The Theosophical Society in America

Esoteric World Chapter 14

Chapter 14

Germany and return to India 1884–1885

After having stayed almost five months in Paris and London, HPB visited the Gebhard family in Elberfeld, Germany, during the late summer and early fall of 1884 and was busily engaged in working on her second book, The Secret Doctrine.

Meanwhile, a vicious attack on Blavatsky by two of her staff members at Adyar, Alexis and Emma Coulomb, was rapidly building up. She returned to Adyar on December 21, 1884, to learn the details of the situation. She wished to sue the couple, already dismissed from Adyar for their gross libel concerning her supposedly fraudulent production of psychic phenomena. HPB was, however, overruled by a Committee of leading Theosophical Society members, and in disgust resigned as Corresponding Secretary of the Society. On March 31, 1885, she left for Europe, never to return to Indian soil.

The Coulomb attack, as was later evident, had no solid foundation whatsoever. It was based on forged and partially forged letters, purporting to have been written by H. P. Blavatsky, with instructions to arrange fraudulent psychic phenomena of various kinds. A Christian missionary magazine in Madras published the most incriminating portions of these letters.

Meanwhile, the Society for Psychical Research (London) had appointed a special committee to investigate Madame Blavatsky’s claims. In December 1884, Richard Hodgson, a member of this SPR committee, arrived in India to inquire into and report on the Coulombs’ allegations. Based upon Hodgson’s findings, the SPR committee in its final report of December 1885, branded Madame Blavatsky as "one of the most accomplished, ingenious and interesting impostors in history." Mr. Hodgson also accused Madame Blavatsky of being a Russian spy. This Hodgson Report to the SPR has been the basis for most subsequent attacks on H. P. Blavatsky, alleging dishonesty, the nonexistence of her Masters, and the worthlessness of Theosophy.

In 1963, Adlai Waterman, in his definitive work entitled Obituary: The "Hodgson Report" on Madame Blavatsky, analyzed and refuted Hodgson's contentions against Madame Blavatsky. A copy of Waterman's book can be purchased for $6.50 (including postage and handling) from the Blavatsky Foundation, P.O. Box 1844, Tucson, AZ 85702. Another refutation of some of Hodgson’s charges against HPB is Vernon Harrison’s article entitled "J'Accuse: An Examination of the Hodgson Report of 1885," published in The Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, London, April 1986, pp. 286–310, and expanded in his book H. P. Blavatsky and the SPR: An Examination of the Hodgson Report of 1885 (Pasadena, CA: Theosophical University Press, 1997).

14a. Francesca Arundale, August 1884, Elberfeld, Germany [Arundale 1932, 44–6]

In the summer of 1884 we received an invitation from a kind friend at Elberfeld, Herr Gustav Gebhard, to come and spend a few weeks at his home. Not only did he invite Colonel Olcott and Madame Blavatsky and Mr. Mohini, but he invited a large party to accompany them—my mother, myself, and my little George, Bertram Keightley, and some others, and many joined the party later.

The drawing-room at Elberfeld was a large, high room with very high doors. We used to sit in this room before going down to dinner, which was on a lower floor. It often happened that HPB did not go down and something was served to her upstairs. On the evening I am speaking of, she decided to remain upstairs and settled her bulky figure comfortably in a large armchair while all the rest of us went down, her host asking her what she would like sent up. After dinner the party returned to the drawing room and found HPB quietly ensconced in her chair, as if she had never left it. A party gathered round her as usual and talk was being carried on, when somebody said, "What is that white thing on the top of the portal of the door?" A high chair was brought, and the "white thing" proved to be an envelope [containing a letter from Mahatma K.H.] addressed to me as Treasurer of the London Lodge. I fully realized that there seemed to be no special reason why the missive should have been given in that peculiar manner. It may have been intended to show that HPB had no connection with it, for it would have been almost impossible for HPB to have mounted on a chair and placed a letter at that height.

14b. Rudolph Gebhard, August. 25–26, 1884, Elberfeld, Germany [Sinnett 1886, 279–86]

I have always taken a great interest in conjuring tricks. When in London, I had an opportunity of taking lessons from Professor Field, a most skillful sleight-of-hand conjuror, who very soon made me quite proficient in his art. From that time forward I have given performances wherever I went (as an amateur, of course), and made the acquaintance of nearly all our renowned "wizards," with whom I exchanged tricks. As every conjuror has some favorite sleight in which he excels, I was bound to be very careful in watching them, in order to make myself perfect in all the different lines of card or coin conjuring, or the famous mediumistic feats. This of course made me in good time a pretty close observer, as far as tricks are concerned; and I feel justified in giving here an opinion on the phenomena which came under my observation.

