|Vol. XI||Issue 1||January 2005|
|Vol. XI||Issue 2||April 2005|
|Vol. XI||Issue 3||July 2005|
|Vol. XI||Issue 4||October 2005|
Back to Past Issues Description of Contents INDEX
January 2005 is the twentieth anniversary of Theosophical History and my fifteenth anniversary as Editor. Over this period, the journal served as a vehicle for a number of discoveries and new insights in the history of the Theosophical Society and the wider “occult” or Western esoteric revival. With these discoveries, it has become increasingly obvious that we are dealing with a movement that has made more of an intellectual impact on Western culture than has previously been assumed. The degree and extent of this impact, however, needs to be carefully defined and determined not only through an examination of the opinions and observations of the participants within the movement but also through an examination of the views of contemporary observers outside the movement. Within the past ten years, scholars investigating the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have recognized the increasing influence of the “occult revival” or alternative spiritual tradition, of which the Theosophical Society is a part. The extent of this influence, however, is still unclear.
In the current issue, Robert A. Gilbert’s “Independent Witnesses” draws attention to, and questions, the degree of impact of the “occult revival.” What Mr. Gilbert suggests is the need for a reassessment if the accounts of contemporary observers in Victorian Britain are to be taken seriously. He concludes that there may not have been a true “occult revival” in Britain but rather an effervescent yet brief period of popularity. Despite this observation, however, one may assume that Theosophical teachings left an enduring mark on the culture even though the membership of the Theosophical Society waxed and waned.
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Although Theosophical History’s contributions to uncovering hitherto unknown or little known events and documents are becoming increasingly recognized within the scholarly community, there exists no accounting of these discoveries. “Theosophical History: A Meta-History,” is an attempt to fill this gap. By no means exhaustive, the reader will nonetheless acquire an appreciation of these contributions.
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The final entry is a review of the English translation of René Guénon’s Theosophy: History of a Pseudo-Religion (Le Théosophisme: Histoire d’une Pseudo-Religion), a work that originally appeared in the French original in 1921. It represents the final phase of interest in and investigation of Theosophy by Guénon before moving on to what was to become the dominant interests for the remainder of his life: la Tradition primordiale and Islam. This is in part a history of the Theosophical Society, albeit a history with an agenda. As William Quinn states in The Only Tradition (Albany: SUNY Press, 1997), 112:
The essence and whole plan of attack of this work can be distilled to one clause… “we will add that the best means to combat theosophism is, in our opinion, to expose its history just as it is.” Hence the “histoire” in the title, which points to a profound inconsistency in Guénon’s oeuvre. Guénon repeatedly criticizes the “historical method,” … as being fatuous and irrelevant, yet he undertakes to refute modern Theosophy not on the merits (or demerits) of the principles that it espouses, but on “son histoire telle qu’elle est” (“its history just as it is”). And in this instance, Guénon should have stuck to his metaphysical or principial method and left the historical method that he eschews to historians. The book is full of historical inaccuracies, and uses assumptions for facts at every turn.
For this reason, the book will remain as controversial as it was when it was first published.
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The contents of this journal are somewhat unusual because of one offering whose importance is as yet undetermined, whose quality is suspect, but whose influence is unquestioned. It is the article that launched H.P. Blavatsky’s “first Occult Shot” yet itself has seen very little exposure despite its edited appearance in 1923 in C.R. Flint’s Memories of an Active Life (see Contents page for full citation), 120-126. Today, however, the only familiarity with “Rosicrucianism” is through the “author’s” name, HIRAF. Although written “partly as an exercise in mental gymnastics, or even as a literary hoax” (Flint, 130), the article cannot be easily dismissed because of the obvious talents and erudition of the authors. We might judge them as brilliant neophytes, as dilettantes or dabblers in the subject. However we judge the article, “Rosicrucianism” launched Blavatsky’s public career in esotericism or occultism. For that it deserves to be better known. We plan to include additional information about HIRAF and “Rosicrucianism” in a future issue.
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Two book reviews also appear in this issue: The Quest for the Phoenix. Spiritual Alchemy and Rosicrucianism in the Work of Count Michael Maier (1569-1622) and The Judge Case. A Conspiracy Which Ruined the Theosophical Cause. The first book is by Hereward Tilton, who gave us a taste of its contents in his article, “The Egyptian Theosophy of Count Michael Maier,” in the April 2003 (vol. IX, no. 3) issue. The review is by Joscelyn Godwin, a frequent contributor to the journal whose last article, “”Lady Caithness and Her Connection with Theosophy,” appeared in the October 2000 issue.
The review of the second book, The Judge Case, is written by Brett Forray, who recently published his own study, “William Q. Judge and Annie Besant’s Views of Brahmin Theosophists,” in the January 2004 issue of the journal.
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2005 Theosophical History Conference
The Foundation for Theosophical Studies is hosting an international conference on theosophical history on the weekend of 2-3 July 2005 at 50 Gloucester Place, London W1U 8EA, England. Previous conferences have been held in London in 1986-9, 1995, 1997 and 2003, and others in San Diego, USA and Edmonton, Canada.
The program includes papers by Dr. Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke (“From ?Theosophy to Jungian Psychology: The Esoteric Progression of G.R.S. Mead”); Clare Goodrick-Clarke (“Mead’s view of Gnosticism and Hermeticism”); R. A. Gilbert (“Confluent Streams of Thought: The Theory and Practice of Western Spirituality in the Work of G. R. S. Mead and A. E. Waite”); John P. Deveney (“’Cognoscitur ab inimicis?’” What Can the Claims of H.P.B.’s Occult Enemies Tell Us about Her Purposes”); and Michael Gomes (“The Enduring Relevance of HPB”). The full program will be placed on the Theosophical History Website (www.theohistory.org).
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It is with sadness that I report the untimely death of Henk Spierenberg, the compiler and annotator of many of H.P. Blavatsky’s writings. Dr. Spierenberg was a prolific compiler and editor who produced many specialized works on the teachings of H.P. Blavatsky, including The Buddhism of H.P. Blavatsky, The Vedanta Commentaries of H.P. Blavatsky, The Veda Commentaries of H.P. Blavatsky,The Inner Group Teachings of H.P. Blavatsky: to Her Personal Pupils, H.P.B. on the Gnostics, New Testament Commentaries of H. P. Blavatsky, T. Subba Row: Collected Writings, Astrology of the Living Universe, and Tibetaans Boeddhisme. Dr. Spierenberg was also an early contributor to Theosophical History, including “Dr. Steiner on H.P.B.,” “Dr. Rudolf Steiner on the Mahatmas,” “Dr. Gottfried de Purucker,” “Nagarjuna,” and “Tsong-kpa-pa,” all appearing in the old series of Theosophical History. According to Leslie Price, the founder and former editor:
“Henk was of considerable assistance to the infant TH. His friend, J. Molijn, translated [his] papers he wrote … and they gave gravitas to the new quarterly, and testified to its international reach. … He was possibly the greatest living student of HPB. He was a careful and respected scholar in Theosophical studies.”
I had not the honor of meeting Dr. Spierenberg, but he continued his association with and support for the journal to the very end. He will be missed.
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Two somewhat unusual offerings appear in this issue: one an article by Adele S. Algeo titled “Beatrice Lane Suzuki and Theosophy in Japan”, the second an interview with author and Bishop of the Ecclesia Gnostica, Dr. Stephan Hoeller. Mrs. Algeo’s article contains six letters written by Beatrice Lane Suzuki between 1924 and 1928, not as a Buddhist but as an officer of the Theosophical Society. According to Mrs. Algeo, Beatrice Lane Suzuki’s involvement with the Theosophical Society probably was initiated around 1920, despite her contact with one of the more notable Theosophists during her college years at Radcliffe, the philosopher-psychologist William James, whose affiliation, however, was most likely unbeknownst to her. Within a few months of joining the Society, Mrs. Suzuki accepted the duty of Acting Secretary of the newly organized Tokyo International Lodge due to the Secretary’s extended absence from Japan. A few years later, she served as Secretary of the Mahayana Lodge, and it was in this capacity that these six letters were written, all informing the international leadership of the Lodge’s activities. Located in the archives of the International Headquarters of The Theosophical Society in Chennai (Adyar), these letters offer a glimpse into Theosophical activity in Japan, a land that might be considered as having only a peripheral relationship with Theosophy and the T.S. These letters allow us a glance into the largely unexplored activities of Japanese Theosophists and Theosophical activities from a Lodge secretary’s perspective. One wonders what other discoveries will be made if research is pursued, considering that members of the Society were all fairly well educated, active and progressive in outlook. Among the members was Mrs. Suzuki’s husband, Teitaro, who is best known for his numerous studies in Zen Buddhism, but who in an earlier part of his life was associated with the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg. The Suzukis present a fascinating portrait of the cross-pollination of Western and Eastern ideas and of Western pragmatism and Eastern Zen. In all likelihood they considered Theosophy to be the common denominator of Western and Eastern ideas. With this in mind, Mrs. Algeo’s article presents an excellent introduction to Theosophy’s presence in the Far East. How much of a presence remains to be seen, but further investigation may promise some surprising results.
