WHO PLAYED THAT TRICK ON H.P.B.? by Boris de Zirkoff
May 11, 2001 10:15 AM
by Blavatsky Archives
WHO PLAYED THAT TRICK ON H.P.B.? THE PUZZLE OF "THE THEOSOPHICAL
GLOSSARY." by Boris de Zirkoff
Sometime in the Spring of 1892, the Theosophical Publishing
Society in London issued a work entitled The Theosophical
Glossary under the name of H. P. Blavatsky, bearing also the
imprint of The Path Office in New York, and The Theosophist at
Adyar, Madras, India.
In the February, 1892, issue of The Path (Vol. Vl, p.358) it is
stated that this work will be on sale in six weeks; and in the
April issue of the same year (Vol. Vll, p. 28), it is briefly
reviewed and described as being edited by G.R.S. Mead.
This was, of course, about a year after H.P.B.'s death in
However, the text of this work must have been almost ready long
before that time, as The Path of December, 1890 (Vol. V, p.25)
under date of November 5,1890 about a year and a half prior to
the actual publication of this work, and months before H.P.B.'s
passing speaks of it as being completed and ready to go to the
printer in a few days. It also says that it is to be issued
"with the Archaic Symbolism," whatever this may have meant.
The work was also briefly reviewed by Col. Olcott in 7 he
Theosophist, Vol. X111, April, 1892, pp.444-45.
The Preface, signed by Mead, is dated January, 1892, ten months
alter H.P.B.'s passing.
This work contains 389 pages and embodies 2,767 distinct terms
with their appropriate definitions, alphabetically arranged.
The Preface informs us that this work is "almost entirely
posthumous" and that H.P.B. "only saw the first thirty pages in
proof." This statement seems to make it easy to deduce that the
work did not go to the printer "in a few days" alter November 5,
1890, as surely H.P.B. would have seen a good deal more than 32
pages in proof, had the printer been setting up the MS. for the
next six months, prior to her passing. From this it would follow
that the MS. did not go to the printer until considerably later,
possibly in early 1891. What took place during this period of
time, and during the balance of 1891, as far as the MS. is
concerned we cannot determine, except in regard to one point,
namely, that a certain number of terms with their definitions
were excerpted from the MS. and inserted as a Special Glossary
into the second edition of The Key to Theosophy published still
during H.P.B.'s lifetime, at the end of 1890.
As far as Mead is concerned, he lets us know in his Preface to
this work, that H.P.B. desired to express her indebtedness "as
far as the tabulation of facts in concerned," to four works,
namely, the Sanskrit-Chinese Dictionary of Eitel, the Hindu
Classical Dictionary of Dowson, Wilson's Vishnu-Purana, and the
Royal Masonic Cyclopaedia of Kenneth R. H. MacKenzie. He also
points out the definitions signed W.W.W. are by W. W.
>>From such a statement it would appear that The Theosophical
Glossary is a work mainly by H. P. Blavatsky, with a certain
number of quotations from a fairly small number of works. This
impression has become pretty well established in the Theosophical
Movement, and several editions of this work have been published
by various Theosophical Organizations.
The facts, however, differ considerably.
A careful analysis of the definitions and of the probable
sources from which they were borrowed, has disclosed that out of the
2,767 definitions, a minimum of 2,212 have been taken from the
works of a large number of scholars, either verbatim or with very
minor alterations, and with no acknowledgment whatsoever; in a
few cases a line or two has been added, giving an occult
interpretation probably by H.P.B. herself; such instances are
Among the works which were most freely used are the following:
a) Those already mentioned above.
b) Bonwick's Egyptian Belief and Modern Thought.
c) George Smith's Chaldean Account of Genesis.
d) Five Years of Theosophy: Glossary of Terms.
e) Anson's Asgard and the Gods.
f) Myer's Qabbalah.
g) R. Spence Hardy's Eastern Monachism.
h) Emil Schlagintweit's Buddhism in Tibet.
There are 124 terms signed by W. Wynn Westcott; 217 terms
identical, or practically so, with the corresponding terms in the
Glossary of the 2nd edition of The Key to Theosophy; about 25-30
terms from The Secret Doctrine; and about 70 terms from Isis
When it is considered that for the interpretation and elucidation
of facts and terms pertaining to the Kabbalah and other ancient
Hebrew matters, the help of W. Wynn Westcott was secured, it is
hard to understand why Sanskrit terms were not submitted to
competent scholars in India, several such being staunch Fellows
of the T.S. at the time. This certainly would have avoided
erroneous spellings and most curious errors in definitions.
