Fr. Alexey Young
ACCORDING TO J.K. BAALEN, “Theosophy, or Divine Wisdom, is the apostate child of Spiritism mixed with Buddhism. It is far more complicated and more intricate than Spiritism; at the same time its world-and-life view is more complete and fascinating” (The Chaos of Cults).
The founder of Theosophy was Helena Petrovna Blavatskaya, known to her followers as Madame Blavatsky or simply “H.P.B.” Born in Russia in 1848, she was the daughter of noble parents, granddaughter of a princess and, through the Dolgoruky family, a descendent of the 12th century saint, Michael of Chernigov.
In her youth she rejected Orthodox Christianity and, in fact, proclaimed “a venomous hatred of Christianity” throughout her whole life (Marion Meade, Madame Blavatsky: The Woman Behind the Myth).
Although an ex-Theosophist and Orthodox convert told this writer that Blavatsky died repentant and reconciled to the Russian Church in her last days, this has not been confirmed. In fact, primary research into H.P.B.’s “career” is a daunting if not almost impossible task. Marion Meade, a non-Theosophist and Madame’s scholarly biographer, has written:
“When [H.P.B.] was forty-five, she looked back on four-and-a-half turbulent decades and observed, ‘One cannot remake one’s past, one can only efface it according to one’s strength.’ Actually she took pains to do both, and given her boundless energy, such efforts at revision were not entirely unsuccessful. For the last fifteen years of her life, she worked strenuously to re-create herself, erasing what she regretted having done, inserting new material, continually editing herself into the person she would have liked to have been” (Meade, ibid.). In this Blavatsky was like cult founders or their movements, who try to eliminate or gloss over the unsavory aspects of their founders’ careers.
The facts of her life, as documented and reconstructed, show Blavatsky to have been at the very least psychologically disturbed and, at times, an out-right charlatan and fraud. Today, in our more “tolerant” age, many prefer to see her as a colorful “eccentric” who was also a charismatic forerunner of modern “feminism” and the New Age Movement. But from an objective Christian standpoint, however, she was in all likelihood possessed by an unclean spirit who often spoke and dictated through her by means of automatic writing.
For example, H.P.B. constantly dazzled her disciples and the curious with all sorts of mediumistic techniques and “wonders,” materializing letters from invisible “Masters” and apparently even producing these super-human beings themselves. Telepathic “tricks,” voices, sounds, music, and messages all “came through” in a way that seemed quite “marvelous” to her followers and even to the skeptical.
In his classic study, Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future, the late Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose) wrote that a medium “is a person with a certain psychic sensitivity which enables him to be a vehicle or means for the manifestation of unseen forces or beings...accomplished by means of certain definite techniques and psychic states which can be cultivated and brought into use by practice, and which have no relation whatever either to sanctity or to the action of God. The mediumistic ability may be acquired either by inheritance or by transference through contact with someone who has the gift, or even through the reading of occult books.”**
Father Seraphim then demonstrates how these same mediumistic “performances” have been well known to the Orthodox Church since the time of Christ, and have always been seen as very dangerous, requiring exorcism and prayer, not admiration.
As a young woman, H.P.B. was married twice, later bore at least one illegitimate child, was a chain-smoker who also used drugs and may have been an addict, traveled widely (always under a cloud of scandal) in Europe, North America, and India, and claimed to have been initiated into “higher mysteries” in Egypt and Tibet. In America she first worked as a spiritist or medium and, in New York in 1875, she co-founded the Theosophical Society with Colonel Henry Olcott, a veteran of the American Civil War.
By the time this short, 250-pound female “guru” died in London in 1891, Theosophical Lodges existed in major cities of Europe and America. Although the membership of her Society has never been large, its impact on the underworld of the occult and today’s popular New Age mentality is far beyond the dreams and expectations of its founder. Theosophy became “fashionable” even during her own lifetime, numbering writers (such as Yeats), poets, artists, and politicians among its devotees.
