Vol. IV, Issue 1 (January 1992) Forthcoming
Vol. IV, Issue 2 (April 1992)
Vol. IV, Issue 3 (July 1992) No Issue Comments
Vol. IV, Issues 4-5 (October 1992-January 1993)
Vol. IV, Issues 6-7 (April 1992-July 1993)
Vol. IV, Issue 8 (October 1993)
Back to Past Issues Description of Contents INDEX
Every so often it is necessary to inform the readers of Theosophical History of the mission and goals of the journal. When I first took over the journal, I wrote in the first issue under my editorship (III/1 January 1990) that TH would continue its role as an independent, impartial and scholarly journal conforming to the standards and expectations of the academic community. It was a declaration that was specifically intended to support Leslie Prices (the founder-editor of the journal) aspirations. In volume I, number 4 (page 62), he set forth in very explicit terms the degree of independence he considered necessary:
When Theosophical History was conceived, our relationship with the Theosophical societies was carefully considered. We decided to be independent, even of the Adyar Society, in which this editor [L.P.] is active....We feared that ownership by one society might lose us the confidence of other societies. We did not want the officers of any Theosophical group to be the target of pressure to stop or censor our publication.
We were worried too, lest any of the fringe groups on the theosophical scene, some of them with limited sympathy for historical enquiry or free discussion, might use their influence to try to control our coverage.
This statement remains in effect. Theosophical History, if it intends to maintain its integrity, must continue to be independent and reflect impartial, academic principles of investigation. In this regard, the journal is first and foremost a history journal that considers Theosophical topics from a wholly empirical perspective. This editor does not consider it within his purview to arbitrate what teachings should be considered truly Theosophical or not.What the journal does provide is an inquiry into any and all historical questions within a Theosophical context. Statements of Truth or of authenticity within such a context cannot and should not be deliberated; that is best left to Theosophical writers and journals.
As the editor of an historical journal, it is my task to ensure the publication of material that helps to expand our knowledge of Theosophy, to provide a forum for the free and open exchange of ideas, and to encourage the study of this topic within the framework of academic principles. Such principles include intellectual honesty, open-mindedness, and a critical application of research methods. Any violation of such principles, including the attempt to impose any degree of censorship based on some dogmatic, doctrinal, or ideological viewpoint on the one hand, or the exhibition of a lack of or improper utilization of research methods on the other, will not be condoned. The proper application of research methods must at the very least be supported by a sufficient data base; it must be free from any ideological agenda that might distort the data, and the analysis and conclusions must be intellectually rigorous. Readers should only expect from me an unflinching dedication to intellectual integrity and hard work: nothing more, nothing less.
Theosophical or theosophical?
The above discussion makes it abundantly clear that the more important term in the journal title is History and not Theosophical. Some may be disaffected by this assertion unless one maintains that the method of study is more important than the object of study. I base this on the strongly held belief that any existent res, any topic is worthy of study. All too often, we who are investigators or researcherswhether in religion, philosophy, and sciencehave to defend the study of a religious movement, a philosophical viewpoint, or an object of scientific inquiry against attack or ridicule based on an indubitably uninformed opinion towards the subject in question. Anything that is, is worthy of scrutiny. To take one pertinent example, the study of Theosophy and matters Theosophical in academe should, in my opinion, be allowed to proceed unhindered without recriminations from colleagues who consider the subject insignificant or unworthy. After all, the measure of historical inquiry is coeval with the totality of human activity and thought.
It is hardly expected that this history journal will inquire into the totality of human experience: obviously the limitations of the journal are given by the term Theosophical. How far afield does this field of inquiry take us? When Leslie Price initiated the journal in 1985, it was his intention to focus primarily on the foundation of the Theosophical Society in 1875, and the history of the Theosophical movement since then.... He went on to write:
The assessment of a variety of bodies and impulses that claimed to be Theosophical, or even used different terms altogether but were once part of the same family, is part of our task. Names such as Alice Bailey, Annie Besant, William Q. Judge and Rudolf Steiner that are offensive to this or that group of Theosophists even today, will be found in our pages. (I/1:2)
Mr. Prices statement is very timely in the present discussion. When I took over TH, it was due in part that it was established as an independent journal committed to an open inquiry into any topic that properly comes under the label theosophical. Although he defined the range of Theosophical inquiry to be 1875 and later, there was the occasional exception to the rule, such as Leslie Shepards The Anacalypsis of Godfrey Higgins. It was my view that the inclusion of pre-Blavatskyite theosophy and related movements and teachings also would be of interest to the readership. Therefore, the journals purpose stated on the inside cover page is evidence of this broader interest.
