Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Knots of Fohat

In the second part of the Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge (published in 1891) reference is made to an illustration by the American artist Elihu Vedder (1836-1923) in the 1884 edition of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. The passage in the Transactions, 2:28 (BCW 10:381) reads:

There is a remarkable illustration of Elihu Vedder to the Quatrains of Omar Khayyam, which suggests the idea of the Knots of Fohat. It is the ordinary Japanese representation of clouds, single lines running into knots both in drawings and carvings. It is Fohat the “knot-tier,” and from one point of view it is the “world-stuff.”  

As published it reads as Mme. Blavatsky’s answer to a question that was posed, and has no doubt been taken to be such for over a century. But in the soon to be published originals of the text this is not so. Bertram Keightley mentioned the Vedder illustration as a representation of the idea of the knots of Fohat. Then the President, Thomas Harbottle, who was the chairman (not William Kingsland as given in the published version), commenting on this allusion, adds:

Curiously enough, it is the ordinary Japanese representation, in their rough sketches, of cloudscapes; single lines running into a sort of knot, both in carving and in drawing. I have plenty of their woodcarvings, in which a bank of clouds is given in that way.

His statement was incorporated into the answer in the published version. It should put literalists, who hold every word attributed to HPB as sacred law, on notice that sometimes these words may not even be hers.

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