Isis in America: The Classic Eyewitness Account of Madame Blavatsky's Journey to America and the Occult Revolution She Ignited

Isis in America: The Classic Eyewitness Account of Madame Blavatsky's Journey to America and the Occult Revolution She Ignited

by Henry Steel Olcott

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Theosophical Society cofounder Colonel Henry Steel Olcott's memoirs cover his years with Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and the birth of the American occult—part of the new Tarcher Supernatural Library.

There are few more intriguing, or polarizing, figures in modern American spiritual history than Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. The cofounder


Theosophical Society cofounder Colonel Henry Steel Olcott's memoirs cover his years with Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and the birth of the American occult—part of the new Tarcher Supernatural Library.

There are few more intriguing, or polarizing, figures in modern American spiritual history than Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. The cofounder of the Theosophical Society, Blavatsky remains a figure of fascination more than a century after her death.

In Isis in America—one of the most unique documents of recent American spiritual history—we get a closer look at Blavatsky, through the eyes of Theosophical Society cofounder, writer, lawyer, investigator, and Blavatsky confidant Henry Steel Olcott. Olcott spent years by Blavatsky's side, witnessing acts of aura projection and spontaneously produced objects—and undergoing his own spiritual awakening—as they laid the foundations for a new era in esoteric spirituality.

This special edition features a comprehensive timeline of the life of Henry Steel Olcott by Mitch Horowitz.

The first three titles released in Tarcher's Supernatural Library are Ghost Hunter (by Hans Holzer), Romance of Sorcery (by Sax Rohmer) and Isis in America (by Henry Steel Olcott).

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“There is just no getting around the Theosophical Society in the history of modern esoteric movements, and this firsthand account of its origins is both entertaining and revealing.”
— The Hermetic Library Blog

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In the history of public bodies, the chapter which relates the origin and vicissitudes of the Theosophical Society should be unique. Whether viewed from the friendly or the unfriendly standpoint, it is equally strange that such a body should have come into existence when it did, and that it has not only been able to withstand the shocks it has had, but actually to have grown stronger proportionately with the bitter unfairness of its adversaries. One class of critics says that this fact strikingly proves a recrudescence of human credulity, and a religious unrest which is preliminary to a final subsidence upon Western conservative lines. The others see in the progress of the movement the sign of a world-wide acceptance of Eastern philosophical ideas, which must work for the reinvigoration and incalculable broadening of the spiritual sympathies of mankind. The patent, the undeniable fact, is that up to the close of the year 1894, as the result of but nineteen years of activity, charters had been granted for 394 branches of the Society, in almost all parts of the habitable globe; and that those issued in that latest year outnumbered the yearly average since the foundation, in 1875, by 29.9 per cent. Statistically viewed, the relentless and unfair attack which the Society for Psychical Research and the Scottish Missionaries delivered against it in 1884, and which it was hoped would destroy it, merely resulted in very largely augmenting its prosperity and usefulness. The latest assault—that through the Westminster Gazette—must inevitably have the same ending. The simple reason is that, however thoroughly the private faults and shortcomings of its individual leaders may be exposed, the excellence of the Society’s ideas is not impugned in the least. To kill the Theosophical Society, it is first necessary to prove its declared objects hostile to the public welfare, the teachings of its spokesmen pernicious and demoralising. It being impossible to do either the one or the other, the world takes the Society as a great fact, a distinct individuality, which is neither to be condemned nor applauded because of the merit or demerit of its representative personalities. This truth begins to force itself upon outsiders. One of the ablest among contemporary journalists, Mr. W. T. Stead, said in Borderland, in the course of a digest of these “Old Diary Leaves” as they originally appeared in the Theosophist, that nobody now cares whether the Coulomb and S. P. R. charges of trickery against Madame Blavatsky were true or false; her worst enemies being unable to deny her the credit of having affected modern philosophical thought to an extraordinary degree by popularising certain noble Eastern ideas. The same holds with respect to her many colleagues, who, like herself, have spread these ancient teachings through the medium of the Theosophical Society. This wonderful organisation, which grew out of a commonplace parlour gathering in a New York house, in the year 1875, has already made for itself such a record that it must be included in any veracious history of our times. Its development having gone on by virtue of an inherent force, rather than as the result of astute foresight and management; and having been so closely—for some years almost exclusively, connected with the personal efforts of its two founders, Madame Blavatsky and myself, it will perhaps help the future historian if the survivor sets down truthfully and succinctly the necessary facts. The series of chapters which now compose this book was begun nearly three years ago in the Theosophist magazine, and a second series, devoted to the history of the Society after the transfer to India, is now in progress. The controlling impulse to prepare these papers was a desire to combat a growing tendency within the Society to deify Mme. Blavatsky, and to give her commonest literary productions a quasi-inspirational character. Her transparent faults were being blindly ignored, and the pinchbeck screen of pretended authority drawn between her actions and legitimate criticism. Those who had least of her actual confidence, and hence knew least of her private character, were the greatest offenders in this direction. It was but too evident that unless I spoke out what I alone knew, the true history of our movement could never be written, nor the actual merit of my wonderful colleague become known. In these pages I have, therefore, told the truth about her and about the beginnings of the Society—truth which nobody can gainsay. Placing as little value upon the praise as upon the blame of third parties, and having all my life been accustomed to act according to what I have regarded as duty, I have not shrunk from facing the witless pleasantries of those who regard me as a dupe, a liar, or a traitor. The absolute unimportance of others’ opinions as a factor in promoting individual development is so plain to my mind, that I have pursued my present task to its completion, despite the fact that some of my most influential colleagues have, from what I consider mistaken loyalty to “H. P. B.,” secretly tried to destroy my influence, ruin my reputation, reduce the circulation of my magazine, and prevent the publication of my book. Confidential warnings have been circulated against me, and the current numbers of the Theosophist have been removed from Branch reading-room tables. This is child’s play: the truth never yet harmed a good cause, nor has moral cowardice ever helped a bad one.

Mrs. Oliphant in her Literary History of England (iii., 263) says of Benthan just what may be said of H. P. B: “It is evident that he had an instinct like that of the Ancient Mariner, for the men who were born to hear and understand him, and great readiness in adopting into his affections every new notability whom he approved of, . . . he received an amount of service and devotion, which few of the greatest of mankind have gained from their fellow-creatures.”

Where was there a human being of such a mixture as this mysterious, this fascinating, this light-bringing H. P. B.? Where can we find a personality so remarkable and so dramatic; one which so clearly presented at its opposite sides the divine and the human? Karma forbid that I should do her a feather-weight of injustice, but if there ever existed a person in history who was a greater conglomeration of good and bad, light and shadow, wisdom and indiscretion, spiritual insight and lack of common sense, I cannot recall the name, the circumstances or the epoch. To have known her was a liberal education, to have worked with her and enjoyed her intimacy, an experience of the most precious kind. She was too great an occultist for us to measure her moral stature. She compelled us to love her, however much we might know her faults; to forgive her, however much she might have broken her promises and destroyed our first belief in her infallibility. And the secret of this potent spell was her undeniable spiritual powers, her evident devotion to the Masters whom she depicted as almost super-natural personages, and her zeal for the spiritual uplifting of humanity by the power of the Eastern Wisdom. Shall we ever see her like again? Shall we see herself again within our time under some other guise? Time will show.



Ootacamund, 1895.

Chapter I.


Since I am to tell the story of the birth and progress of the Theosophical Society, I must begin at the beginning, and tell how its two founders first met. It was a very prosaic incident: I said, “Permettez-moi, Madame,” and gave her a light for her cigarette; our acquaintance began in smoke, but it stirred up a great and permanent fire. The circumstances which brought us together were peculiar, as I shall presently explain. The facts have been partly published before.

One day, in the month of July 1874, I was sitting in my law-office thinking over a heavy case in which I had been retained by the Corporation of the City of New York, when it occurred to me that for years I had paid no attention to the Spiritualist movement. I do not know what association of ideas made my mind pass from the mechanical construction of water-metres to Modern Spiritualism, but, at all events, I went around the corner to a dealer’s and bought a copy of the Banner of Light. In it I read an account of certain incredible phenomena, viz., the solidification of phantom forms, which were said to be occurring at a farm-house in the township of Chittenden, in the State of Vermont, several hundred miles distant from New York. I saw at once that, if it were true that visitors could see, even touch and converse with, deceased relatives who had found means to reconstruct their bodies and clothing so as to be temporarily solid, visible, and tangible, this was the most important fact in modern physical science. I determined to go and see for myself. I did so, found the story true, stopped three or four days, and then returned to New York. I wrote an account of my observations to the New York Sun, which was copied pretty much throughout the whole world, so grave and interesting were the facts. A proposal was then made to me by the Editor of the New York Daily Graphic to return to Chittenden in its interest, accompanied by an artist to sketch under my orders, and to make a thorough investigation of the affair. The matter so deeply interested me that I made the necessary disposition of office engagements, and on September 17th was back at the “Eddy Homestead,” as it was called from the name of the family who owned and occupied it. I stopped in that house of mystery, surrounded by phantoms and having daily experiences of a most extraordinary character, for about twelve weeks—if my memory serves me. Meanwhile, twice a week there appeared in the Daily Graphic my letters about the “Eddy ghosts,” each one illustrated with sketches of spectres actually seen by the artist, Mr. Kappes, and myself, as well as by every one of the persons—sometimes as many as forty—present in the “séance-room.”* It was the publication of these letters which drew Madame Blavatsky to Chittenden, and so brought us together.

I remember our first day’s acquaintance as if it were yesterday; besides which, I have recorded the main facts in my book (People from the Other Woria, pp. 293 et seq). It was a sunny day and even the gloomy old farm-house looked cheerful. It stands amid a lovely landscape, in a valley bounded by grassy slopes that rise into mountains covered to their very crests with leafy groves. This was the time of the “Indian Summer,” when the whole country is covered with a faint bluish haze, like that which has given the “Nilgiri” mountains their name, and the foliage of the beeches, elms, and maples, touched by early frosts, has been turned from green into a mottling of gold and crimson that gives the landscape the appearance of being hung all over with royal tapestries. One must go to America to see this autumnal splendour in its full perfection.

The dinner hour at Eddy’s was noon, and it was from the entrance door of the bare and comfortless dining-room that Kappes and I first saw H. P. B. She had arrived shortly before noon with a French Canadian lady, and they were at table as we entered. My eye was first attracted by a scarlet Garibaldian shirt the former wore, as in vivid contrast with the dull colours around. Her hair was then a thick blond mop, worn shorter than the shoulders, and it stood out from her head, silken-soft and crinkled to the roots, like the fleece of a Cotswold ewe. This and the red shirt were what struck my attention before I took in the picture of her features. It was a massive Calmuck face, contrasting in its suggestion of power, culture, and imperiousness, as strangely with the commonplace visages about the room as her red garment did with the grey and white tones of the walls and woodwork and the dull costumes of the rest of the guests. All sorts of cranky people were continually coming and going at Eddy’s to see the mediumistic phenomena, and it only struck me on seeing this eccentric lady that this was but one more of the sort. Pausing on the door-sill, I whispered to Kappes, “Good gracious! look at that specimen, will you.” I went straight across and took a seat opposite her to indulge my favourite habit of character-study.* The two ladies conversed in French, making remarks of no consequence, but I saw at once from her accent and fluency of speech that, if not a Parisian, she must at least be a finished French scholar. Dinner over, the two went outside the house and Madame Blavatsky rolled herself a cigarette, for which I gave her a light as a pretext to enter into conversation. My remark having been made in French, we fell at once into talk in that language. She asked me how long I had been there and what I thought of the phenomena; saying that she herself was greatly interested in such things, and had been drawn to Chittenden by reading the letters in the Daily Graphic: the public were growing so interested in these that it was sometimes impossible to find a copy of the paper on the book-stalls an hour after publication, and she had paid a dollar for a copy of the last issue. “I hesitated before coming here,” she said, “because I was afraid of meeting that Colonel Olcott.” “Why should you be afraid of him, Madame?” I rejoined. “Oh! because I fear he might write about me in his paper.” I told her that she might make herself perfectly easy on that score, for I felt quite sure Col. Olcott would not mention her in his letters unless she wished it. And I introduced myself. We became friends at once. Each of us felt as if we were of the same social world, cosmopolitans, free-thinkers, and in closer touch than with the rest of the company, intelligent and very worthy as some of them were. It was the voice of common sympathy with the higher occult side of man and nature; the attraction of soul to soul, not that of sex to sex. Neither then, at the commencement, nor ever afterwards had either of us the sense of the other being of the opposite sex. We were simply chums; so regarded each other, so called each other. Some base people from time to time, dared to suggest that a closer tie bound us together, as they had that that poor, malformed, persecuted H. P. B. had been the mistress of various other men, but no pure person could hold to such an opinion after passing any time in her company, and seeing how her every look, word, and action proclaimed her sexlessness.*

Strolling along with my new acquaintance, we talked together about the Eddy phenomena and those of other lands. I found she had been a great traveller and seen many occult things and adepts in occult science, but at first she did not give me any hint as to the existence of the Himalayan Sages or of her own powers. She spoke of the materialistic tendency of American Spiritualism, which was a sort of debauch of phenomena accompanied by comparative indifference to philosophy. Her manner was gracious and captivating, her criticisms upon men and things original and witty. She was particularly interested in drawing me out as to my own ideas about spiritual things and expressed pleasure in finding that I had instinctively thought along the occult lines which she herself had pursued. It was not as an Eastern mystic, but rather as a refined Spiritualist that she talked. For my part I knew nothing then, or next to nothing, about Eastern philosophy, and at first she kept silent on that subject.

