Theosophical Forum Articles

The Corresponding Secretary

by Grace F. Knoche

To The casual reader, the original Constitution or "By-laws of the Theosophical Society," as published with its Preamble1 on October 30, 1875, signify little more than a general and comprehensive set of rules of order to be followed by any organization seeking to accomplish an objective. There is the usual listing of officers with their duties, a President, Vice-Presidents, Recording and Corresponding Secretaries, Treasurer, Librarian, and Councilors — nothing very remarkable throughout its seventeen chapters.

1. For text of "Preamble," see September 1947, The Theosophical Forum.

The birth of a religious or philosophical body, however, is always attended with some sign or portent. When such a birth yields a Theosophical Movement, then the omens are meteor-like in brilliance. Spiritual electricity, while fraught with peril to the dogma-ridden, but serves to burnish and impassion the free spirit.

The last quarter of the nineteenth century was no exception. Bigotry, materialism, entrenched self-aggrandizement, held dominion. A few intrepid spirits, self-liberated from "chains of matter," had dared to think, to ponder, to speculate upon universal problems. Free-thinkers, Masons, Rosicrucians, Kabbalists, Philosophers, Poets, Spiritualists — though still cramped from a centuries-long heritage of bondage, nevertheless had independently pushed inquiry through the solid concrete of materialism, and had demanded — Truth. Into this world, seventy-two years ago, was born the Theosophical Society.

No Constitution, no Principles or Rules, no modus operandi, was to hinder the purpose of its real Founders. Though armed with a magnificent Preamble, adequate By-laws, a noble objective, these alone could never have brought the infant society into universal recognition. Nevertheless this instrument of the law served well to channel the talents of lesser lights whose aspirations for Truth and/or reflected glory might be utilized to provide the exoteric mechanism through which the "power" could flow.

Let us examine, then, the original By-laws, and note the legal avenue of "spiritual authority." Chapter II reads: "The objects of the society are, to collect and diffuse a knowledge of the laws which govern the universe." Chapter XI, section 1. reads: "It shall be the duty of the corresponding secretary to conduct the general correspondence of the society with individuals and associate bodies."

Placed in juxtaposition we see the channeling of the "power" clear and unhindered: the objective, the dissemination of Truth, of "the laws which govern the universe"; the means, correspondence not only with individuals, but with progressive movements in all parts of the world; the instrument, the Corresponding Secretary who functioned as such with no other title in the exoteric society until her death. That H.P.B. literally and actually was Outer Head,2 wielding the scepter of "esoteric power" long before the formal establishment of the Esoteric School in October, 1888, is amply proved by her "fruits," as well as by suggestive evidence in the "Rules of the Society" as revised in Bombay in 1879, 1880 and thereafter.3

2. The term "Outer Head" has been used by Theosophists in recognition of the fact that their Teachers, in this case H. P. Blavatsky, are the outer representatives of the Inner Head or Master who extends to this day his benevolent spiritual guidance on those portions of the Theosophical Movement which have remained true to the original directives.

3. See October 1947 issue of The Forum, "Our Directives," where extracts from the early By-laws indicate the existence of "Three Sections," the First or Highest being composed of those proficient in Esoteric Science and Philosophy, who are empowered "to instruct the President Founder how best to regulate" the Society's affairs. (By-laws of December 17, 1879, sec. xi)

Turning the clock of progress back three-quarters of a century's round, let us relive through the eyes of H.P.B. those fateful days. 1873 — Paris, "orders" received to come to America and begin her work. Obedient to Master always, she identifies herself with the growing movement of American Spiritualism which at that period was under the protective wing of the Lodge. In vain but ardent hope of awakening the Spiritualists to a perception of Eastern Occultism, she battled in public print in defense of mediums unjustly attacked. 1874 — Began writing, writing, writing, with but slight notion that these early efforts were in 1877 to become Isis Unveiled. 1874 — October, at the Eddy Homestead in Vermont, meets Colonel Olcott, the ancient link reforged; Olcott helps 'correct' Isis.

