Published by Blavatsky Archives.
Online Edition copyright 2001 by Marina Cesar Sisson.

Helena Blavatsky
and the Enigma of John King

By Marina Cesar Sisson

[Originally published in Informativo HPB, n° 3, 4 and 5]


1.   John King: An Undigested Lump in the Theosophical Literature
2.   John King: He Is My Only Friend
3.   Messenger and Servant – Never the Equal – of Living Adepts
4.   John King and the Fraternity of Luxor
5.   John King as Advocate of HPB
6.   John King in Philadelphia
7.   John King – An Initiate
8.   John King - Master Serapis’ Helper
9.   Self-portrait of John King
10. John King – A Brother of the Order
11. John King Cures HPB’s Leg
12. It Is Not Mediumship: It Is Altogether of a Higher Order
13. John King – HPB’s "Sahib"
14. John King and Master Morya
15. John King Saved My Life Three Times
16. This Power I Have Been Acquainted with From Childhood
17. In Cairo with the Copt Magician
18. Albert Rawson, HPB’s Companion During Her First Trips
19. Paulos Metamon
20. Trips to Peru
21. Identification of John King
22. I First Went to Greece and Saw Hillarion
23. Master Hillarion and Paulos Metamon with HPB in Cairo
24. Mabel Collins and Master Hillarion
25. Our Modes of Action Are Strange and Unusual
26. Bibliography
27. Pictures

1. John King: An Undigested Lump in the Theosophical Literature

Very little is known or understood about the personage John King in theosophical history. Most studies and biographies on the Theosophical Society (TS) and Helena Petrovna Blavatsky barely mention his name, as if he were a completely marginal character. The explanation for this fact is that John King is rather a controversial figure, resembling sometimes a playful elemental manipulated by HPB, others the spirit of a disincarnate pirate, or yet in other occasions he seems to be a member of the Hierarchy.

Deciphering John King, showing his true identity and the important role he played is not an easy task. According to Spierenburg, "In the theosophical literature John King is an undigested lump. We must admit this." (Spierenburg, 168). In this article we shall examine John King, the personage, and show some aspects of his participation in the lives of Olcott and the dear Old Lady.

2. John King: He Is My Only Friend

The lack of information about John King can be exemplified by the scarce mention made of him in Sylvia Cranston’s vast bibliographic work. In 648 pages, there is only one paragraph about John King:

"Who is the John King just mentioned? As HPB was ordered not to reveal at first that the phenomena occurring in her presence were performed by herself, she had to attribute them to someone, and John King, a familiar name in spiritualistic circles, was chosen. This satisfied Olcott, who was still a staunch spiritualist. He comments: "(...) Was not I at first made to believe that I was dealing with disincarnate spirits; and was not a stalking-horse put forward to rap and write, and materialize forms for me under the pseudonym of John King?" The name was also used by HPB at this time as a blind for her teachers and their agents. "Little by little", Olcott adds, "HPB let me know of the existence of Eastern adepts and their powers, and gave me by a multitude of phenomena the proofs of her own control over the forces of nature [hitherto] ascribed to John King." (Cranston, 132)

Cranston leads us to understand, therefore, that Madame Blavatsky herself performed almost all the phenomena she attributed to John King. And that, on occasion, John King would also serve as a disguise for HPB’s instructors, although Cranston does not explain how.

Nevertheless, particularly when we study HPB’s Philadelphia period, we immediately realize that this personage was probably the true author of the phenomena and that surely he was far from being a marginal figure either in HPB’s or Olcott’s life. This is clearly demonstrated by Madame Blavatsky’s own words in a letter to Aksakov, where she expresses her enormous gratitude to John King for the turnabout in her life, as follows:

"Moreover the spirit John King is very fond of me, and I am fonder of him than anything on earth. He is my only friend, and if I am indebted to any one for the radical change in my ideas of life, my efforts and so on, it is to him alone. He has transformed me, and I shall be indebted to him, when I ‘go to the upper story,’ for not having to dwell for centuries it may be in darkness and gloom." (Solovyoff, 247)

Another clear demonstration of John King’s importance comes from Olcott:

"Little by little, HPB let me know of the existence of Eastern adepts and their powers, and gave me by a multitude of phenomena the proofs of her own control over the forces of nature. At first, as I have remarked, she ascribed them to "John King," and it was through his alleged friendliness that I first came into personal correspondence with the Masters. (...) Some, like Damodar and HPB, have first seen them in visions while young; some have encountered them under strange guises in most unlikely places; I was introduced to them by HPB through the agency that my previous experiences would make most comprehensible, a pretended medium-overshadowing "spirit". John King brought four of the Masters to my attention, of whom one was a Copt, one a representative of the Neo Platonist Alexandrian school, one – a very high one, a Master of the Masters, so to say – a Venetian, and one an English philosopher, gone from men’s sight, yet not dead. The first of these became my first Guru..."(ODL I, 17-19)

How is it possible to imagine that a being to whom HPB feels in debt "for the radical change in my ideas of life, my efforts and so on" would have little importance in her life? How could someone who "brought four of the Masters" to the attention of Olcott be of lesser importance? It is quite clear that John King is not marginally important, but that he played a decisive role!

3. Messenger and Servant – Never the Equal – of Living Adepts

In November 1874 Olcott returned to New York after his investigations at the Eddy farm, where he had met HPB. Once in New York, he visited Madame Blavatsky at her apartment where she gave him "some séances of table-tipping and rapping, spelling out messages". (ODL I, 10) These messages came mainly from an invisible intelligence that called itself "John King", as Olcott explains:

"This pseudonym is one that has been familiar to frequenters of mediumistic séances these forty years past, all over the world. It was first heard of in 1850, in the "spirit room" of Jonathan Koons, of Ohio, where it pretended to be a ruler of a tribe or tribes of spirits. Later on, it was said it was the earth-haunting soul of Sir Henry Morgan, the famous buccaneer, and as such it introduced itself to me. It showed its face and turban-wrapped head to me at Philadelphia, during the course of my investigations of the Holmes mediums (...). It had a quaint handwriting, and used queer old English expressions." (ODL I, 10)

At the time Olcott was really convinced that John King was a disincarnate spirit. After a few years, however, with better knowledge of occult philosophy and of HPB’s powers, Olcott understood that although the phenomena were real, they should not be ascribed to a disincarnate spirit. At that point, Olcott started to believe in the existence of several John Kings, one of whom was an elemental used by Madame Blavatsky to train him:

"She kept up the illusion for months – just how many I cannot recollect at this distance of time – and I saw numbers of phenomena done as alleged by John King. (...) He was first, John King, an independent personality, then John King, messenger and servant – never the equal – of living adepts, and finally an elemental pure and simple, employed by HPB..." (ODL I, 11)

Our interest naturally centers on the second John King, "messenger and servant – never the equal – of living adepts". Jinarajadasa refers to this John King when he says, "The letters of the Master Serapis [to Olcott] several times mention John King". (LMW 2nd Series, 8). In these letters, according to Jinarajadasa, "John is ‘John King’." (HPB Speaks I, 5)

4. John King and the Fraternity of Luxor

The first letter received by Olcott came from the "Fraternity of Luxor", on behalf of Tuitit Bey. The date of this letter is not known precisely, but its contents lead us to infer that the most probably period is May 1875. In this letter, Brother "John" already appears as a link between Olcott and the Hierarchy:

"Sister Helen is a valiant, trustworthy servant. Open thy spirit to conviction, have faith and she will lead thee to the Golden Gate of truth. (...) Our good brother "John" hath verily acted rashly, but he meant well. Son of the World, if thou dost hear them both, then TRY. (...) Brother "John" hath brought three of our Masters to look at thee after the séances, thy noble exertions on behalf of our cause now give us the right of letting thee know who they were:

"SERAPIS BEY (Ellora Section)
"POLYDORUS ISURENUS (Section of Solomon)
"ROBERT MORE (Section of Zoroaster)
"(...) By Order of the Grand \ TUITIT BEY
"Observatory of Luxor, Tuesday Morning, Day of Mars." (HPB Speaks I, 8)

In a letter to Olcott that was certainly attached to the Tuitit Bey's letter, Madame Blavatsky explained how that letter had been written and confirmed that this was the first letter Olcott had received from the Masters:

"Got it this very moment. I had a right and dared withhold for a few hours the letter sent you by Tuitit Bey, for I alone am answerable for the effects and results of my Chief’s orders. (...) The message was ordered at Luxor, a little after midnight between Monday and Tuesday. Written out [at] Ellora in the dawn by one of the secretaries [or] neophytes and written very badly. I wanted to ascertain from T.B. if it was still his wish to have it sent in such a state of human scribbling, as it was intended for one who received such a thing for the first time." (HPB Speaks I, 1-2)

She revealed that, in her opinion, Olcott should receive a magical parchment so that, by having a concrete phenomenon in his hands, he might eliminate some of the doubts that "John’s tricks" were certainly raising in him:

"My suggestion was to let you have one of our parchments on which the contents appear (materialized) whenever you cast your eyes on it to read it, and disappear every time as soon as you have done, for, as I respectfully inferred, you had been just puzzled by John’s tricks, and that perhaps your mind, notwithstanding your sincere belief, would need strengthening by some more substantial proof." (HPB Speaks I, 2)

Yet Tuitit Bey was against it and answered thus:

"A mind that seeks the proofs of Wisdom and Knowledge in outward appearance as material proofs is unworthy of being let in unto the grand secrets of the "Book of Holy Sophia". One who denies the Spirit and questions him on the ground of its material clothing a priori will never be able to. Try." (HPB Speaks I, 2)

After alerting Olcott about Tuitit Bey’s rebuke, HPB advises him to advance with caution in the Path that leads to Wisdom, because there might not always be "John" ready to save him, once again showing the important role played by John King as an instructor in this Path:

"Now my advice to you, Henry, a friendly one: don’t you fly too high, and poke your nose on the forbidden paths of the Golden Gate without some one to pilot you; for John won’t be there always to collar you in time and bring you safe home. The little they do for you is wonderful to me, for I never saw them so generous from the first. (...) I am an initiated wretch, and I know what a curse the word ‘Try’ has proved to me in my life, and how often I trembled and feared to misunderstand their orders, and bring on myself punishment for carrying them too far or not far enough." (HPB Speaks I, 3)

The facts above show that John King cannot be considered, in any way, a minor character in the life of HPB or in Olcott’s, nor, by extension, in the beginning of the contemporary theosophical movement as a whole. With this in mind, we shall examine various events that illustrate the scope of John King’s involvement and influence.

