Theosophical University Press Online

H.P.B. and the Esoteric Section

By Grace F. Knoche

The Theosophical Forum, December 1947, pp. 706-17

IN VIEW of the wide divergency of views held by H.P.B. and Colonel Olcott regarding the advisability of forming an Esoteric Section for the training and discipline of Theosophists, the following documentary record derived from the private and public Archives of the Theosophical Society may prove clarifying, not only from the standpoint of historic origins, but likewise in placing the Esoteric School in the mind of both layman and student where it rightfully belongs: as the solid core and heart of the T.S.

In the first place, the idea of esoteric or occult training is no new thing in Theosophic history. As far back as 1875, when the Society was first formed, certain students received particular note and training — not because of favoritism, but because of potential or actual worth for Masters' Cause.

Even a year after its founding, the Society itself became for a time a "semi-private body," with secret signs and passwords; but this proved untenable. In 1879, after H.P.B. and Colonel Olcott had removed to India, the T.S. announced in its "Rules" for that year, three degrees, ranging from the Probationer or F.T.S., through the pledged aspirant, to high chelas or "initiates in Esoteric Science and Philosophy, who take a deep interest in the Society's affairs and instruct the President-Founder how best to regulate them."1

1. See THE THEOSOPHICAL FORUM, October, 1947, "Our Directives" footnote 4, p. 585, where full text of the "Three Sections" is reproduced from the 1879 "Rules of the Society."

In 1881, explanation of the two higher degrees was withdrawn from the Society's annual "Rules and By-laws"; while in 1886 the officials announced " 'a distinct private division of the Society under the direction of the Corresponding Secretary' — H.P.B."2

2. Ibid.

It was not until 1888, in the fourteenth year of the Society's existence, that the Esoteric School as such was successfully launched on a solid foundation with definite instructions for intellectual and moral discipline, and an equal opportunity given to all who might seek with sincerity of purpose.

It was inevitable that with the growth of the T.S. and the release of spiritual force engendered by its birth, the powers of darkness would work with equal assiduity of purpose to establish counter schools of pseudo-occult training. In response to the many inquiries which came in to Mr. Judge regarding this or that 'occult' body in America, he finally consented to publish the following question and answer under the penname "Hadji" in June, 1889:

Is there an Esoteric Section of the Society in America different from that governed by H. P. Blavatsky?

Answer — There is not, and there never was. In the first establishment of the T.S. other degrees than that of a mere diplomaed member were recognized, but no one save H. P. Blavatsky has had the authority to confer those degrees. She has now fully announced the first of those [in 1888], although during all these 14 years they have existed and included certain members who were also fellows of the T.S.

Some misguided persons may have pretended to confer those degrees, but such a thing was improper on their part, and absolutely worthless to the recipient. These real degrees in occultism may not be trifled with, and yet they protect themselves because pretenders and triflers can make neither entry nor progress.

In 1875 H. P. Blavatsky directed a certain fellow of the Society to attend to the needs of all the members of the T.S., who were then called "entered apprentices" by her, and her letter of that date is still extant in which the present Esoteric Section was plainly referred to. — The Path, June, 1889, IV:87-8

What does this point to but a gradual leavening of the Society by the concentrated channeling of occult training of "certain members" prepared to receive. The question may be asked: If the E.S. was and is so essential to the solidity of the T.S., why did Madame Blavatsky wait until 1888 to found this school, when for years there were many who earnestly sought chelaship, and desired (or believed they did) to undertake the supreme trial of self-mastery? The answer of Mr. Judge (Hadji) to this very question is eloquent:

As a matter of fact she [H.P.B.] has not so waited. In 1875 and since many knew of its existence and have been in it, and she has frequently spoken of it; but until now there have not been enough members interested in the realities of theosophy to justify her in a definitive statement and organization. These efforts have to proceed slowly; people must first be waked up and directed towards theosophical doctrines before it is wise to open up that which is plain to those who know how to use their intuition. But the Western mind, for all its boasted progressiveness, is generally unable to know what is behind a wall unless a hole is cut through it: others, however, can guess what is hidden when they perceive signs and sounds that are quite plain and made on purpose.