The séances of William Eddy, the chief medium of the family, were held every evening in a large upstairs hall, in a wing of the house, over the dining-room and kitchen. He and a brother, Horatio, were hard-working farmers; Horatio attending to the outdoor duties, and William, since visitors came pouring in upon them from all parts of the United States, doing the cooking for the household. They were poor, ill-educated, and prejudiced—sometimes surly to their unbidden guests. At the farther end of the séance-hall the deep chimney from the kitchen below passed through to the roof. Between it and the north wall was a narrow closet of the same width as the depth of the chimney, 2 feet 7 inches, in which William Eddy would seat himself to wait for the phenomena. He had no seeming control over them, but merely sat and waited for them to sporadically occur. A blanket being hung across the doorway, the closet would be in perfect darkness. Shortly after William had entered the cabinet, the blanket would be pulled aside and forth would step some figure of a dead man, woman or child—an animate statue so to say—temporarily solid and substantial, but the next minute resolved back into nothingness or invisibility. They would occasionally dissolve away while in full view of the spectators.

Up to the time of H. P. B.’s appearance on the scene, the figures which had shown themselves were either Red Indians, or Americans or Europeans akin to visitors. But on the first evening of her stay spooks of other nationalities came before us. There was a Georgian servant boy from the Caucasus; a Mussulman merchant from Tiflis; a Russian peasant girl, and others. Another evening there appeared a Kourdish cavalier armed with scimitar, pistols, and lance; a hideously ugly and devilish-looking negro sorcerer from Africa, wearing a coronet composed of four horns of the oryx with bells at their tips, attached to an embroidered, highly coloured fillet which was tied around his head; and a European gentleman wearing the cross and collar of St. Anne, who was recognised by Madame Blavatsky as her uncle. The advent of such figures in the séance-room of those poor, almost illiterate Vermont farmers, who had neither the money to buy theatrical properties, the experience to employ such if they had had them, nor the room where they could have availed of them, was to every eye-witness a convincing proof that the apparitions were genuine. At the same time they show that a strange attraction to call out these images from what Asiatics call the Kama-loka attended Madame Blavatsky. It was long afterwards that I was informed that she had evoked them by her own developed and masterful power. She even affirms the fact in a written note, in our T. S. Scrap-book, Vol. I., appended to a cutting from the (London) Spiritualist of January, 1875.

While she was at Chittenden she told me many incidents of her past life, among others, her having been present as a volunteer, with a number of other European ladies, with Garibaldi at the bloody battle of Mentana. In proof of her story she showed me where her left arm had been broken in two places by a saber-stroke, and made me feel in her right shoulder a musket-bullet, still imbedded in the muscle, and another in her leg. She also showed me a scar just below the heart where she had been stabbed with a stiletto. This wound reopened a little while she was at Chittenden, and it was to consult me about it that she was led to show it to me. She told me many curious tales of peril and adventure, among them the story of the phantom African sorcerer with the oryx-horn coronet, whom she had seen in life doing phenomena in Upper Egypt, many years before.

H. P. B. tried her best to make me suspect the value of William Eddy’s phenomena as proofs of the intelligent control of a medium by spirits; telling me that, if genuine, they must be the double of the medium escaping from his body and clothing itself with other appearances; but I did not believe her. I contended that the forms were of too great diversities of height, bulk, and appearance to be a masquerade of William Eddy; they must be what they seemed, viz., the spirits of the dead. Our disputes were quite warm on occasions, for at that time I had not gone deep enough into the question of the plastic nature of the human Double to see the force of her hints, while of the Eastern theory of Maya I did not know its least iota. The result, however, was, as she told me, to convince her of my disposition to accept nothing on trust and to cling pertinaciously to such facts as I had, or thought I had acquired. We became greater friends day by day, and by the time she was ready to leave Chittenden she had accepted from me the nick-name “Jack,” and so signed herself in her letters to me from New York. When we parted it was as good friends likely to continue the acquaintance thus pleasantly begun.

In November, 1874, when my researches were finished, I returned to New York and called upon her at her lodgings at 16 Irving Place, where she gave me some séances of table-tipping and rapping, spelling out messages of sorts, principally from an invisible intelligence calling itself “John King.” This pseudonym is one that has been familiar to frequenters of mediumistic séances these forty years past, all over the world. It was first heard of in 1850, in the “spirit room” of Jonathan Koons, of Ohio, where it pretended to be a ruler of a tribe or tribes of spirits. Later on, it said it was the earth-haunting soul of Sir Henry Morgan, the famous buccaneer, and as such it introduced itself to me. It showed its face and turban-wrapped head to me at Philadelphia, during the course of my investigations of the Holmes mediums, in association with the late respected Robert Dale Owen, General F. J. Lippitt and Madame Blavatsky (vide People from the Other World, Part II.), and both spoke and wrote to me, the latter frequently. It had a quaint handwriting, and used queer old English expressions. I thought it a veritable John King then, for its personality had been as convincingly proved to me, I fancied, as anybody could have asked. But now, after seeing what H. P. B. could do in the way of producing mayavic (i.e., hypnotic) illusions and in the control of elementals, I am persuaded that “John King” was a humbugging elemental, worked by her like a marionette and used as a help towards my education. Understand me, the phenomena were real, but they were done by no disincarnate human spirit. Since writing the above, in fact, I have found the proof, in her own handwriting, pasted in our Scrap-book, Vol. I.

She kept up the illusion for months—just how many I cannot recollect at this distance of time—and I saw numbers of phenomena done as alleged by John King—as, for example, the whole remarkable series at the Philadelphia residence of the Holmeses and that of H. P. B. herself, above referred to. He was first, John King, an independent personality, then John King, messenger and servant—never the equal—of living adepts, and finally an elemental pure and simple, employed by H. P. B. and a certain other expert in the doing of wonders.

