Few figures in nineteenth-century American Egyptomania were as scandalous or as popular as Madame Helena Petrovsky Blavatsky. Blavatsky was a Russian immigrant who founded a group known as the Theosophical Society in New York in 1875. A school of thought still in operation today, theosophy is a combination of religion, philosophy, linguistics, and the study of the paranormal, and was one of several “sciences of the occult” which emerged during the nineteenth century. Like its close relatives spiritualism, occultism, “spirit-rapping,” and other forms of psychic study, theosophy produced explanations for many “unexplained” or mystical beliefs, but theosophy was remarkable for two main things: its highly elaborate and detailed system of explanations, referred to as “mysteries,” and its highly charismatic and infamous founder, Madame Blavatsky, widely known simply as HPB. Theosophy combined elements of Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Kabbalistic Judaism to produce a school of religious or spiritual study based, among other things, on the assertion that mainstream Christianity had gone astray and a belief in spiritual evolution.
Theosophy was squarely in the tradition of what might be called “speculative” Egyptomania: theosophical writings are full of references to ancient Egypt, ancient Egyptian myths and religion, and other areas of ancient history, and in general utilizes an overall approach to enlightenment based on “hieroglyphics.” Hieroglyphics, for theosophists, are both literal and symbolic codes meant to be “unlocked” for the purposes of ever greater spiritual evolution, and, though they are not strictly Egyptological, they are part and parcel of the widespread tendency in nineteenth-century Egyptomania to bestow upon ancient Egypt all the magic, mystery, and secret ancient wisdom one can find. Ancient Egypt in the speculative mode becomes a kind of space of free-association; whatever secret (or, to use the theosophical term, “esoteric”) mysteries that have been hidden from modern humanity can be found in the overtly fantastic spaces of Egyptomania.
THE SECRET DOCTRINE:
SCIENCE, RELIGION, AND PHILOSOPHY.
H. P. BLAVATSKY,
AUTHOR Or "ISIS UNVEILED."
HS+IIct "1II X1+1:I
"There is no Religion higher than Truth."
VOL. I. ó COSMOGENESIS.
VERBATIM WITH THE ORIGINAL EDITION, 1888
THEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS