Copyright © 1979 by Theosophical University Press. All rights reserved.
All books and magazines quoted, and all letters and documents not specifically referenced herein, are held in the Archives of the Theosophical Society, Pasadena, California.
ALMOST A CENTURY has passed since H. P. Blavatsky sent her letters to the American Conventions. They remain significant for us today, although both the world and the structure of the theosophical effort have altered considerably. While we each can apply her statements to our individual situation, it may be helpful to look briefly at the general context which drew them forth, keeping in mind several of the important currents which developed after her public work began.
Mme. Blavatsky's theosophical endeavors seem to fall into three periods: America, 1873-1878; India, 1879-1885; and Europe, 1885 until her death in 1891. The first of these began in July 1873 when, on orders from her teacher, she came to the United States from Paris. Initially, she sought to interest members of the Spiritualist movement in the philosophy and meaning behind their phenomena but, as this proved a failure, in July 1875 she was told "to establish a philosophico-religious Society & choose a name for it — also to choose Olcott [to head it]." (1) As a consequence, in September H. P. Blavatsky with Henry S. Olcott, William Q. Judge, and thirteen others, founded the Theosophical Society in New York City, with President Olcott giving the inaugural address at its first official meeting on November 17, 1875.
The aims and objectives set forth in the Society's preamble and bylaws were not so defined as they were later to become. Basically the members sought "to collect and diffuse a knowledge of the laws which govern the universe," and to investigate all philosophies, religions, and sciences. They advocated unselfish devotion, courage, and purity of life and thought in the search for truth. In considering the qualifications of applicants for fellowship, the Society made no distinction of race, sex, color, country, or creed. (2)
In September 1875, while in Ithaca, New York, as the guest of Professor Hiram Corson, Mme. Blavatsky commenced the writing of Isis Unveiled. She wrote almost continuously and by 1877 had completed this large two-volume work, in which she was assisted editorially by Colonel Olcott and Dr. Alexander Wilder owing to her lack of fluency in English. Her chief purposes, aside from attacking dogma and materialism in both science and religion, were to restore to man the lost knowledge that he was essentially a spiritual being, and to point to the existence of an ancient wisdom known to all peoples in all ages. When the contract with her New York publisher was signed, she told W. Q. Judge: "Now I must go to India." She had always said she would leave for India as soon as Isis was finished and the Society under way, but this did not come to pass until the close of the next year.
Throughout this period the goals of the Theosophical Society were being clarified, as shown by the one-page statement issued by President Olcott in May 1878. This read in part:
The Society teaches and expects its fellows to personally exemplify the highest morality and religious aspiration; to oppose the materialism of science and every form of dogmatic theology . . .; to make known among Western nations the long-suppressed facts about Oriental religious philosophies, their ethics, chronology, esoterism, symbolism; . . . to disseminate a knowledge of the sublime teachings of that pure esoteric system of the archaic period . . .; finally, and chiefly, to aid in the institution of a Brotherhood of Humanity, wherein all good and pure men, of every race, shall recognize each other as the equal effects (upon this planet) of one Uncreate, Universal, Infinite, and Everlasting Cause. — The Theosophical Society: Its Origin, Plan and Aims
In December 1878 H. P. Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott set sail for England en route to India, leaving behind a relatively small membership to forward the work of the Theosophical Society. General Abner Doubleday was appointed President ad interim and William Q. Judge was made Recording Secretary. But the Society in America did not grow much during the next several years. Correspondence with India took many months, and General Doubleday felt unprepared and uninformed for the task that was his. As he later wrote to Dr. Elliott Coues:
I will now give you in brief my own statement concerning the N.Y. Branch.
When H.P.B. went away she asked me to act as President of the N.Y. Branch. I was much astonished at the request for I was merely an inquirer, had but recently joined the society and was very imperfectly acquainted with the subject. At that time I was not busily engaged at anything. All the others were too much occupied in getting a livelihood to pay proper attention to Theos. Judge who had been connected with H.P.B. and Olcott from the beginning was the proper person to take charge of it. But he was in great straits at the time to know how he should support his family. Wilder & Weisse were Vice Presidents. It was arranged that for the time being meetings of the society would be dispensed with and all business would be managed by a council, consisting of Doubleday, Wilder, Weisse & Curtis (The newspaper reporter) Judge was corresponding secrt. and Maynard Treas.
I accepted the position at the earnest request of H.P.B., intending to rely principally on Judge for counsel and assistance; but Judge thought he had found a mining locality in Venezuela where many valuable leads could be easily worked. He went to Campana Venez. leaving me ignorant and inexperienced as I was to run the society, without knowing anything of the individuals, that composed it. . . .
I never could get more than a half a dozen members together to attend a meeting. Judge was constantly absent. His brother dropped us. Maynard got offended & left. Wilder resigned from poverty. Weisse resigned. The Brooklyn members would not come to N.Y. without a specific statement of what I supposed [proposed] to have done at the meetings. Then we were detained 2 years waiting for a ritual, which Olcott said we must have. . . .
