Theosophy: Origin of the New Age Part I, by C.C. Martindale, S.J.
Theosophy: Origin of the New Age
C.C. Martindale, S.J.
THE FOUNDERS OF MODERN THEOSOPHY
THOUGH both the word Theosophy and, in a sense, the thing, are (as
modern Theosophists are the first to assert, and as we shall see
below) far older than the movement which officially began on 17th
November, 1875, what is popularly known among us as Theosophy can
never be dissociated from the names of Mme. Blavatsky, of Mrs. Annie
Besant, and, in a secondary measure, from that of Col. Henry Streete
Helen Petrovna Hahn (1831-1891) was born in South Russia of a noble
Mecklenburg family which had settled there. She lived in an
atmosphere of legend and popular fancy, and was surrounded, being
born in the night from the 30th to the 31st of July (the seventh
month of the year), with an elaborate and mystic ritual. She was,
owing to the date of her birth, not only exempt from the power of the
household goblin Domovoy, but was enabled to bring preternatural
powers to bear upon those less privileged who offended her, and often
did so to their disaster.
She was a somnambulist and very psychic. She was supposed to be
possessed, and was "drenched in enough holy water to have floated a
ship" (p. 25), and was exorcised. However, she still spent hours
and days whispering in dark corners "marvellous tales of travel" and
the like, to companions visible only to herself. The "enormous
library" of the country-house where she lived failed to satisfy her
omnivorous curiosity (p. 33); and she was passionately interested in
the extraordinary museum of natural history there preserved (p. 35).
She haunted the "catacombs" of its cellars, and its midnight park.
Miracles of all sorts attended her childhood; she was clairvoyant and
clairaudient (p. 46).
Her governess rashly defied this erratic and unmanageable maiden to
find a man who would accept her as bride; "even," she said, "old
General Blavatsky would decline you" (p. 54). Piqued in her pride and
passion, Helen married him in 1848. Immediately upon discovering the
meaning of marriage, she fled Egypt, and initiated a series of
journeys of which the dates are disputed.
In the August of 1851 her diary says she was in London, and there,
during a moonlight ramble by the Serpentine, "I met the Master of my
dreams." She proceeds to South America, then to India by way Pacific.
After visiting England via China, Japan, and America about 1853, she
returns to America, and is back in England again in 1855 or 1856.
Again she seeks India, passing through Egypt, and makes a third
unsuccessful effort to enter Tibet. She reappears in Russia in 1858-
59; is in Tiflis from 1861-63; and reaches Tibet at last, through
Egypt and Persia, in 1864. There she witnesses astounding
On 11th November, 1870, her aunt Mme. Nadejka Fadeef receives
"phenomenally" a letter from Tibet, by the hand of "a messenger with
an Asiatic face who vanished before my eyes," reassuring her as to
her niece's safety (H. P. B. and the Masters, pp. 8, 9).
In 1871 she is in Egypt, and founds a Societe Spirite which ends in
fraud and disaster. She makes about this time the acquaintance of the
Coulombs, who succour her, but afterwards, for reasons variously
given, will be found fighting against her. She returned to America
and in 1874 met Col. Olcott, who had been an officer in the Northern
At this time, however, he was an ex-medium and a journalist, and was
in fact, examining the spiritist phenomena connected with the
brothers Eddy. He came entirely under her influence, and was
extremely pleased with his connection with her, though she seems to
have had a poor enough opinion of him. He was made, however, first
President of the Theosophical Society (the "T. S."), founded in New
York, 17th November, 1875, and certainly displayed extraordinary
talents for organization and for popular propaganda.
The infant Society, however, was soon all but wrecked, for though it
existed professedly to combat spiritualism equally with materialism,
and to propagate belief in the existence of certain Eastern sages and
their lore, it made use of not a few of the methods of spiritualism,
and Mme. Blavatsky was constantly accompanied by a perfect fusillade
of rappings, and by other phenomena. She insisted, however, that she
was no medium, but a mediator (i.e., between the sages and
ordinary men). Soon after this H. S. O. and H. P. B. (as it is the
curious but convenient custom of Theosophists to designate their
founders) went to Bombay, where they met once more the Coulombs, and
where the conversion of Mr. A. P. Sinnett took place.
The stormy incidents of 1884-85, owing to the detection, as it was
generally held, of H. P. B. in the wholesale "faking" of phenomena,
were, as was quite admitted, a "tremendous blow."
