Published by The Blavatsky Archives Online. Online Edition copyright 2000.
Return to Table of Contents of
Preface to the Online Edition
of the First S.P.R. Report on Madame Blavatsky
By Leslie Price
The report which is here made available was private and confidential to SPR members, and in our time has never been read except by a handful of psychical researchers and historians of Theosophy. Copies were on the shelf in the SPR library, London and in one or two other archives, but students generally overlooked it. Its republication is therefore a signal service.
Would the SPR have condemned Madame Blavatsky if Hodgson had never gone to India? On page 25, his appointment is announced. Read the evidence and see what you think. My view is that they would, on the basis of the Kiddle incident (p.22) about which this site has already published much documentation, and that Mr Massey's doubts would have carried great weight. They would also have been moved against the phenomena by the claims of the Coulombs (p.25).
Readers should also note the prominence of Myers, who signed the special note on Theosophical theory (p.29) and perhaps by implication was the author of this report as a whole. The loss of Myers' belief (he had become a Fellow of the Society) was critical for the investigation. If you would like to know more about him read the classic book by Dr Alan Gauld "The Founders of Psychical Research".
The detail of the interviews [see appendices I and II) is important for those who want to compare the evidence here with that in the final report of the SPR committee (commonly called the Hodgson report, though his views were only part of it.), and is particularly relevant for the question of whether the Mahatmas were real people. Through the questions and answers here recorded we are witnesses by proxy as the investigation got under way in summer 1884.
And yet the evidence is not complete. Walter Carrithers discovered that testimony to an inexplicable bell sound had been omitted. The decision to cut it at proof stage is outlined in the Stack Memorandum, published as an appendix to my booklet "Madame Blavatsky Unveiled?" in 1986. (a booklet still available from "Theosophical History" web site.). It was a very important moment --- censorship of a phenomenon heard by psychical researchers in a report to their own members!
In retrospect, we can see that the issue of this preliminary report was a mistake. Various points annoyed Madame Blavatsky and may have made more tense Hodgson's reception in India.
It is part, however, of a general failure by the infant SPR to investigate effectively. But it was to be the issue of the final report, with in my view premature conclusions, which set the seal on a tragic rush to judgment. Dr Vernon Harrison finally made the deficiencies of this clear to the world in 1986.
[BAO editorial Note:
For more information on the historical events surrounding this case, see
H. P. Blavatsky and The Society for Psychical Research by Grace F. Knoche.
For detailed analysis of the "Hodgson Report" (i.e. the final or second S.P.R. Report on Madame Blavatsky), see:
Obituary: The "Hodgson Report" on Madame Blavatsky, 1885-1960; Re-examination Discredits the Major Charges Against H. P. Blavatsky by Walter A. Carrithers, Jr.
H. P. Blavatsky and the SPR: An Examination of the Hodgson Report of 1885 by Dr. Vernon Harrison.]