plan had

been so favorably regarded that on his departure Col. Olcott left Mr. Judge and

General Doubleday under instructions to hold all other activities in abeyance

until he should prepare a form of ritual that would properly express the

Society's spiritual motif and aims. It happened, however, that on reaching India

both his and his colleague's time was so occupied with other work and other

interests that for three years they never could give attention to the matter of

the ritual. By that time they found the Society beginning to grow so rapidly

without the support they had intended for it in the union with an old and

respected secret order, that the project was abandoned. But it was this

tentative plan that was responsible for the apparent lifelessness of the

American organization during those years. A number of times the two American

leaders telegraphed Olcott in India to hasten the ritual and hinted that its

non-appearance forced them to keep the Society here embalmed in an aggravated

condition of status quo. When the scheme was definitely abandoned,

straightforward Theosophic propaganda was initiated and a period of healthy

expansion began.

It is of interest in this connection to note that on March 8, 1876, on Madame

Blavatsky's own motion, it was "resolved, that the Society adopt one or more

signs of recognition, to be used among the Fellows of the Society or for

admissions to the meetings." This might indicate her steady allegiance to the

principle of esotericism. The practice fell into disuse after a time. Yet it was

this idea of secrecy always lurking in the background of her mind that

eventually led to the formation of a graded hierarchy in the Theosophical

Society when the Esoteric School was formally organized.

Another development that Col. Olcott says "I should prefer to omit altogether if

I could" from the early history of the Society was the affiliation of the

organization with a movement then being inaugurated in India toward the

resuscitation of pure Vedic religion. This proceeded further than the

contemplated union with Masonry, and it led to the necessity of a more succinct

pronouncement of their creed by Col. Olcott and Madame Blavatsky.

Naturally Madame Blavatsky's accounts of the existence of the great secret

Brotherhood of Adepts in North India and her glorification of "Aryavarta" as the

home of the purest occult knowledge, had served to engender a sort of nostalgia

in the hearts of the two Founders for "Mother India." It seemed quite plausible

that, once the aims of the Theosophical Society were broadcast in Hindustan, its

friendly attitude toward the ancient religions of that country would act as an

open sesame to a quick response on the part of thousands of native Hindus. It

was not illogical to believe that the young Theosophical Society would advance

shortly to a position of great influence among the Orientals, whose psychology,

ideals, and religious conceptions it had undertaken to exalt, particularly in

the eyes of the Western nations. India thus came to be looked upon as the land

of promise, and the "return home," as Madame Blavatsky termed it, became more

and more a consummation devoutly to be wished. With Isis completed and published.62

the call to India rang ever louder, and finally in November, 1878, came the

Master's orders to make ready. It was not until the 18th of December that the

ship bearing the two pilgrims passed out of the Narrows.

There had seemed to be no way opened for them to make an effective start in

India, no appropriate channel of introduction to their work there, until 1878.

Then Col. Olcott chanced to learn of a movement recently launched in India,

whose aims and ideals, he was given to believe, were identical with those of his

own Society. It was the Arya Samaj, founded by one Swami Dhyanand, who was

reputed to be a member of the same occult Brotherhood as that to which their own

Masters, K.H. and M., belonged. This latter allegation was enough to win the

immediate interest of the two devotees in its mission, and through

intermediaries Col. Olcott was put in touch with the Swami, to whom he made

overtures to join forces. The Arya Samaj was represented to the Colonel as

world-wide in its eclecticism, devoted to a revival of the ancient purity of

Vedantism and pledged to a conception of God as an eternal impersonal principle

which, under whatever name, all people alike worshipped. An official linking of

the two bodies was formally made in May, 1878, and the title of the Theosophical

Society was amended to "The Theosophical Society of the Arya Samaj." But before

long the Colonel received a translation of the rules and doctrines of the Arya

Samaj, which gave him a great shock. Swami Dhyanand's views had either radically

changed or had originally been misrepresented. His cult was found to be

drastically sectarian-merely a new sect of Hinduism-and quite narrow in certain

lines. Even then the Colonel endeavored to bridge the gap, drawing up a new

definition of the aims of his Society in such an open fashion that the way was

left clear for any Theosophists to associate with the Samaj if they should so

desire. It was not until several years after the arrival in India that final

disruption of all connection between the two Societies was made, the Founders

having received what Col. Olcott calls "much evil treatment" from the learned


When the first discovery of the real character of the Arya Samaj was made in

1878, it was deemed necessary to issue a circular defining the Theosophical

Society in more explicit terms than had yet been done. Olcott does not quote

from this circular of his own, but gives the language of the circular issued by

the British Theosophical Society, then just organized, as embodying the

essentials of his own statement. This enables us to discern how far the

originally vague Theosophical ideals had come on their way to explicit


1. The British Theosophical Society is founded for the purpose of discovering

the nature and powers of the human soul and spirit by investigation and


2. The object of the Society is to increase the amount of human health,

goodness, knowledge, wisdom, and happiness.

3. The Fellows pledge themselves to endeavor, to the best of their powers, to

live a life of temperance, purity, and brotherly love. They believe in a Great

First Intelligent Cause, and in the Divine Sonship of the spirit of man, and

hence in the immortality of that spirit, and in the universal brotherhood of the

human race.

4. The Society is in connection and sympathy with the Arya Samaj of Aryavarta,

one object of which Society is to elevate, by a true spiritual education,

mankind out of degenerate, idolatrous and impure forms of worship wherever


In his own circular, Olcott, with the concurrence of H.P.B., made the first

official statement of the threefold hierarchical constitution of the

Theosophical Society. This grouping naturally arose out of the basic facts in

the situation itself. There were, first, at the summit of the movement, the

Brothers or Adepts; then there were persons, like H.P.B., Olcott himself and

Judge, with perhaps a few others, who were classified in the category of

"chelas" or accepted pupils of the Masters; then there were just plain members

of the Society, having no personal link as yet with the great Teachers. A

knowledge of this graduation is essential to an understanding of much in the

later history of the Society.

In the same circular the President said:

"The objects of the Society are various. It influences its Fellows to acquire an

intimate knowledge of natural law, especially its occult manifestations."

Then follow some sentences penned by Madame Blavatsky:

"As the highest development, physically and spiritually, on earth of the

creative cause, man should aim to solve the mystery of his being. He is the

procreator of his species, physically, and having inherited the nature of the

unknown but palpable cause of his own creation, must possess in his inner

psychical self this creative power in lesser degree. He should, therefore, study

to develop his latent powers, and inform himself respecting the laws of

magnetism, electricity and all other forms of force, whether of the seen or

unseen universes."

The President proceeds:

"The Society teaches and expects its Fellows to personally exemplify the highest

morality and religious aspirations; to oppose the materialism of science and

every form of dogmatic theology . . .; to make known, among Western nations, the

long-suppressed facts about Oriental religious philosophies, their ethics,

chronology, esotericism, symbolism . . . ; to disseminate a knowledge of the

sublime teachings of the pure esoteric system of the archaic period which are

mirrored in the oldest Vedas and in the philosophy of Gautauma Buddha,

Zoroaster, and Confucius; finally and chiefly, to aid in the institution of a

Brotherhood of Humanity, wherein all good and pure men of every race shall

recognize each other as the equal effects (upon this planet) of one Uncreate,

Universal, Infinite and Everlasting Cause."26

He sums up the central ideas as being:

1. The study of occult science.

2. The formation of a nucleus of universal brotherhood.

3. The revival of Oriental literature and philosophy.

And these three became later substantially the permanent platform of the

Society. In their final and present form they stand:

1. To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity without

distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or color.

2. To encourage the study of Comparative Religion, Philosophy, and Science..64

3. To investigate the unexplained laws of nature and the powers latent in man.

The inclusion of a moral program to accompany occult research and comparative

religion was seen to be necessary. Madame Blavatsky's disapprobation of

Spiritualism had as its prime motivation that movement's lack of any moral bases

for psychic progress. Therefore the ethical implications which she saw as

fundamental in any true occult system were embodied in the Theosophic platform

in the Universal Brotherhood plank. Brotherhood, a somewhat vague general term,

was made the only creedal or ethical requirement for fellowship in the Society.

At that it is, as a moral obligation, a matter of the individual's own

interpretation, and it is the Society's only link with the ethical side of

religion. Not even the member's clear violation of accepted or prevalent social

codes can disqualify him from good standing. The Society refuses to be a judge

of what constitutes morality or its breach, leaving that determination to the

member himself. At the same time through its literature it declares that no

progress into genuine spirituality is possible "without clean hands and a pure

heart." It adheres to the principle that morality without freedom is not

morality. Thus the movement which began with an impulse to investigate the

occult powers of ancient magicians, was moulded by circumstances into a moral

discipline, which placed little store in magic feats..65




One morning in the summer of 1875 Madame Blavatsky showed her colleague some

sheets of manuscript which she had written. She explained: "I wrote this last

night 'by order,' but what the deuce it is to be I don't know. Perhaps it is for

a newspaper article, perhaps for a book, perhaps for nothing: anyhow I did as I

was ordered."

She put it away in a drawer and nothing more was said about it for some months.

In September of that year she went to Syracuse on a visit to Prof. and Mrs.

