"The Shrine"

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"The Shrine" was a small wall cabinet or cupboard with double doors, hanging up on one of the walls of H. P. Blavatsky's writing room at Adyar (not fixed to it). This contained some memorabilia of Mme. Blavatsky's time with the Masters of Wisdom in Tibet. It eventually came to be used for a short time (1883-1884) to transmit letters to and from the Masters by occult means.

The Coulombs tampered with it and made charges that the shrine had been used to deceive the recipients of the letters which appeared, alleging that they were really inserted through secret panels and holes in the wall.

Physical description

According to William Q. Judge's description its doors were painted black and varnished, and its interior was lined with common red plush. In its interior, on the bottom shelf, there was a tibetan prayer wheel, and also a picture of Master K.H. with a fur cap on.[1] A. P. Sinnett state that there were "two small portraits she possessed of the Mahatmas, and some other trifles associated with them in her imagination".[2] There were also a silver bowl and a china tray that Mme. Coulomb accidentally broke in opening the shrine for General Morgan, but that was restored by one of the Masters (see below).

Regarding its use, Mr. Sinnett writes:

The purpose of this special receptacle was of course perfectly intelligible to everyone familiar with the theory of occult phenomena. . . . A place kept pure of all "magnetism" but that connected with the work of integrating and disintegrating letters, would facilitate the process, and the "shrine" was used a dozen times for the transaction of business between the Masters and the chelas. . . .[3]

China tray phenomenon

The following phenomena, stated by Major-General Morgan occurred in August 1883, while the Founders where absent:

In the month of August, having occasion to come to Madras in the absence of Colonel Olcott and Madame Blavatsky, I visited the head-quarters of the Theosophical Society to see a wonderful painting of the Mahatma Koot Hoomi kept there in a shrine and daily attended by the Chelas. On arrival at the house I was told that the lady, Madame Coulomb, who had charge of the keys of the Shrine, was absent, so I awaited her return. She came home in about an hour, and we proceeded upstairs to open the Shrine and inspect the picture. Madame Coulomb advanced quickly to unlock the double doors of the hanging cupboard, and hurriedly threw them open. In so doing she had failed to observe that a china tray inside was on the edge of the Shrine and leaning against one of the doors, and when they were opened, down fell the china tray, smashed to pieces on the hard chunam floor. Whilst Madame Coulomb was wringing her hands and lamenting this unfortunate accident to a valuable article of Madame Blavatsky’s, and her husband was on his knees collecting the debris, I remarked it would be necessary to obtain some china cement and thus try to restore the fragments. Thereupon M. Coulomb was despatched for the same. The broken pieces were carefully collected and placed, tied in a cloth, within the Shrine, and the doors were locked. Mr. Damodar K. Mavalankar, the joint recording Secretary of the Society, was opposite the Shrine, seated on a chair, about ten feet away from it, when, after some conversation an idea occurred to me to which I immediately gave expression. I remarked that if the Brothers considered it of sufficient importance, they would easily restore the broken article, if not they would leave it to the culprits to do so the best way they could. Five minutes had scarcely elapsed after this remark, when Mr. Damodar, who during this time seemed wrapped in a reverie, exclaimed, ‘I think there is an answer.’ The doors were opened, and, sure enough, a small note was found on the shelf of the Shrine, an opening which we read:


"To the small audience present. Madame Coulomb has occasion to assure herself that the devil is neither so black nor so wicked as he is generally represented; the mischief is easily repaired."
"On opening the clothing the china tray was found to be whole and perfect; not a trace of the breakage to be found on it! I at once wrote across the note, stating that I was present when the tray was broken and immediately restored, dated and signed it, so there should be no mistake in the matter. It may be here observed that Madame Coulomb believes that the many things of a wonderful nature that occur at the head-quarters may be the work of the devil - hence the playful remark of the Mahatma who came to her rescue."

