Monthly Archives: March 2014

Annie Besant’s Thought-Forms

Annie BesantAnnie Besant (British, October 1, 1847 – September 20, 1933) was a theosophist, activist for women’s rights, socialist, public speaker, and author who supported the independence of Ireland and India. She was associated with such groups as The National Secular Society, The Social Democratic Federation, and the Fabian Society, and was a strong proponent of unions and workers’ rights. Besant joined the Theosophical Society after meeting the occultist, Helena Blavatsky in 1890, and gave many lectures on the subject.

She was a prolific writer and among her most interesting works is a volume from 1901 that she co-wrote with Charles Webster Leadbeater, titled Thought-Forms. The book is concerned with the visual manifestation of mental energy and includes many drawings and illustrations that attempt to represent the powers of the mind. The following are some examples with excerpts from their descriptions:

The Intention to Know.—Fig. 19 is of interest as showing us something of the growth of a thought-form. The earlier stage, which is indicated by the upper form, is not uncommon, and indicates the determination to solve some problem—the intention to know and to understand. Sometimes a theosophical lecturer sees many of these yellow serpentine forms projecting towards him from his audience, and welcomes them as a token that his hearers are following his arguments intelligently, and have an earnest desire to understand and to know more. A form of this kind frequently accompanies a question, and if, as is sometimes unfortunately the case, the question is put less with the genuine desire for knowledge than for the purpose of exhibiting the acumen of the questioner, the form is strongly tinged with the deep orange that indicates conceit…

The Intention to Know

High Ambition.—Fig. 20 gives us another manifestation of desire—the ambition for place or power. The ambitious quality is shown by the rich deep orange colour, and the desire by the hooked extensions which precede the form as it moves. The thought is a good and pure one of its kind, for if there were anything base or selfish in the desire it would inevitably show itself in the darkening of the clear orange hue by dull reds, browns, or greys…

High Ambition

Vague Selfish Affection.—Fig. 9 shows us also a cloud of affection, but this time it is deeply tinged with a far less desirable feeling. The dull hard brown-grey of selfishness shows itself very decidedly among the carmine of love, and thus we see that the affection which is indicated is closely connected with satisfaction at favours already received, and with a lively anticipation of others to come in the near future…

Vague Selfish Affection

In attempting to explain the phenomena of thought creating form, the authors use the example of Chladni’s sound plate, a device that uses the vibration of sound to create patterns in sand:

Chladni's Sound Plate
And, they go on to elaborate on the difficulties of making thought-form representations:

There are some serious difficulties in our way, for our conception of space is limited to three dimensions, and when we attempt to make a drawing we practically limit ourselves to two…

It is possible to do this only because similar objects are already familiar to those who look at the picture and accept the suggestion which it conveys. A person who had never seen a tree could form but little idea of one from even the most skilful painting. If to this difficulty we add the other and far more serious one of a limitation of consciousness, and suppose ourselves to be showing the picture to a being who knew only two dimensions, we see how utterly impossible it would be to convey to him any adequate impression of such a landscape as we see… The vast majority of those who look at the picture are absolutely limited to the consciousness of three dimensions, and furthermore, have not the slightest conception of that inner world to which thought-forms belong, with all its splendid light and colour.

Annie Besant had been a friend and follower of Jiddu Krishnamurti, who, though once a leader in the Theosophical Society, eventually left theosophy altogether to travel and teach his own original ideas for which he is widely known today. Though she remained a theosophist, Besant continued to follow Krishnamurti and to try and incorporate his new teachings, though somewhat unsuccessfully. The two remained friends until Besant’s death in India, in 1933, at the age of 85.







Watteau’s Revolution

Antoine Watteau

Portrait of Antoine Watteau by Rosalba Carriera, pastel on paper, 55 × 43 cm (21.7 × 16.9 in), 1721, Museo Civico Luigi Bailo, Treviso

Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684 – 1721) was a rebellious and groundbreaking painter and one of the most important European artists of the eighteenth century. His scenes of idyllic life set in lush, fantastic landscapes are often tinged with melancholy and contain shadowy traces of the human condition. Many of his best known paintings drew their subjects from music, theater, eros, and dance, and demonstrate his ability to reveal the lightness of beauty and psychological depth at once.

Pierrot, called Gilles, oil on canvas, Height: 174.5 cm (68.7 in.), Width: 149.5 cm (58.86 in.), circa 1718, Musée du Louvre, Paris

Pierrot, called Gilles, oil on canvas, Height: 174.5 cm (68.7 in.), Width: 149.5 cm (58.86 in.), circa 1718, Musée du Louvre, Paris

Diana Bathing, oil on canvas, Height: 80 cm (31.5 in.), Width: 101 cm (39.76 in.), circa 1721, Musée du Louvre, Paris

Diana Bathing, oil on canvas, Height: 80 cm (31.5 in.), Width: 101 cm (39.76 in.), circa 1721, Musée du Louvre, Paris









In his great book, Rococo to Revolution, author Michael Levey says this of Watteau:

The importance of Watteau was twofold. He created, unwittingly, the concept of the individualistic artist loyal to himself, and alone… More important than any concept of the artist was the art he created. He invented in effect a new category of picture, the fête galante, which claimed complete freedom of subject-matter for the painter and which at the same time, while dispensing with overt ‘story’, treated human nature as psychologically as the novel was to do.

…Watteau should have been the great neglected genius of his age; but to its credit he was a great applauded genius… He was its poet, and he gave it an image in which it would have liked to believe.

Respite from War, Oil on copper, Height: 21.5 cm (8.46 in.), Width: 33 cm (12.99 in.), circa 1713, Hermitage Museum, St-Petersburg

Respite from War, oil on copper, Height: 21.5 cm (8.46 in.), Width: 33 cm (12.99 in.), circa 1713, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg