Published by Blavatsky Study Center. Online Edition copyright 2004.

Mad. Blavatsky and Theosophy:
A Reply to My Critics

Part One.

by William Emmette Coleman.

[Reprinted from The Religio-Philosophical Journal
(Chicago, Illinois) September 8, 1888, p. 2.]

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In the Journal of January 14th last I published an article partly in criticism of Madame H. P. Blavatsky and Hindu theosophy. This article was carefully and deliberately prepared, and it was purposely made strong, severe, and pointed, but not more so than the truth demanded. In fact, if the full truth concerning theosophy were told, a much stronger and more severe article would have to be written. As I expected, my criticisms aroused the indignation of sundry of the more prominent dupes of Madame Blavatsky, and ridicule, sarcasm, and denunciation of myself were freely indulged in, in the Journal’s columns, by the irate apologists and defenders of the leading impostor of this century. I have waited until the theosophists have all had their say, before making any reply to their unjust attacks.

It is significant that no attempt is made by a single one of my critics to reply to any of the facts and arguments I advanced in disproof of the truth of Blavatskyite theosophy, and in proof of the wholesale imposture and plagiarism upon which the entire fabric is reared. No attention is paid to the solid, hard-pan, knock-down statements (so to speak) with which my remarks teemed, but instead nearly all of my critics confine themselves to a discussion of the comparatively subordinate matter of the personal habits of Madame Blavatsky, more especially as to whether she is in the habit of using intoxicants. This seems to be, perhaps, the only vulnerable point in my critique, as it turns out; and they all made haste to dilate upon that one point, so as to give me a castigation on that subject, even though they might be unable to do so on any other. As has been perceived, the evidence as to whether Madame B. does or does not, and has or has not, used intoxicants is so contradictory that the verdict must be "not proven;" and therefore, in justice to the Madame, the statement in my article that she did so use them is not pressed, despite the positive testimony I have received in the affirmative and which I have published in the Journal. Being unable to reconcile the two sets of statements on this matter, I am content to let is pass. It should be noted, however, that the truth of my assertions concerning her tobacco-smoking and her vigorous profanity are universally acknowledged.

I have been taken to task, in no gentle manner, for publicly criticising the private habits of Madame Blavatsky, especially by Prof. Elliot Coues. He says that not only are my remarks such as no gentleman should use, but "they are such as no man should use, or be permitted to use, with regard to any woman whatever." Prof. Coues’s remarks are not only manifestly absurd, but very unjust to me. It is not a question of good taste only, as is claimed, but of justice and truth. To say that if any woman, no matter how mean and vile she may be, should smoke, drink, and swear, no man should ever be permitted to so assert, that is to tell the truth about her, is so transparant an absurdity, that it would be marvelous to find a scholarly gentleman like Prof. Coues making such a statement, did we not know that he is a theosophist and a believer in the nonsense and sophistry with which he has allowed himself to be hoodwinked by Madame Blavatsky. A rational, analytical examination of the purported arguments, the so-called logic, and the alleged facts of every one of the writers and speakers in favor of theosophy that I have heard or read of, discloses a depth of folly, unreason, and delusion that is sickening to contemplate. From the bottom of my heart I am profoundly sorry that well-meaning, kindly disposed men and women, quite intelligent and rational in some directions, should be misled into such stupendous sophistries and such unmitigated "rot" as all theosophical advocates, without exception, are in the habit of giving to the world. The nonsense, and the gross injustice to those not accepting their rubbish, blasphemously called the "wisdom of God," which constantly emanate from them, is something "awful" (speaking colloquially, to sound sensible, level headed men and women. Sincerely do I pity our deluded friends, - victims of the wiles of Madame Blavatsky.

