Published by The Blavatsky Archives Online.  Online Edition copyright 2000.


The Himalayan Brothers.

By W. H. Harrison.

[Reprinted from The Medium and Daybreak (London), October 5, 1883, p. 628-629.]

In the course of the year 1875, statements began to spread in public that certain phenomena, much like Modern Spiritualism, occurred in the presence of a Russian lady, Madame Blavatsky, but under different conditions.  It was claimed in fact that she controlled the phenomena herself.  Some years later it was claimed, and had previously been surmised by Colonel Olcott, that some of the phenomena in her presence were produced by certain highly spiritualised men living in seclusion from the world in inaccessible regions in the Himalayan Mountains, which men have since become popularly known as the Himalayan Brothers.

Those who had given laborious study for years to the medial phenomena in the endeavour to discover their source, necessarily found it within their province to examine these new claims.  Much about Madame Blavatsky and her powers was printed in Mr. Sinnett’s book The Occult World, and after a most careful and painstaking study of that book I could come to no other conclusion than that Madame Blavatsky was but a strong physical medium, that she could not control the manifestations, that Mr. Sinnett’s conclusions were mostly errors due to antecedent absence of knowledge and experience of mediums and psychical phenomena, and that he as a novice believed and printed straight off what the communicating intelligences said about themselves.  The hard problem, as it has been found in England, of spirit identity presented no difficulties to him.  On one page he narrates how raps spelt out words he uttered, and cited this as evidence they were produced by Madame Blavatsky’s will; here, in London, he may obtain the same phenomena in Mrs. Jencken’s presence, and nothing is more certain than that they are not produced by her normal will.  It was said that Madame Blavatsky had the phenomena under control, yet she was once in Mr. Sinnett’s house for some days, and able scarcely to produce any results at all, though they were much wanted.

All along I have held that the powers about Madame Blavatsky are but the usual “John” and “Katie Kings,” whoever they may be, and that she and her friends believe what these unseen intelligences assert as to their identity.  I did not know at previous times of writing that when she was in America one of her regular attendant sprites then actually gave his name as “John King.”  Now that Koot Hoomi is on the scene, has the humbler John King of former days disappeared?  Has the principle of resurrection believed in by the Australian savage obtained, namely, “Tumble down black man, tumble up white man.”  If so, the case is on a parallel with one which occurred in England with a medium, in which a long-known attendant spirit went away ostensibly to be replaced by another, but some of the oldest observers believed the alleged change to be all nonsense, and that variation had taken place only in the name given.

Colonel Olcott in Part I. of his book People from the Other World, printed in Hartford, Conn., in 1875, narrates how on October 14th, 1874, “Madame de Blavatsky” first attended the seances of the Eddy Brothers, at Chittenden, Vermont.  He said: “This lady --- Madame Helene P. de Blavatsky --- has led a very eventful life, travelling in most of the lands of the Orient, searching for antiquities at the base of the Pyramids, witnessing the mysteries of Hindoo temples, and pushing with an armed escort far into the interior of Africa.”  On pages 301-304, he then describes manifestations through Horatio Eddy’s mediumship, several of which I believe he gives evidence enough to show were in reality produced through Madame Blavatsky’s mediumship, for judging from his book, Colonel Olcott does not appear to have known at those earlier seances that she was a medium.  Mr. Peebles was present at these first seances.

Subsequently, Colonel Olcott met Madame de Blavatsky again at Philadelphia, on January 4th, 1875, and he says of her in Part II. of his book, page 453: ---

“I gradually discovered that this lady, whose brilliant accomplishments and eminent virtues of character, no less than her exalted social position, entitle her to the highest respect, is one of the most remarkable mediums in the world.  At the same time her mediumship is totally different from that of any other person I ever met; for, instead of being controlled by spirits to do their will, it is she who seems to control them to do her bidding.  Whatever may be the secret by which this power has been attained, I cannot say, but that she possesses it I have had too many proofs to permit me to doubt the fact.”  He then goes on to speak of Eastern mysteries, and adds: --- “Whether Madame de B. has been admitted behind the veil or not can only be surmised, for she is very reticent on the subject, but her startling gifts seem impossible of explanation on any other hypothesis.  She wears upon her bosom the jewelled emblem of an Eastern Brotherhood, and is probably the only representative in this country of this fraternity.”

Thus he himself seems to have originated the hypothesis that she had been admitted behind some mystic veil; she on the other hand, at that time was “very reticent” on the point.  Having surmised this new source of manifestations, Colonel Olcott moots the idea that all other mediums are subject to the same power, in which latter idea he agrees with my main argument in this article.  He says (p. 453) --- “I am almost tempted to believe that the stories of Eastern fables are but simple narratives of fact; and that this very American outbreak of spiritualistic phenomena is under the control of an Order, which while depending for its results upon unseen agents, has its existence upon earth among men.”

