(1831 to 1891)
“Theosophy, on earth, is like the white ray of the spectrum, and every religion only one of the seven prismatic colours. Ignoring all the others, and cursing them as false, every special-coloured ray claims not only priority, but to be that white ray itself, and anathematizes even its own tints from light to dark, as heresies. Yet, as the sun of truth rises higher and higher on the horizon of man’s perception, and each coloured ray gradually fades out until it is finally re-absorbed in its turn, humanity will at last be cursed no longer with artificial polarizations, but will find itself bathing in the pure colourless sunlight of eternal truth. And this will be Theosophia.”
– H.P. Blavatsky
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, commonly known as Madame Blavatsky, was the founder of the Theosophical Movement. She was the daughter of Colonel Peter Hahn, a Russian officer, and was brought up in an atmosphere permeated with superstition and fantasy. As a child, she loved to surround herself with mystery and assured her playmates that in the subterranean corridors of their old house at Saratow, where she used to wander about, she was never alone; claiming she had companions and playmates whom she called her “hunchbacks.” She was often discovered in a dark tower underneath the roof where she put pigeons into mesmeric sleep by stroking them.
Once, while riding a horse, she fell from the saddle and her foot became entangled in the stirrup. She claimed that she ought to have been killed outright before the horse was stopped “but for the strange sustaining power she distinctly felt around her, which seemed to hold her up in defiance of gravitation.” According to the records of her sister, she showed frequent evidence of somnambulism as a child, speaking aloud, and often walking in her sleep. She saw eyes glaring at her from inanimate objects or from phantasmal forms.
In later years, Madame Blavatsky claimed visions of a phantom protector whose imposing appearance had dominated her imagination. Her powers of make-believe were so remarkable that she could actually cause hallucinations in playmates by her vivid storytelling. In a nutshell, she possessed great musical talents, had a fearful temper, a passionate curiosity for the unknown, and an uncontrollable craving for independence and action.
At seventeen, she married General Blavatsky, from whom she escaped three months later. She then fled abroad and led a wild, wandering life for ten years all over the world, in search for mysteries. When she returned to Russia, she possessed well-developed mediumistic gifts. Raps, whisperings, and other mysterious sounds were heard all over the house. Objects moved about in obedience to her will. Their weight decreased and increased as she wished. Winds swept through the apartment, extinguishing lamps and candles. She exhibited clairvoyance, discovered a murderer for the police, and narrowly escaped being charged as an accomplice.
In 1860 she had an attack of severe illness. A prior wound below the heart opened and she suffered intense agony, followed by convulsions and trance. After she recovered, the spontaneous physical phenomena about her seems to have disappeared; she claimed that they only occurred in obedience to her will.
Again, Madame Blavatsky went abroad and, disguised as a man, she fought under Garibaldi and was left for dead in the battle of Mentana. She fought back to life, had a miraculous escape at sea on a Greek vessel which was blown up, and founded, in 1871, in Cairo, the Societe Spirite. It was a dubious venture which soon died amid cries of fraud and embezzlement.
Her ties to Spiritualism date from her arrival in New York in July of 1873. She first worked as a dressmaker and, after her acquaintance with Colonel Henry Steel Olcott at Chittenden, Vermont, in the house of the Eddy Brothers (famous physical mediums), she launched a career in journalism, writing mostly on Spiritualism for magazines.
“For over 15 years have I fought my battle for the blessed truth,” she wrote in The Spiritual Scientist, Boston, December 3, 1874. “For the sake of Spiritualism, I have left my house; an easy life amongst a civilized society, and have become a panderer upon the face of this earth.“
One could say that the real starting point of her work was the founding of the Theosophical Society in December, 1875. It professed to “expound the esoteric tradition of Buddhism and aimed at forming a universal brotherhood of man, studying and making known the ancient religions, philosophies and sciences, and investigating the laws of nature and developing the divine powers latent in man.“
Colonel Olcott was elected as Chairman. He was a tireless organizer and propagandist. His relationship to Madame Blavatsky was clearly that of the pupil to the teacher. He did the practical, while Madame Blavatsky engaged in the literary work.
