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

Madame Blavatsky as a Spiritualist

[by James Burns]

[Reprinted from The Medium and Daybreak (London), March 15, 1889, p. 165.]

Last week (1) we promised to give some particulars as to Madame Blavatsky’s connection with Spiritualism, which her biographer has unaccountably overlooked.  The matter is of little importance in itself, but taken in connection with the career of psychological experiences claimed by her in advance of the date to which we allude, it has a very modifying influence.  It will be remembered that previous to 1870, she had made “romantic journeyings” over a large part of the world, in quest of psychological knowledge.  She had passed through a serious illness, in which she gained the mastery over “psycho-physical weakness,” giving her a commanding power over “stray spooks.”  The reader is thus led to infer that she had gained a high standard of spiritual powers and experiences, from which she could look down with lofty contempt on the methods and acquirements of Spiritualists.

But what are the facts?  We quote below a paragraph which appeared in Human Nature for April, 1872, which shows that Madame Blavatsky was then on a plane identical with our own as regards Spiritualism.  At that time we were anxious to find out all mediums, that we might publish their acquirements and addresses, and thereby make them “more useful to the Cause.”  Madame Blavatsky was evidently of the same way of thinking and acting --- an investigating Spiritualist, pure and simple.  As far as we can remember, her letter was accompanied by a printed circular, stating the objects of the society she was then attempting to promote.  Her communication would be received by us early in 1872.  The paragraph compiled from her letter and circular is as follows: -

CAIRO, EGYPT. --- A society of Spiritualists has recently been founded in this city by a Russian lady, from whom we have received a very kind and encouraging letter.  In a country of ignorance and superstition, she is meeting with much difficulty and opposition, and it is not an easy matter to maintain an association in such a state of society.  She expresses herself as greatly in want of mediums to demonstrate the existence of spiritual beings, and says that any physical medium, such as Messrs. Herne and Williams, would meet with a cordial reception.  She would give such a medium board and lodging in her own house, free from all expense, as long as he might choose.  This lady’s address is: --- Madame Blawatsky, Societe Spirite, Rue d’Abdin, Cairo, Egypt.  A postscript contains the following: --- “I should like to subscribe for your valuable publication, the MEDIUM.  Please let me know what the price of subscription will be.  If you should chance to see Mr. D. Home, medium, please tell him that a friend of his late wife “Sacha” --- a St. Petersburg friend of past years --- sends him her best compliments, and wishes him prosperity.” --- Human Nature, April, 1872, page 190.

Herne and Williams were then making great sensation by their powerful physical manifestations, and these seemed to Madame Blavatsky to be the ideal means whereby to remove the “Egyptian darkness” amidst which she then had taken up her abode.  We find in her letter no claim to, or indication of, superior experience, power or knowledge of psychological subjects.  Her enthusiasm and her methods were purely Spiritualistic, and were evidently recognised by us as such.  The only connection with the past that she indicated was her acquaintance with the famous medium, Mr. D. D. Home, or at least with his first wife; and if she was not personally acquainted with his remarkable manifestations, she undoubtedly had heard much of them.  The suggestion is therefore unavoidable that Madame Blavatsky’s relationship with the Unseen was much more through Mr. Home’s St. Petersburg work than any other source.

But that Madame Blavatsky is a powerful medium there can be no doubt.  Her consciousness of an unseen presence attending her from her early years is just what many Spiritualists can testify to.  Sometimes these guardians become visible to our mediums, and perform acts similar to those claimed for the “Mahatmas” --- a name without a meaning.  That these guides are men living in physical bodies in any part of the world, Spiritualists know to be false.  Madame makes an extraordinary claim for a very ordinary circumstance --- a claim which is not in accord with the requirements of the case.

As to her power to produce remarkable phenomena, there seems to be much exaggeration and misunderstanding.  It is made to appear that she can cause physical manifestations at will; and when challenged to do so, she has some excuse or other which independent minds deem highly unsatisfactory.  No doubt the will of the medium enters largely into the means whereby the phenomena are produced.  It is not so much that the medium’s will causes the manifestations, as that it is allowed to become passive, and therefore no longer acting as an obstacle to the operation of the spirits.

