I was first introduced to Helena Blavatsky’s writings in college. I was taking a course on the works of W. B. Yeats and had to read excerpts from Blavatsky’s works as supplemental material. Her insights into the occult helped shed light on Yeats’ more esoteric poems.
Studies in Occultism is comprised of a series of articles published by Blavatsky. The articles address the tension in the late 19th century between occultists and psychiatrists, particularly those that practiced hypnotism, a relatively new field of scientific study at that time. According to Blavatsky, hypnotism is an extremely dangerous form of black magic. In order to understand her claim, it is necessary to understand Blavatsky’s definition of black magic.
According to Blavatsky, it is intent that defines black magic. If a willful act is selfish or detrimental, then it falls into the category of black magic. She asserts that all spiritual pursuits must be positive, with the only goal being the advancement of humanity and a deeper understanding of the Soul.
So why does Blavatsky equate hypnotism with black magic? First, we must let go of our modern understanding of hypnosis as a way of accessing repressed memories. In the 19th century, hypnosis was more a means of suggestion, of installing thoughts and ideas into the mind of the patient. In the view of an occultist, this is imposing one’s will on to the psyche of another, thereby bending that persons thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and so forth, to those of the hypnotist. This was considered black magic in that period — using your will to influence or control the thoughts and actions of another person.
This book is not for everyone. If you’re interested in mysticism or the philosophical ideas that influenced late 19th and early 20th century literature, then it is worth reading. If these things hold no interest for you, then you’d be better off skipping this one.