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Volume XX

Index of Contents

Theosophical History: Vol. XX, No. 1
January 2019


Elementals, also known as nature spirits, gnomes, sylphs, undines, and fairies, have been discussed in Theosophical literature since the Society’s earliest days. Taking her cue from H. P. Blavatsky, the author of “Elementals And Nature Spirits in The Western Tradition, With Special Reference To Theosophy,” emphasizes the numerous and varied manifestations of these entities that appear in literatures both ancient and modern. Furthermore, she demonstrates that they are not merely fanciful components of the imagination but rather entities that can have a profound, and often negative, impact upon the individual, as demonstrated in Dion Fortune’s Psychic Self-Defense. Otherwise, they are given credit (in A. P. Sinnett’s Esoteric Buddhism) for the physical phenomena that often occurred in Spiritualist séances.

It is not surprising then that the elementals also appear in “The Views of the Theosophists,” with those entities known as “Elementaries” or “Elementary Spirits.” Olcott hints at their relation in in the following passage:

The laws of polarity, in our judgment, make it absurd to expect that any pure disembodied spirit can come into, or near, or influence directly one of those mediums who have been teaching and living impurely, or among inquirers who perchance enter the circle flushed with strong drink, or steaming with the atmosphere of some demoralizing association, from rapping to full-form presentations, are manifestations of the power of either earthbound elementaries, helped by elementals, or the souls of the mediums themselves, acting transcorporeally with or without the help of elementals.

Materialization of spiritual phenomena is more complex than simply assuming that it is only the spirit of the deceased. These early descriptions do not portray a full picture, however; a fuller understanding appears in the Mahatma Letters, which in turn are partially incorporated within Esoteric Buddhism. From this period on, the Theosophical afterlife becomes more comprehensible.

This article, in addition the earlier article “What Col. Olcott Believes,” is an attempt to answer the question regarding the perception of Theosophical teachings from its inception in 1875 to the publication of Esoteric Buddhism in 1883. Prior to the publication of Isis Unveiled in 1877, the teachings were most likely perceived as reflective of the broader occult tradition within Western culture that included a host of practitioners and theorists such as Iamblichus, Trithemius, Cornelius Agrippa, Apuleius, Robert Fludd, to give just a few examples. What Blavatsky was developing was the incorporation of these teachings into the beginnings of a system reflective of their teachings. At first the teachings were an echo of the occult tradition with hints of a broader and eventually more comprehensive teaching that incorporated selected teachings from the East, most notably India. The institutional incorporation of Eastern Wisdom on the part of the Theosophical Society separates it from other modern and contemporary Western esoteric organizations. This is nothing new, however, but Olcott’s views help to illustrate the early domination of the Western tradition before India became the dominant focus from 1880 on.

Editor’s CommentsJames Santucci
“What Col. Olcott Believes” (The Spiritual Scientist III, no. 21 [Jan. 27, 1876]): 243
“The Views of the Theosophists” (The Spiritual Scientist II, no. 21 [Dec. 7, 1877]): 265–67
Elementals and Nature Spirits in the Western Tradition, with Special Reference to Theosophy Lynda Harris


Theosophical History: Vol. XX, No. 2
April 2019



Paul Johnson’s The Masters Revealed[1] must be regarded as the most controversial publication in Theosophical historical studies in the past thirty years. At the time of its publication (1994) and even before that with his self-published study, In Search of the Masters (1990),[2] a number of reviews appeared arguing the pros and cons regarding of their contents.  Of the many reviews that have appeared, a small number representing what Mr. Jacobs describes as the “insider/outsider spectrum” are examined in his insightful article, “Esotericists and the Academy: K. Paul Johnson and His Theosophical Respondents.”  As expected, the reviews ranged from glowing to denunciatory, with the latter mainly originating from committed Theosophists, representing those who accept wholeheartedly the orthodox perception of the Masters as defined by Theosophical teaching. Generally, reviews perform a positive service by confirming the observations and conclusions of the authors. Less appreciated, I am sure, are reviewers’ criticisms which generally call into question some aspect of the thesis, the quality and quantity of the evidence presented to substantiate the thesis, or some other aspect of the publication with which the reviewer disagrees.  Beyond the negative disagreements based upon some perceived omission or misinterpretation of the data are some reviews that appear excessively strident or even bordering on ad hominem attacks directed at the author. Whatever positive qualities contained in the publication, if any, will most likely be discounted or ignored if such attacks are accepted as reliable.  Such was the case regarding these books.  Not only did Mr. Johnson have to defend himself against these reviews, but he also had to strike a balance answering those reviews which agreed with the books’ thesis but arguing that it did not go as far as one hoped it would.  Whether a balance could have been achieved by answering both criticisms is open to question.  The most serious and accusatory criticisms, however, were ideological, not methodological, since the natural byproduct of Mr. Johnson’s thesis was calling into question the status of the Masters, which is the equivalent to questioning the status of Jesus for Christians or the Buddha for Buddhists.  It is not surprising, therefore, that many Theosophists viewed Johnson’s thesis as threatening and damaging to Theosophy.  This whole episode, because of the incessant attacks that went beyond legitimate academic criticism, resulted in bringing to a virtual halt further examination that might substantiate the thesis, either by Mr Johnson or by others inspired by his discoveries.  Had the reviews simply acknowledged the weakness of the methodology, for instance, without attacking the thesis in an ideological manner, there might not have been the complete cessation of investigations in this area.  There is no guarantee that a different outcome would have occurred, but one wonders how this and the many other missed opportunities that have been identified over the past century could have been brought to a more satisfactory conclusion had circumstances been different.   Since we sometimes need to be reminded about this episode, not to mention the many other similar events over the centuries,  Mr. Jacobs must be commended for reacquainting us with the circumstances surrounding the reception of Mr. Johnson’s thesis. 

Mr. Jacobs is a Research Masters (RMA) student in Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Amsterdam specializing in Western Esotericism. He also has BSc in Psychology and an MA in Interfaith Dialogue with Theosophy as his primary research interest.

The second item in this issue is a review of Kim Farnell’s Modern Astrologers: The Lives of Alan and Bessie Leo.  There are many insights that lead us to a reevaluation of the Leos as also their place in modern astrology.  The review is by Kurt Leland, the creator of the Anni Besant Shrine, an online bibliography of Besant’s more than six-hundred books, pamphlets, and articles as well as the author of Rainbow Body: A History of the Western Chakra System from Blavatsky to Brennan.

[1] K. Paul Johnson, The Masters Revealed: Madame Blavatsky and the Myth of the Great White Lodge (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1994).

[2] Paul Johnson, In Search of the Masters Behind the Occult Myth (South Boston, VA: Paul Johnson, 1990).
Editor’s Comments: “Who are the Masters?”
James Santucci
Esotericists and the Academy: K. Paul Johnson and His Theosophical Respondents
Bas J. H. Jacobs
Modern Astrologers: The Lives of Alan and Bessie Leo
Kurt Leland