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

Chapter 12


The critical year 1884 opened auspiciously to all appearances, but strange destinies were impending, both tragical and fortunate. Early in the year Colonel Olcott, in fulfillment of his promise to the Buddhists of Ceylon, went to London to present their case to the Home Government. As mentioned above, he was completely successful in obtaining justice for the Buddhists, and his good work brought honor to the Theosophical Society and happiness to a nation. In addition to this, the president was needed in England to adjust some complications which threatened to disrupt the important London Lodge. He was accompanied by H. P. Blavatsky, whose health was beginning to break down again, and to whom a sea voyage had been recommended. Two Hindus and a Parsi, well educated in the English system, went with them. One of the Hindus was Mohini M. Chatterji, a brilliant thinker and a most promising young man, then striving for chelaship. After doing excellent work for some years, he "dropped out," spoiled, as H.P.B. said, "by male and female adulation, by incessant flattery and his own weakness." The party left India on February 20 and arrived at Marseilles on March 12, 1884. H.P.B. stayed for a while at Nice and then settled in Paris for some months.

In regard to this journey, an unexpected light is thrown upon it by certain letters which contain a valuable hint to those who have the intuition to penetrate in imagination a little behind the seeming, especially in regard to H. P. Blavatsky, the "Sphinx of the nineteenth century." In a letter to N. D. Khandalavala, a highly respected Indian theosophist, she wrote, in reference to the illness which she thought was the reason for her being sent to Europe:

". . . Well, if the Masters want me to go, then I go — though I cannot make out why They should send me abroad to get relief, when They could as well cure me here, as They did twice before. Colonel is going to London, and I too. I do not know myself where and why I am going." — Golden Book, 75

It was not surprising that she was puzzled, for there was a far more important reason which was not told to her by the Master K.H., but was told to Mohini M. Chatterji, who was at that time filled with enthusiasm and devotion. Mohini received the following in March 1884, in Paris, where he was awaiting H.P.B.'s arrival from Nice:

When Upasika arrives, you will meet and receive her as though you were in India, and she your own Mother. You must not mind the crowd of Frenchmen and others. You have to stun them; and if Colonel asks you why, you will answer him that it is the interior man, the indweller you salute, not H.P.B., for you were notified to that effect by us. And know for your own edification that One far greater than myself has kindly consented to survey the whole situation under her guise, and then to visit, through the same channel, occasionally, Paris and other places where foreign members may reside. You will thus salute her on seeing and taking leave of her the whole time you are at Paris — regardless of comments and her own surprise.L.M.W., II, 124-5

The greater "One" is most probably the Maha-chohan or Chief of the Himalayan Brotherhood of Adepts, the Occult Hierarchy. The Hindu salutation mentioned is, of course, very reverential.

Not only H. P. Blavatsky, but also Mohini himself, who was at that time free from reproach, was employed by the Master as the vehicle of a higher personality, in his case that of an advanced chela. She mentions this in a letter to Sinnett, who was then in London, written a month or two before she started for Europe, when she seems not to have known that she herself was to take the voyage. Observe the reference to the chela. She wrote:

On February 17th [1884] Olcott will probably sail for England on various business, and Mahatma K.H. sends his chela, under the guise of Mohini Mohun Chatterjee, to explain to the London Theosophists of the Secret Section — every or nearly every mooted point . . . Do not make the mistake, my dear boss, of taking the Mohini you knew for the Mohini who will come. There is more than one Maya in this world of which neither you nor your friends and critic Maitland is cognisant. The ambassador will be invested with an inner as well as with an outer clothing. Dixit.

As for me let me die in peace among my household gods. I have become too old, too sick and broken down to be of any use. I am dying by inches in my harness. — Blavatsky Letters, 65

But she was mistaken; her best work remained to be done. In another letter to Sinnett, dated April 25, 1884 and written in Paris, she refers to the great importance of Mohini's visit to London, where he had a far more urgent mission than merely to establish the London Lodge on a firm basis. This mission is indicated in the letter just quoted, in which 'Mohini' is mentioned as being overshadowed by a higher intelligence who had a special work to do.

