Thursday, July 24, 2014

Blavatsky and Alexandra David-Néel


In their “Persons of Interest” series, the site The Thinker’s Garden“a place to uncover Knowledge, marvel at strange Sights, and approach the Mysterious. It is not an academe, though we hope it will stimulate intellectual curiosity and it is not a forum, though topical discussion is encouraged. It is in its most basic sense an ambulatory and storehouse of ideas”—looks at the lives of Alexandra David-Néel and Helena Blavatsky.

The occult revivalist, feminist, and orientalist Helena Blavatsky was several years older than Néel and shared a strong and abiding attraction to Eastern mysticism. When she was a child, the young aristocrat appeased her bibliophilic appetite by constantly immersing herself in the volumes of esoteric literature within her great-grandfather’s library.… Critics to this day still question the veracity of her teachings and narratives; nevertheless as the patron and founder of the Theosophical Society, Blavatsky presided over one of the first European organizations to transmit Indian philosophy to Western audiences.

Blavatsky in Dublin, Reviews


The Irish Times of July 5 reviews the A Modern Panarion: Glimpses of Occultism in Dublin exhibition now on view at Dublin’s Hugh Lane Gallery. The piece, “Delving into the arcane: the legacy of Æ’s hidden murals,” looks at Blavatsky’s influence on Irish arts and the recent rediscovery of some of Æ’s theosophically inspired murals

Established in New York in 1875 by a small group of people centred on Helena Blavatsky, Henry Steel Olcott and Dublin-born William Quan Judge, the society held that a body of ancient, hidden knowledge lay behind all the world’s religions and, similarly, that hidden laws lay beyond the bounds of conventional scientific thought.

In Ireland, George Russell (Æ), James M Pryse and others set up a branch in Dublin, based at number 3 Ely Place. “It was a kind of commune and in many ways idealistic, even utopian,” says [the curator Pádraic E.] Moore. “The theosophists were, and are, completely non-sectarian. They believe in universal freedom and equality.”

The Wall Street Journal in its review focuses more on the artists that comprise the show, though noting that

The popularity of Theosophy in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries was considerable, rapidly attracting a community of adherents worldwide from amongst the many disenchanted people who sought spiritual guidance and vital inspiration in an increasingly secular and industrialized world.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Blavatsky in Dublin


Dublin’s Hugh Lane Gallery announces the opening of a new exhibition influenced by Blavatsky. Titled A Modern Panarion: Glimpses of Occultism in Dublin:

AE's Theosophical murals at the lodge
of the Theosophical Society in Dublin, 1895

This exhibition features contemporary artists whose works resonate with ideas central to the belief system of The Theosophical Society. The Society was founded in New York in 1875, espousing a doctrine synthesised from esoteric religious, philosophical, and scientific ideas and aspiring toward the formation of a universal community in which all religions, creeds, and races were equal. The popularity of Theosophy in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries was considerable, rapidly attracting a community of adherents worldwide from amongst the many disenchanted people who sought spiritual guidance and vital inspiration in an increasingly secular and industrialized world.

As one reviewer noted:   The ideas posited by A Modern Panarion, then, are not so much that a Theosophical Society is alive and kicking in Irish contemporary art, but that the traces of ideas raised by the Theosophists have perhaps been assimilated or passed down via pop culture. A lot of the Society’s thoughts on religion and philosophy would eventually resurface in new guises over the course of the 20th century – perhaps most notably during the counter-cultural movements of the 1960s, and the science fiction of the 1970s. Through these third parties, connections can be drawn to the artists participating in the show.

The exhibition takes its name from a volume of Blavatsky articles issued soon after her death, A Modern Panarion. Its title comes from the Greek, meaning “Medicine Chest,” a famous work by the fourth century bishop of Salamis, Cyprus, Epiphanius, intended as a “stock of remedies to offset the poisons of heresy.”

The exhibition is curated by Padraic E. Moore, who has issued an accompanying publication To Seek Where Shadows Are that chronicles of the emergence of the Theosophical Society’s Dublin Lodge. A Modern Panarion: Glimpses of Occultism in Dublin will run from June 19 to September 7, 2014.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Mondrian and Blavatsky


The online edition of London’s Financial Times for June 15 reviews the exhibition “Mondrian and his Studios” at the Tate Liverpool. One of the draws is a replica of Mondrian’s studio in Paris from the 1920s. Looking for influences, the reviewer says:

Mondrian’s chosen faith was theosophy. Championed at the turn of the 20th century by Madame Blavatsky and Annie Besant, it was fallen upon by a clutch of artists who interpreted its credo – that the divine essence of reality was a union of spirit and matter – as a manifesto for an art that aimed at universal enlightenment. 

However esoteric it sounds, theosophy made for masterpieces. (Kandinsky was a fellow traveller.) It captured Mondrian’s imagination in 1909, while he was still in Amsterdam. In 1911 he left for Paris and his spiritual vision found its secular medium in cubism’s crystalline dissections.

