Published by Blavatsky Study Center. Online Edition copyright 2004.

Who Wrote the Mahatma Letters? (1)

by Charles J. Ryan

[Reprinted from The Theosophical Forum (Point Loma, California),
October 1936, pp. 253-263.]

To the question on the title-page of this book, Who Wrote the Mahatma Letters? (1), the answer is simply --- the Mahatmas.  As H. P. Blavatsky said, unless she were three adepts rolled into one she could never have produced the teaching of Theosophy; and The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett are no small part of that teaching.  The problem of how those letters were produced or to what amanuenses, chelas or otherwise, they were dictated or handed is entirely secondary to the main fact --- the teachings themselves, which, according to H. P. Blavatsky herself, gain no assurance of certitude by claims of authority, but stand on their own feet.  The Messrs. Hare make an attempt to destroy Theosophy by vilifying the character of its great Exponent.  This has been tried several times already but has always failed; and their rather pitiful and decidedly pedantic effort to “solve a long-standing and important literary problem” by proving H. P. Blavatsky a fraud must also fail, because it is impossible to prove that which does not exist.

The Hare brothers assert that she invented and popularized Theosophy chiefly for the purpose of satisfying her greed for power and admiration, and that the Mahatma Letters were fabricated by her to obtain and preserve a commanding influence among her followers.  They grudgingly but frankly admit that the charge made by Richard Hodgson and the Society for Psychical Research that she was a Russian spy and that her Theosophy was nothing but a camouflage to hide political activities, is false and must be abandoned.  Having thrown this over, the Hares have tried an even more absurd one, and no doubt when their book is forgotten some fresh calumniator, seeking notoriety, will have some other sophistical device to explain away the simple facts.

Singularly enough, however, the astonishing Hares cannot hide a suspicion that H. P. Blavatsky was inspired by something far nobler than the unscrupulous ambition for power, for they write:

She threw her extraordinary abilities with a consuming zeal into the construction of a synthesis of human knowledge in the departments of religion, science and philosophy, and it is probable that she hoped as a consequence of producing an intellectual accord among thinking people to bring about some approach to a universal social order. --- p. 313

This candid admission, however, does not excuse the large number of errors, misconceptions, and perversions in this book, and the authors err, moreover, in referring only to the intellectual aspect.  Spiritual accord, based on the transmutation of desire, on impersonal love, and unselfish conduct, must be the controlling factor in a real universal brotherhood.  This path may be obscure to the mere intellectualist, but it was the ideal to which H. P. Blavatsky sacrificed everything; it was the teaching of her Masters.

As to the ‘personal power’ notion; it is so inadequate an explanation of her career as to be almost ludicrous.  Here was a woman of “extraordinary abilities,” as the authors admit, an original genius, a brilliant conversationalist and musician, and a still more talented writer, already favorably known in literary circles and constantly beset with advantageous pecuniary offers by publishers, throwing away the opportunity of assured power and prominence in Russia apparently to follow a mere will-o’-the-wisp which brought nothing but trouble and undesirable notoriety.  She slaved in poverty, obscurity, exile, and endured cruel slander, so that the message of Theosophy could be given to “the few.”  And all this in the name of “imaginary Mahatmas”!  Furthermore, not only did she reject the splendid offers which would have honorably satisfied any personal desire to shine before the world, but she refused to take the credit for her Theosophical writings!  From the publication of Isis Unveiled in 1877 to the greater works of her last years, she constantly and consistently insisted that all the credit for her teachings was due to the Mahatmas whom she upheld before the world as her Masters and inspirers, saying, “I have here made only a nosegay of culled flowers, and have brought nothing of my own but the string that ties them.”  (The Secret Doctrine, I, xlvi) Was there ever such a strange ‘charlatan’ known to history?