Courtesy, good taste, the amenities of social life, are excellent things in their place; but there are times when their claims should give way. Justice, truth, right, the exposure of deception and of swindling, the protection of the community or of individuals from imposition and from the practices of the vicious or the criminal, - these are of more moment than politeness, gallantry, and kindred virtues. Besides, it is no secret that Madame Blavatsky smokes and swears. She does it constantly and publicly, never attempting to conceal it. What great harm, then, do I commit in referring to these public and openly avowed practices of the lady? Which is the greater violation of good taste, - for a lady to smoke and swear, in an open, public manner, or in private even, or for a person to mention the fact that she is thus guilty? Is it in good taste for a woman to curse and swear in the manner Madame Blavatsky does, and is it an ensample of good taste for her to smoke cigarettes? Instead of it being a lack of good taste on my part to tell the truth about these peculiar practices of Mad. B., it is a flagrant violation of good taste for her or any woman to act as she does. What respect has any decent man or woman for a woman who curses and swears in the style this Russian impostor does? Yet, forsooth, because, in the interests of truth against falsehood and of honesty against deception and fraud, I state the facts, I am berated and ridiculed for daring to be guilty of such lack of taste and courtesy as to mention the bad practices which she openly and undisguisedly indulges in. This is a fair specimen of theosophic fairness, logic, acumen, and common sense. The theosophists whitewash and defend the trickster, the impostor, the woman of demoralizing personal habits, and at the same time they sneer at, make fun of, and unjustly denounce the lover of truth, purity, and honesty, for daring to tell the truth about their very peccable not to say flagitious idol and mistress. Such is theosophic justice!

It is asserted that while I have a right to criticise the public work of this woman, it is not my prerogative to refer to her private habits. This is another characteristic theosophic sophistry and evasion of the truth. It is true that, as a rule, the personal habits of public characters are not interblended with their public labors, and hence may not be subjects for legitimate criticism; but such is not the case with Madame Blavatsky. Her so-called private habits and mode of life are intimately connected with her public work, and are legitimate and proper subjects for public discussion; and my remark concerning those habits of hers was made solely in connection with her public life and teachings. Madame Blavatsky claims to be able to perform numerous occultic marvels, transcending the ordinary laws of nature; and she gives certain definite instruction relative to the mode of life and personal habits that are absolutely required to enable one to accomplish those feats and to attain the exalted condition which she claims to occupy. Her own writings and those of theosophy in general lay special stress upon the private, personal habits of all those desirous of possessing the powers which it is claimed are resident in Madame Blavatsky. To have such command over nature’s forces as she is said to possess, she and the others assert that certain personal habits and a certain mode of life are indispensably necessary. Then, if this be true, her personal habits and mode of life are indispensably connected with her public life-work; and it is perfectly legitimate, nay, more, it is absolutely requisite, that we pay strict attention to her habits and mode of life in any complete and critical analysis of her public teachings, their truths or falsity. If she notoriously lives a life in direct contradiction to the one she declares as absolutely necessary for one to live, in order to perform the marvels and be in the exalted mental and spiritual condition which she is said to occupy, is that not plain proof of her imposture, and of the untruth of her teachings, and is it not my prerogative, as a lover of truth, and in order to advance the truth and expose her inconsistency and humbuggery, to publicly call attention to the nature of her personal habits, as I have done? The facts in this matter are given below.

First, let us see what are the teachings of theosophy in general and of Madame Blavatsky in particular concerning the personal habits and mode of life required of those occupying the plane of development claimed by Madame B. I quote from an "An Epitome of Theosophy," issued for distribution by the General Secretary of the American Theosophical Society, - an official circular, containing the definitely-formulated doctrines of the theosophists of America and India. Speaking of the cultivation of man’s "spiritual nature," we are told that "in the course of this spiritual training such men acquire perception of, and control over, various forces of Nature unknown to others, and thus are able to perform works usually called ‘miraculous,’ though really but the result of larger knowledge of natural law." Next, as regards the process of spiritual development, we are informed that in order to secure the supremacy of the highest, the spiritual element of man’s nature, the following, among other things, are requisite: "The eradication of selfishness in all forms;" "the cultivation of the inner, spiritual man by meditation, communion with the Divine, and exercise;" "the control of fleshly appetites and desires, all lower material interests being deliberately subordinated to the behests of the spirit." We are also told that while the above is practicable by all religiously-disposed men, there is a higher plane of spiritual attainment, an extension of the process of which is reached in Adeptship, "an exalted stage, attained by laborious self-discipline and hardship, protracted through possibly many incarnations."

It is well known that Madame Blavatsky has claimed to perform on numerous occasions in America and India, "works usually called miraculous," and that she claims to have attained such an exalted degree of "spiritual development" that she has gained possession of the "Secret Doctrine," the acme of theosophic wisdom, the very summum bonum, as it were, of Divine Truth. Now, in order to perform these works and to attain this Divine Wisdom, certain things, as above stated, are necessary, and it is a demonstrated fact, that so far as Madame Blavatsky is concerned, all the requirements for this spiritual unfolding which I have given above have been and are ignored and disregarded by her. There is not the least bit of evidence that I can discover, that at any time in her life she has paid the smallest attention to the practical embodiment in her own life-walk of any one of these indispensable requirements. Has she "eradicated selfishness in all its forms"? Have her "fleshly appetites and desires" been controlled, and all her "lower, material interests been subordinated to the behests of the spirit"? Has she constantly indulged in "laborious self-discipline and hardship"? Has not her life been dominated by principles of action the direct opposites of these requirements? Unquestionably it has.

Come we now to the verbatim teachings of Madame Blavatsky herself upon the points. In her magazine, Lucifer for April, 1888, was published an article called "Practical Occultism," written by her in person, and in the May number of the same periodical was published an article on "Occultism versus the Occultic Arts," also written by Madame B. These two have been republished in one pamphlet, forming No. 7 of the series of works issued by the Theosophical Publication Society of London. We are first told by Madame B. that "it is the motive, and the motive alone, which makes any exercise of power became black, malignant, or white, beneficent magic. It is impossible to employ spiritual forces if there is the slightest tinge of selfishness remaining in the operator. For unless the intention is entirely unalloyed, the spiritual will transform itself into the psychic, act on the astral plane, and dire results may be produced by it." She continues thus: "What then are the conditions required to become a student of the ‘Divina Sapientia?’ For let it be known that no such instruction can possibly be given unless these certain conditions are complied with, and rigorously carried out during the years of study. This is a sine qua non." Madame Blavatsky then gives a selection from the "rules" with which absolute compliance is demanded on the part of those desirous of attaining the possession of magical powers, from which I select the following: "Those who desire to acquire the knowledge leading to the Siddhis (occult powers) have to renounce all the vanities of life and of the world." "A Lanoo (disciple) . . . . must take care to separate his outer (external) body from every foreign influence; none must drink out of, or eat in his cup but himself. He must avoid bodily contact (i. e. being touched or touch) with human, as with animal being." "No animal food of whatever kind, nothing that has life in it, should be taken . . . . No wine, no spirits, or opium should be used. . . . [Wine and spirits are supposed to contain and preserve the bad magnetism of all the men who helped in their fabrication; the meat of each animal, to preserve the psychic characteristics of its kind.]" "Meditation, abstinence in all, the observation of moral duties, gentle thoughts, good deeds and kind words, as well as good to all and entire oblivion of self, are the most efficacious means of obtaining knowledge and preparing for the higher wisdom." "It is only by virtue of a strict observance of the foregoing rules that a Lanoo can hope to acquire in good time the Siddhis of the Arhats [Adepts] the growth of which makes him become gradually One in the Universal All." In commenting on these rules, Madame Blavatsky refers to "the command not to touch even the hand of one’s nearest and dearest," and to the requirement "to abstain from giving pleasure to others for the sake of one’s own development." As it is a sine qua non that every vestige of selfishness must be eliminated from the mind, and as the student must think of himself only as part of the universal whole, renouncing even his own personality, the practice of good deeds towards our friends and loved ones is forbidden as of a selfish nature.

"It is only when the power of the passions is dead altogether, and when they have been crushed and annihilated in the retort of an unflinching will," continues Madame Blavatsky; "when not only all the lusts and longings of the flesh are dead, but also the recognition of the personal Self is killed out and the ‘astral’ has in consequence been reduced to a cipher, that the union with the ‘higher self’ can take place. . . . Even the love for wife and family - the purest as the most unselfish of human affections - is a bearer to real occultism. For whether we take as an example the holy love of a mother for her child, or that of a husband for his wife, even in these feelings, when analyzed to the very bottom and thoroughly sifted, there is still selfishness in the first, and an egoisme a deux in the second instance." "The aspirant has to choose absolutely between the life of the world and the life of occultism. It is useless, vain, to endeavor to unite the two, for no one can serve two masters and satisfy both. No one can serve his body and the higher soul, and do his family duty and his universal duty, without depriving the one or the other of its rights." "Whoever indulges, after having pledged himself to occultism, in the gratification of a terrestrial love or lust, must feel an almost immediate result; that of being irresistibly dragged from the impersonal divine state down to the lower plane of matter. Sensual, or even mortal self-gratification, involve the immediate loss of the powers of spiritual discernment; the voice of the Master can no longer be distinguished from that of one’s passions or even that of a Dugpa [black magician or sorcerer]; the right from wrong; sound morality from mere casuistry."

