Reminiscences of H.P. Blavatsky and The Secret Doctrine, by Countess Constance Wachtmeister et al., copyright 1976, The Theosophical Publishing House

Reminiscences of H.P. Blavatsky and The Secret Doctrine

Chapter 1: Blavatsky's Pledge

In giving an account of the manner in which Helena Petrovna Blavatsky wrote The Secret Doctrine, while yet the circumstances are fresh in my memory, with memoranda and letters still available for reference, I shall not shrink from dwelling at some length on my own relations with my dear friend and teacher; and on many attendant circumstances which, while not directly connected with the actual writing of the book [The Secret Doctrine], will contribute, I feel sure, to an intelligent comprehension of both the author and her work.

For me nothing is trivial, nothing meaningless in the personality, in the habits, and in the environments of HPB. I desire only to convey to the reader, if possible, as full a knowledge as I myself possess of the difficulties and distractions that beset her during the progress of her work: the ill-health, the wandering life, the unpropitious surroundings, the lack of materials, the defection of false friends, the attacks of enemies. These were obstacles that impeded her labor, but the cooperation of willing hands, the love and care of devoted adherents, and, above all, the support and direction of her beloved and revered Masters, rendered its completion possible.

It was in 1884 that, having occasion to visit London, I first made acquaintance with HPB at Mr. and Mrs. A.P. Sinnett's house. I remember well the feeling of pleasurable excitement with which I made the memorable call. I had previously read Isis Unveiled with wonder and admiration for the vast stores of strange knowledge contained in that remarkable work. I was therefore prepared to regard highly, little short of reverence, one who not only had founded a Society which promised to form the nucleus of a Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, but also was declared a messenger of men advanced beyond mankind in mental and spiritual attainments, and thus could, in the truest sense, be called the Pioneers of our race.

My reception by my hostess was cordial. I was at once introduced to Madame Blavatsky. Her features were instinct with power, which expressed an innate nobility of character that more than fulfilled the anticipations I had formed. But what chiefly arrested my attention was the steady gaze of her wonderful gray eyes, piercing yet calm and inscrutable. They shone with a serene light which seemed to penetrate and unveil the secrets of the heart.

When, however, I turned to look upon those who surrounded her, I experienced a revulsion of feeling that for a time left an uneasy impression on my mind. It was a strange scene that met my view. On the floor, at the foot of the low ottoman on which Madame Blavatsky was seated, several visitors were grouped, who gazed up at her with an expression of homage and adoration; others hung upon her words with a studied show of rapt attention, and all seemed more or less affected by a prevailing tone of flattery.

As I sat apart and looked on at what was going on, I entertained suspicions, which I have since learned to be perfectly groundless and gratuitous, in my mind. I trembled, lest I should find that a character of which I had formed such elevated expectations should prove to be a slave of flattery, and greedy for the adulation of her followers. I could not know at that time the aloofness, the indifference to praise or blame, the high sense of duty - not to be shaken by any selfish considerations - of the woman before me. I could not then tell that her nature was inherently incapable of degrading its powers and its great mission to the glamour of cheap popularity.

Though too proud to justify herself to those who were incapable of appreciating the lofty standard of conduct which she followed herself and ever held up to the world in her ethical and mystical writings, she would occasionally open up her inner mind to her few earnest pupils who were pledged to tread the path. I do recollect an explanation she gave on this very point, when the crowd of scoffers in the press and in drawing rooms asked one another, "How is it that this pupil of semi-omniscient Mahatmas, this natural clairvoyant and trained reader of the minds of men, cannot even tell her friends from her foes?"

"Who am I," She said, answering one question with another, "who am I that I should deny a chance to one in whom I see a spark still glimmering of recognition of the Cause I serve, that might yet be fanned into a flame of devotion? What matter the consequences that fall on me personally when such a one fails, succumbing to the forces of evil within him - deception, ingratitude, revenge, what not - forces that I saw as clearly as I saw the hopeful spark; though in his fall he cover me with misrepresentation, obloquy and scorn? What right have I to refuse to any one the chance of profiting by the truths I can teach him, and thereby entering upon the Path? I tell you that I have no choice. I am pledged by the strictest rules and laws of occultism to a renunciation of selfish considerations, and how can I dare to assume the existence of faults in a candidate and act upon my assumption, even though a cloudy forbidding aura may fill me with misgivings?"

Chapter 2: HPB invites The Countess

Here I may perhaps allude briefly to the circumstances which led up to the visit to Madame Blavatsky that I have just described. For two years, 1879-1881, I had been investigating Spiritualism, with the result that, while I was forced into acceptance of the facts observed, I was wholly unable to accept the current Spiritualistic interpretation of those facts.

Towards the end of this time, I read Isis Unveiled, Esoteric Buddhism, and other Theosophical books. Finding the theories that I had formed independently in regard to the nature and cause of Spiritualistic phenomena corroborated and expanded in these works, I very naturally felt attracted towards Theosophy.

