Sunday, February 17, 2013

Blavatsky News

* The blog Visions of Pat reconstructs books referenced in the music of Van Morrison. In “Van Morrison's Bookshelf” the writer looks at possible sources for one of Morrison’s songs, “Dweller on the Threshold”:  “the expression ‘Dweller On The Threshold’ was first used in 1842 in a book by Edward Bulwer-Lytton called Zanoni which was his interpretation of an ancient Rosecrucian manuscript. The dweller is an invisible and possibly malevolent spirit that attaches itself to a human being. It is also mentioned in books by Rudolf Steiner and Madame Blavatsky who was a big influence on Van in the 1980’s.

The Wikipedia entry on the song more correctly notes: "The album sleeve states that the lyrics on this song and part of "Aryan Mist" were inspired by the 1950 publication, Glamour —A World Problem by Alice Bailey and the Tibetan master, Djwal Khul, as described in Van Morrison's liner notes for the album.

A number of other books are referenced as possible sources of inspiration.

* Newtopia Magazine for February 15 carries a long piece by Ronnie Pontiac on “The Eclectic Life of Alexander Wilder: Alchemical Generals, Isis Unveiled, and Early American Holistic Medicine.” It is the second part of a series on the development of Neoplationism in America.  Part Three will focus on another individual known to Blavatsky, “Thomas Johnson: Pagan Philosopher of the American Frontier.”

Wilder enters Blavatsky’s life was the editor of Isis Unveiled for J.W. Bouton of New York. He seemed to have a genuine regard for her and remained sympathetic throughout his life. Pontiac writes that “Bouton bought the copyright for Isis Unveiled and refused to return it to the author.  Blavatsky wanted to give her book the fetching title A Skeleton Key to Mysterious Gates.  The mystery of why a book that has so little to do with Egyptian mythology should be called Isis Unveiled is solved by Wilder:

Mr. Bouton is entitled to that distinction. He was a skilful caterer in the bookselling world to which he belonged, but he had business ability rather than a sense of fitness. He once published the treatise of R. Payne Knight on Ancient Art and added pictures relating solely to Hindu mythology, entirely foreign to the subject. This work of Madam Blavatsky is largely based upon the hypothesis of a prehistoric period of the Aryan people in India, and in such a period the veil or the unveiling of Isis can hardly be said to constitute any part. On the contrary, it is a dramatic representation peculiar to the religion and wisdom of Egypt.

Wilder also reveals the origin of one of the rumors circulating about Isis Unveiled at the time. His source was Mrs. Elizabeth Thompson, a wealthy widow from Boston, who related the following story to him:

Baron de Palm, a German gentleman, who spent some time in this country, had died in Roosevelt Hospital. He had devoted much attention to arcane subjects, and had written upon them. He was intimate with the party on 47th Street, and made them recipients of his property, but with the assurance that his body should be cremated. There was a woman in the household who seems to have become unfriendly and ready to talk at random. She told Mrs. Thompson that after the death of the Baron she was with Madam Blavatsky while examining the contents of his trunks. One of these, the woman said, was full of manuscripts. Madam Blavatsky looked at a few of the pages, and then hastily closed the trunk, making an effort to divert attention in another direction.  Mrs. Thompson apparently believed that this manuscript was the material of the work Isis Unveiled. Certainly she endeavored to give me that impression.

Olcott disposes of this story in the first volume of his Old Diary Leaves.

* For some unexplained reason the hockey site, NHL Hockey Rules, posts a long review of the growth of Buddhism in the United States from the 19th century to date.

The pioneer prominent American to publicly become Buddhism was Henry Steel Olcott. Olcott, a former U.S. army colonel over the Civil War, had grown increasingly keen on reports of supernatural phenomena in which popular in the late 19th century. In 1875, he, along with Helena Blavatsky and William Quan Judge founded the Theosophical Society, which has been dedicated to the research into the occult and was partly relying on Hindu and Buddhist scriptures….Although the vast majority of Theosophists appear to have counted themselves as Buddhists, they held idiosyncratic beliefs that separated them coming from all known Buddhist traditions; only Olcott was excited about following mainstream Buddhism. He would return to Sri Lanka on two further occasions, where he worked to market Buddhist education, and also visited Japan and Burma. Olcott authored a Buddhist Catechism, stating his look at the basic tenets belonging to the religion. 

Statue of Olcott in front of railroad station in Colombo, Sri Lanka

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