Hiram Corson, of Cornell University, and while there she began to expand the few

original pages. She wrote back to Olcott in New York that "she was writing about

things she had never studied and making quotations from books she had never read

in all her life; that, to test her accuracy Prof. Corson had compared her

quotations with classical works in the University Library and had found her to

be right."1

She had never undertaken any extensive literary production in her life and her

unfamiliarity with English at this time was a real handicap. When she returned

to the city Olcott took two suites of rooms at 433 West 34th Street, and there

she set to work to expound the rudiments of her great science. From 1875 to 1877

she worked with unremitting energy, sitting from morning until night at her

desk. In the evenings, after his day's professional labors, Olcott came to her

help, aiding her with the English and with the systematic arrangement of the

heterogeneous mass of material that poured forth. Later Dr. Alexander Wilder,

the Neo-Platonic scholar, helped her with the spelling of the hundreds of

classical philological terms she employed. But Madame Blavatsky wrote the book,

Isis Unveiled.

After the first flush of its popularity it has been forgotten, outside of

Theosophic circles. Even among Theosophists, or at any rate in the largest

organic group of the Theosophical Society, the book is hardly better known than

in the world at large. During the last twenty-five years there has been a

tendency in the Society to read expositions of Madame Blavatsky's ponderous

volumes rather than the original presentation; neophytes in the organization

have been urged to pass up these books as being too recondite and abstruse. It

has even been hinted that many things are better understood now than when the

Founder wrote, and that certain crudities of dogma and inadequacies of

presentation can be avoided by perusing the commentary literature. As a result

of this policy the percentage of Theosophic students who know exactly what

Madame Blavatsky wrote over fifty years ago is quite small. Thousands of members

of the Theosophical Society have grown old in the cult's activities and have

never read the volumes that launched the cult ideas..66

Isis must not, however, be regarded as a text-book on Theosophy. The Secret

Doctrine, issued ten years later, has a better claim to that title. Isis makes

no formulation, certainly not a systematic one, of the creed of occultism. It is

far from being an elucidation or exegesis of the basic principles of what is now

known as Theosophy. Isis makes no attempt to organize the whole field of human

and divine knowledge, as does The Secret Doctrine. It merely points to the

evidence for the existence of that knowledge, and only dimly suggests the

outlines of the cosmic scheme in which it must be made to fit. It is in a sense

a panoramic survey of the world literature out of which she essayed in part to

draw the system of Theosophy. If Theosophy is to be found in Isis, it is there

in seminal form, not in organic expression. Perhaps it were better to say that

the book prepared the soil for the planting of Madame Blavatsky's later

teaching. Her impelling thought was to reveal the traces, in ancient and

medieval history and literature, of a secret science whose principles had been

lost to view. She aimed to show that the most vital science mankind had ever

controlled had sunk further below general recognition now than in any former

times. She would relight the lamp of that archaic wisdom, which would illuminate

the darkness of modern scientific pride.

Her work, then, was to make a restatement of the occult doctrine with its

ancient attestations. This was a gigantic task. It meant little short of a

thorough search in the entire field of ancient religion, philosophy, and

science, with an eye to the discernment of the mystery tradition, teachings, and

practices wherever manifested; and then the collation, correlation, and

systematic presentation of this multifarious material in something like a

structural unity. The many legends of mystic power, the hundreds of myths and

fables, were to be traced to ancient rites, whose far-off symbolism threw light

on their significance. It would be not merely an encyclopedia of the whole

mythical life of the race, but a digest and codification, so to speak, of the

entire mass into a system breathing intelligible meaning and common sense. Her

task, in a word, was to redeem the whole ancient world from the modern stigma of

superstition, crude ignorance, and childish imagination.

In view of the immensity of her undertaking we are forced to wonder whence came

the self-assurance that led her to believe she could successfully achieve it.

She was sadly deficient in formal education; her opportunities for scholarship

and research had been limited; her command of the English language was

imperfect. Yet her actual accomplishment pointed to her possession of capital

and resources the existence of which has furnished the ground for much of the

mystery now enshrouding her life. There seems to be an obvious discrepancy

between her qualifications and her product, to account for which diverse

theories have been adduced.

Just how, when and where Madame Blavatsky gained her acquaintance with

practically the entire field of ancient religions, philosophies, and science, is

a query which probably can never be satisfactorily answered. The history of many

portions of her life before 1873 is unrecorded. We do not know when or where she

studied ancient literature. Books from which she quoted were not within her

reach when she wrote Isis. Can her knowledge be attributed to a phenomenal

memory? Olcott does say:

"She constantly drew upon a memory stored with a wealth of recollections of

personal perils and adventures and of knowledge of occult science, not merely

unparalleled, but not even approached by any other person who had ever appeared

in America, so far as I have heard."2.67

Throughout the two volumes of Isis there are frequent allusions to or actual

passages from ancient writings, a list of which includes the following: The

Codex Nazareus; the Zohar, the great Kabbalistic work of the Jews; Chaldean3

Oracles; Chaldean Book of Numbers; Psellus' Works; Zoroastrian Oracles; Magical

and Philosophical Precepts of Zoroaster; Egyptian Book of the Dead; Books of

Hermes; Quichι Cosmogony; Book of Jasher; Kabala of the Tanaim; Sepher Jezira;

Book of Wisdom of Schlomah (Solomon); Secret Treatise on Mukta and Badha; The

Stangyour of the Tibetans; Desatir (pseudo-Persian4); Orphic Hymns; Sepher

Toldos Jeshu (Hebrew MSS. of great antiquity); Laws of Manu; Book of Keys

(Hermetic Work); Gospel of Nicodemus; The Shepherd of Hermas; (Spurious) Gospel

of the Infancy; Gospel of St. Thomas; Book of Enoch; The History of Baarlam and

Josaphat; Book of Evocations(of the Pagodas); Golden Verses of Pythagoras;

various Kabbalas; Tarot of the Bohemians.

In the realm of more widely-known literature, she uses material from Plato and

to a minor extent, Aristotle; quotes the early Greek philosophers, Thales,

Heraclitus, Parmenides, Empedocles, Democritus; is conversant with the Neo-Platonist

representatives, Ammonius Saccas, Plotinus, Porphyry, Iamblichus and

Proclus; shows familiarity with Plutarch, Philo, Apollonius of Tyana, the

Gnostics, Basilides, Bardesanes, Marcion, and Valentinus. She had examined the

Church Fathers, from Augustine to Justin Martyr, and was especially familiar

with Irenaeus, Tertullian and Eusebius, whom she charged with having wrecked the

true ancient wisdom. Beside this array she draws on the enormous Vedic,

Brahmanic, Vedantic, and Buddhistic literatures; likewise the Chinese, Persian,

Babylonian, "Chaldean," Syrian, and Egyptian. Nor does she neglect the ancient

American contributions, such as the Popul Vuh. Her acquaintance also with the

vast literature of occult magic and philosophy of the Middle Ages seems hardly

less inclusive. She levies upon Averroλs, Maimonides, Paracelsus, Van Helmont,

Robert Fludd, Eugenius Philalethes, Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim, Roger

Bacon, Bruno, Pletho, Mirandolo, Henry More and many a lesser-known expounder of

mysticism and magic art. She quotes incessantly from scores of compendious

modern works.

Because of this show of prodigious learning some students later alleged that

Isis was not the work of Madame Blavatsky, but of Dr. Alexander Wilder; others

declared that Col. Olcott had written it.5

There are three main sources of testimony bearing on the composition of the

books: (1) Statements of her immediate associates and co-workers in the writing;

(2) Her own version; (3) The evidence of critics who have traced the sources of

her materials.

First, there is the testimony of her colleague, Olcott, who for two years

collaborated almost daily with her in the work. He says:

"Whence, then, did H.P.B. draw the materials which comprise Isis and which

cannot be traced to accessible literary sources of quotation? From the Astral

Light, and by her soul-senses, from her Teachers-the 'Brothers,' 'Adepts,'

'Sages,' 'Masters,' as they have been variously called. How do I know it? By

working two years with her on Isis and many more years on other literary work."6

He goes on:

"To watch her at work was a rare and never-to-be-forgotten experience. We sat at

opposite sides of one big table usually, and I could see her every movement. Her

pen would be flying over the page; when she would suddenly stop, look out into

space with the vacant eye of the clairvoyant seer, shorten her vision as though.68

to look at something held invisibly in the air before her, and begin copying on

the paper what she saw. The quotation finished, her eyes would resume their

natural expression, and she would go on writing until again stopped by a similar


Still more remarkable is the following:

"Most perfect of all were the manuscripts which were written for her while she

was sleeping. The beginning of the


CHAPTER on the civilization of ancient Egypt

(Vol. I.,


CHAPTER XIV) is an illustration. We had stopped work the evening

before at about 2 A.M. as usual, both too tired to stop for our usual smoke and

chat before parting; she almost fell asleep in her chair, while I was bidding

her goodnight; so I hurried off to my bed room. The next morning, when I came

down after my breakfast, she showed me a pile of at least thirty or forty pages

of beautifully written H.P.B. manuscript, which, she said, she had had written

for her by-------, a Master . . . It was perfect in every respect and went to

the printers without revision."8

It is the theory of Olcott that the mind of H.P.B. was receptive to the

impressions of three or four intelligent entities-other persons living or dead-who

overshadowed her mentally, and wrote through her brain. These personages

seemed to cast their sentences upon an imperceptible screen in her mind. They

sometimes talked to Olcott as themselves, not as Madame Blavatsky. Their

intermittent tenancy of her mind he takes as accounting for the higgledy-piggledy

manner in which the book was constructed. Each had his favorite themes

and the Colonel learned what kind of material to expect when one gave place to

another. There was in particular, in addition to several of the Oriental

"Sages," a collaborator in the person of an old Platonist-"the pure soul of one

of the wisest philosophers of modern times, one who was an ornament to our race,

a glory to his country." He was so engrossed in his favorite earthly pursuits of

philosophy that he projected his mind into the work of Madame Blavatsky and gave

her abundant aid.