Anyone who knows how quickly the intelligences about physical mediums adopt ideas and even names for themselves suggested by the sitters, can see what the result would be if similar ideas about a mystic Brotherhood were frequently broached by sitters in the presence of any physical medium.

Colonel Olcott then narrates how Madame de Blavatsky’s “John King” communicated with him by raps, and Madame de Blavatsky told the Colonel that she had first met “John King” fourteen years previously.  “John King” objected to Colonel Olcott’s tests.  Colonel Olcott then describes at length some seances with Madame Blavatsky at which her “John King” was the chief producer of the manifestations; he did direct writing under a table, and all that sort of thing.

Criticisms expressing disbelief in the Himalayan Brothers have been ascribed to malice.  I cannot see why unfounded stigmas of this kind should be flung at those who cannot accept in faith most of the assertions made by the powers controlling physical mediums as to their personal identity.  The question of spirit identity is the most difficult one in Spiritualism, especially to those best acquainted with the subject.  When individuals have become moons revolving around the spiritually irradiated tongues of physical mediums and receiving in faith intellectual light, heat, and knowledge of supposed facts from those sources, woe be to critical individuals who disturb the candlesticks on the altar of their belief, as abundantly proved by the history of Spiritualism.  Every physical medium has his two or three satellites, who are as well known to the public as the medium himself.  The fairest plan is to advocate the cause of all physical mediums alike, and it is quite as safe.  In London some physical mediums believe in the asserted identity of their spirits, others do not, but they do not get out of temper or take personal offence at a discussion of the problem.  Neither does Madame Blavatsky; so far as I know she has taken my critical examination of the question with the utmost good temper, and there is no question why anyone should suppress his opinion if he cannot find a scrap of good evidence that Madame Blavatsky is anything but a physical medium acquainted with Buddhist theology, and possessing powers closely resembling those of Mrs. Guppy Volckman, with such variations as might be expected from difference of personality.

Some time ago, Mr. William Oxley came into communication with Koot Hoomi.  A manifesto then appeared in the Theosophist, that it was not the real Koot Hoomi.  All this has had its parallel in England, where the mediums A. have so often cautioned their friends against the spurious and deceiving spirits of the mediums B, those spirits having assumed the names of the high and holy intelligences ever present with the mediums A aforesaid.

A known trick of some of the lower intelligences acting upon physical mediums, is to give through genuine manifestations some writings of sublunary mortals as their own.  A case once attracted the attention of the London Secular newspapers in which an other-world revelation had simply been stolen nearly verbatim from the writings of Mr. Wingrove Cook.  Once an unprofessional medium living in Kilburn came to me in great perplexity, because in the trance he had given a paragraph as a spiritual revelation, which had been printed a few days before in a newspaper he had never read.  More recently most of a pamphlet published by Mr. Spiers, of Bloomsbury Street, London, was given through an innocent private medium as a revelation from the angel world.  Koot Hoomi seems to have tried his hand at giving such communications to mortals, for Mr. Henry Kiddle has published that Koot Hoomi gave to Mr. Sinnett some remarks of his (Mr. Kiddle’s), which had previously been published in The Banner of Light.  A short specimen only from the case laid before the public in parallel columns, by Mr. Middle will suffice: ---

Extract from Mr. Kiddle’s discourse, entitled “The Present Outlook of Spiritualism,” delivered at Lake Pleasant Camp Meeting on Sunday, August 15th, 1880.

My friends, ideas rule the world; and as men’s minds receive new ideas, laying aside the old and effete, the world advances.  Society rests upon them; might revolutions spring from them; institutions crumble before their onward march.  It is just as impossible to resist their influx, when the time comes, as to stay the progress of the tide.

Extract from Koot Hoomi’s letter to Mr. Sinnett, in the “Occult World,” 3rd Edition, p. 102.  The first edition was published in June, 1881.

Ideas rule the world; and as men’s minds receive new ideas, laying aside the old and effete, the world will advance, mighty revolutions will spring from them, creeds and even powers will crumble before their onward march, crushed by their irresistible force.  It will be just as impossible to resist their influence when the time comes as to stay the progress of the tide.

One answer to this by Mr. Sinnett has been that as the Himalayan Brothers move in a mysterious way, perhaps this plagiarism was written to test the faith of their followers.  This theory I tried for a long time some eight or ten years ago in relation to dubious acts through physical mediums, and was obliged to abandon it.  There was sometimes the intention to heartlessly deceive all the best friends of the mediums, the moral blindness appearing to be total.

In Mr. Sinnett’s last book, full of the revelations of the Himalayan Brothers, nearly all is given in his own words, and very little between quotation marks.  There is thus little likelihood of another Kiddle case uprising, but original documents from a higher sphere do not receive the respect one would desire.  What would have been thought of Moses had he kept the text of the ten commandments to himself, and only furnished the public with a glowing version of their contents in his own words?