In order to avoid confusion between what I perceive as two separate categories of Theosophical and associated terms, the journal will henceforth employ Theosophical, Theosophist, and Theosophyall with capital Tto refer to the societies, individuals, and literature that derive their teachings directly from the writings of H.P. Blavatsky. Conversely, theosophy, theosophical, and theosopher or theosophistall with lower case tinclude all teachings, organizations and individuals that may either predate those of H.P.Blavatsky or that possess only an indirect or superficial relationship to modern Theosophical teachings. Thus, Theosophical would refer to all the various Theosophical societies (Adyar, Pasadena, U.L.T., and other organizations that are direct descendants of the 1875 T.S.), Theosophist to members of such organizations, and Theosophy specifically to the teachings discussed in the writings of H.P.B. and all publications directly derived therefrom. These writings include those of W.Q. Judge, Annie Besant, C.W. Leadbeater, G. de Purucker, B. P. Wadia, Robert Crosbie, and others who belong to the various Theosophical societies. Organizations such as AMORC, the Rosicrucian Fellowship, the Arcane School, the Anthroposophical Society, more recent movements such as Eckankar, the Church Universal and Triumphant, Morningland, the Aetherius Society, and individuals such as Alice Bailey, Rudolf Steiner, Max Heindel, Manly Hall, may all be considered theosophical or theosophers respectively.
A wealth of material awaiting publication for the past few months as well as recent communications of special interest have led to the decision to publish a double issue of the journal. We trust that the readers have no objections to this decision.
A recent communication (From the Archives) from Michael Gomes reveals a promising new avenue of research: the release of sixteen letters written by H.P. Blavatsky to William Quan Judge. It is our hope that this communication is but the first in a long series that we will receive from Mr. Gomes.
Speaking of archival material, Associate Editor Joscelyn Godwin (The Haunting of E. Gerry Brown: A Contemporary Document) has uncovered a startling document in a London archive written by an anonymous reporter that summarizes E. Gerry Browns (the editor of The Spiritual Scientist in Boston from 1874 to 1878) shocking account of H.P. Blavatskys attempt to commit acts of black magic or psychic murder against Brown, his wife, and unborn child. A facsimile of the first page of the document is herein reproduced in the hope that some reader might recognize the hand-writing of the author or comment on its content. Readers may well wish to consult Dion Fortunes Psychic Self-Defence: A Study in Occult Pathology and Criminality (Wellingbor-ough, Northamptonshire: The Aquarian Press, 1957 [1984 reprint] for more insight in this phenomenon.1
The final communication is Mr. Daniel Caracosteas welcome summary of The Eighth Annual Conference of Political Hermetica at the Sorbonne (Paris), entitled The Legacies of Theosophy: From Theosophy to the New Age. Publication of the papers presented at the conference will appear in November 1993. An announcement will be made in TH as soon as the publication becomes available.
Among the articles appearing in this issue are two papers that were presented at the Fifth Theosophical History Conference, held at Point Loma in San Diego (California) in June 1992. They are Mr. James Biggs Theosophy and Nationalism: A Dialogue and Miss Isotta Poggis An Experimental Theosophical Community in Italy: The Green Village. Mr. Biggs paper is the outcome of extensive research undertaken for his Master of Arts thesis in History at California State University at Fullerton. The thesis, Justice, Love, and Liberty: The Nationalist Movement in Los Angeles (submitted in 1990), uncovered a number of hitherto unknown connections between the largely forgotten Nationalist Movement and the Theosophical connection to it.
