Reprinted by Blavatsky Study Center
H.P. Blavatsky's First Book (1)
ISIS UNVEILED is stated on its title-page to be "a master-key to the mysteries of ancient and modern science and theology." In the body of the work there are said to be seven of these keys to the mysteries of nature and of man, of which one only is given. The volumes are dedicated to "The Theosophical Society which was founded to study the subjects on which they treat."
By comparing the work with the three Objects of the Society a clear light may be had on the method of treatment employed. Volume I has for its general subject "Science," and in that respect relates strictly to the "third object." Volume II is entitled "Theology," and relates to the "second object." Since both science and theology relate to the great objects of human inquiry the treatment is interwoven and interblended throughout. And as all inquiry presents two general poles, the ascertainment of facts and the consideration of their meaning and relations, so "Isis" takes up the acquisitions of modern scientific research and the theories and hypotheses built up to account for ascertained physical phenomena. In the same way the revelations and claims of the various religions, particularly the Christian, are examined, and their theologies (or theories to account for metaphysical phenomena) are analyzed.
The work is necessarily addressed to the most open-minded of the race, and the method pursued is necessarily adapted to the limitations of those minds. It is not so much the introduction of new evidence that is attempted, as the partial presentation of an entirely new (to Western minds) hypothesis to explain the evidence that already exists in the general fund of human experience, the discoveries of science and the religious history of mankind. In the course of the work it is demonstrated over and over again that the dogmas of the sects are not only mutually contradictory and destructive, but, as well, that sound philosophical principles, correct logic, and the proved facts of modern science are in direct and overwhelming opposition to the claims and pretensions of theology. The same method of examination is also applied to the "working hypotheses" of modern science, and the various theories are tested out by comparison, one with another, all with the facts of experience, and it is conclusively established that, no more than theology, can the philosophy of modern science stand the light of searching investigation. The believer in theology or science is furthermore shown by masses of indisputable testimony that certain facts exist and always have existed, which are in themselves absolutely destructive alike of the claims of orthodox religion and materialistic science; that these facts have been persistently overlooked, ignored or denied, both by the votaries of "revealed religion" and of modern "exact science;" yet that these disregarded facts have at all times been uniformly testified to by the noblest minds of the race no less than by the common belief of mankind. Side by side, therefore, with the introduction of the affirmative evidence of these facts is placed the testimony of the ages as to their bearing on the great subjects of religion, philosophy and science, and the inference is drawn that there has always existed, from the remotest times, a system whose teachings in regard to nature and to man are inclusive of all things and exclusive of nothing. This system Madame Blavatsky denominates the Hermetic philosophy, or Wisdom-Religion, and declares that her work and mission are a "plea for the recognition of the Wisdom-Religion as the only possible key to the Absolute in science and theology." The work itself is the evidence that she uses the word "plea" in its strictly legal and forensic sense. "Isis" contains the testimony, the analysis of the evidence, the arguments, and the citations of principles, laws and precedents. The work is "submitted to public judgment" upon its inherent reasonableness as to its conclusions, its verifiable accuracy as to the facts, and not upon any assumed authority, any claimed revelation, any arbitrary hypothesis.
Turning ever and anon from the purely inductive method which characterizes the work generally, Madame Blavatsky submits some of the principal tenets of the Wisdom-Religion, which she names THEOSOPHY, and shows that there is more than ample ground, from evidence accessible to the general student, to justify the statements she makes, that the Wisdom-Religion underlies and antedates every religion, every philosophy, every system of thought, every science, known to mankind, and that all these have in point of fact sprung from periodical impartations of portions of the Secret Doctrines by its Adept custodians.
"Isis" is in no sense put forward by its writer, however, as an inference, a revelation, or a speculation, although the burden of its mighty contents is necessarily largely assumed to prove that the existence of Adepts and a Wisdom-Religion is the unavoidable inference from the testimony; the prior missions and messages of great Adepts the indubitable source of the great religions and the common belief in gods, saviors and redeemers; their teachings regarding the "mysteries" the real fountain whence have been drawn the materials for the philosophical and ethical treatises of the great writers of all times. And with regard to the much vaunted progress of modern science she shows that everywhere, from the remotest antiquity, there are abundant indications that the arts and sciences as re-discovered in our times, were known and practiced by the "wise men of old;" furthermore, that much was "known" to the ancients of certain sciences and arts now "unknown" even to the most advanced science and scientists of our day. And although religion, philosophy and science became in time polluted with purely human speculations and fancies, "Isis" shows that this does not alter the fact that they all started originally as clear and unadulterated streams from the mother-source. What was originally a teaching depending on knowledge and inspiration degenerated in time into mere dogmas and speculations; what was originally a Teacher of primeval truths became in time an object of veneration and worship as a god or a divine incarnation.
