Thursday, September 27, 2012

Blavatsky and Blondie

Bianca Valentino’s Australian site Conversations with Bianca for September 26 carries an interview with Gary Lachman on his forthcoming book on Blavatsky. Having examined the lives of Swedenborg, Steiner, Jung, and others, he is no doubt prepared to take on Helene Petrovna Blavatsky. About his new project Lachman says:

Two things I try to do in the book is to show how all these misconceptions of her [Blavatsky] has piled up and gathered around her and to show just how influential she was and how important some of her writings were. She was really the first one to present a philosophical and intellectual essay criticism of Darwin Evolution, not a religious one, of course bishops and clergy was complaining about it but, she basically criticised it on philosophical grounds and had a good argument for it. That doesn’t get much press. That in itself should secure her an important position in the history of ideas, and she’s a woman doing it! I hope if the readership of the book goes beyond the people that know about her already and can somehow get out into the broader reading public that all these things about her might get picked up and it might lead to more interest.

Aside from his writings on the occult Garry Lachman is known for penning one of the first popular songs using the word theosophies: “(I'm Always Touched by Your) Presence, Dear” while a member of the group Blondie.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

News Flash: Academics discover Blavatsky

Brill’s forthcoming Handbook of Contemporary Japanese Religions, edited by Inken Prohl and John Nelson, contains a useful entry on “Theosophy and Related Movements in Japan” by Kenta Kasai. While the most of the focus is on later expressions of Theosophy in the twentieth century—Krishnamurti and the World Teacher movement, the Anthroposophic movement, and Alice Bailey—there is some coverage of the initial impact of Theosophy, which was at first seen as a Western form of Buddhism in Japan, and Colonel Olcott’s 1891 visit to the country. Olcott’s attempt to gain consensus between the different Japanese Buddhist schools deserves a study unto itself, but fails to get any attention here. The book, which is scheduled for an October release, is listed at €192. / $267. US.

Framed Framed picture of Olcott displayed at   
 the Henry Steel Olcott Memorial Sangika Dhane Ceremony held at
 the Sakamuni International Buddhist Center, Hachioji, Tokyo, Oct. 22, 2011

Also forthcoming from Brill is its Handbook of the Theosophical Current, edited by Olav Hammer and Mikael Rothstein.

Few religious currents have been as influential as the Theosophical. Yet few currents have been so under-researched, and the Brill Handbook of the Theosophical Current thus represents pioneering research. A first section surveys the main people and events involved in the Theosophical Society from its inception to today, and outlines the Theosophical worldview. A second, substantial section covers most significant religions to emerge in the wake of the Theosophical Society - Anthroposophy, the Point Loma community, the I AM religious activity, the Summit Lighthouse Movement, the New Age, theosophical UFO religions, and numerous others. Finally, the interaction of the Theosophical current with contemporary culture - including gender relations, art, popular fiction, historiography, and science - are discussed at length.

If you are only considering works coming from academic presses or courses given at the university level as research, then the supposition that Theosophy has been “so under-researched” might have some validity. Theosophists, their critics, and supporters have had the results of their research published for over a century and a quarter. The price for the Handbook of the Theosophical Current, scheduled for November release, is €168. / $234. US.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

H. P. Blavatsky, V.I.P.

Mme. Blavatsky gets some coverage in Martin A. Lee’s new book, Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana: Medical, Recreational and Scientific. He adds Blavatsky to his list of V.I.P.’s (Very Important Potheads): “Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, the mesmerizing grand dame of occultism, was a dedicated hashish imbiber.” He then cites the line attributed to her by A.L. Rawson, “Hashish multiples one life a thousand-fold.…It is a wonderful drug and it clears up profound mystery.” Lee continues:

At times under the influence of hashish, Blavatsky wrote lengthy tomes filled with esoteric lore, introducing such concepts as karma, yoga, kundalini, and reincarnation to a Western audience…. Believing that the end of civilization was imminent, Madame Blavatsky prophesied that a global catastrophe would usher in a Golden Dawn, after which the world would be governed by a beneficent psychic elite.

This claim has already been examined in Blavatsky News.

Lezley Saar, Unnamed piece 2012,
from her exhibition at Merry Karnowsky Gallery, 
Los Angeles, on view September 8th - October 6th

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Blavatsky News

* The Youtube site BackToTheArchives provides a narration of the short fictional tale, “The Ensouled Violin,” attributed to Blavatsky. Being able to hear it read gives the story a new dimension and brings to life Mme. Blavatsky’s talent as a gifted narrator. The story follows a struggling violinist whose promising career is challenged by the arrival of the famous musician Paganini (1782-1840), and the steps he takes to rise to the level of his rival. The tale was initially published in Blavatsky’s magazine The Theosophist of January 1880 and attributed to Hillarion Smerdis. A longer version was published in the 1892 collection Nightmare Tales. It is this version that is uploaded. Some background on the contents of Nightmare Tales is given by the Senate House Library, University of London.

* The publisher Tarcher has made available online the introduction to Gary Lachman’s new book, Madame Blavatsky: The Mother of Modern Spirituality, an excerpt of which was published in the Autumn edition of the English Theosophical magazine Esoterica. Lachman writes:

my concern here is not to recount the many inaccuracies that crop up in “the Blavatsky story,” like potholes on a poorly maintained road, nor to excuse myself for not providing the reader with the “truth” about HPB. There are Blavatsky and Theosophical websites dedicated to those pursuits, and along the way the interested reader can find out how to reach them. My job here is to try to tell “the Blavatsky story” as best I can, and these preliminary remarks are offered as a general acknowledgment at the start that the following account, taken from a variety of sources, may or may not be true. If this seems like a lame excuse for poor research and an inability to “nail Blavatsky down,” so be it. My only defense is that I am not the only one to make it. As many have recognized, “the facts in the case of Madame Blavatsky” may indeed be doubtful, but without them, there would be practically no case at all.

Madame Blavatsky: The Mother of Modern Spirituality
by Gary Lachman is set to be released October 25, 2012.

* The site 100bookseverychildshouldreadbeforegrowingup looks at The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. “Of the many beloved children’s books, none has been more embraced by American popular culture than The Wizard of Oz. Originally published in 1900, the book’s phenomenal success launched a slew of sequels, prompted Hollywood to create one of the most-viewed movies of all time, and inspired a number of wildly popular Broadway musicals.”

But Baum’s most original and complex creation was the Wizard. Stripped of his disguises, he turns out to be a meek and humble charlatan who is the victim of the world’s desire to be fooled. “How can I help being a humbug,” he said, “when all these people make me do things that everybody knows can’t be done?” It should be noted that Baum had become a Theosophist only a few years before writing his first Oz book, and he cannot have been unaware of the charges of fakery leveled against Madame Blavatsky when she caused teacups to materialize and tables to levitate.

So now Blavatsky is a model for the Wizard of Oz?