Obituary The Hodgson Report on Madame Blavatsky

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Obituary The Hodgson Report on Madame Blavatsky

By W.A. Carrithers


"From its very beginning," observed Mme. Blavatsky, "the world has seen in Theosophy nothing but certain marvellous phenomena, in which two-thirds of the non-spiritualists do not believe.  Very soon the Society came to be regarded as a body pretending to the possession of 'miraculous' powers.  The world never realised that the Society taught absolute disbelief in miracle or even the possibility of such; that in the Society there were only a few people who possessed such psychic powers and but few who cared for them.  Nor did it understand that the phenomena were never produced publicly, but only privately for friends, and merely given as an accessory, to prove by direct demonstration that such things could be produced without dark rooms, spirits, mediums, or any of the usual paraphernalia."  [1]

"Theosophy believes in no miracle, whether divine or devilish; recognizes nothing as supernatural; believes only in facts and Science; studies the laws of Nature, both Occult and patent; and gives attention particularly to the former, just because exact Science will have nothing to do with them . . . . More than once in the history of its past has Science been made the victim of its own delusions as to its professed infallibility; and the time must come when the perfection of Asiatic Psychology and its knowledge of the forces of the invisible world will be recognized, as were the circulation of the blood, electricity, and so forth, after the first sneers and lampoons died away.  The 'silly attempts to hoodwink individuals' will then be viewed as honest attempts at proving to this generation of Spiritualists and believers in past 'miracle-mongers,' that there is naught miraculous in this world of Matter and Spirit, of visible results and invisible causes; naught - but the great wickedness of a world of Christians and Pagans, alike ridiculously superstitious in one direction, that of their respective religions, and malicious whenever a purely disinterested and philanthropic effort is made to open their eyes to the truth.  I beg leave to further remark that personally I never bragged of anything I might have done, nor do I offer any explanation of the phenomena, except to utterly disclaim the possession of any miraculous or supernatural powers, or the performing of anything by jugglery - i.e. with the usual help of confederates and machinery."  [2]

As to whether Mme. Blavatsky made "silly attempts to hoodwink individuals," the opinion is sometimes expressed that it is beside the power; that her occult phenomena, true or false, are not today of any moment or importance in theosophical thought; and that the question of the authenticity of these marvels does not involve the validity of the work she did and left in the shape of her voluminous writings.  This parallels the position taken so long ago as 1885 when, confronted with purported proof of frauds executed by Mme. Blavatsky, a leading Theosophist, in London at a meeting of the Society for Psychical Research, objected that, "there was no logical connection between Madame Blavatsky and Theosophy," and that the latter never rested on phenomena.

To the present writer, it appears that quite the contrary is true, and that anyone crediting Theosophy as expounded in the written works of H. P. Blavatsky cannot - without endangering his philosophical foundations - afford to ignore the far-reaching moral and vital implications of the question of the authenticity of her occult or psychic phenomena.  While it is correct that H.P.B. discountenanced any attempt to justify philosophy by occult phenomena alone, nevertheless, it was her claim that, to a degree, the information contained in her famous works, Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine, embodies "knowledge due to the independent researches of long generations of Adepts,"  [3] among  whom were her "Teachers" or "Brothers," Mahatmas whose occult faculties were said to afford a special penetration into the secrets of time and Nature denied to common man.  Moreover, her writings, published initially by Theosophists or by the Theosophical Society of her day (founded, according to her claims, under the inspiration of these Teachers), represent Theosophy in "its practical bearing" as "purely divine ethics."  [4]  What then becomes of these writings, this "knowledge," and these "divine ethics," if once it is conceded that all or some of the phenomena represented as proof of the occult faculties and existence of these unseen Adepts were simply tricks performed by H.P.B., sometimes helped by confederates?

"I," declared Mme. Blavatsky in 1880, "have lived long enough in this world of incessant strife, in which the 'survival of the fittest' seems to mean the triumph of the most unprincipled, to have learned that when I have once allowed my name to appear in the light of a benevolent genius, for the production of 'cups,' 'saucers' and 'brooches,' I must bear the penalty; especially when the people are so foolish as to take the word 'Magic' either in its popular superstitious sense - that of the work of the devil - or in that of jugglery."  [5]

Four years later, the "penalty" became evident for all to see.  In a missionary journal of Madras, The Christian College Magazine for September and October, 1884, appeared "The Collapse of Koot Hoomi," written by the editor from materials furnished by two of Mme. Blavatsky's erstwhile householders, Mons. and Mme. Coulomb, who "confessed" to being "the confederates" behind Mme. Blavatsky's "marvellous phenomena," backing their explanation with claims of secret "machinery," etc.

Two months later, Mme. Coulomb published in pamphlet form her own account of the alleged conspiracy.  The following year, after having received the report of its agent, Richard Hodgson, LL.D., of Cambridge, who had been sent to India towards the close of 1884 to investigate these accusations at first-hand, a Committee of the Society for Psychical Research issued its verdict:  H.P.B. was neither "the mouthpiece of hidden seers" (Mahatma Koot Hoomi and other reported Adepts) nor "a mere vulgar adventuress," but "one of the most accomplished, ingenious, and interesting imposters in history."

The worst onus that can be fastened upon any school or system of philosophy - aside from direct devaluation of the teachings themselves - is that, "it is well-known" that the school was founded and the system revealed by a "charlatan, a proven imposter" or a master of trickery, plagiarism and forgery.  If this is accepted - and, to begin with, most people today are not about to doubt the "impossibility" of genuine occult phenomena and Magic -, there is no use in pleading the high ideals of the school or the logic and beauty of the system, since any tentative desire for independent inquiry will have been killed before the prospective inquirer approaches the philosophic considerations, and even if these latter came forcibly to his attention, there will then be an immense barrier of agitated prejudice to be battered down.