H. P. B. retired into temporary privacy in Europe, and actually
refused to return to India if she were not allowed to prosecute the
"dastard insinuation" of Mr. Hodgson, the representative in India of
the Society of Psychical Research, that she was a Russian spy. This,
however, her advisers forbade her to do.
She wrote, none the less, from Switzerland, approving of the assertion
that "the T. S., minus Masters, is an absurdity"; and that "I am the
only means of communication with the Masters, and for giving out
their philosophy-the Society, unless I continue to work for it as in
the past, is a dead thing." She did, in fact, remain "the heart and
soul of the Society" till her death, which took place in London on
8th May, 1891. This date, known to her followers as White Lotus Day,
is observed by social and artistic celebrations.
This extraordinary woman, whose magnificent, scarred, and scowling
features have become famous in three continents, was possessed of
startling talents, unlimited audacity, and of that personal magnetism
so noticeable in all leaders of men. Her principal books, The Secret
Doctrine, The Key to Theosophy, and Isis Unveiled, her lesser
works, and her many articles in accredited magazines (published under
the title A Modern Panarion), carried her influence even where her
restless personal activity never reached. Her information was
encyclopedic, but altogether confused, always inaccurate, often
entirely misleading, and wholly at the mercy of her riotous
imagination and unscrupulous methods.
The chronique scandaleuse of the early history of the Theosophical
Society is in part to be found in Mr. Maskelyne's Fraud of Theosophy
Exposed. It is of no interest to us to enter into these sordid
Miss Mabel Collins, however, sometime co-editress with H. P. B. of the
Theosophical periodical Lucifer, has bequeathed to us a unique pen-
portrait of her associate. We quote from Mr. Maskelyne's book, p. 62:
"She (H. P. B.) taught me one great lesson. I learned from her how
foolish, how 'gullible,' how easily flattered human beings are, taken
en masse. Her contempt for her kind was on the same gigantic scale
as everything else about her, except her marvellously delicate taper
fingers. She had a greater power over the weak and credulous, a
greater capacity for making black appear white, a larger waist, a
more voracious appetite, a more confirmed passion for tobacco, a more
ceaseless and insatiable hatred of those whom she thought to be her
enemies, a greater disrespect for les convenances, a worse temper, a
greater command of bad language and a greater contempt for the
intelligence of her fellow-beings than I had ever supposed possible to
be contained in one person. These, I suppose, must be reckoned as her
vices, though whether a creature so indifferent to all ordinary
standards of right and wrong can be held to have virtues or vices I
Col. Olcott, especially after H. P. B.'s circumstantial stories began
to be refuted (and her romances about Tibet and the charms of Lh'asa
have been dissipated, not only by the reports of the explorer, Mr.
Rockhill, but by the observation of our own soldiery), perceived her
to be a "dual personality," at one moment "fibbing Russian woman," at
another, inspired. But many mediums seem to oscillate between obvious
fraud and the inexplicable.
Mrs. Annie Besant
The following outline of Mrs. Besant's career is drawn front her own
Annie Wood was born in London on 1st October, 1847 though "three-
quarters of my blood and all my heart are Irish .... The Irish tongue
is musical to my ear, and the Irish nature dear to my heart" (pp. 13,
14). Her father, indeed, was the son of a Devonshire man who had
married an Irish girl, and her mother's descent was pure Irish.
Mr. Wood was a scholar and a philosopher, and "deeply and steadily
sceptical." He indulged in "light, playful mockery of the tenets of
the Christian faith"; he "partly rationalized" his wife's "dainty and
well-bred piety," till, abandoning such views as "eternal punishment,
the vicarious atonement, the infallibility of the Bible, the equality
of the Son with the Father," etc., she found peace in the mental
atmosphere of "Jowett, Colenso and Stanley."
Mr. Wood's mother and sister were "strict Roman Catholics," but the
priest whom they "forced" into his sick-room was "promptly ejected by
the wrath of the dying man, and by the almost fierce resolve of his
wife that no messenger of the creed he detested should trouble her
darling at the last" (pp. 22, 23).