But for the first 14 years of a theosophical effort — periodically made in every century — the work of such persons as H. P. Blavatsky is always directed to preparing the ground, and then more open invitation is extended. It is so done in the last 25 years of each century. — The Path, June, 1889, IV: 88

The "ground" had been repeatedly turned over. Especially so in the early eighties when H.P.B. had hoped so fervently that Subba Row would be her right hand in esoteric as well as editorial matters. The Secret Doctrine begun in India with his invaluable aid had now to be continued by H.P.B. alone in Europe; but the history of Subba Row's disinclination and ultimate refusal to countenance the unveiling (even with Master's order) of his treasured "Brahmanical secrets" to an unwashed public need not concern us here, except to state that thus another effort in 1883-4 at establishing the esoteric work on firm ground had failed.

The next two years found H.P.B. in Europe, a slave to her Secret Doctrine, ill, alone, almost without funds, yet constant at her desk. In August, 1885, from Wrzburg, Germany, she writes to Mr. Sinnett: "Let me hide in unknown places and write, write, write, and teach whoever wants to learn. Since Master forced me to live, let me live and die now in relative peace."3

3. The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett, p. 112

Shortly thereafter Countess Constance Wachtmeister arrived at Wrzburg to become friend, helper, devoted companion, except for brief intervals when she returned to her home in Sweden. No chance happening, but part of Master's plan, for the Countess saw H.P.B. through one of the most troublous and difficult periods of her Theosophical career.

The insistent urge to "teach whoever wants to learn" never left H.P.B., no matter how terrible her suffering in body, mind and heart; and her sufferings were dreadful, sufficient to have overwhelmed the whole body of Theosophists put together. In the Spring of 1887, after two years of serious conditions of health and cruel mental torture inflicted by her enemies, H.P.B. fell dangerously ill, sinking into unconsciousness so that the physicians at Ostend gave her up. However, H.P.B. had not yet done her main work: she had not yet established her Esoteric School, and suddenly waking, she cried: "Countess, come here. . . . Master has been here; He gave me my choice, that I might die and be free if I would, or I might live and finish The Secret Doctrine. He told me how great would be my sufferings and what a terrible time I would have before me in England (for I am to go there); but when I thought of those students to whom I shall be permitted to teach a few things, and of the Theosophical Society in general, to which I have already given my heart's blood, I accepted the sacrifice"4

4. Reminiscences of H. P. Blavatsky and "The Secret Doctrine," by The Countess Constance Wachtmeister, F.T.S. and Others, p. 75.

It was not long after this that H.P.B. accepted the kind invitation of friends and supporters in England to come to London, where a temporary Headquarters of the Society was established at 17 Lansdowne Road. His sensitive finger constantly on the pulse of the Society, it is not surprising that almost immediately thereafter William Q. Judge should have sent the following important letter to H.P.B.:

New York, May 18, 1887

DEAR H.P.B. Please reply to this. So many people are beginning to ask me to be Chelas that I must do something, so I have drawn up the enclosed paper which you can send me with some formalities on it as you think right to do so — or whatever I ought to have. If you do not think so, then please tell me in what way I had best proceed.

I know a good many good ones who will do well and who will form a rock on which the enemy will founder, and this plan would encourage them. So fiat something. As ever,


The suggested paper enclosed by Judge for H.P.B. to consider reads:

TO WILLIAM Q. JUDGE: — You are directed to draw together all those persons, members of the Theosophical Society in the U.S., who have or express the desire to serve the cause of the Blessed Masters. This you are to do with the understanding in writing in every case that the persons taken are not thereby made Chelas of the Masters, but simply that they are thus given a chance to make a preliminary trial of themselves, and in each case you will take from the applicant an expression in writing, before making your private register of the names, that they well understand the basis on which you thus take them. Nothing is promised; each will have just what he or she deserves — no more, no less. And all must be faithful to the Cause, to Masters, and to the founders of the Theosophical Society.5

5. From a Circular in the private Archives.

H.P.B. wrote Judge to "go ahead without the paper and soon I will do something else."

