Theosophy

Sylvia Cranston – A Tribute

We remember Sylvia Cranston, AKA Anita Atkins (December 12, 1915 – June 20, 2000)

Jan Nicolaas Kind – Brazil

In previous issues of Theosophy Forward we’ve honored Theosophists such as Dr. Richard Brooks, Ianthe Hoskins, Einar Adalsteinsson, Shirley Nicholson, Paul Zwollo, Dora van Gelder-Kunz, John H. Drais, Dara Eklund and Geoffrey Farthing. In this issue we will remember Sylvia Cranston, nom de plume for ANITA ATKINS.

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Anita Atkins in England, the summer of 1978 while attending Sir George Trevelyan’s three-day Wrekin Trust Conference on Reincarnation. Here she delivered the opening lecture entitled,
The ModernReincarnation Renaissance. The photograph was taken while en route to a BBC interview

Why do we honor people? What is it that moves us to give credit and show admiration for those who are no longer on our plane? Each one of us might have a particular reason to do so, or not, but it is axiomatic that if we want to know who and where we are, we need to know where we’re from. Only thus will it be clear to us which direction our future lies. Those who left us their legacies such as their thoughts, music, paintings, sculptures or any other art form, like poetry and literature, help remind us who we are. With that awareness we are able to move forward. It is not so much the honor those who passed away took with them, but it is about the heritage they left behind. It is our privilege to benefit and be inspired by valuing that heritage.

In the land of Theosophists, we do not honor others so often since, and in my opinion erroneously, it is associated with the personal. We are told that this is what we should disengage from. However, remembering or honoring someone actually reveals much about who we are, recognizing our own here and now. Honoring past achievement, whether by someone who is with us or who is no longer with us on this plane, inspires while fulfilling our present dreams and ideals. Anita Atkins left us a phenomenal legacy, not only through what she offered to us as an author of a number of very significant books, but also through what she demonstrated as a woman and an unselfish human being who dedicated her entire life to the Cause. From what I now understand, she was hard working, modest, sincere and even a little shy, not really desiring to stand in the limelight.

A fact that is overlooked by many is that through her writings Anita Atkins actually built bridges connecting the various Theosophical streams. Although ULT based, her works were, and still are appreciated by all who are assembled in the Theosophical movement, irrespective of background or tradition. In this respect she fulfilled pioneer’s work, perhaps even without realizing that herself. As I suggested in my write up for a previous tribute, the one we paid to Geoffrey Farthing, I would argue that Anita as well would have been very pleased to see that nowadays, the various Theosophical traditions are regularly coming together on the platform of International Theosophical Conferences (ITC), sharing and studying the core of Theosophy through what H.P.B. passed on to us.

 

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Carey Williams AKA Caren Elin (2017)

Coincidentally it was during an ITC gathering in Julian, California in 2011, that I had the pleasure to meet Carey Williams, AKA Caren Elin, Anita’s long-time friend and research assistant. Honoring Anita, a few words to also appreciatively acknowledge Carey are certainly due. Through the research I did for this tribute it became evident that Carey not only functioned as an excellent editor and research assistant, but she was also Anita’s friend through thick and thin, until the very end of Anita’s long and productive life. I certainly believe that Carey has a feeling and talent for looking after people, it is one of her “gifts” apparently because when I met her for the first time in Julian during ITC 2011, I vividly remember that she kindly took care of and looked after another good friend of hers, Myrra Lee. Myrra, a ULT student with whom Carey had worked hard running ULT – San Diego in the 1970’s, and one of the speakers during that ITC conference needed medical assistance on location because of a health issue. Last year during ITC 2016 in Santa Barbara our paths crossed again, a lovely woman with an adorable smile and so energetic!

This TRIBUTE contains photographs that were not published previously.

Anita Atkins using her pen name Sylvia Cranston, wrote several excellent books, the one we highlight in this tribute is her magnum opus entitled: H.P.B.:The extraordinary Life and Influence of HELENA BLAVATSKY, Founder of the Modern Theosophical Movement, which was first published in 1993.

