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William B Stoecker

Madame Blavatsky and the New Age

November 14, 2011 | Comment icon 2 comments

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[!gad]The current interest in Eastern mysticism and the occult, generally labeled “new age” thinking, has its roots far back in the past, in ancient Egyptian, Hindu, and other traditions kept alive by cults and secret societies like the Sufis, the Knights Templar, the Masons (almost certainly the resurgent Templars under a new name) and the closely related Rosicrucian cult. Ironically, Masons and Rosicrucians were instrumental in creating England’s Royal Society, which led to the birth of modern science, which tends to be atheistic and materialistic. Spiritualism, Christian Science, and the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) are also examples of this continued interest in the realm of the spirit. But one of the most influential of the early “new agers” was Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky , who, with Colonel Henry Steel Olcott, founded the Theosophical Society in1875. “Theosophy” literally means “knowledge of God.” Helena Blavatsky was an ambiguous figure, and her influence on later occultists has also been ambiguous…and perhaps rather sinister.

She was born Helena Petrovna Hahn on 8/12/1831 to a wealthy and influential old money family in the Ukraine. She married her first and only husband, the much older Nikifor Blavatsky in 1849, and left him after only a few months, to travel widely in Europe, the East, Egypt, and America. Like almost everything she claimed, the full extent of her travels needs to be taken with more than a grain of salt. She certainly travelled to Egypt and to India (in fact, later on, in 1882, she and Olcott located the headquarters of their movement in Adyar, India, near Madras). She also travelled to America, which is where she met Colonel Olcott (8/2/1832-2/17/1907), a former Union officer and a fascinating character in his own right, interested in fusing science and mysticism. Olcott was the first prominent American to convert to Buddhism. But she also claimed to have travelled to Tibet after several attempts in 1868 and to have studied for several years at the Tibetan Buddhist Tashilunpo monastery near Shigatse. Tibet was a difficult and dangerous land to enter even as late as the early twentieth century, and monasteries are not known for welcoming women. Blavatsky also claimed to have crossed the Western United States on a wagon train. She wrote Isis Unveiled, published in 1877. The Secret Doctrine was published in 1888. The Voice of Silence was published in 1889 and The Key to Theosophy that same year. She claimed to have occult powers, but the Society for Psychical Research claimed to have exposed her as a fraud.

Theosophy is a complex and at times seemingly self-contradictory philosophy. Blavatsky claimed that certain enlightened souls who have escaped the wheel of karma choose to reincarnate anyway, to guide and assist less enlightened souls, and she said that she met her “ascended master” in London when she was twenty. This concept, of course, is familiar to anyone who has read much about contemporary new age beliefs. She said that the universe is a single, united whole with an ultimately unknowable source, and she preached universal brotherhood and altruism and believed in intelligent design rather than Darwinism. She believed in karma and reincarnation, also popular with today’s new agers, and the Hindu and Buddhist origins of this are clear. All of this seems rather benign, and, in part at least, quite reasonable. But she also claimed that the bringer of enlightenment was a spirit called Lucifer; the name literally means “light bearer,” but Christians believe that this refers to Satan, a bringer of a false enlightenment. Whatever the case, this deification of Lucifer was also preached by Albert Pike, a very prominent American Mason of the late nineteenth century. Some have suggested that Madame Blavatsky had herself been made a Mason in one of the few lodges that accepted women, but this is impossible to verify. She believed that human beings exist on seven planes, and only the top three reincarnate. She also believed that contemporary humans were preceded by four “root races.” The first lived at the North Pole; the second (Hyperborean) appeared on a now-vanished far northern continent; the third (Lemurian) dwelled in a now-sunken Pacific continent; the fourth were the Atlanteans, whose continent in the Atlantic also sank. We are the fifth race and we began in Central Asia. After us, according to Blavatsky, there will be two more. These root races are not to be thought of as australopithecines or homo erectus, supposed ancestors of ours, but utterly different types of creatures, whose souls kept reincarnating and now inhabit human bodies. So, according to Blavatsky, each of us was one of these creatures in a past life. She claimed, for example, that the second race reproduced by budding, rather like yeast cells, and the third race produced by laying eggs. She also claimed that the third race coexisted with dinosaurs, some thirty five million years ago.

The problem is that all the fossil evidence indicates that the last dinosaurs almost certainly became extinct some sixty five million years ago. The Earth probably is about four point six billion years old; multiple dating methods all agree on this. Blavatsky claimed that the world was much, much younger. There is absolutely no fossil evidence anywhere for any of her root races, and there is no evidence that large continents can sink suddenly and many sound reasons why they cannot sink. So much of her doctrine was almost certainly false. It does no good to say that such details are irrelevant to the moral and spiritual core of her teaching; she claimed to be psychic and to have been told all of this by an ascended master. If much of what she said is demonstrably almost certainly false, why should we believe any of it?

