Published by Blavatsky Study Center. Online Edition copyright 2004.


The Theosophists.

Something About Madame Blavatsky,
the High Priestess of the Society.

Her Approaching Visit to This Country
With Colonel Henry S. Olcott.

A Most Gifted Woman -
Her Circle of Distinguished Friends in London.

by Laura C. Holloway

Copyrighted, 1888, by the Author.

[Reprinted from The Leader, October 14, 1888, p. 14.]

For the LEADER.

The private announcement from Madras, India, that Colonel Henry S. Olcott, the President founder of the Theosophical Society, left Adyar, the headquarters of the society, on the 4th inst. for London en route to this country, will be welcome news to the Theosophists in the United States, of whom there are upwards of twenty thousand. With him will come Madame Blavatsky and several others.

In 1875, when the society was formed in New York by Madame Helene Petrowsky Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott, there were not a dozen adherents to be found, while now the membership of the organization is largely over one hundred thousand. Its conception and formation was due to Madame Blavatsky, whose wonderful personality is a theme of interest in all parts of the world wherever she has appeared. She believed, she said, that the best interests of religion and science would be promoted by the revival of Sanskrit, Pali, Zend, and other ancient literature, "in which the Sages and Initiates had preserved for the use of mankind truths of the highest value respecting man and nature." In order to inaugurate such a movement, it was deemed best to organize a society whose first object should be to form the nucleus of a Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, or color. Once formed the society was to work to promote the study of Aryan and other Eastern literature, religions, and sciences. The third object, and the rock upon which the society - on several occasions - has come near foundering, was the investigation of the unexplained laws of nature and the

Psychical Powers of Man.

In the case of the Western members of the society, the last object was in reality the first, and phenomena became the watchword, particularly of those members who came into direct relations with Madame Blavatsky. She was the center of interest to every one, and in the beginning Colonel Olcott was simply her pupil and representative in practical matters. Having organized the society and aroused public interest to some extent by the exhibition of occult power, Madame sailed for India accompanied by several followers. Her book "Isis Unveiled," which appeared just previous to her departure, created a nine days’ wonder, but the character of its contents and the great size of the work prevented it being read by the general public. "The time had not come for the West to be interested in it," its author indifferently remarked, and regardless of her practical interests she went away to the ends of the earth and made no effort to popularize her book upon which she had expended so much time and toil. In 1884 the society had grown to such proportions that the founders were invited to visit England, where a branch society had been formed with A. P. Sinnett, the author of "The Occult World" as president. Mr. Sinnett was editing an English paper published in Allahabad, when Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott went there in 1879 to organize a branch society.

The English Government was watching with suspicion the movements of the pair and in many quarters openly charged that Madame Blavatsky was the spy of the Russian Government.

Mr. Sinnett’s Conversion.

The publication of Sinnett’s book, which describes the phenomena witnessed in the presence of Madame, and reads like a new Arabian Nights, did much to dispel this suspicion and convince the authorities that she was intent upon other objects than political ones. Mr. Sinnett’s book did more for her than this; it aroused the greatest possible interest in her in England and led to her being invited to London, where Mr. Sinnett was then living, having lost his newspaper connection through his absorption in and advocacy of the tenets held by Madame Blavatsky. He accepted with absolute faith her declaration of the existence of an order of men on the earth with powers of a spiritual kind, so phenomenal as to be to ordinary mortals, godlike. Further he believed that he had been in communication with one or more of them, through her agency, and he published letters purporting to be from them which had come to him in ways unusual and mysterious. Mr. Sinnett’s adherence of the cause made it many friends and when, in the spring of 1884, the High Priestess and the President Founder of the Theosophical Society, accompanied by several Hindoos and a Parsee, reached London, society was on the qui vive and the receptions given by Mr. Sinnett at his pleasant residence in Ladbroke Gardens, in their honor, were attended by many representatives of the literary and scientific circles of that city. Madame Blavatsky was the most famous woman in England at that time and the object of the greatest curiosity to intellectual people. The society for Psychic Research at Cambridge invited her to visit that university town and to give the officers of the society an opportunity to witness the phenomena which many persons had seen occur in her presence. She was visited by such men as Wallace, the historian, and Professor Wallace, the scientist, and by Professor Crookes, who was more concerned, perhaps, than any other man of science in London, to witness the manifestations which he attributed to spirit agencies, if they occurred, and not to any natural power.

The Old Hindoo Ideas.

Madame Blavatsky made friends and enemies everywhere she appeared by the scathing denunciations of Spiritualism she uttered - friends of its opponents, and enemies of its adherents. She estranged the editor of Light, the leading organ of the Spiritualists, Mr. Stainton Moses, "Oxon," and others of influence by her attacks upon the philosophy and phenomena of their belief. She denounced mediumship and denied the possibility of communication with the departed dead, except in the case of "shells," "fragments of humanity and elementary spirits." They would not listen to her statement of the old Hindoo ideas as to the state of man after death, nor would they hear patiently the dangers of mediumistic intercourse, or the "brutal selfishness," as she expressed it, of dragging back the dead to gratify idle curiosity, feed self-conceit, and soothe selfish and unnatural grief. When her popularity was at its height, and her receptions were simply ovations; when the young but scholarly Hindoo, Mohini Chatteyee, had been received and entertained by Gladstone, Lord Balfour, and numbers of the best men and women of London, she was invited to Cambridge, there to have opportunity to exhibit before the Society of Psychic Research the proof she could give of the existence of "Mahatmas," or "Great Souls" and her power to hold psychic communication with them. Her circle of immediate friends, whose unselfishness and devotion to her knew no bounds, gladly went upon this journey with her, believing that the time had come when demonstration was to be given to the world of the wonderful power she possessed, and the great work she and the Theosophical Society would do in the world.