His daughter, however, took her "religion strenuously"; she was the
"stuff of which fanatics are made"; was always "too religious." She
nearly became a Catholic (p. 24), had visions and dreams, and
associated with angels, fairies, and dragons. She was often in fancy
martyred, by Roman judge and Dominican inquisitor, on the rack and at
the stake. Devoted to Paradise Lost, she always hoped that Jesus, her
"ideal Prince," would somehow save the "beautiful shadowed Archangel"
Meanwhile Miss Marryat, sister of the novelist, imparted to her a wise
and practical education, and took her to Germany and France, but
failed to check her increasing tendency to mysticism and ritual. She
pores over the Fathers, studies Keble, Liddon, and Pusey, fasts and
scourges herself (p. 57). The Crucifix claims her ecstatic love. In
the Holy Week of 1866 she writes out, in parallel columns, the Gospel
accounts of the Passion, hoping thus to serve her piety. Their
"discrepancies" chill her with a first doubt (p. 61). She stifles it.
But she has seen her ghost. She will never be the same again.
In 1867, ignorant of the nature of matrimony, and unskilled in money
matters or domestic life, she "drifts" (p. 70) into engagement and
marriage with the Rev. F. Besant, adored as a "priest," but never
loved as husband. This clergyman, precise, methodical, authoritative,
and easily angered, demanded a submission impossible to a girl
"impulsive, very hot-tempered, and proud as Lucifer." Incredulous
wonder, then indignant tears, ended in "a proud, defiant resistance,
cold and hard as iron" (p. 81).
She tried to kill thought and to vary the unromantic duties of a home
by writing; she fell ill; she brooded over the cruel and inexplicable
suffering of her children, and passed thus into a struggle of three
years and two months "which transformed me from a Christian into an
Atheist" (p. 88). Her religious doubts increased; she contemplated
suicide. She resolved "to take Christianity as it had been taught in
the churches, and carefully and thoroughly examine its dogmas one by
one, so that I should never again say 'I believe' where I had not
proved" (p. 99).
She read widely, and always on "liberal" lines: Voysey welcomed her;
Pusey repelled her; Thomas Scott, whose house was "a veritable
heretical salon" (p. 113), accepted anonymous essays from her pen.
She abandoned belief in Christ's Divinity, and, with it,
Communion. In 1873 she left her husband; legal separation was to
follow (p. 118).
She now earned a miserable pittance as cook, governess, and nurse. She
studied at the British Museum and wrote heterodox pamphlets for
Thomas Scott; she faced semi- starvation with characteristic pluck.
After facing the question: Is Christ God? and answering it, No, she
faced the ultimate problem: Does God exist? She had abandoned prayer
as a "blasphemous absurdity," and "God fades out of the daily life of
those who never pray" (p. 133).
At this crisis she happened on a copy of the National Reformer. She
inquired through it the conditions of admission to the National
Secular Society, and was told that "we can see no logical resting-
place between the entire acceptance of authority, as in the Roman
Catholic Church, and the most extreme Rationalism." She need not
profess herself an Atheist, but must accept the principles of the
Society. She sent in her name as an active worker. It was Charles
Bradlaugh who gave her her certificate.
In the Autobiography there follows a chapter on "Atheism as I knew
and taught it" (pp. 141-175). Her atheism was "dogmatic" only in so
far as she asserted that there was no God in any of the senses
assigned or assignable to that word by human intelligence, though
underneath the Many she recognized the One.
She had, however, to be rebuked by Bradlaugh for writing "There is no
God"; and was made to alter this. Further, her "passionate desire for
the betterment of the world, the elevation of humanity" (p. 153), led
her earnestly to seek a new basis for morality, since she considered
herself to have destroyed what she supposed the only ethical
foundation hitherto, revelation and intuition. Her new basis was
Utility (p. 154).
She discarded the Man of Sorrows, "with weary eyes gazing up to heaven
because despairing of earth," for the "fair ideal Humanity of the
Atheist . . . perfect in physical development as the Hercules of
Grecian art . . . the free man who knows no lord . . . who relies on
his own strength" (p. 158). "Virtue is its own reward" (p. 160); and
faith in Evolution shows her the "sources of evil and the method of
its extinction" (p. 164). Strong in this "creed" and the ethical
programme consequent upon it, she lives "from 1874 to 1886, and with
some misgivings to 1889" (p. 169).
Meanwhile she lectures and writes on social, political, and
freethought topics with indescribable vivacity, with a total neglect
of health, comfort, and reputation, and with that personal
communication which won for her enthusiastic devotion when it did not
provoke abuse, slander, persecution, and even assault and physical
In 1877 Dr. Charles Knowlton's pamphlet, advocating the artificial
limitation of families, brought about the prosecution of Bradlaugh
and Mrs. Besant, who published the pamphlet as a sort of test case to
see whether the "population question" could be freely discussed in
England. This roused a storm of obloquy, and Mrs. Besant was legally
deprived of the custody of her daughter as she already had been of
that of her little son. The New Malthusianism which Mrs. Besant at
this period did so much to propagate, she abandoned in 1891 (p. 237),
when Theosophy had untaught her the materialism on which alone she
saw that that practice and theory could be founded.
Chapter X of the Autobiography is well entitled "At War All Round."
"Christianity had robbed me of my child and I struck mercilessly at
it in return" (p. 245). She was constantly in the law courts, or in
violent conflict with distinguished persons on every conceivable
subject. In 1884 she turned her attention to Socialism (p. 299), met
Hyndman and Shaw, and joined the Fabians. But the Socialists were
bitterly opposed to Bradlaugh; she now hampered, not helped, his
political career, and had to resign the co- editorship of the
National Reformer, breaking thus a close association of thirteen
years (p. 321). But from this "turmoil and stress" dawned a fairer
vision, a "New Brotherhood," a Church, to be founded largely with the
cooperation of Mr. Stead. She flung herself into organized
But ever "since 1886 there had been slowly growing up a conviction
that my philosophy was not sufficient; that life and mind were other
than, more than, I had dreamed" (p. 339). Psychology, hypnotism,
"fact after fact came hurtling in." "Into the darkness shot a ray of
light"-A. P. Sinnett's Occult World.
She takes to Spiritualism finds its phenomena "indubitable" and
"real," but the "spiritualistic explanation of them was incredible"
(ibid.). One evening a "voice that was later to become to me the
holiest sound on earth," bids her take courage: light is near. A
fortnight passes, and Mr. Stead offers to her two large volumes to
review. They are H. P. B.'s Secret Doctrine. A miracle of
conversion occurs. She is introduced to H. P. B., is fascinated,
struggles against the fascination, yields, and on 10th May, 1889, is
admitted as a Fellow of the Theosophical Society (p. 344).
She sees that Science answers the how of much, the why of nothing.
Experience and intuition alone suffice, and these are hers. "I know,
by personal experiment, that the Soul exists . . . that it can leave
the body at will. . .that the great sages spoken of by H. P.
Blavatsky exist, that they wield powers and possess knowledge before
which our control of Nature . . . is as child's play" (p. 346). Her
secularist friends-Bradlaugh soberly, Foote with virulence-denounce
her; but the new period of storm is quickly over.
She lived thereafter in "Theosophic peace," having her headquarters at
Benares. Inevitably, she was involved in the dissensions briefly
alluded to below, with special crises like the Leadbeater one, with
Indian politics of a very ill-judged sort, and for some time lived in
great isolation and eclipse which, visitors have assured me, were very
bitter to her restless temperament despite the interior calm she
sought to cultivate.
She returned more than once to England and lectured to crowded
audiences with astonishing vivacity. But she had nothing new to
contribute, and died on 20th September, 1933. It is improbable that
details of the profound desolation of her last days will be made
public. Her death leaves the movement for which she did so much to
stand or fall by its intrinsic merits.
The Theosophical Society
The Theosophical Society was founded in New York on 17th November,
1875, by Col. Olcott and Mme. Blavatsky. This was immediately due to
the promises of a Mr. Felt that he would impart to the associates
instruction "concerning those secret laws of Nature which were so
familiar to the Chaldeans and Egyptians, but are totally unknown by
our modern world of science."
Mr. Felt failed, however, to redeem his pledge, and the Society did
little, in its corporate capacity, to realize its then highly
complicated programme. In 1878 it was to be amalgamated with an
Indian society; this failed also; but the founders migrated to India
and there remodelled the Society. Its objects were:
(i) To form the nucleus of a Universal Brotherhood of Humanity,
without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or colour.
(ii) To promote the study of Aryan and other Eastern literatures,
religions, and sciences.
(iii) To investigate unexplained laws of Nature and the psychical
powers of man.
It is unnecessary to give many details about the history of the T. S.,
partly because it has been so stormy and self-contradictory, and also
because a kind of law governing the quarrels, at least after a time,
can be discerned, and is indeed indicated by Mr. A. B. Kuhn in his
Theosophy, especially from p. 301 onwards. Not unnaturally, troubles
grew worse almost as soon as Mrs. Besant appeared (1888), and it was
indeed unlikely that two such forceful women as she and H. P. B.
could well cooperate.