Miss Poggis article sheds additional light on the remarkable work of Professor Bernardino del Boca and his work on establishing an experimental center of the new level of consciousness: the Villaggio Verde or Green Village. Readers may refer to Professor del Bocas own account of this experiment in the January 1991 (III/5) issue of Theosophical History, entitled The First Practical Expression of Theosophy in Italy: The Villaggio Verde (Green Village). Miss Poggi, a Research Associate with the Institute for the Study of American Religion in Santa Barbara (whose Director, J. Gordon Melton, serves as Associate Editor for this journal), has made Italian alternative spirituality her special area of research as is evident in her recently published Alternative Spirituality in Italy, located in Perspectives on the New Age, edited by James R. Lewis and J. Gordon Melton (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992), a work that will be reviewed in a future issue.
The third article, Meads Gnosis: A theosophical Exegesis of an Ancient Heresy, is a most valuable entry deriving from The Mead Symposium, held in London on 30 May 1992 under the auspices of the Temenos Academy for Integral Studies (see Dr. Godwins summary of the proceedings in TH IV/2: 50). G.R.S. Mead is the subject of considerable ambivalence to those who are acquainted with his work in Gnosticism and his connections with Theosophy. Clare Goodrick-Clarkes study ably unlocks some of the mystery surrounding this man and the controversial position he holds in Gnostic studies.
Professor Joscelyn Godwins research in English archives have uncovered some startling documents dating back to the 1870s. In the last issue he introduced one such document of a highly controversial nature (more about this below). In the present issue Professor Godwin presents a hitherto unpublished letter from H. P. Blavatsky to Rev. William Stainton Moses, dated 16 November 1875. Unearthed in the Library of the United Grand Lodge of England, Freemasons Hall (London), the letter is important because it reveals her Theosophical views exactly at the time of the founding of the Theosophical Society (17 November). The date of this letter is confirmed by her closing remarks: To night is the inaugration [sic] meeting of our Theosophical Society and Oldcott [sic] is busy with his address for he is elected President and poor me corresponding secretary of the society . . .
A number of illuminating articles also appear in the current issue, two of which were first presented at the International Theosophical History Conference (ITHC) last year. The first, The Esoteric School Within the Hargrove Theosophical Society by John Cooper, is based on material not accessible to public scrutiny. This Society, in a period of indrawal since 1935, claimed a number of distinguished Theosophists over the course of its activitythe Sanskritist Charles Johnston, Dr. Archibald Keightley, and Jasper Niemand (Julia Campbell Ver Planck)and produced one of the more noteworthy magazines of the Theosophical Movement, The Theosophical Quarterly.
The second article, Theodor Reuss as Founder of Esoteric Orders, is the second part of at least six articles that its author, P.R. König, has prepared for the journal: the first part appearing in IV/3. This article is primarily a presentation of original source material containing biographical information on Reuss and his activities within the OTO (Order of Oriental Templars) and related organizations.
Readers no doubt are familiar with John Oliphants highly-acclaimed account of Edward Arthur Wilson in his book, Brother Twelve: The Incredible Story of Canadas False Prophet (reviewed in IV/2). His article, The Teachings of Brother XII, was presented in summary form at the ITHC. Unlike the book, Mr. Oliphant has added sources and provides further information on E.A. Wilsons teachings, which are strongly Theosophical in character.
The publication of Sylvia Cranstons H.P.B.: The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky, Founder of the Modern Theosophical Movement has been recognized as this years major publishing event by Theosophists in 1993. For this reason, the journal will be publishing two reviews: one by Dr. John Algeo, the other by the author of a previous biography on H.P.B. (Blavatsky and Her Masters), Jean Overton Fuller. The next issue will also include a third review by Robert Boyd.
The Book Notes section contains a review of poet, literary critic, and Blakean scholar Kathleen Raines Autobiographies by Robert Ellwood. Those interested in Dr. Raines insights may wish to obtain the Spring 1992 issue of Gnosis, containing therein an interview conducted by its editor-in-chief Jay Kinney with Dr. Raine entitled Imagination and the Sacred (pages 50 to 55). Also included in the same section is John Clifford Holts Buddha in the Crown, a book chosen for review because of the unusual circumstances in which the Mahâyâna Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara has developed in the ethos of Sri Lanka.