With these considerations in mind something may be grasped of the epochal importance of Madame Blavatsky's first great work, and of the leading statements of Occultism embodied in it. Although "Isis Unveiled" has been before the world for nearly half a century few, even among Theosophists, have as yet assimilated more than a few crumbs from this "storehouse of thought."
The plan of the work is early stated. The object is not to force upon the public the personal views or theories of the author, nor does it aim at creating a revolution in some department of thought:
"It is rather a brief summary of the religions, philosophies, universal traditions of human kind, and the exegesis of the same, in the spirit of those secret doctrines, of which none -- thanks to prejudice and bigotry -- have reached Christendom in so unmutilated a form as to secure it a fair judgment. Hence the unmerited contempt into which the study of the noblest of sciences -- that of the spiritual man -- has gradually fallen.
"In undertaking to inquire into the assumed infallibility of Modern Science and Theology, the author has been forced, even at the risk of being thought discursive, to make constant comparison of the ideas, achievements, and pretensions of their representatives with those of the ancient philosophies and religious teachers. Things the most widely separated as to time have thus been brought into immediate juxtaposition, for only thus could the priority and parentage of discoveries and dogmas be determined. In discussing the merits of our scientific contemporaries, their own confessions of failure in experimental research, of baffling mysteries, of missing links in their chains of theory, of inability to comprehend natural phenomena, of ignorance of the laws of the causal world, have furnished the basis for the present study. Especially we will review the speculations and policy of noted authorities in connection with those modern psychological phenomena (Spiritualism) which began at Rochester and have now overspread the world. We wish to show how inevitable were their innumerable failures, and how they must continue until these pretended authorities go to the Brahmins and Lamaists of the far Orient, and respectfully ask them to impart the alphabet of true science.
"Deeply sensible of the Titanic struggle that is now in progress between materialism and the spiritual aspirations of mankind, our constant endeavor has been to gather into our several chapters, like weapons into armories, every fact and argument that can be used to aid the latter in defeating the former. Sickly and deformed child as it now is, the materialism of Today is born of the brutal Yesterday. Unless its growth is arrested it may become our master. To prevent the crushing of these spiritual aspirations, the blighting of these hopes, and the deadening of that intuition which teaches us of a God and a hereafter, we must show our false theologies in their naked deformity, and distinguish between divine religion and human dogmas. Our voice is raised for spiritual freedom, and our plea made for enfranchisement from all tyranny, whether of SCIENCE or THEOLOGY."
The work plunges forthwith into the comparison of the ancient Occult tenets both with modern theological dogmas and modern scientific theories. Some of the tenets laid down are as follows:
1. The pre-existence of spiritual man clothed in a body of ethereal matter, and with the ability to commune freely with the now unseen universes.
2. An almost incredible antiquity is claimed for the human race in its various "coats of skin," and the great doctrine of Cycles of Destiny (Karma) is emphasized, as well as that these Cycles do not affect all mankind at one and the same time, thus explaining the rise and fall of civilizations and the existence at one and the same time of the most highly developed races side by side with tribes sunk in savagery.
3. A double evolution, spiritual and intellectual as well as physical, is postulated whose philosophy alone can reconcile spirit and matter and cause each to demonstrate the other mathematically.
4. The doctrine of the Metempsychosis of the spiritual and mental Man is given as the key which will supply every missing link in the theories of the modern evolutionists, as well as the mysteries of the various religions. The lower orders of evolution are declared to have emanated from higher spiritual ones before they develop. It is affirmed that if men of science and theologians had properly understood the doctrine of Metempsychosis in its application to the indestructibility of matter and the immortality of spirit it would have been perceived that this doctrine is a sublime conception. It is demonstrated that there has not been a philosopher of any note who did not hold to this doctrine of Metempsychosis as taught by the Brahmins, Buddhists, and later by the Pythagoreans and the Gnostics, in its esoteric sense. For lack of comprehension of this great philosophical principle the methods of modern science, however exact, must end in nullity.