"He did not materialize and sit with us, nor obsess H.P.B. medium-fashion, he

would simply talk with her-psychically, by the hour together, dictating copy,

telling her what references to hunt up; answering my questions about details,

instructing me as to principles; and, in fact, playing the part of a third

person in our literary symposium. He gave me his portrait once-a rough sketch in

colored crayons on flimsy paper . . . from first to last his relation to us both

was that of a mild, kind, extremely learned teacher and elder friend."9

The medieval occultist Paracelsus manifested his presence for a brief time one

evening.10 At another time Madame produced two volumes necessary to verify

questions which Olcott doubted.

"I went and found the two volumes wanted, which, to my knowledge, had not been

in the house until that very moment. I compared the texts with H.P.B.'s

quotation, showed her that I was right in my suspicions as to the error, made

the proof correction, and then . . . returned the two volumes to the place on

the ιtagθre from which I had taken them. I resumed my seat and work, and when,

after while, I looked again in that direction, the books had disappeared."11

As Olcott states, when one or another of these unseen monitors was in evidence,

the work went on in fine fashion. But, he notes, when Madame was left entirely

to her own devices, she floundered in more or less helpless ineptitude. She

would write haltingly, scratch it over, make a fresh start, work herself into a

fret and get nowhere..69

Olcott's testimony, as that of Dr. Wilder, Mr. Judge, Dr. Corson, the Countess

Wachtmeister, the two Keightleys, Mr. Fawcett and all the others who at one time

or another were in a position to observe Madame Blavatsky at work, must be

accepted as sincere. But if anybody could be supposed to know unmistakably what

was happening in her mind, that person would be the subject herself. What has

she to say? She states decisively that she was not the author, only the writer

of her books. In one of her home letters she says, speaking of Isis:

"since neither ideas nor teachings are mine."

In another letter to Madame Jelihowsky she writes:

"Well, Vera, whether you believe me or not, something miraculous is happening to

me. You cannot imagine in what a charmed world of pictures and vision I live. I

am writing Isis; not writing, rather copying out and drawing that which She

personally shows to me. Upon my word, sometimes it seems to me that the ancient

goddess of Beauty in person leads me through all the countries of past centuries

which I have to describe. I sit with my eyes open and to all appearances see and

hear everything real and actual around me, and yet at the same time I see and

hear that which I write. I feel short of breath; I am afraid to make the

slightest movement for fear the spell might be broken. Slowly century after

century, image after image, float out of the distance and pass before me as if

in a magic panorama; and meanwhile I put them together in my mind, fitting in

epochs and dates, and know for sure that there can be no mistake. Races and

nations, countries and cities, which have long disappeared in the darkness of

the prehistoric past, emerge and then vanish, giving place to others; and then I

am told the consecutive dates. Hoary antiquity makes way for historical periods;

myths are explained to me with events and people who have really existed, and

every event which is at all remarkable, every newly-turned page of this many-colored

book of life, impresses itself on my brain with photographic exactitude.

My own reckonings and calculations appear to me later on as separate colored

pieces of different shapes in the game which is called casse-tκte (puzzles). I

gather them together and try to match them one after the other, and at the end

there always comes out a geometrical whole. . . . Most assuredly it is not I who

do it all, but my Ego, the highest principle that lives in me. And even this

with the help of my Guru and teacher who helps me in everything. If I happen to

forget something I have just to address him, and another of the same kind in my

thought as what I have forgotten rises once more before my eyes-sometimes whole

tables of numbers passing before me, long inventories of events. They remember

everything. They know everything. Without them, from whence could I gather my

knowledge? I certainly refuse point blank to attribute it to my own knowledge or

memory, for I could never arrive alone at either such premises or conclusions. I

tell you seriously I am helped. And he who helps me is my Guru."12

In another letter to the same sister Helena assures her relative about her

mental condition:

"Do not be afraid that I am off my head; all I can say is that someone

positively inspires me. . . . More than this; someone enters me. It is not I who

talk and write; it is something within me; my higher and luminous Self; that

thinks and writes for me. Do not ask me, my friend, what I experience, because I

could not explain it to you clearly. I do not know myself! The one thing I know

is that now, when I am about to reach old age, I have become a sort of

storehouse of somebody else's knowledge. . . . Someone comes and envelops me as

a misty cloud and all at once pushes me out of myself, and then I am not 'I' any

more-Helena P. Blavatsky-but somebody else. Someone strong and powerful, born in.70

a totally different region of the world; and as to myself it is almost as if I

were asleep, or lying by not quite conscious-not in my own body, but close by,

held only by a thread which ties me to it. However at times I see and hear

everything quite clearly; I am perfectly conscious of what my body is saying and

doing-or at least its new possessor. I can understand and remember it all so

well that afterwards I can repeat it, and even write down his words. . . . At

such a time I see awe and fear on the faces of Olcott and others, and follow

with interest the way in which he half-pityingly regards them out of my own

eyes, and teaches them with my physical tongue. Yet not with my mind, but his

own, which enwraps my brain like a cloud. . . . Ah, but I really cannot explain


Again writing to her relatives, she states:

"When I wrote Isis I wrote it so easily that it was certainly no labor but a

real pleasure. Why should I be praised for it? Whenever I am told to write I sit

down and obey, and then I can write easily upon almost anything-metaphysics,

psychology, philosophy, ancient religions, zoφlogy, natural sciences or what

not. I never put myself the question: 'Can I write on this subject?' . . .or,

'Am I equal to the task?' but I simply sit down and write. Why? Because someone

who knows all dictates to me. My Master and occasionally others whom I knew on

my travels years ago. . . . I tell you candidly, that whenever I write upon a

subject I know little or nothing of, I address myself to them, and one of them

inspires me, i.e., he allows me to simply copy what I write from manuscripts,

and even printed matter, that pass before my eyes, in the air, during which

process I have never been unconscious one single instant."14

To her aunt she wrote:

"At such times it is no more I who write, but my inner Ego, my 'luminous Self,'

who thinks and writes for me. Only see . . . you who know me. When was I ever so

learned as to write such things? Whence was all this knowledge?"

Whatever the actual authorship of the two volumes may have been, their

publication stirred such wide-spread interest that the first editions were swept

up at once, and Bouton, the publisher, was taken off guard, there being some

delay before succeeding editions of the bulky tomes could be issued.

Professional reviewers were not so generous; but the press critics were frankly

intrigued into something like praise.15

Years after the publication of Isis, Mr. Emmette Coleman, a former Theosophist

and contributor to current magazines, stated that he spent three years upon a

critical and exhaustive examination of the sources used by Madame Blavatsky in

her various works. He attempted to discredit the whole Theosophic movement by

casting doubt upon the genuineness of her knowledge. He accused her of outright

plagiarism and went to great pains to collect and present his evidence. In 1893

he published his data. We quote the following passage from his statement:

"In Isis Unveiled, published in 1877, I discovered some 2,000 passages copied

from other books without proper credit. By careful analysis I found that in

compiling Isis about 100 books were used. About 1,400 books are quoted from and

referred to in this work; but, from the 100 books which its author possessed,

she copied everything in Isis taken from and relating to the other 1,300. There

are in Isis about 2,100 quotations from and references to books that were

copied, at second-hand, from books other than the originals; and of this number

only about 140 are credited to the books from which Madame Blavatsky copied them

at second-hand. The others are quoted in such a manner as to lead the reader to.71

think that Madame Blavatsky had read and utilized the original works, and had

quoted from them at first-hand,--the truth being that these originals had

evidently never been read by Madame Blavatsky. By this means many readers of

Isis . . . have been misled into thinking Madame Blavatsky an enormous reader,

possessed of vast erudition; while the fact is her reading was very limited, and

her ignorance was profound in all branches of knowledge."16

Coleman went on to assert that "not a line of the quotations" made by H.P.B.

ostensibly from the Kabala, from the old-time mystics at the time of Paracelsus,

from the classical authors, Homer, Livy, Ovid, Virgil, Pliny, and others, from

the Church Fathers, from the Neo-Platonists, was taken from the originals, but

all from second-hand usage. He charged her with having picked all these passages

out of modern books scattered throughout which she found the material from a

wide range of ancient authorship. The reader of Isis will readily find her many

references to modern authors. Coleman mentioned a half dozen standard works that

she used; it is well worth while glancing at a fuller list. She had read, or was

more or less familiar with: King's Gnostics; Jennings' Rosicrucians; Dunlop's

Sod, and Spirit History of Man; Moor's Hindu Pantheon; Ennemoser's History of

Magic; Howitt's History of the Supernatural; Salverte's Philosophy of Magic;

Barrett's Magus; Col. H. Yule's The Book of Ser Marco Polo; Inman's Pagan and

Modern Christian Symbolism and Ancient Faiths and Modern; the anonymous The

Unseen Universe and Supernatural Religion; Bunsen's Egypt's Place in Universal

History; Lundy's Monumental Christianity; Horst's Zauber-Bibliothek; Cardinal

Wiseman's Lectures on Science and Religion; Draper's The Conflict of Science

with Religion; Dupuis' Origin of All the Cults; Bailly's Ancient and Modern

Astronomy; Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; Des Mousseaux's Roman

Catholic writings on Magic, Mesmerism, Spiritualism; Eliphas Levi's works;

Jacolliot's twenty-seven volumes on Oriental systems; Max Mόller's, Huxley's,

Tyndall's, and Spencer's works.

