The Sanskrit word “mahatma” means great soul. The term has been applied to recent historical figures, such as Mohandas Ghandi, due to his public work and apparent spiritual development. Such great souls have been part of the founding of many of the worlds wisdom and spiritual traditions. In the 1880’s, the two mahatmas Morya and Koot Hoomi are supposed to have communicated a whole body of esoteric knowledge to the early founders of the Theosophical Society through a large collection of “transmitted” letters. There has been much debate about the origin of the Mahatma Letters, and they remain an enigma surrounding the origins of the Theosophical movement. Over a thousand pages of these letters reside today in the British museum.
The Theosophical Society was formed in 1875 to advance the spiritual principles of Theosophy, which is an esoteric philosophy seeking direct knowledge of the mysteries of being, nature, and spirituality. The founders of this organization, Helena Blavatsky, Henry Steel Olcott, and William Judge did so to discover the purpose and origin of the universe through direct apprehension and as an alternative to the trend of materialistic science. Their stated and highly progressive intentions were to cultivate a universal brotherhood of humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or color that would study religion, philosophy, and science and investigate unexplained laws of nature and unexpressed powers in man. Theosophy remains active today, though it has morphed into several different groups and inspired many other modern spiritual movements.
The Theosophists believe that mahatmas are high-ranking students in life’s school. They are like us but more evolved and have attained direct knowledge of, and mastery over, the laws of the universe. They are not gods, but mortals who have evolved a great awareness of their spiritual potential and of other planes of being. Moved by compassion for the whole human race, they have chosen to be in touch with mankind in order to further the progress of humanity. It should be said that these mahatmas were not then what later schools came to refer to as “ascended masters.” Literally, mahatmas had not ascended and had not left their bodies. The mahatmas who communicated with the early Theosophists were then in human form and interested in communicating their knowledge to the world.
Madam Blavatsky said she first met the mahatmas Morya and Koot Hoomi, also known as Kuthumi or K.H., during her travels throughout Asia seeking wisdom and ancient knowledge in the mid 1800’s. In a letter to a friend, Blavatsky wrote: “Now Morya lives generally with Koot Hoomi who has his house in the direction of the Kara Korum Mountains, beyond Ladak, which is in Little Tibet and belongs now to Kashmir. It is a large wooden building in the Chinese fashion, pagoda-like, between a lake and a beautiful mountain.” Blavatsky felt she had known Morya since she was a little girl and had been receiving teachings from him by clairvoyant means her whole life. When she met him in the flesh for the first time, she fell into an ecstatic rapture.
Though skeptics of the mahatmas and their letters claim these masters never even existed, there were others who reported physical meetings with them. Leaders in the theosophical society such as Annie Besant, Henry Olcott, and Franz Hartmann claimed to have encountered them, as have other individuals including Blavatsky’s mother. The complaint of the skeptics is that many people only saw the mahatmas in ‘astral’ form, in dreams, or perceived their presence in more subtle ways that couldn’t be replicated or substantiated.
In the 1870s the widely respected journalist and editor of India’s leading English Daily The Pioneer, Alfred Percey Sinnett, became interested in spiritualism and wanted to meet Blavatsky due to her clairvoyant abilities. At the time, Blavatsky was living in Madras, in Southern India. In 1880, Sinnett and his wife invited Blavatsky to come visit them at their summer home in Simla, in Northern India. Sinnett wrote that many wonderful phenomena took place at the time, which Mr. Sinnett described in his book The Occult World. Having heard of Blavatsky’s relations with the mahatmas, Sinnett asked her if she would deliver a letter to the Mahatmas for him. He wrote, “I hardly thought this was probable, as I knew how very unapproachable the Brothers generally are; but as she said that at any rate she would try, I wrote a letter, addressing it ‘to the Unknown Brother,’ and gave it to her to see if any result would ensue.” In the letter, he asked for the Brother to give him that day’s copy of the London paper as proof of his paranormal abilities.
He had to wait two days until Blavatsky gave him the letter in reply. She said that it took time to find someone interested in answering, and Koot Hoomi had responded. His first response stated, “Precisely because the test of the London newspaper would close the mouths of the skeptics—it is unthinkable,” because of certain consequences. His letter goes into a deeper explanation of why he was unable to answer Sinnett’s request. This was the beginning of a long conversation between Sinnett and the two mahatmas, Koot Hoomi and Morya. In these letters, the fundamentals of the Theosophical beliefs and views were lucidly and clearly expressed as well as their day-to-day conversations.
