FRIENDS OF THEOSOPHICAL ARCHIVES – A PROPOSAL by Leslie Price
(Published in the Psypioneer, 2013, Vol. 9, No 05)
Readers of Col. Olcott’s Old Diary Leaves, his account of the early days of the Theosophical Society, will recall his references to the extensive correspondence between Olcott and Blavatsky in the States; and Stainton Moses and C. C. Massey in England. Where are the letters of Stainton Moses now? Probably in the archives of the Theosophical Society in Adyar, India, from which a quarter of a century ago, Michael Gomes kindly sent me notes about some he had come across.
However the TS president, Mrs Radha Burnier, last year expressed regret to me that they had no one to work in the archives. Moreover, although there have been some improvements lately to the once hazardous conditions, much remains to be done to enhance the facilities. And time may not be on our side. In addition to the normal threats to tropical archives (termites are thought to have eaten the birth records of noted psychical researcher, Dr E. J. Dingwall in neighbouring Ceylon) and political dangers (the destruction of Irish records in past unrest there, impedes our enquiries into the youth of medium Geraldine Cummins), Marc Demarest in his blog” Chasing Down Emma” warned on 4 October 2011.1
"Assuming for the sake of discussion that the undeniably unusual geophysical and meteorological events of the past couple of years, all over the planet, are related to a systemic change in our climate (never mind the cause), it seems to me that the premium on digitizing one-of-a-kind records, and releasing them into the replicating wilds of the Internet, is a first priority for repository institutions now. One of the beautiful things about digital objects, copied hundreds of times across a global network of cheap compute-and-storage is that those objects survive pretty much everything, including the collapse, or the inundation, of entire nation-states.
In my particular domain, I think of the proximity of Adyar to the Bay of Bengal. No matter what your perspective on the TS, you'd have to agree that it’s a crime that so much absolutely unique primary material is, every day, in immediate danger of destruction."
In the same post Marc had noted that some archives held in the United States had become unavailable because of the East Coast earthquake. Across the continent, on Oct 21, 2007, a large wild fire in San Diego County consumed the books, significant library and archival inventory where Point Loma Publications had its book storage – PLP had taken a great interest in historical matters. (Fortunately, Jerry Hejka-Ekins had copied all the records of PLP archives, and they are now in Alexandria West Archives.) Not far away, the Theosophical Society Pasadena had closed its archives.
It has seemed to several of us that there are modest financial and scholarly resources available which could make an additional contribution to the preservation and use of Theosophical archives in which, as readers know, many psychic pioneers feature, and that some mechanism should be created to focus this. A Friends of Theosophical Archives is projected, not limited to any one organisation or location. We envisage the funds of this body being held in a way which protects them from misappropriation (as has often happened to funds left for psychical research).
Readers will be aware that good work is already being done through various channels. There are donors for example, who will provide money for specific projects, though not for a general fund. There are others who offer equipment, advice and funds for the general digitising of the records of a particular body. FOTA will gratefully receive and disseminate news of such initiatives.
At this stage, I am inviting interested persons to let me know their views. For the present, by kind permission of the editor, Psypioneer will be used for updates on developments, as this is a convenient free monthly channel.
Founder Editor Theosophical History (1985-1989).
Notes: 1Marc Demarest: http://www.ehbritten.org