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Monday, 17 September 2018

Blavatsky and Thomas Pynchon

Gravity’s Rainbow
"It is peacetime again now, no room for the pigeons in Trafalgar Square on V-E Night, everyone at the facility that day mad drunk and hugging and kissing, except for the Blavatskian wing of Psi Section, who were off on a White Lotos Day pilgrimage to 19 Avenue Road, St. John’s Wood." (Gravity’s Rainbow, 269)
269.35 White Lotos Day pilgrimage 19 Avenue Road, St. John's Wood
The address was the one-time home of Annie Besant which became headquarters for Blavatsky (HPB) and the TS(!) -- Theosophical Society-- once Besant joined the group. HPB died on May 8th, 1891, and May 8th became White Lotos Day, commemorating the anniversary of HPB shedding her mortal coil. May 8th, 1945 was V-E Day, of course. May 8th interestingly enough was also the death day (different years) of Oswald Spengler and Gustave Flaubert. Oh, and as every school boy knows, May 8th is Pynchon's birthday!
Madame Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society - October 2, 2012
Thomas Pychon alludes to Madame Blavatsky and the Theospochical Society in an ironic way. Madame Eskimoff (Madame E) is so symbolic of Madame Blavatsky from the eccentric way she lives to the way she meditates to the way she attempts to philosophize. The T.W.I.T., also very ironically, is representative of an entity equal to the Theosophical Society. Pynchon interwines Madame Blavatsky’s “departure” and what’s left of the Theosophical Society with the arrival of another similar society so that the two then become very comparable, if not one and the same.

Search for Shambhala in Against the Day
Blavatsky’s placement of Shambhala in the Gobi Desert is not surprising since the Mongols, including the Buryat population of Siberia and the Kalmyks of the lower Volga region, were strong followers of Tibetan Buddhism, particularly its Kalachakra teachings. For centuries, Mongols everywhere have believed that Mongolia is the Northern Land of Shambhala and Blavatsky was undoubtedly acquainted with the Buryat and Kalmyk beliefs in Russia.
Borrowed Time: Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day and the Victorian Fourth Dimension
Science Fiction Studies #113 = Volume 38, Part 1 = March 2011 Justin St. Clair
In one notable scene, Lew Basnight and the T.W.I.T.’s “Grand Cohen” attend a séance presided over by a Spiritualist named Madame Eskimoff. The Grand Cohen, at the séance’s end, launches into a fanciful speculation on the nature of the Victorian age, gleefully commingling a number of hyper-spatial hypotheses to suggest that the “real” Queen Victoria may be elsewhere, held captive in a lateral world “impervious to the passage of Time in all its forms,” while the Queen Vic in our dimension is merely “a sort of ghostly stand-in” (231).
Tantra in Pynchon’s Against the Day,
Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, John Rothfork (2016):
although the aristocratic British complicate the American view since even the agents of T.W.I.T. (True Worshippers of the Ineffable Tetractys), keen competitors of Madams Theosophical Society (219), end up doing journeyman work for the British Foreign Office in the Great Game of seeking to control central Asia. Auberon Halfcourt (half in the service of the British Foreign Office and half the disciple of T.W.I.T. in search of Shambhala) explains that "all the meddling of the Powers has only made a convergence to the Mahommedan that much more certain" (758) in central Asia.

 “Very Nice Indeed: Cyprian Latewood's Masochistic Sublime, and the Religious Pluralism of Against the Day”, Orbit: A Journal of American Literature. 1(2). doi- Jarvis M. . (2013)
the T.W.I.T., on the other hand, is inextricably connected to the politics of Imperial England, with agents throughout the world. The association of the T.W.I.T. with the real historical personage of Madame Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society, mystics later exposed as charlatans (Lopez C), lends credence to Yashmeen’s suspicion that “it might be politics, or even some scheme to defraud” (AtD 224), pointing to the mutually exclusive goals of divinity and politics, enlightenment and economics.
The Bride of Night: An Esoteric Journey in Against the Day
Sergej Macura.
Against the Day Seal

The red seal on the cover is Tibetan, and the image in the center of the seal is a Tibetan snow lion in front of three mountain peaks. The snow lion is a mythical creature which also appears in Tibet's flag. The snow lion is one of the four dignities. The snow lion represents fearlessness, joy, and bliss.
The summit in the seal is Mt. Kailasch, considered the center of the world by both Hindus and Tibetan Buddhists. It also is considered the headwaters of the main river systems in nothern India, including the Indus and Ganges. The Kailasch in the seal, along with the foothills, and rivers bear a strong resemblance to traditional representations in thangka paintings.