In 1881, I joined the ranks of The Theosophical Society and became affiliated to a Lodge.

The result of my studies here was, from various causes, unsatisfactory, and I resumed private reading and research. Thus I was in sympathy with some aspects of the Theosophic teaching and with the subjects of which HPB had made a close study. The perusal of these books served to increase my admiration for Madame Blavatsky, so that when an opportunity occurred to make her acquaintance I seized upon it with alacrity.

Shortly after the visit mentioned, I was present at an evening party at Mrs. Sinnett's, and there first met Colonel Henry S. Olcott. His conversation, which drew around him a group of interested listeners, was directed chiefly to topics of the phenomena, and the strange experiences which had come under his own observation, or in which he had borne a part. All this, however, did not suffice to divert my attention from Madame Blavatsky, whose striking personality, and the mystery surrounding her life, fascinated me. Yet I did not approach her, but spent a pleasant evening apart with another acquaintance, Madame Gebhart. She was later to become a very dear friend, who entertained me with many stories of the "old lady", as HPB was then familiarly called by her intimates.

... [ The countess Wachtmeister goes on to describe the way is which she eventually came to live almost permanently with H.P. Blavatsky. I have left this out. In chapter 4 her life with H.P. Blavatsky is described in full. ]

Chapter 4: Life with HPB

The description of a single day will serve to give an idea of the routine of her life at this time.

At four o'clock I was awakened by the servant coming with a cup of coffee for Madame Blavatsky, who, after this slight refreshment, rose and dressed, and by seven o'clock was at her desk in the sitting room.

She told me that this was her invariable habit, and that breakfast would be served at eight. After breakfast she settled herself at her writing desk and the day's work began in earnest. At one o'clock dinner was served, whereupon I rang a small handbell to call HPB. Sometimes she would come in at once; at other times her door would remain closed for hours, until our Swiss maid would come to me, with tears in her eyes, to ask what was to be done with Madame's dinner. The dinner then was either getting cold, or dried up, burnt, and utterly spoiled. At last, HPB would come in, weary with so many hours of exhausting labor and fasting; then another dinner would be cooked, or I would send to the hotel to get her some nourishing food. 

At seven o'clock, she laid aside her writing, and after tea we would spend a pleasant evening together.

Comfortably seated in her big armchair, HPB used to arrange her cards for a game of patience, as she said, to rest her mind. It seemed as if the mechanical process of laying her cards enabled her mind to free itself from the pressure of such concentrated labor of the day's writing. She never cared to talk of Theosophy in the evenings. The mental tension during the day was so severe that she needed, above all things, rest; and so I produced as many journals and magazines as I could to read the articles and passages that I thought most likely to interest and amuse her. At nine o'clock she went to bed, where she would surround herself with her Russian newspapers and read them until late.

Thus our days passed with the same routine; the only change worth noticing being that sometimes she would leave the door open between her writing room and the dining room where I sat, and then from time to time we would converse together, or I would write letters for her, or discuss the contents of those we had received.

Our visitors were very few. Once a week the doctor called to enquire after HPB's health, and he would stay gossiping for more than an hour. Sometimes, but rarely, our landlord would tell a good story of life as he saw it though his spectacles, and many a laugh we had all together - a pleasant interruption to the daily monotony of our work.

At this time I learned little more concerning The Secret Doctrine other than that it was to be a work far more voluminous than Isis Unveiled. It would consist, when completed, of four volumes, and that it would give out to the world as much of the esoteric doctrine as was possible at the present stage of human evolution.

"It will, of course, be very fragmentary," she said, "and there will, of necessity, be great gaps left but it will make men think, and as soon as they are ready more will be given out."

"But that will not be," she added after a pause, "until the next century, when men will begin to understand and discuss this book intelligently."

Soon, however, I was entrusted with the task of making fair copies of HPB's manuscript, and then of course I began to get glimpses of the subject matter of The Secret Doctrine.

I have previously not alluded to the presence at Würzburg of a Hindu gentleman, who for a time, was a prominent figure in our little society.

It was at Adyar one day that an Indian, begrimed with dirt, clad in tattered garments, and with a miserable expression of countenance, made his way into Madame Blavatsky's presence. He cast himself at her feet and with tears in his voice and eyes entreated her to save him. On enquiry it appeared that in a mood of religious exaltation he had wandered away into the jungle with the intention of renouncing society, becoming a "forest-dweller", and devoting himself to religious contemplation and yoga practices. There he had joined a yogi who was willing to accept him as his chela or pupil, and had spent some time in the study of the difficult system of Hatha Yoga, a system which relies almost exclusively on physiological processes for the development of psychic powers.

At last, overcome by terror at his experiences, and the formidable training he had to undergo, he made his escape from his guru. By what circumstances he was led to HPB we don't know, but he reached her, and she comforted him and calmed his mind, clothed and fed him, and then, at his request, began to teach him the truly spiritual path of development, the Raja Yoga philosophy. In return he vowed a life-long devotion, and when she left India for Europe he persuaded her to bring him with her.

