The Theosophical Work of Beatrice Hastings
by R. Bruce MacDonald
In 1937, Beatrice Hastings, after reading the Mahatma Letters, and later coming upon the ignominious attacks leveled against H.P. Blavatsky by the Psychical Research Society, was moved by compassion and justice to come to the aid of the founder of modern theosophy, despite never being a member of the Theosophical Movement. Being familiar with The Mahatma Letters, almost by heart, it was immediately clear to Ms. Hastings that the charges and conclusion reached in the S.P.R. Report, and further within the Coulomb pamphlet were not based in fact, and were most certainly libelous. Ironically, as she began her efforts to defend the founder of the Theosophical Movement, she found the greatest obstacles to her efforts coming from within the Theosophical Movement itself.
When future historians begin the work of sifting through the modern Theosophical Movement, they are going to discover that the battles waged within that Movement were the battles fought by those who championed the ideas that have enslaved mankind for centuries, and those championing the ideas that promised to deliver him from that slavery. Roy Mitchell, a Canadian Theosophist and proponent of the original program that promised to deliver man from enslavement, delivered to the Theosophical Movement in 1923 an insightful work called Theosophy in Action. The members of the Canadian Section of the Theosophical Society, were members of one of the few sections to champion Ms. Hastings efforts. Theosophy in Action gives us an insight into the psyche of that particular branch and the reason why many Canadian members did what they could to support the Defence of Madame Blavatsky.
Mitchell understood that the Theosophical Society could be rapidly changed to a force capable of helping to guide humanity. He wrote:
In the beginning the Theosophical Society as custodian of the most ancient and the most complete philosophy, held a central position among them all, to guide, to amplify, to warn, and to answer. Its work was one of explaining the rationale of the movements round it – even the maddest – with sympathy and understanding; to provide a literature, to trace ideas to their origins, to restate the ancient doctrines of the soul of man which have survived the ages, to teach those things which are basic in all great religions and philosophies, and to round out the path of which each of the cults is a fragment. [Mitchell, p. 5]
Now, the membership at this time were enthusiastically caught up in the cults surrounding Besant, Leadbeater, and Krishnamurti. Mitchell did not see this as a major obstacle when he pointed out that:
The membership of the Society changes with great rapidity – far greater than persons unacquainted with its records would suppose – and a very short time is enough to recreate the spirit of any group. If, then, we assume our tasks , not as an end in themselves, but as laying down a charge and a culture for incoming members,the whole Society can be remade nearer to that first mood in which the work was begun. [Mitchell, p. 29]
What tasks are Mitchell referring to? Mitchell centres the tasks of the theosophical student around study. Again he writes:
Comparative study alone will nourish. The fool cleaves to a single exposition of truth, and is starved. The wise man reads two books and is fed. He knows neither book can be complete and exact. He triangulates on his subject. Each book gives its own bearing and a parallax is established by which values can be measured. Once having learned the process, the wise man will go on taking new bearings on his problem until sees it in the round. Then he possesses the factors out of which he can make truth in his own soul, and such truth is Theosophy. [Mitchell, pp. 32-33]
The Canadian Section for many years was focused on moving the Theosophical Society back to the original program. This was reflected in their disproportionate support, among national sections, of Ms. Hastings' work defending H.P. Blavatsky. Canadians pointed out through an article in the March 1938 issue of The Canadian Theosophist that:
Mrs. Beatrice Hastings’ campaign in Defence of Madame Blavatsky has not apparently enlisted the sympathy of professing Theosophists as might have been expected. It is the usual experience with those who ally themselves with an organization and learn soon to think more of the machine than of what it was intended to do, more of the plough and harrow and reaper than of the crop and harvest.
This sentiment was to become a common refrain in the following few years as Hastings, The Canadian Theosophist and the OLE Critic tried to rouse the membership to support this cause. Smythe, the editor of The Canadian Theosophist gives us a clue as to why the wider membership may have been reluctant to support the Defence of Madame Blavatsky. In every age it is the propagandists of the press and the leaders of academic thought who determine public opinion. Smythe quotes Hastings in a September 1938 issue of the CT to intimate to us who is (and probably has been) secretly directing the fight against H.P.B. and theosophy:
Rebecca West “is one of a ring of reviewers who will talk you anything from Milton to—Madame Blavatsky, and with equal critical impotence, the band of powerful log-rollers who are known in publishing circles as Humph, Grumph and Blumph and whose strangle-hold on literature has been a tragedy this twenty years. In vain, young writers try to break the ring; it will not be broken till these people die off. The ring is largely Catholic, openly or secretly, and is clever at copying the Jesuit method of feigning sympathy with liberty and of permeating and assimilating (like your python) any movement that threatens the future establishment of Catholic temporal power.”
