Obituary The Hodgson Report on Madame Blavatsky

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Obituary The Hodgson Report on Madame Blavatsky

By W.A. Carrithers

The Investigation by the Society for Psychical Research

This year [7] marks the 75th anniversary of the so-called Hodgson Report branding H. P. Blavatsky an imposter, forger, Russian spy and instigator of frauds.  In May, 1884, hardly two years after its formation, the Council of the Society for Psychical Research appointed a committee in England to gather evidence "as to the alleged phenomena connected with the Theosophical Society" (201). [8]  At Madras the same month, Mons. Coulomb, general handyman, and his wife, housekeeper at Theosophical Society Headquarters, were expelled on uncontested charges of extortion, blackmail, slander, falsehood, and squandering household funds (104-09).  Having left India the preceding February to visit Europe, H.P.B. by wire ordered the Coulombs to surrender the keys to her rooms and depart (111).

The next day, May 18th, Theosophists and Mons. Coulomb entered the rooms and found a variety of "sliding panels," etc., the latter admitting he had made these devices but, so he said, only at H.P.B.'s orders.  Inspection showed the "panels were evidently new," and, as later substantiated by S.P.R. and missionary investigators (339-40), "it took a great deal of trouble to open them, and they opened with considerable noise. . . ." [9]  The Theosophists present "unanimously decided" that the trick apparatus, instead of having been available when the relevant phenomena occurred (up to 14 months previously), had been made only "in the absence of Madame Blavatsky" since her last departure from Adyar (340).

Months passed, then at the height of the S.P.R. investigation appeared the "expose" in The Christian College Magazine of Madras, broadcasting the Coulombs' claim that they knew many of these phenomena were fraudulent, and that they had helped H.P.B. secretly with devices and arrangements to deceive.  To support these claims, they had supplied the missionary-editor with letters ostensibly in her handwriting, portions of which were published and part of which, if genuine, certainly implicated her in fraud.  At this, H.P.B. returned to India, "to prosecute these traducers of my character, these fabricators of letters." [10]  Her departure having foreclosed the anticipated "experiments" by which the S.P.R. committee had hoped to "test" her reputed occult powers, an agent of the investigating body, Dr. Hodgson, was dispatched to make an on-the-spot inquiry.  Subsequently, in December, 1885, his report appeared as Part "2" (207-380) of the S.P.R.'s official Report of the Committee Appointed to Investigate Phenomena Connected with the Theosophical Society (201-400), Part "1" being the "Statement and Conclusions of the Committee" (201-07).

In drawing up its enumerated "conclusions" --- "unanimously arrived at" ---, the S.P.R. Committee accepted as proven only two positive accusations against Mme. Blavatsky.  Essential to both of these decisions were claims and evidence brought forward by Mons. and Mme. Coulomb.


[7]  A major portion of the following analysis was published in the November 1960 and January 1961 numbers of The American Theosophist, under title, "The Hodgson Report, 1885-1960."

[8]  Unless otherwise indicated, all page references (in parentheses) above 200 are to the Report of this committee (in Vol. III, Part ix, Proceedings, Society for Psychical Research), while those below 113 are to Mme. Coulomb's pamphlet of November, 1884, Some Account of My Intercourse With Madame Blavatsky from 1872 to 1884; with a number of additional letters and a full explanation of the most marvellous Theosophical phenomena (1885 printing, London).

[9]  Report of Observations made during a nine months' stay at the Head-Quarters of the Theosophical Society at Adyar (Madras), India, by Franz Hartmann, M.D., (Madras, 1884), p. 43.

[10] H. P. Blavatsky:  Collected Writings, compiled by Boris de Zirkoff; Los Angeles, 1954; vol. vi, p. 312.



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