H.P.B.’s successor was Annie Besant (1847-1933), both the daughter and wife of Anglican clergymen. In India, in 1925, she adopted a young Hindu, Krishnamurti, proclaiming him the “new Messiah,” avatar, or “World Teacher” for this age. (In 1931 he disavowed this claim and abandoned Theosophy, creating a new international following which, until his death in Rome a few years ago, looked upon him as their “guru.”)
Blavatsky “saw her mission as sublimely messianic: to save the world...[Theosophy] had been associated with the Christian Gnostics, Hebrew Cabalists and the teachings of Jakob Bohme and Paracelsus. Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophy was nothing less than an attempt to synthesize Brahmanism [an aspect of Hinduism], Buddhism and Occultism into a new religion. It advocated a universal brotherhood of humankind, wise men of superhuman knowledge who lived in the Himalayas. It was her conviction that these men had trained her and then sent her out into the world with permission to disclose some of the secret knowledge that could light up a pitiless and incomprehensible universe” (Meade).
Madame Blavatsky was a prodigious writer (some of her works also show evidence of extensive plagiarism). Thus, the primary texts or “scriptures” of Theosophy are her vast Isis Unveiled and Secret Doctrine, which show strong Rosicrucian influences. As a young man living in London, Gandhi read Blavatsky’s Key to Theosophy, which, he said, “stimulated in me the desire to read books on Hinduism and disabused me of the notion fostered by the [Christian] missionaries that Hinduism was rife with superstition” (quoted in Meade). At the age of 13, the future Prime Minister of India, Nehru, joined the Theosophical Society and throughout his political career always expressed admiration for its teachings.
In brief — for Blavatsky’s “system” is quite complex and intricate — Theosophy (like Christian Science) believes that everything is God and God is all. Therefore God is “Universal Life, the Limitless Consciousness...the very source and heart of all that is.” Since nothing is outside God and nothing — not even evil — can be separate or cut off from God, it follows that all religions are basically one (new Ageism) and should be united together to create the fullness of truth (Ecumenism) as interpreted by Theosophy.
Although God is an impersonal “It,” Theosophy teaches that there is a kind of “Trinity” of Powers in God, with a fourth, feminine aspect, the Divine Mother, vaguely connected with the Virgin Mary and representing “Wisdom.”
Theosophists are philosophical evolutionists: by means of successive “sub-races,” humankind is evolving throughout vast millennia on physical, mental, and spiritual plans, Man is a divine “spark” or fragment of the Godhead (Kabbalism), evolving through reincarnation (Buddhism) back to his source or origin, God. His destiny is not heaven or hell but “nirvana” or the “bliss” of nothingness (Buddhism or Hinduism). The physical body also has both an “etheric double” and an “astral body” (Mediumism), the second of which can be “projected” in sleep or trance-like states.
Each successive sub-race makes a unique contribution to evolution through an avatar or “Supreme Teacher of the World” who takes possession of an already existing human body. Thus, this Supreme Teacher has possessed the bodies of Buddha in India, Hermes in Egypt, Zoroaster in Persia, Orpheus in Greece, and Christ (at the time of His baptism in the Jordan); shortly this avatar will appear again in an even more “superior” form. Krishnamurti, as already mentioned, was thought to be “The One,” but later disavowed any such role. (From the Orthodox Christian viewpoint this is a clear foreshadowing of the Antichrist.)
With world headquarters on a large estate in Adyar, India, the Theosophical Society today numbers 40,000 world-wide (about 5,500 in the United States), with centers in sixty countries. Theosophists celebrate the anniversary of H.P.B.’s death on May 8 as “White Lotus Day.”
Although numerous elements of Theosophy have been assimilated by today’s New Age Movement, one of the most curious and dangerous offshoots of Theosophy is the “Liberal Catholic Church,” founded after the First World War by Theosophists who had broken away from the Old Catholic Church of Holland. One of its founders, Charles W. Leadbeater, was a co-discoverer” (with Annie Besant) of Krishnamurti, and in fact was in charge of raising and educating the boy.
