H. P. Blavatsky's Cultural Impact

By I. M. Oderberg

Part I -- Religion and Science

Over one hundred years have elapsed since H. P. Blavatsky's death, and the catalytic effect of her entry into Western culture is still in progress. The impact of her first book, Isis Unveiled (1877), can be gauged to a degree by examining periodicals and newspapers of that period. It started a more scholarly, detached approach to comparative religion, as previous efforts to translate non-Christian scriptures were colored by the bias of the clergymen producing them.

HPB's masterpiece, The Secret Doctrine (1888), refers to a stream of ancient wisdom that had its origins in a remote antiquity and has survived into our own times. It contains ideas in seed form that have germinated during the twentieth century, to grow more fully in the twenty-first century when these concepts will be better understood. The most important of these ideas is the oneness of life, an energy-consciousness that permeates the whole cosmos and is the heart of all the manifestations we perceive around us. All human beings, therefore, share a common humanity, an innate quality that permits no distinctions, such as those raised in the past under the labels race, color, religion, or gender.

Spreading the reality of universal brotherhood was the underlying objective behind the formation of The Theosophical Society in New York in 1875, for humanity was near the brink of destruction and only the recognition and practice of universal brotherhood could save it. Blavatsky's writings offer evidence for the common spiritual origin of all life forms. It was a startling concept to present before the Western culture of the day, but in the present time we find groups of people in practically all countries espousing brotherhood. The study of comparative religions, sciences, and philosophies, ancient and modern, as well as the inherent nature and composition of human beings, form two other principal objectives of the Theosophical Society.

HPB left New York for India in 1878, with Colonel Henry S. Olcott, a cofounder and president of the Society. They traveled extensively through that country and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and she described her experiences in vivid accounts for Russian papers. [A selection of these was translated into English and published as From the Caves and Jungles of Hindostan (1892); later reissued in a revised and enlarged edition, edited by Boris de Zirkoff (1975).] The theosophic emphasis upon brotherhood of all, plus HPB's efforts to reawaken in Oriental peoples a knowledge of and love for their own spiritual heritage, countered a trend to exchange this heritage for the pragmatic, glittering technology of the West. Aubrey Menon, a modern Indian writer who is not a theosophist, states: "To Madame Blavatsky goes the credit of opening Western minds to Indian thought, in general, of which, till her, it was virtually ignorant" (The Mystics, 1974, p. 154)

Two prominent Englishmen in India became friendly with HPB: A. O. Hume, a high government official who later devoted himself to helping the Indian people politically, especially in the foundation of the Congress Party; and A. P. Sinnett, editor of The Pioneer, an influential English-language newspaper. Sinnett branched out from journalism, writing serious books and two novels dealing with theosophical themes. The most important of his works are The Occult World and Esoteric Buddhism, which included selections from his correspondence with two of HPB's teachers, and with HPB herself (the original letters, now preserved in the British Library, were published in book form by A. Trevor Barker as The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett and The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett).

Theosophical work in Ceylon, notably by Olcott, stimulated a revival of interest in Buddhism among the populace. In 1884, Angarika H. Dharmapala, then only sixteen, asked HPB's advice on his future career. She suggested he study Pali so as to make the Buddhist texts written in that language more widely known among his people. This he did with zeal, contributing much in this field. In 1983, as a theosophist and representative of Buddhism in Asia, he addressed the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago -- the first of its kind.

In later years, while HPB was living in London, Mohandas K. Gandhi was introduced to her in 1890 when he was there working for his law degree. In his autobiography he recalls having read her Key to Theosophy. "This book stimulated in me the desire to read books on Hinduism, and disabused me of the notion fostered by the missionaries that Hinduism was rife with superstition" (ch. xx). Two theosophists introduced him to the Bhagavad-Gita, which became his lifelong guiding text.

