The West Turns Eastward

The West Turns Eastward:
Madame Blavatsky and the Transformation of the Occult Tradition

By Mark Bevir
Journal of the American Academy of Religion
Vol. 62, No. 3 (Autumn, 1994), pp. 747-767

THROUGHOUT THE TWENTIETH CENTURY increasing numbers of western men and women have turned to India for spiritual fulfillment. The image of meditation centres and Indian gurus thriving in California and elsewhere now has become an integral part of our understanding of western culture. The sources of this western interest in the mystical East stretch back at least as far as the romantics and liberal Christians of the early nineteenth century (Christy; Lavan). In this essay, I will concentrate on one neglected source of this popular orientalism, namely, occultism. More particularly, I will examine, first, the way in which Madame Blavatsky transformed the occult tradition in response to the Victorian crisis of faith, and second, how she thereby encouraged the West to turn to India for spiritual enlightenment.


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