The text in the seal is written in the Tibetan umé script, and can be represented (using the Wylie transliteration scheme) as: bod gzhung tshong gi don gcod (pronounced: bö shung tsong gi dön tjö), which means: Trade Representative of the Tibetan Government.
The Deep Blavatsky are under-sand mountain ranges in Against the Day p. 434;
Krishnamurti in Ojai is mentioned in Inherent Vice, p. 186

Congratulation to Dewald Bester on his Doctoral Thesis where he gives a very modern/post-modern analysis of Blavatsky’s work via Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, Umberto Eco, Michel Foucault, etc…
D Bester - 2018
A thesis submitted to the Doctoral Degrees Board at the University of Cape Town

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Tim Rudbøg's PhD Thesis on Blavatsky

Congratulations to Tim Rudbøg for winning the 2015 ESSWE PhD Thesis Prize and he recently taught a university class on Blavatsky in 2017 called The New Spirituality and Modern Religious Crises: H. P. Blavatsky’s synthesis of ancient traditions and modern science. Below is an extract from his thesis.
PS - check out the program for the mega 2015 theosopalooza at Columbia University as part of the Enchanted Modernities project (Theosophy and the Arts: Texts and Contexts of Modern Enchantment):

H. P. Blavatsky's Theosophy in Context: The Construction of Meaning in Modern Western Esotericism (2012) (pp.444-452)
The primary objectives of the present thesis were to map and analyse Blavatsky’s major discourses and to demonstrate that Blavatsky’s construction of meaning was influenced by and intertextually connected with the wider intellectual contexts of her time such as modern historical consciousness, the critical enlightenment, studies in religion, studies in mythology, the modern sciences, spiritualism, systemic philosophy, reform movements and practical ethics.
In relation to the demonstration of these objectives the thesis also sought to answer the three interrelated research questions:
(1) how did Blavatsky use the concept ‘Theosophy’ and from where did she
derive the term?
(2) what did Blavatsky talk about the most in her works?
(3) in what way and to what extend were Blavatsky’s discourses influenced by
wider intellectual contexts?
The first question was primarily answered in chapter 2.1. In this chapter it was demonstrated that the word ‘Theosophy’ stretches back to late antiquity and that it has been used quite extensively in a number of ways throughout Western history up to Blavatsky’s reception of the term. In relation to this Begriffsgeschichte, it was shown that Blavatsky clearly inherited some of the accumulated semantic content of the concept. Blavatsky especially retained the word’s association with the Neo-Platonists and the common connotation of ‘divine inspiration’ or ‘intuition’. It was furthermore shown that Blavatsky’s first use of the term was in a private letter to Hiram P. Corson (February 1875) and that it was directly derived from Christian D. Ginsburg’s The Kabbalah Its Doctrine, Development and literature: An Essay (1865). The word entered the soon to be ‘Theosophical Society’ at a pre-formation gathering, 13 September 1875, when it was derived from Webster's American Dictionary (1868). Thereafter Blavatsky only used the word ‘Theosophy’ four times between 1874- 1878 in relation to which Alexander Wilder's New Platonism and Alchemy (1869) was the primary source. Blavatsky's further construction of the concept ‘Theosophy’ could be classified into two major phases: (1) first major conceptualization (1879), and (2) second major conceptualization (1888-1889). Four general themes in her further usage of the term could be inductively established and shown to operate subtly in her text on three ontological levels ((1) a-historical, (2) historical, (3) practical). The general ways in which Blavatsky came to use the term were in relation to: (1) Neo-Platonic roots, (2) Wisdom-Religion, (3) transcendental psychology and divine inspiration, (4) practical Theosophy, divine ethics and universal brotherhood, and (5) secrets of nature. Some of the innovative connotations with which Blavatsky infused the term were especially that it on the abstract a-historical level was used to refer to an absolute Truth and that it at the historical level became a synonym for the ‘Wisdom-Religion’ in its capacity as the ancient common source of all religions. On the practical level Blavatsky furthermore innovatively construed ‘Theosophy’ as ‘Divine Ethics’.
