About a year after the founding of the Theosophical Society
in 1875 in New York, H.P.B. began writing her first major work. It is very
difficult to describe to anyone who has not read this book what a vast amount
and diversity of knowledge is contained in it. It goes way beyond what even
the most erudite scholar could possibly have known about in its entirety.
It is important to note this because it raises the question of its authorship.
Could it possibly have been H.P.B's own work? She had had no formal education
and she was not fluent in English, especially the written word. The answer
is in statements made in Old Diary Leaves by H.S. Olcott, her collaborator
in founding the Society, and in some of H.P.B's letters and articles: a
number of Masters had a hand in the writing of it and in the most extraordinary
Her manuscript demonstrates a number of variations in style and handwriting.
Olcott has this to say:
The 'copy' turned off by H.P.B. presented the most marked dissemblances
at different times. While the handwriting bore one peculiar character
throughout, so that one familiar with her writing would always be able
to detect any given page as H.P.B's, yet when examined carefully one
discovered at least three or four variations of the one style, and each
of these persistent for pages together, when it would give place to
some other of the calligraphic variants.... One of these H.P.B. handwritings
was very small but plain; one bold and free; another plain, of medium
size and very legible; and one scratchy and hard to read, with its queer
foreign-shaped a's and x's and e's. There was also the greatest possible
difference in the English of these various styles. Sometimes I would
have to make several corrections in each line, while at others I could
pass many pages with scarcely a fault of idiom or spelling to correct.
Most perfect of all were the manuscripts which were written for her
while she was sleeping. The beginning of the chapter on the civilisation
of ancient Egypt is an illustration. We had stopped at about 2 a.m.
as usual, both too tired to wait for our usual smoke and chat before
parting. The next morning when I came to breakfast she showed me a pile
of at least thirty or forty pages of beautifully written H.P.B. manuscript,
which, she said, she had had written for her by - well, a Master whose
name has never been degraded like some others. It was perfect in every
respect, and went to the printers without revision.
Olcott describes how to do his 'stint' of writing a Master would actually
take possession of H.P.B's body. She would be conscious of having been
'evicted' but remain quite conscious thereafter and be completely aware
of what was going on. The following references to the Masters who took
over H.P.B's body is interesting:
Then there was another Somebody who disliked English so much that he
never willingly talked with me in anything but French; he had a fine
artistic talent and a passionate fondness for mechanical invention.
Another would now and then sit there, scrawling something with a pencil
and reeling off for me dozens of poetical stanzas which embodied, now
sublime, now humorous, ideas. So each of the several Somebodies had
his peculiarities, as recognizable as those of any of our ordinary acquaintances
or friends. One was jovial, fond of good stories, and witty to a degree;
another, all dignity, reserve and erudition. One would be calm, patient
and benevolently helpful; another testy and sometimes exasperating.
One Somebody would always be willing to emphasize his philosophical
or scientific explanation of the subjects I was to write upon, by doing
phenomena for my edification; while to another Somebody I dared not
even mention them.
Now when either of these Somebodies was 'on guard', as I used to term
it, the H.P.B. manuscript would present the identical peculiarities
that it had on the last occasion when he had taken his turn at the literary
work. He would by preference write about the class of subjects that
were to his taste; and instead of H.P.B. playing the part of amanuensis,
she would then have become for the time being that other person. If
you had given me in those days any page of Isis manuscript, I could
almost certainly have told you by which Somebody it had been written.
It will be noticed from the description of the Somebodies taking over
H.P.B's body that six or seven can be identified by their characteristics
and when it is considered that latterly all these 'correspondents' came
to be known as Masters of the Wisdom, the vast learning in that book is
easily explained. As has often been noted before, some 1,300 other works
from remotest antiquity through mediaeval times to the modern, are quoted
from. It would be fairly safe to say that there is no other work in the
English language to compare with it. It is however, as the manner of its
writing would suggest, a series of a large number of articles with no
connective progressive narrative, for which reason it has received adverse
literary criticism. It is obviously intended to be informative and not
a story with a beginning and an end.
She had another collaborator; although not a Master of the Wisdom, he
was in fact one who had died and become earthbound. Here is Olcott's description:
We worked in collaboration with at least one disincarnate entity -
the pure soul of one of the wisest philosophers of modern times....
He was a great Platonist; and I was told that, so absorbed was he in
his life-study that he had become earth-bound, i.e., he could not snap
the ties which held him to earth, but sat in an astral library of his
own mental creation, plunged in his philosophical reflections.... There
he was, willing and eager to work with H.P.B. on this epoch-making book,
toward the philosophical portions of which he contributed much. He did
not materialize and sit with us, nor obsess H.P.B. medium-fashion; he
would simply talk with her psychically by the hour together, dictating
copy, telling her what references to hunt up, answering my questions
about details, instructing me as to principles, and playing the part
of a third person in our literary symposium....
