Published by Blavatsky Study Center.
by Alvin Boyd Kuhn
[Originally published in Theosophy: A Modern Revival of Ancient Wisdom
by Alvin Boyd Kuhn, Chapter V, pp. 115-146. An online edition of the entire book
is available as well as a paperback reprint edition by Kessinger Publishing.]
One morning in the summer of 1875 Madame Blavatsky showed her colleague some sheets of manuscript which she had written. She explained: "I wrote this last night 'by order,' but what the deuce it is to be I don't know. Perhaps it is for a newspaper article, perhaps for a book, perhaps for nothing: anyhow I did as I was ordered."
She put it away in a drawer and nothing more was said about it for some months. In September of that year she went to Syracuse on a visit to Prof. and Mrs. Hiram Corson, of Cornell University, and while there she began to expand the few original pages. She wrote back to Olcott in New York that "she was writing about things she had never studied and making quotations from books she had never read in all her life; that, to test her accuracy Prof. Corson had compared her quotations with classical works in the University Library and had found her to be right."1
She had never undertaken any extensive literary production in her life and her unfamiliarity with English at this time was a real handicap. When she returned to the city Olcott took two suites of rooms at 433 West 34th Street, and there she set to work to expound the rudiments of her great science. From 1875 to 1877 she worked with unremitting energy, sitting from morning until night at her desk. In the evenings, after his day's professional labors, Olcott came to her help, aiding her with the English and with the systematic arrangement of the heterogeneous mass of material that poured forth. Later Dr. Alexander Wilder, the Neo-Platonic scholar, helped her with the spelling of the hundreds of classical philological terms she employed. But Madame Blavatsky wrote the book, Isis Unveiled.
1 Old Diary Leaves, Vol. I, p. 203.
After the first flush of its popularity it has been forgotten, outside of Theosophic circles. Even among Theosophists, or at any rate in the largest organic group of the Theosophical Society, the book is hardly better known than in the world at large. During the last twenty-five years there has been a tendency in the Society to read expositions of Madame Blavatsky's ponderous volumes rather than the original presentation; neophytes in the organization have been urged to pass up these books as being too recondite and abstruse. It has even been hinted that many things are better understood now than when the Founder wrote, and that certain crudities of dogma and inadequacies of presentation can be avoided by perusing the commentary literature. As a result of this policy the percentage of Theosophic students who know exactly what Madame Blavatsky wrote over fifty years ago is quite small. Thousands of members of the Theosophical Society have grown old in the cult's activities and have never read the volumes that launched the cult ideas.
Isis must not, however, be regarded as a text-book on Theosophy. The Secret Doctrine, issued ten years later, has a better claim to that title. Isis makes no formulation, certainly not a systematic one, of the creed of occultism. It is far from being an elucidation or exegesis of the basic principles of what is now known as Theosophy. Isis makes no attempt to organize the whole field of human and divine knowledge, as does The Secret Doctrine. It merely points to the evidence for the existence of that knowledge, and only dimly suggests the outlines of the cosmic scheme in which it must be made to fit. It is in a sense a panoramic survey of the world literature out of which she essayed in part to draw the system of Theosophy. If Theosophy is to be found in Isis, it is there in seminal form, not in organic expression. Perhaps it were better to say that the book prepared the soil for the planting of Madame Blavatsky's later teaching. Her impelling thought was to reveal the traces, in ancient and medieval history and literature, of a secret science whose principles had been lost to view. She aimed to show
that the most vital science mankind had ever controlled had sunk further below general recognition now than in any former times. She would relight the lamp of that archaic wisdom, which would illuminate the darkness of modern scientific pride.
Her work, then, was to make a restatement of the occult doctrine with its ancient attestations. This was a gigantic task. It meant little short of a thorough search in the entire field of ancient religion, philosophy, and science, with an eye to the discernment of the mystery tradition, teachings, and practices wherever manifested; and then the collation, correlation, and systematic presentation of this multifarious material in something like a structural unity. The many legends of mystic power, the hundreds of myths and fables, were to be traced to ancient rites, whose far-off symbolism threw light on their significance. It would be not merely an encyclopedia of the whole mythical life of the race, but a digest and codification, so to speak, of the entire mass into a system breathing intelligible meaning and common sense. Her task, in a word, was to redeem the whole ancient world from the modern stigma of superstition, crude ignorance, and childish imagination.
In view of the immensity of her undertaking we are forced to wonder whence came the self-assurance that led her to believe she could successfully achieve it. She was sadly deficient in formal education; her opportunities for scholarship and research had been limited; her command of the English language was imperfect. Yet her actual accomplishment pointed to her possession of capital and resources the existence of which has furnished the ground for much of the mystery now enshrouding her life. There seems to be an obvious discrepancy between her qualifications and her product, to account for which diverse theories have been adduced.
Just how, when and where Madame Blavatsky gained her acquaintance with practically the entire field of ancient religions, philosophies, and science, is a query which probably can never be satisfactorily answered. The history of many
portions of her life before 1873 is unrecorded. We do not know when or where she studied ancient literature. Books from which she quoted were not within her reach when she wrote Isis. Can her knowledge be attributed to a phenomenal memory? Olcott does say:
"She constantly drew upon a memory stored with a wealth of recollections of personal perils and adventures and of knowledge of occult science, not merely unparalleled, but not even approached by any other person who had ever appeared in America, so far as I have heard."2
Throughout the two volumes of Isis there are frequent allusions to or actual passages from ancient writings, a list of which includes the following: The Codex Nazareus; the Zohar, the great Kabbalistic work of the Jews; Chaldean3 Oracles; Chaldean Book of Numbers; Psellus' Works; Zoroastrian Oracles; Magical and Philosophical Precepts of Zoroaster; Egyptian Book of the Dead; Books of Hermes; Quiché Cosmogony; Book of Jasher; Kabala of the Tanaim; Sepher Jezira; Book of Wisdom of Schlomah (Solomon); Secret Treatise on Mukta and Badha; The Stangyour of the Tibetans; Desatir (pseudo-Persian4); Orphic Hymns; Sepher Toldos Jeshu (Hebrew MSS. of great antiquity); Laws of Manu; Book of Keys (Hermetic Work); Gospel of Nicodemus; The Shepherd of Hermas; (Spurious) Gospel of the Infancy; Gospel of St. Thomas; Book of Enoch; The History of Baarlam and Josaphat; Book of Evocations
2 Ibid., Vol. I, p. 33.
3 The term Chaldean in these titles is thought by modern scholars to veil an actual Greek origin of the texts in question. The existence of Chaldea and Chaldeans appears to be regarded as highly uncertain. Of the Chaldeans Madame Blavatsky says in The Theosophical Glossary: "Chaldeans, or Kasdim. At first a tribe, then a caste of learned Kabbalists. They were the savants, the magians of Babylonia, astrologers and diviners." Of the Chaldean Book of Numbers she says: "A work which contains all that is found in the Zohar of Simeon Ben-Jochai and much more. . . . It contains all the fundamental principles taught in the Jewish Kabbalistic works, but none of their blinds. It is very rare indeed, there being perhaps only two or three copies extant and these in private hands."
