Welcome. This is my blog, and you're my most coveted guest. If I seem a bit too intense, it's only because I have so much that I want to share with you, and I can see that you're eager to begin as well. So, please...make yourself at home, sip an East India cocktail (I blended the pomegranate juice myself), and sample some of my domestic and imported Arcana: useless, but fascinating information about Victoriana, Steampunk and other favoured topics; music which evokes that dark, lost Lenore sensibility; and other pleasant or, perhaps, unsettling non sequiters whispered in a darkened room. Linger long or short, leave a comment or refrain, but remember to come back soon to play a (shhhh) parlour game.
Velkommen. Dette er min blog, og du er min mest eftertragtedegæst. Hvis jeg synes en smule for intenst, det er kunfordi jeg har så meget at jeg vil dele med jer, og jeg kanse, at du er ivrig efter at begynde så godt. Så kan du ...føl dig hjemme, sip et East India cocktail (jeg blandetden granatæble juice mig selv), og prøve nogle af mine indenlandske o importerede Arcana: ubrugelig, menfascinerende oplysninger om Victoriana, Steampunkog andre begunstigede emner; musik der fremkalderdenne mørke, mistede Lenore sensibilitet, og andrebehagelige eller måske foruroligende, ikke sequitershviskede i et mørkelagt rum. Linger lang eller kort,efterlade en kommentar eller afstå, men husk at komme tilbage snart til at spille en (Shhhh) selskabsleg.
- I love my grown children, miss all the dogs I ever had, and I cry at the drop of a hat, I believe in true love, destiny, fairness, and compassion. If I could be anywhere right now, it would be the ocean. My favorite city is New York, but I am always longing for London and craving more time in Copenhagen. I'm drawn to desolate places, deserted buildings, and unknown byways. I don't care how society perceives me as long as my gut tells me that what I'm doing is right. I am interested in paranormal things, spiritual things, historical things, and things that glow at night. I like to drink, I smoke when I write, I can't stand small talk, and despite my quick temper, I would rather kiss than fight. I'm selfish with my writing time, a spendthrift with my love. My heart has been broken so many times that it's held together with super glue and duct tape. The upside is that, next time, I won't be tempted to give away what I no longer have to give. But I will let you buy me a Pink Squirrel.
Nocturne in G Flat major
Chopin, darkness, light, sand and wind, starlight tread. Beethoven, love, fear, madness, redemption in the night. Liszt, waltzing widows, desperate bargains, pleasure's secret plight. Now, then, before, always, forever. Promises made on lonely beaches, celestial summer's perfect kiss, passions quenched in salty breezes, the lure of distant mist-draped heights. Bitter interlude. Final, private nocturne. Burned down like a candle. Doomed bleeding beauty. Fated sacrificial night.
We love all things dark and mysterious, macabre and obscure, odd and unfathomable. Nothing is too strange or bizarre for our little blog. And although we would never presume to offer definitive answers to the great questions of life, we shall do our best to enlighten, inform and delight our visitors with our whimsical potpurri of facts, anecdotes, trivia and informational outpourings. We strive not to offend, but to edify those who wish to reach beyond their comfort zone and touch the fabric of another time and place, and of distant, but genuine worlds and lives. As Victorian-themed blogs go, ours may not be the most austere, nor the most comprehensive, but we know what we like, and if our readers like it as well, then all is as it should be in this ramshackle corner of our own personal Victorian empire.
A Musical Note
A Musical Note: We feel that our blog is best viewed when accompanied by one or more of the following musical selections. Then again, we also feel that our blog is best viewed when accompanied by a glass of absinthe, a bite of lemon cake, and a foot massage (preferably by someone you know). So, to paraphrase the otherwise completely irrelevant-to-our-blog Mr. Aleister Crowley, "Do what thou wilt...but be open to Chopin."
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Friday, March 23, 2012
HELENA BLAVATSKY AND THE THEOSOPHISTS, PART TWO: HELENA, HENRY OLCOTT, AND THE BIRTH OF A SOCIETY
When Helena Blavatsky arrived in New York City in 1873, she was nearly penniless. Whilst living in London, she had subsisted on the generosity of friends and the small sums of money which her father sent sporadically from Russia. By the time she boarded the ship for New York, she was in "make it or break it" mode, convinced that her destiny lay within the spiritualist community which had begun to flower in New York. As with so many pivotal moments in Helena's life, there is a frustrating lack of details surrounding her actual arrival in the United States save for the fact that she arrived as a passenger in "steerage", a far cry from the first class accommodations that her upper class status would seem to merit. But when asked about the incongruity later on, HPB had a ready (and characteristic) answer. She explained that, whilst waiting to board the ship back in London, she had made the acquaintance of a German family who wanted to travel to America as well, but were too poor to do so. Ever the humanitarian, she had cashed in her first class ticket so that they could all make the trip together.
