Book Review

The Secret Doctrine by H.P. Blavatsky; abridged and annotated by Michael Gomes. Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, NY, 2009; 255 pages, ISBN 987-1-58542-708-6, paperback, $17.50.

The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky's 1500-page masterwork, is the foundational text of the modern theosophical movement. Still, many find it difficult to read.  Its main lines of reasoning are often obscured by a plethora of examples from world cultures, citations from authorities, and arguments about the scientific, religious, and philosophical thought current in the late 19th century when she wrote.  This skillful abridgment preserves the poetic flavor of her writing and the main outline of her theme while removing references to other writers and texts as well as criticism and analysis of scientific ideas and theosophical misconceptions.

Gomes organizes his abridgment around the Stanzas, giving a paragraph or two, or sometimes several pages, of her explanatory material about each.  As he explains: "In this way the stanzas receive more of a central role and are allowed to speak more clearly than before.  With their strange cadences and rhythmic flow, they provide the means to an alternate way of looking at the world, humanity, and the saga of creation, or, as the author describes it, 'a glimpse into eternity.'  Fact or fiction, the stanzas provide one of the great mythos of our time, whose influence on modern esotericism is undeniable." (p. xxv)  Portions of several of the chapters on symbolism are also included. 

This is a useful introduction to theosophical thought which would also make a good choice for book groups. – Sally Dougherty (October 2009)

Book Reviews