It is hardly to be doubted that Madame Blavatsky culled many of her ancient gems

from these works, and she probably felt that it was a matter of minor importance

how she came by them. What she was bent on saying was that the ancients had said

these things and that they were confirmatory of her general theses. Yet

Coleman's findings must not be disregarded. His work brought into clearer light

the meagreness of her resources and her lack of scholarly preparation for so

pretentious a study.

We have adduced the several hypotheses that have been advanced to account for

the writing of Isis Unveiled. It must be left for the reader to arrive at what

conclusion he can on the basis of the material presented. We pass on to an

examination of the contents.

A hint as to the aim of the work, is given in the sub-title: A Master-key to the

Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology. She says:

"The work now submitted to the public judgment is the fruit of a somewhat

intimate acquaintance with Eastern Adepts and study of their science. It is a

work on magico-spiritual philosophy and occult science. It is an attempt to aid

the student to detect the vital principles which underlie the philosophical

systems of old."17

She affirms it to be her aim "to show that the pretended authorities of the West

must go to the Brahmans and Lamaists of the far Orient and respectfully ask them

to impart the alphabet of true science."18.72

Isis, then, is a glorification of the ancient Orientals. Their knowledge was so

profound that we are incredulous when told about it. If we have "harnessed the

forces of Nature to do our work," they had subjugated the world to their will.

They knew things we have not yet dreamed of. She states:

"It is rather a brief summary of the religions, philosophies and universal

traditions in the spirit of those secret doctrines of which none,--thanks to

prejudice and bigotry-have reached Christendom in so unmutilated a form as to

secure it a fair judgment. Since the days of the unlucky Mediaeval philosophers,

the last to write upon these secret doctrines of which they were the

depositaries, few men have dared to brave persecution and prejudice by placing

their knowledge on record. And these few have never, as a rule, written for the

public, but only for those of their own and succeeding times who possessed the

key to their jargon. The multitude, not understanding them or their doctrines,

have been accustomed to regard them en masse as either charlatans or dreamers.

Hence the unmerited contempt into which the study of the noblest of sciences-that

of the spiritual man-has gradually fallen."19

She plans to restore this lost and fairest of the sciences. Materialism is

menacing man's higher spiritual unfoldment.

"To prevent the crushing of these spiritual aspirations, the blighting of these

hopes, and the deadening of that intuition which teaches us of a God and a

hereafter, we must show our false theologies in their naked deformity and

distinguish between divine religion and human dogmas. Our voice is raised for

spiritual freedom and our plea made for the enfranchisement from all tyranny,

whether of Science or Theology."20

She here sets forth her attitude toward orthodox religionism as well as toward

materialistic science. She intimates that since the days of the true esoteric

wisdom, mankind has been thrown back and forth between the systems of an

unenlightening theology and an equally erroneous science, both stultifying in

their influence on spiritual aspiration, both blighting the delicate culture of

beauty and joyousness.

"It was while most anxious to solve these perplexing problems [Who, where, what

is God? What is the spirit in man?] that we came into contact with certain men,

endowed with such mysterious powers and such profound knowledge that we may

truly designate them as the Sages of the Orient. To their instruction we lent a

ready ear. They showed us that by combining science with religion, the existence

of God and the immortality of man's spirit may be demonstrated like a problem of


She adds:

"Such knowledge is priceless; and it has been hidden only from those who

overlooked it, derided it or denied its existence."21

The soul within escapes their view, and the Divine Mother has no message for

them. To become conversant with the powers of the soul we must develop the

higher faculties of intuition and spiritual vision.22

She says that there were colleges in the days of old for the teaching of

prophecy and occultism in general. Samuel and Elisha were heads of such

academies, she affirms. The study of magic or wisdom included every branch of

science, the metaphysical as well as the physical, psychology and physiology, in

their common and occult phases; and the study of alchemy was universal, for it.73

was both a physical and a spiritual science. The ancients studied nature under

its double aspect and the claim is that they discovered secrets which the modern

physicist, who studies but the dead forms of things, can not unlock. There are

regions of nature which will never yield their mysteries to the scientist armed

only with mechanical apparatus. The ancients studied the outer forms of nature,

but in relation to the inner life. Hence they saw more than we and were better

able to read meaning in what they saw. They regarded everything in nature as the

materialization of spirit. Thus they were able to find an adequate ground for

the harmonization of science and religion. They saw spirit begetting force, and

force matter; spirit and matter were but the two aspects of the one essence.

Matter is nothing other than the crystallization of spirit on the outer

periphery of its emanative range. The ancients worshipped, not nature, but the

power behind nature.

Madame Blavatsky contrasts this fulness of the ancient wisdom with the

barrenness of modern knowledge. She characterizes the eighteenth century as a

"barren period," during which "the malignant fever of scepticism" has spread

through the thought of the age and transmitted "unbelief as an hereditary

disease on the nineteenth." She challenges science to explain some of the

commonest phenomena of nature; why, for instance, the moon affects insane

people, why the crises of certain diseases correspond to lunar changes, why

certain flowers alternately open and close their petals as clouds flit across

the face of the moon. She says that science has not yet learned to look outside

this ball of dirt for hidden influences which are affecting us day by day. The

ancients, she declares, postulated reciprocal relations between the planetary

bodies as perfect as those between the organs of the body and the corpuscles of

the blood. There is not a plant or mineral which has disclosed the last of its

properties to the scientist. She declares that theurgical magic is the last

expression of occult psychological science; and denies the "Academicians" "the

right of expressing their opinion on a subject which they have never

investigated." "Their incompetence to determine the value of magic and

Spiritualism is as demonstrable as that of the Fiji Islander to evaluate the

labors of Faraday or Agassiz." There was no missing link in the ancient

knowledge, no hiatus to be filled "with volumes of materialistic speculation

made necessary by the absurd attempt to solve an equation with but one set of

quantities." She runs on:

"Our 'ignorant' ancestors traced the law of evolution throughout the whole

universe. As by gradual progression from the star-cloudlet to the development of

the physical body of man, the rule holds good, so from the universal ether to

the incarnate human spirit, they traced one uninterrupted series of entities.

These evolutions were from the world of spirit into the world of gross matter;

and through that back again to the source of all things. The 'descent of

species' was to them a descent from the spirit, primal source of all, to the

'degradation of matter.' In this complete chain of unfoldings the elementary,

spiritual beings had as distinct a place, midway between the extremes, as

Darwin's missing link between the ape and man."23

Modern knowledge posits only evolution; the old science held that evolution was

neither conceivable nor understandable without a previous involution.

The existence of myriads of orders of beings not human in a realm of nature to

which our senses do not normally give us access, and of which science knows

nothing at all, is posited in her arcane systems. She catches at Milton's lines

to bolster this theory:

"Millions of spiritual creatures walk this earth,.74

Unseen both when we sleep and when we wake."

She says that if the spiritual faculties of the soul are sharpened by intense

enthusiasm and purified from earthly desire, man may learn to see some of these

denizens of the illimitable air.

The physical world was fashioned on the model of divine ideas, which, like the

unseen lines of force radiated by the magnet, to throw the iron-filings into

determinate shape, give form and nature to the physical manifestation. If man's

essential nature partakes of this universal life, then it, too, must partake of

all the attributes of the demiurgic power. As the Creator, breaking up the

chaotic mass of dead inactive matter, shaped it into form, so man, if he knew

his powers, could to a degree do the same.

To redeem the ancient world from modern scorn Madame Blavatsky had to vindicate

magic-with all its incubus of disrepute and ridicule-and lift its practitioners

to a lofty place in the ranks of true science. She had to demonstrate that

genuine magic was a veritable fact, an undeniable part of the history of man;

and not only true, but the highest evidence of man's kinship with nature, the

topmost manifestation of his power, the royal science among all sciences! To her

view the dearth of magic in modern philosophies was at once the cause and the

effect of their barrenness. If they are to be vitalized again, magic must be

revived. "That magic is indeed possible is the moral of this book."24

And along with magic she had to champion its aboriginal bed-fellows, astrology,

alchemy, healing, mesmerism, trance subjection, and the whole brood of "pseudo-science."

"It is an insult to human nature to brand magic and the occult sciences with the

name of imposture. To believe that for so many thousands of years one half of

mankind practiced deception and fraud on the other half is equivalent to saying

that the human race is composed only of knaves and incurable idiots. Where is

the country in which magic was not practiced? At what age was it wholly


She explains magic as based on a reciprocal sympathy between celestial and

terrestrial natures. It is based on the mysterious affinities existing between

organic and inorganic bodies, between the visible and the invisible powers of

the universe. "That which science calls gravitation the ancient and the medieval

hermeticists called magnetism, attraction, affinity." She continues:

"A thorough familiarity with the occult faculties of everything existing in

Nature, visible as well as invisible; their mutual relations, attractions and

repulsions; the cause of these traced to the spiritual principle which pervades

and animates all things; the ability to furnish the best conditions for this

principle to manifest itself, in other words a profound and exhaustive knowledge

of natural law-this was and is the basis of magic."26

Out of man's kinship with nature, his identity of constitution with it, she

argues to his magical powers:

"As God creates, so man can create. Given a certain intensity of will, and the

shapes created by the mind become subjective. Hallucinations they are called,

although to their creator they are real as any visible object is to any one

else. Given a more intense and intelligent concentration of this will, and the

forms become concrete, visible, objective; the man has learned the secret of

secrets; he is a Magician."27.75

She makes it clear that this power is built on the conscious control of the

substrate of the material universe. She states that the key to all magic is the

formula: "Every insignificant atom is moved by spirit." Magic is thus

conditioned upon the postulation of an omnipresent vital ether, electro-spiritual

in composition, to which man has an affinity by virtue of his being

identical in essence with it. Over it he can learn to exercise a voluntary

control by the exploitation of his own psycho-dynamic faculties. If he can lay

his hand on the elemental substance of the universe, if he can radiate from his

ganglionic batteries currents of force equivalent to gamma rays, of course he

can step into the cosmic scene with something of a magician's powers. That such

an ether exists she states in a hundred places. She calls it the elementary

substance, the Astral Light, the Alkahest, the Akasha. It is the universal

principle of all life, the vehicle or battery of cosmic energy. She says Newton

knew of it and called it "the soul of the world," the "divine sensorium." It is

the Book of Life; the memory of God,--since it never gives up an impression.

Human memory is but a looking into pictures on this ether. Clairvoyants and

psychometers but draw upon its resources through synchronous vibrations.

"According to the Kabalistic doctrine the future exits in the astral light in

embryo as the present existed in embryo in the past . . . and our memories are

but the glimpses that we catch of the reflections of this past in the currents

of the astral light, as the psychometer catches them from the astral emanations

of the object held by him."28

Madame Blavatsky goes so far as to link the control of these properties with the

tiny pulsations of the magnetic currents emanating from our brains, under the

impelling power of will. Thus she attempts to unite magic with the most subtle

conceptions of our own advanced physics and chemistry. She thus weds the most

arrant of superstitions with the most respected of sciences.

The magnetic nature of gravitation is set forth in more than one passage. She


"The ethereal spiritual fire, the soul and the spirit of the all-pervading

mysterious ether; the despair and puzzle of the materialists, who will some day

find out that that which causes the numberless forces to manifest themselves in

eternal correlation is but a divine electricity, or rather galvanism, and that

the sun is one of the myriad magnets disseminated through space. . . . There is

no gravitation in the Newtonian sense, but only magnetic attraction and

repulsion; and it is only by their magnetism that the planets of the solar

system have their motions regulated in their respective orbits by the still more

powerful magnetism of the sun; not by their weight or gravitation. . . . The

passage of light through this (cosmic ether) must produce enormous friction.

Friction generates electricity and it is this electricity and its correlative

magnetism which forms those tremendous forces of nature. . . . It is not at all

to the sun that we are indebted for light and heat; light is a creation sui

generis, which springs into existence at the instant when the deity willed." She

"laughs at the current theory of the incandescence of the sun and its gaseous

substance. . . . The sun, planets, stars and nebulae are all magnets. . . .

There is but One Magnet in the universe and from it proceeds the magnetization

of everything existing."29

It is this same universal ether and its inherent magnetic dynamism that sets the

field for astrology, as a cosmic science. Of this she says that astrology is a

science as infallible as astronomy itself, provided its interpreters are as

infallible as the mathematicians. She carries the law of the instantaneous.76

interrelation of everything in the cosmos to such an extent that, quoting

Eliphas Levi, "even so small a thing as the birth of one child upon our

insignificant planet has its effect upon the universe, as the whole universe has

its reflective influence upon him." The bodies of the entire universe are bound

together by attractions which hold them in equilibrium, and these magnetic

influences are the bases of astrology.

With so much cosmic power at his behest, man has done wonders; and we are asked

to accept the truth of an amazing series of the most phenomenal occurrences ever

seriously given forth. They range over so varied a field that any attempt at

classification is impossible. Of physical phenomena she says that the ancients

could make marble statues sweat, and even speak and leap! They had gold lamps

which burned in tombs continuously for seven hundred to one thousand years

without refueling! One hundred and seventy-three authorities are said to have

testified to the existence of such lamps. Even "Aladdin's magical lamp has also

certain claims to reality." There was an asbestos oil whose properties, when it

was rubbed on the skin, made the body impervious to the action of fire.

Witnesses are quoted as stating that they observed natives in Africa who

permitted themselves to be fired at point blank with a revolver, having first

precipitated around them an impervious layer of astral or akashic substance.

Cardinal de Rohan's testimony is adduced to the effect that he had seen

Cagliostro make gold and diamonds. The power of the evil eye is enlarged upon

and instances recounted of persons hypnotizing, "charming," or even killing

birds and animals with a look. She avers that she herself had seen Eastern

Adepts turn water into blood. Observers are quoted who reported a rope-climbing

feat in China and Batavia, in which the human climbers disappeared overhead,

their members fell in portions on the ground, and shortly thereafter reunited to

form the original living bodies! Stories are narrated of fakirs disemboweling

and re-embowling themselves. She herself saw whirling dancers at Petrovsk in

1865, who cut themselves in frenzy and evoked by the magical powers of blood the

spirits of the dead, with whom they then danced. Twice she was nearly bitten by

poisonous snakes, but was saved by a word of control from a Shaman or conjurer.

The close affinity between man and nature is illustrated by the statement that

in one case a tree died following the death of its human twin. Speaking of

magical trees, she several times tells of the great tree Kumboum, of Tibet, over

whose leaves and bark nature had imprinted ten thousand spiritual maxims. The

magical significance of birthmarks is brought out, with remarkable instances.

She dwells at length on the inability of medical men to tell definitely whether

the human body is dead or not, and cites a dozen gruesome tales of reawakening

in the grave. This takes her into vampirism, which she establishes on the basis

of numerous cases taken mostly from Russian folklore. It is stated that the

Hindu pantheon claimed 330,000,000 types of spirits. Moses was familiar with

electricity; the Egyptians had a high order of music and chess over five

thousand years ago; and anaesthesia was known to the ancients. Perpetual motion,

the Elixer of Life, the Fountain of Youth and the Philosopher's Stone are

declared to be real. She adduces in every case a formidable show of testimony

other than her own. And back of it all is her persistent assertion that purity

of life and thought is a requisite for high magical performance.

"A man free from worldly incentives and sensuality may cure in such a way the

most 'incurable' diseases, and his vision may become clear and prophetic."30

"The magic power is never possessed by those addicted to vicious indulgences."31

Phenomena come, she feels, rather easily; spiritual life is harder won and


"With expectancy, supplemented by faith, one can cure himself of almost any

morbific condition. The tomb of a saint; a holy relic; a talisman; a bit of

paper or a garment that has been handled by a supposed healer; a nostrum, a

penance; a ceremonial; a laying on of hands; or a few words impressively

pronounced-will do. It is a question of temperament, imagination, self-cure."32

"While phenomena of a physical nature may have their value as a means of

arousing the interest of materialists, and confirming, if not wholly, at least

inferentially, our belief in the survival of our souls, it is questionable

whether, under their present aspect, the modern phenomena are not doing more

harm than good."33

Theosophists themselves often quarrel with Isis because it seems to overstress

bizarre phenomena. They should see that Volume I of the book aims to show the

traces of magic in ancient science, in order to offset the Spiritualist claims

to new discoveries, and to attract attention to the more philosophic ideas

underlying classic magic. Volume II labors to reveal the presence of a vast

occultism behind the religions and theologies of the world. Again the contention

is that the ancient priests knew more than the modern expositor, that they kept

more concealed than the present-day theologian has revealed. Modern theology has

lost its savor of early truth and power, as modern technology no longer

possesses the "lost arts." Paganism was to be vindicated as against

ecclesiastical orthodoxies.

She believed that her instruction under the Lamas or Adepts in Tibet had given

her this key, and that therefore the whole vast territory of ancient religion

lay unfruitful for modern understanding until she should come forward and put

the key to the lock. The "key" makes her in a sense the exponent and depository

of "the essential veracities of all the religions and philosophies that are or

ever were."

"Myth was the favorite and universal method of teaching in archaic times."34

We can not be oblivious of the use made by Plato of myths in his theoretical


"Fairy tales do not exclusively belong to nurseries; all mankind-except those

few who in all ages have comprehended their hidden meaning, and tried to open

the eyes of the superstitious-have listened to such tales in one shape or other,

and, after transforming them into sacred symbols, called the product


"There are a few myths in any religious system but have an historical as well as

a scientific foundation. Myths, as Pococke ably expresses it, 'are now found to

be fables just in proportion as we misunderstand them; truths, in proportion as

they were once understood.'"36

The esotericism of the teachings of Christ and the Buddha is manifest to anyone

who can reason, she declares. Neither can be supposed to have given out all that

a divine being would know.

"It is a poor compliment paid the Supreme, this forcing upon him four gospels,

in which, contradictory as they often are, there is not a single narrative,

sentence or peculiar expression, whose parallel may not be found in some older

doctrine of philosophy. Surely the Almighty-were it but to spare future

generations their present perplexity-might have brought down with Him, at His

first and only incarnation on earth, something original-something that would.78

trace a distinct line of demarcation between Himself and the score or so of

incarnate Pagan gods, who had been born of virgins, had all been saviors, and

were either killed or were otherwise sacrificed for humanity."37

She says that not she but the Christian Fathers and their successors in the

church have put their divine Son of God in the position of a poor religious


Ancient secret wisdom was seldom written down at all; it was taught orally, and

imparted as a priceless tradition by one set of students to their qualified

successors. Those receiving it regarded themselves as its custodians and they

accepted their stewardship conscientiously.

