Issues of Theosophical History:
Description of Contents

By the Editor: Dr. James Santucci

 

Vol. XIII Issue 1 January 2007
Vol. XIII Issue 2 April 2007
Vol. XIII Issue 3 July 2007
Vol. XIII Issue 4 October 2007

Back to Past Issues Description of Contents INDEX

 

Vol. XIII, Issue 1 (January 2007)

No introduction appears in the print journal. The first entry, “Response to Kerri Barry’s ‘Genius, Fraud, or Phenomenon? The Unsolved Case of H.P. Blavatsky’” by Michael Gomes, takes Ms Barry to task for criticizing Dr. Vernon Harrison’s analysis of the handwriting of the Mahatma Letters, which served as an important part of the Hodgson Report (1885). The Report concluded that H.P. Blavatsky forged letters supposedly written by her Masters. For my review of the controversy surrounding this controversy, see the April 2006 (Vol. XII, No. 2) issue. Having participated in a minor way in this discussion, it certainly is true that Dr. Harrison fully realized that he was not judging so much the nature of the Report but rather only that portion thereof that fell under his expertise: handwriting analysis. Dr. Harrison's conclusion was limited to the evidence, which led him to the verdict that the charge that Blavatsky was the writer of the Mahatma Letters is “not proven.” Ms Barry examined Dr. Harrison’s approach and concluded that he failed to consider one possibility that could suggest that Blavatsky was the writer if she were in an altered state of consciousness. If this seems far-fetched, then there is certainly the possibility that Blavatsky’s secretary Damodar was the writer of at least some of the letters with the presumption that Blavatsky was the author. Even though Dr. Harrison mentioned Damodar's role in two letters purportedly written by KH, he did not examine these letters. The outcome of the whole exercise is not an accusation of Dr. Harrison’s methodology but rather the conclusion one makes of his investigation. It is not Dr. Harrison’s fault that some Theosophists have asserted, incorrectly, that Blavatsky was completely exonerated by this latest research in the Mahatma Letters. Dr. Harrison has simply raised doubts where there was previously a sense of certainty that Blavatsky’s was the writer of the letters. Whether she is the author cannot be determined. It is important to distinguish between the two. Dr. Harrison raised legitimate doubts about the actually writing of the letters, but it was not within his realm of expertise to suggest who the author or originator of the ideas in these letters was. This more important question, unfortunately, may never be solved.

The second communication is by the noted Buddhist scholar, Dr. Ananda Guruge, who pays tribute to the man who helped shaped initiate the Buddhist revival in Sri Lanka, Col. Henry Steel Olcott, the founder-president of the Theosophical Society, on the centenary of his death.

The main article in this issue is by PierLuigi Zoccatelli, “Notes on G.I. Gurdjieff,” a review of the life of this remarkable and mysterious “master” and discoverer of the “principles of an ancient, esoteric wisdom.”

The final entry is a book review by Paul Levesque of Richard’s Smoley’s The Essential Nostradamus: Literal Translation, Historical Commentary, and Biography.

 

Vol. XIII, Issue 2 (April 2007)

