Thursday, April 8, 2010

HPB in Cuba

The Havana Times of April 6 carries an article about “Women Freemasons in Cuba.” The author, Alfredo Fernandez Rodriguez, a professor teaching the history of philosophy at the University of Havana, was surprised to learn about this phenomenon.

I was even more astonished to find that women such as Flora Tristan (1803-1844) and Helena P. Blavatsky (1831-1891) were also Masons: the first was a French activist for women’s emancipation, workers rights and against the death penalty; and the second a Russian-American who was a founder of the Theosophical Society. Upon Blavatsky’s death, José Marti dedicated a short writing to her.

HPB’s “Masonic Diploma” survives in the archives of the TS, Adyar, and is reproduced as a frontispiece to Volume 2 of C. Jinarajadasa’s H.P.B. Speaks. Conferred upon her in 1877 by John Yarker of England, it was for the Rite of Adoption, a Masonic branch operated in France for women since the 18th century. Although she was accorded the highest grade, Crowned Princess, she would not have been allowed to participate in regular (male) Masonic groups.

The real surprise in this is the mention of José Marti writing about her when she died. Marti (1853-1895), described as “a poet, an essayist, a journalist, a revolutionary philosopher, a translator, a professor, a publisher, and a political theorist,” was a leading literary figure in Latin American modernism. That he wrote something dedicated to HPB is worth noting, though he is better remembered in the English-speaking world for his verses to the song “Guantanamera.” He lived in New York from 1880 to 1894. The influence of HPB’s ideas on Latin American literature has never been fully explored though many of the modernist writers shared similar ideas such as “correspondences” and were familiar with her books.

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