Sunday, June 26, 2011

Constance Wilde and Blavatsky

The London Express of Friday, June 24, carries a review of Fanny Moyle’s biography, Constance, about Constance Wilde, wife of Oscar Wilde, published in the U.K. by John Murray. The reviewer says:

There is a wonderful episode which brings the whole era alive. She and Oscar are at the opening of Dorothy’s, a restaurant exclusively for women in Oxford Street and they are at Madame Blavatsky’s table talking theosophy. Soon after, Constance joins the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

The Dorothy restaurants were the project of a pupil of Mme. Blavatsky’s, Isabel Cooper-Oakley, who operated two Dorothy restaurants in London, one for West End working girls and one for ladies, which opened until 10 PM with good food “in secure surroundings.” HPB had wanted Oscar Wilde to review her Key to Theosophy, but nothing came of this.

Constance Wilde and her son, Cyril, in 1889

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Blavatsky in Adelaide, Australia

ABC Adelaide reports: The Art Gallery of South Australia is undergoing a vast transformation ahead of hosting its largest ever exhibition in July. The “Saatchi Gallery in Adelaide: British Art Now” exhibit is not only exceptional because of its size, it is also the first collection of work from London's acclaimed Saatchi Gallery ever to be shown in Australia.

The record display is comprised of 150 pieces from 42 artists and will cover 3,000 square metres of the South Australian gallery. This is the first Saatchi exhibition to come to Australia and will be open to the public exclusively at the Art Gallery of SA from the 30th of July until the 23rd of October.
Among the pieces shown will be Goshka Macuga’s 2007 “Madame Blavatsky.”

Esotericism of the iPhone

The site of iPhoneitalia carries the news of a new app available, so far, only in Italy: “Esotericism of the iPhone app with free EsoClassics.”

EsoClassics is the first collection of Italian classic texts of the esoteric tradition, which is available free on the App Store.

In this first edition all texts are in Italian only, but the next update also adds international texts.

In EsoClassics you will find information, treatises, tips, aphorisms to always carry and read in every spare moment. The topics covered range from hermeticism, alchemy, theosophy, anthroposophy to the cabbala, and many others. Among the authors, Kremmerz, Bailey, Blavatsky, Steiner and many others.


     * More than 50 books, notebooks, handouts, lectures, treatises.
     * Theosophy, Kabbalah, Alchemy, Archeosofica, Anthroposophy, Hermeticism, etc.
     * The most important authors of the esoteric tradition.

The app is available for free on the App Store.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Blavatsky and W. Evans-Wentz

This week’s Times Literary Supplement of London carries a review by Mark Vernon, the English writer, journalist, and author, of Donald S. Lopez, Jr’s The Tibetan Book of the Dead, A Biography. Speaking of W. Evans-Wentz’s edition of the Tibetan Book of the Dead published in 1927, Vernon upholds Lopez’s conclusion:

It is the product of the creative editing of Walter Evans-Wentz, a Victorian Theosophist. His literary assembly owes as much to the doctrines of Madame Blavatsky as the purported author, Padmasambhava, the eight century Buddhist saint who is said to have buried a series of ‘treasures’ in the form of teachings to aid future, troubled generations...

Evans-Wentz was able to use the book to vest his version of Theosophy with all the authority of ancient wisdom, newly discovered. Interestingly, Lopez argues, the same pattern of scriptural recovery is manifest in Joseph Smith’s The Book of Mormon. So, although it is undoubtedly the combination of Tibetan esotericism and mortal anxiety that has led to the tremendous success of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, it is better placed within the American millenarian tradition that includes Theosophy, Mormonism and Spiritualism too.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Investigating the Supernatural in France

Mme. Blavatsky and Theosophy get a brief mention in Sofie Lachapelle’s book,
Investigating the Supernatural: From Spiritism and Occultism to Psychical Research and Metapsychics in France, 1853–1931, published in April by John Hopkins University Press.

In 1875, the same year that [Eliphas] Lévi died, a new occultist movement building on this enthusiasm for things Eastern was created in New York when Helena Petrovna Blavatsky founded the Theosophical Society with the help of lawyer and journalist Henry Steel Olcott. Theosophy consisted of a set of mystical teachings inspired by esoteric traditions of the East. In its aims, the Theosophical Society demarcated itself from other occult groups by its discussion of universal fraternity and its focus on a set of Aryan and Eastern teachings.

While noting that “Theosophy was never as popular in France as in the Anglo-Saxon world, but it introduced many to occultist traditions and functioned as a catalyst to the larger movement,” the author says, “For most of the 1880s, the occultist revival taking a hold of France centered on the Theosophical doctrine.” Le Lotus Bleu, the theosophical journal started in 1890 in France, did not, as the author claims, survive until 1986, but is still published.

Gandhi, Again

The July/August issue of The Atlantic magazine contains an examination of Gandhi’s image by Christopher Hitchens, using Joseph Lelyveld’s recent study of Gandhi’s life, Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India (mentioned in a March 27 Blavatsky News post), for his template.

The word Mahatma (often employed in ordinary journalistic usage without any definite article, as if it were Mohandas Gandhi’s first name) is actually the Sanskrit word for “Great Soul.” It is a religio-spiritual honorific, to be assumed or awarded only by acclaim, and it achieved most of its currency in the West by association with Madame Blavatsky’s somewhat risible “Theosophy” movement, forerunner of many American and European tendencies to be found in writers, as discrepant as Annie Besant and T. S. Eliot, who nurture themselves on the supposedly holy character of the subcontinent.