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Your editor reached out to a number of well-known Theosophists asking them to write down in a few lines why they believe this is a significant biography, what they felt when they read it, or where they were when reading it, why they think this is a must for every student of Theosophy, and lastly why thismonumental work according to them, could also be an eye-opener for those who aren't members of the TS.

In order to maintain authenticity, the contributions below have not been edited.

Vicente Hao Chin – The Philippines:

Anita Akins blazed a trail in the study of reincarnation with three anthologies of which the Phoenix Fire Mystery stood foremost. They were the best in the field – meticulously researched, carefully chosen, with remarkably detailed commentaries. She gave much of her life to making reincarnation a rationally acceptable doctrine.

I had thought that she had already done her lifework with those books, until I saw her biography of HPB, a much needed work that filled a vacuum in Theosophical literature. It took a hundred years after HPB's death before a full definitive biography could be written. It has since become the standard life account of the primary co-founder of the Theosophical Society.

A remarkable woman indeed! So self-effacing, but so full of inner fire. What an example for the rest of us!

Betty Bland – USA:

Who hasn’t seen the impressive tome about HPB by Sylvia Cranston (AKA Anita Atkins)? This impressive volume proclaims its presence from shelves in public libraries, bookstores and personal libraries. If you haven’t already read it, this is a must for anyone interested in the Theosophical line of thinking.

First off, the biographical material is well researched and captivatingly told—weaving the story of such a remarkable woman that it borders on the unbelievable. Yet the back-up references and eyewitness accounts confirm its historicity to most open-minded readers.

The tale of HPB’s life, with its otherworldliness, and total commitment to the betterment of humankind, continues to inspire seekers through the generations. However, this biography does more than tell a life story, but in the last few sections goes on to enumerate HPB’s ongoing impact on philosophy, science, religion, literature, art, consciousness studies, and further exploration of realms beyond the physical.

I, personally, am forever indebted to the author and her most capable research assistant Carey Williams (AKA Caren Elin) for this entire document, footnotes, endnotes, references, and all.

Carolyn Dorrance – USA:

This is a book you can trust. It is fully researched, clearly written and offers an objective perspective on the life and influence of the founder of the modern Theosophical Movement. In each chapter, the reader is engaged in a fascinating journey of discovery that gives depth and breadth to her work and to the acceptance of the Theosophical Movement.

Her courageous global travels, her preparation in occult wisdom under the supervision of Mahatmas and the process of ground-breaking writing such as IsisUnveiled and The Secret Doctrine are presented with the aid of countless letters and recorded conversations.

Notable is the description of the Coulomb-Hodgson accusations and their effective rejection by researchers 100 years later. Immensely useful is the last Chapter describing the influence of H.P.B.’s teaching on countless scientists, philosophers and artists. The notes, index and bibliography are remarkable.

Reading this book brings alive the reality and success of H.P.B.’s mission and the contributions of thousands of her supporters. It inspires a desire to serve the Theosophical Movement.

Ed Abdill – USA:

Without doubt, Anita Atkins was a dedicated student of Theosophy and was especially dedicated to H. P. Blavatsky, one of the founders of the Theosophical Society.

Anita wrote a great deal about the Theosophical philosophy, but her Magnus Opus was her biography of H.P.B. It took long and careful research to produce the book and the result is a veritable encyclopedia about Blavatsky. In fact, the book reads more like an encyclopedia than a biography.

Students of Theosophy and those who want to know something about Theosophy and its principle founder would do well to read The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky.

Leonie van Gelder – USA:

In 1994, Linda Jo Pym, a good friend and lifelong student of Theosophy, encouraged me to read Sylvia Cranston’s HPB: The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky, Founder of the ModernTheosophical Movement. Linda Jo put it in the “must read” category.

With over 500 pages, I found it not only readable, but enjoyable! Cranston’s biography paints Blavatsky’s life as heroic, but it is not a hagiography. Well researched with voluminous notes, Cranston examined Blavatsky’s colorful life, the gestation of the Theosophical Society and her subsequent influence on major figures from science to art. Cranston also captures the depths of Blavatsky’s insight, wisdom, and pragmatism. In that regard, I have often quoted to others a passage cited in Cranston’s biography describing a young volunteer wanting to resolve a question.

