and the Occult

Blavatsky: Collected Writings, vol. 6, pp.434-436


   German Family which played an important role in the history of the T.S.  It was headed by Gustav Gebhard, eldest son of Franz-Joseph Gebhard, Pres. of the Board of Trade, at Elberfeld, Germany.  He was born in that city, Aug. 18, 1828, and died in Berlin, May 6, 1900.  He owned a silk manufacturing factory in his native city, was co-rounder of the German Bank and of the Bergisch-Märkische Bank, and Persian Consul.  He acquired much of his business experience travelling abroad, lived in Paris and London, and made trips to the U.S.A., Constantinople and Asia Minor.  Noted as a linguist, he spoke French and English without accent.  A far-sighted business-man, he was also known for his warm hospitality, broad-mindedness, and readiness to help others, even when their views differed from his own.

   On his first journey to America, he met in New York the widow and only daughter of the British Major Thomas L’Estrange (of the 36th Reg.), who belonged to the Protestant branch of this old family, descending from Rollo, First Duke of Normandy.  He had married a Catholic Irish lady, Sarah Egan, which brought about strained relations with his family.  His daughter, Mary, never met any relatives on her father’s side.  At the conclusion of the Spanish campaign against Napoleon, he had gone to Paris, where his daughter was educated at the Sacré Coeur, and presented at the Court.  Having lost his property, he left for Canada, where he bought some land near Montreal.  After his death in 1850, his widow sold the land and went to the U.S.A. with her daughter Mary.  It is in New York that Gustav Gebhard married Mary L’Estrange, Sept. 4, 1852, the ceremony being performed acc. To both the Catholic and the Protestant rites.  Together with Mrs. L’Estrange, the newly-married couple settled in Elberfeld, Germany, where their seven children were eventually born.

   Mary Gebhard was not too happy living in a small town.  Owing to the many business trips of her husband, she was left very much to herself.  Her father-in-law, Franz-Joseph G., was the only member of the family who had a sympathetic understanding of her outlook.  She had an inborn inclination towards philosophical and occult subjects, and studied Hebrew with a clergyman, to become fitted for independent research in the Kabalah.  She made the acquaintance of the Abbé Alphonse Louis Constant, who, under his pseudonym of Éliphas Lévi, wrote well-known occult works, and remained his pupil until his death in 1875.  She visited him several times in Paris, and he visited the Gebhards twice in Elberfeld.  After the death of Éliphas Lévi, Mary G. sought other occult connections.  She heard of the T.S., and after an exchange of letters with Col. Olcott, became a member therof.

   In 1884, H.P.B., Col. Olcott, Mohini M. Chatterjee and Bawajee came to Europe.  Col. Olcott established connections in Bavaria, and broached the idea of the formation of a Branch Society in Germany.  Accordingly, the Germania Theosophical Society was organized at the home of the Gebhard Family at Elberfeld, Platzhoffstrasse 12 (Vide photograph of the building, facing page 267 of the present volume), on July 27, 1884, with Dr. William Hübbe-Schleiden as President, Mary Gebhard as Vice-President, and Franz Gebhard as Corresponding Sec’y.  All the members of the Gebhard Family, except their daughter, joined the Theos. Society.  H.P.B. and her party arrived in Elberfeld on Aug. 17, 1884, for a stay of about two months at the Gebhards’ home which became the center of Theosophical activities.  Visitors came and went, some of them from abroad, and all the available rooms were frequently occupied by guests.  (Consult pp. xxxiv-xxxvii of the Chronological Survey, for data concerning the period when Col. Olcott and H.P.B. stayed with the Gebhards in 1884).  At a later date, namely in May and June, 1886, H.P.B. stayed with the Gebhards again.  This was an interim between her stay in Würzburg, and her residence at Ostende, where she journeyed after leaving the Gebhards’ home.  During this short stay at Elberfeld, H.P.B. slipped on the polished floor and badly hurt her ankle; this must have delayed her departure for Ostende, which was her ultimate destination at the time.