It is to be regretted that such errors have been allowed to stand
all through the years, giving rise to unfriendly criticism and
scorn on the part of people versed in these subjects. It seems
difficult to understand why, for instance, Adhyatma-vidya,
meaning the "science or knowledge of Atman," would have been
defined as "the esoteric luminary." Curiously enough, it is
defined precisely that way by Eitel in his work, and so we are
blessed with the errors of honest but inadequate scholars of a
previous century. Amitabha is a Sanskrit term meaning "boundless
splendour" or "infinite glory" if any real translation can ever
be arrived at; therefore it is not a "Chinese perversion of the
Sanskrit Amrita Buddha. "Aindriya literally means "pertaining to
the senses," and not ''Indirani, the wile of Indra." Apana is one
of the pranas, and hardly "a practice of Yoga." Arasa Maram is
not Sanskrit but Tamil, as its final m indicates (in addition to
its meaning); it is the common name for the Pipal tree.
Imagine "Bagavadam" (Bhagavata) described as "a Tamil Scripture
on Astronomy and other matters," while it is one of the most
celebrated of the eighteen Mahapuranas treating of Vishnu,
Krishna, the Creation, and the histories of various sovereigns.
Dhyan Chohans, if literally translated, means "Lords of
Meditation," and not "Lords of Light. "The term Me-lha refers to
a Tibetan fire-god; it is neither Sanskrit, nor has it anything
to do with Salamanders which are elementals. And when it comes
to Midgard from the Scandinavian mythology, this term refers to
the Earth, the home of men between heaven and hell; the Midgard
snake was killed by Thor. It is Nidhogg, and not Midgard that
gnaws at the roots of Yggdrasil, the Ash Tree of Life.
The definitions of the Days and Nights of Brahma are entirely
wrong. A Day of Brahma is equivalent in length to 1,000
Mahayugas. This is a period of 4,320,000,000 years (Cf.
Bhagavad-Gita, VII, sloka 17). An Age of Brahma represents the
period of life of Brahma, which is stated in the Mahabharata to
be a period of 100 of Brahma's Years. This is equivalent to
311,040,000,000,000 years, which consists of fifteen figures.
A partial survey of the first four letters of the Glossary has
revealed no less than 40 mistranslations out of about 300 terms,
a very high percentage indeed.
The above instances should suffice for our purpose.
A closer examination of the text than that already completed
will, no doubt, merely increase the list of errors, and it is
doubtful whether it would be of any real value.
We are faced here with a perfectly honest but woefully inadequate
attempt on the part of various early scholars to grasp the subtle
meaning of Oriental and other ancient terms, and to render their
phonetic or actual form in English letters. Since those days,
scholarship in the field of Egyptology, Orientalism, Classical
research, and the like has advanced very considerably, and the
early definitions have become quite inadequate; they have been
superseded by a vaster knowledge and far greater accuracy,
though, from the standpoint of occult study, even the scholarship
of today is yet far behind and often guise materialistic.
To publish tint' Theosophical Glossary as it now stands simply
means to perpetuate willingly and deliberately hundreds of
errors; it also means to ascribe them, at least partially so, to
H.P.B. imagining that the definitions are hers, as no source of
reference is given; while in reality, when adequate explanation
and analysis of the text is made, nothing could be more erroneous
than to imagine that H.P.B. was herself responsible for the
majority of the definitions in the book. It is therefore
entirely unjust and unfair to her to do so.
To correct the hundreds of wrong definitions would be a task of
uncertain value, because, no matter how well done, it would still
contain errors, some, perhaps, unsuspected by the Editor. To
substitute for the definitions of early scholars those of present
and better ones, would be a drastic alteration of the entire
work. To eliminate all definitions which are by other people
besides H.P.B. and, maybe, W. Wynn Westcott, would be possible
but probably unwise, as hundreds of terms used by students today
would receive no definition at all. To correct as much as can be
corrected, to insert all the missing references and quotation
marks, and then to fill in editorially missing definitions, to
make the work more adequate and complete would mean practically
re-writing it. Its size would than be increased very
There remains the possibility of excerpting from it everything
that is obviously H.P.B.'s, which is quite easy to do, because of
her style and because of the reference to occult matters which
none of the other scholars knew anything about. It might be
feasible to add such material from H.P.B.'s pen to the Glossary
in The Key to Theosophy, with complete explanation of the reasons
for so doing, and of the background of this entire subject.
When the nature of the material in The Theosophical Glossary is
considered without bias or preconceived ideas, and the facts
outlined above are kept clearly in mind, it is difficult to
believe that the publication of this work in 1892 was done in
good faith. Its continued publication today is a disservice to
the Cause, and most certainly an utterly unwarranted reflection
upon the memory of H.P.B., whose name is made to appear in bold
letters upon the title page of a work full of misinformation, and
with the production of which she had very little to do. It is
high time that these facts be stated without ambiguity for the
information of serious students.
Theosophia (Winter 1967-68)
Daniel H. Caldwell
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