Friday, October 1, 2010

Madame Blavatsky

Blavatsky is a central figure in Theosophy and New Age, and created a mythology centered around a Hyperborean race. This section is a bit long, but worth it for understanding some of the newer ideas surrounding Hyperborea.

According to her own story as told to a later biographer, she spent the years 1848 to 1858 traveling the world. She visited Egypt, France, Canada, England, South America, Germany, Mexico, India, Greece and especially Tibet, where she studied for two years with the ascetics, whom she called Brothers. She had been initiated for theosophical work, while in Tibet. She returned to Russia in 1858 and went first to see her sister Vera, a young widow living in Rugodevo, a village which she had inherited from her husband.

It was in 1873 that she emigrated to New York City. Impressing people with her professed psychic abilities, she was spurred on to continue her mediumship. Mediumship (among other psychical and spiritual sciences of the time), based upon the belief known as Spiritualism which began at Rochester, NY, was a widely popular and fast-spreading field upon which Blavatsky based her career. Throughout her career she claimed to have demonstrated physical and mental psychic feats which included levitation, clairvoyance, out-of-body projection, telepathy, and clairaudience. Another claim of hers was materialization, that is, producing physical objects out of nothing, though in general, her interests were more in the area of 'theory' and 'laws' rather than demonstration.

While living in New York City, she founded the Theosophical Society in September 1875, with Henry Steel Olcott, William Quan Judge and others. Blavatsky wrote that all religions were both true in their inner teachings and problematic or imperfect in their external conventional manifestations. Her writings connecting esoteric spiritual knowledge with new science may be considered to be the first instance of what is now called New Age thinking.

Madame Blavatsky became ill with an infected leg. She claimed to have undergone a "transformation" during her illness which inspired her to found the Theosophical Society. In a letter dated June 12, 1875, she described her recovery, explaining that she dismissed the doctors and surgeons who threatened amputation. She is quoted as saying "Fancy my leg going to the spirit land before me!", and had a white dog sleep across her leg by night.

Blavatsky and Olcott took five precepts at the Wijayananda Viharaya located in Galle on May 19, 1880. On that day Olcott and Blavatsky were formally acknowledged as Buddhists, although Olcott noted that they had previously declared themselves Buddhists, while still living in America. During their time in Ceylon, Olcott and Blavatsky strove to revive Buddhism within the country.

Sometime around December 1880, while at a dinner party with a group including A. O. Hume and his wife, she is claimed to have been instrumental in causing the materialization of Mrs Hume's lost brooch.

By 1882 the Theosophical Society became an international organization, and it was at this time that she moved the headquarters to Adyar near Madras, India (now Chennai). The society headquartered in Adyar for some time.

Blavatsky later went to Germany for a while, in between she stayed at Ostend where she could easily meet her English friends. She wrote a big part of the Secret Doctrine in Ostend and there she claimed a revelation during an illness telling her to continue the book at any cost. Finally she went to England. A disciple put her up in her own house in England, where she lived until the end of her life.

In August, 1890 she formed the "Inner Circle" of 12 disciples.
Blavatsky died in her home at 19 Avenue Road, St Johns Wood, London, on May 8, 1891. Her last words in regard to her work were: "Keep the link unbroken! Do not let my last incarnation be a failure." Her body was cremated at Woking Crematorium on May 11; one third of her ashes were sent to Europe, one third with William Quan Judge to the United States, and one third to India where her ashes were scattered in the Ganges River. May 8 is celebrated by Theosophists, and it is called White Lotus Day.

Well-known and controversial during her life, Blavatsky was influential on spiritualism and related subcultures. She wrote prolifically, publishing thousands of pages, and debate continues about her claims.

Throughout much of Blavatsky's public life, her work drew harsh criticism from some of the learned authorities of her day. Her critics pronounced her claim of the existence of masters of wisdom to be utterly false, and accused her of being a charlatan, a false medium, evil, a spy for the Russians, a smoker of cannabis, a spy for the English, a racist, and a falsifier of letters. Most of the accusations remain undocumented even today.

H. P. Blavatsky herself said, that one of the main reasons for the many attacks on her and on the Theosophical Society, which she was a co-founder of was:
"You must bear in mind how many powerful adversaries we have aroused ever since the formation of our Society. As I just said, if the Theosophical movement were one of those numerous modern crazes, as harmless at the end as they are evanescent, it would be simply laughed at― as it is now by those who still do not understand its real purport ― and left severely alone. But it is nothing of the kind. Intrinsically, Theosophy is the most serious movement of this age; and one, moreover, which threatens the very life of most of the time-honoured humbugs, prejudices, and social evils of the day ― those evils which fatten and make happy the upper ten and their imitators and sycophants, the wealthy dozens of the middle classes, while they positively crush and starve out of existence the millions of the poor. Think of this, and you will easily understand the reason of such a relentless persecution by those others who, more observant and perspicacious, do see the true nature of Theosophy, and therefore dread it."
Blavatsky unfortunately called the current level of human evolution "Aryan", based on Indian culture, which, although from her description comprised the entire human race, has been twisted by some to mean only Northern Europeans. Blavatsky argued that all humanity descended from seven root races, with the fifth one being the Aryan race.

