"The sphinx of the nineteenth century": Helena Blavatsky's syncretism in Britain, 1887-1891
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[ACCESS RESTRICTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI AT AUTHOR'S REQUEST.] Helena Blavatsky, the enigmatic co-founder of the Theosophical Society, has an extensive biographical record, much of which is dedicated to proving or disparaging the authenticity of her works and supposed powers. The object of this paper is to instead explore the various influences of Theosophy as she presented them to her British audience, specifically while she lived in London from 1887 until her death in 1891, and how aspects of her personal and Theosophical syncretism related to wider cultural issues facing fin de siècle Britons. Blavatsky, as part of a wider occult revival, attempted to confront the problems facing modern Britons by combining scientific, spiritual and otherworldly discourses. She also syncretized East and West in her Theosophical works, and described herself as “half Asiatic.” Blavatsky had a similarly syncretic gender identity, and regularly combined women's equality with the greater cause of Universal Brotherhood. Her critics and supporters also utilized various aspects of her personal and intellectual syncretism. Overall, Blavatsky's works intended for a general audience presented her syncretism as very relevant to the average Briton. The main primary sources considered here are the published works Blavatsky intended for popular readership, especially the 45 issues of the Theosophical magazine Lucifer which she edited and provided content for while in London, as well as works on Blavatsky by her contemporaries. The paper also draws from and builds upon recent secondary sources, including Theosophical publications, popular biographies, and academic monographs.
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