Nathan (vovat) wrote,

Babble on Blavatsky and Baum

As I mentioned in my last proper post, belief in elementals has persisted over the centuries, and one philosophical system that included such belief was Theosophy, an occult movement founded by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky in the late nineteenth century. So what, exactly, did Theosophists believe? Well, I can't be entirely sure, as Blavatsky and her followers were apparently fond of the typical occult trick of making things seem mystical by writing about them in convoluted ways. At its heart, it seems to be a syncretic belief that all religions contain some truth, and many different cultures had Adepts who were skilled at discerning spiritual truths about the universe. It incorporates elements from many different religions, as well as folklore and philosophy. The great chain of being, multiple lives of souls, history being cyclical, and humans evolving from weird proto-human creatures were all parts of Theosophy; as were the lost continents of Atlantis, Lemuria, and Hyperborea. In other words, it was sort of a catch-all with some new ideas added in. Blavatsky believed in the consciousness of the entire universe, and the elementals were basically the conscious spiritual forms of various natural forces. She wrote, "Under the general designation of fairies, and fays, these spirits of the elements appear in the myths, fables, traditions, or poetry of all nations, ancient and modern. Their names are legion--peris, devs, djins, sylvans, satyrs, fauns, elves, dwarfs, trolls, norns, nisses, kobolds, brownies, necks, stromkarls, undines, nixies, goblins, ponkes, banshees, kelpies, pixies, moss people, good people, good neighbours, wild women, men of peace, white ladies--and many more. They have been seen, feared, blessed, banned, and invoked in every quarter of the globe and in every age. Shall we then concede that all who have met them were hallucinated?" Yeah, pretty much the same basic argument that the alien astronaut theorists use. "A lot of people have reported seeing kind of similar creatures, and you can't prove they AREN'T real!" It doesn't hold a lot of water (or undines, for that matter) when you get right down to it, but I can see the appeal.

One known member of the Theosophical Society was none other than my favorite author, L. Frank Baum, which is largely why this kind of thing interests me in the first place. There have been some studies on how Theosophical beliefs affected Baum's writing. Honestly, I think most of the references are more subtle than people like the compiler of said page prefer to think, but there are some significant similarities. Baum refers to Adepts in Glinda of Oz, and to the ancient Greek idea of demons being spiritual guides in The Master Key. And yes, the idea of elementals appears here and there as well, most prominently in Baum's own Nomes, described as "rock fairies" and "underground elves." The idea of underground creatures capturing humans, as occurred in many of Baum's own Nome stories (the royal family of Ev in Ozma, the Shaggy Man's brother in Tik-Tok, the King and Queen of Pingaree in Rinkitink), is a common one in fantasy, what with gnomes kidnapping a human girl in Zauberlinda the Wise Witch (a book that owes much of its style to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and which Baum himself quite possibly borrowed from in turn) and George MacDonald's princess-napping goblins. Still, I think the idea that Nomes are the keepers of rocks and gems ties Baum's creations in with the elemental concept. One of the first mentions of the Gnome King (Baum hadn't yet changed the spelling at this point) was in The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, in which he's one member of a council of immortals that watches over various aspects of nature. This council also includes the Queen of the Water Sprites and the King of the Wind Demons, and later books set in the same expanded universe bring in sea and sky fairies, the former being the mermaids of the book simply called The Sea Fairies, and the latter including the Daughter of the Rainbow. It doesn't seem like he really involved fire fairies all that much, though. I believe The Annotated Wizard of Oz suggested a connection between Tititi-Hoochoo's subjects from Tik-Tok and fire, presumably based on the fact that the ruler's title is the Great Jinjin, and jinn are associated with fire. Aside from one of the maidens attending the Queen of Light being named Firelight, however, I don't really see this. Also perhaps somewhat telling is that one of Button-Bright's many middle names is Paracelsus.

If I remember correctly, the nasty Wizard of Oz from Wicked was a direct follower of Blavatsky, and was perhaps intended to highlight some of the less palatable aspects of Theosophy. Gregory Maguire's Wizard rules Oz as a Hitler-like dictator, and the superiority of the Aryan race was espoused by Blavatsky. She did not advocate genocide, instead assuming that the Aryans would simply be favored by natural selection, but Theosophy was cited as an influence on the founders of the much more blatantly racist Ariosophy. Blavatsky's teachings included something about the Aryans originating on Atlantis and eventually being replaced themselves by the sixth root race, a far cry from gassing Jews in concentration camps. In other words, I guess you could say it was an example of RACIAL thinking, but not necessarily RACIST thinking. Still not good, of course, but I have to suspect from the admittedly little I've read about her that Blavatsky wouldn't have actually supported the Wizard's systematic persecution of talking animals.
Tags: books, fairies, history, mythology, oz, philosophy, religion

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