5. John King as Advocate of HPB

In June 1874, HPB entered into partnership with Mrs. Clementine Gerebko for the purpose of exploiting a farm belonging to the latter located in Northport, Long Island. Madame Blavatsky contribution to the society was US$1,000. According to the contract, any revenue from crops, domestic fowl, or any other farm activities, as well as all expenditures, would be equally divided among the partners. HPB went to live in the farm, but soon clashed with Mrs. Gerebko, returned to New York and sued her to get her money back.

A New York law firm, Bergen, Jacobs & Ivins, acted for HPB in this case, which went to trial in Long Island on 26 April 1875. HPB won the case and received US$ 1,146 plus costs. At the time, Long Island was very far away from Brooklyn because transportation was limited. HPB’s English was still very poor and an interpreter was necessary to translate her testimony, which was in French. For two weeks, the Judge, lawyers, court clerks, clients, and interpreters stayed at a small hotel. (CW I, 84)

In his book "Memories of an Active Life", Charles Flint tells about the circumstances surrounding the trial. Before the trial, Ivins had discussed with Madame Blavatsky the points that she should emphasize or avoid in her testimony. In spite of this, when the time of her deposition came and to her lawyers’ consternation, HPB began following a line of reasoning completely opposite to that previously agreed with the lawyers. When they complained and asked her why she was doing this, she answered that "her ‘familiar’, whom she called Tom [John] King, stood at her side (invisible to everyone but her) and prompted her in her testimony." (CW I, 85) HPB confirmed John King’s help in a letter to her friend General Lippitt, as follows:

"I won another law suit, and may perhaps save $5,000, out of what I lost. John has helped me in my law suits, that is certain, but he did a very bad thing, though, not from the standpoint of the Summerland, but according to the human, earthly code of honour." (HPB Speaks I, 90)

It is quite probable that the "very bad thing" to which she refers was a fight between the two lawyers, apparently prompted by John King, because she writes to General Lippitt:

"Mr. John in his ardent desire to help me has carried his zeal too far. Hear what happened. After the verdict, Marks, the defendant’s lawyer, insulted me by saying that I won the case through a forgery of certain documents. If I had scorned the insult all should have been right but I did not, and called my lawyer to witness the insult. My lawyer called Marks a d--- perjurer and Jew and a liar. The latter returned the compliment and my lawyer prompted by John (for he says he cannot understand how he did it) throttled Marks and throwing him on the ground gave him the most magnificent thrashing to the delight of the audience and jurymen, for it was in the Court Room right before the Judge’s nose." (HPB Speaks II, 175)

After the trial, HPB left the city and wrote several letters to Ivins asking about the progress of the lawsuit and finally dumbfounded him with a letter foreseeing the decision of the court. Confirming her prediction, the court ruled in her favor using arguments very similar to those that she had advanced in her letter.

6. John King in Philadelphia

The largest number of phenomena produced by John King was recorded during the time Madame Blavatsky was married to Betanelly and lived in Philadelphia. It is precisely these phenomena that make him such a controversial figure. The events are narrated in letters written by HPB, Olcott and Betanelly to General Lippitt. Betanelly writes:

"There is no end of these wonders. Although a spiritualist of only 5 months standing, I have seen and witnessed more spirit manifestations, and see it more every day, than a great many others have seen in their long lives.

I have neither space nor time to tell you all what, J.K. does with us but, if told, it will make the most remarkable story ever written on spirit manifestations." (HPB Speaks I, 60)

Betanelly says that during the day John King "only raps, and moves about. But in night he materialises and walks about scaring the servants." (HPB Speaks I, 95) Betanelly also tells of an episode in which John King wanted him and Madame Blavatsky to give him $50 each, as follows:

"John always asks from her money. Some times she [HPB] gives, some times not, then he steals and comes and tells her to teaze. He asked her $50, but she would not give, because he did not say why. Then he asked of me, and told me if I promised him $50, he would make one man, that owed me $500, pay me; then he sayd to Madame B. and made Bargain with her, if he would get her $100 one man owed her, and did not wish to pay, she must give $50. John kept his word and Saturday she got her $100 from the man without asking him, and I my $500. John says, he psychologised both; must be so, for he got the money. She gave John $50 and mine he says, I will owe him, and pay when he asks me. We put the money in John’s writing desk, his own private table, with his papers and correspondence, nobody in house dares touch it, or he will play tricks." (HPB Speaks I, 94)

It is interesting to note that John King’s power, presence and influence were so strong that he even had a desk of his own, where he precipitated his letters. Madame Blavatsky told General Lippitt that John King corresponded directly with several people, Olcott among them. The destiny of these letters is unknown. HPB wrote as follows:

"Did you hear the trick John has played with Olcott? He actually wrote him a long letter, posted it himself it appears, and told him in it some wonderful secrets. He is a trump, my John." (HPB Speaks I, 63)

"...he becomes so powerful that he actually writes letters himself without any medium’s help, he corresponds with Olcott, with Adams, with three or four ladies that I don’t even know, comes and tells me ‘what a goodly fun he had with them,’ and how he humbugged them. I can name you ten persons he corresponds with." (HPB Speaks I, 85)

The young woman who worked in the house was a medium and many a time "did she scream on the staircase on meeting on the stairs or in the passage ‘John King,’ with his powerful frame clad in white, who glared at her,’ she said, with his fiery black eyes. And more than once saw him near me, she told my visitors". (HPB Speaks I, 242) John King frightened her once when the mail arrived, as:

"...he had opened every one of them before the postman had time to hand them. My servant maid, who is wonderfully mediumistic – as much perhaps as she is stupid – and who is all day entranced, dematerialising everything in the kitchen, came running in my bedroom, half crying and so scared that she looked quite pale telling me that ‘that big fellow spirit with the black beard had torn open the envelopes right in her hand,’ and so I read your [Lippitt’s] letter." (HPB Speaks I, 83)

David Dana was the medium in charge of the séances at the "Miracle Club" created by Olcott (Meade, 140), and he was staying at Madame Blavatsky’s with Madame Magnon, a French friend of Madame Blavatsky (HPB Speaks I, 83). At that time, HPB was seriously ill and spent some days very cold and unconscious. In the mean time, John King "took care" of the home of "his lass Ellie" (HPB). Once recovered, Madame Blavatsky described the events, joking about the "king" in John King:

"Now to John King – that king of mischievous reprobates. What he did about the house, while I was sick, in bed, on the point of dying, three volumes could not express! (...) The fact is, there is no knowing what he may do next. (...)

"He steals everything in the house, brought to Dana $10, the other day, when I was so sick; for Dana had written him in the morning secretly in his room asking him for it (Dana knows him for 29 years) brought $10 for Mr. Brown; brought Mrs. Magnon a ruby ring she had lost months ago (lost or had it stolen I do not know which), ‘to reward her’ he said, for she took care of ‘his lass Ellie’ (poor ego)". (HPB Speaks I, 83-85)

Madame Blavatsky herself tells us about other intriguing details of John King’s actions and – revealingly and surprisingly – about his ascendancy over her:

"He loves me, I know it, and would do for no one more than for myself; [yet] see what tricks he plays with me at the contrariete: the least thing I won’t do as he would like me to, he begins playing the old Harry, making mischief, and what mischief; he abuses dreadfully, calls me the most wonderful, ‘never heard before’ names, goes to mediums and tale tells them, about me, saying to them I hurt his feelings, that I am a vicious liar, an ungrateful so and so (...). He forges people’s handwritings and makes mischief in the families; ‘he pops off and pops in,’ like some infernal Deus ex machina; he is everywhere at the same time, and pokes his nose in every one’s business. He plays me the most unexpected tricks – dangerous tricks sometimes; quarrels me with people, and then comes laughing and tells me all he has done, boasting of it and teasing me.

