H. P. Blavatsky and the Theosophical Movement by Charles J. Ryan

Copyright © 1975 by Theosophical University Press. All rights reserved.

Chapter 5


Upon H. P. Blavatsky's return from the Eddy Farm at Chittenden to New York, she again met Colonel Olcott, who, at her request, introduced his friend, William Quan Judge, a young attorney of Irish birth, who was just starting to practice law. From her first meeting with Olcott, she tried to open his eyes to the realities hidden behind the phenomena of the spiritualists, and to impress on his mind the rudiments of the theosophical interpretation of those phenomena so far as they were facts. His response was slow, but he ultimately accepted her explanation. She writes:

I was sent to America on purpose and sent to the Eddies. There I found Olcott in love with spirits, . . . I was ordered to let him know that spiritual phenomena without the philosophy of Occultism were dangerous and misleading. I proved to him that all that mediums could do through spirits others could do at will without any spirits at all; that bells and thought-reading, raps and physical phenomena, could be achieved by anyone who had a faculty of acting in his physical body through the organs of his astral body; and I had that faculty ever since I was four years old, as all my family know. I could make furniture move and objects fly apparently, and my astral arms that supported them remained invisible; all this ever before I knew even of Masters. — The Path, X, 369, March 1896

With W. Q. Judge her approach was different. Though interested in occultism and the philosophy of the inner side of nature, he was not "in love with spirits." He quickly recognized her mission, as is shown in the following words from his tribute to her memory:

In 1874, in the City of New York, I first met H. P. B. in this life. . . . It was her eye that attracted me, the eye of one whom I must have known in lives long passed away. She looked at me in recognition at that first hour, and never since has that look changed. Not as a questioner of philosophies did I come before her, . . . but as one who, wandering many periods through the corridors of life, was seeking the friends who could show where the designs for the work had been hidden. And true to the call she responded, revealing the plans once again, and speaking no words to explain, simply pointed them out and went on with the task. . . . it was teacher and pupil, elder brother and younger, both bent on the one single end, but she with the power and the knowledge that belong but to lions and sages. — Lucifer, VIII, 290, June 1891

And of her character he writes:

That she always knew what would be done by the world in the way of slander and abuse I also know, for in 1875 she told me that she was then embarking on a work that would draw upon her unmerited slander, implacable malice, uninterrupted misunderstanding, constant work, and no worldly reward. Yet in the face of this her lion heart carried her on. . . .

Much has been said about her "phenomena," some denying them, others alleging trick and device. Knowing her for so many years so well, and having seen at her hands in private the production of more and more varied phenomena than it has been the good fortune of all others of her friends put together to see, I know for myself that she had control of hidden powerful laws of nature not known to our science, and I also know that she never boasted of her powers, never advertised their possession, never publicly advised anyone to attempt their acquirement, but always turned the eyes of those who could understand her to a life of altruism based on a knowledge of true philosophy. If the world thinks that her days were spent in deluding her followers by pretended phenomena, it is solely because her injudicious friends, against her expressed wish, gave out wonderful stories of "miracles" which can not be proved to a skeptical public and which are not the aim of the Society nor were ever more than mere incidents in the life of H. P. Blavatsky.

Her aim was to elevate the race. Her method was to deal with the mind of the century as she found it, by trying to lead it on step by step; to seek out and educate a few who, appreciating the majesty of the Secret Science and devoted to "the great orphan Humanity," could carry on her work with zeal and wisdom; to found a Society whose efforts — however small itself might be — would inject into the thought of the day the ideas, the doctrines, the nomenclature of the Wisdom Religion, . . . — The Path, VI, 67-8, June 1891

An American journalist gives an interesting description of H. P. Blavatsky's appearance and lines of action at this time. To quote a few relevant passages:

In appearance, Mme. Blavatsky, though not at all handsome in the common acceptance of the term, was exceedingly impressive and interesting. Tall and stoutly built, she carried herself with queenly dignity. Her head is large, and under a broad, intellectual brow shone a pair of large, luminous blue eyes whose strange spiritual expression fascinated all . . . She might have been under forty; with the physical vigor and elasticity of youth she possessed the mental maturity of age. . . .