Two of them occurred in our house in Elberfeld, during the stay in it of Mme. Blavatsky, Colonel Olcott, and a small party of friends and Theosophists.

The first one was a letter from Mahatma K.H. to my father, and took place one evening in the presence of a number of witnesses. It was about nine pm. We were sitting in the drawing room discussing different topics, when Mme. Blavatsky’s attention was suddenly attracted by something unusual taking place in the room. After a while she said that she felt the presence of the "Masters." That they had, perhaps, the intention of doing something for us, and so she asked us to think of what we should like to occur. Then a little discussion took place as to what would be the best thing, and finally it was unanimously resolved that a letter should be asked for, addressed to my father, Mr. G. Gebhard, on a subject on which he should mentally decide himself.

Now my father had, at the time being, great anxiety about a son in America, my elder brother, and was very eager to get advice from the Master concerning him.

Meanwhile, Mme. B., who, on account of her recent illness, was resting on a sofa, and had been looking around the room, suddenly exclaimed that there was something going on with a large oil painting hanging over the piano in the same room, she having seen like a ray of light shooting in the direction of the picture. This statement was immediately corroborated by Mrs. [Holloway], and then by my mother also, who, sitting opposite a looking glass and turning her back to the picture, had also observed in the mirror, like a faint light going towards the painting. Mme. B. then required Mrs. [Holloway] to see, and say what was going on, when Mrs. [Holloway] said that she saw something forming over the picture, but could not distinctly make out what it was.

Everybody's attention was now fixed in the direction of the wall high above and under the ceiling, where so many saw bright lights. But, I must confess, that for my part, not being clairvoyant, I could neither see lights, nor any other thing except what I had always seen on that wall. And when Madame Blavatsky said she now felt absolutely sure that there was something going on, I got up (we had kept our seats all this while) and climbing on the piano lifted the picture right off the wall, but not off the hook, shook it well and looked behind it—nothing! The room was well lit up, and there was not an inch of the picture which I could not see. I dropped the frame, saying that I could see nothing; but Madame Blavatsky told me that she felt sure that there must be something, so on I climbed once more and tried again.

The picture in question was a large oil painting, suspended from the wall by a hook and a rope, which made it hang over at the top, so that when the lower part of the frame was lifted off the wall, there was a space of fully six inches between the wall and the back of the picture, the latter being virtually entirely off the wall. There being a wall gas bracket fixed on each side of the painting, the space between the latter and the wall was well lit up. But the second time, no better than the first, was I able to detect anything, though I looked very close. It was in order to make perfectly sure that I got up on the piano, and passed my hand twice very carefully along the frame, which is about three inches thick, up and down—nothing.

Letting the picture drop back, I then turned round to Madame Blavatsky to ask her what was to be done further, when she exclaimed, "I see the letter; there it is!" I turned quickly back to the picture, and saw at that moment a letter dropping from behind it on the piano. I picked it up. It was addressed to "Herr Consul G. Gebhard," and contained the information he had just asked for. I must have made rather a perplexed face, for the company laughed merrily at the "family juggler."

Now for me this is a most completely demonstrated phenomenon. Nobody had handled the picture but myself; I was careful to examine it very closely, and as I was searching for a letter, such a thing could not have escaped my attention, as perhaps would have been the case if I had been looking for some other object; as then I might not have paid any attention to a slip of paper. The letter was fully four by two inches, so by no means a small object.

Let us consider this phenomenon from a sleight-of-hand point of view.

Suppose several letters had been prepared beforehand, addressed to different persons, treating of different subjects. Is it possible to get a letter to an appointed place by a sleight-of-hand trick? Quite possible; it only depends what place it is, and if our attention is drawn beforehand to such a place or not. To get that letter behind that picture would have been very difficult, but might have been managed if our attention had for a moment been directed to another place, the letter being thrown behind the picture in the meantime. What is sleight-of-hand? Nothing else but the execution of a movement more or less swift, in a moment when you are not observed. I draw your attention for a short while to a certain spot, say for instance my left hand, my right is then free to make certain movements unobserved; as to "the quickness of the hand deceives the eye" theory, it is entirely erroneous. You cannot make a movement with your hand so quickly that the eye would not follow and detect it; the only thing you can do is either to conceal the necessary movement by another one which has nothing to do with what you are about, or to draw the attention of the looker-on to another point, and then quickly do what is required.

