Sunday, August 15, 2010

Blavatsky and the Kabbalah

It is a point to take note of when Moshe Idel, one of the world's most eminent scholars of Jewish mysticism, finds it necessary to mention H.P. Blavatsky as an influence in the context of his writings. In his book, Old Worlds, New Mirrors: On Jewish Mysticism and Twentieth-Century Thought, published by University of Pennsylvania Press at the end of last year, in the chapter on “The Function of Symbols in Gershom Scholem” (who made the academic study of Kabbalah understandable to layman), he writes on page 85:

Scholem’s emphasis on the role of symbolism in a preeminently medieval literature such as Kabbalah is corroborated by other scholars dealing with medieval material in general, with Christian mysticism, and even with Kabbalah. So, for example, we find similar views, expressed long before Scholem’s characterization quoted above, in the writings of G.G. Coulton, W.R. Inge, and Madame Blavatsky. For our purpose it is sufficient to quote Madame Blavatsky, a follower of the Renaissance Christian kabbalists who formulated their conception of the Kabbalah in a way accepted and further developed by many modern scholars of the Kabbalah: “The Kabbalist is a student of ‘secret science,’ one who interprets the hidden meaning of the Scriptures with the help of the symbolical Kabbalah, and explains the real one of these meanings.”

The citation is from Isis Unveiled, 1:xxiv, and Idel gives what he believes to be the “common source” for these writers: the German Christian kabbalist Johann Reuchlin (1455-1522), “who presented Kabbalah as a preeminently symbolic form of discourse.” Blavatsky would have been the first to take issue with his contention that she was a follower of “Christian kabbalists,” though he probably means that she, like them, saw the Kabbalah as a key to symbolic interpretation.

HPB certainly had an interest in the Kabbalah, and it is mentioned as an authoritative source in her writings. It is a loss that Henk Spierenburg did not live long enough to add a compilation on “H.P. Blavatsky and the Kabbalah” to his series. From the very beginning of her printed comments on the subject, she differentiates between the Kabbalah as promulgated in the works of Western occultists (the Rosicrucian or Hermetic Kabbalah) and the Jewish and the Oriental Kabbalah. “The Rosicrucian Cabala is but an epitome of the Jewish and the Oriental ones combined—the latter being the most secret of all.”—“A Few Questions to ‘Hiraf’,” July 1875.

She was certainly familiar with the literature that was available at the time, and her handwritten notes on the subject, published in Blavatsky Collected Writings, vol. 6, pp. 315-321, are actually a digest of what is found in Christian Ginsburg’s 1865 book on the Kabbalah, as indicated by Paul Foster Case in the June 1926 issue of The Theosophist.

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments to this blog are subject to moderation, and may appear at our sole discretion, if found to add relevance to the site's topics.