(1831 to 1891)
"Theosophy, on earth, is like the
white ray of the spectrum, and every religion only one of the seven
prismatic colours. Ignoring all the others, and
cursing them as false, every special coloured ray
claims not only priority, but to be that white ray itself, and
anathematizes even its own tints from light to dark, as heresies. Yet, as
the sun of truth rises higher and higher on the horizon of man's
perception, and each coloured ray gradually fades
out until it is finally re-absorbed in its turn, humanity will at last be
cursed no longer with artificial polarizations, but will find itself
bathing in the pure colourless sunlight of
eternal truth. And this will be Theosophia."
Blavatsky, commonly known as Madame Blavatsky, was the founder of the
Theosophical Movement. She was the daughter of Colonel Peter Hahn, a
Russian officer, and was brought up in an atmosphere permeated with
superstition and fantasy. As a child, she loved to surround herself with
mystery and assured her playmates that in the subterranean corridors of
their old house at Saratow, where she used to
wander about, she was never alone; claiming she had companions and
playmates whom she called her "hunchbacks." She was often
discovered in a dark tower underneath the roof where she put pigeons into
mesmeric sleep by stroking them.
Once, while riding a horse,
she fell from the saddle and her foot became entangled in the stirrup. She
claimed that she ought to have been killed outright before the horse was
stopped "but for the strange sustaining power she distinctly felt
around her, which seemed to hold her up in defiance of gravitation."
According to the records of her sister, she showed frequent evidence of
somnambulism as a child, speaking aloud, and often walking in her sleep.
She saw eyes glaring at her from inanimate objects or from phantasmal
In later years, Mme. Blavatsky
claimed visions of a phantom protector whose imposing appearance had
dominated her imagination. Her powers of make-believe were so remarkable
that she could actually cause hallucinations in playmates by her vivid
story-telling. In a nutshell, she possessed great musical talents, had a
fearful temper, a passionate curiosity for the unknown, and an
uncontrollable craving for independence and action.
At seventeen, she married
General Blavatsky, from whom she escaped three months later. She then fled
abroad and led a wild, wandering life for ten years all over the world, in
search for mysteries. When she returned to Russia, she possessed
well-developed mediumistic gifts. Raps, whisperings, and other mysterious
sounds were heard all over the house. Objects moved about in obedience to
her will. Their weight decreased and increased as she wished. Winds swept
through the apartment, extinguishing lamps and candles. She exhibited
clairvoyance, discovered a murderer for the police, and narrowly escaped
being charged as an accomplice.
In 1860 she had an attack of
severe illness. A prior wound below the heart opened and she suffered
intense agony, followed by convulsions and trance. After she recovered, the
spontaneous physical phenomena about her seems to have disappeared; she
claimed that they only occurred in obedience to her will.
Again, Mme. Blavatsky went
abroad, and, disguised as a man, she fought under Garibaldi and was left
for dead in the battle of Mentana. She fought
back to life, had a miraculous escape at sea on a Greek vessel which was
blown up, and founded, in 1871, in Cairo, the Societe
Spirite. It was a dubious venture which soon
died amid cries of fraud and embezzlement.
Her ties to Spiritualism date
from her arrival in New York in July, 1873. She first worked as a
dressmaker and, after her acquaintance with Colonel Henry Steel Olcott at Chittenden, Vermont, in the house of the Eddy
Brothers (famous physical mediums), she launched a career in journalism,
writing mostly on Spiritualism for magazines.
"For over 15 years have I
fought my battle for the blessed truth," she wrote in The Spiritual
Scientist, Boston, December 3, 1874. "For the sake of Spiritualism
I have left my house; an easy life amongst a civilized society, and have
become a panderer upon the face of this earth."