1875 — February 16th, writes to Professor Corson of Cornell University: "I am here in this country sent by my Lodge on behalf of Truth in modern Spiritualism, and it is my sacred duty to unveil what is, and expose what is not. Perhaps did I arrive here one hundred years too soon. . . . Nevertheless, I am ever ready for the grand battle."4

4. Some Unpublished Letters of H. P. Blavatsky, by E. R. Corson, p. 127

1875 — May, "Ordered to begin telling the public the truth about the phenomena and their mediums. And now my martyrdom will begin! I will have all the Spiritualists against me in addition to the Christians and the Skeptics! Thy Will, O M.∴, be done! H.P.B." 1875 — July, "Orders received from India direct to establish a philosophico-religious Society and choose a name for it, — also to choose Olcott."5

5. "H.P.B.'s Scrapbook, Vol. I," extracts published in The Theosophist, December 1932

1875 — September 7th. A gathering at H.PB.'s apartments to which Kabbalists, Spiritualists, independent researchers in psychic and 'occult' experimentation, were invited to hear a lecture on "The Lost Canon of Proportion of the Egyptians" by George Henry Felt, soon to become one of the Vice-Presidents of the Society-to-be. At this meeting, Olcott 'receives' an idea, writes on a piece of paper "Would it not be a good thing to form a Society for this kind of study?", hands it to Judge, who gives it to H.P.B.6 The latter nods a casual assent (!) 1875 — October 30th, Preamble and By-laws agreed upon and published; November 17th, Inaugural Meeting at Mott Memorial Hall in New York City, the "Theosophical Society" officially launched.

6. Old Diary Leaves, Volume I, 117-18.

It is humbling to visualize the grim realities that faced H.P.B. at that period in America. Today, 75 years later, there is a powerful nucleus of trained workers, well versed in Theosophic psychology and doctrine, an International Headquarters, national sections, lodges, members in all parts of the civilized world, as well as national and international presses ready and available to place Theosophic literature on the market — and, what is still more, an eager, if select, public.

Consider only one detail: the mere physical task of writing in longhand those 1268 pages of Isis Unveiled, plus the countless pages that necessarily must have been rewritten, altered, cast aside, and fresh ones made. What also of the terrific psychic-spiritual tension constantly to keep alert, night and day from 1874 to 1877, to the current of telepathic instruction in order that Isis might be written at all, and then to transcribe correctly Master's thought into a language with which she was hardly conversant. Read "My Books," published with the Centennial edition of Isis, and experience her travail. Who of us today, with the luxury of the typewriter, et al., would consent to type, much less to inscribe by hand, even one volume of her book!

Her labors were gargantuan — but characteristically enough, H.P.B. was equal to the fray. The "grand battle" had indeed begun — in the only field available: the camp of the Spiritualists and the public presses of the world. Armed with training, discipline, initiation, H.P.B. charged head-on with a volley of thunder and fire unprecedented in the fourth estate. Boston, Philadelphia, New York, opened the columns of their progressive papers. The Spiritualists at first welcoming so powerful a champion, soon turned tail to vilify her as only a 'friend' can do. Why? Because she challenged all that was false, standing solely for the "Truth in modern Spiritualism," knowing it her "sacred duty to unveil what is, and expose what is not." Vainly she strove to awaken the superior minds in the Movement both in Europe and America to the philosophy behind spiritualistic phenomena, and to the dangers of necromancy.

While the officers and members of the T.S. were engaged in their occult busy-work of psychometric experiments, animal magnetism, mesmeric practices, and what-not, its Corresponding Secretary continued to pepper the presses of England, France, Italy and the United States with a barrage of articles, stories, letters, on every conceivable subject. One has but to open the first volume of The Complete Works of H. P. Blavatsky — 1874-1879,[*] to recognize the magnificence of her conquest.

[*Republished as H. P. Blavatsky, Collected Writings, Vol. I, 1874-1878, Boris de Zirkoff ed., Theosophical Publishing House, Wheaton, 1966.]

To her nothing was sacred but Truth, as her opening lines of Isis testify: "Truth, high-seated on her rock of adamant, is alone eternal and supreme." Faithful to this standard, she thundered against bigotry in every form. No social evil, no tyranny of the spirit, no dogma of science, remained unscathed. But, as she ravaged, shattered, destroyed, she flooded the world with light, with truth. Ex Oriente Lux had become a fact.

Originally an "open body," the Society was for a period reorganized "on the principle of secrecy," with signs and passwords, etc. A Circular issued about 1876 or 1877, giving a long explanatory paragraph on its one original objective, points up the psychology of the period. Four chief lines of endeavor are emphasized: (a) psychic research as a means of adding to occult knowledge in the West; (b) forceful opposition to materialism in science and dogmatic theology, which in the West had been cruelly pernicious in its stultifying effects; (c) the widespread introduction of Eastern esotericism and the philosophies of Buddha, Zoroaster and Confucius; and (d) of major importance, the Universal Brotherhood idea.7

7. For the actual text of this Circular, see The Golden Book of the Theosophical Society, by C. Jinarajadasa, p. 26. Paragraph VI thereof might with profit have been included in full in the article "Our Directives" published in the October, 1947, issue of The Forum. [The Circular was later reprinted in H. P. Blavatsky, Collected Writings 1:375-8, according to which it "was ready for distribution on May 3rd, 1878."]