It was also demonstrated that Blavatsky came to distinguish between ‘Theosophy’ (i.e. the abstract universal divine truth and its original historical manifestation) and Occultism/Magic and that in relation to the latter she came to regard her own exposition of specific occult doctrines as stemming from what she termed ‘trans-Himalayan esotericism’. Her major exposition of the doctrines of the ‘trans-Himalayan esotericism’, The Secret Doctrine, therefore hardly mentioned the term ‘Theosophy’ at all. Thus, Blavatsky did not conceptualise her trans-Himalayan system of esoteric philosophy as ‘Theosophy’—a term reserved for universal Truth and the ancient historical Wisdom Religion. On the other hand, her specific trans-Himalayan system, which increasingly became her focus from the eighteen-eighties to her death (as shown in chapter 2.6), was regarded as the purest transmission of the ancient Wisdom Religion in our time. Finally, for Blavatsky, the practical dimension of her construct ‘Theosophy’, as divine ethics, became the cause for which the Theosophical Society worked (as discussed in chapter 2.7).
 The second and third research questions were primarily answered in chapters 2.2 to 2.7. The major topics, which Blavatsky discussed the most throughout her many works, were identified as: (1) ‘Theosophy’, (2) ancient knowledge, (3) Christian dogmatism, (4) the modern sciences, (5) spiritualism, (6) her own system of esoteric philosophy or trans-Himalayan esotericism (while only her discourse for ‘system’ was discussed in this thesis, Blavatsky’s doctrines, related to this ‘system’ and their demonstration through the comparative study of religions, accounts for the most substantial parts of her text corpus), and (7) universal brotherhood. These themes constitute her primary intellectual engagements and were therefore analysed and mapped as such in this thesis. The major theme of ‘ancient knowledge’—which was also one of the primary connotations of Blavatsky’s use of the concept ‘Theosophy’, in the sense of an ancient Wisdom Religion—was, however, more penetrating than any other of her discourses. Blavatsky discussed nearly all of her major topics in relation to this theme: (1) she criticised Christian dogmatism for having distorted the original ancient knowledge; (2) she criticised the modern sciences for having discovered nothing not already known to the ancients and for not having acknowledged their achievements; (3) she argued that the true source of spiritualism was the original ancient occultism/magic; (4) she argued that the true ‘system’ of esoteric philosophy was the ancient ‘esoteric system’ or ‘secret doctrine’ and; (5) she equally stated that the idea of universal brotherhood was an ancient idea. Blavatsky’s discourse for ancient knowledge was thus the major theosophical discourse in Blavatsky’s work and underlies all of her other discourses to a varying degree.
In relation to the third question, it was shown in each of the discourse chapters that each of Blavatsky’s discourses were influenced by their wider intellectual contexts to such an extent that these contexts not only supplied much of the data or input—but also formed her discourses. In chapter 2.2 it was shown that contrary to modern progressivist discourse, Blavatsky did not find modern society, culture and knowledge superior to the ancients. However, Blavatsky’s discourse for ancient knowledge was to a considerable extend moulded by the context of modern historical consciousness and its two major dimensions: (1) the idea of progress and (2) the quest for origins. Blavatsky adopted the modern Western idea of progress prevalent among intellectuals at the time, but as the idea of linear progress clashed with her view of the ancients possessing higher knowledge she had to reconstruct the idea of progress to accommodate this discrepancy. As a result, Blavatsky already in Isis Unveiled began to formulate a theory of progressive historical cycles including the notion of the rise and fall of civilizations. The second major section in this