Mme. Blavatsky Resigns
Published by The Blavatsky Archives. Online Edition copyright 2000.
Compelled by Ill-Health to Relinquish Her Duties
Col. Olcott Also Retires, Leaving Theosophical
Affairs to the Care of an Executive Committee.
[Reprinted from The New York Times, May 7, 1885, p. 5.]
Rochester, May 6 --- A circular letter has just been received by Mrs. J. W. Cables, Corresponding Secretary of the American Board of Control of the Theosophical Society, from India, announcing the voluntary retirement of Col. Olcott and Mme. Blavatsky from active and sole control of the affairs of the society. They are to be succeeded by an Executive Committee, of which Col. Olcott will be a member. Mme. Blavatsky is forced, by reason of ill-health, to give up her arduous duties. It is also hinted that her life is despaired of, and that she has not many months to live. This news has created something of a surprise among the 50 members of the local branch of the society, which is now considered the most influential of any in the United States, and will interest those who have followed the Theosophical leaders in their work in India. There are hundreds and perhaps thousands of New-Yorkers who remember the furor created by Mme. Blavatsky while a resident of the metropolis. It was there that her voluminous work Isis Unveiled was written. Her parlors were constantly filled with believers in the then new doctrine of theosophy and the phenomena performed by Mme. Blavatsky and by spiritualists and hosts of inquirers. Blavatsky and Olcott left the United States in 1879, and took up their residence in India, establishing the headquarters of the society at Adyar, Madras. A monthly journal, the Theosophist, was started, which, according to a recent statement, has yielded a profit of about $8,000, all but about $300 of which has been turned over to the society to be used in prosecuting its work. Besides this sum and other contributions, dues and fees for initiation, &c., Olcott and Blavatsky have given about $9,000 of their private funds to the cause, besides their constant care and attention.
Stories of the wonderful phenomena performed by Madame Blavatsky and Olcott and other members of the societys household have reached this country through the medium of the societys journal, Sinnetts books, and newspaper correspondents. Under the guidance of Blavatsky letters to persons hundreds of miles from Madras would drop apparently from the ceiling before the astonished receiver; articles would be found by their owners in the most unexpected places, and thousands of persons are said to have been cured of various diseases by Olcott by the simple laying on of hands. People like Moncure D. Conway, who went to Adyar and demanded to be given evidence of this occult power, were very apt to have their labor for their pains. Conway wrote two or three scathing letters to American journals describing the alleged charlatanry carried on at the society headquarters. Then a short time ago charges of fraud against Blavatsky were brought by the Coulombs, a couple who kept house for her. They were incited to it by the Christian College Magazine, as it afterwards proved, and the charges fell flat. When the Society for Psychical Research was formed in London, the theosophical phenomena formed a subject for inquiry. A Mr. Hodgson was commissioned to proceed to India to look over the evidence and report his conclusions. Mr. Hodgson has not made his final report, and pending its appearance, and in the belief that it would contain strictures on the society, Col. Olcott felt constrained to issue the following letter, as if to ward off the blow as much as possible:
[Letter from Henry S. Olcott]
ADYAR, March 23. --- As the report of the special commission of the Society for Psychical Research to India is likely to be unfavorable as regards the genuineness of our phenomena and to reflect upon the character of individuals, and as much pain will be caused to and doubts raised in the minds of our distant colleagues and sympathizers, your attention is asked to the following points:
Mr. Hodgson has, of course, made no specific statement as to the tone of the report, so I am not able to answer its point in detail, nor can I say whether any answer or explanation would be possible as regards some of them, but from what has come to my knowledge I am convinced that, despite his good intentions, his intelligence, and his zeal, he is conveying to his colleagues and the public very incorrect impressions both as to the facts and persons. I should compare his report to that of the French Royal Commission of 1784 upon mesmerism as to its possible effects --- a temporary checking of public interest in our movement, a rain of abuse and denunciation, and a speedy reaction in our favor upon sober second thought. The weak point in his case is that having as he thinks discredited certain specified phenomena, ergo all undescribed phenomena are to be rejected, and as he also thinks, bad faith having been shown on the part of Mme. Blavatsky, ergo all her witnesses were dupes or accomplices. The condemnation is in a word so sweeping that inevitably it must react. To fit a general theory of fraud to all our observed phenomena he is forced to invent hypotheses in each case which the circumstances utterly refute. For instance, when asked by me to explain how Damodar (Mavalankar) could have written the Adyar letter about his alleged astral journeyings to London, (Society Psychical Research, Report of Theosophical Society Phenomena,) which was so convincing to Mr. Myers he replied that the letter was doubtless written by Mme. Blavatsky in London, the fact being that it came by post in a cover duly postmarked at Madras. And, moreover, if it had been concocted in London by Mme. Blavatsky, it would naturally have contained numerous details as to the furniture of the rooms in Elgin-crescent and the personal appearance and conversation of the persons present, so as to give a greater air of verisimilitude to the alleged visit than was afforded by the meagre yet striking facts mentioned by Damodar. * * * Again, conversing with him about Mr. Coulombs assertion that Mme. Blavatsky had caused certain Ceylon and Simla names of persons to be embroidered upon her own handkerchiefs, so that she might produce the trick of apparent obliteration of her own name and its replacement by the others, I pointed out to him the following facts: When the names Wijiratna and Dies were caused to come upon two handkerchiefs in the presence of many on-lookers at Galle, Ceylon, the choice of names was left to a vote of the company then and there, and no amount of arranged trickery at Bombay could have foreseen that these two names and none others would be selected. A further fact is that Mme. Blavatsky did the handkerchief phenomenon three times in Ceylon. Again, she repeated it a fourth time, on board the steamship Ethiopia, changing her name on a handkerchief to that of Elliott, the chief engineer, of whose existence we had had no reasonable means of knowing. In this instance the change was made upon his sudden demand, and at the card table at which they sat. * * * But to say nothing of the Simla feats of this sort, there was a fifth case. On Feb. 16, 1879, we arrived at Bombay from America, and that same evening, in the presence of a room full of persons, Mme. Blavatsky caused to occur upon a handkerchief held by one end by Mr. Ross Scott substitution of the name Hurrychund for her own. That persons name was selected for the feat then and there by Mr. Ross Scott out of those of the thirty or forty persons present. These examples go to show the insufficiency of the theory of fraud to account for this one class of Mme. Blavatskys phenomena. You have all read or heard about the cup and saucer phenomenon at the Simla picnic. (This is mentioned in Sinnetts Occult World.) At the time it impressed every one present as an absolutely unimpeachable test of psychic powers, for the cup and saucer were dug out of the ground from amid a tangled mass of rootlets of the Deodara, (cedar tree.) Later the fraud theory was fitted to it by assuming that the articles might have been placed there through a small tunnel from the slope of the hillock --- the picnic ground having been previously noted and selected by, or for, Mme. Blavatsky. The pivotal points of the case are that the extra person unexpectedly joined the party as they were leaving the house, hence Mme. Blavatsky could not have previously arranged for the phenomena, and Mrs. S., (our hostess,) when the new guest joined up, turned to her butler, and ordered him to put an additional cup and saucer in the baskets. If he had obeyed there would have been no occasion to demand the phenomenal production of the seventh pair of articles on the picnic grounds. But no amount of consideration of these facts was sufficient to offset the congenial theory of fraud for those who did not want to believe in phenomena. Mr. Hodgson and all who work upon his hypothesis help to obscure the truth, to impede philanthropic work, to sow doubts and dissension between earnest people, and make it the more difficult for his society, for ours, and for all other associations and persons interested in psychical research to convince skeptical people of the existence of the higher powers in man. Mr. Hodgson has, I hear, visited Bombay, seen the localities where some of our phenomena happened, and tried whether the mechanical surroundings were such as to support the allegation of Mr. Coulomb as to the fraudulent manner of their production. He also examined our witnesses. The result was that he found defects and discrepancies in our testimony all round, and that there were cracks in ceilings through which letters might be dropped, and other physical surroundings that might be dove-tailed into the fraud theory. But, after all, the question is whether one or all of the letters were so dropped and other phenomena dishonestly produced.*** It would be the height of impropriety either to discredit altogether the theosophical phenomena because some classes of them may be imitated fraudulently or to deny to Mme. Blavatsky the possession of any control over the occult forces because doubt has been or may be thrown upon her bona fides in certain instances. If we should concede to our enemies everything they claim by admitting that every published phenomenon may have been --- a most violent and unwarrantable concession certainly --- there will still remain a mass of others equally surprising and instructive, more than sufficient to support the claims of Asiatic occult science. * * * Unless it is pretended that Mme. Blavatsky is the society solely and absolutely, then, assuredly, the basis of its attempt to verify the claims of Eastern occultism remains unshaken. And since the existence of the Mahatmas, Dhyan Chohans, and other superior personages or entitles, as well as those of lower entities, of man fits in with the current theories of evolution, we have no right to ignore the testimonials as to their existence found in Eastern literature and borne by many living persons outside and inside our society because Mr. Hodgson can pick flaws in the statements of the witnesses we have summoned. * * * If Mr. Hodgson would exchange duties with me for one month he would discover what sort of iron memory and self-control the executive direction of a society having more than one hundred branches, scattered all over the world, must have to be ready to serve as a model witness as to psychical phenomena of which he has seen hundreds under all sorts of conditions. Suffice it that I did see the Mahatma in New-York, that he did give me his turban as a piece of evidence, that I showed it to many persons before sailing for the East, that it has his cryptograph embroidered upon it, and that this is not the only experience of the kind, either as regards that particular personage or others. Moreover, others besides myself have similar knowledge, and some of our members have lived with those teachers. What we know we know, and it is of small consequence whether we are believed or discredited so far as the general body of truth is concerned. If we have been shown phenomena by Mme. Blavatsky which may be brought under suspicion, we have also seen others when she was far away and in her absence, which were as great a mystery to clever conjurers as they were to us profane.
