Sunday, September 19, 2010

Theosophy and its Legacies

Below is the tentative outline for the Symposium on Theosophy and its Legacies, 1 – 2 October 2010, at the University of Sydney, Refectory Room, Main Quad.

Friday, October 1st, 2010
11.00-11.30 Conference Registration and Welcoming Addresses
11.30-12.30 Michael Gomes, H.P. Blavatsky: A Reappraisal
12.30-13.30pm Lunch
13.00-14.30pm Garry Trompf, Theosophical Macrohistory
14.30-15.00 pm Afternoon Tea
15.00-16.00pm Dr Dara Tatray, Theosophy and the Dissenting Western Imagination
Christopher Hartney, The Legacies of Theosophy: Unveiling the Creative Imaginary
16.00-16.30 Coffee break
16.30-18.00 David Pecotic, Growing Higher Bodies - Gurdjieff, Evola and Schwaller de Lubicz: Conditional Immortality and Spiritual Materialism in post-Blavatsky esotercism
Johanna Petsche, Gurdjieff and Blavtasky
Vrasidas Karalis, Gurdjieff and his Belzebub
Conference Dinner

Saturday, October 2nd, 2010
9.00-09.30 Conference Registration
09.30-11.00am Neil Anderson, On Rudolf Steiner's impact on the training of the actor
John Blackwood, Outcomes of work in the study of morphology put forward by Rudolf Steiner
Luke Fischer, Owen Barfield and Rudolf Steiner: The Poetic and Hermetic Imagination
11.00-11.30am Morning Tea
11.30-13.00pm Alex Norman, Spiritual Explorers: Theosophical Travellers to the East and Their Impact on Modern Spiritual Tourism
Zoe Alderton, ‘Roy de Maistre’s Colour in Art: Theosophy Finds a Place in Australian Modernism’
Fiona Fraser, The Nature Studies of Phyllis Campbell
12.45-1.30pm Lunch
14.00-16.00 Robert Tulip, Blavatsky and the Great Year: Astrology in the Bible
Al Boag, From Blavatsky to Krishnamurti: Hindu Chronology, Biblical Eschatology, Physiology
Morandir Armson, The Transitory Tarot: An Examination of Tarot Cards, the 21st Century New Age and Theosophical Thought
15.30-16.00 Afternoon Tea
16.00-17.00pm Discussion: Theosophy and the Modern World

Blavatsky News hopes to provide in-depth coverage for this historic event, the first academic conference on Theosophy.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Blavatsky and Modernism

For years the Oxford Very Short Introduction series have offered concise introductions to a wide range of subjects—from religion to philosophical and political thinkers, from quantum theory to musical theory, from political movements to literary theory. 254 of these pocket-sized books have been published, roughly between 100 and 144 pages each. One of the latest, Modernism: A Very Short Introduction by Christopher Butler, was published September 3, 2010, by Oxford University Press.  On page 48, Butler cites Blavatsky to illustrate his point:

Art since the late 19th century had claimed to go deeper than all such orthodoxies, towards the far deeper and enduring ancient wisdom to be found in the history of religious myth-making. As Mme Blavatsky, who inspired Yeats put it:

"It is perhaps desirable to state unequivocally that the teachings, however fragmentary and incomplete, contained in these volumes, belong neither to the Hindu, the Zoroastrian, the Chaldean, nor the Egyptian religion, neither to Buddhism, Islam, Judaism nor Christianity exclusively. The Secret Doctrine is the essence of all these. Sprung from it in their origins, the various religious schemes are now made to merge back into their original element, out of which every mystery and dogma has grown, developed, and become materialised."

Literature based on such premises had new responsibilities. Given the secularizing effect of modernity, the involvement of the modernists with myth and religion may seem surprising, but many of them…saw the claims of art as in some way contesting or complementing those of orthodox religion….This search for an inspirational authority within the high culture rather than within religious institutions is a prime legacy of the modernist period.

The quote by Blavatsky is from the Preface to The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. viii.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Blavatsky and Kabbalah, Again

Marco Pasi has a chapter on “Oriental Kabbalah and the parting of East and West in the Early Theosophical Society” in Kabbalah and Modernity: Interpretations, Transformations, Adaptations, a 452 page book edited by Pasi, Boaz Huss and Kocku Von Stuckrad. It was published by Brill in the Netherlands in June 2010 and sells for $185. U.S. Pasi looks at the role of the Kabbalah in the theosophical writings of H.P. Blavatsky.

Another relevant piece of research in the book is the Boas Huss contribution on Abraham David Salman Hai Ezekiel (usually referred to as A.D. Ezekiel in theosophical literature) in “‘The Sufi Society from America’: Theosophy and Kabbalah in Poona in the Late Nineteenth Century.” Ezekiel, from a well-connected Jewish family, met Olcott and Blavatsky on their visit to Poona, India, in 1882 and remained a member until his death in 1897. Ezekiel published as series of kabbalistic texts in Jewish Aramaic in Poona after meeting the theosophists, for as he says: “I was very much astonished that foreign people were experts in our wisdom of the Kabbalah, while we, the Jews, were barred from it.”

Huss quotes the following insightful letter from Gershom Scholem:

You are certainly too harsh on Madame Blavatsky, it is surely too much to say that the meaning of the cabala has been forgotten in the ‘Secret Doctrine’. After all, the Lady has made a very thorough study of Knorr von Rosenroth in his English adaption, and of Franck’s ‘Cabala Juive’. She certainly knew more about cabalism than most of the other people you mention….I think it would be rather interesting to investigate the cabalistic ideas in their theosophical development. There is, of course, a lot of humbug and swindle, but, at least in Blavatsky’s writings, yet something more.

