All books reviewed by Biblio Phyle
Now, where shall I begin … ?
Farthing, Geoffrey A., ed. Foundations: The Kabala Related to Theosophy from the Writings of H, P. Blavatsky. [London:] Blavatsky Trust Publications, 2012. Pp. x + 224.
H. P. Blavatsky wrote extensively, in many different places, about Kabbalah. In this volume, Geoffrey Farthing has attempted to collect and organize all she wrote on the subject. It is a tall order. The material is also available, directly from the original sources by use of the various indexes to HPB’s writings. However, this is a useful compilation.
Georgiades, Erica. The Olympian Ideal of Universal Brotherhood. Blavatsky Lecture, 2012. London: Theosophical Publishing House, 2012. Pp. [iv] + 57.
Brotherhood is, of course, a central concern of the Theosophical Society, embodied, for example in the Society’s first object. This short volume gives an overview of the subject and relates it to its Hellenic (“Olympian” in the title) background.
Lachman, Gary. Madam Blavatsky: The Mother of Modern Spirituality. New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2012. Pp. xx + 332. $16.95.
Books about Helena Blavatsky tend to be of two sorts: friendly and unfriendly (to use a pair of general, but descriptive, terms). Friendly books, to use the Anna Karenina principle that “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” are books that are all or mostly alike, tending at their extreme to become hagiographic. Every unfriendly book is unfriendly in its own way, or at least variable in its lack of friendliness: some are attacks or exposés (depending on one’s opinion about the object of the attack or exposé); others are mainly descriptive — but primarily of matters many readers will find disreputable.
Gary Lachman’s book is friendly, without being hagiographic. It is thorough, detailed, perceptive, and highly readable. Lachman has published extensively on related matters, including books on Jung, Steiner, and Swedenborg, and many articles, including some in the Quest magazine. He is well-informed on matters occult, esoteric, and theosophic. This book is the best available introduction to Helena Blavatsky and can be enthusiastically recommended to both the general public and devoted Theosophists.
Lachman concludes his book with the following summary (pp. 297-8): “My own belief is that HPB was one of the most creative synthesizers in modern thought, and that she pulled together an enormous wealth of ideas, observations, and speculations about ourselves and the cosmos from a dizzying range of sources, and out of this produced at least two undeniable classics [Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine]. If she did only this, it would be enough for us to owe her a debt of gratitude. Being one of the most adventurous, fearless, and indomitable women of the nineteenth century in the bargain makes what we owe her almost an embarrassment. Those around her had the benefit of being exposed to her electric character, and many profited by the shocks — it was with some accuracy that Rudolf Steiner described her as an ‘electrically charged Leyden jar,’ from whom ‘electric sparks — occult truths — could be produced.’ I seriously doubt if Countess Wachtmeister, G. R. S. Mead, or even Colonel Olcott thought getting the ‘secret doctrine’ down correctly was as important as being open to her teaching by example. And, as most accounts show, at this she was surely a Master. If we go in search of her own Masters, more than likely we will not find them. But we may discover someone even more remarkable along the way: that ‘old lady,’ ‘chum,’ and tireless scourge of flapdoodle, the incomparable HPB.”
That says it all.
Nicholson, Shirley, Ancient Wisdom – Modern Insight (2nd ed.), Theosophical Publishing house, 2011, Pp. xviii + 242
A study of the timeless wisdom as presented by Theosophy can be a difficult undertaking. Many have started this journey with The Secret Doctrine by H. P. Blavatsky only to give up after a few chapters. However, Shirley Nicholson has given us another approach with a book that not only covers the Wisdom that Blavatsky presents, but a contemporary interpretation using many of the concepts found in modern science. There are many parallels to make and she uses them very well.
As she states, her approach is to examine oneness, interconnectedness and periodicity. She covers an extensive array of Theosophical topics; all interwoven primarily with selections from science. I found the book’s real value to be those concepts, that The Secret Doctrine keeps repeating, were explained nicely using current modern day science as examples.
The book is easy to read even though it covers a wide swath of Theosophy, philosophy, and science. If you are looking for a book that incorporates all of these approaches to examine the ‘Unity of Life’, you will do no better than to read this book. It is one that should be on your bookshelf for continual study. It is that good.
(Reviewed by Ralph Hannon)