The writers of this book, in their long and elaborate dissection of the spelling, the punctuation, the grammar, the foreign words and quotations, etc., of The Mahatma Letters are beating a dead dog when they try to establish their ‘discovery’ that H. P. Blavatsky’s French mannerisms of thought, etc., etc., are reflected in the Letters, for that has been known and understood by Theosophists for years.  The simple faith that trusts in such analysis reminds us of the celebrated Shakespeare-Bacon-etc. controversy, or of the quarrel among scholars over the existence of Christ and the authorship of the Gospels, and “Q.”  Is it not true that in both cases conclusive ‘internal’ evidence is offered in support of all the conflicting views?  Yet Shakespeare is not dethroned, nor the great Syrian Avatar proved a myth!  Perhaps the next critic will try to prove that H. P. Blavatsky was a Solar Myth or something; that would indeed be a real blow!  Joking apart, ‘internal’ evidence is often nearly as unreliable a weapon as the evidence of handwriting ‘experts’ or alienists in lawsuits.  In regard to the handwriting ‘expert’ who once tried to convict H. P. Blavatsky, Mr. Jinarajadasa completely exposes him in Did H. P. Blavatsky Forge the Mahatma Letters?

Internal evidence, to be of any value, should be handled in such a way that there can be no suspicion of bias.  Even a brief examination of the analysis published by the Messrs. Hare shows that in spite of their claim to impartiality they have not disdained to follow the example of the smart prosecuting attorneys who are determined to get a verdict of guilty at almost any cost.  When we began to analyse the numerous errors of fact, misquotations, omissions of vital words or parts of sentences, appeals to prejudice, and other surprising disfigurements in this book, which happen most conveniently to support the arguments against the authenticity of The Mahatma Letters, we were tempted to throw the volume aside as unworthy of notice.  An entire number of The Theosophical Forum would not be large enough to contain an adequate analysis and exposure of those misdemeanors, which often require the application of the ‘deadly double-column.’  For lack of space we can give only a few illustrations now.  A significant case of inaccuracy occurs on page 268, where seven lines from a Blavatsky letter are quoted.  The letter is found in The Mahatma Letters, p. 465, and is dated “March 17,” no year or address being given.  Messrs. Hare use it in connexion with two other letters of H. P. Blavatsky to support their position, saying that the three letters were unofficial answers to the unfavorable Report written by Hodgson and published by the Society for Psychical Research in December, 1885.  They say the letter containing the seven lines mentioned above is “dated London,” which would support their point if it were true.  It is, however, not dated London and it was not written in 1885 or 1886 after Hodgson’s report was issued, as falsely alleged, but in 1882, three years before, and the quoted lines referred to entirely different anxieties!  It was written in India, and its date is fixed by the mention of a certain event --- the coming end of the first septenary cycle of the Theosophical Society in November, 1882.  What excuse can be offered for such methods?  Can they be merely oversights and carelessness on the part of critics who claim to be close analysts of every comma and capital letter, every ‘but’ and ‘if’ in The Mahatma Letters, and who ask the reader to trust their accuracy (p. 246)?

On page 47, the authors, suggesting that H. P. Blavatsky or the Mahatma K. H., or both, greatly exaggerated her accomplishments, say in regard to the mysterious Book of Khiu-tee (which consists of 36 volumes) “K. H. says that Madame Blavatsky ‘knows it by rote,’ and would translate if requested.”  The correct statement as given in The Mahatma Letters, page 285, is, ‘Read the book of Khiu-tee and you will find in it these laws.  She might translate for you some paras. as she knows them by rote.”  Some paragraphs are not 36 volumes!

The treatment of H. P. B.’s knowledge of English before 1870 is equally disingenuous.  By omitting the words “I could read,” after “forgot it entirely” (Mahatma Letters, 479), and without quoting the next sentence, a wrong conception is given to the reader, upon which a large superstructure is built.  We must pass on to our last illustration, leaving the reader to compare the remarks on pp. 270-1 of the Hares’ book with the original letter by H. P. B., and to observe how ingeniously her hastily written sentence at the bottom of the page has been ‘misunderstood.’

Page 123 of the Hares’ book presents an interesting example of the --- carelessness, shall we say? --- induced by an overwhelming desire to prejudice the uninformed reader against H. P. B.  There are many others, for the rule seems to be to pile up as many charges as possible, however weak, dish them up with sarcasm, and trust to luck that they are not exposed!  In this case the literary knowledge of the Mahatma K. H. is questioned, and the authors tell us that he had libeled Tennyson by falsely quoting six lines of “very poor verse” as if they were the Laureate’s.  Messrs. Hare looked into Tennyson’s Works and could not find the lines.  As it happens the Master’s scholarship was wider than theirs, for the lines are correctly quoted from an early poem of Tennyson’s, “The Mystic.”  The Theosophical University Library contains two different editions of the poet’s works in which it occurs.  The sneering criticism of the Master’s supposed ignorance proves to be a boomerang!

