Theosophy and the Society in the Public Eye

Scriabin: Musician and Theosophist

Sybil Marguerite Warner

[Edited and slightly expanded from Music and Listeners, by Sybil Marguerite Warner, with a foreword by C. Jinarajadasa (London: Service Magazine and Publications, 1911)]


The growth of Western music is the product of the soul development of its individual composers. Through the creative energy of many of varying stature, the form and power of music changes and expands, and at intervals a giant arises, who, while synthesizing all that is past, transmutes it into something higher and hitherto undreamed. Such a one was Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin: composer, pianist, and Theosophist.

In the widely differing fields of lyric passion, expressed through piano music, and of a profound psychological philosophy, symbolized in myths and mighty music dramas, Chopin and Wagner reigned supreme. It would have seemed fantastic to predict that a composer would shortly appear who would blend these two types of thought; yet, idolizing Chopin, Scriabin followed in his steps until the path led him far beyond the heights reached by the old master, while into this realm of poems in music the Russian genius brought a wealth and profundity of psychological expression and interpretation that has widened the boundaries of musical speech.

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Colonel Olcott Honored in New Jersey

[On September 10, 2011, a memorial statue of Henry Steel Olcott was unveiled at a Sri Lankan Buddhist temple near Princeton, New Jersey. The statue is modeled on one in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where Olcott is a national hero for the work he did to establish Buddhist schools and to procure British respect for the civil and religious liberties of Sri Lankans. The following is a summary of remarks given at that event by the Vice President of the Theosophical Society in America, Edward Abdill.]

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Theosophists in the Public Eye: Dana Ivey

Betty Bland calls our attention to the fact that a new movie, “The Help,” includes a performance by Theosophist Dana Ivey, in the role of Gracie Higginbotham. Dana, who was born in Atlanta, Georgia, comes from a Theosophical family. She is among the few actresses (the others including Angela Lansbury and Julie Harris) who have received five or more Tony nominations. She premiered Driving Miss Daisy in New York, playing the title role. In 2011, she appeared as Miss Prism in the Broadway production of The Importance of Being Earnest. Her earlier Broadway productions include Sunday in the Park with George, Major Barbara, Henry IV, and The Rivals. Her films include roles in The Color Purple, Sabrina, The Addams Family, and The Adventures of Huck Finn. She has received many awards and nominations for her acting roles on the stage, in films, and on TV. She has also recorded Light on the Path and At the Feet of the Master for the Theosophical Society in America.

Nicholas Roerich: The Treasures Within

Kathleen F. Hall – Canada

Nicholas Roerich was a spiritually inspired artist whose visionary paintings depict vistas beyond our usual perception of human reality. Roerich’s paintings are alive with the color and light of other worldly realms allowing us to encounter visually that which we may have imagined, grasped, or somehow inherently recognize as the spiritual essence behind the veil of our unseeing eyes; Roerich’s paintings seem intent to inspire, educate and reveal the glorious mysteries of the ancient wisdoms in the landscapes of our souls.

Svetoslav Roerich. Nicholas Roerich with Sacred Casket.
Tempera on canvas. 
Private assembly, USA.

Nicholas Roerich was born October 9, 1874, in St. Petersburg, Russia. His father was a liberal-minded and well-respected lawyer whose many friends included scientists, scholars, and artists.  These family friends would often visit the Roerich household and would engage in lively discussions that left an impression on young Nicholas. Roerich’s grandfather, Fyodor Ivanovich Roerich also lived with the family until his death at 105; he had a large collection of Masonic symbols that fascinated Nicholas and his brothers, and these too left an impression on Nicholas that would later be revealed through his life’s work.

Nicholas Roerich Estate Museum in Izvara

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“English Book of the Dead”: Tibetan or Theosophical?

[A friend, Thomas Wittenberg, sent us an article from the journal Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly (summer 2011). It is a review of a new edition of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, by Walter Yeeling Evans-Wentz; the editor of the new version (Princeton University Press, 2011; $19.95. 192 pp.) is Donald S. Lopez, Jr.; the Buddhadharma reviewer of the new edition is Roger Jackson, a professor of Asian Studies and Religion at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota.]

The Tibetan text Bardo Thodol (“Liberation through Hearing While in the Intermediate State”) was first published in English in 1927 by W. Y. Evans-Wentz, characterized as an “American traveler, scholar, and Theosophist.” The editor of the new version calls the well-known and influential English version, somewhat surprisingly, “not really Tibetan,” “not really a book,” and “not really about death.” The book had significant influence on the Beatles, movies like Jacob’s Ladder, TV shows like Twin Peaks, and respected authors on death like Elisabeth Kuebler-Ross and Raymond Moody. However, the editor argues that it is not really about death because it focuses on tantric practices used by the living, not really a book because it is based on only a fragment of the original, and not really Tibetan because it was inspired by and focuses on a Theosophical view of reality. Nevertheless, the reviewer concedes that the English book “has indeed become a ‘timeless world spiritual classic,’ whose influence will continue to be felt despite all we now know about its composition and contents.”

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Recent Periodical References to Notable Persons and Theosophy

John Algeo –USA
H. G. Wells and H. P. Blavatsky

H. G. Wells

The New York Times (May 8, 2011) includes a review of a new book on survival after death: The Immortalization Commission: Science and the Strange Quest to Cheat Death, by John Gray (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). The reviewer, Clancy Martin, a professor of philosophy at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, writes: “[H. G.] Wells’s great fantasies charged the batteries of mystically inclined intellectuals like Madame Blavatsky, G. I. Gurdjieff, P. D. Ouspensky and especially [Maxim] Gorky.” It is clear that Professor Martin is not a historian because that statement is chronologically impossible. Blavatsky’s life dates are 1831 to 1891; H. G. Wells’s are 1866 to 1946, and he did not begin to publish until 1895, four years after HPB died, so any influence of Wells on Blavatsky is an impossibility. The reverse, influence of Blavatsky on Wells, is, however, a distinct possibility. Even a philosopher should be able to distinguish properly between a cause and a consequence.

Read more: Recent Periodical References to Notable Persons and Theosophy

The Influence of Jacob Böhme’s Theosophical Ideas on the ‘Farbenlehre’ (Theory of Colors) by Philipp Otto Runge

Melanie Öhlenbach – Germany

[This essay was first published in Masonic and Esoteric Heritage: New Perspectives for Art and Heritage Policies. Proceedings of the First International Conference of the OVN, Foundation for the Advancement of Academic Research into the History of Freemasonry in the Netherlands, October 20-21, 2005. Ed. A. Kroon, M. Bax, J. Snoek. The Hague, Netherlands: OVN Foundation, 2005. It is reproduced here in a revised form.]

Melanie Öhlenbach studied Study of Religions and German Literature at the Philipps-Universität in Marburg, Germany, and Western Esotericism at the University of Amsterdam and graduated in June 2007 (M.A). She works as a freelance journalist in Bremen, Germany, today. This paper is based on her article “Lilie, Licht und Gottes Weisheit. Philipp Otto Runge und Jacob Boehme” in Aries, Journal for the study of Western Esotericism 5 (2005) 2 (Brill Academic Publishers, Leiden).

Philipp Otto Runge (1777-1810) is considered as one of the most important artists of early German Romanticism. Even though his ideas of a new artistic direction were not unique to his time, he formulated a distinctive spiritual theory to create Wahre Kunst (True Art) and worked all his life to put these ambitions into practice.

Philipp Otto Runge

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