Madame,” she said, “what is the most important thing necessary in the study of Theosophy?”

Common sense, my dear.”

And Madame, what would you place second?”

A sense of humor.”

And third, Madame?”

At this point, patience must have been wearing thin.

Oh, just MORE common sense.” (p 337)

Linda Jo was right. A must read!

Leslie Price – England:

Although I had a little correspondence with Anita when she was writing “ HPB”, like many others I owe most to her as " Sylvia Cranston." When her first two co-authored anthologies appeared in the 1960s, there was little reliable literature on the worldwide scope of reincarnation beliefs. In England, there was a lady called Mary Peto who felt moved to publish or distribute contemporary reincarnation literature, including the anthologies. These were not easy to obtain in the UK. (Mrs Peto also imported Professor Ian Stevenson's big scientific monographs on children who remembered previous lives. ]

In the days before home computers and the internet, prodigious research was needed to compile these anthologies, and as with the many quotations in Madame Blavatsky's writings, the passages were a stimulus to return to the original writings, not least those in ancient languages, and consider what the author meant. Some authors for example would affirm pre-existence, but not necessarily reincarnation; others admitted plurality of lives, but not perhaps on this planet. Also ecclesiastical censorship had sometimes been at work.

In the background always was Anita's thorough understanding of the actual Theosophical teachings. At a time when many strange popularizations of reincarnation were spreading through the New Age movement, Anita was a reliable guide.

Anita's biography of H.P.B. had wide scope, but unlike previous biographers, she was able to use Dr Vernon Harrison's 1986 exoneration of H.P.B. from the false charge of writing the Mahatma Letters herself. Indeed she supplemented his findings from her own knowledge of Theosophical archives. By putting Dr Harrison's work in her Preface as well as in the main text, she was able to immediately counter the prejudice with which some readers would have come to study HPB's life.

Marcos Luís Borges de Resende – Brazil:

When I read Sylvia Cranston's book on the life and influence of Helena Blavatsky, the founder of the modern Theosophical movement, I was delighted not only with the quality of the book and the narrative, but with the breadth and scale of H.P.B.’s work and influence, which Sylvia narrates.

Although it is a bulky book apparently, it is so interesting that we don’t want stopping reading. At the beginning, in reporting the baptism of H.P.B., when it burns the priest's cassock, one can see symbolically that H.P.B. was a person who came into the world to revolutionize and shake the structures.

The book seems so interesting that I have already gave it as a gifts to some people and I strongly recommend its reading.

Herman C. Vermeulen – the Netherlands:

Sylvia Cranston, a well-known author in the Theosophical world and outside, first came out with a book about reincarnation, that by itself has seen many reincarnations, written using pen names and with a co-author.

But first and foremost, and the most popular among our Theosophical students is Cranston’s book HPB:

The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky, Founder of the Modern Theosophical Movement. It is the best book available if you want to have a good idea of H. P. Blavatsky, whose life was full of unusual events which took place all over the world and not always comprehensible from an ordinary point view, It is the great merit of Sylvia Cranston to present this biography in a clear and coherent manner, helping students to come to a deeper understanding.

Her book is often regarded as a good start for understanding the life of H. P. Blavatsky, and it stimulates the study of Theosophy as she presented it. By grasping the teachings of Theosophy the student is better able to see the consistency of events as laid out in this book, thus obtaining a broader vision of the essential work H. P. Blavatsky was engaged in.

Nicholas C. Weeks II – USA:

Anita visited Dara Eklund & myself in California a few times. I recall one visit where the three of us went roaming among the Joshua trees and the orange poppy fields nearby.

Anita, writing as S. L. Cranston, did a great service to Theosophy with her several reincarnation books and of course her superb biography of HPB.