chapter demonstrated that the quest for ancient knowledge or for origins was a common way of thinking among intellectuals during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and that Blavatsky’s discourse for ancient knowledge was significantly embedded in this larger context. More specifically, it was demonstrated how the contexts of the science of religion and mythology were the immediate historical sources and contexts in relation to which Blavatsky formulated her idea of an ancient ‘Wisdom Religion’. In other words, the historical search for an original religion was not only an occult strategy or rhetoric of higher knowledge—but was primarily an adoption of a common intellectual/historical occupation at the time.
In chapter 2.3 it was shown that Blavatsky’s critique of Christian dogmatism was largely derived from the critical Enlightenment trend of Biblecritique— typical of the intellectual climate of the nineteenth century. However, even though Blavatsky eagerly embraced the Enlightenment tradition of dispelling superstition and honouring truth, she did not agree with the consequences that often followed Enlightenment/post-Enlightenment critique of religion and the general secularization of society such as increased materialism and the decline of spirituality. To her, these trends represented a major crisis and she clearly regarded it necessary to fight against destructive religious critique. However having absorbed so much modern Bible critique, Blavatsky was unable to regard Western Christianity and its dogmas as an institution able to counteract the growing materialism of her age. Like others at the time who felt a crisis of faith, Blavatsky therefore sought to restore the authority of religion not by dismissing modern scholarship but by employing it as part of her own discourse. She used works from Bible criticism, the science of religion and the mythographers to deconstruct the humanly constructed Christian dogmas and in its stead she reconstructed what she believed to be the truly divine aspects of religion or the principles of the ancient universal pan-esotericism. Blavatsky’s bible-critique was thus not only the anti-Christian polemics of an occultist, but was the adoption of one of the major intellectual discourses at the time in order to establish what she found to be true religion in a time of religious crisis. 
In chapter 2.4 it was shown how, in mainstream culture, the close relation between natural philosophy and esotericism gradually disintegrated after the ‘Scientific Revolution’ and that in the increasingly secularised modern context several movements—such as Romantic Naturphilosophie, mesmerism, Swedenborgianism, spiritualism and modern occultism—continued their attempt to bridge the spiritual and material domains. Blavatsky’s discourse was a part of this bridging activity as well as a direct response to the growing authority of the new naturalists. It was demonstrated that—despite previous arguments that ‘occultism’ was largely an adaptation to modern scientism and thereby a way to legitimize its marginal views in the modern context—‘occultism’, as expressed in the works of Blavatsky, contains greater nuances. Blavatsky’s attitude towards the modern sciences primarily consisted of a severe critical reaction to what was perceived to be the methodological and doctrinal limitations of contemporary scientists. Rather than appealing to them, they were perceived to stand in the way of an understanding of and reassertion of spirit in the natural domain. This, however, implies that even though Blavatsky for the most part did not agree with the modern sciences, Blavatsky’s discourse for occultism was formulated in relation to the sciences. In other words, Blavatsky defined occultism as the answer to the limitations of the modern sciences. Blavatsky thus posed ‘occultism’ or the ‘secret doctrine’, as an alternative, more comprehensive science of the whole of nature—inclusive of both the material and spiritual dimensions—to the new natural sciences and the agnosticism that excluded spirit from nature. In relation to her critique, an analysis—of how Blavatsky’s discussion, definition or presentation of ‘occultism’ and ‘the secret doctrine’ was influenced by the context of ‘scientism’—was thus relevant.