The second contribution in this issue is unique for this journal. No interview has ever appeared in Theosophical History prior to Charles Schofield’s interview of Dr. Stephan Hoeller. Its genesis came about through an assignment in my New Religions class at California State University. Mr. Schofield, one of my students, wished at the outset to conduct an interview of Dr. Hoeller on the subject of Gnosticism. Since I have known of Dr. Hoeller’s work for many years, my curiosity got the better of me, so I suggested that perhaps it would be more interesting to shift the interview more to the subject, Dr. Hoeller, rather than that of Gnosticism. The result was well worth the effort. Charles’ preparation was extensive, having undertaken the assignment not simply as a course requirement but as a unique opportunity to interview a well-known and highly respected lecturer, teacher, writer and Gnostic Bishop. Dr. Hoeller was most gracious in offering Charles the opportunity, and he in turn returned the compliment by taking the assignment very seriously, having devoted much travel time to attend Dr. Hoeller’s lectures before conducting the interview, and having dedicated many hours transcribing the entire interview. What appears in this issue is a portion of the interview highlighting Dr. Hoeller’s life and his involvement with Theosophy. In the near future, I hope to place the entire interview on the Theosophical History Website.
Two book reviews also appear herein: the first, Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke’s review of Michael Gomes’ The Coulomb Case and the second, Michel Hendriks’ review of Theosophie und Antroposophie by Norbert Klatt.
The contributors to this issue are new to the journal with the exception of Dr. Goodrick-Clarke, who is the newly-installed chair of Western Esotericism at the University of Exeter and author of numerous books and articles, including “The Divine Fire: H.P. Blavatsky and the Theology of Electricity” (Theosophical History IX, no. 4, October 2003), The Occult Roots of Nazism, Paracelsus: Essential Readings and Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, the latter two being part of the Western Esoteric Masters Series published by North Atlantic Books (Berkeley, CA).
Adele S. Algeo is the wife of John Algeo, International Vice-president of the Adyar Theosophical Society. During the many years of their marriage (47 in September), she has worked closely with her husband on many of his projects, from typing his dissertation in Anglo-Saxon to more recently helping with researching the letters of Helena P. Blavatsky. For 10 years (1987-97) she co-edited with him the column “Among the New Words” for American Speech, the journal of the American Dialect Society. This article in Theosophical History is her first solo venture.
Charles Schofield received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Comparative Religion from California State University, Fullerton in May of 2004. He is currently a second year Master of Arts candidate in the Department of Religion at the Claremont School of Theology.
Michel Hendriks, a resident of the Netherlands, is currently working on the establishment of a library devoted to the history of the Theosophical movement in Barneveld, the Netherlands.
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Whatever critics may say about H.P. Blavatsky’s contribution to the West’s awareness and understanding of Tibetan and South Asian wisdom, it has nonetheless had an impact upon the popular culture. Pertinent to this observation is Richard Hughes Seager’s observation in his book, Buddhism in America (NY: Columbia University Press, 1999), 185:
Women have played significant and diverse roles in the transmission of Buddhism to the United States from the start. One of the earliest, Helena Blavatsky, put her own idiosyncratic stamp on the dharma before transforming it into a popular and important alternative religious movement.
Why she has not been given due credit for her role as popularizer and innovator by social historians is not clear. Perhaps she lacked proper academic credentials; perhaps too she was a woman competing in a man’s world. It does seem strange that many critics tend to portray her, with neither hesitation nor deliberation, as a charlatan and fraud. A change of perception and a greater appreciation of her work on their part could easily recast her as a pioneer and innovative researcher.
It only seems fair that before praising or dismissing her contributions, her work should be evaluated with care. As with any subject under investigation, assumptions and judgments should be based upon detailed analysis and verification of the data.
With this in mind, the cumulative work of David Reigle, the author of “The Centennial Cycle” appearing in this issue, is important because he has pursued the evidence and supplied the data to indicate that there is, at the very least, a plausible argument to justify Blavatsky’s contact with the Eastern Wisdom. This is important because of the non-Theosophical and academic suspicion that whatever she wrote was not based on primary sources but on secondary, Western material accessible to any striver or scholar.
A case in point is the one hundred-year cycle mentioned by Blavatsky in The Key to Theosophy (Pasadena, CA: Theosophical University Press, 1972, reprint of the 1889 second edition):
But I must tell you that during the last quarter of every hundred years an attempt is made by those “Masters,” of whom I have spoken, to help on the spiritual progress of Humanity in a marked and definite way. Towards the close of each century you will invariably find that an outpouring or upheaval of spirituality—or call it mysticism if you prefer—has taken place.