To prevent any misunderstanding it should be realized that the overshadowing of a living person by a more spiritually developed individual is not mediumship in the ordinary sense. It is not the occupation of a living body by the supposed spirit of a deceased person, a "control." The temporary overshadowing or inspiration of a chela or even of an ordinary person by an adept is well known in the East, and is often mentioned in Indian literature. It is recorded that the great teacher Sankaracharya exercised this occult power in his sacred work. It is called avesa.

At this time the Society in Europe already consisted of the London Lodge, two lodges in Paris, one in Corfu, a group at Odessa, and many unattached members; but soon after the arrival of H.P.B. and her party, a considerable increase in lodges and membership took place.

Notwithstanding the minor difficulties that quite naturally arose, theosophy was making good progress in Europe in the early summer of 1884. England and France were the most energetic centers, but other European countries were awaking to the dawning light from the East. The great development in America had hardly begun. In March, H.P.B. arrived in France, where she stayed about three months. She attracted many persons of high social standing as well as serious students of occult philosophy such as Baron J. Spedafieri, the kabbalist and former disciple of the well-known Elphas Levi. Many were, as usual in those pioneering days, drawn by the tales of wonder associated with phenomena and Oriental mysteries; and the presence of the brilliant young Hindus — possibly, as some imagined, chelas or at least near-chelas — rather added to than diminished the glamor that was connected with the word theosophy. But there were exceptions to the wonder-seekers, such as the Countess of Caithness (Duchesse de Pomar), who became a lifelong friend and active helper of H.P.B.

By means of innumerable interviews and the large amount of newspaper publicity, theosophy became well known in Paris. Victor Hugo's journal, Le Rappel, discussed theosophy under the title "The Buddhist Mission to Europe." Lady Caithness, who had written a book on theosophy, had started a study-group in 1883, and this became a lodge of the Parent Society in June 1884, while H.P.B. was in Paris. Within a few years many distinguished persons joined it, including the scientists C. Richet, Camille Flammarion, R. Thurman, and writers such as Edouard Schure. Other lodges were formed in Paris, but for several years the French Society was the principal arena of controversy, and of serious anxiety to H.P.B. and Olcott.

Mme. Jelihovsky, H.P.B.'s sister, visited her in Paris. She writes:

. . . we found her surrounded by a regular staff of members of their Society who had gathered at Paris, coming from Germany, Russia, and even America, to see her after her five years' absence in India; and by a crowd of the curious . . . Truth compels me to say that H. P. Blavatsky was very reluctant to satisfy idle curiosity. She has her own way of looking very contemptuously at any physical phenomena, hates to waste her powers in a profitless manner, and was, moreover, at the time quite ill. Every phenomenon produced at her will invariably cost her several days of sickness. — Incidents, 264

It was not only in France that people were craving for thaumaturgy. One evening when she unexpectedly arrived in London for a few days and dropped in to the London Lodge, she offered to give explanations of some of the difficulties in Isis Unveiled, but the members preferred to hear about certain astral apparitions! Real work, however, was being done, and new centers were forming in Europe and America.

H.P.B. spent most of her European visit in France and Germany, with a few short trips to London. She was the center of interest wherever she went, and her fame reached its highest pitch in public estimation in 1884. Prominent leaders in progressive thought and scientific achievement either joined the Society or became serious students of theosophy. Besides those mentioned in the Paris Lodge, Baron Karl du Prel, Professor Gabriel Max, Dr. Hubbe-Schleiden, in Germany; Dr. Gustav Zander in Sweden; Dr. Elliott Coues in America; F. W. Myers, and Professor William Crookes in England; and other noted scholars, scientists, etc., became active Fellows of the Society. Professor Crookes, the chemist to whom science owes the great discovery of "radiant matter," as he called it (now known as ionized matter), which led directly in his and other hands to the modern atomic theories and the "New Physics," became a councillor of the London Lodge and, it is said, received communications from Master M., who took great interest in his work. The Master's attention was attracted to him by the moral courage he showed in daring to investigate psychic phenomena, and in publicly declaring that they were facts, scientifically demonstrable, whatever their interpretation might be. Crookes suffered bitter persecution from many of his scientific colleagues, but even under the strongest pressure he never modified his statements or withdrew his records. He never accepted the regular spiritualistic belief in the return of the departed, but kept an open mind.

