CREATING THE NEW AGE: THEOSOPHY'S ORIGINS IN THE BRITISH ISLES

2000 Blavatsky Lecture - by Michael Gomes

 

Booklet front coverdelivered at the annual Summer School of the Theosophical Society in England, held at The College of Ripon and York St John, Yorkshire
Sunday 31 July 2000

 

[Today there are four main branches of the Theosophical Movement, all of which are organisationally distinct from one another. The first main split was in 1895, as described in this article, and further information can be found at our page 'More about the Theosophical Society'. ]

 

 

 

INTRODUCTION

When an organization reaches a hundred years it is an occasion to pause and take note of its achievements. When an organization celebrates a century and a quarter of active work it is more than worthy of our attention. We stand at one of these moments. The Theosophical Society reaches its 125th year of existence in 2000. And while it is a time of elation, it is also a chance for sober reflection. For, as it has often been said, to see where we have come from is to know where we are going. Let us take the opportunity offered us at this vantage point and, looking backward, take note of the impetus that established this mighty movement here.

To understand the Society's achievements, it must be put in the context of how the early Theosophists saw their place in history. H.P. Blavatsky in the last chapter of The Key to Theosophy revealed that;

during the last quarter of every hundred years an attempt is made by those 'Masters,' of whom I have spoken, to help on the spiritual progress of Humanity in a marked and definite way. Towards the close of each century you will invariably find that an outpouring or upheaval of spirituality - or call it mysticism if you prefer - has taken place. Some one or more persons have appeared in the world as their agents, and a greater or less amount of occult knowledge and teaching has been given out. If you care to do so, you can trace these movements back, century by century, as far as our detailed historical records extend. [1]

Elsewhere she notes that such attempts to enlighten the West have been made since the time of the Tibetan reformer Tsong-kha-pa (1357-1419). But "up to the present day none of these attempts have been very successful."[2] Following her suggestion we see that at the end of the 15th century Pico della Mirandola and others tried to integrate Cabala and Hermetica into the western tradition. Paracelsus lived at the beginning of the 16th century, but his writings that propounded a holistic world view were only widely published by the end of that century. The 17th century saw the spread of the Rosicrucian manifestos, and the 18th, freemasonry with the colourful figures of the Comte de Saint-German and Cagliostro. [3]

A unifying theme of these movements was the elevation of the individual (after the study of these subjects) as the master Pico della Mirandola in De hominis dignitate (On the Dignity of Man) idealized the magus, the mage, who had the capability to unite earth to heaven. [4] Two hundred years later in England, we find Thomas Vaughan describing man's original condition as “a pure intellectual essence, free from all fleshly, sensual affections. In this stage the anima or sensitive nature did not prevail over the spiritual, as it doth now." Indeed, now, "we are all born like Moses with a veil over the face," and the "greatest mystery, both in divinity and philosophy, is how to remove it." [5] This renovatio, regeneration, or new birth was considered to be the great work.

But when we come to the 19th century, and especially by the time of the founding of the Theosophical Society, such concerns had faded considerably from public interest. The glorification of antiquity that existed had been eroded by the utilitarian and rationalist attitudes that followed. Science acquired the voice of authority about temporal matters that had been reserved for religion. The subjects that we are looking at were relegated to the level of 'irrational-' or 'pseudo-' science. Our familiarity with them today is due in great part to the initial work of the Theosophical Society in reviving interest in such things and must be considered as part of its contribution. To quote one of Mme Blavatsky's critics, "Such visionary views of man, nature, and the spiritual realm were rapidly dying out in civilized lands. But through the efforts of one woman, H.P. Blavatsky, there has sprung up a revival of these moribund superstitions."[6]

Much has been made of the conflict between science and religion as a contributing factor in the growing secular attitude of the 19th century. [7] After conceding that the earth was not the centre of the universe, the very age of the creation of the planet, 4004 B.C., worked out by patient divines, was now being challenged by the fossil record. The deciphering of Egyptian hieroglyphics by Francois Champollion in 1822, the translation of Indian scriptures, and the revelation of cuneiform tablets with their flood of narrative revealed vast chronologies that dwarfed the biblical concept of time. The result was that many, not knowing what to believe, ended up believing nothing.

Religion in Victorian England has been described as being "of the crudest redemptionist type."[8] Sir Walter Besant, writing of a typical church service, reports that:

The musical part of the service was … taken slow - incredibly slow; no one now would believe, who is not old enough to remember, how slow it was … hymns were sung; they were always of the kind which expressed either the despair of the sinner or the doubtful joy of the believer. I say doubtful because he was constantly being warned not to be too confident, not to mistake a vague hope for the assurance of election, and because, with the rest of the congregation, he was always being told how few in number were those elect, and how extremely unlikely that there could be many of those few in one flock … There were many kinds of preachers - the eloquent, the high and dry, the low and threatening, the forcible-feeble, the florid, the prosy, the scholarly - but they all seemed to preach the same doctrine of hopelessness, the same Gospel of Despair, the same Father of all Cruelty, the same Son who could help only a few. [9]

Non-conformist groups flourished at this time. One commentator, the Rev. Charles Maurice Davies, has left a vivid account of the numerous religious groups he personally visited in metropolitan London. His newspaper articles filled four hefty books. Included was his encounter with Spiritualism, for he felt that "perhaps there is no religious problem of the hour so puzzling as this one."[10]

When the Theosophical Society was founded in 1875, it was from the Spiritualists that it drew its initial membership. The Spiritualist movement that swept through Europe and America by the 1870s was one that regarded itself as both scientific and religious. There were methods for testing mediums, describing how they could be fastened to a chair or how hands were to be held during a sitting thus preventing fraud. The messages brought through by the spirits of the departed (usually through a series of rappings where numbers or letters of the alphabet were called out) was one of hope and progress. In the spirit world social and racial barriers no longer existed. It called for not only the Fatherhood of God for all, but also the Brotherhood of men. [11]

By the 1870s Spiritualist communications had developed beyond the early system of raps to that of trance speakers who delivered messages from the departed spirit (much like the channelers of today) to full materialization. Here the medium would retire into a curtained off part of the room or a cabinet, and, when the lights had been turned down, the form of the deceased would come out. One of the spirits, Katie King, became something of a celebrity. The scientist William Crookes held sittings with her medium, Florence Cook, in his home in London and photographed Katie, sometimes simultaneously with the medium.

It was the hope of witnessing one of these full-form materializations that drew forty-two-year-old Henry Steel Olcott, a New York lawyer, to visit rural Vermont. At the Eddy brothers' home in Chittenden, Vermont,in October 1874. Olcott encountered something more remarkable than the shapes of ghosts. There he met Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. From the beginning of their acquaintance Blavatsky tried to explain to Olcott that the spirit forms that appeared might not have been the individuals they claimed to be; how they could be thoughts drawn from the minds of the participants and then clothed by the astral body of the medium. But Olcott would not believe her, and, as he says, "our disputes were quite warm on occasion."[12] To illustrate her point she projected the image of a family servant. This form appeared from the medium's closet as the soul of one of the dead, even though it was later proved that the servant was still alive!

Col. Olcott and Mme Blavatsky joined forces early in 1875 to investigate the appearance of Katie King in Philadelphia through the Holmes mediums. The Colonel had been invited to take on the case by former U.S. Congressman, Robert Dale Owen, who had praised the ability of the Holmes in the press and was now forced to withdraw his assurances. Olcott later published a report absolving the mediums, though Blavatsky remained sceptical. [13]

Olcott's report of his investigation of the Holmes mediums along with the narrative of his visit to the Eddys in Vermont was issued as People From the Other World in the Spring of 1875. The book caught the attention of William Stainton Moses in England who decided to review it. Soon a correspondence and a lifelong friendship would spring up between them. Moses, who was seven years younger than Olcott, was a leading figure in the British Spiritualist movement. A former curate, he taught English at the University College School in London, He was also a medium who was regarded as having brought through some of the most philosophical spirit teachings. [14]

On April 10, 1875, Olcott wrote to Stainton Moses of his gradual shift from the usual explanation of the Spiritualists, "Whatever we see of marvels in our day are merely duplicates of what happened generations ago … I believe that the Universe was made for man, that man partakes of Divine powers and attributes, and that it is within his reach to exercise those powers over the spiritual as over the material world … I did not know this when my book was being written, but I know it now, for I have recently been furnished abundant proof through a lady whom I mention in my book - Madame de Blavatsky." [15] Moses replied to him on April 27 and this drew another letter from Olcott on May 18 reiterating his belief that the answers to the riddles posed by modern Spiritualism would be found in the writings of the ancients.

