The Theosophical Society was officially formed in New York City, United States, in November 1875 by Helena Blavatsky, Henry Steel Olcott, William Quan Judge and others. Its initial objective was the “study and elucidation of Occultism, the Cabala etc.” After a few years Olcott and Blavatsky moved to India and established the International Headquarters at Adyar, in Madras (Chennai). They were also interested in studying Eastern religions, and these were included in the Society’s agenda. After several iterations the Society’s objectives evolved to be:
- To form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or colour.
- To encourage the study of comparative religion, philosophy, and science.
- To investigate the unexplained laws of nature and the powers latent in man.
The Society was organized as a non-sectarian entity. The following was stated in the Constitution and Rules of the Theosophical Society, “Article I: Constitution”:
4. The Theosophical Society is absolutely unsectarian, and no assent to any formula of belief, faith or creed shall be required as a qualification of membership; but every applicant and member must lie in sympathy with the effort to create the nucleus of an Universal Brotherhood of Humanity.
The Society reformulated this view in a resolution passed by the General Council of the Theosophical Society on December 23, 1924.
The Hidden Masters
One of the central philosophical tenets promoted by the Society was the complex doctrine of The Intelligent Evolution of All Existence, occurring on a Cosmicscale, incorporating both the physical and non-physical aspects of the known and unknown Universe, and affecting all of its constituent parts regardless of apparent size or importance. The theory was originally promulgated in the Secret Doctrine, the 1888 magnum opus of Helena Blavatsky. According to this view, Humanity’s evolution on Earth (and beyond) is part of the overall Cosmic evolution. It is overseen by a hidden Spiritual Hierarchy, the so-called Masters of the Ancient Wisdom, whose upper echelons consist of advanced spiritual beings.
Blavatsky portrayed the Theosophical Society as being part of one of many attempts throughout the millennia by this hidden Hierarchy to guide humanity – in concert with the overall Intelligent Cosmic Evolutionary scheme – towards its ultimate, immutable evolutionary objective: the attainment of perfection and the conscious, willing participation in the evolutionary process. These attempts require an earthly infrastructure (such as the Theosophical Society) which she held was ultimately under the inspiration of a number of Mahatmas, members of the Hierarchy.
After Helena Blavatsky’s death in 1891, the Society’s leaders seemed at first to work together peacefully. This did not last long. Judge was accused by Olcott and then prominent TheosophistAnnie Besant of forging letters from the Mahatmas; he ended his association with Olcott and Besant in 1895 and took most of the Society’s American Section with him. The original organisation led by Olcott and Besant remains today based in India and is known as the Theosophical Society – Adyar. The group led by Judge further splintered into a faction led by Katherine Tingley, and another associated with Judge’s secretary Ernest Temple Hargrove. While Hargrove’s faction no longer survives, the faction led by Tingley is today known as the Theosophical Society with the clarifying statement, “International Headquarters, Pasadena, California“. A third organization, the United Lodge of Theosophists or ULT, in 1909 split off from the latter organization.
In 1902, Rudolf Steiner became General Secretary of the German/Austrian division of the Theosophical Society. He maintained a Western-oriented course, relatively independent from the Adyar headquarters. After serious philosophical conflicts with Annie Besant and other members of the International leadership on the spiritual significance of Christ and on the status of the young boyJiddu Krishnamurti (see section below), most of the German and Austrian members split off in 1913 and formed the Anthroposophical Society. The latter remains active today and has branches in several countries, including the US and Canada.
The “World Teacher”
In addition to the stated objectives, as early as 1889 Blavatsky publicly declared that the purpose of establishing the Society was to prepare humanity for the reception of a World Teacher: according to the Theosophical doctrine described above, a manifested aspect of an advanced spiritual entity (the Maitreya) that periodically appears on Earth in order to direct the evolution of humankind. The mission of these reputedly regularly appearing emissaries is to practically translate, in a way and language understood by contemporary humanity, the knowledge required to propel it to a higher evolutionary stage.
If the present attempt, in the form of our Society, succeeds better than its predecessors have done, then it will be in existence as an organized, living and healthy body when the time comes for the effort of the XXth century. The general condition of men’s minds and hearts will have been improved and purified by the spread of its teachings, and, as I have said, their prejudices and dogmatic illusions will have been, to some extent at least, removed. Not only so, but besides a large and accessible literature ready to men’s hands, the next impulse will find a numerous and united body of people ready to welcome the new torch-bearer of Truth. He will find the minds of men prepared for his message, a language ready for him in which to clothe the new truths he brings, an organization awaiting his arrival, which will remove the merely mechanical, material obstacles and difficulties from his path. Think how much one, to whom such an opportunity is given, could accomplish. Measure it by comparison with what the Theosophical Society actually has achieved in the last fourteen years, without any of these advantages and surrounded by hosts of hindrances which would not hamper the new leader.
This was repeated by then prominent Theosophist Annie Besant in 1896, five years after Blavatsky’s death. Besant, who became President of the Society in 1907, thought the appearance of theWorld Teacher would happen sooner than the time-frame in Blavatsky’s writings, who had indicated that it would not take place until the last quarter of the 20th century.
