The Theosophical Society in America

Esoteric World Chapter 3

Chapter 3

More World Travels, 1865-1873

Helena Blavatsky left Russia again in the fall of 1865, and traveled extensively through the Balkans, Greece, Egypt, Syria, Italy, and various other places.

In 1868 she went via India to Tibet. On this trip HPB met the Master Koot Hoomi (KH) for the first time and stayed in his house in Little Tibet. In late 1870 she was back in Cyprus and Greece. Embarking for Egypt, she was shipwrecked near the island of Spetsai on July 4, 1871; saved from drowning, she went to Cairo where she tried to form a Société Spirite, which soon failed. After further travels through the Middle East, she returned for a short time to her relatives at Odessa, Russia, in July 1872. In the Spring of 1873, Helena was instructed by her Teacher to go to Paris, and on further direct orders from him, left for New York City.

3a. Nadyezhda A. de Fadeyev, November 11, 1870, Odessa, Russia [Theosophical Society 1885, 94–95]

[The letter from Koot Hoomi referred to in the following passage is preserved in the archives of the Theosophical Society, Adyar, Madras, India. A facsimile of it with background information is in C. Jinarajadasa’s Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom, Second Series, 3–5.]

I [will] narrate what happened to me in connection with a certain note, received by me phenomenally when my niece was at the other side of the world, and not a soul knew where she was—which grieved us greatly. All our researches had ended in nothing. We were ready to believe her dead, when—I think it was about the year 1870—I received a letter from him whom I believe you call Kouth-humi [Koot Hoomi]—which was brought to me in the most incomprehensible and mysterious manner, by a messenger of Asiatic appearance, who then disappeared before my very eyes. This letter begged me not to fear anything, and announced that she was in safety.

My niece spoke of [these Mahatmas] to me, and at great length, years ago. She wrote me that she had again met and renewed her relations with several of them, even before she wrote her Isis [Unveiled]. If I who have ever been, and hope ever to continue, to be a fervent Christian, believe in the existence of these men—although I may refuse to credit all the miracles they attribute to them—why should not others believe in them? For the existence of at least one of them, I can certify. Who, then, could have written me this letter to reassure me at the moment when I had the greatest need for such comfort, unless it had been one of those adepts mentioned? It is true that the handwriting is not known to me; but the manner in which it was delivered to me was phenomenal, that none other than an adept in occult science could have effected it. It promised me the return of my niece—and the promise was duly fulfilled.

3b. Vera P. de Zhelihovsky, October 1871–April 1872, Egypt [Sinnett 1886, 158–163, 167–168, with additions and corrections from the original English translation of Vera P. de Zhelihovsky's account (1894)]

In 1871 Mme. Blavatsky wrote from Cairo to tell her friends that she had just returned from India, and had been wrecked near [Septsai, an island in the Gulf of Nauplia, Greece]. She had determined to establish a Société Spirite for the investigation of mediums and phenomena according to Allan Kardec's theories and philosophy,* since there was no other way to give people a chance to see for themselves how mistaken they were. She would first give free play to an already established and accepted teaching and then, when the public would see that nothing was coming out of it, she would offer her own explanations. To accomplish this object, she said, she was ready to go to any amount of trouble—even to allowing herself to be regarded for a time as a helpless medium. "They know no better, and it does me no harm—for I will very soon show them the difference between a passive medium and an active doer," she explains.

A few weeks later a new letter was received. In this one she showed herself full of disgust for the enterprise, which had proved a perfect failure. She had written, it seems, to England and France for a medium, but without success. En desespoir de cause, she had surrounded herself with amateur mediums—French female spiritists.

"They steal the society's money," she wrote, "they drink like sponges, and I now caught them cheating most shamefully our members, who come to investigate the phenomena, by bogus manifestations. I had very disagreeable scenes with several persons who held me alone responsible for all this. So I gave orders that their fees of membership should be returned to them, and I will bear myself the costs and moneys laid out for hire of the premises and the furniture used. My famous Société Spirite has not lasted a fortnight—it is a heap of ruins—majestic, but as suggestive as those of the Pharaoh's tombs. To wind up the comedy with a drama, I got nearly shot by a madman—a Greek clerk who had been present at the only two public seances we held and got possessed, I suppose, by some vile spook."

