Published by The Blavatsky Archives. Online Edition copyright 1999.
THE THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY.The Lamasery at New York.
[Reprinted from the Hartford Daily Times (Connecticut), December 2, 1878, p. 1.]
Correspondence of The Hartford Times.
NEW YORK, November 30, 1878.
It was with a feeling of intense curiosity, and more than ordinary pleasure that we stood at the door of Madame Blavatskys residence in New York, and awaited an answer to our ring. It soon came, and in an odd way, for the door was unlocked by no visible hand, and for a second we did not realise that it was done by electricity. Ascending to the second floor we were ushered into a tiny reception-room, where Colonel Henry S. Olcott, the president of the Theosophical society, greeted us with cordiality. We inquired if madame was visible, and he sent a servant to inquire, who returned with a prompt and decisive answer, "No." We had arrived at a very unfavorable hour, it being in the morning, and were informed that it was almost an impossibility to gain access to madames presence in the day. Conversing, however, with Colonel Olcott, while he opened his eggs and took his coffee for breakfast, we questioned him regarding the aims and objects of this society which is becoming so well known, so much discussed, so well grounded on the basis of cultured and honorable men and women as members, and received for reply, in substance, the following:
The object of Theosophy is individual cultivation in the sciences and mysteries which madame has given in a measure to the world through her book "Isis Unveiled." It is to initiate some chosen ones into the knowledge of those secrets which are higher and finer than anything now taught, and which are to eventually lift each member to the power and position of an adept. "In religion" he said, "we work to break down old dogmas and carping theologies, whether Christian, Brahmanic, Buddhistic, Jewish, Mohammedan or others, and to teach the undefiled religious philosophy which prevailed before even the Vedas were written, and which furnishes the grains of wheat in every mountain of chaff that has been piled up in any nation and labelled with the names above enumerated.
In the state we wish to spread high notions of honor, patriotism, responsibility, and that international exchange of courtesy based upon the Golden Rule, which would make a brotherhood of humanity possible. In the individual we would purge away the vicious taste, the groveling sensuality, the mean sordidness, the pettiness of aim, the obtuseness as to civil, social and moral obligations, which everywhere prevail under the patronage of the church. This is a wide field, and were our laborers an hundred times more numerous, it could not be covered at once. We are not unreasonable or optimistic. We are quite content with the rate of our progress up to this time, and shall add to our roll of Fellows from time to time as they offer themselves (for we solicit no one), if they prove to be in sympathy with our work, and are willing to help us in these projects. And first of all, we who lead the movement mean to set an example of correct living and dealing which will at least win the respect of the community." "We, presume that those who become members are bound by the most solemn oaths, and are initiated by the most fearful and mysterious ceremonies?" we remarked inquiringly. "The pledge we exact," replied the colonel, "is, that none who join us shall do anything to retard, by word or deed, our progress. We are quite willing to leave your own conscience to be the monitor. We bind members by no oath whatever, saving their word of honor, to keep strictly secret those matters confided to them which should, in the opinion of their superiors, be kept sacredly private!" "But you have rules, by-laws, officers, etc., do you not?" "Certainly! Its officers are a president, two vice-presidents, a corresponding secretary, a recording secretary, a treasurer, a librarian, and councilors. At first it was an open body; but later it was reorganized on the principle of secrecy, experience having demonstrated the advisability of such a change." "But what are the benefits to be derived from such a membership? Can all members become adepts?" "By no means! To be admitted into the highest degree, of the first section, the Theosophist must have become freed of every leaning toward any one form of religion in preference to another. He must be free from all exacting obligations to society, politics and family. He must be ready to lay down his life, if necessary, for the good of humanity, and of a brother fellow of whatever race, color or ostensible creed. He must renounce wine, and every other description of intoxicating beverages, and adopt a life of strict chastity. Those who have not yet wholly disenthralled themselves from religious prejudice, and other forms of selfishness, but have made a certain progress towards self-mastery and enlightenment, belong in the second section. Those only who persevere in these studies, who practice every virtue, and eschew every vice, who subjugate the body to the will, and throw off every tie which binds them to things gross, can become that to which even Madame Blavatsky has not yet, after all her long life of devotion, perfectly attained. We offer for your zeal, industry and loyalty, the reward of an approving conscience, the respect of a brotherhood whose good opinion is well worth having, and the assurance that you are assisting to lay the foundations of a great society whose future is already an established certainty. Already you would be able to meet brothers in the remotest quarters of the globe; and before long the public will know that we have enlisted on our side some of the profoundest scholars and purest souls of the present day." "This is only a branch society we are told. There are other branches similar to this in New York, are there not?" "We have already one established in nearly every country in Europe. It was only this morning also, that we had from Bombay full permission to announce our society as the American branch of the Arya Somaj of India. This is a great organization founded by one of the holiest and most learned men of our age, the Pundit Dyamund Sarswati. His preaching and teaching of ancient Vedic philosophy and Ethics has created a profound sensation throughout the Indian Peninsular among the natives. He preaches against castes, idolatry and superstitious observances of all kinds. Many of the latter originally devised by the priesthood to increase their power and emolument, have become accepted as of divine authority, after many centuries. Among these are suttee (widow burning), sitting Dhurna (a creditor deliberately starving himself to death at the door of his debtor), and others, for which the Vedas contain no authority.