Because of HPB's labors, the rich spiritual treasury of India was introduced to public scrutiny. She encouraged William Q. Judge, a cofounder of the TS and head of the American Section, to publish Oriental scriptures in translation. From this grew his Oriental Department Papers, with Charles Johnston and others contributing. Judge prepared a recension and commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita. Translations of other ancient scriptures became more generally known, not only in India, Ceylon, and Japan, where they had been the closed preserve of the learned and the clergy, but also throughout Europe and America. Her magazine The Theosophist (founded in 1879) struck a key note beyond the mere text and academic commentary. In addition, the study of Sanskrit was encouraged as a means of circulating metaphysical ideas in the modern currency of Western languages otherwise devoid of the terms to express them. The knowledge of Sanskrit had previously been the domain of the few. Many terms known to specialists for years entered into general literature, such as karma, avatar, akasa, and astral light.

Also in the field of comparative religion, we note that W. Y. Evans-Wentz, well-known for introducing translations of Tibetan works to the Western public, had studied HPB's writings from his youth when he became a member of the Theosophical Society. He stated in The Tibetan Book of the Dead:

The late Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup was of the opinion that, despite the adverse criticisms directed against H. P. Blavatsky's works, there is adequate internal evidence in them of their author's intimate acquaintance with the higher lamaistic teachings, into which she claimed to have been initiated. -- p. 7n

The Lama was an initiated member of the Kargyupta sect and Lecturer in Tibetan at the University of Calcutta when he died. Previously he had been official translator for the Tibetan Minister in India, and also a member of the "select entourage" of the thirteenth Dalai Lama when visiting India.

There had been earlier translations of Tibetan works especially in the nineteenth century, but most of them had been made by missionaries who, even with the best will in the world, interpreted key terms colored by their own theological usage, and treated texts of whatever denomination from the outside looking in. Unfortunately, modern purely academic approaches are not much better, since detachment is insisted upon and concepts translated with dictionaries, grammars, and phrase books. Metaphysics, however, requires deep reflection, illuminated by the intuition of the mystic "heart," and not merely the mechanical rationalizations of the brain-mind. To enter the meaning of a religious heritage other than one's own, there must be a commitment to it.

Along these lines, a special 1927 edition of HPB's The Voice of the Silence was published at the request of the Panchen Lama of Tibet. It included his personal inscription authenticating its central statement of the "bodhisattva ideal": to renounce self-advancement for the sake of others toiling along behind. The Voice of the Silence is her translation of old mystical verses given to disciples and students in which she used metaphor, paradox, and poetry. It is a guide for men and women perplexed by the inequalities of human existence. The Voice has been quoted in Mysticism, A Study and an Anthology by F. C. Happold (pp. 82-3), and earlier in William James's classic Varieties of Religious Experience. Its universal message was extolled by Bhikshu Sangharakshita in lectures delivered under the auspices of the Indian Institute of World Culture in 1954. (In the Introduction to the printed text the Bhikshu states that when he was fourteen years old he read the two volumes of Isis Unveiled and, he adds, "though I never became a theosophist, I am deeply sympathetic to certain aspects of the Theosophical Movement.")

Looking to other non-European cultures, William E. Gates, a pioneer in Mayan researches, joined HPB's Society in her lifetime and was a notable student of her writings, as was also Professor Osvald Siren, the great Swedish Sinologue who interpreted Chinese art and scriptures with insights gained from studying her teachings. Both savants were aware of the spiritual undercurrents of all truly creative endeavors.

Despite her obvious concern with non-Western thought, some critics have viewed her work only as

a kind of modern summary of occultism which made use of the data found in all works of this sort since the Renaissance. A kind of Indian veneer has been laid over the structure, but in its materials and build it is European. It is to Fludd, d'Espagnet, Court de Gebelin, Bailly, Fabre d'Olivet, Eliphas Levi, that the ideas expressed by Madame Blavatsky belong, and their origin further back lies in the occultism of the Renaissance. -- Denis Saurat, Literature and the Occult Tradition: Studies in Philosophical Poetry, 1930, p. 67

Although comments about an "Indian veneer" miss the point of a universal wisdom tradition of mankind, HPB certainly also brought the Western occult tradition to the fore in her writings. For instance, in recent years studies dealing with Eliphas Levi, the French kabbalist, have mentioned her influence.

