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Volume XX

Index of Contents

Theosophical History: Vol. XX, No. 1
January 2017


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.