Here is Anita in a letter to Dara about Boris de Zirkoff's influence on her HPB biography:

Boris took such an interest in my humble venture into doing an HPB biography, and even gave me a name for the book. He made it clear it was no light decision that he made in favor of assisting me in the book and making available to me all his accumulated Blavatskiana material and the HPB letters. He revealed that when he has an important decision to make like this, he waits several days. He ‘consults’ the presence surrounding a sacred portrait on his desk – the Master with whom he felt closest – and when the answer comes, it is ‘always right.’ “

James Colbert – USA:

When it came out, everyone (fellow Theosophical Students) was raving about Anita’s book, The Extraordinary Life & Influence of HELENA BLAVATSKY founder of the Modern Theosophical Movement. So I got it too. Opening the pages I marveled at the scholarship, then the treasure of a good writer, and, finally the depth and magnificence of HPB. For a period of time it was so extraordinary I did not know just how to absorb what was written. So much time when her name was encountered at the college or university level, or with friends, I found myself defensive of HPB in trying to let others know of this incredible human being. Now, I did not have to do this anymore. Anita did it for us all. We can proudly offer the work of the teacher to everyone with the suggestion – read the book.

Personally, I never really knew Anita. My mother did. She told me it was Anita’s last part of her life. She was in a rest home I think somewhere near Santa Barbara, California. We went by and, after the visit, (I waited in the car) my mother had a special glow on her face saying how important it was she got to talk with Anita.

Theosophists are blessed with so many people of great minds who are quality human beings. Anita Atkins certainly is of this caliber. Blavatsky was and is at a pivotal point in history. She brought the millions of the East and of the West together. Anita recognized this and wrote a tribute and history to HPB’s life. I think we can offer a tribute to Anita Atkins as well.

Arni Narendran – India:

In 2013 when I visited the Arjuna Lodge in Buenos Aires, a fellow Theosophist wanted some information on HPB’s travels in Mumbai, to share the same with Jose Rubio Sanchez, a Theosophist in Spain. Other than Old Diary Leaves I wasn’t aware of any archival information that I could share, After a few months Jose sent me a copy of his book Viajes Inciaticos De H. P. Blavatsky. Immediately upon my return to India, with a sense of guilt I went to Adyar HQ library with the sole mission of studying the life of HPB, although there were enough resources on the Net.

I came across a lot of books and resource on HPB and her travels, but of the many I read the contents of Sylvia Cranston’s, renowned biograph touched me to the core. Sylvia Cranston has left behind a monumental body of knowledge on this enigmatic and visionary icon.

The book is a fascinating narrative on this Super Woman Occultist. I could feel the authenticity of her writings as it has been corroborated with a prodigious research for fourteen long years. Reading Sylvia’s book itself was for me a sacred journey in being inspired by HPB’s arduous and tenacious search for Truth and Divine wisdom. One cannot but doubt that it was Sylvia’s goal in life to write such a book, having put her heart and soul to it.

She had retrieved abundant information on HPBs life that she was able to share with Boris de Zirkoff another great biographer of HPB. No student of occult science, whether a Theosophist or otherwise would miss out on reading the inspiring biography of HPB and no student of HPB should miss out on this erudite and scholarly work by Sylvia Cranston. She will be long remembered for her key contribution to Theosophical body of knowledge and Wisdom.

Patrizia Calvi – Italy:

Blavatsky has led us to touch the Eternal, has encouraged us to challenge ourselves to search for the unknown, has showed us how to become the protagonists of that epochal change originating from the T.S. founding.

Her life was extraordinary in all senses, but to me, when I was a young Theosophist, it had to do more with an incomplete puzzle, with something still far or almost legendary.

Through her monumental biography on HPB, Anita Atkins has been able to recreate, with a captivating style, that incredible atmosphere hovering between Ancient Wisdom and enthusiastic pioneering in which HPB was immersed. In addition, with her long and thorough documentary research, through the direct testimonies of so many people and HPB own words, she managed to piece such a complex puzzle together, so as to give us a vibrant portrait of such an enigmatic woman, so brave and inspired.

If we need to understand her, this book is essential!

Grazie Anita!

