Theosophy and the Society in the Public Eye

Theosophy and the Emergence of Modern Abstract Art

Kathleen Hall – Canada

[Kathleen Hall studied the modern abstractionists and their Theosophical connections while working on the thesis for her master’s degree. In connection with that work she corresponded with a number of contemporary Theosophical artists, particularly Burton Callicott, Don Kruse, and Pamela Lowrie. She is a resident of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, and became a member of the Canadian Federation of the Theosophical Society as a result of her study. Kathleen is currently researching arts-based education programs for marginalized Roma children].

At the turn of the nineteenth century, a movement in art emerged that was a response to higher awareness of cosmic truth. Modern abstract art was the visible manifestation of spiritual ideals professed through the teachings of Theosophy and other wisdom lore. The artists of this movement were scribes who painted what words could not say.

Read more: Theosophy and the Emergence of Modern Abstract Art

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

Read more: Nicholas Roerich: The Treasures Within

Wonder Woman and Theosophy

[from “Wonder Woman: The Weird, True Story,” by Sarah Kerr in a review of The Secret History of Wonder Woman, by Jill Lepore, and Wonder Woman Unbound, by Tim Hanley, in The New York Review of Books 61.18 (November 20, 2014), p. 14:]

Wonder Woman is TM and © DC Comics
The cover of the July–August 1951 issue of Wonder Woman, by Irv Novick

To the more mysterious question of why Wonder Woman had such an aesthetic pop, she [Jill Lepore] brings a little less flair. And what if we want to know more about early feminist utopian fiction, and the art and ideas that nurtured, it? Why did Amazon imagery come to dominate? What about the seeds of Aquarian ideas that would later reappear in New Age writings? These are parts of the history; should today’s feminists feel responsible for knowing about them? (By the same token, should we feel embarrassed for forgetting the Theosophist underpinnings of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz?)”

The Story of Count Prozor

Marty Bax – the Netherlands

On January 1, 1915, the Theosophical Society registered its 57,762-nd. member at the headquarters in Adyar, India. The popularity of the Society had increased immensely. More people joined the society in the 1910s than in the 30-year period 1875-1905.

A list of those members includes a colorful bunch of people: Karl Wolfskehl, Piet Mondrian, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Christian Morgenstern, Fritz von Herzmanovsky, Ada Fuller, Emily Lutyens, Ely Star, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Marie Langen-von Strachwitz, Countess Maria Radziwill, Henri Soubeyran de Saint-Prix, and Prince Mohamed Riza Khan. Behind every name is a story, sometimes with a surprising twist.

Read more: The Story of Count Prozor

Blavatsky: Mystic and Occultist

Public Eye 2 Blavatsky-Mystic and Occultist

A review of Divine Fury: A History of Genius, by Darrin McMahon, in The New York Review of Books, 56.15 (October 9, 2014), comments about H.B.P.: “In McMahon’s story the part played by Romaticism is chiefly that of mystification (he even at one point compares Romantic claims about the realm of Idea or Spirit made by such writers as Schelling, Novalis, and Friedrich Schlegel to the obscure and rambling occultist Helena Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society). But in fact at the foundation of much Romantic thought was an attempt at demystification, at clarifying the relationship between mind and world.”

That comment betrays a common but all too frequent view of H.P.B. and Theosophy. To be sure, “obscure and rambling” H.P.B. often was. But she was also extraordinarily well-informed about the subjects she dealt with. She was certainly romantic in the sense of being “marked by the imaginative or emotional appeal of what is heroic, adventurous, remote, mysterious, or idealized” (Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary). But she was also practical in applying her ideals in the everyday world. As I have pointed out elsewhere: “In her book The Key to Theosophy, Blavatsky said, ‘Theosophist is who Theosophy does.’ Theosophy is not something to believe; it is something to do — that is, to live by” (Theosophy — An Introductory Study Course, chapter 12).

Hilma and the Enigmatic Mathilde N.

Marty Bax – The Netherlands

Public Eye 2In 2013, I went to Sweden twice for the retrospective exhibition on Hilma af Klint. The invitation came through the Ax:son Johnson Foundation, founded in 1947 by the late Consul General Axel Ax:son Johnson together with his wife Margaret, owner of the Nordstjernan group. The foundation, led by the highly amiable Kurt Almqvist, facilitates scientific research in general, but in particular the liberal arts and the social sciences. I was deeply impressed by their hospitality and professionalism. The foundation has clearly thought very deeply and constructively about how to inform a wider public about pressing issues in society. Conferences with scholars from all over the world, a website, a magazine, even their own TV channel with the top-Swedish interviewer Thomas Gür, who courteously and tongue-in-cheek said it was his fun ‘to ask stupid questions and get intelligent answers’. All in all, amazing. I wish we had such an institution in my country!

Public Eye 3 Engelsberg 2013The adventure started in February, when an expert meeting was organized at the opening of the exhibition. The meeting was held in Engelsberg, a top-list Unesco heritage site own by the Ax:son group. Mid-winter, snow-covered landscape in the middle of the woods, paths at night lighted with candles along the sides, in the typically Swedish manner; a truly romantic setting. And a relaxed place to meet many international colleagues from other disciplines. For me personally, my acquaintance with Hilma’s work came full circle, when I met Maurice Tuchman again, who in 1986 organized “The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890-1985”. Its venue at The Hague constituted my first job as a curator. That exhibition showed Hilma’s work in public for the first time after World War II.

In May, at the closing of the exhibition, some of the scholars travelled to Stockholm again to lecture at a public conference in the Moderna Museet. The main objective of the conference was to publicly discuss how Hilma af Klint and her art could be understood better and how it should be positioned in her time between the other pioneers of abstract art. The debate intended also to point towards the future. Where does Hilma advance from here? Where should her position be within art history? All of the proceedings and the interviews circling around these basic questions are now on the Axess website. But I want to add a little more to the discussion.

Read more: Hilma and the Enigmatic Mathilde N.

Edwin Lutyens, Charles Bressey and My Mother

Marty Bax – The Netherlands

Public Eye 2 lutyens-model

In one of my previous articles I mentioned the suffragist Lady Emily Lutyens. Emily was the daughter of Edward Robert Bulwer Lytton, the Viceroy of India and the wife of one of the most prominent architects of her time, Edwin Lutyens. Edwin became famous as a country-house architect, but even more so as the architect of New Delhi, a job which he got through his father-in-law of course. Emily became a member of the Theosophical Society in 1910. As an upper-class lady she became a pillar in the financial and social support of the Society.

Read more: Edwin Lutyens, Charles Bressey and My Mother

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