Now, in this instance all our attention had been drawn to the picture, before ever the question was put as to what we should like to have, and was kept there all the while; it would have been impossible for anyone to throw a letter without being observed. As for the letter having been concealed behind the picture beforehand, this is out of the question altogether, it could not have escaped my attention while I repeatedly searched for it. Suppose the letter had been placed on the top of the frame, and my hand had disturbed it passing along without my knowing it, this would have caused the letter to drop down instantly, whereas, about thirty seconds passed before it put in an appearance. Taking all circumstances together, it seems to me an impossibility to have worked this phenomenon by a trick.

The day after this had occurred, I went into Madame’s room about noon; but seeing that she was engaged I retired to the drawing room, where we had been sitting the night before, and just then the idea struck me to try that picture again, in order to make perfectly sure that the letter could not have been concealed somewhere behind it, without being detected. I was alone in the room, and during my examination of the painting, nobody entered it; I fully satisfied myself that a letter could not have escaped my attention, had it been concealed behind the picture. I then went back to Madame’s room, where I found her still engaged with the same woman. In the evening we were again sitting together.

"The Masters watched you today, and were highly amused with your experiments. How you did try to find out if that letter could not have been concealed behind the picture."

Now I am positively certain, first, that nobody was in the room at the time I tried the picture; and secondly, that I had told no one in the house of my experiment. It is impossible for me to explain how Madame could have found out my movements, except through clairvoyance.

14c. Vsevolod S. Solovyov, August 26–27, 1884, Brussels, Belgium and then later at Elberfeld, Germany [Quoted in Hastings 1988, 27–9]

Having received a letter from my countrywoman, Madame Helena Blavatsky, in which she informed me of her bad health and begged me to go to see her at Elberfeld, I decided to take the journey. But as the state of my own health obliged me to be careful, I preferred to stop at Brussels, which town I had never seen, to rest, the heat being unbearable.

I left Paris on the 24th of August. Next morning, at the Grand Hotel in Brussels, where I was staying, I met Mlle. [Justine de Glinka] (daughter of [a] Russian ambassador and maid of honour to the Empress of Russia). Hearing that I was going to Elberfeld to see Mme. Blavatsky, whom she knew and for whom she had much respect, she decided to come with me. We spent the day together expecting to leave in the morning by the nine o’clock train.

At eight o’clock, being quite ready to depart, I go to Miss [de Glinka’s] room and find her in a great state of perplexity. All her keys, which she always kept about her person in a little bag and that she had in this bag on going to bed, had disappeared during the night, although the door was locked. Thus, as all her baggage was locked, she could not put away the things she had just been using and wearing. We were obliged to postpone our departure to the one o’clock train and called a locksmith to open the largest trunk. When it was opened, all the keys were found in the bottom of the trunk, including the key of this trunk itself, attached as usual to the rest. Having all the morning to spare, we agreed to take a walk, but suddenly I was overcome by weakness and felt an irresistible desire to sleep. I begged Miss [de Glinka] to excuse me and went to my room, and threw myself on the bed. But I could not sleep and lay with my eyes shut, but awake, when suddenly I saw before my closed eyes a series of views of unknown places that my memory took in to the finest detail. When this vision ceased, I felt no more weakness and went to Miss [de Glinka], to whom I related all that had happened to me and described to her in detail the views I had seen.

We left by the one o’clock train and lo! after about half an hour’s journey, Miss [de Glinka], who was looking out of the window, said to me, "Look, here is one of your landscapes!" I recognized it at once, and all that day until evening, I saw, with open eyes, all that I had seen in the morning with closed eyes. I was pleased that I had described to Miss [de Glinka] all my vision in detail. The route between Brussels and Elberfeld is completely unknown to me, for it was the first time in my life that I had visited Belgium and this part of Germany.

On arriving at Elberfeld in the evening, we took rooms in a hotel and then hurried off to see Madame Blavatsky at Mr. Gebhard’s house. The same evening, the members of the Theosophical Society who were there with Mme. Blavatsky showed us two superb oil paintings of the Mahatmas [Morya] and Koot Hoomi [painted by Mr. Schmiechen]. The portrait of M. especially produced on us an extraordinary impression, and it is not surprising that on the way back to the hotel, we talked on about him and had him before our eyes. Miss [de Glinka] may be left to relate her own experience during that night. [Miss de Glinka’s experience was similar to Solovyov’s. —Editor.]