I suppose all this delay is for the best and these obstacles may have been purposely thrown in our way. . . . (3)
In India, however, there was considerable response to Theosophy and a great deal to be done. Mme. Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott traveled up and down India, and received visitors often till late at night — scholars, leaders of religious and various other societies, as well as inquirers. They carried on a wide correspondence which soon became too heavy to handle individually. As a consequence, they founded The Theosophist in October 1879, not only to meet the demand for a more comprehensive exposition of the ancient wisdom, but also to be a forum for scholars of the world's philosophical and religious beliefs. The magazine was conducted by Mme. Blavatsky and its circulation throughout the world shortly reached such proportions that it began to pay its way.
It should be mentioned that several months before Mme. Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott left the United States, the Theosophical Society had linked itself to the "Arya-Samaj of Arya-wart," a new and fast-growing movement in India whose stated principles and aims were close to those of the Theosophical Society. Olcott and H.P.B., as she became known, worked within this structure until 1882 when they were forced to strike off on their own due to the narrowing views entertained by its leader, Swami Dya Nand Saraswati, towards those philosophies and religions not based on the Vedas. Since the theosophists from America fraternized with all peoples, they were accepted by the native population, and several Indian philosophical and literary bodies became affiliated with the Theosophical Society. (4) They were, on the other hand, viewed with dismay by the Anglo-Indian community, particularly by the missionary element.
It is not our intent to give here a complete outline of the many activities in Asia or to trace all the effects of H.P.B.'s and Olcott's endeavors. It is noteworthy, however, that from February 1879 to January 1883, 39 Branches were established in India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka), while only six were in existence in the rest of the world; and 46 new charters were issued in India and Ceylon in 1883 alone, with only a half dozen new Branches chartered in the rest of the world. For the revival of Sanskrit learning and general education, schools and Sanskrit classes were started for boys and girls and also adults, 27 schools being in operation in India by the close of 1883, with another three schools and one college for teaching Sanskrit scheduled to be opened that year. The work in Ceylon is perhaps the most dramatic symbol of the impact of the theosophical influence in Asia. With the help of the Theosophical Society, principally the labors of Henry S. Olcott, the Singhalese Buddhists obtained religious and educational freedom, and their faith took on new stature and meaning in their own eyes and in the eyes of the world.
The bylaws and objectives of the T.S. underwent various modifications in India, slowly arriving at a simple and broad expression reflecting the growing understanding of the membership. As early as 1879 the printed rules were headed "The Theosophical Society or Universal Brotherhood," and by 1882 there were three declared objects: "First. — to form the nucleus of a Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed or colour. Second. — to promote the study of Aryan and other Eastern literature, religions and sciences and vindicate its importance. Third. — to investigate the hidden mysteries of Nature and the Psychical powers latent in man." (Ibid., p. 11)
Perhaps one of the most significant events of that time was the association with A. P. Sinnett, editor of The Pioneer, an influential newspaper at Allahabad. Having heard of Isis Unveiled and wishing very much to meet its author, he entered into correspondence with Mme. Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott shortly after their arrival in India in February 1879. In December Mr. and Mrs. Sinnett invited the travelers to visit their home in Allahabad, at which time they made the acquaintance of several persons of note, among whom was A. O. Hume, British Civil Servant. During a subsequent visit to their summer home at Simla in the fall of 1880, the now well-known correspondence between Sinnett and Hume and the Masters K.H. and M. was begun. (5) Because of the great interest of Hume and Sinnett in psychic matters H. P. Blavatsky produced a good deal of phenomena for their benefit. From these experiences as well as from the letters they received from the Masters, Sinnett composed his first book, The Occult World, published in 1881. A second work, Esoteric Buddhism, appearing in 1883, was based on further correspondence with the Mahatmas; in this volume he gave his view of theosophy with respect to the history and relation of man and universe. These two books immediately produced a great stir in the Western world. Grateful, however, as the Adepts were for these publications, they were not entirely pleased with Sinnett's accent in The Occult World on the "Brothers" and on phenomena, or with certain mistaken notions concerning the philosophy in Esoteric Buddhism. (6) Moreover, the popularity of these works and the occult philosophy they expounded, coupled with the evident success of the Theosophical Society throughout India, intensified the growing antagonism of the missionaries, creating a climate which led eventually to their attack on H. P. Blavatsky in The Christian College Magazine.
The year 1884 brought calamity and change to the Theosophical Society. It was determined that Colonel Olcott would travel to England to resolve the differences in the London Lodge between its president, Dr. Anna Kingsford, and Mr. Sinnett, and at the same time he would take up with the British government certain vital religious and educational matters on behalf of the Buddhists of Ceylon. At the last moment it was decided that H.P.B. would travel with him to Europe. They left Bombay for Marseilles on February 20, not to return until the end of the year. During their absence from Adyar, M. and Mme. Coulomb, members of the household staff, conspired to discredit Mme. Blavatsky. Unable to blackmail members at Headquarters in charge of theosophical affairs by threatening to make public certain statements which would seem to deny the existence of H.P.B.'s teachers and the authenticity of the phenomena she produced, the Coulombs turned to the Christian missionaries. Later, on September 11, 1884, The Christian College Magazine printed a vicious story based on statements and forged documents supplied by the Coulombs, who claimed that H. P. Blavatsky was fraudulent not only in producing phenomena but also in writing letters in the name of the Mahatmas.
