Mahatma Papers at the British Library
by George McNamara
We went to see the Mahatma Letters at the
British Library on Tuesday 14th February 2006.
I thought I'd write a brief report for any
people or groups that want to go in future.
Organisational. The Library houses
national and world treasures, so they are very concerned
to make sure that people are well behaved, and they know
who you really are !
- First you must get a readers ticket. You need to
take a photocard with signature with you (passport or
work ID card) plus a utility bill as proof of your address.
You must enter your personal details on one of the computer
screens (choose Manuscripts as the department, and the
Mahatma papers as the research topic). Then you get
a queue number, and eventually the staff will call your
name or number. Then they will check your papers, take
your photo, and print a card. The whole process takes
at least 30 minutes, and maybe longer if they are busy.
- You must take your bag and coat to the cloakroom.
- Then you can go to the manuscripts section on the
2nd floor, and request the Mahatma papers from the desk.
It may well take 50 minutes for them to be brought from
Unexpectedly, 10 people turned up for our
visit, and when it became clear that it would take about
90 minutes to see the letters, our numbers dwindled to
5 people who had enough time to spare and enough determination.
I'm sure the others will go back later !
Our numbers falling to 5 was probably much
better for the library staff too - they were very uncomfortable
with a large crowd, and I suspect they felt things might
not be under their control - they take things very seriously,
and we had to make an agreement that only 4 people at
a time would look at the letters. Any future groups of
visitors should try to take this into account, and talk
directly to the Manuscripts Reading Room Staff well in
In The Reading Room. This reading
room is quite large, and has a remarkable atmosphere -
there were maybe 60 people studying ancient manuscripts
of all sorts. One can only say that there is a concentrated
hush in the reading room. The staff had agreed to let
us have 4 of the bound volumes of the Mahatma Papers,
and they had reserved 4 seats at one large table for us.
We sat down and after a few minutes the supervisor wheeled
over a trolley with four dark blue outer cases, and he
ceremoniously opened them and put the blue leather bound
volumes on our cushioned reading stands (two of us were
sharing). It was really quite a solemn and exciting moment,
and then we each began to open and explore our volumes.
The staff were very tolerant of us, I think,
as we tended to wander around and look at each others
volumes, though not excessively. However, when I got a
pencil out and put it near the manuscript, they were very
quick to ask me to be careful. The letters are beautifully
bound in blue leather, and the staff were also quick to
ask us to be careful in the way we handled the pages.
You also will need to be as quiet as you can be! One of
us borrowed a magnifying glass from the reception, and
I would advise you to take your own - with as high a magnification
There are 6 volumes,
and we collectively had four of them, as follows:
|Reference ADD 45.284 the main theoretical body of
the text of the Mahatma Letters book
ADD 45.285 more of the the main of the text of the
Mahatma Letters book
ADD 45.286 generally personal notes from the Masters
ADD 45.287 generally by HPB about the Coulomb affair,
with few notes by the Masters
the others are references 288 and 289 - we do not
know the contents of these.
In other circumstances, visitors can request two volumes
These are the papers which AP Sinnett bequeathed
- obviously only the letters he received are here
- in general the letters he sent are not here,
so you only get one side of the picture. The letters in
the first 3 volumes seem to be printed in their entirety
in "The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett" which
is available for about £20 from the TS bookshop.
There are also simplified versions available.
Style and Appearance. To begin with,
let us disregard the content of the letters, and just
consider their style and appearance. A first reaction
is of shock at how much writing there was in those days,
all by hand - HPB in particular must have spent all her
waking hours writing either books or letters. The letters
are dated from about 1880 to 1885, and many of them have
letterheads, envelopes, telegram forms, and other original
Most of the letters are by Koot Humi, it
is fascinating how beautiful his writing is, every word
is 'regular' and even, and the same at the top of the
page as the bottom, and there is quite a lot of underlining.
He writes in blue.
There are less letters by Morya - he writes in red, often
diagonally, and is much harder to read, but his writing
almost bursts off the page.
