Blavatsky a medium? about consciousness, channeling and more

Warning: this is going to be a rambling post. I’ve got too many thoughts singing through my head about this – and they aren’t organized into anything clearcut yet.

Let me start by sharing a fascinating book I’ve started reading yesterday: Consciousness: an introduction, by Susan Blackmore. I read fast – so I’ve already started a review of the book (follow that link).

In her esoteric instructions Blavatsky advised her students to study the brain. She even had a picture of the brain listed. I never knew what she wanted with that – her explanations about the brain never made much sense to me (they are mostly hints) and I didn’t know how to get a book about the subject that would make sense to me without first having to study medicine.

I guess I found my book 🙂 This isn’t about the brain specifically, but then Madame Blavatsky’s interest in the brain wasn’t the brain itself either. She was into consciousness big time and had her own version of 19th century science to refer to. This book by Susan Blackmore is a great summary of the state of the art about consciousness, and what I love is that she leaves the questions IN. This isn’t a book telling you how it is, but a book telling you what’s known, what conclusions people draw from that (often opposed views) and leaves it at that. Great stuff. I’ve only read about a third (the first three chapters + the chapters on dreams and altered states of consciousness), but I guess I can’t stop raving about it.

OK, I’ll stop now. Back to Blavatsky.

What sparked this blogpost was a seemingly simple question: wasn’t Blavatsky a medium? and if so, why was she opposed to mediumship?

To understand the question (let alone my answer) you have to understand 19th century spiritualism. You also have to understand Blavatsky’s life. And if possible, insight into Eastern wisdom will also help. I’m great at short summaries, but this one is perhaps beyond me (and food for a longer article one day perhaps).

Let’s start at the beginning: 19th century spiritualism was in part a reaction against the materialist science of the day. Materialism was great at starting scientific progress, but not so great for daily life. I think most of you can empathize with that. Religion was put in the defensive. Then the famous Fox Sisters came along in 1848. Through raps and sounds they communicated with ‘the dead’. This caused a movement throughout the Western world: people communicating with the dead in séances and proving to themselves that the physical wasn’t all there was. It was a bit like the popularity of Near Death Experiences today.

As it was so popular science had to get involved. And to their surprise the some scientists found that they could not deny the phenomena outright. Not everything was tricks and mirrors. Move forward a few decades to the 1870’s.

I’m writing this from a theosophical perspective, taking what Blavatsky said about this in retrospect seriously. Imagine yourself as Blavatsky. You have traveled all over the world: seen America, India, the Middle East. Traveling sometimes as a man to give yourself and your female companion safety. (Remember, we’re talking Victorian times: women traveling had to take measures – in fact, even today they might be useful). In Tibet and India you’ve listened to guru’s and folk stories. You’ve learned to meditate and control your psychic powers. You’ve learned a lot about the Divine in Man (including Woman).

One day your teacher says (psychically or face to face): it’s time for you to go back into the world and teach some of what you’ve learned here. This will be hard. Use what you find brewing in people to get an opening. You go to Egypt where you start a ‘miracle club’ – after all psychic powers are something you know about. The attempt is a failure. You go to Paris. You’re French is good and you need time to recuperate. In a dream your master tells you: go to New York. So you go. New York at that time isn’t yet a world city. But it has a certain energy. You make a living making trinkets and eat up your inheritance.
You find that spiritualism is still alive and well and to check it out you go to Chittenden, Vermont where in a farmhouse a few brothers are causing a great deal of unexplained things. She met Col. Olcott there and the rest is history. See her account of those phenomena at the Eddy Farmhouse.

Follow that link and you will read several thing:

  1. Blavatsky defending the reality of the phenomena: they weren’t faked
  2. Blavatsky saying she pretends to be a medium, so the reality of what takes place is not denied.
  3. Blavatsky saying she is NOT a medium, but can produce the same effects at will (and she does not mean trickery or stage magic.)