It is useless to deny that, throughout the early part of her American residence, she called herself a spiritualist and warmly defended Spiritualism and its mediums from their sciolistic and other bitter traducers. Her letters and articles in various American and English journals contain many evidences of her occupying that position. Among other examples, I will simply quote the following:

“As it is, I have only done my duty; first, towards Spiritualism, that I have defended as well as I could from the attacks of imposture under the too transparent mask of science; then towards two helpless, slandered mediums. . . . But I am obliged to confess that I really do not believe in having done any good—to Spiritualism itself. . . . It is with a profound sadness in my heart that I acknowledge this fact, for I begin to think there is no help for it. For over fifteen years have I fought my battle for the blessed truth; have travelled and preached it—though I never was born for a lecturer—from the snow-covered tops of the Caucasian Mountains, as well as from the sandy valleys of the Nile. I have proved the truth of it practically and by persuasion. For the sake of Spiritualism I have left my home, an easy life amongst a civilised society, and have become a wanderer upon the face of the earth. I had already seen my hopes realised, beyond my most sanguine expectations, when my unlucky star brought me to America. Knowing this country to be the cradle of Modern Spiritualism, I came over here from France with feelings not unlike those of a Mohammedan approaching the birthplace of his Prophet,” etc., etc. (Letter of H. P. B. to the Spiritualist of December 13, 1874.)

The two “helpless mediums” alluded to were the Holmeses, of whose moral quality I have always had the poorest opinion. Yet, in H. P. B.’s presence I witnessed, under my own test conditions, along with the late Robert Dale Owen and General Lippitt, a series of most convincing and satisfactory mediumistic phenomena. I half suspected then that the power that produced them came from H. P. B., and that if the Holmeses alone had been concerned, I should either have seen tricks or nothing. Now, in hunting over the old scrap-books, I find in H. P. B.’s MSS. the following memorandum, which she evidently meant to be published after her death:


“Yes, I am sorry to say that I had to identify myself, during that shameful exposure of the Holmes mediums, with the Spiritualists. I had to save the situation, for I was sent from Paris to America on purpose to prove the phenomena and their reality, and show the fallacy of the spiritualistic theory of spirits. But how could I do it best? I did not want people at large to know that I could produce the same things AT WILL. I had received orders to the contrary, and yet I had to keep alive the reality, the genuineness and possibility of such phenomena, in the hearts of those who from Materialists had turned Spiritualists, but now, owing to the exposure of several mediums, fell back again, returned to their scepticism. This is why, selecting a few of the faithful, I went to the Holmeses, and, helped by M. and his power, brought out the faces of John King and Katie King from the Astral Light, produced the phenomena of materialisation, and allowed the spiritualists at large to believe it was done through the medium of Mrs. Holmes. She was terribly frightened herself, for she knew that this once the apparition was real. Did I do wrong? The world is not prepared yet to understand the philosophy of Occult Science; let them first assure themselves that there are beings in an invisible world, whether ‘Spirits’ of the dead or elementals; and that there are hidden powers in man which are capable of making a god of him on earth.

“When I am dead and gone people will, perhaps, appreciate my disinterested motives. I have pledged my word to help people on to Truth while living, and I will keep my word. Let them abuse and revile me; let some call me a medium and a Spiritualist, others an impostor. The day will come when posterity will learn to know me better. Oh, poor, foolish, credulous, wicked world!”

The whole thing is here made plain: the Spiritualism she was sent to America to profess and ultimately bring to replace the cruder Western mediumism, was Eastern Spiritualism, or Brahma Vidya. The West not being prepared to accept it, her first assigned work was to defend the real phenomena of the “circle” from that prejudiced and militant enemy of spiritual belief—materialistic, sciolistic, physical science, with its votaries and leaders. The one necessary thing for the age was to check materialistic scepticism and strengthen the spiritual basis of the religious yearning. Therefore, the battle being joined, she took her stand beside the American Spiritualists, and for the moment made common cause with them. Yes, posterity will do her justice.

I wish I could recall to memory the first phenomenon done by her confessedly as by an exercise of her own will power, but I cannot. It must have been just after she began writing Isis Unveiled and possibly it was the following: After leaving 16 Irving Place and making a visit to friends in the country, she occupied rooms for a time in another house in Irving Place, a few doors from the Lotos Club and on the same side of the street. It was there that, later, the informal gathering of friends was held at which I proposed the formation of what afterwards became the Theosophical Society. Among her callers was an Italian artist, a Signor B., formerly a Carbonaro. I was sitting alone with her in her drawing-room when he made his first visit. They talked of Italian affairs, and he suddenly pronounced the name of one of the greatest of the Adepts. She started as if she had received an electric shock; looked him straight in the eyes, and said (in Italian), “What is it? I am ready.” He passed it off carelessly, but thenceforward the talk was all about Magic, Magicians, and Adepts. Signor B. went and opened one of the French windows, made some beckoning passes towards the outer air, and presently a pure white butterfly came into the room and went flying about near the ceiling. H. P. B. laughed in a cheerful way and said: “That is pretty, but I can also do it!” She, too, opened the window, made similar beckoning passes, and presently a second white butterfly came fluttering in. It mounted to the ceiling, chased the other around the room, played with it now and then, with it flew to a corner, and, presto! both disappeared at once while we were looking at them. “What does that mean?” I asked. “Only this, that Signor B. can make an elemental turn itself into a butterfly, and so can I.” The insects were not real but illusionary ones.

I recall other instances of her control of elementals or, as Hindus would term it, Yakshini Vidya. An early one is the following: On a cold winter’s night, when several inches of snow lay upon the ground, she and I were working upon her book until a late hour at her rooms in Thirty-fourth Street. I had eaten some saltish food for dinner, and at about 1 A.M., feeling very thirsty, said to her: “Would it not be nice to have some hothouse grapes?” “So it would,” she replied, “let us have some.” “But the shops have been closed for hours, and we can buy none,” I said. “No matter, we shall have them, all the same,” was her reply. “But how?” “I will show you, if you will just turn down that gas-light on the table in front of us.” I turned the cock unintentionally so far around as to extinguish the light. “You need not have done that,” she said. “I only wanted you to make the light dim. However, light it again quickly.” A box of matches lay just at hand, and in a moment I had relit the lamp. “See!” she exclaimed, pointing to a hanging book-shelf on the wall before us. To my amazement there hung from the knobs at the two ends of one of the shelves two large bunches of ripe black Hamburgh grapes, which we proceeded to eat. To my question as to the agency employed, she said it was done by certain elementals under her control, and twice later on, when we were living in the so-called “Lamasery,” she repeated the phenomenon of bringing fruits for our refreshment while at work on Isis.

