19 June 2018

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Theosophy - or trickery?

The first part comes from the Blavatsky Archives; many thanks. Helena Petrovna von Hahn was born at Ekaterinoslav in Southern Russia, in 1831. She was the daughter of Colonel Peter von Hahn, and writer Helena de Fadeyev. Her mat­er­nal grandmother was Princ­ess Helena Dolgorukov, noted botanist-writer. After her mother’s early death in 1842, Helena was brought up with the grand­parents. This clever linguist was a sensitive child, and was soon aware that her psychic powers puzzled others.

At 18 she married the much older Nikifor Blavatsky, Vice-Governor of Yerivan Province. The marriage was never consummated and she soon escaped and travelled across Turkey, Egypt and Greece. Only 2 years later, in London in 1851, she met the Mahatma/Master Morya of her childhood visions, and fully accepted his guidance.

In 1852, Helena left for Canada, the USA, Mexico, South Am­erica and the West Indies, then went via the Cape to India and Tibet. Then to Britain, America again, India via Japan and the Straits. She entered Tibet through Kashmir, under-going part of her occult training with her Mahatma. She was again in France, Germany and Russia. From 1860-5, she lived in the Caucasus, exper­iencing a severe phys­ical and psychic crisis. She travelled via the Balkans, Greece, Egypt, Syria and Italy. Then to India & Tibet, meeting the Mahatma Koot Hoomi. Then back to Cyprus, Greece and the Middle East.
The Extraordinary Life & Influence of Helena Blavatsky,  
by Sylvia Cranston, 
TarcherPerigee, 1993

Why the constant travel? In 1873, Helena was specifically instructed by her Teacher to go to New York to meet Col Henry Olcott. The Mahatmas believed Helena was the best means to offer the world the accum­ulated Wisdom of the ages, verified by generations of Seers; that body of Truth of which all re­ligions were bran­ches of one parent-tree. They co-founded the Theos­ophical Society of America  in Nov 1875, where Olcott was made President for life.

The Theosophical Soc­iety's goals were to:
a] form a nucleus of the Universal Brother­hood of Humanity, regardless of race, creed, sex, caste or colour;
b] encourage the study of Comparative Religion, Philosophy and Science and
c] investigate the unexplained laws of Nature.

Helena’s first monumental work Isis Unveiled was published in New York in 1877, outlining the development of the Occult Sciences and of Magic. Her task was to chal­lenge both the entrenched dogmas of Christian Theology and the dogmatic materialistic view of Science.

Arriving in Bombay in Feb 1879, Helena and colleagues established the Theosophical Headquarters. The Found­ers started their first journal The Theosophist in Bombay with Helena as editor, and the society experienced a rapid growth. Alfred Percy Sinnett, editor of The Pioneer of Allahabad, and Helena wrote The Occult World 1881 and Esoteric Buddhism 1883, both generating even more public interest in Theos­ophy. In May 1882 a large estate was bought near Madras for the Theo­soph­ical Headquarters.

Helena was busy writing her next work, The Secret Doct­rine. But it didn’t save her. A vicious attack by staffers Alexis & Emma Coulomb was erupting, about Helena’s fraudulent product­ion of psychic phenom­ena. She returned to Madras on Dec 1884 to sue the couple, but they'd already left.  Alas Helena was overruled by the Theosophical Soc­iety committee and resigned in disgust. She left India for ever.

The "Coulomb attack" was based on partially forged lett­ers, presumably written by Helena, with instructions to arrange fraudulent psychic phenomena. So London’s Society for Psychical Res­earch app­ointed a special investigative committee. Rich­ard Hodgson arrived in India to report on the Coul­ombs’ allegations, which the research committee published in Dec 1885. William Emmette Coleman, a leading spiritualist, was also involved in the Coulomb case. He left the USA for London to obtain from the Scottish missionary Patterson the "original" Blavatsky-Coulomb letters, and published scathing denunciations of Theosophy and HPB in spiritualist journals.