Sabine van Osta – Belgium:

Of all the books that have been written on the life and acts of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, the one written by Sylvia Cranston is definitely one of the most dense and accurate at the same time.it lends itself to all sorts of “readings”: whether you wish to read it for thorough study, just to read a few passages before going to sleep or for verifying some facts and figures while writing an article, the book by Sylvia Cranston is just what you need. Of course, when reading a few passages just before going to sleep, there might be a slight risk there.

Wasn’t the life of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky a marvel beyond comparison that might cause you to continue to read through the night? Whatever the case may be, it is clear to the reader that the biography provided by Sylvia Cranston is the result of some very meticulous and careful gathering and verifying of authentic source material that lies at the basis of it status of main reference book on the subject on the life of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky.

Chong Sanne – Singapore:

Of the many publications on H. P. Blavatsky’s life, H.P.B. The Extraordinary Life & Influence of HelenaBlavatsky Founder of the Modern Theosophical Movement by Sylvia Cranston remains one of the most definitive biographies of H.P.B. I never met the author but got to remember her name very well after reading this excellent publication several times.

Indeed, I have a personal copy of this book. I find this biography well-researched and informative and serves as a useful reference book on H.P.B. It is the most popular and preferred biography of H.P.B. in the Library of the Singapore Lodge Theosophical Society which also has two of her other books, Reincarnation: A New Horizon in Science, Religion, and Society and Reincarnation: The Phoenix FireMystery. New members are often referred to this biography by Sylvia Cranston to know about our founder H.P.B.

Wim Leys – the Netherlands:

Many years ago, somewhere in the nineties, I visited a friend in Germany, more than 500 kilometers away. After arriving, enjoying a cup of tea, I pulled out Sylvia Cranston’s biography of H.P. Blavatsky. “Now this is a marvelous book, I can certainly recommend it to you.” My friend laughed, and picked up a book from the desk: it was the same book.


I had read a lot about H.P.B., but never got so much detailed information as from this particular book: great research done by Mrs. Cranston. Indeed an extraordinary life, and I specially loved chapter seven where her influence on 20th century art and spirituality is so well described.

Marie Harkness – Ireland:

This is a very well researched, delightful and inspiring biography on HPB. We get a bird’s eye view of her life from birth till her sacred mission was completed. She had an exceptional childhood, was well educated, highly gifted and through time she learned to control the psychic phenomena which played around her. Her mother gave us a valuable insight; ‘The one gifted from childhood with an exceptional nature.’ Throughout her life HPB remained fiercely loyal to her Master whom she met physically at least twice and many times astrally. From her early days she had felt His protection.

Her strong personality and influence touched many lives, Theosophists and many notable personages such as Gandhi, Nehru, N. Roerich, Yeats, AE Russell and Lord Tennyson who kept the Voice of the Silence by his bedside. We learn she never bore malice or criticism of herself but erased all from her memory….a lesson to us all. She stressed that Occultism is ‘knowledge of the soul’ and that one becomes ‘a beneficent force of nature.’ In her own words she was ‘engaged in a work that would someday free mankind from mental bondage.’

HPB was overshadowed throughout her life having accepted the tremendous task which was hers to do, reintroducing the tenets of Theosophy to the world. Her extensive, deep and truly inspiring works are a most valuable and inspiring legacy for humanity. This biography on is truly exceptional and informative.

Jan Nicolaas Kind – Brazil:

Silly me, but I have to honestly admit that at first I didn’t know of Sylvia Cranston (Anita Atkins), and her oeuvre. It was only when I traveled from Brazil to the Netherlands with my wife Terezinha in the late nineties, that our host there lent us this outstanding H.P.B. biography. Once we started reading it, we just couldn’t stop. Our host was quite amused but it was actually quite embarrassing. We were so fascinated that we would bring the book to the breakfast table, we would go over it before, during and after lunch or dinner, and when everyone would go to bed we kept on reading. As if that wasn’t enough, the book came with us even during train or bus rides when visiting friends and family; not a single moment was wasted to absorb the content. Keep in mind that we only had one copy at our disposal, so this was a true exercise in brotherly sharing.