Moses gave Olcott's book a detailed eighteen-page review in London 's Human Nature of June 1875, calling it remarkable. Olcott in turn wrote him on June 22:

You speak in your review of my 'spiritual insight,' and I assure you that the intuitions which have been awakened in me by my studies of the past year enable me to see, beyond the printed pages of these philosophers of two centuries ago, the dawning day of that spiritual light for which I have so long and vainly sought. For the first time in my life the plan of Creation seems to unfold itself before my inner sight, and I begin to get glimpses - and I fancy that finite man can never get more than a glimpse of the boundless glory of the Infinite God - of the method by which the forces of the Universe are balanced and directed. [16]

We get a glimpse of Olcott's beliefs at the time from another letter to Stainton Moses a month later:

The occultist authors, of course, intended to write in such a way as that, while concealing the truth from superficial readers, they should nevertheless preserve it for the earnest, diligent student who might come after them. The main points of their philosophy relate: (1) To the nature and attributes of the First Cause - the En-Soph; (2) to evolution of spirit and matter - their progressive changes, combinations, relations, attributes or properties, and destiny; (3) to the evolution of intelligences, moral faculties, and spiritual capabilities, and their embodiment in elementary spirits, in man, in angels, seraphs, and other entities. [17]

Mme Blavatsky's rooms in New York soon became a gathering place for those interested in information other than what was being offered by Spiritualism. At one of these gatherings on September 7, 1875, after George Henry Felt spoke about his discovery of the lost canon of proportion of the Egyptians and claiming that he could make visible by chemical means the creatures of the elements, Olcott passed a note to Mme Blavatsky inquiring whether it would not be a good thing to form a society for this kind of study. She nodded her assent, and a group was organised to follow up the matter. [18]

Among those who handed in their names as founders (or formers, as Olcott preferred it) of the proposed society was Charles Carlton Massey of England. The thirty-six year old Massey had come to America drawn by Olcott's narrative in People from the Other World. Before returning home, he spoke briefly to the group when they gathered on Saturday evening October 16, about his experiences with Spiritualist circles he had attended during his stay in America and described the situation in England. [19] A barrister by profession, he had abandoned his practice to devote himself to spiritual studies. He read widely, "not only in the literature of theology, Eastern mysticism, and philosophy, but also in the emerging study of psychology.' [20]

At the incipient meetings of what was to become the Theosophical Society, Massey would have encountered other Englishmen and women. Charles Sotheran (1847-1902) became the Society's first Librarian. He had emigrated to America in 1874 to take up a position as assistant editor of The Bibliopolist, a monthly relating to books about America. He was also involved in some of the more exotic Masonic and Rosicrucian groups. Another recent resident, the well-known English trance-speaker, Emma Hardinge Britten, was named a councillor.

Massey would also have met Mme Blavatsky. The H.P. Blavatsky he came in contact with would have been very different from the one we know. Her life had not been clouded by the disappointment and betrayal she was later to know. Nor was she the “H.P.B.” of The Secret Doctrine and her later works. Olcott describes her as still fresh from the bohemian circles of Paris, witty and erudite at the same time. A newspaper account at the time describes her as being “handsome, with full voluptuous figure, large eyes, well-formed nose, and rich sensuous mouth and chin.” [21]

On October 30 the Theosophical Society was organized. Olcott who had been elected President gave his inaugural address on November 17, 1875, and this has been taken as the date of its inception. The object of the Society was to collect and diffuse a knowledge of the laws which govern the universe. The Preamble to the published by-laws spoke much in the same terms as Olcott had been writing to Stainton Moses: "The founders being baffled in every attempt to get the desired knowledge in other quarters, turn their faces toward the Orient, whence are derived all systems of religion and philosophy. They find our ancestors practicing arts now lost to us." [22]

The Society tried to carry out its purpose by testing mediums, but the results, often uneven, were not spectacular and eventually interest in this faded out. By the end of 1876 meetings ceased to be held and the rented hall was given up.

If the Theosophical Society had not lived up to its initial expectations, Olcott's enthusiasm was no less diminished. He was soon writing to Stainton Moses in England about the new project he and Mme Blavalsky were working on: a book. "Wait until we have time to finish her book, and you will then find Occultism done into 'plain English’." [23] When the two-volume work of over twelve hundred pages was published as Isis Unveiled at the end of September 1977 it would increase the growing rift with the Spiritualists.

Since her emergence among the Spiritualists in America in 1874 Mme Blavatsky had been suggesting alternative explanations for the communications received through mediums. Most of this had appeared as letters in the Spiritualist press, which was happy to have her as a champion of their phenomena if not quite agreeing to its rationale. In Isis Unveiled she put forth her major argument:

For fear of being misunderstood, we would remark that, while, as a rule, physical phenomena are produced by the nature-spirits, of their own motion and to please their own fancy, still good disembodied human spirits, under exceptional circumstances, such as the aspiration of a pure heart or the occurrence of some favoring emergency, can manifest their presence by any of the phenomena except personal materialization. But it must be a mighty attraction indeed to draw a pure, disembodied spirit from its radiant home into the foul atmosphere from which it escaped upon leaving its earthly body. [24]

The book proceeded to marshal the evidence of antiquity and eastern philosophy on the subject.

This question of spirit identity was one that had agitated the Spiritualists themselves. Stainton Moses had written to C. C. Massey; “I often ask myself whether the people who come and speak to me across the gulf are the same people as they were in the flesh: and the answer is, no. They are developments of the old, they are as much themselves as I am myself, but they are thro' the long gaps of time, changed utterly. Nay, a far morepregnant question is raised by Olcott's last article … one that you have heard me raise before - How far is it possible for the body to be the vehicle of a band of spirits who use it for their own purposes? … The whole thing is perplexing, and almost makes me shudder." [25]

While Isis Unveiled brought the criticism of the Spiritualists, it also brought H.P.B. to the attention of Hermetic, Masonic and Rosicrucian students. John Yarker, a Masonic writer, described her as a second Hypatia in a letter to her from Manchester, August 23, 1877. Warning that "like her if you are not cautious you will become a martyr also, for the world is by no means so enlightened as you suppose." [26] Soon Yarker was sending her certificates in those branches of Masonry that admitted women, manuscripts of books he was working on for her correction, and suggestions for organizing a Theosophic group in England.

The idea of forming a British Branch of the Theosophical Society, according to surviving correspondence, had been discussed throughout 1877. Moses wrote Mme Blavatsky on August 4, 1877, that he had met John Storer Cobb, Treasurer of the T.S., who was in England on personal business, and had discussed the possibility of a branch in London. [27] Emily Kislingbury, the Secretary of the British National Association of Spiritualists, who had joined the Society in 1876 and visited New York in the fall of 1877, says that "the charter for founding the first Theosophical branch in England was given into my hands in New York by Colonel Olcott in the month of November 1877." [28] Massey was also writing at the end of the year to Olcott and Blavatsky about starting of a British branch which would be more or less secret and not anti-Christian. [29]

Stainton Moses gives more detail in a letter to F. G. Irwin, a fellow Mason who was interested in developing esoteric groups:

I have received word from the Pres. T.S. that he considers the time come for the organization of a branch in London. As a preliminary he sent over letters of instruction to the Treasurer who is now in this country, instructing him as to the platform which was to be taken up, and bidding him confer with the two original members of the Parent Society, Mr. C.C. Massey and myself, as to the Constitution, etc. He also intimated that, while the choice of President would rest with the English Fellows, he and the Parent Society would prefer to see Mr. Massey in that position. In that recommendation alone I cordially agree, but neither I nor my two colleagues could accept the instructions and OB [Obligation] sent, and we accordingly made certain modifications and have sent them over to the Pres. for his acceptance. If he agrees to these the Society will be constituted forthwith. If not, I cannot have any part of it. [30]

After 1875, and for most of the 1880s, members signed two forms or admission in the Theosophical Society; the Application for Fellowship and the Obligation of Secrecy, usually upon acceptance or "initiation" into the Society, when a grip and password were communicated. The Obligation that Moses was against stated that "in accepting fellowship in the Society organized under the foregoing preamble and bylaws, I hereby promise ever to maintain absolute secrecy respecting the proceedings of the said Society, except in so far as publication may be authorized by the Society or council, and I hereby pledge my word of honor for the strict observance or this covenant." [31] The Society that Moses envisaged in England was on Masonic lines, excluding women. When his conditions were not met, he resigned his membership in the Society.

Undaunted, Massey, Emily Kislingbury, C. Carter Blake, who had reviewed Isis Univeiled, Dr. George Wyld, and Dr. H. J. Billing, joined by John Storer Cobb representing the Parent Society, met at 38 Great Russell Street in London on the 27th June 1878. With Cobb presiding, the group passed the following resolution: "That in the opinion of the English Fellows of the Theosophical Society of New York present at this meeting, it is desirable to form a Society in England in connection and sympathy with that body." [32] Massey was elected President and Miss Kislingbury chosen Secretary.