It is interesting to note that Judge was in India at the time these charges were published. The start of his journey there had coincided with H.P.B.'s and Olcott's trip to Europe so that the three co-founders met in Paris at the end of March. Judge stayed with them about three months, participating closely in all that went on, even to writing, at H.P.B.'s request, a chapter on elementals for the projected Secret Doctrine (though, he tells us later, it was not used). Toward the end of June he continued on to India, armed with documents from Olcott to act in the name of the President in all matters concerning the Headquarters and, if he deemed it advisable, to abolish the Board of Control at Adyar. (7) But Judge did not stay there more than a few months, scarcely long enough to effect any noticeable change in the basic situation at Adyar. On his return from India he dedicated his full energies toward building up the work in America.
Meanwhile, Mme. Blavatsky had returned to Madras in December. Immediately she declared her intention to go to court against her accusers, but despite her fervent pleas she was prevented from doing so by Colonel Olcott. Writing several years later in defense of H. P. Blavatsky, Olcott explains:
Much has been made out of the fact that she did not go into Court to vindicate her character against the palpable libels of the Missionary and allied parties. For this she is not to blame: quite the contrary. But for my vehement protests she would have dragged the adversaries into the Madras Courts as soon as she got back from London, via Cairo, in 1884. A friend had offered her Rs. 10,000 to cover the expenses. It was then barely a fortnight before the time for the Annual Convention of our Society — December 27th, 1884 — and I insisted upon her waiting until a Special Judicial Committee of the Convention should advise her as to her proper course. We were — I told her — the property of the Society, and bound to sink our private preferences and selves for the public good. She was stubborn to that degree, that I had to threaten to quit my official position before she would listen to reason. The Convention met, and the case was referred to a Committee composed of Hindu Judges and other legal gentlemen of high official and private standing. They unanimously reported against H.P.B.'s going to law; . . . — "H.P.B.'s Departure," Lucifer, August 1891, p. 447.
At the same time a young man by the name of Richard Hodgson arrived at Adyar, sent from London by the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), to investigate the accusations against H. P. Blavatsky. A year later the committee appointed to study his findings identified her as "one of the most accomplished, ingenious, and interesting impostors in history." (8) Olcott continues:
On the very day when the charges against her were first published in the Times, she — then in London — wrote that paper an indignant denial. I have seen no proof since then to support the contrary. The alleged
letters to Mme. Coulomb were never shown her or me; the Coulombs stand self-impeached as to honesty of character; Mr. Hodgson's report evinces his dense ignorance at the time of psychical and mediumistic laws and the indispensable rules of spiritualistic research, even of the commonest rules of legal evidence; . . . (9)
The Coulomb-Missionary attack upon H.P.B. and the added pressure placed upon her in not being permitted to defend the honor of her teachers broke down her always precarious health. Companions and friends despaired for her life, and her doctor urged that she leave India at once for a more equable climate as the only possible chance of her staying alive. In September, after the accusations had appeared in the Madras paper, Mme. Blavatsky, then in Elberfeld, Germany, had handed in her resignation as Corresponding Secretary, but was persuaded to withdraw it "at the urgent request and solicitation of Society friends." Nonetheless, the next spring on March 21 she tendered it again, and this time it was accepted, and she departed from India ten days later, never to return to that land (Supplement to The Theosophist, May 1885, p. 195). She was to all purposes alone, left to recover her health in Europe, if she could. In the eyes of the world she was leaving the arena to her accusers, offering no defense against their charges.
H.P.B.'s own feelings are clearly portrayed in her letter of April 11, 1885, written to Olcott on board the S.S. Pehio [Pei Ho], near Aden:
Where to, what for, I am going away I do not know unto this day. Of course we will stop somewhere near Naples — and what next? What shall I do with H. [Franz Hartmann]? How shall we live. If I have strength I will write for the Russian papers — and if I have none left? Have you sent me to die far away or to . . . [word illegible] and come back. If the former, then say so, and I will know what to do; if the latter then how under what circumstances what is it that must happen that I should come back home. For mind you, I do not suppose that you would allow people to believe that the Society has sent me away, dismissed me as a tricky butler, as a Coulomb, for it is just that the Coulombs and padris wanted. They have clamoured for it, printed it, and published that wish, saying publicly that the Society was "bound to expel me," etc. Is it that wish you have intended accomplishing? I hope for your and the Society's sake it is not so. For Master told me most plainly that if the Society did not recall me before 1886, They would retire entirely from any connection with it; signify so to the L.L. [London Lodge] and other European and American Societies and break every connection with every member. THEY will not countenance ingratitude, Olcott, however guilty I may appear in the eyes of fools or even wise men for the matter of that. THEY DO EXIST — phenomena or no phenomena; but as "Benjamin" [Djual Kul] remarked — I am the only one, for the present, in full possession of their doctrines and ready to give out of it as much as I can. After me comes Subba Row who knows more than I do, but who will not give out a tittle of it in its true light not for a kingdom. It is the Society that needs me while I can do perfectly without it. But the question is not one of interest but of JUSTICE and Pride. It is not selfishness or personal pride, but I was sent by Them and whatever my failure I am Their agent: in insulting me the Society insults Them — that's all. Well, let it try the sad experiment . . . — The Theosophist, March 1925, pp. 784-5.