"A few days ago he wanted me to do something I did not wish to do, for I was sick and did not think it right; he threw at me a caustic un morceau de pierre infernale, that was under lock in a casket in the drawers, and burned my right eyebrow and cheek, and when on the following morning when my eyebrow had become black as jet he laughed and said I looked like ‘a fine Spanish wench’. I will now be marked for a month at least. I know he loves me, I know it, he is devotedly attached to me, and he abuses me most shamefully, the wicked wretch. He writes long letters to people about me, makes them believe the most horrid things, and then boasts of it!" (HPB Speaks I, 85-86)

Such atypical behavior may lead us to believe that Olcott’s hypothesis about three John Kings is the most plausible explanation. Indeed, it is a very convenient explanation, because it enables us to attribute all actions that we condemn or do not understand to a "Diakka", i.e., a spirit "who takes insane delight in playing parts, in juggling tricks, in personating opposite characters". (Isis I, 218). Yet HPB herself disregards this hypothesis, when she writes General Lippitt thus:

"Your ideas about the spirit world and mine are two different things. My Lord! you will think perhaps, ‘John is a Diakka’, ‘John is a bad spirit, un esprit farfadet et malin,’ not a bit of it." (HPB Speaks I, 87)

Furthermore, this explanation is not sustainable from a logical standpoint if we consider that, at the time, Madame Blavatsky had already developed extraordinary psychic powers and, even so, the "spirit" John King, "that king of mischievous reprobates", undoubtedly exerted great power and influence over her. The other way around, however, is not true at all, for in regard to John King she was as if powerless, and could not even predict his tricks, as she explained:

"Now, for instance, nature has endowed me pretty generously with the second sight, or clairvoyant gifts and I generally can see what I am anxious to see; but I can never present [foresee] his tricks or know of them, unless he comes and tells them himself." (HPB Speaks I, 87)

As regards HPB’s psychic development, her sister, Vera Jelihosvsky, remarked that beginning in 1866:

"It is not HPB who was from that time forth victim to ‘influences’ which would have without doubt triumphed over a less strong nature than was hers; but, on the contrary, it is she who subjected these influences – whatever they maybe – to her will." (Sinnett 1886, 152)

HPB confirmed this ascendancy on a letter to a relative:

"Now (in 1866) I shall never be subjected to external influences. (...)

"The last vestiges of my psycho-physical weakness is gone, to return no more. (...) I am cleansed and purified of that dreadful attraction to myself of stray spooks and ethereal affinities. I am free, free, thanks to THOSE whom I now bless at every hour of my life." (Sinnett 1886, 152)

Thus, it is clear that Madame Blavatsky’s psychic development was such that she never would have allowed a disincarnate spirit to exert such power and influence over her. And an elemental – a mere servant of hers in the production of phenomena – would certainly not have had any ascendancy over her.

Regardless of how difficult it is to "digest" the behavior of the "king of mischievous reprobates", of the three John Kings described by Olcott, we should conclude that the John King of the period when Madame Blavatsky lived in Philadelphia and to whom she asserted being in debt "for the radical change in my ideas of life", can only be the "messenger and servant – never the equal – of living adepts".

7. John King – An Initiate

William Stainton Moses was an English medium who wrote several books under the pseudonym "M. A. Oxon" and who communicated with an entity that called itself "Imperator". Moses’ first contacts with Olcott and Madame Blavatsky were in 1875, after Olcott’s book People from the Other Worlds was published, and a close and long lasting friendship was established. Several passages in the letters of the Masters to Sinnett mention Moses and "Imperator". In a letter referring to John King as an initiate, Olcott recommends Moses to try to talk to John King through the mediums of the time:

"Try to get private talk with ‘John King’ – he is an initiate, and his frivolities of speech and action are meant to cover serious business. You can see him at Herne’s or Williams’ and privately arrange with him to come and talk to you and bring others". (Godwin 1990, 108)

In July 1875, therefore, Olcott did not yet use the "excuse" for John King’s atypical behavior as being that of a disincarnate spirit, but revealed that such behavior tried to cover serious matters. Nevertheless, although Olcott seemed to know that side of John King, he sometimes still felt confused and suspicious with regard to John King’s methods. At that time, a letter of Master Serapis called this attitude to Olcott’s attention saying:

"The dweller was at work, trying to poison your heart with black doubt and bring you to mistrust our good John. You have pained him greatly, for if attached otherwise to earth and sharing largely in frail men’s imperfections, still our Brother John is true and noble in his heart, and incapable of deceiving wittingly a friend." (LMW 2nd Series, 24)

8. John King - Master Serapis’ Helper

Master Serapis mentions John King several times in his letters to Olcott, usually portraying him as his helper. For example, while in Boston, Olcott sent the "Lodge" daily reports through John King:

"Write to our suffering Sister daily. Comfort her aching heart and forgive the childish shortcomings of one whose true and faithful heart takes no shares with the defects resulting of an early spoilt childhood. You must address your reports and daily notes while in Boston to the Lodge through Brother John, not omitting the cabalistic signs of Solomon on envelope." (LMW 2nd Series, 39)

"Brother Henry must report every night, and having presented his opinion of the work of the day, mail it to the address of our good Brother John, encircling the signs of the envelope with the seal of King Solomon". (LMW 2nd Series, 40)

Olcott possessed a signet ring from which HPB made a phenomenalistic duplication in 1876. He wrongly affirmed that this ring HPB "wore until her death, and it is now worn by Mrs. Annie Besant and is familiar to thousands." (ODL I, 347) The ring HPB used till her death was made in London, 1884, and given her by Francesca Arundale. The design on this ring was "the double triangle, and below it the Sanskrit word Sat, Truth." (Jinarajadasa, 662)

In a previous article (Informativo HPB n° 2) we suggested that the design on Olcott’s signet ring had only the two interwoven triangles, i.e., the Seal of King Solomon. This reference to King Solomon’s seal in Olcott’s correspondence with the "Lodge" reinforces this hypothesis.

As regards this symbol, it does not seem a mere coincidence that one of the Masters interested in Olcott – Polydorus Isurenos – was from the "Section of Solomon". (HPB Speaks I, 8; LMW 2nd Series, 12)

9. Self-portrait of John King

In early March 1875, HPB wrote General Lippitt that she would be sending him a self-portrait of John King, in which he appeared "on his balcony, in Summer-land" (HPB Speaks I, 57). In bright colors over white satin, the painting shows centrally the head and part of the trunk of a black-bearded man wearing a turban and white garments. (See John King’s self-portrait.)

He is standing on a balcony surrounded by foliage and a large flower garland. In the background, to the right, there are some pale human figures and, to the left, a building which reminds us of a castle by a lakeshore. In the picture, John King is holding a large book with signs on its cover, while the symbols of Solomon and a swastika are shown on the column of the balcony. It is important to note that these two symbols are also present on the TS logo and in HPB’s crest. Gomes informs us about the picture that:

"This picture is preserved at the headquarters of the Theosophical Society at Adyar, India. The colors are still remarkably bright for its age; only in one place has the satin become discoloured. It was brought over to London in June 1893 by W.Q. Judge, then general secretary of the American Section of the society, as a present from General Lippitt to Annie Besant". (Gomes 1987, 211)

Olcott was there at the time and described how the portrait was made in a letter to General Lippitt (HPB Speaks I, 78). Madame Blavatsky purchased a piece of fine white satin in the appropriate size: 1 yard square (0,91m²). This was placed over a board, together with brushes, paints and water. The material was covered with a cloth and left overnight in the room dedicated to the "spirits".

By morning, the whole upper part of the portrait and John King’s face had been outlined and there was some coloring around the human figures in the background. Next, John King asked HPB to begin painting a flower garland around the picture, as if it were a frame. Madame Blavatsky, however, did not work very fast. She said: "I work very slow when he does not help me or do it himself." (HPB Speaks I, 57) Thus John King became impatient with her work and dismissed her. When he called her back, HPB found the whole upper foliage and the marble balcony already outlined and she began working on the foliage and, hence, limited herself to painting this part of the picture. Olcott wrote:

"John doing everything else himself – piecemeal, sometimes by day and sometimes by night. I was in the house most of this time and on more than one occasion sat near her [HPB] while painting, and with her stepped out for a few minutes while the spirit artist drew some portion of the picture, beneath the cloth that was spread over its face. The Greek and Hebrew words and the cabalistic signs were put in last of all." (HPB Speaks I, 78)

By early April the painting had been sent to General Lippitt with a request that he never part from the portrait, and not let "too many persons touch it, not even approach it too close." (HPB Speaks I, 65). Madame Blavatsky remarked on Lippitt’s reaction to the painting:

"I am glad you like Johny’s picture, but you must not call him a Turk, for he is a noble dear sprite and loves you much. It is nobody’s fault, if you did not see him till now, as he is in reality, and always thought him to be like the old Jewish half-materialised phyz. you were generally treated to at the Holmes. In London only, he appears as he is; but bearing still on his dear countenance some likeness to his respective mediums, for it is hard for him to change completely the particles drawn by him from various vital powers." (HPB Speaks I, 65)

An interesting note is HPB’s remark that "In London only, he appears as he is". At a séance with medium Williams held in London in March 1873, a portrait of John King was also outlined, and it is quite similar to that made for Lippitt, except for the flowers and the background around the main figure (Cooper, 145). This indicates that John King’s self-portrait must have reproduced very well the image that he wanted to show of himself to the public.

10. John King – A Brother of the Order

On sending the portrait to Lippitt, Madame Blavatsky also said:

"John asks you to give your attention to the flying figure of the spirit above – "mother and child". Says you will recognise her. I do not. Johny wants you to try and understand all the symbols and masonic signs." (HPB Speaks I, 64).