Paul Johnsons review of Noël Richard-Nafarres Helena P. Blavatsky ou la réponse du Sphinx resulted in a lengthy retort by Mr. Richard-Nafarre. This, and Mr. Johnsons rejoinder, are included herein.
An announcement by Leslie Price regarding the discovery of documents in the India Office on the possibility of Madame Blavatsky being a Russian spy appears in the Communications section. This is a major discovery that reveals no direct evidence that H.P.B. was in fact a spy. But such a suspicion seems to be confirmed by a letter supposedly written by H.P.B. herself to the Director of the Third Section. Therein, she offered her services to the Russian government. The letter in question was published (in Russian) in Literaturnoe obozrenie 6 (1988): 111-12 and partially translated in Maria Carlsons No Religion Higher Than Truth: A History of the Theosophical Movement in Russia, 1875-1922 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993): 214, note 6. It is obvious that a careful study of both the India Office material and Russian letter must be conducted before any definite conclusions can be ascertained.
For What Purpose?
A document appearing in the last issue of Theosophical History (IV/4-5) summarizing E. Gerry Browns account of H.P. Blavatskys attempt to commit acts of psychic murder against Brown and his family no doubt will be upsetting to Blavatskyphiles. Indeed, one correspondent sent a lengthy reply expressing his displeasure over its publication. Although the letter will appear in the next issue with Professor Godwins response, the documents iconoclastic nature demands a more immediate clarification of the editors opinions and motives for its inclusion in the journal. Readers may remember that in the IV/1 issue of Theosophical History I set forth on the editorial page my conviction that the journals purpose was to consider Theosophical history (with an emphasis on history) in an impartial and scholarly manner. Historical journals by nature must exhibit complete freedom of expression within the purview of their areas of investigation. For this reason, it is my firm belief that to deny publication of an article or document based upon the biases of either the editors or the journals audience would convert the journal into a theologically- or dogmatically-oriented publication. Some may wish to see more discretion as to what appears or what not appears in the journal, but if we mean by discretion the avoidance of any controversial topic or opinion that disclaims ones received assumptions about an individual or event, then surely whatever credibility the journal possesses as an open forum for the free exchange of ideas has been lost. To be sure, articles and documents will appear that will offend some person or group. Come what may, historians, at least the camp to which I subscribe, do not presume to judge the dramas or actors of the past. I would rather follow the example of Herodotus or Thucydidesboth of whom were for the most part non-judgmentalrather than a Livy or a Tacitus, the latter stating that historys main goal was to rescue merit from oblivion. Although the noted Oxford philosopher Sir Isaiah Berlin observed in his Historical Inevitability (Oxford, 1954, 52-53) that the invocation to historians to suppress even that minimal degree of moral or psychological evaluation . . . seems to me to rest upon a confusion of the aims and methods of the humane studies with those of natural science, for what purpose should the historian impose his own judgment? Analysis and interpretation are, it is true, part and parcel of historical investigation; making moral judgments, however, are established on views that have little or no historical basis, therefore, not, in my opinion, part and parcel of the historical method. Justice Holmes once remarked, I prefer champagne to ditch-water, but I see no reason to suppose the cosmos does.
The inductive process and moral judgements, however, are very often confused in the arts and sciences, history included. As a case in point, time and time again reviewers praise or condemn books on the sole basis of agreeing or disagreeing with the thesis of the book. This approach offers no insight into the books worth; what it does do is to reveal the bias(es) of the reviewer.
The historical method, in my view, involves the elimination of moralistic judgments but retains interpretive judgments based on inductive methods. The two should not be confused any more than the method of that other Holmes, Sherlock, being mistaken for a moral judgment rather than solutions based upon material evidence.
As an history journal, Theosophical History retains three specific roles: (1) the publication of articles that attempt to shed light on the past, (2) the publication of documents for the purpose of expanding the data base, (3) and a forum for the free and open exchange of ideas. Apropos the second purpose, who can deny that the augmentation of primary material can only help the historian? To paraphrase Veronica Wedgwood, the historian unlike any other writer is constrained by the documentation available. Such a limitation should caution the historian not to overstep the bounds of prudent interpretation. If not, what is purported to be a historical narrative becomes more like docudrama, a phenomenon that is emerging in studies on current affairs and in biographies to an increasing degree.