H. P. Blavatsky's coming to Europe in 1885 marks the opening of the final stage of her mission. In the years that followed she was to produce most of her literary works and establish a strong Society in the West — she in Europe and Judge in America. But there is an overlapping in all cycles: while the vitality in the old period is waning, there is a continuing of essential activity under a fresh impetus into the new time. In answer to the need for a more comprehensive discourse on theosophical doctrine than that found scattered throughout the pages of Isis Unveiled and in The Theosophist, an advertisement had appeared as early as the January 1884 Supplement to that magazine, stating that a recasting of Isis Unveiled called The Secret Doctrine would be issued in installments. H. P. Blavatsky had already commenced work on the manuscript at Adyar and had continued her writing after she went to Europe in the spring of 1884. The following January when she was again in India she received from her teacher "the plan" for The Secret Doctrine, and although she labored constantly, the volumes were not published until 1888. It was only after Countess Wachtmeister joined Mme. Blavatsky in Wurzburg in December 1885, to become her companion and look after all the affairs of running the household, that it was possible for H.P.B. to make real progress with her task. She then could write from early morning till evening. The Countess protected her friend in all possible ways and copied for her the corrected manuscripts in legible handwriting. They moved from Wurzburg to Ostend in May 1886, with a number of delays en route, to continue working again on the manuscript.
Early in 1887, Bertram Keightley and then later Archibald, his nephew, traveled to Ostend to visit H.P.B. Representing a small group of members of the London Lodge who felt that the public work there needed a new impulse, they urged her to come to England, which she agreed to do if adequate lodging could be furnished. Soon, however, she became grievously ill and death was imminent. But to the amazement of her doctor and friends she recovered, and the Keightleys came again to make final arrangements for the move across the channel. In May she made her way by boat and train to the home of Mrs. Mabel Cook, known to many as Mabel Collins (10) in Maycot, London. Here, with the help of several young members, the final preparation of The Secret Doctrine was begun. On the 28th of the same month Bertram Keightley wrote to Judge:
H.P.B. is fairly well & working away right hard at the Secret Doctrine; which is awfully good & I am sure you will be immensely pleased with it. Tho' I date this from Linden Gardens, I am staying with HPB at Maycot, Crown Hill, Upper Norwood, S.E. where I expect she will be for the next two or three months. We have got a scheme on foot for establishing HPB in winter quarters near London where she can live in peace & gather the real workers in the Society around her. But whether it will succeed or even ever be really begun I cannot tell. All I know is that we shall do our level best to bring it about. Still do not mention anything about it; as "there's many a slip twixt the cup and the lip" & these things are best kept quiet till actually done. Anyway we mean a real effort to put new life into this dull L.L. [London Lodge] & the new Magazine, as the first step. The title at present in favour is "Lucifer: the Lightbearer," but no final decision has yet been come to. At any rate we mean to do two things: to make HPB as comfortable as we can & to prove to her that there are some at least who really appreciate her ceaseless self sacrifice & untiring exertions for the Cause.
The proposed move from Maycot to 17 Lansdowne Road and the first issue of Lucifer were realized in September. A year later, on November 1, 1888, The Secret Doctrine was published simultaneously in England and America.
In the early years there were those members in the Theosophical Society who dedicated the finest quality of their lives to the furtherance of its objectives and upon whose devoted labors its very life depended. A few at times acted from motives reflecting a confused concept of its aims and purposes, and these particular actions occasionally brought about grave stress within the Society. As the sensitive heart of the "Work," H. P. Blavatsky was compelled to act in order to protect the T.S., just as she responded in gratitude to those who comprehended its true mission.
During these years of Mme. Blavatsky's retirement from direct participation in theosophical affairs (1885-87), the Society had drifted away from the influence of the Adepts. This is apparent from a conversation she had with one of her teachers where he remarked that Colonel Olcott in spite of his great labors had during this time allowed the T.S. to liberate itself from their influence, and that it would not long survive his death (cf. Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom, First Series, Letter 47, 5th edition). Though the date of this discussion is not given, it can be placed approximately in the closing months of 1887 or early 1888. From this time onward till her death in 1891, H. P. Blavatsky played an increasingly significant role in the Society's administration so as to reestablish and maintain the work along the original lines. This caused some unhappiness and misunderstanding between herself and Colonel Olcott. Eventually, in 1890, much distressed over circumstances, he stated that he would resign as president at the next convention in December. However, at the final moment he announced a change of mind and retained his position in the Society, though his views and lack of confidence in H.P.B.'s methods of work remained unchanged.
The serious situation that had arisen, due to the inner spirit of the work having been neglected, now faced H. P. Blavatsky with the challenge of having to reorient the attitude of the membership. The next four years, May 1887 to May 1891, were a period of renewal for the theosophical cause. There were but few strong centers outside of Asia when she left India in 1885, but by the closing months of 1890 the West under her stimulus had awakened and become the most active sector of the Society.
The reorganization and expansion of theosophical work in the United Kingdom as well as on the Continent were paralleled and in some respects foreshadowed in America under the direction of William Q. Judge. An American Board of Control had been established on May 13, 1884, by special order of President Olcott, while Judge on his way to India was staying with Mme. Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott in Paris. The Board was formed to guide the work and handle local problems for the membership in the United States; also to initiate new members and to grant temporary charters for new Branches without reference to the central Headquarters. It functioned in this capacity for two years, until June 6, 1886, when President Olcott, at the urging of Judge and H.P.B., requested that the American Board of Control be abolished. Instead, a Section of the Society, to be known as the American Section of the General Council of the Theosophical Society, was formed. The new organization was brought into being at a convention of all lodges held at Cincinnati, Ohio, on October 30-31, with Judge made General Secretary and Treasurer. On April 24, 1887, the first Convention of the American Section was held in New York, when a constitution and by laws were adopted and adherence to the General Council declared, with Judge again elected General Secretary for the ensuing year.