But this is what happened to me:

Tired by the journey, I lay peacefully sleeping when suddenly I was awakened by the sensation of a warm penetrating breath. I open my eyes and in this feeble light that entered the room through the three windows, I see before me a tall figure of a man, dressed in a long white floating garment. At the same time I heard or felt a voice that told me, in I know not what language, although I understood perfectly, to light the candle. I should explain that, far from being afraid, I remained quite tranquil, only I felt my heart beat rapidly. I lit the candle, and in lighting it, saw by my watch that it was two o’clock. The vision did not disappear. There was a living man in front of me. And I recognized instantly the beautiful original of the portrait we had seen during the evening before. He sat down near me on a chair and began to speak. He talked for a long time. Among other things, he told me that in order to be fit to see him in his astral body I had had to undergo much preparation, and that the last lesson had been given me that morning when I saw, with closed eyes, the landscapes that I was to see in reality the same day. Then he said that I possess great magnetic power, now being developed. I asked him what I ought to do with this force. But without answering, he vanished.

I was alone, the door of my room locked. I thought I had had a hallucination and even told myself with fright that I was beginning to lose my mind. Hardly had this idea arisen when once again I saw the superb man in white robes. He shook his head and, smiling, said to me, "Be sure that I am no hallucination and that your reason is not quitting you. Blavatsky will prove to you tomorrow before everyone that my visit is real." Then he disappeared. I saw by my watch that it was three o’clock. I put out the candle and immediately went into a deep sleep.

Next morning, on going with Miss [de Glinka] to Madame Blavatsky, the first thing she said to us with an enigmatical smile was "Well! How have you passed the night?" "Very well," I replied and I added, "Haven't you anything to tell me?" "No," she replied, "I only know that the Master was with you with one of his pupils."

That same evening, Mr. Olcott found in his pocket a little note, that all the Theosophists said was in the handwriting of M: "Certainly I was there, but who can open the eyes of him who will not see."

This was the reply to my doubts, because all the day I had been trying to persuade myself that it was only a hallucination, and this made Madame Blavatsky angry.

I should say that on my return to Paris, where I am now, my hallucinations and the strange happenings that surrounded me, have completely stopped.

14d. Laura C. Holloway, August–October 1884, Elberfeld, Germany [Holloway 1889]

Mme. Blavatsky could produce a sound like the chime of bells, low and sweet, but perfectly clear, and these were heard by us all under various conditions. She would know what was going on in other parts of the building, and one day reproached one of the party for something that was said in the park, fully a mile away from the castle. Her hostess said that Mme. B had not left her room all the afternoon. I remember an occasion when I excused myself to go to my room to write. In the evening when we all assembled in the drawing room, I was astonished to have her say to me, "You have not written today. I saw you idling the time away." It was true that I had sat at the large window the entire afternoon, looking out upon the hills, watching the clouds and pondering over many things. Mme. Blavatsky had been much in my thoughts, as I considered the question—a grave one to me—of remaining longer with the party or of returning to England. She knew by some means what had been agitating my mind, and said to me as we passed down the stairs, "You will go back with me." I said to myself that I would not, but events so shaped themselves that I did travel back to London in her company.

She seemed to divine the future in many ways, and sometimes when she made prophecies, it was dreadful to hear her voice, she would be so excited and vehement. Curious study she was; curious things she did. Her powers were phenomenal and were exhibited without premeditation. With no ambition, no home, no home ties, no strong attachments, she seemed alone in the world, and was in many respects the most indifferent person I ever knew. Reckless in statement, defiant in action, she made enemies without thought and pained those who loved her with apparent indifference. Sometimes it would be my confidential opinion that she mesmerized those about her when she desired, but never could prove it. Her heart was not such a hard one, but she cared very little for manifestations of affection. She was alone in some sphere of her own, and none could know her intimately. I have been in the room with her when I felt her real self to be far away, and have seen her look at strangers once and talk of them as though their past lives were all before her.