4 Scholars have thrown doubt on the Persian authorship of this book. Madame Blavatsky in the Glossary describes it as "a very ancient Persian work called the Book of Shet. It speaks of the thirteen Zoroasters and is very mystical."
(of the Pagodas); Golden Verses of Pythagoras; various Kabbalas; Tarot of the Bohemians.
In the realm of more widely-known literature, she uses material from Plato and to a minor extent, Aristotle; quotes the early Greek philosophers, Thales, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Empedocles, Democritus; is conversant with the Neo-Platonist representatives, Ammonius Saccas, Plotinus, Porphyry, Iamblichus and Proclus; shows familiarity with Plutarch, Philo, Apollonius of Tyana, the Gnostics, Basilides, Bardesanes, Marcion, and Valentinus. She had examined the Church Fathers, from Augustine to Justin Martyr, and was especially familiar with Irenaeus, Tertullian and Eusebius, whom she charged with having wrecked the true ancient wisdom. Beside this array she draws on the enormous Vedic, Brahmanic, Vedantic, and Buddhistic literatures; likewise the Chinese, Persian, Babylonian, "Chaldean," Syrian, and Egyptian. Nor does she neglect the ancient American contributions, such as the Popul Vuh. Her acquaintance also with the vast literature of occult magic and philosophy of the Middle Ages seems hardly less inclusive. She levies upon Averroës, Maimonides, Paracelsus, Van Helmont, Robert Fludd, Eugenius Philalethes, Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim, Roger Bacon, Bruno, Pletho, Mirandolo, Henry More and many a lesser-known expounder of mysticism and magic art. She quotes incessantly from scores of compendious modern works.
Because of this show of prodigious learning some students later alleged that Isis was not the work of Madame Blavatsky, but of Dr. Alexander Wilder; others declared that Col. Olcott had written it.5
5 It is clear that Madame Blavatsky was not a literary person before the epoch of the writing of Isis. She herself, in the last article for Lucifer that she wrote before her death in 1891, entitled My Books, wrote:
1. When I came to America in 1873 I had not spoken English---which I had learned in my childhood colloquially---for over thirty years. I could understand when I read it, but could hardly speak the language.
2 I had never been at any college, and what I knew I had taught myself; I had never pretended to any scholarship in the sense of modern research; I had then hardly read any scientific European works, knew little of Western philosophy and sciences. The little which I had studied and learned of these disgusted me with its [continued on bottom of next page]
There are three main sources of testimony bearing on the composition of the books: (1) Statements of her immediate associates and co-workers in the writing; (2) Her own version; (3) The evidence of critics who have traced the sources of her materials.
First, there is the testimony of her colleague, Olcott, who for two years collaborated almost daily with her in the work. He says:
"Whence, then, did H.P.B. draw the materials which comprise Isis and which cannot be traced to accessible literary sources of quotation? From the Astral Light, and by her soul-senses, from her Teachers---the 'Brothers,' 'Adepts,' 'Sages,' 'Masters,' as they have been variously called. How do I know it? By working two years with her on Isis and many more years on other literary work."6
He goes on:
"To watch her at work was a rare and never-to-be-forgotten experience. We sat at opposite sides of one big table usually, and I could see her every movement. Her pen would be flying over the page; when she would suddenly stop, look out into space with the vacant eye of the clairvoyant seer, shorten her vision as though to look at something held invisibly in the air before her, and begin copying on the paper what she saw. The quotation finished, her eyes would resume their natural expression, and she would go on writing until again stopped by a similar interruption."7
Still more remarkable is the following:
"Most perfect of all were the manuscripts which were written for her while she was sleeping. The beginning of the chapter on the civilization of ancient Egypt (Vol. I., Chapter XIV) is an illustration. We had stopped work the evening before at about 2 A.M. as usual,
materialism, its limitations, narrow cut-and-dried spirit of dogmatism and air of superiority over the philosophies and sciences of antiquity.
3. Until 1874 I had never written one word in English, nor had I published any work in any language. Therefore:---
4. I had not the least idea of literary rules. The art of writing books, of preparing them for print and publication, reading and correcting proofs, were so many closed secrets to me.
5. When I started to write that which later developed into Isis Unveiled, I had no more idea than the man in the moon what would come of it. I had no plan; . . . I knew that I had to write it, that was all.---Old Diary Leaves, Vol. I, p. 223.
6 Old Diary Leaves, Vol. I, p. 208.
7 Ibid., p. 208.
both too tired to stop for our usual smoke and chat before parting; she almost fell asleep in her chair, while I was bidding her goodnight; so I hurried off to my bed room. The next morning, when I came down after my breakfast, she showed me a pile of at least thirty or forty pages of beautifully written H.P.B. manuscript, which, she said, she had had written for her by----------, a Master . . . It was perfect in every respect and went to the printers without revision."8
It is the theory of Olcott that the mind of H.P.B. was receptive to the impressions of three or four intelligent entities---other persons living or dead---who overshadowed her mentally, and wrote through her brain. These personages seemed to cast their sentences upon an imperceptible screen in her mind. They sometimes talked to Olcott as themselves, not as Madame Blavatsky. Their intermittent tenancy of her mind he takes as accounting for the higgledy-piggledy manner in which the book was constructed. Each had his favorite themes and the Colonel learned what kind of material to expect when one gave place to another. There was in particular, in addition to several of the Oriental "Sages," a collaborator in the person of an old Platonist---"the pure soul of one of the wisest philosophers of modern times, one who was an ornament to our race, a glory to his country." He was so engrossed in his favorite earthly pursuits of philosophy that he projected his mind into the work of Madame Blavatsky and gave her abundant aid.
"He did not materialize and sit with us, nor obsess H.P.B. medium-fashion, he would simply talk with her---psychically, by the hour together, dictating copy, telling her what references to hunt up; answering my questions about details, instructing me as to principles; and, in fact, playing the part of a third person in our literary symposium. He gave me his portrait once---a rough sketch in colored crayons on flimsy paper . . . from first to last his relation to us both was that of a mild, kind, extremely learned teacher and elder friend."9
8 Ibid., p. 211. The Countess Wachtmeister testified to similar productions of pages of manuscript in connection with the writing of The Secret Doctrine ten years later.
9 Old Diary Leaves, Vol. I. p. 239.
The medieval occultist Paracelsus manifested his presence for a brief time one evening. 10 At another time Madame produced two volumes necessary to verify questions which Olcott doubted.
"I went and found the two volumes wanted, which, to my knowledge, had not been in the house until that very moment. I compared the texts with H.P.B.'s quotation, showed her that I was right in my suspicions as to the error, made the proof correction, and then . . . returned the two volumes to the place on the étagère from which I had taken them. I resumed my seat and work, and when, after while, I looked again in that direction, the books had disappeared."11
As Olcott states, when one or another of these unseen monitors was in evidence, the work went on in fine fashion. But, he notes, when Madame was left entirely to her own devices, she floundered in more or less helpless ineptitude. She would write haltingly, scratch it over, make a fresh start, work herself into a fret and get nowhere.
Olcott's testimony, as that of Dr. Wilder, Mr. Judge, Dr. Corson, the Countess Wachtmeister, the two Keightleys, Mr. Fawcett and all the others who at one time or another were in a position to observe Madame Blavatsky at work, must be accepted as sincere. But if anybody could be supposed to know unmistakably what was happening in her mind, that person would be the subject herself. What has she to say? She states decisively that she was not the author, only the writer of her books. In one of her home letters she says, speaking of Isis:
"since neither ideas nor teachings are mine."