One could say that the real
starting point of her work was the founding of the Theosophical Society in
December, 1875. It professed to "expound the esoteric tradition of
Buddhism and aimed at forming a universal brotherhood of man, studying and
making known the ancient religions, philosophies and sciences, and investigating
the laws of nature and developing the divine powers latent in man."
was elected as Chairman. He was a tireless organizer and propagandist. His
relationship to Mme. Blavatsky was clearly that of the pupil to the
teacher. He did the practical, while Mme. Blavatsky engaged in the literary
Their joint efforts soon put
the Theosophical Society on prosperous footing, but trouble was looming on
the horizon. At the end of 1878, a small party of four left, under their
leadership, for Bombay; soon thereafter, the Theosophical movement gained
impetus from the publicity launched by A. P. Sinnett,
editor of The Pioneer, who embraced Buddhism in Ceylon. The
publicity, however, had its disadvantages, in that it got the attention of
England's prestigious Society for Psychical Research. Dr. Hodgson
was sent by the S.P.R. to Adyar, India, where the
central headquarters of the movement were established, to investigate the
phenomena. The investigation had a disastrous effect for Mme. Blavatsky and
a nearly deadly blow for Theosophy.
Dr. Hodgson claims to have
found nothing but fraud and extreme credulity on the part of the believers.
People who joined Mme. Blavatsky confessed to manufacturing, in conspiracy
with her, a large number of the Theosophical miracles and revealed the
secret of the sliding panels of the Shrine in the Occult Room through
which, from Mme. Blavatsky's bedroom, the "astral" Mahatma
letters were deposited. They disclosed impersonation of the Mahatmas by a
dummy head and shoulders and declared that the Mahatma letters were written
by Mme. Blavatsky in a disguised hand; that they were projected through
cracks in the ceiling by means of spring contrivances and produced the
correspondence between them and Mme. Blavatsky in proof of their
Dr. Hodgson's investigations
lasted for three months. His findings laid to waste a prior report on the
Theosophical phenomena, written in the December, 1884, issue of the S.P.R.
Proceedings, which had been favorable to Mme. Blavatsky's claims. The
conclusions, as published under the heading "Report on Phenomena
connected with Theosophy " (S.P.R. Proceedings, Vol. III. 1885)
were as follows:
"In the first place a large number of letters
produced by Mr. and Mme. Coulomb, formerly Librarian and Assistant
Corresponding Secretary, respectively, of the Theosophical Society were, in
the opinion of the best experts in handwriting, written by Madame
Blavatsky. These letters, which extended over the years of 1880-1883,
inclusive, and some of which were published in the Madras Christian College
Magazine for September 1884, prove that Mme. Blavatsky has been engaged in
the production of a varied and long-continued series of fraudulent
phenomena, in which she has been assisted by the Columns. The
circumstantial evidence which I was able to obtain concerning the incidents
referred to in these letters, corroborates the judgment of the experts in
"In the second place,
apart altogether from either these letters or the statements of the
Coulombs, who themselves allege that they were confederates of Mme.
Blavatsky, it appears from my own inquiries concerning the existence and
the powers of the supposed Adepts or Mahatmas, and the marvelous phenomena
alleged to have occurred in connection with the Theosophical Society,
"That the primary
witnesses to the existence of a Brotherhood with occult powers -- viz.,
Madame Blavatsky, Mr. Damodar K. Mavalankar, Mr. Bhavani Shankar and Mr. Babajee D. Nath -- have in other matters deliberately
made statements which they must have known to be false, and that,
therefore, their assertions cannot establish the existence of the
Brotherhood in question.
"That the comparison
of handwriting further tends to show that Koot Hoomi Lal Sing and Mahatma Morya
are fictitious personages, and that most of the documents purporting to
have emanated from these "personages" and especially from
"K.H." (Koot Hoomi
Lal Sing) are in the disguised handwriting of Madame Blavatsky herself, who
originated the style of the K.H. handwriting, and that some of the K.H.
writing is the handiwork of Mr. Damodar in
imitation of the writing developed by Madame Blavatsky.
"That in no single
phenomenon which came within the scope of my investigation in India, was
the evidence such as would entitle it to be regarded as genuine, the
witnesses for the most part being extraordinarily inaccurate in observation
or memory, and having neglected to exercise due care for the exclusion of
fraud; while in the case of some of the witnesses there has been much
conscious exaggeration and culpable mis-statement.