To believers, the content of these letters is the most important part, as they reveal a significant body of knowledge that is still at the core of the Theosophical beliefs. But the way in which this communication occurred is also quite remarkable. Replies from the brothers came in the form of long letters that literally dropped into Sinnett’s possession. Sinnett took advantage of as many opportunities as he could to assure himself that Blavatsky was not herself writing the letters. Frequently replies came containing specific reference to detailed matters in his own letters, or they came when she had not been out of his sight during the interim between the dispatch and the return. The letters also came and went when Blavatsky was hundreds of miles away. The answers would often be found in his locked desk drawer, in a coat pocket, under a pillow, or even inside his own letter, the seal of which had not been broken.
In The Occult World Sinnett writes, “The following morning, after breakfast, I was sitting talking with Madame Blavatsky in the room that had been allotted to me. We were sitting at different sides of a large square table in the middle of the room, and the full daylight was shining. There was no one else in the room. Suddenly, down upon the table before me but to my right hand, Madame Blavatsky being to my left, there fell a thick letter. It fell “out of nothing” so to speak; it was materialized, or reintegrated in the air before my eyes.” In another example he described how he was in a conversation with Blavatsky at her desk. As they were talking, words appeared on a blank sheet of paper that lay before her, which was a reply to their conversation.
As this phenomena continued, Madame Blavatsky and the mahatmas explained the method by which the letters were written. Theoretically, they were not written but “precipitated” through a kind of “telegraphy.” One of the siddhis, or magical powers, a spiritual adept develops is the ability to impress upon a sheet of paper the images he holds vividly before his mind. These images could be a photograph, an image, words, or sentences. Apparently this telegraphy also included the compositional qualities of the materials, such as ink or pencil, so that the finished product has the qualities of a normal, physical document. This process physically deposits ink or graphite onto a physical sheet of paper and, as described above, can also materialize the paper as well. Each of the mahatmas apparently had their own writing style and preferred choice of ink. Koot Hoomi, we are told, always used blue ink or blue pencil. Morya’s letters usually came in red.
To add to the complexity, Blavatksy also related that the mahatmas frequently used other students or chelas to do the actual precipitation of the letters. The mahatma simply created a vivid mental image of the letter he wanted written, in his own handwriting, which he would send to one of his students. The student caught the image and finished the process, in what some have described as a kind of psychic fax process. If the receptivity was good, the student would get the message clearly from the mahatma’s mind, and the resulting production would be exactly the mahatma’s own words and handwriting. If the receptivity on the part of the student were less than perfect, the letter would be influenced by the student’s mental idiosyncrasies, ways of phrasing, and even writing technique. This apparently explained anomalies and mistakes that did show up in some of the letters, such as the variations of Koot Hoomi’s signature. Some of the students had difficulty learning the system.
As a short side note, the mahatmas didn’t just write letters to A.P. Sinnett. Henry Olcott, Blavatsky and a few others also received letters. After Blavatsky’s death, Annie Besant took over the Theosophical Society and received letters as well. After that, many others have also claimed to have received similar transmissions from the mahatmas and other ascended masters. Also, it is thought that Blavatsky and Damodar K. Mavalankar, another member of the Indian Theosophical Society, may have received and precipitated some of the letters from the masters, since they were the mahatmas students. This would partially explain the letters appearing in front of Blavatsky during her conversation with Sinnett.
In 1883, Sinnett published the book, The Occult World, which was based on the letters from the mahatmas. In the book, he outlines the philosophy and worldview of the mahatmas as well as describing the form of his communication with them. The publication drew worldwide attention, both praise and skepticism. A skeptically minded person today could easily take issue with the whole nature of these letters. Not only could one easily see the danger of error in the transmission, one might also question if the mahatmas might just be a personality of the individual doing the writing. The amazing phenomena of how the letters appeared would have to be studied to be understood, and the mahatmas would have to be met, neither of which occurred.
The book and the popularity of the Theosophists attracted the interest of the recently founded Society for Psychical Research (SPR). This organization was created to understand and research paranormal phenomena and examine this phenomenon in a scientific and unbiased way. Richard Hodgson was sent by SPR to determine if the mode of appearance attributed to the Mahatma Letters was a genuine psychical phenomena. After interviewing witnesses and the physical places where some of the phenomena had been reported, Hodgson wrote a 200-page report that was highly critical of Blavatsky and the letters. His most famous quote claimed that Blavatsky, “was neither the mouthpiece of hidden seers, nor… a mere vulgar adventuress; we think she has achieved title to permanent remembrance as one of the most accomplished, ingenious, and interesting impostors in history.”
