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Sunday, 20 May 2018

Blavatsky, the Occult & Racism

If I had to read every strange conspiracy theory article than mentions Blavatsky and Nazism, I would probably go a little batty. Nonetheless, 2017 saw a lot of these notions appear in more mainstream platforms, so here is a sampling of some the debates that are currently out there. The truth is out there. Trust no one.  
A good article on mystical influences in US politics
Steve Bannon and the occult: The right wing’s long, strange love affair with New Age mysticism
Mitch Horowitz - Apr 23, 2017
Generations of occult writers echoed Blavatsky’s theme of America as a Holy Grail among nations, possessed of a “secret destiny,” as Manly P. Hall put it, and thus married esoteric spirituality to patriotic ideals. This partnership has flourished out of view of most mainstream observers—and significantly impacted American culture, including the look of our currency.
An article on Julius Evola :
Meet The Philosopher Who’s A Favorite Of Steve Bannon And Mussolini
Jake Romm - February 10, 2017 
Article contends Blavatsky supported Darwin, whereas she was actually highly critical of his racial theories:
The true leftist identity of the so-called 'far right'
Exclusive: Scott Lively stresses Darwin's role in legitimizing 'Aryan supremacy'
We don't really know what Tony Hovater thinks of Blavatsky, because the reporter openly admits to not having asked him:
Racists Are Threatening to Take Over Paganism
Blavatskys work is also admired by modern racists like Tony Hovater, the Nazi sympathizer next door,who was profiled by the New York Times in 2017 and worked as an organizer for the recently disbanded Traditionalist Worker Party.
Catholic Review of Kurlander book:
We should never forget the Nazis sinister occult roots
Francis Phillips -Tuesday, 22 Aug 2017
Christian Fundamentalist article on new age spirituality and Nazism. The passage on Blavatsky is incorrect:
The Blood of the Saints
Ray Yungen May 11, 2017
Strange Christian Fundamentalist conspiracy theory quoting from Isis Unveiled:
May 13, 2017 Dianne Marshall

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Blavatsky Book Review: Peter Staudenmaier Between Occultism and Nazism

With works such as these, it is becoming clearer that the Theosophical Movement had a certain social impact during the period of the two world wars and historians are beginning to note the historical importance thereof.
There have been some lively exchanges between Staudenmaier and anthroposophists and a full-fledged work appeared a while ago:
Peter Staudenmaier Between Occultism and Nazism
Anthroposophy and the Politics of Race in the Fascist Era.
Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2014. vii + 412 pp.
His knowledge of theosophical historical scholarship seems quite thorough. His knowledge of Blavatsky seems cobbled together from secondary sources. Page eleven has an acceptable analysis of her concept of spiritual evolution but on page 12, there is an quick shift to Annie Besant’s writings. Some would argue that there are considerable differences between the two and that the period between 1895 and 1910 was a critical period when the shift occurred. Unfortunately, Staudenmaier does not give an account of this issue. It is also unfortunate that there is such little research on Franz Hartmann. (Presumably, these issues were not the focus of the book, as he has written elsewhere about all these points, such as Steiner's extensive reworking of Blavatsky's original concepts, so he presents all these points in a rather hyper-compressed first chapter). Overall, it seems a more tempered attitude toward Blavatsky than his earlier "Anthroposophy and Eco-Fascism".
Review by Stefan Arvidsson:
A critical remark regarding Staudenmaier’s focus on “race” would be that he refrains from providing a comprehensive portrait of Steiner’s esoteric ideas and worldview. Such a picture, even one constructed quickly with broad strokes, would give the reader an idea of the relative importance of the notion of race for Steiner’s thinking, and it would also give the reader a hint about what other issues the anthroposophical and the Nazi imaginations could attract or repel.
I might have missed scholarly discussions along Hansson’s lines; in that case, I look forward to taking part of them in the future.1 I also believe this to be an important path to follow because the study of esotericism often tends to isolate itself from the study of modern religion and culture in general; anthroposophy is of course the perfect bridge between the obscure world of occultism and the overarching intellectual and cultural history.
The contemporary persona of anthroposophy as an internationalist, humanistic and even “female” movement that experiments with different crops and “eurythmic” dances actually brings anthroposophy back closer to (the persona of) the Theosophical Society that Steiner and his allies disparaged and broke away from to craft a purely Western mysticism on German soil.
1 The editor kindly reminds me that Wouter Hanegraaff ’s New Age Religion: Esotericism in the
Mirror of Secular Thought (Leiden: Brill, 1996) emphasises the importance of Naturphilosophie
for the rise of modern esotericism, and furthermore informs me that this track is followed for
the case of Steiner in Helmut Zander, Anthroposophie in Deutschland: Theosophische Weltanschauung
und gesellschaftliche Praxis, 1884–1945, 2 vols. (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007) and
in Egil Asprem, The Problem of Disenchantment: Scientific Naturalism and Esoteric Discourse, 1900–
1939 (Leiden: Brill, 2014).
Review by Olav Hammer:
For anybody interested in the intersection between religion, race, and politics, this book is a goldmine of information. The author has painstakingly examined immense amounts of published and archival materials and shows how anthroposophical race theories intersected in many and complex ways with extreme right-wing ideologies.
Presumably, this article is a tacit response to the reception of the Kurlander book:
The Nazis as occult masters? It’s a good story but not history
Peter Staudenmaier – June 2017
The problem with this alluring image is not just that it is false. The myth of Nazi occultism is more than an amusing curiosity, a testament to the power of cinematic suggestion. It actively detracts from a historical understanding of the very themes it highlights. It yields a distorted view of Nazism and a distorted view of occultism. But it also offers an occasion for critical reflection, a chance to see how we might make better sense of the tangled history of occultism in the Nazi era. It might even help us to understand Nazi evil and the not-so-hidden forces behind it.
Another recent historical study on Nazism and the Occult:
Revisiting the "Nazi Occult": Histories, Realities, Legacies
Monica Black, Eric Kurlander
Boydell & Brewer, 2015 - Germany - 297 pages

