Communications allegedly from the Mahatmas (Masters or Adepts) of the Theosophical Society to Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and other leading theosophists during the nineteenth century. These Mahatmas were said to be eastern teachers belonging to the Great White Brotherhood, a group providing overall guidance to human destiny. The brotherhood was said to be living in the Himalayas of Tibet. It included Koot Humi Lal Singh (K. H.) and Morya (M.), the primary masters with whom Blavatsky claimed contact.
Notes signed with the initials of these Masters would be mysteriously precipitated out of the air or discovered in unexpected places. Recipients of such letters included Henry S. Olcott, the society's president, and A. P. Sinnett, editor of the Anglo-Indian newspaper the Pioneer. Sinnett was favorably impressed by such letters as well as other occult phenomena demonstrated by Blavatsky, and played a prominent part in the affairs of the Theosophical Society. The material received by Blavatsky from the Mahatmas, both in the letters and in other communications, formed the basis of the particular teachings of the society and constituted a new form of Gnosticism.
The reception of communications from the Masters in some unusual and unlikely circumstances became one claim of the society to special revelatory knowledge. Those claims, which had initially impressed some of the leaders of the Society for Psychical Research, led it to delegate Richard Hodgson to investigate the phenomena in Adyar, the Madras headquarters. He found extensive evidence of fraud on Blavatsky's part in producing and delivering the letters and in the arrival of various artifacts, reportedly gifts of the Masters. His discoveries included a shrine with a false back in which letters would mysteriously appear overnight to be found the next morning. He was assisted by Emma Coulomb, a former employee of the society, who claimed to have been a cohort of Blavatsky, but who had subsequently turned on her.
The publication of the Hodgson report created a public controversy and a crisis of major import within the society. While many members left, others preferred to believe that the confession by Coulomb was part of a plot to discredit Blavatsky. After Blavatsky's death, Theosophist co-founder William Q. Judge produced furthur Mahatma letters supporting his effort to take charge of the Esoteric Section of the Theosophical Society (in opposition to the leadership of Annie Besant ). Olcott eventually declared these letters to be fraudulent.
Theosophists have had to live for a century with the Hodgson report and the charge that the society is built upon a fraud. During this time various members have attempted to refute Hodgson's (and additional supporting) claims. For example, all now agree that the original Mahatma letters to Blavatsky were strongly influenced by her personality, since the handwriting and language were typical of her. While skeptics would claim that such influence is an additional sign of conscious fraud, Theosophists would claim that this resulted from the Masters using her as a medium of communication, in much the same way that a psychic delivers automatic writing.
More recently (1980), Charles Marshall attempted to prove by computer analysis that there is a strong dissimilarity between Blavatsky's language and that of the Masters. However, the computer program, although extensive, was somewhat arbitrary, being confined to certain prepositions and conjunctions. Moreover the comparison between the Mahatma letters and Blavatsky's writings in such works as The Secret Doctrine ignored the extensive editorial work by others on behalf of Blavatsky's writings, and her own extensive and unacknowledged plagiarism from other writers, thus making her claimed style unrepresentative. Other recent defenses of Blavatsky have been made by Vernon Harrison and Walter A. Carrithers.
Some of the original Mahatma letters may be viewed in the Manuscripts Department of the British Library, London.
Barker, A. T. The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett from the Mahatmas M. and K. H. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1924.
Gomes, Michael. Theosophy in the Nineteenth Century: An Annotated Bibliography. New York: Garland Publishing, 1994.
Hare, William L., and H. E. Hare. Who Wrote the Mahatma Letters? London: William & Norgate, 1936.
Harrison, Vernon. "'J'Accuse': An Examination of the Hodgson Report of 1885." Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (April 1986).
Jinarajadasa, C., ed. The K. H. Letters to C. W. Leadbeater. Adyar, Madras, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1941.
——. Letters from the Masters of Wisdom. 2 vols. Adyar, Madras India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1919.
——. The Story of the Mahatma Letters. Adyar, Madras, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1946.
Marshall, Charles. "The Mahatma Letters: A Syntactic Investigation into the Possibility of 'Forgery' by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, a 19th Century Russian Occultist." Viewpoint Aquarius 96 (October 1980).
Waterman, Adlai E. [Walter A. Carrithers]. Obituary: The "Hodgson Report" on Madame Blavatsky. Adyar, Madras, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1963.