Tradition has it that Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, co-founder of the well-known Theosophical Society, had wanted to travel to Nauvoo to see the Mormons but was unable to do so due to their expulsion from the state of Illinois shortly before she arrived in the U.S. . Though such a visit unfortunately never materialized (it could have been an encounter to rival Joseph Smith’s interview with the prophet Matthias in its historical delectability), tradition also has it that she did pass through Salt Lake City in the early 1850s, perhaps en route to Mexico. She is said to have stayed at the home of Emmeline B. Wells, a detail that makes the story seem quite likely, since many a prestigious visiting woman met with or stayed with Wells, editor of Mormon women’s periodical, The Woman’s Exponent. Little else is known of the encounter, however, other than that Wells apparently “informed her granddaughter, Mrs. Daisy Woods, that [Blavatsky] was wearing men’s shoes as she intended to travel over rugged country.”
Eventually Mormons had more to say about Theosophy than simple remarks about Blavatsky’s footwear. By 1893, according to Juvenile Instructor columnist Jacob Spori, some Saints were apparently even being “led away by erroneous doctrines…falsely called ‘Theosophy.'” Concern over this waywardness was one of the themes of the Saints’ semi-annual conference that year. Summing up those warnings for young readers, Spori pinpointed what he, and apparently church leaders, identified as the main fallacies and deceptions of the movement: “When somebody comes up and denies the resurrection, doubts the atonement, professes to have revelations by spirits that give doctrines contrary to those in Church books, performs, perhaps, healings and other miracles through his gifts, and then calls all this ‘theosophy’ then, be sure, my dear young friends, that this is not theosophy but theo-sophistry, and a very dangerous deception.”. As the description suggests, what the Saints were calling “false theosophies” or “theo-sophistries” included most metaphysical religions of the time, including spiritualism, Christian Science, and New Thought, as well as the doctrines promoted by the Theosophical Society.
Following in the same vein as Spori and greatly expanding on his efforts to steer Mormon children aright in negotiating between true and bogus theosophies, in 1895 Brigham Young University professor N. L. Nelson wrote a series of articles for the Mormon youth periodical The Contributor titled “Theosophy and Mormonism.”. This six-part series was much more than an exposé of the Theosophical Society, however, and covered a wide array of associated movements ranging from occultism in general to Christian Science to hypnotism to spiritualism, weighing each against the revealed doctrines of Mormon scripture. Nelson’s aim in writing the article was to present these movements to young readers in such away that they may steer clear of the ensnarement or deception that curiosity regarding the dark arts or indoctrination at the hands of a metaphysician might bring to pass. Perhaps the fullest treatment on the issue of Mormon perceptions of these movements, these articles are also of course in many ways more idiosyncratic than representative of the Mormon view. They demonstrate, however, the concern one mature Mormon thinker felt for young Latter-day Saints who might come into contact with these strains of thought or who might be confronted with the possibility of participation in one of the several societies associated with the metaphysical movement.
To be continued…
(next up: witchcraft, necromancy, astrology, alchemy, hypnotism, and Christian Science-oh my!)
 See A. P.Sinnett, Incidents in the life of Madame Blavatsky (London : Theosophical Publishing Society, 1913), 62-63.  Sylvia Cranston, HPB: The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1993), 53.
 Jacob Spori, “True and False Theosophy,” Juvenile Instructor 28, issue 21 (1893): 672.
 N. L. Nelson, “Theosophy and Mormonism,” Contributor 16, no. 7 (May 1895): 425-31; 16, no. 8 (June 1895): 482-91; 16, no. 9 (July 1895): 562-68; 16, no. 10 (August 1895), 617-25; 16, no. 11 (September 1895): 698-705; 16, no. 12 (October 1895): 729-39.