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Monday, 11 February 2019

Wilder’s footnotes to Blavatsky Indian Letter

1-The "authorities" are not altogether clear, and the matter is by no means beyond controversy. One legend describes the Emperor of India, Vikramaditya, as having learned of the Infant Salivahana, born of a virgin, simultaneously with Jesus at Bethlehem, and as being slain by him when on an expedition to destroy the young child, then in his fifth year. Salivahana was immediately crowned at Oujein. This was at the time of the beginning of the present era; and Salivahana is said to have left the earth in the year 79. Major Wilford explains that this name signifies "borne upon a tree."

The account generally accepted relates that when Kali was about to destroy the world, Vishnu made an avatar or descent for its salvation. He became the son of Vasudeva and Devaki. The king, Kansa, having commanded to destroy all male infants born at that time, he was carried away and placed with a foster-mother in another country. Hence Devaki is revered as Mother of the God.-A. W.

2-The government of Magadha or Northern India had fallen into the possession of the Maurya monarchs, belonging to the Sudra caste. King Chandragupta was allied to seleukos, and his successor Piyadarsi was the prince known to us as Asoka. Having embraced Buddhism, this prince labored zealously to disseminate the doctrines, not only over India, but to other countries, clear to Asia Minor and Egvpt. The cave temples, however, were constructed by older sovereigns, but the Brahmans often seized the sanctuaries of other worships and made them their own.-A. W.

3- Fergusson agrees with this description. In his treatise on "Architecture" he remarks: "The building resembles to a very great extent an early Christian Church. In Its arrangements, consisting of a nave and side aisles terminating in an apse or aide-dome round which the aisle is carried; Its arrangements and dimensions are very similar to those of the choir of Norwich cathedral."

General Furlong, while accepting the theory of the later origin of the structure, considers the temples at Karli as at first Buddhistic, adding the significant fact that Buddhism Itself appropriated the shrines and symbology of earlier worships. In confirmation of this the Rev. Dr. Stevenson, writing for the "Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society," insists that the worship of Siva was "an aboriginal superstition," which Brahmanism had adopted, but imperfectly assimilated. The rock-temples appear to have belonged to this worship, but there is no account or tradition of their construction, and Mr. J. D. Baldwin ascribes them to an earlier population.-A. W

4- A ghaut is a "bluff" near a body of water, rather than a mountain.-A. W.

5- This description indicates that, not Devaki, the mother of Krishna, but Uma, Maya or Prakriti the Sakti or consort of Siva, was the divinity here honored. It may be that the Brahmans, appropriated an archaic sanctuary to their own religion, named the divinity anew, but it was to be Sakti plainly enough. It is stated by Mr. Keane that a similar figure, known as the Shee-lah-na-gig is found in the Tara cemetery, and other sacred places in. Ireland.

6- Akbar was a Moghul monarch who came to the throne of Mahommedan India, about three centuries ago. Disgusted with the cruelties and arbitrary requirements of the Koran, he made himself familiar with other beliefs, finally adopting a mystic theism. His long reign was peaceful and prosperous, and he is grateful1y remembered.

7-Probably Joel, 11,19: "I will no more make :you a reproach among the heathen."

8- The Solar and Lunar races were Aryan alike. The Lunar peoples repudiated the Solar divinities or relegated them to a subordinate rank.

9- Probably the hanging gardens of the Median queen of Nebuchadnezzar.

10- In his great work on Rajasthan.

11- This statement is confirmed by several ancient classic writers.

12- The term Rajpoot signifies man of royal descent. The other designations of this caste, are Kshathriya, Rajauya and Rajbausi, all denoting royal association. After the Aryan Invaders of India bad begun to devote themselves to husbandry and the arts of civilized life, the military class remained apart and became a distinct caste and people. Like the princes of Assyria they are altogether kings and kingly.

