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 Olcott.
Helen Petrovna Hahn [ 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.] (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” [We quote from her sister, Mme. Vera de Jelihovsky, whose evidence is given in A. P. Sinnett’s lncidents.] (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 viaChina, 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 “phenomena.”
On 11th November, 1870, her aunt Mme. Nadejka Fadéef 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 Societé Spiritewhich 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 Army.
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. [“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 quite different.] He was made, however, first President of the Theosophical Society (the “T. S.”), founded in New York, 17th November, 1875,[ Col. Olcott describes its beginning and history from 1875 to 1878 in Old Diary Leave, 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 preparation.] 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 amediator (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 scandaleuseof 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 details.
Miss Mabel Collins, however, sometime co-editress with H. P. B. of the Theosophical periodicalLucifer, 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, [Mr. Maskelyne says she turned the scale at seventeen stone.] 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 know not.”
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 from her own Autobiography. [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.]
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” (p. 24).
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. [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 (pp. 122-125).] 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 “b.asphemous 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 violence.
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 Autobiographyis 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 philanthropy.
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 howof much, the whyof nothing. Experience and intuition alone suffice, and these are hers. “I know, by personal experiment, that the So ul 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 dogma.
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 practised 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 and ‘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 mankind.
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, wrote:
“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. edition, 1890).
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, non-dogmatic. 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 present.
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-veiled.”
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 Ting<->ley, 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 elected.
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.