In Isis Unveiled, HPB remarks that Western religion and science, both equally materialistic, were engaged in a death-struggle, and her influence on scientific thought has been as far-reaching as upon religion. Since her day there have been vast changes in outlook and more recognition that there seems to be an intangible source of the cosmic creative process that eludes analysis in the laboratory. Scientists appear to fall into two categories, unifiers and diversifiers (this observation is made by Freeman Dyson, professor of physics at the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton, in Infinite in All Directions, 1988): on the one hand, the mathematical theorists who view the universe as a unity comprising a webwork of interlocking parts; and on the other, the experimenters who assert that all that we perceive around us are discrete, ultimately separate entities of all sorts. An example of this latter view comes from Ernest Rutherford, father of nuclear physics, who replied to Eddington's suggestion that electrons might be concepts rather than have real, physical existence: "Not exist, not exist? -- why I can see the little beggars there in front of me as plainly as I can see that spoon" (p. 43).

A study of The Secret Doctrine would suggest that, at some time in the future, theoretical and experimental scientists will merge their insights and approaches. When that happens, the truth of the three propositions expounded in volume one of The Secret Doctrine will become evident. The first proposition is that the vast universe is infinite in all directions, limitless in space, time, and quality or degree of material manifestations. This implies that the concept is beyond the finite limit of the human mind to formulate, though its "necessity" can be recognized. The second, that the universe we perceive is the field of constant periodicity and cyclical movement of the manifesting life energies, with stars and their worlds appearing, disappearing, and reappearing in the fullness of time. The third proposition is that our universe and all its components comprise an immense organism within the infinitude of space -- one of a limitless number of universes in this infinitude. All of these components perform their functions in grades of interconnected families.

It was these three enunciations as well as the enormous amount of scientific evidence and information abounding in The Secret Doctrine that fascinated such scientists of the nineteenth century as chemist Sir William Crookes, astronomer Camille Flammarion, anthropologist Carter Blake, and evolutionist Alfred Russel Wallace (receiving his due in our time with books coming out concerning his work in Indonesia and elsewhere, and his view that the driving force in evolution may be a "spiritual" one).

Modern scientists such as Paul Davies allude to a kind of "superspace" in which alternative universes "parallel" to ours might exist. This is remarkably similar to the concept of space and its fullness as presented in The Secret Doctrine, with our small spectrum of materialized energies being but one of a limitless number. It is in this sense that the ancient philosophers referred to space as the ever-fecund mother of all entities, there being no "dead matter" anywhere. Even the expanded dimensions of material forms now proposed by researchers involved in the superstring theory -- which seems to work only in 2, 10, or 26 dimensions instead of our familiar three -- may be found foreshadowed in The Secret Doctrine: "six is the representation of the six dimensions of all bodies" (2:591). Other reputable researchers have advocated the realization that their colleagues do influence their experiments from the very moment they set them up: for instance, the setting for the study of light determines whether it appears to consist of particles (photons) or waves of energy.

Part 2 -- Literature and the Arts

Turning to the field of art, we find that in the closing decades of the nineteenth century, "the external work of form" occupied the attention of Western artists, and though there might have been much talent, there "was a risk of reaching an art of pure, and completely empty, form," as a perceptive commentator has noted (The Whole Mystery of Art: Pattern and Poetry in the Work of W. B. Yeats by Giorgio Melchiori, 1960). The theosophical philosophy encouraged avenues running counter to this tendency. One notable example is the revival of Irish cultural heritage credited to Dublin theosophists William Butler Yeats, George W. Russell (AE), and Charles Johnston, among others. They were entering adulthood when they took up the study of The Secret Doctrine, Yeats and Johnston crossing to London where they met HPB. Out of the meeting the Dublin Lodge of theosophists was born.

Charles Johnston was eighteen years old and of considerable promise when he attended an evening's discussion at the home of Professor Ernest Dowden in Dublin, at which the topic was Sinnett's book Esoteric Buddhism. Johnston and the twenty-year-old William Butler Yeats were excited by the book. When Johnston went to London a little later for the entrance examination into the Indian Civil Service, he sought an interview with HPB. The resulting association was a deep and abiding one, affecting the rest of his life.