This explanation isn't as far-fetched as it might sound. Throughout her life, one of Helena's most frequently noted traits was her generosity, and there are many other documented instances in which sacrificed her own comfort for the sake of someone less fortunate. However, considering that she came to New York for the sole purpose of elevating the spiritual consciousness of mankind, her detractors (and there were many) seized on this ignominious entrance as proof that her connections back in Russia weren't all that she made them out to be. But that was later on. In the first weeks following her relocation to America's largest city, Helena was more concerned with survival. Taking a room in a boarding house, she worked for a time making artificial flowers in a local factory (she referred to later as a "sweatshop") and then turned to making jewelry, apparently another of her myriad talents. Despite her ignominious living circumstances, it wasn't long before she began attracting "followers." When she wasn't making and selling jewelry, she spent her time regaling her fellow boarders with stories of her adventures in Egypt and India, discussing her spiritualistic philosophy, and, on Sunday nights, holding seances at the boarding house. As it turned out, the first rush of controversy was already waiting for her outside the boarding house door. Word of the city's unusual new emmigre reached the ears of a newspaper reporter, who came to see her, but he was not impressed, and wrote an article in which he accused her of being an opium and hashish user. Helena denied the accusation, both privately and publicly, but her mind was already on the bigger fish she hoped to fry. By that time, her sights were set on meeting Henry Olcott, recently retired from the military after serving as a Union colonel in the Civil War, and now agricultural editor for the New York Tribune. Col. Olcott also happened to be extremely interested in Eastern philosophy, as well as the paranormal in general, and had just written an article on the Eddy Brothers of Chittendon, Vermont, whose seances were creating a sensation among the spiritualists.
The Eddy Brothers were something of an anomaly in the mediumistic circles of the time. Born to simple country parents in the 1840s, they claimed among their ancestors a distant relative by the name of Mary Bradbury, who had been convicted of witchcraft in Salem in 1692, but who had managed to escape from her captors with the help of a small group of friends. Julia Eddy, their mother, was a scorned figure in the local community because of her propensity for frightening acquaintances and neighbors with predictions and accounts of visions, apparently whether they wanted to hear about them or not. The boys' father, Zephaniah, denounced his wife's supposed gift as the work of the Devil and forbade her to indulge in it, a stricture to which she did her best to adhere rather than suffer the cruel and abusive treatment which her husband was known to dole out when she or any other family member defied his wishes. But it was a losing battle for Zephaniah. Shortly after Horatio and William were born, the family found themselves besieged by strange and inexplicable happenings which included loud pounding on the walls of their farmhouse (those 19th century spirits did love to make noise), disembodied voices calling out to them, and, most unsettling of all, the occasional, sudden disappearance of Horatio and Eddy from their cribs, following which the boys would be found in another part of the house, or, sometimes, even outside, despite the fact that they were not yet old enough to walk. As the brother grew older, they were often seen playing with strange children who would vanish when Zephaniah tried to approach them. The frustrated father responded to the situation by beating the brothers, who, over time, came to hate and fear him.
Needless to say, the Eddy brothers had a difficult time at school. Unable to control the strange disturbances which followed them into the classroom, they were forced to drop out, rendering them semi-illiterate for the rest of their lives. But the spirits were at least on their side. At one point, as Zepheniah confronted the boys and threatened to beat them for having slipped into a trance, spirits allegedly appeared in front of him and chased him out of the house. Finally, unable to put an end to the paranormal chaos that had taken over his home, Zephaniah sold Horatio and William to a traveling showman, for whom they were forced to perform for the next 14 years, appearing before audiences all over the country, as well as in Canada and Europe. As part of their performance, the brothers were subjected to a barrage of cruel tests which included being locked inside small wooden boxes in the hope that spirits would somehow facilitate their escape, and having hot wax poured inside their mouths to discover whether they could produce spirit voices when unable to speak by normal means. On several occasions, angry locals stoned them, and, during an appearance in Danvers, Massachusetts, someone actually shot at them, the bullets grazing Willliam and leaving scars. Even worse, the horrible and abusive treatment the brothers endured whilst performing on the road left them with gaping psychological scars. When their father died, they were finally able to return Chittenden where, along with their sister, Mary, they turned the family homestead into an inn which they called "The Green Tavern." They soon began holding seances as well, for which the never charged any money, and the sensational nature of which created such a stir among visitors that Chittenden soon became a sort of Mecca for spiritual seekers from all over the world. Despite the constant flow of visitors, many of whom spent weeks as the Eddys' guests, by the time Col. Olcott visited them in 1874, Horatio and William had hardened into sullen, unfriendly, often belligerent men.
