An important influence in Katherine Tingley's childhood was her grandfather, who was extremely fond of her and took the time to share his love of nature with her. He also had the distinction of being the Grand Master of the Masonic Order in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The child, led by her heart and strong feelings in caring for the less fortunate, often faced situations she could not cope with. Not only was Katherine precocious, but she "saw things" that her parents could not. In desperation, hoping to cure her of her "delusions," her parents sent her to a Roman Catholic convent in Quebec. As an adult she was free to do her own thinking and, branching out, began an investigation into spiritualism — one of the avenues in those days for seekers looking for answers to the riddle of life's meaning. It did not give satisfaction.
In 1888 Katherine Tingley married Philo B. Tingley, her third husband. By this time she was in her 41st year and had evidently found a real friend and companion.
Some years before coming in touch with the Theosophical Movement I was living in New York. I had a comfortable home and no children. My love of children was very great and my love of the unfortunate also. So I began to work in the prisons in New York. I worked with women on the street, and for the drunkards and the poverty-stricken, the starving and the sick. I was happy to do it. I neglected none of my home duties. I did every duty as conscientiously as I could, as all true Theosophists should. But I could not enjoy life, I dared not face my conscience without doing something to lift the weight of the burdens from the suffering people.
So my work carried me down to the East Side of New York, where thousands of people come in from different countries — the immigrants, thinking when they come that America is the open door to wealth and prosperity. They find themselves in very small quarters, in very limited surroundings, very many of them go hungry and suffer much, and thus lose faith in humanity. It was among these that I worked.
Never in all my experiences with these people, even with the lowest and most depraved creature I ever met in my work in the prisons, never have I lost faith in the essential divinity of man. Never! — The Wine of Life, p. 289
After meeting W. Q. Judge in 1893, theosophy became the focus around which her humanitarian activities centered. Charles Ryan sheds light on KT's apprenticeship with Judge:
During the last year or so of life still remaining to Judge, Katherine Tingley was able to give him valuable help and to relieve him of much labor. At the same time he was preparing her for the duties she would soon have to take up in the Society, especially those of the Outer Head of the Esoteric School. Only a few of the members, those closest to him, knew of her interest in theosophy, or of her association with him in theosophical work, until he had passed away; . . . — H. P. Blavatsky and The Theosophical Movement, p. 312
Upon Judge's death, KT began directing the affairs of the Society even though she had no official post. An article — probably by KT — inserted in the May 1896 Theosophy magazine, speaks of the "new cycle" which began with Judge's death:
Since it began the responsibility of each unit in our ranks has increased tenfold, and upon the extent to which that personal responsibility is realized depends how far the whole world will be affected by the Theosophical movement in this and the next century.
Success is assured, but unless a victory is seized and used, it may cost more than many defeats. The greatest victory is only another opportunity. In the course of ages man may once come face to face with his chance, and grasping the sword of destiny may use it for his salvation or his everlasting shame. Here is the chance, here is the two-edged sword. The hour is ripe and the need is great. Where are God's Warriors? They have answered the call before; they have seen the Light and know it, have flashed back instantaneous recognition. Will they linger now when the Light shines forth again? They cannot.
Each to his place then, and whether it be high or low the honor and reward will be equal. Putting aside all jealousy, all suspicion, fear and doubt, let there be one far-reaching forward movement, made with perfect trust, with certainty of aim, with overwhelming force. Then will death be swallowed up in victory, and the loss of a beloved friend be made the means of universal gain. — pp. 33-4
In June 1896 KT began a tour around the world with six members. The speakers of the team hewed to the line of the original program of the Theosophical Society as presented by Blavatsky and Judge. Particularly noteworthy is KT's "Address to the People of India," delivered at Town Hall, Bombay, on October 29, 1896. She said, in part:
The first question that must naturally arise in the minds of those who are present at such a meeting as this is, "What can be the object of this visit to India of a body of American Theosophists who are making a tour around the world, and what can they expect to accomplish in so short a time?"
It should be understood at the beginning that I have not come to India to seek the favor or recognition of any person or body of people, nor in the hope of affiliating with any public organization. My duty is to say what I have to say to the best of my ability, and my hearers may accept or reject the message as they please.
Though I occupy this independent position, as do the other members of my party, I am most anxious to work in harmony with all people who earnestly desire to serve humanity. Our object is to do our utmost for every soul who needs our help, for in the world of souls there are no distinctions of creed or sex. Every true Theosophist holds that the distinctions which appear in material life are of little importance as compared to the realities of the soul.
The best way of extending such help is to show people of all religions and beliefs the underlying meaning of their ancient teachings. It is not my desire to convert anyone to some established creed or dogmatic system, but to help the Hindu to grasp the deeper, more spiritual and more scientific side of his own scriptures, and to do the same for the Mohammedan, the Parsi, the Christian, the Jain, and the Buddhist. For in each of their religions there are the same great teachings hidden, deeply locked in by the encrusting hand of time, as well as by the deliberate intention of the great teachers who first brought them to the world. The same key will open each of them to the gaze of the student who has first found the universal key within himself and has learned the way to use his knowledge rightly.
Should any one assume that he knows all that there is to be known, or that he has already solved the mysteries of the religious books of the world, it would be useless to attempt to add to his knowledge — or his ignorance. There are some who, while professedly desiring enlightenment, are actually blinded by their spiritual pride which holds them to the false idea that their religion is the oldest of all, and that the occult truths it contains are the greatest that the world has ever known.
It should be known that India was not the source of the world's religions, though there may be some teachers in India who flatter you with that view in order to gather you in to some special fold. The occult learning that India once shared in common with other ancient peoples did not originate here, and does not exist to any extent in India proper today.
That sacred body that gave the world its mystic teachings and that still preserves it for those who yearly become ready to receive it, has never had its headquarters in India, but moved thousands of years ago from what is now a part of the American continent to a spot in Asia, then to Egypt, then elsewhere, sending teachers to India to enlighten its inhabitants. Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, Zoroaster, Mohammed, Quetzalcoatl, and many others who could be named were members of this great Brotherhood and received their knowledge through interior initiation into its mysteries. I hold that if any of these had given out a hundredth part of what they knew, the world would not only have refused to listen to their message, but would have crucified them in every instance. It is for this reason that every true teacher must keep back much that he knows, only revealing it to the few who can understand it and who are worthy of it.
. . . Madame Blavatsky, who gave out some of the Hindu esoteric doctrines, was bitterly opposed by certain of the orthodox in India for doing so. By this they hindered their own advancement and the advancement of their country, for they interfered with the law of universal progression.
The first step to be taken in Occultism is the practice of unselfishness, for all work for humanity should be performed without thought of reward. Such work is of greater importance than the mere cultivation of the intellect or the collecting of large libraries.
. . . I call upon you to arise from your dreamy state and to see within yourselves that a new and brighter day has dawned for the human race.
This need not remain the age of darkness, nor need you wait till another age arrives before you can work at your best. It is only an age of darkness for those who cannot see the light, but the light itself has never faded and never will. It is yours if you will turn to it, live in it; yours today, this hour even, if you will hear what is said with ears that understand. Arise then, fear nothing, and taking that which is your own and all men's, abide with it in peace for evermore. — Theosophy, January 1897, pp. 299-302
Katherine Tingley brought the wisdom of the gods to earth and showed how to apply its principles to practical everyday living. The Theosophical Society stands intact as it approaches a new century and a new millennium. The "Link" is unbroken, as HPB trusted it would be. Today KT's question is just as timely as it was in 1896: "The hour is ripe and the need is great. Where are God's Warriors?"
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Whoever in acting dedicates his actions to the Supreme Spirit and puts aside all selfish interest in their result is untouched by sin, even as the leaf of the lotus is unaffected by the waters. The truly devoted, for the purification of the heart, perform actions with their bodies, their minds, their understanding, and their senses, putting away all self-interest. The man who is devoted and not attached to the fruit of his actions obtains tranquillity; whilst he who through desire has attachment for the fruit of action is bound down thereby. — Bhagavad-Gita, 5:10-12 (W. Q. Judge Recension)