If Blavatsky was an ambiguous figure, some of her later followers and those influenced by her were overtly evil and destructive. Of course, she is not necessarily to blame for this, and some of her followers seem relatively benign. Rudolf Steiner, for example, became a theosophist, and, in 1902, became Secretary General of the Theosophical Society in Germany, but in 1912 he quit and formed the Anthroposophical Society. “Anthroposophy” means knowledge of man. There are widely varying opinions about Steiner, but no evidence that he ever harmed anyone.

More problematic is the fact that Blavatsky definitely had a strong influence on certain Austrian and German occultists, especially Guido von List and Jorg Lanz von Liebenfels, who, in 1907, founded the ONT, or Order of New Templars, using the counterclockwise version of the swastika as their symbol and preaching anti-Semitism and extreme German nationalism. Author and researcher Servando Gonzalez said that Blavatsky herself wore a broach bearing a swastika. The ONT essentially morphed into the German Order, which became the Thule Society (Thule sounds like Blavatsky’s sunken continent in the far north). The Thule Society created the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazi) and arranged for Hitler to join it and become its leader. The rest, as they say, is history. Some researchers also claim that Hitler was personally influenced by Blavatsky, and kept a copy of The Secret Doctrine near him at all times. This, too, is impossible to verify.

Madame Blavatsky’s successor as head of her society was Annie Besant (10/1/1847-9/20/1933). She was British and became a member of the Fabian Socialists. One of the most prominent of them was playwright George Bernard Shaw; there is a film of him, complete with sound, calmly arguing that a “properly appointed board” should determine which people should be allowed to live and which ones should be exterminated because they were not contributing enough to society. None of the Fabians, including Annie Besant, ever disavowed his comments, which were no secret, so we can assume that Besant was in favor of genocide, or at least not strongly opposed to it. There is more indirect evidence for this, because she was also one of the founders of the Malthusian League, in favor of population control. She was also, before developing an interest in the occult, a fanatical atheist and an agitator for women’s rights. Annie Besant, while in Paris, became a Mason. Her close friend and fellow prominent Theosophist was Charles Leadbeater, who was repeatedly accused (by several individuals) of homosexual abuse of underage boys. While there is no one fact about Annie Besant that marks her as an evil person, there is a clear pattern here…and it is not a pretty one.

And there is nothing at all ambiguous about Alice Bailey (6/16/1880-12/15/1949), another British Theosophist, who emigrated to the United States in 1907. Like Madame Blavatsky herself, she came from a wealthy family. Her second husband, Foster Bailey, was a thirty second degree Mason, and she was one of the first occultists to write about the coming Age of Aquarius. Her “ascended master,” she claimed, was named Koot Hoomi, and she claimed to have met him on 6/30/1895, when she was still an adolescent. Following a power struggle, she was expelled from the Theosophical Society, and, in 1923, she founded the Arcane School. Later, she founded the Lucis Trust and its subsidiary organization, World Goodwill. All of this sounds very nice except that she called for a New World Order (like Hitler, George Bush Senior, and Bill Clinton). She, like Albert Pike, more or less worshipped Lucifer, whom she described as a fallen angel, cruelly expelled from Heaven by a tyrannical God. She admired Napoleon, Stalin, Mussolini, and Hitler, and she hated Jews, claiming that they are all cruel, materialistic, and reactionary. Her Lucis Trust has a great deal of clout with the United Nations, maintaining its bizarre meditation room, and World Goodwill agitates for a one world government. Lucis Trust collaborates closely with the Cathedral of St. John the Divine (Saint John is very important to the Masons), a very new age type of establishment, to put it mildly. Some of us have a problem with an anti-Semite who admires Hitler and Stalin and worships a fallen angel named Lucifer.

But of course, Madame Blavatsky can hardly be held responsible for what even some of her followers did after her death, let alone a woman who was expelled from the society. So we are left pretty much where we started: Blavatsky was an ambiguous person, probably something of a charlatan, but not necessarily evil. Yet, overall, her legacy has been a destructive one.

Comments (2)

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by dove1111 11 years ago
It is interesting that possibly the greatest thinker of the twentieth century was found as a child in southern India by Ms. Besant and the Theosophical Society.
Comment icon #2 Posted by Rlyeh 11 years ago
"She said that the universe is a single, united whole with an ultimately unknowable source, and she preached universal brotherhood and altruism and believed in intelligent design rather than Darwinism." Do people still really call nature science, Darwinism?

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