In 1885 a committee of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) issued a report by Hodgson condemning Madame Blavatsky. It caused substantial damage to her reputation and was assumed by many to be the official opinion of the SPR. The damage to Blavatsky's reputation and that of Theosophy due to the falsehoods of that report has lingered on still today. One hundred years later, in 1986, the SPR published in its magazine an article by Vernon Harrison debunking the century old committee report.
Rebuttal of Hodgson Report - Press Release (see below) - by (May 8, 1986). The publication of Vernon Harrison's analysis in the SPR Journal was of such significance - contradicting a position that had been held for a century, on an erroneous report that had tumultuous and undesirable consequences - that the SPR issued a Press Release announcing the publication of the new article. The press release itself is a little bland but its heading says: "Madame Blavatsky ... Unjustly Condemned." Central to the conclusion of that report was an analysis of some handwriting samples.
However, the April 1986 issue of the Journal of SPR - on the one hundredth anniversary of the original article - published an effective retraction of the charges against HPB. In that issue Dr. Vernon Harrison, "a long-standing member of the SPR" wrote that the handwriting samples upon which the first report was based were "so weak, partisan, and confused, that it might just as easily show that Madame Blavatsky wrote Huckleberry Finn - or that President Eisenhower wrote the Mahatma Letters."
It concludes by quoting the General Secretary of the Theosophical Society in England:
We welcome the publication of Dr. Harrison's findings, which independently confirm what many Theosophists have pointed out in the past century. We hope that the Theosophical message in general, and Madame Blavatsky's work in particular, can now be studied without the distraction of the Hodgson allegations.
Rebuttal of Hodgson Report - Editor's preface (see below) - to Vernon Harrison's article by the Editor of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research. This contains more helpful background than the press release above. The editor says:
In this issue of our Journal, coming as it does almost exactly one hundred years after the publication of the Hodgson Report, we are happy, in the interests of truth and fair play, and to make amends for whatever offence we may have given, to publish here one such critical analysis by a hand-writing expert.
Rebuttal of Hodgson Report - Conclusion (see below) - Conclusion of Vernon Harrison's article published in April 1986 Journal of Society for Psychical Research. Amongst other comments, Harrison says:
Had she [Blavatsky] been allowed the legal and expert help she begged for, both Hodgson and the Society for Psychical Research would have been in dire trouble.
In 1997, Dr. Harrison published a new book entitled H. P. Blavatsky and the SPR. This book includes a line-by-line examination of 1,323 color slides of the Mahatma Letters, and concludes that "the Hodgson Report is even worse than I had thought."
Press Release of Society for Psychical Research - 1986
The Incorporated Society for Psychical Research
Registered Office Telephone: 01-937 8984 1
Adam & Eve Mews,
Kensington, London, W8 6UG
News Release ----- Not for publication before 8 May 1986
MADAME BLAVATSKY, CO-FOUNDER OF THE THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY, WAS UNJUSTLY CONDEMNED, NEW STUDY CONCLUDES
The 'exposure' of the Russian-born occultist, Madame H. P. Blavatsky by the S.P.R. in 1885, is in serious doubt, with the publication in the S.P.R. Journal (Vol.53 April 1986) of a forceful critique of the 1885 report.
The case has been re-examined by Dr. Vernon Harrison, past president of The Royal Photographic Society and formerly Research Manager to Thomas De La Rue, who is an expert on forgery. The 1885 report was written mostly by Richard Hodgson, an Australian pioneer of both the British and American S.P.R.'s, who became widely known through the case.
Central to the case were two sets of disputed letters. One set, provided by two dismissed employees of The Theosophical Society at its headquarters in India, were apparently in the handwriting of Madame Blavatsky and implicated her in fraudulent psychic phenomena. The other set, were ostensibly written in support of The Theosophical Society by members of an oriental fraternity, popularly called Mahatmas. Dr. Hodgson accepted the genuineness of the first set. He argued that the Mahatma Letters were spurious productions by Madame Blavatsky and occasional confederates.