Lippitt did not recognize the spirit and, at a later time, Madame Blavatsky identified her as the image of Katie King, who had appeared to General Lippitt in several séances. (HPB Speaks I, 66) As for the symbols that he should try to understand, HPB remarked:

"Until the whole of the meaning of the symbols on John’s picture is found out, John cannot teach people and – declines to make them wiser. "Try" and find it out, if you can." (HPB Speaks I, 73)

The word "try" – that is characteristic of Master Serapis’ letters – and the reference to John King as someone who could make people wiser further reinforce the hypothesis that John King was a member of the Hierarchy and, as we have seen, hierarchically above HPB.

In a letter to Lippitt, Olcott explained that the Greek and Hebrew words and the cabalistic symbols in the painting "were known to every student of the Kabbala", remarking:

"They [the words] and the signs and the jewel John King wears upon his breast are all Rosicrucian symbols, he having been a brother of the Order, and this being the tie which binds him to our gifted friend Mme. de B. [Blavatsky]." (HPB Speaks I, 79)

It is important to note that Olcott refers to John King as "a brother of the Order" and that this is "the tie which binds him" to Madame Blavatsky. HPB also referred to this link of John King with an Order, or Fraternity, in a letter to Lippitt. She explained that the letters dictated by the spirits that he had received, which apparently meant nothing, were instructions to the Spiritualists in America. She also remarked that they were written out in ciphered alphabet, i.e.:

"...the Cabalistic, employed by Rosicrucians and other Brotherhoods of the Occult Sciences. I am not at liberty to read them out to you, until allowed. Do not take these words for a dodge. I give you my word of honour it is so. John knows to write that way of course, for he belonged as you knew to one of the orders. Preserve all that you may receive in such a way carefully." (HPB Speaks I, 97)

It must be noted that Madame Blavatsky had declared herself a "Rosicrucian" in 1874 (CW I, 100), but had written in a June 1875 article that "strictly speaking, the Rosicrucians do not now even exist, the last of that Fraternity having departed in the person of Cagliostro." (CW I, 103) If she had declared herself a Rosicrucian, but said that the last of that Fraternity had departed with Cagliostro, she must have been referring to a Fraternity – or Order – with a higher meaning of the word. Thus, this Order should be linked to the Hierarchy. If this Fraternity were the tie that bound HPB to John King, then he would have also been a member of the Hierarchy.

This hypothesis is further reinforced by Olcott when he said that HPB, in 1874, used over her breast "the mystic jewelled emblem of an Eastern Brotherhood", of which she probably was "the only representative in this country." (POW, 453) The jewel used by HPB was described as the mysterious jewel of the 18th Degree Rosicrucis, which had belonged to Cagliostro (Taylor, 79). Olcott wrote:

"Whether Mme. de B. [Blavatsky] has been admitted behind the veil or not [to those higher branches of that so-called White Magic] can only be surmised, for she is very reticent upon the subject, but her startling gifts seem impossible of explanation upon any other hypothesis. She wears upon her bosom the mystic jeweled emblem of an Eastern Brotherhood, and is probably the only representative in this country of this fraternity, "who, (as Bulwer remarks,) in an earlier age boasted of secrets of which the Philosopher’s Stone was but the least; who considered themselves the heirs of all that the Chaldeans, the Magi, the Gymnosophists, and the Platonists had taught; and who differed from all the darker sons of Magic in the virtue of their lives, the purity of their doctrines and their insisting, as the foundation of all wisdom, on the subjugation of the senses, and the intensity of Religious Faith."" (POW, 453)

11. John King Cures HPB’s Leg

In January 1875, HPB fell down trying to move a heavy bed, seriously injuring her knee and almost breaking her leg. Consequently, she was confined to bed. (HPB Speaks II, 163) She said that her leg was becoming paralyzed. (HPB Speaks II, 174) In mid April, HPB reported that John King had cured her leg but, since she had not complied with the bed rest, the injury had gotten worse again:

"My leg is worse than ever. John had completely cured it, and ordered me rest for three days. I neglected it and from that day feel it getting worse and worse."(HPB Speaks I, 75)

On May 26, Betanelly wrote Olcott that HPB’s leg: "is getting paralyzed and may require amputation." (CW I, lvi) John King, then, precipitated a message on the letter, saying that he would cure her. On that day, HPB sent Betanelly away because she was quite unwell and wanted to be alone. In a letter to General Lippitt dated June 12, Madame Blavatsky says:

"You must thank "John King" if your last is answered at all, for Mr. B [Betanelly] is West. I sent him away about the 26th of May, when I was taken so sick, and the Doctors began thinking about depriving me of my best leg, for I thought at that time that I was going "upstairs" pour de bon, and as I hate seeing long faces whiners and weepers and such like things when I am sick, I made him clear out. (...) So I told him to be ready to come back when I write him that I am better, or when somebody else writes him that I am gone home, or "kicked the bucket" as "John" very kindly learned me to say. Well, I did not die quite yet (...); but I am still in bed, very weak, cross, and generally feel mad from 12 a.m. to 12 p.m., so I keep the chap away yet, for his own benefit and my own comfort." (HPB Speaks I, 80)

In early June, in addition to her problems with the leg HPB became seriously ill, sometimes seeming to be dead – a real puzzle to her physicians. The peak of the crises came about midnight on June 3rd. Her companions believed she had passed away, as she laid cold and rigid, without a discernible pulse. Her injured leg doubled in size and grew black, and her physician gave up any further efforts, asserting that either they amputated the leg immediately or Madame Blavatsky would not survive. A few hours later, however, the swelling of her injured leg subsided and she revived (CW I, lvi). In mid June, when Betanelly returned, he wrote in his faulty English – he was Armenian – to Lippitt that HPB was still very ill:

"All these days Madame was always the same: three or four times a day loosing power, and laying as one dead for two or three hours at the time, pulse and heart stopped, cold and pale as dead. John King told truth, right away in all. She was in such trance morning Monday and afternoon from three till six; we thought her dead. People say her spirit travels at that time but I don’t know nothing of it, and I simply thought several times, all was finished. (...) John made strange things and materialised his head and kissed her, but as she does not like being kissed, when she got better, she abused him and they have always fights together, as you remember; for she hates when he kisses on the lips." (HPB Speaks I, 93-94)

Around that time, in Olcott’s words, "a certain wonderful psycho-physiological change happened to HPB that I am not at liberty to speak about, and that nobody has up to the present suspected". (ODL I, 18)

This was undoubtedly a period of occult training for HPB, when her psychic powers underwent transformations. As we previously mentioned, Madame Blavatsky had recently acquired the gift of clairvoyance: "Now, for instance, nature has endowed me pretty generously with the second sight, or clairvoyant gifts". (HPB Speaks I, 87). Other changes in her psychic capacities were also taking place during the period.

12. It Is Not Mediumship: It Is Altogether of a Higher Order

When Isis was published, Vera Jelihovsky became very concerned about her sister Helena, who was writing in a manner that would have been impossible some years previously. She could not understand how HPB had acquired such knowledge, which had led to high praise from the American and British Press. There were rumors that the source of knowledge was "sorcery", and this terrified the family. Indeed, Vera wrote her sister imploring an explanation. HPB answered:

"Do not be afraid that I am off my head. All that I can say is that someone positively inspires me – ... more than this: someone enters me. It is not I who talk and write: it is something within me, my higher and luminous Self, that thinks and writes for me. Do not ask me, my friend, what I experience, because I could not explain it to you clearly. I do not know myself! The one thing I know is that now, when I am about to reach old age, I have become a sort of storehouse of somebody else’s knowledge... Someone comes and envelops me as a misty cloud and all at once pushes me out of myself, and then I am not "I" any more – Helena Petrovna Blavatsky – but someone else. Someone strong and powerful, born in a totally different region of the world; and as to myself it is almost as if I were asleep, or lying by not quite conscious, – not in my own body but close by, held only by a thread which ties me to it." (Letters of HP Blavatsky, Letter I)

In 1865, while living in the Caucasus, HPB had also undergone a similar experience. Sinnett told how Madame Blavatsky described the process:

"Whenever I was called by name, I opened my eyes upon hearing it, and was myself, my own personality in every particular. As soon as I was left alone, however, I relapsed into my usual, half-dreamy condition, and became somebody else (who, namely, Mme. B. will not tell). (...) When awake, and myself, I remembered well who I was in my second capacity, and what I had been and was doing." (Sinnett 1886, 147-8)

HPB also described to her sister the process by which this "somebody" inhabited her body. She explained that this duality had been taking place since the time when her leg had almost been amputated, when she had been completely healed by a negro, at the request of his "Sahib":

"He has cured me entirely. And just about this time I have begun to feel a very strange duality. Several times a day I feel that besides me there is someone else, quite separable from me, present in my body. I never lose the consciousness of my own personality; what I feel is as if I were keeping silent and the other one – the lodger who is in me – were speaking with my tongue. (...) But what’s the use of talking about it? It’s enough to drive one mad. I try to throw myself into the part and to forget the strangeness of my situation. This is no mediumship, and by no means an impure power; for that, it has too strong an ascendancy over us all, leading us into better ways. No devil would act like that. ‘Spirits’, maybe? But if it comes to that, my ancient ‘spooks’ dare not approach me any more. It’s enough for me to enter the room where a séance is being held to stop all kinds of phenomena at once, especially materializations. Ah no, this is altogether of a higher order! But phenomena of another sort take place more and more frequently under the direction of my No. 2." (Letters of HP Blavatsky, Letter I)

To her aunt Nadya, she reaffirmed both the cure and the duality that she was experiencing:

"When my leg had to be operated (they wanted to operate when the gangrene was developing), the "host" healed me. He was all the time standing near an old negro and he put a little white dog on my leg. Do you remember I wrote to you about this incident? Now he will soon take me and Olcott and several others to India forever, only we must first organize the Society in London. Whether he occupies some other bodies than mine, I do not know. But I know that when he is not here – sometimes for many days – I often hear his voice and answer him "through the sea"; Olcott and others also often see his shadow, sometimes it is solid like a living form, often like smoke; still more often not seen but felt.

