“A Castle Of The Occult On Rittenhouse Square,” a March 23, 2012, post by John Vidumsky at Hidden City Philadelphia , offers a beautiful slideshow of the building owned by the United Lodge of Theosophists in Philadelphia. The piece also looks at Mme. Blavatsky’s stay in Philadelphia from November 1874 when she came to investigate the case of the Holmes mediums.
She quickly discovered that the Holmeses were con artists, but felt compelled at first to defend them anyway. Blavatsky had misgivings about popular Spiritualism, but was far more worried about the spread of skepticism. If Spiritualism was discredited, she feared that the public would lose faith in the existence of the soul and the afterlife. In early January 1875, a newspaper reported proof that Katie King [the spirit manifested by the Holmeses], at least, was a hoax. Despite this, Blavatsky, along with her friend, the famous journalist Henry Steel Olcott, defended the Holmeses in a series of fiery articles.
By May, Blavatsky despaired that the public had lost faith in Spiritualism, thanks to the Holmeses’ antics. So, too, had Blavatsky. Though bedridden with a gangrenous knee, she wrote and published a series of articles criticizing Spiritualism. She denounced it for meddling with dangerous spirits and also for missing the point: the spiritual side of life should be studied, she argued, not made into a carnival attraction. More importantly, in a stream of letters, she laid out the basic tenants of Theosophy. It seems that Blavatsky’s disgust over the Katie King affair had spurred her to break with Spiritualism and lay out her own system.
Over a century after its founding Theosophy is still with us, and has spread all over the world. The New Age movement, based heavily on Theosophy, is more popular than ever. And Madam Blavatsky is still a figure of reverence today. At 1917 Walnut Street, her portrait dominates the lobby with its penetrating gaze. “She’s our teacher,” says Royce Pochos [a ULT associate there], “and she left us what we needed.”