Truth and Illusion in Theosophical Literature

Dear friends,


Those interested in the projected book on the Defense of H.P.B. against slanders of various kinds can already see a short “reader's guide” with the texts of the future book which are available online.


Truth and Illusion in Theosophical Literature

Examining a Long-Term Struggle

Between Ethics and Pseudo-Theosophy


Best regards,


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Comment by Jerry Hejka-Ekins on June 11, 2011 at 3:13pm

The observation that HPB's writings contain "factual" errors is hardly new. I recall Boris de Zirkoff (Editor of the Blavatsky Collected Writings) addressing this issue in the 1970s, particularly in connection with Isis Unveiled. Boris documented instances where the "mistakes" were sometimes the result of Olcott's efforts to edit and "improve" her Isis mss. We will probably never know all the details of Olcott's "assistance," let alone Alexander Wilder's far more extensive editing of Isis. In the case of the SD, there are accounts suggesting that her teachers were also involved in its production. Whether one believes they were or not, the SD is indeed a very different reading experience.

Nevertheless, there is a far more basic and verifiable consideration that casual readers of HPB's writings seem to miss: Both Isis and the SD were written in an expository style. That is, HPB was not writing from revelation. Rather, she was posing arguments and quoting ancient and contemporary "authoritative" material from various fields of thought in order to advance or clarity her own points. Sometimes she quoted these authorities' observations or conclusions as supporting evidence, and sometimes she quoted them in order to argue against their points. In most cases, an attentive reader can easily distinguish between the points HPB quotes or paraphrases, and her own arguments. 

Regarding the timing of the Aquarian age: There are a lot of different dates that have been put forward, each based upon different criteria for its calculation. So, one might ask how the various dates in question were calculated. Depending upon the criteria, there are lots of "correct" answers. According to my reading of HPB's previously cited footnote in the Collected Writings (vol. 8, p. 174), her point is simply that several cycles, based upon the traditions of as many different cultures, converge at the close of the 19th century. Further, when the Aquarian age does occur, there will be changes in the "psychic idiosyncrasies of humanity." Her mentioned dates of the "Messianic cycle" (regardless of her source) were pretty standard fare at the time, and I would not presume that she is necessarily endorsing their accuracy--especially in light of her hint about the importance of computing them by lunar months, and in consideration of the here unaddressed (and still, IMO, unresolved) question concerning the exact beginning point of the sidereal zodiac.  

Comment by M K Ramadoss on June 11, 2011 at 1:43am
If any one of us can take what has been written by HPB and others far greater than her, and improve on it, then it would be helpful to the future. There was a comment that even Lord Buddha himself committed some errors and Shri Shankaracharya had to fix them. When such is the case, let us see what we can do to go forward with popularizing theosophy which in turn will help the Orphan Humanity even in a very minute way.
Comment by Capt. Anand Kumar on June 11, 2011 at 1:01am

Few authors in the history have been subjected to the kind of scrutiny that HPB has been. Love her or hate her,  one can't be indifferent to her.


I have read HPB's popular works, Isis Unveiled, The Secret Doctrine and The Voice of Silence only once. I found them to be too complicated for my level of intellect and knowledge. However, I realize that her writings have a Core Components (The Principels or the Truths) and a Fringe Component (the refernces from various sources).


Most of the errors discussed usually, are from the Fringe component.  It is important to discuss those and correct those if proven. But does it affect the Core? Although a few Core errors (like in technical terms as established by the research of David Reigle) exist, but those are only a few and can be attributed very easily to the lack of her knowledge of Sanskrit or Tibetan. To criticize her on the basis of a few errors of such a large work appears unreasonable to me.


Let us do a small exercise from modern technology point of view. Suppose we had a supercomputer, how long it will take to input all the data of all known thought systems of the world,  create programs to do a search of that data and filter the results to arrive at let us say for example 10 fundamental principles. Then do a another seach and find refernces for these 10 fundamental principles. All the results then to be summarized in 5000 pages. Those familiar with the IT world will perhaps agree that with a wrokforce of 100 people, this cannot be acheived in less than 10 years of time.


The Value of HPB's writings and her personality can be assessed from the above.

Comment by Jacques Mahnich on June 10, 2011 at 7:03pm

Govert wrote in his article « Bibracte: Last center of Celtic Occultism? » :


«  From what I read so far Ragon’s claims made about Bibracte are quite erroneous or, in H.P.B.’s words, “utterly incorrect”, as she qualified an other of his claims. Bibracte was a fortified hill-town and none of the grand structures, which Ragon writes about, were ever erected there. It looks like, and he is not the only one, that he confused Bibracte with the nearby town of Autun, which does have a big Roman amphitheatre, though it ‘only’ seats 17.000, and has a temple dedicated to Janus. »


What I can read from french history (Le Morvan , by JF. Baudiau – 1865) for this place (Bibracte) is that it was the ancient site of the town of Autun, capital of the Eduens. It was the capital of one of the three Gallic States – the Celtic one – It was a place where the Eduens went to worship the supreme Being. It was identified by the Romans as a fortified town (oppidum munitum). After the Gaules conquest, the Romans called this place the Roma' sister town and their inhabitants as brothers. Later one, The Roman Emperor August decided , in order to eliminate th threat of a fortress, to transfer the Bibracte site (or rather to re-build a town) in what is now the Autun town site. The Bibracte people were attracted by the roman civilization and business in the new town, and soon left the old capital.

So at least, Ragon's masonic story is corroborated by other historians.


By the way, I was born 60 km from Bibracte, (in Châlon-sur-Saône) and I will be pleased to go further in the investigation if needed.

Comment by Govert Schuller on June 10, 2011 at 4:37pm

One concrete error one could mull over and analyze is HPB's selective and misleading appropriation of some ideas of a French Masonic writer by the name of Jean Marie Ragon.


The case is that she parrots Ragon's claim that a 1st century BCE Celtic fort in the middle of France was the home of an enormous Druid university teaching occult sciences, grand architectural constructions and a generally advanced civilization, and she claimed that, when Caesar sacked it, this was the moment the adepts instituted the policy of centennial enlightenments of the West, though on another place she claims it only started much later with Tsong Khapa.


I wrote a little article about it 2 years ago:

Bibracte: Last center of Celtic Occultism?


I ended the article with the following questions:

"It looks like H.P.B. was a little careless in taking over wholesale these claims by Ragon about Bibracte, even while she was aware of Ragon’s shortcomings as a historian as she warned her readers that “[h]owever learned and erudite, some of the chronological mistakes of that author are very great.”

What has to be done is to sort out in more detail all the claims and think through the possible implications of the findings, especially addressing the question whether H.P.B. was unto something, but was incorrect in certain details, or if she was constructing her own mythic historiography by selectively appropriating Ragon’s Masonic (mis-)construals of history."

Comment by Jacques Mahnich on June 10, 2011 at 3:49pm
Whatever errors and interpretations, there are facts which speaks for themselves : the enormous work of HPB, compiling and bringing to public knowledge the ancient traditions from all over the world, the effort to bring help and relief even to these days, to the suffering people throughout the Theosophic Order of Service where people are dedicating their effort and energy to help the needing people all over the world. What matters is what is done right now. We can discuss forever about these ideas around the existence of the Masters. It will not change the suffering and misery of the world. There is basic wisdom which can be sensed through the heart (not the mental activity). Whatever you can bring to ease suffering is what matters to everyone.
Comment by Paulo Baptista on June 10, 2011 at 3:29pm
I did not write anything about the Masters. But I ask myself: how can one entitle himself a Theosophist, without believing in their existence? For those who never read Sinnett's Occult World or Olcott's Old Diary Leaves and know little of the first years of the TS I accept that the existence of Masters can seem a bit far-fetched, otherwise...

It is true that there are Theosophists that do not tolerate at all criticisms about HPB. I do not advocate this, but it also doesn't seem right to me to say that HPB's writings are "full of errors" and then give as an example of that a text which speaks of a circumstantial situation related to Isis Unveiled, her first book. Those who have time to read the article will see that it explains why Isis has some errors. In fact the reasons behind that were the lack of financial resources and much accumulated work.

For me a balanced view is neither fundamentalist nor "agnostic". But I accept that what is balanced from my point of view, can seem unreasonable for others...

As I wrote in the last post, I (and certainly others too) would appreciate a lot a broader discussion about the alleged errors and blinds in HPB books and articles. Surely that nobody likes to study books that are "full of errors".
Comment by Paulo Baptista on June 9, 2011 at 5:05pm

I also think that we ought to have a balanced view about things, whatever the subject. However, I think that in some theosophical circles there is an attitude of excessive scepticism about HPB's work. I am quite familiar with the texts that Joaquim brings here. Many of them are authored by Carlos Cardoso Aveline,  the current leader of the Portuguese-Brazilian ULT lodge. The work done by this Lodge has been very good, translating many texts for Portuguese and promoting some theosophical writers that are guided by what we may call the original theosophical concepts. It is true that Aveline and his associates sometimes exaggerate and present a manichean view of things and individuals. And we can also criticise the way they promote their ideas, which may be a little annoying to others. But as a whole, their work is very good, perhaps lacking a bit of a more "democratic" behaviour.
On this particular issue, I do not agree with what David wrote. We all know that HPB had her faults, but from what I know about her work and life it seems to me that it is unfair to accentuate the mistakes in her writings.  In the article "My Books" mentioned by David,  HPB explains why some mistakes she calls "purely literary defects" exist in "Isis Unveiled." She does not speak of other later articles or books.
About the Age of Aquarius beginning or not in 1900, I think that there is not clear evidence that she copied that idea from Massey, although it is a fact that he presented the same date for the beginning of the New Age. Even among astrologers there is dispute about the beginning of the Age of Aquarius. She also says that the period of 2155 years has a "true significance only when computed in lunar months". Some say
that this is nonsense but I don't know. She added that:  "When it enters, in a few years, the sign of Aquarius, psychologists will have some extra work to do, and the psychic idiosyncrasies of humanity will enter on a great change." And we cannot say that this did not happen...

Maybe with would be a good idea to start a broader discussion about these "HPB mistakes". It would be very helpful for all those who study Theosophy.

Sorry for my English, but it is not my first language. I write much worse than HPB when she came to America in 1873. :)

Comment by Joaquim Soares on June 7, 2011 at 4:39am
Thank you David.
I appreciate your personal comments. I too would have some personal comments to make, but have no time right now.
Comment by David Reigle on June 6, 2011 at 4:10pm

I have as much respect for HPB as anyone, but if we are to speak about truth and illusion in Theosophical literature, it may be best to start with truth and illusion in HPB's own writings. Her writings are full of errors. A large number of these are the errors of writers of her time, whom she copied. For example, in your previous posting, "Masters and the Movement," this sentence is found:


"The lines above seem to contain key information as to contacts between Masters and the movement after the year 1900. This is the year when the Aquarius Age began, according to a clear and documented statement made by H.P. Blavatsky (“Collected Writings”, TPH, volume VIII, p. 174, fn)."


For many years, I, too, took the above-referenced statement of HPB's as giving the correct starting year of the Aquarian age, thinking that it came from the direct knowledge of her Mahatma sources. But then I found it in one of Gerald Massey's large books that HPB had reviewed. She had copied it from there almost verbatim.


It now becomes very questionable whether her teachers actually endorsed this date. When we see this type of thing happening again and again, I must conclude that large amounts of what are regarded as HPB's own views are in fact just the views of other writers of her time that she copied. The mere fact of her repeating what was then taken as fact does not necessarily endorse its accuracy. Many, many of these can today be shown to be errors.


It would not be fair to attribute these errors that she copied from others to her. Everyone of her time necessarily did the same thing. Any book from 1888 can be shown to be full of such errors. Our task should first be to sort out truth and illusion in HPB's own writings. We need to sort out what she merely copied from others, and what she actually put forth as truth. After all, she never claimed omniscience, but repeatedly denied it. She was the first to say that her own books are full of such errors (see her article written shortly before her death, "My Books").

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