"I am learning only now to leave my body; to do it alone I am afraid, but with him I am afraid of nothing." (HPB Speaks I, 224)

13. John King – HPB’s "Sahib"

It is important here to note that HPB told her aunt and her sister that this "somebody", "host", "No. 2", or "Sahib" – the one who entered her body, that made her lead a double life, that taught her to leave her body, and in whose presence she was "afraid of nothing" – had also been responsible for curing her leg!

Therefore, the "host" or "Sahib" was John King – her "only friend", to whom she was indebted "for the radical change in my ideas of life, my efforts and so on", the one who "has transformed" her (Solovyoff, 247). When we see John King in the role of HPB’s instructor, in charge of her training and development of her powers, we begin to understand better the debt Madame Blavatsky recognized.

In addition to being a member of the Hierarchy with this specific role of training and instructing HPB in the Occult Sciences, John King was to a great extent the author of the message HPB was bringing to the world, at least during the initial phase of her public work. As quoted above, HPB said that "It is not I who talk and write: it is something within me (...) The one thing I know is that now, when I am about to reach old age, I have become a sort of storehouse of somebody else’s knowledge". (Letters of HP Blavatsky, Letter I)

14. John King and Master Morya

With all this information in mind, we can now begin to decipher who this mysterious personage was. Who was this being who trained HPB, who had transformed her, accompanied her and interfered directly in her life and her work, as well as in the TS? Was it her Guru, Master Morya?

We have already seen that John King was more than an ordinary member of the Hierarchy in his relationship with HPB. He was, in Madame Blavatsky own words, her "only friend", to whom she felt indebted "for the radical change in my ideas of life, my efforts and so on", and who had "transformed " her. John King had also healed her leg. She called him the "host", "No. 2", or "Sahib", because he occupied her body, made her lead a dual life, taught her "to leave the body"; and with whom she felt "afraid of nothing". John King, therefore, played a very well defined role as HPB’s Instructor. All this led many to ask, but wasn’t Master Morya HPB’s Master?

Solovyoff, who in 1895 was the first author of a biography accusing HPB of being an impostor and inventing the Masters, – upon realising the dimension of John King’s role and also the fact that the "spirit" John King disappeared after a few years, while Master Morya became increasingly important in the life of Madame Blavatsky – considered the transformation of John King into Master Morya as a "proof" of HPB imposture:

"Here are the first traces of the gradual transformation of John King into Mahatma Morya. The "master" is not invented yet, as it will only grow clear in the course of a couple of years in India, into whom the "familiar spirit" is to be turned." (Solovyoff, 247)

When HPB writes, for example, that "My John King alone is a sufficient recompense for all; he is a host in himself to me. (...) John King is a personality, a definite, living, spiritual personality." (Solovyoff, 243), Solovyoff interpreted it as the first "appearance " of Master Morya:

"However, what she says is quite enough for every reader of my narrative to recognise at once in this John King the first appearance on the stage of our old acquaintance, the famous Thibetan Mahatma Morya. (...) but he is already incessantly visiting our heroine, and is to her a "host in himself". He already sends Olcott off to Havanna [N.Y.]. Soon he will be transfigured, and turned into Mahatma Morya or M., the famous "master"." (Solovyoff, 244)

This confusion of John King (HPB’s Instructor) with Master Morya (her Master) still prevails. Many of John King’s actions, such as the numerous times he saved her life, have been attributed to Master M. The reason for this misunderstanding is that we disregard the fact that the presence of an Instructor, in addition to the disciple’s Guru, may be a more usual practice than imagined.

In Light of the Sanctuary: The Occult Diary of Geoffrey Hodson we read that although the Master of Geoffrey Hodson was Master KH, for many years he also had an Instructor – Master Polydorus Isurenus – about whom Geoffrey wrote:

"He assures me of continuing guidance and of progress and responsibility in many hours of teaching which consists largely of interpretations of the symbology of Egypt, the New Testament and Freemasonry. (...) With my Master’s consent, I am in His School, training for important future work." (Hodson, 116)

15. John King Saved My Life Three Times

But how long was HPB in the care of John King? In a letter to Lippitt written in June 1875, Madame Blavatsky said that she had known John for 14 years (since 1860 or 1861, therefore) and that during that period he had saved her life three times! This further reinforces his role as her guardian and the fact that he was always very close to her.

"I know John for 14 years. Not a day but he is with me; he made acquaintance with all Petersburg and half of Russia under the name of Janka, or "Johny"; he travelled with me all over the world. Saved my life three times, at Mentana, in a shipwreck, and the last time near Spezia when our steamer was blown in the air, to atoms and out of 400 passengers remained but 16, in 1871, 21 of June." (HPB Speaks I, 84)

Let’s examine the three opportunities in which she said John King saved her life. HPB first mentioned the Battle of Mentana, which took place on November 2nd, 1867. She said that John King, rather than Master M., had saved her life, a statement that clashes with what is often heard in theosophical circles. Another opportunity was the explosion of the Eunomia near the island of Spezzia in 1871, in which Madame Blavatsky was travelling from Cyprus to Alexandria. But how about the other shipwreck, when did that occur?

HPB told Prince Dondoukoff that after her first trip to India in 1853, she boarded the "Gwalior which was wrecked near the Cape, but I was saved with some twenty others." (HPB Speaks II, 20). To my knowledge, there is no other reference in literature to any other shipwreck. We can assume, therefore, even without more specific reference, that HPB referred to the shipwreck of the Gwalior. The dates of the various events in Madame Blavatsky’s life during this period are very uncertain, but the Gwalior tragedy must have taken place in 1853 or 1854. Thus, although she said she had known John King for 14 years, since 1860-1861, she mentioned him in connection with an event that took place much earlier. And, if John King saved Madame Blavatsky in 1854, he probably knew her even before that date.

Although the tale of the Gwalior misadventure is somewhat unclear, other references in literature show that HPB and John King knew each other prior to 1854. In April 1875, Madame Blavatsky wrote to Aksakov, a Russian researcher of psychic phenomena that:

"John [King] and I are acquainted from old times, long before he began to materialise in London and take walks in the medium’s house with a lamp in his hand." (Solovyoff, 247)

Godwin said that John King, as a spiritualistic entity, had appeared in séances in both Great Britain and the United States since 1854. (Godwin 1990, 107) In this instance, HPB asserted that she had known John King much earlier than 1854. In a letter to Lippitt, Madame Blavatsky mentioned John King’s appearances in London:

"Now, I won’t undertake to say and testify in a court of justice that my John, is the John of London séances, John of the "Phosphorus lamp," though I am pretty sure he is, and he says so. But the mysteries of the spirit world are so mixed up, they present such a wonderful inextricable labyrinth that – who can tell?" (HPB Speaks I, 84)

16. This Power I Have Been Acquainted with From Childhood

There are further references in literature to the time when John King and Madame Blavatsky came into contact with one another. In 1881, when General Lippitt asked again about who was the author of John King’s self-portrait, which he had received, HPB answered:

"My dear friend, I can tell you but that which I told you from the first, whether I am believed or not by the rest of the world. The satin picture with the exceptions stated by me, was not done by me, but by that power I called John King; the power which assumed the features and generic name of John King; for it is a generic name and accounts for the many contradicting statements from and about him, the John King in different parts of the world. This power I have been acquainted with from my childhood, but saw his face, as you say, years before, on a voyage (when Mr. Blavatsky was Governor at Erivan, capital of Armenia, not at Tiflis)." (HPB Speaks I, 237)

Thus HPB stated that she had been acquainted with this "power" – John King – from her childhood, but that she only saw his face during a trip at the time that Mr. Blavatsky was Governor at Erivan, not at Tiflis. What trip are we talking about?

17. In Cairo with the Copt Magician

As shown in the first issue of the Informativo HPB, Nikifor Blavatsky, "was appointed Vice-Governor of the new-formed Province of Yerivan on November 27, 1849, governing it during the absence of the Military Governor." (Barborka, 12) Therefore, according to her own testimony, HPB may have seen John King’s face as early as late 1849 or 1850.

Where was HPB in late 1849 or 1850? After abandoning Nikifor in October 1849, Madame Blavatsky returned to Tiflis. After Tiflis and a series of incidents, she went to Constantinople, where she met an old family friend, Countess Kisselev. Sinnett said that HPB travelled with Countess Kisselev through Egypt, Greece and parts of Eastern Europe.