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Blavatsky Book Review: Eric Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters: A Supernatural History of the Third Reich

We will be wrapping up coverage of 2017 this month with a spate of material on Nazism and the occult and more on the 70th anniversary of Indian Independence. Kurlander’s book got considerable mainstream attention. Blavatsky, I think, due to the considerable rehabilitation of her reputation in the last 20 years (and the work of Goodrick-Carke), is treated fairly respectfully, considering the subject matter. Fortunately, Julian Strube gives a knowledgeable, accurate and insightful review, showing how more critical and nuanced current research is, and showing how the work, although having some interesting intuitions and some good research, simply relies too much on uncritical use of sources. The bottom line being that more research needs to be done, especially in terms of specific influences of the Thule society, ariosophy, and anthroposophy, as well the work of theosophists Hubbe-Schleiden and Franz Hartmann, have had on the Third Reich. Moreover, there is a need to examine Blavatsky’s writings more specifically, although the situation is improving. The rising interest in Nazism in the occult, should spur the need to improve the level of research in that area.

I having nothing to add , except to note Kurlander’s knowledge of Blavatsky is sketchy; sadly, a problem found among many scholars. He relies on inaccurate secondary sources and so just on page 15 one can point out at least two errors: she did not plagiarize Bulwer-Lytton and she did not use the term ‘Great White Brotherhood’.
Julian Strube
Book Reviews / Correspondences 5 (2017) 1–10
Eric Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters: A Supernatural History of the Third Reich, New
Haven/London: Yale University Press 2017. ISBN: 9780300189452
Among the steady stream of publications devoted to the relationship between esotericism and National Socialism, Eric Kurlander’s study is one of the rare examples of a serious contribution to an old debate. It offers a most welcome critical perspective that sets it apart from the scholarship of recent decades, most significantly Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke’s The Occult Roots of Nazism (1985) and Corinna Treitel’s A Science for the Soul (2004). In contrast to these studies, which were highly cautious about claiming actual links between esotericism and National Socialism, Kurlander establishes the central argument that “National Socialism, even when critical of occultism, was more preoccupied by and indebted to a wide array of supernatural doctrines and esoteric practices than any mass political movement of the interwar period” (xiv).

However, it is exactly these strengths that make this study especially ambiguous, as the lines between solid research and the full spectrum of sensationalist, biased, and spurious literature are frequently blurred. These sources may be distinguishable for experts, but not necessarily for others, which makes their appearances at the core of a serious academic study particularly misleading.

