RE: Theos-World History of ideas, and evidence for masters
Oct 14, 2001 06:40 AM
Thank you for the verry poetic reply to my previous mail. I think you
are mentally verry inspired.
My position at the moment is that theosophy seems like a form of
The Renaisance hermetic tradition has been characterized by Francis
Yates as pseudo-Egyptianizing.
Instead Isaac Casaubon (1556-1614), a scholar of Greek from Geneva,
published an examination of the context and language of the Hermetic
corpus in 1614, dating it not to the time of Moses but to late
In some quarters , Casaubon's work went unheeded, so did Blavatsky
still place the Corpus Hermeticum in early Pharaoh times instead of
during the Hellenistic period. She placed the Kabbala of the middle
ages in Rabbinistic time periods and assumed that the Greek mysteries
had similar contents as the cabbalist- neoplatonic ideas.
Nevertheless, Casaubon marked the beginning of a split between emic
and etic historiography. Secondly, there is the pre-Champollion and
post-Champollion era. The decipering of the hierogliphs made it
possible to gain insights into the actual religion and culture of
ancient Egypt that made it more difficult to support fantasy
The Enlightenment philosophes, rejected the old order, wether
Christian or Hermeticist. It was part of the project of a revived
esotericism of the end of the 18th century to attempt to support the
pre-Enlightenment claim to Egypt as a fountainhaed of wisdom. In the
Mahatma Letters Egypt is seen as one of a series of historic cultures
to have transmitted elements of this "primeval" wisdom religion.
But as Steve has pointed out, Blavatsky had already begun to orient
her religious creativity further east, towards the Indian
subcontinent. The shift is underpinned mythologically by the
assumption that the Egyptians were actually descendants of the aryans,
whose spiritual traditions should thus represent a purer form of the
ancient wisdom religion. Blavatsky refers approvingly to baron
Bunsen's ( the father of "Chevalier Louis") imaginative history of
Egypt as a source for this hypothesis.(IU II: 437 f.)
Edgar Cayce attempted to forge a synthesis with the apocalypticism
that he may have inherited from his consevative Christian upbringing.
He prophesised that documents would be found near the Sphinx that
would validate his historiography. Cayse's Egypt thus has the position
of being presented as the source of an ancient wisdom still to be
revealed. Cayce claimed that he himself, his son and wife had played
crucial roles in the history of Egypt.
The readings place this history at a far earlier date than
archeologists, around the year 10,500 BC. A subject that is expanded
upon in a pseudo-scientific way in
Generally speaking, New Age texts have followed the lead of Blavatsky
by orienting themselves more towards a generalized Orient than towards
Egypt. As will also be Hanckock's next book.
In 1784 Antoine Court de Géblin, building on Fabre d'Olivet's "study
of the three mother tongues of Hebrew, Sanskrit and Chinese,"
published Le Monde Primitif Analysé et Comparé avec le Monde Moderne,
a seminal work on the of concept of an ancient and universal
"primordial tradition." In 1792 the famous esotericist Louis-Claude de
Saint-Martian published Le Nouvel Homme and later Le Ministère de
L'Homme-Espirit, works strongly influenced by Indic ideas.
Saint-Martain explicitly draws connections, as did the esotericist
Pierre-Simon Ballanche, between the ideas of illuminism, theosophy,
and the literature of India (12).
By the 1820s in America, Ralph Waldo Emerson was beginning to make
journal entries on Hindu religions based on his initial readings of
English translations of Sanskrit like those of Wilkins and Jones.
(Steve did mention Jones) In Europe, these same translations were also
making an impact in France and Germany. The German Romantic
Naturphilosophie movement, a central influence on Western Esotericism,
was certainly affected by the new translations of Indic materials. It
was Friedrich von Schlegel who coined the popular term "Oriental
Renaissance" (1803) to describe the impact of Asian and Indic
philosophy on early 19th century European intellectuals and
esotericists which he described as "a sun in comparison to the weak
spark of Western Idealism." These authors shared a common esoteric
interest in India as a source for a "primordial tradition"
(philosophia perennis) or a "universal revelation" that could be
reconstructed to counter rising emphasis on rational materialism (11).
While the Secret Doctrine does not directly refer to American
transcendentalism, it is perhaps not a matter of chance that
Blavatsky's indophilia developed during her stay in New York. The
iconography of Isis Unveiled supports this universalistic
interpretation: two large line drawings show what are said to be exact
correspondences between the worldview of Hinduism and that of the
kabbala. A compairance that is already evidenced in the theosophical
work of Swedenborg.
It should be noted that the India that has now entered theosophy is an
imagined India. Throughout Blavatsky's work, the Orient continues to
be a homogenized and generalized culture. Thus a generic Buddhism
enters the Mahatma letters where Tibetan lamas and Theravada (Pali)
scriptures cexist without any sense of the anachronism involved.