An indefinitely long list of such misstatements could be drawn up.  In criticizing the Mahatmas for using the phrase in adversum flumen the authors lay themselves open to four criticisms: (1) They are unacquainted with its good usage in Latin literature (see Lucretius IV, 423, also Virgil and Caesar): (2) they call it ‘Dog-Latin’: (3) their attempted correction misses the point that in Latin when expressing motion in governs the accusative: (4) that flumene as given by the authors should be flumine, a common error.  We have also noticed various mistakes in French grammar and spelling, in the use of Sanskrit and the Devanagari script, and in English, which cannot be attributed to the proof-reader.

Lack of space compels us to disregard, at least for the present, a large number of other misstatements of fact, erroneous deductions, and blunders arising from different causes, all of which are calculated to prejudice the mind of the reader against H. P. Blavatsky.  To trace these out and expose them demands considerable knowledge of the immense Theosophical literature, much of which is not available to the ordinary reader.  As another example of the misdirected zeal of the authors, the case of the “Disinherited” (not Damodar) when all the references are collected from various sources, is made perfectly clear, and fully supports what H. P. B. said; yet the uninformed reader might easily be convinced to the contrary by the dogmatic assertions in this unreliable volume.  It is deplorable that reviewers in reputable journals have so naively accepted the mass of ex parte statements without making the slightest attempt to verify them.  But, of course, “any stick will do to beat a dog with,” and the difficulty of catching up with a lie and exposing it is proverbial.  Fortunately, H. P. Blavatsky’s great work is increasing and developing rapidly and all the forces of darkness cannot hinder it.

While the authors make much of alleged resemblances in phraseology, etc., between H. P. Blavatsky’s writings and the Mahatma Letters, and draw deductions from minutiae, they have disregarded the more significant and vital factors which nullify those arguments. Compare The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett with The Mahatma Letters as a whole, and only the most prejudiced critic can fail to recognise the vast difference in the mentalities of the writers, in their ways of looking at things, and in the flavor of the writings.  All this stands out boldly in spite of insignificant resemblances in phrasing, choice of certain words, etc.

But there is something still more significant.  The psychology of the two Masters, K. H. and M., as shown by the general style, turn of thought, handling of similar subjects, and individual point of view of their writings shows a striking contrast, as observant critics have noticed.  The idiosyncracies of the amanuensis into whose mind the ideas from a Master are impinging may appear in the final product without destroying the larger distinctions mentioned above, in fact it is undeniable that they have not done so in this connexion.

In the Third Volume of The Theosophist we find an excellent example of the difference in mentality between the two Masters.  A long scientific article by Master K. H., beginning on page 319, throwing light on the nature of electricity, the constituents of the atmosphere, and other subjects, is written in his well-known fluent and persuasive manner.  In the Supplement for March, 1882, in the same volume, on pages 6 and 7, a series of “Answers to Correspondents” is contributed by the Master M., and the contrast between his brusque, incisive mentality and that of K. H. is striking.  Neither article is signed, and the author of the first would never be known to us but for a casual remark by H. P. B. in her Letters to Sinnett (p. 8); nor that of the other if the writer himself had not referred to it in a letter sent through Damodar to Sinnett.  (Mahatma Letters, p. 275).  As the readers of the Theosophist were not informed that these articles were written by the two Masters respectively, why should H. P. B. have taken the trouble to fabricate many pages in the two characteristic styles?  It would be a useless waste of energy.  Again, in regard to the extremely technical article on science, if H. P. B. had published it under her own name it would have redounded immensely to her credit.  Instead of which she simply publishes the nom-de-plume “Another Theosophist,” keeping dark her knowledge that it was written by the Master K. H., presumably at his request.  According to her own admission, she was entirely unable to write such an article, for in regard to similar articles by the Masters she says “I must be deuced clever to have written the ‘Replies’ in the Theosophist.  I do not understand ten lines in that occult and scientific jibberish.”  (The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett, p. 63.)  (2)

This brings up another point which has not even been mentioned by the Hare brothers, probably from ignorance of science, but possibly because it cannot be explained away by the hypothesis that H. P. B. wrote The Mahatma Letters or the other writings attributed to the Mahatmas.  They pretend that her limitations are identical with those of the alleged Mahatmas, who, it seems, never went beyond the boundaries of her knowledge.  If true, that would be a useful argument for the authors, but it happens to be the reverse, and they ought to know it.