The Catholic Church does not become the vessel of world power for nearly 2000 years without understanding how to promote ignorance among the populace making it easier to divide, conquer and assimilate any group that forms to combat ignorance and promote real spiritual growth. Members of the TS proved very early on that they were susceptible to the divide and conquer machinations of the Society's enemies.
How differently things might have been for Mrs. Hastings if some theosophical leadership had gotten behind her and helped galvanize the membership into action. In a letter to Frank Arthur Raincar in 1938, Hastings expresses her frustration on this front:
My hands are still damaged from the hundreds of letters leaflets and parcels I had to do at the start of FRIENDS [Friends of Madame Blavatsky – those it was hoped who would band together and fight with Mrs. Hastings for the clearing of Madame Blavatsky's good name]. It was all in the expectation, based on wildly enthusiastic letters from T’s, that ever so many people would come in and do something. Lord! talk of mayas! I never dreamed of running FRIENDS myself, but I found that the various FTS’s won’t work together. More, Arundale and Co and Purucker and Co. no doubt realised from the start what I only realised a little later — that when HPB comes to her own, they fade out, I also knew it in a way, but didn’t fathom their remorseless ambition and determination to keep their hold. It takes time for an outsider to understand that scores of well-known names are names of Theosophical Crooks on the Path.
Again in an April 1939 article in the Canadian Theosophist, Smythe quotes Hastings warning theosophists of what it was they were doing by not lending their support to H.P.B.:
“It is the duty of Theosophists to call the attention of people all over the world to the ‘Defence of Madame Blavatsky’ which I have prepared with enormous pains and to protest against the repetition of slanders, baseless always and now being one by one refuted. And do not reply that you are doing your duty by reading The Secret Doctrine and teaching it to others. That would be to class yourself with a man who should hear people saying that his benefactor was a swindler and should reply that he was too busy spending the fortune to bother about that.”
As bad as the lack of support from theosophists was, there were also attacks on her own reputation that Mrs. Hastings had to contend with. In an article by Hastings printed in the May 1939 issue of The Canadian Theosophist, Mrs. Hastings details how she had to fend off attacks from what might be called Jesuit agents within the Theosophical Society. Slanderous gossip lead to a an audit of the donations made to the Friends of Madame Blavatsky in order to rest control from Mrs. Hastings and put it into the hand of a committee. While the good reputation of Mrs. Hastings was being affirmed by an auditor, Hastings details another facet of the attack against her in her article:
While I was immersed in the slime of this attack, I was told by a Theosophical authority that certain members of the British Adyar group intend to approach the S.P.R. for withdrawal of Hodgson’s Report on the strength of—Miss Mary Neff’s book! Miss Neff’s book, however useful as a compendium of H. P. B. story, is no answer to Hodgson’s Report, and of course the scheme is simply a bare-faced bit of double-crossing, an attempt to snatch the credit from the F.M.B., not to say myself as the writer of the “Defence.”
This attack points clearly to what it is that the enemies of theosophy fear. It was okay for the British Adyar group to quietly have the Hodgson Report withdrawn by the S.P.R., for that has been done a few years ago and has not resulted in any cessation of the attacks against H.P.B.s good name. What was dangerous was a public fight that brought all theosophists together in the spirit of righting a terrible injustice and perhaps consequently remembering what it was that attracted them to the Society in the first place, its lofty ideals. In the process Madame Blavatsky would be reintroduced to the public in a more sympathetic light giving a foothold into the mountain of public ignorance of a set of doctrines that in time could surmount that ignorance thereby destroying the temporal power of the enemies of Truth.
Following is a list of articles detailing Hastings' fight. It would be instructive to many members of the Theosophical Movement to read through these articles and meditate on what can be learned from Mrs. Hastings' efforts and the insights of a women who spent most of her adult life studying the human condition. One inescapable conclusion of such meditation should be that all theosophists ought to thank Mrs. Hastings for her demonstration of how to stand firm against injustice, how to behave theosophically. Another could be to acknowledge the shameful history of the Movement and resolve to do better. One remedy for the Movement might be to look at Roy Mitchell's prescription detailed at the beginning of this article and follow it.
See Also: Hastings: Defence of H.P.Blavatsky