What the Pundit teaches is the identical, pure, Wisdom Religion, about which Madame Blavatsky discourses so learnedly in her "Isis," and which was the primeval substratum upon which not only Brahmanism, Buddhism and Zoroastrianism were built, but which is the essence of Christism when the embroidered sere-cloths are unwrapped from its body.
It teaches one Incomprehensible, Eternal, Divine Essence, out of which all things come, and to which all return, in a never-ending series of evolution and involution --- "Days and Nights of Brahma." "The correspondence for your society must be enormous; who does it, pray?" "Madame. She writes nine languages, and reads three more. She converses fluently and daily with her various friends in at least five. You may hear them any evening at her little receptions -- but madame has concluded to see you." The colonel said this without having moved from his chair; no one had entered the room, the door was shut; there was no visible means by which he could have received this communication of madames pleasure. We were delighted as well as astonished, and only waited to ask one question before entering her parlor. "There are so many rumors regarding madame, Colonel, that one is almost driven to desperation, in trying to select which is most probable. Can you tell us how old she is? We have heard she is thirty, eighty, an hundred; that her countenance is so changeable that at one moment she seems a young girl, at another she seems an old lady. But the general tendency is to belief in her great age!" "Perhaps my sister will tell you," laughed the colonel, as he gave the requisite introductions to that estimable lady and two or three children who were entering. "Will you not say how old you think madame to be?" "I think it would be utterly impossible to determine; her age seems to me as mysterious as her character, for all I have known her so long and so intimately. Indeed, although I live in the same house with them," she added, "and see madame at any time, there are some subjects on which she is as non-committal as the Sphinx!" "What is your imagination of her person?" inquired the lady. "We have thought she might be tall with a thick, compact figure, cold gray eyes, a broad face, a high forehead, and light hair." "I declare!" exclaimed Colonel Olcott, "you must be clairvoyant! This is a very fair description." Madame was seated in her little work-room and parlor, all in one, and we may add her curiosity-shop as well, for never was apartment more crammed with odd, elegant, old, beautiful, costly, and, apparently, worthless things, than this. She had cigarette in mouth, and scissors in hand, and was hard at work clipping paragraphs, articles, items, criticisms and other matter, from heaps of journals from all parts of the world, relating to herself, to her book, to the Theosophical society, to any and every thing connected with her life, work and aims. She waved us to a seat, and while she intently read some article, we had a chance to observe the walls and furniture of this New York Lamasery. Directly in the centre stood a stuffed ape, with a white "dickey" and necktie around his throat, manuscript in paw, and spectacles on nose. Could it be a mute satire on the clergy? Over the door was the stuffed head of a lioness, with open jaws and threatening aspect; the eyes glaring with an almost natural ferocity. A god in gold occupied the centre of the mantle-piece; Chinese and Japanese cabinets, fans, pipes, implements and rugs, low divans and couches, a large desk, a mechanical bird who sang as mechanically, albums, scrap-books, and the inevitable cigarette holders, papers and ash-pots, made the loose rich robe in which madame was appareled seem in perfect harmony with her surroundings. A rare, strange countenance is hers. A combination of moods seems to constantly play over her features. She never seems quite absorbed by one subject. There is a keen, alert, subtle undercurrent of feeling and perception perceivable in the expression of her eyes. It impressed us then, and has invariably, with the idea of a double personality; as if she were here, and not here; talking, and yet thinking, or acting far away. Her hair light, very thick and naturally waved, has not a gray thread in it. Her skin, evidently somewhat browned by exposure to sea and sun, has no wrinkles; her arm and hand are as delicate as a girls. Her whole personality is expressive of self-possession, command, and a certain sang froid which borders on masculine indifference, without for a moment overstepping the bounds of womanly delicacy. Very, very old! Impossible! And yet she declares it is so; sometimes indignantly, sometimes with a certain pride; sometimes with indifference or impatience. "I come of a long-lived race. All my people grew to be very old. One of my ancestors lived to be more than 100, and preserved all his faculties. You doubt my age? I can show you my passports, my documents, my letters for years back. I can prove it by a thousand things." She began to talk with us in a friendly and cordial manner, tinctured with foreign nonchalance and piquancy combined. We explained that our errand was to pay our devoirs to the author of "Isis Unveiled," but our courteous speeches were hushed with a peremptory command to take a cigarette, which we gladly proceeded to do. The chat was naturally turned into that channel which leads to the great ocean of the Unseen Mysteries, and we were astonished at the rapidity and fluency of her speech. Her English is far better than the ordinary run of conversation in America, however, for it is absolutely correct; bookish, in fact. Her accent is not very marked. She said, "I cannot get your English. I cannot pronounce it."
