Issues of Theosophical History:
Description of Contents

By the Editor: Dr. James Santucci

 

Vol. X

Issue 1

January 2004

Vol. X 

Issue 2

April 2004

Vol. X

Issue 3

July 2004

Vol. X

Issue 4

October 2004

 

Back to Past Issues Description of Contents INDEX

 

Vol. X, Issue 1(January 2004)

One of the more interesting and important episodes in Theosophical history was the conflict that grew between the two Outer Heads of the Eastern School of Theosophy – William Q. Judge and Annie Besant – in the mid-1890s. The main reason for this conflict was the public accusation that Judge was forging letters allegedly written by the Masters or Mahatmas. This allegation of Judge’s dishonesty led to a resolution brought before the convention of the T.S. in Adyar by Mrs. Besant in December 1894, demanding that Judge resign his vice-presidency of the T.S. Instead, the American Section Convention declared in April 1895 its autonomy from the Adyar administration (i.e. Olcott) and appointed Judge president for life of the “Theosophical Society in America.” This whole episode is treated at some length in Brett Forray’s article. Although it is important for the historian to establish the validity of the arguments raised by either party, admittedly no easy task, what is more important vis-à-vis Mr. Forray’s article was Judge’s persistent conviction that he was in communication with the Masters during the earliest years of The Theosophical Society. This claim and other revelations, among which included Judge’s practice of the occult or magical sciences as revealed in his lecture of 1876 (Theosophical History, vol. IX, no. 3 [July 2003]), his conviction that his body was in the possession of a Hindu sage—this inner self he identified as “Rajah”—and his mention of undergoing past incarnations in India, establish him as no ordinary administrator within the Society but rather an individual who helped to articulate and to develop an interpretation of Theosophical esotericism. In some regards, Judge was to Blavatsky what Sariputta was to the Buddha: an extremely learned and articulate interpreter and propagandist of Blavatsky’s teachings and one who helped define the boundaries of Theosophy.

In this role, Judge exhibited high expectations for some selected members within The Theosophical Society to advance the Theosophical cause. It is in this context that Judge was sharply critical of the Theosophist Brahmins within the Indian Section for not sufficiently contributing to the advancement of Theosophical teachings. Much of Mr. Forray’s paper covers this topic, pointing out the Brahmins’ lack of translations from their religious tradition, their philosophies and psychical sciences. Additionally, what was commonly not well known was Judge’s view that a more Western slant to the esoteric tradition was essential due to the degeneration of the spiritual in the India of his day. Nonetheless, he was still of the opinion that the India of yesteryear had much to offer the West. This, coupled with his (and Blavatsky’s) conviction that the United States would be the location for a new sub-race, could only lead to a clash with the blatantly pro-Indian stance of Mrs. Besant and the importance she gave to its members and philosophies. Their attitude toward one another was partially based on a misunderstanding of the motives of each. This was apparently more so with Mrs. Besant than with Mr. Judge.

This discussion is important because it helps to define the esotericism that exists within the Theosophical Movement. It is now becoming obvious that the distinction between Christian theosophy and the Theosophy of the T.S., initially proposed by Antoine Faivre in his “The Theosophical Current: A Periodization” (Theosophical History, Jan. 1999: 168 – 169) is not as divergent as is commonly assumed. Furthermore, we can now detect degrees of dissimilarities, with Mrs. Besant’s brand of Theosophy reflecting more emphasis on Eastern (Hindu) esotericism and Judge’s brand reflecting more emphasis on Western esotericism, albeit with an acknowledgement of the validity of the ancient compositions of India. There is still a need to know how much education Judge and Besant acquired in the esotericisms of East and West prior to their contact with Blavatsky and how much understanding they actually possessed in this subject. Such studies are bound to reflect biases of the investigators, so there is a definite requirement to develop a methodology and hermeneutic designed to correct and restrict such biases.

In addition to Judge’s fractured relationship with Mrs. Besant was his contentious relationship with Col. Olcott. This was due in part to Judge’s perception that Olcott failed to appreciate his psychic abilities and to acknowledge his allegedly close relationship with the Masters. This is the subject of the second contribution: Olcott’s letter to Judge dated September 28, 1893 together with Michael Gomes’ historical introduction. Mention is made in the letter of Judge’s special occult status through communications received from the Masters between 1875 and 1879 (of which Olcott claims Blavatsky was ignorant) and Judge’s “elementary psychic power.” Two political or administrative issues are mentioned: the first referring to Elliott Coues’ (1842 – 1899) attempt to gain a position of authority within the newly reorganized Theosophical Society in America in 1886 at Judge’s expense and the troubles that arose with his failure to do so, and the second referring to Olcott’s preference for Mrs. Besant and not Judge to become his eventual successor to the presidency of the T.S.