In another letter to Madame Jelihowsky she writes:
"Well, Vera, whether you believe me or not, something miraculous is happening to me. You cannot imagine in what a charmed world of pictures and vision I live. I am writing Isis; not writing, rather copying out and drawing that which She personally shows to me. Upon my word, sometimes it seems to me that the ancient
10 Ibid., p. 240.
11. Ibid., p. 210.
goddess of Beauty in person leads me through all the countries of past centuries which I have to describe. I sit with my eyes open and to all appearances see and hear everything real and actual around me, and yet at the same time I see and hear that which I write. I feel short of breath; I am afraid to make the slightest movement for fear the spell might be broken. Slowly century after century, image after image, float out of the distance and pass before me as if in a magic panorama; and meanwhile I put them together in my mind, fitting in epochs and dates, and know for sure that there can be no mistake. Races and nations, countries and cities, which have long disappeared in the darkness of the prehistoric past, emerge and then vanish, giving place to others; and then I am told the consecutive dates. Hoary antiquity makes way for historical periods; myths are explained to me with events and people who have really existed, and every event which is at all remarkable, every newly-turned page of this many-colored book of life, impresses itself on my brain with photographic exactitude. My own reckonings and calculations appear to me later on as separate colored pieces of different shapes in the game which is called casse-tête (puzzles). I gather them together and try to match them one after the other, and at the end there always comes out a geometrical whole. . . . Most assuredly it is not I who do it all, but my Ego, the highest principle that lives in me. And even this with the help of my Guru and teacher who helps me in everything. If I happen to forget something I have just to address him, and another of the same kind in my thought as what I have forgotten rises once more before my eyes---sometimes whole tables of numbers passing before me, long inventories of events. They remember everything. They know everything. Without them, from whence could I gather my knowledge? I certainly refuse point blank to attribute it to my own knowledge or memory, for I could never arrive alone at either such premises or conclusions. I tell you seriously I am helped. And he who helps me is my Guru."12
In another letter to the same sister Helena assures her relative about her mental condition:
"Do not be afraid that I am off my head; all I can say is that someone positively inspires me. . . . More than this; someone enters me. It is not I who talk and write; it is something within me;
12 Published in The Path, Vol. IX, p. 300.
my higher and luminous Self; that thinks and writes for me. Do not ask me, my friend, what I experience, because I could not explain it to you clearly. I do not know myself! The one thing I know is that now, when I am about to reach old age, I have become a sort of storehouse of somebody else's knowledge. . . . Someone comes and envelops me as a misty cloud and all at once pushes me out of myself, and then I am not 'I' any more---Helena P. Blavatsky---but somebody else. Someone strong and powerful, born in a totally different region of the world; and as to myself it is almost as if I were asleep, or lying by not quite conscious---not in my own body, but close by, held only by a thread which ties me to it. However at times I see and hear everything quite clearly; I am perfectly conscious of what my body is saying and doing---or at least its new possessor. I can understand and remember it all so well that afterwards I can repeat it, and even write down his words. . . . At such a time I see awe and fear on the faces of Olcott and others, and follow with interest the way in which he half-pityingly regards them out of my own eyes, and teaches them with my physical tongue. Yet not with my mind, but his own, which enwraps my brain like a cloud. . . . Ah, but I really cannot explain everything!"13
Again writing to her relatives, she states:
"When I wrote Isis I wrote it so easily that it was certainly no labor but a real pleasure. Why should I be praised for it? Whenever I am told to write I sit down and obey, and then I can write easily upon almost anything---metaphysics, psychology, philosophy, ancient religions, zoölogy, natural sciences or what not. I never put myself the question: 'Can I write on this subject?' . . .or, 'Am I equal to the task?' but I simply sit down and write. Why? Because someone who knows all dictates to me. My Master and occasionally others whom I knew on my travels years ago. . . . I tell you candidly, that whenever I write upon a subject I know little or nothing of, I address myself to them, and one of them inspires me, i.e., he allows me to simply copy what I write from manuscripts, and even printed matter, that pass before my eyes, in the air, during which process I have never been unconscious one single instant."14
To her aunt she wrote:
13 The Path, Vol. IX, p. 266
14 Letter quoted in Mr. Sinnett's Incidents in the Life of Madame Blavatsky, p. 205.
"At such times it is no more I who write, but my inner Ego, my 'luminous Self,' who thinks and writes for me. Only see . . . you who know me. When was I ever so learned as to write such things? Whence was all this knowledge?"
Whatever the actual authorship of the two volumes may have been, their publication stirred such wide-spread interest that the first editions were swept up at once, and Bouton, the publisher, was taken off guard, there being some delay before succeeding editions of the bulky tomes could be issued. Professional reviewers were not so generous; but the press critics were frankly intrigued into something like praise.15
Years after the publication of Isis, Mr. Emmette Coleman, a former Theosophist and contributor to current magazines, stated that he spent three years upon a critical and exhaustive examination of the sources used by Madame
15 It is of some interest to see how it was received in 1877.
The Boston Transcript says: "It must be acknowledged that she is a remarkable woman, who has read more, seen more and thought more than most wise men. Her work abounds in quotations from a dozen different languages, not for the purpose of vain display of erudition, but to substantiate her peculiar views. Her pages are garnished with footnotes, establishing as her authorities some of the profoundest writers of the past. To a large class of readers this remarkable work will prove of absorbing interest . . . it demands the earnest attention of thinkers and merits an analytic reading."
From the New York Independent came the following: "The appearance of erudition is stupendous. References to and quotations from the most unknown and obscure writers in all languages abound; interspersed with allusions to writers of the highest repute, which have evidently been more than skimmed through."
This from the New York World: "An extremely readable and exhaustive essay upon the paramount importance of reëstablishing the Hermetic philosophy in a world which blindly believes that it has outgrown it."
Olcott's own paper, The New York Daily Graphic, said: "A marvelous book, both in matter and manner of treatment. Some idea may be formed of the rarity and extent of its contents when the index alone comprises 50 pages, and we venture nothing in saying that such an index of subjects was never before compiled by any human being."
The New York Tribune confined itself to saying: "The present work is the fruit of her remarkable course of education and amply confirms her claims to the character of an adept in secret science, and even to the rank of an hierophant in the exposition of its mystic lore."
And the New York Herald: "It is easy to forecast the reception of this book. With its striking peculiarities, its audacity, its versatility and the prodigious variety of subjects which it notices and handles, it is one of the remarkable productions of the century."
