Mahatma Letters


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Mahatma Letters

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

One of the most important books for members of the Theosophical Society, but little known outside the membership, The Mahatma Letters were a set of some 120 pieces of correspondence reputedly written by two of the Ascended Masters who had been corresponding with co-founder Helena P. Blavatsky (1831–1891). Originally written between 1880 and 1884 by Masters Morya and Koot Hoomi, the letters were directed to A. P. Sinnett (1840–1921), the editor of the newspaper The Pioneer, published in Allahabad, and to A. O. Hume (1829–1912), a British government official and founder of the Indian National Congress. A few excerpts of the letters had been published shortly after they had been received, but the whole set of correspondence was not issued until 1923. (Two years later, a companion volume, Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett, was published. This volume included correspondence to both Sinnett and his wife, Patience Sinnett.)

Sinnett preserved the documents through the almost four decades of his life after receiving the correspondence, and he left them to Maud Hoffman. Shortly after receiving the letters, she allowed Trevor Barker to transcribe them for publication. (The originals were deposited with the British Museum in 1939 for safekeeping.)

Sinnett, a convert to Buddhism, was attracted to Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society soon after she moved to India in 1878, and he wrote several articles about the miraculous events occurring at the Theosophical headquarters in Madres. These attracted the attention of the leadership of the Society for Psychical Research in London, who dispatched Richard Hodgson (1855–1905) to India to investigate what was occurring. Among the items he looked into was the seemingly miraculous appearance of the letters from the Mahatmas. These letters had appeared sporadically over a four-year period in the cabinet in the Shrine Room in the headquarters building. The letters had great importance for the fledgling movement, as they reflected on basic ideas of the theosophical cosmos, not the least being the organization of the spiritual hierarchy whom the several Masters represented. The seemingly extraordinary origin of the letters supplied additional evidence of their authority.

Hodgson wrote a devastating report in which he concluded that the letters had been written by Blavatsky, who then deposited them in the cabinet from an opening in her bedroom, located behind the Shrine Room. He also discovered indications that additional miraculous occurrences upon which Sinnett had reported had been fraudulently produced. Awareness of these events had largely started during his meeting with Emma Coulomb, a former close associate who claimed to be Blavatsky’s co-conspirator in producing the fraud. The letters ceased to appear after Hodgson’s exposé was published. Through the rest of the decade, Blavatsky wrote a series of letters attempting to defend herself and the society from the charges leveled by Hodgson.

Interestingly enough, by the time of the publication of the letters in 1923, the society had largely put the Hodgson report behind it and had moved into a new phase under Annie Besant (1847–1933), who was engaged in the promotion of Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895–1986) as the world savior and the clairvoyant writings of Charles W. Leadbeater (1854–1934). Although welcomed by many as a return to the original teachings put forth by the society in the pre-Besant era, the publication of The Mahatma Letters also highlighted the situation that allowed their production.

In recent decades, a new generation of theosophical apologists have returned to the era of The Mahatma Letters and have attempted to rehabilitate Blavatsky’s reputation, with mixed results.

Sources:

Blavatsky, Helena P. Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett. Edited by A. Trevor Barker. London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1924.
Conger, Margaret M. Combined Chronology: For Use With the Mahatma and Blavatsky Letters. Pasadena, CA: Theosophical University Press, 1973.
Harrison, Vernon. H. P. Blavatsky and the SPR: An Examination of the Hodgson Report of 1885. Pasadena, CA: Theosophical University Press, 1997.
Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett from the Mahatmas M. and K. H. Transcribed, compiled, and with an introduction by A. Trevor Barker. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Co., 1924.
Waterman, Adlai E. [pseudonym of Walter A. Carrithers, Jr.]. Obituary: The “Hodgson Report” on Madame Blavatsky. Adyar, Madras, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1963.