We are further informed by Madame B. that "Siddhis (or the Arhat powers) are only for those who are able to ‘lead the life,’ to comply with the terrible sacrifices required for such a training, and to comply with them to the very letter. Let them know at once and remember always, that true occultism or theosophy is the ‘great renunciation of self; unconditionally and absolutely, in thought as in action. It is altruism, and it throws him who practices it out of calculation of the ranks of living altogether . . . . . No sooner is he ‘accepted’ than his personality must disappear, and he has to become a mere beneficent force in nature. There are two poles for him after that, two paths, and no mid-ward place of rest. He has either to ascend laboriously, step by step, often through numerous incarnations and no Devachanic break, the golden ladder leading to Mahatmaship (the Arhat or Bodhisatva condition), or - he will let himself slide down the ladder at the first false step, and roll down into Dugpaship." All the foregoing quotations from Madame Blavatsky can be found in "T.P.S. No. 7. Practical Occultism, etc.," pp. 4, 5, 6, 12, 14 and 15.

Let us now contrast the foregoing indispensable requirements of true occultism (any deviation from which will land the delinquent into Dugpaship, Voudooism, or Black Magic) with the mode of life systematically followed by Madame Blavatsky. In the first place, the testimony of her warmest friends will be given. In 1882 there was published in Calcutta, at the headquarters of the Theosophical Society, and therefore under the sanction of Madame Blavatsky, a pamphlet called "Hints on Esoteric Theosophy, No. 1." In this book the writer speaks of "the (to us lamentable but incontestible fact that Madame Blavatsky’s converse is by no means confined to ‘yea, yea, and nay, nay;’ but is, especially when she is in one of her less spiritual and more worldly woods, only too fluent, and too often replete with contradictions, inaccuracies, and at times apparently distinct misstatements . . . . I confess that for long the warmest of her friends saw no solution of this riddle, which is one that so immediately suggests itself to all who become intimate with her, that even Colonel Olcott, summarizing the general feeling, once said ‘Her best friends believe in her despite of herself.’" The author then explains that in Madame Blavatsky’s present stage of advancement it is hopelessly impossible to eradicate the peculiar mental traits above adverted to, and continues thus: "These tendencies are first, inaccuracy. Most women are inaccurate, but she is, perhaps, more than normally so, instead of, as one might have expected, less so . . . . But the second tendency, a sort of humorous combativeness, leads her at times, especially when she is in high spirits, and entirely free from higher influences, to propound absolute fictions, of malice prepense." By the admissions of her best friends, then this woman is exceedingly inaccurate in statement, and is addicted to malicious falsehood, "absolute fictions." Her best friends also admit that she is in the habit of cursing and swearing very vigorously, and also that she habitually smokes cigarettes. Before she came to America, while she lived in Paris, I have evidence that she lived a very worldly, fast, sensuous life, and it is beyond question that she has since 1875 likewise lived a worldly, sensuous life. It has never been claimed that she in any manner lives such a life as the alleged mahatmas or adepts are said to live in Tibet. Instead of leading an ascetic, secluded life, free from association with other human kind, free from all selfishness, with the loves and passions entirely annihilated, her life all these years has been of an opposite character. She has lived a life of worldly ease and plenty, feasted and petted by her followers, far removed from the life of privation and hardship which she declares must be followed to the letter by the credulous dupes who think that they may become mahatmas, or at least magicians, by obeying her ironclad injunctions. While she condemns these poor wretches to renounce family and friends and all that makes life dear, as a means of attaining magical power, she lives in luxuriance and comfort, having a good time of it, and laughing in her sleeves at the silly fools who accept her falsehoods and plagiarism as divine wisdom.