Blavatsky in her various works. He attempted to discredit the whole Theosophic movement by casting doubt upon the genuineness of her knowledge. He accused her of outright plagiarism and went to great pains to collect and present his evidence. In 1893 he published his data. We quote the following passage from his statement:
"In Isis Unveiled, published in 1877, I discovered some 2,000 passages copied from other books without proper credit. By careful analysis I found that in compiling Isis about 100 books were used. About 1,400 books are quoted from and referred to in this work; but, from the 100 books which its author possessed, she copied everything in Isis taken from and relating to the other 1,300. There are in Isis about 2,100 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 utilized 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 . . . 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."16
Coleman went on to assert that "not a line of the quotations" made by H.P.B. ostensibly from the Kabala, from the old-time mystics at the time of Paracelsus, from the classical authors, Homer, Livy, Ovid, Virgil, Pliny, and others, from the Church Fathers, from the Neo-Platonists, was taken from the originals, but all from second-hand usage. He charged her with having picked all these passages out of modern books scattered throughout which she found the material from a wide range of ancient authorship. The reader of Isis will readily find her many references to modern authors. Coleman mentioned a half dozen standard works that she used; it is well worth while glancing at a fuller list. She had read, or was more or less familiar with: King's
16 Appendix to V. S. Solovyoff's A Modern Priestess of Isis (London, 1895), p. 354.
Gnostics; Jennings' Rosicrucians; Dunlop's Sod, and Spirit History of Man; Moor's Hindu Pantheon; Ennemoser's History of Magic; Howitt's History of the Supernatural; Salverte's Philosophy of Magic; Barrett's Magus; Col. H. Yule's The Book of Ser Marco Polo; Inman's Pagan and Modern Christian Symbolism and Ancient Faiths and Modern; the anonymous The Unseen Universe and Supernatural Religion; Bunsen's Egypt's Place in Universal History; Lundy's Monumental Christianity; Horst's Zauber-Bibliothek; Cardinal Wiseman's Lectures on Science and Religion; Draper's The Conflict of Science with Religion; Dupuis' Origin of All the Cults; Bailly's Ancient and Modern Astronomy; Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; Des Mousseaux's Roman Catholic writings on Magic, Mesmerism, Spiritualism; Eliphas Levi's works; Jacolliot's twenty-seven volumes on Oriental systems; Max Müller's, Huxley's, Tyndall's, and Spencer's works.
It is hardly to be doubted that Madame Blavatsky culled many of her ancient gems from these works, and she probably felt that it was a matter of minor importance how she came by them. What she was bent on saying was that the ancients had said these things and that they were confirmatory of her general theses. Yet Coleman's findings must not be disregarded. His work brought into clearer light the meagreness of her resources and her lack of scholarly preparation for so pretentious a study.
We have adduced the several hypotheses that have been advanced to account for the writing of Isis Unveiled. It must be left for the reader to arrive at what conclusion he can on the basis of the material presented. We pass on to an examination of the contents.
A hint as to the aim of the work, is given in the sub-title: A Master-key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology. She says:
"The work now submitted to the public judgment is the fruit of a somewhat intimate acquaintance with Eastern Adepts and study of their science. It is a work on magico-spiritual philosophy and occult science. It is an attempt to aid the student to detect the
vital principles which underlie the philosophical systems of old."17
She affirms it to be her aim
"to show that the pretended authorities of the West must go to the Brahmans and Lamaists of the far Orient and respectfully ask them to impart the alphabet of true science."18
Isis, then, is a glorification of the ancient Orientals. Their knowledge was so profound that we are incredulous when told about it. If we have "harnessed the forces of Nature to do our work," they had subjugated the world to their will. They knew things we have not yet dreamed of. She states:
"It is rather a brief summary of the religions, philosophies and universal traditions in the spirit of those secret doctrines of which none,---thanks to prejudice and bigotry---have reached Christendom in so unmutilated a form as to secure it a fair judgment. Since the days of the unlucky Mediaeval philosophers, the last to write upon these secret doctrines of which they were the depositaries, few men have dared to brave persecution and prejudice by placing their knowledge on record. And these few have never, as a rule, written for the public, but only for those of their own and succeeding times who possessed the key to their jargon. The multitude, not understanding them or their doctrines, have been accustomed to regard them en masse as either charlatans or dreamers. Hence the unmerited contempt into which the study of the noblest of sciences---that of the spiritual man---has gradually fallen."19
She plans to restore this lost and fairest of the sciences. Materialism is menacing man's higher spiritual unfoldment.
"To prevent the crushing of these spiritual aspirations, the blighting of these hopes, and the deadening of that intuition which teaches us of a God and a hereafter, we must show our false theologies in their naked deformity and distinguish between divine religion and human dogmas. Our voice is raised for spiritual freedom and our plea made for the enfranchisement from all tyranny, whether of Science or Theology."20
17 Isis Unveiled, Vol. I, p. 165.
18 Ibid., Vol. I, p. xiv.
19 Ibid., Vol. I, p. xlii.
20 Ibid., Vol. I, p. xiv.
She here sets forth her attitude toward orthodox religionism as well as toward materialistic science. She intimates that since the days of the true esoteric wisdom, mankind has been thrown back and forth between the systems of an unenlightening theology and an equally erroneous science, both stultifying in their influence on spiritual aspiration, both blighting the delicate culture of beauty and joyousness.
"It was while most anxious to solve these perplexing problems [Who, where, what is God? What is the spirit in man?] that we came into contact with certain men, endowed with such mysterious powers and such profound knowledge that we may truly designate them as the Sages of the Orient. To their instruction we lent a ready ear. They showed us that by combining science with religion, the existence of God and the immortality of man's spirit may be demonstrated like a problem of Euclid."
"Such knowledge is priceless; and it has been hidden only from those who overlooked it, derided it or denied its existence."21
The soul within escapes their view, and the Divine Mother has no message for them. To become conversant with the powers of the soul we must develop the higher faculties of intuition and spiritual vision.22
21 Ibid., Vol. I, Preface, p. 1.
22 Perhaps the following excerpt states the intent of Isis more specifically:
"What we desire to prove is that underlying every ancient popular religion was the same ancient wisdom-doctrine, one and identical, professed and practiced by the initiates of every country, who alone were aware of its existence and importance. To ascertain its origin and precise age in which it was matured, is now beyond human possibility. A single glance, however, is enough to assure one that it could not have attained the marvelous perfection in which we find it pictured to us in the relics of the various esoteric systems, except after a succession of ages. A philosophy so profound, a moral code so ennobling, and practical results so conclusive and so uniformly demonstrable, is not the growth of a generation. . . . Myriads of the brightest human intellects must have reflected upon the laws of nature before this ancient doctrine had taken concrete shape. The proofs of this identity of fundamental doctrine in the old religions are found in the prevalence of a system of initiation; in the secret sacerdotal castes, who had the guardianship of mystical words of power, and a public display of a phenomenal control over natural forces, indicating association with preter-human beings. Every approach to the Mysteries of all these nations was guarded with the same jealous care, and in all, the penalty of death was inflicted upon initiates of any degree who divulged secrets entrusted to them."
She says that there were colleges in the days of old for the teaching of prophecy and occultism in general. Samuel and Elisha were heads of such academies, she affirms. The study of magic or wisdom included every branch of science, the metaphysical as well as the physical, psychology and physiology, in their common and occult phases; and the study of alchemy was universal, for it was both a physical and a spiritual science. The ancients studied nature under its double aspect and the claim is that they discovered secrets which the modern physicist, who studies but the dead forms of things, can not unlock. There are regions of nature which will never yield their mysteries to the scientist armed only with mechanical apparatus. The ancients studied the outer forms of nature, but in relation to the inner life. Hence they saw more than we and were better able to read meaning in what they saw. They regarded everything in nature as the materialization of spirit. Thus they were able to find an adequate ground for the harmonization of science and religion. They saw spirit begetting force, and force matter; spirit and matter were but the two aspects of the one essence. Matter is nothing other than the crystallization of spirit on the outer periphery of its emanative range. The ancients worshipped, not nature, but the power behind nature.
