Looking back at their initial meeting in 1874 Col. Olcott records in the first volume of Old Diary Leaves that “H.P.B. tried her best to make me suspect the value of the William Eddy’s phenomena as proofs of the intelligent control of a medium by spirits, telling me that, if genuine, they must be the double of the medium escaping from his body and clothing itself with other appearances; but I would not believe.…Our disputes were quite warm on occasions.” He says that it was “only through the agency that my previous experience would make most comprehensible, a pretended medium over-shadowing spirit,” John King, that he was led out of his “spiritualistic Fool’s Paradise.” “He was at first, John King, an independent personality, then John King, messenger and servant of living adepts, and finally an elemental pure and simple, employed by H.P.B.”
Sinnett in his 1886 Incidents in the Life of Madame Blavatsky follows much the same line. He cites a number of revealing comments by Blavatsky to a translation of her sister’s 1883 “The Truth about H.P. Blavatsky.”
Speaking of Blavatsky’s display in Russia in the late 1850s of phenomena associated with Spiritualism, her sister, Vera Zhelihovsky, adds the following footnote:
In those far off days, when Spiritualism had hardly begun in America, belief in “spirits” as the only agency at work in such raps and knocks was accepted in Russia as elsewhere, since few are acquainted even now with the theories of the occultists. The author in answer to our query whether she believed herself in spirits and mediumship, as she used the term, answered she knew of no other names to express the faculty of producing such raps and phenomena. ‘I remember,’ she [Vera] said, ‘that when addressed as a medium, she [Mime. Blavatsky] used to laugh and assure us she was no medium but only as a mediator between mortals and beings we knew nothing about’ (full text in The Theosophist, May 1991, 290 fn).
Sinnett quotes Blavatsky as writing from New York: “If we are anything, we are Spiritualists, not only of the modern American fashion but on that of ancient Alexandria with its Theodadiktoses, Hypatias and Porpheries…”
We Theosophists and especially Occultists must never lose sight of the profound axiom of the Esoteric Doctrine which teaches us that it is we, the living, who are drawn toward the Spirits—but that the latter can never, even though they would, which they would never do, descend to us, or rather into our sphere.
Explaining Blavatsky’s use of the term Spiritualist to describe herself during her New York days, Olcott, says: “to show what was true spiritualism, and how man can develop true spirituality, was plainly H.P.B.’s design and motive for declaring herself a Spiritualist.”
There was no other word in use to cover the aspirations of this growing segment of the population. By July 1875 Blavatsky had started using “occultism” and “occultist,” and though it shows up in Isis Unveiled, the Oxford English Dictionary credits Sinnett’s 1881 The Occult World, with popularizing the terms. By 1878 she was writing “Occultism is the essence of Spiritualism, while modern or popular spiritualism I cannot better characterize than as adulterated, unconscious magic.”