Still, her cases of manifestations at will have been eclipsed many times over by the experiences of Spiritualists.  In this connection the mediumship of Mrs. Guppy may be adduced.  We have been present when everybody in a large circle has had the fruits, flowers, or fish they wished for; and one gentleman asked for a craw-fish, which came into the circle, a delicate crustacean, requiring careful handling.  It is possible that at one seance we have seen as many manifestations of this sort as Madame has had recorded, due to her power, during the whole course of her experience.

Then much stress is laid on her control of spirits.  This is no novelty in Spiritualism.  Certain mediumistic people have unlimited power to influence the result of a sitting.  This we have observed many times, and even exercised it, not to cause the spirits to perform, but to control their conduct, transforming a boisterous manifestation of terrific power into one of gentleness and condescension.  And we have also some experience in asking spirits to produce manifestations.  At Mrs. Guppy’s one evening when Albert Prince of Solms and many titled people were present, the writer asked the spirits to bring Mrs. Guppy into the circle.  She was sitting between two ladies in the corner of the room outside of a circle held in the dark.  No sooner was the request made then the ladies felt Mrs. Guppy taken away from between them, and soon her cheery voice was heard from various parts of the room, near the ceiling, and her feet were felt passing over the sitters.  Then she was placed gently on the lap of the present writer, taken away and again placed there, and then she and Mrs. Hardy were both floated in the centre of the circle.

Now as to the “philosophy” of this willing or asking the spirits to do certain things as in the case just named, and in those peculiar to Madame Blavatsky.  It is an error to suppose that the wish or request of the one who speaks is the cause of the manifestation.  The present writer is certain that he was “impressed” to make the request:  the idea popped into his head, and without thinking of the impropriety of making such a request, the words slipped out of his mouth, and “no sooner said than done.”  The true conclusion of the matter is, that the spirits had previously intended to produce the manifestation of floating Mrs. Guppy, and all the arrangements happened in accordance with that end, and under “test conditions,” the request of the writer being a part of the pre-arrangement.  In like manner Madame Blavatsky’s “spirits” use her to work their wonders, influencing her to act or request in accordance with their pre-arrangements enabling them to comply with the same.  Madame Blavatsky in claiming so much in this respect, not only manifests ignorance of the modus operandi, but by misrepresenting the true philosophy of mediumship, acts as a barrier to the progress of psychological science.

We could say much more, but will return to this subject again.  Madame is to be excused for her lack of knowledge, for her intimate acquaintance with mediumship and the spirit circle is necessarily small.  She has not had the opportunities which have fallen to our share to gain experience, and study a science, the most difficult of acquirement that can be placed before the mind of man.

Madame and her clique erred in making her mediumship a personal peculiarity, seeking thereby to aggrandise the idol of their set.  The means used were most untheosophical and unscientific, and the painful result has been defeat!


(1)  In the "Notes and Comments" section of the March 8, 1889 issue (p. 152) of The Medium and Daybreak, the following paragraph reads:

MADAME BLAVATSKY, as a Medium, is an interesting study for Spiritualists, who will be better able to understand her than her own friends, and even herself.  A person like her, the subject of moods and influences, is no authority on such a matter.  Next week we shall give some information as to her work in Egypt as a Spiritualist twenty years ago, as we are the party to whom Mr. Oxley alludes as her correspondent at that time.  We could go through every point in her peculiar career, and parallel them all in other mediums.  The “Theosophical Society” was a “Yankee dodge,” and to make it go down it had to be well spiced with special pretentions.  A great number of highty-flighty people, ignorant of Spiritual Science, were caught by it.  Madame Blavatsky and Col. Olcott are both extremely ignorant of necessary knowledge which is in the possession of many of our readers, hence those Spiritualists in accord with our teachings, have never been “had” by the “Theosophical” pretentions, which have been “trimmed” from time to time to catch the market.  Strange to say “Theosophy” is the one thing which the society so-called has carefully avoided.  “Spiritualism” includes all phases of the Unseen Universe, both as to origin and results.  It deals with the finite manifestation of Spirit phenomenally, and with the Infinite theosophically.  It therefore includes all that the so-called “Occultists” and “Theosophists” profess to deal with, and much more.  The “Mahatmas” are simply “spirit guides,” and their work has been far out-distanced by what has been done in Spiritualism.