Madame Blavatsky contrasts this fulness of the ancient wisdom with the barrenness of modern knowledge. She characterizes the eighteenth century as a "barren period," during which "the malignant fever of scepticism" has spread through the thought of the age and transmitted "unbelief as an hereditary disease on the nineteenth." She challenges science to explain some of the commonest phenomena of nature; why, for instance, the moon affects insane people, why the crises of certain diseases correspond to lunar changes, why certain flowers alternately open and close their petals as clouds flit across the face of the moon. She says that science has not yet learned to look outside this ball of dirt for hidden influences which are affecting us day by day. The ancients, she declares, postulated reciprocal relations between the planetary bodies as perfect as those
between the organs of the body and the corpuscles of the blood. There is not a plant or mineral which has disclosed the last of its properties to the scientist. She declares that theurgical magic is the last expression of occult psychological science; and denies the "Academicians" "the right of expressing their opinion on a subject which they have never investigated." "Their incompetence to determine the value of magic and Spiritualism is as demonstrable as that of the Fiji Islander to evaluate the labors of Faraday or Agassiz." There was no missing link in the ancient knowledge, no hiatus to be filled "with volumes of materialistic speculation made necessary by the absurd attempt to solve an equation with but one set of quantities." She runs on:
"Our 'ignorant' ancestors traced the law of evolution throughout the whole universe. As by gradual progression from the star-cloudlet to the development of the physical body of man, the rule holds good, so from the universal ether to the incarnate human spirit, they traced one uninterrupted series of entities. These evolutions were from the world of spirit into the world of gross matter; and through that back again to the source of all things. The 'descent of species' was to them a descent from the spirit, primal source of all, to the 'degradation of matter.' In this complete chain of unfoldings the elementary, spiritual beings had as distinct a place, midway between the extremes, as Darwin's missing link between the ape and man."23
Modern knowledge posits only evolution; the old science held that evolution was neither conceivable nor understandable without a previous involution.
The existence of myriads of orders of beings not human in a realm of nature to which our senses do not normally give us access, and of which science knows nothing at all, is posited in her arcane systems. She catches at Milton's lines to bolster this theory:
"Millions of spiritual creatures walk this earth,
Unseen both when we sleep and when we wake."
She says that if the spiritual faculties of the soul are sharpened by intense enthusiasm and purified from earthly
23 Isis Unveiled, Vol. I, p. 281.
desire, man may learn to see some of these denizens of the illimitable air.
The physical world was fashioned on the model of divine ideas, which, like the unseen lines of force radiated by the magnet, to throw the iron-filings into determinate shape, give form and nature to the physical manifestation. If man's essential nature partakes of this universal life, then it, too, must partake of all the attributes of the demiurgic power. As the Creator, breaking up the chaotic mass of dead inactive matter, shaped it into form, so man, if he knew his powers, could to a degree do the same.
To redeem the ancient world from modern scorn Madame Blavatsky had to vindicate magic---with all its incubus of disrepute and ridicule---and lift its practitioners to a lofty place in the ranks of true science. She had to demonstrate that genuine magic was a veritable fact, an undeniable part of the history of man; and not only true, but the highest evidence of man's kinship with nature, the topmost manifestation of his power, the royal science among all sciences! To her view the dearth of magic in modern philosophies was at once the cause and the effect of their barrenness. If they are to be vitalized again, magic must be revived. "That magic is indeed possible is the moral of this book."24
And along with magic she had to champion its aboriginal bed-fellows, astrology, alchemy, healing, mesmerism, trance subjection, and the whole brood of "pseudo-science."
"It is an insult to human nature to brand magic and the occult sciences with the name of imposture. To believe that for so many thousands of years one half of mankind practiced deception and fraud on the other half is equivalent to saying that the human race is composed only of knaves and incurable idiots. Where is the country in which magic was not practiced? At what age was it wholly forgotten?"25
She explains magic as based on a reciprocal sympathy between celestial and terrestrial natures. It is based on the mysterious affinities existing between organic and inorganic
24 Ibid., Vol. I, p. 36.
25 Ibid., Vol. I, p. 14.
bodies, between the visible and the invisible powers of the universe. "That which science calls gravitation the ancient and the medieval hermeticists called magnetism, attraction, affinity." She continues:
"A thorough familiarity with the occult faculties of everything existing in Nature, visible as well as invisible; their mutual relations, attractions and repulsions; the cause of these traced to the spiritual principle which pervades and animates all things; the ability to furnish the best conditions for this principle to manifest itself, in other words a profound and exhaustive knowledge of natural law---this was and is the basis of magic."26
Out of man's kinship with nature, his identity of constitution with it, she argues to his magical powers:
"As God creates, so man can create. Given a certain intensity of will, and the shapes created by the mind become subjective. Hallucinations they are called, although to their creator they are real as any visible object is to any one else. Given a more intense and intelligent concentration of this will, and the forms become concrete, visible, objective; the man has learned the secret of secrets; he is a Magician."27
She makes it clear that this power is built on the conscious control of the substrate of the material universe. She states that the key to all magic is the formula: "Every insignificant atom is moved by spirit." Magic is thus conditioned upon the postulation of an omnipresent vital ether, electro-spiritual in composition, to which man has an affinity by virtue of his being identical in essence with it. Over it he can learn to exercise a voluntary control by the exploitation of his own psycho-dynamic faculties. If he can lay his hand on the elemental substance of the universe, if he can radiate from his ganglionic batteries currents of force equivalent to gamma rays, of course he can step into the cosmic scene with something of a magician's powers. That such an ether exists she states in a hundred places. She calls it the elementary substance, the Astral Light, the Alkahest, the
26 Ibid., Vol. I, p. 243.
27 Ibid., Vol. I, p. 62.
Akasha. It is the universal principle of all life, the vehicle or battery of cosmic energy. She says Newton knew of it and called it "the soul of the world," the "divine sensorium." It is the Book of Life; the memory of God,---since it never gives up an impression. Human memory is but a looking into pictures on this ether. Clairvoyants and psychometers but draw upon its resources through synchronous vibrations.
"According to the Kabalistic doctrine the future exits in the astral light in embryo as the present existed in embryo in the past . . . and our memories are but the glimpses that we catch of the reflections of this past in the currents of the astral light, as the psychometer catches them from the astral emanations of the object held by him."28
Madame Blavatsky goes so far as to link the control of these properties with the tiny pulsations of the magnetic currents emanating from our brains, under the impelling power of will. Thus she attempts to unite magic with the most subtle conceptions of our own advanced physics and chemistry. She thus weds the most arrant of superstitions with the most respected of sciences.