She broke all connection with the "mediums," shut up her Société and went to live in Boulak near the Museum. The sceptics who had, moved by idle curiosity, visited the Société and witnessed the whole failure made capital of the thing; ridiculing the idea of phenomena, they had as a natural result declared such claims to be fraud and charlatanry all round. Conveniently mixing up the whole truth, they even went the length of maintaining that instead of paying the mediums and the expenses of the Society, it was Mme. Blavatsky who had herself been paid, and had attempted to palm off juggler tricks as genuine phenomena. The groundless inventions and rumors thus set on foot by her enemies did not prevent Mme. Blavatsky from pursuing her studies and proving to every honest investigator that her extraordinary powers of clairvoyance and clairaudience were facts and independent of mere physical manifestations, over which she possessed an undeniable control.

A gentleman, Mr. G. Yakovlef, who happened to visit Egypt at that time, wrote to his friends the most enthusiastic letters about Madame Blavatsky. Thus he wrote in a letter we have in our possession: "She is a marvel, an unfathomable mystery. That which she produces is simply phenomenal. Once I showed her a closed medallion containing the portrait of one person and the hair of another, an object which I had had in my possession but a few months, which was made at Moscow and of which very few know, and she told me without touching it, 'Oh! it is your god-mother's portrait and your cousin's hair. Both are dead,' and she proceeded forthwith to describe them, as though she had both before her eyes. How could she know!"

Further on he speaks of visiting [Madame Blavatsky] in a hotel of Alexandria. They remained sitting on a sofa and having a chat together. Before the sofa there stood a little teapoy, on which the waiter had placed for Mr. Yakovlef a bottle of liqueur, some wine, a small wineglass, and a tumbler. As he was carrying the [wineglass] with its contents to his mouth, without any visible cause, the glass broke in his hand into many pieces. She laughed, appearing overjoyed, and made the remark that she hated liqueurs and wine, and could hardly tolerate those who used them too freely.

"You do not mean to infer that it is you who broke my wineglass? It is simply an accident. The glass is very thin; it was perhaps cracked, and I squeezed it too strongly!" I lied purposely, for I had just made the mental remark that it seemed very strange and incomprehensible, the glass being very thick and strong. But I wanted to draw her out.

She looked at me very seriously, and her eyes flashed. "What will you bet," she asked, "that I do it again?"

"Well, we will try on the spot. If you do, I will be the first to proclaim you a true magician. If not, we will have a good laugh at you or your spirits tomorrow at the Consulate." And saying so, I half filled the tumbler with wine and prepared to drink it. But no sooner had the glass touched my lips than I felt it shattered between my fingers, and my hand bled, wounded by a broken piece in my instinctive act at grasping the tumbler together when I felt myself losing hold of it.

Disgusted with the failure of her spiritist society, Mme. Blavatsky soon went home via Palestine, and lingered for some months longer, making a voyage to Palmyra [an ancient city of Syria] and other ruins, whither she went with Russian friends. At the end of 1872, she returned in her usual way without warning, and surprised her family at Odessa.

*[Allan Kardec (1804–1869), the father of Spiritism (Spiritualism) in France. His most famous work, Le Livre des Esprits (The Spirits' Book), first published in 1856, expounded a theory of human life and destiny in which the doctrine of "reincarnation" was a prominent feature. —Editor]

3c. Emma Coulomb, 1872, Cairo, Egypt [Coulomb 1884, 3–4]

In the year 1872 one day as I was walking through the street called "Sekke el Ghamma el harmar"—"the street of the red mosque"—in Cairo, Egypt, I was roused from my pensive mood by something that brushed by me very swiftly. I looked up and saw a lady. "Who is that lady?" I asked a passer-by. "She is that Russian Spiritist who calls the dead and makes them answer your questions." This news was to me tidings of great joy, as I was just mourning for the death of my dear and only brother, whom I had recently lost. The idea of being able to hear his voice was for me heavenly delight. I was told that if I asked the Secretary of her Spiritualistic Society to introduce me to her he would do so (he was a Greek gentleman of my acquaintance). I was introduced, and found her very interesting and very clever. My first essay at the spirits was not successful; I neither saw nor heard anything but a few raps. Having shown my disappointment to the Secretary of the Society, I was told that the spirits did not like to appear in a room which had not been purified and not exclusively used for the purpose, but if I would return in a few days I would see wonders, as they were preparing a closet where nothing else but seances was to be done. I went to see the closet, and saw that it was lined with red cloth, all over the four sides and also the ceiling, with a space between the wall and the cloth of about three inches. I was so ignorant of these things at the time that I formed no malicious idea of it. I called again when the closet was ready, but what was my surprise when, instead of finding the kind spirits there to answer our questions, I found a room full of people, all alive, and using most offensive language towards the founder of the Society, saying that she had taken their money and had left them only with this, pointing at the space between the wall and the cloth, where several pieces of twine were still hanging which had served to pull through the ceiling a long glove stuffed with cotton, which was to represent the materialized hand and arm of some spirit. I went away, leaving the crowd as red as fire, ready to knock her down when she came back. Later on I met her again, and I asked her how she came to do such a thing; to which she answered that it was Madame Sebire's doings (this was a lady who lived with Madame Blavatsky), so I let this matter drop. I saw that she looked very unhappy. I called on her the next day. Our acquaintance continued all the while she remained in the country.

