Past Issues of Theosophical History:
Description of Contents
By the Editor: Dr. James Santucci

 

Vol. IX

Issue 1

(January 2003)

Vol. IX

Issue 2

(April 2003)

Vol. IX

Issue 3

(July 2003)

Vol. IX

Issue 4

(October 2003)

 

Back to Past Issues Description of Contents INDEX

 

Vol. IX, Issue 1 (January 2003)

On the occasion of the last International Theosophical History Conference (1997) held in London, Daniel Caracostea of Paris delivered a paper on Louis-François Jacolliot, one of the many “experts” cited by H.P. Blavatsky shedding insight on aspects of the Ancient Wisdom. Her high regard for Jacolliot as a scholar of Indian culture and religion is recorded in letters to the New York World (April 6, 1877) and Sun (April 21 and May 13, 1877), and numerous citations in Isis Unveiled. Despite her admiration for him, she was not naïve enough to accept all his opinions uncritically. Blavatsky was aware of the sharp criticism of Jacolliot by two leading Indologists of the day, F. Max Müller and William Dwight Whitney, the latter branding Jacolliot as a “bungler and a humbug” (Isis Unveiled, II.47). She herself observes a dichotomy between the scholarly Jacolliot and the romantic Jacolliot, leaving the impression that she only considered the scholarly Jacolliot to be a worthy source of her reconstruction of the Ancient Wisdom. The question that arises from the critical reader of the principal works of Blavatsky is whether Jacolliot is more scholar than romanticizer? Very little was known about him except for whatever he chose to reveal from his own body of writings. This has changed because of Mr. Caracostea’s careful and detailed research. We now know about his early and formative years, his career as a magistrate, and his work in later life as writer and lecturer. Mr. Caracostea, while admitting that much more research is required in order to gain a complete picture of Jacolliot, has nevertheless provided solid groundwork for future investigations. For this reason alone, Mr. Caracostea deserves to be commended for his efforts.
Daniel Caracostea’s contribution to Theosophical History goes beyond that of a contributor to this issue. He is the person who has provided the indices for six volumes of issues (III to VIII), a voluntary service he most graciously donated without solicitation. For this he deserves a debt of gratitude for his efforts and for the hours spent preparing them. Mr. Caracostea has also contributed an early article to TH, “Alexandra David-Neel’s Early Acquaintances with Theosophy: Paris 1892” (July-October 1991: 209-213). As a third generation Theosophist in a family of prominent French Theosophists, Mr. Caracostea has edited Unité, a journal for young Theosophists from 1975 to 1978, edited the letters of H.P.Blavatsky to A. Arnould in Le Lotus Bleu (1988), the journal of the French Theosophical Society (Adyar), and worked on its staff from 1988 to 1996. Mr. Caracostea is currently an independent bookbinder.

Other contributions include the reprinting of a little known Theosophical statement, “The Basic Truths of Religion,” most likely written by Charles W. Leadbeater in 1925. Although much is known about the Adyar Society’s involvement in the millenarian movement of the World Teacher and Jiddu Krishnamurti in the early part of the twentieth century, less is known about attempts to establish a World Mother, a World Religion, and a World University. “The Basic Truths of Religion” is, not surprisingly, Theosophical in character, but because of Krishnamurti’s rejection of the World Teacher Movement and its vehicle, The Order of the Star, the statement was no longer consistentwith the goals of The T.S. The Liberal Catholic Church, which was associated both with the T.S. and with the World Teacher movement, also abandoned “The Basic Truths of Religion,” having previously adopted it during the proceedings of the Second General Episcopal Synod. For all practical purposes, the statement has been ignored and forgotten since Krishnamurti’s defection in 1929. My thanks to Mr. Robert Norton, who initially brought these facts to my attention.