To turn from the phenomenal aspect of things, let us see whether the society is or is not entitled to your allegiance and hearty sympathy for useful and philanthropic work done. The sensational character of our phenomena has so attracted the attention of our members and the general public that the other work has been mostly overlooked. The Theosophical Society has three objects, it must be borne in mind, and a mass of testimony can be adduced to show that we have effected the following results:
1. We have practically shown the possibility of bringing men of various races, creeds, and cases into one harmonious working body.
2. We have revived Sanskrit learning throughout India, causing colleges and schools to be opened to the number of about 43; books to be written and translated and printed to the number of over 56, and a widespread, eager interest to be excited in the study of Aryan philosophy and science.
3. This interest has, through the works put forth by our members, spread over the West quite widely already, and seems destined to have the greatest expansion in time. Edouard von Hartmann, Baron du Biel, and other German philosophers of the first rank have begun to criticise and discuss our views, as also have leading reviewers in England, France and Belgium, and other countries.
4. We have begun a colossal work in the Department of Buddhism without any reference to phenomena; have established a press and journal at Colombo; published thousands of copies of Buddhist books of all sorts and have at this moment in operation schools for both sexes.
5. Mesmeric science we have popularized throughout the East, and many persons are daily healing the sick and administering remedies in dispensaries supported by our contributions without cost to patients.
6. By the universal testimony of the Indian native press, we have aided largely in stemming the materialistic, irreligious drift of the educated class of the Hindus, and created a native public that buys religious books and patronizes pundits who turn to authorship.
7. Without meddling with politics we have helped to assuage the bitterness of feeling between the two races, that, but for the Ilbert bill agitation, which opened a wider gulf than ever, would have done by this time more than any other agency to bring about a cordial relation.
* * * * * * *
Just now we are beginning to found an Indian National League of Honor among youth, whose object is to promote truth, honesty, virtue, and manly self-sacrifice. If you have to complain of faults in my management and scandals arising out of Mme. B.s phenomena you will have to do so no longer, for I am forming an Executive Committee of the General Council, to have, with myself, the direction of affairs, reserving to myself but one equal vote with the rest; and Mme. B. resigns her office of Corresponding Secretary, and, for the few more remaining weeks or months of life she is allowed by her physicians to count upon, will be simply members like yourselves. Whatever can be done to increase the efficiency and usefulness of the society shall be done to the full extent of my power to bring it about. I ask but to be shown by my duty by those competent to instruct me.
In conclusion, I will say but a word as to the attitude we have maintained toward the Society for Psychical Research and its Commissioner throughout. In India, as in London, we have tried to show them the deep and unselfish interest felt by us in their work and our cordial wishes for their success. We no sooner received news of the organization of that society than we offered through the columns of our magazine every help we and our Eastern branches could afford. Upon Mr. Hodgsons arrival at Adyar we took him into our house, introduced him to the delegates present at the annual convention, and bespoke for him the friendly regard and aid of all our colleagues in his labors. We laid before him for inspection our private diaries, books, and papers. We influenced the Indian occultists to break through the traditional policy of reticence and freely answer his questions, thus placing ourselves and our dearest interests in his power. I submit, then, that all this goes to show the absence of anything like a disposition to conceal fraud or obstruct a full and free inquiry into our phenomena, our methods, our motives, our character. Is it too much to ask that, in making up your verdict on our case, you should take into account this and the facts above mentioned, and do us strict justice? Fraternally yours,
H. S. OLCOTT, P.T.S.