This analysis demonstrated that in Isis Unveiled, scientism only entered indirectly into Blavatsky’s definitions of ‘magic’ through mesmerism and the works of Eliphas Levi. In The Secret Doctrine, scientism rather marked the comparative context in which Blavatsky discussed the ‘secret doctrine’, ‘occultism’ and ‘esoteric philosophy’. The definitions, discourses or presentations of the terms magic, occultism and the secret doctrine were more aligned with religious and philosophical ideas than with the modern sciences. In terms of authority, presentation and self-identification the ancients thus outweighed the moderns. Thus, Blavatsky’s discourse was not primarily one of appeal to the modern sciences or an adoption of scientism as a legitimising strategy—but one of a revival of ancient science or magia naturalis to counter the materialism of the modern context that had recently deprived nature of its spiritual meaning. 
In chapter 2.5 Blavatsky’s relation to the larger context of modern spiritualism was discussed, mapped and analysed. It was demonstrated that in the wider sense of the term—that is, being opposed to the values of materialism—Blavatsky was a spiritualist and had been extensively involved in spiritualism including ‘modern spiritualism’. However, in addition to spiritualism Blavatsky also had a wider background in Western esoteric traditions that was central to her understanding and construction of spiritualism/modern spiritualism. It was shown that Blavatsky from an early date criticised modern spiritualism and constructed spiritualism as a modern presentation of ancient magic and occultism. Initially, Blavatsky thought she could reform modern spiritualism or cleanse it of what she perceived to be ignorant materialistic theories, but as she did not succeed, Blavatsky used modern spiritualism as a launching pad for a further development of ‘new occultism’. Blavatsky’s critique of modern spiritualism, based on Western esoteric traditions and particularly on Eliphas Levi’s writings, thus became the opportunity to define her own occultism resulting in three primary characteristics: (1) a knowledge of ancient esotericism and associated theories of spirits, (2) an ideal of the adept, and (3) a systematic spiritual philosophy. These became some of the defining features of the new occultism that emerged during the late nineteenth century and can be said to represent the construction of meaning in Blavatsky’s work from the convergence of two intellectual contexts—modern spiritualism and older western esoteric traditions.
In chapter 2.6 it was demonstrated that, increasingly through the eighteen-eighties and eighteen-nineties, Blavatsky adopted the ‘will to system’ prevalent in the preceding and immediate intellectual context as a way of constructing meaning. Blavatsky’s discourse was, however, not only based on reason and empirical experimentation that substantiated the philosophical systems of the day but on mystical divine origins, initiated access, ancient texts and spiritual authority, as well. It was demonstrated that Blavatsky, after the publication of Isis Unveiled, began to portray the ancient Wisdom-Religion as a ‘system’ and that Blavatsky, in collaboration with other central theosophists, also began to construct a specific system that was persistently, through the years, defined as trans-Himalayan esotericism originating with the mahatmas and ultimately from Shambhala. This development of a specific ‘system’, however, clashed with the more general non-dogmatism policy of the Theosophical Society and soon led to several significant conflicts within the Society, such as the resignation of Anna Kingsford and T. Subba Row.
In the final chapter (2.7) it was shown that the idea of universal brotherhood, which became central to Blavatsky’s and the Theosophical Society’s intellectual and practical work in India, had been current since ancient times and that Blavatsky’s contemporary inspiration resided in the Enlightenment ideals of equal human rights and nineteenth-century initiatives of social reform. In particular, both spiritualism and Freemasonry provided the immediate Western sources for Blavatsky’s early use of the idea. It was demonstrated that especially the move to India (1879) became the unique platform for the practise of this Enlightenment ideal. In India the Society would work to revive ancient Indian culture as it was coupled with the idea of ancient wisdom, counteract the Christian missionaries and British rule, and spread Theosophy among the Indian people through Blavatsky’s and Olcott’s cooperation with Hindu and Buddhist reformers. The idea of universal brotherhood was furthermore specifically connected to the Theosophical policy of no-dogma, as this was believed to lead to intellectual unity and thereby to avoid superficial divisions among men. In India, universal brotherhood thus became the central cause for which the Theosophical Society was intended to work and a direct extension of the ‘divine ethics’ of Blavatsky’s ‘Theosophy’.
The working hypothesis of this thesis was that even though Blavatsky primarily is thought of as an esotericist, her construction of meaning was to a greater extent, than has hitherto been analysed, influenced by and intertextually connected with many of the major intellectual trends of her time. In order to demonstrate this hypothesis a set of theoretical assumptions and a specific methodology, based on language, intertextuality and close contextual historical study, was adopted. After having analysed and mapped Blavatsky’s major discourses and answered the research questions, it can thus be concluded that: simply to read Blavatsky’s discourses and their ideas as the idiosyncratic strategies of an esotericist in opposition to mainstream culture would be to largely fail to see that they were in fact part of the larger cultural web of meaning and that they in fact only can be understood in this larger context. It was shown that the larger cultural web of meaning supplied the data and shaped her discourses to a considerable extent. Thus it can be concluded that Blavatsky was deeply engaged in the intellectual currents of her day and based on these engagements posed her own solutions to many of their problems. The construction of meaning in modern Western esotericism, in the case of Blavatsky, was thus based on and formed in interaction with larger intellectual contexts. Such a theoretical/methodological apparatus that can avoid an a priori reduction of the research objects to a specific form of discourse, strategy or rhetoric and thereby neglect their historical context, is profitable for the future study of Western esotericism, as it will facilitate a better understanding of how Western esotericism was a part of the intellectual landscape rather than something isolated from it or only engaged with it in order to legitimize its minority views.
In addition to the above general conclusions this thesis has demonstrated several particular and important historical details. For these see each of the chapter conclusions and their part-conclusions. Finally, the author would like to express the hope that this thesis will serve as a contribution to future research into Blavatsky’s Theosophy and imagines a fruitful future for this area of research thinking that an analysis of Blavatsky’s particular doctrines now seems closer at hand than before this thesis was completed.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Blavatsky & Annie Besant 2