In the meantime H.P.B. started Lucifer in October, leaving The Theosophist to Colonel Olcott and others to care for. Henceforth Lucifer would be her mouthpiece and she would not hesitate to cast the brilliant and penetrating beams of its Morning and Evening Star in every direction. But, as usual with H.P.B., troubles soon arose, this time with the London Lodge, whose president, A. P. Sinnett, having by this time forfeited further contact with the Masters had begun to lead the members into selfish intellectualism, totally forgetting that the T.S. was not founded "for the upper level of Society" alone, but primarily to establish a working nucleus of those whose hearts were devoted to philanthropy in its purest sense. When Mr. Sinnett refused to heed the warnings of H.P.B., she decided then to form a separate lodge. The majority of London members, faithful to the original tradition, followed H.P.B., and thus the "Blavatsky Lodge"6 came into being. The Letter-books of Judge held in the Archives of the T.S. for this period indicate the close association of thought and spirit between H.P.B. and W.Q.J. America was building up rapidly and solidly. H.P.B. began openly to discuss plans for an "Inner Section" and on receipt of a telegram from Judge appealing to her to "make public the Inner Section," H.P.B. wrote him immediately to come and help her. This he did in 1888, and while in her presence in London he wrote an original draft entitling it "THE COURSE OF INSTRUCTION AND ITS NATURE," which after additions by H.P.B. and two introductory paragraphs became the "PRELIMINARY MEMORANDUM" of the Esoteric School. This original draft, in Judge's handwriting, with H.P.B.'s sometimes lengthy additions in her own beautiful hand pasted in at the appropriate intervals, is carefully preserved in the private Archives.

6. With the publication of The Secret Doctrine in 1888, the "Blavatsky Lodge" soon attracted to its meetings the leading thinkers of the day, the reports being later published as Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge [republished in 1994 by Theosophical University Press as Secret Doctrine Commentary].

Now — where does Olcott come into the picture? Why did he so urgently oppose the formation of an Esoteric School? One has only to read his fourth volume of Old Diary Leaves to understand his extreme reluctance to allow H.P.B. to have a thing to do with the running of any affair that might (even if only in his mind) interfere with his presidential rights. It is not profitable here, however, to go into the complicated historic events that were taking place coincidently in the exoteric society. Sufficient to point out that in the summer of 1888, the Paris branch "Isis" had become guilty of serious occult misdemeanor, its president and certain other officials trading in "love-philters" and other degrading wares with a gullible public. Directed by Master, H.P.B. immediately "dissolved" the branch, chartered a new one, and thus precipitated not only a furore with the ousted Parisian officials but with the President-Founder to whom they appealed, declaring H.P.B.'s act as "unconstitutional." Olcott, highly incensed at what he considered H.P.B.'s rash and overbearing act, immediately hastened to Europe with the earnest hope of "settling" the difficulty by "arbitration." He was too vexed, however, with H.P.B.'s "disposition to break through the 'red tape' of the Society's mild constitution, and to rule or ruin as I might decide to ratify or disavow her arbitrary and utterly unconstitutional acts . . . "7 to heed Master K.H.'s kindly yet not uncertain warning received "one day from Brindisi" on the S.S. Shannon while en route to Europe. The entire letter of the Master8 is well worth reading, though but a short extract can be included here:

I warn you against permitting your suspicions and resentment against "her many follies" [H.P.B.'s] to bias your intuitive loyalty to her. In the adjustment of this European business [the Paris branch], you will have two things to consider — the external and administrative, and the internal and psychical. Keep the former under your control and that of your most prudent associates, jointly; leave the latter to her. You are left to devise the practical details with your usual ingenuity. Only be careful, I say, to discriminate when some emergent interference of hers in practical affairs is referred to you on appeal, between that which is merely exoteric in origin and effects, and that which beginning on the practical tends to beget consequences on the spiritual plane. As to the former you are the best judge, as to the latter, she.

7. Old Diary Leaves, IV:57.
8. As indicated further on, pertinent extracts from this letter were reproduced in Lucifer, October 1888, but the full text did not appear in print until Mr. C. Jinarajadasa issued his Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom. There has been an interesting history attached to this letter, for Olcott in his Diary Leaves (III:91), places its receipt in the year 1884 when there had been troubles with the London Lodge at that period between Mrs. Anna Kingsford and Mr. E. Maitland on the one hand, and Mr. Sinnett and the rest of the members on the other hand. This is an undoubted slip of memory on Olcott's part; but it is important to note for historic accuracy. Mr. Jinarajadasa points out in his explanatory note connected with the complete text of the letter that The Theosophist, Supplement, for September 1888, refers to Colonel Olcott as having "sailed from Bombay for London on P. & O. Steamer Shannon on August 7th, 1888," which in itself would tend to place the letter in its correct chronology, i.e., August, 1888. Further evidence is revealed in the Archives by a handwritten letter of H. P. Blavatsky to the Cleveland Lodge, dated October 25, 1888, which contains this significant paragraph: " . . . a new Section — the Esoteric Section of the T.S. — has just been established and announced in 'Lucifer' No. 14. This gives me work to do more than ever, for I am the sole responsible Head of it, and am independent of the Adyar administration — save the Pres't Founder. Such a Section was clamoured for, for a long time, but Col. Olcott preferred to leave all the Branches exoteric for fear of some new conspiracy against Theosophy and myself. However, while on his way to Europe a day from Brindisi he received a letter from one of the Masters . . . with instructions. Regardless of the sneers and insults from scoffers which were sure to come down on his head, his love of justice forced him to publish those portions of it that concerned me personally and determined my position in the T.S. I enclose it. It was printed in 'Lucifer' in a very fragmentary state."

Poor Olcott, one could hardly blame him, for how many earnest students of the Theosophic path have not failed to "discriminate" between that which is purely exoteric, and that which springs from the Teacher. His deep love for the T.S. and his innate goodness of heart finally won out, and though he had brought about a futile compromise by his "arbitration" in Paris, much against H.P.B.'s direction, Olcott afterwards sought in every way to straighten matters out. H.P.B. was now instructed by Master to form a European or "Western Theosophical Society" with herself in charge. Mr. Judge, therefore, worked hand in hand with her to rally the American lodges in support of her plan, as two years previously the former "American Board of Control" had finally persuaded the President-Founder to grant them full right to form "the American Section of the General Council of the Theosophical Society" as an independent autonomous unit.9

9. The following extract from a letter of Mr. Judge to Mrs. Julia Levering of Minneapolis, Minn., is included here for historic purposes. It is dated September 26, 1888, the day before the European Convention at which H.P.B. was to be chosen head West of India: " . . . the President-Founder was given full powers to arrange the proposed Western Section desired by Madame and by the apparent interests of the West. It is understood that in this, as in the original establishment of the Theosophical Society, Madame Blavatsky has the counsel and promptings of her revered Superiors. It may re-assure you to know, as I am told in one of the letters from her, that Col. Olcott, while at sea and one day from Brindisi, received a written communication from the Mahatma Koot Humi (the same who imparted to Mr. Sinnett so much of the information contained in 'Esoteric Buddhism') favoring him with suggestions for use in, but not before, the Convention called to meet in London on September 27th. As both of our honored Founders, as well as the members of the Convention, cherish due reverence for guidance coming from such a source, I think we may all regard the outcome of the Convention as expressing — certainly to some extent — the design and convictions of Those who are behind the Society and its exoteric Heads." — From Letter-book of W. Q. Judge, II:322-3