Internet References

Karla Caves

Friday, 25 January 2019

Blavatsky Letter to Wilder from India 2/2


I will not stop to tell you of the beautiful avenues of centenarian trees full of monkeys above and fakirs below, neither of the Ganges with its blue waters and crocodiles. But I remind you of the ancient city mentioned in the Mahabarata near which took place all the fights between the Solar race and the Lunar.(8) The ruins of that city are four miles from Cawnpur, whole miles of fortresses and temples and palaces with virgin forests growing out of the room's, and monkeys again on the top of every stone. We went there on a she-elephant called ''active Peri'' (Tchamchoala Pari). Can't say that the ride on its back gives you any foretaste of the joys of heaven. There was no howda on it, and I for one, sitting on her tail, which she lovingly twirled around my legs, felt every moment a sensation something between sea-sickness and a fall during a nightmare. Olcott was perched on her left ear; Scott, a fellow of ours, a new convert, on the other; and Moolja Thecheray on her back. But the elephant was the securest vehicle and guide in such a journey. With her trunk she broke all the boughs before us, drove away the monkeys, and supported us when one of us was going to fall. 


We were half smashed, yet arrived safely to the ruins and landed near the cave of a holy sannyasi, called Lucky Brema, an astrologer, theurgist, thaumaturgist, etc., etc., another fakir just exhumed and resuscitated after a few months' sojourn in his grave, where he hibernated for lack of anything better to do. I suppose he prophesied all manner of evils to us for not believing in his idols, and so we departed. But the ruins must be five thousand years old, and they are pretty well historical.  

At Agra we saw Taj Mahal, that "poem in marble," as this tomb is called; and really it is the wonder of the age. The builder of it boasted that there was not one inch of either stone, wood or metal in this construction, which is truly gigantic-all pure marble and carved into an open fret-work like a piece of lace. It is enormous in size; sublime as an architectural conception grand and appalling. In Agra, this dirtiest of all towns, with its half-ruined huts of dried cow-dung, it looks like a magnificent pearl on a heap of manure. 
Deeg Palace
We visited in Rajpootana, Bhurtpur and Jeypur, two independent States. The Maharajas sent us their carriages, runners, horsemen with banners, and elephants. I imagined myself the Empress of Delhi. We went to Deeg, near Bhurtpur-something like the garden of Semiramis,(9) with six hundred and sixty-three fountains and jets, and the marble palace, four halls, pavilions, temples, etc., the palace, covering an area of two square miles, and with the garden, four. It was built by Suraj Mull Sing, three hundred and fifty years ago. But the old palace is two hundred years old. It is the place where a Rani (queen), seeing the Mussulmans ready to enter the fortress, assembled ten thousand women and children, and all her treasures, and burned herself and the rest in the sight of the invading army. 
Observatory, Jaipur
From there we went to Jeypur, the "Paris of India" it is called. It is indeed a Paris, as to the beauty and magnificent symmetry of its squares and streets, but it looks like a Paris of red sugar candy. Every house and building is of a dark pink color with white marble cornices and ornaments. All is built in the Eastern style of architecture. It was built by Jey Sing, the adept and astrologer; and his observatory, occupying an enormous palace with immense court-yards and towers, is full of machinery, the name and use of which is entirely forgotten. 

People are afraid to approach the building. They say it is the abode of Bhuts, or spirits, and that they descend every night from Bhutisvara (a temple of Siva, called the ''Lord of the Bhuts" or "spirits" or demons, as the Christians translate, overlooks the town from the top of a mountain thirty-eight hundred feet high), and play at astronomers there. 

