Henry Olcott's Old Diary Leaves (which can be read here) 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. HPB wasParacelsus in a previous existence. This is supported by an account of James Pryce:

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!

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I thought the platonist was Henry More...


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):