Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010: The Year in Review

When Blavatsky News started a year ago, there was no one source for finding current information about Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, though there were sites that dwelt with her past. After the publication last year of Michael Gomes’ abridging of The Secret Doctrine for Penguin (a book whose global accessibility was remarkable for any text by Blavatsky—one could see it at the Higginbotham’s bookshop at Chennai airport in India, or at London’s mega bookshop Foyles, or at the Borders book chain in America, usually paired with Gomes’s other abridgement, Isis Unveiled) and a rise of interest in Blavatsky, it led us some of us to believe that this elevation of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky in the public consciousness was worth documenting.

It was a timely move. The appearance of references to Blavatsky in so many wide and various places, as our coverage this year has shown, even surprised us. And we thank all those who have contributed to this project.

Although only one-tenth of all references to Blavatsky reported on this year came from theosophical sources—an indication of her pervasive influence—theosophists proved our loudest critics. And we soon learned, as G.R.S. Mead pointed out in the London Occult Review of May 1927, that “It is always easier for fanaticism in ‘Theosophical’ matters to regard an honest opponent as an unscrupulous ‘enemy’ than to give up long-cherished convictions—no matter how flimsily founded.”

There were posts on theosophical sites reprimanding us for pointing out what we thought were flaws in their portrayal of HPB, which we felt misrepresented her, and if implemented would have enhanced their position. Imagine, being condemned by theosophists for wanting to improve the image of Blavatsky! Truly we are in the Kali yuga. They forget, or perhaps never knew, that “The office of Teacher was always considered as a very solemn and responsible one among our Asiatic ancestors, and the pupil was always enjoined to obedience and loyalty. Saith the Scripture: ‘He who wipeth not away the filth with which the parent’s body may have been defiled by an enemy, neither loves the parent nor honors himself.’”

There were other theosophists who felt it their business to tell us not only what we should and shouldn’t be doing at this site, but how we should run our lives. We thought such attitudes went out of fashion with the 1960s, but see it has found a home among theosophists. This is a very telling position to adopt, especially in a movement that has always stressed its having no dogma or creed forced on its adherents, even going to the point where one organization passed a resolution urging its members to uphold “Freedom of Thought” for the beliefs of others. We suppose it is now freedom of thought as long as you keep it to yourself. Or freedom of thought without expression. HPB warned that “every such attempt at the Theosophical Society has hitherto ended in failure, because, sooner or later, it has degenerated in to sect, [and] set up hard and fast dogmas of its own.”  Once you start condemning people for how they choose to live their lives you are betraying your own ideals and those that Blavatsky worked for. It also shows a lack of awareness of how other parts of the theosophical movement work, and even how esoteric groups function.

But, as we are happy to learn from any source, these attitudes have revealed to us why, when Blavatsky’s name recognition has reached such a level on the social indicator, it has not translated to adherents for the organized parts of the movement. If anything, membership is declining precipitously. And in America where these critics are, “membership in the American Section [of the Theosophical Society] has fallen by approximately two hundred and fifty members” in the past year, according to the latest information supplied by the international President at the Society’s recent convention in Adyar. Perhaps these critics should learn from Annie Besant’s words, when she was editor of Lucifer with HPB,  “Where members have shrunk from their defence of their Teacher, the Society has languished; where they have loyally supported her, the Society has flourished.”—“The Theosophical Society and H.P.B.,” Lucifer, March 1891, p. 61.

These people put us in the unenviable position, as one reader wrote in, of “having to choose between letting prominent charlatans mislead their audiences unchallenged, or else elevating them by engaging their blather and forgoing better conversations.” And all because of our holding up the mirror of truth and showing the ugly distortion it reflected.

We would remind such critics, who consider themselves theosophists, of Blavatsky’s words:

The efforts of those members who benefit the Cause should never be impeded by criticism on the part of others who do nothing, but all should be encouraged and as much help given as is possible, even if that assistance be limited through circumstances to mere encouragement. Every sincerely based work for theosophy will bear good fruit, no matter how inappropriate it may appear in the eyes of those members who have set to themselves and everybody else only one definite plan of action.