The Dublin Lodge of the Theosophical Society, which he helped establish in April 1886, attracted Russell, Yeats, Fred J. Dick, the Normans, and some of the leading figures in the arts and sciences who would later play a large role in reawakening the dormant Irish culture. Johnston himself felt more drawn to the ancient classics of India and, after his period of service in that country, he became a noted translator and commentator of Sanskrit works.

William Butler Yeats, the great Irish poet, was drawn to the theosophic effort of the 1880s because he felt its doctrines indicated how the "forms," even geometrical, could be meaningful and profound. He and others took the key of universality to open the door to old myths. They wrote about the immersion of spirit into matter, the spiral cycles of unfolding faculty, and especially of the personality as a temporary mask worn by the permanent element in man -- the inhering individuality enduring through the ages. Although Yeats turned away later from active participation in the theosophic endeavor, its influence remained with him throughout his life, as evidenced in his poetry and plays, and his interest in metaphysical studies.

Three of the most sympathetic studies -- Giorgio Melchiori's The Whole Mystery of Art and E. A. C. Wilson's two books, W. B. Yeats and Tradition and Yeats' Iconography -- all examine carefully Yeats' usage of the key concepts expressed by HPB. In March 1965 a display of books by and relating to Yeats was mounted in The King's Library, British Museum, London, to honor the centenary of his birth. In the catalog of exhibits was included from his Autobiographies Yeats' tribute to HPB as "a great passionate nature, a sort of female Dr. Johnson."

Russell (AE) was another eminent Irish poet and essayist deeply affected by Blavatsky's ideas. More mystically inclined than Yeats, he wrote a poem about the infant god he "saw" behind the eyes of the Irish farmers whose cause he tried to serve in the country districts. A month before he died in 1935, AE wrote Sean O'Faolein that if he had time he should read the magnificent Proem to The Secret Doctrine and he would then understand the source of that author's influence on such of her contemporaries as Crookes, Flammarion, and others. He would then see she was not at all as represented by vested interests and her enemies:

You dismiss H. P. Blavatsky rather too easily as "hocus pocus." Nobody ever affected the thought of so many able men and women by "hocus pocus." The real source of her influence is to be found in The Secret Doctrine, a book on the religions of the world suggesting or disclosing an underlying unity between all great religions. It was a book which Maeterlinck said contained the most grandiose cosmogony in the world, and if you read it merely as a romantic compilation, it is one of the most exciting and stimulating books written for the last hundred years. It is paying a poor compliment to men like Yeats, Maeterlinck, and others, to men like Sir William Crookes, the greatest chemist of modern times, who was a member of her society, to Carter Blake, F.R.S., the anthropologist, and the scholars and scientists in many countries who read H. P. Blavatsky's books, to assume that they were attracted by "hocus pocus." If you are ever in the National Library, Kildare Street, and have a couple of hours to spare, you might dip into "The Proem" to The Secret Doctrine, and you will understand the secret of the influence of that extraordinary woman on her contemporaries. -- Quoted in A Memoir of AE: George William Russell, by John Eglinton (W. K. Magee), 1937, pp. 164-5

Ernest A. Boyd devoted a whole chapter in his authoritative study Ireland's Literary Renaissance (1916) to the group he called "The Dublin Mystics -- The Theosophical Movement" and, among other credits, he referred to John Eglinton as "the theosophists' gift to the Literary Revival of Ireland's only great essayist." Boyd praised Eglinton's Pebbles from a Brook as one of the few books Ireland had produced until then "which challenged comparison with the best prose of any English-speaking country. It transcends the relative standards by which we have to judge the bulk of Anglo-Irish literature" (p. 252).

In addition, he pointed out that while Russian literature was barely becoming known in England, the Dublin theosophists had already introduced it into Ireland when, for example, they fostered the works, among others, of R. Ivanovich Lippmann, translator of the works of poet and novelist Mikhail Yurievich Lermontov (1814-1841).