Realizing this, it is apparently thought by detractors that if they only throw sufficient mud at the woman who gave the teachings of Theosophy to the world they are thereby aptly discrediting the teachings themselves.  And as if to counter this kind of attack, objection has been made that if anyone wishes to prove that W. . . . S. . . . wrote bad plays, or R. . . . W. . . .  bad music, he surely does not do so by endeavoring to prove that the one was a poacher and the other an immoral man.  Now this may be so, but, here again, we have to face the unavoidable moral question of H.P.B.'s phenomena.  It is unthinkable that a practised deceiver, stooping low in vile conspiracy to hoodwink her faithful followers by elaborate fraudulent devices, would at the same time be a chosen vessel for the highest kind of spiritual truth and moral guidance, or the occult-endowed associate of such exalted human beings as the Mahatmas of Theosophy!  The mind revolts at so monstrous a reconciliation, for if there are "spirit-mediums" of genuine psychic talent who occasionally cheat, is it not said that they are will less automatons driven by un-moral astral influences?  But one of the prime bases of the Theosophy of Mme. Blavatsky was the reputed occult powers of its Adepts; and so, if their acknowledged agent and representative had to rely upon fraud in absence of such powers but in order to "demonstrate" their "existence," who is there that would be such a fool as to believe that Mme. Blavatsky was the agent of Adepts or, indeed, that there were any Adepts at all?

Faced with these difficulties, and the additional fact that the "destroyer" of Mme. Blavatsky was Dr. Richard Hodgson who is recognized as, perhaps, "the greatest" psychical researcher of "the Golden Age of Psychical Research in England", [6]  any would be apologist for H.P.B. cannot fall back on philosophical exposition in lieu of specific well-supported replies to what skeptics may bring in guise of concrete disproof and verified accusation against her.  That kind of reaction may appeal to a certain type of mind which can voluntarily blind itself to unpleasant short-comings while taking refuge in philosophic abstractions.  But such retreat is no substitute for knowledge and courage - or for whatever gratitude the followers of Mme. Blavatsky think they owe to their great Teacher.  Neither is it the kind of answer the world respects or that Science demands.  What is required in a situation such as this are facts - incontrovertible facts founded on testimony which incredulous critics cannot assail, the testimony not of H.P.B. and her witnesses but of the principal prosecutor and his chief witnesses.  Nothing less than this ever satisfied the present writer, nor does he expect the reader to be content with anything else.  The commonplace facts of everyday experience seem too much against the possibility of real Magic and genuine occult or psychic phenomena to permit modern man to rely on less.

It is safe to calculate that for every ten thousand persons who have heard and believe that Richard Hodgson "exposed" H.P. Blavatsky as a fraud and imposter, not more than one has read his "expose;" and, that for every thousand of his readers, hardly one has ever seen Emma Coulomb's pamphlet.  And yet, by logic and every rule of common sense, the latter document takes precedence over all others in standing at the very heart of the controversy raised by the Coulombs, comprising as it does the firsthand unadulterated testimony of the chief accusers, together with documentary "proofs" adduced for their claims.  Yet, strange to say, practically no attention was paid to this priceless pamphlet - least of all by indignant Theosophists who put no stock in what Mme. Coulomb might have to say! -, not until, that is, the appearance in 1937 of Mrs. Hastings' booklet, Defence of Madame Blavatsky (Volume II) The "Coulomb Pamphlet".  Unfortunately, Mrs. Hastings did not live to complete her promising study of the case.

Particularly noteworthy is the fact that Dr. Hodgson himself seems to have had very great reluctance to make, by quotation, any use whatsoever of Mme. Coulomb's printed (prior) explanations.  The reason for this odd behavior on his part, with respect to the testimony of his chief witness, becomes readily apparent once we examine the major charges brought against Mme. Blavatsky by Dr. Hodgson, and now, for the first time, compare his allegations detail-by-detail against original, earlier-published claims of Mme. Coulomb herself.

Though not a member of any one of the respective organizations, the writer wishes to acknowledge with gratitude his indebtedness to the following friends and benefactors - among others too numerous to mention here - for their supply of requested research data:  the late Mr. C. Jinarajadasa, and Mr. Sidney A. Cook, of The Theosophical Society; the late Mrs. H. Henderson, and Mrs. Edith Fielding, of the H.P.B. Library; the late Colonel Arthur L. Conger, and Mr. James A. Long, of the Theosophical Society with International Headquarters at Pasadena; Mr. Boris de Zirkoff of the Theosophical Information Centre; and Mr. ---------- of The Theosophy Company.

Adlai E. Waterman
June 17, 1962,
Arlington Heights
Fresno, California.


[1]  The Key to Theosophy, being a Clear Exposition in the Form of Question and Answer, of the Ethics, Science, and Philosophy for the Study of which the Theosophical Society has been Founded, with a Copious Glossary of General Theosophical Terms, by H. P. Blavatsky; Second Edition, 1890, The Theosophical Publishing Society, London; pp. 273-4.

[2]  The Complete Works of H. P. Blavatsky, edited by A. Trevor Barker, 1933, Rider and Co., London; vol. 2, p. 207.

[3]  The Secret Doctrine, the Synthesis of Science, Religion and Philosophy, by H. P. Blavatsky; 1888, The Theosophical Publishing Co., Ltd., London; vol. I, p. 612.

[4]  The Theosophical Glossary, by H. P. Blavatsky; 1892, The Theosophical Publishing Society, London; p. 328.

[5]  The Complete Works of H. P. Blavatsky, vol. 2, pp. 206-07.

[6]  Richard Hodgson, The Story of a Psychical Researcher and His Times, by A.T. Baird; 1949, The Psychic Press Ltd., London; pp. xxvii, xv.



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