She sat at the desk writing one day when I entered her room without invitation, and, putting on a bold front, walked directly to her with a sealed letter in my hand, which I had written to the guru, or teacher, who had sent me letters through her. "I want an answer to this letter, and I have come to ask you to send it, Madam." She railed at me, flew into a rage, demanded to know by what right I intruded upon her and ordered her to send letters to the Mahatmas. When she had concluded I quietly asked her to send it, adding that it was important. "Nothing that concerns the emotions of people is important," she retorted. "You all think that if you make a prayer it must have an immediate personal response from Jehovah. I am tired of nonsense." I coolly laid the letter on the table, sat down near to and facing her, and looked at my letter. She opened a drawer of the desk, which I saw was empty, and told me to put it there, I pushed the letter from the table into it and closed it myself. She leaned back in her chair, looked with some interest at me, and remarked that my will was developing. I told her that I had staked much in writing the letter, and its reply would influence my future course. Impelled by a sudden feeling I asked her if the letter had not gone, and not waiting for her to reply, I pulled open the drawer and it was not there. I looked for it carefully everywhere. Days after I met Mme. Blavatsky in the hall as she was going out to drive with one of the guests, and she put out her hand for me to assist her down the step. As I took her hand, I smilingly said, "Where's my letter?" She looked at me steadily for a moment, and it suddenly occurred to me, but why I do not know, that it was answered. I ran my hand into the pocket of my dress and there was a letter folded and sealed in a Chinese envelope.

The world has abused her more than almost any other woman of her day. She is an object of suspicion not only to individuals, but to governments, and she is defended by those who would count it a privilege to die for her. To a person who once asked her who she was, she said, with much simplicity of matter, "I am an old Buddhist pilgrim, wandering about the world to teach the only true religion, which is truth."

14e. C. W. Leadbeater, October 31, 1884, London [Leadbeater 1930, 57, 59–62]

I had addressed [a letter] to the Master Kuthumi. I received a reply eventually. [But] I knew of no way to send [another letter] to the Master but to take it to Madame Blavatsky, and as she was to leave England on the following day for India, I hastened up to London to see her.

It was with difficulty that I induced her to read the letter [from Master K.H.], as she said very decidedly that such communications were intended only for the recipient. I was obliged to insist, however, and at last she read it and asked me what I wished to say in reply. I answered and asked her how this information could be conveyed to the Master. She replied that he knew it already, referring of course to the exceedingly close relation in which she stood with him.

She then told me to wait by her, and not to leave her on any account. She adhered absolutely to this condition, even making me accompany her into her bedroom when she went to put on her hat and, when a cab was required, declining to allow me to leave the room and go to the door to whistle for it. I could not at all understand the purpose of this at the time, but afterwards I realized that she wished me to be able to say that she had never been out of my sight for a moment between the time when she read my letter from the Master and my receipt of the reply to it. I remember as vividly as if it were yesterday how I rode with her in that hansom cab, and the bashful embarrassment that I felt, caused partly by the honour of doing so, and partly by my fear that I must be inconveniencing her horribly, for I was crushed side ways into a tiny corner of the seat, while her huge bulk weighed down her side of the vehicle, so that the springs were grinding all through the journey. Mr. and Mrs. Cooper-Oakley were to accompany her on the voyage to India, and it was to their house that I went with her very late that night.

Even at that hour a number of devoted friends were gathered in Mrs. Oakley’s drawing room to say farewell to Madame Blavatsky, who seated herself in an easy chair by the fireside. She was talking brilliantly to those who were present, and rolling one of her eternal cigarettes, when suddenly her right hand was jerked out towards the fire in a very peculiar fashion, and lay palm upwards. She looked down at it in surprise, as I did myself, for I was standing close to her, leaning with an elbow on the mantelpiece; and several of us saw quite clearly a sort of whitish mist form in the palm of her hand and then condense into a piece of folded paper, which she at once handed to me, saying "There is your answer." Every one in the room crowded round, of course, but she sent me away outside to read it, saying that I must not let anyone see its contents. It was a very short note.

14f. Isabel Cooper-Oakley, November 1884, Egypt [HPB: In Memory 1891, 14–5]

HPB [joined] Mr. Oakley and myself [during the middle of October] and remained with us until we started for India with her. The house party [in London] consisted of HPB, my sister [Laura Cooper], Dr. [Archibald] Keightley, Mr. Oakley, and myself. It was early in November 1884 that we left Liverpool for Port Said en route for Madras. It had been arranged that we were to go first to Cairo in order to get some definite information about the antecedents of the Coulombs, who were well known there, as the news of their treachery [against HPB] had already reached us some months before. We reached Port Said on the 17th of November 1884 and there remained some few days for Mr. Leadbeater to join us; on his arrival we took the mail boat down the Suez Canal to Ismailia, and then went by train to Cairo. HPB was a most interesting fellow traveler, her varied information about every part of Egypt was both extensive and extraordinary. Would that I had space to go into the details of that time in Cairo, the drives through the quaint and picturesque bazaars, and her descriptions of the people and their ways. Especially interesting was one long afternoon spent at the Boulak Museum on the borders of the Nile, where HPB astonished [Gaston] Maspero, the well-known Egyptologist, with her knowledge, and as we went through the museum she pointed out to him the grades of the Initiate kings and how they were to be known from the esoteric side. On leaving Cairo, HPB and I went straight to Suez. Mr. Oakley remained at Cairo to get documents from the police about the Coulombs; Mr. Leadbeater joined us at Suez.

