Published by Blavatsky Study Center. Online Edition copyright 2004.

Is "Theosophy At Bay"?

By H.P. Blavatsky

[Reprinted from The Agnostic Journal 
(London), February 14, 1891, pp. 101-102.
This article is not included in HPB's Collected Writings and 
apparently has never been reprinted in the last 109 years. --- BAO Editor.]

In the issue of the Agnostic Journal for February 7th there are several passages referring to Madame Blavatsky.  Will the editor permit the humble individual of that name to answer one only of the charges, as all the others are really not worth noticing?

“Theosophy at Bay” is the presumptive and very confident title of Mr. McIlwraith’s logogriph.  I have not read his pamphlet --- the subject of Mr. Iastrzebski’s attack --- nor do I remember even its title, though it was sent to me.  I never read our opponents’ effusions.  Were our members to follow this policy, there would be less useless wrangling, less ridiculous blunders made by our critics, and hence no need to rectify them.  However, it is a strange Karma that the obscure opponents of Theosophy should be made to gain an inglorious notoriety by attacking it.  Yet so it is; and the fact is an interesting one for the philosopher to study.  But --- pas trop n’en faut.  Why should we Theosophists help them to advertise their names, which otherwise would remain forever unknown to posterity?  Moreover, none of the disputants will ever convince the other; and, as it is impossible to place before the public the teachings of the Eastern esoteric school in their harmonious fulness --- “The Secret Doctrine” having given out but a few fragmentary outlines of some of the fundamental doctrines of that school --- our evil-wishers will be ever finding something to carp at. (1)

Such a literary battle over the shadows of things, the real substance of which is known only to those who study seriously the Occult philosophy, does seem, at best, unprofitable.  Nor are our enemies over-scrupulous in mangling and misrepresenting even very plain and clear passages in order to gain a point.  The following is a glaring instance.  Mr. McIlwraith, after taking his opponent to task for saying that esotericism “is never afraid of figures,” and myself for stating that “the figures belonging to the Occult calculation cannot be given,” etc. (“Secret Doctrine,” vol. I., p. 170), makes a praiseworthy attempt to show in this a contradiction.  Then he proceeds to cast insults at Messrs. Sinnett, Iastrzebski, and myself, not to mention the great Masters of Occultism, by asking:  “Is the esoteric knowledge of Mr. Iastrzebski the result of a different experience from that of Madame Blavatsky and Mr. Sinnett, or do the Masters think they have carried their thimble-rigging trick (2) as far as it is advisable; and that it is now time their dupes were finding the pea; hence an accusing conscience has induced them to disgorge the huge mass of figures we find in vol. ii., pp. 68-70, of ‘The Secret Doctrine’”?

This once, the “thimble-rigging trick” belongs by legal right to Mr. McIlwraith.  We proceed to render unto Caesar the thing which is Caesar’s --- namely, the “pea” concealed by him --- alas, very clumsily!  The reader is asked to turn to “The Secret Doctrine” (pp. 68, 70), and see and judge for himself.  Preceding “the huge mass of figures” found therein is an explanation that the said figures are all exoteric.  They are copied from a public Tamil Calendar; they are in all the Puranas; and every Orientalist has quoted them over and over again, the merest tyro in the study of Hindoo religion knowing them to come from the laws of Manu.  The only thing said by me to connect them in any way with esotericism is that these figures are “almost identical with those taught in esoteric philosophy” (p. 67).  Finally, “the huge mass of figures,” which Mr. McIlwraith would make the reader believe were esoteric and pre-eminently occult, are directly followed by the following remark on page 70: “These are the exoteric figures accepted throughout India, and they dove-tail pretty nearly with those of the secret works.”  Pretty nearly is not entirely.  The displacement, addition, or subtraction of one single cipher or figure from them would hardly be remarked, and yet would throw the whole “huge mass” into a blind.  Moreover, throughout the two volumes of “The Secret Doctrine” there will not be found one set of esoteric computations.  Which, then, of us is the “thimble-rigger” in this case?  Methinks echo responds --- Mr. McIlwraith, our would-be critic.

I will not touch upon other points, but will conclude with a few words about “Atlantis.”  Our pre-eminently scientific adversary does not believe that Atlantis has ever existed except in the imagination of the “Lydian (?) priests” who told it to Solon. (3)  He quotes from Professor Jowett’s “Introduction to Timaeus,” in proof of Plato’s ignorance of physical science, confusion of thought, etc.  Well, Dr. Jowett is a great Greek scholar, let us say one of the first in England; but this does not make of him an authority on ancient history or geography.  I, for one, have “the sublime audacity” of setting Dr. Jowett’s claim of knowing Plato’s inner thought, and his authority on the spirit of Platonic and other philosophies, at naught.  He denies the presence of any element of Oriental or Gnostic mysticism in Plato, and conveniently forgets that Plato was an Initiate, bound by the Sodalian oath, who could not speak otherwise than in blinds.  Plato admits it himself by remarking: “You say that.........I have not sufficiently explained to you the nature of the FirstI purposely spoke enigmatically that, in case the tablet should have happened with any accident, either by land or sea, a person, without some previous knowledge of the subject, might not be able to understand its contents” (Plato, ep. ii., p. 312; Cory, “Ancient Fragments”).  Plato had a veneration for the Mysteries; and, as Dr. Jowett takes the latter fact in no consideration, I declare that, though he may have “devoted half a lifetime to get a thorough grasp of Plato’s writings,” he has, nevertheless, ingloriously failed in his attempt; and this settles the question for the Theosophist.  There are other Greek scholars as great as the Master of Baliol College who thought and still think otherwise, and believe in Atlantis.  Bailly, the most learned astronomer and encyclopaedist of the last century, wrote a large work on Atlantis.  Voltaire believed in it.  Matter, the great authority on Gnosticism, (4) a Royal Academician and a learned Platonist into the bargain, gives views entirely opposed to those of Dr. Jowett.  Donnelly gives a long list of scientific men who believe in this “myth.”  Nor does the experience of the last decade of the present century warrant further any too dogmatic denial of things hitherto held as myths.  Hardly fifteen years ago Troy and the legends of pre-historic Hellas, along with Homer and his “Iliad,” were also regarded as myths.  Scholars as great as Dr. Jowett, and greater even than Mr. McIlwraith --- e.g., Grote, Niebuhr, and others --- have determined, as Professor Sayce has it, that “‘the tale of Troy divine,’ like that of the beleaguerment of Kadmeian Thebes, was but a form of the immemorial story, which told how the battlements of the sky were stormed day after day by the bright powers of Heaven.” (5) This amounted to saying that Troy was a solar myth, Priam and Hector, Agamemnon and Menelaus, and the tutti quanti of the famous Epos, were all solar heroes and sun gods, agreeably with the modern solar craze.  Never was Atlantis more denied than the truths of the “Iliad.”  And yet hear what is now said of this “craze” and “myth” in the work cited: “The problem from which the scholars of Europe had turned away in despair has been solved by the skill, the energy, and the perseverance of Dr. Schliemann.  At Troy, at Mykenae, and at Orkhomenos, he has recovered a past which had already become but a shadowy memory in the age of Peisistratos.  We can measure the civilisation and knowledge of the peoples who inhabited those old cities, can handle the implements they used and the weapons they carried....... The heroes of the Iliad and Odyssey have become to us men of flesh and blood.  We can watch both them, and older heroes still.......It is little wonder if so marvellous a recovery of a past, in which we had ceased to believe, should have awakened many controversies, and wrought a silent revolution in our conceptions of Greek history.  It is little wonder if, at first, the discoverer who had so rudely shocked the settled prejudices of the historian should have met with a storm of indignant opposition or covert attack.  But......we can never return to the ideas of ten years ago.” (6)

And if Troy from a myth has now become a reality, why not Atlantis?  Already the Challenger has discovered the site of a submerged land; and, ten years hence, something more may be brought to view --- even the ruins of a submarine city, if not the bones of the giant Atlanteans.

A confession from the same pen fits exactly with what we Theosophists might answer to any “covert” or open attack on our figures: “The natural tendency of the student of to-day is to post-date rather than to ante-date, and to bring everything down to the latest period that is possible.  The same reluctance that the scientific world felt in admitting the antiquity of man, when first asserted by Boucher de Perthes, has been felt by modern scholars in admitting the antiquity of civilisation.” (7)

Had our “scientifically” inclined critic, Mr. McIlwraith, lived in the days of the pious persecutors of Harvey, he would, no doubt, have jumped along with the others at the throat of the audacious physician who dared to proclaim the heresy of the circulation of the blood.

Evidently, Mr. Iastrzebski’s opponent has much to study and read --- for one thing, the history of the interminable blunders of science --- before he can hope to hold “Theosophy at Bay.”



(1)  See second page of my editorial, “The Babel of Modern Thought,” in the forthcoming February number of Lucifer, concerning “The Secret Doctrine.”  [HPB]

(2)  The author of this gratuitous impertinence, who, no doubt, ranks himself with the eminent scientists of the day he defends and quotes so often, would do well to apply the term of “thimble-rigging trick” to some Darwinists, and that of “dupes” to the English, along with the rest of the European public.  Let him open Haeckel’s “Pedigree of Man” (Aveling’s translation, p. 77), and meditate on the fraud of the “eighteenth stage.”  Almost ten years ago Quatrefages exposed the dishonesty of Haeckel and his supporters, by proving, on pages 108-10 of his “Human Species,” that, while there were no such creatures as “Prosimiae with placenta” in this world, Haeckel’s Sozura was “equally unknown to science,” and that, as a result, these two fanciful animals could not be made to supply the missing gaps in the genealogy of man through the animal stages.  This has in no wise prevented the scientists --- the staunch supporters of the “animalistic theory” --- from ignoring Quatrefages’ protest; and we find the mythical Sozura and “Prosimiae with placenta” as flourishing as ever in the last edition of Dr. Aveling’s translation.  This is “thimble rigging” with facts and science, indeed.  See Lucifer, vol. I., pp. 73, 74, September, 1887, article “Literary Jottings,” for the full account; and this is not an isolated case by any means!  [HPB]

(3)  A “Lydian” priest at Sais, in Egypt, is as curious as a Prosimia with placenta. [HPB]

(4)  Author of the “Histoire Critique du Gnosticisme,” a work crowned by the Academy.  [HPB]  (8)

(5)  Preface to Dr. Schliemann’s “Troja,” “Results of the Latest Researches and Discoveries on the Site of Homer’s Troy,” p. I.  [HPB]

(6)  “Troja,” by Schliemann; Preface by Professor Sayce; p. vii., et seq.  The italics are mine.  [HPB]

(7)  Ibid, p. vi.  [HPB]

(8) [H.P.B. is referring to Jacques Matter (1791-1864) who wrote
Histoire critique du gnosticisme, et de son influence sur les sectes religieuses et philosophiques des six premiers siècles de lère chrétienne. 2. éd.  Strasbourg, V.E. Levrault; Paris, P. Bertrand, 1843-44. 3 volumes in 1.---BAO Editor.]