Now to the document in question. If it is true that the chief objection to its publication is to place H.P.B. in a bad light, then such an objection is but a reflection of a dogmatic or ideological attitude that has no place in this journal. If the suspicion centers on the motives of either Professor Godwin or myselfnamely, to deliberately present H.P.B. in a bad lightsuch an allegation could not be further from the truth as our publishing records will attest. Our overriding concern was twofold: to add to the bank of documents to which historians can turn in order to present a more complete account of the times, and to attempt to identify the writer of the document. In addition, it was also our desire to initiate an informed discussion regarding the circumstances surrounding the writing of the document. This is, after all, one of the roles of the journal.
Of immediate concern, however, is the connection of this document with Browns relations with Olcott and Blavatsky around 1875 and early 1876 (I thank Ted Davy, former editor of the Canadian Theosophist for reminding me of Michael Gomes important article, Studies in Early American Theosophical History: I. Elbridge Gerry Brown and the Boston Spiritual Scientist (Canadian Theosophist, 69/6 [Jan.-Feb. 1989: 121-129 and 70/1 [Mar.-Apr.1989]: 14-17). Browns journal, The Spiritual Scientist, was heavily supported by H.P.B. and Olcott to the tune of perhaps $631 if the amount written in the second volume of H.P.B.s Scrapbook is correct. The journal was obviously of crucial importance to the two founders of the Theosophical Society for publicity purposes. Indeed, in June of 1875 Serapis (as pointed out by Professor Godwin) wished for Brown to be the third member of a Triad that was to advance the cause of the Lodge (of the Masters) in America (Gomes: 121-22). By the beginning of 1876, however, a falling out between Brown on the one hand and Olcott and H.P.B. on the other occurred. In the Scrapbook containing the 1875 circular Important to Spiritualists, H.P.B. annotates: Several hundred dollars, out of our pockets were spent on behalf of the Editor [Brown], and he was made to pass through a minor diksha. This proving of no availThe Theosophical Society was established. The man might have become a POWER, he preferred to remain an ASS . . . . (Gomes: 123) What was the reason for this abrupt change in attitude of the Editor? Could our document shed any light on the sudden turn of events? Perhaps Browns initial importance prior to the founding of the Society led to the document portraying H.P.B. in an overbearing and imperious manner because so much was at stake. What were her reasons for being so adamantly opposed to the marriage? Who was his future wife, who is described as one of the most sensitive and perfect mediums I [the interviewer] have known . . . . On a mundane matter, when were they married? This would obviously pinpoint the time that these events occurred. Can we assume that much of the description was embellished? If so, what does this tell us about the Browns? Or about H.P.B.s attitude toward Spiritualistic phenomena? A careful reading of the document suggests caution in accepting every statement verbatim. It is obviously written for the consumption of a Spiritualist audience and not the general public. Consequently, Brown going into detail about the number of spirit entities involved in the assaults, his conversations with them and his eventual winning the spirit band over to his side would naturally be accepted by Spiritualists. In conclusion, the document is significant, not so much because of the reference to H.P.B. attempting psychic murder on the Browns; more significantly, it gives us some insight into the personal life and personality of E. Gerry Brown, his relations with Olcott and H.P.B., and the times in which he lived. The document therefore is a fairly significant contribution to our knowledge of a generally unknown player in early Theosophical history. If it induces the historian to investigate his life, then the document will have served its purpose.