14g. C. W. Leadbeater, November 1884, Egypt [Leadbeater 1930, 68, 71, 73–7]

In those days there was no railway running from Port Said, and the only way in which we could reach Cairo was by traveling down the Suez Canal as far as Ismailia, whence we could take train to the capital. The journey down the canal was performed in a tiny little steamer somewhat like a tug-boat. Every night it left Port Said at midnight and reached Ismailia in the early morning.

In the pale gold of the Egyptian morning we moored beside the wharf at Ismailia. There was an interval of some hours before our train started, so it seemed reasonable to go to a hotel and have some breakfast. So in due course we took our places in the train.

As the journey continued Madame Blavatsky favored us with the most gloomy prognostications of our future fate.

"Ah! you Europeans," she said, "you think you are going to enter upon the path of occultism and pass triumphantly through all its troubles; you little know what is before you; you have not counted the wrecks by the wayside as I have. The Indians know what to expect, and they have already passed through tests and trials such as have never entered into your wildest dreams, but you, poor feeble things, what can you do?"

She continued these Casandra-like prophecies with a maddening monotony, but her audience was far too reverential to try to change the subject. We sat in the four corners of the compartment, Madame Blavatsky facing the engine, Mr. Oakley sitting opposite to her with the resigned expression of an early Christian martyr; while Mrs. Oakley, weeping profusely, and with a face of ever-increasing horror, sat opposite to me.

In those days trains were usually lit by smoky oil lamps, and in the center of the roof of each compartment there was a large round hole into which porters inserted these lamps as they ran along the roofs of the carriages. This being a day train, however, there was no lamp, and one could see the blue sky through the hole. It happened that Mr. Oakley and I were both leaning back in our respective corners, so that we both saw a kind of ball of whitish mist forming in that hole, and a moment later it had condensed into a piece of folded paper, which fell to the floor of our compartment. I started forward, picked it up, and handed it at once to Madame Blavatsky, taking it for granted that any communication of this nature must be intended for her. She at once unfolded it and read it, and I saw a red flush appear upon her face.

"Umph," she said, "that’s what I get for trying to warn you people of the troubles that lie before you," and she threw the paper to me.

"May I read it?" I said, and her only reply was, "Why do you think I gave it to you?"

I read it and found it to be a note signed by the Master Koot Hoomi, suggesting very gently but quite decidedly that it was perhaps a pity, when she had with her some earnest and enthusiastic candidates, to give them so very gloomy a view of a path which, however difficult it might be, was destined eventually to lead them to joy unspeakable. And then the message concluded with a few words of kindly commendation addressed to each of us by name.

I need hardly say that we were all much comforted and uplifted and filled with gratitude; but, though no rebuke could possibly have been more gently worded, it was evident that Madame Blavatsky did not altogether appreciate it. Before our conversation began she had been reading some book which she wished to review for the Theosophist, and she was still sitting with the book open upon her knee and the paperknife in her hand. She now resumed her reading, stroking the dust of the desert (which came pouring in at the open window) off the pages of the book with her paper-knife as she read. When an especially vicious puff came in, Mr. Oakley started forward and made a motion as if to close the window; but Madame Blavatsky looked up at him balefully, and said with unmeasured scorn, "You don't mind a little dust, do you?" Poor Mr. Oakley shrank back into his corner like a snail into its shell, and not another word did our leader utter until we steamed into the station at Cairo. The dust certainly was rather trying, but after that one remark we thought it best to suffer it in silence.

