Did H.P.Blavatsky actually just plagiarize ideas from Bulwer-Lytton and his esoteric novel Zanoni? This question is being mulled over again by an American grad student in Religious Studies. What religious studies students do not know about is the real process of initiation. They do not understand the ending of Occult law and the blessing to our modern world of open access to the wisdom teachings. It is the end of Kali Yuga and the beginning of Satya Yuga, the age of enlightenment- the possibility of the Golden Age.
The actual existence of the Mahatmas and the continuous history of the wisdom teachings of Theosophy are so clear if one reads the original works of H. P. Blavatsky : Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine. Her great biography HPB by Sylvia Cranston describes in detail her background, discovery of the Mahatmas, and the impact of Theosophy upon our modern culture in science, literature, and modern spirituality.
I believe that the old Occult Law that kept the teachings and the master’s existence secret ended in the early years of the twentieth century.The Brotherhood opened the door to the public with the publishing of the Theosophical Society and their works.
Bulwer-Lytton was one who by intuition or actual experience, brought a very real story of spiritual development and the Masters to modern society’s attention. I think that both Bulwer-Lytton and Blavatsky found the Masters and the teachings directly and so their stories are similar as based in the same fount of truth.
“Musings on Bulwer-Lytton, Zanoni, and Fiction as a Source of Theosophical Beliefs” is the title of a recent post by John L Crow, a grad student at the Department of Religions at Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida. Among other things he poses the question:
Do we simply claim she was myth-making based on Bulwer-Lytton’s fiction? Okay, maybe that is true. But so what? Blavatsky’s assertion informs Theosophical Doctrine and many Theosophists take these statements as fact. [C. Nelson] Stewart claims that Zicci and A Strange Story “were based rather upon what we should now call ‘astral experiences’ beginning in [Bulwer-Lytton’s] early youth.” In all these Theosophical assertions, fiction acts to reveal and conceal what Theosophists see as occult truth. Those who have the eyes to see and can read between the lines see in Bulwer-Lytton’s fiction the truth of occultism and the works become manuals. Terms such as “The Dweller on the Threshold” enter occultism and become topics of Theosophical doctrine. Fiction becomes the seeds that sprout into assertions about occult truth. So what?
Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s occult fiction is outlined in John Henry Montgomery’s 2000 Masters Dissertation “Bulwer Lytton’s Mystic Novels: On the Margins of the Invisible” at Rand Afrikaans University (now University of Johannesburg). Unfortunately he repeats statements like “Madame Blavatsky would shamelessly plagiarise him [Bulwer Lytton] in her Isis Unveiled,” without giving the slightest evidence.
R.A. Gilbert reminds us in his chapter “‘The Supposed Rosy Crucian Society’ Bulwer-Lytton and the S.R.I.A.” in Ésotérisme, Gnosis & Imaginaire Symbolique (2001) that “Joscelyn Godwin rightly points out that ‘There is nothing in Zanoni that a voracious reader of occult literature could not have learned at second hand.’”
Certainly Mejnour and Zanoni, the adepts of the novel Zanoni (1843), are not creations unique to Bulwer-Lytton, who died the same year Blavatsky arrived in America, 1873. They owe something to their predecessors depicted in earlier novels like Vathek (1786) and Sethos (1731) and one of Blavatsky’s personal favourites, Le Comte de Gabalis (1670). In her childhood Blavatsky would already have been familiar with the volkhv, wizard, of Russian folklore, a word used to describe the Three Kings in Russian translations of the gospel of Matthew.
The mahatmas have also commented on this identification of their roles:
I hope that at least you will understand that we (or most of us) are far from being the heartless, morally dried up mummies some would fancy us to be. “Mejnour” is very well where he is — as an ideal character of a thrilling — in many respects truthful story. Yet, believe me, few of us would care to play the part in life of a desiccated pansy between the leaves of a volume of solemn poetry. We may not be quite the “boys” — to quote Olcott’s irreverent expression when speaking of us — yet none of our degree are like the stern hero of Bulwer’s romance.
Vathek, 1815, from the 2004 exhibition
Les livres anglais du duc d’Aumale
at the Bibliothèque et Archives du Château de Chantilly