Helena Pissarev suggested that Prince Galitzin was responsible both for the trip with the Countess and for having given Helena the address of an Occultist in Egypt. (Barborka, 16) Sinnett wrote that while in Egypt:

"...Madame Blavatsky already began to pick up some occult teaching, though of a very different and inferior order from that she acquired later. At that time there was an old Copt at Cairo, a man very well and widely known; of considerable property and influence, and of a great reputation as a magician. The tales of wonder told about him by popular report were very thrilling. Mme. Blavatsky seems to have been a pupil who readily attracted his interest, and was enthusiastic in imbibing his instruction. She fell in with him again in later years, and spent some time with him at Boulak, but her acquaintance with him in the beginning did not last long, as she was only at that time in Egypt for about three months." (Sinnett 1886, 59)

This meeting in Boulak years latter is related to HPB’s efforts in Cairo in 1871 and 1872 to found the Société Spirite, whose purpose was to investigate psychic phenomena and soon proved to be a failure. According to HPB, the amateur French mediums she had surrounded herself "steal the society’s money, they drink like sponges, and I now caught them cheating most shamefully our members, who come to investigate the phenomena, by bogus manifestations." (Sinnett 1886, 159) She broke relations with the mediums, closed her Société and went to live in Boulak, near the museum. At the time,

"...she came again in contact with her old friend the Copt of mysterious fame, of whom mention has been made in connection with her earliest visit to Egypt, at the outset of her travels. For several weeks he was her only visitor." (Sinnett 1886, 160)


18. Albert Rawson, HPB’s Companion During Her First Trips

Madame Blavatsky, however, had a travelling companion whom Sinnett does not mention, namely, Albert Rawson. Although he is not yet widely known in the theosophical circles, he was an interesting and important personage in the life of HPB. In February 1892, he wrote an article on Madame Blavatsky in which he affirmed having known her for more than 40 years, before 1852 therefore, and having been with her in Cairo. In this article he wrote:

"Madame and her artist friend [Rawson] were disguised as Moslems, merely to avoid annoyance from the crowd, for in that early day persons in European dress would be sure to be molested as hated infidels, if not actually put in danger of life or limb by crazy fanatics. In such disguise they safely visited the chief of the serpent charmers, Shayk Yusuf ben Makerzi, learned secrets, and took lessons, so as to become expert in handling the live serpents without danger.

"A fortunate acquaintance was made with Paulos Metamon, a celebrated Coptic magician, who had several very curious books full of diagrams, astrological formulas, magical incantations and horoscopes, which he delighted in showing to his visitors, after a proper introduction.

"– We are students who have heard of your great learning and skill in magic, and wish to learn at your feet.

"– I perceive that you are two Franks in disguise, and I have no doubt you are in search of knowledge – of occult and magical lore. I look for coin.

"Ah! There was the key to the occult mysteries of Old Cairo. The chief – the shayk of the magicians – had discovered the secret of the philosopher’s stone that turned things into gold. He was enriched by us, and we were enlightened." (Rawson, 210)

It must be noted that Rawson refers to Metamon as a Coptic magician who "had discovered the secret of the philosopher’s stone" and, therefore, was not a mere magician but someone who had had access to profound occult knowledge. We will see that Madame Blavatsky’s relation with this Instructor may have been much deeper and lasting than imagined. What greater "coin" or richness for an Instructor than his young disciples surrendering at his feet and feeling their ardent devotion?

19. Paulos Metamon

In his book Old Diary Leaves, Olcott told us more about Paulos Metamon. He narrated an experience that Madame Blavatsky had described to him:

"She was travelling in the desert, she said, with a certain Coptic white magician who shall be nameless, and, camping one evening, expressed the ardent wish for a cup of good French café au lait. "Well, certainly, if you wish it so much," said the guardian guide. He went to the baggage-camel, drew water from the skin, and after awhile returned, bringing in his hand a cup of smoking, fragrant coffee mixed with milk. HPB thought this, of course, was a phenomenal production, since her companion was a high adept and possessed of very great powers. So she thanked him gratefully, and drank, and was delighted, and declared she had never tasted better coffee at the Café de Paris. The magician said nothing, but merely bowed pleasantly and stood as if waiting to receive back the cup. HPB sipped the smoking beverage, and chatted merrily, and – but what is this? The coffee has disappeared and naught but plain water remains in her cup! It never was anything else; she had been drinking and smelling and sipping the Maya [illusion] of hot, fragrant Mocha." (ODL I, 432)

Let us remember that Paulos Metamon was a Copt magician; that he was "the shayk of the magicians"; that he "had discovered the secret of the philosopher’s stone"; and that he had "enlightened" both HPB and Rawson. Considering all this, it is very likely that the Coptic white magician who remained nameless, with whom HPB was travelling in the desert, was indeed Paulos Metamon, who is therein qualified by Olcott as "a high adept and possessed of very great powers".

We already saw that John King was an Initiate, a Brother of the Order and HPB’s Instructor. Paulos Metamon is undisputedly acknowledged in literature as HPB’s first instructor. In addition, the period Madame Blavatsky spent with Paulos Metamon in Egypt may very well be the time that she said to have seen "his [John King’s] face (...) on a voyage", for it coincides with the period when Nikifor substituted the Military Governor at Erivan. Thus, it is quite probable that Paulos Metamon is another name for "that power I called John King".

Olcott also reported having heard from an eyewitness [who must have been Rawson] that while HPB was in Cairo [during her first visit] the most extraordinary phenomena occurred in any room she entered. For example, a lamp on one table would fly through the air to another table, as if an invisible hand was holding it. In addition, he wrote that:

"...this same mysterious Copt would suddenly vanish from the sofa where he was sitting, and many such marvels. Miracles no longer, since we have had the scientists prove to us the possibility of inhibition of the senses of sight, hearing, touch, and smell by mere hypnotic suggestion. Undoubtedly this inhibition was provoked in the company present, who were made to see the Copt vanish, and the lamp moving through space, but not the person whose hand was carrying it." (ODL I, 23)

This lamp moving through the air, as if carried by an invisible hand, reminds us of "John of the ‘Phosphorus lamp,’" who turned up in London walking "in the medium’s house with a lamp in his hand". This is the John of whom Madame Blavatsky explained being quite certain that it was her John.

20. Trips to Peru

According to Sinnett, Madame Blavatsky travelled through Europe with Countess B. [Bagration] in 1850. She was in Paris in late 1850 and left for Canada in July 1851, to visit the Red Indians. From Canada she travelled to New Orleans to study with the Voodoos, "a sect of negroes (...) addicted to a form of magic practices". (Sinnett 1886, 63) She must have become dangerously involved with them for,

"...the strange guardianship that had so often asserted itself to her advantage during her childhood, which had by this time assumed a more definite shape, for she had now met, as a living man the long familiar figure of her visions, again came to rescue. She was warned in a vision of the risk she was running with the Voodoos, and at once moved off to fresh fields and pastures new." (Sinnett 1886, 63)

It must be noted that "now" refers to 1851, when "she had now met, as a living man", her strange protector from childhood – and that it is to the "power" John King that she said to "have been acquainted with from my childhood", as we have previously quoted. It is interesting to note that it is usually supposed that Master M. was the strange guardianship during her childhood.

Sinnett also told us that Madame Blavatsky went to Mexico by way of Texas in 1852 and, determined to go to India, she wrote to a certain "Englishman" to meet her in the West Indies (the region that includes Cuba, the Bahamas, Haiti, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica) in order to travel with her to the East. This "Englishman" and a Hindu chela that HPB had met in "Copau", Mexico, joined her and travelled with her to Ceylon through the Cape. In Ceylon they caught a ship to Bombay, where they separated. (Sinnett 1886, 64-66) "Copau", Mexico, was never identified and some authors believe Madame Blavatsky was referring to Copán, in Honduras.

Although Sinnett did not mention South America, HPB revealed in Isis having twice visited Peru (Isis I, 597). In the light of her descriptions it is believed that Madame Blavatsky travelled extensively both in Central America and South America, visiting ancient ruins. The most probable dates for the visits to South America are 1852, after her trip to Mexico, and 1854, after visiting California.

In Adyar, Annie Besant found a manuscript in an unknown handwriting that provides a chronology of Madame Blavatsky’s travels. According to this manuscript, HPB was in South America in 1851 and in Central America in 1855. (Neff, 299)

There is another manuscript found in the Theosophical Society Archives in Adyar that is also probably related to a trip of HPB to South America. The first of the four pages has a drawing of part of the West Coast of South America, indicating some cities and the frontier between Peru and Bolivia. Next to the map, some notes written in a mixture of Italian and French tell a story about the treasure of the Incas very similar to that contained in Isis (Isis I, 595-598). There is also a short line in English and another one in a seemingly eastern script. In addition, there are two inscriptions at the top of the page. H. Moore signs the first inscription, which reads: "For those I love and protect. Try."

It is the second inscription that is of paramount interest to us now. John King signs it. In Boris de Zirkoff words, it "is in the old-fashioned script-type used by John King and is signed by him..." (CW II, 342). The short inscription reads as follows: "Folks, I advise ye to ponder and discuss." (CW II, 320) (Figure 1)

Examining the calligraphy in Figure 1 and comparing it with Figure 2 that contains specimens of messages precipitated in Philadelphia in 1874 (POW, 457, 468) and a facsimile of a note from John King to Olcott dated 1876 (Godwin 1994, 10), it is easy to perceive that these striking handwritings belong to the same person.

