Best H.P. Blavatsky Books
In admiration of H.P. Blavatsky - an overview by Katinka Hesselink
My mentor, renowned theosophical scholar Henk Spierenburg, deserves a page on my site. He was best known for his compilations of Blavatsky's work according to subject. With the internet and digital search the most valuable thing about these books is no longer that he compiled the quotes, though it makes for easier reading. No, what really makes them invaluable is the notes and index added to those quotes.
Henk was a firm Blavatsky supporter and believer. But unlike most he came to that point after having done all the legwork. His life story is admirable - reads like the American dream, except it took place in The Netherlands. Two things are the main clues to his character I think: steadfast research and an analytical mind used to computers. But I can personally testify, as can the vagrants of The Hague, that he was generous to a fault as well.
Anyhow, he would not want me to dwell on his person too much, so instead I'll focus on his books here.
What the English books have in common
With the exception of the Inner Group Teachings and the Subba Row Collected Writings, these books share the fact that they organize Blavatsky's work. In other words: Henk brought together quotes from the various parts of Blavatsky's writings about one subject. In addition he would look up what Blavatsky's possible sources had to say on the subject, and where possible he checked contemporary translations of the ancient texts she used.
Given that we can now all search Blavatsky's writings online and on cd-rom, what is most important about these books today is these scholarly notes, and the index at the back of them. Henk was unparalleled in his capacity for making a thorough index. Not for nothing his addition to the Dutch translation of the Nag Hammadi writings was the index.
Henk Spierenburg English language bibliography
- New Testament Commentaries of H P Blavatsky, May 1987 (343pp, including bibliography and index)
Henk starts this book with the quote: "Every act of the Jesus of the New Testament, every word attributed to him, every event related of him during the three years of the mission he is said to have accomplished, rest on the programme of the Cycle of Initiation, a cycle founded on the precession of the Equinoxes and the Signs of the Zodiac." - H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings, Vol. IX, p. 203/225
- The Buddhism of H.P. Blavatsky, Jan 1, 1991
Blavatsky was perhaps the most influential Buddhist of the 19th century. There is hardly a western Buddhist from before the second world war who hasn't been touched by her version and interpretation of Tibetan Buddhism. Her Voice of the Silence is still relevant as a meditative work on the Mahayana Buddhist Path.
- The Vedanta Commentaries of H.P. Blavatsky, 1992 (246pp, including bibliography and index)
Currently only available at specialized bookstores.
This book combines commentaries by Blavatsky and Subba Row (see also his Collected Writings below) on Vedanta, Samkaracharya, Vyasa, the Brahma Sutras, the main Upanishads, , the Bhagavad Gita and the Anu Gita.
- H. P. Blavatsky on the Gnostics, Jan 1, 1994
"In this volume we learn of the source of Gnosticism. Importantly it upholds H. P. Blavatsky's startling declaration of the once universal religion from which Gnosticism, and indeed Buddhism and Brahmanism, and early Christianity, and all religions spring. Basic beliefs of the Gnostics are clarified, and made understandable as we recognize that there is always a direct continuation from age to age of this secret knowledge of hidden and spiritual things. Those especially interested in the Pistis Sophia, a sacred book, says H.P.B., of the early Gnostics or the primitive Christians, will find herein a wealth of genuine information."
- The Inner Group Teachings of H.P. Blavatsky: To Her Personal Pupils (1890-91), Feb 1996 (254pp, including bibliography and index; 1st edition 1985)
These are considered to be Blavatsky's most advanced teachings.
This book caused a storm in theosophical circles: here were the reports on Blavatsky's most secret meetings - on paper, available for all to see. And not just in one version, but in several versions, so the scholar can compare the various reports.