One of the people who expected the imminent reappearance of the Maitreya as World Teacher was Charles Webster Leadbeater, then an influential Theosophist and occultist. In 1909 he “discovered” Jiddu Krishnamurti, an adolescent Indian boy, who he proclaimed as the most suitable candidate for the “vehicle” of the World Teacher. Krishnamurti’s family had relocated next to the Theosophical Society headquarters in Adyar, India, a few months earlier. Following his “discovery”, Krishnamurti was taken under the wing of the Society, and was extensively groomed in preparation for his expected mission.
However, by 1925 Krishnamurti had begun to move away from the course expected of him by the leaders of the Theosophical Society in Adyar and by many Theosophists. In 1929 he publicly dissolved the Order of the Star, a worldwide organization created by the leadership of the Theosophical Society to prepare the world for the Coming of the Maitreya, and abandoned his assumed role as the “vehicle” for the World Teacher. He eventually left the Theosophical Society altogether, yet remained on friendly terms with individual members of the Society. He spent the rest of his life traveling the world as an independent speaker, becoming widely known as an original thinker on spiritual, philosophical, and psychological subjects.
This is all from Wikipedia ( I do not care what anyone says about Wikipedia not being an accurate source. It pretty much is.)
This fellow has a great blog on The Theosophical Society. He has put a lot of effort into it. He has some great pictures which I am sharing as well as his info. Please check out his blog.
Col. Olcott and Madame Blavatsky in India 1879-1883
From : Interesting Articles, Links and Other Media Mark Russell Bell’s Blog
As Theosophical Society President Henry Steele Olcott wrote in the second volume of Old Diary Leaves (1900) about his first year in India accompanied by Society Co-Founder Helena Petrovna Blavatsky:
. . . every scene and experience had the charm of novelty, and we enjoyed them like children. It was something, after all, to be suddenly transferred from prosaic America and its atmosphere of mad haste and bitter commercial competition, to the calm and mental peace of hoary India, where the sage had first place in public estimation and the saint was exalted above all princes. Scarcely any head would have been unaffected by the intoxication of the popular love and seeming reverence that we received, the delightful discussions of philosophy and spiritual ideals, the contact with high-thinkers and noted scholars, the ever-changing, picturesque daily incidents of our wanderings. I, who had passed through the social hurricane called the war of the Rebellion, and the tumult of a long public service, was moved to a degree I can now, with my present knowledge of Pandits and their ways, hardly realize, by a meeting of the Literary Society of Benares Pandits, convened on 21st December in my honor.
Olcott and HPB strived to increase public interest in the Theosophical Society throughout India with Olcott delivering numerous lectures with crowds sometimes numbering in the thousands while HPB concentrated on preparing articles for the monthly The Theosophist journal.
In May 1880, Olcott and HPB found themselves formally acknowledged as Buddhists at a temple ceremony in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). “We had previously declared ourselves Buddhists long before, in America, both privately and publicly, so that this was but a formal confirmation of our previous professions . . . H. P. B. was as completely accepted a Buddhist as any Sinhalse in the Island . . . Our Buddhism was, in a word, a philosophy, not a creed.”
Their metaphysical awareness encompassed numerological observations. After the sea passage from Galle to Colombo on their way to Tuticorin, Olcott noticed: “Our fateful number seven asserted itself as usual: our visitors numbering seven, the last boat to come off (bringing us a copy of the latest issue of the Theosophist) bearing that number, and our engines being started at 7.7 p.m.”
Their relationship with Mr. A. P. Sinnett began with a “brisk correspondence” ensuing after Olcott received a letter from him soon after their arrival in Bombay.
. . . as Editor of the Pioneer, he expresses to me the desire of becoming acquainted with H. P. B. and myself, in case we should be coming up country, and his willingness to publish any interesting facts about our mission to India. In common with the whole Indian press, the Pioneer had noted our arrival. Mr. Sinnett writes that, from having had a number of chances in London to investigate certain remarkable mediumistic phenomena, he felt more interest than the average journalist in occult questions.
Not another Anglo-Indian Editor was disposed to be kind to us, or to be just in his discussion of our views and ideals. Mr. Sinnett alone was our true friend and conscientious critic; but he was a powerful ally, since he controlled the most influential newspaper in India, and more than any other journalist possessed the confidence and respect of the chief officers of Government.
A six-week visit with the Sinnetts at Simla was a period of many remarkable occurrences. Instances described by Olcott were also recounted by Sinnett in his nonfiction The Occult World first published in 1881. Olcott afforded a candid glimpse of HPB’s “savage temper” during this period.
News from Bombay about the turn the Bates affair was taking threw her into a paroxysm of excitement, and the next morning, as usual, she made me the scapegoat; stamping up and down the room and making it appear that I was the proximate cause of all her trials and tribulations. My notes say that Sinnett privately expressed to me his feeling of despair to see that she would not control herself, but threw away all her chances to make friends among the class whose goodwill it was most important to secure. The English, he said, always associate true merit with calm self-control.
