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Volume VIII

Title: Some Fragments of the Secret History of the Theosophical Society
Author: Franz Hartmann, M.D
Description: A new Occasional Paper, volume VIII of the Series, is an essay written by one of the notable members of the Theosophical Society, Dr. Franz Hartmann (1838-1912). The essay, Some Fragments of the Secret History of the Theosophical Society, is a rewritten version of his earlier Report of Observations Made During a Nine Months’ Stay at the Headquarters of the Theosophical Society at Adyar (Madras), India (1884). As Boris de Zirkoff notes in his bibliographical sketch of Hartmann (Blavatsky: Collected Writings, VIII, 443): “To describe the activities of Franz Hartmann while at Adyar would be tantamount to writing the history of the Theosophical society at the time.” Michael Gomes, in his introduction to the letter of H.P. Blavatsky to W.Q. Judge dated May 1, 1885 (see Theosophical History, vol. V, no. 2: 48) writes: 

[Hartmann] traveled to Adyar in 1883 to attend the yearly December convention of Theosophists. Col. Olcott named him to an eight-man Board of Control administering the affairs of the headquarters during the Colonel’s and Madame Blavatsky’s absence in Europe in 1884. In October of that year Hartmann published a 60-page pamphlet, A Report of Observations Made During a Nine Month’s Stay at the Headquarters of the Theosophical Society at Adyar, Madras, India, detailing the events that led to the expulsion of Monsieur and Madame Coulomb from the Society during the summer of 1884, and edited the 152-page Report of the Result of an Investigation into Charges Against Madame Blavatsky, Brought by the Missionaries of the Scottish Free Church at Madras and Examined by a Committee Appointed for that Purpose by the Council of the Theosophical Society, issued in March 1885.

The compiler (who includes an introduction, biography and additional footnotes) to Hartmann’s essay, Robert Hütwohl, summarizes its contents:

Hartmann states he later had time to think over the matters concerning the “Hodgson/shrine affair” and was able to come to different conclusions [than those expressed in the Hodgson Report], having considered the original report as “a premature expression of my opinion.” Hartmann was trained in the epistemological scientific method as a medical doctor, but also had a strong mystical bent. This helped him to observe and reach conclusions both from a scientific as well as a Theosophical viewpoint. Hartmann places some blame on Col. H.S. Olcott for initially inviting the Society for Psychical Research to investigate the shrine process, an experiment never originally intended to be purveyed under a magnifying glass of scientific scrutiny. He draws careful analogies to the fact that we are constantly bathed in a world of illusion. Comparing our world of deceptions to the current scientific world of men of authority who refuse to give up their own influential impostures, he saw many in the Theosophical community giving permission to allow themselves to be deceived. But he also assures us the Hodgson Report is premised upon the fact that the root of psychical phenomena is purely epistemological and has no basis as stemming from another, even if illusory, world of being.

Hartmann also does not readily implicate Mr. Hodgson for his investigation. He felt that Theosophists should give thanks to both Hodgson and H.P.B. for performing a duty-bound service of opening their eyes and at least questioning what it is they saw as illusions or phenomenal “exposures” from the psychic world. But this was part of the Theosophical training H.P.B. had administered in order for the pupil to develop discrimination or viveka and eventually wisdom or jñâna. Questioning the motives of both H.P.B. and Hodgson, both were decreed as guiltless in their own way, although he writes more upon the activities of H.P. Blavatsky than upon Hodgson. Hartmann mentions in non-occult language the process of transferring letters by occult means from a Mahatma to a chelâ. There is a discussion of the instances of occult phenomena both within and without Blavatsky’s presence and attempts to explain in common language the processes involved.

Hartmann also gives the results of the Hodgson investigation and describes at length H.P. Blavatsky’s demeanor at the time, based on his own observations.

Finally, Hartmann mentions the crucial point that since the “theosophical society” was not founded on the basis of phenomena but rather on the “Universal Brotherhood of Man,” it should, therefore, not be judged or found guilty of “genuinely” produced phenomena.