A small sampling of some of the reviews, generally supporting the book without noting Strube's critiques:

Hitler’s Monsters: A Supernatural History of the Third Reich
Joseph Laycock
Journal of the American Academy of Religion, lfx082,

Supernatural Histories, German and American
January 19, 2018 by Philip Jenkins

Jason Colavito - 8/25/2017

Did Hitler’s obsession with the occult lose him the war?
Robert Carver June 2017

The Nazis Were Obsessed With Magic
Rebecca Onion August 2017

Gods and Monsters
Andrew Stuttaford  October 2, 2017

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Blavatsky, Modern Art & Lawren Harris

The Occult Roots of Modernism
Joséphin Péladan’s mystical art exhibitions, in Paris, set the stage for everything from Kandinsky’s abstractions to Eliot’s “The Waste Land.”
June 26, 2017 Issue - Alex Ross

Péladan had little direct impact on early modernism: instead, the dominant force was Theosophy, the half-visionary, half-spurious movement that Helena Blavatsky and others launched in New York in 1875. Blavatsky devoured Rosicrucian texts and related Christian esoterica, and combined their ideas with influences from the East. She notoriously claimed to be communicating with eternal Indian Masters. Such hocus-pocus did not prevent the likes of Kandinsky from appreciating the vigor of Theosophy’s assault on materialism in the name of higher truth. Kandinsky’s controlled explosions of color bear a striking resemblance to images that appear in “Thought-Forms,” a standard Theosophical text. His paintings can be viewed as opaque sacred emblems, conduits of spiritual revolution. Silver sees similar tendencies in the work of Marcel Duchamp, Kazimir Malevich, Hilma af Klint, and Piet Mondrian. “I got everything from the ‘Secret Doctrine’ (Blavatsky),” Mondrian wrote, in 1918.

Matthew Collings on meaning, abstraction and why judgementalism can be a problem.
May 2017

Matthew Collings: There is no single meaning. In historic modernism it’s a development in art (mostly painting) in the 1910s, considered to be something to do with spirituality – to be spiritual was a middle-class, pan-European vogue focused on charismatic figures like Blavatsky and Steiner. (The idea was that human spirit evolves over time, and that spiritualism is a concentrated effort to further that process.)

Interview with Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev
3 May 2017, Neil Powell

Well that’s a very good question. It came about on a very small scale, which is that I was looking for quite a number of years, for the original washes (watercolour illustrations) that Annie Besant had asked a bunch of friends including John Varley who was the grandchild of the one who had illustrated Blake, and anyway I had been looking for these original washes for years because I figured that they were published in the thought forms [1] book in 1905 they had to exist as originals and finally two months after the opening of the Istanbul Biennial in September 2015… these were found in Varanasi in the Theosophical Society library [2] and so I started to think “well I should exhibit them immediately!”.

Canadian Theosophist-painter Lawren Harris had a big year:
Where the Universe Sings gives us a portrait of painter Lawren Harris
Chris Knight -January 24, 2017

A new film by Peter Raymont and Nancy Lang explores Harris’s life and influences, from his 1885 birth in Brantford, Ont., to his death 84 years later in Vancouver

the theosophical references in the article below are not so great:
The Mystic
Jason McBride 2016

Deep lines: New Glenbow exhibition explores abstract period of Group of Seven's Lawren Harris
Eric Volmers, Calgary Herald October 5, 2017

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Blavatsky & Alternative Science

Thomas Edison
From Frankenstein to feminism: how electricity powered our imaginations
Naomi Alderman - 20 Feb 2017

Surprisingly perhaps, Bulwer-Lytton’s novel was so popular in Britain at the time that the word “vril” became a synonym for any “life-giving elixir”. It’s still in the language today: Bovril is a portmanteau of “bovine vril” – that thing derived from cows that gives you life and energy. The founder of Theosophy, Madame Blavatsky, was a great fan of vril, and you can still find websites today explaining how Atlanteans mastered gravity via vril energy, capturing it in pyramids.

Weird NJ: Thomas Edison wanted to talk to the dead
Aug. 13, 2017

For example, in 1878 Edison briefly wound up associating with an organization of mystics known as the Aryan Theosophic Society, where he discussed the role of science and technology in mysticism with their leader, Madame Elene Blavatsky. While Edison left the group (and even went on to deny ever associating with them), these experiences got him thinking about different Eastern religious ideas, particularly reincarnation.
Edison’s ‘Spirit Box’ Tried to Determine the Nature of Life, Not Just Talk with the Dead
Matthew Hart - October 20, 2017

JAMES GALLANT - 4 November 2015

But facts were facts, and Richet’s list of scientists who had examined the most gifted physical mediums for trickery “not once, but twenty, a hundred, or even a thousand times” — and found none — included Alfred Russel Wallace, a colleague of Darwin’s who wrote on various aspects of evolutionary theory, and physicist-chemist Sir William Crookes.”

Bhiku Chaman Lal's 'discovery' of Hindu America
S.K. Saksena - 03 April, 2017

Madam Blavatsky wrote: "A daughter of Kauravya, King of the Nagas in Patala ('patal lok'!) was married to Arjuna, the disciple of Krishna, whom every tradition, oral and written, shows travelling five thousand years ago to Patala. The Puranic tale is based on a historical fact. Moreover, Ulupi, as a name, has a Mexican ring in it."