Judge's Letter-book No. II, covering the period of March 1888 to June 1889 not only makes fascinating reading, but is historic proof of Judge's esoteric worth. Despite his repeated differences of viewpoint regarding organizational procedure, Judge never divulged to the American membership his despair at Olcott's precipitate action over the Paris imbroglio. Rather did he, as his hundreds of letters at this time show, stimulate renewed faith in the President-Founder, even soliciting interest in raising funds for an American lecture-tour.10 One paragraph from a letter written September 19, 1888, will suffice:
. . . Olcott is in London to try and get up a European council on our plan, and himself needs the request from America to make H.P.B. head West of India; in order to back him up with his blessed Adyar Council. Hence these tears and requests. You see the U. S. is now strong and its voice counts for something in either war or peace. The resolution affects not us and merely asks that H.P.B. be declared to be what she really always was. She intends nothing here just now except to always help us, but has a design to better the European status. I have heard from there within a week and know that the above gives the exact thing. Olcott has a desk beside her now and they are in complete accord. — Ibid. II:308

10. Unfortunately, due to private reasons as well as the necessity to return to India before too long, Colonel Olcott did not visit the U. S. in 1888. The last paragraph of his letter to Mrs. Levering, referred to in footnote 9, indicates the deep regret felt by Judge: "Col. Olcott's visit to America has been found impossible. I much regret this, less because of the opportunity to 'learn the whole truth' of which you speak, than because of the immeasurable awakening and impulse which his visit would give to that great Cause for which the Society exists." — Letter-book, II:322

On September 27, 1888, the European Convention saw the establishment of a European Section with H.P.B. as head West of India, the policy of autonomous Sections ratified, and a British Theosophical Society proposed. By this time however, despite the earnest endeavor of Judge and his colleagues to protect Olcott against himself, rumor had got abroad that a "split" was forming between him and H.P.B. "A JOINT NOTE" in the October, Lucifer, 1888, soon put things to rights, assuring the membership generally that though their President in Council, Colonel Olcott, and their Corresponding Secretary, H.P.B., did indeed at times hold widely divergent views on matters of policy, there was no "weakening of our joint devotion to Masters, or to our work. . . . As we have been from the first, so are we now united in purpose and zeal, and ready to sacrifice all, even life, for the promotion of theosophical knowledge . . . "

To his undying credit, Olcott not only allowed H.P.B. to read in full the letter of severe warning from the Master, received by him on board the Shannon, but agreed to the publication in this same issue of Lucifer of those extracts which should definitely place her occult position clearly before the membership, so that all should know that "with occult matters she [H.P.B.] has everything to do."11 By this open-hearted act, Olcott here proved true to the Master's prediction in 1880, that he is one "who may make innumerable mistakes out of excessive zeal but never is unwilling to repair his fault even at the cost of the greatest self-humiliation . . . "12

11. Cf. footnote 8, reference to "Shannon letter" from K.H. to Olcott.
12. The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, p. 14

The slate thus clean, H.P.B. was now free to launch the Esoteric School, and Colonel Olcott though without doubt still opposed as his Diary indicates, nevertheless as "President in Council" issued a formal notice on the last page of this same October Lucifer, announcing "THE ESOTERIC SECTION OF THE THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY," as a "body of Esoteric students, to be organized on the ORIGINAL LINES devised by the real founders . . . to promote the esoteric interests of the Theosophical Society" and whose "constitution and sole direction . . . is vested in Madame H. P. Blavatsky as its Head."

So much for the historic origins of the Esoteric Section. It may seem strange that Olcott who was undoubtedly the "man of destiny" as far as the Theosophical Society was concerned, never took any real interest in the E.S. That he was greatly loved and helped by the Masters and H.P.B., and became because of his utter faith in Their guidance the medium for great spiritual benefits to others as long as he followed the lines laid down by Them, should not be overlooked. But his work was specific, perhaps the noblest tribute and the most accurate one being rendered by Mr. Judge in a private Circular on November 3, 1894 — at the very time when Colonel Olcott, blinded by those who ever seek to destroy our Work, lent support to his traducers. Mr. Judge wrote:

He [Colonel Olcott] was selected by the Master to do a certain and valuable work not possible for anyone else, and he was never taken into the E.S. by a pledge, for, like myself, he was in the very beginning pledged directly to the Master. His main work has been that great and far-reaching work in the world, among not only ordinary people, but with kings and rulers, for the sake of this cause which the Masters knew he was to do for them.

