Sunday, August 5, 2012

Blavatsky News

* Imagine doing a critical survey (published in two parts!) of an influential philosophical movement and relying only on one source. But this is what Michael Barker has done in his two part investigation, “The Roots of Theosophy,” at the online site Swans. And when the source is such a highly contested book, Peter Washington’s 1994 Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon, one would expect at least an attempt at some sort of verification. Unfortunately Barker ends up serving Washington’s errors as fact: “Anna’s early death in 1885” [Anna Kingsford died in 1888].

According Michael Barker’s version, “when the full Society for Psychical Research report was released—[Blavatsky] was effectively forced by Olcott to leave her own Society, thereby ending their friendship. She traveled back to Europe in March 1885, eventually settling in London (in the spring of 1887). Here, cut off from the Adyar [sic] she was ‘supported by the rich and aristocratic friends who helped to sustain her last years,’ and they ‘helped to set up her journal’” [was she supposed to edit it for free?]. Unfortunately for Barker’s timeline, “the full Society for Psychical Research [Committee] report” was only released long after Blavatsky left Adyar.

Or his statement: “Hodgson’s ‘report has not gone unchallenged by Theosophists, but their defense consists of arguments ad hominem, and Hodgson’s basic findings have not been refuted,’” all the while showing no familiarity with what has been published by even non-theosophists on the matter.

* The online newsletter Hermes carries an article by Jeffrey Lavoie where he argues that in Isis Unveiled Blavatsky plagiarized from the antiquarian Isaac Preston Cory’s compendium Ancient Fragments, a book made up of translations taken by Cory from diverse sources. In “Isaac Preston Cory, Isis Unveiled (1877) and Cosmology” he says:

Shortly after its publication in 1877, a source analysis of Isis Unveiled was performed by one of Blavatsky’s contemporaries- a disgruntled Spiritualist named William Emmette Coleman. Coleman concluded that while Blavatsky cited close to a thousand individual sources it seemed more probable that she had only consulted about a hundred separate works in compiling this work (Blavatsky seemingly conceded this point in a final article entitled ‘My Books’ written shortly before her demise in 1891).

Despite his harsh conclusion, the only proof Coleman offered for evidence was in the form of a short article published as an appendix to Vsevolod Solovyoff’s A Modern Priestess of Isis (1895) which listed some of the sources from which Blavatsky had allegedly borrowed (though in some cases Coleman was mistaken as Blavatsky used and cited these sources properly). Regardless of the veracity of Coleman’s conclusion one thing remains known- one of the sources that Coleman ‘revealed’ was Isaac Preston Cory and his Ancient Fragments.

“Shortly after” is stretching it. According to the material on Coleman given in Theosophy in the Nineteenth Century his earliest detailed attempt at refuting Blavatsky’s books appears in 1889, and here he is contrasting the shift in teachings from Isis Unveiled to The Secret Doctrine.

Although Lavoie says “the only proof Coleman offered for evidence was in the form of a short article published as an appendix to Vsevolod Solovyoff’s A Modern Priestess of Isis (1895),” this is not so. Theosophy in the Nineteenth Century shows that he had an extended series from April to October 1891 in a small Spiritualist monthly (and to which HPB wrote her last article, “My Books”) where he listed passages in corresponding books. But even here he gave only 32 books, including the Bible.

* John L. Crow has an article in the September 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion on “Taming the Astral Body: The Theosophical Society's Ongoing Problem of Emotion and Control.” Understanding the praxis of nineteenth century Theosophy seems to be much under discussion at present, and Crow, a graduate student of American Religious History at Florida State University, adds his views.

In New York City in 1875, a group interested in Spiritualism and occult science founded what would become the Theosophical Society. Primarily the creation of Henry Steel Olcott and Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, the Theosophical Society went through a number of early incarnations. One original version promised to teach occult powers. After Blavatsky found that she could not honor earlier promises to teach occultism, she shifted the focus of the Society to one that promoted Universal Brotherhood instead, highlighting notions of the body and demanding the control of emotion as a means to rebuff demands for training. With this refocusing, Blavatsky reestablished control of the Society and asserted herself as the central channel of esoteric knowledge. Thus, by shifting the focus from the attainment of occult powers to the more ambiguous “spiritual enlightenment,” Blavatsky erected an elaborate, centralized system of delayed spiritual gratification, a system contingent upon the individual's adoption of specific morals and values, while simultaneously maintaining control of the human body on all its levels: spiritual, social, physical, mental, and especially emotional.

* Vogue Australia in its July 27 online edition carries an interview with the creative minds behind Maniamania, accessories label known for its designs (typically of silver, bronze and crystals). They have just launched a new line, the Astral plane Collection:

This range is inspired by the symbols and visions of dreaming, and the notion of other planes of existence, and the film is a moving representation of that idea. It combines our stylistic influences of Art Nouveau and 60s iconography with the spiritual developments of dream philosophy. It is directly inspired by the visual devices of Jean Cocteau, as well as an homage to the concepts of Carl Jung and Helena Blavatsky.

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