Thursday, December 27, 2012

Blavatsky News

* The New York Times for December 27, 2012, carries a piece on Paul Thomas Anderson, the director of the recent film, “The Master,” which chronicles the rise of a Scientology-like religion after World War II. The writer in the Times comments:

“The Master” is less interested in mocking it than in evoking the larger American tradition of spiritual questing and its endlessly regenerating cast of dreamers, visionaries, quacks and self-styled prophets. Mr. Anderson’s research was informed equally by scholarly tomes and self-help pseudoscience. “This stuff, it’ll make your head spin,” he said, pulling out books on psycho-cybernetics, the est movement and the theosophy of Madame Blavatsky.

* The Winter 2013 issue of Quest magazine from the Theosophical Society in America carries a page-and-a-half review of Garry Lachman’s Madame Blavatsky: The Mother of Modern Spirituality by veteran theosophist Joy Mills. The review is sympathetic, though Mills notes:

If one faults Lachman for anything, it may be for his all too frequent digressions, which sometimes confuse and tend to lead away from his central thesis. On the whole, however, Lachman has produced an excellent brief survey of the life and work of one of the most remarkable women of all time.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Secret Doctrine in Portuguese

Editora Pensamento in Sao Paulo, one of Brazil’s largest publishers, has released a Portuguese translation of Michael Gomes’ 2009 abridged edition of Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine. The size of this version is similar to the English edition, and though the publisher tells us that “texto de acordo com as novas regras ortográficas de língua portuguesa,” the translation seems to be a compromise between what was written in 1888 and what is considered acceptable now. Parts of Gomes’ careful orthographic work seem to have been jettisoned for the more familiar but incorrect spellings like “paranishpanna” and “Dhyan-Chohan.” Reading this translation sometimes it seems half of one and none of the other. But the edition is useful to those who will never go through the book’s two volumes. The Portuguese book review site, Literatura de Cabeça, rates it, saying: “Sua introdução histórica e literária lança nova luz sobre algumas das fontes de A Doutrina Secreta e sobre a trajetória de sua brilhante e enigmática autora, uma das personagens mais intrigantes da história recente.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Theosophical Socialism and Radical Print Culture

Such is the chapter subheading in Elizabeth Miller’s Slow Print: Literary Radicalism and Late Victorian Print Culture set for release in January 2013 from Stanford University Press. The book looks at literary culture of Britain's radical press from 1880 to 1910, and chapter 5, “Enlightenment Beyond Reason,” focuses on later figures involved in Theosophy such as Annie Besant, Herbert Burrows, and A.R. Orage who were already activists in labour movements before their joining. Miller notes:

Theosophy was not a socialist movement, in the sense of demanding or requiring socialist principles among followers, yet in England many socialists were attracted to theosophy and found and affinity between theosophical and social ideals.” Besant, as can be expected, gets much space, but it is good to see that Alfred Richard Orage (1873-1934) and his connection with Theosophy explored, a neglected area in his career. Orage later became a disciple of G. I. Gurdjieff.

The connection between Theosophy and Socialism is an unexplored area; most claims have been with the movement’s assumed connection with Right Wing movements, though adherents of such positions seem to conveniently omit the main platform in Blavatsky’s Theosophical movement: To form the nucleus of a universal brotherhood of humanity without distinction of race, creed, caste, or colour.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Blavatsky Podcast

Gary Lachman is interviewed for almost an hour on Madame Blavatsky and his new book on Benjamin Grundy’s December 7 Mysterious Universe podcast. Mysterious Universe, which originates from Australia, claims to provide “the latest news on topics as unorthodox as the UFO Phenomenon, Ghosts and Hauntings, and Cryptozoology, along with the latest in Science, Technology, and Astronomy,” and covers “the strange, extraordinary, weird, and wonderful and everything in between.”

Blavatsky is described by the interviewer as “the fountainhead of modern occult thought,” and Lachman counters, “everything goes back to her.” Though “No Buddhist scholar recognizes anything that she calls Buddhism as Buddhism.” “I not particularly interested in Theosophy, I am interested in her,” he admits. “I’m not so interested in the teachings as in the phenomena that she was and her impact on Western culture…”

He credits her with introducing the West to alternative spirituality, “she’s the one who brought it all together, made it into a nice package, and turned it into a religious movement that became global.”

Part of her mission…was to prove the reality of the phenomenon taking place at séances and spiritualist gatherings; but to show that the explanation for them was untrue, the source…the spirits of the dead.” For Lachman, “She wasn’t a medium, she was a magician. In the sense that she had control, she wasn’t passively letting herself being used as basically as a voice for these spirits from the other side…she commanding, she was able to make these things happen.”

He suggests that rolling her own cigarettes helped her focus her mind, and credits her with an eidetic memory. An interesting update on the recurring image of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky; but why, oh why, do the interviewer and Lachman keep claiming and then snickering that she was 200 or 300 (!) pounds when she travelled through trans-Himalaya in the 1850s and 1860s, when she was no such thing; in fact considered an excellent horseback rider till the 1870s? Commenting on the statement attributed to her that she had a volcano in her brain and a glacier down below, Lachman says, “Apparently no one melted the glacier.”