An incident which exemplifies and supplements our view of the very unusual
setting in which Theosophy came to be presented to the world, but which
is not relevant to the writing of Isis, is the following:
One evening in New York, after bidding H.P.B. good-night, I sat in
my bedroom finishing a cigar and thinking. Suddenly there stood my Chohan
beside me. The door had made no noise in opening, if it had opened,
but at any rate there he was. He sat down and conversed with me in subdued
tones for some time, and as he seemed in an excellent humour towards
me, I asked him a favour. I said I wanted some tangible proof that he
had actually been there, and that I had not been seeing a mere illusion
or maya conjured up by H.P.B. He laughed, unwound the embroidered Indian
cotton fehta (still to be seen at the T.S. headquarters, Adyar) he wore
on his head, flung it to me, and - was gone. That cloth I still possess,
and it bears in one corner the initial ... M of my Chohan in thread-work.
Not all of Isis was the direct work of these 'visiting' Masters.
Olcott records that H.P.B. herself was a very competent author, as follows:
I have spoken of the part of Isis that was done by H.P.B. in
propria persona which was inferior to that done for her by the
Somebodies. This is perfectly comprehensible, for how could H.P.B.,
who had no previous knowledge of this sort, write correctly about the
multifarious subjects treated in her book? In her (seemingly) normal
state, she would read a book, mark the portions that struck her, write
about them, make mistakes, correct them, discuss them with me, set me
to writing, help my intuitions, get friends to supply materials, and
go on thus as best she might, so long as there were none of the teachers
within call of her psychic appeals. And they were not with us always,
by any means.
She did a vast deal of splendid writing, for she was endowed with a
marvellous natural literary capacity; she was never dull or uninteresting;
and she was equally brilliant in three languages, when the full power
was upon her. She writes to her Aunt that when her Master was busy elsewhere,
he left his substitute with her, and then it was her 'Luminous Self',
her Augoeides, which thought and wrote for her. About this I cannot
venture an opinion, for I never observed her in this state:...
H.P.B. writes of another form of assistance that she received when she
was writing Isis, as follows:
When I wrote Isis, I wrote it so easily that it was actually
no labour, but a real pleasure. Why should I be praised for it? Whenever
I am told to write, I sit down and obey, and then I can write
easily upon almost anything - metaphysics, psychology, philosophy, ancient
religions, zoology, natural sciences, or what not. I never put myself
the question: 'Can I write on this subject?' or 'Am I equal to the task?'
but I simply sit down and write. Why? Because somebody who knows
all dictates to me.... My Master and occasionally others whom I
knew in my travels years ago.... Please do not imagine that I have lost
my senses. I have hinted to you before now about Them ... and
I tell you candidly, that whenever I write upon a subject I know little
or nothing of, I address myself to Them, and one of Them inspires
me, i.e., He allows me to simply copy what I write from manuscripts,
and even printed matter that passes before my eyes in the air, during
which process I have never been unconscious one single instant....
It is that knowledge of His protection and faith in His power, that
have enabled me to become mentally and spiritually so strong ... and
even He (the Master) is not always required; for, during His absence
on some other occupation, He awakens in me His substitute in knowledge....
At such times it is no more I who write, but my inner Ego, my 'luminous
self', who thinks and writes for me.
In another letter ... whether you believe me or not, something miraculous
is happening to me. You cannot imagine in what a charmed world of
pictures and visions I live. I am writing Isis, not writing,
rather copying out and drawing what she personally shows to me. Upon
my word, sometimes it seems to me that the ancient Goddess of Beauty
in person leads me through all the countries of past centuries which
I have to describe. I sit with my eyes open, and to all appearances
see and hear everything real and actual around me, and yet at the
same time I see and hear that which I write. I feel short of breath;
I am afraid to make the slightest movement, for fear the spell might
be broken. Slowly, century after century, image after image, float
out of the distance and pass before me, as if in magic panorama; and
meanwhile I put them together in my mind, fitting in epochs and dates,
and know for sure that there can be no mistake. Races and nations,
countries and cities, which have for long disappeared in the darkness
of the prehistoric past, emerge and then vanish, giving place to others,
and then I am told the consecutive dates.
Hoary antiquity makes way for historical periods; myths are explained
to me with events and people who have really existed; and every event
which is at all remarkable, every newly turned page of this many-coloured
book of life, impresses itself on my brain with photographic exactitude.
My own reckonings and calculations appear to me later on as separate
coloured pieces of different shapes in the game which is called casse-tête
(jigsaw puzzles). I gather them together and try to match them one
after the other, assuredly it is not I who do it all, but my ego,
the highest principle which lives in me. And even this with the help
of my Guru and Teacher who helps me in everything. If I happen to
forget something, I have just to address him, or another of the same
kind in my thought, and what I have forgotten rises once more before
my eyes - sometimes whole tables of numbers passing before me, long
inventories of events. They remember everything. They know everything.
Without Them, from whence could I gather my knowledge?