This must be the very best book ever written on H.P.B.’s life, it so detailed and precise and at no point boring. Anita Atkins deserves a statue for this phenomenal work, it is so rich and it helps each earnest student to understand who H.P.B. really was. Without a doubt, this book helped us a lot in trying to penetrate into the wondrous, magnificent life and works of that incredible woman who blessed mankind by showing that, although steep and thorny, there is a road that does lead to the Heart of the Universe:

There is a road, steep and thorny, beset with perils of every kind – but yet a road; and it leads to the Heart of the Universe. I can tell you how to find Those who will show you the secret gateway that leads inward only …. For those who win onwards, there is reward past all telling: the power to bless and save humanity. For those who fail, there are other lives in which success may come.” HPB

Quoted in “H.P.B” … on page 554

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A few Memories of Anita Atkins – The Author who wrote under the Pen Name of Sylvia Cranston

Dara Eklund – USA

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Dara Eklund

I first met Anita Atkins in New York, at the Centennial of the Theosophical Society on November 17, 1975. Boris de Zirkoff, a key speaker at the Convention, introduced Anita to me, along with Joseph Pope, co-author of her earlier books on Reincarnation.

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Photo with Joe Pope in the middle, mentor of Anita (on the right) and Carey Williams (on the left). It was Joe Pope who hired Anita to run ULT, NY the building operations, and to work for him at his Company Eastern News; bought out by Hearst. It was formed to disseminate Theosophy Magazine published by ULT, and Henry Geiger's Magazine Manas, Published in Los Angeles

Under the pen names Joseph Head and S.L. (later Sylvia) Cranston, they collaborated on several titles. We met in the lounge, where I was struck by Anita's poised and quiet dignity. A New York U.L.T. member, she never pushed herself forward, but in her own non-partisan way encouraged all genuine Theosophical efforts.

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Here is Anita's office that she worked out of and typed the manuscripts on an electric typewriter at The United Lodge of Theosophists in NYC, 347 E. 72nd Street, NYC. Anita worked at that desk since she was a teenager

Boris had shared numerous resources with Anita in his process of compiling and editing the Blavatsky Collected Writings series; she likewise shared her archival findings with him. In time, Anita was instrumental in opening up an archive of H.P.B. 's Letters which she had the Harvard University Andover Archivist send to me after Boris passing. She realized he would have wished it to become part of the Collected Letters series in the future.

As our correspondence grew over the years, Anita became very supportive of my efforts to compile a chronological sequence of William Quan Judge's writings. She helped verify dates for introductory notes and even sent me several rare photographs of Judge, which appeared in the third volume of Echoes of theOrient (Point Loma Pubs. 1987).

In the Spring of 1978, she stayed with us while visiting California for an interview about her books on reincarnation with Tom Snyder of “The Tomorrow Show.” I remember her delight on a road trip through the wildflowers and Joshua trees in the high desert areas north of Los Angeles. She and her assistant, Caren Elin, also had several visits with Boris de Zirkoff, before he died on March 4th, 1981.

Originally Joy Mills and I had hoped Anita might cooperate in completing the still unedited H.P.B. Letters which Boris de Zirkoff had willed to the T.S. of America (Wheaton) along with the remainder of his unpublished H.P.B manuscripts, and archives. However, failing health plus a commitment to focus on her H.P.B. biography, caused her to relinquish the project. Later Joy, Anita and I responded to John Cooper's interest in taking on the work which he proceeded with until his unexpected death on May 12, 1998 at the University of Sydney.

Our closest contact with Anita was during the proofreading of The Extraordinary Life and Influence ofHelena Blavatsky, Founder of the Modern Theosophical Movement, which came out in hardcover in 1993 Bob Atkins, Anita's Brother, and Caren Elin (her friend from New York U.L.T. days) began to assist in the arrangements, due to Anita's failing health. Caren also saw into press a 2nd , as well as a more recent (1994) 3rd edition in paperback. Reincarnation: the Phoenix Fire Mystery came out in 1977 (N.Y. Crown); published subsequently in paperback by Pasadena T.S. press (TUP) in 1994. With joint author, Carey Williams, Anita's title Reincarnation: a New Horizon in Science, Religion, and Society came out in 1993 (Theosophical University Press, Pasadena, California).