H. P. Blavatsky devotes many pages of The Secret Doctrine to Crookes' researches in chemistry which approached closely to the teachings of the ancient wisdom. She also used his famous demonstration of the existence of the astral or ethereal double in man, with its capacity for a temporary existence independently of the physical body, as an apt illustration of the ethereal condition of the human race in its earlier pre-physical evolution. Crookes' experiments with the so-called spirit of Katie King, apparently an astral projection from a medium, are of the greatest importance in support of the theosophical teachings in regard to human evolution and the early ethereal races of man. Students will find references to this problem in The Secret Doctrine., Volume II, pages 652-3, 737.

The great public interest in theosophy shown in London was aroused not only by the presence of H.P.B. and Colonel Olcott, but also by that of the Hindus, particularly Mohini. Sinnett's Occult World and Esoteric Buddhism had not long been published, and he was then living in London where his activities had attracted much attention. Olcott gives a glowing account of his own reception by many distinguished persons in April 1884, and adds:

Everywhere the theme of talk was Theosophy: the tide was rising. The ebb was to follow, but as yet no one foresaw it in Europe, for it was to begin at Madras: the Scottish Missionaries its engineers, the high-minded (?) Coulombs their tools. — O. D. L., III, 98

On July 21, a most important public meeting was held in Prince's Hall, London, in honor of H. P. Blavatsky and H. S. Olcott. A very large number of the most cultured persons in the city were present, including statesmen, scientists, writers, artists, as well as many distinguished Asiatics and other foreigners. The profound impression made on intellectual England bore good fruit, and H. P. Blavatsky's name became widely known. But she cared little for the bubble reputation and when the bubble burst she regretted it only because of the interference with her work for humanity.

On too many occasions, unfortunately, Colonel Olcott accentuated the phenomenal side of the theosophical philosophy, no doubt with the good intention of breaking down the prevailing skepticism in regard to anything but the physical plane. Too much was said about H.P.B.'s occult powers and too little about her philosophical teachings and her response to the cry of humanity for a solution of its pressing problems. Very serious trouble arose from this, and the error was committed in spite of her protest. In the simplicity of his heart, Olcott consented to be examined as to his private experiences with the Masters by those then inexperienced beginners in practical psychology who constituted the London Society for Psychical Research. He discussed occult matters which, as the Master K.H. said, "ought to have been limited to an inner and very SECRET circle" (Mahatma Letters, 323). In this and other ways, the false idea which has been difficult to eradicate was spread that theosophy is a form of psychic research. The psychical researchers were looking only for phenomena and had no interest in theosophy, or in studying the place that the occult powers in man occupy in its philosophy of nature. The same Master had warned Sinnett two years before:

It is not physical phenomena that will ever bring conviction to the hearts of the unbelievers in the "Brotherhood" but rather phenomena of intellectuality, philosophy and logic, if I may so express it. — Mahatma Letters, 246

It turned out that Olcott's misdirected zeal to convert the psychists to a belief in the phenomena, and especially the extremely injudicious way in which he presented his case on one occasion prejudiced them very strongly, and the consequences were deplorable. H.P.B. was present on this occasion and she instantly saw the fatal effect of his ill-advised address, of which he was perfectly unconscious, and greatly surprised him when she castigated him later in no gentle terms.

Colonel Olcott's astonishment at the result of the inquiry is shown by his remarks in Old Diary Leaves:

But to understand our feelings when, later on, the S.P.R. made its merciless attack upon H.P.B., our Masters, and ourselves, one should try to put oneself in our places. Here were we laying bare a series of personal experiences which had for us a most private and sacred character, for no possible benefit that could accrue to ourselves, but solely that our testimony might help the cause of spiritual science and give comfort to other students not yet so favored as ourselves; going before the Committee with no prepared case, but answering the questions sprung upon us, and hence putting ourselves at the mercy of those who had none of our enthusiasm, whose policy was to criticize, analyze, and pick flaws in our statements, and who in rendering their final judgment were unsparing of our feelings, sceptical as to our motives, and merciless to a degree. Worst of all, they were then incompetent through inexperience of psychical laws, misled by the conclusions of an agent — Dr. Hodgson — whom they sent out to India to verify our statements and collect evidence, and by an utterly incompetent handwriting expert's report, and so put themselves on permanent record as the self-righteous calumniators of a woman — H.P.B. — who had neither done an injury to a living person, nor asked or received any benefit or reward for her services to the world, yet whom they dared to brand as "one of the most accomplished, ingenious, and interesting impostors in history". . . — O. D. L., III, 100-1