It was during Olcott's second visit to the Eddy farm that he and Helena met for the first time. Whether she knew that he would be there, or whether they met by chance is a matter of conjecture. In his account of that first meeting, Olcott makes it clear that he had no prior awareness of the woman who would become his writing partner and the co-founder of The Theosophical Society. What he and Helena did have in common was a firm belief that the events at the Eddy farm were genuine manifestations of spirit, and not, as detractors claimed, a complex display of fraudulence on the part of the brothers. During the ten days he spent on the farm during his second visit, Olcott estimated that he had witnessed at least 400 fully materialized apparitions, among them what appeared to be spirits of many diverse ethnic groups, various ages, and physical height and build. The alleged spirits often appeared in groups which materialized outside the spirit cabinet in which the brothers sat in trance. One of the most impressive of these apparitions, according to Olcott, was a tall, powerfully-built Russian Cossack who strode purposefully over to a heavy-set, shawl-draped woman seated across the room and acknowledged her by striking his sword on the floor near her feet. That woman turned out to be Helena Blavatsky. The next day, whilst they were sharing a meal with other guests at the farm, Olcott struck up a conversation with Helena, who told him that she believed the apparition to be the spirit of a relative whose name Olcott does not include in his account. But he was definitely taken with his new Russian acquaintance, recalling that she wore a red silk blouse and remarking on her intelligence, which was obvious despite her heavily-accented English. The two hit it off so well that they made plans to meet again in New York where Olcott hoped he would become the beneficiary of Helena's considerable knowledge of Eastern esoterica and spiritual philosophy.
Once back in New York, Olcott and Helena became virtually inseparable. Critics have accused Olcott of being an extremely gullible man, which, given his interest in spiritual matters, made him the perfect fodder for what they see as Helena's self-serving machinations in pursuit of fame and personal glory. But Olcott was hardly the only visitor to come away from the Eddy farm convinced he had witnessed genuine spirit activity. Hundreds of people attended the Eddy seances during the 1870s and numerous tests were conducted, none of which revealed any apparent trickery on the part of the brothers. Moreover, the relationship between Olcott and Helena was strictly platonic, a fact stated by both and one which has never been seriously disputed even by the pair's harshest critics. Olcott was a married man, although long estranged from his wife and two children, and most of his money went to supporting them. Shortly afetr meeting Olcott, Helena remarried, choosing for her new husband a man called Michael Betenally, who was also a Russian immigrant and ten years her junior. Olcott labeled the marriage "a freak of madness" because of the disparity in age and what he considered Betanelly's inferior intelligence. Helena defended the union as a necessary act of karma on her part, a penance she had to pay for cruel and selfish actions in a previous life. In any case, the marriage lasted only several months, no doubt a casualty of Helena's indifference to hearth and home as she continued to pursue her own goals. Asked about it later on, Helena insisted that she had never shared Betenally's bed, and that she had, despite having been married to two men, remained a virgin her entire life.
What Helena did require Olcott's help in doing was widening her circle of acquaintances among the New York spiritualist community. Olcott was happy to oblige. By 1875, Helena was a celebrated member of the local movement, as well as something of a celebrity in general. Having inherited a modest sum of money upon her father's death, Helena was now living in her own flat, where she entertained not only guests from the spiritualist community, but members of the city's artistic elite, and even visiting notables such as W.B. Yeats, the Irish bard, who sat in on several of Helena's seances and at least one demonstration of automatic writing. Following one such visit, Yeats remarked wryly to another attendee that it was difficult to tell whether Helena was genuine or simply putting them all on, but that he found her fascinating nonetheless.
By that time, Helena had come even more into her own, not only impressing those around her with her intelligence and immense store of occult knowledge, but with her unapologetic indifference to social convention, especially in regard to women. She was particularly fond of smoking cigarettes, hand-rolling and smoking up to 100 a day, according to the recollections of one of her many guests. The constant parade of visitors seemed to bring out the best in Helena, fueling her desire to establish some sort of club or organization which could serve as a "home" for the revolving group of spiritual seekers. An early attempt in this direction, The Miracle Club, was devoted mainly to the study of mediumship and seances, and was disbanded after a few months. It wasn't until the summer of 1875, whilst they were attending a lecture on the Kabbalah and ancient Egyptian mysteries, that Olcott first broached to Helena the idea of what would ultimately become the Theosophical Society. As they sat listening to the lecturer, he passed her a note on which he had written "Would it not be a good thing to form a society for this kind of study?" Helena agreed that it would be, indeed. In September of that same year, The Theosophical Society was established, a "study club" draped in the occult trapping which Helena loved, the members taking vows of secrecy (much like the Freemasons) and recognizing one another by secret signs, which were taken from the Egyptian occultism that had spawned the idea for the society.
For the next three years, the members of the Theosophical Society focused on their main objective: acquainting the world with what they saw as the next step in the spiritual evolution of mankind, the adoption of an esoteric tradition, rooted in the precepts of Buddhism, which called for universal brotherhood based on the study of ancient religions and spiritual philosophies. It was during this time that Helena wrote and published Isis Unveiled, an exhaustive tome in which she outlined the history of occultism, the roots of Eastern philosophy, and her own interactions with "the secret mahatmas", the spirit guides with whom she claimed to be in contact and who she insisted were directing her efforts on behalf of mankind's spiritual needs. The book was a success despite drawing criticism from the usual sources. However, its success couldn't keep the society from flagging a bit under its own weight as members began to quibble about direction and objectives. In 1878, Helena Blavatsky became the first Russian woman to obtain U.S. citizenship. Several months later, she and Olcott, having decided that the society would benefit from an infusion of spiritual energy from 'the cradle of spirituality", boarded a ship bound for India where Helena would undergo her greatest controversy yet.