Although this church professes no creeds or doctrines (thus its title, “Liberal Catholic Church”), its exclusive use of the pre-Vatican II rites and ceremonies of Rome has made it misleadingly attractive to innocent and ignorant Catholics and Anglicans. Van Baalan warns that many liturgically-inclined “folk might walk into one of these ‘churches’ and follow its worship without sensing the serious deviation from the age-old tenets of the Christian Church.”
The “initiated,” however, are usually also members of a local Theosophical Lodge and have studied Leadbeater’s book, The Science of the Sacraments, which teaches a blasphemous Theosophical gnosis behind every ritual gesture and word of the Roman liturgy.
As with Madame Blavatsky, Leadbeater was hounded throughout his life by scandal and charges of immorality. But whereas Theosophists — many of whom had been “Freethinkers” — could ignore the heterosexual promiscuity of their founder, they expelled the homosexual Leadbeater from their ranks when it was revealed that he advocated masturbation among his “altar boys” (see p. 459 of Meade). After three years of banishment, Annie Besant brought him back into her “inner circle.”
As far as we can determine, the Liberal Catholic Church is today divided into two subgroups in this country [the United States], with 23 “centers” or “parishes.”
Another, smaller offshoot of Theosophy is the Arcane School, founded by Alice Bailey in 1923. In 1918 Bailey joined the Theosophical Society in California, developed strong mediumistic skills, and even had contact with her renowned psychotherapist, Carl Jung, who told her that her “mystical” experiences and “visitors” were simply from her subconscious. Undoubtedly he would have said the same about Madame Blavatsky.
H.P.B.’s biographer concludes that Madame suffered from “multiple or disintegrated personality...It seems fairly clear that she possessed an hysteric personality and throughout her life suffered periodic experiences of dissociation along with definite personality alterations...If Helena had been the ordinary impostor that many labeled her, she might have busily gone her dishonest way without particular psychic strain...[But] she created for herself an acute psychological dilemma” — a “self-induced schizophrenia.”
However, even if we eliminate the evidence of personality disorder or outright fraud and trickery, we are left to judge the “fruits” of Theosophy and its offspring: a dreary saga of tens of thousands of souls who have been drawn far away from freedom in Christ into the darkness of unbelief, superstition, immorality, and even bondage with demons — as is especially evident in the unhappy life of “H.P.B.”
Meade tells us that when Blavatsky was about to be exposed as a fraud, she secretly attended the Liturgy at a Russian Orthodox church in Paris — drawn by something she could not explain. There she saw not “her invisible Mahatmas, but something far more unexpected. She had the sensation of ‘standing before my own dear mother,’ and she reflected on the number of years since [her mother] had died, and how she would never have recognized her fat daughter now. Afterwards, leaving the church, she laughed [and said that] she was silly and inconsistent for allowing herself to be overcome by the sight of a Russian church.” Undoubtedly God had permitted her dead mother to reach out to her daughter, now lost in sin, but Helena rejected this heavenly opportunity.
Perhaps most telling of all — from the spiritual standpoint — is the utter lack of simple humility in the lives of Blavatsky and her successors. Quoting Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, Fr. Seraphim described his unmistakable state. Let it be for us a final word in this chapter:
“Bishop Ignatius writes that a certain ‘self confidence and boldness are usually noticeable in people who are in self-deception, supposing that they are holy or are spiritually progressing.’ ‘An extraordinary pomposity appears in those afflicted with this deception: they are as it were intoxicated with themselves, by their state of self-deception...They are steeped in, overflowing with high-mindedness and pride.’”
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Missionary Leaflet # E69b
Holy Protection Russian Orthodox Church
2049 Argyle Ave. Los Angeles, California 90068
Editor: Archimandrite Alexander (Mileant)