Thursday, September 27, 2012

Blavatsky and Blondie

Coming up next month at South East London Folklore Society:

'Gary Lachman will be giving a talk on the celebrated occultist, Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky’s time as a resident of London. Author of “Isis Unveiled“ & co-founder of the Theosophical Society, Madame Blavatsky is a hugely influential figure in modern esoteric history. Gary Lachman is an author of books on the meeting ground between consciousness, culture, & the western inner tradition. His new book “Madame Blavatsky: The Mother of Modern Spirituality” is published by Tarcher/Penguin'.


The talk takes place on Thursday, October 11, 2012, 8:00pm at The Old King's Head, Kings Head Yard, 45-49, Borough High St., London SE1 1NA, all for less than the price of a pint ( £2.50/£1.50 concs).

The Norwood Connection

There should be some good South London content in this. When Blavatsky moved to London in 1885 she lived at Maycot cottage in Upper Norwood (Crown Hill), where she spent her final six years writing The Secret Doctrine. WB Yeats describes a visit there: "I found Madame Blavatsky in a little house at Norwood, with, but, as she said, three followers left" (having been exposed for some fraudulent practices). Yeats was surprised that a cuckoo hooted him from a clock that had apparently stopped: "I wondered if there was some hidden mechanism and I should have been put out, I suppose, had I found any, though Henley had said to me, 'Of course she gets up fraudulent miracles, but a person of genus has to do something' (Yeats, The Trembling of the Veil, 1922).

Another visitor recalled: 'I first met dear old “H. P. B.,” as she made all her friends call her, in the spring of 1887. Some of her disciples had taken a pretty house in Norwood, where the huge glass nave and twin towers of the Crystal Palace glint above a labyrinth of streets and terraces. London was at its grimy best. The squares and gardens were scented with grape-clusters of lilac, and yellow rain of laburnums under soft green leaves. The eternal smoke-pall was thinned to a gray veil shining in the afternoon sun, with the great Westminster Towers and a thousand spires and chimneys piercing through. Every house had its smoke-wreath, trailing away to the east' (Charles Johnston, Theosophical Forum. 1900)

One of Blavatsky's best-known followers was Annie Besant, the well known feminist, birth-control advocate, and political radical. Annie Besant had also lived also lived not far away in the 1870s, at 39 Colby Road SE19. Another leading Theosophist was the American Colonel Olcott. On September. 29 1889 he gave a lecture at the Hatcham Liberal Club, New Cross described as his 'largest audience of the season'.

Touched by your presence dear

Oh so what's the Blondie connection? Well the first time I heard the word 'theosophy' was in their 1977 hit 'I am always touched by your presence, dear' which includes the line 'Coming into contact with outer entities, We could entertain each one with our theosophies'. The song was written by early Blondie bassist Gary Valentine, who also wrote another Blondie favourite, X-Offender, and played on their debut album. Valentine left the band in 1977 when they were on the verge of internaional fame, and went on to be a writer under the name Gary Lachman... the very same, all the way from CBGBs to the Old Kings Head in Borough High Street.

Blondie in 1977, Gary Valentine Lachman on the right.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting Story Trans - as a student in Holborn in the 70s I was always intrigued by the Swedenborg place on Bloombury Way - its one of the few places that hosts a bookshop that remains unchanged in Holborn - and as a fellow 'mystic' theres an interesting story to be told about Emanuel Swedenborg as well.

The 'mystic' bookshop on Museum street remains of course, but it's not the same as years ago when you could almost guarantee to go in there and come into contact with someone who had a story to tell...

Deptford Pudding said...

Norwood seems to attract clairvoyance: http://deptfordpudding.com/2012/05/21/where-time-stands-still/

Transpontine said...

@anonymous I believe that in the 19th century there was a Swedenborgian New Jerusalem Church in New Cross, must dig out details.

@Deptford Pudding - some great tales in that post, South London spiritualism is another vast unexplored territory

Anonymous said...

I also noted there's a new biography of Austin Spare just released - also mentioned here before