"Why, madame," we replied, "There is hardly a scholar in New York who can equal your elegance of speech."
"Yes, yes, I know," she answered impatiently, "but your accent, I cannot get it!"
"How do you so preserve your looks, your health, madame? What magic receipt have you to keep your freshness, and all these evidences of youth? Our women of forty, however fat and fair, would sell their eyes, almost, for the knowledge! You must have drank of the fountain of perpetual youth!"
"That is what we study for," she replied, quietly.
"Well, how long do you intend to live?" we added, laughingly.
"Oh! if no accident occurs, as long as I please; thirty, forty, fifty years perhaps. I dont know!" -- in the most indifferent manner, as if it were a mere matter of her good pleasure.
"If all the stories we hear about you are correct, you must be the great mystery of the world yourself, madame! Why, do you know, we heard the other day that instead of having an immense library, as we had supposed it was absolutely necessary you should have, since you quote from at least a thousand authors in twenty languages, that you really have no library at all, but when you desire to make use of a passage, say for instance in some old Hindoo parchment, that all you have to do is to will it to appear before you, and there it is ready to be copied! Then we have heard that it is not done in that way, but that you can send mental telegrams to brother adepts all over the globe, and they give you the desired information in the same way! Why, we presume, if an adept were in the planet Venus, and you desired his presence by your desk here, all you would have to do would be to mentally call him, and his astral body would cast its shadow on the floor!"
Madame seemed heartily to enjoy the speech. We defy, however, the keenest observer to have discovered whether we were, as one might say, "driving the nail home," or merely amusing her with our half-badinage. She evidently does not wear her heart on her sleeve.
"Whether these rumors may be true or not," she remarked, serenely, after a singular little smile to herself, "there is certainly nothing supernatural in anything we teach. The wonderful things recorded in the Isis, if they were produced at all, were produced according to the eternal laws. It is all natural, all scientific. You people do not know the laws of your own atmospheres, your own bodies, your own powers. That is all! We do. We have learned the mysteries of real wisdom from those who knew them before us. If you did but hold the key you would see there is nothing in our knowledge or our powers but what is natural and according to the plan of the universe. There never was a miracle, and never can be. What are called miracles were not so. They were produced by natural laws. One must have the gift of fine intellectual powers, moral purity and physical health to attain to the higher mysteries. Not all who live are immortal. Some will be annihilated. Their natural tendency is ever downward. It is inevitable. They cannot go higher; they must go lower. Change of some kind constantly takes place. There are two progressions -- upward and downward. Those who go downward in virtue, in experience, in taste, will be eventually blotted out, and return into the elements. Those who live longest on this earth and ever advance upward, will stand the highest when they enter the spiritual life. This is the preparatory school. There begins action!" "Of course you believe in Spiritualism?" "We admit the reality of mediumism and mediumistic phenomena, but discourage them unless under very strict precautions, as we think they tend to degrade the medium. Our views are not original --- only those entertained by Eastern psychologists. We say that for a pure person to passively submit to the domination of unseen, unknown and uncontrollable influence is to place himself in very great peril of corruption and ruin. The passive medium takes all the chances of control by the worst as well as the best spirits; in fact, the former class are far more likely to take control, for they are the most intimately connected with the earth. You could not be a medium!"
"Why not?" we questioned.
"Because you are in such perfect health. The elementaries could not control you!"
"Well, which is superior --- to be or not to be a medium?"
"I can imagine nothing worse than to be one! They are always sickly, puny, with no will or character of their own! A poor, miserable set!"
Glancing at a pile of letters which the servant had just brought, we exclaimed, "What an immense correspondence must be yours, madame! And in so many different languages! Tell us! What language do you think in?"
"In a language of my own! which is neither Russian, French, nor any you know."
"It may be in the Pythagorian numbers, who can tell? or in some dead language employed by races who had attained to a civilization of which the present phonograph may have been but the merest commonplace to them! Who knows but Madame may some time find a sheet of tin foil in some future museum of recent excavations, which she will run into her little instrument here, and make talk to her in the very language of her thoughts!" The Colonel said this with the mock solemnity of one very amusedly in earnest.
Madame laughed. When we write Madame laughed, we feel as if we were saying, Laughter was present! for of all clear, mirthful, rollicking laughter that we ever heard, hers is the very essence. She seems, indeed, the Genius of the mood she displays at all times, so intense is her vitality. As she now opened her bag of letters we immediately felt that this interview must end. "You will be quite welcome to come any evening," she exclaimed, busily tearing open envelope after envelope, "and no doubt you will meet many agreeable people. I want to show you my album, also, containing portraits of many of our friends in India," and here her face brightened, as a mans does when he is far away from home, and speaks of the dear, beloved spot. "I want to tell you of them, and have you meet others who have lived in that grand country!" We accepted the invitation with pleasure.
It was on the following evening, after our introduction to various people, among whom were no Americans save Colonel Olcott and ourselves, that madame displayed to us her much treasured album containing portraits of foreign members of the Theosophical society. It was indeed one of the finest collections of intellectual, cultured, refined faces, that it has ever been our pleasure to examine. Men and women of every nation were here represented. Every type of countenance, from the veteran English general, to the Indian philosopher, with his delicate features, clean-cut, expressive countenance, and wonderfully perfect form. The costumes were as curious as elegant; and in many cases, characteristic of the persons who wore them. Here was a face, filled with self-will , command and power; here one poetic, imaginative and aesthetic.
"India!" exclaimed Madame, turning the leaves lovingly. "India! I love it! It is the country of my heart, my soul! Born in Russia, and of Russian parentage, my physical body may be claimed as of that country; but the land of my adoption, the home of my affections and ambitions, is grand old India, ancient of days!" The sparkle, the enthusiasm of her mood, was catching. Conversation was for a moment hushed. The eloquence of her intense emotion was felt by every one to breathe itself from eye, lip and hand.
The conversation becoming more general, we were held breathless, listening to the adventures and incidents happening to the narrators, and which are well worth reproducing. A young English colonel of her majestys service -- regiment in India, who had been there three years, a perfect Hercules in stature, and with a frank, genial countenance, detailed the following tricks or phenomena, whichever we choose to call them. "I have seen many fakirs and jugglers perform inexplicable tricks, but I think the best I ever saw, and the most incomprehensible, was one which I am told Madame perfectly describes in her book. A juggler in the open air, in the presence of a dozen of our officers, in broad daylight, and nude, excepting a cloth about his loins, took a melon seed which was presented to him by one of our number, and digging a little hole in the earth with his finger, thrust it in, and making some passes over it, the seed soon sprouted and put forth little leaves. It grew and grew, adding leaf after leaf, and flower after flower, until the flowers became fruit, and the juggler handed us the melons, and we cut them up and ate them, finding them very rich and sweet, all within the space of half an hour."
"Do you mean to assert that you ate them -- ate fruit grown in half an hour?"
"I not only assert it, but can prove it by twenty witnesses. Why, it is not an uncommon thing at all. The powers of those Hindoos are perfectly marvelous! Here is another thing I saw; and not only I, but a crowd of us fellows; and it can be seen any day.
"One of those nude natives took a common ball of yarn, which we all examined, and holding one end, flung it up into the air. It went up, up, beyond our sight, and remained so, our vision only following it perhaps thirty feet. He then told a native boy assistant, perfectly nude, to climb up the yarn. He did so, like a sailor going up a rope, hand over hand. He also went out of sight. The juggler then pretended to be angry, and called him down. As he did not obey, the native climbed up himself, and also disappeared, the end of the yarn still hanging to the earth. Pretty soon down fell an arm, then a leg, covered with blood, and horrible to look at. The trunk of the boy soon followed, then the head, and the remaining limbs. With inconceivable rapidity, then came down the juggler, sliding on the yarn, and with a commanding gesture waving his wand over the severed members, they as it were; crawled together again, and became the living boy, absolutely whole and unharmed. The Prince of Wales saw all these wonders also, as have innumerable Europeans and Americans. There is no explanation! I never found a European who so much as attempted one. The basket trick, so well imitated in this country lately; the lying suspended in the air, a yard from the ground; dancing on swords keen as a razor; changing a coin into a reptile in the palm of a spectator, and other strange tricks, too numerous to mention, may be witnessed daily in any of the principal cities of India."