The story of the consequences of Jiddu Krishnamurti’s transformation from a compliant, somewhat empty vessel awaiting the overshadowing of the World Teacher to an increasingly truculent and rebellious spiritual leader and imminent World Teacher who committed the unique deed of abdicating his position “at the moment of this awakening, at the moment when the god in him [was] to make way for the man, at the moment when the man [could] begin to find God within himself”[1] is the overriding theme of the two articles in this issue. The first article, “Occultism vs. Mysticism? The Liberal Catholic Church and Krishnamurti,” discusses as the title suggests the consequences of Krishnamurti’s action on the organization that was especially associated with ceremonial and ritual: the Liberal Catholic Church. It was not a positive assessment, to say the least. Both the L.C.C. and the Theosophical Society had to come to grips with Krishnamurti’s seemingly conflicting statements vis-à-vis the teachings and practices of both organizations, and of course the more damaging charge that organizations were not the carriers of truth. This is stated quite explicitly in his Dissolution of the Order of the Star speech on August 3, 1929: “I maintain that Truth is a pathless and, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect…. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized. Krishnamurti’s disagreement with ceremonial and ritual could be explained through the distinction between the “occultist” and the “mystic,” or what today is called esotericism and mysticism. Hence the title of the article, elicited from Annie Besant’s “Occultism” (Adyar Pamphlet No. 97: see note 29 in the article). What could not be explained was the rejection of organizations altogether. As a consequence, both the L.C.C. and the T.S., suffered in membership. The author, Siobhán Houston, discusses in particular the degree of the L.C.C.’s problems in the ensuing decade. The T.S. never achieved the level of membership it possessed prior to Krishnamurti’s abandonment, but the Society was never fated to be a mass movement because of the nature of the teachings and its relatively limited appeal to a small segment of the population. The lesson learned from this study is that Krishnamurti presented a serious challenge to the L.C.C. and T.S., but it was not a challenge sufficient to extirpate either one. Both survived, despite the fact that members of one organization, the T.S., still share a sense that there is truth in Krishnamurti’s teachings.
Siobhán Houston holds a master’s degree from Harvard Divinity School and is a doctoral candidate at the University of Exeter (UK). She is the author of Invoking Mary Magdalene: Accessing the Wisdom of the Divine Feminine (Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2006); her work has been published in GNOSIS Magazine and Parabola as well as various anthologies.

The second article, “Theosophy in Denmark: A Second Golden Age?” picks up where the previous article leaves off. Despite the damage done to the T.S. in the years following Krishnamurti’s departure, the damage was only temporary, at least in Denmark. René Dybdal Pedersen, the author, suggests a growing trend for the T.S. (Adyar) based upon sociological data collected by him through his affiliation with the Danish Pluralism Project, which investigates the general religious landscape of Denmark. His findings have led to the conclusion that the Theosophical Society (Adyar) has been increasing in membership since 1980. The events from this time to the 21st century indicating the increase in popularity of Theosophy as also the increase in the number of organizations which maintain an affiliation with the teachings provides an optimistic outlook to the Society’s future.
René Dybdal Pedersen, the author, has been a PhD. Fellow at the University of Aarhus, Denmark, since 2001. He is the author of I Lysets Tjeneste (Serving Light), published in 2005 as also several articles on both Theosophy and new religions in Danish. Mr. Pedersen is also Project Secretary for the Danish Pluralism Project.

The final entry in the issue is a review by John Patrick Deveney of John Buescher’s The Remarkable Life of John Murray Spear. Spear was not only a spiritualist medium but also one who attempted to change society for the better by advocating against slavery and capital punishment. By coincidence the author of this biography is also the author of the publication noted below, A Quest for the Historical Levi.


Vol. XIII, Issue 3 (July 2007)