A magnificent collection of over forty tigers is right on a square, a public thoroughfare in the middle of the town. Their roaring is heard miles off.
Amer Fort
We went on the Raja's elephants to Ambair, the ancient city and fortress taken by the Rajpoots from the Minas, 500 years, B.C. The first view of Ambair brings the traveller into a new world. Nothing can surpass its gloomy grandeur, solidity, the seeming impregnability of the Fort circumscribing the town for twelve miles round and extending over seven hills. It is deserted now for over twelve generations; centenarian trees grow in its streets and squares; its tanks and lees are full of alligators. But there is an indescribable charm about the beautiful, forsaken town, alone, like a forgotten sentry in the midst of wilderness, high above the picturesque valley below. Hills covered with thick brushwood, the abode of tigers, are crowned with ramparts, and towers and castles all around the ruined city. 
The ruined heap of Kuntalgart is considered to be three thousand years old. Higher still is the shrine and temple of Bhutisvara (of "unknown age," as the English prudently say). Read Bishop Heber's enthusiastic narrative of Ambair or Amberi. 
Sila Devi Temple
The palace of Dilaram Bagh is another miracle in marble, preserved because kept restored. Its innumerable halls, private apartments, terraces, towers, etc., are all built of marble. Some rooms have ceilings and walls inlaid with mosaic work, and lots of looking-glasses and vari-colored marbles. Some walls are completely carved lace-work-like again through and through; and the beauty of the design is unparalleled. Long passages, three and four hundred yards long, descend and ascend sloping without steps, and are marble also, though entirely dark. The bath halls, inlaid with colored marble, remind one of the best baths of Old Rome, but are vaster and higher. There are curious nooks and corners and secret passages and old armor and old furniture, which can set crazy an antiquarian. 

Sheesh Mahal
Remember, Todd(10) assures us that the Rajpoots trace their lineage backward without one single break for over two thousand and eighty years; that they knew the use of fire-arms in the third century, if I mistake not.(11) It is a grand people, Doctor; and their history is one of the most sublime poems of humanity; nay, by its virtues and heroic deeds it is one of the few redeeming ones in this world of dirt. The Rajpoots(12) are the only Indian race whom the English have not yet disarmed: they dare not. When you see a Rajpoot nobleman, he reminds you of the Italian, or rather the Provencal medieval Barons or troubadours. With his long hair, whiskers and mustaches brushed upward, his little white or colored toga, long white garments, and his array of pistols, guns, bow and arrows, long pike, and two or three swords and daggers, and especially the shield of rhinoceros skin on which their forefather, the Sun, shines adorned with all his rays, he does look picturesque, though he does look at the same time as a perambulating store of arms of every epoch and age. 
No foreigner is allowed to live in Jeypur. The few that are settled there live out of town but permission is obtained to pass whole days in examining the curiosities of the town, We have several "Fellows" of the Theosophical Society among Rajpoots, and they do take seriously to Theosophy. They make a religion of it. Your signature on the diplomas is now scattered all over Rajpootana. 
And now I guess you have enough of my letter. I must have wearied you to death. Do write and address Bombay, 108 Girgam Back Road. I hope this letter will find you in good health. Give my cordial salutations to Bouton and ask him whether he would publish a small pamphlet or book-'' Voyage'' or'' Bird's Eye View of India,'' or something to this effect. I could publish curious facts about some religious sects here. 
Missionaries do nothing here. In order to obtain converts they are obliged to offer premiums and salaries for the lifetime of one who would accept the "great truths of Christianity." They are nuisances and off color here. My love to Mrs. Thompson if you see her. Olcott's love to you. 

Yours ever sincerely, H. P BLAVATSKY
The Word Vol. 7 July 1908 (203-213)

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Blavatsky Letter to Wilder from India 1/2

Three elephants, Karla cave entrance
Below is a Blavatsky letter to Alexander Wilder, written soon after her arrival in India. It is a good example of the wonderful literary quality of her letter-writing as well as her travel writing, two forms of literature that she was well-suited for and are beginning to be appreciated. It makes one regret that new editions of her collected letters and her travel narrative, In the Land of the Blue Mountains seem to be stalled. From The Word Vol. 7 July 1908 (203-213)

Agra, April 28, 1879.
My dear Doctor, my very dear friend: 