One additional issue raised was the Panjab seal, which was embossed on the letters from the Masters to Judge in the 1890s. Olcott contended that he did “not for one moment believe that any genuine Mahatma ever used the bogus seal of Punjab, or ever made such an excuse for using it as your [Judge’s] report their having made.” Indeed, Olcott, who had the seal made in India while on tour in 1883, reported that Blavatsky recognized that the cryptogram containing the Master M.’s initials was inaccurate. To have the seal appear in the Master’s communications was in Olcott’s opinion “sheer swindle.”

To conclude with a word about the two contributors, the first, Brett Forray, is a member of the Board of Directors of Alexandria West, a non-profit educational organization. An earlier communication of his appeared in the October 2003 issue of Theosophical History. Michael Gomes is a frequent contributor to Theosophical History. His last contribution also appeared in the October issue, a historical introduction and transcription of an article, “More About Materialization,” extracted from the November 19, 1874 issue of the Spiritual Scientist.

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The Blavatsky Archives
Daniel Caldwell has recently added an important series of articles to his online site, Blavatsky Archives. Nine articles by the editor of the O.E. Library Critic, Dr. Henry Newlin Stokes, are included in this series under the title:

An Analysis of the Controversy Surrounding W.Q. Judge’s Diary Entries about “Promise” and the Dead H.P.B.
including Material on the Close Relationship between Mr. Judge and Mrs. Tingley


A helpful introduction to the Series by Mr. Caldwell is also included. In addition, over 40 appendices are provided, including entries by Robert Crosbie, Joseph Fussell, David Green, Emmett Greenwalt, Ernest Hargrove, William Q. Judge, Katherine Tingley, and Cyrus Field Willard.
These items provide a treasure-trove of information that can only enhance the importance of this site for historians. Such accessibility also demonstrates the increasing importance of the Internet as a major source of historical material.
The address to the site is http://blavatskyarchives.com/stokeswqjktcon.htm.

 

Vol. X, Issue 2 (April 2004)

Although Mabel Collins (1851 – 1927) has played a peripheral role in the history of the British Theosophical Society, she is certainly one of its more fascinating characters. Remembered today as the author of Light on the Path, Mabel was a prolific writer of such works as When The Sun Moves Northward: The Way Of Initiation, The Scroll of The Disembodied Man, The Blossom and The Fruit: A True Story Of A Black Magician, Through The Gates Of Gold: A Fragment Of Thought, The Awakening, The Star Sapphire, and The Idyll Of The White Lotus, the latter being her first Theosophical work. Introduced to Theosophical teachings in 1881, she became acquainted with H.P. Blavatsky in 1884, who became Mabel’s guest in her home, Maycot, after arriving in London from Ostend in 1887. This was a particularly significant time in the history of the Society. The Blavatsky Lodge was established three weeks after Blavatsky’s arrival and the magazine, Lucifer, was inaugurated a few months later (September 1884). Besides serving as its co-editor, Mabel also helped in the editing of Blavatsky’s seminal work, The Secret Doctrine. All came to an untimely end in 1889, however, after Blavatsky discovered questionable conduct – described alternately as a “flirtation” by W.B. Yeats and as “Tantric worship and black magic” by Vittoria Cremers’ in her unpublished memoirs – involving Mabel, Archibald Keightley and his nephew, Bertram Keightley. Collins’ involvement in this type of activity was but a portent of what was to occur in her later life.
In the article appearing in this issue, “The Life and Works of Mabel Collins” by Kim Farnell (a modified account of a paper originally presented at the London Theosophical History Conference in June 2003), we find in addition to the information provided above an interesting reference to Mabel’s encounter with Robert Donston Stephenson, whom Collins suspected to be Jack the Ripper, thus involving Mabel, though indirectly, in Britain’s most sensational crime of the nineteenth century. On a more sober note, Ms Farnell recounts Collins’ involvement with the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection and the establishment of its journal, The Abolitionist.

In 1913, she was to suffer a loss of her assets when her bank went into liquidation, an event that was to affect the remainder of her life.
One may come to differing assessments of her life. She did leave a body of work that has stamped her place in the literary world, albeit in a minor fashion. During the years when she was a member of the British Theosophical Society, she displayed the potential of becoming a major influence, perhaps as an inspirational leader, had she chosen to do so. Indeed, Annie Besant’s influence as a propagator of Theosophical teachings could have been duplicated by Mabel Collins had she applied herself in this direction. Although she left two spiritual works (Light on the Path and The Idyll of the White Lotus) that will ensure her notoriety, one wanders what she could have accomplished had kinder circumstances occurred and had she responded to these opportunities.

