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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). 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.

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)
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.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Blavatsky - Responses to recent racism allegations

The occult and politics relation is a theme that has garnered quite an interest lately and so Blavatsky's name comes up in this context. Fortunately, Blavatsky has her defenders, who are capable of giving well-researched, articulate and thoughtful responses, thank you very much:
Steven Otto - October 2017
Roy Eckardt (leading scholar of Christian-Jewish relations and former chairman emeritus of religion studies at Lehigh University in Bethlehem) has asserted that the foundation of antisemitism and responsibility for the Holocaust lies ultimately in the New Testament, That's a truth we don't read about, but from such horrific and stupid lies, that the Third Reich was an occult or pagan state and that Theosophy, a doctrine of philanthropy, common sense, unity, was a base of such a contemptible system.
Here’s an older article, very good:
Liar, Racist, Antisemite, Satanist and Nazi!
Good basic overview of the question:
From the Editor's Desk: Was H.P. Blavatsky a Nazi?
Printed in the Summer issue of Quest magazine. 2015
In any event, neither HPB nor her followers have ever, to my knowledge, taught or practiced racial discrimination. As we've just seen, she herself rejected the notion of superior and inferior races. And the Society's First Object is "to form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or color" an ideal that Theosophy, as far I can see, has always tried to fulfill. Neither Blavatsky nor Theosophy is above criticism. No one is. But they are entitled to an appraisal that is fair and honest. To call them racist is neither.
Citation: Smoley, Richard."From the Editor’s Desk: Was H.P. Blavatsky a Nazi?" Quest 103.3 (Summer 2015): pg. 82.
Former Academician Theosophical now American Minervan does not shy away from these questions:
New York Times Profiles Tony Hovater: H.P. Blavatsky, an Anti-Semitic influence on Nazis?
Dominique Johnson - 19 Dec. 2017
Researchers not familiar with Theosophical History are most likely to check for sources likely in such places, despite those sources admitting that “spirit guides” exist, by claiming H.P. Blavatsky was a mere medium, madwoman, or both. Historian, Ronald Hutton described Blavatsky as “one of the century’s truly international figures,” whose ideas gained “considerable popularity.”
Theosophy, Aryans and Zurvanism: Concerning Nazi Aryanism and Remnants of Indic Civilization
Dominique Johnson - 9 May 2018
“If to-morrow the continent of Europe were to disappear and other lands to re-emerge instead; and if the African tribes were to separate and scatter on the face of the earth, it is they who, in about a hundred thousand years hence, would form the bulk of the civilized nations. And it is the descendants of those of our highly cultured nations, who might have survived on some one island, without any means of crossing the new seas, that would fall back into a state of relative savagery. Thus the reason given for dividing humanity into SUPERIOR and INFERIOR races falls to the ground and becomes a fallacy.” (Helena P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 2, p. 425)
Adolf Hitler’s Religion and Ideological Influences in National Socialism
Dominique Johnson  - May 22 2018
Fascism and the Occult: Is There a Connection?
Mitch Horowitz - November 2 2016
Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society combined the symbol with other religious images – including the Egyptian ankh, the star of the David, and the Sanskrit character “om” – to design its organizational insignia. For Theosophy, the swastika represented karma and rebirth; its inclusion among the other symbols was intended to express the unity of all faiths.
check out the nice online support for this piece:
Gary Lachman: There's absolutely no evidence that HPB was fascist - in fact, fascism as a political movement didn't exist during her lifetime. There is absolutely no evidence that she in any way nurtured or abetted the rise of Nazism. As Mitch makes clear, some of her ideas were misappropriated by some racial minded 'occultists' and mythographers and used for dubious purposes. But she had as much to do with this as Jesus had with the Inquisition - and readers of The Brothers Karamazov know that if Jesus came back during the Inquisition, he would have been burned at the stake. HPB here suffered the same fate as Nietzsche, another architect of the modern world whose ideas were misappropriated by the Nazis - who soon dropped him when it was clear that reading him would turn young Germans against the Fuhrer. There is evidence that HPB was progressive-minded, not conservative, and I suspect that the only reason she has not been appropriated by feminists is because of the occult connection. She was democratic by nature - unlike Crowley - abjuring her aristocratic inheritance and embracing a variety of people of all walks and ways of life. Unlike H P Lovecraft, who wrote dismissively of Theosophy, she was in no way racist, living happily among the Jews, Italians, and other immigrants - of which she herself was one - on the Lower East Side that Lovecraft despised as he made his way among them during his few years in NYC.
Article on the history of the Swastika:
Stop the outrage: India doesn’t have a monopoly on the symbol used to protest Modi’s UK visit – Ranjit Hoskote – November 15, 2015
Another source for the revival of the swastika in European popular culture was the Theosophical Society, established in 1875 by Helena Blavatsky, Colonel Olcott, and William Quan Judge. The Theosophists generated a persuasive world religion compounded from Hindu and Buddhist ideas, as well as occultist and utopian themes that they distilled from the fertile and febrile neo-religious imagination of late 19th-century Europe and North America. At its highest point, Theosophy counted many thousands of individuals across the world among its believers, and with its transreligious appeal, seemed well placed to rival the more established forms of belief.

Was Blavatsky a plagiarist and devil-worshipping racist? March 20 2017
When, just before her death, Blavatsky was asked to write a book in question and answer format that would answer the many occult and philosophical questions put to her over the years, her followers suggested that she adopt the title 'Master' for her answers. She was both horrified and angered in equal measure by this suggestion, for she had never claimed to be anything more than a student of the Mysteries she taught. Nor would she accept the accreditation 'teacher' either, much less 'guru'. Finally, it was agreed that she be identified simply by the word 'Theosophist' and her questioner as 'Enquirer' as you may read in the published book—The Key to Theosophy. In the same book Blavatsky was asked: "What do you consider as due to humanity at large?" The answer she gave was: "Full recognition of equal rights and privileges for all, and without distinction of race, colour, social position, or birth (The Key to Theosophy p. 230-231). Are these the words of a plagiarist and devil-worshipping racist? You decide!