   While Consul Gustav Gebhard was of course the official host during these visits, the most dynamic personality of the household was Mary Gebhard, who combined refinement and culture with rare capacities for occult studies.  She remained a faithful worker for many years; on more than one occasion, she received letters from the Adept-Brothers, and most probably performed at the time some important work on their behalf.  Her vital strength was sapped as a result of the suicide of both of her twin-sons.  After several strokes, she passed away, Dec 15, 1892.  Her remains were cremated.  (Vide facsimile of her portrait, facing page 000 of the present volume.)

   The Gebhard Family had six sons and one daughter:

1.   Franz Gustav:  b. July 1, 1853; d. April 29, 1940.  Married Aline Jordan, by whom he had three daughters (no issue), and a son, Kurt Alfred Thomas (b. June 27, 1881), who died as lieutenant in France, 1914.  His son, Dr. Torsten Friedrich Franz (b. March 12, 1909), is at present an art-historian in Münich, and is unmarried.

2.   Fritz:  b. July 15, 1854; d. July 6, 1855.

3.   Arthur Henry Paisley:  b. Dec. 29, 1885 (sic, 1855); d. at Newton-Abbot, England, Oct. 11, 1944.  After an earlier marriage, he married a widow, Marie-Josephe von Hoesch, née von Carlowitz (b. Jan. 7, 1888; now residing in Germany), by whom he had two sons:  Rollo, b. July 7, 1921, married to Hildegard Freyer (no issue); and Vidar Arthur Eward, b. Oct. 2, 1928, when his father was already 73 years of age.  In 1913, Arthur Gebhard added officially to his own name that of his mother’s family, and became known as Gebhard-L’Estrange.  He took out American citizenship in Boston, 1878.  For some 25 years, he represented his father’s factory in New York, and was during part of that time on close friendly terms with Mohini M. Chatterjee and William Quan (sic) Judge, with whom he was in partnership for a while, publishing The Path magazine.  He took active part in the Theosophical Movement, lecturing on Oriental philosophy.  He frequently came to Europe to visit his relatives as well as H.P.B., and was one of the first patrons of Wagner’s musical dramas, at Bayreuth, Bavaria, recognizing their occult significance.
   At one time, he fell under the influence of Mohini M. Chatterjee, who was then in a very critical mood, and drew up in collaboration with him what H.P.B. called a “Manifesto,” entitled, “A Few Words on The Theosophical Organization,” which contained a rather severe criticism of Col. Olcott for alleged despotism.  H.P.B. wrote a powerful reply, embodying an outspoken defense of him, and a statement on the basic platform of the T.S. and its policies.  For lack of any definite title, it ahs been called at some later date, “The Original Programme of The Theosophical Society,” which it unquestionably represents.  Neither the challenging “Manifesto” nor H.P.B.’s Reply were published at the time.  They were later issued in booklet form, with an Introduction by C. Jinarâjadâsa (Adyar: Vol. VII of the present Series, together with all pertinent historical data which form their background.  As far as is known, this little “tempest in a tea-pot” eventually blew itself out, and nothing more was heard of it.
   Much later in life, namely, in 1940, Arthur Gebhard published a little book entitle The Tradition of Silence, in which he paid tribute to H.P.B. and her work.

4.   Rudolf Ernst:  b. Dec. 31, 1857; d. In 1935.  As a friend of Subba Row, stayed for a while in India, where he went with Col. Olcott, in October, 1884.  His son, Wolfgang, is still living in the U.S.A.

5.   Mary:  b. Sept. 13, 1859; d. in June, 1944.  Married to Paul von Ysselstein, but had no issue.

6 and 7.   Hermann and Walther, identical twins, born Oct. 16, 1866.  Both shot themselves:  Hermann on March 16, 1881, and Walther on April 10, 1886.  See in connection with these tragic events, and their occult background and implications, The Letters of H.P. Blavatsky to A.P. Sinnett, pp. 145, 299, 300-301.


(Complied from information supplied by Madame Marie-Josephe Gebhard-L’Estrange, widow of Arthur Gebhard).

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