Little by little, H. P. B. let me know of the existence of Eastern adepts and their powers, and gave me by a multitude of phenomena the proofs of her own control over the occult forces of nature. At first, as I have remarked, she ascribed them to “John King,” and it was through his alleged friendliness that I first came into personal correspondence with the Masters. Many of their letters I have preserved, with my own endorsement of the dates of their reception. For years, and until shortly before I left New York for India, I was connected in pupilage with the African section of the Occult Brotherhood; but, later, when a certain wonderful psycho-physiological change happened to H. P. B. that I am not at liberty to speak about, and that nobody has up to the present suspected, although enjoying her intimacy and full confidence, as they fancy, I was transferred to the Indian section and a different group of Masters. For, it may be stated, there is and ever was but one altruistic alliance, or fraternity, of these Elder Brothers of humanity, the world over; but it is divided into sections according to the needs of the human race in its successive stages of evolution. In one age the focal centre of this world-helping force will be in one place, in another elsewhere. Unseen, unsuspected as the vivifying spiritual currents of the Akash, yet as indispensable for the spiritual welfare of mankind, their combined divine energy is maintained from age to age and forever refreshes the pilgrim of Earth, who struggles on towards the Divine Reality. The sceptic denies the existence of these adepts because he has not seen or talked with them, nor read in history of their visible intermeddling in national events. But their being has been known to thousands of self-illuminate mystics and philanthropists in succeeding generations, whose purified souls have lifted them up out of the muck of physical into the brightness of spiritual consciousness; and at many epochs they have come into personal relations with the persons who are devoting or inclined to devote themselves to altruistic labour for bringing about the brotherhood of mankind. Some of this class, very humble and apparently very unworthy—like us leaders of the Theosophical Society movement—have been blessed with their sympathy and partaken of their instruction. Some, like Damodar and H. P. B., have first seen them in visions while young; some have encountered them under strange guises in most unlikely places; I was introduced to them by H. P. B. through the agency that my previous experiences would make most comprehensible, a pretended medium-overshadowing “spirit.” John King brought four of the Masters to my attention, of whom one was a Copt, one a representative of the Neo Platonist Alexandrian school, one—a very high one, a Master of the Masters, so to say—a Venetian, and one an English philosopher, gone from men’s sight, yet not dead. The first of these became my first Guru, and a stern disciplinarian he was, indeed, a man of splendid masculinity of character.

In time I came to know from themselves that H. P. B. was a faithful servant of theirs, though her peculiar temperament and idiosyncracies made her too antipathetic to some of them to permit of their working with her. This will not seem strange if one remembers that each individual man, whether adept or laic, has evolved along a particular ray of the Logos, and is in spiritual sympathy with his associate souls of that ray, and may be in antagonism, on this physical plane, with entities of another ray when clothed in flesh. This is probably the ultima ratio of what is called magnetic, auric, or psychical sympathy and antipathy. Whatever the reason may be some of the Masters could not and did not work with H. P. B. Several did, among them some whose names have never as yet been given out, but whom I had much intercourse with in those early years of the Theosophical Society movement.

Among other things about herself H. P. B. told me, when I had got along far enough to know of the Brotherhood and her relation with it, that she had come to Paris the previous year (1873) intending to settle down for some time under the protection of a relative of hers, residing in the Rue de l’Université, but one day received from the “Brothers” a peremptory order to go to New York to await further orders.

The next day she had sailed with little more than money enough to pay her passage. She wrote to her father for funds to be sent her in care of the Russian Consul in New York, but this could not arrive for some time, and as the Consul refused her a loan, she had to set to work to earn her daily bread. She told me she had taken lodgings in one of the poorest quarters in New York—Madison Street—and supported herself by making cravats or artificial flowers—I forget which now—for a kind-hearted Hebrew shop-keeper. She always spoke to me with gratitude about this little man. As yet she had received no intimation as to the future, it was a sealed book. But the following year, in October, 1874, she was ordered to go to Chittenden and find the man who, as it turned out, was to be her future colleague in a great work—myself.

Her intimate friends will recollect her telling this story about her sudden departure under orders from Paris to New York. Mr. Sinnett mentions it in his Incidents in the Life of Madame Blavatsky (page 175), and it has been elsewhere published. But these acquaintances had it from her later on, and her enemies may say it was an afterthought of hers, a falsehood concocted to fit in with a little farce she subsequently invented. Accident, however—if it be an accident—has just now, while I am writing these pages, brought me a valuable bit of corroborative proof. We have had staying at Adyar an American lady, Miss Anna Ballard, a veteran journalist, a life member of the New York Press Club, who, in the course of professional duty, met H. P. B. in the first week after her arrival at New York. In the course of conversation, amid a variety of less important facts, Miss Ballard casually mentioned to me two, that I at once begged her to put in writing, viz.: that H. P. B., whom she found living in a squalid lodging-house, said that she had suddenly and unexpectedly left Paris at one day’s notice, and, secondly, that she had visited Tibet. Here is Miss Ballard’s own version of the affair:

“ADYAR, 17th January, 1892.

“DEAR COL. OLCOTT:—My acquaintanceship with Mme. Blavatsky dates even further back than you suppose. I met her in July, 1873, at New York, not more than a week after she landed. I was then a reporter on the staff of the New York Sun, and had been detailed to write an article upon a Russian subject. In the course of my search after facts the arrival of this Russian lady was reported to me by a friend, and I called upon her; thus beginning an acquaintance that lasted several years. At our first interview she told me she had had no idea of leaving Paris for America until the very evening before she sailed, but why she came or who hurried her off she did not say. I remember perfectly well her saying with an air of exultation, ‘I have been in Tibet.’ Why she should think that a great matter, more remarkable than any other of the travels in Egypt, India, and other countries she told me about, I could not make out, but she said it with special emphasis and animation. I now know, of course, what it means. ANNA BALLARD.”

Unless prepared to concede to H. P. B. the power of foreseeing that I should be getting this written statement from Miss Ballard in India, nineteen years later, the fair-minded reader will admit that the statements she made to her first friend in New York, in 1873, strongly corroborate the assertions she has ever since made to a large number of people about the two most important incidents in the history of her connection with the Theosophical movement, (a) her preparation in Tibet, and (b) her journey to America in search of the person whose Karma linked him to her as the co-agent to set this social wave in motion.

She made an abortive attempt to found a sort of Spiritual Society at Cairo, in 1871 [vide Peebles’ Around the World, p. 215, and Sinnett’s Incidents in the Life of Mme. Blavatsky, p. 158], upon a basis of phenomena. Not having the right persons to organise and direct it, it was a lamentable fiasco and brought upon her much ridicule. Yet the magical phenomena she wrought with the help of the self-same Copt and another adept whom I subsequently came into relations with, were most startling.* It was apparently a reckless waste of psychic energy, and indicated anything but either personal infallibility or divine guidance. I could never understand it. And as regards the Theosophical Society every circumstance tends to show that it has been a gradual evolution, controlled by circumstances and the resultant of opposite forces, now running into smooth, now into rough grooves, and prosperous or checked proportionately with the wisdom or unwisdom of its management. The general direction has always been kept, its guiding motive ever identical, but its programme has been variously modified, enlarged, and improved as our knowledge increased and experience from time to time suggested. All things show me that the movement as such was planned out beforehand by the watching Sages, but all details were left for us to conquer as best we might. If we had failed, others would have had the chance that fell to our Karma, as I fell heir to the wasted chances of her Cairo group of 1871. Speaking of growth of knowledge, I can look back and trace a constant enlargement of my own ideas, deeper perception of truth, and capacity to assimilate and impart ideas. My published articles and letters between 1875 and 1878 prove this distinctly. When I was a child (in Occultism) I spoke as a child; often dogmatically, after the fashion of comparative tyros.

