For years and years, I thought I did not like philosophy. Actually, come to find out, what I did not like was that metaphysical fluff produced when thinker-writers went off on flights of fantasy describing in minute detail things which they knew nothing about, could know nothing about, and for which they had not a lick of proof. I’m talking here about everything from the spirit-worlds of the Gnostic texts, to the descriptions of God by the medieval scholastics, to the detailed accounts in 19th century Spiritualism of the exploits of individual souls before and after death.
So when Madame Blavatsky, whom I credit as THE godmother of New Age thought, goes on and on (and on and on) relating her pre-world creation-saga of the spirit realm, when she claims time and time again to receive her wisdom from secretive sage-masters or from spirits beyond the grave, when she claims mental access to “astral” copies of ancient books containing the deepest, most esoteric wisdom– well, at my most patient and forgiving, my eyes simply glaze over– and at my most bored and frustrated– I have to force myself not to hurl the book across the room and read no more of her fairy tales and huckster sham.
Blavatsky was well-read in her area, I give her that. And she was a champion welder– welding a little of this religious tradition with that pseudo-science claim, a little of this exotic mythology with that metaphysical philosophy. Researcher William Emmette Coleman claimed to have found references in Blavatsky’s work to over 100 contemporary (to her) books (unacknowledged by her for the most part). Blavatsky, however, would have preferred us to think that her knowledge came from unknown books written in unknown languages, or from other beings possessing her body and writing through her, or from meetings with exalted Masters ensconced in Tibetan temples and possibly running the world through ancient secret societies.
BUT… if I would’ve stopped learning Blavatsky’s philosophy just because I didn’t like her myth-building, I would have been the loser. Understanding Blavatsky –her century, her influences, and her (real or likely) sources– helps me to understand better the spiritual beliefs held by many in my own time.
Blavatsky was one of the first popular Western writers to expound a plethora of completely unsubstantiatable ideas about the super-sensory world — ideas which later would be grouped under the New Age umbrella (and with no small amount of them included in the widely successful and fairly recent iteration entitled “The Secret”). Many of these ideas go back for millennia, but no one in the West had ever synch’d up all these ideas into one world-outlook. She seemingly rejects most spiritual ideas of Western origin (no Olympic gods or nymphs from the South; no pixies or fairies from the North), but there is hardly a major Egyptian, Mid-Eastern, or Eastern religion from which she does not take something.
The structure of Blavatsky’s world/ pre-world draws much from Gnostic mythology and the Kabbalistic multiverse of the Tree Of Life. Correspondences (signs of the workings of other worlds which can be discerned in ours) are also important to her– implying influences from Swedenborgianism, Neoplatonism, and that whole line of fellas going waaaay back. I’m pretty sure Paracelsus was an influence, although I think I read she wasn’t that big into Boehme.
Also, the Universe of Madama Blavatsky is filled with, and interconnected by, a subtle fluid, a view which seems colored by the ideas of Mesmer (who claimed we could manipulate this fluid by the use of the will– the foundational view of modern practitioners of magic). Combined with her “correspondence” idea that the planets are symbols of powerful somethings in the higher planes of existence, this allows her to explain her belief in the influence of the planets upon the Earth and its inhabitants (astrology).
In terms of personal spiritual growth and purpose, Blavatsky seems to me most largely influenced by several trains of thought… the Zoroastrian idea of light versus dark, the Gnostic loathing of the corporeal world, the theory of evolution (although she gives evolution a direction and ultimate purpose– human perfection), as well as the Vedic thought of India’s Hinduism (though, for some reason, she prefers to call all ancient Indian philosophy, “Buddhism”– claiming that Buddhistic thought pre-dated Gautama by thousands of years).
You know, I’m someone who does not reject completely ideas even if the purveyor of those ideas has no sound rational basis for his belief. What I mean is this… that someone asserting something preposterous can wind-up being correct by accident– that is, not for the reasons they asserted. A child may predict sunshine because he has recited the lines, “rain, rain, go away– come again some other day”– and, indeed, the day may prove sunny, but that doesn’t mean the child was right in his belief in the efficacy of his little prayer… And yet, it doesn’t mean he was entirely wrong either, for in truth, it did not rain, as he predicted.
Though I DO find it unlikely, I do not one-hundred percent rule-out the possibility that the configurations of the planets have some effect on us. However, I’m all-but-certain that if such is ever proven to be the case, it will not be along the lines asserted by the astrologers.
Perhaps no one in the human race can escape the fate, in at least some areas of thought, of first believing what they wish to be true, and then going in search of the facts and providing the reasoning to support that view. I’ve seen some of the greatest minds in history succumb to this mental illness.
When I read Madame Blavatsky, I see this universal human trait writ large– her knowledge is vaster, her reasoning more deeply utilized than the average person. But her data is cherry-picked, and her reasoning twisted to desired ends. Again, sadly, we all do this, but Blavatsky succeeded in accomplishing this to a near superhuman degree. In her monomaniacal fixation on the creation of such a complex, internally consistent made-up world– I see parallels with madness– and I would not be the first to remark that there is a strange connection– or at least sometimes thin line– between genius and insanity. Most of the great world-builders appear to have possessed a touch of madness.
People, who want to believe in a Blavatsky-esque multiverse, will. There is no reasoning with the true-believer. But since there is currently– and perhaps always will be– a bottomless chasm in place of any real human knowledge of the ultimate reality of time and space, perhaps it is just as well.