Friday 12 August 2016

In Search of the Miraculous 13: Rounds and Races

I'm actually on holiday, which is why I'm not doing the posts I'd said I'd do, since WiFi is limited, I don't have my library handy, and inspiration is coming from peculiar places.

Case in point: so on Tuesday I ticked off one of my easier bucket list items and had a trip to the Atlantis Bookshop, a legendary occult establishment a couple hundred yards from the British Museum, and there I got to browse a bit, and I spotted a copy of a book about Egyptian magic by a friend, and had a chat with the proprietor, who was happy to furnish me with a copy of Julia Phillips' biography of Madeline Montalban (and more about her in another post) and told the Kite I'd been and he said I should have said because he'd have asked me to say hi.

In a sale basket next to a besom broom was a short run facsimile copy of a book by Gertrude M. Van Pelt MD entitled Rounds and Races: Man's Divine Parentage and Destiny which is, as you'll probably have guessed, the sort of thing that excites an occult Atlantologist's interest, and yes, on the fly leaf next to the scribbled discount price I could see that it was originally no. VII in a series of Theosophical Manuals (the text itself implies that there are at least nine) and that it had been published by the Theosophical University Press of Pasadena, California. Two quids? Yeah, I'll have that.

There have been, since shortly after the deaths of Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott, two main Theosophical Societies. William Quan Judge and Katherine Tingley's American branch very quickly distanced themselves from the leadership of Charles Leadbeater and Annie Besant, taking strong issue with Leadbeater's innovations in doctrine, favouritism, and scandalous appetites. When you look at American Theosophical writings from the first half of the twentieth century, it's easy to find a certain conservatism, a sort of desire for a "Back to Blavatsky" purity in the way that Theosophical teaching is passed on, at deliberate variance with the development and addition of Leadbeater. The bitterness is manifest. Judge's own books snipe at Leadbeater and his acolytes, suggesting that they are lying about being in touch with Blavatsky's spirit and that they have private, self-aggrandising agendas, which, in the case of Leadbeater, isn't wholly untrue.

Dr Van Pelt's monograph, amounting to, at an estimate, no more than 10,000 words, is essentially an exegesis on the second volume of Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine (the Pasadena Theosophists would of course have no truck with Annie Besant's third volume).

It's interesting as a second generation extension of Blavatsky. It's explicitly careful to avoid disagreeing with HPB, or adding any further layers of interpretation, or even reading anything further into HPB's work. No expansion is permitted. I'm reminded of an evangelical Christian who I knew at university who considered literal exegesis the only correct mode of Bible interpretation and saw hermeneutics (the literary science of reading meaning into a text) as basically heretical. This is the attitude that Dr Van Pelt (any relation to Linus and Lucy, I wonder?) is taking here.

This particular volume is about human evolution, and carries with it all the fanciful/metaphorical/esoteric baggage that entails.

OK, look. Here's a diagram.

These seven spheres are the life-planes on which living beings in the world exist. They're actually coterminous, but life only exists on one plane at a time. As history advances the life of the world moves from the astral, spiritual plane (I) down to the realm of matter (IV) and back up to I again, with A at the beginning of time and G at the end, and D being where we are now, in the realm of gross matter. In each sphere you get seven Root Races of people, each with seven subraces, and the Root Races follow the same trajectory, starting out as sort of nebulous and innocent and becoming worldly and material, and then finally becoming more spiritual with the seventh Root Race, at which point life moves on to the next world. Once you've had seven Root Races on each of seven spheres, the whole thing moves to another planet, and the planet left behind is lifeless and has mere vestiges of energy that it bestows upon its successor before disintegrating altogether. The moon, according to Blavatsky via Van Pelt, was the predecessor of Earth; Venus and Mercury and their moons came before, but those moons are gone now, into the ether. Why the moons of Venus and Mercury are gone and the planets themselves are still there is not a thing Van Pelt explains.

Of course, as is the way with Theosophical writing, much is made of the Third, Fourth and Fifth Root Races of the present round, and this is where the usual Theosophical problems arise.

In regard to the different degrees of incarnation into the human host... those who received but a 'spark' are our average humanity. Those who were not ready, who had not evolved to the desired point, remained mindless and are now represented by Australian aborigines, African, and other tribes.

Out of this omission grew a horrible history. During the long transition periods when men and animals were separating into two sees and before the lines had been tightly drawn between them, the mindless men crossed with the beasts and produced the ancestors of the simian races.
Gertrude M Van Pelt, Rounds and Races: Man's Divine Parentage and Destiny, p.59

So just to assure you that you actually just read that and that no, you didn't imagine it, the book is saying black people are the children of those who don't have proper souls, and apes are the result of black people performing acts of bestiality. This is the narrative of Blavatsky, Leadbeater and Steiner, repeated uncritically.

And this in a book written originally in 1940 (this the 1948 edition). I mean, it's tempting to say something about the way in which Americans do racism here but to be honest even if the UK is better, it's still not even close to OK, so that's just hypocrisy, really. What you do have though is someone writing going on fifty years after Blavatsky and no progress having been made here. No attempt is made to weed out the harm. The assumptions stay. The occult science of race has become by this point a tradition.