Perhaps the Irish author who has had the most powerful impact on the trend of modern writing since 1920 is James Joyce, who "exiled" himself to Paris. His Ulysses, about a day in the life of a modern Dubliner, and Finnegan's Wake, another study of daily life in a part of Ireland, are both very obscure. Stuart Gilbert visited Joyce to discuss their inherent meaning. Joyce asked Gilbert if he had read Blavatsky's Isis Unveiled or the writings of A. P. Sinnett, derived from contact with HPB and two of her teachers. Gilbert found that Joyce had certainly derived material from Isis Unveiled and Esoteric Buddhism, stating that "it is impossible to grasp the meaning of Ulysses, its symbolism and the significance of its leitmotifs, without an understanding of the esoteric theories which underlie the work." What were these concepts? Metempsychosis or transmigration of souls (not bodies), karma, universal manifestation and rest periods, "hermetic correspondences" or the "law of analogies," among others.

Many other notable figures in the literary field were affected by the work of Blavatsky and others of her associates. For instance, Sir Edwin Arnold, famous for his poetic life of the Buddha, The Light of Asia, gave Olcott some pages of his manuscript of that work after he had attended a meeting at which Blavatsky spoke. Interestingly, Claude Bragdon relates in his Epistles from an Unwritten History that Rudyard Kipling commenced his writing career when he began working in a junior capacity at the Indian newspaper Pioneer during the last year there of Sinnett as its editor. Bragdon thought that Kipling's first short story "The Finest Story in the World," with its theme of reincarnation, could have been influenced by this association. The story had been published in the Pioneer, and reprinted among Kipling's other collected material in 1889. Kipling's "The Sending of Dana Da" has been described as putting forward "the Indian attitude to Theosophy." (Cf. Rudyard Kipling by Martin Fido, 1974. The author states that Rudyard displayed more "open-mindedness" than his father, John Lockwood Kipling, the noted artist, who denounced theosophy. Fido is not sympathetic to it, but states in reference to Anglo-India: "Theosophy was one of its rare contributions to the world" p. 52.)

In Russia, numerous articles and stories from HPB's pen appeared all through the years of her public life, and were rated on a par with the work of authors such as Turgenev and Dostoevsky -- extracts from whose novella "The Grand Inquisitor" in The Brothers Karamazov she translated and published in The Theosophist, November 1881.

Early in the 1900s, the eminent Russian pianist and composer Alexander Scriabin discovered HPB's works whilst in Paris. He wrote to his friends commending The Key to Theosophy which he had read in a French translation. On May 5,1905, he wrote from Paris that "La Clef de la Theosophie is a remarkable book. You will be astonished at how close it is to my thinking" (Scriabin, A Biography of the Russian Composer 1871-1915 by Faubion Bowers, 2 vols.).

Various friends recalled that "Scriabin's conversations were full of Theosophy and the personality of Blavatsky." In a letter he wrote in London on March 24, 1914, he stated he was looking forward "to dining with some Theosophists," especially G. R. S. Mead who was HPB's last private secretary. He became a keen student of The Secret Doctrine and had started to set its first "Stanzas of Dzyan" to music when he died suddenly in 1915. In 1922, efforts were made to reassemble his personal effects scattered after his death, and eventually they were restored in his last apartment, including his own copy of The Secret Doctrine in French translation. For some years the Scriabin Museum was open to music and other students. According to Faubion Bowers, this apartment had a tremendous influence on rising composers and was "a gathering place for youth."

Among the many enthused by Scriabin's interests and personality was Boris Pasternak, poet and translator of Shakespeare's sonnets and plays, of Milton, Shelley, and Keats. When Pasternak was 13, Scriabin became a summer neighbor of his parents, Leonid, the eminent painter, and Rosa (nee Kaufman), a child prodigy who had become a renowned concert pianist. The contact with Scriabin was a close and continuous one, with Boris aspiring to become a composer himself. It was only when he left Russia to attend the University of Marburg, Germany, and came under the powerful influence of the philosophers Frederick Albert Lange and Hermann Cohen that his outlook changed. Lange had won fame for his History of Materialism, and when Boris returned home he thought he had overcome the Scriabin influence. But in his youth Pasternak had been so transported by the Scriabin compositions, piano playing, and personality, that the effect did not vanish as completely as he had thought.