It is important to remember that when Colonel Olcott says "we were laying bare a series of personal experiences" and "we" were doing this and that, he means himself and Mohini M. Chatterji, and not H.P.B. Neither the Society for Psychical Research, nor their Committee of Investigation, nor Richard Hodgson, its representative in India, ever saw any of the phenomena they presumed to condemn. (1) This should always be borne in mind, as otherwise the reader might get the false idea that those people had tested her in the way Hodgson and other members of the S.P.R. tested ordinary mediums like the well-known Mrs. Piper, who converted some of them to spiritualism.

In view of the success attained during this European tour, the difficulties in the London Lodge which Olcott had to adjust are seemingly of little significance, but being the most important center in Europe it demanded the president's most earnest attention.

This lodge had been a center of discontent and trouble almost from its foundation. H.P.B. frequently complained that it had done nothing for the general welfare of the Society until Sinnett and a devoted American, Samuel Ward, joined it. She called it the "head and brain of the T.S.," but not the soul. It had many members who were prominent in intellectual and social circles, and an effort had been made to establish an Inner Group to which more advanced teachings could be given; but, here again, the lack of harmony and true cooperation were a severe handicap and, as H.P.B. ultimately said, it had to be "left to its fate." About three years afterwards, when she had settled in London for good, she was obliged to start a new lodge, the Blavatsky Lodge, for those London members who would be willing to follow her advice, and who were worthy of her help. In 1884, however, there was hope that if the differences of opinion and in policies which had reached an explosive point could be adjusted, the lodge would become a very strong center.

The two most active members of the London Lodge were A. P. Sinnett and Dr. Anna Bonus Kingsford. Sinnett had recently returned home from India, and carried the authority and reputation of his Oriental experiences. Dr. Kingsford was the well-known Christo-theosophical and Hermetic mystic and seer, author of The Perfect Way, and president of the lodge for a while. She was a remarkable woman, self-confident and masterful. She had a great hatred of cruelty, especially to animals, and the unspeakable horrors of unrestrained and utterly heartless vivisection in the Paris hospital in which she had studied medicine had almost upset her mental equanimity at that time. Her noble work in defense of the tortured animals aroused the admiration of the Masters but, carried away by furious indignation at the callous materialism of the physiologists, she sometimes went to unjustifiable extremes which called forth H.P.B.'s condemnation. According to K.H. in the Mahatma Letters, she was a "fifth rounder," a technical theosophical term for those persons who have run ahead of the average in evolutionary development, a fact of which she herself had more than a suspicion.

At the time H. P. Blavatsky was writing Isis Unveiled in America, but quite independently, Dr. Kingsford wrote down mystical interpretations of biblical and classical myths and symbols which agree in the main with the theosophical teachings and show the existence of the "secret doctrine" of antiquity, the basic unity behind all the outward forms of religion. She writes, in the preface to The Perfect Way, ". . . the dogmas and symbols of Christianity are substantially identical with those of other and earlier religious systems," and that "the true plane of religious belief lies, not where hitherto the Church has placed it, — in the sepulcher of historical tradition, but in man's own mind and heart." In the Mahatma Letters on pages 345-7, K.H. pays Anna Kingsford a high tribute for her intuitive seership. Here is one sentence:

Well may you admire and more should you wonder at the marvellous lucidity of that remarkable seeress, who ignorant of Sanskrit or Pali, and thus shut out from their metaphysical treasures, has yet seen a great light shining from behind the dark hills of exoteric religions.

