As a young woman, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky fled a forced marriage and traveled throughout the world, visiting the Americas, Europe, India, Egypt and eventually spending two years in Tibet where she became a Buddhist. After arriving in America, Blavatsky placed herself in the popular Spiritualist movement practicing as a medium and clairvoyant. Blavatsky agreed with the Spiritualist and Christian Science position that the physical was an illusion, and that the mind was the ultimate reality.
In 1875, Blavatsky and Henry Steele Olcott helped found the Theosophical Society, which was conceived as the establishment of the Brotherhood of Humanity, investigating the mystical qualities of life and the psychic powers of the individual. The Theosophists claimed was that there existed a secret, esoteric teaching that fully explains existence and that only a few spiritual masters have access to.
According to Blavatsky, the Law of Theosophy was not only ‘wisdom of the gods,’ it was ‘wisdom possessed by the gods.’ Nevertheless, how did Blavatsky get access to this ‘god-like wisdom? Blavatsky claimed to be educated in Tibet by beings who called themselves, the “Masters of Wisdom.” Blavatsky said that these masters formed a ‘Spiritual Hierarchy’ of Cosmic beings who were the guardians of the Divine Plan. The Divine Plan was that all of Humanity was to attain Ascended Master status through ascension. According to Blavatsky, these Masters have been responsible for guiding Humanity’s spiritual development by providing truth and wisdom to those virtuous enough to disseminate it correctly. According to the Theosophists, these Masters of Wisdom – or ‘Mahatmas’ – were self-realized humans who perfected themselves through reincarnation and spiritual evolution.
Blavatsky claimed to be a medium, and said that she was in contact with two of these Mahatmas; Morya and Koot Humi, who allegedly appeared in ‘astral form’ to only certain members of the Theosophical Society. These Masters dispensed knowledge and information about the workings of the universe to the Theosophists. Part of that knowledge must have been the laws of attraction and repulsion, which we will come to later.
In 1881, Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society were embroiled in the Mahatma Letters Affair. A series of signed Notes began to seemingly appear out of thin air or appearing in odd places claiming to be written by the Mahatmas, Koot Humi and Master Morya. When the Society of Psychical Research sent Richard Hodgson to the Theosophical Headquarters in Madras to investigate, he reported back to find devices that had been used in fraudulent acts, as confessed by Blavatsky associate, Madame Coulomb, who said Blavatsky wrote the letters herself. It appears that the evidence about the reality of these Mahatmas, and Blavatsky’s claims about them, remain flimsy. Blavatsky said she was in contact with these adepts, which presented some problems because Blavatsky was not a born psychic, although she did undergo much training and study during her travels.
Unfazed by the Mahatma Letters Affair and accusations of plagiarism, Blavatsky went on to write her magnum opus, The Secret Doctrine, published in two massive volumes framed around an ancient and mysterious poem called the Stanzas of Dzyan, which Blavatsky claimed she read while traveling in the Himalayas. The Theosophists say that the Stanzas were part of hidden esoteric knowledge placed under the Himalayan Mountains by an underground civilization of beings possessing superhuman powers. Blavatsky presents the stanzas as an ancient cosmogony, history and transformation of the universe. Cosmic Hierarchies, perpetual change and universal knowledge make up some of the vast material Blavatsky presents in The Secret Doctrine.
Attraction and Repulsion are two forces ever in operation in the cosmos. Physical attraction is a manifestation of a cosmic principle which has manifestations on all planes, spiritual, mental, and psychic, so that its influence is seen in our thoughts and feelings. Attraction and Repulsion are principles of duality, representing galactic ages of evolution and diffusion.
It is undeniable that Blavatsky and the Theosophists had a massive impact on the Western Mystical Tradition, while also bringing for the first time to the public, various teachings from the ‘Spiritual Hierarchy’ which continue to this day, and influenced such figures as Aleister Crowley, Rudolf Steiner, H.P. Lovecraft, Adolph Hitler and Alice Bailey.
Although accused of plagiarism and being nothing more than a charlatan, Blavatsky masterfully assembled ideas from dozens of metaphysical, historical, philosophical, occult and scientific sources into what is nothing less than an impressive display of hermeneutics.
More than anything, Madame Blavatsky sought to bring Divine Wisdom about the universe to the world within the message that existence is One in its wholeness and that of universal brotherhood.
The Mind Cure Movement
”Any individual can tap into an eternal reservoir of power that will enable them to overcome any problem that may arise. All weaknesses can be overcome, bodily healing, financial independence, spiritual awakening, and prosperity beyond your wildest dreams. This is the superstructure of happiness.” – William James
By the end of the 18th century, the Mind-Cure Movement gained a secular ally in no one less than William James, the father of American Psychology. James defended the Mind-Cure on pragmatic terms: he had seen it worked for some people; therefore there must be something to it. While James did accept some of the main principles of the mind-cure, he also expresses some bemusement when he noted that the mind-cure movement had no provision with dealing with the question of evil.
In one lecture, James name checks Christian Science’s Mary Baker Eddy, saying, “for her, evil is simply a lie, and any one who mentions it is a liar. The optimistic ideal of duty forbids us to pay it the compliment even of explicit attention. Of course, as our next lectures will show us, this is a bad speculative omission, but it is intimately linked with the practical merits of the system we are examining. Why regret a philosophy of evil, a mind-curer would ask us, if I can put you in possession of a life of good?”
Why focus on the negative aspects of the world when you can have abundance, is still being asked by proponents of the Law of Attraction today. James went on to say that the greatest discovery of the 19th century would not be in the realm of physical science, but in the power of the subconscious touched by faith.
William Walker Atkinson
W.W. Atkinson was a successful lawyer from Baltimore before becoming involved in the New Thought movement. He became the editor of New Thought Magazine and later published many articles on various topics on the occult, theosophy, psychology, salesmanship, crystal gazing, Yoga and metaphysical healing under his own name and under a list of pseudonyms. Atkinson was a prolific author, but his most popular book was printed in 1906 and is still in print today; Thought Vibration or the Law of Attraction in the Thought World. Echoing Blavatsky, he says:
“We speak learnedly of the Law of Gravitation, but ignore that equally wonderful manifestation, THE LAW OF ATTRACTION IN THE THOUGHT WORLD. We are familiar with that wonderful manifestation of Law which draws and holds together the atoms of which matter is composed – we recognize the power of the law that attracts bodies to the earth, that holds the circling worlds in their places, but we close our eyes to the mighty law that draws to us the things we desire or fear, that makes or mars our lives.”
The Law of Attraction is thus explained as a magnetic force where ‘like attracts like’ as a universal law. The idea with the Law of Attraction is to consciously draw to yourself prosperity and wealth, since that is what God apparently wants you to do. Prosperity and good health is considered an indication of one’s self-realization and spiritual growth. Manifesting a positive outcome for yourself through using your mind and feelings is the secret to make all your dreams come true.
Wallace Wattles wrote the now-famous book, “The Science of Getting Rich,” first published in 1910, and has remained in print to this day. Positive thinking techniques, will power, creative visualization and the mental science approach to health was applied by Wattles to give readers the key to attracting wealth. Wattles wrote that Man’s mental development is contingent on having the means necessary to insure living an enjoyable and successful life. That means access to money. Thus, man has a right to be wealthy, according to Wattles. Anything less is a ‘sin.’
Wattles wrote that the first principle in producing tangible riches is recognizing the power of Thought, and that a ‘substance‘ – ‘the stuff where all things are made,’ is given form and structure by our thoughts. This idea recalls similar notions of the cosmology of the Classical Greek Philosophers like Anaxagoras 2600 years ago, who saw the Universe as a Mind creating through substance.
Napoleon Hill: The Consciousness of Prosperity
Andrew Carnegie had long amassed his great wealth and was one of the richest men in the world when he met little-known journalist Napoleon Hill in 1908. Hill’s assignment was to write a series of articles on the most successful businessmen of the time. According to Hill, Carnegie said what he used a simple formula that was available to all, and commissioned Hill to interview 500 successful people in the world to acquire practical evidence of what Hill later called, ‘the Secret’ of wealth-creation.
Like Carnegie, Hill was born into poverty and struggled to survive in the world. 20 years later, Hill would publish the results of his research, which he called the Philosophy of Achievement in his book, The Law of Success. 11 years later, a smaller version of the Law of Success was published as “Think and Grow Rich.” The central premise of “Think And Grow Rich” is: “Everything your mind can conceive, you can achieve.” While Hill does not explicitly use terms like ‘Law of Attraction’ or ‘thought vibration’, he does supply the points that comprise the essence of the Law of Attraction narrative: that thoughts determine your reality, the use of creative visualization, maintaining a positive attitude and surrounding yourself with positive people. Hill’s book made him wealthy, selling millions upon millions of copies, while setting the standard in the field of self-improvement through prosperity consciousness.