Blavatsky was branded as one of the most acc­omp­lished impost­ors in history, and probably a Rus­sian spy. The Hodgson Report was the basis of later attacks on Helena’s and Theosophy’s honesty. Madame Blavatsky was soon called a plagiarist,  con artist, trickster and a manipulator of males. Coleman focused on her plagiarism.

Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Henry Olcott
London, 1887 (Wiki)

Blavatsky’s health was damaged, so she focused on writing. The Secret Doctrine was the peak of her literary car­eer. Vol. I dealt with the evolution of the Universe, and the fundam­ental symb­ols of the world’s great religions. Vol. 2 de­scribed the evolution of humanity.  Then Blavatsky published the devotional mystical work called The Voice of the Silence, trans­lated from an Eastern scripture. 

Helena Blavatsky aged 60 died in London in May 1891. Her ashes were divided between New York, London and Madras.


How important was Theosophy in modern history? Evidence suggested it significantly influenced the development of other mystical, phil­osophical and religious movements. And even psychological movements in the West. Supporters said Helena was among the mod­ern world’s innovative psychol­ogists of the visionary mind. At the same time that Freud and others were articulating their secularised theory of mind, the Theosophists were rescuing a forgotten psych­ology of the extra-sensory from exotic religion.  Madame Blavatsky was setting the style for modern occult literature.

Theosophy also influenced the growth of Indian national con­scious­ness, inspiring key figures in the Indian independence move­ment. In Nov 1889 Gandhi met Blavatsky. He did not join the Theosophical Society because, with poor knowledge of his own religion, he did not want to belong to any religious body. However in March 1891, he became an associate member of the Blav­atsky Lodge. Three months later Gandhi returned to India. Nehru learned the mys­terious philosophy of Theosophy with his childhood tutor Ferdinand Brooks. Young Nehru (13) was initiated into the Theos­ophical Society in 1902 by Annie Besant, a Theosophist who supported home-rule for Ireland and India.

Was Theosophy the most important avenue of Eastern teaching to the West? Rudolf Steiner said yes. He first began speaking publicly about spiritual experiences in his 1899 lectures to the Theosophical Society. Steiner kept Helena’s original approach, replacing her terminology with his own. Sylvia Cranston noted theosophy’s influence on important art­ists, writers and composers like TS Eliot, Wassily Kandinsky, Boris Pasternak, Paul Gauguin, James Joyce, William Butler Yeats and Jean Sibelius.

The Theosophist monthly journal, 1885
published in Madras 
edited by H.P Blavatsky

And consider the importance of Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society in the feminist movement, as described in Theosophy, Gender and the New Woman by Siv Ellen Kraft. Theosophy downplayed the importance of marriage, insisted upon the spiritual independence of women, included women on all levels of the organisation, and gave formal religious authority to women. Blavatsky described the suppression of women as typical of all religions, but was taken to the extreme by Christianity.

16 June 2018

The meaning of British surnames - Ancestry.com

The names Australians gave new born babies was a widely cited post, covering the most popular first names given to boys and girls in Victoria since 1900.

But I have never tackled surnames, given that everyone of my generation seemed to come from Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Czechoslovakia, Hungary or Germany. Ancestry shows that many families actually have surnames passed down from ancestors in Britain. Last names were not widely used until after the Norman conquest in 1066, but as the country’s population grew, people found it necessary to be more specific when they were talking about somebody else. Thus arose descriptions like Thomas the Baker, Norman son of Richard, Henry the Whitehead, Elizabeth of the Field and Joan of York that ultimately led to many current surnames. 

There are perhaps 45,000 different English surnames, but most had their origins as one of these types.

1. Occupational
Occupational names identified people based on their job or position in society. Calling a man Mr Carpenter indicated that he worked with wood for a living, while someone named Knight bore a sword. Other occupational names include Archer, Baker, Brewer, Butcher, Carter, Clark, Constable, Cooper, Cook, Croft, Dean, Dyer, Farmer, Faulkner, Fisher, Forester, Full­er, Gardener, Glass, Glover, Head, Hunter, Judge, Mason, Miller, Page, Park­er, Parsons, Porter, Pot­ter, Sawyer, Slater, Smith, Stone, Taylor, Thatcher, Turner, Weav­er, Webb, Woodman, Wain­wright.

In medieval England, before the time of professional theatre, craft guilds put on Mystery or Miracle Plays, which told Bible stories and had a call-and-response style of singing. A part­icipant’s surname eg King, Lord, Pope, Virgin or Death, may have reflected a role which some people played for life and passed down to their eldest son.

Victorian family portrait 
Photo credit: The History Press

2. A personal characteristic
Some names, often adjectives, were based on descriptive nicknames. They may have described a person’s size (Short, Long, Little), colouring (Black, White, Green, Red or Fox) or another character trait (Coy, Grey, Savage, Stark, Stern, Strong, Sweet, Swift, Peacock, Truman, Winter).

3. A place name
A surname may have pointed to where a person was born, lived, worked or owned land. It might be from the name of a house, farm, hamlet, town or county eg Bedford, Boroughs, Burton, Hamilton, Hampshire, Kipling, Lincoln, Spalding, Sutton, Thorpe, Trent, Wakefield, Warwick, Wilton.

Those descended from landowners may have taken as their surname the name of their holdings, castle, manor or estate eg Staunton. Windsor is a famous example in the British royal family.

Some surnames showed that the family came from another country eg Britten, Dane, Fleming, French, Lubbock/Lubeck.

4. A geographical feature of the landscape 
Consider the surnames Atwood, Bridge, Brooks, Bush, Camp, Fields, Forest, Greenwood, Grove, Fleet, Heath, Hill, Knolles, Lake, Moore, Perry, Stone, Wold, Underwood, Waters, Wood and Woodruff.

Trees also gave names like Ashley, Elm, Hazelthwaite, Maple, Oakham, Palmer (which also had a meaning for pilgrims).

5. Patronymic, matronymic or ancestral
Patronymic surnames came from a male given name eg Benson, Davis, Dawson, Evans, Harris, Harrison, Jackson, Jones (Welsh for John), Nicholson, Richardson, Robinson, Rogers, Robertson, Simpson, Stephenson, Thompson, Watson, Wilson. Matronymic ones, surnames derived from a female given name, include Madison (from Maud).

Scottish clan names created a set of ancestral surnames. These include Armstrong, Cameron, Campbell, Crawford, Douglas, Forbes, Grant, Henderson, Hunter, MacDonald and Stewart.

Some surnames honoured a patron. Hickman was Hick’s man (Hick being a nickname for Richard). Kilpatrick was a follower of Patrick.

If readers are wondering whether their family name was English, Ancestry invites them to plug their surname into the Ancestry Last Names Meanings and Origins widget.

I have added many other surnames from Behind the Name and from the BBC

12 June 2018

Norman Rockwell Museum - a lifetime of special art

The Chase School of Art opened to students in 1896 and two years later it became the New Yorker School of Art. New Yorker Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) enrolled in art classes at this school in 1908. Two years later, in 1910, he left high school to study art at The National Academy of Design and then The Art Stud­ents League. Thomas Fogarty and George Bridg­man were excellent teachers, preparing Rockwell for professional commissions.

No Swimming, 1921
Saturday Evening Post

While still very young, Rockwell was hired as art director of Boys’ Life, the publication of the American Boy Scouts, and illustrated a range of young people’s publications.

In New Rochelle, Rockwell set up a studio with a cartoonist and produced work for such magazines as Life, Literary Digest and Coun­t­ry Gentleman. In 1916, 22-year-old Rockwell painted his first cov­er for The Saturday Evening Post, and for five decades, 321 Rockwell more covers appeared on the front of the Post.

The 1930s and 1940s were seen as the most creative decades of Rock­well’s career. In 1930 he married a school tea­ch­er. The couple and their three children moved to Arlington Verm­ont in 1939, and Rock­well’s work began to reflect small-town Amer­ican life. 

During WW2, Rockwell put a nationalist and supportive view on daily life in America's home front, with famous paintings that appeared on the covers of The Saturday Evening Post. My favourites are those addressing the important roles that women could fulfill. See, for example, We Can Do It! 1942 and  Rosie the Riveter 1943. His simple way of capturing everyday life in his art was appealing.

