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NYRB article (fwd)

Sep 23, 1996 01:57 PM
by K. Paul Johnson

> >From "The Consolation of Theosophy" by Frederick Crews in the
> 9/19 New York Review of Books:
> So, too, the esoteric historians' gratitude toward the
> propounders of transcendent doctrine leaves them reluctant to
> be candid or vivid about the shamming, squabbling, and
> jockeying for power that inevitably characterize the daily
> conduct of any movement that traffics in unconfirmable ideas.
> Consider, for example, what becomes of Madame Blavatsky in the
> hands of K. Paul Johnson, the best-informed but hardly the most
> trustworthy commentator on Theosophy.  Though he acknowledges
> HPB's light regard for the truth and reluctantly explodes
> several features of her legend, Johnson airily maintains that
> she "devote[d] all her energies to the enlightenment and
> liberation of humanity."  Her lies, he declares, were told with
> the most selfless of motives, to protect the identities of her
> politically active tutors in Egypt and India, the real-life
> prototypes of her fanciful Mahatmas Koot Hoomi and Morya: "Most
> of her public life was an effort to serve hidden Masters
> without revealing their secrets."
> Such piety obscures both the cynical glee Blavatsky must have
> taken in perpetrating ruses and the obvious self-interestedness
> of her "Mahatma letters," which, far from expressing sublime
> and eternal truths, mirrored her own opinions and advancedher
> immediate tactical ends vis-a-vis jealous rivals.  At the same
> time, Johnson's emphasis on her role as a handmaiden to male
> sages occludes the very traits that we can still admire: her
> fesity independence and impetuousness, her spurning of a
> conventional female role, her impatience with petty hypocrisy,
> her earthy humor, her well-founded scorn for her lieutenants,
> and her shrewdly accurate gauging of other people's eagerness
> to be gulled.
> Happily, though, the story of modern esotericism is not the
> exlusive property of esotericists.  As of 1995, we have the
> benefit of Peter Washington's *Madame Blavatsky's Baboon*, a
> work that makes cogent sublunar sense of HPB and much of her
> progeny.
Later, Crews quotes a feisty HPB passage and asks "Can this be
the obedient figure depicted in K. Paul Johnson's deferential

In response to Doss's request.  Part II is just out, and I hear
goes into the occult roots of Nazism.

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