She both dazzled and frightened the world of the late nineteenth century by her dynamic and combative personality combined with world adventures, travel to 'far away places with strange-sounding names', the writing of big, difficult books like Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine ---and the theory and practice of 'the Occult'.
H.P. Blavatsky's occult themes differed from the low-life, popular type by having no false Messiahs, rather she introduced Masters of Wisdom; not dealing with devils, she preferred angels. Fate in her creed gave away to karma; one life for each was replaced by reincarnating Rounds and Races and 'inner life' on astral planes. Against the alchemy that turned base metals to gold, HPB favored raising the lower to the higher Self.
Like most of us, HPB provided examples of both 'selves' in her own way of life. Her faults have been duly reported by friend and foe. Her virtues are receiving growing recognition. Where she differed from many 'spiritual leaders' was that there was no pose for perfection on her part. Also, she acknowledged a great debt to those messengers who went before her.
HPB's spiritual and intellectual forebears were of the first order with illustrious names like Pythagoras, Plato, and Plotinus in the West, and Buddha, Sankara, and Nãgãrjuna in the East. There were others. A striking feature of these world teachers is that they were less occult and more mystical. Some fought the call of the occult, others never even heard of it, being concentrated on oneness with the One.
While the name and fame of Madame Blavatsky is secured in the occult corner, she also crafted excellent mystical material. In her first article 'What is Theosophy?', in the first issue of her monthly journal The Theosophist, for October 1879 she wrote of 'the Absolute Essence, the One and All...without any creator...the source of all existence...where the above conceptions can lead but to pure and absolute Theosophy' CW, vol II, p. 41).
Theosophical purity was glimpsed by two writers in the early 1890's. One told of Theosophy as deriving 'its knowledge of God from direct and immediate intuition and contemplation. As to the science of God, therefore, Theosophy is but another name for mysticism. The theosophic system dates from high antiquity; we may number among theosophers Plotinus, Iamblichus, Proclus, Paracelsus, Jocob Boehme, and Swedenborg.' The International Cyclopaedia, vol XIV, p. 370, Dodd, Mead & Co., N.Y., 1892).
A work on Paracelsus defined Theosophia as 'the true understanding. It is not any knowledge relating to external things; but the self-knowledge by which the god in man knows that he is.' Paracelsus) Franz Hertmann, Theos. Publ. Co., New York, 1918 (first copyright, 1891), p.54.
The direct approach is to the innermost, not the near-inner of the astral, nor the outer shell, the physical. At best, these are 'the garments of God', in the mystical view. But garments are changed many times before they become dilapidated and discarded. What is the permanent part? In the Bible, Moses was asked 'What is God's name?' The right answer is, 'I AM THAT I AM' Exodus, 3:14). The inner, eternal nature is the same for each individual and the All, as religion calls 'God'.
It is felt that there is 'a mystery at the heart of things'. The famous mystic, Jacob Boehme wrote that Mysterium magnum, the Great Mystery, is the God that 'is the most secret and also the most revealed. To the godless it is incomprehensible because they have not the will to desire to comprehend it.' (Paracelsus p.51).
Can we comprehend the Comprehensive? 'We don't read or study history, we make history', say some. Yet, all of us are born only to die. A few of our names are remembered for a while. One is reminded of what Gertrude Marvin Williams wrote in her largely unflattering biography, Madame Blavatsky, Priestess of the Occult:
She left a body of legends and writings that bring comfort to men and women all over the world struggling against loneliness and infirmity, against unhappy fears which keep mankind forever searching for reassurance and security. In spite of flagrant perfidies, she has passed the ultimate test and won her niche among the elect whose memory survives the grave. (Lancer Books, New York, 1948, p. 11).There are millions of other tragic and triumphant life and death stories, told and mostly untold. What is the last word, will, and testament? The only before-Life and after-Death state with perfect or complete meaning for mystics is the coming from and return to the Infinite and Eternal Source with its unlimited wealth and very mysterious ways. Mystics like to remind us that we are part and parcel of That, mystery and all.
The metaphysical mystery is somewhat supported by the Big Bang theory where the total universe expanded from a point of super-physical energy. A metaphysical physicist would add spiritual energy for the sake of consciousness. Physical and spiritual energy work everywhere as a unit; the physical is more obvious to us.
It is clear that each object changes and is finally 'sunk without a trace'. The sole assurance is of change for the sake of change---and for the sake of soul. For the 'steady state' of Spirit cannot abide the eternal durability of objects. Souls seek Spirit.
Buddhists aspire to the Buddha-nature. Christians practice, in principle, the Imitation of Christ (no easy task) and patiently await his Second Coming. Occultists have been known to seek Masters in the mountains, Mystics contemplate and contact the Inner God. In keeping with the old Hermetic maxim, 'As above, so below,' it is all here and now. Eclectic theosophers know that the above truths, and much more, are all phases of the Divine Self-nature as the fount of Nature and Super-Nature.
In the religious philosophy and spirituality of the mystics in the strict tradition, ultimate awareness is focused on exactly this vision of Infinity and Eternity. HPB's first great book, Isis Unveiled states that 'genuine philosophers, or students of truth' are primarily concerned with 'the really existing' rather than 'the mere seeming; of the always existing, in opposition to the transitory; and of that which exists permanently,' as opposed to 'that which waxes, wanes, and is developed and destroyed alternately' (vol. I, xi, xii).
Creation, Preservation, and Destruction constitute the Hindu Trinity. Obvious it is that this threesome has its way with Nature and events, all in the scope of Mãyã. We have no time for the Divine. Isis holds out hope, however, in that Plato taught that the 'rational soul' is 'generated by the Divine Father'. We possess 'a nature kindred, or even homogeneous with the Divinity', and are 'capable of beholding the eternal realities' (XIII).
Great Psychology to match the Great Mystery of Great Theosophy 'develops...a direct beholding' through the inmost 'identity of the individual soul and the spirit of subject and object,' this is, mind and the world, consciousness and Cosmos. In her first piece in The Theosophist of October 1879, therefore, Blavatsky quoted 'one of the finest expressions of Emerson. "I, the imperfect, adore my own Perfect"---he says in his superb Essay on The Over-soul.' (BCW), vol. II, p. 95).
Each one, however large or small, simple or complex, among the many constantly coming from and returning to the ever-present and ever-lasting Center falls short of perfection for only the Center is complete and perfect. That almost perfect mystical philosopher Plotinus taught, therefore, that 'sufficient and complete in itself, the only Perfection is beyond limitations, dependency or need.' Amidst infinite imperfection, 'this flow', declared Plotinus's scholar Anthony Damiani, 'may also serve well in retracing our nature to its Source.' For 'all souls are direct emanations of the Divine Mind'. Plotinus: The Enneads, Stephen Mackenna, Larson Publications, 1992, pp. 712-13, 728).
'God is Mind' we are told. Beyond even that, Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine approves Hermetic philosophy in that God is not mind, but the cause of mind; nor spirit, but the cause of spirit, (vol, I, p. 285). We also hear that 'God is Love." Hermetic and theosophic reasoning replies that God is not Love, but the cause of Love. In logic, all of the pairs of opposites spring from the single Source. As the deity of philosophy is not restricted even to Love, that Cause of causes is above and beyond the sentimental religious Father or Mother and is the Origin of any religious idea of God, or any aheistic idea of anti-God. Deity in Divine knowledge or Theosophy is holistic!
'The Eternal First Cause', states Isis Unveiled, 'is latent spirit and matter...Spirit begat force, and force matter...' (I, 428). In the glorious days of great Theosophy, seers in Gnosis and those in the tradition of Plotinus saw that the Source, otherwise Unknown and No-Thing, must be 'filled', in our terms, with the essence or spirit of all that becomes physical at any time or place. Our materiality is localized.
Super Essence---of which we partake---is in and beyond our small times and places. Isis rightly observed that 'the divine spirit...is immortal by its very essence' (vol. I, 181). 'Nothing is eternal and unchangeable,' Isis contends, 'save the concealed Deity' (II, 280). Essence is well hidden, but the fruits are seen, savored, swallowed---or disgorged---as one prefers. We have 'free will', but only up to a point. Free or not, Will is often too proud to acknowledge its Source.
Reality rides the same rail as Will. 'The profoundest and most transcendental speculations of the ancient metaphysicians of India and other countries, are all based on that great Buddhistic and Brahmanical principle underlying the whole of their religious metaphysics---illusion of the senses (Mãyã). Everything that is finite is illusion, all that which is eternal and infinite is reality,' writes Blavatsky in Isis (II, 157).
The very idea of personal and cosmic illusion is welcomed by some, opposed by others. It is merely the 'Divine power to measure, limit, and manifest itself' in a multitude of temporary forms. Aware of this, souls may take an 'opportunity for growth and unfoldment' (Jaideva Singh in The Theosophical Review, July 1975, p. 110).
Mãyã and Will-Power provide the evolution, mutation, and personalities that would be absent in a static, solid scheme of things. So, intellectual progress and Soul-growth are possible in a world of limits, where 'Everything is relative in this Universe,' notes The Secret Doctrine (I, p. 296). Objectors to Mãyã and Relativity claim that they depose 'absolute Good and Evil'. Let the Absolute be the Absolute. It is we who are right or wrong at our level on this plane--or on the 'astral plane'.
Astral and other planes provide level or uneven playing fields for occult investigations that go hand-in-hand with rituals and other practices. The material and physical universe is measured and described by the sciences, always open, theoretically, to new and better advances. Scientists and occultists, obviously, may disagree and even fight over issues and among themselves.
The mystic vision, on the other hand, remains fairly constant, for it is of the One and Only. Mystics may diverge only in the words and ways they view the Big Picture. Here, the ways and means depend on certain talents. The problem is: How to know the Unknowable? How to describe the Indescribable?
As most mystics probe the Gnosis, they are acutely aware that outer forms---and practices---are of small value compared to the vast inwardness. In Zen it is said that 'before Enlightenment, the mountain is the mountain, after Enlightenment the mountain is the mountain'.
Neither High nor Low Occultism can bring mountains to Muhammad, so Muhammad moved to the mountain. HPB repudiated the lesser forms and practices of 'the Occult' in favor of the greater magic of High Occultism. She was then a Great Occultist. Her Mysticism put both the mountain and Muhammad in proper perspective where each is from the Source.
Let us not, then, overlook HPB's mystical bent. As a tribute to her philosophical integrity, her mysticism adds lustre to Great Psychology, Great Mystery, and Great Theosophy. Her name should be added to the roll of honor of the Great Mystics.
The late Mr. Laudahn was a long-standing member of the American Section.