This issue is devoted to a paper delivered by Professor Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke at the Theosophical History Conference on July 7, 2007: “The Theosophical Society, Orientalism, and the ‘Mystic East’: Western Esotericism and Eastern Religion in Theosophy.” The article reviews the sources and philosophical influences on H.P. Blavatsky and her Theosophy. This is one of the more intriguing subjects in Theosophical history since we have little corroborative evidence of her life during her “veiled years.” Blavatsky’s youth and travels down to her late 30s are still mysterious despite the fact that we have her own accounts, which are sometimes suspect, and a few references from a few acquaintances during her earlier years. Even assuming that not all the accounts are credible due to embellishment, faulty memory, or perhaps deliberate obfuscation, there is no doubt that her propensity toward occult and psychic phenomena allowed her to be open to new ideas and accepting of a vast storehouse of occult teachings, whatever their source. By the time she arrived in New York in the early 1870s, she already displayed an extensive range of occult knowledge, the concomitant talent to relate this knowledge, and apparently the facility to demonstrate psychic phenomena in a manner that had made a credible impact on those who were willing to remain open to her charisma. At this time of her life, her knowledge and skills seemed to have been intended to awaken within her compliant listeners hints of a ancient Wisdom tradition that promised to bring about a fundamental transformation of their very existence.
Since Blavatsky is especially associated with the East, particularly the South Asian religious and philosophical landscape, Dr. Goodrick-Clarke’s discussion is especially valuable, particularly given her connections to Buddhism and Brahmanism. The lesson here demonstrates that her views must be judged in the light of knowledge during Blavatsky’s time and not from a contemporary viewpoint. This would help explain some ideas that seem so out of touch today, such as the close association or even equation of Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism. This notion is manifested in various surprising ways, but the underlying reason for this teaching is the acknowledgement of the ancient Wisdom that serves as the all-inclusive underpinning of later regional religious, philosophical, and even scientific manifestations.
Dr. Goodrick-Clarke is Professor of Western Esotericism and Director of the Centre for the Study of Esotericism at the University of Exeter. He is also the General Editor of the Western Esoteric Masters Series published by North Atlantic Books, Berkeley and author of The Occult Roots of Nazism, Hitler’s Priestess, and Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity. Professor Goodrick-Clarke’s last major contribution to this journal is the article, “The Divine Fire: H.P. Blavatsky and the Theology of Electricity,” which appeared in the October 2003 issue.

There has not been a major publication devoted to Anna Kingsford since Edward Maitland’s biography in 1896, at least not until Alan Pert’s Red Cactus: The Life of Anna Kingsford, an account, the author claims, that supplements and corrects a number of observations in Maitland’s biography. Since Maitland was the only major source of Kingsford life, the reviewer, Dr. Peter Gregory, takes a cautious and corrective approach to the criticism directed toward Maitland by Mr. Pert. Dr. Gregory, states:

These are very serious flaws in the Life, but it is possible to go too far in condemning him [Maitland]; for though Mr. Pert has subjected Maitland’s Life to close reading, the damage to Kingsford’s reputation caused by the publication of the Life, it has to be admitted, was partly due to the presentation of Kingsford’s own utterances and claims, and not just these distortions and the ailing Maitland’s evident antipathies towards the anti-vivisectionist Frances Power Cobbe, Constance Wachtmeister, and others.

This is not an ordinary book review, but rather one that introduces new material that supplements the sources in Red Cactus. Nonetheless, Red Cactus is an important contribution to Kingsford studies due to the new material that is introduced. Read in tandem with the review, the reader will no doubt understand Dr. Gregory’s final paragraph quoted above.
Dr. Gregory is a lecturer in modern British history at the University of Bradford.

Vol. XIII, Issue 4 (October 2007)