To understand the reason for esotericism in science and religion in earlier

times, Madame Blavatsky urges us to recall that freedom of speech invited


"The Rosicrucian, Hermetic and Theosophical Western writers, producing their

books in epochs of religious ignorance and cruel bigotry, wrote, so to say, with

the headman's axe suspended over their necks, or the executioner's fagots laid

under their chairs, and hid their divine knowledge under quaint symbols and

misleading metaphors."38

To give lesser people what they could not appropriate, to stir complacent

conservatism with that threat of disturbing old established habitudes which

higher knowledge always brings, was unsafe in a world still actuated by codes of

arbitrary physical power. High knowledge had to be esoteric until the progress

of general enlightenment brought the masses to a point where the worst that

could happen to the originator of revolutionary ideas would be the reputation of

an idiot, instead of the doom of a Bruno or a Joan. Madame Blavatsky was willing

to be regarded as an idiot, but her Masters could not send her forth until

autos-da-fι had gone out of vogue.

We have seen in an earlier


CHAPTER that the Mystery Religions of the Eastern

Mediterranean world harbored an esotericism that presumably influenced the

formulation of later systems, notably Judaism and Christianity. In recent

decades more attention has been given to the claims of these old secret

societies. St. Paul's affiliation with them is claimed by Theosophists, and his

obvious indebtedness to them is acknowledged by some students of early

Christianity. It is impossible for Madame Blavatsky to understand the Church's

indifference to its origins, and she arrays startling columns of evidence to

show that this neglect may be fatal. The Mystery Schools, she proclaims, were

not shallow cults, but the guardians of a deep lore already venerable.

"The Mysteries are as old as the world, and one well versed in the esoteric

mythologies of various nations, can trace them back to the days of the Ante-Vedic

period in India."39

She does not soften her animosity against those influences and agencies that she

charges with culpability for smothering out the Gnosis. The culprit in the case

is Christianity.

"For over fifteen centuries, thanks to the blindly-brutal persecution of those

great vandals of early Christian history, Constantine and Justinian, ancient

wisdom slowly degenerated until it gradually sank into the deepest mire of

monkish superstition and ignorance. The Pythagorean 'knowledge of things that

are'; the profound erudition of the Gnostics; the world- and time-honored.79

teachings of the great philosophers; all were rejected as doctrines of

Antichrist and Paganism and committed to the flames. With the last seven Wise

Men of the Orient, the remnant group of Neo-Platonists, Hermias, Priscianus,

Diogenes, Eulalius, Damaskius, Simplicius and Isodorus, who fled from the

fanatical persecutions of Justinian to Persia, the reign of wisdom closed. The

books of Thoth . . . containing within their sacred pages the spiritual and

physical history of the creation and progress of our world, were left to mould

in oblivion and contempt for ages. They found no interpreters in Christian

Europe; the Philalethians, or wise 'lovers of truth' were no more; they were

replaced by the light-fleers, the tonsured and hooded monks of Papal Rome, who

dread truth, in whatever shape and from whatever quarter it appears, if it but

clashes in the least with their dogmas."40

She speaks of the

"Jesuitical and crafty spirit which prompted the Christian Church of the late

third century to combat the expiring Neo-Platonic and Eclectic Schools. The

Church was afraid of the Aristotelian dialectic and wished to conceal the true

meaning of the word daemon, Rasit, asdt (emanations); for if the truth of the

emanations were rightly understood, the whole structure of the new religion

would have crumbled along with the Mysteries."41

This motive is stressed again when she says that the Fathers had borrowed so

much from Paganism that they had to obliterate the traces of their

appropriations or be recognized by all as merely Neo-Platonists! She is keen to

point out the value of the riches thus thrown away or blindly overlooked, and to

show how Christianity has been placed at the mercy of hostile disrupting forces

because of its want of a true Gnosis. She avers that atheists and materialists

now gnaw at the heart of Christianity because it is helpless, lacking the

esoteric knowledge of the spiritual constitution of the universe, to combat or

placate them. Gnosticism taught man that he could attain the fulness of the

stature of his innate divinity; Christianity substituted a weakling's reliance

upon a higher power. Had Christianity held onto the Gnosis and Kabbalism, it

would not have had to graft itself onto Judaism and thus tie itself down to many

of the developments of a merely tribal religion. Had it not accepted the Jehovah

of Moses, she says, it would not have been forced to look upon the Gnostic ideas

as heresies, and the world would now have had a religion richly based on pure

Platonic philosophy and "surely something would then have been gained." Rome

itself, Christianized, paid a heavy penalty for spurning the wisdom of old:

"In burning the works of the theurgists; in proscribing those who affected their

study; in affixing the stigma of demonolatry to magic in general; Rome has left

her exoteric worship and Bible to be helplessly riddled by every free-thinker,

her sexual emblems to be identified with coarseness, and her priests to

unwittingly turn magicians and sorcerers in their exorcisms. Thus retribution,

by the exquisite adjustment of divine law, is made to overtake this scheme of

cruelty, injustice and bigotry, through her own suicidal acts."42

Yet Christianity drew heavily from paganism. It erected almost no novel

formulations. Christian canonical books are hardly more than plagiarisms of

older literatures, she affirms, compiled, deleted, revised, and twisted. She

believed that the first


CHAPTERs of Genesis were based on the "Chaldean" Kabbala

and an old Brahmanical book of prophecies (really later than Genesis). The

doctrine of the Trinity as purely Platonic, she says. It was Irenaeus who

identified Jesus with the "mask of the Logos or Second Person of the Trinity."

The doctrine of the Atonement came from the Gnostics. The Eucharist was common

before Christ's time. Some Neo-Platonist, not John, is alleged to have written.80

the Fourth Gospel. The Sermon on the Mount is an echo of the essential

principles of monastic Buddhism.

Jesus is torn away from allegiance to the Jewish system and stands neither as

its product nor its Messiah. Wresting him away from Judaism, and likewise from

the emanational Trinity, both of which rτles were thrust upon him gratuitously

by the Christian Fathers, she declares him to have been a Nazarene, i.e., a

member of the mystic cult of Essenes of Nazars, which perpetuated Oriental

systems of the Gnosis on the shores of the Jordan.

"One Nazarene sect is known to have existed some 150 years B.C. and to have

lived on the banks of the Jordan, and on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea,

according to Pliny and Josephus. But in King's 'Gnostics' we find quoted another

statement by Josephus from verse 13 which says that the Essenes had been

established on the shores of the Dead Sea 'for thousands of ages' before Pliny's


Jesus, one of this cult, had become adept in the occult philosophies of Egypt

and Israel, and endeavored to make of the two a synthesis, drawing at times on

more ancient knowledge from the old Hindu doctrines. He was simply a devout

occultist and taught among the people what they could receive of the esoteric

knowledge, reserving his deeper teachings for his fellows in the Essene

monasteries. He had learned in the East and in Egypt the high science of

theurgy, casting out of demons, and control of nature's finer forces, and he

used these powers upon occasion. He posed as no Messiah or Incarnation of the

Logos, but preached the message of the anointing (Christos) of the human spirit

by its baptismal union with the higher principles of our divine nature.44

In short, Madame Blavatsky leaves to Christianity little but the very precarious

distinction of having "copied all its rites, dogmas and ceremonies from

paganism" save two that can be claimed as original inventions-the doctrine of

eternal damnation (with the fiction of the Devil) "and the one custom, that of

the anathema."

"The Bible of the Christian Church is the latest receptacle of this scheme of

disfigured allegories which have been erected into an edifice of superstition,

such as never entered into the conceptions of those from whom the Church

obtained her knowledge. The abstract fictions of antiquity, which for ages had

filled the popular fancy with but flickering shadows and uncertain images, have

in Christianity assumed the shapes of real personages and become historical

facts. Allegory metamorphosed, becomes sacred history, and Pagan myth is taught

to the people as a revealed narrative of God's intercourse with His chosen


The final proposition which Isis labors to establish is that the one source of

all the wisdom of the past is India. Pythagoreanism, she says, is identical with

Buddhistic teachings. "The laws of Manu are the doctrines of Plato, Philo,

Zoroaster, Pythagoras and the Kabala." She quotes Jacolliot, the French writer:

"This philosophy, the traces of which we find among the Magians, the Chaldeans,

the Egyptians, the Hebrew Kabalists, and the Christians, is none other than that

of the Hindu Brahmans, the sectarians of the pitris, or the spirits of the

invisible worlds which surround us."46

She, with the key in her hand, sees the solution of the problem of comparative

religion as an easy one..81

"While we see the few translators of the Kabala, the Nazarene Codex and other

abstruse works, hopelessly floundering amid the interminable pantheon of names,

unable to agree as to a system in which to classify them, for the one hypothesis

contradicts and overturns the other, we can but wonder at all this trouble,

which could be so easily overcome. But even now, when the translation and even

the perusal of the ancient Sanskrit has become so easy as a point of comparison,

they would never think it possible that every philosophy-whether Semitic,

Hamitic or Turanian, as they call it, has its key in the Hindu sacred works.

Still, facts are there and facts are not easily destroyed."47

"What has been contemptuously termed Paganism was ancient Wisdom replete with

Deity. . . . Pre-Vedic Brahmanism and Buddhism are the double source from which

all religions spring; Nirvana is the ocean to which all tend."48

She says there are many parallelisms between references to Buddha and to Christ.