He was a little man, of nervous temperament, with bright beady eyes. During the first few days that I spent at Würzburg he was for ever talking to me, translating stories from his Tamil books, and relating all sorts of wonderful adventures that had happened to him when he was in the forest with his Hatha Yoga master. But he did not remain long in Würzburg. Madame Gebhart sent him a cordial invitation to pay her a visit at Elberfeld, and so one morning, after an effusive scene of leave-taking with HPB, during which he declared that she had been more than a mother to him, that life, he departed - I regret to say never to return. Too soon flattery turned his head and his heart, and the poor little man was false to all that should have been most sacred to him.

I wish to pass very lightly over incidents such as this, which, I am sorry to say, was not an isolated instance of ingratitude and desertion, but was, perhaps the one which affected HPB most painfully. I mention it here to show an example of the mental distress which, added to physical maladies and weakness, rendered progress with her task slow and painful.

[follows an account of the effect the Hodson affaire had on HPB's psychological stability. Her work on The Secret Doctrine came to a standstill. HPB's temper has been famous and this was a situation in which even more peacefull temperaments would have had a hard time staying peaceful. For those interested in reading the full account by Countess Wachtmeister, I refer them to the book from which this was taken.]

Chapter 5: Writing The Secret Doctrine

It is little to be wondered at that the progress of The Secret Doctrine was brought to a standstill during these stormy days, and that when the work was at last resumed, the necessary detachment and tranquility of mind were hard to attain.

HPB said to me one evening, "You cannot imagine what it is to feel so many adverse thoughts and currents directed against you; it is like the prickings of a thousand needles, and I have continually to be erecting a wall of protection around me." I asked her whether she knew from whom these unfriendly thoughts came, she answered: "Yes, unfortunately I do, and I am always trying to shut my eyes so as not to see and know." To prove to me that this was indeed the case, she would tell me of letters that had been written, quoting from passages from them, and these actually arrived a day or two afterwards, I being able to verify the correctness of the sentences.

One day during this time, when I walked into HPB's writing room, I found the floor strewn with sheets of discarded manuscript. I asked the meaning of this scene of confusion, and she replied, "Yes, I have tried twelve times to write this one page correctly, and each time Master says it is wrong. I will not pause until I have conquered it, even if I have to go on all night."

I brought a cup of coffee to refresh and sustain her, and then left her to prosecute the weary task. An hour later I heard her voice calling me, and on entering found that, at last, the passage was completed to satisfaction, but the labor had been terrible, and the results were often at this time small and uncertain.

As she leaned back, enjoying her cigarette and the sense of relief from an arduous effort, I rested on the arm of her great chair and asked her how it was that she could make mistakes in recording what was given to her.

She said, "Well, you see, what I do is this. I make what I can only describe as a sort of vacuum in the air before me, and fix my sight and my will upon it, and soon scene after scene passes before me like the successive pictures of a diorama, or, if I need a reference or information from some book, I fix my mind intently, and the astral counterpart of the book appears, and from it I take what I need. The more perfectly my mind is freed from distractions and mortifications, the more energy and intentness it possesses, the more easily I can do this; but today, after all the vexations I have undergone in consequence of the letter from X., I could not concentrate properly, and each time I tried I got the quotations all wrong. Master says it is right now, so let us go in and have some tea."

I have already remarked how few were our visitors at this time. This evening, however, I was surprised to hear the sound of a strange voice in the passage, and soon afterwards a German professor, whose name I need not give, was announced.

He excused his intrusion; he had traveled many miles, he said, to see Madame Blavatsky and express his sympathy. He was aware of the animosity and unfairness that characterized the S.P.R. Report and now, would not Madame favor him with an exhibition, in the interests of psychic science, of some of the phenomena she could so easily produce?

Now the "old lady" was very tired, and perhaps she had not too much faith in the suave professions of her visitor. Anyhow, she was very disinclined to gratify him, but at last, persuaded by his entreaties, she consented to produce some trifling experiments in psychoelectric force - raps - the simplest, easiest, and most familiar of these phenomena.

She begged him to draw away the table that stood in front of her to some distance, so that he could pass freely around it and inspect it on all sides. "Now," she said, "I will rap for you on that table as many times as you please." He asked first for three times, then five times, then seven times, and so on, and as HPB raised her finger, pointing it at the table, there came sharp, distinct raps in accordance with his expressed wish.

The Professor seemed delighted. He skipped round the table with wonderful agility, he peeped under it, he examined it on all sides, and when HPB was too exhausted to gratify his curiosity in this direction any longer, he sat down and plied her with questions, to all of which she replied with her usual vivacity and charm of manner.

At length our visitor took his departure - unconvinced, as we afterwards learned. He was a disciple of Huxley, and preferred to adopt any explanation, however absurd, provided it did not clash with his own theories.

Poor HPB! Her swollen and painful limbs that could hardly bear her from chair to coach were little fitted for the gymnastics the Professor credited them with.