I guess that just about sums it up: early in her career in public life she pretended to be a medium in order to make sure the existence of states of consciousness outside the ordinary weren’t denied. Yet she later claimed that generally what happened in séances was unhealthy and even dangerous for all participants, especially the medium. But she said this in a way that didn’t alienate some of her medium friends – though most in the spiritualistic movement felt she was offending them.

In other words again: she tried to find a middle ground between ‘scientific’ denial of phenomena she knew in many cases could be real – and the explanations of the spiritualists of those phenomena.

When she was asked again and again in later years if disciples were mediums, she answered with this article: Are Chelas (disciples) Mediums? It’s one of her most famous articles within the Theosophical Movement because it sums up her position perfectly: the word medium is explained. And the difference between her own position and that of mediums explained.

So, what is a medium – and why did Blavatsky soon start denying she was one?

A medium is someone, by popular definition, who is in touch with the spirits of the dead. More – in those days – mediums were generally thought to be in trance when they brought through their messages.

Blavatsky, a true Buddhist in this, felt trances were for the weak hearted. Her spiritual ideal was that of being fully awake and aware at all times. Her idea of an adept included being awake most hours of the night. When she brought through messages from beyond (from living masters, she claimed), she was fully conscious: watching while someone else acted. Learning from what was taught as everyone else was who was there.

How about channeling

I have been in personal communication about this topic a few months ago. I was told that to call Blavatsky a channel would be offensive to current day channels. Yet channels have some things in common with Blavatsky’s way of working:

  • Most are conscious when writing
  • They are in contact with a being who is usually NOT the spirit of a departed one
  • The works produced are more abstract and less personal than those produced by mediums: the aim is to uplift humanity, not just to comfort a few tormented souls
  • Money does not play a part in the procedure: while the writing is going on, nobody is paying the channel for the result (though of course in some cases the resulting book does turn out to make the channel money).

One thing Blavatsky has in common with spiritualists in her time: what she produced wasn’t just text: she also produced occult phenomena as they were called: cups found buried under roots for instance, without any sign of tampering the earth in the vicinity (with people checking).

Is that every aspect of the Blavatsky – mediumship question covered? I think so. Let’s close with something far more interesting: the weird ways our consciousness works. Watch the following video:

11 thoughts on “Blavatsky a medium? about consciousness, channeling and more”

  1. I’ve read some HPB and a few other theosophists. Interesting, but it didn’t resonate with me at that time in my life. I was looking for something. I found it in hermetic kaballah. I guess it appealed to my yang side what with all the terminology and associations and symbols. But I can see how, if I were so inclined naturally, theosophy could have done it for me as well.

    I have my own theories as regards to channeling and psychic events in general. Too complex to go into here, but suffice to say that since I see this reality as more of a vast mind in which we are like thoughts, it facilitates the explication of these seemingly impossible-to-explain events. My view is a lot less “spiritual” than some views. It’s all consciousness, so it’s not hard to make the stretch that one conscious entity embedded within this vast field of consciousness might be able to make contact with another entity’s personal consciousness, even if that second entity is no longer alive.
    In my view, we, each of us, are a part of a whole, sharing the same sense of identity even, albeit without generally being aware of it. So why not talk to a dead person? I am identical with that dead person. I am identical with you as well. We are one. All is one.

  2. Oh, and ps…

    I’m sorry, but I just have to say this, regardless of how unprofessional it may sound.

    I love your name. Katinka. Too cool.

    Did you ever see the movie “Zoolander?” (Super-Stupid but Funny Ben Stiller movie)

    The Russian Femme-Fatale in the movie was Katinka Vovovnana. I’d never heard that first name before and assumed that it was made up. But here you are, proving me wrong…

    No offense intended, honestly. I just really love the name.

    Namaste, Katinka.

    🙂 See? It makes me smile even typing it!

  3. Hi Katinka, I have to agree with Saint Brian, I love your name too! Very cool! I must say I think I disagree with you in regards to being conscious in Mediumship or Trance. From what I have seen, read and heard virtually all Mediums are fully conscious and “within themselve’s” whilst working as such, whilst in Trance they pretty much “leave” so as to allow for the “Entity” to speak through them. I have witnessed trance quite a lot, and there’s often very profound changes in the voice and mannerisms of the Channel during the Trance.
    I feel that Direct Perception of truth in Higher Consciousness is preferable to recieving information “second hand”, however second hand perception still has it’s place and purpose.
    Saint Brian, I kind of disagree with you in regards to the ability of “seperate entities” to communicate. I think if you see things simultaneously in both Absolute and Relative terms then it makes perfect sense (as this reliance on seeing things in both Absolutes and Relatives is an essential aspect of Msytic Philosophy). Yes, we are all one (Absolute), but we do not realize it (Relative), hence there appears to be countless worlds, with countless beings, and these countless being appear to communicate between themselves, regardless of whether they are in the physical or astral form, yet there is only one.
    Back to Blavatsky and Spiritualism, I do believe that early Spiritualism lacked structure and context compared to how it operates today. Nowdays, nobody within Spiritualism encourages the use of Ouija boards or amateur seances, they teach a clear and systematic approach so as to avoid earthbound or lower astral entities, where as early Spiritualism probably didn’t have the safeguards in place to prevent this.
    Despite this, yes, you are far better off spending your time practicing traditional Buddhist and Hindu Meditation practices, then focusing on developing Siddhi’s.
    Once again, great writing Katinka, keep it up.
    Take care,
    God Bless,
    Hari Om

  4. Saint Brian, I kind of disagree with you in regards to the ability of “seperate entities” to communicate. I think if you see things simultaneously in both Absolute and Relative terms then it makes perfect sense (as this reliance on seeing things in both Absolutes and Relatives is an essential aspect of Msytic Philosophy). Yes, we are all one (Absolute), but we do not realize it (Relative), hence there appears to be countless worlds, with countless beings, and these countless being appear to communicate between themselves, regardless of whether they are in the physical or astral form, yet there is only one.
    ————————————————————–
    No, I agree with that. I use the terms “separate entities” but I also acknowledge that at the core, we’re all one. The language is not sufficient to the task here, I think.

    Conventionally when one speaks of channeling, it is one entity (the medium) channeling another entity (the departed spirit, or whatever)

    But you and I are both on the same page here so such conventions become unnecessary. They’re both the same entity, after all.

  5. So the channeler is in reality channeling a different aspect of themselves. A different life that they’ve lived. They are the person that they are channeling, only a different version, with different memories.

    Sound about right, Jim?

    Katinka? Your opinion? Where do you stand, and also where does theosophy stand (if different) on this aspect of the channeling issue?

  6. This also explains reincarnation of course.

    If I am literally everyone that has ever lived, than it may be possible for me to feel a particular kinship with one of my prior identities, and thus to access their memories through dreams etc, and therefore to think that I am their reincarnation, when in reality of course I am also the “reincarnation” of every single thing that has ever lived, including the particular dead person that I am in resonance with enough to access their memories…
    Phew! A bit wordy, but I hope you get my point.

  7. Hi again.
    Brian, you commented:

    “So the channeler is in reality channeling a different aspect of themselves. A different life that they’ve lived. They are the person that they are channeling, only a different version, with different memories.

    This also explains reincarnation of course.

    If I am literally everyone that has ever lived, than it may be possible for me to feel a particular kinship with one of my prior identities, and thus to access their memories through dreams etc, and therefore to think that I am their reincarnation, when in reality of course I am also the “reincarnation” of every single thing that has ever lived, including the particular dead person that I am in resonance with enough to access their memories…”

    Wow! That’s mind bending. Well, in the Absolute sense, as we are all Brahman, yes we are all each other. As to the relative state of the reincarnating Soul, I think it’s probably a bit different, but I cannot say with certainty as to the exact mechanics of this.

    God Bless,
    Hari Om

  8. I like my name too 🙂 I think my parents choose it very well. It’s eastern European apparently: they got it out of some namebook.

    Anyhow: Sure – we’re all part of the One Ultimate Source. But as aspects of that, we still have our own individual karma to work out – which is why we reincarnate as only one person, instead of the streams of karma mixing for instance.

    Similarly: there are levels of consciousness and ultimately it is more fruitful to ‘channel’ higher consciousness knowledge than lower consciousness stuff like elementals and personal memories. Who needs more of that?

    I’m very glad to hear that spiritualism today is so much in alignment with theosophy in warning against elementals and teaching proper procedings. I’m sure Blavatsky would be very happy to see that – it’s one of the things she fought for.

    Having never met any channels, I don’t know whether they go into trances or not. Or perhaps some do, some don’t. The point I was trying to make is that trance itself is a lower kind of state of consciousness than full awareness. From what I’ve read about A Course in Miracles for instance it seemed to me that the author wrote automatically, but DID stay conscious of what she was doing.

    I would like to add that as an experiment I personally don’t see a problem with trance: they can teach us something about the nature of consciousness. It’s when a person becomes addicted to the trance that it becomes a problem.

  9. Hi Katinka.
    I would like to congratulate you on this forum.
    As I have been focused on Blavatsky Studies for many years now and have looked into this particular topic, I would like to add my comment on this as briefly as I can.

    Wasn’t Blavatsky a medium? and if so, why was she opposed to mediumship?

    It is a law in occultism saying that the flow of Life passing through the successive and different planes of manifested cosmos, is submitted to successive changes so resulting to different states of consciousness. In the case of the human microcosm, spiritual flow, passing through different and successive states of consciousness, ends to physical consciousness.
    The part of this flow being in spiritual level is called individuality. The lower part of it plunged into the astral and physical is called personality. When the spiritual flow impregnates completely every part of the human hypostasis, then a Mahatma arises while the progressive process to this goal gives the adepts’ different grades.

    As Mahatma says in the letter 99, “The degrees of an Adept’s initiation mark the seven stages at which he discovers the secret of the sevenfold principles in nature and man and awakens his dormant powers.”

    The difference between a medium and an adept is due to the percentage of the spiritual flow impregnating his hypostasis. In fact Adept is the individuality working through the personality, while medium is only the personality; and there is a critical difference between these dual egos.
    Mahatma exists for the manifestation of the law of compassion, of altruism and service, while the medium is centered on his egoism and lust of gaining for himself.

    In Theosophist, July 1884, HPB states:
    “…an entity, that is passing through the occult training in its successive births, gradually has less and less (in each incarnation) of that lower Manas until there arrives a time when its whole Manas, being of an entirely elevated character, is centered in the higher individuality, when such a person may be said to have become a MAHATMA….”

    Mediumship is the opposite of adeptship; the medium is the passive instrument of foreign influences, the adept actively controls himself and all inferior potencies…
    (IU, p. 589 A summary of the principles of Magic)

    The medium usually ignores the occult laws as well these of nature; he is a person untrained in occultism and not self-conscious. Given that astral (mainly the lower) is a photocopy of the deeds of the man on earth, usually nothing new or wise is transmitted by a medium from the astral as all reflected there is but man’s thoughts and beliefs.

    In Isis Unveiled(p.590), it is said:
    “There are two kinds of seership — that of the soul and that of the spirit. The seership of the ancient Pythoness, or of the modern mesmerized subject, vary but in the artificial modes adopted to induce the state of clairvoyance. But, as the visions of both depend upon the greater or less acuteness of the senses of the astral body, they differ very widely from the perfect, omniscient spiritual state; for, at best, the subject can get but glimpses of truth, through the veil which physical nature interposes….”