Many points of identity also exist between Lamaico-Buddhistic and Roman Catholic

ceremonies. The idea here hinted at is the underlying thesis of the whole

Theosophic position. Successive members of the great Oriental Brotherhood have

been incarnated at intervals in the history of mankind, each giving out portions

of the one central doctrine, which therefore must have a common base. The

puzzling identities found in the study ofComparative Religion thus find an

explanation in the identity of their authorship.

Mrs. Annie Besant later elaborated this view in the early pages of her work,

Esoteric Christianity. She contrasts it with the commonly accepted explanation

of religious origins of the academicians of our day. Summing up this position

she writes:

"The Comparative Mythologists contend that the common origin is a common

ignorance, and that the loftiest religious doctrines are simply refined

expressions of the crude and barbarous guesses of savages, of primitive men,

regarding themselves and their surroundings. Animism, fetishism, nature-worship-these

are the constituents of the primitive mud out of which has grown the

splendid lily of religion. A Krishna, a Buddha, a Lao-Tze, a Jesus, are the

highly civilized, but lineal descendants of the whirling medicine-men of the

savage. God is a composite photograph of the innumerable gods who are the

personifications of the forces of nature. It is all summed up in the phrase:

Religions are branches from a common trunk-human ignorance.

"The Comparative Religionists consider, on the other hand, that all religions

originated from the teachings of Divine Men, who gave out to the different

nations, from time to time, such parts of the verities of religion as the people

are capable of receiving, teaching ever the same morality, inculcating the use

of similar means, employing the same significant symbols. The savage religions-animism

and the rest-are degenerations, the results of decadence, distorted and

dwarfed descendants of true religious beliefs. Sun-worship and pure forms of

nature worship were, in their day, noble religions, highly allegorical, but full

of profound truth and knowledge. The great Teachers . . . form an enduring

Brotherhood of men, who have risen beyond humanity, who appear at certain

periods to enlighten the world, and who are the spiritual guardians of the human

race. This view may be summed up in the phrase: Religions are branches from a

common trunk-Divine Wisdom."49

This is the view of religions which Madame Blavatsky presented in Isis.

Religions, it would say, never rise; they only degenerate. Theosophic writers50

are at pains to point out that once a pure high religious impulse is given by a

Master-Teacher, it tends before long to gather about it the incrustations of the.82

human materializing tendency, under which the spiritual truths are obscured and

finally lost amid the crudities of literalism. Then after the world has

blundered on through a period of darkness the time grows ripe for a new

revelation, and another member of the Spiritual Fraternity comes into

terrestrial life. Madame Blavatsky says:

"The very corner-stone of their (Brahmans' and Buddhists') religious systems is

periodical incarnations of the Deity. Whenever humanity is about merging into

materialism and moral degradation, a Supreme Being incarnates himself in his

creature selected for the purpose, . . . Christna saying to Arjuna (in the

Bhagavad Gita): 'As often as virtue declines in the world, I make myself

manifest to save it.'"51

Madame Blavatsky stated that she was in contact with several of these supermen,

who sent her forth as their messenger to impart, in new form, the old knowledge..83




The Masters whom Theosophy presents to us are simply high-ranking students in

life's school of experience. They are members of our own evolutionary group, not

visitants from the celestial spheres. They are supermen only in that they have

attained knowledge of the laws of life and mastery over its forces with which we

are still struggling. They are also termed by Theosophists the "just men made

perfect," the finished products of our terrene experience, those more earnest

souls of our own race who have pressed forward to attain the fulness of the

stature of Christ, the prize of the high calling of God in Christhood. They are

not Gods come down to earth, but earthly mortals risen to the status of Christs.

They ask from us no reverence, no worship; they demand no allegiance but that

which it is expected we shall render to the principles of Truth and Fact, and to

the nobility of life. They are our "Elder Brothers," not distant deities; and

will even make their presence known to us and grant us the privilege of

coφperating with them when we have shown ourselves capable of working

unselfishly for mankind. They are not our Masters in the sense of holding

lordship over us; they are the "Masters of Wisdom and Compassion." Moved by an

infinite sympathy with the whole human race they have renounced their right to

go forward to more splendid conquests in the evolutionary field, and have

remained in touch with man in order to throw the weight of their personal force

on the side of progress.

But the rank of the Mahatmas must not be underrated because they still fall

under the category of human beings. They have accumulated vast stores of

knowledge about the life of man and the universe; about the meaning and purpose

of evolution; the methods of progress; the rationale of the expansion of the

powers latent in the Ego; the choice and attainment of ends and values in life;

and the achievement of beauty and grandeur in individual development. Upon all

these questions which affect the life and happiness of mortals they possess

competent knowledge which they are willing to impart to qualified students. They

have by virtue of their own force of character mastered every human problem,

perfected their growth in beauty, gained control over all the natural forces of

life. They stand at the culmination of all human endeavor. They have lifted

mortality up to immortality, have carried humanity aloft to divinity. Through

the mediatorship of the Christos, or spiritual principle in them, they have

reconciled the carnal nature of man, his animal soul, with the essential

divinity of his higher Self. And they, if they have been lifted up, stand

patiently eager to draw all men unto them.

Madame Blavatsky's exploitation of the Adepts (or their exploitation of her) is

a startling event in the modern religious drama. It was a unique procedure and

took the world by surprise. To be sure, India and Tibet, even China, were

familiar with the idea of supermen. India had its Buddhas, Boddhisatvas, and

Rishis. But what not even India was prepared to view without suspicion was that.84

several of the hierarchical Brotherhood should carry on a clandestine

intercourse with a nondescript group, made up of a Russian, an American, and

several Englishmen, and issue to them fragments of the ancient lore for

broadcasting to the incredulous West, which would mock it, scorn it, and trample

it underfoot.

It was only justified, according to Madame Blavatsky, by certain considerations

which influenced the final decision of the Great White Brotherhood Council.

Majority opinion was against the move; but the minority urged that two reasons

rendered it advisable. The guillotine and the fagot pile had been eliminated

from the historical forms of martyrdom; and, secondly, the esotericism of the

doctrines was, in a manner, an automatic safety device. The teachings would

appeal to those who were "ready" for them; their meaning would soar over the

heads of those for whom they were not suited.

The matter was decided affirmatively, we are informed, by the assumption of full

karmic responsibility for the launching of the crusade by the two Adepts, Morya

and Koot Hoomi Lal Singh. The latter, in the early portion of his present

incarnation, had been a student at an English University and felt that he had

found sufficient reliability on the part of intelligent Europeans to make them

worthy to receive the great knowledge. Morya, we are told, had taken on Madame

Blavatsky as his personal attachι, pupil or chela. She had earned in former

situations the right to the high commission of carrying the old truth to the

world at large in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

It is hinted that Madame Blavatsky had formed a close link with the Master Morya

in former births, when she was known to him as a great personage. It is also

said that she was herself kept from full admission to the Brotherhood only by

some special "Karma" which needed to be "worked out" in a comparatively humble

station and personality during this life. She said the Masters knew what she was

accountable for, though it was not the charlatanism the world at large charged

her with. We are led to assume that the Master Morya exercised a guardianship

over her in early life, and later, that he occasionally manifested himself to

her, giving her suggestions and encouragement. One or two of these encounters

with her Master are recorded. She met him in his physical body in London in

1851. In one of her old note-books, which her aunt Madame Fadeef sent to her in

Wόrzburg in 1885, there is a memorandum of her meeting with Morya in London. The

entry is as follows:

"Nuit mιmorable. Certaine nuit par un clair de lune que se couchait ΰ-Ramsgate--

12 aoϋt, 1851,--lorsque je rencontrai le Maξtre de mes rκves."

Hints are thrown out as to other meetings on her travels, and we are told that

she studied ancient philosophy and science under the Master's direct tutelage in

Tibet covering periods aggregating at least seven years of her life. The

testimony of Col. Olcott is no less precise. He says:

"I had ocular proof that at least some of those who worked with us were living

men, from having seen them in the flesh in India, after having seen them in the

astral body in America and in Europe; from having touched and talked with them.

Instead of telling me that they were spirits, they told me they were as much

alive as myself, and that each of them had his own peculiarities and

capabilities, in short, his complete individuality. They told me that what they

had attained to I should one day myself acquire, how soon would depend entirely

on myself; and that I might not anticipate anything whatever from favor, but,

like them, must gain every step, every inch, of progress by my own exertions."1.85

The fact that the Masters were living human beings made their revelations of

cosmic and spiritual truth, say the Theosophists, more valuable than alleged

revelations from hypothetical Gods in other systems of belief. That their

knowledge is, in a manner of speaking, human instead of heavenly or "divine"

should give it greater validity for us. The Mahatmas were, it is said, in direct

contact with the next higher grades of intelligent beings standing above them in

the hierarchical order, so that their teachings have the double worth of high

human and supernal authority. This, occultists believe, affords the most

trustworthy type of revelation.

It was not until the two Theosophic Founders had reached India, in whose

northernmost vastnesses the members of the Great White Brotherhood were said to

maintain their earthly residence, that continuous evidence of their reality and

their leadership was vouchsafed. The Theosophic case for Adept revelation rests

upon a long-continued correspondence between persons (Mr. A. P. Sinnett, mainly,

Mr. A. O. Hume, Damodar and others in minor degree) of good intelligence, but

claiming no mystical or psychical illumination, and the two Mahatmas, K.H. and

M. Sinnett, Editor of The Pioneer, at Simla in northern India, was an English

journalist of distinction and ability. Although he had manifested no special

temperamental disposition toward the mystical or occult, he was the particular

recipient of the attention and favors of the Mahatmas over a space of three or

four years, beginning about 1879. It was at his own home in Simla, later at

Allahabad, that most of the letters were received, addressed to him personally.