Two articles are included in the present issue: one from a new contributor, the other by the author of In Search of the Masters. The first by Dr. Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal, a Professor of history at Fordham University in New York City, is on a topic that has received considerable interest over the past few years, The Occult in Modern Russian and Soviet Culture: An Historical Perspective. Originally delivered at a conference of identical name at Fordham University in 1991 and also at the International Seminar, Le défi magique: Spiritisme, satanisme, occultisme dans les sociétés contemporaines, in 1992, the paper is part of an introduction to a forthcoming volume containing the papers of the aforementioned Fordham conference. Paul Johnsons article, Secret Messages from Colonel Olcott, maintains that two letters from Henry S. Olcott to H.P. Blavatsky provide clues to the Masters identities. Originally presented at the International Theosophical History Conference in 1992, this article continues his search for the true identity of the Masters, which was the subject of his book, In Search of the Masters. A new version of the book, incidentally, is now being reprinted by SUNY (State University of New York) press. The expected publication will most likely be in 1994.
The Parliament of the Worlds Religions was recently held in Chicago (28 August to 4 September ) unbeknownst, it would appear, to the mass media, which chose to largely ignore the event. We are therefore pleased to include Michael Gomes report on the Parliament focusing on the Theosophical presentations.
A column entitled Scholarly Research is being initiated in this issue in order to inform readers of research being undertaken both within and outside academe. All researchers are invited to submit an abstract of the work that they are currently undertaking.
Because of the reaction that was received from the publication of The Haunting of E. Gerry Brown: A contemporary document (IV/4-5), I have decided to publish in full W. Dallas TenBroecks communication in this issue, since it does reflect the views of those who find fault with the document and who also question the intent of Dr. Godwin and myself. My editorial in IV/6-7 was instigated by this letter although from the more general perspective of defining the purpose of Theosophical History. One positive result that came out of Mr. TenBroecks communication was the disclosure of the source of the document in Joscelyn Godwins response.
Although two reviews of Sylvia Cranstons HPB: The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky, Founder of the Modern Theosophical Movement appeared in the last issue, the importance of this biography to Theosophists demands more than usual attention. Therefore, a third review, this by Robert Boyd, is included in order to convey opinions from three differing perspectives.
One closing remark on this issue. Because of the length of the communications in this issue, the Book Notes section, not included herein, will appear in the next issue.
The next issue will also contain P.R. Königs Veritas Mystica Maxima, the third part of his ongoing series on the OTO, Joscelyn Godwins Colonel Olcott Meets the Brothers: An Unpublished Letter (a letter from H. S. Olcott to C.C. Massey), and Kazimierz Tokarskis Wanda Dynowska-Umadevi: A Biographical Essay.
The Blavatsky-Judge Letters
In Vol. IV/4-5, Michael Gomes announced that sixteen letters from H.P. Blavatsky to William Quan Judge retained at the Andover-Harvard Divinity School Library have recently been opened to the public. These as well as a few other letters from H.P.B. have recently come into my possession. Plans are now being made to publish them over several issues due to their length. Since the letters are somewhat difficult to read because of the handwriting and the ink bleeding through the paper (the letters were written on both sides of the sheet), this will necessitate additional time for transcribing and proofing the letters. It is my hope that the first letter will be published by the April, 1994 issue.
Response to John Cooper
Apropos John Coopers letter (July 1992, IV/3) taking issue with my editorial (in IV/2) on the scope of inquiry for Theosophical History, in particular the scope of pre-Blavatskian theosophical movements and teachings, Mr. Cooper proposes a somewhat more limited range of studies than I suggested for inclusion in the journal. He argues that if limits are not placed on the topics, the range of studies would be so broad as to lead the journal astray from its stated goals. This is quite true, but having given his suggestion careful consideration, it is my opinion that the journal remain open to all theosophical studies, whether pre- or post-Blavatsky. In my role as editor, I am becoming more aware of the research that is currently being undertaken in what may be termed in its broadest sense the theosophical field. It would be perhaps somewhat arbitrary and unwise to discourage publication of articles simply because they do not fit the particular mold established by Mr. Cooper. Besides, it is my firm opinion that only a full understanding of theosophy in all its permutations will lead to a greater understanding of Theosophy. Much more research remains before we fully understand the meaning of the term theosophy and of those movements and schools that are labeled theosophical. It is therefore better to err on the side of inclusivity rather than exclusivity.
Come what may of this slight difference of opinion, the reality for the present is that most of the articles and communications that are submitted are Theosophical in nature and will most likely continue to be for the foreseeable future.
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