Hitchens has taken on the claims of a number of prominent individuals over the years, including Mother Theresa. The rest of his comments can be read here.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Blavatsky, Landscape Painting and The Forest

Dainis Dauksta in his contribution, “Landscape Painting and The Forest—The Influence of Cultural Factors in the Depiction of Trees and Forests,” in the volume New Perspectives on People and Forests edited by him and Eva Ritter (Springer, May 2011) looks at “two twentieth century painters [who] worked extensively, although not exclusively, on images of trees throughout their lives,” and who shared an interest in the ideas of H.P. Blavatsky. “They left in their work progressive series of compositions whereby their developing philosophies can be tracked through the changes in their imagery.”

Writing of Mondrian, Dauksta says: “He was searching for an entry to the world of spirit rather than of surfaces, and in 1909 he joined the Theosophical Society founded by Russian psychic Helena Blavatsky in 1875. This group had as its mission three objects: first to form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity, second to encourage the comparative study of religion, philosophy and science, and third to investigate the unexplained laws of nature and the powers latent in human beings. His work became saturated with spiritual metaphor.” The book—267 pages, hardcover—was published by the German conglomerate Springer in May and sells for $189.00 U.S.

The Yost Typewriter

The Australian blog Oz.Typewriter for June 10 carries a long description of the Yost typewriter invented by George Washington Newton Yost, an American Spiritualist who used his machine to take down the autobiography of the late H.P. Blavatsky. It was published in Boston in 1896 as Posthumous Memoirs of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. Dictated from the spirit-world, upon the typewriter, independent of all human contact, under the supervision of G. W. N. Yost, to bring to light the things of truth, and affirm the continuity of life and the eternal activity of the soul immortal.

This obscure book belongs to that remote area of Blavatskiana—Posthumous memoirs dictated from the spirit-world—of which it must hold the sole place. The entry for it in Theosophy in the Nineteenth Century: An Annotated Bibliography (1994) gives a brief overview of its contents. It should come as no surprise that the book, which purports to give Blavatsky’s life history as told by herself, upholds the reality of spirit communication. Robert Messenger, who writes the piece, notes that “Yost had died in New York on September 26, 1895, aged 64, and appears not to have made any further contact with the world from the hereafter thereafter.” The post includes a picture of a Yost typewriter.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

David Reigle on Blavatsky

For over thirty years David Reigle has been contributing to the growing understanding of Mme. Blavatsky. His researches into Sanskrit and Tibetan sources have been utilized by many. So, whatever he has to say on the subject is of interest. The following is a June 6, 2011 post of his commenting on the post on a theosophical website:

I have as much respect for HPB as anyone, but if we are to speak about truth and illusion in Theosophical literature, it may be best to start with truth and illusion in HPB’s own writings. Her writings are full of errors. A large number of these are the errors of writers of her time, whom she copied. For example, in your previous posting, “Masters and the Movement,” this sentence is found:
“The lines above seem to contain key information as to contacts between Masters and the movement after the year 1900. This is the year when the Aquarius Age began, according to a clear and documented statement made by H.P. Blavatsky (‘Collected Writings’, TPH, volume VIII, p. 174, fn).”

For many years, I, too, took the above-referenced statement of HPB’s as giving the correct starting year of the Aquarian age, thinking that it came from the direct knowledge of her Mahatma sources. But then I found it in one of Gerald Massey's large books that HPB had reviewed. She had copied it from there almost verbatim.

It now becomes very questionable whether her teachers actually endorsed this date. When we see this type of thing happening again and again, I must conclude that large amounts of what are regarded as HPB’s own views are in fact just the views of other writers of her time that she copied. The mere fact of her repeating what was then taken as fact does not necessarily endorse its accuracy. Many, many of these can today be shown to be errors.

It would not be fair to attribute these errors that she copied from others to her. Everyone of her time necessarily did the same thing. Any book from 1888 can be shown to be full of such errors. Our task should first be to sort out truth and illusion in HPB’s own writings. We need to sort out what she merely copied from others, and what she actually put forth as truth. After all, she never claimed omniscience, but repeatedly denied it. She was the first to say that her own books are full of such errors (see her article written shortly before her death, “My Books”).

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Blavatsky in the Board Room

Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) is a National Chapter of Transparency International (TI), a leading global movement against corruption. Their website posts a presentation given at the Organization of Professional Associations of Sri Lanka (OPA) Seminar on Buddhism and Business Management held in Colombo in May in connection with the 2600th Sambuddhathva Jayanthi. The piece “Buddhism in the Board Room” by Chandra Jayaratne, former Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Chairman, adds a novel touch amid calls for good governance:

Russian esotericist Helena Petrova Blavatsky (1831-1891), best known as the founder of the modern Theosophical Movement, who in partnership with Colonel Henry Steel Olcott set the foundations for Buddhist revival in Sri Lanka through the promotion of education and Buddhist values, initiated a movement based upon “teachings” and “techniques” claimed to have received from real acquaintances whom she called “Masters” or Mahatmas. The “Masters” comprised of other esotericists who acted as humanists committed to global good governance, were willing to be guides, gurus and advocates and even whistle blowers where and whenever required.

The rest of the presentation can be read here.