With her massive, two volume book Isis Unveiled, Blavatsky not only discusses close to the entirety of Western Occultism and Spiritualism, but all out attacks the scientific materialism and religious orthodoxy of her day. Few Victorian views on these subjects remained unchallenged.
Borrowing heavily from notable occultist Eliphas Levi and PB Randolph, she argues for a root mysticism, theological philosophy and set of spiritual teachings based on Hermetic tradition, which the world had more or less ignorantly and foolishly turned its back on.
Dense, comprehensive, passionate and intelligent, for anyone interested in any of the subject amterial it was impossible to ignore. Released at the height of Spiritualism, it offers a massive philosophical discussion to a movement increasingly overwhelmed with spectacle and as it turned out, fraud.
A year after publication, Blavtksy and Orcott went to India and set up a Society headquarters in Adyar, near Bombay. She stayed for 5 years, writing articles, performing minor miracles and working to establish an Indian religious revival (in opposition to the British Colonial government).
Finally, one day, Blavatksy went to England for a lecture tour.
It is here that we come to the Coulomb affair, which i mentioned yesterday.
So. A couple who had befriended Blavatksy back in 1871 got in touch with her again, down on their luck and in Sri Lanka, not too far from Blavatksy. Blavatksy brought them to Adyar and gave them housekeeping jobs at the Society’s headquarters. It should be mentioned, years before, Blavatsky met them after she had been shipwrecked and was destitute herself.
Now it’s 1884. Blavatksy and Olcott head over to England for her lecture tour. While away, the Society For Psychical Research show up to investigate Blavatksy and all these claims of superpowers that are flying around Adyar. They find fraud. A whole bunch of it. Not only do they find plenty of evidence that all these minor miracles impressing the locals and various visitors are tricks, but they get detailed confessions from the Coulombs who had been involved in manufacturing the miracles.
The SPR published their report in 1885 and scandal broke loose. Newspaper headlines on five continents caused immense trouble and by the end of it, Olcott broke with Blavatksy and forbade her from stepping foot in Adyar again. She set up adddress in London where she lived for the rest of her life.
Now. The Theosophical Society has a different take on things in which the Coulumbs are nefarious plotters and responsible for all the shenanigans and choas. Let’s review.
In May 1884 the SPR came and investigated Blavatsky. They found fraud and the Coulumbs’ confessions, both on their part and Blavatksy’s. ALSO in May, 1884, the same month (just after this fraud trouble) the Coulumbs are expelled from the Society and they promptly go to the Christian Mission with letter purportedly written by Blavatsky to Emma Coulumb, which once again illustrates fraud. In September 1884 these letters are published in the Christian College Magazine.
The Society maintains that in fact, the Coulumbs were at constant odds with the Society and this was all a plot they devised.
“When the Coulombs felt their position in India to be fairly secure, and as they became acquainted with various members, visitors and inquirers, they began to express dissatisfaction with their relatively humble lot. Before long Madame Coulomb tried to extort or beg money from wealthy persons interested in the Society, notably from the native prince, Harrisinji Rupsinji. Madame Coulomb whispered about tales of her own powers and of her ability to find “hidden treasures, sometimes intimating that Madame Blavatsky’s powers were from the “Evil One.” The Coulombs were more or less constantly in communication with the establishments of the missionaries near by, and Madame Coulomb, in particular, engaged in fractious religious disputes with resident members of the Society.
“With (Blavatsky) and Olcott gone, the Coulombs refused to accept any orders or obey any instructions from the resident members of the Council; they opposed access to H.P.B.’s apartments and declared that she had placed them in independent control of her quarters and the conduct of the household. On the other hand, the members of the Council living at headquarters, distrusting the Coulombs utterly, were more or less harsh and contemptuous toward them, communicating with them only by letter, and refusing to eat with them, or to eat the food provided by Madame Coulomb. Her they charged with extravagance and waste, and suspecting that she profited personally from the handling of the domestic funds, they set about auditing her daily expenditures. Vain, sensitive, and smarting under their grievances, both real and imaginary, the Coulombs planned a dual revenge.”
The Society maintains that they forged the letters and installed the trick devices in the “Occult Room” which the SPR then found. The secret doors and sliding panels were to noisy and heavy to actually be of use in deceit and were clearly installed very recently, by the Coulombs as their plot to piss all over the society was carried out.
So there you have it.
Despite the allegations and bad publicity, The Theosophical Society continued to grow. And in 1888 Blavatsky released her other massive two volume tomb, her magnum opus: The Secret Doctrine.
The Secret Doctrine mined Eastern and hindu mysticism this time. It lays out a sprawling cosmology, an immense reimagining of reincarnation and cycles of time. It talks of root races and giant evolutionary journeys upwards from elements to human and beyond. We’ll get into it more in our 4th segment when we discuss Blavatsky’s teachings.
It is The Secret Doctrine that is Theosophy’s core teaching and doctrine and which all who came after here were to draw on, elaborate and debate. It attempts to connect eastern wisdom with modern science, a pastime that has grown quite big over the last few decades as books linking Quantum mechanics and eastern teachings continue to flood the market.She did it first, yo.
It’s got the history of the universe, the cycles of meta-nature (i don’t believe she called it that), humanity and root races, ATLANTIS… we finally get Atlantis, it was not a major discussion in esoteric circles like it is today, and teh only reason it is today is because of Blavatksy and The Secret Doctrine. It’s also got the lost continent of Lemuria, Hyperborea… fucking HYPERBOREA , WHERE CONAN IS FROM! (Actually, Robert Howard did in fact steal Hyperborea from Blavatksy to use as the forgotten Age when magic and Conan The Barbarian wandered the Earth. Which is really cool if you ask me.
Long story short, The Secret Doctrine is where idea after idea came from that went on to be major players in 20th century occult and spirituality circles.
Sadly for Blavatsky, but fortunately for me since i’m getting really tired of writing, she died only three years later, in 1891, at 60 years old.
Tomorrow we will discuss the Theosophical Society post Blavatsky, always fun since you’re guaranteed lots of stories about disputes and rivalries and high school level cat fighting. After THAT we’ll have a post going into detail about some of the many ideas put forth by Theosophy and where some of them led. (A great deal of her race-root material and ideas is used in neo nazi occult circles, something i would imagine she would be horrified at, as she dreamed of a Brotherhood uniting all Man)