Ancient Civilisations: The Theories of Atlantis and Lemuria – May 18, 2017

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Blavatsky, Sri Lanka & India

Sri Lanka, ambassador for Buddhism over the years
Randima Attygalle - Sunday, May 07, 2017
The establishment of the Buddhist Theosophical Society of Ceylon by Colonel Henry Olcott and Madame Blavatsky was a turning point as this became a voice for the Sinhala Buddhists. “Since the architects of this society and later their follower, Anagarika Dharmapala were fluent English speakers, they could lobby for the Buddhist interests in this country, by being heard by the British rulers,” says the scholar who cites the feats such as gaining recognition for Vesak as a national holiday for the first time and creating a Buddhist flag, facilitated by this forum.
Critical discussion of Dharmapala biography:
Anagarika Dharmapala Revisited
Charles Ponnuthurai Sarvan - May 11 2017
Science and religion in theosophy
Sri-Aurobindo  - 12th April 2017
The Theosophical Society was the first body of inquirers which started with the set & clear profession of bringing out this great mass of ancient truth into public notice and establishing it in public belief. Instead of bringing them out into public notice they have withdrawn them into the shrouded secrecy of the Esoteric society; instead of establishing them to public belief.
Forgotten American Religion Finds Home in India: Selective Consciousness and Increased Awareness at the Theosophical Society in Pune
04/14/2017 -  Michael Hall,
Some occult groups, such as the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica (E.G.C.), traced their roots to a Gnostic form of Catholicism, while the most popular occult movement, the Theosophical Society, combined Western and Eastern tantric traditions.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Blavatsky and Modernism

Theosophy and the Rise of the Modern
July 7, 2017 by Philip Jenkins
A major theme of the first volume of Isis Unveiled was to mock "The ‘Infallibility’ of Modern Science." In the early twentieth century, esoteric thinkers claimed that insights like those of Einstein and Heisenberg provided glimpses into these higher realities. To borrow the phrase of Arthur C. Clarke, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Europe and World Federation
Carlos Cardoso Aveline - May 9, 2017
Nationalism, which Helena Blavatsky praises in her book "The Key to Theosophy" [2], is a natural feeling. It must be noble and world-friendly. A healthy individual has concentric circles of love for his family, his city, his country, for the continent where he usually lives, for other countries around the world and humanity. He also loves his planet and the entire Universe. These concentric feelings are inseparable from each other.

This one’s a little old, but a nice article:
The Strange Theosophical Connection to the U.S. Civil Rights Movement
John L. Crow - January 30, 2013
Yet, had Gandhi not engaged in Theosophy in his college years, discovering the Gita, and had Theosophy not initiated the organizations that later led Indians to realize their independence, there might not have been a non-violent resistance model for the U.S. Civil Rights advocates to emulate.
Wesak at the United Nations
May 3, 2017 - editor, 2017-05-03 08:57 — editor
Over the years, many national leaders have clamoured to make Wesak an internationally recognized day and a holiday. Anagarika Dharmapala, American Civil War veteran Henry Steel Olcott, theosophist Madame Blavatsky, educationist Museus Higgins and others were at the forefront of this effort. They succeeded in having Wesak declared a national holiday during the colonial period (in May 1885) and were also responsible for the adoption of the Buddhist flag (1885).
The next two are Christian Fundamentalist, but well-researched:
Occult evolution: Antediluvian, Babylonian, and modern expressions
Linda Kimball - April 30, 2014
According to Helena Blavatsky, one of the key architects of Luciferian New Age pantheism, Kabalah derived,
".... from the older secret doctrines concerning divine things and cosmogony, which were combined into a theology after the time of the captivity of the Jews in Babylon. All the works that fall under the esoteric category are termed Kabalistic." (Blavatsky, Theosophical Glossary, p. 168)

The information about hpb is wrong in this, good research otherwise:
Occult America?
April 29, 2017 Michael H. Brown
As author Mitch Horowitz has written, "Indeed, the robust growth of occult and mystical movements can be traced through to nineteenth-century America — aided by the influence of Freemasonry and Transcendentalism — helped transform the young nation into a laboratory for religious experiments and a launching pad for the revolutions in alternative and New Age spirituality that eventually swept the globe. In the early twentieth century, the new spiritual therapies — from meditation to mind-body healing to motivational thinking — began revolutionizing how religion was understood in contemporary times: not only as a source of salvation but as a means of healing. In this sense, occult America had changed our world."