Madame Blavatsky's Baboon: A History of the Mystic and Mediums Who Brought Spiritualism to America

Overview

The New Age is not so new. Peter Washington traces it back to ideas that entered our cultural bloodstream just before the dawn of the twentieth century, when a mysterious renegade Russian aristocrat named Madame Blavatsky appeared in America. Darwin was wrong, she claimed. Man was not descended from apes but from spirit beings. As a reminder, she kept a stuffed baboon in her parlor dressed in wing collar, tail-coat, and spectacles, and holding a copy of The Origin of Species in its hand. Theosophy, the movement ...
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NY 1995 Hardcover 1st Edition New in New jacket Book. 12mo-over 6?-7?" tall. This is a New and Unread copy of the first edition (American) 1st printing). Photographs, Index. ... Bibliogram. Read more Show Less

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1995 Hard cover NEW, Hardcover edition as pictured New in new dust jacket. NEW, Hardcover edition as pictured Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. 470 p. Audience: General/trade. ... NEW, Hardcover edition as pictured Read more Show Less

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Overview

The New Age is not so new. Peter Washington traces it back to ideas that entered our cultural bloodstream just before the dawn of the twentieth century, when a mysterious renegade Russian aristocrat named Madame Blavatsky appeared in America. Darwin was wrong, she claimed. Man was not descended from apes but from spirit beings. As a reminder, she kept a stuffed baboon in her parlor dressed in wing collar, tail-coat, and spectacles, and holding a copy of The Origin of Species in its hand. Theosophy, the movement Madame Blavatsky founded, spawned competing gurus and sects which in the course of the century evolved into the New Age. Here is the incredible story of Rudolf Steiner and his breakaway anthroposophy, of the tyrannical and mysterious Gurdjieff with his Path, of Ouspensky, the rebel Gurdjieffian, and of Krishnamurti - a future "world leader" spotted river-bathing in India as a boy by the pederast and grand panjandrum of Theosophy, Bishop (self-appointed, of his own church!) C. W. Ledbetter. These gurus and the alternative religions they founded had a powerful appeal particularly for women, who found in them a role denied them by conventional religions. They also attracted some of the most influential intellects of the age - Oscar Wilde, W. B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Frank Lloyd Wright, Katherine Mansfield, Aldous Huxley, and Christopher Isherwood - all searching for an alternative to Western materialism and notions of spirituality. Needless to say, these movements also attracted a host of colorful adventurers, uncertified lunatics, wealthy and lonely spinsters, charlatans, and lost souls.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Around the turn of the century, renegade Russian aristocrat Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky declared herself the chosen vessel of the wisdom of the East through her reputed contact with a dematerializing Tibetan master, who unveiled a Hidden Brotherhood located in the Himalayas and Egypt. The Theosophical Society, which she cofounded in 1875 in New York City with Civil War veteran Col. Henry Olcott, attracted a wide following with its amalgam of Hinduism, Buddhism and occultism. In this enormously entertaining, witheringly skeptical, highly colorful chronicle, British journalist Washington deflates the self-mythologizing and woolly philosophizing of theosophists and rival schools and gurus, including flamboyant Armenian-Greek mystic George Gurdjieff, Austrian philosopher/holistic healer Rudolf Steiner and Jiddu Krishnamurti, Indian ex-theosophist turned California sage. Those who came under their influence include Aldous Huxley, Katherine Mansfield, Christopher Isherwood, W.B. Yeats and Frank Lloyd Wright, making this a heady intellectual adventure as well as a clear-sighted saga of human foibles, charlatanry, bizarre antics and genuine spiritual hunger extending to New Age cults from the 1950s to the present. Photos. (Feb.)
Library Journal
In this well-documented, readable history of spiritualism, Washington describes the lives and careers of such prominent figures as Blavatsky, Annie Besant, Rudolf Steiner, Krishnamurti, Gurdjieff, Peter Ouspensky, and others. He makes clear the close association and influences that took place among these various leaders. The movement is traced from its beginnings in the 18th century to its resurgence in the present as New Age philosophy. While the author makes no attempt to hide his complete skepticism, his presentation of both the personalities and teachings are fair and historically accurate. He has created a fascinating chronicle of these strange and compelling people whose ideas still have a powerful influence. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries.-C. Robert Nixon, MLS, Lafayette, Ind.
Booknews
Washington traces New Age thinking back to the dawn of the 20th century, when a mysterious renegade Russian aristocrat named Madame Blavatsky appeared in America claiming that man was descended from spirit beings rather than apes, as Darwin claimed. This is an intriguing story of theosophy, the movement she founded, which spawned competing gurus and sects, evolving over the course of the century into the New Age. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Donna Seaman
Washington, author and critic for several prestigious British papers, characterizes nineteenth-century America as the land of "spiritual opportunity." Science was challenging the authority of the church while historians were demystifying the Bible and knowledge of non-Christian religions became more widespread. As life became more bewildering, the search for truth and easy answers became more overt and impassioned, and the feats and promises of spiritualists attracted a great deal of attention. But messages from the dead weren't enough, and soon various charismatic individuals created new religions: Mary Baker Eddy and Christian Science, Joseph Smith and the Mormon Church, and Madame Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society. Washington analyzes the rise of nontraditional religions with unfailing acuity, but he also has a great avidity for eccentrics, scoundrels, autocrats, and true believers. This blend of careful analysis and gleeful wit enlivens his anecdote-filled history as it moves on to vividly portray the second generation of self-appointed gurus, including Charles Webster Leadbeater, Krishnamurti, and Gurdjieff. The title? It refers to a stuffed baboon belonging to Blavatsky; it was dressed like a gentleman and held a copy of "The Origin of the Species."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805241259
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/1/1995
  • Edition description: 1st American ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 470

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