We can do it, 1942
Norman Rockwell Museum

Rosie the Rivetter 1943 
an energetic red-headed woman, holding a riveting gun and eating a sandwich.
Norman Rockwell Museum

In 1953, the Rockwell family moved from Arlington Vermont to Stockbridge Ma. The question remained: how homey and sentimental were his small-town images, espec­ially in an era that required massive political commitment? Inspir­ed by President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1943 address to Cong­ress, Rockwell created his important Four Freedoms paintings. Four Sat­ur­day Evening Posts had essays by contemporary writers, along with Rock­well’s interp­ret­at­ions of Freedom of Speech, Freedom to Worship, Free­d­om from Want and Freed­om from Fear proved to be en­or­mously popular. The works toured the country in an exhibition that was jointly spons­ored by the Evening Post and the US Treasury Depart­ment, to raise millions for the war effort.
Runaway Boy 1958
being looked after by a friendly policeman

Although the Four Freedoms series was a great success, we don’t find much serious analysis of American life until Rockwell ended his 47-year association with The Saturday Evening Post in 1963. He began to work for Look magazine, specifically to allow himself more freedom in pursuing the art of serious social issues. During his 10-year association with Look magazine, Rockwell painted pictures illust­rat­ing some of his deepest concerns, including civil rights and America’s war on poverty.

However do note that in the midst of a racial deseg­reg­ation battle at an all-white New Orleans public school in Nov 1960, Rockwell painted a famous, civil-rights-inspired painting. I am very proud of The Problem We All Live With (1964).

Stockbridge Museum
Norman Rockwell created art in some 20 studios during his life, but it was the last one in Ma. that he loved the most and in which he lived the longest. This museum was founded in 1969 in Main St, Stockbridge in a build­ing known as the Old Corner House. In 1973, Rockwell established a Trust to preserve his artistic legacy by pl­acing his works in the custodianship of the Old Corner House Stock­bridge Historical Soc­iety, later to become Norman Rockwell Museum. The Trust now forms the core of the Museum’s permanent collections. As he became elderly, Rockwell became concerned about the future of his studio. He arranged to have his studio and its contents added to the Trust.

The museum moved to its current location 24 years later, opening in April 1993. The building on a 36-acre site overlook­ing the Housatonic River Valley was designed by Robert AM Stern. It was dedicated to the enjoyment and study of Rockwell’s work and his contributions to society, popular culture, and social commentary.

The Museum’s location is perfect; the artist loved the town, and it loved him back. Many of Rockwell’s best images were drawn from everyday locals he knew well eg family, friends and neighbours. 

The Norman Rockwell Museum,
Stockbridge Ma

Red Lion Inn
Stockbridge Ma

The lower level of the Norman Rockwell Museum has a dense exhibit dedicated to Rockwell’s 323 covers for The Saturday Evening Post over the 47 years he worked with them. Arranged chronolog­ic­ally, the framed covers fill the room’s walls. It is fascinating to watch how Rockwell’s style grew and changed over the years.

The New York Times says that for many years, the museum presented the studio as it was when Rockwell died in 1978. Now they’ve turned back the clock to October 1960, an active time in Rockwell’s career when he was hard at work on Golden Rule, the famous painting which later app­eared on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. Working from highly detailed photos, the curators of the installation at the Norman Rockwell Museum applied great detail to their task, as Rockwell did to his. From his books to his radio, they’ve returned every aspect of the room back to 1960, to prov­ide some greater insight into the artist and his work.

In addition to 998 original paintings and draw­ings by Rockwell, the museum also houses the Norman Rockwell Archives, a collection of 100,000 various items, which include fan mail and business documents. Rockwell painted from photographs rather than real-life models, so his photographs are included in the Archives.

Rockwell’s Stockbridge studio, on the Museum site, is open to the public May-Oct, and features original art materials, library and furnishings. Stockbridge’s second greatest treasure is the historic Red Lion Inn which is redolent with rustic New England charm. Plus it is within walking distance of the Museum.