5. The ancients knew far more concerning certain sciences than our modern savants have yet discovered. Magic is as old as man. The calculations of the ancients applied equally to the spiritual progress of humanity as to the physical. Magic was considered a divine science which led to a participation in the attributes of Divinity itself. "As above, so it is below. That which has been will return again. As in heaven, so on earth." The revolution of the physical world is attended by a like revolution in the world of intellect -- the spiritual evolution proceeding in cycles, like the physical one. The great kingdoms and empires of the world, after reaching the culmination of their greatness, descend again, in accordance with the same law by which they ascended; till, having reached the lowest point, humanity reasserts itself and mounts up once more, the height of its attainment being, by this law of ascending progression by cycles, somewhat higher than the point from which it had before descended.
6. "Too many of our thinkers do not consider that the numerous changes in language, the allegorical phrases and evident secretiveness of old Mystic writers, who were generally under an obligation never to divulge the solemn secrets of the sanctuary, might have sadly misled translators and commentators. One day they may learn to know better, and so become aware that the method of extreme necessarianism was practiced in ancient as well as in modern philosophy; that from the first ages of man, the fundamental truths of all that we are permitted to know on earth was in the safe keeping of the adepts of the sanctuary; that the difference in creeds and religious practice was only external; and that those guardians of the primitive divine revelation, who had solved every problem that is within the grasp of human intellect, were bound together by a universal freemasonry of science and philosophy, which formed one unbroken chain around the globe."
7. The first chapter of Volume I, from which we have extracted the several statements which we have here numbered for their better massing and comprehension, closes with a forecast, drawn from the study of the past:
"The moment is more opportune than ever for the review of old philosophies. Archaeologists, philologists, astronomers, chemists and physicists are getting nearer to the point where they will be forced to consider them. Physical science has already reached its limits of exploration; dogmatic theology sees the springs of its inspiration dry. Unless we mistake the signs, the day is approaching when the world will receive the proofs that only ancient religions were in harmony with nature, and ancient science embraced all that can be known. Who knows the possibilities of the future? An era of disenchantment and rebuilding will soon begin -- nay, has already begun. The cycle has almost run its course; a new one is about to begin, and the future pages of history may contain full evidence, and convey full proof that
'If ancestry can be in aught believed,
Descending spirits have conversed with man,
And told him secrets of the world unknown.'"
If we turn now to the twelfth and last chapter of Volume II of "Isis," we shall be confronted with an introductory paragraph, also prophetic at the time of its writing, now all too truly a matter of both theosophical and profane history. She there says,
"It would argue small discernment on our part were we to suppose that we have been followed thus far through this work by any but metaphysicians, or mystics of some sort. Were it otherwise, we should certainly advise such to spare themselves the trouble of reading this chapter; for, although nothing is said that is not strictly true, they would not fail to regard the least wonderful of the narratives as absolutely false, however substantiated."