14h. Isabel Cooper-Oakley, December 1884–March 1885, Adyar, Madras, India [HPB: In Memory, 15–7]

On leaving Cairo, HPB and I went straight to Suez. After waiting two days for the steamer we started for Madras. Col. Olcott and some members met us at Colombo [Ceylon], and we stayed there nearly two days, paying some deeply interesting visits to the old Buddhist Temples, and one especially charming visit to Sumangala, the High Priest, who evidently had a very high respect for HPB. We then proceeded to Madras. Never shall I forget the quaint picturesqueness of our arrival [at Madras on December 21th]. A deputation, accompanied by a brass band, came off in boats to meet us; but the sound of the music was somewhat marred by the fact that the drop between the waves is so great that sometimes our band was on the top of a high roller, and sometimes almost engulfed between two big waves. On landing at the pier head, there were hundreds to meet HPB, and we were literally towed by enthusiastic members down the pier in a truck, wildly decorated with paper roses, etc., and then surrounded by masses of smiling dark faces. She was driven off to Pachiappah Hall, where we had garlands of pink roses festooned round us and were sprinkled somewhat copiously with rose water. Then HPB and I were conducted by a Rajah to his carriage and driven off to Adyar. Here the warmest welcome awaited her. Members were assembling from all parts of India for the approaching [Theosophical Society] Convention; we went into the large hall and at once began discussing the all-absorbing Coulomb case.

Col. Olcott then informed us that the Society of Psychical Research [London] was sending out a member to investigate the matter, and accordingly a few days after, the notorious [Richard] Hodgson arrived fresh from Cambridge. Mr. Hodgson was an Australian by birth. I am quite confident that if an older man had come, one with more experience and a maturer judgment, the Coulomb affair would have been presented to the world in a very different way. Mr. Hodgson’s investigations were not conducted with an unbiased mind, and from hearing everyone say Madame Blavatsky was an impostor he began to believe it: after a few interviews with Madame Coulomb and the missionaries, we saw that his views were turning against the minority.

Now his report was not by any means accurate, for he omitted some very valuable evidence of phenomena given to him by Mr. Oakley and myself. Mr. Hodgson was treated with the greatest courtesy and friendliness by HPB and Col. Olcott, and every opportunity was afforded him for investigating every hole and corner at Adyar; and yet he preferred, and gave more credence to, the testimony of a discharged servant, whose bad character was by that time universally known, than to that of HPB and her friends, who had no monetary interest in giving their evidence.

The trap doors and sliding panels had all been made by [Alexis] Coulomb, in HPB’s absence, and his wife sold the character of [HPB] who had saved her from starvation to the missionaries and forged the letters she showed to them. Any person of ordinary intellect and common sense could see that the trap doors and sliding panels were quite new, so new as to be immovable, the grooves being quite fresh and unmarked by any usage whatever, as Mr. Oakley and I found when we tried to move the largest sliding door. If we could not do so with our combined efforts, surely it is ridiculous to think Madame Blavatsky could have used them for conjuring tricks; the arrangements were so bad that any trick would have been inevitably discovered. However Mr. Hodgson was so bent on being a "success" that these simple commonsense facts were disregarded by him.

Immediately after the convention was over he left [Adyar] Headquarters, and went to live in Madras, until his investigations were ended.

The effect of all this worry was that [HPB] became seriously ill. Col. Olcott had started for Burma, Mr. Oakley and I were comparatively alone with her. Very anxious were the hours and days of nursing that I went through those three weeks, as she grew worse and worse and was finally given up in a state of coma by the doctors. It proves how wonderful was the protective influence of HPB, ill or well; for though I was completely isolated with her near the roof of the house, an open staircase leading up, hardly a soul within call, yet night after night have I wandered up and down the flat roof, to get a breath of fresh air between 3 and 4 a.m., and wondered as I watched the daylight break over the Bay of Bengal, why I felt so fearless even with her lying apparently at the point of death; I never could imagine a sense of fear coming near HPB.

Finally came the anxious night when the doctors gave her up, and said that nothing could be done, it was impossible. She was then in a state of coma and had been so for some hours. The doctors said that she would pass away in that condition, and I know, humanly speaking, that night’s watch must be the last. I cannot here go into what happened, an experience I can never forget; but towards 8 a.m. HPB suddenly opened her eyes and asked for her breakfast, the first time she had spoken naturally for two days. I went to meet the doctor, whose amazement at the change was very great. HPB said, "Ah! doctor, you do not believe in our great Masters." From that time she steadily improved. The doctor insisted on her being sent to Europe as soon as possible.

14i. Richard Hodgson, December 1884–January 1885, Adyar, Madras, India [Hodgson 1885, 3: 207, 261, 262, 313–4, 317]

In November [1884] I proceeded to India for the purpose of investigating on the spot the evidence of the phenomena connected with the Theosophical Society.

