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Newsletter of The Campbell Theosophical Research Library

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February 2000                                                                                 Issue No 3


This newsletter provides information about The Campbell Theosophical Research Library. Both members and non-members of The Theosophical Society are most welcome to use the Library which is available by appointment. It is not a lending library. For further information please contact Naomi Blumensaadt, the Library -Co-ordinator, at the above address.

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H.P. BLAVATSKY AND ISIS UNVEILED

The Works of H.P. Blavatsky
H.P Blavatsky, one of the founders, in 1875, of The Theosophical Society was a prolific writer. Apart from her major works and hundreds of unpublished letters currently being readied for publication, a large part of her work is contained in fourteen large volumes — H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings, compiled by Boris de Zirkoff and spanning the period from 1874 to 1891.

Her first major work was Isis Unveiled first published in 1877. This was followed by:

The Secret Doctrine, subtitled ‘The Synthesis of Science, Religion, and Philosophy’ in 1888, with vol. 1 covering Cosmogenesis and vol. 2 Anthropogenesis;

The Key to Theosophy subtitled ‘A Clear exposition, in the form of Question and Answer, of the Ethics, Science and Philosophy for the study of which The Theosophical Society has been founded’, in 1889;

and The Voice of the Silence, a book of mystical precepts, also in 1889.

For her From the Caves and Jungles of Hindustan H.P. Blavatsky used the pseudonym Radda-Bai. This is based on her experiences during extensive travels in India.

All published works mentioned are available in The Campbell Library.

Isis Unveiled
Isis Unveiled made a sensational impact when it was first published and continues to be a source of fascination and information for many. Published just two years after the founding of The Theosophical Society it comprehensively covers philosophical, religious, scientific, mythological, allegorical and symbolical facts and theories, pointing to the antiquity of the occult tradition. Its subtitle is ‘A MASTER-KEY to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology’. Some of its chapter headings are: phenomena and forces; theories respecting psychic phenomena; some mysteries of nature; cyclic phenomena; Egyptian wisdom; inner and outer man; psychological and physical marvels; realities and illusion. It is a book that may be read at random or from cover to cover.

The birth of Isis Unveiled was dramatic and raises some interesting issues. Colonel Henry Olcott, a co-founder of The Theosophical Society, who was with Madame Blavatsky when she was writing it, gives an interesting account of the background to its writing in his biographical work, Old Diary Leaves, volume one, published in 1895. He devotes 95 pages to discussing many of those issues. One example: In considering how Blavatsky was able to refer to such a huge number of reference sources when she seemed to have access to only a moderate library he asks:

Whence did H.P.B. draw the materials which compose Isis, and which cannot be traced to accessible literary sources of quotation? From the Astral Light and, by her soul-senses, from her Teachers — the “Brothers”, “Adepts”, “Sages”, “Masters”, as they have been variously called. How do I know it? By working two years with her on Isis and many more years on other literary work. (p 208).

Selection of its title also added some drama. Originally it was to be called The Veil of Isis but it was not known before a substantial number of printing plates had been prepared that another book of this title had already been published. The Title Isis Unveiled was decided upon. In The Theosophist of August 1931 C Jinarajadasa notes:

The whole of the first volume, in the first edition and in all the subsequent editions printed from the same stereo-typed plates, even as late as 1886, bears inside on each even page at top the title “The Veil of Isis”. But in the second volume the title is “Isis Unveiled”. Evidently the whole of the first volume had been set up, and stereo-typed before it was decided to change the title.

Originally published in two volumes with 628 pages in the first volume and 640 pages in the second — plus a comprehensive index for both volumes — it has now been published in an abridged form. A review of this abridgement, by John Cooper, appeared in Theosophy in Australia in June 1998 and is produced here with permission of the Editor:

Review by John Cooper:
ISIS UNVEILED, SECRETS OF THE ANCIENT WISDOM TRADITION, MADAME BLAVATSKY’S FIRST WORK, Helena P Blavatsky, A New Abridgement for Today, Michael Gomes, xvii+274 pages, Quest, Wheaton, 1997, pb.

“Madame Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine has been abridged on several occasions first by Katherine Hillard, then by Ernest Wood and finally by Christmas Humphreys with Elizabeth Preston. Her The Key to Theosophy has also been abridged, notably by Joy Mills. The volume under review is the first attempt to produce an abridgement of Isis Unveiled.

The first question a reviewer must ask is why bring out an abridged edition of a work that is currently available in three editions — the de Zirkoff edition from Wheaton and two editions, based on the original 1877 publication, by Theosophy Company and Theosophical University Press? The answer to this question lies within the nature of the original work, which contains a large amount of material that is out of date dealing with nineteenth century science and religion.

The Editor, Michael Gomes, writes in his Foreword:

If the structure could be cleared of extraneous matter, what wonders might be revealed? With the hope of making Isis Unveiled more accessible, the present abridgement has been undertaken. It is not an easy task to remove more than three-quarters of an author’s work. Yet when lengthy quotations … have been pruned away, a thread of continuity emerges with startling clarity through the labyrinth of words, highlighting the basic concepts that Blavatsky was trying to explain.