(Mahatma Letters p.58.)
In 1844, two French priests, Evariste Huc and Father Gabet, entered
Tibet. They were the first to write a detailed account of the country,
published in 1850. Translated into English as "Recollections of Travel
in Tartary, Tibet and China", and trough Blavatsky's appropriation of
part of their narrative, claiming it to be her own travels, they would
come to influence the modern Esoteric Trations.
The concept of Lemuria was first mentioned by
The city Agarthi was invented in 1873, in Jacolliot's "Le fils de
dieu". The theme was taken and elaborated on by Saint Yves d'Alveydre
in his Mission de l'Inde. The same story was retold with minor
variations by the Polish writer Ferdinand Ossendowski in his "Betes,
hommes et dieux", who placed the story in the Gobi dessert. To be
copied almost verbatum by Roerich in his Shamballah myth, his
creative travel story.
Blavatsky combined in her Atlantis epic Ignatius Donnelly's
"Atlantis", Jean Sylvain Bailly's theory that the homeland of humanity
lay near the North Pole, and the Methodist minister William F.
Warren's "Paradise Found".
The Secret Doctrine contains detailed histories of e.g. the
inhabitants of Atlantis and Lemuria that first appeared in
Blavatsky claims highly precisedetais concerningthe anatomy and
physiology of the Atlanteans and Lemurians. Nearly every aspect of the
Secret Doctrine, is buttreeed with appeals to scientific legitimacy.
For early hermeticists or magicians such as Giordano Bruno, Cornelius
Agrippa or Robert Fludd, there was no perceived entity "science" that
needed to be confronted. By contrast, numerous proponents of
post-enlightenment esotericism, from Mesmer, via the spiritualists,
theosophy and its offschoots have activly positioned themselves in
relation to science.
The founding of the Theosophical Society can in itself be interpreted
as an apogge of 19th century scientism. Scientism seemingly entered
every facet of the Society, from its founding charter to its canonical
scriptures. The founders entered three principles into the stated
purpose of the organization:
1. The formation of a universal brotherhood without distinction
of race, creed, caste or color,
2. 2. The encouragement of studies in comparative religion,
philosophy and science, and
3. 3. The investigation of unexplained laws of nature and the
powers latent in man.
4. It has been pointed out that the third of these principles
embodies a paradox. The basic premises of theosophy would therefore
seem to be a fertile ground in the quest for scientistic formulations.
5. Blavatsky insists that the knowledge of the ancients and
contemporary science are the same thing. That ancient cultures knew
more of science than contemporary scientists.(IU p. 25,35)
6. The Secret Doctrine can be seen as a paradigmatic example of
how both attitudes to science, negatieve as well as positive, can be
7. Th Secret Doctrine mentions dozens of works by contemporary
scientists. No part of science plays as crucial a role as
evolutionism. Post theosophical spokespersons partly look to other
branches of science in order to structure and delimit their arguments.
Perhaps the most infamous of the analyses of Isis Unveiled and The
Secret Doctrine has been that of William Emmette Coleman.
Coleman claimed to have discovered two
thousand passages which Blavatsky had included in Isis Unveiled
without acknowledgement. Further, he surmised
that the work had been more or less cobbled together from around one
hundred books and periodicals. In response to the latter there need be
little argument given that Olcott himself acknowledged the paucity of
the New York
Lamasery's library: One might fancy, upon seeing the numerous
quotations in Isis Unveiled that she had written it in an alcove of
the British Museum or of the Astor Library in New York. The fact is,
however, that our whole working library scarcely comprised one hundred
books of reference (Olcott, Old Diary Leaves,207).
Kalpa theory, i.e., aeonic periodicity, most notably exhibited in the
quaternary systematisation of the Mah‰yuga,
was known to Blavatsky through early renderings of the epic
Mah‰bh‰rata. It is worthy of note that the focus of
her interest in the Mah‰bh‰rata was directed to its much later,
post-Christian appendix, the Harivamsa, with its
concentration on the degenerate present age, the kali yuga, and its
premillennial eschatology: see H. P. Blavatsky,
ÔMagicÕ in H. P. Blavatsky, Collected Writings, vol. II:1879-1880,
comp. Boris de Zirkoff, Theosophical Publishing
House, Wheaton, Ill., n.d., 37-38. De Zirkoff has suggested Blavatsky
employed the edited version of the
Mah‰bh‰rata produced for the Asiatic Society of Bengal in Calcutta
between 1834-1839 (in ibid., 536).