A passage which tells us more about the extraordinary personality of
H.P.B. comes from a Charles Lazenby who tells us of the impression she
made on Professor Corson of Cornell University with whom she stayed:
In connection with Isis Unveiled, I may quote from an interview
I had with Professor Hiram Corson, now Regius Professor of English at
Cornell University, New York State, and the recognized authority on
In talking to him about the great men and women of the nineteenth century
whom he had met intimately, I asked him whom, of them all, he considered
the most striking and remarkable. He at once replied, by all means Madame
Blavatsky, the founder of the Theosophical Society, and after her, Walt
This was a line of interesting conversation I little expected, and
I urged him to tell me more of this outstanding figure in his memory.
He said, "She wrote a considerable part of Isis Unveiled
in my house at Ithaca, and living constantly with her for those weeks,
she continually filled me with amazement and curiosity as to what was
coming next. She had a profound knowledge of everything apparently,
and her method of work was most unusual.
"She would write in bed, from nine o'clock in the morning till
two o'clock the following morning, smoking innumerable cigarettes, quoting
long verbatim paragraphs from dozens of books of which I am perfectly
certain there were no copies at that time in America, translating easily
from several languages, and occasionally calling out to me, in my study,
to know how to turn some old-world idiom into literary English, for
at that time she had not attained the fluency of diction which distinguished The Secret Doctrine."
I asked him how he accounted for her quotations in full from these
very rare and curious volumes.
He smiled reminiscently, and said - "She herself told me that
she wrote them down as they appeared in her eyes on another plane of
objective existence, that she clearly saw the page of the book and the
quotation she needed, and simply translated what she actually saw into
I asked him whether he believed this.
He replied: "The woman was so marvellous and had such mysterious
funds of definite knowledge, that I find it much easier to believe her
statement than to account for her quotations by any ordinary explanation
"The hundreds of books she quoted from were certainly not in my
library, many of them not in America, some of them very rare and difficult
to get in Europe, and if her quotations were from memory, then it was
an even more startling feat than writing them from the ether. The facts
are marvellous, and the explanation must necessarily bewilder those
whose consciousness is of a more ordinary type."
[The Path, Vol.I, No.1, July 1910]
Then again we have from Olcott:
In her whole life she had not done a tithe of ... literary labour,
yet I never knew even a managing daily journalist who could be compared
with her for dogged endurance or tireless working capacity. From morning
till night she would be at her desk, and it was seldom that either of
us got to bed before 2 o'clock a.m.... She worked on no fixed plan,
but ideas came streaming through her mind like a perennial spring which
is overflowing its brim. Now she would be writing upon Brahma, anon
upon Babinet's electrical "meteor-cat"; one moment she would
be reverentially quoting Porphyrios, the next from a daily newspaper
or some modern pamphlet that I had just brought home....
Her own manuscript was often a sight to behold; cut and patched, re-cut
and re-pasted, until if one held a page of it to the light, it would
be seen to consist of, perhaps, six or eight or ten slips cut from other
pages, pasted together, and the text joined by interlined words or sentences....
One might fancy, upon seeing the numerous quotations in Isis Unveiled
that she had written it in an alcove of the British Museum or of the
Astor Library in New York. The fact is, however, that our whole working
library scarcely comprised one hundred books of reference. Now and again
single volumes would be brought her by Mr. Sotheran, Mr. Marble or other
friends, and, latterly, she borrowed a few from Mr. Bouton. Of some
books she made great use ... yet not to exceed the hundred, I should
say. Then what books did she consult and what library had she
To watch her at work was a rare and never-to-be-forgotten experience.
We sat at opposite ends of one big table usually, and I could see her
every movement. Her pen would be flying over the page, when she would
suddenly stop, look into space with the vacant eye of a clair-voyant
seer, shorten her vision as though to look at something held invisibly
in the air before her, and begin copying on her paper what she saw.
The quotation finished, her eyes would resume their natural expression,
and she would go on writing until again stopped by a similar interruption....
[Old Diary Leaves, 1, 203-9]
The above are a few examples of the marvellous story that unfolds as
we attempt to discover the beginnings of the Theosophical Society and
the knowledge of the inner workings of Nature, Theosophy as it came to
be called, which the Masters intended the Society to promulgate. The story
has never been written up fully in this way, but it can be pieced together
from the various historical accounts, articles and notebooks in which
it is preserved. Taken together these all form a vast mass of material
which unfortunately has come to be largely neglected, both within and
outside of the Society.
Against a background of these historical views and recorded stories the
whole theosophical movement with its magnificent teaching takes on an
aspect and a flavour very different from that which it now possesses.
Let us hope it is not too late to resuscitate it and by this means to
rejuvenate the Movement, setting it going again along the lines so clearly
indicated in its beginnings.
<back to Introduction
A Trilogy > Next - The Secret Doctrine
C.W. The Collected Writings of H.P. Blavatsky, 14 volumes
S.D. The Secret Doctrine
I.U. Isis Unveiled
KEY The Key to Theosophy
V.S. The Voice of the Silence
M.L. The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett - chronological edition
The Blavatsky Trust 2003
reproduced from 'A Trilogy' by G.A Farthing