And you want to be an occultist?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Atlantis and the Cycles of Time

Atlantis and the Cycles of Time: Prophecies, Traditions, and Occult Revelations by Joscelyn Godwin; Inner Traditions, November 18, 2010, 448 pages, paperback. Joscelyn Godwin has turned his attention to the subject of Atlantis, and has written a new book about the various theories put forth by many of the great occultists and esotericists of the 19th and 20th centuries. An overview by him is available on Graham Hancock’s site. Dealing with Blavatsky and the Theosophical contribution, he notes:

Modern Theosophy has passed through two distinct eras, often mistaken for a single one. The earlier one is represented by the writings of H. P. Blavatsky and her contemporaries; the later, by Charles Webster Leadbeater and Annie Besant. Blavatsky made some remarks on Atlantis and prehistoric cultures in Isis Unveiled (1877), but it was a series of letters signed by the Mahatmas Koot Hoomi and Morya that outlined the definitive scheme of human evolution from the occultist point of view. Blavatsky amplified it in The Secret Doctrine (1888), which chronicles five “root races” that have nothing to do with the colored races of French Atlantology, but are large-scale stages of human evolution. They begin with humanity in an ethereal or gaseous state (the first two root races) and devolve through a gradual coagulation and division into sexes (the third, called Lemurian) into full physicality with the fourth root race (Atlantean). With the fifth (Aryan: our current state), we are on the long return journey to spiritualization.

The rest of his reflections on the subject can be read here.

Lucifer Online!

The Theosophical Network site has now uploaded the first ten volumes of Lucifer, 1887-1892, the volumes that carry H.P. Blavatsky’s name as editor. Selected volumes of the journal have been available on line, but this is the first time that this much has been accessible. Hopefully it will encourage further research in this area now that this source material is so readily available. Thanks to the work of Marc Demarest and Joe Fulton it can be accessed here. [Update] The link at the Theosophical Network site no longer gives access to
Lucifer. Marc Demarest has archived the first 20 volumes, from 1887 to 1897, at The International Association for the Preservation of Spiritualist and Occult Periodicals.

The Theosophical Society in Australia has indexed the journal’s run and it can be seen here. A 224 page topical index, compiled by Ted G. Davy for volumes 1 to 20 (1887-1897) of Lucifer, was issued by the Edmonton Theosophical Society in Canada in 1997.

Unlike The Theosophist, where Blavatsky was restrained by Olcott, in Lucifer she was able to express herself more volubly than before, as shown in some of her more forceful editorials during this time. "We hope next month to give in Lucifer a detailed examination of this pretentious volume and to exhibit, by quotations and parallel passages, the outrageous character of its wholesale plagiarisms and the emptiness of its claims to authority," she wrote in one. And her last written article, “My Books,” took on a critic who tried to slander and misrepresent her: "I will not name him. There are names which carry a moral stench about them, unfit for any decent journal or publication. His words and deeds emanate from the cloaca maxima of the Universe of matter and have to return to it, without touching me."

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Theosophist Online

The Theosophical Network site has uploaded the first six volumes of The Theosophist, 1879-1885, the volumes that carry H.P. Blavatsky’s name as editor. Selected volumes of the journal have been available on line, but this is the first time that this much has been accessible. Hopefully it will encourage further research in this area now that this source material is so readily available, thanks to the work of David Reigle, Marc Demarest, and Joe Fulton. There are plans to make Blavatsky’s London journal, Lucifer, similarly available online. The first six [update: now 14] volumes of The Theosophist (which is still published from Madras/Chennai, and which recently celebrated its 130th year), can accessed here.

[Update] The link at the Theosophical Network site no longer gives access to The Theosophist. Marc Demarest has archived the first 22 volumes, from 1879 to 1901, at The International Association for the Preservation of Spiritualist and Occult Periodicals.

The Theosophical Society in Australia has indexed the journal’s run up to 2005, and it can be seen here. A 246 page topical index for the first six volumes of The Theosophist also exists, issued by the Edmonton Theosophical Society in Canada in 1998.

An Age of Radical Seeking

The December 23, 2010, Huffington Post has an interesting overview of the philosophical current that Mme. Blavatsky was part of. The writer, Kingsley Dennis, notes in “An Age of Radical Seeking (Part One)”:

The modern world has witnessed a different type of consciousness emerging over the past 150 years, a post-Industrial Revolution cognitive mind. New technological innovations that helped to alter our perceptions of the dimensions of space and time in the world began to birth a psychological consciousness; a consciousness that wanted to look beyond the borders and horizons of the physical frontier. The end of the 19th century was also a significant period in the rise of spiritualism and mediums, general interest in esoteric matters, and the public emergence of occult movements.

Around the same time as the interest in spiritualism was peaking, the Theosophy Society was established in New York City by Helena Blavatsky, Henry Olcott, and William Judge in 1875. Theosophy heralded a revival in western occultism and in perennial wisdom. It was also a forerunner to later movements that sought to bring eastern teachings and traditions to a western audience. Theosophy has had a large impact upon western mysticism as it brought forth many personages who later found their own individual channels for teaching, most notably Annie Besant, Alice Bailey, Krishnamurti, and Rudolf Steiner (who went on to establish the Anthroposophical Society). By the end of the 19th century, spirits were well and truly out of the closet.

The rest of the piece can be read here.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

American Veda

American Veda: From Emerson and the Beatles to Yoga and Meditation How Indian Spirituality Changed the West by Philip Goldberg; published by Harmony Books, an imprint of Crown Publ. Group, Nov. 2, 2010, $26.00, 416 pp. Foreword by Huston Smith.

Chapter 3, Section: The Madame and the Mahatmas, pp. 30-32, gives a fair approximation of Blavatsky’s life (except for the sentence: “When her second husband died she left her homeland for good”), stressing her contribution to the Western understanding of Eastern thought.

She died in 1891, a controversial figure considered by some to be a spiritual genius and even a saint, and by others to be a charlatan or a self-deluded poseur. The hundreds of books written about her have not settled the argument, but there is no doubting her impact. “Blavatsky played a significant role in wedding Western esotericism and Eastern religious traditions and in popularizing such concepts as maya, karma, and meditation,” says scholar of religion Harry Oldmeadow.

The chapter then goes on to discuss two individuals whom the author feels were influenced by Theosophy: M. Gandhi and J. Krishnamurti. The rest of the book is a fairly straightforward retelling of the impact of Indian thought on and through a select group of Americans (to say, “on American culture,” would be an overstatement). Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Eddy, Blavatsky, New Thought, Vivekananda, Yogananda, the Beats, the Beatles, Muktananda, Bhaktivedanta, Iyengar, Satchidananda, Deepak Chopra, and others are just some of the names the reader will come across. Since this is a book meant for a mass audience, it lacks the in-depth apparatus that one would find in the works of Diana Eek, Carl Jackson (whose 1981 The Oriental Religions and American Thought: Nineteenth-Century Explorations remains an excellent resource), Thomas Tweed’s similar work on Buddhism in America, and that of Robert Ellwood. The book is blessed by the addition of a selection of photographs of some of the people mentioned, an adequate portrayal of the level of celebrity that Eastern spiritual teachers have attained.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Theosophical Writing

Without much fanfare the site, Theosophical Writing, has been uploading a mass of early theosophical literature, mainly from the series Theosophical Siftings. In November 46 items were made available. Theosophical Siftings was an attempt to reach a wider audience through worthwhile reprints from theosophical periodicals. Issued by the Theosophical Publishing Company of London from 1888 to 1895, the series eventually comprised seven volumes of eighteen pamphlets. The subjects cover a wide array, not only dealing with theosophy, but also hermeticism, kabbalah, and even giving one of the earliest layouts for reading the tarot. Theosophical Writing faithfully reproduces the illustrations, as can be seen here.

There is something for everyone’s taste. A Sketch of the Theosophic Organization Compiled from the "Theosophist" and Official Reports by Anonymous from Theosophical Siftings, Volume 2, 1889, one of the earliest attempts of the organization to define itself, yields this tidbit:

The finger of historic prophecy points to Russia as the home of the sixth Sub-Race, and to America as the cradle of the sixth Root-Race.

Editorial intervention is at a minimum, such as suggesting the identity of the person who wrote as Nizida was “likely Louise Off.” Theosophical Writing can be accessed here.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Mondrian/De Stijl Exhibition

Paris is digging out from under the most snow it has had since 1987. Traffic has been a mess, and many people were stranded on the highways. Since this may limit those who were planning to go to the Mondrian/De Stijl exhibition at the Centre Pompidou, we are happy to make available the Press Pack for the event. Not only is there an outline of the exhibition but also a listing of related events that will be held in conjunction with it, which can be accessed here.