Olcott received the news on July 10 and noted in his diary that "they are such an incongruous lot. Pity I have not some Theosophical bird-milk to send them to nurse upon!" [33] Two days later after receiving further papers from the group, Ocott wrote Massey officially recognizing the new British Theosophical Society.

A. P. Sinnett, the last person who was able to utilize the Minute Book of the British Theosophical Society, reports in his 1922 study that "the meetings of the new Society were not held frequently. The next after the inaugural meeting was held on the 1st of October, and then another month elapsed before there was a third. At that time no one seemed to know what to do. Many names were added to the list of members. A suggestion is made that books should be selected and discussed, also that mesmeric experiments should be tried, but this idea does not seem to have been followed up. [34]

The arrival of Olcott and Blavatsky in England at the beginning of 1879 galvanized the group, if only briefly. For some time H.P.B. had been voicing her wish to go to India. Olcott had notified Moses in 1876, "I wish you would ask Imperator [Moses 's spirit guide], with my compliments, if he can't do something, in the psychological way, to prevent Madame Blavatsky from going to India. I am very anxious upon this point. I can do nothing myself. She is a changed woman these past few weeks. She is moody, reserved, and apparently desperate. The calumnies circulated in Europe and here have cut her so deeply; she feels such a disgust with our world; she so longs for her sacred Ganges and the society of her Brethren, that I am afraid we will lose her." [35]

At the end of 1877 the London Spiritualist was announcing, "there is some probability that Madame Blavatsky will visit England shortly, en route, for India." [36] The news of the imminent arrival of the Theosophists was still being bandied about a year later. Moses wrote F.W. Irwin on December 21, 1878, "I hear Olcott is coming to London in January. But it has been so rumoured before. However, Massey told me that he and Madame B. are going to India and that O, called here [sic] en route, I shall he glad to see him and tell him I have no faith in his Society. The English Branch is worse. I do not belong to it, and have resigned my Fellowship in the NY Order. This however they refuse to accept."[37]

The founders were to spend a fortnight in England. Their steamer arrived from New York on January 1st 1879, but due to the fog they were forced to anchor in the Channel another night before reaching Gravesend. On the afternoon of the 3rd they took the train to the London suburban home of Dr. H. J. Billing and his wife Mary, a well-known medium, with whom they were to stay. It became the focal point for members and friends, and Olcott remembers the time spent as being "completely filled with odds and ends of Society business, receipts of callers and paying visits to the British Museum and elsewhere; the whole spiced with phenomena by H.P.B. and séances with Mrs. Hollis-Billing's spirit guide, 'Ski’."[38]

An example or the phenomena performed by H.P.B. during this stay is recorded by C. C. Massey:

I had come down to Norwood by train, and found a company of, I think, some half-dozen persons assembled in the dining-room of Dr. and Mrs. Billing's house. Madame Blavatsky was not in the room when I entered, but joined us very shortly afterwards. I hung up my over-coat in the hall outside. I have a very faint recollection of what occurred until Madame Blavatsky turned to me, and asked if I would like to name some article for myself to be produced then and there. I think it was to be brought from India. Having for some time been in want of a card-case - a want I had certainly not mentioned to any one present, or, I believe, to anyone at all - I named the article … I recollect that I wished to substitute another choice, but was told I was too late. I was to go into the hall, and put my hand in the pocket of my overcoat. Be it observed - and this I can state most positively - that no one but myself left the room after I had asked for the card-case, and I went into the hall as directed, unaccompanied by anyone. The hall was just outside the room, which had no other door than the one I went out at. I at once put my hand into the pocket of my overcoat, and there, sure enough, was an ivory card-case, which I still have.[39]

It must have been an exciting moment for the members of the infant British T.S. when Olcott and Blavatsky appeared at the meeting convened on January 5, 1879. The proceedings on that occasion, according to Sinnett’s reading of the Minute Book, were "of a formal character relating to Diplomas, initiation fees, and 'obligations' and only enlivened by an assurance from Madame Blavatsky that 'the Society might expect the advent of competent instructors from India with confidence'."[40] Many of their new acquaintances gathered to see them off to Liverpool where they would embark for Bombay.

The members must have been suitably impressed by this visit, for Massey gave a glowing account to the Spiritualist. "'The Brotherhood of Humanity' is with her [H.P.B.] and Colonel Olcott no mere sentimental phrase or visionary aspiration. To break down all the barriers of race and religion between man and man by the eradication of prejudice, and to emancipate the mind alike from its theological and materialistic trammels, are the main objects of the great Indian society of which she has been so active and efficient an agent in the West."[41]

As it looked eastward for further instructions to come, the British Theosophical Society was attracting more and more of those grounded in the western mysteries. The Rev. William Alexander Ayton (1816-1909), who was much interested in alchemy, joined on January 6, 1879. Isabel de Steiger (1836-1927), known then as a painter of somewhat mystical trends, joined on March 12th. She later translated Karl von Eckartshausen's mystical treatise The Cloud upon the Sanctuary, making it accessible to English readers. Maryanne Atwood (1817-1910), the author of A Suggestive Inquiry into the Hermetic Mystery, joined with her husband, the Rev. Alban Thomas Atwood, on January 23, 1880. Peter Davidson, who joined on April 22, 1879, would go on to manage another influential occult group, the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor.

Massey's contributions to The Theosophist (a monthly magazine started by Blavatsky and Olcott in Bombay in October 1879), "Ancient Opinions Upon Psychical Bodies" (December 1879) and "True and False Personality" (March 1880), give an indication of the tone of the studies of the British T.S. ' 'The London Society goes in for Self-Culture and the Regeneration of Soul and Body by a gradual process, in harmony with the highest inspirations and does not seek after magical manifestations as we can get them at Spiritual séances if we choose to attend such. “Purity of Life, Self-Denial and a desire to know the truth and to live it out with reverence to God and forbearance and love towards our weaker fellow creatures is our desire," George Wyld, who became President of the group in January 1880, wrote Abner Doubleday, Olcott s representative in America.[42]

Meetings were now held at 4 p.m. on the first Sunday of every month at the Library of the British National Association of Spiritualists, 38 Great Russell Street. During the height of Wyld's presidency, the B.T.S. had nearly fifty members, but since some were not resident in London the attendance at meetings averaged twelve. "We meet chiefly for the reading of papers and the discussion of various subjects relating to Theosophy.' W.F. Kirby, the secretary of the group informed Doubleday.[43] We get more information from a list of business transacted during the first five months of 1882: the January meeting was devoted to the reading of the President's address; February, discussion on the loss of life by accidents and a paper on the English Spiritualist Thomas Lake Harris who had established a community in upstate New York and his system; March, mesmeric experiments; April, a paper on modern Egyptian Theosophy; May, discussion on "The Elixir of Life" that had appeared in the March and April Theosophist.

Wyld's presidency came to an abrupt end after he took offence to Blavatsky's words in The Theosophist that the Buddha "rejected the very idea of god, whether personal or impersonal."[44] Since the Founders were avowed Buddhists he felt such statements implicated their work. Wyld brought his grievance before the Council of the British T.S. urging that they cease to pay their dues to India and cease to be a branch and constitute an independent Society. Since no one wanted to go to such lengths, Wyld resigned his presidency. When he was re-elected a vice-president, he resigned that too. [45]

H.P.B., receiving the news in India, wrote to Sinnett, "Fine finale! But what else could be expected with such a bigoted ass as Wyld at their head. My 'atheism' and Olcott's were perfectly known to them for the last five years since they knew we were Buddhists. Pretext all that, and Divine or godly Wisdom is not 'Wisdom of God’."[46] From the beginning of his presidency Wyld had been controversial. His Presidential speech delivered before the B.T.S. January 6, 1880, was printed in the January 16 and 23 Spiritualist, requiring Olcott to publish a notice stating that Wyld's heavily Christian views were his own and did not represent the Society or his branch.[47]

Dr. Wyld's views about the state of the Theosophical Society just before his break is conveyed in a long letter to Abner Doubleday:

My chief aim has been to bring together those Spiritualists who had philosophic minds. We all believe in occult phenomena, and therefore do not think it necessary to reiterate spiritual experiments of a phenomenal kind … For myself I am a Christian of the esoteric mystical school: the school of Bohme, Swedenborg, Zouler, St. Martin, etc. and I believe that the entire secret of the highest form of Theosophy is contained in the Sermon on the Mount … We are all scandalized at the violent attacks of H.P.B. in the Theosophist against Christianity and Spiritualism but we all respect Olcott as a good-hearted, hardworking, and truthful man: although I personally think he over estimates oriental and under estimates western Theosophy.[48]

In her letter to Sinnett with the news of Wyld's departure, H.P.B. relayed the information that, "Djual Kool says that the T.S. ought to be composed in London solely of mystics and not to allow in it one single biased sectarian. Mrs. Kingsford, Maitland, Isabel de Steiger F.T.S., Miss E Arundale F.T.S., Massey, Palmer, Thomas, and have Seers in it; then would the chelas be sent to develop them at every meeting, Lo train them, and that lhe effect would be visible."[49] Maybe the suggestion was passed on to Massey who as Vice-President had to take over the duties of running the branch. In December 1882 he issued a three page leaflet titled "The Theosophical Society of Great Britain" stating he would nominate Anna Kingsford for President for the ensuing year, citing the "genius, moral force and entire devotion to spiritual ideas of this accomplished lady."[50]

The thirty-six year old Mrs. Kingford had published The Perfect Way, or the Finding of Christ earlier that year where she propounded her theories of hermetic gnosis. With her co-worker Edward Maitland she joined the Society January 3, 1883, and they were elected as President and Vice-President on the 7th of that month. One of her first acts after returning on May 20 from the continent was to change the name of the British Theosophical Society to the London Lodge of the T.S.