Accepting for the moment this argument we must next ask just what has been removed from this edition? Looking at Balvatsky’s Preface we find that much of the last two pages have been deleted. These deal with statements made by the then Pope and by the materialistic scientist Tyndall plus a prediction as to the acceptance of her volumes by Christians, scientists and others. These deletions are acceptable, although they contain some fine Blavatskyian irony!

The lengthy section titled ‘Before the Veil’ is totally deleted. As the greater part of this section was written by Professor Alexander Wilder this deletion is warranted.

Checking through the first chapter of Isis Unveiled the major deletions deal with obscure texts, primal religions and little known cults. Titles of texts have been modernised and that enigmatic Kabalistic volume the Sepher DiTseniutha is spelt as we find it in the writings of Gershom Scholem. Blavatsky had originally spelt it as Siphra Dzenioutha and this spelling was followed by Leonard Bosman who spelt it as Sepher Dzyanioutha, a corruption which led Scholem to state that Blavatsky’s The Stanzas of Dzyan was taken from this book. However even a cursory glance at both books shows that they are very different.

So here are my conclusions on this new version. If you have not read Isis Unveiled, then this book is essential theosophical reading. If you have read the original text then this book is not needed unless you wish a refresher. For this reviewer much of the charm of the original is contained in its obscure references and the mysteries they reveal and these are not always included in the new version.

One final point. What is lacking in this volume is any critical comments on the Blavatsky text. On page 26 mention is made of an obscure Oriential school called Svabhavika and they are described as Hindus. Then on page 181 they are described as Nepalese Buddhists. Both descriptions are given by Blavatsky in the original edition of Isis, and both appear to be incorrect as there is no known School, in either Hinduism or Buddhism, with this name. Here we must realise that portions, at least, of Blavatsky’s writings are based on the Orientalism of her day and that we now know far more about Hinduism and Buddhism than was known in the nineteenth century.

Finally this book is highly recommended for reading, particularly by non-theosophists who are puzzled by the fascination Blavatsky still holds for many students.

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PERIODICALS COLLECTION

The Campbell Library has an extensive collection of periodicals available for research. Well over one hundred titles are held. In many cases the Library has complete, or nearly complete, collections, including:
The Theosophist (1879 - now)
Lucifer (1887 - 1897)
The Theosophical Review (1897 - 1909)
The Path (1886 - 1896
Sunrise (1951 - now)
Theosophy in Australia and its predecessors under various names (1892 - now)
The Theosophical Research Journal and its predecessors (1957 - 1988)
Theosophical History (1985 - now)
The Journal of Religion and Psychical Research (1979 - now)
Bibby’s Annual (1911 - 1922)

The Library also has a number of fairly rare periodicals including:
Broad Views (1904 - 1906)
Cosmos (1973 - 1983)
The National Reformer (1876 - 1884)
The New Californian (1891 - 1894)
The Papyrus (1920 - 1924)
The Platonist (1881 - 1885)
The Saturn Lodge Monthly (China 1920)
The Upadhi (1892 - 1893)

In some cases the Library has quite extensive collections which nevertheless have significant gaps which it would like to have filled, for example:
The Various STAR periodicals (Herald of the Star, Star Review, etc, 1912 - 1933)
The Occult Review (1905 - 1948)
The Vahan (1891 - 1920)
The Path (Independent Theosophical Society, 1925 1949)
Theosophy in New Zealand (1903 - now)
The Canadian Theosophist
The American Theosophist and its predecessors

If any reader can assist in filling any of the gaps in our collections the Library will be happy to offer in exchange some of our extensive collection of spare copies of many periodicals, especially
Theosophy Australia
The Theosophist (1908-13 and from 1952)
The Theosophical Review (1897 - 1907)
Science Group Journal
Herald of the Star (we are also missing some issues)
International Star Bulletin
Star Bulletin
Theosophical Siftings
Bibby’s Annual

Please contact the Library Co-ordinator if you are interested in exchange.

COMBINED INDEX OF PERIODICAL ARTICLES

Index on CD-ROM
For five years Gladney Oakly has worked on the development of a combined index of articles in a range of theosophical and related periodicals. By the end of this year he is aiming to produce a CD-ROM that will include the index. Last minute contributions of entries on floppy disk are still being received from Sections of The Theosophical Society and from other societies which have indexed their own periodicals.

The Campbell Library is now assisting Gladney with some aspects of this project. In the process he has helped the Library set up a computer index available for research.

The Library’s Periodical Index
This index now contains 85,000 articles in 68 periodicals and it continues to grow.

It may be accessed in the computer in two ways:

  1. Find and list all articles containing a given phrase or name (i.e any string of characters) in the title or author fields of the index. The list appears on the screen ready to use or to print out in a few seconds. Each entry shows details of the article: the name of the periodical, year, volume, month, page, title and author.
  2. Browse through any part of the index — for example, to examine details relating to the articles and authors in particular issues of a periodical.

This index has already proven to be very valuable for research.


The Campbell Theosophical Research Library is a part of The Theosophical Society in Australia.

The Society's Objects are:

  1. To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or colour;
  2. To encourage the study of Comparative Religion, Philosophy and Science;
  3. To investigate unexplained laws of Nature and the powers latent in the human being.

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