Sunday, January 22, 2012

Did Bob Dylan Plagiarize from Blavatsky?

Scott Warmuth’s blog Goon Talk has a January 16 post analyzing the possible borrowing by Bob Dylan from Blavatsky’s Isis Unveiled. Along the way, comments by Robert Duncan and William Emmette Coleman on Blavatsky’s literary methods are given.

Coleman’s argument, outlined in his 1895 “The Sources of Madame Blavatsky's Writings,” is that

There are in Isis about 2100 quotations from and references to books that were copied, at second-hand, from books other than the originals; and of this number only about 140 are credited to the books from which Madame Blavatsky copied them at second-hand. The others are quoted in such a manner as to lead the reader to think that Madame Blavatsky had read and utilised the original works, and had quoted from them at first-hand, - the truth being that these originals had evidently never been read by Madame Blavatsky. By this means many readers of Isis, and subsequently those of her Secret Doctrine and Theosophical Glossary, have been misled into thinking Madame Blavatsky an enormous reader, possessed of vast erudition; while the fact is her reading was very limited, and her ignorance was profound in all branches of knowledge.

To simplify it: when Blavatsky quotes a classical author or some obscure text, she is using a translation already provided in another text. Warmuth comments:

I can relate to the exhaustive analysis aspects of Coleman's work, but his approach leaves me cold. In the 1952 book Plagiarism and Originality Alexander Lindey discusses the vices inherent in the method that Coleman took, what Jack London called the “deadly parallel” approach in a letter defending his own use of other writer’s material. Lindey suggests that, “Parallel-hunters do not, as a rule, set out to be truthful and impartial. They are hell-bent on proving a point.” This does not always have to be the case, I believe that one can look for parallels without a set agenda, but Coleman clearly had an ax to grind.

This is a subject that needs more attention, and Theosophists, who have had over a century to clarify the matter, have been lax in this regard. Dismissing it is not enough.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

When Henry met Helena

The initial meeting of Olcott and Blavatsky continues to be one of the most written about areas of her life. The task is expedited by Olcott’s People from the other World, published in 1875 before the founding of the Theosophical Society and republished by Tuttle in 1972 in a facsimile edition. It is a record of Olcott’s experiences with the mediums at the Eddy farmhouse in Chittenden, Vermont. Published serially in the fall of 1874 in the New York Daily Graphic, an illustrated newspaper, it also introduced Mme. Blavatsky to a wider audience. “The arrival of a Russian lady of distinguished birth and rare educational abilities and natural endowments, on the 14th of October was an important event in the history of the Chittenden manifestations.” Shapes of the spirits of an assortment of people that Mme. Blavatsky had met in her travels began to appear.

The story is revisited at the blog Interesting Articles, Links and Other Media, with sketches of some the apparitions that appeared during her stay at Chittenden. The writer of the piece tries to relate it to his own experiences.

The Eddy farmhouse where Olcott and Blavatsky met is still in existence, though now a ski lodge, and its present state is shown in a previous post. It has also been the subject of a novel by Greg Guma, who has had a long interest in this subject and met many of the remaining old timers in Chittenden, Spirits of Desire, cited in a previous post here.

Mark Russell Bell, the writer of the piece, follows it up with a post on January 15, “H. S. Olcott and ‘The Science of Eastern Magic’”, where he covers Olcott’s subsequent work with the Holmes mediums in New York.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Blavatsky News

* Sky Sports in the U.K., reporting on a recent horse race in Newcastle, England, says that “Madame Blavatsky was only beaten a head on her racecourse debut at Musselburgh and is sure to be popular here with Graham Lee taking over the reins.” Musselburgh is the famous Scottish racecourse located six miles east of Edinburgh, and Madame Blavatsky is the name of a four year old grey filly. Her stats can be seen here.

* The American newspaper Newsday for December 26, 2011 carries a news item from the Russian news service TASS:

A monument to Russian philosopher and the founder of the Theosophical Society Helena Blavatsky is to be set up in India’s southern city Chennai, Russia’s Consul in India Nikolay Listopadov stated on Monday. The Theosophical Society was founded in New York City 1875 to study Occultism and the Cabala.  The International Headquarters was located at Adyar, the suburbs of Chennai.

* The December 25, 2011, Indian Express features an article by Sudheendra Kulkarni titled “Russia’s rendezvous with Hinduism.” Reporting that “a fringe section of the Russian Orthodox Church” had called for “a ban on the Bhagavad Gita” in Russia, the writer notes the long connection between Indian and Russian peoples: “There is a mystical connectivity between the souls of India and Russia.”

The Gita was first brought to Astrakhan on the Volga by Indian merchants in 1615—nearly two centuries before it was translated in Europe. Peter the Great allowed them to build a Hindu temple and exempted them from all taxes. The best minds in Russia had a deep fascination for Hindu philosophy and eastern mysticism.

Helena Blavatsky, who co-founded the Theosophical Society, was deeply influenced by Hindu-Buddhist philosophies. The Theosophy movement, aimed at forming “a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or colour”, made a significant contribution to India’s freedom struggle.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Messages from the Masters

The Masters appear to have been busy of late, if we are to believe a new publication of their writings. Teachings of the Great Brotherhood of Light: in Their Own Words is the title of a 205 page book published in 2011 by the Sanctus Germanus Foundation of Alberta, Canada. Some background on the project is described by the “Amanuensis”:

In November, 2009 I was called up to Lake Louise for what has been an annual meeting with the Masters. St. Germain, El Morya, Kuthumi, HPB, and others honoured me with their presence. One of the many projects we discussed was the Mahatma Letters, as the need to resurrect the teachings contained therein in order to establish as sort of baseline of their philosophical teachings before more teachings were introduced for the coming New Age.

Besides the obvious letters of straight teachings, there are strewn among the wranglings and intrigues associated with the TS, bits and pieces of the Masters' Wisdom that underpin various positions they were forced to take toward members of the Theosophical Society and those interested in the society. Some teachings were deliberately buried in exoteric verbiage for release during these times. Kuthumi explained that as the Mahatma Letters were written and precipitated, there was a logic to them in the revelation of the Brotherhood's teachings. He asked me to use all the spiritual discernment I could muster to extract these teachings from the background of the Letters and put them into a coherent order in modern, discernible English as opposed to 19th Century British English. Madame Blavatsky was at the meeting and shook her head vigorously in the affirmative.

The Master told me that in order to render his teachings into modern English I was to discern the thought-forms behind his writings, then paraphrase them without losing the essential meaning of the teachings. This, I have tried to do, to my best abilities, fully conscious of the necessity to keep the Masters' thought-forms intact even though the English used to express them would be slightly, and in some cases more than slightly different—all in the spirit of rendering the Masters' teachings as clear as possible for 21 st Century readers.

The process required me to plore[sic] through all the letters with “a fine tooth comb” to express what philosophical mandate, rules, laws or requirements were being revealed.

We are happy to hear that the Masters have a chance to visit other parts of the world, though Lake Louise in Alberta may not be too much of a change of scenery for them. The era when the aspirant went through “dangers and hardships” in their quest to reach the Masters belongs to the past for it seems they are now more than ready to come to the disciple. The book itself is made up of extracts from The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, following the editorial procedures given above, and uses much the same outline as J.R. Zulueta’s 1993 editing of the text, Occult Teachings Extracted from the Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett.

It is no secret that the “Amanuensis” is Michael P. Mau, who is also the author of a 2007 screenplay on the life of H.P. Blavatsky, A Most Extraordinary Mission. The story starts at the Tashi Lunpho monastery in 1868: it was a “cold blistery, snowy night in Tibet.” It contains much dialogue from all the theosophical players of the time, and adds to our understanding of Blavatsky with vivid observations like Countess Wachtmeister’s description of the dynamic between Blavatsky and Olcott: “The Theosophical Society is your love-child.” It writes itself.