It would go too far afield to speak of the immense reach of the philosophy she brought to the West, and the impossibility that her ill-educated brain could have originated such a magnificent scheme of cosmic and human evolution, but we must confine ourselves to the fact that The Mahatma Letters and other productions attributed by her to the inspiration of the Masters supply information that no ordinary person could have acquired at the time of writing.  How did she obtain information regarding the fundamental changes in physical and other sciences that would take place years after her death?  Many were not even suspected in her day, yet they are mentioned in The Mahatma Letters or other teachings attributed to the Masters.  Most of these statements seemed so improbable that they reacted very unfavorably upon her reputation, but time has its revenges, and many are already commonplaces of science.

In regard to the profound knowledge displayed in her works, we feel that it is important to quote the opinion of the distinguished Tibetan Lama, Kazi Dawa-Samdup, Lecturer on Tibetan in the University of Calcutta, etc., and an initiate of the learned Kargyutpa Order.  Dr. W. Y. Evans-Wentz, in his The Tibetan Book of the Dead, writes:

The late Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup was of the opinion that, despite the adverse criticisms directed against H. P. Blavatsky’s works, there is adequate internal evidence in them of their author’s intimate acquaintance with the higher lamaistic teaching, into which she claimed to have been initiated.

We recommend the Hare brothers to compare the Lama’s writings with those of H. P. Blavatsky before making another onslaught on her reputation!

Endless silly disputes may be carried on as to whether H. P. B.’s use of ‘but’ for ‘only,’ or her occasional omission of the auxiliary verb, etc., has any relation to the similar peculiarities in The Mahatma Letters, but it is of real importance to realize that an ‘ignoramus’ like H. P. B., as she called herself, could tell that “between this time [1888] and 1897 there will be a large rent made in the Veil of Nature and materialistic science will receive a death-blow.”  (The Secret Doctrine, I, 612.)  In Dampier-Whetham’s authoritative History of Science, he says that as the new physics which has destroyed the old material concepts dawned with the discovery of the Rontgen or X-rays in 1895, so the year 1897, was marked by the great discovery of ultra-atomic corpuscles, the constituents of the atoms, and the new era had definitely begun (chapter ix).  It has been the pleasant task of the present writer for many years to report to the readers of Theosophical literature the advances of science and discovery on the exact lines indicated by the ‘imaginary’ Mahatmas fifty years ago, including such problems as the condition of the sun, the ductless glands, the heated shell surrounding the earth high above the intense cold of the stratosphere, the electrical constitution of matter, etc., and many archaeological and biological discoveries.  How did the ‘ignoramus’ H. P. Blavatsky, who did not even know what ‘pi’ was, know what would be discovered in these technical matters after her death?  Yet, there they are, in cold print.  No hypothesis except that of the inspiration of Superior Intelligences writing through an amanuensis closely in touch both internally as well as externally, meets the case. [See Ryan's related comments elsewhere about the year 1897, etc.]

Another, and perhaps the strongest epistolatory evidence against the notion that the Mahatmas were invented by H. P. B. is the matter-of-fact and natural appearance of the entire correspondence as revealed in the Blavatsky and the Mahatma Letters.  Not only are philosophical and scientific questions asked and answered, but business matters and troublesome affairs in the Society are freely discussed between H. P. B., Olcott, Sinnett, Hume, various chelas, and the Masters.  Can any one with common sense, unless incorrigibly prejudiced, read the correspondence about the Phoenix project and doubt that it was genuine? especially when we observe that H. P. B. furiously protested against the policy of the Adept and finally had to be prohibited from any further communication with him on the matter, the letters being sent through Damodar or Olcott, because, in K. H.’s words: “Madam B’s discretion is not improving in ratio with her physiological enfeeblement.”