This indicates that the John King who instructed Olcott, who acted as intermediary in the correspondence with the "Lodge", and who appeared in the mediumistic séances at the home of the Eddys was the same John King who advised Madame Blavatsky and her companions in the early 1850s to "ponder and discuss" their travel plans to South America. So here is another reference that John King was already with HPB at that time! As we have seen, this must have taken place from 1851 to 1855, showing that HPB knew John King much earlier than 1860.

Reinforcing this conclusion even further, HPB stated in Isis that "nearly the same was given us personally about twenty years ago, by an old native priest, whom we met in Peru". (Isis I, 547) Since Isis was written from 1875 to 1877, "about twenty years ago" once again we are taken back to the mid-1850s.

The biography of Albert Rawson, her companion at Cairo, includes investigations in Indian mounds (tombs) in the Mississippi valley and in ruins of Central America and the Yucatan in 1854-55. These dates and Rawson’s knowledge of HPB makes him a strong candidate to being the "Englishman" with whom HPB travelled. This "Englishman" would in fact be an American. (Johnson, 25) Sinnett tells that HPB’s travels with the "Englishman" took place in 1852. If Rawson was this "Englishman", however, said travels probably occurred from 1854 to 1855.

The note found in Adyar was undoubtedly intended for HPB; otherwise, what would it be doing in the TS Archives? Furthermore, in view of the familiar, almost intimate manner ("folks") in which John King addressed whomever he was advising, it must have been people he knew quite well.

Considering that Albert Rawson and Madame Blavatsky were together in Cairo when Paulos Metamon instructed them and accepting that Rawson could actually be the "Englishman" who was HPB’s travelling companion, then the familiar way used by John King becomes very understandable, and this constitutes an additional element reinforcing the conclusion that Metamon and John King are one and the same.

21. Identification of John King

It was only many years later, in 1884, that HPB revealed who John King really was. Arthur Lillie had written an article entitled "Koot Hoomi Unveiled" which contained much criticism of HPB and the Masters. In this article Lillie stated: "For fourteen years (1860 to 1875) Madame Blavatsky was an avowed Spiritualist, controlled by a spirit called John King". (CW VI, 269) In August 1884, Madame Blavatsky answered him in the terms below:

"It is stated by Mr. Lillie that I conversed with this "spirit" (John King) during fourteen years, "constantly, in India and elsewhere." To begin with, I here assert that I had never heard the name of "John King" before 1873. True it is, I have told Colonel Olcott and many others that the form of a man, with a dark pale face, black beard, and white flowing garments and fettah, that some of them had met about the house and my rooms, was that of a "John King". I had given him that name for reasons that will be fully explained very soon, and I laughed heartily at the easy way the astral body of a living man could be mistaken for, and accepted as, a spirit. And I had told them that I had known that "John King" since 1860; for it was the form of an Eastern adept, who has since gone for his final initiation, passing through and visiting us in his living body on his way, at Bombay. (...) I have known and conversed with many a "John King" in my life – a generic name for more than one spook – but thank heaven, I was never yet "controlled" by one! My mediumship has been crushed out of me a quarter of century or more; and I defy loudly all the "spirits" of the Kama-loka to approach – let alone to control me now." (CW VI, 271)

As we have seen, John King signed the note about Peru, which dates from the mid-1850s. It is not true, therefore, that Madame Blavatsky had never heard the name John King spoken prior to 1873. Yet Lillie criticised HPB’s answer by saying that she was identifying the "Eastern adept" (John King) to be Master KH, and asserted "that Mahatma KH comes to her constantly with a black beard and long, white flowing garments". (CW VI, 291) In October 1884, she went back to the topic in a second article denying Lillie’s assertions and challenging him to prove them, since she had referred in her previous article to:

" "Eastern adept, who has since gone for his final initiation," who had passed, en route from Egypt to Thibet, through Bombay and visited us in his physical body. Why should this "Adept" be the Mahatma in question? Are there then no other Adepts than Mahatma Koot Hoomi? Every Theosophist at headquarters knows that I meant a Greek gentleman, whom I have known since 1860, whereas I had never seen Mr. Sinnett’s correspondent before 1868." (CW VI, 291)

Master KH also refers to "one of ours" having passed through Bombay on his way from Cyprus to Tibet, supporting this statement of the Old Lady:

"And Missus B.’s [Blavatsky] trouble is (apart from physical ailment) that she sometimes listens to two or more of our voices at once; e.g., this morning while the "Disinherited" [Djual Khool] (...) was talking with her on an important matter, she lent an ear to one of ours, who is passing through Bombay from Cyprus, on his way to Tibet – and so got both in an inextricable confusion. Women do lack the power of concentration." (MLcr, 52; ML-8)

The conclusive identification of the Eastern Adept "John King" comes from the fact that Sinnett received this letter from Master KH on 20 February 1881 and that there is an entry in Olcott’s diary, dated 19 February 1881, written in Bombay, where we read:

"Hillarion is here en route for Tibet and has been looking over, in, and through the situation. Finds B– something morally awful. Views on India, Bombay, the TS in Bombay, Ceylon (––), England and Europe, Christianity and other subjects highly interesting." (LMW 2nd Series, 82)

22. I First Went to Greece and Saw Hillarion

Thus, putting together the various statements from Madame Blavatsky, Olcott and Master KH, we come to a clear identification of HPB’s Instructor and Sahib. John King is an Adept linked to the Hierarchy, whom we know by the name Hillarion. It is interesting to observe that Madame Blavatsky does not refer to him as a Master, but as an Eastern Adept, who later went through his "final initiation". In her letters to Sinnett, she refers to Master Hillarion simply as "Illarion". This can be seen in a passage mistakenly used by some authors (Cranston, 105) to claim that HPB met Master Hillarion for the first time in Greece in 1860:

"Please do not speak of Mentana and do not speak of MASTER [M.], I implore you. I did come back from India in one of early steamers. But I first went to Greece and saw Illarion, in what place I can not and must not say." (LBS, 153)

Please note that she said that she went first to Greece and saw Hillarion, and not that she went to Greece and saw Hillarion for the first time. It is quite clear, there is no margin for error. Besides that we have identified John King as Master Hillarion and shown that she had met him much prior to 1860.

23. Master Hillarion and Paulos Metamon with HPB in Cairo

In her letters to Sinnett, Madame Blavatsky told him about an incident that had occurred in Cairo in 1872. In this event she showed clearly that Master Hillarion guided her actions at the time, as an Instructor, just as in John King’s time. HPB told him that Agardi Metrovich had gone to Cairo to try to find her at the request of her aunt. In Cairo, some Maltese,

"...instructed by the Roman Catholic monks prepared to lay a trap for him and to kill him. I was warned by Illarion, then bodily in Egypt – and made Agardi Metrovich come direct to me and never leave the house for ten days. He was a brave and daring man and could not bear it, so he went to Alexandria quand même and I went after him with my monkeys, doing as Illarion told me (...). I never left him for I knew he was going to die as Illarion had said and so he did." (LBS, 189-190)

She also told Sinnett that no church had agreed to bury him and that the Freemasons, to which she appealed, had also been afraid to bury him. Then, with the help of "an Abyssinian – a pupil of Illarion – and with the hotel servant we dug a grave under a tree on the sea shore (...) and we buried his poor body." (LBS, 190)

It is interesting to note that HPB revealed that Master Hillarion was bodily in Cairo precisely at the time she was trying to found the Société Spirite and, as we already said, was again with Paulos Metamon, who "for several weeks has been her only visitor." This further strengthens the conclusion that John King, i.e., Master Hillarion, was also Paulos Metamon.

24. Mabel Collins and Master Hillarion

Mabel Collins is known in theosophical circles mainly as the author of The Idyll of the White Lotus and Light on the Path. She also wrote, however, more than a dozen novels. The Idyll of the White Lotus was published in 1884, shortly before she became a member of the Theosophical Society in London. When she was first introduced to Olcott, she told him that she had written the novel while being in a trance. In an article on psychic experiences, Sinnett reported on Mabel Collins’ description of how The Idyll of the White Lotus had been written.

In 1878 Mabel Collins was living in London when Cleopatra’s Needle was placed near her window. From the first time she laid eyes on the Needle she saw a face on it that she soon discovered nobody else could see. "It was an Egyptian face, full of power and will, and intensely alive." (Sinnett 1987, 121)

Soon after the Needle was set up, Mabel Collins began seeing a long procession of white-robed priests entering her house and standing around her while she wrote. This occurred frequently and she grew accustomed to having them near her. Once, when she was writing her novel while her sister-in-law painted in the same room, a long line of priests came into the room and surrounded her. She did not mention it to her sister-in-law because she had already told her about it several times, and continued busily writing. At that point, Mabel Collins said that her sister-in-law:

"...looked up at me and noticed a change in my appearance; I had become rigid, or like one turned to stone as she expressed it; my eyes were fast closed, but I wrote on and on, as quickly as ever, and she watched me cast page after page aside, the ink all wet.

"This continued for some considerable time, and then at last I opened my eyes and dropped the pen. I was very tired, but I was absolutely unaware of the fact that I had been unconscious – or, out of the body – or whatever one may chose to call it. She said nothing, but watched me still, and saw me take up a page of my manuscript to look at and discover to my unutterable amazement that it was not, as I believed, a page of the novel I was writing, but something entirely and absolutely unknown to me. Page after page I picked up and regarded with the same amazement. I found that I held in my hand, complete, the prologue and the first chapter of "The Idyll of the White Lotus". (...) To me it was a very wonderful experience, as I had never until then known what it was to be absolutely taken from my body in order that my hand and pen might be used by another intelligence without my being – if I may so express it – even present.

"From time to time, after this, something similar took place, though I was never so absolutely absent from the scene as in the first instance; and the first seven chapters of the "Idyll" were completed. The writing was all entirely automatic; I was never aware of a single word that was written, and I read it afterwards just as I should read something written by another person." (Sinnett 1987, 121)

Mabel Collins explained that the priests stopped coming when the seventh chapter had been written and, although she was anxious to complete the work, she was unable to write a single word for the next seven years. In 1884-85, amid many problems and illnesses,

"the work was taken up again by a mysterious power outside myself for whom I was a chosen instrument, and it was finished in the same manner that the first seven chapters were written, without my being aware of a single word". (Sinnett 1987, 122)

The circumstances surrounding Light on the Path are quite different. Mabel Collins said that this work was the result of her hard work trying to gain some knowledge. When outside her body, she felt as a child beginning to discover her recently acquired senses. She was led by the hand by a powerful being that showed what she should look at and how to understand what it was. She saw that the walls of a huge room, which she called the "Hall of Learning", were covered by precious stones and, with the help of her guide, she realised that they formed phrases. They told her to try to remember carefully these phrases and to write them down as soon as she returned to her physical body. In this way were composed the first sentences in Light on the Path. And in the same manner, bit by bit, the whole book was written. (Sinnett 1987, 123)

Mabel Collins met HPB only briefly in November 1884, before Madame Blavatsky left for India. In a letter published in Light in June 1889, HPB wrote the following:

"...when I met her [Mabel Collins] she had just completed The Idyll of the White Lotus, which as she stated to Colonel Olcott, had been dictated to her by some "mysterious person". Guided by her description, we both recognised an old friend of ours a Greek, and no Mahatma, though an Adept; further developments proving we were right..." (CW VIII, 427)

In a letter to Khandalavala dated July 1888, Madame Blavatsky wrote that until 1884 Mabel Collins was a woman who did not pay much attention to spiritual matters but, in that year,

"...she saw before her, time after time, the astral figure of a dark man (a Greek who belongs to the Brotherhood of our Masters), who urged her to write under his diction. It was Hillarion, whom Olcott knows well. The results were Light on the Path and others." (Gomes 1991, 194)

Thus, HPB acknowledged that Master Hillarion had again appeared to Mabel Collins in 1884 and had dictated to her the conclusion of The Idyll of the White Lotus and the whole Light on the Path. Mabel Collins stated that Light on the Path had been written under "Sri Hillarion" beginning in October 1884 and that the small essay on Karma, published as an appendix, had been written on 27 December 1884. (CW VIII, 428) (Figure 4)

It must be noted that in the two previous quotations, HPB explained that not only herself but also Olcott had immediately recognised an "old friend of ours a Greek", and that it was "Hillarion, whom Olcott knows well." This is a very revealing piece of information, because we know that it was with John King that Olcott had more intense contacts since the days in Philadelphia and New York, i.e. since the very beginning of his studies on Occultism.

In this article Sinnett also published a facsimile of a page of the original manuscript of The Idyll of the White Lotus, where there is "a specimen of the handwriting, utterly unlike her own". (Sinnett 1987, 119) [Kindly compare the handwritings in Figure 3 and Figure 4.]

Actually, when Mabel Collins described how this manuscript had been produced, she said that she had been absolutely taken from her body in order that her hand and pen might be used by another intelligence. When the facsimile is examined (Figure 3), it is easy to note some characteristics of John King’s handwriting (Figure 2). Since Master Hillarion is widely acknowledge as the author of these two works brought to the world by Mabel Collins, the similarities in the handwritings strengthen the identification of John King as being Master Hillarion.

25. Our Modes of Action Are Strange and Unusual

Could there have been several John Kings – the elemental, the discarnate spirit and the Adept? The main reference to date is still Olcott (ODL I, 11). Nevertheless, we quoted Olcott acknowledging that, at the time, it was the form of a discarnate spirit that he could have most easily accepted. He wrote: "I was introduced to them by HPB through the agency that my previous experiences would make most comprehensible, a pretended medium-overshadowing "spirit"." (ODL I, 19)

Many authors accept the Olcott’s casual explanation that there were several John Kings, because the "tricks" that he played on Madame Blavatsky, for example, go against the preestablished notions of the manner in which a messenger and servant of the living Adepts "should" act. Since we do not understand these attitudes, they are conveniently ascribed to the discarnate spirit or the elemental.

These "tricks" and attitudes, such as throwing a caustic stone ("un morceau de pierre infernale") at Madame Blavatsky’s face, or asking for money in an apparent exchange for favours, however, make Olcott’s easy explanation unsustainable. How can we explain Madame Blavatsky’s acceptance of these attitudes from a spirit? As previously seen, HPB had already developed her powers to the point that she would have never allowed a discarnate spirit to challenge or influence her. As she explained:

"I have known and conversed with many a "John King" in my life – a generic name for more than one spook – but thank heaven, I was never yet "controlled" by one! My mediumship has been crushed out of me a quarter of a century or more; and I defy loudly all the "spirits" of the Kama-loka to approach – let alone to control me now." (CW VI, 271)

All evidence points to only one John King – and that may be hard to "digest" – whose methods and modes of action clash with our worldly notions of what should or should not be the conduct of an Adept. We forget, however, that we actually know very little about Their methods. As Master KH wrote:

"Our modes of action are strange and unusual, and but too often liable to create suspicion. The latter is a snare and a temptation. Happy is he whose spiritual perception ever whispers truth to him! Judge those directly concerned with us by that perception, not according to your worldly notion of things." (LMW 1st Series, 32)


26. Bibliography

Barborka, G.A. H.P. Blavatsky, Tibet and Tulku. TPH, Adyar, 1966.
Blavatsky, H.P. H. P. Blavatsky Collected Writings (CW). TPH, Wheaton, 1977.
Blavatsky, H.P. H.P.B. Speaks, vol. I, II. Ed. by C. Jinarajadasa. TPH, Adyar, 1986.
Blavatsky, H.P. Isis Unveiled, Theosophy Company, Los Angeles, 1982.
Blavatsky, H.P. Letters of H.P. Blavatsky. Blavatsky Archives, 1999.
Blavatsky, H.P. Letters of H.P. Blavatsky to A.P. Sinnett (LBS). TUP, Pasadena, 1973.
Cooper, J. Theosophical History, vol. 7, n° 4, October 1998.
Cranston, Sylvia. HPB: The Extraordinary Life and Influence Of Helena Blavatsky, Founder of the Modern Theosophical Movement. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1994.
Godwin, J. Theosophical History, vol. 3, n° 4, October 1990.
Godwin, J. Theosophical History, vol. 5, n° 1, January 1994.
Gomes, M. The Dawning of the Theosophical Movement. TPH, Wheaton, 1987
Gomes, M. Theosophical History, vol. 3, n° 7-8, July-October 1991.
Hao Chin Jr., V. (ed.) The Mahatma Letters (in Chronological Sequence)(MLcr) TPH, Quezon City, 1993.
Hodson, G. Light of The Sanctuary - The Occult Diary of Geoffrey Hodson TPI, Manila, 1988.
Jinarajadasa, C. (ed.) Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom (LMW), 1st & 2nd Series. TPH, Adyar, 1973.
Jinarajadasa, C. The Theosophist, Vol. LII, No. 11, August 1931
Johnson, K. P. The Masters Revealed. Suny Press, Albany, 1994.
Meade, M. Madame Blavatsky, The Woman Behind the Myth. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1980.
Neff, Mary K. Personal Memoirs of H.P. Blavatsky. Quest Book, TPH, Wheaton, 1971.
Olcott, H.S. Old Diary Leaves (ODL), vol. I. TPH, Adyar, 1974.
Olcott, H.S. People from the Other Worlds (POW) (1875). Kessinger Publ. Co., Montana
Rawson, A.L. Theosophical History, vol. 2, n° 6, April 1988.
Sinnett, A.P. Incidents in the Life of Madame H.P. Blavatsky, 1886. Kessinger Publ. Co., Montana.
Sinnett, A.P. Theosophical History, vol. 2, n° 4, October 1987.
Solovyoff, V.S. A Modern Priestess of Isis, Longmans, Green, and Co., London, 1895.
Spierenburg, H.J. Theosophical History (TH), Vol. 1, n° 7, July 1986.
Taylor, N.C. Theosophical History, Vol. 3, n° 3, July 1990.

27. Pictures

Figure 1: John King’s handwriting on the note about trip to Peru. (CW II, 320)

Figure 2: Specimens of John King’s handwriting: (left) Philadelphia in 1874 (POW, 457, 468) (right) note to Olcott in 1876 (Godwin 1994, 10)

Figure 3: Mabel Collins’ handwriting writing in trance, The Idyll of the White Lotus (Sinnett 1987, 120)

Figure 4: Mabel Collins’ handwriting in her normal state. (CW VIII, 428)

John King’s self-portrait.

HPB’s crest.