[4]

Sinnett's testimony

A. P. Sinnett reports:

My wife one morning came in to speak to me and I gave her some such questions, asking her to give them to Madame Blavatsky for transmission at convenience. She, it appears, took them upstairs at the opposite side of the room from 'The Shrine'. Madame Blavatsky told my wife to put my questions in the shrine which she did, remaining in the room talking to 'the old lady' as we always called her. In about 10 minutes Mme. Blavatsky told my wife that the Master had already sent some answers. My wife went to the shrine and there found a reply to my questions from the Master, or rather, a few lines in his writing promising an answer next day. . . . Madame Blavatsky had not moved from her seat at the writing table during the ten minutes referred to.[5]

Brown's testimony

William T. Brown reports:

On returning to Madras, about the middle of December [1883], I wrote a letter to Koot Hoomi, asking the favor of another personal interview. This letter is put into "the shrine," a sort of astral postoffice at the Theosophical head quarters at Madras, by the aforesaid Damodar in my presence. He shuts the door of the shrine and in less than half a minute opens it. The letter is gone. There is no trace of it. There was somebody concealed in the wall behind, who opened a door from behind and abstracted my letter? If so, the person so concealed must have been content to pass his life there, as letters, often unexpectedly, as mine was, were put into the shrine at all hours, morning, noon and night. Damodar hears, or pretends to hear, a voice, clairaudiently, and informs me that his Master (meaning K. H.) requests me to be patient. Next evening (17th December), in the presence of Blavatsky and friends, including an army general, a lawyer and a doctor, on turning round in my seat I find on a ledge behind the identical letter which Damodar had placed in "the shrine" on the previous day. The envelope, to all appearance, has never been opened, the address only being altered from "Koot Hoomi Lal Singh" to "W. Brown F. T. S." On cutting open the envelope I find my own letter, and in addition, a letter of eight pages, purporting to come from K. H. Now it is to be observed that this letter was received through Madame Blavatsky, that is to say, when Blavatsky was in the same building and in the same room. How does this letter compare with the letter "materialized" into my hand at Lahore, when Blavatsky was at the other end of India? The writing is the same, and the matter proves its author but the author of the Lahore letter also.[6]

Alteration of the shrine

One of the main charges made by the Coulombs was that the shrine had been used to deceive the recipients of the letters which appeared, alleging that they were really inserted through secret panels and holes in the wall. But an important amount of evidence is available that the wall and the shrine were absolutely intact until the Coulombs were left in charge of the "occult rooms" while the Founders where in Europe.[7]

At this time, disputes arose between the Coulombs and the officers of the Society at Adyar. As a result of this the Coulombs were dismissed from the society about the middle of May. When M. Coulomb gave up the keys of Madame Blavatsky's room, he exhibited certain contrivances which he alleged had been used by Mme. Blavatsky for the production of fraudulent phenomena, especially in connection with the shrine. These were alterations he himself had done in order to denounce HPB for fraud. William Q. Judge writes:

I went to Adyar in the early part of the year 1884, with full power from the president of the society to do whatever seemed best for our protection against an attack we had information was about to be made in conjunction with the missionaries who conducted the Christian College at Madras. I found that Mr. Coulomb had partly finished a hole in the wall behind the shrine. It was so new that its edges were ragged with the ends of laths and the plaster was still on the floor. Against it he had placed an unfinished teak-wood cupboard, made for the occasion, and having a false panel in the back that hid the hole in the wall. But the panel was too new to work and had to be violently kicked in to show that it was there. It was all unplaned, unoiled, and not rubbed down. He had been dismissed before he had time to finish.[8]

Online resources

Books

Notes

  1. See Madame Blavatsky in India - A Reply to Moncure D. Conway by William Q. Judge
  2. Alfred Percy Sinnett, Incidents in the Life of Madame Blavatsky, (New York, Cambridge University Press, 2011), 286.
  3. Alfred Percy Sinnett, Incidents in the Life of Madame Blavatsky, (New York, Cambridge University Press, 2011), 286.
  4. "Testimony of Phenomena", Supplement to The Theosophist (December, 1883), 31.
  5. Alfred Percy Sinnett, Autobiography of Alfred Percy Sinnett (London: Theosophical History Centre, 1986), 23.
  6. Occultism in India by William T. Brown
  7. Annie Besant, H. P. Blavatsky and the Masters Wisdom, (London: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1907), 20-25
  8. Madame Blavatsky in India - A Reply to Moncure D. Conway by William Q. Judge