All the trials of establishing a workable Section of the Theosophical Society thousands of miles from Headquarters were gone through by Judge in New York and the staff at Adyar. To multiply problems, Olcott was away on theosophical affairs for extended periods and not always available for final decisions. Judge's eagerness to push ahead with the work in America, coupled with the continuing delays at Headquarters, caused a strain between him and Olcott, a condition which time did not ease. Judge's letter to Colonel Olcott of July 24, 1888, is revealing of the frustration felt by many Western theosophists, particularly officials, toward Headquarters in India:
It is significant that the T.S. was started here [in the U.S.]. India is necessary to it, as I said in Path, & it to India. But India cannot claim to be it all. Indeed it is getting to be secondary I think, even if the Adepts still reside there. I am fully in accord with you as to the importance of the Library and all the rest, but I want to suggest that the T.S. if it is what it claims, a thing of ... creation, cannot remain where it was when it was started or where it got to in 1884. It must press on, and it must change or — it must die. Hence a change is expected in its 14th year which is heralded & felt to begin in its 13th. This is the 13th year and this will witness a change. I do not know if you are ready to meet it. It has seemed to me that you have of late got a fondness for forms; & I have always thought that you gave away your power to Boards & committees too much. Your idea that the T.S. must be put into such a shape that it might live on after your death is based upon the assumption that you are the only man who could carry it on and that at your death it would die unless its rules & constitution were fixed. This I do not concur in. If you died, some others would be provided. The T.S. is getting stuck and it has to be got out of the rut. Of course these are only my opinions. — Cf. Practical Occultism: From the Private Letters of William Q. Judge, pp. l09-10.
With the expansion of the work in Europe the difficulties between the Adyar Headquarters and the West were compounded. The next month on August 16 Judge wrote Archibald Keightley that as Olcott wished Europe to have an organization like that in America, Keightley ought to call a convention and make H.P.B. president of the new Section (ibid., p. 112). Though the European Section was not formed until 1890, a British Section was established in December 1888 with the aid of President Olcott who had been in London that fall.
The most telling step taken by Mme. Blavatsky at this time to bring the work of the Society into harmony with the original purposes was the organization of a formal Esoteric Section, although the Esoteric School — a relationship of disciples to Adepts — had existed since ancient times, and its influence was evident in the T.S. from the beginning. There had always been a desire on the part of the sincere students to come closer to the Mahatmas, and in 1883 H. P. Blavatsky wrote an informative article titled "Chelas and Lay Chelas," which included these comments:
For centuries the selection of Chelas — outside the hereditary group within the gon-pa (temple) — has been made by the Himalayan Mahatmas themselves from among the class — in Tibet, a considerable one as to number — of natural mystics. The only exceptions have been in the cases of Western men like Fludd, Thomas Vaughan, Paracelsus, Pico di Mirandola, Count St. Germain, etc., whose temperamental affinity to this celestial science more or less forced the distant Adepts to come into personal relations with them, and enabled them to get such small (or large) proportion of the whole truth as was possible under their social surroundings. . . .
But since the advent of the Theosophical Society, one of whose arduous tasks it was to reawaken in the Aryan mind the dormant memory of the existence of this science and of those transcendent human capabilities, the rules of Chela selection have become slightly relaxed in one respect. Many members of the Society becoming convinced by practical proof upon the above points, and rightly enough thinking that if other men had hitherto reached the goal, they too if inherently fitted, might reach it by following the same path, pressed to be taken as candidates. And as it would be an interference with Karma to deny them the chance of at least beginning — since they were so importunate, they were given it. The results have been far from encouraging so far, and it is to show these unfortunates the cause of their failure as much as to warn others against rushing heedlessly upon a similar fate, that the writing of the present article has been ordered. The candidates in question, though plainly warned against it in advance, began wrong by selfishly looking to the future and losing sight of the past. They forgot that they had done nothing to deserve the rare honour of selection, nothing which warranted their expecting such a privilege; . . . — Supplement to The Theosophist, July 1883, p. 10.
The next year, in 1884, members of the London Lodge petitioned the Mahatmas to form an "Inner Group," and were granted permission to do so, but it did not last. (11) Again, in 1887 Judge wrote H. P. Blavatsky asking if esoteric studies might not be established in answer to requests he had received. He enclosed a suggested directive and formalities for her to use as she saw fit. She replied that he might go ahead without any document and that soon she would do something else. In 1888 she invited him to come to London to help her lay the foundation for this work.
Mme. Blavatsky wrote Olcott that same year concerning the plan for the formation of the Esoteric Section. As there was some difficulty with the Isis Branch in Paris, on August 7 he embarked for London on the S.S. Shannon in order to confer with her on these and other matters. He later wrote Judge that he had received a letter from K.H. while on board ship, the day before reaching Brindisi. This letter is informative as to the relationship of the Masters to H.P.B. and to Olcott:
Again, as you approach London I have a word or two to say to you. Your impressibility is so changeful that I must not wholly depend upon it at this critical time. Of course you know that things were so brought to a focus as to necessitate the present journey and that the inspiration to make it came to you and to permit it to the Councillors from without. Put all needed restraint upon your feelings, so that you may do the right thing in this Western imbroglio. Watch your first impressions. The mistakes you make spring from failure to do this. Let neither your personal predilections, affections, suspicions nor antipathies affect your action.