"That not only was the
evidence insufficient to establish the genuineness of the alleged marvels,
but that evidence furnished partly by my own inspection and partly by a
large number of witnesses, most of them Theosophists, concerning the
structure, position and environment of the Shrine, concerning
"Mahatma" communications received independently of the Shrine and
concerning various other incidents, including many of the phenomena
mentioned in the Occult World, besides the numerous additional suspicious
circumstances which I have noted in the course of dealing in detail with
the cases considered, renders the conclusion unavoidable that the phenomena
in question were actually due to fraudulent arrangement."
On the basis of Dr. Hodgson's
findings, the Committee of the S.P.R. declared: "For our own part we
regard her neither as the mouthpiece of hidden seers nor as a mere vulgar
adventuress; we think that she has achieved a title to permanent
remembrance as one of the most accomplished and interesting impostors in
In many ways, it can be said
that the joke was on the S.P.R. The Theosophical Society grew to become a
world-wide movement, with thousands of followers. To this day, the
Theosophical Society represents -- although not in her former glory -- a
driving force of esoteric insight.
The publication of the report
which followed the printing of the Coulomb letters in the Madras
Christian Magazine, created an immense sensation. The first result of
the exposure was that Colonel Olcott, whose
honesty was not impugned by the report, banished Mme. Blavatsky from Adyar. The proofs of her guilt were overwhelming. The
defense was built up with great difficulties. "Dark Forces" in
the "Beyond" tending to discredit the Theosophical Society had to
be called in for explanatory purposes and the case looked almost hopeless.
Nevertheless, Mrs. Annie
Besant, who became Mme. Blavatsky's successor, and A. P. Sinnett valiantly met the task. Dr. Hodgson answered
and insisted on his conclusions. In the literature that followed, a book,
written by Solovyoff, in 1892, shortly after Mme.
Blavatsky's death, is the most interesting, as it claims that Mme.
Blavatsky acknowledged her fraudulent practices to the author.
Despite this barrage of
insults and claims of fraud, Mme. Blavatsky succeeded in living down every
attack during her life, continued her work, gained many new adherents to
Theosophy and published a stupendous work, The Secret Doctrine,
which was mostly written in a supernormal condition.
Whatever views the researchers
had of Mme. Blavatsky, she was a most remarkable woman, who did possess
psychic powers, even though they may have fallen short of the miraculous
feats she constantly claimed for herself.
Having said this, I must state
that much honor and recognition for the Theosphical
Society's growth must be given to Annie Besant. It was she -- along with
Charles Leadbeater -- who was very instrumental in promoting the wealth of
insight given in The Secret Doctrine. Without her devotion and
tireless efforts, I believe the Theosphical
Society would have died a quiet death many years ago.
It is unfortunate that most of
the phenomena surrounding Mme. Blavatsky were produced under circumstances
wide open to suspicion. Furthermore, the phenomena was of a different order
from those of the traditional Spiritualist medium.
There has generally been a
rather wide gap between Theosophy and Modern Spiritualism, one which still
seems to separate the two. Spiritualists tend to disregard Theosophy, while
Theosophists tend to exhibit a condescending attitude towards
Spiritualists. To me, this is very sad. As a longtime and avid student of
both schools of thought, I find that, together, Theosophy and Spiritualism
offer great insight into life's many mysteries; one really does complement
the other very nicely.
To me, traditional Modern
Spiritualism falls short of revealing esoteric truth, while Theosophy tends
to shut the door on Spirit contact and communication. Each lacks what the
The story of Mme. Blavatsky is
both very wondrous and very sad. Regardless of what one feels about her or
about the movement which she founded, Mme. Blavatsky refused and still
refuses to be ignored.
Books written by Mme.
Blavatsky include: Isis Unveiled, 1877; The Secret Doctrine,
1887-1897; The Key to Theosophy, 1889; The Voice of the Silence,
1899; Gems from the East, 1890; From the Caves and Jungles of
Hindustan, 1892; Nightmare Tales, 1892; The Theosophical
Glossary, 1892; and A Modern Panarion,
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