Friday, 17 April 2015

Book Review: Helena Blavatsky - Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke 2004 2

Here are some of fine insights from the pen of Mr. Goodrick-Clarke:

Widespread dissatisfaction with the hegemony of science in Western culture and its preoccupation  with the concrete, the factual, and the substantive interacted with a lack of confidence in traditional Christianity, itself undermined by the very progress of scientific explanation. Theosophy, in the strict meaning of the movement founded by H.P. Blavatsky, addressed these concerns in a progressive way. Adapting contemporary scientific ideas to posit the idea of spiritual evolution through countless worlds and time-eras, Theosophy supplied dignity and purpose to man’s earthly life within a cosmic context. While spiritualism (a major movement from the mid-1950s) alleged survival after death, Theosophy located human destiny in an emanationist cosmology and anthropology that have their roots in both Neo-Platonism and Oriental religions. (pp.1-2)
Theosophy’s particular achievement lay in combining the modern scientific idea of evolution, rephrased traditionally as emanation and return, with ideas taken from Oriental religions. (p. 15)

In the West, Theosophy was perhaps the single most important factor in the modern occult revival. It redirected the fashionable interest in spiritualism towards a coherent doctrine combining cosmology, modern anthropology, and the theory of evolution with man’s spiritual development. It drew on the traditional sources of Western esotericism, globalizing them through restatements in terms of the Asian religions, with which the West had come into colonial contact. Here Theosophy paved the way for the study of comparative religion, first exemplified by the World Parliament of Religions at Chicago in 1893. (pp. 17-18)
Blavatsky’s cosmology presents the prime characteristics of Western esotericism as defined by Antoine Faivre’s pioneering studies (Antoine Faivre, Access to Western Esotericism (Albany, New York: State University of new York Press, 1994), pp. 10-15). These characteristics comprise (a) correspondences between all parts of the universe, the macrocosm and microcosm; (b) living nature as a complex, plural, hierarchical and animate whole; (c) imagination and mediations in the form of intermediary spirits, symbols, and mandalas; and (d) the experience of transmutation of the soul through purification and ascent.  (p.141)

Blavatskyan Theosophy thereby combines features of Western esotericism familiar from the Hermetic, kabbalistic, and theosophical traditions of the Renaissance and early modern periods with the nineteenth-century interest in Eastern religions in the West. This syncretism demonstrates the modern development of Western esotericism in terms of its capacity to absorb new ideas and influences. Blavatsky’s universal wisdom-tradition of Theosophy involving both Western and Eastern sources gave an important impetus to a new global esotericism.  (p. 142)