It is with sadness that I report the death of Dr. Vernon Harrison. His name first came to the attention of Theosophists and to Theosophical History in 1986 with the publication of his highly significant article, “J’Accuse” (Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, Vol. 53/803 [April 1986]: 286–310). This article was reprinted and expanded in the publication, H.P. Blavatsky and the SPR: An Examination of the Hodgson Report of 1885 (Pasadena, CA: Theosophical University Press, 1997).
Dr. Harrison was a hand-writing expert who came to the conclusion that the evidence provided in the 1885 Hodgson Report (“Report of the Committee Appointed to Investigate Phenomena Connected with the Theosophical Society,” prepared by Richard Hodgson [1855-1905] for the Society for Psychical Research) was insufficient to indict Blavatsky as the author of certain letters ascribed to the Mahatmas, an allegation advanced by Emma Coulomb, a housekeeper at the Adyar headquarters. He concentrated on that area of the Hodgson Report that dealt with the Coulomb affair and the charge that Blavatsky forged the letters purportedly written by the Mahatmas. Dr. Harrison’s conclusion was that the “case against Madame Blavatsky in the Hodgson Report is NOT PROVEN—in the Scots sense.” What he had accomplished, in a carefully reasoned and thoroughly scholarly manner was to cast doubt on the Committee’s conclusion that H.P. Blavatsky was “one of the most accomplished, ingenious, and interesting impostors in history” (“Report,” 207) and that “of the letters put forward by Madame Coulomb, all those … are undoubtedly written by Madame Blavatsky; and suffice to prove that she has been engaged in a long-continued combination with other persons to produce by ordinary means a series of apparent marvels for the support of the Theosophic movement” (“Report,” 204). In the opinion of the Editor, Dr. Harrison placed an obligation on all future scholars of Theosophical history to reevaluate the contribution and character of H.P. Blavatsky in a more objective light and to regard the Hodgson Report not as ultimate proof of her duplicity but as a seriously flawed document that, in the words of Dr. Harrison, reveals “a highly partisan document forfeiting all claim to scientific impartiality” (“J’Accuse”: 287).
On the two occasions I met Dr. Harrison, he reminded me of an old school gentleman displaying all those qualities that one would expect of his stature: deferential, modest, courteous in his treatment of others, an intellect worthy of admiration and respect. Mr. Keen captured the essence of Dr. Harrison’s life and work, and for this reason, I chose to reprint it in its entirety.

The final entry is a book review of Vladimir Solovyov’s Lectures on Divine Humanity. Although a bit late in coming, it is a book that deserves recognition. The reviewer, Judy D. Saltzman, is a first time contributor who received her BA degree from San Jose State University and her MA in philosophy from the University of California at Berkeley. She was a Fulbright Scholar at the Freie Universitat Berlin and earned a Ph.D. in religious studies at UC Santa Barbara. She is currently a professor of philosophy teaching primarily comparative religion.

 

Vol. IX, Issue 2 (April 2003)

Any attempt to formulate a coherent definition of theosophy is less than completely successful if only for the fact that disparities exist between Christian theosophers and Blavatskyan-inspired Theosophists. Such differences exist not only between these two varieties but also among the many Christian theosophers and the Blavatskyite Theosophists. One need only mention the Theosophies discussed in George Wyld’s (1821–1906) Theosophy and the Higher Life (1880), Mohini Chatterji’s (1858–1936) and Laura Holloway’s Man: Fragments of Forgotten History (1885), and the Countess of Caithness’ Mystery of the Ages (1887). Among the many Christian theosophers, Antoine Faivre’s “The Theosophical Current: A Periodization” (Theosophical History VII/5 [January 1999]) gives more than ample evidence of this observation. Furthermore, some theosophers may be classified by some other label, a case in point being the alchemist Count Michael Maier (1568-1622). According to Hereward Tilton, the author of “The Egyptian Theosophy of Count Michael Maier,” alchemy and theosophy are not mutually exclusive. Christian Theosophy, Rosicrucianism, and Freemasonry did contain alchemical elements, so the inclusion of Maier as a theosopher-alchemist is not out of the question. Indeed, Dr. Tilton observes that the theosophy of Maier—interpreted as a “knowledge of things divine” culled “through an experimental reading of the liber mundi, the book of the world in which we may discern the insignia of a most wise and benevolent Author”—could be realized “through the hieroglyphs and myths of ancient Egypt and Greece,” which in turn represented “universal alchemical processes” that provided a “pristine language” derived from the Creator. The theosophy or knowledge of the divine, therefore, had a lineage that included Egypt, the Jewish patriarchs, Greece, the Druids of Britain, the Brahmans of India, and the Rosicrucian’s of Germany. “The Egyptian Theosophy of Count Michael Maier” further explores Maier’s role as a transmitter of the alchemical and Egyptian wisdom in a most insightful way.
Dr. Tilton is one of a number of young scholars who promise to make a significant impact in the field of Western esotericism. He recently was awarded a doctoral degree from the University of Queensland, where he was a candidate in the Department of Studies in Religion. His doctoral thesis, "The Quest for the Phoenix: Spiritual Alchemy and Rosicrucianism in the Work of Count Michael Maier" (1569-1622), will soon appear as a publication from Walter de Gruyter. A slightly different rendering of his article appearing herein was delivered at the American Academy of Religion’s annual conference in 2000 as part of the program on Western Esotericism from the Early Modern Period Consultation. At present, Dr. Tilton resides in Munich researching his next book on the alchemist Heinrich Khunrath under the auspices of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.