Dr. Harrison on the contrary, suggests that it is the incriminating letters that are forgeries, concocted by the ex-employees for revenge; while the bulk of the Mahatma Letters, now preserved in the British Library, are not in Madame Blavatsky's handwriting, disguised or otherwise.
Dr. Harrison concludes;
"As detailed examination of this Report proceeds, one becomes more and more aware that, whereas Hodgson was prepared to use any evidence, however trivial or questionable, to implicate H.P.B., he ignored all evidence that could be used in her favour. His report is riddled with slanted statements, conjecture advanced as fact or probable fact, uncorroborated testimony of unnamed witnesses, selection of evidence and downright falsity.
"As an investigator, Hodgson is weighed in the balances and found wanting. His case against Madame H. P. Blavatsky is not proven."
Much of Dr. Harrison's paper is an examination of the handwriting evidence presented in the 1885 report. He believes this was so weak, partisan and confused that it might just as easily show that Madame Blavatsky wrote "Huckleberry Finn" - or that President Eisenhower wrote the Mahatma Letters.
In an introductory note to the paper, the Editor of the S.P. R., Dr. John Beloff, recalls that other researchers have criticised the 1885 report, and that it had wrongly been taken as expressing an official view of the S.P.R., when in fact the S.P.R. had no opinions. Noting that Dr. Harrison is not a member of The Theosophical Society, but a long-standing member of the S.P.R., Dr. Beloff says;
"Whether readers agree or disagree with his conclusions, we are pleased to offer him the hospitality of our columns and we hope that, hereafter, Theosophists, and, indeed, all who care for the reputation of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, will look upon us in a more kindly light."
Responding to the publication of Dr. Harrison 5 paper, Dr. Hugh Gray, General Secretary of The Theosophical Society in England, said;
"We welcome the publication of Dr. Harrison's findings, which in dependently confirm what many Theosophists have pointed out in the past century. We hope that the Theosophical message in general, and Madame Blavatsky's work in particular, can now be studied without the distraction of the Hodgson allegations."
Dr. Vernon Harrison, who lives in Surrey, may be available for interviews from 6 May onwards. Please contact the S.P.R. in the first instance.
The Society for Psychical Research, as noted above, has no collective views. Thus it was not the S.P.R. which condemned Madame Blavatsky in 1885, but only an S.P.R. Committee, whose report was mostly written by Dr. Hodgson. Similarly, Dr. Harrison's paper represents only his personal views.
Cordial relations have existed between psychical researchers and Theosophists in England for sometime. In 1982, the S.P.R. chose as its centenary president, Professor Arthur Ellison of The City University, a distinguished engineer, psychical researcher and Theosophist.
Madame Blavatsky founded The Theosophical Society with others in New York in 1875, and it is an international body active in more than 60 countries with its headquarters in Adyar, Madras, India. The Society exists to promote a knowledge of Theosophy, a word of Greek origin meaning Divine Wisdom. Madame Blavatsky's main work was "The Secret Doctrine" (1888). She died in London in 1891 at the age of 59.