Most, if not all, were in answer to the queries which he was permitted, if not

invited, to ask his respected teachers.

Mr. Sinnett's book, The Occult World, was the first direct statement to the West

of the existence of the Masters and their activity as sponsors for the

Theosophical Society. He undertook the onerous task of vindicating, as far as

argument and the phenomenal material in his hands could, the title of these

supermen to the possession of surpassing knowledge and sublime wisdom. His work

supplemented that of Madame Blavatsky in Isis, yet it went beyond the latter in

asserting the connection of the Theosophical Society with an alleged association

of perfected individuals. It put the Theosophical Society squarely on record as

an organization, not merely for the purpose of eclectic research, but standing

for the promulgation of a body of basic truths of an esoteric sort and

arrogating to itself a position of unique eminence in a spiritual world order.

In the Introduction to The Occult World Mr. Sinnett elaborates his apologetic

for the general theory of Mahatmic existence and knowledge. Fundamental for his

argument is, of course, the theory of reincarnational continuity of development

which would enable individual humans, through long experience, to attain degrees

of learning far in advance of the majority of the race. But his "proofs" of both

the existence and the superior knowledge of these exceptional beings are offered

in the book itself, in which his experience with them, and the material of some

of their letters to him, are presented. His introductory dissertation is a

justification of the Mahatmic policy of maintaining their priceless knowledge in

futile obscurity within the narrow confines of their exclusive Brotherhood. He

then attempts to rectify our scornful point of view as regards esotericism. Of

the superlative wisdom of the Masters he posits his own direct knowledge. The

Brothers are to him empirically real. But the logical justification of their

attitude of seclusion and aloofness, or worse, of their selfish appropriation of

knowledge which it must be assumed would be of immense social value if

disseminated, is the point upon which he chiefly labors.

"There is a school of philosophy," he says, "still in existence of which modern

culture has lost sight . . . modern metaphysics, and to a large extent modern.86

physical science, have been groping for centuries blindly after knowledge which

occult philosophy has enjoyed in full measure all the while. Owing to a train of

fortunate circumstances I have come to know that this is the case; I have come

into contact with persons who are heirs of a greater knowledge concerning the

mysteries of Nature and humanity than modern culture has yet evolved. . . .

Modern science has accomplished grand results by the open method of

investigation, and is very impatient of the theory that persons who have

attained to real knowledge, either in science or metaphysics, could have been

content to hide their light under a bushel. . . . But there is no need to

construct hypotheses in the matter. The facts are accessible if they are sought

for in the right way."2

Spiritual science is foremost with the Adepts; physical science being of

secondary importance. The main strength of occultism has been devoted to the

science of metaphysical energy and to the development of faculties in man, not

instruments outside him, which will yield him actual experimental knowledge of

the subtle powers in nature. It aims to gain actual and exact knowledge of

spiritual things which, under all other systems, remain the subject of

speculation or blind religious faith.

Summing up the extraordinary powers which Adeptship gives its practitioners, he

says they are chiefly the ability to dissociate consciousness from the body, to

put it instantaneously in rapport with other minds anywhere on the earth, and to

exert magical control over the sublimated energies of matter. Occultism

postulates a basic differentiation between the principles of mind, soul, and

spirit, and gives a formal technique for their interrelated development. It has

evolved a practique, also, based on the spiritual constitution of matter, which,

it alleges, vastly facilitates human growth. The skilled occultist is able to

shift his consciousness from one to another plane of manifestation. In short,

his control over the vibrational energies of the Akasha makes him veritably lord

of all the physical creation.

The members of the Brotherhood remain in more or less complete seclusion among

the Himalayas because, as they have said, they find contact with the coarse

heavy currents of ordinary human emotionalism-violent feeling, material

grasping, and base ambitions-painful to their sensitive organization. This great

fraternity is at once the least and most exclusive body in the world; it is

composed of the world's very elect, yet any human being is eligible. He must

have demonstrated his possession of the required qualifications, which are so

high that the average mortal must figure on aeons of education before he can

knock at the portals of their spiritual society. The road thither is beset with

many real perils, which no one can safely pass till he has proven his mastery

over his own nature and that of the world.

"The ultimate development of the adept requires amongst other things a life of

absolute physical purity, and the candidate must, from the beginning, give

practical evidence of his willingness to adopt this. He must . . . for all the

years of his probation, be perfectly chaste, perfectly abstemious, and

indifferent to physical luxury of every sort. This regimen does not involve any

fantastic discipline or obtrusive ascetism, nor withdrawal from the world. There

would be nothing to prevent a gentleman in ordinary society from being in some

of the preliminary stages of training without anybody about him being the wiser.

For true occultism, the sublime achievement of the real adept, is not attained

through the loathsome ascetism of the ordinary Indian fakeer, the yogi of the

woods and wilds, whose dirt accumulates with his sanctity-of the fanatic who

fastens iron hooks into his flesh or holds up an arm till it withers."3.87

How did the Mahatmas impart their teaching? Mr. Sinnett was the channel of

transmission, and to him the two Masters sent a long series of letters on

philosophical and other subjects, they themselves remaining in the background.

The Mahatma Letters themselves, as originally received by Mr. Sinnett, were not

published until 1925.4 Sinnett, early in his acquaintance with the Masters,

asked K.H. for the privilege of a personal interview with him. The Master

declined. His messages came in the form of long letters which dropped into his

possession by facile means that would render the Post Office authorities of any

nation both envious and sceptical. The correspondence began when Madame

Blavatsky suggested that Mr. Sinnett write certain questions which were on his

mind in a letter addressed to K.H., saying she would dispatch it to him, several

hundred miles distant, by the exercise of her magnetic powers. She would

accompany it with the request for a reply. The idea in Mr. Sinnett's mind was

one which he thought, could the Adept actually carry it out, would demonstrate

at one stroke the central theses of occultism and practically revolutionize the

whole trend of human thinking. His suggestion to K.H. in that first letter was

that the Mahatma should use his superior power to reproduce in far-off India, on

the same morning on which it issued from the press, a full copy of the London

Times. Madame Blavatsky disintegrated the missive and wafted its particles to

the hermit in the mountains. The answer came in two days. The test of the London

newspaper, he wrote, was inadmissible precisely because "it would close the

mouths of the sceptics." The world is unprepared for so convincing a

demonstration of supernormal powers, he argued, because, on the one hand the

event would throw the principles and formulae of science into chaos, and on the

other, it would demolish the structure of the concepts of natural law by the

restoration of the belief in "miracle." The result would thus be disastrous for

both science and faith. Incompetent as the thesis of mechanistic naturalism is

to provide mortals with the ground of understanding of the deeper phenomena of

life and mind, it does less harm on the whole than would a return to arrant

superstition such as must follow in the wake of the wonder Sinnett had proposed.

The Master asked his correspondent if the modern world had really thrown off the

shackles of ignorant prejudice and religious bigotry to a sufficient extent to

enable it to withstand the shock that such an occurrence would bring to its

fixed ideas. If this one test were furnished, he went on, Western incredulity

would in a moment ask for others and still others; shrewd ingenuity would devise

ever more bizarre performances; and since not all the millions of sceptics could

be given ocular demonstrations, the net outcome of the whole procedure would be

confusion and unhappiness. The mass of humanity must feel its way slowly toward

these high powers, and the premature exhibition of future capacity would but

overwhelm the mind and unsettle the poise of people everywhere.

Mr. Sinnett replied, venturing to believe "that the European mind was less

hopelessly intractable than Koot Hoomi had represented it." The Master's second

letter continued his protestations:

"The Mysteries never were, never can be, put within reach of the general public,

not, at least, until the longed-for day when our religious philosophy becomes

universal. At no time have more than a scarcely appreciable minority of men

possessed Nature's secret, though multitudes have witnessed the practical

evidences of the possibility of their possession."

Letters followed on both sides, Mr. Sinnett taking advantage of many

opportunities afforded by varying circumstances in each case to fortify his

assurance that Madame Blavatsky herself was not inditing the replies in the name

of the Adept. Frequently replies came, containing specific reference to detailed

matters in his missives, when she had not been out of his sight during the

interim between the despatch and the return. The letters came and went as well.88

when she was hundreds of miles away. The answers would often be found in his

locked desk drawer, sometimes inside his own letter, the seal of which had not

been broken. On occasion the Mahatma's reply dropped from the open air upon his

desk while he was watching.

Madame Blavatsky and the Master both explained the method by which the letters

were written. Theoretically, they were not written at all, but "precipitated."

Among the Adept's occult or "magical" powers is that of impressing upon the

surface of some material, as paper, the images which he holds vividly before his

mind. He may thus impress or imprint a photograph, a scene, or a word, or

sentence, upon parchment. He uses materials, of course, paper, ink or pencil

graphite. But in his ability to disintegrate atomic combinations of matter, he

can seize upon the material present, or even at a distance, and "precipitate" or

reintegrate it, in conformity with the lines of his strong thought-energies. He

can thus image a sentence, word for word, in his mind, and then pour the current

of atomic material into the given form of the letters, upon the plane of the