The Universal Brotherhood has been an enigmatic and generally forgotten organization since the time when it first came on the scene around 1912 when Mrs. Besant mentioned it in the May 1912 issue of The Theosophist. My first contact with the U.B. came about through research in the life of the editor of the O.E. Library Critic, Henry N. Stokes. The result of that research appeared in the April 1986 and January 1987 issues of Theosophical History, still with little more than a mention of the U.B. From that time, no information on the U.B. was forthcoming, that is, until now. In a communication by Michael Starr of the Teitan Press, the mystery of the U.B. is solved through Mr. Starr’s research in the life of Wilfred Talbot Smith (1885-1957), a disciple of the English occultist Aleister Crowley. We await Mr. Starr’s book length publication of his work, The Unknown God: W.T. Smith And The Thelemites, for a full account of this unknown organization, which nonetheless had among its members well-known occultists Paul Foster Case, Israel Regardie, and C.F. Russell. Also appearing in this issue is the only U.B. document that has been brought to public attention, the “Postinventional: Open Instruction On Aspiration And Attainment.”


Finally, a book review of Tore Ahlbäck’s Uppkomsten av Teosofiska Samfundet i Finland or The Emergence of the Theosophical Society in Finland, appears after a long delay. The reviewer, Mikael Rothstein, has done a great service in introducing this book to the non-Swedish speaking world, since it is very unlikely that the book will be translated into a more accessible language any time soon. The reviewer, Dr. Rothstein, is a co-editor of the journal Chaos, the author of Belief Transformations (1996) and New Age Religions and Globalization (2001), and a board member of the Research Network on New Religion in Denmark (RENNER).

 

Vol. IX, Issue 3 (July 2003)