This is our final post covering 2017. In 2017, Annie Besant received a lot of attention, and so ironically Blavatsky received a lot of press in relation to both Nazism and Indian Independence. The year also saw a new publication concerning the Coulomb/Hodgson affair by Daniel Caldwell and many interesting academic publications. There was also the return of the Theosophical History journal, notably featuring a long letter by Blavatsky to Ralston Skinner. Another eventful year.

This is also most likely the final dense thematic post that I'll be doing. I've covered three years of news and it's clear that interest in Blavatsky remains strong and seems to be growing. I'm most impressed by the diversity of subjects that have been assembled, but I'd like to get away from the regular, systematic format. In the future, I'd like to focus more on original writing, with occasional posts on various topics.

Annie Besant And Her Dauntless Legacy Of Resistance
Ruchira Ghosh - April 6, 2018
Annie Besant was a noted philosopher, social reformer, women’s rights activist, besides being a prolific writer and orator. Her name remains inextricably linked with India’s struggle for freedom. She figures among world famous personalities who made India their home for good.
Annie Besant: An inconvenient woman
Manu S. Pillai Oct 06 2017
One of the founders of Banares Hindu University, the scene of a woman’s agitation today, Annie Besant lived unconventionally, defiant of social norms, well before she came to India
Gandhi Learned Hinduism From Blavatsky’s Occult Theosophy
Feb. 1st, 2018
Though the extent to which the occult Theosophical movement influenced Gandhi and Indian independence is not commonly known, it is well documented. It could also be said that the widespread influence of Eastern spirituality on Western culture that is so prominent today can be attributed largely to Blavatsky and Theosophy. Had she and her followers not taken the steps to influence Indian independence and the revivification of Hinduism, Indian history may have been different.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Blavatsky & The Morning of the Magicans (Pauwels/Bergier)

As covered fairly extensively in our May 2018 posts, due probably to the current socio-political realities (i.e. the rise of right-wing nationalistic politics with xenophobic agendas due to refugee problems), there has been a recent upswing in interest in the relation of politics and the occult, including the influence of the theosophical movement on Nazism.
It didn’t take long for people to develop an occult mythology around Nazism. In Lewis Spence’s 1940 Occult Causes of the Present War, you already have the anti-occult, satanistic mythologizing of Nazism, but he opposes it against a Christian worldview instead of a scientific one. René Guénon’s 1949 Letter to Julius Evola discusses Aleister Crowley’s role as a black magician connected to Nazism, and the Nazi regime was amply mythologized in the popular culture of the wartime period. These ideas coalesced into an opulent conspiracy theory in 1960, spawning something of a cottage industry in books on Nazism and the occult. This outgrowth caught the attention of more academic historians around 1976 and has been something of a cottage industry in that field as well ever since (Goodrich-Clarke, pp. 219-225).
For this post, I thought I would add my own small contribution to this question by looking at the mothership that started it all in 1960, Pauwell and Bergier’s Morning of the Magicians, a rather funky book that became a surprise bestseller in France and the caught on with the English market a few years later just in time for the counter-culture movement.Where to begin in describing this curious work? Basically one could say that, besides spawning the whole occult Nazism mythology, it also spawned the whole Eric Von Daniken – Chariot of the Gods UFO/Ancient Civilization mythology. Moreover, there is also a pre-X-Men-like notion of a future breed of super-powered mutants spawned from experiments in nuclear energy.
Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society get mentioned a few times, and so how is she portrayed in all of this? They basically take the theosophical White Magic/Black Magic concept and turn it around. Blavatsky and the TS are said to have “opened the door to a luciferian East”, ( Pauwels & Bergier, 446) meaning that they are somehow connected to a hidden lodge of black magicians which act as a secret governing power behind Hitler and the  Nazi regime. He relies on Guénon’s 1921 Théosophisme, histoire d’une pseudo-religion to discredit Theosophy, implying that Hitler is an anti-Christ figure, although Guénon gets lumped into the occult Nazi-inspirer camp as well.
René Guénon
Now it seems that Pauwels had a mystic bent, so it looks like a case of a would-be mystic, disgruntled with bad experiences with a Gurdjieff group, wrote this book to settle a score with the occult scene, and set up his own esoteric current. (Lachman, 1). Therefore Blavatsky, René Guénon, Aleister Crowley, the Golden Dawn and Gurdjieff all get shot down at one point (Rudolf Steiner somehow gets spared, perhaps because he was a conspicuous target of Nazi persecution and possibly due to his Christian bent, Pauwels having had a Roman Catholic upbringing).