The magnetic nature of gravitation is set forth in more than one passage. She wrote:
"The ethereal spiritual fire, the soul and the spirit of the all-pervading mysterious ether; the despair and puzzle of the materialists, who will some day find out that that which causes the numberless forces to manifest themselves in eternal correlation is but a divine electricity, or rather galvanism, and that the sun is one of the myriad magnets disseminated through space. . . . There is no gravitation in the Newtonian sense, but only magnetic attraction and repulsion; and it is only by their magnetism that the planets of
28 Ibid., Vol. I, p. 184. Theosophists appear to be in the habit of using the terms Akasha and Astral Light more or less synonymously. In the Glossary Madame Blavatsky defines Akasha (Akasa, Akaz) as "the subtle supersensuous spiritual essence which pervades all spaces; the primordial substance erroneously identified with Ether. But it is to Ether what Spirit is to Matter, or Atma to Kamarupa. It is in fact the Universal Space in which lies inherent the eternal Ideation of the Universe in its ever-changing aspects on the plane of matter and objectivity. This power is the . . . same anima mundi on the higher plane as the astral light is on the lower."
the solar system have their motions regulated in their respective orbits by the still more powerful magnetism of the sun; not by their weight or gravitation. . . . The passage of light through this (cosmic ether) must produce enormous friction. Friction generates electricity and it is this electricity and its correlative magnetism which forms those tremendous forces of nature. . . . It is not at all to the sun that we are indebted for light and heat; light is a creation sui generis, which springs into existence at the instant when the deity willed." She "laughs at the current theory of the incandescence of the sun and its gaseous substance. . . . The sun, planets, stars and nebulae are all magnets. . . . There is but One Magnet in the universe and from it proceeds the magnetization of everything existing."29
It is this same universal ether and its inherent magnetic dynamism that sets the field for astrology, as a cosmic science. Of this she says that astrology is a science as infallible as astronomy itself, provided its interpreters are as infallible as the mathematicians. She carries the law of the instantaneous interrelation of everything in the cosmos to such an extent that, quoting Eliphas Levi, "even so small a thing as the birth of one child upon our insignificant planet has its effect upon the universe, as the whole universe has its reflective influence upon him." The bodies of the entire universe are bound together by attractions which hold them in equilibrium, and these magnetic influences are the bases of astrology.
With so much cosmic power at his behest, man has done wonders; and we are asked to accept the truth of an amazing series of the most phenomenal occurrences ever seriously given forth. They range over so varied a field that any attempt at classification is impossible. Of physical phenomena she says that the ancients could make marble statues sweat, and even speak and leap! They had gold lamps which burned in tombs continuously for seven hundred to one thousand years without refueling! One hundred and seventy-three authorities are said to have testified to the existence of such lamps. Even "Aladdin's magical lamp
29 Isis Unveiled, Vol. I, p . 271 ff.
has also certain claims to reality." There was an asbestos oil whose properties, when it was rubbed on the skin, made the body impervious to the action of fire. Witnesses are quoted as stating that they observed natives in Africa who permitted themselves to be fired at point blank with a revolver, having first precipitated around them an impervious layer of astral or akashic substance. Cardinal de Rohan's testimony is adduced to the effect that he had seen Cagliostro make gold and diamonds. The power of the evil eye is enlarged upon and instances recounted of persons hypnotizing, "charming," or even killing birds and animals with a look. She avers that she herself had seen Eastern Adepts turn water into blood. Observers are quoted who reported a rope-climbing feat in China and Batavia, in which the human climbers disappeared overhead, their members fell in portions on the ground, and shortly thereafter reunited to form the original living bodies! Stories are narrated of fakirs disemboweling and re-embowling themselves. She herself saw whirling dancers at Petrovsk in 1865, who cut themselves in frenzy and evoked by the magical powers of blood the spirits of the dead, with whom they then danced. Twice she was nearly bitten by poisonous snakes, but was saved by a word of control from a Shaman or conjurer. The close affinity between man and nature is illustrated by the statement that in one case a tree died following the death of its human twin. Speaking of magical trees, she several times tells of the great tree Kumboum, of Tibet, over whose leaves and bark nature had imprinted ten thousand spiritual maxims. The magical significance of birthmarks is brought out, with remarkable instances. She dwells at length on the inability of medical men to tell definitely whether the human body is dead or not, and cites a dozen gruesome tales of reawakening in the grave. This takes her into vampirism, which she establishes on the basis of numerous cases taken mostly from Russian folklore. It is stated that the Hindu pantheon claimed 330,000,000 types of spirits. Moses was familiar with electricity; the Egyptians had a high order of music and chess over five
thousand years ago; and anaesthesia was known to the ancients. Perpetual motion, the Elixer of Life, the Fountain of Youth and the Philosopher's Stone are declared to be real. She adduces in every case a formidable show of testimony other than her own. And back of it all is her persistent assertion that purity of life and thought is a requisite for high magical performance.
"A man free from worldly incentives and sensuality may cure in such a way the most 'incurable' diseases, and his vision may become clear and prophetic."30
"The magic power is never possessed by those addicted to vicious indulgences."31
Phenomena come, she feels, rather easily; spiritual life is harder won and worthier.
"With expectancy, supplemented by faith, one can cure himself of almost any morbific condition. The tomb of a saint; a holy relic; a talisman; a bit of paper or a garment that has been handled by a supposed healer; a nostrum, a penance; a ceremonial; a laying on of hands; or a few words impressively pronounced---will do. It is a question of temperament, imagination, self-cure."32
"While phenomena of a physical nature may have their value as a means of arousing the interest of materialists, and confirming, if not wholly, at least inferentially, our belief in the survival of our souls, it is questionable whether, under their present aspect, the modern phenomena are not doing more harm than good."33
Theosophists themselves often quarrel with Isis because it seems to overstress bizarre phenomena. They should see that Volume I of the book aims to show the traces of magic in ancient science, in order to offset the Spiritualist claims to new discoveries, and to attract attention to the more philosophic ideas underlying classic magic. Volume II labors to reveal the presence of a vast occultism behind the religions and theologies of the world. Again the contention is that
30 Ibid., Vol. I, p. 210.
31 Ibid., Vol. I, p. 218.
32 Ibid., Vol. I, p. 216.
33 Ibid., Vol. I, p. 218.
the ancient priests knew more than the modern expositor, that they kept more concealed than the present-day theologian has revealed. Modern theology has lost its savor of early truth and power, as modern technology no longer possesses the "lost arts." Paganism was to be vindicated as against ecclesiastical orthodoxies.
She believed that her instruction under the Lamas or Adepts in Tibet had given her this key, and that therefore the whole vast territory of ancient religion lay unfruitful for modern understanding until she should come forward and put the key to the lock. The "key" makes her in a sense the exponent and depository of "the essential veracities of all the religions and philosophies that are or ever were."
"Myth was the favorite and universal method of teaching in archaic times."34
We can not be oblivious of the use made by Plato of myths in his theoretical constructions.
"Fairy tales do not exclusively belong to nurseries; all mankind---except those few who in all ages have comprehended their hidden meaning, and tried to open the eyes of the superstitious---have listened to such tales in one shape or other, and, after transforming them into sacred symbols, called the product Religion."35
"There are a few myths in any religious system but have an historical as well as a scientific foundation. Myths, as Pococke ably expresses it, 'are now found to be fables just in proportion as we misunderstand them; truths, in proportion as they were once understood.'"36
The esotericism of the teachings of Christ and the Buddha is manifest to anyone who can reason, she declares. Neither can be supposed to have given out all that a divine being would know.
