Hodgson Report

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The Hodgson Report was a document that arose from an investigation by the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) on H. P. Blavatsky, her performance of psychic phenomena, and the production of the Mahatma letters. In November, 1884, Richard Hodgson of the SPR went to India and visited the Adyar headquarters of the Theosophical Society. He was deceived by Emma Coulomb and her husband Alexis into believing that Madame Blavatsky had faked phenomena and forged letters. Hodgson wrote a 200-page report that he presented to the SPR. Even though the Society the Psychical Research never officially endorsed the report, the public invested Hodgson's writings with the full authority of the London Society. An international scandal ensued, and Hodgson's denunciation of Blavatsky was treated as authoritative in many books and enclopedias for decades, to the great detriment of her reputation and that of the Theosophical Society.

The case was re-examined a hundred years later by Dr. Vernon Harrison, an expert on forgery, which led to the SPR to publish a report taking exception of the methods used by Richard Hodgson.

Coulomb affair

Mme. Blavatsky met briefly Emma Cutting and her would-be husband Monsieur Coulomb in Cairo, in 1871. When the Founders arrived to Bombay in 1878, the Coulombs were in Galle, Sri Lanka, where they had opened a boarding house. This venture, however, was about to collapse, and Mme. Coulomb wrote to HPB asking for a loan. The latter answered that, if she and her husband would come to India, she could help them finding jobs. They eventually ended up working for the Founders and when they moved to Madras in 1882, the Coulombs came with them and resided at the new Headquarters at Adyar.

In February 1884 the Founders left for Europe and the management at Adyar was put in the hands of a Board of Control. Difficulties soon arose between the Board and the Coulombs. The Masters were obviously aware of was going on there, as shown in a letter precipitated to Col. Olcott in a railway compartment in motion, in England, on April 5, written by Master K.H.:

Do not be surprised at anything you may hear from Adyar. Nor discouraged. It is possible—tho’ we try to prevent it within the limits of karma—that you may have great domestic annoyances to pass thro’. You have harboured a traitor and an enemy under your roof for years, and the missionary party are more than ready to avail of any help she may be induced to give. A regular conspiracy is on foot. She is maddened by the appearance of Mr Lane Fox and the powers you have given to the Board of Control. We have been doing some phenomena at Adyar since H.P.B. left India to protect Upasika from the conspirators.[1]

The Coulombs were eventually dismissed about the middle of May. Between the time of the dispute and the day they left Adyar, Monsieur Coulomb, who was an expert carpenter, tampered with the "The Shrine" where the Masters of Wisdom used to precipitate letters. This shrine was a small wooden wall cabinet hanging up on one of the walls of H. P. Blavatsky's writing room. After leaving, the Coulombs 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.[2]

Missionaries' involvement

The Christian missionaries of Madras played an important role in the plot created by the Coulombs, in an attempt to thwart the TS efforts to bring about the Hindu and Buddhist revival it had started to stimulate. Thus, they took up the Coulombs, financed them, and launched an attack on the Society in their magazine, offering so-called evidence that the Masters were Mme. Blavatsky's invention, their letters written by her, and put in "The Shrine" with the Coulombs' assistance.[3]

Hodgson goes to India

The report

Boston Courier reaction

Boston Courier, July 18, 1886
Boston Courier, July 18, 1886

The report drew international attention. The Boston Courier printed a lengthy and scathing article, saying the SPR "has made no more egregious blunder than its report on Theosophy." It quoted a letter signed by almost seventy citizens of Negapatam (now Nagapattinam), India, regarding one of Richard Hodgson's major assertions:

The existence of the Mahatmas or Sadhus was not invented by Madame Blavatsky or any other individual. Our forefathers who had lived and gone long before the birth of Madame Blavatsky and the Coulombs had full belief in the existence of the Mahatmas and their psychical powers, and even had personal interviews with them. There are persons in India, even at the present day,who have no connection with the Theosophuical Society, and yet have interviews with such Superior Beings... Let Mr. Hodgson and the Committee, if they are in earnest, make deep researches into the matter and find that their conclusions were not only hasty but also entirely unfounded. The report of Mr. Hodgson and the conclusion of the Committee thereon, cannot at all affect in the least our belief in the existence of the Mahatmas, but will only betray their grossest ignorance of the Occult history of the Hindus.[4]

The article went on to criticize Hodgson's qualifications and the quality of his work:

The truth is that Mr. Hodgson, sent out by the London society to India, to investigate Madame Blavatsky, was so entirely unfitted for the work confided to him that he fell a victim to errors the most egregious. He set down to the credit of Madame Blavatsky's inventive powers theories and statements which may be found even in plenty of English works upon Indian religions published in London a century or more ago; and the society can hardly be willing to attribute to Madame a term of life so extended as to suppose her to have instigated the writing of books so old.[5]

Theosophical responses

A. P. Sinnett

A. P. Sinnett refuted the report in a 60-page booklet, The Occult World Phenomena and the Society for Psychical Research, published in 1886.[6]

Annie Besant

Testimony by C. W. Leadbeater

In an article published in The Theosophist, C. W. Leadbeater wrote the following:

I was at Adyar myself when Mr. Hodgson came out there to make that investigation. He was very young and obviously not very well acquainted with psychic matters. I had my own opinion of the way in which he carried out his investigation! I gave him a considerable amount of testimony, but he did not refer to that in any way in drawing up his decision, and I know the same was the case with several others of our people there. He cross-examined us but apparently made no use whatever of what we told him of the honesty of Madame Blavatsky; perhaps he did not believe us; at any rate he sent in a report which induced people to condemn her.[7]

Re-examination by Dr. Vernon Harrison

Dr. Vernon Harrison, an expert on forgery, examined the evidence of the case using Twentieth Century forensic methodology. He published an article in the April 1986 issue of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, followed by a book, H. P. Blavatsky and the SPR. An Examination of the Hodgson Report of 1885, in which he outlined flaws in Hodgson's work. On May 8, 1986, the Society for Psychical Research issued a press release in support of Harrison's findings, and rejecting the Hodgson report.[8]

Re-examination by Walter A. Carrithers, Jr.

Online Resources

Articles and pamphlets

Books

Additional resources

Notes

  1. Curuppumullage Jinarājadāsa, Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom First Series No. 16 (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1977), ???.
  2. Curuppumullage Jinarājadāsa, The "K. H." Letters to C. W. Leadbeater (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1980), 25-26.
  3. Curuppumullage Jinarājadāsa, The "K. H." Letters to C. W. Leadbeater (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1980), 26-27.
  4. "Theosophy and the Psychical Society," Boston Courier 63:21 (July 18, 1886). The entire article is reproduced in the "Boston Courier reaction" section of this wiki page.
  5. Ibid.
  6. A. P. Sinnett, The Occult World Phenomena and the Society for Psychical Research, London: George Redway, 1886. Available online at Blavatsky Archives.
  7. Charles Webster Leadbeater, "Theosophy and the T.S." The Theosophist vol:1, No. 11 (November, 1930), 941.
  8. Press Release of Society for Psychical Research, May 8, 1986. Available at [http://www.blavatsky.net/gen/refute/sprpress.htm# Blavatsky Net.