cover illustration, Ray M. Hershberger; l-r Maharaja Ranbir Singh, Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani, Thakar Singh Sandhanwalia
After reading Dominic Green’s The Religious Revolution (Macmillan 2022) I was surprised to find that his bibliographic citation to my research was to my first self-published book which went out of print almost thirty years ago. The pen and ink portrait on the cover by my friend Ray Hershberger features Jamal ad-Din at the top. Everything Green writes about Theosophy in India is insightful and amusing, but nothing strikes me as a major breakthrough compared to this discussion of Egypt:
On March 27, 1884, Blavatsky’s party crossed the Seine, rounded the Louvre and the Tuileries Gardens, and made the ascent to Afghani’s attic. Blavatsky and Afghani had first met in Cairo in the early 1870s, probably through the Star of the East Masonic lodge. Each had moved to India in 1879, Blavatsky to Bombay after the seance scandal, and Afghani, expelled from Egypt for plotting against the Khedive, to Hyderabad. In India, the British had spied on them both, taking Afghani for a Muslim rabble-rouser and Blavatsky for a Russian agent. In India, Afghani fished in the same waters as the Theosophists, and used the same bait. In a talk at Calcutta University in 1882, he called on Hindus and Muslims to form an Indian nation by reviving their original wisdom and language. Afghani and Blavatsky were fellow travelers on the road of philosophical religion. They were also heading toward a confrontation with the European empires. When the English radical Wilfrid Scawen Blunt squeezed into the attic, he found Blavatsky and Afghani deep in conversation about the Mahdi of Sudan. The Mahdi had expelled the slave traders and Turkish garrison from the upper reaches of the Nile and declared a caliphate. If his revolt spread, it would soon threaten Egypt, the Suez Canal, and the Red Sea ports, and even sever the links between Britain and India. Who, Blavatsky asked, was this man who threatened to close the sea lanes and the empire that depended on them?
The endnotes to the book do not cite a source for the 1884 Wilfrid Scawen Blunt meeting with Blavatsky, Olcott, and Jamal ad-Din in Paris, and that this was a renewal of old acquaintances in Egypt from 1870. I discovered an earlier book from Green that goes into greater detail, so have ordered it. This is more relevant to the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor and its successors than to Theosophists, thanks to the legendary beginning of the HBofL in Egypt in 1870 although its documented founding was in 1884 in England. A Masonic lodge is of huge importance in the story, so I look forward to further insights from the older book.