She also violently protested against other policies of the Masters, and it was quite against her will that they were carried out.  Compare her almost insulting remarks about the Maha Chohan and other Masters, on the question of Dr. Anna Kingsford’s presidency of the London Lodge, which she resisted bitterly, but which she was forced by positive orders to accede to, as we see written in The Mahatma Letters.  To imagine all that to be a bluff, artfully designed to deceive Sinnett and Olcott, is to strain credulity to the breaking-point.  Read it and see.

Is it not significant that the shrewd and adroit authors of this wrong-headed book never mention either the Phoenix affair or the furious controversy about Dr. Kingsford?  Either of these is sufficient to demolish their house of cards, and there are other almost equally significant cases, such as the Billings and ‘Ski’ discussion, or the triangular complications between H. P. B., Hume, and Sinnett, and, at times, Olcott, and the Masters.  It is amusing to note that though the Hares mention the curious fact that while H. P. Blavatsky considered the title of Sinnett’s Esoteric Buddhism “very unfortunate” (S.D., I, xvii) and the Master K. H. called it “excellent” (M. Letters, 201), they fail to observe that this striking difference of opinion makes it absurd that she could have written the praise given by the Master!

In regard to Olcott, a strong witness for the actual, physical existence of the Mahatmas, slanderers have pretended that he must have been easily hoodwinked, but in reality he had a remarkable record for his distinguished service to the U. S. government as a Special Commissioner of the War Department for investigating and convicting suspected fraudulent contractors.  His honesty and ability were proverbial.

The authors assert (p. 230) that H. P. Blavatsky had been assisted in her alleged nefarious transactions by a small crowd of accomplices; a “fairly large ‘scriptorium’ existed in conducting the Mahatmic mission”; and that “It is now possible to say, from an examination of the letters, that those which purport to come from the Masters or to be written for them are in ten different hands. . .”  These writers include Damodar, Subba Row, Mohini, and others, well known as being of honorable reputation in the opinion of their associates, some being distinguished in their own walk of life.  Col. Olcott knew them well, and had the greatest confidence in their integrity.  He had every opportunity of discovering fraud if it existed, and not even the bitterest enemy of Theosophy has claimed that he was a man who would connive at any imposture.  Olcott had been for years in close association with H. P. Blavatsky, and many times she had tried his patience so severely, as he feelingly describes, that one in his position who had any suspicion of her bona fides would have broken loose and repudiated her and her Movement.  But in spite of her volcanic temperament and other peculiarities, he knew her too well to doubt her fundamental integrity.

In regard to several of the others named by the Hares as writers of The Mahatma Letters: if they had been accomplices in a tremendous hoax they would have been conspiring against themselves, playing an idiotic game to cheat themselves for no visible object.  They had sacrificed heavily in reputation, position in society, and the regard of friends and relatives, all this and more in order to support H. P. Blavatsky’s unpopular and calumniated activities.  When the learned scholar T. Subba Row finally broke away, it was not because he thought she was inventing her teachings and Teachers, but, on the contrary, because in his opinion, as a chela of the Master M. she was giving out secrets of occultism which should have been kept within an inner circle.  No, indeed, it would be far easier to believe that she alone invented The Mahatma Letters, and the philosophy which has made her so famous, and wrote it with her own pen, than that the “ten different hands” were deliberate conspirators.  If the ten hands (and, presumably, ten minds) fabricated the Mahatma letters on page 230, how is it that they were, as the Hares say, fabricated by H. P. B. on page 165, and, above all, why should they betray her grammatical and other peculiarities?  Why do they not bear the Hindu characteristics of Mohini or Damodar, or the English ones of Miss Travers, etc.?  This particular point deserves much fuller treatment, but we must pass to a special letter on which the authors lay great stress.  It was written to Mrs. Gebhard in 1886, but only portions of it are quoted.