Theosophical History has had little occasion to devote exclusive attention to one of the principals of The Theosophical Society, William Quan Judge. Despite the impression that he is the least of the trio of great figures within the Theosophical Movement (Blavatsky and Henry S. Olcott are the other two), there is more than meets the eye concerning his role within the Society, which will be obvious with the appearance in this issue of a hitherto little known lecture probably delivered on October 18, 1876. The lecture, unearthed by John Patrick Deveney, reveals that Judge was not only a theoretical student of esotericism but also a practical esotericist or magician, for he claimed the ability of engaging in out of body experiences, of influencing others by impressing his thoughts upon them, and of experiencing clairaudience.
These alleged abilities may help to explain Judge’s later claims of receiving messages from the Masters two decades later, claims that were to lead to the separation of the American Section from The Theosophical Society. The abilities claimed by Judge at an early stage of his Theosophical career, and the events that were to take place in the mid 1890s toward the end of his life, justify broaching the question that I originally raised on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of his death (March 21, 1896): Why is there no detailed biography of Judge?
There are reasons, however, why a Judge biography may be a long time in coming. It does not take much pondering to suggest why H.P.B., Col. Olcott, and Mrs. Besant appear in academic studies, what with the ambivalent and multifarious personality of H.P.B., not to mention her Bohemian life-style and esoteric acumen (a psychologist’s and esotericist’s delight), Col. Olcott’s activism in the Buddhist revival and the Hindu Renaissance, and Mrs. Besant’s involvement and influence in the political life of India to say nothing of her own fascinating life prior to her involvement with the Theosophical Society. Contrary to these three Theosophical giants who excelled in activities outside the Theosophical sphere, Mr. Judge’s life is more closely identified with the T.S. than any other major Theosophical leader. At the time of the inauguration of the T.S. in 1875, he was only twenty-four years of age, so the remaining twenty years of his brief life were primarily devoted to the Society and to his profession of the law: too restrictive, perhaps, for the non-Theosophical academic who would more likely prefer investigating more comprehensive issues of the time. Couple this with the controversy surrounding the charge that Mr. Judge allegedly misused the Mahatmas’ names and handwriting as early as 1891, which later culminated in the declaration of autonomy from Adyar in 1895 of the American Section under Judge: a lengthy episode that is divisive to this day. Some Theosophists today who are aware of these events would sooner forget about this dark period of Theosophical history; others, however, are very much involved in continuing the discussion and examination of this Case for the primary reason of disproving the charges brought against him. Despite the pitfalls of investigating this controversial figure, however, no account of the first twenty years of the Theosophical Society can be complete without understanding the contribution of Mr. Judge to it.
Certainly, the public life of Judge as a leader within the Theosophical Movement is important if we are to understand its evolution in the U.S., most notably the events that occurred in 1895. What appears in this lecture, however, represents his private, esoteric interests. Furthermore, Judge confirms that another founder or ‘former’ of the T.S., George Henry Felt (1831 – 1906), deserves greater credit as a significant contributor to the establishment of the T.S. than previously supposed. Both Mr. Deveney’s and my researches have led us to the conclusion that Felt not only played a significant role in the T.S.’s establishment but also in its origional purpose, which was to engage in practical areas of esoteric science, more specifically to what Olcott described as the attempt to exhibit “races of beings which, invisible to our eyes, people the elements” and—though not explicitly stated—to develop the practice of astral projection, as Judge recounts in his lecture.
One final observation is our mindfulness of the fact that this lecture is not a reminiscence harking back many years, which, if so, would guarantee muddled memories and embellishments. Rather, it was a lecture describing ongoing activities undertaken only eighteen months to two years prior. Assuming that Judge’s lecture is truthful, it most likely reflects a more accurate and less romantic account of the events and attitudes discussed therein.
The person responsible for introducing the lecture, John Patrick Deveney, is author of Paschal Beverly Randolph and Astral Projection or Liberation of the Double and the Work of the Early Theosophical Society. He is a frequent contributor to this journal.


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The remainder of the issue consists of three communications, two book reviews, and an obituary of an important figure in the early years of the Theosophical History Centre. The first communication, a response by Frank Reitemeyer to Hereward Tilton’s translation of German Theosoph with the English terms theosopher and theosophist in his article “The Egyptian Theosophy of Count Michael Maier” appearing in the last issue, raises an important question regarding the semantics surrounding these two terms, especially in modern studies of Theosophy and Western esotericism. Mr. Reitemeyer’s and Dr. Tilton’s reply deserve further consideration since it raises the issue of the nature of Theosophical teaching within the T.S. and whether it is indeed significantly different from the writings of the earlier theosophers as is often generally assumed in the field of Western esoteric studies.
The third communication is an update on the Alternative Spiritualities and New Age Studies Conference, held on the campus of the Open University, Milton Keynes, in central England from May 30th to June 1 2003.
The two book reviews are of Stephen Sutcliffe’s Children of the New Age – A History of Spiritual Practices and Alison Lurie’s Familiar Spirits.
The obituary is of a prominent Dutch Theosophist and early supporter of this journal and the Theosophical History Centre in London, Jan Hendrikus Dubbink.

 

Vol. IX, Issue 4 (October 2003)

One article, two communications, and one book review comprise the contents of this issue. The article, “The Divine Fire: H.P. Blavatsky and the Theology of Electricity,” is an illuminating commentary on the roles of electricity and magnetism as newly-ordained symbols of God. In addition, it sheds light on H.P. Blavatsky’s understanding of these forces: not through the prism of the Eastern or Buddhist tradition as one might suspect but rather through that of the Western esoteric tradition. Originally presented at the London Theosophical History Conference in June 2003, “The Divine Fire” is the first of a series of conference papers that will appear in the journal over the next few issues. The author, Dr. Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, elucidates Blavatsky’s explanation of electricity in the light of nineteenth-century occultism, the latter referring to a development of Western esotericism incorporating “science and modernity into a ‘higher’ pansophic vision of the cosmos and man.” From this perspective, Blavatsky related electricity as an animating force much in keeping with the scientific speculations of the day, especially as represented by B. Stewart and P.G. Gait in The Unseen Universe. In her later works, especially The Secret Doctrine, she introduces the link between spirit and matter as Fohat, descibed as “the personified electric vital power, the transcendental binding Unity of all Cosmic Energies, on the unseen as on the manifested planes, the action of which resembles . . . that of a living Force created by WILL....” The name, introduced in 1882 in two Mahatma letters, gives the impression that Fohat belongs to esoteric Buddhism, but Goodrick-Clarke dispels this notion by providing abundant evidence that it is derived from Western esotericism.

