The University of Sydney hosted a two day Conference on The Legacies of Theosophy: Unveiling the Mysteries of the Creative Imaginary on Oct. 1-2, 2010. It drew together academics from a number of fields including Garry Trompf, Vras Karalis, Chris Hartney, Michael Gomes and others. HPB was mentioned throughout and we hope to present some of the abstracts of the papers featured, starting with Michael Gomes’ “ H.P. Blavatsky: A Reappraisal,” which was the presentation that focused most on her:
Any discussion of modern Theosophy must begin with the position of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, often referred to as the "mother of the New Age” movement, an amorphous set of practices that became popular in the 1980s and '90s. But her contribution goes deeper than this. In trying to understand her significance this paper will examine four areas where her impact can be delineated: 1, the transformation of nineteenth century spiritualism; 2, the import and export of esotericism in India; 3, the creation of a new vocabulary of the spiritual; and 4, her survival as a cultural icon. As so much contrary and conflicting information still circulates about Blavatsky, this study tries to raise the veil of mystery that too often has obscured her real influence.
Blavatsky came to public attention while involved with the spiritualist movement so prevalent in the 1870s. This movement attracted a wide range of people, including John Smith, when he was a professor at the University of Sydney. He like many others looked to spiritualism as offering scientific proof for the survival of the personality. Blavatsky’s explanation of elementals, astral bodies, and the persona of the entranced medium, did not meet with acceptance, and she transferred her sphere of action to India. Much has been made of her popularizing Indian spirituality, but she also helped bring ideas about western esotericism to India, and her Theosophical Society attained its largest membership there, one of the few non-Indian spiritual groups to be accorded such favor. Although Blavatsky's writings have been in circulation for over a century there has been no concise overview of the key philosophical points of her contribution. This paper will also provide such analysis, most important considering Blavatsky's place as a source of the modern esoteric revival.
Notable in Gomes’s presentation was his emphasis on Blavatsky’s starting her public work in Cairo. Egypt, before the foundation of the Theosophical Society in New York in 1875, and he gave much new material. In the discussion that followed, Vras Karalis, who is Greek, mentioned that he had discovered an account in one of the Greek newspapers dealing with the shipwreck that led to Blavatsky’s going to Cairo. The papers that were given at the Conference will eventually published in book form, and we look forward to this.