We may first take the "raps" which Mr. [A. P.] Sinnett seems to regard as constituting important test phenomena. The raps occurring when Madame Blavatsky places her hands upon the patient’s head, I have experienced, though as Madame Blavatsky sat behind me and placed her hands upon the back of my head, I was unable to watch her fingers. She had not informed me what she intended doing, and I conjectured that she was attempting to "mesmerize" me; the so-called "shocks" which I felt impressed me simply as movements of impatience on the part of Madame Blavatsky. My attention being then drawn to them as "phenomena," they were repeated, but I found them not at all like the "shocks" experienced when taking off sparks from the conductor of an electrical machine, as Mr. Sinnett describes them. The sharp thrilling or tingling feeling was quite absent. Unfortunately, I am unable to gently crack any of the joints of my fingers, I can but clumsily and undisguisedly crack one of the joints of my thumbs, yet I find that the quality of the feeling produced when I thus crack my thumb joint against my head exactly resembles that which I perceived under the supple hands of Madame Blavatsky.

The problem of her motives, when I found myself being forced to the conclusion that her claims and her phenomena were fraudulent, caused me no little perplexity. At last a casual conversation opened my eyes. I had put aside as unworthy of consideration the idea that the objects of the Theosophical Society were political, and that Madame Blavatsky was a "Russian spy." But a conversation with Madame Blavatsky, which arose out of her sudden and curious excitement at the news of the recent Russian movement upon the Afghan frontier, compelled me to ask myself seriously whether it was not possible that the task which she had set herself to perform in India was to foster and foment as widely as possible among the natives a disaffection towards Brltish rule. I cannot profess myself, after my personal experiences of Madame Blavatsky, to feel much doubt that her real object has been the furtherance of Russian interests.

14j. Henry S. Olcott, February 7–8, 1885, Adyar, Madras, India [Olcott 1932, 732–4]

Again has our Master [Morya] snatched HPB from the jaws of death. A few days ago she was dying and I was recalled from Burma by telegraph, with little or no prospect of seeing her again. But, when three physicians were expecting her to sink into coma and so pass senseless out of life, He came, laid his hand upon her, and the whole aspect of the case changed.

The day before yesterday things looked so bad that Subba Row and Damodar lost heart and got quite panicky and said the T.S. would go to the dogs. Well, yesterday came here a certain Indian yogi, dressed in the usual saffron robes, and accompanied by a female ascetic—his supposed disciple. I was called, came and sat down, and we stared at each other in silence. Then he closed his eyes, concentrated himself, and gave me psychically his message. He had been sent by the Mahatma [Narayana] at Tirivellum (the one who dictated to HPB the "Replies to an English F.T.S.") to assure me that I should not be left alone. He recalled to me my conversation of the 7th with [Damodar] and [Subba Row]. And he asked me (mentally) if I could for a moment have believed that he, who had always been so true to me, would leave me to go on without help. Then he and his Maya of a she-chela went up to HPB’s sick-chamber, and she—contrary to every Hindu usage for females of the sort—went straight at the [Old Lady] and made passes over her, and at the Guru’s command began to recite mantrams. Then the Guru took from beneath his robe a ball, the size of an orange, of the nirukti or sacred ashes used in Hindu temples for external application after the bath, and told the disciple to put it in a small cupboard that hangs over the head of HPB’s bed. He told the latter that when she needed him she should simply think of him in his present visible form and mentally repeat his name thrice. Then there was some conversation all around, and they went away.

  • Arundale, Francesca. My Guest: H.P. Blavatsky. Adyar, Madras, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1932. Selection 14a.
  • Hastings, Beatrice. Solovyoff's Fraud. Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: Edmonton Lodge of the Theosophical Society in Canada, 1988. Selection 14c.
  • Hodgson, Richard. "Account of Personal Investigations in India, and Discussion of the Authorship of the 'Koot Hoomi' Letters." Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (London) 3 (1885): 207–380. Selection 14i.
  • Holloway, Laura C. "Blavatsky Mesmerism." Current Literature (New York) 1 (March 1889): 243–4. Selection 14d.
  • HPB: In Memory of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. By some of her pupils. London: Theosophical Publishing Society. 1891. Selections 14f, 14h.
  • Leadbeater, C. W. How Theosophy Came to Me. Adyar, Madras, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1930. Reprint 1948. Selections 14e, 14g.
  • Olcott, H. S. "Letters of H. S. Olcott to Francesca Arundale." Theosophist (Adyar) 53 (September 1932): 727–35. Selection 14j.
  • Sinnett, A. P. Incidents in the Life of Madame Blavatsky, Compiled from Information Supplied by her Relatives and Friends. London: George Redway, 1886. Reprint New York: Ayer, 1976. Selection 14b.
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