“Mondrian And His Studios”, which commemorates the 70th anniversary of the Dutch artist’s death, is the largest UK exhibition of work by the abstract painter. It will be on view from June 6 to October 5, 2014.

Tate Liverpool’s recreation of Mondrian's studio in Paris

Blavatsky Related


The Lilly Library is the rare books, manuscripts, and special collections library of the Indiana University Libraries, Bloomington. The Library’s summer exhibition, “Spiritualists, Sorcerers, and Stage Magicians: Magic and the Supernatural”, “offers a view of how ideas of the occult, the unseen, and the supernatural have persisted and transformed throughout history, from the Middle Ages to the 21st century. Indeed, if popular entertainment is any indication, it seems evident that our interest in ghosts, ghost-hunters, witches, and devils has never really abated, despite the rationalism and disenchantment of the modern age.”

Highlights of the exhibition include 17th-century treatises on witchcraft; a wide array of texts representing the complex social networks of spiritualist mediums, stage magicians, and psychical researchers in 19th-century Britain and America; issues from the Lilly's newly-acquired archive of Weird Tales magazine; and correspondence between book collector Montgomery Evans and notorious occultist Aleister Crowley.

The exhibition will run from June 2 to August 30, with a special reception on Saturday, June 21 from 6:00-8:00 PM.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Blavatsky News


*   The Jamaica Gleaner of Kingston, Jamaica, carries an extended look at the subject of reincarnation by Dr Glenville Ashby, “a social critic and president of Global Interfaith Council, NYC”. In Part 1, which appeared on May 25, he says of the subject:  “Interestingly, this doctrine has seeped into Western religious teachings, courtesy of Helena Petrova Blavatsky, who founded the Theosophical Society, after having spent many years in India.”

In Part 2, published June 1, he talks to a medium who lets him know: “And of Helena Blavatsky, the woman who single-handedly popularised reincarnation in the West, Ross says, ‘She has since communicated from the spirit world that she had erred in her belief in a fallacious doctrine.’” (!)

 
*   A Kindle edition of the Russian text of Vera Zhelihovskaya’s Truth About Helen Blavatsky is now available for those so interested. The text was initially published in the St. Petersburg paper Rebus in 1883 and deals with Blavatsky’s early life in Russia. An English translation in Mme. Blavatsky’s handwriting is in the archives at the international headquarters of the Theosophical Society, at Adyar, Chennai, India. Blavatsky’s translation was issued serially in The Theosophist, May to December 1991. Vera Zhelihovskaya was Blavatsky’s younger sister. 


*   The blog of the British arts and culture magazine Aesthetica reviews The Strange City, an installation by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov at The Monumenta, Grand Palais, Paris:

Inspiration for this soaring colour-changing installation takes its roots from the theory of the Russian musician, Alexander Scriabin, who created a colour organ, “‪clavier à lumières”, appropriated the synesthetic system, and who was influenced by Newton’s Opticks and theosophical theories of Jean Delville and Helena Blavatsky.

Of the Soviet-born American conceptual artist, the piece notes:  At the end of 1960s and beginning of 1970s he followed the interest in transcendental and irrational questions, Russian theosophy of 19th and 20th centuries. Moscow and Leningrad artistic communities were gripped by the thought of art as a medium of purely religious and philosophical ideas, and at that time Kabakov started his series of white paintings, where an artwork becomes a screen for transcendental light projection.

So it comes as no surprise that among the spaces included are” Manas” and “The Centre of Cosmic Energy”. “Manas is a reconstruction of a mystical Tibetian city, existing, as artists suppose, on two levels – the mundane and the celestial, and surrounded by mountains, which makes communication with other worlds possible.” It will be on view from May 10 to June 22, 2014.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Blavatsky in Hollywood


The Los Angeles Neighborhoods and Real Estate guide, Curbed LA, looks at “The Creation of Beachwood Canyon’s Theosophist ‘Dreamland’” that lasted from 1912 to 1924 when the community moved to Ojai, California, where they still reside.

The Theosophists were dreamers. “Theosophy, in its abstract meaning, is Divine Wisdom,” wrote movement founder Helena P. Blavatsky, who claimed to be a “missionary of ancient knowledge.” The Society soon became popular with educated, middle-to-upper class freethinkers in Europe, America, and India. 

Established in the Hollywood Hills as Krotona, “the community grew quickly along more haphazard lines, with architecture reflecting the Theosophist's ‘Eastern’ inclinations.” The rest of the piece covers examples of the architectural styles that have survived. With the departure of the group, “Most of the buildings at Krotona were quickly converted into apartments or continued on as private homes, and many still stand today, in various stages of repair. Crammed between the mish-mash of later Beachwood Canyon development, they still delight the eye and seem to be just a bit out of place.”

The history of the Krotona Theosophists has been devotedly chronicled in the volumes of Joseph Ross on the subject.


Krotona architecture today
A house on Temple Hill Drive designed by Marie Russak Hotchener