The chapter follows with a recapitulation of the principles of natural law, covered by the fundamental propositions of the Oriental philosophy as successively elucidated in the course of the work. She states them in numbered order as follows:
1st. There is no miracle. Everything that happens is the result of law -- eternal, immutable, ever-active. This "immutable law" is frequently referred to throughout the volumes under such terms as cycles, the "law of compensation," Karma, "self-made destiny," and so on. Its mode of operation is incessantly discussed in treating of the rise and fall of civilizations, successive races of men, earth transformations, the three-fold principle of evolution, Spiritual, Mental, and Physical; the compound nature of man and the universe; and in such terminology as pre-existence, metempsychosis, transmigration, reincarnation, transformation, permutation, emanation, immortality, and after death states and conditions. Constant effort is made to keep before the reader the unvarying principle that spiritual and mental evolution proceeds apace with physical manifestations, and stands to physical evolution in the relation of cause to effect. This is all summarized in proposition
2nd. Nature is triune: there is a visible, objective nature; an invisible, indwelling, energizing nature, the exact model of the other, and its vital principle; and, above these two, spirit, source of all forces, alone eternal and indestructible. The lower two constantly change; the higher third does not. This universal postulate is then applied specifically to human nature and evolution in proposition
3rd. Man is also triune; he has his objective, physical body, his vitalizing astral body (or soul), the real man; and these two are brooded over and illuminated by the third -- the sovereign, the immortal spirit. When the real man succeeds in merging himself with the latter, he becomes an immortal entity. The argument throughout the two large volumes of "Isis" is always that such mergence or union is possible and is the underlying purpose of all evolution; that such beings as Jesus, Buddha and others had in fact arrived at this consummation, and that the real mission of the Founders of all religions is to point mankind to the purpose of mental and spiritual evolution, and give the directions and conditions precedent to the "perfectibility of man." Such exalted beings are by H. P. Blavatsky variously called the sages, the adepts, the Great Souls of all time. Their knowledge of nature and of nature's laws is called in its entirety the Wisdom-Religion, and its practical exemplification is summarized in proposition
4th. Magic, as a science, is the knowledge of these principles, and of the way by which the omniscience and omnipotence of the spirit and its control over nature's forces may be acquired by the individual while still in the body. Magic, as an art, is the application of this knowledge in practice. Granting that great powers exist in nature, and that the conscious control over these powers by metaphysical means may be attained by the incarnated being, it follows that such control may be exercised beneficently or maleficently. Arcane knowledge misapplied is sorcery, or "Black Magic;" beneficently used, true Magic or WISDOM. In either case it constitutes Adeptship, whether of the Right or the Left-hand Path. This is the 5th proposition, and the text of the two volumes contain almost numberless direct and indirect references to celebrated characters in history, tradition and myth who exemplified the two characters of Adeptship.
6th. This proposition sets forth that Mediumship is the opposite of Adeptship. Whereas the Adept actively controls himself and all inferior potencies, the Medium is the passive instrument of foreign influences. There is no more important practical theorem in the whole work. Many, many pages are devoted to discussion of the characteristics, tendencies, practices and fruits of mediumship. Its phenomena, objective and subjective, are dealt with at length. Spiritualism, or mediumship, is shown to have been prevalent in all ages, no matter under what names known, and its recurrence, whether in individual cases or amongst masses of men, is shown to be subject to cyclic law, now more generally known to Theosophical students under its Sanskrit designation of Karma. In Mediumship, as in Adeptship, it is shown that there are two polar antitheses, dependent on the moral character of the medium for the quality and range no less than the effects, good or bad, of its exercise.
The remaining numbered propositions of the last chapter of Volume II will be considered in another connection later on, but their essential nature and implications are contained in the following sentences, without the basic apprehension of which no inquiry into Theosophy and the Theosophical Movement can be fruitful of understanding, however it may afford information:
"To sum up all in a few words, MAGIC is spiritual WISDOM; nature, the material ally, pupil and servant of the magician. One common vital principle pervades all things, and this is controllable by the perfected human will. The adept can stimulate the movements of the natural forces in plants and animals in a preternatural degree. Such experiments are not obstructions of nature, but quickenings; the conditions of intenser vital action are given.
"The adept can control the sensations and alter the conditions of the physical and astral bodies of other persons not adepts; he can also govern and employ, as he chooses, the spirits of the elements. He cannot control the immortal spirit of any human being, living or dead, for all such spirits are alike sparks of the Divine Essence, and not subject to any foreign domination."
The restrictions with which the information conveyed in "Isis" is hedged about, both from the standpoint of the teacher endeavoring to impart and the inquirer endeavoring to learn, and the dangers, known or unknown to the latter, are indicated towards the close of the chapter:
"By those who have followed us thus far, it will naturally be asked, to what practical issue this book tends; much has been said about magic and its potentiality, much of the immense antiquity of its practice. Do we wish to affirm that the occult sciences ought to be studied and practiced throughout the world? Would we replace modern spiritualism with the ancient magic? Neither; the substitution could not be made, nor the study universally prosecuted without incurring the risk of enormous public dangers.
