I enjoy research too much and I’m a shameless critic. Weird & Güd is the conjoining of those misanthropic qualities into something useful: recommendations and fascinations neatly packaged together for you every week, some hermit-ism required after all.
The journal Helena Blavatsky published that seems to have been named Lucifer for no other reason than her contempt for Christianity and Victorian morality.
Today we’re breaking down one of recent history and occultism’s controversial celebrities, Helena Blavatsky.
You probably haven’t heard of her, but you’ve definitely heard of some of the followers of the Theosophical Society she co-founded in 1875: Lewis Carroll, Kahlil Gibran, T. S. Elliot, Kurt Vonnegut, Piet Mondrian, Henry Miller, Thomas Edison. You get it. Though Blavatsky is marred with controversy from possible plagiarism and visions of spiritual masters (later: The Masters), she was still massively, and I mean monstrously, influential.
The Theosophical Society of Cuba. That’s some reach.
The big deal about Blavatsky is Theosophy, a school of thought that deals with the unknowable. Her overwhelming body of work — thousand-page, multi-volume deconstructions of vast subjects like physics, mysticism, and cosmology — sought to find a middle ground during a time when materialism and religion were constantly dueling. This limbo between the known and unknown drew interest from artists and writers who craved an abstract perspective towards the parts of life that elude understanding.
When it comes to her theories, there is treasure and trash. A major problem with Blavatsky’s work is how often she contradicts herself and flat out lies; she claims to have been called by The Masters to study in Tibet during a time it was closed to outsiders and part of her book is an interpretation of a text called the Book of Dyzan.
This is not the kind of book your professor would let you cite. First, it’s untraceable, and second, the only other people who’ve cited it believe it predates Earth or go by the name H. P. Lovecraft.
If you’ve ever rolled your eyes at new age rhetoric about souls or mused about the wisdom of the universe, you can thank Helena Blavatsky for almost single-handedly keeping that rhetoric alive. She thought all religions were developments from a single, core religion that held the truth. As such, she pulled together concepts like reincarnation and evolution to make some truly interesting claims.
Blavatsky and her Theosophical Society co-founder, Henry Steel Olcott, laying the foundation for today’s average neo-pagan, Portland-dwelling couple.
Just as a light overview of a single shard of her theories: Blavatsky believed Darwin picked up evolution in the middle of its process, leaving off the entire beginning that no fossils can be found for because duh, astral beings don’t leave fossils. She wrote that the universe created humans by using nature to create physical forms and then giving those forms varying levels of soul — some got a full dose of soul and became The Masters, others got a half dose and became humans, and others yet got no soul and that’s where monkeys come from (harsh).
She argued that evolution wasn’t a single forward process but a kind of “everyone has their own journey” process that puts us all at different levels. This is also how she accounted for evil; anyone that acts maliciously is just a vessel who received less soul juice and is an underdeveloped being. Use that one the next time you get cut off in traffic.
Helena Blavatsky truly didn’t have a second to spare for what people thought of her. Biographers have done a wonderful job driving that point home with descriptions like “a short, stout, forceful woman, with strong arms, several chins, unruly hair, a determined mouth, and large, liquid, slightly bulging eyes” and “outrageously untidy.” She smoked a lot, swore a lot, had a bad temper, and made it well known that she hated social engagements.
She was out there, but the Theosophical Society stood for something more than just particular beliefs and novel ideas. Thinkers from all subjects and backgrounds, from Ghandi to Tolstoy, found something worthwhile in the Theosophy championed by Blavatsky. People still do; there’s likely a Theosophical Society near you. The best exit out of our rabbit hole into Blavatsky’s work is through the 3 objectives set forth by the society:
To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or colour.
To encourage the study of Comparative Religion, Philosophy, and Science.
To investigate the unexplained laws of Nature and the powers latent in man.
Viktor Frankl was a pioneering psychiatrist who founded the meaning-centric school of therapy, Logotherapy. If you’re not familiar with his story, he survived the concentration camps and came out with an acute understanding of what humans truly need to thrive — meaning.
He saw how, even in the bleakest circumstances in the deepest suffering, most people didn’t do what you’d think would make sense, they didn’t end their suffering by suicide. Instead, it was the clear purpose the situation gave them that kept them going — live. With purpose, people were able to bear even the horror of concentration camps.
Then, here we are — free, well-fed, safe, wealthier than nearly the entire world — and plagued by suicide. Why?
Frankl talks about the existential void that can kill a person more effectively than even a concentration camp. That void feels like apathy, boredom with life, lack of initiative, no interest in the world or in changing something in that world for the better. This description also rings ominously true of people who commit the darkest crimes, like shootings and terrorism.
How do we escape this existential void that leads us to feel nihilistic resentment towards life itself? Helping people out of the void may be the only true way to fight the hatred and violence we ask ourselves “Why?” when faced with.
Experience. Yes, it sounds a little woo-woo, but it’s actually a tenet of many schools of therapy today. Humans avoid things, that’s just what we do; it comes from a bunch of evolutionary self-preservation instincts that I won’t unpack here. The avoidance of life itself, whether avoiding relationships, avoiding big endeavors, avoiding change, breeds anxiety and ultimately pushes us into that existential void where we feel that we’re watching others live life from the stands.
Falling Skeleton, 2017 by Andy Wyeth
Through actively experiencing life we create the meaning we lack. It’s a kind of vicious cycle where we slink into existential dread because we avoid life and then we avoid life further because we’ve fallen further into existential dread because of that avoidance.
There are moments of pure life that can pull you out of that existential void even if only for that moment. Frankl touches on Martin Buber’s I-Thou concept when he says that experiencing another human being by truly seeing them — seeing them as they are in both essence and potential — is the kind of crystalized moment of pure life that reminds us why we’re alive and gives us the meaningful life we all crave.
If you haven’t read Frankl’s short book, Man’s Search for Meaning, you should. It’s an important read that will make you slightly better and beautifully captures the vital role that meaning and striving for meaning plays in our lives.
It’s a great reminder that happiness is mostly bullshit — it’s meaning that we need.
Pensamiento - Nube [Thought - Cloud], 2008 by Tomás Sánchez
I hope this makes your week a little weirder and a little güder. Now go forth, be weird, and above all, be güd.
I sit alone at a desk biting my nails to bring you every edition of Spiritual Soap. Is it worth it? Don’t tell me, show me.