1877 — September, Isis Unveiled was completed, published shortly thereafter, to become today a best-seller in occult literature.

1878 — May, Temporary association of the T.S. with the Arya-Somaj of India, with Swami Dayanand Sarasvati as chief. Believing implicitly in the good faith and occult knowledge of its chief, who was at the time sponsored by representatives of the Lodge, H.P.B. gave wholehearted support to his endeavors in the hope that the T.S. might find a ready field in which to prosper and grow. However, the alliance proved infertile as the Swami's overemphasis on Hindu sectarianism made it untenable for the T.S. — of strictly non-sectarian platform — to continue the association. As Master K.H. wrote in 1882, the Swami had been "an initiate Yogi, a very high chela at Badrinath, endowed some years back with great powers and a knowledge he has since forfeited."8 So the T.S. broke all official connection in 1882 with the Arya-Somaj.

8. The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, p. 309

1878 — In the Spring, a "Sleep" of five days seized H.P.B., and on her being given up for dead, Colonel Olcott received the following telegraphic message from H.P.B.'s teacher: "Fear nothing, she is neither dead nor ill, but she has need of repose; she has overworked herself. . . . She will recover."9 It was not long after this that H.P.B. formulated plans for removal of herself and Colonel Olcott to India — a highly significant move, for the next year was to see the Society's platform solidified, enlarged, and pointed to the true north of philanthropy and genuine Occultism.

9. The Theosophist, December, 1895

The opposition in America and Europe had been so fierce, so unrelenting, and so overwhelming, that far from reducing the influence of the infant society, it had actually served to increase its power. "We throve on opposition," declared Olcott to his Bombay audience in March, 1879, and "if we have survived all the battles through which we have passed; if, after a four years' struggle . . . we are a strong, compact, successful Society, daily increasing in influence, having daily accessions of able coadjutors; . . . it is because we have not feared to speak the truth at any cost."10

10. Address by the President, at the opening meeting at Bombay, India, on March 23, 1879

Direct correspondence with individuals and the presses of the world having served its unique purpose, Isis Unveiled out to the public, the "power" of the Corresponding Secretary now became channeled into definite occult teaching through the columns of the first official periodical of the Theosophical Society, The Theosophist, the first issue of October, 1879, announcing it as a "Monthly journal devoted to Oriental Philosophy, Art, Literature and Occultism: embracing Mesmerism, Spiritualism, and other Secret Sciences."

By-laws, Constitutions, Rules and administrative details were the rightful province of its President-Founder and General Council. Amendments galore proceeded to keep pace with the growing demands of the Parent T.S. and its numerous branches. In 1888, with The Secret Doctrine completed, its author having survived, not without Master's intervention,11 the Coulomb conspiracy, the S.P.R. attack, the exodus from India and subsequent travail in Europe, culminating in the final removal to London where friends had provided a suitable headquarters, H.P.B. turned her attention to individual training of worthy students. But, when the "Corresponding Secretary" announced her intention of formally organizing the Esoteric School, which was to have no "official connection with the Theosophical Society,"12 Olcott balked. His "thoughts about her were dark and sinful," and the Master had seriously to warn him. A letter 'occultly' received by him on the S.S. Shannon while voyaging to Europe in August, 1888, has these words of signal import: "To help you in your present perplexity: H.P.B. has next to no concern with administrative details. . . . 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."13

11. Vide The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett, p. 104
12. Vide Lucifer, October, 1888
13. Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom, I, 53

Fearless, with no thought of self, H.P.B. was obliged the next year again to defy her co-founder and brother-in-arms, who succumbing to self-importance attempted to bring the "Corresponding Secretary" into line with his own administrative ideas. Certain, however, of her occult mark, H.P.B. declared: "H.P.B. is loyal to death to the Theosophical Cause, and those great Teachers whose philosophy can alone bind the whole of Humanity into one Brotherhood . . . . Let it break away from the original lines and show disloyalty in its policy to the Cause and the original programme of the Society, and H.P.B. calling the T.S. disloyal, will shake it off like dust from her feet. . . .

"Let the new Exoteric Theosophical Society . . . play at red tape if the President lets them and let the General Council expel me for 'disloyalty,' if again, Colonel Olcott should be so blind as to fail to see where the 'true friend' and his duty lie. Only unless they hasten to do so, at the first sign of their disloyalty to the cause — it is I who will have resigned my office of Corresponding Secretary for life and left the Society. This will not prevent me from remaining at the head of those — who will follow me."14

14. Lucifer, August, 1889

Need more be said. The two remaining years of her life but strengthened her occult leadership. The Esoteric Section increased in quality and power. The torch of Truth had been lighted, but the world little heeding has once again crucified its Messiah.

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