Some of the things recorded as occurring in the presence of Madame Blavatsky, have apparently been testified to by persons who were seeing mediums, but who did not also state that fact.  I have often met witnesses who described astounding things, expecting me to print them.  The question had frequently to be put: “Did the other persons present see this?” drawing forth a reluctant “No” from the witness, and the admission that he was a seeing medium.  The necessity of sifting the visions of sensitives from the actual facts often occurred.

Colonel Olcott, the President-in-Chief of the Theosophical Society, appears to be a seeing medium, and a physical medium too, but not very powerful in the latter capacity.  The head with living snakes for hair he once saw was scarcely an objective reality, and once when he saw a Himalayan brother two well known Anglo-Indian Theosophists also present were unable to see the distinguished visitor.  But a direct communication on paper was received from the Brotherhood at the same sitting, at which the two observers present were not mediums, so I expect this letter came through Colonel Olcott’s mediumship.  The best evidence I have found on the point is that given on page 466 of People from the Other World, wherein Colonel Olcott in describing a seance with American physical mediums says: --- “I handed John my signet-ring and asked him to hold it for a moment so that I might hereafter have it as a souvenir of the evening’s parley.  One of the ladies handed him her ring also for the same purpose.  He soon returned the second ring, but said he should keep mine, which I must say I did not fancy, as it was an expensive intaglio, and I was not in the mood of making presents to detached heads and hands.”  Then on page 469, Colonel Olcott adds: --- “A fresh surprise was in store for me that night, for when I was about retiring I turned down the pillow to put my watch beneath it, and there lay my ring uninjured.  It’s weight is 7 1/2 pennyweights, and the distance it had been transported was, perhaps, three-quarters of a mile.”  Had Colonel Olcott not been a physical medium himself, his ring could scarcely have been carried three-quarters of a mile to him.

I do not think he is a strong physical medium, or the fact would have oozed out before now.  Another circumstance strengthening this opinion is, that he has been leading a very abstemious life, subsisting for some months, at all events, in India, on vegetable food alone.  Trance mediums in England have, in some cases, been strict vegetarians, but such cannot be said of any powerful physical medium belonging to the white race, so far as I know.  This leads up to another point, and to a question I have more than once put publicly and cannot get answered.  Theosophists who wish to come into communication with the Himalayan Brothers, and to enter their fraternity, are told they must live the life of severe ascetics, abstaining from wine, spirits, meat, and tobacco, that they must purify their thoughts, and so on, but after many years of such life, it is not guaranteed they will obtain their desire.  How, then, is it that Madame Blavatsky, who is not an ascetic, has been successful where those who carry out the instructions she does not follow, may fail?

I have never met a strong physical medium who was an ascetic, indeed, the reverse of that characteristic prevails with them, and asceticism would probable reduce their mediumship to zero instead of strengthening their powers.

Another point bears upon this criticism.  Madame Blavatsky is inaccurate sometimes, as one of her friends, an Anglo-Indian Theosophist several times mentions, in the best theosophical pamphlet I have ever seen, dealing with the existence of the alleged “Brothers.”  These Brothers the author seems to wish to see quietly dropped out of theosophy altogether.  Madame Blavatsky published in Isis Unveiled that in the remote recesses of the Toda country, the Todas had magnificent temples, or adjuncts to temples.  It so happens that the Toda country has been well explored from end to end, and men who know it well published some years ago in The Spiritualist, in which there was much correspondence on the point, that no such grand temples exist.  “The dirty Todas, I know them well,” is a phrase once used to me by one who has been there.  Some of the places of worship used by the Todas can be crawled into on the hands and knees.  Portions of the Himalayahs, however, have not been well explored, so that the same kind of knowledge cannot be brought to bear on the alleged mysterious beings concealed amid their heights.  Now that Madame Blavatsky is in India, she might conveniently take a party of theosophical believers in the Himalayan Brothers to see the magnificent buildings she described in Isis Unveiled as existing in the Toda district.

The argument has been raised that there is no credulity in supposing that the abnormal purification of the individual, is likely to abnormally increase his spiritual powers.  Yes, but it is against all experience that steps in that direction increase the power of producing physical phenomena; such steps would decrease it and probably extinguish it altogether unless it had first gained very strong hold.  Again, the attributes of the Himalayan Brothers, though not very high ones, are not those of the “controls” of the stronger physical mediums.  The alleged Brothers are secluded persons seeking their own advancement, instead of living the higher life of self-sacrifice in the world for the general good of others.

41, Great Russell Street, London.

NOTE added to BAO reprint:

For a refutation of some of W.H. Harrison's statements, see "A Defence of Madame Blavatsky's Views and Phenomenal Abilities" by Ellen H. Morgan.