We shall know more about Mabel Collins when Kim Farnell’s One Mystic Vampire: A Biography of Mabel Collins,” appears later this year.

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During the 1994 annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion, I had the occasion to visit the Helen I. Dennis Collection at the University of Chicago Library at the behest of the author of the second contribution in this issue, Michael Gomes. The Helen I. Dennis Collection, though not generally well known in Theosophical circles, first received mention in the January 1993 issue of Theosophical History, wherein Mr. Gomes reported a discovery of a manuscript by Blavatsky. Since the documents in this collection detail the allegation against C.W. Lead beater for teaching masturbation to young boys, this highly charged piece of Theosophical history is effectively reexamined in the light of the collection by Michael Gomes. A detailed account of the scandal has not appeared in print since Gregory Tillett’s biography of Leadbeater, The Elder Brother (1982), so Michael Gomes’ account is particularly significant since it includes novel research in this area.
The last contribution is a book review by Robert Boyd, of Joscelyn Godwin’s The Pagan Dream of the Renaissance, published by Phanes Press in 2002.


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The contributors of the above have all appeared in Theosophical History in previous issues. Kim Farnell, whose previous contribution, “Walter Richard Old: The Man Who Held Helena Blavatsky’s Hand” (VIII/2, April 2000), is a professional writer, astrologer and researcher focusing on occult movements and astrology in the late nineteenth century. She is the author of a number of books, her latest being Reading the Runes and Illustrated A-Z of Understanding Star Signs. She has also written a biography of Walter Old, The Astral Tramp: A Biography of Sepharial (Ascella Publ., 1998). Ms Farnell is presently completing her Masters degree in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology at Bath Spa University. Kim lives in London, UK.
Michael Gomes is a frequent contributor on Theosophical history. His “Letter from Henry Steel Olcott to William Q. Judge, September 28, 1893, last appeared in the January 2004 issue. He also inaugurated the Occasional Papers series with his Witness for the Prosecution: Annie Besant’s Testimony on Behalf of H.P. Blavatsky in the N.Y. Sun/Coues Law Case (1993).

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Vol. X, Issue3 (July 2004)

Three contributions appear in this issue: “The Ritual Dimension of Theosophy: Some Forgotten Endeavours” by Revd. Kevin Tingay, a review essay on the book Ésotérisme, gnoses et imaginaire symbolique: Mélanges offerts à Antoine Faivre, and one book review: The Letters of H.P. Blavatsky, Volume 1.
Revd. Tingay’s article, first presented at the Theosophical History Conference in London in June 2003, explores an area of Theosophical activity not necessarily identified with Theosophy: ritual. This is not to say that ritual was and is an essential part of the Theosophical Society; rather, it is an activity that attracted a fair portion of the Theosophical community.
Despite this fact, ritual has nonetheless made an impact on the members of the largest of the societies, the Adyar T.S. Theosophists belonging to this society participated in the rituals of closely allied or affiliated organizations, one example being the Order of International Co-Freemasonry. What type of ritual performed and when it was initiated is in itself of historical interest, but there is an interesting side note to this study. Revd. Tingay observes that Theosophists deny that Theosophy is a religion yet are often involved with the one activity that will identify the organization as a religion. The problem is not only unique to Theosophists but also to academic scholars in the study of religions. There have been numberless attempts to define a “religion,” none of which are universally accepted. Despite the fact that no definition is perfect, or perhaps because of it, there is a tendency to include many self-identified non-religious organizations under the rubric of religion. Why this is so is somewhat baffling to me unless we conclude that scholars and non-scholars alike have a decided tendency to accept reflexive definitions – or to put it more bluntly, to engage in the Humpty-Dumpty Principle of defining the term. If the study of religion comes down to this, then we must assume a far less pretentious attitude toward the subject, recognizing that we are all susceptible to instinct and blind reaction and so must initiate almost heroic efforts to overcome such shortcomings.
The second contribution, Hereward Tilton’s review essay on Ésotérisme, gnoses et imaginaire symbolique: Mélanges offerts à Antoine Faivre, highlights the most important and extensive collection of articles to date in the now burgeoning field of Western Esoteric studies. It is a book that includes articles by virtually every established researcher in the field, all in honor of the individual who has done more to establish Western Esotericism in the Academy than any other scholar, Antoine Faivre.
The sole book review, our last offering, is of the long awaited volume, The Letters of H.P. Blavatsky, Volume 1 edited by Dr. John Algeo, the Vice-President of the T.S. I use the compound “long awaited” since there was the expectation that the respected Australian historian of the Theosophical Society, the late John Cooper, would produce the first of a series of such volumes, but his untimely death in 1998 delayed the project by a number of years. This publication continues the efforts of the pioneering Theosophical scholar, Boris de Zirkoff, as well as those of Mr. Cooper, whose contribution amounted to many years of painstaking research judging from correspondence received from him, and the awarding to him of a posthumous Ph.D dissertation on this subject by the University of Sydney.
Among the contributors, Revd. Kevin Tingay is an Anglican Priest in Somerset, England and Interfaith Adviser in his Diocese of Bath & Wells. Dr. Hereward Tilton is an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation scholar at the Seminar für Geistesgeschichte und Philosophie der Renaissance, Ludwig-Maximilians-Uni-versität München, where he is currently holding seminars on alchemy and Western esotericism. His doctoral thesis was published by de Gruyter in 2003 with the title The Quest for the Phoenix: Spiritual Alchemy and Rosicrucianism in the Work of Count Michael Maier(1569-1622).