Hindu Responses to Darwinism

Science & Education, Volume 19 (2010), Numbers 6-8, has an interesting article by C. Mackenzie Brown, “Hindu Responses to Darwinism: Assimilation and Rejection in a Colonial and Post-Colonial Context.” He posits “Modern Vedic Evolutionism” as

one of a number of types of Hindu responses to Darwinism clustering at one end of a spectrum arrayed according to the degree of their acceptance or rejection of Darwinian evolution. Modern Vedic Evolutionism, as I use the term, encompasses a variety of responses to Darwinism that are characterized by two general claims: on the one hand, evolution, including Darwinian evolution, can be found in the ancient Vedic literature, and on the other, Darwinian evolution—while accepted as true on some level—is found to be incomplete in the light of Vedic revelation.

The roots of Modern Vedic Evolutionism can probably be traced back to the founder of Theosophy, Madam Helena Blavatsky, who saw in the ancient Hindu mythology of the ten avatars or incarnations of the god Visnu an anticipation of Darwin’s theory. The incarnations, in their traditional order as found in such Puranas as the Bhagavata, progress from a fish, to an amphibian (a turtle), to a mammal (a boar), to a half-human (a mythic man-lion), to a dwarf (an early form of humankind), and then through various human forms representing stages of cultural and spiritual evolution. [K.C.] Sen developed his own version of avataric evolutionism apparently inspired by Blavatsky.—p. 715.

The reference is to Blavatsky’s Isis Unveiled, 2: 274-75. Brown includes an informative chart on page 714, comparing and contrasting the responses of various figures like Vivekananda, Dayananada Saraswati, Tagore, and Aurobindo, which can be seen here.

Madame Blavatsky and the Birth of Indian Nationalism

Equinox Publishing Ltd, an independent academic publisher based in London, will be releasing Isaac Lubelsky’s Celestial India: Madame Blavatsky and the Birth of Indian Nationalism next May. According to the product notes:

In 1917 Annie Besant (1847-1933), a white Englishwoman, was elected president of the Indian National Congress, the body which, under the guidance of Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948), would later lead India to independence. Besant—in her earlier career an active atheist and a socialist journalist—was from 1907 till her death the president of the Theosophical Society, an international spiritual movement whose headquarters' location in Madras symbolized its belief in India as the world's spiritual heart. This book deals with the contribution of the Theosophical Society to the rise of Indian nationalism and seeks to restore it to its proper place in the history of ideas, both with regard to its spiritual doctrine and the sources on which it drew, as well as its role in giving rise to the New Age movement of the 20th century. The book is the first to show how 19th century Orientalist study dramatically affected the rise of the Theosophical ideology, and specifically demonstrate the impact of the work of the Anglo-German scholar, Friedrich Max Muller (1833-1900) on Mme Blavatsky (1831-1891), the founder of the Theosophical Society.

Isaac Lubelsky teaches New-Age thought at Tel Aviv University (the comparative Religion Program), and modern Indian history at Tel Aviv University and Haifa University (Departments of East Asian Studies). He is a research-fellow at the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism, Tel Aviv University, where he coordinates (since 2006) the Marriane and Ernest Pieper Research Seminar on worldwide Racism. His fields of research are diverse, and include the history of East/West encounters during the last three centuries, alongside the history of occultism, esotericism, and modern New-Age religions.

Annie Besant, and, of course, A.O. Hume are the names of Theosophists most associated with the rise of Indian nationalism, so it will be interesting see how well Lubelsky succeeds. In Indian portrayals, the sadistic British official is now a stock figure, as shown in the Tamil blockbuster released this year, Madrasapattinam, which takes place in Madras on the eve of Indian independence. The film opened and stayed at No.1 in Chennai box office charts for 3 weeks. Or 2005’s equally successful Mangal Pandey: The Rising (Indian title) or The Rising: Ballad of Mangal Pandey, based on the story of a Sepoy whose actions helped spark the Indian rebellion of 1857.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Blavatsky and Friends at the Centre Pompidou

The new Mondrian/ De Stijl exhibition that opened December 1 at the Centre Pompidou in Paris has brought Mme. Blavatsky name to the fore again. The exhibition firmly places Mondrian’s work in perspective (notably lacking in his paintings). It starts by focusing on the philosophical basis for the De Stijl (The Style) movement: theosophy, a belief popular in the early 20th century, which held that the universe is underpinned by geometrical principles applicable to all cultures. Members of the De Stijl movement sought a “universal and rational pictorial language” to illustrate it, one reviewer noted. The show offers glimpses into the lives of Mondrian and his De Stijl colleagues, notably Theo Van Doesburg, through photographs, letters, publications and a reconstruction of Mondrian’s Paris studio (pictured below).

