Henry Olcott's Old Diary Leaves (which can be readhere)
is a fascinating series that I've been slowly working over
for a while. Its an extremely valuable source book for the
student of Theosophical history and personalities and gives
a lot of the flavor of the times. Two sections about the
writing of Isis Unveiled particularly caught my eye. I
haven't seen them expounded on before in Theosophical
literature and hope my efforts can prove useful. The first
is found on pgs. 237-9 of Volume 1:
...I was made to believe that we worked in collaboration
with at least one disincarnate entity—the pure soul of
one of the wisest philosophers of modern times, one who
was an ornament to our race, a glory to his country. He
was a great Platonist, and I was told that, so absorbed
was he in his life-study, he had become earth-bound,
i.e., he could not snap the ties which held him to the
Earth, but sat in an astral library of his own mental
creation, plunged in his philosophical reflections,
oblivious to the lapse of time, and anxious to promote
the turning of men’s minds towards the solid
philosophical basis of true religion. His desire did not
draw him to taking a new birth among us, but made him
seek out those who, like our Masters and their agents,
wished to work for the spread of truth and the overthrow
of superstition. I was told that he was so pure and so
unselfish that all the Masters held him in profound
respect, and, being forbidden to meddle with his Karma,
they could only leave him to work his way out of his
(Kâmalokaic) illusions, and pass on to the goal of
formless being and absolute spirituality according to
the natural order of Evolution. His mind had been so
intensely employed in purely intellectual speculation
that his spirituality had been temporarily stifled.
Meanwhile there he was, willing and eager to work with
H. P. B. on this epoch-making book, towards the
philosophical portion of which he contributed much. He
did not materialise and sit with us, nor obsess H. P.
B., medium-fashion; he would simply talk with her
psychically, by the hour together, dictating copy,
telling her what references to hunt up, answering my
questions about details, instructing me as to
principles, and, in fact, playing the part of a third
person in our literary symposium. He gave me his
portrait once—a rough sketch in colored crayons of
flimsy paper—and sometimes would drop me a brief note
about some personal matter, but from first to last his
relation to us both was that of a mild, kind, extremely
learned teacher and elder friend. He never dropped a
word to indicate that he thought himself aught but a
living man, and, in fact, I was told that he did not
realise that he had died out of the body. Of the lapse
of time, he seemed to have so little perception that, I
remember, H. P. B. and I laughed, one morning at 2:30
A.M., when, after an unusually hard night’s work, while
we were taking a parting smoke he quietly asked H. P. B.
“Are you ready to begin?”; under the impression that we
were at the beginning instead of the end of the evening!
And I also recollect how she said: “For Heaven’s sake
don’t laugh deep in your thought, else the ‘old
gentleman’ will surely hear you and feel hurt!” That
gave me an idea: to laugh superficially is ordinary
laughter, but to laugh deeply is to shift your merriment
to the plane of psychic perception! So emotions may,
like beauty, be sometimes but skin-deep, Sins, also:
think of that!
I wondered for a long time about the identity of this
Platonist who contributed so much to Isis' philosophical
sections. It wasn't until I began to study Platonism that it
became apparent to me that this philosophe is none other
than the great Thomas Taylor. There is no other Platonic
figure of the period who could be called one of the "wisest
philosophers of modern times," "an ornament to our race,"
and "a glory to his country." Further, Taylor's
Neoplatonic doctrines are very close in spirit to Theosophy,
much closer than any other philosopher of the time. This
should increase our appreciation not only for the value of
the philosophical portions of Isis, but also serve as a
warning to not become so involved in intellectual
speculation that our spirituality suffers.
The next section follows immediately (pgs. 239-40):
Except in the case of this old Platonist, I never had,
with or without H. P. B.’s help, consciously to do with
another disincarnate entity during the progress of our
work; unless Paracelsus may be called one, about which,
in common with the Alsatians, I have grave doubts. I
remember that one evening, at about twilight, while we
lived in West Thirty-fourth Street, we had been talking
about the greatness of Paracelsus and the ignominious
treatment he had had to endure during his life and after
his apparent death. H. P. B. and I were standing in the
passage between the front and back rooms, when her
manner and voice suddenly changed, she took my hand as
if to express friendship, and asked, “Will you have
Theophrastus for a friend, Henry?” I murmured a reply,
when the strange mood passed away, H. P. B. was herself
again, and we applied ourselves to our work. That
evening I wrote the paragraphs about him that now stand
on p. 500 of Vol. II of Isis. As for his being dead, the
odds are always against any given Adept’s having
actually died when to ordinary men he seemed to. With
his knowledge of the science of mâyâvic illusion, even
his seeming corpse screwed into a coffin and laid away
in a tomb, would not be sufficient proof that he was
really dead. Barring accidents, which may happen to him
as well as to a common man if he be off his guard, an
Adept chooses his own place to die in, and his body is
so disposed of as to leave no trace behind.
I feel that this incident has immense significance for
Theosophical students, but not that which HSO gave it. While
it is perfectly within the power of an adept to fake their
own death, I do not believe this is the case with
Theophrastus Paracelsus. Rather, I think this incident
should be taken much more literally. HPBwasParacelsus
in a previous existence. This is supported by anaccount of
In those days, while yet but a small boy, I first came
into mental contact, vaguely, with H. P. B. In my
father’s library there was an old “Dictionary of
Biography”, Goodrich’s, if I remember correctly.
It gave brief biographical sketches of ancient worthies
and unworthies, and was illustrated with many small
woodcut portraits. There was one of Paracelsus,
the great Swiss Occultist, and it fascinated me so that
I gazed at it long and often. The text
characterized him as a charlatan or impostor; but as I
read it I knew that it was false, and that he was one of
the best men that ever lived. This was not merely a
psychometric impression such as I received from some of
the other portraits in the book: it was a haunting sense
of familiarity, a conviction that I had known him when
he was on earth and would meet him again, incarnated.
Years afterward, while doing newspaper work in Nebraska,
I read a brief despatch from New York, stating that Mdme
Blavatsky and Col. Olcott had started a society for the
study of Oriental literature. Again came that
haunting sense of familiarity, and I wanted to write to
that Mdme. Blavatsky (whose name I then read for the
first time); but the despatch gave no address.
Later, in Philadelphia, I met Mrs. Verplanck, (“Jasper
Niemand”), who was closely associated with Mr. Judge in
making the Path an
intensely interesting and instructive magazine.
She told me of the T. S. and set me to studying Isis,Esoteric
Buddhism and other Theosophical literature then
obtainable. For years I corresponded constantly
with her, and occasionally with Mr. Judge, with whom I
came to be well acquainted “in the astral,” after I had
settled in Los Angles, in 1886.
In those days many Theosophists were ambitious to become
“chelas” or “lay chelas” by getting into communication
with the Masters whom H. P. B. represented. Having
no doubt that the Masters were being pestered by so many
applicants, I refrained from any attempt to reach H. P.
B. or her Master, or to attract their attention to my
unimportant self. But my mind kept dwelling on
Paracelsus, with a distinct impression that he was again
incarnated; so I resolved to find him, if possible, and
in my daily meditation concentrated my mind on him.
One evening while I was thus meditating the face of H.
P. B. flashed before me. I recognized it from her
portrait in Isis,
though it appeared much older. Thinking that the
astral picture, as I took it to be, was due to some
vagary of fancy, I tried to exclude it; but at that the
face showed a look of impatience, and instantly I was
drawn out of my body and immediately was standing “in
the astral” beside H. P. B. in London. It was
along toward morning there, but she was still seated at
her writing desk. While she was speaking to me,
very kindly, I could not help thinking how odd it was
that an apparently fleshy old lady should be an Adept.
I tried to put that impolite thought out of my mind, but
she read it, and as if in answer to it her physical body
became translucent, revealing a marvellous inner body
that looked as if it were formed of molten gold.
Then suddenly the Master M. appeared before us in his
mayavi-rupa. To him I made profound obeisance, for
he seemed to me more like a God than a man.
Somehow I knew who he was, though this was the first
time I had seen him. He spoke to me graciously and
said, “I shall have work for you in six months.”
He walked to the further side of the room, waved his
hand in farewell and departed. Then H. P. B.
dismissed me with the parting words, “God bless you,”
and directly I saw the waves of the Atlantic beneath me;
I floated down and dipped my feet in their crests.
Then with a rush I crossed the continent till I saw the
lights of Los Angles and returned to my body, seated in
the chair where I had left it. Thus by looking for
Paracelsus, while resolved not to intrude on H. P. B.
and the Master M., I found them all. For H. P. B.
simply was Paracelsus, and in my ignorance of that fact
I had blundered, happily stumbling upon a triumphant
outcome vastly beyond anything I had expected.
In examining the lives of HPB and Paracelsus, I see many
similarities. Both had uncouth and abrasive manners of
expression and writing, both worked for the healing and
spiritual regeneration of humanity, and both were slandered
and persecuted for it. Examining his life and doctrines may
prove especially insightful for the student.
I'd love to hear any comments about these passages or see
additional selections and impressions of the work!
Ah, apparently I missed this statement and stand corrected.
It was Olcott's statement about it being a Platonist
philosopher of "modern times" that threw me off since Henry
More died well over a century prior.
I think there are some mysterious connections between the TS
and HPB and Paracelsus (including the ones you mentioned) -
she gives quite a few hints here and there - I tend to use
the following article as a kind of guide in terms of looking
at the relation of the TS with the western occultists (A
review of a Waite Rosicrucian book):