- The Veda Commentaries of H.P. Blavatsky, 1996 (101 pp. including index and bibliography)
- Astrology of a Living Universe: Helena Blavatsky's Visionary Philosophy of the Seven Sacred Planets, Aug 1997 (59 pp. including index and bibliography)
- T. Subba Row: Collected Writings
(in two volumes, 2001, 2002, 264pp and 654pp; the second volume includes index and bibliography)
For once a book not about Blavatsky, but about her most prized college in occultism: T. Subba Row. T. Subba Row was a Brahmin, a scholar, and according to Blavasky, as knowledgeable about the esoteric teachings as she was. At the end of their lives they quarreled, but Subba Row did leave behind a collection of articles that will be valued by theosophists for Blavatsky's recommendation of them.
There was already a book, compiled by C. Jinarajadasa, with the most important of Subba Row's articles. But in this book Henk Spierenburg collects all known articles and ads, as usual, a very thorough index as well.
Confusingly enough a book by this title is available on Amazon dated as published in 1996. However, since I was one of the editors of the first volume, I am sure this must be a mistake.
Unfortunately, while these two books were aimed to be the definitive Subba Row edition, that aim was not successful. Immediately after publication I noticed a few mistakes myself and one of my online friends sent me a list of corrections later as well. Based on both lists, I think volume 2 is more affected.
In other words - by scholars these books should be read in combination with A collection of esoteric writings.
For theosophists the value of the work by Subba Row lies in the respect Blavatsky had for him. Their dispute over the psychology of humanity is essential to the theosophical worldview - for those who want to go beyond the letter of Blavatsky's teachings to the reality.
Henk Spierenburg's Dutch Bibliography (Nederlandse bibliografie)
Unlike his English books, his Dutch books are often written by him, or translations of ancient texts into Dutch. He was more comfortable in Dutch than English - refusing to give lectures in English for instance (though I can't help but think that his reluctance to travel had something to do with that as well).
Henk also wrote numerous articles in Dutch. In addition, many of his lectures were transcribed and published without his permission, so this is a very partial bibliography. I should note that Henk did not trust those transcriptions.
- De Philonische Geheime Leer, De Kabala van Philo van Alexandria (2001)
- Avadhuta Gita (1998)
- De Pelgrimstocht van de Ziel, Een Oud-Syrische Vertelling (1998)
- Over 25 Incarnaties van de Dalai Lama (2000)
- De Nag Hammadi Geschriften (registers) (2004)
De Philonische geheime leer: De Kabbala van Philo van Alexandrie
The Secret Doctrine of Philo of Alexandria, about the Kabalah
Philo of Alexandria was a Jewish scholar - philosopher living at the time of jesus, roughly. He left a lot of writings, and in the centuries following his demise, he would be written about a lot. Only Plato got more commentary. But one aspect of his work has been neglected - the fact that he was initiated in the mysteries. Henk Spierenburg shows in this work that the kabalistic tree - usually dated to the 7th century A.D. - is already present in Philo's work. At the end of this book Henk also shows the amazing overlap between these teachings and what is said about the same subject in Vedic Sanskrit texts.
De Avadhuta Gita
A less well known Sanskrit text about Raja Yoga translated into Dutch.
The Hymn of the Soul, an ancient Syriac tale
De pelgrimstocht van de ziel, H.J. Spierenburg
Other titles of this text are 'The hymn of the pearl', 'The song of redemption', 'The hymn of the mantel of glory' etc. Present in one version of the Acts of Paul, an apocryphic Christian work about the work of the Apostle Paul in India, this beautiful tale of a man in a strange land is translated into Dutch by Henk Spierenburg.
About the 25 incarnations of the Dalai Lama
Over 25 incarnaties van de Dalai Lama, H.J. Spierenburg
A welcome overview of the history of the Dalai Lamas. A thoroughly unromantic book, in which the bare facts known about these spiritual leaders of Tibet are told.
Index to the best Dutch translation of the Nag Hammadi Texts
Nag hammadi geschriften (registers)
Nag hammadi geschriften, Jacob Slavenburg & Willem Glaudemans
A translation praised by scholars, though they add that the value is mostly due to a thorough reading of the English translations of the Nag Hammadi writings. However that may be, the index is very well done by Henk Spierenburg.