There is also an entry by Wouter Hanegraaff on “The Beginnings of Occultist Kabbalah: Adolphe Franck and Eliphas Lévi.”

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Andrei Codrescu Replies

In a recent post we referred to a passage in Andrei Codrescu’s new book, The Poetry Lesson, mentioning Mme. Blavatsky. The Princeton University Press blog picked up this reference, and Andrei Cordescu has commented.

I have it from a psychic source that Madame Blavatsky received a Mont Blanc pen from the Future, whence so many of her messages came… Three material objects materialised for her from the Future her mind roamed: a rotund elongated wand with a tiny control panel not yet understood, a hat made from the feathers of an extinct bird, and the Mont Blank. A. Codrescu

The Romanian born Mr. Codrescu has some 50 titles to his name as poet, novelist, essayist, screenwriter, columnist on National Public Radio, and editor. As The New York Times Book Review says of him: “Mr. Codrescu is the sort of writer who feels obliged to satirize and interplay with reality and not just catalogue’s a measure of talent...” If you don’t know him by now, his new book, The Poetry Lesson, would be a good place to start.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

How Others See Us

Andrei Codrescu’s new book, The Poetry Lesson (Princeton University Press, 2010) features the author’s description of a writing class where the professor lists, among the things the student will need, a “Mont Blanc fountain pen (extra credit if it belonged to Mme. Blavatsky).” Why? Because

The best of all fountain pens is the Mont Blanc, but it’s terribly expensive because of its gold nib and reputation. A Mont Blanc that belonged to Madame Blavatsky would be the instrument through which the disembodied voices of angels and demons would have traveled into the many volumes dictated to her by these otherworldly entities. In other words, you would be possessing an angelic instrument that, should it turn up in eBay, would fetch easily one to three hundred thousand dollars. Your extra credit for owning such a pen would amount to one fourth of your final grade.

Since the company that produced Mont Blanc pens was not started until 1906, it would have been difficult for her to use one. It is known that she did have “an American Gold pen given to her by a New York Theosophist and made by John Foley, whose name is known to thousands of writers.” John Foley of New York, one of the leading manufacturers of the gold-nib pen at the time, was known for his craftsmanship. His pens were 6 1/2” long and the gold nib would have been engraved “John Foley New York” with the date. The picture below, taken with a Kodak camera in 1888, shows HPB at her desk at the beginning of her day, pen in hand.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Archives Online

The website CWL World that focuses on the life and work of Charles Webster Leadbeater has added an archive page with many documents relating to this controversial figure. Copies of his birth certificate, passport, and many handwritten items are included. Of special interest to readers of Blavatsky News is the following note from HPB to Leadbeater, which reads: “To my friend and brother, Ch. Leadbeater, and Indo-Ceylon Trimurti, generally. Happy New Year 1891 from their sincerely loving, old HPB.” As far as we know it has never been published before. The other items in collection can be seen here.

Enchanting Modernity: Theosophy and the Arts in the Making of Early Twentieth-Century Culture

A colloquium on “Enchanting Modernity: Theosophy and the Arts in the Making of Early Twentieth-Century Culture” is announced for December 3, 2010 at Liverpool Hope University in England. The notice for it elaborates:

Founded in 1875, The Theosophical Society fused the study and practice of ancient mystical traditions with a commitment to shape, rather than reject, the modern world. Its ubiquitous worldwide presence in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century culture, along with various splinter groups, has been used to refute Max Weber’s theory that modernity brought about the absolute ‘disenchantment of the world’. Evidence of Theosophy’s ‘modern enchantment’ has led historians such as Alex Owen and Corinna Treital to question the orthodox assumption that, from the Enlightenment onwards, God was replaced by rational man. Theosophy’s widespread influence also supports Michael Saler’s claim that enchanted cultures of magic, wonder, and belief were not as incompatible with modernity as Weber would have us believe. Pre-Enlightenment cultures of enchantment not only persisted, but were fundamental and foundational to modern culture.  

Scholars such as Owen and Treital have laid a foundation for understanding Theosophy’s role in shaping modernity, but the extent of its influence on modern arts and ideas has yet to be fully explored. In this colloquium, we seek to consider the influence of Theosophical ideas and practices on intellectual and artistic endeavour during the period from the late nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century. The visual, theatrical, and musical arts of this period retained a pre-Enlightenment sense of enchantment and wonder by virtue of the perceived metaphysical origins of the creative and appreciative act, which science could not satisfactorily explain. The ‘enchantment’ of artistic creation and appreciation allied it to the aims of the Theosophical Society and satellite organizations, which we suggest had a stronger influence on the arts at this time than hitherto accepted. Exploring the relationship between Theosophy, the arts, and intellectual change promises to open up new histories of modernity in which traditionally marginal belief structures are seen to have shaped the modern experience in fundamental ways.
The colloquium will take the form of 20-minute research presentations followed by discussion. There are a small number of opportunities for interested parties to join the roster of speakers. If you have research interests in Theosophy and modern culture, and would like give a paper at this colloquium, then please email a 200-word abstract of your proposed paper to by 1 October 2010. Opportunities are also available to attend the colloquium as a non-speaker by invitation. If you would like to attend without giving a paper, then please send an email outlining your research interests to the address above.

Liverpool Hope University, with colleges going back to the 1840s and 50s, is Europe’s only ecumenical university.