"I am going to do my utmost to make our London Lodge a really influential and scientific body," she wrote her friend Lady Caithness in Paris. "Besides, we do not want to pledge ourselves to Orientalism only, but to the study of all religions esoterically, and especially to that of our Western Catholic Church."[51] Mrs. Kingsford reinforced the popularity of vegetarianism in the Society (Wyld, the former President of the branch, had been a vegetarian) and advanced the cause against vivisection and for reincarnation.

The arrival of A.P. Sinnett in the spring of 1883 put an end to her plans for the Theosophical Society. Sinnett, the editor of the Allahabad Pioneer, had been dismissed from his position the year before, for, he believed, his involvement with Theosophy. He had initiated a correspondence with H.P.B.'s teachers, the adepts behind the Society, and had produced a book of their letters to him, The Occult World, in 1881, and a new work, a summation of their philosophy, was to be out that summer.

Edward Maitland, now Vice-President of London Lodge, felt that Sinnett's presence and the appearance of Esoteric Buddhism "completely revolutionized the status of the Theosophical Society. No longer now was it a private group of students engaged for their own satisfaction in mastering the philosophy of the Orient, and pledged to secrecy respecting its nature. It was a propaganda eager for notoriety."[52] His complaint seems to be that Theosophy was becoming popular!

At a public reception held for Sinnett at Prince's Hall on July 17, Anna Kingsford as President of the Lodge, stressed their commonality in her opening address. "We are one at heart, for he has been taught by his Oriental Gurus the same esoteric doctrines which I have found under the adopted pagan symbols of the Roman Church … Greek, Hermetic, Buddhist, Vedantist, Christian - all these Lodges of the Mysteries are fundamentally one and identical in doctrine."[53] This accord was not to last as the London Lodge began to polarize between the two. At the end of the year Kingsford and Maitland published a twenty-nine page pamphlet criticizing Esoteric Buddhism. Here they suggested that at the upcoming Lodge election at the beginning of 1884 two sections be created in the Lodge, one following the teachings of the Mahatmas with Sinnett as President, the other would study esoteric Christianity.

By now feelings were running high, the majority of members preferring to follow Sinnett. A flurry of pamphlets and letter writing between India and London ensued, Anna Kingsford at one point writing a letter of 4000 words to H.P.B. and one nearly as long to Olcott. Things reached a crescendo when Mrs. Kingsford produced a telegram from Koot Hoomi in India requesting that she "Remain President." [54] Elections were postponed until the arrival of Col. Olcott in the Spring.

The meeting of April 7 drew a record crowd of almost eighty people. Col. Olcott, who had come from India, chaired the meeting. Sinnett proposed G.B. Finch, a young barrister, as President, while Maitland proposed Kingsford. The vote by a show of hands was unanimously in favour of Finch. Sinnett was addressing the group when suddenly Madame Blavatsky entered the room.[55] The meeting broke up and people crowded around her. After order had been restored, the Minute Book of the London Lodge records that F.W. Myers "inquired whether documentary evidence could be obtained from India for the service of the Psychic Research Society in reference to cases in which the astral apparitions [of the Mahatmas] had been seen at various times and places." Mme Blavatsky called on Mohini Chatterji, a pupil of the Masters who accompanied her from India, to give his testimony, and Col. Olcott expressed the "heartiest sympathy" with the newly founded Society for Psychical Research.

On May 2, 1884, the Council of the Society for Psychical Research (S.P.R.) appointed a committee "for the purpose of taking such evidence as to the alleged phenomena connected with the Theosophical Society as might be offered by members of that body at the time in England."[56] Throughout May and June, Olcott, Mohini, and Sinnett met with the committee and answered its questions. When the founders left for India they must have been optimistic for the results of this interaction. But charges by two dismissed members of the Society's Adyar headquarters in Madras and the subsequent publication of letters supposed to be from Blavatsky giving them instructions for fraudulent phenomena caused the S.P.R. to send out an investigator to gather further information on the spot.

Their choice, Richard Hodgson, spent four months in India. In his report covering over a hundred pages in the December 1885 Proceedings of the S.P.R., Hodgson charged Blavatsky with being a fraud who used Theosophy as a cover for her activities as a Russian spy! Based on his findings the committee ended its report on the phenomena connected with the Theosophical Society with its view that "we regard her neither as the mouthpiece of hidden seers, nor as a mere vulgar adventuress; we think that she has achieved a title to permanent remembrance as one of the most accomplished, ingenious, and interesting imposters in history. [57]

A pronouncement like this, coming from an organization made up of scientists and academics interested in verifying the case for psychic phenomena would have been devastating to anyone. The S.P.R.'s president was Henry Sidgwick, named professor of moral philosophy at Cambridge in 1883, and the Society had been started in 1882 based on the investigations into thought transference and the like that a group of Sidgwick's Cambridge friends had been carrying out. [58]

Mme Blavatsky received a copy of the S.P.R. Proceedings on New Year's Eve of 1885. Her only companion at the time, the Countess Constance Wachtmeister, has left a graphic description of the ensuing days that brought letters of recrimination and resignation in the T.S., until as the Countess says, "my heart used to sink every morning, when the postman's ring was heard at the thought of the fresh insults which the letters would surely contain."[59]

It must have been a painful time for Mme Blavatsky. After being feted the year before in London, she was now living in exile in the small German town of Würzburg. She had been forced to leave India in March 1885 because of her health. She confided to Franz Hartmann, who had left Adyar with her and was living in Bavaria, "there are situations in this life, when mental agony, despair, disgust, outraged pride and honor, and suffering, become so intense that there are but two possible results - either death from a broken heart, or ice-cold indifference and callousness. Being made to live for purposes I do not know myself - I have arrived at the latter state."[60]

Madame Blavatsky's response to the S.P.R. committee report is an interesting one and can be regarded as one of the greatest Theosophical phenomena. She sat down and turned her attention to writing her new book The Secret Doctrine. The writing would occupy her for the next two years and take her from Würzburg to Ostende in Belgium to London. Writing to Sinnett in London she declared defiantly, "It will show what a Russian spy can do, an alleged forger, plagiarist, etc."[61]

Early in 1887 a few of the younger members of the London Lodge, feeling that they wanted to do more, began going over to Ostende to see about the possibility of Mme Blavatsky's coming to London. After the S.P.R. report the London Lodge grew more formal. A. P. Sinnett became its president in January 1885. At that time the London Lodge held general meetings at Queen Anne's Mansions, St. James Park, on the fourth Wednesday of every month. An Oriental Group, "formed within the Society for the study of Esoteric Philosophy,"[62] met on the second Wednesday. A Bhagavad-gita class on the third Wednesday was led by a real Indian chela of the Masters, Mohini Chatterji, who went on to publish his own translation of this text. The subjects of talks ranged from reincarnation, mesmerism, to Krishna. By 1886 papers like "Theosophy in the Works of Richard Wagner" by William Ashton Ellis, a member who had translated Wagner into English, were being presented. H.P.B.'s settling in London would prove a serious drain on the Lodge and the group became even more insular, till by the 1890s it was almost an autonomous Society.

The state of the occult world at Mme Blavatsky's arrival in England in 1887 was not a very encouraging one. Sinnett was beginning to retreat to Spiritualism and soon found a medium who would put him in touch with the Masters independently of H.P.B. Presentations at the London Lodge would reflect more and more the material that was now being received. Anna Kingsford 's hermetic dreams of a revival of the western mysteries had failed to materialize due to her ill health. She was to die in 1889 at the age of forty-two.

Col. Olcott had chartered a Hermetic Branch of the Theosophical Society in April 1884 with Kingsford as President and Edward Maitland as Vice-President. His ruling that members of the Society could not belong to more than one branch caused Mrs. Kingsford to form an independent organization outside the T.S. On May 9, 1884 the Hermetic Society held its first meeting, and offered a series of six lectures on the esoteric meaning of the Apostles' Creed. Subsequent lectures were given on Jacob Boehme, alchemy and the kaballah. Her condition by 1887 precluded any further meetings and the group disbanded with her death. [63]

Taking advantage of the dissention among Theosophists, a new group emerged. An advertisement for it in 1884 encouraged "students of the Occult Science, searchers after truth and Theosophists who may have been disappointed in their expectations of Sublime Wisdom being freely dispensed by Hindoo Mahatmas," to send in their names to be considered for an Occult Brotherhood, "who do not boast of their knowledge or attainments, but teach freely and without reserve all they find worthy to receive.” '[64] It was ideally suited for the individual, as its teachings were sent through the mail. For a fee the new member would receive manuscripts on symbolism, cycles, the use of crystals and magic mirrors, the nature and function of the sexes based on the teachings of the late American occultist, P. B. Randolph. The arrest of its secretary for mail fraud, and the departure of its head, Peter Davidson, for America in 1886 blunted the impact of this Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor in England. Still, it drew many Theosophists.

On May l, 1887, H.P.B. returned to England settling at Maycot with Mabel Collins, the writer of the recently published inspirational little book Light on the Path. Her change in location was fuelled by the conviction that she had to form "a nucleus of true Theosophists, a school of my own, with no secretary, only myself alone. with as many mystics as I can get to teach them," or die. [65] Eighteen days later a new lodge of the Society had organized around her.

The Blavatsky Lodge of the Theosophical Society declared its aim to be one of active work. [66] G.B. Finch was elected its President for its first year. At the next meeting at Maycot a week later, a publishing company was decided upon, Mabel Collins suggesting the name Theosophical Publishing Company, and a magazine was discussed, Ashton Ellis suggesting "Lucifer" as a title. In its printed statement, the special object of the Lodge was listed as "the spread of Theosophical teaching and Brotherhood by the individual and collective work of its members." An innovation was the creation or a category of Associate Members, "who need not necessarily belong to the T.S. Their qualification was to be an interest in Theosophy and willingness to sign the following Pledge: 'I pledge myself to study Theosophy and to defend it and spread it on all occasions to the best of my power'. [67]

A six-point pledge was also signed by those members of the Lodge who wanted to make a deeper commitment, but few seemed to do so:

1.         I pledge myself to endeavour to make Theosophy a living power in my life.
2.         I pledge myself to support, before the world, the Theosophical movement, its leaders and its members.
3.         I pledge myself never to listen without protest to any evil thing spoken of a brother Theosophist and to abstain from condemning others.
4.         I pledge myself to maintain a constant struggle against my lower nature and to be charitable to the weaknesses of others.
5.         I pledge myself to do all in my power, by study and other wise, to fit myself to help and teach others.
6.         I pledge myself to give what support I can to the movement in time, money and work.
So help me my Higher Self.
[68]

The Secret Doctrine was published at the end of 1888, and the Lodge look up study of the first volume on Cosmogenesis. These discussions featuring Mme. Blavatsky's answers to questions relating to time, matter, and how the universe functions were published as Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge. [69] In the fall of 1889 a "course of instruction by H.P.B. on the Origin, History, authenticity and Esotericism of the New Testament was agreed upon,"[70] and the Gospel according to John was taken up. By October it was decided that the explanations being given were too abstruse for many members of the Lodge and some subject of a more elementary nature should be attempted. Yet when Col. Olcott, who was visiting from India, spoke on Karma after this, attendance was only at 43. When George Chainey from America lectured a week later on the Hidden Meaning of the Hebrew Sacred Writings, attendance shot up to 60. Blavatsky’s newly published Key to Theosophy was then taken up on November 21. A new member, Annie Besant, led the meeting.

Mrs. Besant had been drawn into the Society through the publication of The Secret Doctrine. After H.P.B's arrival in London in 1887 she turned over the three foot pile of manuscript to Archibald Keightley (1859-1930) and his nephew Bertram Keightley (1860-1945), who had facilitated her change of location. After going through it Bertram Keightley says it was 'another Isis Unveiled, only far worse." Consultation between him and Archibald and H.P.B., who told them to go to Tophet, resulted in the arrangement of the book as it now stands: the stanzas and commentaries, chapters on symbolism and then science. A projected third volume would deal with the lives of some of the great occultists and a fourth on their teachings. [71]

The thirty-two year old Annie Resant was given The Secret Doctrine by the editor of The Pall Mall Gazette, W. T. Stead, for review. Reading it was like having a bright light turned onto a number of problems in psychology that she could not explain. It led her to meet H.P.B., and she joined the Society in May 1889. The adherence of Mrs. Besant marked a radical change of public perception about the Theosophical Society.

The story of Annie Besant's life has been the subject of many studies. The late Ellie Howe gave a succinct summation of her status at the time when he wrote:

Mrs. Annie Besant was known all over the English-speaking world as one of the most remarkable women of her day. She was a freethinker; a consorter with materialists like Charles Bradlaugh; a agitator in Radical political circles, again like Bradlaugh; a feminist; an early convert to Fabian Socialism, through the agency of Bernard Shaw; a teacher of science; an author-editor-publisher; the first prominent woman to fight openly for what is now called birth control; a social and educational reformer; an orator whose power was so compelling and whose charm was so potent that Shaw was only one among thousands who extolled her as the greatest woman speaker of the century. [72]

H.P.B. regarded Besant's joining as an "achievement", one that gave her "endless joy". "We lacked an eloquent orator", she wrote to her sister.[73] Later that year Annie Besant transferred the deed to her home at 19 Avenue Road, St. Johns Wood, London, to the Blavatsky Lodge, and it was refitted to become the Lodge's headquarters.

The news about Theosophy now began to spread beyond London. A monthly eighty-page magazine, Lucifer, edited by H.P.B. and Mabel Collins, had been published since September 1887. The Theosophical Publishing Company that arranged its distribution and sales soon had to move to larger quarters at no. 7 Duke Street, Adelphi. By the end of 1888 there was enough activity to have the SIX existing Lodges in Britain - London, Blavatsky, Liverpool, Dublin, Cambridge and Glasgow - form the British Section of the Theosophical Society. Archibald Keightley was elected the first General Secretary. With his departure for Australia in the summer of 1889, G.R.S. Mead, H.P.B.'s secretary, carried on the work until Walter R. Old was appointed in December. [74]

Mrs. Besant was elected President of the Blavatsky Lodge in January 1890. Chapters on The Key to Theosophy were still being discussed at the weekly meetings at which H.P.B. was sometimes present. Attendance was now averaging sixty. The Lodge moved to its new home at 19 Avenue Road in July where a meeting hall had been added to the building. At its opening on July 3 some 250 people were present, far exceeding the capabilities of the room. "Every seat, every inch of standing room, was occupied, and a number of late arrivals found themselves compelled to stand outside the window and follow the proceedings as best they could," reported Lucifer. [75]

Attendance at the Blavatsky Lodge was now over 100 at times. A Press Bureau had been established, run by Mrs. Alice Cleather. During 1890, 500 pieces had appeared in the press about Theosophy, due to the efforts of members writing letters and articles. There were now lodges in Newcastle, Exmouth, Brixton, Brighton and Birmingham. To reach the considerable number of unattached members, a small magazine, The Vahan, was started, printed on the Society's own press, the H.P.B. Press, run by James M. Pryse from New York. Mrs. Besant was increasingly in demand to speak on Theosophy, and further and further afield. She lectured in Dublin and Belfast in October 1890 and read Mme. Blavatsky's words to the American Section Convention in April 1891, On the way back from New York she received the news that Mme Blavatsky had died on May 8th.

Following H.P.B.'s wishes that no mourning clothes were to be worn, work continued on at the Lodge named after her. Annie Besant communicated the feelings at the London headquarters to Julia Campbell Ver Planck, whom she had met in America, "I must write you a few words to say all is well here, that we are hard at work, and that it is just as though H.P.B. had not left us at all. Her departure seems to have given fresh impulse rather than depression, and everyone is doing his very best to carry on all as she would have wished."[76]
 
The news of Mme Blavatsky's demise was carried throughout the country. An analysis of the Press Scrapbook for May 1891 put together by the T. S. Press Bureau in London shows that over 100 papers throughout the British Isles carried notices of H.P.B.'s death. [77] Her passing was discussed in papers as varied as Horse and Hare and The Ladies Pictorial, The Pall Mall Gazette, The Guardian, Birmingham Post, Belfast W. Northern Whig, News of the World, Manchester Examiner, all covered her career in a more or less neutral way following the lead of The Times which gave a biographical sketch of sixty-eight lines stressing her travels, Theosophists also took advantage of the opportunity and sent letters to the papers.

