March 2017 Newsletter
The following articles are reproduced from the March 2017 Newsletter to members. Non-members may or may not be able to relate to the contents.
The Life of HPB - II
Boris M. de Zirkoff
Mr Boris de Zirkoff was a close relative of H. P. Blavatsky’s father and compiler/editor of her Collected Writings. Interview by Ralph Gardner, Denver Lodge, 1958 Summer Session, “Olcott” Center, Wheaton, USA. This is a continuation of the article reproduced from the January 2017 issue of The Theosophist.
Q: What happened to Madame Blavatsky after her last known visit to Tibet?
A: She came back to Europe some time in 1871 and she is known to have been in Rumania and Greece, and possibly what is today Yugoslavia. She made a very short trip across the border into Russia and says she did not stay there but a few days on some errand, after which, I think her last stay in Europe in those days was Greece. She embarked in July on a steamer apparently bound for Alexandria in Egypt. The boiler exploded on that steamer. Everybody was catapulted into the sea and most of them were drowned. She was saved and taken over with no belongings of any kind to Alexandria, and thence to Cairo.
It is during that trip, when she landed in Egypt, that she was helped by a woman who later when she married became Madame Emma Coulomb, of a very unsavory fame in the history of the TS. HPB remained very grateful to her for being helped in those days. She stayed in Cairo perhaps six months more or less, and she started a little society for the investigation of spiritualistic and occult phenomena by reliable mediums, but this came to naught. It was some kind of an effort along occult lines, but it had no success whatsoever. She ran into all kinds of frauds and had to disband the whole thing. From there she moved to Paris. Madame Coulomb disappeared from the stage of HPB’s life for the time being. It was just a casual meeting apparently. But some kind of a karmic connection existed there.
In 1872 HPB lived with one of her cousins in Paris and, apparently from what she says, had no idea of going to the United States, when she received a peremptory order in 1873 from her Teacher to move on to New York, and she did so. That was the beginning of her great mission. She came to the US on 7 July 1873.
Q: What was the manner of Madame Blavatsky’s passage to the US? One of the very unhappily critical books written about Madame Blavatsky states that she came by steerage. But it seems to me that there was more to it than that. Do you know that story?
A: Yes, there was more to it. Before embarking on a steamer from Cherbourg, she found a woman with children, as far as I can remember, who had either lost her tickets altogether, or somebody had stolen them from her.
Q: I believe that some ticket-scalper had sold her a worthless steamship passage.
A: Something like that. HPB, of course, was holding her first-class passage and she exchanged it for steerage, so that all of them could go. This was one of those self-sacrificing moves on her part. She seems to have travelled with another couple, friends I think, from France, but their names are mentioned only in a few letters from HPB, and nothing more is known about them. When she arrived at New York that was the beginning of her real mission. However, between July 1873 and the middle or end of '74, when she began to write her articles in the spiritualistic press, we have quite a little period of time there to account for. For a good many years nobody knew what HPB was doing in the US for almost a year and a half of complete silence.
Some letters were found not so long ago which have thrown some light upon this situation. They were addressed to her great friend in Russia, [Prince Alexander M.] Dondukov-Korsakov, Viceroy in the Caucasus, an old friend of the family, much older than she was. It appears that HPB again crossed the US to San Francisco, took a steamer to Yokohama, Japan, where Master M. was staying for the time being, spent there about one week, and returned in the same fashion. You can imagine that in those days, 1873-4, such a journey took quite some time which would account for at least a number of months of this interim period. What she did in Yokohama nobody knows, but that is what she had to go through by order, again.
At the end of 1874 and '75 began the whole episode of meeting Colonel Henry Steel Olcott at the farmhouse of the Eddy Brothers in Chittenden, Vermont, and the gradual initiation of the Colonel into the mysteries of true occultism, and finally the founding of the Theosophical Society, which, of course, are all subjects fully treated by the Colonel himself in Old Diary Leaves.
Q: There has been a tendency on the part of some critics of the Adyar Theosophical Society to neglect Colonel Olcott’s place in the founding of the Society or belittle his importance. How do you feel about this?
A: With regard to feelings that exist in some parts of the Theosophical Movement against the Colonel I have very definite ideas. Every time Col. Olcott is minimized or ignored, this makes me sore. I am not speaking now from the standpoint of a personal feeling, but rather from the standpoint of history. It is unjust and non-factual. In the history of the Theosophical movement in the early days the Colonel played a role practically equal to the role played by HPB, but their roles were different. The Colonel was the exoteric organizer and HPB was the occultist and messenger from the Brotherhood. Col. Olcott was the personal disciple of Master M., but he was a beginner for quite a number of years and gradually rose in stature. HPB, on the other hand, was the occultist from four incarnations and their roles were, of course, completely different. But had there been no Col. Olcott around, there would have been no Theosophical Society as an organization, just as much as if there had been no HPB, the Masters would have had to find somebody else or postpone the whole experiment, perhaps another hundred years. We must be fair in these matters.
Col. Olcott had his weaknesses and shortcomings, and so had HPB. I would like to find somebody who has no shortcomings. I believe that the Masters themselves have their own shortcomings. They are not infallible and never made any claims to being perfect. So why are we always trying to find the weaknesses and shortcomings of the people instead of emphasizing the magnificent work that some of them have done? I would like to find another individual in the entire history of the TS since 1875 to the present moment, who has done such an enormous work in a cause of the Masters as Col. Olcott has. To disregard him, ignore him, and minimize what he has done shows simply the smallness, the puny character of the individuals who are doing this. To speak of him in terms of laudation and glorification such as no human being deserves is wrong also. It is just a one-sided approach either on one side or another. We must be fair, I repeat.
Col. Olcott made mistakes. We know some of them, but we do not fully know the reason for such mistakes. He too was being tested, with his own trials and tribulations. He could by no means escape making mistakes. But the attitude that has existed and exists today in some of the sections of the theosophical movement, to put the Colonel completely into the background, is an attitude which is non-factual, not good history, and it does not reflect upon the fairness of the individuals who are engaged in it.
Q: The writing of Isis Unveiled then began after the formation of the TS, is that right?
A: Yes, approximately so. I think it coincided with it, more or less. She began to write Isis Unveiled somewhere in 1874 or the beginning of '75, and it was published in 1877. This book can be considered together with The Secret Doctrine, although the latter was written much later, and it took quite a number of years to be completed. But both works can be looked upon from the same standpoint if we look upon them as the production or an unusual production of a literary type, in that HPB quoted in both of them from a tremendous number of various books, pamphlets, magazines, newspapers, and journals without ever having any access to them. The only explanation, and, of course, she gives such an explanation herself in more than one place, is that the facts contained in these books that she quoted from, the passages required, were read by her in the astral light. She says that a great many of them she could read herself or summon herself before her vision. But with a great many others she had to have the help of her Teacher. In other words, there were limitations to her spiritual vision in the akasa. She had, of course, a great deal of help from the Teachers, as well as a considerable amount of help on purely exoteric lines from some of the members who supplied a good many of the quotations. But this was the least part of the story. Had HPB been unable to consult books astrally, she could have never written within such a short time either one of these two books.
Isis Unveiled became a bestseller almost overnight. I believe that they printed something like a 1,000 copies in the first impression, and they were sold within a few weeks! So there was an outstanding work that made a tremendous impact. If anybody reprints this book it sells very rapidly. It is a bestseller in some parts of the world and with some type of people.
Q: What was the reason the Founders decided to move their headquarters from New York City to India?
A: Well, they did not move their headquarters to India exactly. The TS founded in New York remained in New York for a while and sent HPB and Olcott as delegates to India. It was only later that their stay in India became more or less permanent and the TS in New York ceased to be the center. It was still called the "parent" body for quite some time, and was issuing diplomas, but at a later date, provided by the Constitution, the headquarters was to be the place where the Founders were. That is the manner in which the headquarters, or the main seat of the Society anyway, became India. That was long before Adyar was founded.
The move to India as well as the later move of HPB to London are really not sudden things that have no relation with each other. It looks, from a careful observation of the history, that the Theosophical movement had to organize nuclei of occult force in America, India, and Europe. I am convinced that there was a pattern to the presence of the great messenger which HPB was inwardly, the inner HPB, and it was necessary first in America, then in India, and then at a later part in her life, in London.
Q: What external evidence from fairly reliable witnesses have come down to us concerning phenomenal events that occurred in the life of Madame Blavatsky?
A: The evidence is considerable. They were by no means limited to the writings of Col Olcott. We have quite a large number of various accounts by eyewitnesses, members in India, the United States, and all over Europe. We have long accounts from William Quan Judge, her great collaborator and one of the three chief co-Founders of the TS in America. The accounts of these eyewitnesses were very frequent in those days. They have written articles in newspapers, magazines of the day, they have also left some memoirs, so they were by no means limited to just a few or a handful of people who had testified about them. The strange powers which HPB had, as any occultist would have, have been publicized, I might say, even a little bit too much. Where they have been publicized too much, not enough attention has been paid to the philosophy backing them.
Q: Would you be able to give a brief statement of some of the types of phenomena or powers displayed by HPB on various occasions?
A: It was mainly along the line of psychic and spiritual vision of events and occurrences, as well as the character of the people. The reading of sealed letters, the instantaneous transference of her consciousnesses to different parts of the world, and perhaps more than anything else, the materialization or physical production of objects and bits of writing on paper, or the materialization of paper and the writing on them on various occasions. Also the production of music out of what you might call nothing, just out of sheer air. Probably the most startling phenomena were those of materialization. It would take a long time to explain, and we would not be able to explain them too well anyway, but the records about these types of phenomena which she produced are very widespread. But she always spoke of them as merely samples of the powers innate in man. However, we can never emphasize too much the fact that HPB was the messenger from the great Teachers who was sent to provide at this cyclic and critical time, the foundation principles of a great philosophy of life to instill into the minds of men the rudiments of true esoteric knowledge. Phenomena are phenomena, and they are good in their place, but what the world needs and what the world has received through her works are the great precepts of the esoteric philosophy of all ages, which is the only basis upon which a new civilization can arise.
Reproduced from The Theosophist January 2017 number