Sunday, July 18, 2010

October 14, 1874

The interest generated by the post of July 11th, “Henry Olcott, the Eddys and Materialization Phenomena,” and its significance for theosophists calls for some further comment here.

The first volume of HPB’s press scrapbooks documenting the history of the Theosophical Society starts with a clipping from Olcott’s newspaper account from the Eddy séances, announcing: The arrival of a Russian lady of distinguished birth and rare educational and natural endowments, on the 14th of October was an important event in the history of the Chittenden manifestations. HPB annotated this with the words: The curtain is raised. — H.S.O.’s acquaintance on October 14, 1874, with H.P.B. at Chittenden. H. S. Olcott is a — Rabid Spiritualist, and H. P. Blavatsky is an occultist — one who laughs at the supposed agency of Spirits! To which Olcott added: (but all the same pretends to be one herself).

So (according to Blavatsky’s narrative) the genesis of the modern theosophical movement begins with this meeting on October 14, 1874. The full narrative can be found in Olcott’s 1875 People From the Other World and in the first volume of his Old Diary Leaves. More recently the events of that period have been the subject of a novel by Greg Guma, Spirits of Desire, published in 2004 by Maverick Books of Winooski, Vermont. Here is how he tells the story of how Helena met Henry:

From the instant she had seen him, Helena sensed that destiny was inexorably propelling her toward Henry Olcott. But destiny without will was surrender to fate—and she wasn't one to surrender in any situation. As a result, once she knew where he was, the only real issue was choosing precisely the right moment for them to meet.

The moment finally presented itself in mid-October, as she surveyed the scene at the Eddy farm. Although she kept him under surveillance once he entered the dining room, she wasn't ready yet to admit her interest; their first meeting should seem like his idea. And so, when his eyes finally settled on her that afternoon, she looked away.

Jane Austen he’s not. Guma, described as “an American progressive journalist and author,” has posted some of this material on his blog, Maverick Media, which can be read here.

If it were not for Olcott’s account, the story this family of mediums in rural Vermont, especially that of Horatio Eddy (1842-1922) and his brother William Eddy (1832-1932), would never have attracted so much notice, and their story after Olcott’s departure can only be sketchily given. In the end, the publicity they received was not to their benefit, and after retiring from exhibiting their mediumistic powers, they returned to their life as farmers.

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