Edward Crankshaw suggests that the character of Uncle Kolya in the novel Dr. Zhivago owes much to the impact of Scriabin. The only multidimensional characters in Dr. Zhivago are the hero himself, a poet whose humanity and warmth are shown in his being a general physician; Lara, the symbol not of a romance but of his poetic genius; and his Uncle Kolya, the benign-hearted narrator of the story. These three are the only real human beings in the novel -- and, as I feel, born of the impact of theosophy upon Pasternak, derived as a boy years before from his empathy with Scriabin. While some commentators associate Pasternak's Zhivago poems with the poetry of the T'ang period of China, they seem more likely to have been flashes from the days when he heard Scriabin's Prometheus and Poeme de l'extase.

Nicholas Roerich, a Russian artist and student of Oriental thought, was a friend of Scriabin's. With his wife Helena, he introduced the works of Blavatsky to their large circle of students in Russia and, after 1917, in New York. He tried to encourage the human brotherhood idea through the medium of art. Friends helped him to set up an institution -- Peace through Culture -- in New York City to exhibit representative contributions from all countries, intended to show that true art knows no barriers. In 1925, he painted "The Messenger," depicting HPB to whom he dedicated it. Helena Roerich translated The Secret Doctrine into Russian and her two-volume collection of letters abounds in quotations from and references to that work and to the published letters written to Sinnett and Hume by two of HPB's teachers.

Scriabin also introduced The Secret Doctrine to Wassily Kandinsky, one of the chief founders of the modern art movement. In his stimulating book Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Kandinsky wrote that HPB "was the first to see a connection" between Indian civilization and our own and that out of her efforts "rose one of the most important spiritual movements . . . of inner knowledge . . . a strong agent in the general atmosphere, presaging deliverance to oppressed and gloomy hearts." Looking ahead to the emancipation from materialism, he concluded his Introduction with these words: "Everyone who immerses himself in the hidden treasures of his art is an enviable co-worker on the spiritual pyramid which will reach to heaven." The Dutch painter Piet Mondriaan, another potent influence upon the modern art movement, also espoused the theosophic contribution and, like Kandinsky, joined the Theosophical Society. The connection of Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondriaan, and indirectly Paul Klee is brought out in Kandinsky, His Life and Work (1958) by Will Grohmann.

A Canadian artist who injected a theosophic vision into his creations, Lawren S. Harris, is not given due credit outside his own country. In the words of art reviewer F. B. Housser:

Harris is a modern mystic who has attempted to express through painting, moods reached through mystical experience as William Blake did. The nature of this experience must have been the product of his humanitarianism which caused him to go out and to feel in a new way with and for humanity as is shown in his Halifax canvases. It is from this base that mystical experience occurs, and in a flash of that misunderstood word "illumination" peace comes through a vision which makes it plain that "every moment of life is filled with eternity" and that the uglinesses of Time are ways to a realization of untemporal beauty. The uglinesses of "Above Lake Superior" are beautiful and its lonely austerity, peace.

Jeremy Adamson, Curator of Canadian Historical Art at the Art Gallery of Ontario, has stated that Lawren Harris painted some of the most exciting canvases ever produced in Canada. He is best known as a founding member of the famous Canadian "Group of Seven," and later its leader: artists imbued with the same ideals and vision. He had drawn them together to create a "national art based on the informing spirit of the northern wilderness . . ." (Jeremy Adamson, Lawren S. Harris. Urban Scenes and Wilderness Landscapes, 1906-1930, p. 138).

After 1922, Harris turned to themes more directly related to his theosophic vision. He had become acquainted with theosophy in 1909 when his close friend Roy Mitchell joined the Toronto Theosophical Society. In 1922 he assisted the Toronto TS in its work and the next year joined it. In 1926 he published an article "Revelation of Art" in The Canadian Theosophist. His book of poems, Contrasts, A Book of Verse (1922), contains four lines that epitomize his theosophic outlook:

In people
There is a sun,
centre of light, of hope,
rose of bliss.

Some modern assessments of HPB's influence take a positive stance. One of these is Literature and Occult Tradition by Denis Saurat, formerly Professor of French Literature at the University of London, King's College. He devotes a chapter to a survey of the effects upon literature of The Secret Doctrine, which he regards as a unique repository of occult ideas:

We have in Madame Blavatsky a precious witness: she gives us in a genuinely rough state the only material in the great occultist quarry which was capable of being worked by the poets. -- p. 69

He devised a diagram listing a number of major concepts about man and the cosmos which he had found in HPB's great work and, using her treatment as a standard, he traced their occurrences in other writings, but especially in the folklore and myths of all peoples.

Tom Gibbons, Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Western Australia, wrote in his Rooms in the Darwin Hotel (1974) -- a study of ideas current in English literature from 1880 to 1920 -- that Blavatsky and other theosophical writers attracted intelligent readers because they "presented the human situation as something complex, meaningful, and exciting . . . and stress the importance of spiritual values and free will." He was attracted by the theosophic claim to reconcile religious belief with discoveries made by scientists and also to open the door for public study of non-Christian religions.

Gibbons not only alludes to HPB's major books but also to her magazine Lucifer (the "Light-bringer") as a powerful influence. This publication printed many significant articles, some critical of the mores of the day. The important essays included "The Esoteric Character of the Gospels," expounding obscure passages and terms, such as the meaning of "Christ"; "Occultism versus the Occult Arts" and "Psychic and Noetic Action," particularly a propos today; and finally, a powerful "open letter" to the Archbishop of Canterbury -- a dynamic appeal to return to the original Christianity of its founders. In the letter, among other points, she compared the luxurious living of the prelates with the lot of the poor in the major cities of the West. Her comments on such subjects were not directed to one faith alone, but to the theologians of every religion that had fallen short of the founders' intentions. With the passage of time, all had become so encrusted with dogmas that the original light of wisdom was obscured.

Lest it be thought this sampling of cultural impacts is far from indicating a direct effect on the practical affairs of daily life, Edward Carpenter, English writer and social reformer, in My Days and Dreams, described HPB's work as marking "the coming of a great reaction from the smug commercialism of the mid-Victorian epoch, and a preparation for the new universe of the twentieth century" (p. 240).

And finally, Talbot Mundy, dean of writers of Oriental adventure stories, based on his varied experiences in India and Eastern Africa. In 1916, he wrote King -- of the Khyber Rifles. In the 1920s for a short period he lived at the Theosophical Society headquarters at Point Loma, California, where he wrote Om: the Secret of Abhor Valley, which contains a reference to and ample evidence of his respect for HPB. In his posthumous work, I Say Sunrise, he wrote:

It is absolutely safe to say that if all Madame Blavatsky's critics, omitting not one single individual, however intelligent, all working together for the whole of an average lifetime, were to concentrate their utmost efforts and intelligence on the task, they could not between them write such a masterpiece as the Secret Doctrine. . . .
Madame Blavatsky described and analyzed the illusion from which we must somehow escape unless we are to continue to be hopelessly involved in the difficulties for which we blame our statesmen, scientists and ecclesiastics -- difficulties which they have so scientifically failed to solve. They deal only with the surface of the illusion. They ride its waves or sink beneath them. Madame Blavatsky explained what the waves are. -- p. 88

Herein lies the importance of The Secret Doctrine and the work that has flowed from it: the public has been drawn into the vast repository of knowledge and wisdom transmitted throughout recorded time. In other epochs, such as the nineteenth century, some of the information and insights about the cosmos and humanity were secluded among scholars and theologians. In dedicating The Secret Doctrine, the author states that she did not originate its contents, for they were flowers of cultures that had flourished in different parts of the world at various times. All that she brought was the string that tied these flowers together. It is precisely the string that is so important, for the flowers had not been collected until recent times, and so each human culture and civilization was studied as something separate. Further, with the flow of the centuries, many previous expressions of the old wisdom to which she refers had suffered from accretions -- misunderstandings and also "interpretations" that were merely the opinions of later speculators upon the meaning of old terms. Now we see the interrelatedness of older key ideas which indeed indicates the interrelatedness of all human beings and their endeavors. What she expressed in her works was derived from the fountain-head of the previous outflows of what is termed a never-ending stream of wisdom/knowledge.

(Reprinted from Sunrise magazine, December 1995/January 1996; February/March 1996. Copyright © 1996 by Theosophical University Press)

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