Not long before Olcott reached London in 1884, a complication had arisen in the London Lodge in regard to the presidency. Mrs. Kingsford had held the office for some time in response to the expressed wish of the Masters as indicated to Mr. Sinnett, though H.P.B. had disapproved of her occupation of the post notwithstanding that she was the Masters' choice for the time. A study of the correspondence on this involved situation in the Mahatma Letters and the Blavatsky Letters reveals a positive difference of opinion between the Masters and H.P.B., which shows how utterly absurd it would be to think that she forged the Master's letters which urged Sinnett to adopt a policy entirely opposed to her outspoken protests.

Olcott arrived at the time of the new election, and many of the lodge members wished for a change, as they felt that their president did not represent the point of view of the majority. She and her small but active group of followers, including Edward Maitland, a well-known writer on mystical subjects, insisted that their Christo-theosophical interpretation was more suitable for the West — Christendom — than the Oriental presentation. Subsequent events have not confirmed this, for H. P. Blavatsky's method has made a far more profound impression on the world. Dr. Kingsford herself did not work for the masses, but, as she says in The Perfect Way, her teaching was intended only for "the educated and developed; its terms and ideas being beyond the conception of the generality." This was not in harmony with the spirit of theosophy, which is for all.

Assuredly, the mystical and devotional note that Dr. Kingsford struck was opportune, but it is not missing in the Oriental presentation of H. P. Blavatsky's Voice of the Silence, derived from Eastern sources, and which expresses it with deeper significance and greater poetic beauty than Dr. Kingsford's mystical odes. In any case, the fact that the English seeress' Hermetic or Christo-theosophical independent revelations so closely parallel H. P. Blavatsky's teachings, including as they do karma, reincarnation, the divinity of man, etc., is good evidence that theosophy is no "concoction," invented by the latter. Dr. Kingsford was surprised when she discovered that H.P.B. was teaching similar doctrines to those she herself had been promulgating and she had no difficulty in recognizing the existence of the Adepts, though she never fully accepted them as her teachers.

The majority of the London Lodge supported Mr. Sinnett in standing by the theosophical presentation of H.P.B. and her teachers, and as it did not seem possible for Dr. Kingsford and her followers to agree to this policy, the adjustment of the difficulty was left to Colonel Olcott. On his arrival in London he tried to make an acceptable compromise between the contestants, but after various complications the Kingsford party formed a Hermetic Society quite independent of the Theosophical Society, though without breaking off friendly association. Dr. Kingsford remained a Fellow of the T.S. for the few years still to run of her short life, and H.P.B.'s notice of her death contains the following:

She was a Theosophist and a true one at heart; a leader of spiritual and philosophical thought, gifted with most exceptional psychic attributes. . . . The first and most important [of her books] was "The Perfect Way, or the Finding of Christ," which gives the esoteric meaning of Christianity. It sweeps away many of the difficulties that thoughtful readers of the Bible must contend with in their endeavours to either understand or accept literally the story of Jesus Christ as it is presented in the Gospels. . . .

. . . the circle of her mystically-inclined friends will miss her greatly, for such women as she are not numerous in the same century. The world in general has lost in Mrs. Kingsford one who can be very ill-spared in this era of materialism. — Lucifer, II, 78-9, March 1888

Owing to the publicity that has been given by enemies of the movement to the slanders of a Russian writer, V. Solovyoff, whom H.P.B. met during the 1884 tour, a few words must be given to his case which, although deplorable, is an instructive example of misplaced desires. Solovyoff was greatly interested in her phenomena and professed great friendship and even devotion to her at first. He was one of the six witnesses who signed a document attesting their absolute assurance of the reality of one of her most remarkable phenomena. On request of one of the party she read the contents of a scaled letter which had just been received from the mail carrier and performed some other occult feats in connection with the same letter. Solovyoff wrote to the Rebus, a Russian periodical of psychological science:

"The circumstances under which the phenomenon occurred in its smallest details, carefully checked by myself, do not leave in me the smallest doubt as to its genuineness and reality. Deception or fraud in this particular case are entirely out of question. V. S. Solovieff" — Incidents, 273

The demonstration contained other features showing her ability to "precipitate" words inside the closed envelope, and the particulars, signed by the six witnesses, are given in Sinnett's Incidents, page 269. Solovyoff saw many other even more noteworthy phenomena in connection with H. P. Blavatsky. His emphatic testimony to their authenticity was entirely voluntary.