The Phenomena in Simla included the recurrent “table-rapping and fairy-bell ringing.” There was also “a queer phenomenon for a gentleman visitor: she rubbed off from the chintz cover of the chair in which she was sitting a duplicate of one of the flowers in the pattern. The flower was not a phantasm, like the smile of the Cheshire cat, but a substantial object, as though a piece of the cloth corresponding with the outline of the flower had been removed from the chintz under her hands; the chintz, however, was unmutilated.”
Offering a “narrative exactly as I find it told in my Diary entry . . .,” Olcott provided his eyewitness account of the “much-mooted incident” at a picnic where a needed seventh cup and saucer were dug up from the ground at the spot indicated by HPB; along with his remembrance of what Sinnett called the “brooch incident” in The Occult World, among other unexpected occurrences. When HPB was present at a social event, there would sometimes ensue what Olcott referred to as “this phenomena-hunting business.” There were occasional incidents involving ‘precipitation’ (materialization) such as in June 1882 during a visit to Baroda (Vadodara)—“the flourishing capital of H. H. The Gaikwar” (ruler)—when HPB was with Judge Gadgil and his friend Mr. Kirtane. Instances of these phenomena had also been described in the first volume of Old Diary Leaves (1895), including HPB’s New York precipitations of portraits of ‘the Yogi’ and M. A. Oxon (pen name of William Stainton Moses).
I had been out to see the Gaikwar, and on my return found Kirtane and Gadgil standing at the threshold of H. P. B.’s open door, while she was in the middle of the room with her back towards us. Our two friends told me not to step inside, as Madame B. Was doing a phenomenon and had just turned them out on the verandah where I found them. The next minute she came towards us, and, taking a sheet of paper from the table, told the gentlemen to mark it for identification. Receiving it back, she said: “Now turn me in the direction of his residence.” They did so. She then laid the paper between her palms (held horizontally), remained quiet a moment, then held it towards us and went and sat down. Cries of amazement broke out from the two Durbaris on seeing on the just before clean sheet of paper, a letter addressed to me in the handwriting and bearing the signature of the then British Resident at that Court. It was a most peculiar, small caligraphy, and the signature more like a tiny tangle of twine than a man’s name. They then told me their story. It seems that they were asking H. P. B. to explain the scientific rationale of the process of precipitating upon paper, cloth, or any other surface, a picture or writing, then invisible to the onlooker, and without the help of ink, paints, pencils, or other mechanical agents.
They urgently begged her to do the thing for them. “Well, then,” she finally said, “tell me the name of some man or woman most unfriendly to the Theosophical Society, one whom neither Olcott nor I could have ever known.” At once, they mentioned Mr. . . . the British Resident, who held us and our Society in especial hatred, who never missed the chance of saying unkind things of us, and who had prevented the Gaikwar from inviting H. P. B. and myself to his enthronement, as he had otherwise intended, on the suggestion of Judge Gadgil.
I thought they would explode with laughter when they read the contents of the note. It was addressed to “My dear Colonel Olcott,” begged my pardon for the malicious things he had said against us, asked me to enter him as a subscriber to our “world renowned magazine, the Theosophist,” and said he wished to become a member of the Theosophical Society: it was signed “Yours sincerely” and with his name.
On the previous occasion of the aforementioned picnic, Olcott had observed the “wonder” of a gentleman’s precipitated Theosophical Society diploma of membership along with an official letter “signed ‘Faithfully yours . . . (the name in Tibetan characters) for H. S. Olcott, President of the Theosophical Society.'”
Reading the second volume of the six-book history of the Theosophical Society Old Diary Leaves by Henry Steel Olcott, I was reminded that manifestations of so-called ‘paranormal’ or unexplained phenomena are obviously influenced by the beliefs of experiencers; therefore, Madame Blavatsky expressed a different orientation to phenomenal events based upon her knowledge and experiences in comparison, for example, to Sathya Sai Baba or Uri Geller in relation to their rare circumstances.
In Benares, one of Olcott and HPB’s visitors was Mohammed Arif, described as “a very learned person.” Olcott commented about him, “He had an extensive knowledge of the literature of Islam, and showed us a chart he had prepared, on which were inscribed the names of some 1,500 renowned adepts and mystics, from the Prophet down to our times. He had also a practical knowledge of occult chemistry . . . The old gentleman, while paying full reverence to the achievements of modern science, still maintained that there was yet very much to learn from the ancients about the nature of the elements and their potential combinations.”
The final acquaintance named by Olcott in the Second Volume of Old Diary Leaves was —
The Hon. Mr. Carmichael, a Secretary to Government, did a plucky thing in having us to dinner to meet his chief colleagues, on top of a wicked paragraph in the leading Madras paper which insinuated that we were secret political agents: this was intended and declared as his personal protest against the injustice.
Previous blog post: “Three Accounts of ‘Precipitated’ Portraits (from Old Diary Leaves)”
Posted 12th February by Mark Russell Bell
Thanks to Wikipedia and Mark Russel Bell for the compacted History lesson and great pictures.
I would like to move into the Theosophical Societies various Metaphysical concepts.