"I am delighted," cried Madame, as he concluded, "that I find still another witness to the truth of my assertions regarding the peculiar exhibition given by these people. You are fortunate," she continued, turning to us, "to have heard this gentleman --- whom I have the pleasure of meeting this evening for the first time --- corroborate me in all that I may have stated in Isis Unveiled."
It was at this point that a charming English gentleman sought our corner, and remarked, quietly, "All this is very wonderful. I have lived seven years in India myself, and was in a state of chronic astonishment during the whole period; but nothing quite equals what, I am told on good authority, our mutual hostess can do herself." "What is it? How delightful! Do tell us; no one is listening. Is it possible that she can really do wonders?" "If my friend was not deceived in his own senses, she certainly can. I will tell it to you precisely as he told it to me. I know it will seem incredible to you, my dear fellow, said my friend, for it does to me as I look back upon it; yet, at the same time, I know my senses could not have deceived me. Besides, another gentleman was with me at the time. I have seen Madame create things." "Create things!" I cried. "Yes, create things -- produce them from nothing. I can tell you of two instances.
Madame, my friend and myself were out one day looking about the stores, when she said she desired some of these illuminated alphabets which come in sheets like the little painted sheets of birds, flowers, animals, and other figures, so popular for decorating pottery and vases. She was making a scrap-book, and wished to arrange her title page in these pretty colored letters. Well, we hunted everywhere, but could not find any, until at last we found just one sheet, containing the twenty-six letters, somewhere on Sixth avenue. Madame bought that one and we went home. She wanted several, of course, but not finding them proceeded to use what she could of this. My friend and I sat down beside her little table, while she got out her scrap-book, and busily began to paste her letters in. Bye and bye she exclaimed, petulantly, "I want two Ss, two Ps, and two As." I said, "Madame, I will go and search for them down town. I presume I can find them somewhere."
"No you need not," she answered. Then, suddenly looking up, said, "Do you wish to see me make some?"
"Make some? How? Paint some?"
No, make some exactly like these.
"But how is that possible? These are printed by machinery."
"It is possible -- see!"
She put her finger on the S and looked upon it. She looked at it with infinite intensity. Her brow ridged out. She seemed the very spirit of will. In about half a minute she smiled, lifted her finger, took up two Ss exactly alike, exclaiming, "It is done!" She did the same with the Ps.
Then my friend thought: "If this is trickery, it can be detected. In one alphabet can be but one letter of a kind. I will try her." So he said, "Madame, supposing this time, instead of making the two letters separately, you join them together, thus: A--- A--- ?"
"It makes no difference to me how I do it," she replied, indifferently, and placing her finger on the A, in a few seconds she took it up, and handed him two As, joined together as he desired. They were as if stamped from the same piece of paper. There were no seams or joinings of any kind. She had to cut them apart to use them. This was in broad daylight, in the presence of no one but myself and friend, and done simply for her own convenience.
We were both astounded and lost in admiration. We examined these with the utmost care. They seemed as much alike as two peas. But if you wish, I can show you the letters this moment. "Madame, may we take your scrap-book to look at?" "Certainly, with pleasure," returned Madame, courteously. We waited impatiently until Mr. P could open the volume. The page was beautifully arranged, and read thus, in brilliant letters:
THIRD VOLUME, SCRAP-BOOK,Of the Theosophical Society,
New York, 1878.
Their Tribulations and Triumphs.
"There!" he said, pointing to the S in Scrap, and the S in Society, "those are the letters she used, and this is the one she made." There was no difference in them.
Space forbids further details of the odd, the marvelous, the inexplicable things which we have witnessed during subsequent visits to the "Lamasery," but at some future time we shall be pleased to give our friends still deeper glimpses into the mysterious chambers where dwells that singular being who is said to be "half-human," "half-goddess," "mother of all ghosts," "seer," "prophet," and "magician," but whom on this occasion we found to be simply a courteous and refined lady, entertaining her guests with almost royal hospitality --- Madame Blavatsky.