I think we only found one or two letters by Djwal Khul,
where he wrote as requested by M or KH. His writing was
very regular and even delicate.
Newcomers to the Theosophy might have two
main problems with the letters:
1. The Masters. Koot Hoomi and Morya are seen by
Theosophists as two of the Masters of the Ancient Wisdom.
That is, if earth is a school, they are the most senior
post-graduate teaching staff. "The Mahatma Letters"
and "The Secret Doctrine" (by HP Blavatsky,
their servant) are thought of as the two primary sources
for Theosophy. In modern terms these set out the context
of "how things are" - the creation of the planet,
the planes of being, the other beings which exist, the
constitution of man, the processes of birth and death,
etc. This is covered in the first 200 pages of "The
However, the Masters were also trying to establish the
Theosophical Society as a centre for Universal Brotherhood,
and to fulfil the other aims of the society, and they
were trying to establish a system of discipleship and
training for aspirants. The remainder of the Mahatma Letters
is taken up with processes around this, and it is clear
that there were considerable difficulties for the British
officers and administrators in India (no matter how talented)
to accept the possibility that mere Indians might be their
These two books were given out by the Masters in 1875
to 1885. Nowadays, there are thousands of works proclaimed
to be from the Masters, and this creates difficulties
and sullies the name of the Masters. Generally, the works
which are 100% genuinely originated and approved by the
Masters are "The Mahatma Letters" and "The
Secret Doctrine" setting out the main context of
their view, then the works of Alice A Bailey and the Agni
Yoga teachings are accepted by many others as setting
out the process of the path of development of an individual.
While there are many valuable books by great thinkers
and good people, I think that all the other messages from
the masters in circulation are false.
2. Precipitation, and why you should
take a magnifying glass. One of the key things about
the letters is the way they were received. Some of the
writing by the masters is normal handwriting, however,
some notes were apparently added to the letters inside
sealed envelopes while in the post. Other letters are
supposedly sent by "precipitation"
As much may be said of my replies.
For, whether I "precipitate" or dictate them
or write my answers myself, the difference in time saved
is very minute. I have to think it over, to photograph
every word and sentence carefully in my brain before it
can be repeated by "precipitation." As the fixing
on chemically prepared surfaces of the images formed by
the camera requires a previous arrangement within the
focus of the object to be represented, for otherwise -
as often found in bad photographs - the legs of the sitter
might appear out of all proportion with the head, and
so on, so we have to first arrange our sentences and impress
every letter to appear on paper in our minds before it
becomes fit to be read. For the present, it is all I can
(Koot Hoomi, letter 6, p 22 - Received at Allhabad about
Dec. 10, 1880)
On a few letter there is a very interesting
effect - there are diagonal hatchings in the letters.
To our modern eyes this looks like inkjet printing where
half of the (alternate) jets are working properly, and
the other half are working very faintly. As we have our
new technologies, it is interesting to wonder if this
precipitation process is more like an old fax machine
where heat makes a mark on the paper, or a laser printer
where static charges attract the ink particles, which
are then 'fixed'. However, these diagonal marks DO look
more like an inkjet effect.
However, it is still difficult to take in
that, first KH has organised all of his thoughts, then
he has formed them into words and punctuation, then the
has visualized them laid out on a sheet of paper, and
then there has been some sort of telepathic transmission
of the pages, and then a mental precipitation of the message
onto paper. We looked at some precipitated pages very
closely, and there was no sign of any indentations from
a pen or pencil.
I hope this small article has served to
remind the readers that the original manuscripts from
the Masters, in their own handwriting, are available at
the British Library for all to go and look at. It is wise
to phone them beforehand to check that the procedure I
have described above is still correct, and to allow plenty
of time for the bureaucracy involved.
I have found it something wonderful to experience - to
read the words in the handwriting of the Masters themselves
has much more impact - it is so different from reading
them printed in a book, and I think it has made a big
impression on all of us.
I highly recommend seeing the Mahatma Letters