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Re: Madame Blavatsky's Baboon

Nov 05, 1996 10:17 AM
by Tim Maroney

>Glad to see Paul's response. Washington, as the author of the book and
>holding the copyrights to it, I am yet to see that he has not financially
>benefitted from the book directly or indirectly. In view of this, I stand
>by my assumption that pecuniary gain is to a small or large extent was
>behind his writing his book. If any one has additional information on
>this, I would welcome it. If anyone does not agree with my assumption,
>that is ok with me. They are entitled to their opinion.

I agree with Mr. Johnson that it is ethically questionable to impute base
motives without evidence. Almost all books are in fact meant to be paying
propositions: the fact that Washington did not flout standards of the
field by donating all his proceeds for his work to charity hardly
demonstrates that he wrote as a mere huckster. That would be a strange
accusation to make of a respected professor and editor whose book, while
sarcastic, is not entirely unsympathetic to the spiritual interests of
its subjects; it constantly tries to understand their odd behavior by
elucidating common trends in alternative spirituality. The book is a
serious one and this is obvious from its contents as well as its author's

I am reminded of the outraged reaction to Ellic Howe's "The Magicians of
the Golden Dawn" from GD partisans, another unsparing look at occult
history from the eyes of a partially sympathetic outsider, similarly
charged with flashes of sardonic wit. The fact is that there is no
history of the Golden Dawn to compare with Howe's, and no history of
Theosophy to compare with Washington's. Meaning no disrespect to the
excellent recent books by Johnson and Godwin, they do not take as wide an
angle on the Theosophical phenomenon, bringing in as many characters and
events -- they are more narrowly drawn historical studies. The panoramic
view presented by Washington is one that I have not seen before.

I must also agree with Mr. Johnson, though, that Washington's book is
flawed by factual errors, which undermines both its usefulness and
integrity. In causal reading I noticed quite a few problems, such as a
misattribution of anti-Templar accusations to "papal propagandists"
(while in fact they originated from French clergy dominated by Philip,
and the papacy served as an ineffectual defender), an unskeptical
acceptance of the questionable Andreae theory of Rosicrucianism (which
requires him to have written the manifesto as a child), the usual
misattribution of the "impostor" statement to Hodgson, an mistake as
which of the Coulombs was out of the room during the saucer incident, and
so on. This makes his work hard to rely on, and while I have found many
interesting tidbits for my own research, I feel obliged to check the
sources on all of them rather than citing Washington directly.

Despite this, I cannot (strangely enough) completely agree with Mr.
Johnson that the book is not well researched. Many of these subjects are
hard to find good information on, and I am impressed with Washington's
treatments of, for instance, Thomas Lake Harris, but due to the liberal
sprinkling of minor errors the reader is well advised to take the book's
conclusions with a grain of salt.

Tim Maroney

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