There was actually an in-depth introduction to Mondrian and the De Stijl movement, overlooked as example of Blavatsky’s influence, by the local TFI News, which can be seen here. It gives separate chronologies for Mondrian and the De Stijl movement. The exhibition continues until March 22, 2011.

Cambridge Library Collection - Spiritualism and Esoteric Knowledge

Cambridge University Press has announced that it will be issuing a forthcoming Cambridge Library Collection - Spiritualism and Esoteric Knowledge (also listed as the Cambridge Library Collection on Magic and the Supernatural), starting in January 2011.  Some twenty books, most published in the nineteenth century, will be released over the next three months. The initial set of titles include Charles Mackay’s Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions, Joseph Ennemoser’s The History of Magic, Daniel Dunglas Home Incidents in My Life, William Howitt’s The History of the Supernatural in All Ages and Nations, Sir Walter Scott’s Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft, Richard Bucke’s Cosmic Consciousness, and Annie Besant’s An Autobiography. Some of these would have been immediately familiar to Mme. Blavatsky, as she also cites them. Prices range from $20. U.S. to $50. U.S. The list can be seen here.

Not only are older titles like these being recognized again, but the very way we approach these texts appears to be changing. New resources in the field of research are being developed in the area of Victorian studies. As Dan Cohen notes in his keynote address, Searching for the Victorians, at the Victorians Institute Conference, held at the University of Virginia on October 1-3, 2010:

Many humanities scholars have been satisfied, perhaps unconsciously, with the use of a limited number of cases or examples to prove a thesis. Shouldn’t we ask, like the Victorians, what can we do to be most certain about a theory or interpretation? If we use intuition based on close reading, for instance, is that enough?  

Should we be worrying that our scholarship might be anecdotally correct but comprehensively wrong? Is 1 or 10 or 100 or 1000 books an adequate sample to know the Victorians? What we might do with all of Victorian literature—not a sample, or a few canonical texts, as in [Walter] Houghton’s work, but all of it.

Cohen goes on to describe his work with Fred Gibbs on a Google digital humanities grant “that is attempting to apply text mining to our understanding of the Victorian age.” If we were to look at all of these books using the computational methods that originated in the Victorian age, what would they tell us? And would that analysis be somehow more “true” than looking at a small subset of literature, the books we all have read that have often been used as representative of the Victorian whole, or, if not entirely representative, at least indicative of some deeper Truth?

Using 1,681,161 books that were published in English in the UK in the long nineteenth century, 1789-1914, he provides a number of graphs for words, such as science, religion, sacred, faith, divine, churches, universal, truth, which can be seen here. Techniques like this, he says, will play a part in the debate about how we know the past and how we look at the written record that I suspect will be of interest to literary scholars and historians alike.

Matthew Bevis, lecturer at the University of York in Britain, comments that scholars should also remember that the past contains more than the written record. Fewer references to a subject do not necessarily mean that it has disappeared from the culture, but rather that it has become such a part of the fabric of life that it no longer arouses discussion. He quoted Emily Dickinson: “Is it oblivion or absorption when things pass from our mind?”

Alice Jenkins, professor of Victorian literature and culture at the University of Glasgow, feels that “Close reading will become even more crucial in a world in which we can, potentially, read every word of Victorian writing ever published.”

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Hiding Behind Double Standards

photo by Jay Fine

K. Paul Johnson has added a communication from Leslie Price to his controversial post at History of the Adepts. Mr. Price, who is connected with a website that promotes mediums and spiritualism, adds his voice to the chorus (albeit a very small one) that K. Paul Johnson has been attacked, and probably outrageously so. Mr. Price’s communication indicates that in Mr. Johnson’s career this must now be for the umpteenth time, an issue he brings up after much angst over the way K. Paul Johnson should have been treated in the past because of what he wrote. So this is not the first time and we suspect not the last either. Though it has somewhat peaked our interest to what these attacks were, most of Mr. Price’s statements really have nothing to do with our post.

When Dr. John Algeo spent fifteen pages in a critique of Paul Johnson’s book, The Masters Revealed, noting: “The book’s thesis is not history. It is an imaginative reconstruction of the past on the assemblage of miscellaneous facts that have no demonstrated connection with each other. It is like a jigsaw picture composed from pieces of half a different puzzles that make a marvelous pattern, even if they don’t fit,” and adding that “a pattern of carelessness in such trivial matters does not inspire confidence in more substantive ones”Theosophical History, July 1995, p. 246—was this an attack? It couldn’t have been, for Leslie Price’s name appears as an Associate Editor of the journal where it was printed and he made no comment at the time.