Yet, one year after her death, he wrote a scandalous and melodramatic attack upon her, repudiating his signed testimonies, and containing such obvious falsities that his own translator, Walter Leaf, had to admit that Solovyoff was not trustworthy in his writing about H. P. Blavatsky. William Kingsland, in his The Real H. P. Blavatsky, G. Baseden Butt, and others, have thoroughly exposed the slanders and falsehoods of the unfortunate man, and in private letters of H. P. Blavatsky (never intended by her to be seen by anyone but the Sinnetts) the world has now learned of her knowledge of Solovyoff's highly questionable character which she never used against him, even after she learned that he was trying to ruin her reputation.

How did this transformation in Solovyoff's attitude arise?

Among the causes which brought trouble and anxiety to H.P.B. — independent of the furious attacks from the enemies of theosophy, which were natural and expected reactions to her onslaughts on materialism and dogmatism — were several which are not familiar to the average thinker in the West, but which explain much that would otherwise be obscure in her conduct. One of the most important was her consistent discouragement of unfitted persons, such as Solovyoff and many others, when they revealed themselves as being ambitious to possess the psychic powers of developed chelas without first having the right moral and spiritual foundation. Demands for occult teaching were made with assurance, even with effrontery and threats and, when kindly but firmly refused by H.P.B., the unqualified claimants too often retaliated with abuse and slander. Solovyoff's unhappy story is a notorious example, but there are even worse, such as that of one who spread the rumor that she had "murdered her two illegitimate children"! In a private letter to her sister written in 1885, H.P.B. says:

"I am travelling with him [Solovyoff] in Switzerland. I really cannot understand what makes him so attached to me. As a matter of fact I cannot help him in the least. I can hardly help him to realize any of his hopes. Poor man, I am so sorry for him . . ." — The Path, X, 108, July 1895

She soon found out why he professed such attachment, and the utter worthlessness of it when his selfish ambitions were frustrated.

To close this chapter on a happier note: during H.P.B.'s visit to Paris in 1884, she was cheered by the presence of her trusted friend and disciple, William Q. Judge, who was on his way to India. He arrived at Adyar at an opportune moment when he was able to render valuable help in regard to the Coulomb conspiracy which was just being revealed. He had been appointed treasurer of the Society, and expected to remain in India, but domestic affairs compelled his return to New York, where he soon began the work of spreading theosophy throughout the United States after several years of enforced inactivity. While in Paris, Judge was able to give H.P.B. valuable assistance in her preparations for The Secret Doctrine. She even asked him to write for it.

An invitation from an American friend and devoted theosophical worker, the Countess d'Adhemar, to take a short rest at her chateau at Enghien, enabled H.P.B. to do some writing in peaceful surroundings and free from worries, an opportunity which rarely presented itself to her. Judge was also a guest at Enghien, and he writes with great feeling of the delightful hours when his friend and teacher was free to present "the phase of her many-sided nature which stimulated the spiritual yearnings of the heart." Under those harmonious conditions, among sensible people who were not craving for miracles, she would occasionally volunteer a demonstration of her control of hidden forces. A very beautiful and impressive example is quoted by W. Q. Judge from a memorandum written by the Countess d'Adhemar:

"H. P. B. seemed wrapped in thought, when suddenly she rose from her chair, advanced to the open window, and raising her arm with a commanding gesture, faint music was heard in the distance, which advancing nearer and nearer broke into lovely strains and filled the drawing room where we were all sitting. Mohini threw himself at H.P.B.'s feet and kissed the hem of her robe, which action seemed the appropriate outcoming of the profound admiration and respect we all felt toward the wonderful being whose loss we will never cease to mourn." — Lucifer, VIII, 360-1, July 1891


1. [Cf. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, LVI, 133-4, July 1962, for Walter A. Carrithers, Jr.'s statement that on July 5 and 26, 1884, F. W. Myers and Edmund Gurney, joint secretaries of the S.P.R., did hear the "astral bell" in H.P.B.'s presence. — ED.] (return to text)

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