Helena Petrovna Blavatsky was a Russian occultist, best known for forming the Theosophical Society in 1875. Theosophy is an esoteric religion, albeit one that shares several ideas with Hinduism and Buddhism. Still practised today, its central tenet posits the notion of a universal spiritual humanity based on a shared reclamation of ancient wisdom – an ur-knowledge once widely known but long-since lost. The society lasted until as recently as 2011, when it split into several smaller organisations. Blavatsky’s ideas were set forth in her densely written treatise The Secret Doctrine (1888).
Blavatsky’s Theosiophical outlook underlies her one collection of fictional writing, Nightmare Tales (1892), which foreshadows the ‘weird fiction’ tradition of horror in its hints that not all ancient knowledge is beneficial – some strands might be best left to lie.
The Theosophical society’s HTML edition gives the estimated dates of the stories’ original composition and the website also contains information about Blavatsky’s life and work. Paganini’s ‘Dance of the Witches’, which features prominently in ‘The Ensouled Violin’ can be heard (for free) at the excellent Classical Music Online.
These five stories represent the complete supernatural writing of D.H. Lawrence, the celebrated English modernist. All of the stories appear in The Woman Who Rode Away and other stories (1928) – the final collection of Lawrence’s short fiction to appear in his lifetime – and were written in the three or four years leading up to the publication of that volume. ‘Glad Ghosts’ received its first book publication in the short story collection of the same name, which appeared in 1926 – it had originally been written for Lady Cynthia Asquith’s Ghost Book. Asquith rejected it on account of its strange symbolism and difficult narrative style. ‘The Lovely Lady’ is a satiric vampire story. Each of the stories betray the bitter sarcasm characteristic of Lawrence’s work, and make for challenging and unsettling reading.