Needless to say, this report and its support by the SPR seriously damaged the reputation of Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society from that time onward. In response, 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 endeavored to solve, will be exposed by other writers in due course—I make no doubt.”
Over the years, many in the Theosophical Society have defended Blavatsky and the others involved while many also have been more critical. Though the letters continued to be valued for the material they contain, their creation and authenticity is still questioned. Handwriting studies have also been done, comparing the writing in the Mahatma Letters to Blavatsky’s, though the results have been inconclusive. To many, the authors of the letters do come across as real, yet distinct, human beings.
In 1986, a century after Blavatsky’s reply, Vernon Harrison, past president of the Royal Photographic Society, and a professional researcher of disputed documents, studied the Hodgson report in an attempt to verify if the letters were authentic. He pointed out some of the interesting qualities of the documents, “I draw attention to curious and unexplained features of the K.H. letters, namely the clear, regular striations of some of the writing apparently made with blue pencil, the small amount of ink penetration even when thin “rice” paper was used, the unexplained features of the erasures seemingly made with ink eradicator yet without staining or roughening of the paper, the variability of some (but not all) of the characters and the (at times) grossly exaggerated t-bars. These features suggest that the documents preserved in the British Library may be copies, made by some unknown process, of originals which we do not possess.” It is interesting to note that he’s studying and describing the original letters that were created in the early 1880s—long before any kind of electronic duplication was possible.
Overall, Harrison described the Hodgson report as “flawed and untrustworthy” and said, “Whereas Hodgson was prepared to use any evidence, however trivial or questionable to implicate HPB (Blavatsky), he ignored all evidence that could be used in her favor. Harrison concluded that there was no evidence that the Mahatma Letters were written by her. After the release of Vernon’s report, the SPR submitted a press release in Great Britain, Canada and the USA, retracting the Hodgson report saying, “Madame Blavatsky, cofounder of the Theosophical Society, was unjustly condemned.”
Today the debate about their authenticity continues, with writers such as K. Paul Johnson continuing to be very critical of Blavatsky and her involvement. What makes this case interesting is that the documents remain available to be studied. They are still in the British Museum and you can view all the letters yourself online at the Theosophical Society Wiki: http://www.tswiki.net/.
The letters portray the everyday communication from the mahatmas and make interesting reading. They also described some aspects of our world that were well ahead of the science of the late 1800’s. For example, a hundred years ago it was believed that the universe was made up of ultimate, indivisible particles. The mahatmas on the other hand said that matter was composed entirely of energy and consciousness and was continually evolving. Today, modern physics is more supportive of this view.
The mahatmas described Jupiter as being composed of metallic substances that were expanding and transforming themselves into aeriform fluids, becoming atmosphere. This concept couldn’t be confirmed until 1973, when the Pioneer spacecraft passed by Jupiter and collected data on the composition of its atmosphere. Jupiter is now thought to be composed of mainly hydrogen and helium gasses surrounding a large inner sphere of “liquid metallic hydrogen.”
Queried by Sinnett whether magnetic conditions and the sun affect Earth’s weather, Koot Hoomi referred to the “meteoric continent above our heads.” The letter says, “High above our earth’s surface the air is impregnated and space filled with magnetic, or meteoric, dust, which does not even belong to our solar system. . . . [there are] strong magnetic poles above the surface of the earth . . . and one of these poles revolves around the north pole in a periodical cycle of several hundred years.” The words of Koot Hoomi strongly suggest the Van Allen radiation belts—or, more accurately, the cause of those belts: enormous relatively permanent strata of magnetized meteoric matter or dust that function as traps for radiation from the sun and outer space.
The overall message in the letters is still consistent with Theosophy today, encouraging open-minded inquiry into world religions, philosophy, and science, while respecting the unity of all life and the potential for directly experiencing self-awareness and understanding. Though the mahatmas emphasize a scientific approach, spiritual science is more important than physical science. They recommend practices devoted to the science of metaphysical energy and to the development of faculties in man, not instruments outside him, which will yield him actual experimental knowledge of the subtle powers in nature. The enigma of the letters remains as a testament to the accomplishments of the mahatmas and their adepts and also to the significance of the Theosophical Society.
Patrick Marsolek is the author of Transform Yourself: A Self-Hypnosis Manual and A Joyful Intuition. See PatrickMarsolek.comfor more information.