"We would have neither scientists, theologians nor spiritualists turn practical magicians, but all to realize that there was true science, profound religion, and genuine phenomena before this modern era. We would that all who have a voice in the education of the masses should first know and then teach that the safest guides to human happiness and enlightenment are those writings which have descended to us from the remotest antiquity; and that nobler spiritual aspirations and a higher average morality prevail in the countries where the people have taken their precepts as the rule of their lives. We would have all to realize that magical, i.e., spiritual powers exist in every man, and those few to practice them who feel called to teach, and are ready to pay the price of discipline and self-conquest which their development exacts.
"Many men have arisen who had glimpses of the truth, and fancied they had it all. Such have failed to achieve the good they might have done and sought to do, because vanity has made them thrust their personality into such undue prominence as to interpose it between their believers and the whole truth that lay behind. The world needs no sectarian church, whether of Buddha, Jesus, Mahomet, Swedenborg, Calvin, or any other. There being but ONE Truth, man requires but one church -- the Temple of God within us, walled in by matter but penetrable by any one who can find the way; the pure in heart see God.
"The trinity of nature is the lock of magic, the trinity of man the key that fits it. Within the solemn precincts of the sanctuary the SUPREME had and has no name. It is unthinkable and unpronounceable; and yet every man finds in himself his god.
"Besides, there are many good reasons why the study of magic, except in its broad philosophy, is nearly impracticable in Europe and America. Magic being what it is, the most difficult of all sciences to learn experimentally -- its acquisition is, practically, beyond the reach of the majority of white-skinned people; and that, whether their effort is made at home or in the East. Probably not more than one man in a million of European blood is fitted -- either physically, morally, or psychologically -- to become a practical magician, and not one in ten millions would be found endowed with all these three qualifications as required for the work. Unlike other sciences, a theoretical knowledge of formulae without mental capacities or soul powers, is utterly useless in magic. The spirit must hold in complete subjection the combativeness of what is loosely termed educated reason, until facts have vanquished cold human sophistry."
The concluding pages of "Isis" recites that those best prepared to appreciate occultism are the spiritualists, although, through prejudice, they have hitherto been the bitterest opponents to its introduction to public notice. She sums up thus:
"Despite all foolish negations and denunciations, their phenomena are real. Despite, also, their own assertions they are wholly misunderstood by themselves. The totally insufficient theory of the constant agency of disembodied human spirits in their production has been the bane of the Cause. A thousand mortifying rebuffs have failed to open their reason or intuition to the truth. Ignoring the teachings of the past, they have discovered no substitute. We offer them philosophical deduction instead of unverifiable hypothesis, scientific analysis and demonstration instead of undiscriminating faith. Occult philosophy gives them the means of meeting the reasonable requirements of science, and frees them from the humiliating necessity to accept the oracular teachings of 'intelligences,' which as a rule have less intelligence than a child at school. So based and so strengthened, modern phenomena would be in a position to command the attention and enforce the respect of those who carry with them public opinion. Without invoking such help, spiritualism must continue to vegetate, equally repulsed -- not without cause -- both by scientists and theologians. In its modern aspect it is neither a science, a religion, nor a philosophy."
With this outline of the teaching of Occultism as contained in "Isis Unveiled;" its overwhelming arraignment out of the mouths of their own exponents, of the religion, science, and philosophy of the day; its outspoken treatment of dogmatic Christianity, of materialistic hypotheses, of the phenomena and theories of spiritualism, the student can begin to comprehend the enormous difficulties faced by H.P.B. in gaining a foothold for the Theosophical Society and a hearing for her teachings of Theosophy. Her task was not that of a teacher in a kindergarten: to meet and lead plastic and unsullied minds eager with interest, unburdened with preconceptions, into new and delightful paths of occupation and learning. Far from it. Rather it was that of the alienist in a mad world, its insane and unsane inhabitants soaked through and through with their several illusions and delusions, each profoundly certain of the wholesomeness and value of his own particular mania, profoundly convinced of the hallucination of all others; each looking at the phenomena of life through the distorted lenses of fundamental misconceptions. Regardless of names and forms, she had to reckon with the fact, from the standpoint of the teachings of Occultism, that everywhere, without a solitary exception, the men of the Western world were fast fixed in false beliefs, taking that to be the Eternal which is not eternal; that to be Soul which is not soul; that to be Pure which is impure; that to be good which is evil.
