HPB and Net
Nov 15, 2004 10:36 PM
Here is an excerpt from an article on the Net. It is from the following URL.
Reaching across time and space to connect with another's spirit, Madame
Blavatsky would have understood the Net perfectly - 100 years ago.
By Jon Katz
The next time you're alone in a room at night with only the hum of your
computer for company, your face eerily lit by nothing but the screen, light
a candle, close your eyes, wait, and listen. If you have patience, faith,
an introspective bent, and spiritual yearning, you might receive a gruff
but transcendent message from the late Madame Blavatsky, a 19th-century
spiritualist, medium, and mystic. She died more than 100 years ago, but her
spirit, as they say, lives on.
If she contacts you, don't be alarmed. Be nice and respectful. She can get
huffy with skeptics. And don't be surprised if you hear an otherworldly
shriek. That would be her baboon laughing.
A famous collection of stuffed animals graced her parlor - a lioness' head
over the door, monkeys peering out of nooks and crannies, birds perched in
every corner. But none was as elegant or charismatic as her baboon, which
stood upright, dressed in the appropriate Victorian manner - wing-collar,
morning coat, and tie - and carrying under one arm the manuscript of a
lecture on The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin.
All this has been wondrously chronicled in a new book by Peter Washington,
Madame Blavatsky's Baboon: A History of the Mystics, Mediums, and Misfits
Who Brought Spiritualism to America (Shocken Books, US$27.50).
As an associate of a spiritualist, the baboon was a statement against
Darwin. Which is not to say Madame Blavatsky was not very much a scientist,
fascinated by technology and hoping to forge a new kind of spiritual fusion
between religion and science. One likes to think that she would have
feasted on the Net, but she might as easily have hated it, filled as it is
with a rich assortment of skeptics, mystics, cranks, shamans,
spiritualists, and oddballs. Still, once Blavatsky realized that there were
credit-card-owning "seekers" out there, she would probably have logged on
for the ride.
The Net encompasses many strange things, but those who use it often and
understand it well know it has a rich and haunting mystical side. Along
with pornographers and teenagers, it attracts deeply religious people of
countless denominations engaged in extraordinary searches into their own
and others' souls. Ascetics, heretics, and true-believers searching for God
(or his or her equivalent) flourish in zines, religious and mystical
conferences, and on bulletin boards. Online séances, and laden, unexpected
messages multiply into the ether. Some newsgroups focus on Germanic
paganism, others on religious life in various parts of England; still
others offer everything from religious books and products to diverse
It's the spiritual side of the digital world that is little known and
little explored by the legions of puzzled journalists who pore over the
computer culture in search of fresh dangers to warn readers and viewers
about. Yet, in some ways, it's potentially one of the most significant
parts. The ability of one person's spirit to reach across space and connect
with another's is, to many, a spiritual act in itself. And the business of
sending and receiving messages has always been a core notion of mysticism
and spirituality. Countless millions believe, or want to believe, that
there are larger forces at work in the universe. And they want to chat with
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, like all great spiritual entrepreneurs,
intuitively understood this. She led one of those spectacular, romantic,
bizarre lives that could come only from another time. Born a Russian
aristocrat in 1831, Blavatsky was a mystic child, not a Cleaver or a Brady.
Her description of her childhood in a letter to a friend is a classic.
"My childhood? Spoilt and petted on one side, punished and hardened on the
other. Slick and ever dying til seven or eight, sleep-walker; possessed by
the devil. Governesses, two.... Nurses - any number.... One was half a
Tartar. Father's soldiers taking care of me.... Lived in Saratow when
grandfather was Civil Governor, before that in Astrachan, where he had many
thousands (some 80,000 or 100,000) Kalmuck Buddhists under him."
Speculation about her life - some of it assembled by distant relatives and
followers - includes numerous mystical encounters during her time in
America and Europe: meetings with Native Americans, long journeys by wagon
through the West, joining Garibaldi's army in the Battle of Mentana (where
she allegedly suffered sabre and bullet wounds), and a shipwreck off the
Greek coast at Spétsai. Add to these spectacular scrapes run-ins with
Egyptian cabbalists, Mexican bandits, vodun magicians from America's South,
and Asian spies.
Jon Katz is Wired's media critic. He can be e-mailed at jdkatz@a....
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