"It is a poor compliment paid the Supreme, this forcing upon him four gospels, in which, contradictory as they often are, there is not a single narrative, sentence or peculiar expression, whose
34 Ibid., Vol. II, p. 493.
35 Ibid., Vol. II, p. 406.
36 Ibid., Vol. II, p. 431.
parallel may not be found in some older doctrine of philosophy. Surely the Almighty---were it but to spare future generations their present perplexity---might have brought down with Him, at His first and only incarnation on earth, something original---something that would trace a distinct line of demarcation between Himself and the score or so of incarnate Pagan gods, who had been born of virgins, had all been saviors, and were either killed or were otherwise sacrificed for humanity."37
She says that not she but the Christian Fathers and their successors in the church have put their divine Son of God in the position of a poor religious plagiarist!
Ancient secret wisdom was seldom written down at all; it was taught orally, and imparted as a priceless tradition by one set of students to their qualified successors. Those receiving it regarded themselves as its custodians and they accepted their stewardship conscientiously.
To understand the reason for esotericism in science and religion in earlier times, Madame Blavatsky urges us to recall that freedom of speech invited persecution.
"The Rosicrucian, Hermetic and Theosophical Western writers, producing their books in epochs of religious ignorance and cruel bigotry, wrote, so to say, with the headman's axe suspended over their necks, or the executioner's fagots laid under their chairs, and hid their divine knowledge under quaint symbols and misleading metaphors."38
To give lesser people what they could not appropriate, to stir complacent conservatism with that threat of disturbing old established habitudes which higher knowledge always brings, was unsafe in a world still actuated by codes of arbitrary physical power. High knowledge had to be esoteric until the progress of general enlightenment brought the masses to a point where the worst that could happen to the originator of revolutionary ideas would be the reputation of an idiot, instead of the doom of a Bruno or a Joan. Madame Blavatsky was willing to be regarded as an idiot, but
37 Ibid., Vol. II, p. 337.
38 Quoted in Old Diary Leaves, Vol. I, p. 106.
her Masters could not send her forth until autos-da-fe had gone out of vogue.
We have seen in an earlier chapter that the Mystery Religions of the Eastern Mediterranean world harbored an esotericism that presumably influenced the formulation of later systems, notably Judaism and Christianity. In recent decades more attention has been given to the claims of these old secret societies. St. Paul's affiliation with them is claimed by Theosophists, and his obvious indebtedness to them is acknowledged by some students of early Christianity. It is impossible for Madame Blavatsky to understand the Church's indifference to its origins, and she arrays startling columns of evidence to show that this neglect may be fatal. The Mystery Schools, she proclaims, were not shallow cults, but the guardians of a deep lore already venerable.
"The Mysteries are as old as the world, and one well versed in the esoteric mythologies of various nations, can trace them back to the days of the Ante-Vedic period in India."39
She does not soften her animosity against those influences and agencies that she charges with culpability for smothering out the Gnosis. The culprit in the case is Christianity.
"For over fifteen centuries, thanks to the blindly-brutal persecution of those great vandals of early Christian history, Constantine and Justinian, ancient wisdom slowly degenerated until it gradually sank into the deepest mire of monkish superstition and ignorance. The Pythagorean 'knowledge of things that are'; the profound erudition of the Gnostics; the world- and time-honored teachings of the great philosophers; all were rejected as doctrines of Antichrist and Paganism and committed to the flames. With the last seven Wise Men of the Orient, the remnant group of Neo-Platonists, Hermias, Priscianus, Diogenes, Eulalius, Damaskius, Simplicius and Isodorus, who fled from the fanatical persecutions of Justinian to Persia, the reign of wisdom closed. The books of Thoth . . . containing within their sacred pages the spiritual and physical history of the creation and progress of our world, were left to mould in oblivion and contempt for ages. They found no interpreters in Christian Europe; the Philalethians, or wise
39 Isis Unveiled, Vol. II, p. 98.
'lovers of truth' were no more; they were replaced by the light-fleers, the tonsured and hooded monks of Papal Rome, who dread truth, in whatever shape and from whatever quarter it appears, if it but clashes in the least with their dogmas."40
She speaks of the
"Jesuitical and crafty spirit which prompted the Christian Church of the late third century to combat the expiring Neo-Platonic and Eclectic Schools. The Church was afraid of the Aristotelian dialectic and wished to conceal the true meaning of the word daemon, Rasit, asdt (emanations); for if the truth of the emanations were rightly understood, the whole structure of the new religion would have crumbled along with the Mysteries."41
This motive is stressed again when she says that the Fathers had borrowed so much from Paganism that they had to obliterate the traces of their appropriations or be recognized by all as merely Neo-Platonists! She is keen to point out the value of the riches thus thrown away or blindly overlooked, and to show how Christianity has been placed at the mercy of hostile disrupting forces because of its want of a true Gnosis. She avers that atheists and materialists now gnaw at the heart of Christianity because it is helpless, lacking the esoteric knowledge of the spiritual constitution of the universe, to combat or placate them. Gnosticism taught man that he could attain the fulness of the stature of his innate divinity; Christianity substituted a weakling's reliance upon a higher power. Had Christianity held onto the Gnosis and Kabbalism, it would not have had to graft itself onto Judaism and thus tie itself down to many of the developments of a merely tribal religion. Had it not accepted the Jehovah of Moses, she says, it would not have been forced to look upon the Gnostic ideas as heresies, and the world would now have had a religion richly based on pure Platonic philosophy and "surely something would then have been gained." Rome itself, Christianized, paid a heavy penalty for spurning the wisdom of old:
40 Ibid., Vol. II, p. 32.
41 Ibid., Vol. II, p. 34.
"In burning the works of the theurgists; in proscribing those who affected their study; in affixing the stigma of demonolatry to magic in general; Rome has left her exoteric worship and Bible to be helplessly riddled by every free-thinker, her sexual emblems to be identified with coarseness, and her priests to unwittingly turn magicians and sorcerers in their exorcisms. Thus retribution, by the exquisite adjustment of divine law, is made to overtake this scheme of cruelty, injustice and bigotry, through her own suicidal acts."42
Yet Christianity drew heavily from paganism. It erected almost no novel formulations. Christian canonical books are hardly more than plagiarisms of older literatures, she affirms, compiled, deleted, revised, and twisted. She believed that the first chapters of Genesis were based on the "Chaldean" Kabbala and an old Brahmanical book of prophecies (really later than Genesis). The doctrine of the Trinity as purely Platonic, she says. It was Irenaeus who identified Jesus with the "mask of the Logos or Second Person of the Trinity." The doctrine of the Atonement came from the Gnostics. The Eucharist was common before Christ's time. Some Neo-Platonist, not John, is alleged to have written the Fourth Gospel. The Sermon on the Mount is an echo of the essential principles of monastic Buddhism.
Jesus is torn away from allegiance to the Jewish system and stands neither as its product nor its Messiah. Wresting him away from Judaism, and likewise from the emanational Trinity, both of which rôles were thrust upon him gratuitously by the Christian Fathers, she declares him to have been a Nazarene, i.e., a member of the mystic cult of Essenes of Nazars, which perpetuated Oriental systems of the Gnosis on the shores of the Jordan.
