In a recent note to someone I had mentioned some reasoning behind the discussion on the Stanzas of Dzyan.  Recently, the thought came to mind, what else did we miss?

Perhaps a good question here is to gather a list of questions that result from comments made by HPB (and others) that either left more questions than answers or did not sufficiently answer a question, and results in confusion today.  Of course, this does not only apply to Blavatsky, but also to others who in their incompleteness or by omission, left gaps in their explanations.

So, let's have at it and have fun.

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Reminiscences of HPB and The Secret Doctrine: Countess Constance Wachtmeister and others.
p. 34: "The circumstance which, perhaps, more than any other attracted my attention and excited my wonder when I began to help Madame Blavatsky as her amanuensis, and thus got some glimpses of the nature of her work upon The Secret Doctrine, was the poverty of her travelling library.  Her manuscripts were full to overflowing with references, quotations, allusions, from a mass of rare and recondite works on subjects of the most varied kind.  Now she needed verification of a passage from some book only to be found at the Vatican, and again from some document of which only the British Museum possessed a copy.  Yet it was only verification she needed.  The matter she had, however she may have gained it - certainly she could not have procured her information from the handful of very ordinary books she carried about with her."- Countess Wachtmeister.

p.94: "Of phenomena in connection with The Secret Doctrine I have very little indeed to say.  Quotations with full references, from books which were never in the house - quotations verified after hours of search, sometimes, at the British Museum for a rare book - of such I saw and verified not a few." - Bertram Keightley

p 98:  "Many of the quotations had to be verified, and here we should have been lost if it had not been for a hint from HPB.  She told us one night that sometimes in writing down quotations, which for the purpose of the book had been impressed on the Astral Light before her, she forgot to reverse the figures - for instance page 123 would be allowed 321 and so on.  With this in mind verification was easier, for one was puzzled on examining all editions in the British Museum to find in several cases that the books did not contain the number of pages.  With the reversal matters were straightened out and the correct places found." - Dr. Archibald Keightley.

The copy I have in front of me was published in 1893.  The debate has been raging since the Secret Doctrine was published, and shows no sign of dying down.  I think the Countess Wachtmeister's book might be available on Katinka Hesselink's site.

 

Godwin's book was not available to me at the time I was doing my project, but wouldn't have been any use to me anyway, since it does not appear to mention Countess Wachtmeister, the Keightly brothers or The Secret Doctrine, though it does mention the same controversy in connection with Isis Unveiled. I also used Sylvia Cranston's HPB and the collection of Lucifer at our National Headquarters.


Govert Schuller said:

Dear June,

 

Which sources are you referring to? Best sources so far known to me would be the BCW with Zirkoff's additions, Godwin's The Theosophical Enlightenment and Paul's work, though none go into the origin of specific quotes. Then Coleman never produced his promised work.


June Vallyon said:

PS, I think the subject of who were the sources of Blavatsky's many quotes and whether she had any actual physical contact with them has been done to death somewhere else.  It was started when Countess Wachtmeister and the Keightley Brothers tried to find them prior to the publication of the Secret Doctrine for inclusion in that book, and has been ongoing ever since.
Ok. I see what you're referring to. Wonder who might have addressed this controversy most systematically. None of the scholars have done so.

June Vallyon said:

Reminiscences of HPB and The Secret Doctrine: Countess Constance Wachtmeister and others.
p. 34: "The circumstance which, perhaps, more than any other attracted my attention and excited my wonder when I began to help Madame Blavatsky as her amanuensis, and thus got some glimpses of the nature of her work upon The Secret Doctrine, was the poverty of her travelling library.  Her manuscripts were full to overflowing with references, quotations, allusions, from a mass of rare and recondite works on subjects of the most varied kind.  Now she needed verification of a passage from some book only to be found at the Vatican, and again from some document of which only the British Museum possessed a copy.  Yet it was only verification she needed.  The matter she had, however she may have gained it - certainly she could not have procured her information from the handful of very ordinary books she carried about with her."- Countess Wachtmeister.

Replying to Govert and June, although going off-topic: those of us writing before the mid-90s did not have any of the tools that make the process of hunting for sources and plagiarism (repurposing, in Marc's more neutral terminology) so interesting nowadays.  Whoever applies these tools to the works of Blavatsky and her Mahatmas will face a firestorm of outrage that these sacred texts be subjected to worldly analysis.  But having seen what Marc Demarest did with Art Magic, I am very eager to see the same processes applied to Ghost Land and to learn how he was able for example to conclude that Section I consists of 0% others words while Section II consists of 36% others' words.  These of course broken down into acknowledged vs. unacknowledged borrowing.  With both HPB and Cayce there are hints of photographic memory that need to be looked into wrt the "astral light."

I'm far from knowledgeable on this subject, but it does perk my interest to a degree. I'm referring to Blavatsky having produced many quotations from obscure occult works in her writings, but she traveled with, and had in her possession, only a fairly sparse library. And, upon double checking, it turns out the quotations are accurate.

Question being, how did she do it? Was this "astral light" for real?

Without knowing all the particulars, I won't jump to any conclusions, but it does tend to point in the direction of something "psychic" or paranormal occurring here. Or, perhaps, it was a phenomenal photographic memory.

The questions to be asked are:

Is there any indication or direct reference to HPB having a photographic memory in any of the biographies of her, or in her writings?

Did she spend time at the British Museum? There surely would be old records of her visits, and perhaps even of the books she examined. If she was a frequent visitor, it must be mentioned in one or more of her biographies.

Were there quotes from a book, or books, in her writings only obtainable at the Vatican. And, did she ever visit the Vatican Library?

Maybe some of the people here who have studied HPB's life in some depth can answer these questions.

 

 

Interesting ideas, Paul. Never thought about photographic memory as a more naturalistic explanation for some of such writings. And applying Marc Demarest's method to HPB's works would be useful, regardless of possible outrage (which might not happen, because such an investigation might go either way).


The best discussion of photographic memory I've read was in an unpublished manuscript about Edgar Cayce, who had worked in a bookshop but whose writing ability was eighth grade level.  Something about the "astral light seeing things upside down/backwards" rings a bell for me of photographic memory.  If it's a paranormal kind of perception, I can't see why dyslexic inversion would occur.  On the other hand, if it's a highly unusual but perhaps not paranormal level of photographic memory, makes more sense that it would be accessed pictorially rather than verbally.  With Cayce one must especially look to brain-related explanations because the clairvoyance was allegedly unleashed by a spinal cord injury (baseball hitting the neck/back of his head at 13.)

I don't think "photographic memory" is fully explained by materialist science, though they would beg to differ. In and of itself, it may have "one leg" in the paranormal. Whatever the case, it is something that mainstream science admits exists, so it could be used as a possible explanation.

But, what I think is pertinent, my question of whether there is any mention of Blavatsky having a photographic memory, in her biographies or in her own writings, goes unanswered so far. Hopefully, someone with such knowledge will chime in here.

As for Edgar Cayce, Paul, you're quite knowledgeable in that area. But, I don't think we can so easily dismiss his clairvoyance being fully explained as "brain related." Many noted psychics had some kind of physical injury to the brain before their abilities awakened. Peter Hukos comes to immediately to mind. In my view and others,  the brain plays a role as a "conduit" or "relay station" from the non-material world to the physical plane. Evidently, certain "channels" were opened up by the accidents.

I'm far from a "Blavatskyite," and don't think she was infallible, but let's keep an open mind in this area and let all the particulars come to light.

Paul, perhaps you could tutor us on what this "method" is that Marc Demarest is using to examine HPB's works that could lead to some "possible outrage."

 

 

 

Hi Michael,

Neither of us is applying these computational bibliography tools to HPB, but rather to Emma.  I was predicting that anyone who used them with the HPB/Mahatma body of literature is going to arouse protest that such worldly methods were applied to something so sacred.

I'm not yet an initiate into the processes whereby Marc has come up with his statistics reported in Art Magic.  Fortunately, the intro is freely available on Amazon.com, including pp. xxvii-xxvi, "The Sources of Art Magic."  There is a link to the Amazon preview on the Typhon Press page linked above.  I know from the intro that Marc accessed the Google Books database through "CTM Development's stellar FoxTrot full text retrieval system" and that he has searched for "statistically improbable phrases" as matches.  But how this yields statistics like top ten sources in order, or relative use of others' words in different sections of the book, is something I look forward to learning about with Ghost Land.

Looking for natural explanations of Cayce's experience is not in any way dismissive, reductionist, or intended to promote the agenda of "materialist science" versus the claims of the paranormal.  There are more than a hundred books interpreting Cayce from a paranormal, supernatural POV, and only one AFAIK devoted to the natural and normal kinds of explanation that historians favor.  (The SCICOP crowd have written about him in parts of books from a debunking POV.)  I'm not trying to oppose what the rest do or argue with them about paranormal claims, but just to write history that is nonpropagandistic in any direction.   Saying that brain related factors must be considered is not saying they exclude or outweigh all others.  But the disparity between his writing ability and the speech content was so great that brain injury might be a factor behind a lifelong pattern of trance clairvoyance. The photographic memory question was brought up in a Ph.D dissertation for CIIS, but I'm not sure about its availability.   But a little searching led me to the same conclusion as you, that "photographic memory" is just as uncertain as ESP in terms of a scientific consensus.

Thanks, Paul, for the clarification and explanation. It would seem that Marc is checking for any kind of plagiarism on Emma's part. Unless there are long sections of exact similarities in wording, it may be difficult to prove. Many writers come up with similar phrasing when tapping into the same idea or subject matter. And with her not being around to defend herself, it may be giving a one sided view. Just my thoughts on the matter.

We're on the same page with Edgar Cayce. Certainly the brain is involved and plays a role, but its not the whole picture. As regards to "photographic memory," as an explanation by this person in his Ph.D Dissertation, this sounds like a last grasp for an reductionist explanation by a desperate Materialist.

Dear Michael,

I think that the idea that photographic memory is somehow involved in the writings of Britten and HPB is a legitimate hypothesis. Present-day science is methodologically bound to find naturalistic causes for the phenomena it investigates. This would especially be the case where spiritualistic or psychic phenomena are concerned given the high incidence of fraud. We'll have to see how Marc Demarest develops and applies the hypothesis. We cannot judge him beforehand. I'd say, let the chips fall where they may. 

Photographic memory could only apply to things that the authors in question have had physical access to.  And how and when would Blavatsky been able to access the Vatican library?

 

As for using computer analysis to detect plagarism, how accurate is it?  One of my University lecturers claimed she could always tell, and used computer analysis to check - yet I know - or rather I found out afterwards - that one of my classmates never wrote anything orginal in his assignments.  In the same year I had one of my final assignments rejected for plagarism when the whole class was adjudicated - until my lecturer said she'd watched me write the whole thing longhand and correct it in class, without reference even to the book that I was reviewing.  They were not taking into account the fact that I was a mature student with a background in journalism and creative writing. 

Govert, you're right, the mainstream science paradigm of materialism is deeply entrenched and a naturalistic explanation is always assumed before hand by this approach.

Certainly, fraud and trickery must be carefully watched out for, which all good parapsychologists and paranormal investigators take into account. There are always clever pranksters out there.

Getting back to the "photographic memory" theory that was proposed concerning Blavatsky, June, you bring up the point I was also getting at. Can it be shown that HPB had access to the rare occult material years earlier that she quoted from in her works. If not, that throws that theory out the window.

She obviously visited the British Museum, but are there any records still existing of her visits and what she looked at in their reading room?

As for the Vatican Library, I remember a documentary that said only a small selection of books and artifacts are allowed to be examined by qualified(in their eyes) researchers in a carefully guarded and watched reading room. The vast majority of material is completely off limits to outsiders. Was this the case in Blavatsky's time? Did she ever visit there? And, who now has had access to the material she is said to have quoted using clairvoyance and verified such?

I think Paul here could shed some light on the operations of both the British Museum and the Vatican Library, as he is not only a recognized scholar, but a former head Librarian in Boston. Paul, would you know if these two institutions could be of any help in tracing now any details concerning personal HPB visits, if any?

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