I never heard anything from H. P. B. in the early days to make me think that she had the least intimation, until sent to Chittenden to me, about any future relationship between us in work, nor even then that the Theosophical Society was to be. We have it on her own authority, as quoted above, that she was sent from Paris to New York in the interest of Spiritualism, in the best sense of that word, and before we met she had attended séances and consorted with mediums, but never came under public notice. In May, 1875, I was engaged in trying to organise at New York with her concurrence a private investigating committee under the title of the “Miracle Club.” In the Scrap-book (Vol. I.) she writes about it:

“An attempt in consequence of orders received from T* B* (a Master) through P. (an Elemental) personating John King. Ordered to begin telling the public the truth about the phenomena and their mediums. And now my martyrdom will begin! I shall have all the Spiritualists against me, in addition to the Christians and the Sceptics. Thy will, oh M., be done. H. P. B.”

The plan was to keep closed doors to all save the members of the Club, who were forbidden to divulge even the place of meeting. “All the manifestations, including materialisations, to occur in the light, and without a cabinet.” [Spiritual Scientist, May 19, 1876.] Taking H. P. B.’s remark above, as written, it looks as though there would have been no Theosophical Society—it looks so, I say—if her intended medium for the Miracle Club had not utterly failed us and so precluded my completing the organisation.

I notice in Mr. Sinnett’s book the coincidence that she arrived at New York on the 7th of July, 1873—that is to say on the seventh day of the seventh month of her forty-second year (6x7), and that our meeting was postponed until I should have attained my forty-second year. And, to anticipate, it must also be remarked that she died in the seventh month of the seventeenth year of our Theosophical relationship. Add to this the further fact, recently published by me in the Theosophist, that Mrs. Annie Besant came to H. P. B. as an applicant for membership in the seventh month of the seventeenth year after her final withdrawal from the Christian communion, and we have here a pretty set of coincidences to bear in mind.

Chapter II.


I have found a letter to myself from an older acquaintance of Madame Blavatsky’s than even Miss Ballard, the existence of which I had forgotten. The last-named lady met her at New York within the first week after her arrival from France, but Dr. Marquette knew her in Paris, before she started on that long and brilliant career which led, per aspera ad astra, to end at the Woking crematory for the moment, in 1891, and then keep on and ever onward. The innuendoes about her having led a wild life at the French capital in 1873, are answered by this frank statement of an educated lady physician, whom I personally knew at New York, but who, I understand, is now deceased. She says:

“NEW YORK, December 26, 1875.


“In reply to your inquiries, I have to say that I made Madame Blavatsky’s acquaintance in Paris in the year 1873. She was living in the Rue du Palais, in an apartment* with her brother, M. Hahn, and his intimate friend M. Lequeux. I was with her almost daily, and, in fact, spent a good part of my time with her when I was not in the hospitals or attending the lectures. I am, therefore, able to state from positive knowledge, what her behaviour was. It gives me great pleasure to say that that behaviour was unexceptionable, and such as to entitle her to every respect. She passed her time in painting and writing, seldom going out of her room. She had few acquaintances, but among the number were M. and Mme. Leymarie. Mme. Blavatsky I esteem as one of the most estimable and interesting ladies I ever met, and since my return from France, our acquaintance and friendship have been renewed.

“Yours respectfully,


In the preceding chapter it was mentioned that she had left Paris for New York, by order of the Masters, on a day’s notice, and with barely enough money to pay her way out. I recall a circumstance of the journey which, as she told it, brings into high relief one trait of her many-angled character—her impulsive generosity. She had bought a first-class ticket from Havre to New York, and had gone to the quay to either see or embark on the steamer, when her attention was attracted by a peasant woman, sitting on the ground with a child or two beside her, and weeping bitterly. Drawing near, H. P. B. found she was from Germany on her way to America to rejoin her husband, but a swindling emigrant runner at Hamburgh had sold her bogus steamer tickets, and there she was, penniless and helpless: the steamship company could do nothing, of course, and she had neither relative nor acquaintance in Havre. The heart of our kind H. P. B. was so touched that she said: “No matter, good woman, I will see if something cannot be done.” She first vainly tried her powers of persuasion (and objurgation) upon the blameless agent of the company, and then, as a last expedient—her own funds being insufficient for the purpose—had her saloon ticket changed for a steerage berth for herself, and for the difference got steerage tickets for the poor woman and her children! Many “proper” and “respectable” people have often expressed horror at H. P. B.’s coarse eccentricities, including profanity, yet I think that a generous deed like this would cause whole pages of recorded solecisms in society manners to be washed away from the Book of Human Accounts! If any doubt it, let them try the steerage of an emigrant ship.

We have seen how Miss Ballard found H. P. B. living in a wretched tenement-house in an East-end New York street, pending the arrival of money from home, and honestly supporting herself by sewing cravats. This was in July, 1873. In the following October her ever-indulgent, forbearing, and beloved father, died, and, on the 29th of the month, she received a cable dispatch from Stavropol, from her sister “Elise,” conveying the news and informing her as to the amount of her heritage: adding that a draft for 1000 roubles had been sent her. [I have the original dispatch before me as I write.] In due course of post she received all the money, and then shifted her quarters to better neighbourhoods in New York city—Union Square, East Sixteenth St., Irving Place, etc., and it was in the last-named I found her domiciled upon returning from the Eddy Homestead. Her money did not stay with her long, however, for, as it is recorded in Mr. Sinnett’s book, while she could endure with perfect patience the miseries of poverty if compelled, no sooner did money fall into her lap than she seemed to be unhappy unless she was throwing it away with both hands in the most imprudent fashion. A document in my possession illustrates this so well that I must quote from it. It is an agreement entitled “Articles of co-partnership entered into this twenty-second day of June, in the year One thousand eight hundred and seventy-four, by and between C. . . . . . . . G. . . . . . . . , party of the first part and Helen Blavatsky, party of the second part, to wit:” Clause 1 recites that the co-partnership is “for the purpose of working the land and farm at N——, in the County of——, Long Island,” the property of C. G.; Clause 2 says, “the said co-partnership shall commence on the first day of July, 1874, and shall continue for the period of three years.” Clause 3 states that C. G. puts the use of the farm into the co-partnership as an off-set against the sum of one thousand dollars paid in by H. P. B. By Clause 4 “all proceeds for crops, poultry, produce, and other products raised on the said farm shall be divided equally, and all expenses” equally shared. Clause 5, and last, reserves the title of the land to C. G. The document is duly signed and sealed by the parties, witnessed and recorded.

