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you tell me a bit about the Theosophical Society. I have heard
the name mentioned a number of times but know very little about
Note: The following excerpt from the book "The Roots of Consciousness"
by Jeffery Mishlove tells us a bit about this interesting and
still active group. The book is on-line for those of you who would
like to learn more about consciousness studies at www.mishlove.com.
A most intriguing chapter in consciousness history involves the
Theosophical Society, founded in 1875 by Madame Helena Petrovna
Blavatsky (H. P. B. for short), a most notorious character.
Madame Blavatsky declared herself to be a chela or disciple of
a brotherhood of spiritual adepts in Tibet whose members had acquired
psychic powers beyond the reach of ordinary men. She asserted
that they took a special interest in the Theosophical Society
and all initiates of occult lore, being able to communicate intelligently
with individuals by visiting them in a phantom or astral form.
These beings were called the Mahatmas and are described in Blavatsky's
book Isis Unveiled:
Travelers have met these adepts on the shores of the sacred Ganges,
brushed against them on the silent ruins of Thebes, and in the
mysterious deserted chambers of Luxor. Within the halls upon whose
blue and golden vaults the weird signs attract attention, but
whose secret meaning is never penetrated by idle gazers, they
have been seen, but seldom recognized. Historical memoirs have
recorded their presence in the brilliantly illuminated salons
of European aristocracy. They have been encountered again on the
arid and desolate plains of the Great Sahara, or in the caves
of Elephanta. They may be found everywhere, but they make themselves
known only to those who have devoted their lives to unselfish
study and are not likely to turn back.
According to William Q. Judge, a New York lawyer who was one of
the co-founders of the Theosophical Society, such a Mahatma appeared
to the first Theosophists when they held a meeting to frame their
constitution. A "strangely foreign Hindoo," came before
them, left a package and vanished. On opening the package they
found the necessary forms of organization, rules, etc., that were
adopted. The early history of the society was based largely on
such miracles. Blavatsky's wonderworking and teaching attracted
such notable students as Thomas Edison, Sir William Crookes, Alfred
Russell Wallace, British Prime Minister William Gladstone, Alfred
Tennyson, and later U. S. Vice-president Henry Wallace and Annie
Besant (the former mistress of George Bernard Shaw, who succeeded
Blavatsky as head of the movement).
After seeing the Society well established in New York, Madame
Blavatsky moved to India. Marvelous phenomena of an occult nature
were alleged to have taken place there at the Adyar headquarters.
Mysterious, ghostly appearances of Mahatmas were seen, and messages
were constantly received by supernatural means. One of the apartments,
named the Occult Room in the headquarters, contained a sort of
cupboard against the wall, known as the Shrine. Ghostly letters
from the Mahatmas were received in this shrine, as well as sent.
Skeptics were convinced and occult lodges spread rapidly. Madame
Blavatsky and other Theosophists were interviewed in England by
members of the SPR who were favourably impressed.
At this point in 1884, a scandal broke out. Two members of Blavatsky's
staff claimed they had conspired with Madame, forging Mahatma
letters and placing them in the shrine P`rough a trap door. To
back up their claim, they submitted private correspondences from
H. P. B. Blavatsky countered with charges of her own. Leaders
of the SPR considered the matter significant enough to send Richard
Hodgson to India in order to personally investigate the matter.
What followed was perhaps the most complicated and confused investigation
in the history of psychical research.
Hodgson concluded Madame Blavatsky was a phony -- "one of
the most accomplished, ingenious, and interesting imposters of
history." His 200 page report attempted to reconstruct in
detail all of the mechanisms by which she impersonated every sort
of phenomena. He hired handwriting experts, for example, who determined
the Mahatma letters were really written in Madame's handwriting.
Most of the evidence was of a circumstantial nature as the original
shrine had been destroyed by the time Hodgson had arrived at Adyar.
More recently, Theosophical apologist Victor Endersby has written
a book challenging the Hodgson report point for point. Endersby
cites independent testimony from handwriting experts who clearly
disagree with those hired by Hodgson.
The Theosophical Society is still active. The teachings of the
Theosophists continue to have an enormous impact on the esoteric
folklore of western culture.
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