Published by Blavatsky Study Center. Online Edition copyright 2004.

Theosophy and Spiritualism.

by Wm. Emmette Coleman.

[Reprinted from The Religio-Philosophical Journal
(Chicago, Illinois), August 6, 1881, p. 2.]

In Colonel H. S. Olcott’s address in Simla, India, not long since, upon Spiritualism and Theosophy (1), he tells us why he ceased in 1874 to call himself a Spiritualist and took the name of Theosophist.  It was because, he says, he had seen Mad. Blavatsky produce at will and in full daylight the most wonderful facts of mediumship.  Here follows a list of the wonderful things thus witnessed by him: “I have seen showers of roses made to fall in a room; letters from people in far countries to drop from space into my lap; heard sweet music coming from afar upon the air, grow louder and louder until it was in the room, and then die away again out in the still atmosphere until it was no more.  I have seen writing made to appear upon paper and slates laid upon the floor, drawings upon the ceilings beyond any one’s reach, pictures upon paper without the employment of pencil or color; articles duplicated before my very eyes; a living person instantly disappear before my sight; jet black hair cut from a fair haired person’s head; had absent friends and distant scenes shown me in a crystal; and in America, more than a hundred times, upon opening letters upon various subjects coming to me by the common post from my correspondents in all parts of the world, have found inside, written in their own familiar hand, messages to me from men in India who possess the theosophical knowledge of natural law.  Nay, upon one occasion I even saw summoned before me as perfectly ‘materialized’ a figure as any that ever stalked out of William Eddy’s cabinet of marvels.”  All this, he tells us, was done by the “trained human will.”

Analyzing these so-called marvels, we find them naturally separating into two classes; those due to jugglery, a little skillful prestidigitation; and those due to the psychological power of Mad. Blavatsky upon the Colonel’s mentality.  So far as the supposed magic music is concerned, I have knowledge that Mad. B. had a music box concealed in her house in New York, the music of which she palmed off on her dupes and visitors as magic music.  The effect of its gradual approach and dying away could easily be produced by having the box carried gradually from a distant room to the neighborhood of the one where the listeners were, and then as gradually carried away again.

I have also knowledge that drawings and paintings previously purchased or prepared by Mad. B. were on different occasions imposed on visitants and friends as instantaneous productions of her magic power; I have knowledge that she at times hoodwinked Col. Olcott, and that, at other times, the two united to hoodwink others.  Mad. B. had painting materials in her house all the time, and is a proficient in painting.  As a specimen of her impositions on the Colonel, I will state that, on the wall of his room in her house (be it remembered that Col. Olcott lived with her for a long time before they went to India together, while his wife resided in another house in the same city), --- on the walls was painted an inscription, said by Mad. B. to have been done magically; and his private room changed one day to another apartment in her house, during his absence Mad. B. erased the inscription in the first room and repainted it in room No. 2, telling him, on his return, the erasure and painting were accomplished by magic.  It may be well to state that I am in possession of many other facts in the inner life of this soi disant magician, including her career in Paris prior to her arrival in America; her connection with the demi monde there, and her proficiency in the use of argot or French slang, with which her conversation in that tongue is ever so plentifully interlarded; her marriage in Philadelphia before she met Col. Olcott, her separation from her husband, and the great dread manifested for fear he should present himself at her New York residence; her mysterious receipt of money at intervals, presumed by some to come from Jesuitic sources.  (In this connection it may be noted that Miss Emily Kislingbury, secretary of the British National Association of Spiritualists, very shortly after her return to England from an American visit, during which she was a protégé of Mad. Blavatsky, after recommending Col. Olcott as a fitting leader of American Spiritualism, wound up by joining the Roman Catholic Church, while Dr. C. Carter Blake, one of the most prominent English Theosophists, who also claims to possess magic power, is likewise a Catholic); her violent profanity, intemperance, cigar-smoking, and other coarse masculine habits, etc., etc.

The following named phenomena claimed to have been seen by Col. Olcott were, most likely, juggling tricks of the Madam’s:  Falling of roses; dropping of letters in his lap; the music; writing on paper, slates, etc.; pictures without pencil; black hair cut from fair haired persons; letters from India found in letters of ordinary correspondents (in this case, probably, the Colonel’s letters were opened by the Madam, the Hindoo letters slipped in and then resealed); and the “materialized” spirit.  Mad. B. is well known to possess considerable psychological power, especially over Col. Olcott; and the remainder of the magic feats seen by him were probably non-objective in character, had no existence in reality, but were impressed upon his mind just as the mesmerist causes his subject to behold, as seemingly partial realities, whatever he wills him to see.

We thus see that the two qualities possessed by Mad. B., clever jugglery and strong psychological power, are sufficient to account for all the seeming marvels falsely attributed to magical control of the sub-human elementals and elementaries none of which have any existence save in the imaginations of those unwise enough to believe in them.  And for this Col. Olcott renounced Spiritualism, and now asserts that none of the spiritual phenomena are produced by the spirits of the dead, --- all being due to the exercise of “trained will power” of the adept, assisted by the elementaries.

Materialization he explains as being caused thus: The soul of the living medium, unconsciously to his physical self, oozes out, and by its elastic and protean nature takes on the appearance of any deceased person whose image it sees in a visitor’s memory.  The medium’s body being entranced, and his active vitality transferred to his inner self, or “double,” that double can make itself appear under the guise of a dead lady or gentleman, and catch and comment upon the familiar incidents it finds in the relative magnetic atmosphere.  With all due respect to the Colonel I feel compelled to dissent from this extreme position, until I see more convincing proof of its truth.  I have no doubt those cases of “materialization” where a second form the exact image of the medium is seen apart from the medium, are produced by the “double” of the medium; but even then I am of opinion that outside spirits aid in the manifestation of the medium’s “double,” assisting it in the production of the phenomena.  In cases, however, where the forms seen are unlike the medium’s, of different sex, color or nationality, or variant in other respects, I think the “double” has no part in the phenomena.  The “double” must be the counterpart of the person to whom it pertains.  Is it reasonable to suppose that a female form or the form of a child, can be the “double” of a fully grown man?  In cases where two or more “spirits” of different sexes, ages, sizes, nationalities, etc., manifest themselves at once through one medium, as I have seen in genuine materializations witnessed by me, is it not absurd to suppose that the “double” of a man could divide itself up into three or four fully formed persons, with a distinct individuality in each, and all different in appearance and mental traits from the medium?  Again, where the medium is not entranced, but even engages in conversation with the materialized forms as I have seen in genuine materializations, the theory of the “double” is ruled out.  Attention is invited to the significant fact that a few years ago, Col. Olcott asserted that the materializations were produced by elementary, non-human spirits, who impersonate the spirits of the dead; now we are told that it is not elementaries but the spirit of the medium himself who impersonates the spirits of the dead.  This is a characteristic sample of the continual changes in theory which the Occultists have been making ever since the rise of this nineteenth century superstition.  After we were first told that non-human spirits, sylphs, gnomes, undines, and salamanders, produced the manifestations, in a year or two we were told that a mistake had been made; it was not the non-human elementals, but the spirits of former human spirits, --- spirits of men and women who by an impure life had lost their immortality --- who simulated materialization.  Now we have a third hypothesis, the medium’s double.  The next, a fourth theory of Col. Olcott’s, will probably be the truth one, --- partly the double, and partly disembodied spirits.  A gradual advance towards the truth may be seen in each theory:  First, spirits who never had been human, but would in time attain to the prerogative of human immortality; secondly, spirits formerly human, who had lost their immortality; thirdly, spirits of the mediums.  Or, first, non-human; second quasi-human; third, strictly human, in the body.  The fourth will perhaps be, human spirits, out of the body.  Even Theosophists make progress towards the truth.  There is still hope for them.

There is a foundation of truth in the vagaries of Theosophy.  Spirits in the body do perform some of the phenomena attributed to the spirits disembodied.  If the Theosophists would drop their absurdities about elementaries and elementals and go to work to demonstrate the action of the occult forces of the human spirit on earth, they would be doing valuable work --- work much needed.  But as it is the little truth they have is so encumbered with nonsense and charlatanry that their influence upon the world is more injurious than beneficial.  Occultism and Theosophy rightly directed would be eminently servicable to Spiritualism and the world.  Let us hope that in time its services may be thus utilized.

Presidio of San Francisco, Cal.


(1)  See "Spiritualism and Theosophy," by Henry S. Olcott, The Theosophist (Bombay, India), Volume II, November 1880, pp. 36-41 and December 1880, pp. 49-52.---BA Editor.