Mr. Reigle provides evidence to suggest that the source of the hundred-year cycle, i.e., that cycle which initiates the disclosure by the Masters of new facets of the Ancient Wisdom, may not be pure fiction; rather, it may have its source in the cycle of the Seven Rishis or the seven stars of the Great Bear constellation. A discussion of this cycle and its connection to Blavatsky’s and the Tibetan’s (through Alice Bailey as amanuensis) reference to a revelatory cycle leads to an even more intriguing allegation: a new centennial effort in the twentieth century comprising the coming of Tibetan Buddhism to the West.
Such a notion as spiritual progress is reflected in the mythologies and doctrines of many religions—including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and, to a lesser degree, in Judaism and Buddhism—usually in the guise of progressive revelation. If there is a distinction among these religious traditions, it centers on the question whether revelation is continuous or not. Thus revelation in Islam ends with Muhammad but continues in Baha’i. In addition, within the rubric of Western esotericism, perennialism is certainly progressive by paradoxically advocating a retrospective vision, or, in the words of Frances Yates: “The great forward movements of the Renaissance all derive their vigor, their emotional impulse, from looking backwards.”
What Mr. Reigle is presenting is an increasing body of circumstantial evidence suggesting that there is something legitimate about her claims to having access to the Eastern Wisdom. This does not mean that the evidence presented here and elsewhere has reached certitude. Historical judgements rarely do. It does, nonetheless, gives us a justifiable reason to avoid making hasty and uninformed opinions.
The second article, “Theosophical Images in Silver Age Russian Poetry,” explores the poets and themes belonging to that interesting period of Russia’s literary history between 1890 and 1920. It is a period especially important because of the prominent role that theosophy and Anthroposophy played during this period. The author, George M. Young, offers his translations the poetry of Vladimir Solovyov, Aleksander Blok, Andrei Bely, Konstantin Balmont, Zinaida Gippius, Maximilian Voloshin, Nikolai Gumilev and Elizaveta Dimitrieva (AKA Cherubina de Gabriak), which he describes as “a combination of irony and sincerity, a seriousness that is softened but not undermined by a gentle, self-deprecating humor...” The seriousness of the poetry is partially offset by the eccentricities and foibles of its authors. The more we scrutinize this period, the more exotic and offbeat it becomes. It is hoped that more studies such as this appear in due course.
Two book reviews also appear in this issue: Eric G. Wilson’s The Spiritual History of Ice: Romanticism, Science, and the Imagination, a case study of how ice, crystals, and the abodes of glaciers and ice capture and reflect the world viewed through the mundus imaginalis or that realm bridging the visible and invisible realms; and Crispian Villeneuve’s Rudolf Steiner in Britain, an account of Steiner’s ten visits to ?Great Britain between 1902 and 1924, highlighted by his increasing influence in the Theosophical Society followed by his disillusionment with Annie Besant, leading to his and the German Section’s (T.S.) separation from the Theosophical Society and followed, and his subsequent organization of the Anthroposophical Society.
The authors of the two articles, David Reigle and George M. Young, are first time contributors to Theosophical History. Mr. Reigle is well known in Theosophical circles as a Sanskrit and Tibetan scholar who has investigated the connection of Tibetan wisdom with the writings of H.P. Blavatsky over the past twenty years. He is the author of The Books of Kiu-te (San Diego: Wizard’s Bookshelf, 1983), Kalacakra Sadhana and Social Responsibility (Santa Fe, NM: Spirit of the Sun Publications, 1996), and (co-authored with Nancy Reigle) Blavatsky’s Secret Books: Twenty Years’ Research (San Diego: Wizards Bookshelf, 1999).
George M. Young has published poetry, translations, books and essays on Russian religious thought and American art. He formerly taught Russian at Grinnell and Dartmouth, and for many years directed a fine arts auction business. He lives with his wife and family in southern Maine and currently serves as Adjunct in English at the University of New England.
Of the two book reviewers, Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke is Chair of Chair in Western Esotericism, Exeter Centre for the Study of Esotericism (EXESESO) at the University of Exeter. He is the author of The Occult Roots of Nazism, Hitler’s Priestess, Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity, Paracelsus: Essential Readings, and Helena Blavatsky. As a past contributor to Theosophical History, Mr. Goodrick-Clarke has recently contributed an article, “The Divine Fire: H.P. Blavatsky and the Theology of Electricity” in the October 2003 (Vol. IX, No. 4) issue.
Ted Davy is the former General Secretary of the Canadian Theosophical Society and from 1961 to 1991 the editor of The Canadian Theosophist, the former General Secretary of The Theosophical Society in Canada, and the author of articles and book reviews, and the presenter of the Blavatsky Lecture, “Descent Into Hades,” presented at the Theosophical Society in England in 1983. He was recently honored with a Presentation volume, Keeping the Link Unbroken: Theosophical Studies Presented to Ted G. Davy on His Seventy-fifth Birthday, edited by Michael Gomes (TRM, 2004).
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