Thursday, August 16, 2012

Blavatsky’s Lost Continents

The publisher Brill in the Netherlands has added a new volume to their high-priced series of books. The Handbook of New Religions and Cultural Production (!), edited by Carole M. Cusack and Alex Norman of the University of Sydney, contains a section on the Theosophical Society, along with others on Mormonism, Anthroposophy, Gurdjeff groups, modern paganism, and Afro-Caribbean new religions. Three chapters comprise the Theosophical section: “Producing Lost Civilisations: Theosophical Concepts in Literature, Visual Media and Popular Culture” by Garry Trompf and Lauren Bernauer, “The Agency of the Object: Leadbeater and the Pectoral Cross” by Jenny McFarlane, and “Theosophical Bodies: Colour, Shape and Emotion from Modern Aesthetics to Healing Therapies” by Jay Johnston.

McFarlane’s chapter looks at the significance of a Pectoral Cross made for C.W. Leadbeater in 1917 for use in the Liberal Catholic Church, while Jay Johnston takes on the Theosophical concept of the sevenfold human temperaments, classified in Blavatsky’s writings as “principles” and in later Theosophical works as “bodies.”

The chapter by Garry Trompf and Lauren Bernauer provides an extensive chronicling of the impact of Blavatsky’s concept of previous continents and civilizations, primarily Atlantis and Lemuria. Its coverage of film and other digital media is especially current. The authors write:

Our concern is with images of a mysterious past, and more particularly with how the Theosophical Society, as a new religious movement, has sparked a whole range of cultural and material productions evoking or playing on the theme of forgotten truths, far distant achievements, and lost worlds….[Blavatsky] was seminal for endowing the key lost worlds of Hyperborea, Lemuria and Atlantis, with a chronological ordering. 

The book, 790 pages plus a thirty page introduction, sells for €217.00 or $298.00 US.

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