How I do regret that you are not with us I How often I think of you, and wonder whether the whole of your archeological and poetical soul would not jump out in fits of rapture were you but to travel with us now, instead of squatting with your legs upon the ceiling, no doubt,-in your cold room of Orange street! Here we are travelling for this last month by rail, bullock- cart, elephant, camel and bunder boat, stopping from one to three days in every town, village and port; seeing subterranean India, not the upper one, and-part and parcel in the archaic ages of Manu, Kapilas and Aryanism. 
True, ever since the beginning of March we are being toasted, baked and roasted. The sun is fierce, and the slightest breeze sends waves of red hot air, puffs like from a baking furnace, full into your face and throat, and suffocates you at every step. But how I love the ineffable coolness and glory of the mornings and after sunset here. The moon of America, is at best, when compared with that of India, like a smoky olive-oil lamp. 
We get up at four and go to bed at nine. We travel more by night and in the morning and afternoons. But I want to tell you something of our travelling. I will skip the landscape parts of it, and stop only at the ruins of old cities and spots, deemed ancient already, during the Macedonian invasion-if there ever was one-by the historians in Alexander's suite. 

Karla Caves, entrance
First of all, we went to Randallat (Dekkan Plateau) to the Karli caves; cut in the heart of the living rock on the brow of the mountain, and, as the English archeologists generally concede- the chief cave-the largest as well as the most complete hitherto discovered in India ''was excavated at a time when the style was in its greatest purity.'' The English want us to believe that it was excavated not earlier than the era of Salivahana, about A.D. 75; and the Brahmans tell us that it was the first temple dedicated to Devaki; the Virgin in India.(1) It is hewn upon the face of the precipice, about eight hundred feet above the plain on which are scattered the most ancient Buddhist temples (of the first period of Buddhism about the age of Asoka). This alone would prove that the Karli temple is more ancient than 75 A.D.; for in their hatred toward the Buddhists, the Brahmans would have never selected for their Temple a spot in such close proximity to those of their enemies. "Never," says one of their Puranas, "never build a holy shrine without first ascertaining that for twenty kosses (two miles) around, there is no place belonging to the Nosties (atheists).(2)

The first temple, after having passed a large entrance-portico, fifty-two feet wide with sculptured figures and three colossal elephants barring the way, is dedicated to Siva, and must be of later date. It is of oblong form and reminds strikingly of a Catholic cathedral.(3)
Great Chatya, Karla Caves

It is one hundred and twenty-six feet long and forty-six broad, with a circular apse. The roof, dome-like, rests on forty-one gigantic pillars with rich and magnificent sculptured figures. As you can see in Fergusson's Cave-Temples, the linga is a dome surmounted by a wooden chattar or umbrella, under which used to sit the Maharaj-Hierophant, and judge his people. The linga is evidently empty inside, and used to be illuminated from within during the initiation mysteries (this is esoteric, not historical), and must have presented an imposing sight.

I know that it has a secret passage inside leading to immense subterranean chambers, but no one as yet has been able to find out the outward entrance. Tradition says that the Mussulmans, looking out for the pagoda-treasures, had once upon a time destroyed some masonry around the linga in order to penetrate into it. But lo! there began creeping out of it gigantic ants and snakes by the million, who attacked the invaders, and, having killed many of them, who died in fearful tortures, the Mussulmans hurried to repair the damage done and retired. 
Right above this temple are two stories more of temples to which one has to climb acrobat-like, or be dragged upward. All the face of the ghaut' (mountain) (4) is excavated, and the neighboring temple is dedicated to Devaki. Passing on: after having passed a subterranean tank full of water, and mounted four dilapidated steps to a balcony with interior rock benches and four pillars, one enters into a large room full of echoes because surrounded by eleven small cells, all sculptured. 

Image from Temple of Ekvira Devi
In this first hall is the cut-out image of Devaki. The goddess sits with legs apart and very indecently, according to profane persons, who are unable to understand the symbol. A thin stream of water from the rock threads down from between the legs of the lady,-representing the female principle.(5) The water dropping down into a small crevice in the stone floor, is held sacred. Pilgrims-I have watched them for hours, for we passed two days and slept in this temple-cave, and with folded hands having prostrated themselves before the Devaki, plunge their fingers into this water, and then touch with it their forehead, eyes, mouth and breast. Tell me what difference can we perceive between this and the R. Catholic worshipping their Virgin and crossing themselves with holy water. 
I cannot say that we felt very secure while sleeping on that balcony, without windows or doors, with nothing between us and the tigers who roam there at night. Fortunately, we were visited that night only by a wild cat which climbed the steep rock to have a look at us, or rather at our chickens, perhaps. 