It was in these rooms, afterwards familiarly known as "The Lamasery" (the name given a Buddhist convent in Tibet), that a brilliant crowd of Bohemians were wont to gather of an evening . . . The hostess proved herself a conversationalist of rare magnetic power, and no one ever tired of listening to her fascinating recital of experiences in many lands, her views on life and art, or her exposition of the occultism of the East. She was an accomplished linguist, as most Russians are; and she . . . displayed a deep knowledge of the ancient and modern literature of all countries. She was familiar with German and French philosophy, and commenting upon the work of the great thinkers, expressed many ideas of striking force and originality. Occasionally she entertained her guests with music, and her piano playing was pronounced emphatically that of a great musician. — Quoted in World Theosophy, I, 657-8, Aug. 1931

The journalist then gives a list of notable people who frequented her receptions, including such names as Professor Weiss of the New York University, Thomas A. Edison (afterwards a Fellow of the Theosophical Society), Dr. Alexander Wilder, the Earl of Dunraven, Edwin Booth, Edward Bierstadt, Laurence Oliphant, the Earl of Dufferin (later Viceroy of India), and many others distinguished in literature, art, and public affairs.

It was rumored that she possessed unusual mystic powers, and yet she was no trance medium. Occasionally she would show a psychical experiment to illustrate a point, but, in contrast to the ordinary mediums, she always retained her personal consciousness even when the Masters spoke through her. She said she stood aside and watched. Her powers were trained and under her own control. At first she only showed her ability to use supernormal faculties to a few friends in private, for she had been directed not to spread too publicly the fact that she could produce phenomena at will. Her drawing-room experiments in occultism were analogous to the curious experiments shown at popular lectures in chemistry, but the serious demonstrations she gave to her two trusted pupils, Olcott and Judge, were mostly for their personal instruction and were more clearly or technically set forth, so to speak. Judge apparently saw more deeply than the older man into the occult aspect of the matter, for he says in regard to certain private manifestations of her powers that he witnessed:

. . . I do not think they were done just for me, but only that in those early days she was laying down the lines of force all over the land and I, so fortunate, was at the centre of the energy and saw the play of forces in visible phenomena. . . . I shall hold to her own explanation made in advance and never changed. That I have given above. — Lucifer, VIII, 290-1, June 1891

After a while, H. P. Blavatsky was directed to show some so-called signs and wonders more openly, for the purpose of attracting the attention of the best minds among scientists or philosophers who might recognize something entirely new for study in the deeper nature of man — something entirely different from and infinitely superior to the despised mediumistic phenomena, yet supernormal. Her own explanation of this course is illuminating:

It was supposed that intelligent people, especially men of science, would, at least, have recognised the existence of a new and deeply interesting field of enquiry and research when they witnessed physical effects produced at will, for which they were not able to account. It was supposed that theologians would have welcomed the proof, of which they stand so sadly in need in these agnostic days, that the soul and the spirit are not mere creations of their fancy, due to ignorance of the physical constitution of man, but entities quite as real as the body, and much more important. These expectations were not realized. The phenomena were misunderstood and misrepresented, both as regards their nature and their purpose.

. . . It was believed that this manipulation of forces of nature which lie below the surface . . . would have led to enquiry into the nature and the laws of those forces, unknown to science, but perfectly known to occultism. . . .

Never were the phenomena presented in any other character than that of instances of a power over perfectly natural though unrecognised forces, and incidentally over matter, possessed by certain individuals who have attained to a larger and higher knowledge of the Universe than has been reached by scientists and theologians, or can ever be reached by them, by the roads they are now respectively pursuing. Yet this power is latent in all men, and could, in time, be wielded by anyone who would cultivate the knowledge and conform to the conditions necessary for its development. . . .