Blavatsky argued that humanity had descended from a series of "Root Races", naming the fifth root race (out of seven) the Aryan Race. She thought that the Aryans originally came from Atlantis and described the Aryan races with the following words:
"The Aryan races, for instance, now varying from dark brown, almost black, red-brown-yellow, down to the whitest creamy colour, are yet all of one and the same stock -- the Fifth Root-Race -- and spring from one single progenitor, (...) who is said to have lived over 18,000,000 years ago, and also 850,000 years ago -- at the time of the sinking of the last remnants of the great continent of Atlantis."

Blavatsky claimed that The Secret Doctrine was based on a lost Atlantean religious work, which she said was called The Stanzas of Dzyan, supposed to be the first book ever written. The Secret Doctrine works as a commentary on the Stanzas: it is also their only source. According to the Stanzas as revealed by Mme Blavatsky, the first humans (or ‘First Root Race’) had existed only on an astral plane, living in the “Imperishable Land” at the North Pole. The Second Root Race also lived in the arctic, on the lost continent of Hyperborea. Like most other ‘lost continents’, Hyperborea broke up and sank, in this case beneath the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean. The third Root Race comprised the Lemurians. They were bandy-legged, egg-laying hermaphrodite apes (some with four arms, some with eyes in the back of their head), 3.7 m (twelve feet) tall. They were contemporary with dinosaurs, which they kept as domestic animals. When the Lemurians discovered sex, their fate was sealed and the continent followed Hyperborea in sinking beneath the waves. The offspring of the Lemurians’ sexual adventures was the fourth Root Race: fully human Atlanteans, guided into human form by adepts from Venus. After the drowning of Atlantis, the fifth Root Race – modern humans – evolved; the sixth Root Race is about to evolve in North America, while the seventh will one day develop in South America.

background on Hyperborea

Here are some of the elements of the Hyperborean mythos that I intend to use in my novel. This is pieced together from Wikipedia, along with some of my own observations and notes about other sources. If you want the full Wikipedia version of the Hyperborea info, it’s here.

The Greeks thought that Boreas, the North Wind, lived in Thrace, and that therefore Hyperborea was an unspecified region in the northern lands that lay beyond Scythia (Russia). Their land, called Hyperborea or Hyperboria — "beyond the Boreas" — was perfect, with the sun shining twenty-four hours a day, which - if true - suggests a possible location within the Arctic Circle. The Greeks came up with the idea that north countries being cold was due to the cold breath of Boreas, the North Wind. Therefore, should one be able to get "beyond Boreas" one would find a warm and sunny land.

Never the Muse is absent

from their ways: lyres clash and flutes cry

and everywhere maiden choruses whirling.

Neither disease nor bitter old age is mixed

in their sacred blood; far from labor and battle they live.

- Pindar, Tenth Pythian Ode; translated by Richmond Lattimore.

Reaching such exotic lands is never easy; Pindar cautioned:

neither by ship nor on foot would you find

the marvellous road to the assembly of the Hyperboreans.

Along with Thule, Hyperborea was one of several terrae incognitae to the Greeks and Romans, where Pliny and Herodotus, as well as Virgil and Cicero, reported that people lived to the age of one thousand and enjoyed lives of complete happiness. Also, the sun was supposed to rise and set only once a year in Hyperborea; which would place it above or upon the Arctic Circle, or, more generally, in the arctic polar regions.

H.P. Blavatsky, Rene Guenon and Julius Evola all shared the belief in the Hyperborean, polar origins of humankind and a subsequent solidification and devolution. According to these esoterists, Hyperborea was the Golden Age polar center of civilization and spirituality; humankind does not rise from the ape, but progressively devolves into the apelike condition as it strays physically and spiritually from its mystical otherworldly homeland in the Far North, succumbing to the demonic energies of the South Pole, the greatest point of materialization.

In the Hellboy universe, which is one of my greatest inspirations, Hyperborea is a prehistoric kingdom of powerful beings (possibly distinct from humans—I’m not sure that Mignola is ever clear on that) with incredibly advanced magics and technology. They are brought down by corruption from within: in BPRD: The Hollow Earth, it is revealed that some of the Hyperboreans went elsewhere, leaving the corrupt ones behind. These corrupted beings created a slave race of goblin-like creatures, who eventually overthrew their makers, but can still be harmed by the semi-magical Hyperborean blades. (This is also a major theme in Edward Grey: Witchfinder).