    Mediatorship concerns a person who has gained self-consciousness by awakening his latent spiritual powers and so he may be the link between a Mahatma and humanity. These personages are called Mediators or Messengers on Mission, and they are adepts.
    H.P.B. was such an Adept-Messenger who was engaged to bring forth the Theosophical Movement to West.

    Why did Blavatsky soon start denying she was a medium?

    H.P.B was a person trained in occultism; she was an initiate. She started with controlling her psychic powers; she had a long practice of controlling senses and mind and through retreat in Caucasus and Tibet, succeeded to pull from within without the degree of her initiation gained in the past. “The adept.” says an occult aphorism, “becomes : he is not made.”

    H.P.B. mentions in her article On the Himalayan Brothers, in CW 3, that

    … the acquisition of the highest knowledge and power requires not only many years of the severest study enlightened by a superior intelligence and an audacity bent by no peril; but also as many years of retreat in comparative solitude, and association with but students pursuing the same object, in a locality where nature itself preserves like the neophyte an absolute and unbroken stillness if not silence!

    H.P.B. with her sister Vera arrived in Caucasus s in the Spring or Summer of 1860, ….. and she left in 1865 for Italy. (CW 1, Blavatsky, general outline, cont.IV)

    During these years in the Caucasus, H.P.B. …. seems to have studied with native kudyani, or magicians, and to have become widely known for her healing powers. … It is during this period in her life that her psychological powers became much stronger and she brought them under the complete control of her will. (Lucifer, Vol. XV, December, 1894, p. 273)

    And she states that “between the Blavatsky of 1845-65 and the Blavatsky of the years 1865-82 there is an unbridgeable gulf.” H.P.B. Speaks, Vol. II, p. 58

    When we look at the Inner Group Teachings, http://esotericpapers.net/ , we realise the initiation she had through daily practice …. And how and why her psychic powers were controlled and used only by her will.

    What H.P.B. says of an adept’s capacity performing apparitions or objects?

    “An adept can not only project and make visible a hand, a foot, or any other portion of his body, but the whole of it. We have seen one do this, in full day, while his hands and feet were being held by a skeptical friend whom he wished to surprise. Little by little the whole astral body oozed out like a vapory cloud, until before us stood two forms, of which the second was an exact duplicate of the first, only slightly more shadowy….” (Isis Unveiled p.5)

    The following quotation explains the “channelling” case:
    “… He may be under the influence of his own seventh principle and imagine to be in communication with a personal Jesus Christ, or a saint; he may be in rapport with the “intellectual” ray of Shakespeare and write Shakespearean poetry, and at the same time imagine that the personal spirit of Shakespeare is writing through him, and the simple fact of his believing this or that, would make his poetry neither better nor worse. He may be influenced by some Adept to write a great scientific work and be entirely ignorant of the source of his inspiration, or perhaps imagine that it was the “spirit” of Faraday or Lord Bacon that is writing through him, while all the while he would be acting as a “Chela,” although ignorant of the fact.” (Theosophist, June, 1884)

    On Manifestations

    “The purely subjective phenomena are but in a very small proportion of cases due to the action of the personal astral body. They are mostly, and according to the moral, intellectual, and physical purity of the medium, the work of either the elementary, or sometimes very pure human spirits. Elementals have naught to do with subjective manifestations. In rare cases it is the divine spirit of the medium himself that guides and produces them.

    Epimenides, the Orphikos, was renowned for his “sacred and marvellous nature,” and for the faculty his soul possessed of quitting its body “as long and as often as it pleased.” The ancient philosophers who have testified to this ability may be reckoned by dozens. Apollonius left his body at a moment’s notice, but it must be remembered Apollonius was an adept — a “magician.” Had he been simply a medium, he could not have performed such feats at will. Empedocles of Agrigentum, the Pythagorean thaumaturgist, required no conditions to arrest a waterspout which had broken over the city. Neither did he need any to recall a woman to life, as he did. … ”
    (IU, The flight of the astral body- p. 597)

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