Yet our simple observation of Paul Johnson’s post mentioning Blavatsky, “While giving a lot of material that may bias the reader against Blavatsky’s claims he does not cite any exculpatory evidence on her behalf,” is portrayed as an attack. We will not engage Mr. Price’s comments, preferring not to prolong this “unpleasantness” to K. Paul Johnson, but, since Leslie Price has chosen to interject himself into the discussion, only note that the Theosophical History Conferences he organized in London would not be our definition of an academic conference, belonging rather to that twilight zone that exists where theosophical research ends and academic inquiry begins. As far as the journal, it became so after Dr. James Santucci took over as editor, publishing a number of well-known academics. We say this with all respect.

The new thing that comes out of all of this (we already know that Paul Johnson has been attacked—we get it) is that Leslie Price believes that Blavatsky bashing is OK and should be able to be done with impunity. And that any questioning can be dismissed as an attack. This is no invention of our making. When she died the N.Y. Tribune of May 10, 1891, published an editorial that began: “Few women in our time have been more persistently misrepresented, slandered, and defamed than Madame Blavatsky.” If Mr. Price believes in fairness to Paul Johnson why can he not extend that courtesy to Mme. Blavatsky herself? Is K. Paul Johnson the only person to be protected?

We would draw Mr. Price’s attention to a paper to be published in the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences by Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber, “Why do humans reason? Arguments for an argumentative theory,” which we link to here:

Individuals thinking on their own without benefiting from the input of others can only assess their own hypotheses, but in doing so, they are both judge and party, or rather judge and advocate, and this is not an optimal stance for pursuing the truth. Wouldn't it be possible, in principle, for an individual to decide to generate a variety of hypotheses in answer to some question and then evaluate them one by one, on the model of Sherlock Holmes?

K. Paul Johnson Gets a Clarification

As I am at present ombudsman at Blavatsky News, I have be asked to adjudicate on our piece of November 25, 2010, that commented on a post at the site, History of the Adepts. “All posts at Blavatsky News are vetted by those who write here,” as has been stated. I also read Harry’s piece before it went through the editorial steamroller and did not regard it in any way as being an attack on K. Paul Johnson or the Church of Light. That is not what this site was started for or how it functions.

Going to the site History of the Adepts, at the date of the post one finds Mr. Johnson’s name absent as the originator of the posts; the only thing indicating the source of the material is that it is “Sponsored by the Church of Light.” As it stands it would lead to the impression that the Church of Light sanctioned or “sponsored” the comments. Harry did a bit of investigative journalism and after some searching revealed that K. Paul Johnson was the person behind it. Even Paul Johnson found it necessary to clarify the relation of the Church of Light to his comments after we reported on the site. Where is the attack in this?

Two statements give some perspective for the reader about Paul Johnson. (Not everyone who reads Blavatsky News is involved the theosophical/esoteric/occult world.)

1: Paul Johnson has been struggling for relevancy in the theosophical world for some time, and having gone through a number of groups has now found a home at the Church of Light. Is this an attack?

2: For years Johnson has been defending his theory that Blavatsky’s Masters were a mask for Indian insurrectionists. Is this an attack on Paul Johnson?

In analyzing Johnson’s post, Blavatsky News noted: While giving a lot of material that may bias the reader against Blavatsky’s claims he does not cite any exculpatory evidence on her behalf. Let us look at Paul Johnson’s post to see if this is an accurate statement.

The longest piece of documentary evidence he gives in it is an extensive quote from a missive attributed to Blavatsky. He introduces it with the words: A letter dated May 22, 1878 from Blavatsky to Chintamon was transcribed by Eleanor Sidgwick and is now the archives of the Society for Psychical Research.This date is highly significant as the official date of the amalgamation of the Theosophical Society and the Arya Samaj.The transcription was published in the first volume of the Letters of H.P. Blavatsky. Sidgwick paraphrases at times but mostly the letter seems to be directly transcribed. 