Their joint efforts soon put the Theosophical Society on prosperous footing, but trouble was looming on the horizon. At the end of 1878, a small party of four left, under their leadership, for Bombay; soon thereafter, the Theosophical movement gained impetus from the publicity launched by A. P. Sinnett, editor of The Pioneer, who embraced Buddhism in Ceylon. The publicity, however, had its disadvantages, in that it got the attention of England’s prestigious Society for Psychical Research. Dr. Hodgson was sent by the S.P.R. to Adyar, India, where the central headquarters of the movement were established, to investigate the phenomena. The investigation had a disastrous effect for Madame Blavatsky and a nearly deadly blow for Theosophy.
Dr. Hodgson claims to have found nothing but fraud and extreme credulity on the part of the believers. People who joined Madame Blavatsky confessed to manufacturing, in conspiracy with her, a large number of the Theosophical miracles and revealed the secret of the sliding panels of the Shrine in the Occult Room through which, from Madame Blavatsky’s bedroom, the “astral” Mahatma Letters were deposited. They disclosed impersonation of the Mahatmas by a dummy head and shoulders and declared that the Mahatma Letters were written by Madame Blavatsky in a disguised hand; that they were projected through cracks in the ceiling by means of spring contrivances and produced the correspondence between them and Madame Blavatsky in proof of their self-confessed complicity.
Dr. Hodgson’s investigations lasted for three months. His findings laid to waste a prior report on the Theosophical phenomena, written in the December, 1884, issue of the S.P.R. Proceedings, which had been favorable to Madame Blavatsky’s claims. The conclusions, as published under the heading “Report on Phenomena connected with Theosophy” (S.P.R. Proceedings, Vol. III. 1885) were as follows:
“In the first place a large number of letters produced by Mr. and Madame Coulomb, formerly Librarian and Assistant Corresponding Secretary, respectively, of the Theosophical Society were, in the opinion of the best experts in handwriting, written by Madame Blavatsky. These letters, which extended over the years of 1880-1883, inclusive, and some of which were published in the Madras Christian College Magazine for September 1884, prove that Madame Blavatsky has been engaged in the production of a varied and long-continued series of fraudulent phenomena, in which she has been assisted by the Columns. The circumstantial evidence which I was able to obtain concerning the incidents referred to in these letters, corroborates the judgment of the experts in handwriting.
“In the second place, apart altogether from either these letters or the statements of the Coulombs, who themselves allege that they were confederates of Madame Blavatsky, it appears from my own inquiries concerning the existence and the powers of the supposed Adepts or Mahatmas, and the marvelous phenomena alleged to have occurred in connection with the Theosophical Society.
“That the primary witnesses to the existence of a Brotherhood with occult powers – viz., Madame Blavatsky, Mr. Damodar K. Mavalankar, Mr. Bhavani Shankar and Mr. Babajee D. Nath – have in other matters deliberately made statements which they must have known to be false, and that, therefore, their assertions cannot establish the existence of the Brotherhood in question.
“That the comparison of handwriting further tends to show that Koot Hoomi Lal Sing and Mahatma Morya are fictitious personages, and that most of the documents purporting to have emanated from these “personages” and especially from “K.H.”
(Koot Hoomi Lal Sing) are in the disguised handwriting of Madame Blavatsky herself, who originated the style of the K.H. handwriting, and that some of the K.H. writing is the handiwork of Mr. Damodar in imitation of the writing developed by Madame Blavatsky.
“That in no single phenomenon which came within the scope of my investigation in India, was the evidence such as would entitle it to be regarded as genuine, the witnesses for the most part being extraordinarily inaccurate in observation or memory, and having neglected to exercise due care for the exclusion of fraud; while in the case of some of the witnesses there has been much conscious exaggeration and culpable mis-statement.
“That not only was the evidence insufficient to establish the genuineness of the alleged marvels, but that evidence furnished partly by my own inspection and partly by a large number of witnesses, most of them Theosophists, concerning the structure, position and environment of the Shrine, concerning “Mahatma” communications received independently of the Shrine and concerning various other incidents, including many of the phenomena mentioned in the Occult World, besides the numerous additional suspicious circumstances which I have noted in the course of dealing in detail with the cases considered, renders the conclusion unavoidable that the phenomena in question were actually due to fraudulent arrangement.”
On the basis of Dr. Hodgson’s findings, the Committee of the S.P.R. declared: “For our own part we regard her neither as the mouthpiece of hidden seers nor as a mere vulgar adventuress; we think that she has achieved a title to permanent remembrance as one of the most accomplished and interesting impostors in history.“
In many ways, it can be said that the joke was on the S.P.R. The Theosophical Society grew to become a world-wide movement, with thousands of followers. To this day, the Theosophical Society represents a driving force of esoteric insight; one which the Ayer Trust fully embraces as a resurrection of the Ancient Teachings which were taught in the Mystery Schools of Greek, Rome, Egypt, Persia, and the East. To us, Theosophy, along with the true tenets of Spiritualism, form the foundation stones in understanding the great Journey of the Soul and its oneness with Creation and Divinity.
The publication of the report which followed the printing of the Coulomb letters in the Madras Christian Magazine, created an immense sensation. The first result of the exposure was that Colonel Olcott, whose honesty was not impugned by the report, banished Madame Blavatsky from Adyar. The proofs of her guilt were overwhelming. The defense was built up with great difficulties. “Dark Forces” in the “Beyond” tending to discredit the Theosophical Society had to be called in for explanatory purposes and the case looked almost hopeless.
Nevertheless, Mrs. Annie Besant, who became Madame Blavatsky’s successor, and A. P. Sinnett valiantly met the task. Dr. Hodgson answered and stood by his conclusions. In the literature that followed, a book, written by Solovyoff, in 1892, shortly after Madame Blavatsky’s death, is the most interesting, as it claims that Madame Blavatsky acknowledged her fraudulent practices to the author.
Despite this barrage of insults and claims of fraud, Madame Blavatsky succeeded in living down every attack during her life, continued her work, gained many new adherents to Theosophy and published a stupendous work, The Secret Doctrine, which was mostly written in a supernormal condition.
Whatever views the researchers had of Madame Blavatsky, she was a most remarkable woman, who did possess psychic powers, even though they may have fallen short of the miraculous feats she constantly claimed for herself.
Having said this, much honor and recognition for the Theosophical Society’s growth must be given to Annie Besant. It was she, along with Charles Leadbeater, who was instrumental in promoting the wealth of insight given in The Secret Doctrine. Without their devotion and tireless efforts, we believe the Theosophical Society would have died a quiet death many years ago; and what a shameful loss to the world that would have been.
It is unfortunate that most of the phenomena surrounding Madame Blavatsky were produced under circumstances open to suspicion. Furthermore, the phenomena were of a different order from those produced by traditional Spiritualist mediums of the day.
There has generally been a rather wide gap between Theosophy and Modern Spiritualism, one which still seems to separate the two. Spiritualists tend to disregard Theosophy, while Theosophists tend to exhibit a condescending attitude towards Spiritualists. To us, this is most tragic. As a longtime and avid student in both schools of thought, I (Trustee Simeon) find that, together, Theosophy and Spiritualism offer great insight into life’s many mysteries and that one truly complements the other very nicely.
To me, traditional Modern Spiritualism falls short of revealing esoteric truth, while Theosophy tends to shut the door on Spirit contact and communication. Each lacks what the other offers.
The story of Madame Blavatsky is both wondrous and sad. Regardless of what one feels about her or about the movement which she founded, Madame Blavatsky refused and still refuses to be ignored.
Books written by Madame Blavatsky include Isis Unveiled, 1877; The Secret Doctrine, 1887-1897; The Key to Theosophy, 1889; The Voice of the Silence, 1899; Gems from the East, 1890; From the Caves and Jungles of Hindustan, 1892; Nightmare Tales, 1892; The Theosophical Glossary, 1892; and A Modern Panarion, 1895.
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