Allahabad Pillar
Returning through Bombay, we went to Allahabad, eight hundred and forty-five miles from Bombay the ancient Pragayana of the Hindus, and held sacred by them, as it is built at the confluence of the Ganges and Jumna rivers. One of Asoka's columns is yet in the centre of Akbar's Fort.(6) But it was so hot-one hundred and forty-four degrees in the sun-that we ran away to Benares, five hours distant from there.

There's much to see in ancient Kasika, the sacred. It is the Rome of Hindu pilgrims, as you know. According to the latest statistics there are five thousand temples and shrines in it. Conspicuous among all is the great Durga Temple, with its celebrate
Durga Temple, Varanasi
d tanks. Amid temples and palaces and private buildings, all the roofs and walls and cornices are strung round and covered with sacred monkeys. Thousands of them infest the city. They grin at one from the roofs, jump through one's legs, upset passers-by, throw dirt at one's face, carry away your hats and umbrellas, and make one's life miserable. They are enough to make you strike your grandmother. Olcott's spectacles were snatched from his nose and carried away into a precinct which was too sacred for a European to get into. And so, good-bye eyeglasses. 

From thence to Cawnpur, the city of Nana Sahib, the place where seventy-eight English people were murdered during the Mutiny, and thrown by him into a well. Now a magnificent marble monument, a winged angel, presumably a female, stands over it; and no Hindu is allowed inside!! The garden around is lovely, and the inscription on the tombs of the slaughtered ones admirable. ''Thou will not, 0 Lord,'' says one of them from Joel (I don't remember verbatim) "allow the heathen to prevail over thy people, "-or something to that effect.(7) The heathen are termed ''criminal rebels'' on every tomb!

Kanpur Well site
Had the "heathen" got rid of their brutal invaders in 1857, I wonder how they would have termed them. The sweet Christians, the followers of the "meek and lowly Jesus" made at that time Hindus innocent of this particular Cawnpur murder, to wash the blood-soaked floors of the barracks by licking the blood with their tongues, (historical). But people insolent enough to prefer freedom to slavery will be always treated as rebels by their captors. O vile humanity, and still viler civilization!

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Blavatsky and the Thomas Taylor Revival

Thomas Taylor is a regular subject of discussion in Alexander Wilder’s letters in Letters to the Sage, Vol.2. Ralph Waldo Emerson was already quite familiar with him (see Wilder’s interest in Taylor spread to theosophical circles and this interest continued in esoteric circles with people such as Manly Hall and Samuel Weiser. Since Prometheus Trust launched their complete works of Thomas Taylor series, there has been a renewed interest in his life, works and influence. Besides his monumental corpus of translations of ancient Greek writings, his own original writings are full of interest, showing an erudition and insight that is difficult to match. Below is a brief introductory selection of some of his main writings, of which the liberal reader mays perhaps wish to investigate.
A Dissertation on the Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries (1790)
A masterful piece of research into Greek mysticism; still the most insightful work on the subject; a classic.
Theoretic Arithmetic, in three books, containing the substance of all that has been written on this subject by Theo of Smyrna, Nicomachus, Iamblicus, and Boetius (1816)
A concise, clear presentation of ancient numerology and number mysticism, a classic in the genre.
A Dissertation on the Philosophy of Aristotle (1812)
Besides his encyclopedic knowledge of Plato and the neoplatonists, Taylor was also thoroughly fluent in all the technicalities of Aristotelian philosophy (and the commentaries of Simplicius), as this massive original work shows.
A History of the Restoration of the Platonic Theology by the later Platonists (1789)
Taylor gives a very esoteric and perennialist take on Greek philosophical history, making this a unique and insightful introduction to Neoplatonism.
The Allegory of the Wanderings of Ulysses (1823)
An erudite study on the Homer’s Odyssey, which gives a clear overview of the esoteric symbolism of the neoplatonists.
The Triumph of the Wise Man over Fortune & The Creed of the Platonic Philosopher (1805)
The first is a fine piece of inspirational philosophy and the second is a nice, concise overview of the principles of Neoplatonism.
A Vindication of the Rights of Brutes (1792)
A wonderfully buddhistic and pioneering piece on animal rights.
List of Writings:

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Blavatsky, Alexander Wilder and Thomas Moore Johnson

Following up our review of Letters to the Sage, Vol. 2, I thought it might be useful to present a brief summary of some of the writings of Alexander Wilder and Thomas Moore Johnson:
Wilder began editing reprints of works on ancient religious symbolism for publisher James W Bouton,. (ca 1831-1902) just around the time the Theosophical Society was forming. Blavatsky was interested in the vogue for this type of literature and wanted to present a more spiritual interpretation, so there was a common interest between her and Wilder. It was therefore logical for Bouton to have Wilder work on Isis Unveiled. She would refer to these types of works extensively, starting with Isis Unveiled.

Ancient symbol worship : Influence of the phallic idea in the religions of antiquity.
(New York, J. W. Bouton ; London, Trübner & co., 1874), by Hodder M. Westropp and C. Staniland Wake)

Serpent and Siva worship and mythology,
(New York, J. W. Bouton, 1877), by Hyde Clarke and C. Staniland Wake)

The symbolical language of ancient art and mythology; an inquiry,
(New York, J.W. Bouton, 1892), by Richard Payne Knight

Wilder and Bouton were early champions of the great neoplatonic scholar, Thomas Taylor with a reprint of his classic Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries in 1876. Blavatsky appreciated Wilder’s platonic knowledge and jumped on the Thomas Taylor bandwagon (although the entry on Thomas Taylor in her Theosophical Glossary is from Kenneth MacKenzie and is not very good, he didn’t perform animal sacrifices):
The Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries: A Dissertation  (1876)
by Thomas Taylor , Alexander Wilder , Albert Leighton Rawson

In his letters, Wilder often discusses his translation of Iamblichus’ On the Mysteries, an important mystical text that he worked on sporadically for thirty years and sadly, was not published in book form in his lifetime. Presumably he left the copyrights and manuscript with Edmund Whipple. In his letters, we see that Blavatsky encouraged him with this work and Olcott offered to publish it:
Theurgia, Or, The Egyptian Mysteries
by Iamblichus , Alexander Wilder Publication date 1911 Publisher W. Rider & son ltd .; Metaphysical Pub. Co

This nice edition presents both the Wilder and Thomas Taylor translations side-by-side:

On the mysteries =​ De mysteriis Aegyptiorum /​
Iamblichus of Chalcis ; edited by Stephen Ronan with the translations of Thomas Taylor &​ Alexander Wilder ; together with two extracts from lost works of Proclus, On the sacred art &​ On the signs of divine possession. Hastings, E. Sussex, England : Chthonios Books, 1989.

Iamblichus’ Exhortation to Philosophy is part of his ten-volume neo-Pythagorism project, of which four volumes have come down to us. Johnson did a nice translation, which was later reprinted by David Fideler’s Phanes Press:
Iamblichus' Exhortation to the Study of Philosophy (1908):
Phanes Press, 1988 - Philosophy - 128 pages

There’s a whole blog devoted to this work (a new edition is due to appear in 2020):

Johnson also did a translation of Proclus’ Elements of Theology. This is a very influential philosophical work. An Arabic version was known as the Liber de Causis (the Book of Causes) of Aristotle. It was translated into Latin and Thomas Aquinas wrote a commentary on it. E. R. Dodds did a landmark translation of the work in 1934, setting a standard for thorough  manuscript research, although his translation is a little quirky, making Johnson’s translation still relevant:
Metaphysical elements (1909)
by Proclus, ca. 410-485; Johnson, Thomas M

Extracts from the Ronnie Pontiac Wilder/Johnson bio:

Short Jay Bregman text on Johnson from the Prometheus Trust anthology:

Short text by Wilder on Pagan Religion :