Mahatma Letters
Communications allegedly from the Mahatmas (Masters or
Adepts) of the Theosophical Society to Helena Petrovna Blavatsky
and other leading theosophists during the nineteenth
century. These Mahatmas were said to be eastern teachers belonging
to the Great White Brotherhood, a group providing
overall guidance to human destiny. The brotherhood was said
to be living in the Himalayas of Tibet. It included Koot Humi
Lal Singh (K. H.) and Morya (M.), the primary masters with
whom Blavatsky claimed contact.
Notes signed with the initials of these Masters would be mysteriously
precipitated out of the air or discovered in unexpected
places. Recipients of such letters included Henry S. Olcott,
the society’s president, and A. P. Sinnett, editor of the AngloIndian
newspaper the Pioneer. Sinnett was favorably impressed
by such letters as well as other occult phenomena demonstrated
by Blavatsky, and played a prominent part in the affairs of
the Theosophical Society. The material received by Blavatsky
from the Mahatmas, both in the letters and in other communications,
formed the basis of the particular teachings of the society
and constituted a new form of Gnosticism.
The reception of communications from the Masters in some
unusual and unlikely circumstances became one claim of the
society to special revelatory knowledge. Those claims, which
had initially impressed some of the leaders of the Society for
Psychical Research, led it to delegate Richard Hodgson to investigate
the phenomena in Adyar, the Madras headquarters.
He found extensive evidence of fraud on Blavatsky’s part in
producing and delivering the letters and in the arrival of various
artifacts, reportedly gifts of the Masters. His discoveries included
a shrine with a false back in which letters would mysteriously
appear overnight to be found the next morning. He was
assisted by Emma Coulomb, a former employee of the society,
who claimed to have been a cohort of Blavatsky, but who had
subsequently turned on her.
The publication of the Hodgson report created a public controversy
and a crisis of major import within the society. While
many members left, others preferred to believe that the confession
by Coulomb was part of a plot to discredit Blavatsky. After
Blavatsky’s death, Theosophist co-founder William Q. Judge
produced furthur Mahatma letters supporting his effort to take
charge of the Esoteric Section of the Theosophical Society (in
opposition to the leadership of Annie Besant). Olcott eventually
declared these letters to be fraudulent.
Theosophists have had to live for a century with the Hodgson
report and the charge that the society is built upon a fraud.
During this time various members have attempted to refute
Hodgson’s (and additional supporting) claims. For example,
all now agree that the original Mahatma letters to Blavatsky
were strongly influenced by her personality, since the handwriting
and language were typical of her. While skeptics would
claim that such influence is an additional sign of conscious
fraud, Theosophists would claim that this resulted from the
Masters using her as a medium of communication, in much the
same way that a psychic delivers automatic writing.
More recently (1980), Charles Marshall attempted to prove
by computer analysis that there is a strong dissimilarity between
Blavatsky’s language and that of the Masters. However,
the computer program, although extensive, was somewhat arbitrary,
being confined to certain prepositions and conjunctions.
Moreover the comparison between the Mahatma letters
and Blavatsky’s writings in such works as The Secret Doctrine ignored
the extensive editorial work by others on behalf of Blavatsky’s
writings, and her own extensive and unacknowledged
plagiarism from other writers, thus making her claimed style
unrepresentative. Other recent defenses of Blavatsky have been
made by Vernon Harrison and Walter A. Carrithers.
Some of the original Mahatma letters may be viewed in the
Manuscripts Department of the British Library, London.
Barker, A. T. The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett from the Mahatmas
M. and K. H. London T. Fisher Unwin, 1924.
Gomes, Michael. Theosophy in the Nineteenth Century An Annotated
Bibliography. New York Garland Publishing, 1994.
Hare, William L., and H. E. Hare. Who Wrote the Mahatma
Letters London William & Norgate, 1936.
Harrison, Vernon. ‘‘‘J’Accuse’ An Examination of the
Hodgson Report of 1885.’’ Journal of the Society for Psychical
Research (April 1986).
Jinarajadasa, C., ed. The K. H. Letters to C. W. Leadbeater.
Adyar, Madras, India Theosophical Publishing House, 1941.
———. Letters from the Masters of Wisdom. 2 vols. Adyar, Madras
India Theosophical Publishing House, 1919.
———. The Story of the Mahatma Letters. Adyar, Madras,
India Theosophical Publishing House, 1946.
Marshall, Charles. ‘‘The Mahatma Letters A Syntactic Investigation
into the Possibility of ‘Forgery’ by Helena Petrovna
Blavatsky, a 19th Century Russian Occultist.’’ Viewpoint Aquarius
96 (October 1980).
Waterman, Adlai E. [Walter A. Carrithers]. Obituary The
‘‘Hodgson Report’’ on Madame Blavatsky. Adyar, Madras, India
Theosophical Publishing House, 1963.