To my knowledge Madame Blavatsky while in Cairo never lived in an hotel. I have known her in three different apartments. The first was in "Sekke el Ghamma el harmar," the second at "Abdeen," and the third at "Kantara el dick." In "Abdeen" she had opened her apartment to the public, who went there to consult her spirits, and where the fiasco of the materialized hand and arm took place.

She [then] left Cairo for Russia.

3d. Countess Lydia A. de Pashkov, Spring, 1872, Lebanon [Pashkov 1878, 9]

I was once traveling between Baalbek and the river Orontes, and in the desert I saw a caravan. It was Mme. Blavatsky's. We camped together. There was a great monument standing there near the village of Dair Mar Maroon. It was between Lebanon and the Anti-Lebanon [Mountains]. On the monument were inscriptions that no one could ever read. Mme. Blavatsky could do strange things with the spirits, as I knew, and I asked her to find out what the monument was.

We waited until night. She drew a circle and we went in it. We built a fire and put much incense on it. Then she said many spells. Then we put on more incense. Then she pointed with her wand at the monument and we saw a great ball of white flame on it. There was a sycamore tree near by; we saw many little flames on it. The jackals came and howled in the darkness a little way off. We put on more incense. Then Mme. Blavatsky commanded the spirit to appear of the person to whom the monument was reared. Soon a cloud of vapor arose and obscured the little moonlight there was. We put on more incense. The cloud took the indistinct shape of an old man with a beard, and a voice came, as it seemed, from a great distance, through the image. He said the monument was once the altar of a temple that had long disappeared. It was reared to a god that had long since gone to another world. "Who are you?" asked Mme. Blavatsky, "I am Hiero, one of the priests of the temple," said the voice. Then Mme Blavatsky commanded him to show us the place as it was when the temple stood. He bowed, and for one instant we had a glimpse of the temple and of a vast city filling the plain as far as the eye could reach. Then it was gone, and the image faded away. Then we built up big fires to keep off the jackals and went to sleep.

  • Coulomb, Emma. 1884. Some Account of My Intercourse with Madame Blavatsky from 1872 To 1884, with Additional Letters and a Full Explanation of the Most Marvellous Theosophical Phenomena. Madras, India: Higginbotham and Co.; reprint London: Published for the Proprietors of the "Madras Christian College Magazine" by Elliot Stock, 1885. Pp. ii + 112. Selection 3c.
  • Jinarajadasa, C., ed. Letters from The Masters of tbe Wisdom, Second Series. Adyar, Madras, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1977.Selection 3a.
  • Pashkov, Lydia A. de. 1878. In "Ghost Stories Galore: A Night of Many Wonders at Second Hand in the Eighth Avenue Lamasery." New York World, April 21. Selection 3d.
  • Sinnett, A. P., ed. 1886. Incidents in the Life Of Madame Blavatsky, Compiled from Information supplied by her Relatives and Friends. London, George Redway; reprint New York: Ayer Co., 1976. Pp. xii + 324. Selections 3b.
  • Theosophical Society, General Council. 1885. Report of the Result of an Investigation into the Charges against Madame Blavatsky Brought by the Missionaries of the Scottish Free Church of Madras, and Examined by a Committee Appointed for that Purpose by the General Council of the Theosophical Society. Madras, India: Theosophical Society, 1885. Selection 3a.
  • Zhelihovsky, Vera P. de. 1894. "Helena Petrovna Blavatsky." Lucifer 15–16 (November–April): 202–8, 273–9, 361–4, 469–77, 44–50, 99–108. Selection 3b.
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