Rudolf Steiner
Later on, Blavatsky is credited with the notion of primitive gigantic human beings, which they adapt (470-71). The actual language is so evasive and ambiguous that is difficult to tell how they feel about occult philosophy, but basically they’re implying that all esoteric groups more or less partake of black magic, although their occult doctrines of ancient giants and evolutionary processes are correct, and the white magicians are represented by modern technological society, with Pauwells and Bergier giving the correct explanations of occult concepts, albeit in a more materialistic bent.
Charles Fort
Ironically, one can notice the theosophical influence in their approach, with the spiritual aspect being replaced with atomic-age science and UFOs, a kind of materialistic, space-age version of Isis Unveiled, if you will (with a Charles Fort influence as well), or rather volume one of Isis. Volume two of Isis seems to have actually been quite an influence on another milestone of popular esotericism, Baigent, Hunt and Lincoln's 1982 The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail; and so one can see the extent of the Blavatsky influence. Therefore one could posit that this book is very much concerned with appropriations of theosophical concepts while rejecting the esoteric philosophy in favor of materialistic, albeit fantastic explanations. The Ancient Astronaut/UFO genre has even been studied as part of the Theosophical Current; Krueger gives a good overview of the theories of how theosophical speculations morphed into the ancient astronaut current (pp. 56-59). Strangely, this type of material has apparently been considered in communist Russia as excellent anti-theistic, pro-materialism propaganda (Colavito).
Sadly, this demonizing portrayal certainly didn’t help Blavatsky’s beleaguered reputation at the onset of the counter-culture revolution. This book is surely the main source for a lot of strange conspiracy theories concerning Blavatsky that can be found on the internet. Fortunately, more recent academic works on Nazism & the Occult treat Blavatsky with a more cautious, respectful neutrality of sorts (simply positioning her as the formulator of an esoteric racial theory). Lachman has a positive ‘there is no bad publicity’ take on this issue, citing Mircea Eliade, he points out how it inspired counter-culture optimism and how it put Blavatsky’s name out there for a whole new audience (8). I think that the book does serve as a good example of how influential Theosophy has been in popular culture.
How did Blavatsky’s mainstream reputation survive this negative portrayal? Briefly, one can point to a few things. Goodrich-Clarke’s 1985 The Occult Roots of Nazism, succinctly points out the largely spurious nature of the Morning of the Magicians Nazi mythology, although Blavatsky does not fare very well in that book, either (218-221). Lachman (8), May (107) and Kripal (180) have further pointed out the book’s various problems of historical credibility. Rather remarkably, Goodrich-Clarke himself does a dramatic about-face and devotes a positive ground-breaking 2004 study of Blavatsky in his Western Esoteric Masters series, giving her a much needed boost to her reputation. Also, Antoine Faivre in works such as Access to Western Esotericism (1994), bucked the trend of the largely Guénon -inspired negative approach to Theosophy in French publishing and presented Theosophy in a more articulate and positive light.
Furthermore, William Quinn's 1997 The Only Tradition convincingly pointed out the salient problems of historical accuracy in Guénon’s 1921 Théosophisme (111-114). Sadly, all this did not stop a publisher from featuring a portrait of Blavatsky on the cover of a recent edition of Morning of the Magicians. Ironically, the more positive aspect of the Blavatsky mythology that developed around World War 2 figures in another landmark of literary pseudo-history, Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow: "It is peacetime again now, no room for the Pigeons in Trafalgar Square on V-E Night, everyone at the facility that day mad drunk and hugging and kissing, except for the Blavatskian wing of Psi Section, who were off on a White Lotos Day pilgrimage to 19 Avenue Road, St. John’s Wood" (269).

Bergier and  Pauwels
That is not to say that Pauwels and Bergier did not have credentials. Pauwels was a successful novelist, journalist and editor and went on to have a successful career playing off the baby-boomer trends of the period. (Pauwels, Wikipedia). Bergier was a resistance fighter who was interned in a Nazi prisoner camp. He had a scientific background as well as an avid interest in science-fiction, helping to popularize H.P. Lovecraft in France. He went on to write many books on the supernatural and alternative science (Bergier, Wikipedia). Both were quite successful at using controversy and sensationalism in the mass media to promote their interest in the supernatural and paranormal investigation.