With this corrupted and perverted mind of the race she had to deal, to take it as she found it, to destroy while seeming to create, to create while seeming to destroy. She had to adopt and employ the nomenclature of false religion, false philosophy, false science, false psychology, to inject into it ideas that would infallibly rupture the very foundations upon which Western civilization is builded, while still so safe-guarding her patients that the civilization should not be wrecked while re-creating its foundations. She had to save whole the life while destroying the very elements upon which it was depending for nutriment.
Great as are the difficulties of the physician of the body, they are as nothing to the burden of the physician of souls. She came into a world all mad and intent on the employment as food and medicaments of the very poisons and intoxicants of the soul that have wrecked every prior great civilization. She had to use the old labels, the old formulas and prescriptions, while substituting and compounding ingredients that, if suspected, would have been rejected forthwith and out of hand by those she came but to serve.
Looking back from the present basis of tolerated if not accepted ideas, it is only by the contrast that the supreme miracle of her wisdom can be even faintly sensed. The identity of man with the Supreme Spirit, the doctrine of Cycles, the law of Compensation, spiritual and intellectual as well as physical evolution, inherent immortality, metempsychosis, the Spiritual Brotherhood of all beings, Adepts as the culmination of the triple evolutionary scheme in Nature; Spirit and Matter as the eternal dual presentment of evolving Consciousness, the polar aspects of the One Essence -- all these great and supreme ideas she and none other restored to a vital place in human thought. The words existed -- mummied forms from the by-gone Past, wrapped in the thousand cerements and grave-cloths of the sects. As in the Talmudic legend, she breathed upon the clay, breathed into it the breath of life. Or, better, as in the story of Joseph, she made the dead come forth from the tomb, clothed in the habiliments in which the living dead had buried him against a far-off impossible resurrection. H. P. Blavatsky raised the dead, reincarnated the Soul, restored the Spirit to a living issue in a Mind hopelessly enmeshed in Matter as the only reality.
Much has been written by Theosophists -- those who owe their all to her and her work -- that the H.P.B. of 1875 was not the H.P.B. of later days; that she, like themselves, was but a student, stumbling, halting, groping, finding her way through failures and mistakes; that it was only in later years that she came to learn of this, of that, of reincarnation among other matters; that many contradictions will be found in "Isis" when compared with her final teachings.
C'est pour rire!
The inquirer into facts and philosophies has but to read "Isis," to annotate its teachings, to compare them with all her subsequent multifarious writings to see and know for himself beyond all doubts and beyond all peradventure, that the teachings of "Isis" are her unchanging teachings; that not in jot or in tittle is there a contradiction or a disagreement in all she ever wrote; that in "Isis" are the foundational and fundamental statements of Occultism, and all her later writings but extensions, ramifications, the orderly development and unfolding of what is both explicit and implicit in "Isis Unveiled." And that wholesome study and comparison will do more: it will give the student a solid and impregnable standard from which to survey the real nature and character of the Avatar of the nineteenth century; a criterion by which, as well, truly to measure the understanding, the nature and the development of those disciples, students and followers of H.P.B. of whom she might well have repeated in the words of Blake on "certain friends:"
"I found them blind; I taught them how to see;
And now they neither know themselves nor me."
The facts being ascertained, and some faint perception of their significance being grasped, the student needs no interpreter and guide to tell him that obstacles, opposition, misunderstanding, contumely, hatred and misrepresentation of her and her mission were the necessary and unavoidable concomitants of every step in the progress of the Theosophical Society, its students, its propagandum, no less than in the path of her whose mission it was to be their "presiding deity." The chief of these difficulties in the first decade of the Movement have now to be considered.
(1) This article was first published in Theosophy (Los Angeles, CA, USA), April 1920, pp. 161-170. A slightly edited and revised version was published as Chapter III, "Isis Unveiled," pp. 26-41 in the book titled The Theosophical Movement 1875-1925: A History and a Survey (First edition, 1925).
An online edition of this article as first published in Theosophy was reprinted on John DeSantis' WisdomWorld.org Web Site. See the "Modern Theosophical Movement" Section at his site. Mr. DeSantis has kindly allowed us to reprint this article.