The High Priestess in Cambridge.

The start as made from London one beautiful June morning and the party was one of the happiest imaginable. It was made up of young men and women who were honest and earnest Theosophists and full of enthusiasm in the cause.

Being in Cambridge at the time and in the same hotel with Madame Blavatsky, I called upon her and was ushered into her room by one of her London friends. She was sitting at a table smoking the inevitable cigarette, with her box of Turkish tobacco open before her and materials for writing beside it. She was dressed in a loose, flowing black silk gown with some lace about her neck, and her beautiful hands were covered with jewels. Although her body is very large her Oriental style of dress is so graceful and becoming that one is not impressed with a sense of obesity. She put out her hand to welcome me and asked me to sit beside her. I had seen her before in Paris and later in London, and was not a stranger to her, so that her sad expression at once attracted my attention. Inquiring the cause of her depression, she said: -

"Ah, my child, you little know what is to follow this Cambridge trip."

"You have had a most kind welcome from delightful people, and I hope your visit will be most pleasant," I said.

"You Americans are always ready with pretty speeches," she answered, then continued in a sad tone, "but the Karma of the Theosophical Society cannot be changed by any display of psychic powers on my part. I am here to select the instrument through which the society is to suffer." Visitors were announced, and in came Madame Novikoff, the London correspondent of St. Petersburg Court Journal, and several officers of the Society for Psychical Research. In their presence her depression vanished and she was the most vivacious and entertaining person in the party. She spoke Russian to Madame Novikoff, French to a Parisian present, and her general conversation was interspersed with so much Hindoostani that it was difficult to follow her thought, but she delighted and charmed every one. Professor Sidgwick and his gifted wife, the sister of Lord Balfour, Frederick W. F. Myers, the lamented Edmund Gurney, Professor Browning, Mr. Hodgson, and many others were among the acquaintances she made, and the few days she remained in Cambridge she was the center of attraction for its most intellectual university circle. Apparently she was establishing her claim to the possession of universal psychic powers, when she turned to me as she was leaving the parlor after the departure of several visitors, and said: "Hodgson will be the man the S. P. R. will select to go to India."

The remark made little impression at the time, as her previous remark had done, for I did not know what she meant. It struck me as rather singular that she should associate Mr. Hodgson with anything disagreeable, for he seemed sincerely interested in her and friendly to her, that he would have been one of the last of the strangers about her to make war against her. Nothing could be gained by asking her for an explanation, for in the time that I knew her I never heard her fully satisfy the curiosity of any one.

The Madam’s Prediction.

When, months later, the Society for Psychic Research selected Mr. Hodgson to go to India to investigate the claims of the Theosophical Society regarding the existence of the Mahatmas and the psychic powers of Madame Blavatsky, these strange and other remarks made at Cambridge by her regarding Mr. Hodgson’s selection for the part he afterward played, recurred to me. I never saw him after that time, but when Mr. Hodgson’s report was given to the world I could but regret that he had not known that she predicted that he would be selected to do what he did, and that he would do it in the way he did. It might have added additional interest to the pamphlet.

Madame Blavatsky has a habit of making predictions, of the most startling character sometimes, and usually in such an ironical manner that it was almost impossible to decide whether she meant what she said or was merely trying to draw people out. She possessed some faculty by which she speedily read those about her and while exhibiting no interest whatever in them would be perpetually railing against the foolish record they were making and which they would have to suffer for in some coming incarnation. When questioned as to her course toward people concerning whom she would make surprising statements, she would answer: "They are simply fulfilling the decrees of Karma, and they will not do more in this life than go on blindly, using no effort to be what they might." When asked why she did not stay any injury that might be done by her enemies, she would sorrowfully say: "What has a poor Buddhist pilgrim, without home or friends, to lose or gain in this world?"

A Gifted Woman.

She was as impulsive as a child, as generous as an Eastern Pasha, and the most indifferent to physical comfort of any human being. She was a most gifted woman in every respect, a musician of rare cultivation, and her touch on the piano was wondrously sweet. She, in common with her countrymen generally, was a great linguist, and conversed equally well in seven or eight different languages. She has traveled the world over, and her mind is cyclopedic. There is no subject on which she is not conversant, and if a stranger is willing to ignore her utterly unconventional ways, an interview with her is always instructive.

The time is approaching for another event predicted by her, and in the presence of Colonel Olcott in London, is the first of several circumstances that would combine to bring about the change announced.

Meantime Madame Blavatsky has finished "The Secret Doctrine," upon which she has been busily writing for some time, and it is a production which she declared would be forthcoming at a given time. To say that anyone believed she would ever write it is to put universal disbelief in a mild form. She is so unreliable with her pen work that no one deemed it likely she would supplement "Isis," and now that is finished and Colonel Olcott is in London and with his face turned this way, it looks much as if the "Old Lady’s" words spoken four years ago would come true in good season. If she herself should come to America it would not much surprise those who have seen her do and say things so out of the common order that to repeat them would imperil one’s reputation for sanity.

Laura C. Holloway.