About this time Bob Atkins formed Path Publishing Company to help keep Anita's titles in print. Bob Atkins also funded full-sized advertisements in The New York Times on H.P.B. and Anita's works.

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This is in 1986 Bar Harbor Maine, where Anita vacationed every summer with her brother Bob (right)

Anita had developed Parkinson's disease, although maintaining her clear thinking for a number of years.

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Anita at the Sanmarkland Nursing Home 1990

During these busy years of re-issues, Caren arranged to have Anita transferred to a very lovely nursing home in Santa Barbara, where she could help see to her proper care. During those last years we saw Anita there several times before her passing on June 20, 2000. She always seemed amiable and cheerful despite being in a wheelchair.

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Probably the last photo of Anita, accompanied by Caren, taken at Vale Verde Nursing Home, April 9, 1999

Caren says she died peacefully, without much pain. A worthy soul to whom the world is indebted for the first full-scale, well-researched biography of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky.

The article above was previously published in the magazine Fohat (Canada) Volume IV, Fall 2000

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Anita Atkins, Celebration of a Life -August 19, 2000

Will Thackara – USA

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Will Thackara

To Anita’s friends and fellow students of Theosophy:

Though very sorry not to be physically present this evening, I am very much with you and Anita in heartfelt thought. My first acquaintance with Anita – rather, with Sylvia Cranston – goes back to 1968 when her first reincarnationbook, the East West Anthology came into my hands – a wonderful book still in print that shows just how universal the idea is.

We did meet briefly at the TS Pasadena headquarters in the 1980s, but it wasn’t until 1991 that our friendship went beyond formal introductions. I made notes of it afterwards because of an interesting story she told. It was in early June, the day after the American Booksellers’ convention in New York where Theosophical University Press had exhibited. On Anita’s invitation, Alan Donant and I visited her and her brother Bob at their apartment on East 71st Street, about 4:00 in the afternoon. We spoke mainly about the HPB Centenary conference which she hadn’t been able to attend, and shared photos of the event that we had brought with us.

During the conversation, Anita drew our attention to a photograph of HPB sitting on the mantle, the famous Resta portrait known as “The Sphinx.” It had belonged to Judge, she said, who gave it to Frances Steloff, a Theosophist who owned the Gotham Book Mart in New York City and who had helped James Joyce and others get published. Steloff in turn gave the photo to Anita and told her brief but unusual story about it that had occurred some years after HPB’s death. It seems that when a staunch supporter of HPB had come in one day and saw the photo, HPB's eyes “lit up.” Anita then said with her delightful humor, “Well, they haven’t lit up for me yet!”

When I think of what Anita has given to Theosophy, to humanity, and to helping the world get to know the real HPB, I cannot help but believe that certain luminous eyes have indeed taken notice. But I also believe that Anita was someone who knew and understood that outer recognition of any kind is really quite unimportant – that simply to know we are doing our one-pointed duty to mankind and the world is sufficient. There are times, though, when recognition can add a positive force to the world’s progress. So we say thank you, Anita, for your immeasurable contribution, and for simply being who you are: a real friend who has helped us all. Whenever I see HPB’s photo and think of you, I cannot help but see a certain inner glow!

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In our category THEOSOPHY, and being a part of this tribute you’ll also find: Facts you definitely need to know about Anita Atkins. Furthermore four articles written by Sylvia Cranston and Carey Williams: The Birth of the Theosophical Movement, A Blind Slave becomes a Famous Musician, The Book of the Golden Precepts and The Aching Problem of Suicide and a Remedy that Works.

Compiling tributes is a time-consuming, but always a rewarding exercise. I must thank all the contributors and especially Janet Kerschner, Carey Williams, Nicholas Weeks and Will Thackara for their kind support and patience; without their input this TRIBUTE would not have been possible. 

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