For further information contact;
The Society for Psychical Research
Tel. 0l 937 8984
The Theosophical Society in England
50 Gloucester Place, London W1H 3HJ
Tel. 01 935 9261
Journal of the Society for Psychical Research
Vo1. 53, No.803
An Examination of the Hodgson Report of 1885
by VERNON HARRISON
Editorial Note to Vernon Harrison's article 'J'Accuse'
In December, 1885, The Society for Psychical Research published in its Proceedings (Part IX, pp. 201-400) the 'Report of the Committee appointed to investigate Phenomena Connected with the Theosophical Society'. The Committee consisted of F. Gurney, F. W. H. Myers,.F. Podmore, H. Sidgwick, J. H. Stack, R. Hodgson and Mrs H. Sidgwick. The main bulk of this publication was the account written by Richard Hodgson who, at the behest of the Society had gone to India to investigate further the activities of Mme. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, cofounder with Col. H. S. Olcott, in 1875, of the Theosophical Society. Mme. Blavatsky was credited with a variety of paranormal phenomena but the Committee, in their Conclusions accuse her of gross fraud and of being an impostor. Although, as it has been repeatedly pointed out, The S.P.R. holds no corporate opinions, it has widely been regarded as responsible for endorsing the 'Hodgson Report' (as we shall hereafter refer to the report as a whole) and hence as being on record as condemning Mme. Blavatsky. Members of the Theosophical Society have, naturally, resented this slur on the good name of their founder and have repeatedly challenged the Report's conclusions. For many years, Walter A. Carrithers, not a member of the Theosophical Society but a long-standing member of the S.P.R., who has written extensively on the case some of which is published under the pen-name 'Adlai Waterman', has campaigned to get the S.P.R. Council to disown, publicly, the Report. in April 1983, Mr. Leslie Price, a member of the S.P.R. Library Committee and, since January 1985, editor of the new quarterly Theosophical History, gave one of the S.P.R. Lectures with the title 'Madame Blavatsky Unveiled?' (which is to be published early in 1986 by the Theosophical History Centre) in which he, too, criticizes Hodgson's methods and arguments. In this issue of our Journal, coming as it does almost exactly one hundred years after the publication of the Hodgson Report, we are happy, in the interests of truth and fair play, and to make amends for whatever offence we may have given, to publish here one such critical analysis by a hand-writing expert. His expertise is of special relevance in this instance since much of the Hodgson Report concerns the authorship of certain letters which Hodgson claims were forged by Mme. Blavatsky herself Dr. Vernon Harrison, a past president of the Royal Photographic Society, was, for ten years, Research Manager to Thomas De La Rue, printers of banknotes, passports and stamps etc., so there is probably not much that he does not know about forgery. He is not a member of the Theosophical Society but he is a long-standing member of the S.P.R. Whether readers agree or disagree with his conclusions, we are pleased to offer him the hospitality of our columns and we hope that, hereafter, Theosophists, and, indeed, all who care for the reputation of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, will look upon us in a more kindly light.
I have concentrated on the handwriting aspect of the Hodgson Report, partly because it forms a major part of his thesis and I am here playing on my home ground, but more importantly because every thing I have stated can be checked independently. We do not have to rely on the testimony of long-dead witnesses. The witness here - and an eloquent one - is the Hodgson Report itself.
As detailed examination of this Report proceeds, one becomes more and more aware that, whereas Hodgson was prepared to use any evidence, however trivial or questionable, to implicate HPB, he ignored all evidence that could be used in her favour. His report is riddled with slanted statements, conjecture advanced as fact or probable fact, uncorroborated testimony of unnamed witnesses, selection of evidence and downright falsity. As an investigator, Hodgson is weighed in the balances and found wanting. His case against Madame H. P. Blavatsky is not proven.
I cannot exonerate the SPR committee from blame for publishing this thoroughly bad report. They seem to have done little more than rubber-stamp Hodgson's opinions; and no serious attempt was made to check his findings or even to read his report critically. If they had done so, its errors of procedure, its inconsistencies, its faulty reasoning and bias, its hostility towards the subject and its contempt for the 'native' and other witnesses, would have become apparent; and the case would have been referred back for further study. Madame H. P. Blavatsky was the most important occultist ever to appear before the SPR for investigation; and never was opportunity so wasted. Nor can I exonerate the quondam Council of the Theosophical Society for their failure to allow their founder fair defence. They seemed concerned only with saving their own reputations. Whether she was impostor or not, HPB was entitled to a fair hearing. She never had it. Had she been allowed the legal and expert help she begged for, both Hodgson and the Society for Psychical Research would have been in dire trouble. It is a thing most wonderful that Hodgson was able so completely to bamboozle, not only Netherelift and Mr. Sims of the British Museum, but also men and women of the calibre of Myers, Gurney and Mrs. Sidgwick-not to mention several generations of psychical researchers since the 1885 Report was published. On l4 January 1886, Madame Blavatsky wrote:
'That Mr. Hodgson's elaborate but misdirected inquiries, his affected precision, which spends infinite patience over trifles and is blind to facts of importance, his contradictory reasoning and his manifold incapacity to deal with such problems as those he endeavoured to solve, will be exposed by other writers in due course - I make no doubt.'
I apologize to her that it has taken us one hundred years to demonstrate that she wrote truly.