The Arhat powers, she tells us, are only for those who "comply to the very letter" with the "terrible sacrifices required." Madame Blavatsky has pretended to exercise these Arhat powers on many occasions, yet when was she ever known to comply in any manner whatever, much less "to the very letter," with those "terrible self-sacrifices?" What self-sacrifice of any kind has she ever indulged in? Has she renounced all the vanities of life and of the world?" Does she avoid bodily contact with all human beings? She tells us that "it is impossible to employ spiritual forces if there is the slightest tinge of selfishness in the operator." If it is impossible to use these forces, as she asserts, how is it that she has used them in so many cases, as alleged, and yet be saturated with selfishness in the manner she is known to be? Since 1875 the dominant passion of her life seems to have been an inordinate craving for notoriety. She has labored, talked, wrote, played tricks, indulged in the most gigantic impostures of the age, and all for notoriety, for one thing; and she has succeeded in acquiring an unenviable notoriety, as her name will be handed down in history as the most notorious impostor and fraud of the century. Does it indicate a total suppression of the passions and lusts to seek notoriety and a spurious fame in the questionable manner that she has been doing for 13 years? Is it unselfishness and altruism (the love of doing good to others) that prompt her to palm off juggling tricks on gullible men and women as veritable exhibitions of occultic power? Was her conspiracy with the Coulombs to humbug her followers for a term of years, with spurious manifestations of the pretended mahatmas, an exhibition of unselfish devotion to the well being of others? When she pretended that she was in communication with, and was the authorized agent of certain mythical mahatmas in Tibet, and when she wrote the large number of letters pretending to come from said mahatmas and addressed to Mr. Sinnett and others, thereby deceiving him and all the other theosophists, - when she did this was actuated by motives devoid of "the slightest tinge of selfishness;" and were these vicious, not to say criminal, acts, an exemplification of "true occultism or theosophy," which "is the ‘great renunciation of self, unconditionally and absolutely, in thought and action?" Does her life-work for the past 13 years indicate that her "personality has disappeared" and that she has "become a mere beneficent force in nature?" Does her life indicate that "not only all the lusts and longings of the flesh are dead, but also that the recognition of the personal self is killed out?"

Has she without ceasing practiced "abstinence in all, the observation of moral duties, gentle thoughts, good deeds and kind words?" Is the habitual use of tobacco an exemplification of "abstinence," or is it a proof that she has renounced "the lusts and longings of the flesh" and all sensual enjoyments? Is her violent profanity an indication of the exercise of "gentle thoughts" and of indulgence in "good deeds and kind words." Can systematic imposture for 13 years or more be correlated with "the observation of moral duties?" Are the constant inaccuracy, misrepresentation, and malicious falsehood, the practice of which, her best friends tell us, is so inwoven into the very fibres of her mental constitution as to be impossible of eradication, - that is, these reprehensible mental qualities have become, through years of practice, an integral part of her psychical organization, incapable of being uprooted, - are these mental traits indices of her entire unselfishness, of her devotion to the highest and best interests of mankind and of her unintermittent "observation of moral duties?" Madame Blavatsky has informed us that after a person has once begun to ascend the ladder of practical occultism at the final false step he will "slide down" and "roll down into Dugpaship, which involves moral and spiritual shipwreck. She also says that whoever, after having pledged himself to occultism, indulges in the gratification of a terrestrial love or lust, must be "almost immediately" "dragged down to the lower plane of matter," and that "sensual or even mental self-gratification involves the immediate loss of the powers of spiritual discernment." Suppose we apply these statements to the case of the Madame herself. She began to climb the ladder of occultism many years ago, and from the very beginning of her ascent she has been indulging "in the gratification of terrestrial loves and lusts," in both "sensual" and "mental self-gratification," at all times without stint. Therefore, according to her own showing, if she ever possessed any "powers of spiritual discernment" she must have lost them many years ago, and all her pretended "divine wisdom," all her teachings, given to the world as heavenly truth, are but the demoniacal efflorescence of the infernalisms of Dugpaism, which is but another name for diabolism. If one false step inevitably leads to Dugpaship, to what have 13 years of fraud and corruption, and malicious falsehood led? Must she not be sunk into the dreariest depths of Dugpaship, alias infernalism or deviltry? According to her own teachings, it necessarily follows that her writings are falsehoods and her feats of magic, if real, nothing but exhibitions of the black art, voudooism, malignant sorcery, and black magic. Instead of being an expounder of theosophy (divine wisdom) she must be an expounder and practitioner of devilism in some of its most damnable phases?

What is the common sense view of the whole matter? Madame Blavatsky claims to possess a knowledge of the great spiritual truths of the universe; and also to possess certain occultic or magical powers transcending the commonly observed laws of nature. One of her alleged great spiritual truths is, that in order to attain a knowledge of these so-called spiritual truths and to obtain possession of these asserted magical powers, it is absolutely and indispensably requisite that a certain mode of life be rigidly followed without the slightest deviation therefrom. It is beyond all question that during the time that Madame Blavatsky has pretended to be exercising this great wisdom and using these occultic powers, she has been leading a life directly opposite in character to that declared to be indispensably necessary for their exercise. It, therefore, inevitably follows that she has never been in possession of this divine wisdom, and that the feats of pretended magic in which she has so often engaged were only jugglery, tricks, hanky-panky, legerdemain, slight-of-hand. That such was their true character had been abundantly proved before; and the logical sequence of her own teachings, that they are of this fraudulent nature, simply attests that which every sensible person well knew before. Out of her own mouth is she condemned, hoisted is she by her own petard. And yet people claiming to be intelligent and of good sense continue to believe in her pretensions, and rank themselves among her devoted followers. Oh, human nature, human nature, into what depths of folly, fatuity and imbecility art thou capable of falling! Reason, logic, common sense, wisdom, how ye are crucified, even in this so-called enlightened age!

What now becomes of the unjust charge that, in speaking of some of Madame Blavatsky’s habits of life, I invaded the "sanctity of private life, and said things that no gentleman should say and that no man should be allowed to say?" The one remark that I made in my article of January 14th, concerning Mme. B.’s personal habits, is found in the middle of a sentence referring to the character of her writings; I mentioned these habits of hers as indicating the character of the brain from which the alleged "divine wisdom" of theosophy emanates. What I said was strictly germane to the discussion of the nature of her public work. As Lyman C. Howe, in the Journal, well remarks "Where are the limits that divide the private life from a public career? It seems to me that the daily habits in society which are openly indulged before all the world who may chance to touch the individual sphere, do not strictly belong to the domain of private life." For three reasons the charge that I have, in an ungentlemanly manner, trespassed upon the sanctities of this woman’s private life, falls to the ground. (1) There is nothing private in the habits of life to which I referred; they have been mentioned in the public press at various times during the past thirteen years, and they are well known to all persons with whom she has associated during that time, including editors, reporters, etc. No attempt at concealment has been made; they are practiced openly, so that all can see them. (2) My remark thereupon was made strictly in connection with her public work, it having reference to the effect or influence that the habits spoken of have upon the nature of her public writings. (3) It is a fundamental principle of theosophy that the most intimate association exists between the so-called private life, in all its details and ramifications, and the possession of the powers and the knowledge claimed by Madame Blavatsky; it is, therefore, not only legitimate, but is indispensably requisite, to consider the mode of life and the personal habits of any one claiming the possession of said powers, in order to determine the probable truth or falsity of the asserted claims, and the true nature of the alleged manifestations of occultic forces. In view of these facts, I submit that I was fully justified in alluding as I did to Madame B.’s personal habits, and that the sneers, abuse, ridicule and misrepresentation so freely heaped upon me by Prof. Coues and the others, were uncalled for and irrelevant, and are of such an unjust character altogether that the writers thereof, one and all, ought to be heartily ashamed of themselves for having written them. The fallacies and sophistries pervading those attacks upon me are such as characterize all theosophic literature, accompanied by the usual suppression and distortion of the truth in order to make points and mislead the reader, - this latter not being always done knowingly or deliberately, but ofttimes unwittingly through prejudice and ignorance.

In a second article I shall briefly comment upon some of the more important of the other criticisms upon my article of January 14th, by the advocates of the truth of theosophy.

San Francisco, Cal.

[See Part Two of Coleman's article.]