Henk Spierenburg and theosophy
Though he was not fond of sharing his personal life, the biographical information I gathered with his widow is rather lacking in depth and color. I've decided to fill in at least the few blanks I can.
His first contact with theosophy, so he told me one day, came in his teens as an employer took the smart but edgy youth to a ULT lodge meeting. As his biography makes clear, Henk had not had it easy. From a working class background he literally started at the bottom of the stack with technical work that requires expertise (lenses aren't the easiest things to make or mend). Still, this was the time after the war: The Netherlands were being rebuilt and many people got a chance to work themselves up from their class background. Henk would prove to be one of them.
He told me that the thing that impressed him about the ULT was the students who came there to ask smart questions, though I'm sure his lifelong love for Blavatsky started there as well.
Though Henk said I reminded him of himself at that age, I'm sure in many ways I was closer to those smart students. After all, my background is way more privileged than Henk knew as a kid and I've been a smart mouth for as long as I can remember.
Anyhow, Henk soon started teaching theosophy instead of just learning it. By the end of the 60's he's teaching and has started the Dutch magazine Lucifer. What's known to anybody who knows anything about this, but hasn't been published online, is that Henk Spierenburg started that magazine with Dick J.P. Kok, the man who would go on to found Isis, the third largest theosophical organization in The Netherlands. Their magazine is still called Lucifer.
They quarreled, presumably because Kok wanted to be in charge. Kok went on to found Isis and Henk went on to become the largest name in Dutch theosophical history. Isis on the other hand turned out to be a PR hit: it convinces people to this day that they're a world wide organization, which they really are not. They do however succeed very well in translating theosophy into something relevant to the world today.
Henk Spierenburg on the other hand simply went on studying, lecturing and writing. He ended up a member of the TS Adyar, according to his widow this was because it was the only democratic theosophical organization. I may add that he had studied history enough to realize what the non-democratic structure of the other theosophical organizations did to their stability, or lack thereof.
In his theosophical history work he ended up often stressing that Besant had been praised by Blavatsky as much as Judge had. And that de Purucker had made as many extra-ordinary claims about Masters as Besant and Leadbeater had. In short: he seems to have been dead set to equalize the playing field.
Still, it's clear that his personal life long theosophical love was Blavatsky. And the books he gave me were never by Besant and Leadbeater, instead focusing on Blavatsky, Judge, de Purucker and Jiddu Krishnamurti.
More by Henk Spierenburg in English and Dutch
- The Three Hypostases or Four Quarters of Ătman
This article is based on research by Henk Spierenburg. He gave the editor permission to reshape his research-material into an article. Since his demize the editor has obviously not been able to check back with him on changes. The reader can rest assu
- The Judge Case - A Conspiracy Which Ruined the Theosophical Cause; Review by Katinka Hesselink, edit
A review by Katinka Hesselink, with the help of Henk Spierenburg, of a book about one of the pivotal moments in Theosophical history.
- William Quan Judge, na het naschrift
In Lucifer nr. 6 van december 1996 vinden we een naschrift van de hand van de heer B. Voorham, naar aanleiding van een ingezonden artikel van Rob Pullen en een artikel van schrijver dezes in Theosofia van augustus 1996.
- Over Annie Besant en William Quan Judge, een reactie
Theosofia augustus 1996, p. 148-155 Over Annie Besant en William Quan Judge, een reactie Henk J. Spierenburg.
- Witte Lotusdag: 8 mei 1891; de sterfdatum van H.P. Blavatsky
De geschiedenis is meer dan bekend. Op 8 mei 1891 stierf mevrouw Blavatsky in het Londense hoofdkwartier van de Theosophical Society in Groot Brittannie. Natuurlijk zijn er mediums geweest die hebben geprobeerd