Published by Blavatsky Study Center. Online Edition copyright 2004.

Madame Blavatsky

by The Rev. Professor [George] Patterson, M.A.

[Reprinted from The British Weekly (London),
May 14, 1891, p. 40]

In Madame Blavatsky, whose death from influenza was announced last Saturday, one of the most remarkable women of the present century has passed away. For the last forty years - ever since she attained the age of twenty- her life has been one long string of adventures, not always very creditable perhaps, but always exciting. In the various accounts that have been published of her earlier career, issued for the most part under her own sanction, it is impossible to separate fact from fiction. But from 1875, when she established the Theosophical Society, her life has been a public one, and it is as President-Foundress of that Society that she will be, for a time at least, remembered. This Society was founded at first in America, but seems to have made little headway there, and it was not until Madame Blavatsky and her co-president, Colonel Olcott, arrived in India in 1879 that they can be said to have achieved anything like success. Amid the general dislocation of thought in India, consequent upon the loosening of old faiths, Theosophy found a congenial sphere. Its teaching was skilfully adapted to conciliate Hindu prejudices, and to assuage the wounds which the philosophic and religious pride of the East was daily receiving at the hands of Western teaching. Theosophy had practically no creed. It was its boast that made no demands upon the faith of its votaries. All it required was a sincere desire on the part of every initiate to acquire the "secret knowledge" of occult forces - a knowledge which had once been a common inheritance, but from which the minds of men had long ago been turned by worldliness and sensuality. This occult science was represented as still possessed by certain Hermits of Thibet - the Mahatmas - who through its virtue had lived to fabulous ages, and were able to set at naught the ordinary laws of matter. Madame Blavatsky claimed to have visited these Thibetan sages, and to be the adopted disciple of one of them, Koot Hoomi Lal Singh, under whose inspiration and guidance she had commenced her work of reformation, and who now stood by her in her difficulties, authenticating her teaching by the timely exhibition of marvellous "phenomena." It is to these phenomena, and to the openly expressed antagonism of Theosophy to Christianity, that the rapid spread of the new cult in India is to be ascribed, and not to any system of positive doctrine. It is, indeed, impossible for the closest student to bring anything like system or order out of the chaos of ‘Isis Unveiled," Madame Blavatsky’s first great work. Few, probably, have had patience to read that work through; but it may be described as an attempt to graft whatever is marvellous in modern Spiritualism and magic upon the wilder dreams of early Gnosticism. But, in truth, no theosophist we have ever known - and we have known and conversed with many - has even professed to understand the mysteries of the "secret doctrine." His faith and devotion were begotten and sustained by phenomena, and not by the "sweet reasonableness of the truth." This is true, not only of the more credulous Hindoos, but even of those of whom we might have expected better things. It is impossible to read Mr. Sinnett’s works without recognising that his adherence was won and his loyalty maintained by a constant exhibition of childish wonders. We say childish wonders advisedly, for nothing could exceed the frivolity and inherent littleness of the miracles of Koot Hoomi. Broken saucers were mysteriously repaired, signet rings were doubled, lost brooches were recovered, cigarettes were transported to strange places by an "astral" way, and epistles from the "Master" fluttering down through a crevice in the ceiling - "materialised in the air," as Mr. Sinnett puts it - fell upon the heads of those who were wavering in the faith.

To the sober historian it may seem strange that such infantile methods of propagandism should succeed. But succeed they did, and by 1884 the Theosophical Society numbered its adherents in India by tens of thousands. Then came the end, and it came as all reasonable men expected it would come. It was impossible for Madame Blavatsky to maintain a constant succession of phenomena without an accomplice from whom she should have no secrets. Colonel Olcott was not this accomplice, but a certain Madame Coulomb. From the outset Colonel Olcott seems to have been as honestly deluded as any one of Madame Blavatsky’s admirers, but Madame Coulomb and her husband were behind the scenes, and arranged after their own skilful fashion both for the delivery of the Mahatma’s letters and the occult repair of crockery. Madame Blavatsky was naturally, therefore, in Madame Coulomb’s power, and when, in an evil moment the Managing Committee of the Society expelled Madame Coulomb from its ranks, that lady retaliated by giving to the world a vast mass of Madame Blavatsky’s correspondence. The story of the exposure I hope to relate briefly next week. Madame Blavatsky’s own words explained the mysteries upon which her followers had fed, and did away with the fable of her residence in Thibet. This was the end of Blavatskyism if not of Theosophy in India. Discredited in the East, Madame Blavatsky had to seek fresh fields and pastures new. She settled in London in 1887, and for the last four years has been engaged in compiling her ‘Secret Doctrine,’ editing Lucifer the Lightbringer, and using her strange powers of personal fascination to commend to a small group of devotees the claims of "esoteric Buddhism."