Misunderstandings have grown up between Fellows both in London and Paris, which imperil the interests of the movement. You will be told that the chief originator of most, if not of all these disturbances is H. P. B. This is not so; though her presence in England has, of course, a share in them. But the largest share rests with others, whose serene unconsciousness of their own defects is very marked and much to be blamed. One of the most valuable effects of Upasika's mission is that it drives men to self-study and destroys in them blind servility for persons. (12) Observe your own case, for example. But your revolt, good friend, against her infallibility — as you once thought it — has gone too far and you have been unjust to her, for which I am sorry to say, you will have to suffer hereafter along with others. Just now, on deck, your thoughts about her were dark and sinful, and so I find the moment a fitting one to put you on your guard.
Try to remove such misconceptions as you will find, by kind persuasion and an appeal to the feelings of loyalty to the Cause of truth if not to us. Make all these men feel that we have no favourites, nor affections for persons, but only for their good acts and humanity as a whole. But we employ agents — the best available. Of these for the past thirty years the chief has been the personality known as H. P. B. to the world (but otherwise to us). Imperfect and very troublesome, no doubt, she proves to some, nevertheless, there is no likelihood of our finding a better one for years to come — and your theosophists should be made to understand it. Since 1885 I have not written, nor caused to be written save thro' her agency, direct or remote, a letter or line to anybody in Europe or America, nor communicated orally with, or thro' any third party. Theosophists should learn it. You will understand later the significance of this declaration so keep it in mind. Her fidelity to our work being constant, and her sufferings having come upon her thro' it, neither I nor either of my Brother associates will desert or supplant her. As I once before remarked, ingratitude is not among our vices.
With yourself our relations are direct, and have been with the rare exceptions you know of, like the present, on the psychical plane, and so will continue thro' force of circumstances. That they are so rare — is your own fault as I told you in my last.
To help you in your present perplexity: H. P. B. has next to no concern with administrative details, and should be kept clear of them, so far as her strong nature can be controlled. But this you must tell to all: — With occult matters she has everything to do. We have not abandoned her; she is not "given over to chelas." She is our direct agent. I warn you against permitting your suspicions and resentment against "her many follies" to bias your intuitive loyalty to her. In the adjustment of this European business, 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.
I have also noted, your thoughts about the "Secret Doctrine." Be assured that what she has not annotated from scientific and other works, we have given or suggested to her. Every mistake or erroneous notion, corrected and explained by her from the works of other theosophists was corrected by me, or under my instruction. It is a more valuable work than its predecessor, an epitome of occult truths that will make it a source of information and instruction for the earnest student for long years to come. . . .
You had better not mention for the present this letter to anyone — not even to H.P.B. unless she speaks to you of it herself. Time enough when you see occasion arise. It is merely given you, as a warning and a guide; to others, as a warning only, for you may use it discreetly if needs be. — K.H. — Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom, First Series, Letter 19, 5th edition
Olcott arrived in London in late August 1888, to find H. P. Blavatsky not well and with much to do. A few weeks later on October 3rd he wrote Judge that he was busy helping her with The Secret Doctrine and Lucifer and in settling affairs in Paris — that he was acting "on the lines" of the letter he received from K.H. on board the Shannon.
The formation of the Esoteric Section was announced by H. S. Olcott, President in Council, attested to by H. P. Blavatsky, in the October and November issues of Lucifer, its introductory paragraph including the significant phrase "to be organized on the ORIGINAL LINES devised by the real founders of the T.S." — an indication of H.P.B.'s continuing effort to bring the Society again under the influence of the Adepts. (13) At the Convention held December 1888 at Adyar, Olcott remarked that he as President would now reassume all responsibility he had for several years held jointly with the Executive Council for the "practical management for keeping the Society moving forward in its chosen line of usefulness." It was his business, he said, to "keep alive the body which contains the indwelling spirit called Theosophy," for he had never set himself up as "a competent teacher. That is Madame Blavatsky's speciality." Therefore he had "issued an Order . . . creating an Esoteric Section under her sole direction, as a body, or group, entirely separate and distinct from the Society proper, . . ." (14) The establishment of the Esoteric Section, however, in time brought to the fore Olcott's difficulty in comprehending H.P.B.'s relation to the theosophical endeavor, and this inability to recognize her real position roused his doubts regarding her motives. He was fearful that the esoteric work would divide the Society and take away its power.
Members in America, however, were seeking to join the Esoteric Section in such numbers that Judge, concerned that they did not understand its altruistic purposes, took his question to Mme. Blavatsky. Dr. A. Keightley gave her reply in his letter of September 11, 1889:
She said that you were perfectly right and yet as wrong. The work being done is for the future the next century as I understood her. She is as well aware as you that promiscuous gathering of E S is no good but she says that it is absolutely necessary to have a large mass from which the people will themselves select themselves and thus both T.S. and E.S. will have to be wide open to give every one the chance of proving what he or she is made of. . . .
He closes his letter with the following comment:
H.P.B. says that Master is going to answer your letter to her.