In that year the T. S. was reorganised by a General Convention in
India as a constitutional federation of autonomous groups under a
head (H. P. B. was still president). But crises and storms occurred
"every few years" (Kuhn); the American groups gravitated towards the
ethical aspect of Theosophy, the European and Asiatic ones towards
comparative religion and psychism. In 1891 H. P. B. died, and
forthwith two divergent currents defined themselves.
The struggle has been compared with that between State and Church.
Col. Olcott (with Mr. Sinnett) went in the rationalising direction;
they wished Theosophy to be exoteric, respectable, disinterested in
Mahatmas, refusing to "worship" H. P. B. or to accept her words as
Mrs. Besant, at first in the company of Dr. W. Quan Judge, remained
authoritative, esoteric, Mahatmic. Col. Olcott in his Old Diary
Leaves, offers a "true history" of the T. S., and narrates under the
date 1892 the story of his own resignation, and speaks of the
"treacherous policy" and "lack of principle" of Mr. Judge, who is said
to have laboured to evict him, and to have forged numerous letters
from Mahatmas: H. S. O. adds, alluding to one of Judge's accusations:
"Without making any pretensions to exceptional goodness, I certainly
never did anything to warrant him in making, in a forged letter, my
own teacher and adored Guru seem to say that if Mrs. Besant should
carry out her intention of visiting India, she might run the risk of
my poisoning her." But Mrs. Besant separated from Judge in 1893, and
commented freely on the provenance of Judge's Mahatma letters. He
therefore issued a manifesto declaring her headship to be at an end,
for three reasons:
"1. Mrs. Besant has practiced witchcraft and tried her weird spells,
her 'psychic experiments' (on Mr. Judge and others).
"2. Mrs. Besant has pronounced one of the letters of the Mahatma,
which was precipitated in an orthodox manner and passed on to Mr.
Sinnett, 'a fraud by H. P. B. herself, made up entirely, and not from
the Master.' If that letter be a fraud, then all the rest sent
through our old teacher are the same.
"3. Mrs. Besant, in league with a Hindu named Chakravarti and others,
has quite flooded the Society with documents from phantasmal Mahatmas
end 'black magicians.' They had all sorts of letters sent me from
India, with pretended messages from the Master. The plot exists among
the black magicians, who ever war against the white."
Mr. Chakravarti had in fact been reducing H. P. B.'s influence (and
Mr. Judge's) upon A. B., by seeking to Brahmanise Theosophy,
especially by insisting on the acceptance of the Brahmanic ideal of
"Bliss" the moment it was attainable, whereas H. P. B. had leaned
towards the Buddhist "renunciation" of bliss in favour of working for
America backed Judge; Europe and India condemned Olcott. Thereupon the
whole topic of Mahatmas, so fiercely insisted on at first as a matter
verifiable and indeed verified by experience, became reduced to a
matter of pure faith. Judge, The Theosophical Movement, p. 479,
"Letters from Mahatmas prove nothing at all except to the recipient,
and then only when in his inner nature is the standard of proof and
the power of judgment. Precipitation does not prove Mahatmas. By
following the course prescribed in all ages the inner faculties may
be awakened so as to furnish the true confirmatory evidence." [The
upshot was, less and less insistence on 'occult' phenomena.] "Occult
phenomena, genuine or false, mediumistic or adept, form no part of
the legitimate pursuit of the T. S.... (they) cannot be proved as
physical phenomena can. Mahatmas, their existence, position, and
teaching, become entirely an affair of faith" (Kuhn, p. 316).
It may be worth pausing here to observe that Theosophy, unlike the
Christian religion, never was clear whether or not it had a
"deposit," an unchangeable core or nucleus of authoritatively
revealed truth. Judge considered that it had-a "deposit" given by the
Masters to H. P. B. and transmitted by her intact to posterity. But H.
P. B. herself wavered in this, as she did in everything else,
according to her mood. "The members of the T. S. at large are free to
profess whatever religion or philosophy they like-or none, if they so
prefer-provided they are in sympathy, etc. The Society is a
philanthropical and scientific body for the propagation of the idea
of brotherhood on practical instead of theoretical lines....
Theosophist is who Theosophist does" (Key, p. 20; 2nd T. P. S.
Similarly, morals were entirely the individual member's affair. To
become a member of the T. S. all one had to do was to give in one's
name, Mrs. Besant declaring that the first of its three objects (see
above) alone was obligatory, though emphasis was laid on study as
likely to promote that toleration which is the necessary preliminary
to brotherly love.
Mr. Kuhn says that in America the stock, so to say, of H. P. B. is
rising once more, though her doctrine is being constantly "revised."
Her works are taken down from library shelves and thumbed. But he
himself is most emphatic (p. 341) to the effect that Theosophists are
fluid, questers, nondogmatic. They have to be channels for high ideals
pictured in ancient wisdom, for a cosmic consciousness. And this
indeed is markedly the tendency on our side of the Atlantic, though
this does not imply that those who now fight shy of "phenomena"
dislike the "occult," as we shall say below.
A direct consequence, however, of this "fluidity" of mind is the taboo
upon one doctrine only-that any existing or possible institution is
in possession of Truth in a manner even relatively exclusive or
complete. Members must be prepared to gain new truths or revise their
old beliefs no matter whence the new illumination may arrive.
Hence, every form of Christianity can find a home within Theosophism,
save the Catholic Church, which certainly regards itself as in
possession of a unique and final revelation. It also regards any of
the truths attained to by Theosophists or anyone else, as
fragmentary, accidental, unguaranteed, and usually (in the case of
Theosophy) very badly stated.
The Church considers that special revelations granted even to her own
members must be tested by her authoritative creed, and can in no case
be more than a fuller appreciation of that creed. This is responsible
for the extreme acerbity with which Theosophists constantly allude to
the Catholic religion, save when they are interpreting it in an
"occult" way, and in fact caricaturing it.
Theosophists, then, hold either that a "deposit" was, in some sense,
revealed anew through Masters, or a Master, to H. P. B. (which
Catholics would deny), and that at most this has become clearer and
has been better understood as time goes on: or, that she had her
limited understanding of ancient and universal wisdom, told what she
could of it to the world, a world within which are certain people
who, whether or no Masters exist, are or become able to achieve a
deeper insight into reality than others can win, at any rate at
Historically, however, Theosophy has obtained its notoriety or indeed
even a minimum of attention because of its special claims, and its
offer of an esoteric lore. No Society could repose on so wholly fluid
a base as a membership of all who in any way seek truth. Nor has the
T. S. ever reposed, we repeat, on anything of the sort. Mrs. Besant,
indeed, had to distinguish very carefully between the "neutrality" of
the T. S. as such and the legitimate occupations of its members, like
herself, who was never "neutral" in regard of anything whatsoever.
When she and others encouraged the Indians or Ceylonese to make the
most of their own religions, they knew perfectly well that they were
thus embarking on political enterprises and creating nothing but
turmoil: moreover, "social" reforms, in India or elsewhere, though
claimed, as by Mrs. Besant, as due to theosophic enterprise in so far
as they had no political basis nor provoked more trouble than they
allayed, were not really due to any such thing; and indeed the
isolation of Mrs. Besant's later life-she had been almost a
pilgrimage-centre-was a tragedy due to that fact. When Theosophists
cease to render their lectures attractive to the ill-balanced by
their lure of occult knowledge, they will find that the residue
creates no interest: and why should it? It has been said better, and
with better reason, by almost anyone else.
To resume, Mr. Maskelyne quoted Mr. Judge, after H. P. B.'s death,
when the storm broke, in the Westminster Gazette: in 1894 Mr. E.
Garrett revived the whole affair there in his "Isis very much Un-
Mrs. Besant was "dismissed" but refused to go, saying that H. P. B.
had appointed her "successor." In 1895 the U.S.A. section practically
seceded, and in the next year Mr. Judge died, calm and not without
dignity, whereupon innumerable schisms began to occur. A Mrs.
Katherine Tingley, of California, wanted a "Universal Brotherhood"
which created more splits than anything else did. She eliminated in
1898 both the parent and about 90 per cent. of the membership of the
T. S. from her reckonings, and considered herself third in succession
from H. P. B., Judge being the second.
Theosophy had had no small success in Australia. A Mr. Leadbeater
(died 1st March, 1934), "esoteric" and pretentious, with no claim to
be attended to at all, none the less was responsible for great
upheavals. Older theosophists called his clients neo-theosophists,
perverting H. P. B. In 1906 a crash came. Mr. Leadbeater was teaching
young boys practices proper, it was said, to Hindu temples. Mrs.
