Sunday, November 25, 2012

Madame Blavatsky Reviewed, Ctd

* Nicholas Colloff at his blog Golgonooza calls Gary Lachman’s Madame Blavatsky: The Mother of Modern Spiritualitya measured, intelligent account of this extraordinary (and controversial) woman. Even if we discount what she believed - revealed in the dense, extravagant, compelling and long texts that are Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine - and the accounts of the paranormal phenomena that controversially accompanied her life, her life deserves both acknowledgement and gratitude for what it inspired on our usual (mundane) temporal plane.

* Lachman’s book stirs up an extended rumination at the New York based Paris Review on Blavatsky, described as a “fat, chain-smoking Russian noblewoman with a profane vocabulary and reputation for occult powers.”

But Blavatsky’s presentation appealed to the needs of her time. The concept of an evolving universe seemed to square Darwinism with religion, and the emphasis on an individual’s ability to propel herself upwards echoed an Emersonian ethos of self-improvement. Blavatsky also had a penchant for a social progressivism, as expressed in the first principle of the Theosophical Society: “To form the nucleus of a universal brotherhood of humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or color.” For educated, liberal, middle-class people disillusioned with Christianity and disappointed by Darwin, she was an attractive alternative.

* Theosophists are already irate. Under the headline, “New Book is Good for Recycling. Recent H.P.B. Biography Is Not Totally Useless,” the November issue of The Aquarian Theosophist tells its readers:  “A new biography of Helena P. Blavatsky has been published which seems (from its cover) to be theosophical. A warning should be made for people not to waste money,” it continues. “In spite of its nice title, the book, Madame Blavatsky: The Mother of Modern Spirituality, by Gary Lachman, is useful mainly as raw material for those who recycle paper. The good news is that it has not been published by any theosophical publishing house. It has not been confirmed whether Vatican-related institutions are sponsoring this sort of ‘literature’.

* While at the website Theos-talk Daniel Caldwell says in a Nov. 23 post: “In my opinion, Mr. Lachman relies too heavily on K. Paul Johnson's books about HPB and the Masters. These books are filled with far too many vague speculations without any good evidential substantiation. Unfortunately, Mr Lachman does NOT refer the reader to any of the critiques of Johnson's books.” 

More is sure to follow.

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