Prelude to “ISIS UNVEILED”

Filed in Study Material by on September 14, 2013

ISIS UNVEILED is the first ever book published under the classification of theosophical literature. Though the Theosophical Society was formed in 1875, there was no literature available till this publication came out in 1877. Members and public had to be content with the communications sent by the founders occasionally, pamphlets and circulars issued. The monthly journal The Theosophist was started only in 1879, when the founders landed in India.

Madame H P Blavatsky [ 1831-’91 ] wrote — rather compiled — this big and voluminous book and got it published by J W Bottom, 706, Broadway, London,Bernard Quaritch. She sub-titled the book: A Master-key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology; and dedicated the work “To the Theosophical Society, which was founded at New York A.D 1875 To Study the Subjects on which They (the volumes) Treat.”

The book is divided into 2 parts, namely Science and Religion, each running to 600 and odd pages in fine print. Each section is prefaced independently, plus a helpful index added at the end. Under a caption ‘Before the Veil’ an introduction to the work is rendered in the beginning running to around 40 pages, a purposeful glossary of terms used being a part of it. Madame Blavatsky wrote and published “The Secret Doctrine” in 1888; eleven years after the first book came out. Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine go together as parts of an integrated exposition of the ‘accumulated Wisdom of the Ages.’ Readers would find it useful to keep this view-point in mind while studying either of the texts.

“Of all the books I have put my name to, this particular one is, in literary arrangement, the worst and the most confused,” says Madame Blavatsky in her article ‘My Books’ published in May 1891 issue of Lucifer. She further analyses:

Isis is full of misprints and misquotations; contains useless repetitions; and most irritating digressions. The book has ‘no system in it, — as if a mass of  Independent paragraphs having no connection with each other, had been well shaken up in a waste-basket, and then taken out at random and published.’

This was her first book. She inserted many ideas that were supplied to her by the Spiritual Teachers and was anxious to share her new-acquired knowledge with the readers spread all over the world.

By her own admission, ‘Isis contains a mass of original and never hitherto divulged information on occult subjects.’ She includes the following reviews on the book:

This monumental work — about everything connected with magic, mystery, witchcraft, religion, spiritualism, which would be valuable in an encyclopaedia. —North American Review

It must be acknowledged that she is a remarkable woman, who has read more, seen more, and thought more than most wise men. Her work abounds in quotations from a dozen different languages, not for the purpose of a vain display of erudition, but to substantiate her peculiar views — her pages are garnished with foot-notes establishing as her authorities, some of the profoundest writers of the past. To a large class of readers, thisremarkable work will prove of absorbing interest — demands the earnest attention of thinkers, and merits an analytic reading. —

Boson Evening Transcript

The appearance of erudition is stupendous. Reference to and quotations from the most unknown and obscure writers in all languages abound, interspersed with allusions to writers of the highest repute which have evidently been more than skimmed through.

—N.Y.Independent

An extremely readable and exhaustive essay upon the paramount importance of reestablishing the Hermetic Philosophy in a world which blindly believes that it has outgrown it. —N.Y.World

Most remarkable book of the season. —Com.Advertiser

[To] Readers who have never made themselves acquainted with the literature of mysticism and alchemy, the volume will furnish the materials for an interesting study — a mine of curious information.

—Evening Post

They give evidence of much and multifarious research on the part of the author, and contain vast number of interesting stories. Persons fond of the marvelous will find in them an abundance of entertainment.

— New York Son

A marvelous book both in matter and manner of treatment. Some idea may be formed of the rarity and extent of its content when the index alone comprises fifty pages and we venture nothing in saying that such an index of subjects was never before compiled by any human being … But the book is a curious one and will no doubt find its way into libraries because of the unique subject matter it contains — will certainly prove attractive to all who are interested in the history, theology, and the mysteries of the ancient world. —Daily Graphic

The present book is the result of her remarkable course of education, and amply confirms her claims to the character of an adept in secret science, and even to the rank of a hierophant in the exposition of its mystic lore.

— New York Tribune

One who reads the book carefully through, ought to know everything of the marvelous and mystical, except perhaps, the passwords. Isis will supplement the Anacalypsis. Whoever loves to read Godfrey Higgins will be delighted with Mme. Blavatsky. There is a great resemblance between their works. Both have tried hard to tell everything apocryphal and acopalyptic. It is easy to forecast the reception of this book. With its striking peculiarities, its audacity, its versatility, and the prodigious variety of subjects which it notices and handles, it is one of the remarkable productions of the century.

—New York Herald

Commenting further on the content of the volumes, she says: Every word of information found in this work or in my later writings, comes from the teachings of our Eastern Masters; and many a passage in these works has been written by me under their direction. She further explains: When I started to write that which later developed as Isis Unveiled, I had no more idea than the man in the moon what would come of it. I had no plan; did not know whether it would be an essay, a pamphlet, a book, or an article. I knew that I had to write it, that was all. I began the work before I knew Colonel well, and some months before the formation of the Theosophical Society.

Writing in ‘The Theosophist’ in April 1886, she mentions the following, seeming to be the aim of the work:_

About ten years ago, when Isis Unveiled was being written, the most important point the work aimed at was the demonstration of the following: (a) the reality of the occult in nature, (b) the thorough knowledge of, and familiarity with, all such occult domains amongst “certain men,” and their mastery therein; (c) hardly an art or science known in our age, that the Vedas have not mentioned; and (d) that hundreds of things, especially mysteries of nature in abscondito as the alchemists called it – were known to the Aryas of the pre-Mahabharatan period, which are known to us, the modern sages of the XIXth century. She was assisted by Col. H S Olcott in editing the book. She asserts the following: The language in Isis is not mine; but (with the exception of that portion of the work which, as I claim, was dictated), may be called only a sort of translation of my facts and ideas into English; It was not written for the public, — the latter having always been only a secondary consideration with me – but for the use of Theosophists and members of the Theosophical society to which Isis is dedicated; Though I have since learned sufficient English to have been enabled to edit two magazines – The Theosophist and Lucifer – yet, to the present hour I never write an article, an editorial or even a simple paragraph, without submitting its English to close scrutiny and correction.

Her article “My Books” was written on 27 April 1891, a few days before her casting away the physical body ( 8 May 1891). The book made wonderful impact on the Indian scholars too. It is worth noting here that Damodar Mavlankar and T Subba Row, who were attracted to the theosophical movement from the time the founders arrived in India, were greatly influenced by the rich content of the book. In his letter dated 3 February 1882, T Subba Row writes: ‘Though no Branch Theosophical Association has yet been established here, there are a good many gentlemen here who sincerely sympathize with your aims and objects and who would be glad to see you. … Your Isis Unveiled has made a very strong impression on their minds—’ As was said elsewhere in this book, Madame Blavatsky made ‘Nature’ stand up in the deposition box and reveal her laws, principles and working systems. Madame Blavatsky remained a mere recorder to the benefit of generations of thinkers.

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[Extracted from Dr N C Ramanujachary’s book “In the World of Magic”]