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Vol. X, Issue 4 (October 2004)

H.P. Blavatsky’s life has been well documented since 1873, when she came to the United States to establish, so she wrote in an entry in her Scrapbook (vol. I, 20-21 and published in Blavatsky Collected Writings I, lv), a secret society “like the Rosicrucian Lodge” on orders from her Master M. Although her activities and accomplishments from 1873 to her death in 1891 are historically verifiable, opinions vary regarding her motivation and purpose. Many Theosophists—to be sure the vast majority—accept her claim that she was a “direct agent” of the Masters, that she was the motivating force behind the establishment of the Theosophical Society, and that she was and remains the most erudite and original commentator on that branch of esoterica identified by the founders and formers of the Theosophical Society as Theosophy. Yet there are a number of biographers and commentators who view Blavatsky in a much more negative light. Much of this is based upon the SPR Report of 1885 and the damaging observations of its principal investigator, Richard Hodgson. It was Hodgson who declared most of Blavatsky’s—and by extension the Theosophical Society’s—claims to be a vast deception perpetrated upon the unsuspecting non-Theosophical public and even upon the rank and file members of the T.S. The Masters did not write those famous letters to A.P. Sinnett and others, according to Hodgson, because they do not exist. The only valid conclusion, in Hodgson’s view, was to charge Blavatsky and her willing accomplice, Damodar K. Mavalankar, with the composition of those letters, not for monetary gain nor, in Hodgson’s words, because of the “aloe-blossom of a woman’s monomania,” but for the more consequential suspicion that she was a Russian spy. This accusation did not originate with Hodgson, but he certainly placed it front and center before the general public. This indictment has been a continuous bane for Theosophists, so it is not surprising that a recent controversy has arisen with the inclusion of the 1872 “Russian spy” letter in The Letters of H.P. Blavatsky, Volume 1: 1861 – 1879. Purportedly written by Blavatsky to the Director of the Third Department, the Tsar’s personal secret police, this letter came to light when it was discovered in Moscow’s Central State Archives of the October Revolution and published in 1988 in the Literaturnoe obozrenie. The English-speaking world became aware of the letter when portions were translated into English by Dr. Maria Carlson of the University of Kansas-Lawrence in her book, No Religion Higher than Truth, and later fully translated by her and published in the July 1995 issue of this journal. Some have objected to its inclusion in the collection because it does not fit the perception of Blavatsky as being disengaged from politics and because it impugns her character. The issue is more complex than simply objecting to its publication because of the unknown provenance of the letter. It also raises the issue of censorship and of the character and motives of H.P. Blavatsky. When the “Russian spy” letter was published in Theosophical History, Dr. Carlson observed the following:
Despite its appearance during the politically ambiguous year 1988, the publication of this sensational letter plays its own role in the mythology that has grown up around Mme. Blavatsky; it makes its own contribution to the contradictory and conflicting documentation of Mme. Blavatsky’s extraordinary life. There has been considerable speculation over the years about the possible role of espionage in Mme. Blavatsky’s life … but nothing has ever been proved. This letter is the first indication that there may in fact be some basis for the speculation, although the offer of her services was apparently not accepted by the Russian secret police…. This letter is, in the final evaluation, as enigmatic as Mme. Blavatsky herself; it is sensational, but at the moment unverifiable; it raises as many questions than it might answer [July 1995: 226].

