Blavatsky’s Isis Unveiled was tremendously well-received at the time, an instant best-seller, a critical success, going through many reprintings and was the essential theosophical textbook for the first five years of the movement. Upon moving to India, more explicit oriental esoteric information began to be presented in the pages of the Blavatsky-edited, The Theosophist and the success of A. P. Sinnett’s The Occult World and especially Esoteric Buddhism effectively superceded Isis as the essential theosophical textbook for the next five years; so much so that Blavatsky herself was critical of Isis and felt the need to present a revised edition, which eventually became The Secret Doctrine, itself effectively superceding Esoteric Buddhism as the fundamental theosophical reference work.However, despite Blavatsky’s own perhaps overly severe critiques of her own work, posterity has been kind to Isis. Scholars such as Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke and Gary Lachman have praised the work and it has seemed to have aged well, standing the test of time and perhaps proving to be more accessible than the mind-boggling Secret Doctrine. Despite the complex writing style, the book makes for an excellent introduction and compendium of essential esoteric, theosophical and spriritual concepts.
The very dense, erudite writing style can be challenging, but I don’t really think the work has deep organizational and editing flaws, but rather the confusing nature of the work is merely due to some superficial hurdles that, if understood, one can see the inherent coherence of the work as a whole. Morever, it is interesting to note that The Secret Doctrine contains many verbatim passages from Isis, credited and uncredited, and there are many more striking passages that remain fundamental and enlightening examples of Theosophical concepts that have lost none of their relevancy. As Michael Gomes has written: ”a thread of continuity emerges with startling clarity through the labyrinth of words, highlighting the basic concepts Blavatsky was trying to explain”.
Primo, the work juxtaposes, compares and contrasts modern writings with a great variety of ancient writings; now the jumping back and forth from present to past ideas are sometimes a bit abrupt and unclear, but once this basic structure is understood, then the basic themes of each chapter becomes clearer.
Secundo, the chapter titles and descriptions are a little vague and do not convey the actual contents as clearly as they could. By digging a little deeper, one can see that all the chapters do have very specific and coherent themes and detailed arguments.
Tertio, the page headings, although meant to be helpful topic summaries, probably suffer from being a little too cryptic and are often phrased with an overly ironic and exotic tendency that are more distracting than useful in conveying the seriousness of the subject matter; my favorite example being ”Do flying guitars unconsciously cerebrate?” (vol. 1, p.233), a rather surrealistic question, but upon reading the page one encounters a very deep analysis of some important documentation of supernatural phenomena.
With these points in mind, the following series of articles aim to present a brief analysis of each chapter of both volumes in order to demonstrate that each chapter has a self-contained, coherent structure and collectively form part of a consistent, larger whole.
On the writing of Isis by GeoffreyFarthing:
The semantics of Isis by DavidReigle:
Introduction to abridged Isis Unveiled by Michael Gomes: