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Ancient Wisdom Revived, A History of the Theosophical Movement by Bruce F. Campbell

It's taken a century for this book to be written, but here, finally, is an objective history of Theosophy.  Given the colorful eccentrics that populate its pages, this story can't help but be entertaining, and it doesn 't shy away from Theosophy's many scandals either, including Blavatsky's plagiarisms, Leadbeater's penchant for young boys, and the faking of messages from the enlightened "Masters" who supposedly communicated Theosophy's seminal teachings.  But at the same time. Ancient Wisdom Revived treats Theosophy's founders and their beliefs with a healthy dose of sympathy, reflecting perhaps author Campbell's own former membership in a Theoso-phy-related group called the Nature of the Soul.

Campbell, a professor of religious studies at the University of California in Santa Barbara, has done an admirable job of providing an historical perspective on the origins, controversies, and factionalisms of a nineteenth-century "New Age" movement that has had a profound influence on twentieth-century spirituality, including the New Age explosion that's happening right now.

~~T.S.

•     Most Theosophists believe that the real founders of the Theosophlcal Society were not Helena Blavatsky and Henry Olcott but, on the contrary, mysterious personages called the Mahatmas.  Referred to also as Adepts, Masters of Wisdom, Masters of Compassion, and Elder Brothers, the Mahatmas are thought to be not spirits but rather highly evolved living men. Their chief residence is said to be in Tibet.  Madame Blavatsky claimed that they were the source of her major writings and that she had known them for many years prior to the founding of the Society. . . . Two Masters have been associated prominently with Theosophy: Koot Hoomi (also spelled Kuthumi) and Morya.

The Masters came to public attention principally through a series of letters received by the Anglo-Indian journalist and The-osphical Society member A.P. Sinnett. . . . Sinnett received more than 100 "Mahatma" letters, most of which were signed by "K.H."  Many of them were delivered to Sinnett by Madame Blavatsky.  Some came through the mails or appeared mysteriously within another letter, fell suddenly from the ceiling, or arrived in other marvelous ways.  Sinnett used the material in the letters to write The Occult World and Esoteric Buddhism. The books and the phenomena associated with the letters gave Theosophy wide publicity both in India and the West, and were important to the development of the movement. . . . 

The most thorough investigations by non-Theosophists of the Mahatmas and the letters attributed to them have produced the conclusions that the letters were fraudulent, that Madame Blavatsky wrote most of them and confederates the rest, and that the Mahatmas were invented by her. . . .

Just as Madame Blavatsky's acknowledged writings have not escaped the charge of plagiarism, so, too, the Mahatma letters contain some evidence of unattributed borrowing. . . . The most embarrassing example of plagiarism . . . was a passage from a speech by Henry Kiddle.  Kiddle, former superintendent of schools In New York City and a spiritualist lecturer, identified a long passage In [Sinnett's] The Occult World as taken verbatim from one of his own speeches. Though attributed by Sinnett to Koot Hoomi, the words had been printed nearly a year before publication of Sinnett's work in the prominent spiritualist weekly Banner of Light. . . .

Blavatsky at first tried to make light of the affair by ridiculing the Banner of Light. She wrote to Sinnett: "Plagiarize from Banner of Light!! That sweet spirits' slop-basin—the asses!" Then Koot Hoomi himself wrote to Sinnett to declare that "I have a habit of often quoting, minus quotation marks—from the maze of what I get in the countless folios of our Akasic libraries.  ..."  Later Sinnett received a second letter from K.H. on the subject. This missive declared that the problem had arisen because he had been tired and had been inattentive to the work of an inexperienced chela to whom the letter had been dictated. He included what he claimed was the full passage as originally dictated. The new version reversed the intention of the original passage.  Sinnett incorporated these explanations in several subsequent editions of The Occult World, but later they, and the offending passage, were dropped entirely.

 

ISBN: 0520039688

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