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Barborka: "The Mahatmas and Their Letters"

Nov 14, 1996 11:04 PM
by Tim Maroney

I picked up Barborka's "The Mahatmas and Their Letters" (Adyar:
Theosophical Publishing House, 1973) on the basis of a recommendation on
this list. I am at a loss as to what the recommender thought could be
said for this book. I have read the first seventy-plus pages and there is
not even a vestige of argument for the authenticity of the letters so
far. There is a good deal of interesting biography and metaphysical
speculation, but Barborka almost seems to delight in ignoring all the
well-known contrary arguments to his positions.

He never considers that Blavatsky's aunt might have assisted her in some
minor tricks with letters, for instance, and dismisses Blavatsky's own
possible authorship of the de Fadeyev letters based on nothing at all:
"it is obvious that this letter was not written by Helena to her beloved
aunt. Its style and the language used show that it was written by another
person", he writes, with no attempt to elucidate this argument.

The famous Sinnett brooch incident is credulously recounted, but the
reader finds not one word about the major contrary detail, admitted by
Blavatsky herself: that Blavatsky possessed a brooch matching in
description the one she "found" for Mrs. Sinnett, that she gave it to a
jeweler shortly before the manifestation for repair, and that she claimed
to have sent it off to her family in Russia, angrily refusing to ask the
family to provide any evidence of its receipt when challenged.

Barborka is very impressed by the spiritualistic "raps" which Blavatsky
could produce at will, and he insists that other mediums (unlike HPB) had
to place their hands on a table to produce them. Wasn't it the Fox
sisters who made their raps by secretly cracking their toe knuckles, and
wasn't it Hodgson who said Blavatsky's raps to the back of his head were
indistinguishable from cracking his own knuckles against his skull? The
reader will search in vain for Barborka's contribution to this
decades-old debate.

Probably the most embarassing passage is on page 41, where Barborka
breathlessly asks the reader to "imagine how any of us would have felt to
have had a handkerchief produced for us from within another handkerchief
before our eyes!" The answer, of course, is that we would feel we were
witnessing a conventional, if not trite, feat of legerdemain.

I cannot say that there is no stronger argument later in the book, of
course, but I do feel that the first seventy pages of a four hundred page
book are likely to provide a fairly representative sample of its modes of

Tim Maroney

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