The London Review of Reviews carried one of the longest articles on H.P.B.'s life, written by A. P. Sinnett. W. T. Stead, the editor, introducing the piece felt:

What Madame Blavatsky did was an immeasurably greater thing than the doubling of teacups, She made it possible for some of the most cultivated and skeptical men and women of this generation to believe - believe ardently, to an extent that made them proof against ridicule and disdainful of persecution - that not only does the invisible world that encompasses us contain Intelligences vastly superior to our own in knowledge of the Truth, but that it is possible for man to enter into communion with these hidden and silent ones, and to be taught by them the Divine mysteries of Time and of Eternity. [78]

Coverage of H.P.B.'s passing had barely left the papers when Theosophists were making the news again. Annie Besant had announced at her August 1891 farewell lecture at the London Hall of Science that she was in receipt of letters from H.P.B.'s teachers since her passing. It was later revealed that these letters came through the agency of William Q. Judge, General Secretary of The American Society and Vice-President of the Society.

Mrs. Besant thought highly of Judge. When Olcott decided to retire as President of the Society in 1892, she sent a circular letter to the Blavatsky Lodge recommending Judge as the "most suitable person to guide the Society” [79] But on a visit to India at the end of 1893, meetings with W.R. Old, the former General Secretary of the Society in Britain, E. T. Sturdy, Sydney V. Edge, members of the Blavatsky Lodge, along with Olcott, made her doubt Judge's veracity, [80] and charges were brought against him of misuse of the Masters' handwritings. A Judicial Inquiry was called in London in 1894, but no decision was reached for it was feared that any statement pro or con on the existence of the Masters would compromise the neutrality of the Society.[81] The matter became public when files meant for the Judicial Committee were turned over to the Westminster Gazette which published them in October and November 1894.

A Special Meeting of the Blavatsky Lodge was called on Saturday, December 15, 1894, to consider communications from members and the various lodges on the matter. At the Special Adjourned Meeting of January 5, 1895, Herbert Burrows put forth the following resolution:

Whereas certain charges have been brought by Mrs. Besant against Mr. W.Q. Judge, the Vice-President of the T.S, which if true would unfit him for holding the office of Vice-President, and similar charges, supported by documentary evidence, have also been published in the Westminster Gazette, thus bringing Theosophy and the Theosophical Society into public disrepute, this general meeting of the London Blavatsky Lodge, T.S., hereby records its opinion that in the interests of Theosophy Mr. Judge should, as soon as possible, definitely reply to these charges, and that those interests also demand that till he does so he should cease to hold the office of Vice-President. [82]

Before the resolution was voted on, Archibald Keightley addressed the Lodge advising that it was not Judge who was on trial but the Lodge itself. "Is it possible at all that you are being hurried into a practical vote of condemnation upon suspicion and hearsay? ... I would remind you that those ordinary Societies, standing upon a code which Theosophists professed to think all too low, demand proof before such impeachment."[83] The resolution was carried 73 for, 18 against. It was voted that a Jury of Honour, composed of well-known and experienced members of the Society, should examine the evidence.

After these resolutions were passed a letter was received from Mrs. Besant at Adyar, Madras, dated December 25, 1894:

I cannot allow you, without your consent, to be compromised. I therefore place in your hands my resignation as President of your Lodge; I place my defence also in your hands, asking you to consider it; I offer myself for re-election, so that you may be free to keep me or reject me as you will. I hope you will keep me, but I will only hold your Chair with your goodwill, if you bid me fill it after you know of the dishonour done me by the press or by Mr. Judge. [84]

All these points became moot because the American Section in Convention in April 1895 declared its autonomy and reconstituted itself the Theosophical Society in America. Col. Olcott, who was in Spain at the time, responded by cancelling the charter of the Section and the lodges that voted for such action.

At the Annual Convention of the European Section of the Society held in London July 4-5, 1895, Olcott as chairman forbade any resolutions embodying censure or approval of the actions of Judge. "The Judge case is absolutely finished and a thing of the past,' he told those assembled. "His accusers have presented their case, he has replied, and with his friends has seceded from the Society and set up a separate and independent one of their own. We have, therefore, nothing more to say or do in the premises."[85] But not all present thought so. Archibald Keightley tried to get a resolution passed, but he was defeated, As messages of loyalty were being read from various branches, E. T. Hargrove stood up and asked those to stand who wished to protest the Convention's decision to let a letter from the new T. S. in America to remain unacknowledged. He left the meeting with some forty members.

Dissenting members following Judge's example formed the independent Theosophical Society in England. A year later Judge died at the age of forty-four. Katherine Tingley who had cared for him during his last illness became a leading figure, organizing a Theosophical Crusade around the world in 1896. She visited England in July, going on to Europe, giving "Brotherhood suppers" and lecturing. In 1898 she founded the Universal Brotherhood which merged the groups that supported Judge. Point Loma, near San Diego, California, became her headquarters, and it drew some of the most notable English and Irish members, including Henry T. Edge, Herbert Coryn, E. T. Hargrove, Charles Ryan, and many others. Their departure changed the character of the English lodges.

The years following 1895 till the end of the 19th century were trying times for the Society in England. Not everyone could afford to relocate to Point Loma in America, and those who stayed formed branches of that group, further confusing the public. Mrs. Besant could not devote her time as before to lecturing as she was much needed to help rebuild the American lodges. Herself and Countess Wachtmeister covered large portions of the western states promoting the Theosophical Society. The fall and winter were now spent by her in Benares, India, where she had established a home, 'Shanti Kunj’. With Francesca Arundale, a long time English member, she pioneered education for boys and girls along Indian lines.

With Mrs. Besant's absence from England two figures emerged to fill the vacuum, C. W. Leadbeater and G.R.S. Mead. Leadbeater, a former curate, had joined the Society in 1883 and gone out to India to help at the headquarters. He went on to work at the headquarters in Ceylon before returning to England in 1889. He became Secretary of Sinnett's London Lodge, but Mrs. Besant encouraged him to move to the Avenue Road headquarters in 1895 to take up the post of Assistant Secretary of the European Section of the Theosophical Society. Leadbeater was soon writing about the astral plane, investigating past lives of members and examining the occult structure of the elements with Mrs. Besant. He was to go on to become a popular lecturer.

G.R.S. Mead at the time was General Secretary of the European Section. He had joined the Society in 1887 and had been H.P.B.'s secretary, editing and preparing her writings for publication. Along with Annie Besant he was co-editor of Lucifer, which mirroring the growing acceptance of the movement changed its name to The Theosophical Review. Mead was greatly interested in the Gnostics, and his numerous writings, including the first English translation of the Pistis Sophia, did much to introduce the subject to the public.

The destinies of Mead and Leadbeater seen to have been intertwined. Leadbeater was forced to resign from the Society when charges of teaching masturbation to certain boys were brought against him. Annie Besant was elected President of the Theosophical Society by an overwhelming majority after Olcott died in 1907. When Mrs. Besant invited Leadbeater to return, Mead resigned in 1909 and went on to start the Quest Society.

Mr. Leadbeater did return and while at Adyar identified a young brahmin boy, Jiddu Krishnamurti (1897 - 1986), as the vehicle of the imminent return of a World Teacher, thought to be the Christ. Mrs. Besant enthusiastically encouraged the cause and the resources of the Society were used to help prepare the way. But the coming did not occur as Theosophists expected, and in 1929 Krishnamurti closed the Order of the Star that had been created to further the work of the World Teacher.

The Depression, the War, the pursuit of rebuilding all had its impact on the Society in England. The occult revival in the sixties and the wave of eastern spiritual teachers have all been weathered, and now we stand on the eve of a new century. Having looked at the origin and early development of the Theosophical Society in England, let us examine the movement's contribution.

The very notion of an esoteric tradition, of a continuity of alternative spirituality as described by Blavatsky, was introduced to the English reading public by Theosophists. Even the use of the terms esoteric, occultism, occultists, were first widely disseminated by the Theosophists. The Oxford English Dictionary gives Sinnett's 1881 Occult World as the sources for ‘occultist’ and ‘occultism’. But the words were used by H.P. Blavatsky as early as 1875 in an article and received a definition in the glossary that introduced Isis Unveiled in 1877. The title of Sinnett's other book Esoteric Budhism [sic] brought that term into circulation. Through Theosophists these concepts were passed on to those who helped the growing familiarity with the subject, such as Anne Judith Penny (1825-1893), a friend of C. C. Massey and a tireless promoter of Jacob Boehme, and S. L. MacGregor Mathers (1854-1918), whose Order of the Golden Dawn was a major influence on the occult scene.

As the nineteenth century exemplar of this stream of esotericism, the Theosophical Society was the first attempt by esoteric groups to come to grips with the democratization process. Although Masons had elected their officials, the Theosophical Society was the first chance for the membership as a whole, whether of the Society, a Section or a Lodge, to be involved in the decision making of the group. Part of this power sharing was the inclusion of women. Before the advent of the Theosophical Society, groups claiming occult status were male dominated. In the T.S. women could vote long before society gave them the right, could elect and be elected to positions in the group.

The two ideas most readily associated with the Theosophical Society at the time were reincarnation and karma. "This doctrine of Reincarnation has a weird repulsive aspect in the eyes of the western world," Annie Besant wrote in 1890. [87] Theosophists did their best to dispel this impression, rejecting the idea of metempsychosis or transmigration: the regression into animal forms. Sinnett had touched upon the subject in his popular Esoteric Budhism, as did Blavatsky in her 1889 Key to Theosophy. Francesca Arundale, an English member, published The Idea of Reincarnation in 1893. And Annie Besant devoted the second of her "Theosophical Manuals" to the subject.

While reincarnation has gained currency through books and films, its rationale as explained by Theosophists has not. Writing to the New Agers of her time, the Spiritualists, and using C. C. Massey as an example, H.P.B., elucidated:

There is a mighty difference in our Occult doctrine between an impersonal Individuality, and an individual Personality. C.C.M. [C.C. Massey] will not be reincarnated; nor will he in his next birth be C.C.M., but quite a new being, born of the thoughts and deeds of C.C.M.: his own creation, the child and fruit of his present life, the effect of the causes he is now producing. Shall we say then with the Spiritists that C.C.M., the man we know, will be reborn again? No; but that his divine Monad will be clothed thousands of times yet before the end of the Grand Cycle, in various human forms, every one of them a new personality.[88]

The guiding force expressing itself through reincarnation is karma. “That which adjusts each effect to its direct cause; that which guides invisibly and as unerringly these effects to choose, as the field or their operation, the right person in the right place, is what we call Karmic law', Blavatsky explained. [89] Sinnett had dealt with karma in Esoteric Budhism, and Mabel Collins had added an essay on karma as an epilogue to Light on the Path. Blavatsky had detailed aspects of the concept, such as racial, group, and national karma in The Key to Theosophy, as did Besant in her manual Karma.

Blavatsky, always the pioneer, had used the term karma as early as 1877 in Isis Unveiled, and contrasted its working against the popular idea of the time, Vicarious Atonement. [89]

The effects of a cause are never limited to the boundaries of the cause, nor can the results of crime be confined to the offender and his victim. Every good as well as evil action has its effects, as palpably as the stone flung into calm water, The simile is trite, but it is the best ever conceived, so let us use it. The eddying circles are greater and swifter as the disturbing object is greater or smaller, but the smallest pebble, nay, the tiniest speck, makes its ripples. And this disturbance is not alone visible and on the surface. Below, unseen, in every direction outward and downward - drop pushes drop until the sides and bottom are touched by the force. More, the air above the water is agitated, and this disturbance passes, as the physicists tell us, from stratum to stratum out into space forever and ever; an impulse has been given to matter and that is never lost, can never be recalled! So with crime, and so with its opposite. The action may be instantaneous, the effects are eternal. When, after the stone is once flung into the pond, we can recall it to the hand, roll back the ripples, obliterate the force expended, restore the etheric waves to their previous state of nonbeing, and wipe out every trace of the act of throwing the missile, so that Time's record shall not show that it ever happened, then, then we may patiently hear Christians argue for the efficacy of this Atonement. [90]

H.P.B. held great hope in the dissemination or these twin doctrines of reincarnation and karma. In an 1889 editorial she warned:

If Theosophy prevailing in the struggle, its all-embracing philosophy strikes deep root into the minds and hearts of men, if its doctrines of Reincarnation and Karma, in other words, of Hope and Responsibility, find a home in the lives of the new generations, then, indeed, will dawn the day of joy and gladness for all who now suffer and are outcast. For real Theosophy is ALTRUISM, and we cannot repeat it too often. It is brotherly love, mutual help, unswerving devotion to Truth. If once men do but realize that in these alone can true happiness be found, and never in wealth, possessions, or any selfish gratification, then the dark clouds will roll away, and a new humanity will be born upon earth. Then, the GOLDEN AGE will be there, indeed. But if not, then the storm will burst, and our boasted western civilization and enlightenment will sink in such a sea of horror that its parallel History has never yet recorded. [91]

The urgency of her words may perhaps excuse the effort we have spent delineating the character of the previous centennial attempt of which we are heirs. In looking at the mission of the Theosophical Society we see what was done and what work still lies ahead. "Thus, the Past shall help to realize the PRESENT, and the latter to better appreciate the PAST." [92]

 

photo of michael gomes

About the Author: MICHAEL GOMES
Michael Gomes is a Canadian writer, born in 1951. He is best known for his writings on Theosophy and his body of work charting the history of this movement exceeds that of anyone else alive. His 1987 study The Dawning of the Theosophical Movement was (he first book devoted solely to the origin of the movement since the President-Founder, H. S. Olcott's Old Diary Leaves a century before. For this book, Gomes spent a year at the Society's headquarters at Adyar, Madras, India, researching its archives. His examination of the events known as "The Coulomb Case" (which resulted in Mme Blavatsky's final departure from India in 1885) is generally regarded as the stalling point for this complicated piece of Theosophical history, giving as it docs a centennial survey of the events and the writers who have contributed to this case. His 1994 Theosophy in the Nineteenth Century brought together for the premier bibliography on the subject the vast amount of material written about Theosophy as well as providing a catalogue of the early literature of the movement. He has also catalogued Mme Blavatsky's personal collection of books, edited a centennial collection of her writings and located dozens of her letters.
Gomes' interest in archives goes back to the early 1970s when he was assistant to the designer Charles James. Maintaining the voluminous amount of press and correspondence amassed over James's career spanning fifty years, he constantly supplied museums with biographical material about the artist. He also edited a newsletter for the recording industry during the seventies, and his insights have been tapped for developing public relations programmes for the industry. During the 1980s he was employed by Columbia University working at its main library.
While a student at Columbia he had been awarded the Herman Ausubel Memorial Prize for achievement in history. Although he has lectured at Columbia University in New York, the University of Calgary in Canada, and Madras University in India, he has preferred to devote his time to research. His search for Theosophical material in libraries and archives has taken him through India, England, the U.S. and Canada. A member of the American Academy of Religion, he has been a participant at its Theosophy Seminar since it was instituted in 1994.

Over the years Gomes has concentrated more and more on doctumenting Theosophy, for he feels that such movements reveal the heart of human longing and offer an instructive lesson on how "the most exalted social ideals are degraded when raw power continues to speak in the language of brotherhood, and how this entails the corruption of truth and meaning.'