Although a distinct geographic Orientalising of the Masters may be
discerned from the mid-1870s, it is crucial to
note that Blavatsky was not primarily concerned with discerning a
primreview wisdom tradition from within
Hinduism, as is largely the consensus opinion among scholars. For her,
the Orient - very broadly defined - was the
locus of a foil to a much despised Western materialism and ossified
Christianity; in fact, its structural purpose in
her discourse was primarily as a form of critique of the West: see
infra ch. 26. In this context it is highly significant
that the Master Koot Hoomi, a Kashmiri Brahmin by birth, was at the
time of his overseeing of the Theosophical
Society a monk of the Gelugpa (Ôyellow hatÕ) school of Tibetan
Mah‰y‰na Buddhism. This apparent
discrepancy, largely ignored by scholars critical of Blavatsky (or, at
best, interpreted as signifying nothing other
than her ignorance of the discrete religious traditions of the
subcontinent), dissolves only when one recognises
that the Masters, as guardians of the primordial religion, transcend
normative religious affiliations. That Koot Hoomi
was to some degree ÔmasqueradingÕ as a lama is insignificant;
BlavatskyÕs purpose here is to show that the
Masters, responsible for esoteric societies generally, are also the
instructors of Tibetan Buddhism - believed by
Blavatsky to be esoteric in orientation. Thus the only answer that is
required to silence those commentators who
believe Blavatskian Theosophy was at heart a pastiche of Buddhism
(with Hindu overlays) is to note that even the
much hallowed Tibetan Buddhism was conducted under the oversight of
the Masters, and casts but a shadow of
the prisca theologia - even if that shadow is truer to its prototype
than Western creeds.
William Emmette Coleman, published a five-part analysis of The Secret
the Religio-Philosophical Journal, entitled "The Secret Doctrine of
Madame Blavatsky, in two parts and five papers"
(10, 17, 24, 31 August, 7 September 1889), in which he accused the
authoress of plagiarism and contradiction, and
rejected the Masters as mythical. Coleman's criticisms are
interesting, though pedantic in the main: he notes her
misspellings and mistaken dates for historical events.
Books presenting the doctrinesof theosophy itself are, with a few
exception , apologetic. The overwhelming majority of these works
present theosophy as a fixed set of coherent doctrines, largely eschew
discussions of historical changes, and aim to presenting theosophical
doctrines in an easily understandable format for potential converts.
Christopher Bochinger's massive study "New Age und moderne
Religion",1994, deserves credit for the extreme thoroughness with wich
it surveys the material, particularly the historical backgroundof
several of the themes found in theosophical and New Age literature.
Wouter Hanegraaff's "New Age Religion and Western Culture" 1996,
interprets this common worldview as a legacy of an older Western
esotericism, which has been profoundly transformed through a process
of secularisation and modernization. My indebtedness to the following
proposition is largely due to the above two works, and that is the
common characteristics of Esoteric science and their similarities with
Romantic science, and can be summed up in the following points:
>From theosophy to Capra and Shakti Gawain, materialism is invalid
since matterper se, is only an aspect of the "ptima materia", and in a
sense does not exist.
Romantic science similarlycontains an element of idealism: positing
vital force, a spiritual element to nature. The worldview of
Romanticism has been called natural supernaturalism. Whereas the
Enlightenment project attempts to rationalize the supernatural,
Romanticism does the opposite.
Romantic science is equally characterized by its antireuctionism, the
idea of unity (a) between all sciences: holism rather than
specialization, (b) in nature itself: the discovery of the ur-type
behind the varieties and in the conception of the cosmos as a vast and
organic whole, and (c) between the human being and the world around
us. In several ways, Romantic science is an anti-Cartesian view of the
world, at least in the sense that it positions itself against the
standard picture of Decartes as the philosopher of dichonomies between
body and soul, between subject and object.
The Romantics admired a version of anti-mechanistic science. They
believed that the human being possesses faculties that go beyond the
confines of rationality-faculties assigned a variety of labels such
as intuition and imagination. Romantic science could still conceive of
science as fundamentally allied with art, poetry and myth.
Romantic science also had its share of proponents of the supernatural.
Mesmerism, spiritualism, visions and the paranormal were all part of a
vaster conception of the world.
The same U shaped view of history that informs the Romantic view of
ancient and exotic cultures is also adopted in the understanding of
the development of science.
The difference between Romantic and Esoteric science can be seen as
largely consisting in aredicalization of the Romantic conception. Amog
the beliefs espoused by the New Age and ultimatly derived from
American harmonial religions is the idea that our observation of the
world shapes it. We create our own reality. Since we create reality,
we can attract harmony, health, longevity and prosperity at will.
Romantic science on the other hand was fundamentally empirical and
believed in the existence of a world independent of our wishes. (See
D.Sepper "Goethe contra Newton"1988)
However , such difference hardly detract from the basic structural
similarities outlined above.Theosophy and Esoteric science are
clothed in scientific terminology and expressed by means of carefully
selected bits and pieces of a scientistic bricolage. In an age where
science is devoid of fundamentally appealing qualities such as goal,
meaning and purpose, it remains tempting to claim scientific ("truth")
status for what are essentially religious beliefs.
I hope you (and other members of the group) will address the points
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