But let us look at the way the letter was presented in the volume where it is taken from. The editor, John Algeo, states: The copies were probably made by Eleanor Sidgwick, who freely abbreviated and paraphrased the material and interjected personal opinions about it. She rephrased passages and described what she saw in the letters, often writing about HPB, rather than recording HPB’s actual words. Her general skepticism about paranormal matters, amounting to a prejudice that distorted her perception and judgment, has been noted by Brian Inglis (360-1). In her transcriptions, it is not always clear what is quotation from the letters and what is paraphrase or comment. The material in quotation marks was presumably quoted directly from the letters, but quotation marks are not used consistently. Some of the parenthetical commentary and summary is in square brackets, but most is not. —The Letters of H.P. Blavatsky, 1: 401.

Here we have two different viewpoints about this material.

Hurrychund Chintamon (or Harischandra Chintamani) was a minor figure involved with the early Theosophical Society. He was head of the Bombay Arya Samaj and after the Theosophists arrived in India it was found that he had pocketed monies sent for the Arya Samaj. Col. Olcott mentions him briefly in his Old Diary Leaves, 1:20: I shall never forget the scene when HPB, at a meeting of the Arya Samaj, let loose at him the bolts of her scorn, and forced him to promise restitution. The money was returned, but our dealings with the man came to a sudden stop. HPB wrote to the Indian press about the experience of the Theosophists with him, and noted in her Scrapbook that he was “Expelled publicly from the T.S. for embezzling Rs. 600 of the money sent by us from America and England for the Arya Samaj. Ran away to England secretly after thus carrying away Rs. 4,000 of Dya Nand Saraswati.”—BCW 2: 48. He was on her radar for years after that for his name appears in her correspondence. He had a motive to discredit her character as a witness, and his offering this material to the Society for Psychical Research shows this.

Mrs. Sidgwick who selected the material in these letters was hardly an unbiased participant in this. Beatrice Hastings has shown how Mrs. Sidgwick, whose style she describes as “something between an oiled butcher’s knife and a rusty saw,” slanted evidence in the 1885 SPR Committee report. The SPR was still smarting after Annie Besant’s casuistic review in Time of March 1891, “The Great Mare’s Nest of the Psychical Research Society.” Richard Hodgson who wrote a large part of their report was forced to make a reply in the SPR Journal. There was an obvious attempt to amass new material that would substantiate their claim of Blavatsky being a fraud, forger, and spy. Interestingly, there was no mention of the extracts that Mrs. Sidgwick made of Hurrychund’s letters. Since accusations of forgery still abounded, Theosophists would no doubt have asked to see the full originals if published. We have nothing of what the Hurrychund part of the correspondence was like, so that there is no indication what his letters may have contained to elicit her replies.

So, these Hurrychund/Blavatsky letters are somewhat problematic, and fairness and scholarly ability should have noted this. At least a line or a footnote stating that their representation as an accurate account has been questioned, which Johnson’s statement: “Sidgwick paraphrases at times but mostly the letter seems to be directly transcribed,” does not fulfill. Ergo, in this piece, While giving a lot of material that may bias the reader against Blavatsky’s claims he [Paul Johnson] does not cite any exculpatory evidence on her behalf.  Is this an attack?

In her 1888 piece, “Is Denunciation a Duty?” indicating the code of conduct for Theosophists, Blavatsky noted: “A natural and truthful statement of facts cannot be regarded as “evil speaking” or as a condemnation of one’s brother,” however much unpleasantness it may cause. Nowhere in the piece now submitted to analysis is K. Paul Johnson vilified, his integrity challenged or his scholarship denied. Mr. Johnson’s work was held up to the same rigorous scrutiny we apply to others. He wrote a piece, Blavatsky News reported on it. That is all. The end.

We apologize to our readers for devoting so much space for a post that has gotten so little traction on this site, taking away from our reporting on real news. Ordinarily we would not have revisited it other than Mr. Johnson has made such a spectacle about it. We are reminded though of Blavatsky’s remark that one cannot always be waving a red cloth and complain when the bull charges at you. So far no one has addressed the central point of the original post at Blavatsky News: that in the piece under review “While giving a lot of material that may bias the reader against Blavatsky’s claims he [Paul Johnson] does not cite any exculpatory evidence on her behalf, which we hope we have adequately addressed here.

We are not for censorship. But if you raise issues, people will comment on them, especially at a news site devoted to the subject. We hold to Blavatsky’s dictum in Isis Unveiled 1: 120: “It is not alone for the esoteric philosophy that we fight, nor for any modern system of moral philosophy, but for the inalienable right of private judgment.” Some would deny us this right, preferring instead to revel behind the notion of an “attack” and fabricate a feud where none exists.