"One Nazarene sect is known to have existed some 150 years B.C. and to have lived on the banks of the Jordan, and on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea, according to Pliny and Josephus. But in King's 'Gnostics' we find quoted another statement by Josephus from verse 13 which says that the Essenes had been established on the shores of the Dead Sea 'for thousands of ages' before Pliny's time."43
42 Ibid., Vol. II, p. 121
43 Ibid., Vol. II, p. 139.
Jesus, one of this cult, had become adept in the occult philosophies of Egypt and Israel, and endeavored to make of the two a synthesis, drawing at times on more ancient knowledge from the old Hindu doctrines. He was simply a devout occultist and taught among the people what they could receive of the esoteric knowledge, reserving his deeper teachings for his fellows in the Essene monasteries. He had learned in the East and in Egypt the high science of theurgy, casting out of demons, and control of nature's finer forces, and he used these powers upon occasion. He posed as no Messiah or Incarnation of the Logos, but preached the message of the anointing (Christos) of the human spirit by its baptismal union with the higher principles of our divine nature.44
In short, Madame Blavatsky leaves to Christianity little but the very precarious distinction of having "copied all its rites, dogmas and ceremonies from paganism" save two that can be claimed as original inventions---the doctrine of eternal damnation (with the fiction of the Devil) "and the one custom, that of the anathema."
"The Bible of the Christian Church is the latest receptacle of this scheme of disfigured allegories which have been erected into an edifice of superstition, such as never entered into the conceptions of those from whom the Church obtained her knowledge. The abstract fictions of antiquity, which for ages had filled the popular fancy with but flickering shadows and uncertain images, have in Christianity assumed the shapes of real personages and become historical facts. Allegory metamorphosed, becomes sacred history, and Pagan myth is taught to the people as a revealed narrative of God's intercourse with His chosen people."45
The final proposition which Isis labors to establish is that the one source of all the wisdom of the past is India. Pythag-
44 A wealth of curious citations is drawn up behind these positions. The whole Passion Week story is stated to be the reproduction of the drama of initiation into the Mysteries, and not to have taken place in historical fact. And practically every other chapter of Christ's life story is paralleled in the lives of the twenty or more "World Saviors," including Thoth, Orpheus, Vyasa, Buddha, Krishna, Dionysus, Osiris, Zoroaster, Zagreus, Apollonius, and others.
45 Isis Unveiled, Vol. II, p. 406.
oreanism, she says, is identical with Buddhistic teachings. "The laws of Manu are the doctrines of Plato, Philo, Zoroaster, Pythagoras and the Kabala." She quotes Jacolliot, the French writer:
"This philosophy, the traces of which we find among the Magians, the Chaldeans, the Egyptians, the Hebrew Kabalists, and the Christians, is none other than that of the Hindu Brahmans, the sectarians of the pitris, or the spirits of the invisible worlds which surround us."46
She, with the key in her hand, sees the solution of the problem of comparative religion as an easy one.
"While we see the few translators of the Kabala, the Nazarene Codex and other abstruse works, hopelessly floundering amid the interminable pantheon of names, unable to agree as to a system in which to classify them, for the one hypothesis contradicts and overturns the other, we can but wonder at all this trouble, which could be so easily overcome. But even now, when the translation and even the perusal of the ancient Sanskrit has become so easy as a point of comparison, they would never think it possible that every philosophy---whether Semitic, Hamitic or Turanian, as they call it, has its key in the Hindu sacred works. Still, facts are there and facts are not easily destroyed."47
"What has been contemptuously termed Paganism was ancient Wisdom replete with Deity. . . . Pre-Vedic Brahmanism and Buddhism are the double source from which all religions spring; Nirvana is the ocean to which all tend."48
She says there are many parallelisms between references to Buddha and to Christ. Many points of identity also exist between Lamaico-Buddhistic and Roman Catholic ceremonies. The idea here hinted at is the underlying thesis of the whole Theosophic position. Successive members of the great Oriental Brotherhood have been incarnated at intervals in the history of mankind, each giving out portions of the one central doctrine, which therefore must have a common base. The puzzling identities found in the study of
46 Ibid., Vol. II, p. 38.
47 Ibid., Vol. II, p. 227.
48 Ibid., Vol. II, p. 639.
Comparative Religion thus find an explanation in the identity of their authorship.
Mrs. Annie Besant later elaborated this view in the early pages of her work, Esoteric Christianity. She contrasts it with the commonly accepted explanation of religious origins of the academicians of our day. Summing up this position she writes:
"The Comparative Mythologists contend that the common origin is a common ignorance, and that the loftiest religious doctrines are simply refined expressions of the crude and barbarous guesses of savages, of primitive men, regarding themselves and their surroundings. Animism, fetishism, nature-worship---these are the constituents of the primitive mud out of which has grown the splendid lily of religion. A Krishna, a Buddha, a Lao-Tze, a Jesus, are the highly civilized, but lineal descendants of the whirling medicine-men of the savage. God is a composite photograph of the innumerable gods who are the personifications of the forces of nature. It is all summed up in the phrase: Religions are branches from a common trunk---human ignorance.
"The Comparative Religionists consider, on the other hand, that all religions originated from the teachings of Divine Men, who gave out to the different nations, from time to time, such parts of the verities of religion as the people are capable of receiving, teaching ever the same morality, inculcating the use of similar means, employing the same significant symbols. The savage religions---animism and the rest---are degenerations, the results of decadence, distorted and dwarfed descendants of true religious beliefs. Sun-worship and pure forms of nature worship were, in their day, noble religions, highly allegorical, but full of profound truth and knowledge. The great Teachers . . . form an enduring Brotherhood of men, who have risen beyond humanity, who appear at certain periods to enlighten the world, and who are the spiritual guardians of the human race. This view may be summed up in the phrase: Religions are branches from a common trunk---Divine Wisdom."49
This is the view of religions which Madame Blavatsky presented in Isis. Religions, it would say, never rise; they only degenerate. Theosophic writers 50 are at pains to point
49 Dr. Annie Besant: Esoteric Christianity, p. 8.
50 E.g., cf. C. W. Leadbeater: The Christian Creed.
out that once a pure high religious impulse is given by a Master-Teacher, it tends before long to gather about it the incrustations of the human materializing tendency, under which the spiritual truths are obscured and finally lost amid the crudities of literalism. Then after the world has blundered on through a period of darkness the time grows ripe for a new revelation, and another member of the Spiritual Fraternity comes into terrestrial life. Madame Blavatsky says:
"The very corner-stone of their (Brahmans' and Buddhists') religious systems is periodical incarnations of the Deity. Whenever humanity is about merging into materialism and moral degradation, a Supreme Being incarnates himself in his creature selected for the purpose, . . . Christna saying to Arjuna (in the Bhagavad Gita): 'As often as virtue declines in the world, I make myself manifest to save it.'"51
Madame Blavatsky stated that she was in contact with several of these supermen, who sent her forth as their messenger to impart, in new form, the old knowledge.
51 Isis Unveiled, Vol. II, p. 535.
[End of Chapter V.]
The Mahatmas and Their Letters by Alvin Boyd Kuhn
The Secret Doctrine by Alvin Boyd Kuhn