Thursday, July 22, 2010

H.P. Blavatsky, Medium?

There is another aspect to the discussion about Olcott’s People from the Other World and its ramifications for HPB that is worth noting. At the end of his book, on page 453, Olcott makes the statement: “I gradually discovered that this lady [Mme. Blavatsky]…is one of the most remarkable mediums in the world. Although he goes on to say: At the same time, her mediumship is totally different from that of any other person I ever met; for, instead of being controlled by spirits to do their will, it is she who seems to control them to do her bidding,” the label would stick and the idea was introduced.

There is no doubting that HPB had displayed psychic abilities in her youth. Her sister, Vera, gives an inventory of the feats she was capable of (see The Theosophist, May 1991, p. 292). But from the time of her meeting Olcott on October 14, 1874, when we start having a week by week reporting of her doings, details of her functioning as a medium, that is, going into a trance and all the conditions that were considered necessary for it, i.e., dim lights, etc., are hard to come by. She seems to have dispensed with these conditions in the production of her phenomena, and, as Olcott observed: instead of being controlled by spirits to do their will, it is she who seems to control them to do her bidding, which would make her something other than a medium.

Olcott was later to redact his words, for D.D. Home, in his 1877 Lights and Shadows of Spiritualism, gives a letter from Olcott to him in 1876 where he clarifies his statement: I called her, in writing my book, “one of the most remarkable mediums in the world,” he says of Blavatsky. At that very time she denied the possession of mediumship, but, thinking I knew better, I assumed to classify her, without her consent, as I did.

Yet in Old Diary Leaves 1, Olcott indicates that Blavatsky seemed to exhibit various “alter egos” during the process of writing Isis Unveiled: Her pen would be flying over the page, when she would suddenly stop, look out into space with the vacant eye of the clairvoyant seer, shorten her vision as though looking at something held invisibly in the air before her, and begin copying on her paper what she saw. The quotation finished, her eyes would resume her natural expression, and she would go on writing until again stopped by a similar interruption

Blavatsky preferred the term “mediator” to “medium” when referring to this function. The subject is one that deserves further examination. One of the few attempts at exploring this thread in the light of occultism is E.J. Langford Garstin’s “The Use of Trance in Spiritual Development” in the March 1932 Occult Review, where he differentiates between mediumistic and hypnotic trance—“the person entering either of these states is in the very vast majority of cases totally unaware of anything that happens during his or her state”—and what he refers to as “mantic trance,” the form of exaltation used by the ancient theurgists. Readers can perhaps add to this.

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