Many of Blavatsky’s ideas in fact are drawn from Mesmerism, including her mention of the “electric vital fluid” of Franz Anton Mesmer, a concept which can be traced back to Paracelsus, Jan Baptista van Helmont, Robert Fludd, and William Maxwell. The universal fluid to which Mesmer referred as early as his doctoral dissertation in 1766 is described by him as “the cause of universal gravitation and, no doubt, the basis of all bodily properties; which, in effect, in the smallest particles of fluids and solids of our bodies, contracts, distends and causes cohesion, elasticity, irritability, magnetism, and electricity; a force which can, in this context, be called animal gravitation.”

Among the authorities on Mesmerism in the nineteenth century, it was Jules Dupotet de Sennevoy who most impressed Blavatsky because of his linking of Mesmerism or “somnambulistic sleep” with the power of magic.
Dr. Goodrick-Clarke’s elucidation of the “theology of electricity” within the Western esoteric tradition offers ample proof that Blavatsky was a bona fide member of this tradition. Nonetheless, she was also capable of providing an overlay of Buddhist and Hindu terminology to reinforce these Western concepts. As such, this is one of the few studies that reveal the provenance of Blavatsky’s Theosophy and so is deservedly one of the more significant contributions to this area of research.

The communication of Michael Gomes introduces us to the importance of a particular volume of the Spiritual Scientist, a Boston Spiritualist weekly journal that publicized the ideas and activities of Blavatsky and H. S. Olcott. This volume, presented by Blavatsky to the British National Association of Spiritualists in October 1877 and which is now located in the College of Psychic Studies in London, contains her handwritten comments of an interview she gave that originally appeared in the November 13th issue of the New York Daily Graphic and reprinted in the Spiritual Scientist on November 19, 1874. The interview, aside from Blavatsky’s reaction, is significant because Blavatsky gives the earliest account of her travels prior to her arrival in the U.S. in 1873. Her remarks are especially important since they reveal discrepancies with later accounts. We may assume that the annotations are corrections and the actual interview flawed, but one wonders if this is necessarily so. Why she did not mention her travels in India and Tibet is curious, especially considering their importance as sources of esoteric lore.

The remaining entries include a communication from Brett Forray on the 1876 lecture of William Quan Judge and John Patrick Deveney’s interpretation of the same that appeared in the last issue. Mr. Forray’s remarks on the early intentions of Theosophists are always welcome since there has been an intermittent discussion in this journal regarding the reason why the T.S. was established. Theosophists are more likely to acknowledge the presence of a Brotherhood slate at its inception. Some scholars, however—and I must be included in this category—do not find any evidence of this assertion. Nonetheless, it is important to continue the discussion, mindful that additional evidence may be in the offing, and perhaps to develop a hermeneutics that might reveal new light on this claim and on other facets of Theosophy as well.

Two books by Sophia Wellbeloved, Gurdjieff—The Key Concepts and Gurdjieff, Astrology & Beelzebub’s Tales, are reviewed by Revd. Kevin Tingay. Both are welcome additions to the bookshelf since Gurdjieff (1866–1949) is one of the more enigmatic teachers of modern times.

Of the principal contributors, Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke is Research Fellow in Theosophy and Western Esotericism at the University of Wales Lampeter, and General Editor of the Western Esoteric Masters Series published by North Atlantic Books, Berkeley. He is the author of The Occult Roots of Nazism, Hitler’s Priestess, Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity, and Paracelsus: Essential Readings.
Michael Gomes is a prolific writer on Theosophical history, including the definitive Theosophy in the Nineteenth Century: An Annotated Bibliography.
Kevin Tingay is an Anglican priest in Somerset, England and Interfaith Adviser in his Diocese of Bath & Wells.
Brett Forray is a member of the board of directors of Alexandria West and a student of Theosophical history.