With Judge, however, the Esoteric School was the life-blood of the Theosophical Society, his vital and deep concern. The Archives prove all too conclusively his own statement that he likewise never was asked, as were all other members who joined, to pledge himself in the E.S., nor was he ever recorded as a member. He was in truth Co-Founder of the Esoteric work with H.P.B. ∴ — as Olcott was Co-Founder with H. P. Blavatsky of the exoteric Society. It was natural, therefore, that H.P.B. as Outer Head should work exclusively through Mr. Judge as regards all esoteric matters in the entire "Section in America," appointing him not only "Secretary to H.P.B. ∴" with full power to issue preliminary pledges and other documents to applicants, but also taking occasion to have inscribed a document establishing W.Q.J. not only as a "chela of thirteen years' standing," but as her "only representative for said Section." See frontispiece for facsimile reproduction of this document.13

13. The original drawing by Judge himself of the "Seal of the E.S." heading this document and utilized for the red wax impression opposite H. P. Blavatsky's signature, is held in the Archives.

     Frontispiece, Theosophical Forum, December 1947

When a year later slander and abuse were howling around his head, as they invariably do with those who rise above the security of mediocrity, H.P.B. wrote:

London Oct. 23. 1889

He or she, who believes that under any circumstances whatever, provocations, gossips, slander or anything devised by the enemy H.P.B. will ever dream even of going against W.Q.J. — does not know H.P.B. — even if he or she does know H. P. Blavatsky, or thinks he knows her.

The idea is absurd and preposterous. . . . H.P.B. would give . . . the whole esoteric brood in the U.S.A. for one W.Q.J. who is part of herself since several aeons. Those having ears will hear, those who are deaf and blind, let them provide themselves with false ears and glass eyes, or — vanish away.

The Esoteric Section and its life in the U.S.A. depends on W.Q.J. remaining its agent and what he is now. The day W.Q.J. resigns, H.P.B. will be virtually dead for the Americans. W.Q.J. is the Antaskarana between the two Manas (es) the American thought and the Indian — or rather the trans-Himalayan Esoteric Knowledge.


P.S. W.Q.J. had better show, and impress this on the mind of all those whom it may concern H.P.B.14

14. The original handwritten letter of H. P. Blavatsky's is in the Archives.

What happened after H.P.B.'s death is common knowledge to the student. The Society finally split into two main fragments, one under the headship of Mme. Annie Besant and Colonel Olcott, the other following William Q. Judge. The U.S. with an overwhelming majority rallied round their faithful leader, and elected him in convention assembled "President for Life" with full constitutional powers in April, 1895. That he was their Esoteric head had already been established the year previously when, following explicit direction from his Teacher, he was declared "sole head of the E.S." Since that time the esoteric and exoteric "power" has been vested in the president or leader of the Theosophical Society — and so remains.

The problem of true Theosophy and its great mission are, first, the working out of clear unequivocal conceptions of ethic ideas and duties, such as shall best and most fully satisfy the right and altruistic feelings in men; and second, the modelling of these conceptions for their adaptation into such forms of daily life, as shall offer a field where they may be applied with most equitableness. . . . You are the free volunteer workers on the fields of Truth, and as such must leave no obstruction on the paths leading to that field.
. . . The degree of success or failure are the landmarks the masters have to follow, as they will constitute the barriers placed with your own hands between yourselves and those whom you have asked to be your teachers. The nearer your approach to the goal contemplated — the shorter the distance between the student and the Master.
— From SOME WORDS ON DAILY LIFEWritten by a Master of Wisdom. (Lucifer, January 1888)

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