In this letter H. P. Blavatsky is passionately protesting against what she calls the desecration of the ideal of Masters by the appeals of selfish Theosophists to the Masters to interfere in such mundane affairs as business troubles, marriages, and the like.  Most of these appear to have come from Hindus, and H. P. B. made many enemies by resisting their shameless importunities.  In some cases, instead of flatly turning down the appeals, the Masters, in their kindly consideration, would order a chela to take up the matter and “satisfy the addressees to the best of his or her (the Chela’s) ability,” as she says.  She makes it plain in the Gebhard letter that she had what we might call an occult ‘power of attorney’ from the Master to “satisfy” those people by giving the best advice she could in his name, as she knew what he would be likely to say if asked.  We may believe, if we wish, that she committed a real error in judgment, and went too far in her anxiety to oblige, in not telling the “addressees” that the letters were not precipitated or dictated by the Master, though as she writes, “written by His order and in His handwriting,” and in the belief that she was acting agreeably with his intentions.  When the three pages of the Gebhard letter are carefully studied it becomes clear that nothing was further from her mind than misrepresentation or wilful deception, as the Hares try to make out.  It is important to observe that this method of giving advice was only used for the specific purpose mentioned, and had no connexion with Theosophical teachings or the correspondence in The Mahatma LettersIn a footnote to the Gebhard letter, not mentioned by the Hare brothers, H. P. Blavatsky writes, in regard to occasions when, in spite of her best intentions, she realized that she had not understood the Master’s meaning: “Pick up stones, Theosophists, pick them up brothers and kind sisters, and stone me to death with them for trying to make you happy with one word of the Masters!”

It is regrettable that we cannot reprint the three pages here.  To employ the word “fabrication” in its ugliest sense without the uninformed reader’s having the complete case to study as presented in the Gebhard letter is simply “playing to the gallery.”  To imagine that the extracts from the letter are conclusive evidence that H. P. Blavatsky concocted The Mahatma Letters is a proof of the utter incapacity of the Hares to understand the situation, or the complex nature of the great Messenger of the Masters.

A few words from two well-known writers, independent observers who have no axe to grind, may be added in conclusion.  They are quoted from that high-class journal, The Aryan Path, for May 24, 1934: Mr. Geoffrey West writes of H. P. Blavatsky:

Her character was compounded of contradiction.  In some directions profoundly perceptive, in others she seemed almost wilfully blind. . . . She totally lacked ordinary discretion!  Faced by either superior scepticism or open-mouthed gullibility she would “pull the legs” of her audience mercilessly, quite careless of the charges of fraud she might sometime thereby invite.  She defied convention, and laughed at if she did not ignore the gossip she provoked.  Thus she laid herself open at times to the gravest suspicions, and yet, with them all, one turns from a study of her life with the final impression of a fundamentally honest, a deeply serious and sincere personality, possessed of, at once, courage, will, and purpose. . . .  The Mahatma letters become the more, not the less, impressive when we can forget the phenomenal methods of their delivery, and concentrate attention upon their contents. Teaching not phenomena, understanding not worship --- these are the essence and the requirements of Theosophy.

Mr. Victor B. Neuberg, a writer also unconnected with the Theosophical Society, writes:

The obscurantist children of the Dark did their damnedest to “dowse” the Lucifer of their age.  By reason of a long and complicated miracle they failed.  The long and complicated miracle was H. P. B.’s charmed life.  Today the highest and clearest thought-atmosphere is enbued by the incalculably potent tinge brought to the western mind by H. P. B. and her circle. . . . we may find scores of societies, groups, cults, periodicals; all influenced, consciously, by the heritage of idea --- the agelong wisdom --- that H. P. B. restored to the West.  The White Group that is said to hold the destinies of Europe in its “gift” chose the most improbable instrument conceivable because it was to prove the most efficient. . . and the Intelligences that despatched H. P. B. as Messenger to her Age did not err.  Her mission has been accomplished.  She changed the current of European thought, directing it toward the sun. . . But the very existence of the Path was forgotten in Europe until H. P. B. re-discovered it for herself, and announced her re-discovery to the West.


(1)  Who Wrote the Mahatma Letters?  By H.E. and W.L. Hare.  London, Williams and Norgate Ltd. [1936.  326 pp.]  10s.  6d

(2)  The article by K.H. is reprinted in The Theosophical Path, April, 1930.