Dr. Carlson suggests that the letter may have been written by the secret police, but she finds little reason why the police should do so. Neither Blavatsky nor the Theosophical Society posed any threat to the regime. Besides, considerable research would have to be conducted to obtain the details of her life, a task that is not as easy as it may appear.

It is now well over ten years since the appearance of this letter in English, and no progress has been made in locating the original copy. Would it have been better, therefore, for the letter to remain unpublished until such time that its provenance is established? Or is it better to publish it with a cautionary note by the editor making no claims regarding its authenticity. This is not an easy matter to decide. Maria Carlson, John Algeo (the editor of The Letters of H.P. Blavatsky), and I have made the decision to publish the letter. My reasoning is based upon the assumption that making the letter accessible to the community of scholars is healthier than suppressing it. This being the case, a candid and open discussion of the letter may lead to a balanced judgment minus the inevitable conspiracy theories resulting in maintaining secrecy regarding its contents. I believe this to be a reasonable approach since no claim is being made by the publishers concerning the letter’s authenticity.
Furthermore, suggestions that the letter should not have been published because of its content are weak and defensive. The assumption is based upon an idealized interpretation of Blavatsky’s character that presupposed her being perfectly consistent in thought and action. Contradictions between word and deed often appear when examining a person’s life over a lifetime, a situation neither surprising nor censorious. If genuine, the letter reveals Blavatsky as a patriot willing to offer her services to the country of her birth. There is nothing wrong in this. Of course, the letter also reveals that she most probably had done so for monetary gain, which again is understandable since she was in dire need of funds at the time. To deny this possibility based upon statements she made years later merely lends a blind eye to the importance of fulfilling the basic human need of survival. The action she took, therefore, must be considered in context of a basic human want and not under the rubric of an ethical ideal or expectation.

Dr. Carlson observes too that “both Mme. Blavatsky and the people around her (well-wishers and not so well-wishers) are known to have manipulated the historical record for their own advantage” [Theosophical History, July 1995: 226].
If there is any disagreement regarding this last statement, then consider the surprising account of John P. Deveney (“The Travels of H.P. Blavatsky and the Chronology of Albert Leighton Rawson: An Unsatisfying Investigation into H.P.B.’s Whereabouts in the Early 1850s”) appearing in this issue. The subject matter in this instance concerns Blavatsky’s travels in an earlier period of her life. All who are familiar with Blavatsky’s journeys realize that there is little evidence to substantiate her claims to be in the many exotic locales she claims. One exception is the testimony of Albert Leighton Rawson (1829 – 1902), who writes about her travels during the period 1851 – 1853. It is clear that there are divergent accounts of her whereabouts during this period if one compares this account to A.P. Sinnett’s Incidents in the Life of Madame Blavatsky, her own scattered accounts, and Rawson’s “Mme. Blavatsky: A Theosophical Occult Apology.” What is important, however, is Rawson’s claim that he and Blavatsky were in the Near East in 1851 and 1852 before arriving in New York in 1853 via Paris. This is very unlikely if for no other reason than the fact that Rawson was imprisoned for theft from September 15, 1851 to June 22, 1852. Yet, what are we make of Blavatsky’s acknowledgement of Rawson as an initiate into the Brotherhood of Lebanon, a traveler to Mecca, and his claim to be privy to the “mysteries of the Druzes”? Was she taken in by Rawson’s contention of being an initiate? She certainly accepted them in Isis Unveiled (II. 312 – 315) and did not deny Rawson’s observations of her own travels to Mecca in the Near East and Mecca. The implications of Mr. Deveney’s discovery of Rawson’s imprisonment cast doubts on his and Blavatsky’s travels during this time. All that can be stated is that if they had occurred it certainly would not be in the time frame given.

What are the possible motives for making these claims? It is obvious to me that Rawson was playing fast and loose with the facts of his travels and that he and Blavatsky wished to establish claims to have a special knowledge of the mysteries of the Orient—Rawson through his communication in the Spiritualist, the publisher of his “Two Madame Blavatskys – The Acquaintance of Madame H.P. Blavatsky with Eastern Countries,” and Blavatsky, by maintaining silence and by not challenging Rawson’s account or commenting on the claims.

This is the first article providing a definitive judgment on an assertion made by one of the primary sources of Theosophical history. In essence, the assumption of historians that primary sources outweigh secondary sources must be considered in the light of the veracity, motive, and observational skills of the source. Rawson’s veracity and motives are called into question in this article, and with it Blavatsky’s own reputation is challenged.

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