H.P. Lovecraft
I think part of what made the book so successful is the literary savvy. Both authors are very familiar with supernatural fiction and the perception of Nazism in popular culture and deftly use a lot of the dramatic techniques of supernatural fiction in presenting something akin to a pulp science-fiction thriller; the addition of more specific historical references and alternative science is simply an extension of the feeling of believability that the supernatural literary techniques strive to instill.
Jack Kirby's Eternals
The book actually reminds me of something out of a Jack Kirby comic book. Kirby, who was also influenced by American pulp science-fiction of the thirties and forties (although Chris Knowles has a more mystical take on Kirby’s inspiration), has explored similar themes throughout his career; for example, see his take on the whole Chariot of the Gods concept, in his Eternals series. Conclusion: as an imaginative pop culture literary influence addressing the hopes and fears of post-war industrial society, the book has a certain interest, as an experimental, intuitive alternative historical essay, it suffers from a woeful proliferation of inaccurate and sketchy information.
Nazi concern with super-soldier experiment in Kirby's Captain America
PS. Note that Blavatsky herself was precisely opposing the type of Satanistic world-view and demonizing tendencies of the monotheistic religions that she is being targeted with. Her critique of religion is mainly against what we would now term fundamentalism, which she described as a materializing and anthropomorphicizing of spiritual concepts. Hence, she considered the religious portrayal of the devil to be a myth, a superstition. Isis Uveiled, vol.2, chap. 10 is a very focused, well-researched essay on this question:
Colavito, Jason. The Strange Case of "Morning of the Magicians" in Soviet Russia
Goodrich-Clarke, Nicholas. The Occult Roots of Nazism (1985)
Guenon, Rene, Letters from Guenon to Evola (X)
Kripal, Jeffrey J.  Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal (2011)
Krueger, Frederic. “The Stargate Simulacrum: Ancient Egypt, Ancient Aliens, and Postmodern Dynamics of Occulture” Aegyptiaca. Journal of the History of Reception of Ancient Egypt No.1 (2017), 47-74
Knowles, Chris. Mind Bomb Propheices of a Pop Astrognostic.
Lachman, Gary.  Turn Off Your Mind: The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of the Age of Aquarius (2001)
May, Andrew. Pseudoscience and Science Fiction (2017)
Pauwels, Louis & Jacques Bergier Le Matin des Magiciens (1960)
Pynchon, Thomas. Gravity's Rainbow (1973)
Quinn, William. The Only Tradition (1997)
Spence , Lewis.  Occult Causes of the Present War,(1940)

See also Gary Lachman’s interview with Antoine Faivre:

Monday, 11 June 2018

Blavastky & New Age Spirituality

Prayer beyond praying
Dr. Satish K. Kapoor
Prayer awakens the sixth sense-Faculty X-and shows one the path to success in whatever field one wants to operate. Madame Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society, wrote (Isis Unveiled, I): Prayer is desire, and desire develops into will.

Where the author got this Blavatsky anecdote, I do not know:
Joy of Sharing
Saturday, May 13, 2017

Stop Studying Success Gurus. Do This Instead.
Michael Schein
Yet Blavatsky is responsible for the popularization of Eastern spirituality in the West, which led to mass interest in activities such as yoga and meditation. Today everyone from professional athletes to Silicon Valley billionaires to neuroscientists vouch for the benefits of these practices.

Blind Faith Has No Place In Witchcraft
May 4, 2017 by Mat Auryn
While I do not blindly believe in many of the things that she taught, Helena Blavatsky once wrote that "I speak ‘with absolute certainty’ only so far as my own personal belief is concerned. Those who have not the same warrant for their belief as I have, would be very credulous and foolish to accept it on blind faith."

Faith Healer insipired by Theosophy

Manly Hall gets a mainstream biography:
"Master of the Mysteries: New Revelations…" Review & Interview with Author Louis Sahagun
Tenebrous Kate June 14, 2016

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Blavatsky Biographical 2

The Sylvia Cranston bio is now available online:
Blavatsky's Influence on Occult America with Mitch Horowitz
S10:Ep51 hr, 3 minsDecember 7, 2017Guest: Mitch Horowitz

K. Paul Johnson bio in The Dictionary of Modern American Philosophers (pp. 249-254):
If you want a good, solid short HPB bio, here's one:
[The sketch below of Madame Blavatsky’s life has been adapted (with additions and deletions) from a biographical article on H.P.B. written by Boris de Zirkoff and published in Theosophia (Los Angeles, California), Summer 1968, pp. 3-8.]
an old radio show transcript
Esoteric Masters: Part Two - Madame Blavatsky's Theosophy
She was a big cigar smoking impoverished Russian, who claimed a noble family background and travelled the world giving clairvoyant demonstrations. Yet Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky was destined to become the founder of an international esoteric movement, which drew to its bosom a galaxy of influential men and women.
Madame Blavatsky: Esoteric Philosopher with Gary Lachman
Thursday, May 3 at 6:30 PM 2018 - 8:30 PM
Less than accurate, but well-meaning theatrical piece:
Review: Deviant Women: Madame Blavatsky
Deviant Women: Madam Blavatsky was a perfect blend of dark and comedic, of the spooky and the playful. It was a night any Victorian lady or gentleman would be proud of.
Cool Russian Documentary - English dubbing
H P Blavatsky Biography Part 1.of 5 - Jan 13, 2010
This powerful and informative Drama Documentary made for Russian Television in 1991 presented Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (The founder of Modern Theosophy) to the Russian public after details of her life and work had been suppressed for decades under Communism. English subtitles and voiceover. This film is recommended as an introduction to H P Blavatsky by Cardiff Theosophical Society, Wales, UK.