What anybody might have expected happened: H. P. B. went to live on the farm; got no profits, had a row, acquired debts and a neat little lawsuit which friends helped her to settle long afterward. That was the last of her bucolic dream of profits from sales of garden-truck, poultry, eggs, etc.: three months later she met me in the Vermont ghostland, and the wheels of our war chariot began rumbling prophetically through the lowest levels of the Akash!

In November, 1874, signing her letter “Jack the Pappoose,” she wrote to ask me to get her an engagement to write weird stories for a certain journal, as she would soon be “hard up,” and gave me a rollicking account of her family pedigree and connexions on both sides; talking like a democrat, yet showing but too plainly that she felt that she, if any one, had reason to be proud of her lineage. She writes me how the Daily Graphic people had interviewed her about her travels and asked for her portrait. Considering how many thousand copies of her likeness have since been circulated, the world over, it will amuse if I quote a sentence or two about this first experience of the sort:

“Don’t you know, the fellows of the Graphic bored my life out of me to give them my portrait? Mr. F. was sent to get me into conversation after I came out [for the Eddys, she means], and wanted them to insert my article against . . . Beard. I suppose they wanted to create a sensation and so got hold of my beautiful nostrils and splendid mouth . . . I told them that nature has endowed and gifted me with a potato nose, but I did not mean to allow them to make fun of it, vegetable though it is. They very seriously denied the fact, and so made me laugh, and you know ‘celui qui rit est desarmé.’”

A well-known physician of New York, a Dr. Beard, attracted to Chittenden by my Graphic letters, had come out with a bombastic and foolish explanation of the Eddy ghosts as mere trickery, and she had flayed him alive in a reply, dated October 27th and published in the Graphic of October 30th. Her letter was so brave and sparkling a defence of the Eddy mediums, and her testimony as to the seven “spirit-forms” she herself had recognised so convincing, that she at once came into the blaze of a publicity which never afterwards left her. This was the first time her name had been heard of in America in connection with psychological mysteries, my own mention in the Graphic, of her arrival at Chittenden appearing, if I am not mistaken, a little later. However, be that as it may, her tilt with Dr. Beard was the primary cause of her notoriety.

She carried a tone of breeziness, defiant brusqueness, and camaraderie throughout all her talk and writing in those days, fascinating everybody by her bright wit, her contempt for social hypocrisies, and all “caddishness,” and astounding them with her psychical powers. The erudition of Isis Unveiled had not yet overshadowed her, but she constantly drew upon a memory stored with a wealth of recollections of personal perils and adventures, and of knowledge of occult science, not merely unparalleled but not even approached by any other person who had ever appeared in America, so far as I have heard. She was a totally different personage then from what she was later on, when people saw her settled down to the serious life-work for which her whole past had been a preparatory school. Yes, the H. P. B. I am now writing about, in whose intimate comradeship I lived, with whom I was on terms of perfect personal equality, who overflowed with exuberant spirits and enjoyed nothing more than a comic song or story, was not the H. P. B. of India or London, nor recognisable in the mental colossus of the latter days. She changed in many things, yet in one thing she never improved, viz., the choice of friends and confidants. It almost seems as though she were always dealing with inner selves of men and women, and had been blind to the weakness or corruption of their visible, bodily shells. Just as she flung her money to every specious wretch who came and lied to her, so she made close friends of the passing hour with people the most unworthy. She trusted one after another, and, for the time being, there seemed nobody like them in her eyes; but usually the morrow brought disillusion and disgust, without the prudence to avoid doing it all over again. I mentioned above the attempt to form a Miracle Club, for the study of practical psychology. The intended medium belonged to a most respectable family, and talked so honestly that we thought we had secured a prize. He proved to be penniless, and as H. P. B. in his hour of greatest need had no money to spare, she pawned her long gold chain and gave him the proceeds. That wretch not only failed utterly as a medium, but was also reported to us as having spread calumnies against the one who had done him kindness. And such was her experience to the end of her life; the ingratitude and cruel malice of the Coulombs being but one of a long series of sorrows.

The subsequent history of that gold chain is interesting. It was, of course, redeemed from pawn, and, later, she wore it in Bombay and Madras. When, in the Ninth Annual Convention of the Society, held at Adyar, a subscription was started to create the Permanent Fund, H. P. B. put her chain up at private auction, and it was bought by Mr. E. D. Ezekiel, and the money handed over to the Treasurer of the T. S. for the Fund in question.

Before my series of Chittenden letters to the Daily Graphic was finished, I had arranged for their publication in book form at Hartford, Conn., and about the same time H. P. B. removed to Philadelphia. A blight fell upon Spiritualism in those days, in consequence of Mr. Dale Owen’s public denunciation of the Holmes mediums as cheats. The journals of that movement lost heavily in subscribers, the most popular books lay unsold on the publishers’ shelves. My own publishers were so alarmed that I arranged, through Mr. Owen, with Mrs. Holmes for a course of test-séances under my own conditions, and went there and carried out my plan, with the colleagues before mentioned. Thence I proceeded to Havana, N. Y., and saw the truly marvellous mediumistic phenomena of Mrs. Compton. Both sets of experiences were embodied in my book, and it was published.

H. P. B. was still at Philadelphia, so I accepted her urgent invitation to come and take a few days’ holiday after my long term of work. Expecting to be absent from New York only two or three days, I left no instructions at my office or club about forwarding my letters, but, finding upon arrival that she was not likely to let me go so soon, I went on the second day to the General Post-Office, gave the address of my lodgings, and asked that any letters coming for me might be delivered there by carrier. I expected none, but fancied that the people in my office, not hearing from me, might address me at the Philadelphia Post-Office on the chance of my getting their letter. Then happened something that astonished me—knowing so little as I did of the psychical resources of H. P. B. and her Masters—and which even now, despite so long an experience of phenomena, remains a world-wonder. To understand what follows, let the reader examine any letter he has received by post, and he will find two office stamps upon it; the one on the face, that of the office at which it was posted, the one on the back, that of the office to which it was addressed; if it has been sent on after him from the latter office, it will at least bear those two stamps, and, in addition, those of any series of post-offices to which it was re-addressed until it finally reached his hand. Now, on the evening of the very day on which I had left my address at the Philadelphia General Post-Office, the local postman brought me letters coming from widely distant places—one, I think, from South America, or at any rate, some foreign country—addressed to me at New York, bearing the stamps of the respective offices of posting, but not that of the New York Post-Office. Despite all post-office rules and customs, they had come straight to me to Philadelphia without passing through the New York Post-Office at all. And nobody in New York knew my Philadelphia address, for I did not myself know what it would be when I left home. I took these letters myself from the postman’s hand, being just on the point of going out for a walk when he arrived. So the letters were not tampered with by H. P. B. Upon opening them, I found inside each, something written in the same handwriting as that in letters I had received in New York from the Masters, the writing having been made either in the margins or any other blank space left by the writers. The things written were, either some comments upon the character or motives of the writers, or matter of general purport as regards my occult studies. These were the precursors of a whole series of those phenomenal surprises during the fortnight or so that I spent in Philadelphia. I had many, and no letter of the lot bore the New York stamp, although all were addressed to me at my office in that city.