With The Secret Doctrine published and the Esoteric Section functioning in Europe and the United States, Mme. Blavatsky poured her considerable energies into work in the West, which grew at a pace almost too fast to control, particularly in America. She also wrote The Key to Theosophy (1889), an introduction to the basic concepts which was most needed to correct misconceptions about the Society and the origin of its teachings. This was followed shortly by The Voice of the Silence, a devotional book for earnest students. She prepared study material for the esoteric students, conducted a large correspondence, edited and wrote regularly for Lucifer, and contributed articles to a number of other theosophical periodicals, while the Theosophical Publishing Society, largely run by Countess Wachtmeister assisted by Judge in America, greatly expanded its activities. There were also interviews with H. P. Blavatsky and meetings both public and private, at which she answered questions. In the early months of 1889 a series of studies on the Stanzas of Dzyan from the first volume of The Secret Doctrine were held, and these were later edited and published as Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge.
This same year in August Olcott visited Europe again, in the hope of meeting the increasing demand by the Western Sections for more autonomy in conducting their work. For several months there had been much discussion in The Theosophist and Lucifer, and also in correspondence as to whether there should be a dominant central Headquarters which would legislate all matters and to which all members would turn as the "center" of the work, or whether there should be greater independence of action for the various sectors of the Society. The report of the British Section General Council of 18th December 1889 states that the following recommendation was proposed, and that President Olcott, who was present at the meeting, signified his willingness to give "the required authority to Madame Blavatsky and the Council he should appoint to assist her."
In consequence of the great distance of the British Section from Headquarters, it is considered advisable that H. P. Blavatsky, assisted by a Council appointed by Col. Olcott, should be authorized to deal on emergency with any questions that may arise which are properly referable to the President, as the delay caused by the length of time that must elapse before answer can be obtained from India might give rise to serious and even disastrous consequences to the Section . . . . — Supplement to The Theosophist, March 1890, p. cvii.
As the months went by, however, the relation of the President-Founder to the Lodges and members in Britain and on the continent remained remote. Therefore, at the request of "the active Lodges in Europe, and . . . a large majority of the Unattached Fellows," Mme. Blavatsky reluctantly abandoned her position of remaining apart from the administration of T S. affairs, and assumed the direct responsibility for the European work. In the July Lucifer for 1890 appeared the following announcement:
IN OBEDIENCE TO THE ALMOST UNANIMOUS VOICE OF THE FELLOWS OF THE THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY IN EUROPE, I, H. P. BLAVATSKY, THE ORIGINATOR AND Co-FOUNDER OF THE THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY, ACCEPT THE DUTY OF EXERCISING THE PRESIDENTIAL AUTHORITY FOR THE WHOLE OF EUROPE; AND IN VIRTUE OF THIS AUTHORITY I DECLARE THAT THE HEADQUARTERS OF THE THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY IN LONDON, WHERE I RESIDE, WILL IN FUTURE BE THE HEADQUARTERS FOR THE TRANSACTION OF ALL OFFICIAL BUSINESS OF THE THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY IN EUROPE.
H. P. BLAVATSKY
Let no one imagine that this reform in any sense suggests a separation from, or even to the loosening in any way of the authority of, my colleague at Adyar. Colonel H. S. Olcott remains, as heretofore, the President-Founder of the Theosophical Society the world over. But it has been found impossible for him at such a great distance to exercise accurate discrimination in current matters of guidance of the Theosophical Society. . . .
Olcott felt that the European Section had been "irregularly formed," as he later wrote Judge. Therefore, to legalize the matter, he issued an official order on July 9, 1890, requesting that a European Section be established giving H. P. Blavatsky "full management" of the same. The new Section received the same autonomy as the American Section (Supplement to The Theosophist, August 1890, p. 9).
Meanwhile in America at the Section headquarters Judge and his few helpers worked long hours with T.S. and E.S. correspondence, issuing books, pamphlets, and tracts, as well as getting out his monthly journal, The Path. In 1889 a printing press was purchased by New York and Chicago theosophists and supported by the American members. With this assistance the publishing program was substantially augmented. Several small magazines were distributed for the aid of Branches and members at large: The Theosophical Forum, in which Judge and various students answered questions; Department of Branch Work, which circularized Papers read at Branch meetings throughout the country; and later, the series of Oriental Department Papers which featured translations from Sanskrit literature. Yoga Aphorisms by Patanjali with an introduction by W. Q. Judge also appeared, followed in 1890 by Echoes From the Orient, the Bhagavad-Gita, and Letters That Have Helped Me (volume 1). Because of the success of their publishing activities, a larger printing press was purchased and sent to London with a New York member, James M. Pryse, to man it.
There were many dedicated theosophists supporting H.P.B. in her last years, but none were more responsive to the inner lines of her endeavor than William Q. Judge. He seemed to anticipate the needs of the work she so desperately wished to accomplish and, in different ways, to provide her with the means to carry it out. We should not be surprised at his insight and dedication in light of her letters to him during these years, from which we make the following selection. On October 3, 1886 she had written him:
The trouble with you is that you do not know the great change that came to pass in you a few years ago. Others have occasionally their astrals changed & replaced by those of Adepts (as of Elementaries) & they influence the outer, and the higher man. With you it is the Nirmanakaya not the "astral" that blended with your astral. Hence the dual nature & fighting.
The next year Judge received a cable from H.P.B., dated London, August 12, 1887, reading as follows: "MASTER SUGGESTS YOUR BEING WHAT I AM SECRETARY FOR LIFE IF READY FOR SACRIFICE HE WILL HELP. [signed] UPASIKA." Judge has written on the cable: "Reply — Ready. What is nature of sacrifice Secretary here or where when."
On October 23, 1889, about a year after the formation of the Esoteric Section, H.P.B. wrote to Judge:
The Esoteric Section and its life in the U.S.A. depends on W.Q.J. remaining its agent & 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 [bridge] between the two Manas(es) the American thought & the Indian — or rather the trans-Himalayan Esoteric Knowledge. Dixi
P.S. W.Q.J. had better show, & impress this on the mind of all those whom it may concern H.P.B.
In these last years of H. P. Blavatsky's life had come the flood of teaching so important to the world. Theosophy was neither Oriental nor Occidental, but rather a restatement of the eternal tradition, the fountainhead of wisdom. These concepts were not new to the Eastern mind, but there was the hope of awakening sleeping Asia to individual religious freedom for all her peoples, regardless of caste or sex. It was a new revelation to the West, however, a land of materialism in science and theology which offered little fulfillment for those searching for spiritual values, and no valid explanation of psychism.
The span of time lends perspective, and we can now, more than a century later, envision to some extent H. P. Blavatsky's relation to the Theosophical Society and her struggle to keep it from becoming but another organization outside the influence of her teachers. We can also understand why she wrote as she did to the American members and gave honor to William Q. Judge as one able to appreciate her true position, and the deeper import of the theosophical purpose: the establishment of a vehicle through which would pour the spiritual vitality and ideas necessary to uplift the human race, not only in her time and the century coming, but through the whole of the Messianic cycle ahead. To this she gave her life.
Table of Contents
(1) H. P. Blavatsky's "Scrap Book," quoted in The Golden Book of the Theosophical Society, p. 19. (return to text)
(2) Preamble and By-laws of the Theosophical Society, October 30, 1875; on this date Henry S. Olcott was elected President; H. P. Blavatsky, Corresponding Secretary; and William Q. Judge, Counsel to the Society. (return to text)
(3) Report sent to Elliott Coues by Abner Doubleday; it is undated, but probably written in 1885 as Professor Coues became President of the American Board of Control of the T.S. in July of that year.
General Doubleday joined the Theosophical Society soon after it had been founded, and unswervingly supported its work until his death in 1893.
Alexander Wilder, M.D., Platonic scholar and author, was commissioned by J. W. Bouton, publisher, to edit Isis Unveiled. As a result, he became a personal friend of H. P. Blavatsky and joined the Society in 1876. The "resignation" referred to by General Doubleday concerned only Dr. Wilder's appointment in 1879 as Vice President of the Society. He felt that the Society should have a more efficient officer to promote its cause. He remained an active member until the turn of the century. (return to text)
(4) H. P. Blavatsky to A. B. Griggs, February 16, 1881, copy in Doubleday Notebook, no. 8, p. 104; see also A Report of the Sixth Anniversary of the Theosophical Society, Bombay, January 12, 1882; p. 6. (return to text)
On March 7, 1879, just three weeks after their arrival in India, Mme. Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott rented a small house in the center of Bombay at 108, Girgaum Back Road. This served as headquarters for their theosophical and editorial activities until December 1880, when they moved to a more spacious bungalow, "The Crow's Nest," at Breach Candy on the outskirts of Bombay. Here they remained until December 1882 when a formal headquarters for the Theosophical Society was established at Adyar, Madras. (return to text)
(5) Published in 1923 under the title, The Mahatma Letters to A. P Sinnett, compiled and edited by A. Trevor Barker. (return to text)
(6) See The Mahatma Letters to A. P Sinnett, pp. 227, 292, 323, 356, 364. (return to text)
(7) The Board of Control was a Headquarters Executive Committee appointed by special order of President Olcott to have jurisdiction over financial, executive, and supervisory affairs of the Society while he was away in Europe (see Supplement to The Theosophist, February and March, 1884). (return to text)
(8) Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, December 1885, p. 207; see also Charles J. Ryan's H. P. Blavatsky and the Theosophical Movement, ch. 13; and Obituary: The "Hodgson Report" on Madame Blavatsky by Adlai E. Waterman. (return to text)
(9) Lucifer, August 1891, p. 447. It should be remembered that Colonel Olcott was a lawyer by profession and that during the Civil War he was appointed Special Commissioner of the War Department (U.S.A.) with the responsibility to unearth fraud committed by contractors against the government. (return to text)
(10) Author of Light on the Path, Through the Gates of Gold, and other works. (return to text)
(11) Cf. H. P. Blavatsky: Collected Writings, vol. 6, pp. 250-4. (return to text)
(12) Upasika, meaning "disciple," was a name often used by the Masters for H. P. Blavatsky. (return to text)
(13) Inevitably, "bogus Esoteric and Occult Societies" came forward at this time, which H. P. B. in her 1889 letter refers to as "our most insidious foes." Against this pseudo-theosophy she protested vigorously; see Lucifer, March 1889, pp. 1-12. (return to text)
(14) General Report of the Thirteenth Convention and Anniversary of the Theosophical Society, Adyar, Madras, December 27-29, 1888, pp. 3-4. (return to text)