^1. Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy (London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1987), p306.
^2. Blavatsky, Collected Writings, 14 vols., (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1966-1985), Vol.XIV p431.
^3. A similar pedigree of ideas is given in a letter Mme. Blavatsky wrote in 1875 before the founding of the Theosophical Society. See my Dawning of the Theosophical Movement (Wheaton, 1987), pp62-63.
^4. Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Oration on the Dignity of Man (Washington, DC: Regency Publishing, 1996), p57.
^5. Thomas Vaughan, Anthroposophia Theomagica, in The Works of Thomas Vaughan: Eugenius Philalethes, edited by A.E. Waite (London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1919), p38, p40.
^6. W. Emmette Coleman in The Carrier Dove, July 27, 1889.
^7. Owen Chadwick 's still readable The Secularization of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century, Cambridge University Press, 1975, is a good starting place, while John Hedley Brooke's Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives, Cambridge University Press, 1991, gives a useful bibliographic essay on the subject.
^8. Jaines Laver, Manners and Morals in The Age of Optimism 1848-1914 (New York: Halver & Row, 1966), p122.
^9. Besant in The Graphic Jubilee Number, 1887, in Laver, Manners and Morals, pp122-23. Sir Walter was the brother-in-law of Annie Besant.
^1O. C.M. Davies, Unorthodox London (1873, rept. NY: Augustus M. Kelley, 1969), p303. Aside from this volume Davies produced Orthodox London, 1873, Heterodox London, 1874, and Mystic London, 1875.
^11. Background on Spiritualism in England can be found in Janet Oppenheim's The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England 1850-1914 Cambridge University Press, 1985.
^12. Olcott, Old Diary Leaves (NY: G.P. Putnamis sons, 1895), pp1:10
^13. The Holmeses and their story is told in detail in my Dawning of the Theosophical Movement, 1987.
^14. An overview of W. Stainton Moses' life (1839-1892) is provided in Leslie Price's The Mystery of Stainton Moses, London: Psychic Pioneer Publications, 1999.
^15. Olcott to Moses, 10 April 1875, Moses, "The Early History of the Theosophical Society" - Light (London), July 9, 1892, p331.
^16. Olcott to Moses. 22 June 1875, Light, July 9, 1892, p332.
^17. Olcott to Moses, [1875], Light, July 23, 1892, p354. In this letter Olcott also explains that the common emanation in the Universe and man is called "Atma".
^18. Olcott, Old Diary Leaves, Vol.1 p118.
^19. Minute Book of the Theosophical Society, Meeting of October 16, 1875 Theosophical Society Archives, Pasadena, USA.
^20. Oppenheim, The Other World, p31.
^21. NY Daily Graphic, Nov. 13, 1874, The Complete Works of H. P. Blavatsky (London: Rider & Co., 1933), Vol.1:p16.
^22. Preamble and By-Laws of the Theosophical Society, New York, 1875.
^23. Olcott to Moses, [1876], Light, July 23, 1892, p355.
^24. Isis Unveiled Vol.1 pp320-21. For those who find the original work too daunting, Quest Books has a 250-page abridgment; this quote is found on pages 78-79 of that edition.
^25. Moses to Massey, 23 August 1876, Archives, The College of Psychic Studies, London. I am grateful to Prof. Joscelyn Godwin for sharing this material with me.
^26. Yarker to Blavatsky, 23 August 1877, T.S. Archives, Adyar, India.
^27. Moses to Blavatsky, 4 August 1877, T.S. Archives, Adyar.
^28. Letter in the London Daily Chronicle, October l, 1891, p7.
^29. Massey to Blavatsky, 2 December 1877, T. S. Archives, Adyar. See also his memo of 10 December 1877 in the Archives.
^30. Moses to Irwin, 29 December 1977, John Hamill "Additional Light on William Stainton Moses and the Theosophical Society" - Theosophical History 7 (July 1997): pp253-254.
^31. Minute Book of the Theosophical Society, Meeting of February 16, 1876, T. S. Archives, Pasadena.
^32. In A.P. Sinnett's The Early Days of Theosophy in Europe (London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1922), p11.
^33. Olcott's Diary, entry of 10 July 1878, T.S. Archives, Adyar.
^34 Sinnett, Early Days, p11. The Minute Book passed out of the Society when the London Lodge withdrew its connection in 1909; it left again after Sinnett's death.
^35. Olcott to Moses, [1876], Light, July 23, 1892, p356.
^36. The Spiritualist, December 21, 1877, p299.
^37. Moses to Irwin, 21 December 1878, Hamill, "Additional Light", p254.
^38. Olcott, Old Diary Leaves (Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1974), Vol.2:p4.
^39. Light, August 30, 1884, p360.
^40. Sinnett, Early Days, p11.
^41. "Madame Blavatsky and Col. Olcott in England" The Spiritualist, January 24, 1879, p41.
^42. Wyld to Doubleday, 15 November 1880, Doubleday Notebook 8, p.85, T.S. Archives, Pasadena.
^43. Kirby to Doubleday, 10 May 1882, Doubleday Notebook 7, 2.
^44. Supplement to The Theosophist, May 1882, p6.
^45. Wyld, "The British Theosophical Society" - Light, August 25, 1883, p383.
^46. Blavatsky to Sinnett, 21 July 1883, The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1925), p22.
^48. Wyld to Doubleday, [1882], Doubleday Notebook 7, 4-5.
^49. Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett, p26.
^50. H.P.B.'s Scrapbook, Vol.XIV pp133-35, T.S. Archives, Adyar.
^51. Kingsford to Caithness, 8 June [1883], Maitland, Anna Kingsford, 3rd ed. London: John M. Watkins, 1913), Vol.2:p119
^52. Anna Kingsford, Vol.2 p122.
^53. Anna Kingsford, Vol.2 p124.
^54. Anna Kingsford, Vol.2 p160. KH had telegraphed Sinnett that "Kingsford must remain President” on Dec. 3, 1883 and on Jan. 11, 1884, to postpone the election, Mahatma Letters Misc. Papers 45289 B, British Museum.
^55. Sinnett, Early Days, p56.
^56. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 3 (1885): p201.
^57. S.P.R. Proceedings 3, p207.
^58. Alan Gauld in The Founders of Psychical Research (New York: Schocken Books, 1968, p139) says of Sidgwick, "his reputation throughout the country was such that no one would think that a Society of which he was the head could be composed mainly of cranks or knaves".
^59. Wachtmeister, "A New Year's Greeting" - The Vahan, London, January 1, 1891, and Theosophical Siftings Vol. 3, no.17, p.3.
^60. Blavatsky to Hartmann, [early 1886], The Path 10 (February 1896): p334.
^61. Blavatsky to Sinnett, 6 January 1886, The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett (Manila: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), p456.
^62. Notice in Light, November 3, 1885, p542.
^63. Edward Maitland, her collaborator, started an Esoteric Christian Union in 1891 to promote her work, but it did not survive him.
^64. Joscelyn Godwin, Christian Channel, and John P. Deveney, The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor (York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, 1995), p306.
^65. Blavatsky to Wachtmeister, [early 1887], Wachtmeister, Reminiscences of H.P. Blavatsky and "The Secret Doctrine" (London: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1893), p67.
^66. Minute Book of the Blavatsky Lodge, Meeting of May 19, 1887, Archives of the Blavatsky Lodge, London.
^67. Minute Book of the Blavatsky Lodge, Meeting of February 16, 1888.
^68. Minute Book of the Blavatsky Lodge, p.252. An explanation of these rules is given by Archibald Keightley in "The Meaning of a Pledge", Lucifer 3 (September 1888): pp63-67.
^69. A facsimile edition of the Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge has been published by Theosophical University Press, 1994.
^70. Minute Book of the Blavatsky Lodge, Meeting of September 19, 1889.
^71. "Mr. Bertram Keightley's Account of the Writing of 'The Secret Doctrine’, In Wachtmeister, Reminiscences of H. P. Blavatsky and "The Secret Doctrine", p91.
^72. Howe, ed., The Alchemist of the Golden Dawn (Wellingborough, Eng.: Aquarian, 1985), p36.
^73. Blavatsky to Zhelihovsky, [1889], V.P. Zhelihovsky, "My Sister" - The London Forum. July 1935, pp7-8.
^74. The London Lodge chose not to be part of the Section, see C.W. Leadbeater, "The London Lodge", in the Report of Proceedings, First Annual Convention of the T.S. in Europe, London, 1891, p37.
^75. "Opening of the New Headquarters" - Lucifer 6 (July 1890): p431.
^76. Besant to Ver Planck, 9 June 1891, "Leaves of Theosophical History" Theosophical Forum 9 (September 1936): p173.
^77. Now in the Boris de Zirkoff Collection, Theosophical Society in America, Wheaton, IL
^78. W. T. Stead, "Madame Blavatsky" - The Review of Reviews 3 (June 1891): pp548-50.
^79. Besant, To the Members of the Blavatsky Lodge, London: March 11, 1892.
^80. Annie Besant's diary in the T.S. Archives, Adyar, shows her meeting with Old, Sturdy and Edge, on Dec. 20, 21, 22, after her arrival at Adyar, then talking with leading Indian members as they arrived for the Annual T.S. Convention. On January 13, 1894, she sent letters to London about the matter.
^81. See Olcott's statement on this matter "The Neutrality of the T.S." - Lucifer 14 (August 1894): pp449-54.
^82. Minute Book of the Blavatsky Lodge, Adjourned Special Meeting, January 5, 1895
^83. Address by Archibald Keightley, Minute Book of the Blavatsky Lodge.
^84. Minute Book of the Blavatsky Lodge.
^85. Report of Proceedings, Fifth Annual Convention, Theosophical Society, Euopean Section, London, 1895, p3.
^86. See "A Few Questions to 'Hiraf'," Spiritual Scientist, July 15, 22, 1875, H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings Vol.1 pp101-181.
^87. Besant, "Theosophy for the Profane" - Lucifer 6 (April 1890): p117.
^88. Blavatsky, "Isis Unveiled and The Theosophist on Reincarnation" – The Theosophist 3 (August 1882): p289, H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings Vol.4 p186.
^89. Blavatsky, "Thoughts on Karma and Reincarnation" - Lucifer 4 (April 1889) p.95, H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings Vol.X1 p144.
^90. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled Vol.2 pp542-43, abridgement, p234.
^91. Blavatsky, "Our Cycle and the Next" - Lucifer 4 (May 1889): p188, H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings Vol.X1 p202.
^92. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine (Pasadena: Theosophical University Press, facsimile edition 1988), Vol.1 pxlvi.



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