The accompanying fac-simile of one of the covers—a letter from Prof. J. R. Buchanan—will show that although addressed to me at New York, it was delivered by the Philadelphia carrier without having been re-addressed to that city. The house number—H. P. B.’s residence—was written in the City Delivery Department of the Philadelphia Post-Office. The New York stamp is not on the back.

When we come to analyse the psychical phenomena of or connected with Mme. Blavatsky, we find that they may be classified as follows:

1. Those whose production requires a knowledge of the ultimate properties of matter, of the cohesive force which agglomerates the atoms; especially a knowledge of Akash, its composition, contents, and potentialities.

2. Those which relate to the powers of the elementals when made subservient to human will.

3. Those where hypnotic suggestion through the medium of thought-transference creates illusive sensations of sight, sound, and touch.

4. Those which involve the art of making objective images, pictorial or scriptory—which are first purposely created in the adept-operator’s mind; for instance, the precipitation of a picture or writing upon paper or other material surface, or of a letter, image, or other mark upon the human skin.

5. Those pertaining to thought-reading and retrospective and prospective clairvoyance.

6. Those of the intercourse at will between her mind and the minds of other living persons equally or more perfectly gifted, psychically, than herself. Or, sometimes, the subordination of her will and whole personality to the will of another entity.

7. Those, of the highest class, where by spiritual insight, or intuition, or inspiration—as indifferently called; there being no real difference in the condition, but only in names—she reached the amassed stores of human knowledge laid up in the registry of the Astral Light.

Recalling my observations for the past twenty years as well as I can, I think that all the tales I have ever told or shall henceforth tell, will drop into one or other of these classes.

The sceptic will certainly say that my groups are arbitrary and my hypotheses fanciful. He will ask me to prove that there are elemental spirits; that there is such a thing as clairvoyance; that material objects called for can be brought from a distance; that anybody really knows the nature of the attraction of cohesion, etc. I shall, for my sole answer, tell what I and others have seen, and then challenge the doubter to find in nature any thinkable laws, outside those above enumerated, which explain the facts—the hard undeniable facts. If the theory of miracle, or diabolism, be propounded, then I shall be dumb, for that cuts off argument. I do not pretend to be able to explain the rationale of all of H. P. B.’s phenomena, for to do that one would need to be as well informed as herself; which I never pretended to be.

Chapter III.


An experiment, made by H. P. B., with myself as a passive agent, shortly after my coming to her house in Philadelphia, narrows the phenomena of letter-transport, with precipitation of writing inside sealed covers, to very close limits. The facts were these: she was tipping tables for me, with and without the contact between her hands and the table; making loud and tiny raps—sometimes while holding her hand six inches above the wood, and sometimes while resting her hand upon mine as it lay flat upon the table; and spelling out messages to me from the pretended John King which, as rapped out by the alphabet, I recorded on scraps of paper that were subsequently torn up and thrown away. At last some of these messages relating to third parties seemed worth keeping, so one day, on my way home, I bought a reporter’s note-book, and, on getting to the house, showed it to her and explained its intended use. She was seated at the time and I standing. Without touching the book or making any mystical pass or sign, she told me to put it in my bosom. I did so, and after a moment’s pause she bade me take it out and look within. This is what I found: inside the first cover, written and drawn on the white lining paper in lead pencil:—


his book.

4th of the Fourth month in A.D. 1875.”

Underneath this, the drawing of a Rosicrucian jewel; over the arch of the jewelled crown, the word FATE; beneath which is her name, “Helen,” followed by what looks, after the rubbing of these seventeen years, like 99, something smudged out, and then a simple +. At the narrowest point, where the head of the compasses enters the crown, are the initials I. S. F.; beneath that a monogram, blending the capital letters A, T, D, and R, the T much larger than the others. At one foot of the compasses is my name, at the other the name of another man, a resident of Philadelphia; and along the segment of the arch connecting the two points of the pair of compasses run the words “Ways of Providence.” I have the book on my table as I write, and my description is taken from the drawing itself. One striking feature of this example of psycho-dynamics is the fact that no one but myself had touched the book after it was purchased: I had had it in my pocket until it was shown to H. P. B., from the distance of two or three feet, had myself held it in my bosom, removed it a moment later when bidden, and the precipitation of the lead-pencil writing and drawing had been done while the book was inside my waistcoat. Now the writing inside the cover of my notebook is very peculiar; the e’s being all like the Greek epsilon, and the n’s something like the Greek pi: it is a quaint and quite individual handwriting, not like H. P. B.’s, but identical with that in all the written messages I had from first to last from “John King.” H. P. B. having, then, the power of precipitation, must have transferred from her mind to the paper the images of words traced in this special style of script; or, if not she, but some other expert in this art did it, then that other person must have done it in that same way—i.e., have first pictured to himself mentally the images of those words and that drawing, and then precipitated; that is, made them visible on the paper, as though written with a lead pencil. After seventeen years this psychograph remains legible, and some—not all—of the characters have the shine of plumbago: those that have not seem as though the lines had been sunken into the fabric of the paper. I have records of precipitations made in crayon, water colors, blue, red, and green pencils, ink and gold paint, as well as the formation of solid substances, but one scientific principle underlies them all, viz., the objectivation of images, previously “visualised,” or formed in the mind of the expert, by the employment of cosmic force and the diffused matter of space. The imagination is the creative hidden deity; force and matter its working tools.

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“There is just no getting around the Theosophical Society in the history of modern esoteric movements, and this firsthand account of its origins is both entertaining and revealing.”
—The Hermetic Library Blog

Meet the Author

Colonel Henry Steel Olcott (1832-1907) was a key figure in nineteenth-century alternative spirituality, cofounding the Theosophical Society with Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky in 1875. This edition reproduces the first volume of his published diaries and includes a new timeline of his storied life.

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