An occultist can produce phenomena, but he cannot supply the world with brains, nor with the intelligence and good faith necessary to understand and appreciate them. Therefore, it is hardly to be wondered at, that word came to abandon phenomena and let the ideas of Theosophy stand on their own intrinsic merits. — Lucifer, I, 504, 506, Feb. 1888

In the seventies little or nothing was known about Eastern yoga or genuine magic, subjects which are now so well recognized that innumerable counterfeits have sprung up everywhere. H.P.B.'s preliminary work in America was intended to turn the attention of the spiritualists away from mere phenomenalism to a higher form of thought, to a true spiritualism, "only not on the modern American fashion, but on that of ancient Alexandria, with its Theodidaktoi, Hypatias, and Porphyries" (Incidents, 180) in other words, to theosophy, which includes the phenomena of modern spiritualism as a fraction of an infinitely larger field. She wrote: "I was sent from Paris to America on purpose to prove the phenomena and their reality, and show the fallacy of the spiritualistic theory of spirits" (O. D. L., I, 13)

She naturally admired the courage of the spiritualists in standing firmly by their belief in psychic phenomena, and hoped they would welcome the new teaching she brought from the East, which did not deny their phenomena but explained them in the light of larger knowledge. Her public work began by participation in the newspaper battle raging between the spiritualists and the skeptics. She vigorously defended the possibility of the phenomena and the honesty of some mediums, while exposing notorious frauds. The spiritualists felt that they had received a valuable ally, though, unfortunately, many repudiated her and her teachings when she began to criticize their hypothesis of "spirit return," and still more vehemently when she began to teach reincarnation in plain language.

Some of the most prominent spiritualists in America and England, such as Mrs. E. Hardinge Britten, Henry J. Newton, C. C. Massey, Dr. Carter Blake, Mrs. Hollis Billing, etc., did good work in helping to start the Theosophical Society, and others became warm sympathizers, including the noted scholar and medium, the Rev. Stainton Moses (widely known as M. A. Oxon), a high-minded man of irreproachable reputation, editor of Light and a member of the staff of University College, London. He was a lifelong friend of H.P.B. and Colonel Olcott, though he did not accept all the teachings of theosophy. Much is written about him in the Mahatma Letters.

One spiritualist who promised to be a valuable helper was young Elbridge Gerry Brown, editor of The Spiritual Scientist, a paper devoted more to the philosophical possibilities underlying psychic manifestation than to the phenomena themselves. For instance we read in the issue for May, 1875:

It is rumoured that one or more Oriental Spiritualists of high rank have just arrived in this country. They are said to possess a profound knowledge of the mysteries of illumination, and it is not impossible that they will establish relations with those whom we are accustomed to regard as the leaders in Spiritualistic affairs. If the report be true, their coming may be regarded as a great blessing; for, after a quarter century of phenomena, we are almost without a philosophy to account for them or to control their occurrence. — Theos., LIV, 328-9, Dec. 1932

H. P. Blavatsky wrote on the margin, "At[rya] and Ill[arion] passed through New York and Boston; thence thro' California and Japan back. M appearing in Kama Rupa daily." Atrya and Illarion are the names of two of the high Adepts; M is the Mahatma Morya, her personal teacher.

Brown was given by the Masters the special privilege of working side by side with H.P.B. and Olcott, but unfortunately he did not prove ready to take advantage of this unusual opportunity. First-class literary contributions were obtained for his struggling journal, money was given for expenses, but to no avail. He disappears from our ken in 1876. H.P.B. makes the pungent remark:

Several hundred dollars out of our pockets were spent on behalf of the Editor, and he was made to pass through a minor "diksha" [initiation]. This proving of no avail — the Theosophical Society was established. . . . The man might have become a POWER, he preferred to remain an ASS. De gustibus non disputandum est. — Ibid., 332

Chapter 6