Besant, horrified, rejected him and then revised her horror. The
storm passed but blew up again in 1922.
He then explained that relief from the sexual urge was justifiable,
lest these youths, who would soon enough grow out of their own karma
(see p. 29) should, by suppressing it, entangle other people in it.
In 1907 Col. Olcott died, miraculously visited by Mahatmas on his
death-bed. He appointed A. B. as his successor, and she was forthwith
In 1909, an unfortunate episode was begun. An Order of the "Star in
the East" was inaugurated because it had been decided that the World-
Teacher, the Lord Matreya, was incarnate in the person of Jiddu
Krishnamurti, who was, after a while, to go to Oxford and then
transform the world. He was, moreover, to come walking over the waters
between the Heads into Sydney, and an enormous "theatre" was built
overlooking the harbour.
I gather that this was afterwards let out to various entertainments. I
remember seeing it from an aeroplane. In 1929 this young man, far
from devoid of modesty and good sense, revolted, abandoned his
claims, and dissolved the Order. Mrs. Besant said he was a teacher
"in his own right." Mr. Leadbeater had, however, written a "Lives of
Alcyone" (a name suggestive of his literary level): they were the
last 40 incarnations of Krishnamurti: he also became (to the fury of
many Theosophists) a religioniser of the movement. He started a
Liberal (at first "Old") Catholic Church.
A Mr. Wedgewood was, apparently, consecrated bishop, in Holland, and
then consecrated Mr. Leadbeater, who indeed presented himself at the
Sydney Eucharistic Congress in 1928, and saw (so we were told) auras
round altars and round various people's heads including mine. This
ritualisation of Theosophy followed upon the attempt in 1914 of Miss
M. Russak to evolve a ritual based on the "magnetic purity" of
objects: she started the Temple of the Rosy Cross which collapsed, no
explanation being given, after three years. This ritualising,
religionising, of Theosophy has not won approval.
It is not possible to give accurate statistics of the T. S. or of its
rivals. The "Golden Book" carries its history up to 1925, and a
further volume is being prepared; and a curious collection of
documents can be read in The Theosophic Society, published in 1925,
containing reprints from H. S. O., A. B., and Mr. C. Jinarajadasa, who
provides also a letter from Maha-Chohan, the great Adept, "to whose
insight the future lies like an open page." Written between 1881 and
1888, in poor English and more definitely anti- Christian than usual,
it contains nothing new and merely promises that evidence will be
given later on that the Theosophist doctrine is "the only right one."
The actual address of the London H.Q. is 50 Gloucester Place, W. 1,
where we were kindly received.
1. The most recent summary of her life is in A. B. Kuhn's Theosophy,
New York, 1930, c. 3 and following. It will probably be impossible
ever to write a proper history of her first 42 years: she is already
lapsing into myth.
2. We quote from her sister, Mme. Vera de Jelihovsky, whose evidence is
given in A. P. Sinnett's Incidents.
3. "Psychologized baby," she calls him; cf. Proceedings of the Society
for Psychical Research, ix., London, 1885, p. 331. His writings are
always, certainly, very funny, the more so because their quaintnesses
are unconscious. He and he alone supplies a note of humour to
theosophic pages. Mme. Blavatsky's uproarious sense of the comic was
4. Col. Olcott describes its beginning and history from 1875 to 1878 in
Old Diary Leaves, and in three more series bearing the same title,
to 1883, 1887, and 1892 respectively. All these are published by the
Theosophical Publishing Society, and another volume is, we believe, in
5. Mr. Maskelyne says she turned the scale at seventeen stone.
6. Fisher Unwin, pp. 368, 1893. Her Autobiographical Sketches,
Freethought Publishing Company, pp. 169, 1885, carry her story no
further than 1879, the year of the Knowlton pamphlet prosecution.
7. But when her mother lay dying, she refused to receive Communion,
however necessary to salvation, unless Annie took it with her. "I
would sooner be lost with darling Annie than saved without her." Her
daughter explained the case fully to Dean Stanley, who made no
difficulty about administering Communion to mother and daughter alike
This essay was published by the London-based Catholic Truth Society as
part of its "Studies in Comparative Religion" series. The second part
of the essay will be published in the next issue of "This Rock."
This article was taken from the February 1996 issue of "This Rock,"
published by Catholic Answers, P.O. Box 17490, San Diego, CA 92177,
(619) 541-1131, $24.00 per year.
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