The article in this issue, “The Saptaparna: The Meaning and Origins of the Theosophical Septenary Constitution of Man,” is important because it is one of the few studies that attempts to trace the origins of the central Theosophical teaching. As far as I am aware, it is the only study that attempts to explain the relative influence of Western and Eastern sources in the Theosophical teachings of H.P. Blavatsky and A.P. Sinnett. Furthermore, it discusses the disparity between the Blavatsky’s Theosophy of Blavatsky and the Neo-Theosophy or Second Generation Theosophy of C.W. Leadbeater, Annie Besant, and their followers. Lastly, Ms Hall examines the charge of Orientalism, the term used by Edward Said to suggest Western appropriation and dominance of the East, especially its unique ideas and teachings.
Regarding the topic, the septenary constitution of humanity may be regarded as a cipher that, if unlocked, reveals the relationship of humans with the macrocosm and the Divine, unveils the continuity of existence from the current physical existence to that disembodied state which comes in the afterlife, contributes to the somewhat misunderstood teachings of karma and reincarnation, and defines the reincarnating “individual.” As previously mentioned, it may be considered the central teaching of Theosophy, around which all other teachings revolve. For all its importance, there is little certainty regarding the origins of this teaching, who first introduced it, and from what culture milieu it arose.
Any discussion of a Theosophical teaching, especially one as important as this one, must include the role of Blavatsky in Theosophy. Although not in the purview of this article, there is little doubt in my mind that most assumptions about Theosophy center on an ideology surrounding Blavatsky. She, as the prophet of the Masters or Mahatmas, is the sole source of Theosophical philosophy; all others who follow her are commentators at most. Because of her special relationship with the Masters, as claimed by Theosophists, and her unique insight, the underlying panoptic wisdom of the teachings that she had revealed can be substantiated by both Western and Eastern philosophy, religion, and science. Or to paraphrase, the Ancient Wisdom is proclaimed ex cathedra by Blavatsky with proof located in the fossil remains of a vast empire of facts and data located in the athenaeums of West and East, all comprising Truth as it really is, not what it should be.
Although the truth of the sevenfold nature of man is revealed for the first time by A.O. Hume in his “Fragments of Occult Truth,” it is not surprising that its origins are considered not located solely in some Western or Eastern, human, source, but primarily with the Masters. Within months of Hume’s publication by Navroji Dorabji Khandalavala, the President of the Poona Theosophical Society (as stated in the Blavatsky Collected Writings, IV, 252), stated this explicitly, namely that the work was “the production of the ‘Brothers’.” The involvement of Blavatsky would be no leap, given her close association with the “Brothers.” The substructure of this argument requires a reexamination of the identity of the Brothers and whether they were indeed Blavatsky’s preceptors. Of course, this issue has been discussed in the Report of the Committee Appointed to Investigate Phenomena Connected with the Theosophical Society issued by The Society for Psychical Research on June 24, 1885. The chief investigator, Richard Hodgson (1855–1905), came to the conclusion that the Masters or Mahatmas were in all intents and purposes fictional and that Blavatsky was the actual author of the letters. One should not end the discussion here, however, for mistrust of Hodgson’s methodology and the lack of evidence by virtue of handwriting analysis that she was the writer of the letters, as demonstrated by Vernon Harrison in his H.P. Blavatsky and the SPR, bring the discussion back to square one. This is not the place to discuss this conundrum, however; I only mention it here to illustrate that until this mystery is solved, we can never be sure where the Theosophical teachings originated: Did they originate from the Masters through Blavatsky and Sinnett, the latter presenting the teaching in a systematic and organized fashion? Did the teachings have more than one source, for it is my contention that there were different Theosophies? Besides Blavatsky’s version, the Theosophies of Christian Theosophists and that of Charles Leadbeater may have arisen from different sources. Perhaps in Leadbeater’s case, his entré into Theosophical teaching through Sinnett’s London Lodge, may have initially given him a different understanding of the Mahatma Letters of Theosophy. This, with his unique perspective that may have originated with his claim to being clairvoyant, led to what we now call Second Generation Theosophy.
Despite the obstacles placed before all scholars of this subject, Ms Hall gives reasonable explanations based upon the available facts. One of her conclusions is especially poignant and deserves repeating:

Rather than seeing the saptaparna doctrine as being mainly “Western” with an “Eastern” gloss, it would be more accurate to view the Indian elements as fully integrated into a synthesised whole. Due to the process of syncretism, something altogether new was created, neither “Western” nor “Eastern” but global.

But who is the synthesizer, Blavatsky or Sinnett?

The author, Julie Hall, is in the final year of a Ph.D. in Western Esotericism at the University of Exeter, under the supervision of Professor Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke. Her research centers on the history and significance of the concept of reincarnation in European traditions with particular reference to Theosophy. Her website can be found at www.people.ex.ac.uk/jh248.

The book review, Maiden Tribute: A Life of W.T. Stead, that follows the article is especially welcome since this is the summation of many years of research by the former editor of the now discontinued NewsStead, Dr. Grace Eckley. The reviewer, Dr. Martha Vogeler, is emerita Professor of English at California State University, Fullerton.