H. P. Blavatsky and the Theosophical Movement — Charles J. Ryan

Chapter 18


Before considering the last remaining years of H. P. Blavatsky's life, the progress of the Society in America must be reviewed.

While India and Europe were passing their stage of growing pains, little could be done in America owing to the lack of available leadership. William Q. Judge, with all his fiery energy and devotion to theosophy, not only had to struggle desperately to earn a living for his wife and child, but he was constantly being called away on legal business to distant places, including the Latin American countries. For several years his poverty prevented him from giving much time or energy to theosophical work, and he suffered severe hardships, sometimes hardly knowing where to find the price of a meal. He would walk miles to save carfare in order to pay the postage on letters to inquirers. Yet his trust and enthusiasm never failed, and although at times the shadows were heavy he never despaired.

After the arrival of the "Delegation" to India in 1879, Judge kept up a regular correspondence with Olcott, Damodar and a few others. For many months, however, H.P.B. ignored him. She did not answer his letters and left him to find his own way by his own efforts. At first he suffered deeply from being apparently neglected by his friend and teacher; but he soon realized that "this great loneliness" was a part of the training of a chela, and a real, though stern, tribute to his inner spiritual resources. H.P.B. knew exactly what she was doing; and several years later she confided her knowledge of his real inner status to him. Writing in 1886, she says:

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 (1) not the "astral" that blended with your astral. — Forum, III, 253, Aug. 1932

After H. P. Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott went to India, the small group at New York — probably never more than forty, mostly spiritualists — were not able to do much. General Doubleday, the acting president, although devoted and sincere, himself said he was conscious of his own ignorance and inexperience. C. C. Massey, then a very active member, had gone to England. Much delay and anxiety was caused by the difficulty in getting a proper form of initiatory ritual from India, without which new members could not be accepted. Judge wrote for it many times, and Olcott admits that he was largely to blame for the suspension of activities. He writes:

It must be said, in justice to Mr. Judge, General Doubleday, and their associates in the original Theosophical Society, whom we left in charge on leaving for India, that the suspended animation was for two or three years mainly due to my own fault. There had been some talk of converting the Society into a high Masonic degree, and the project had been favourably viewed by some influential Masons. — O. D. L., I, 142

He says he expected to draft an appropriate form of ritual on his arrival in India, but this was prevented by the pressure of theosophical work which soon became much greater than he expected and, after Judge and General Doubleday had made vain appeals for something to be done, the idea was abandoned. Olcott says: "But by this time Judge had gone abroad, and the others did nothing." The time finally came when conditions permitted a revival of theosophy in America, and a ritual of a kind was introduced in at least one lodge.

In 1882, the first American branch was started in Rochester, N. Y., and it began to work with such energy that, within two years, it was able to establish a well-written theosophical magazine, The Occult Word. The Theosophist (IV, Nov. 1882, Suppl. 2) published a note about the general conditions which is historically interesting:

Professor A. L. Rawson, LL.D., F.T.S., as delegated representative of Major General A. Doubleday, Acting President of the (New York) Theosophical Society, organized at Rochester, N. Y., on the 27th of July, the local branch for which a charter had been duly issued from the Bombay Head-quarters. A new form of ritual for initiations was used for the first time on this occasion.

From the above it is seen that the headquarters in India was regarded by the Society in New York as the rightful office for the issue of new charters.

The Rochester Lodge was quickly followed by another in St. Louis, and on December 4, 1883, the historic Aryan Theosophical Lodge was formed out of the original New York Society, William Q. Judge being made president. After a few years, the Aryan became the throbbing heart of the American work, and many of the activities initiated there were adopted by the lodges throughout the world. At its first meeting a Hindu of distinguished appearance, but whose name is not recorded, was introduced by General Doubleday and, after saying that the time had come for active work, read a passage from the Mahabharata, and then retired after presenting a copy of the Bhagavad-Gita to the General.

Olcott, in reviewing this revival of theosophy, said that America

was almost a graveyard of Theosophy when Mr. Judge felt what you may call the "divine afflatus" to devote himself to the work and to pick up the loose threads we had left scattered there and carry it on. The result shows what one man can do who is altogether devoted to his cause. — First Annual Convention of the T.S. in Europe, London, July 1891, p. 49

When W. Q. Judge returned from his brief but important visit to Adyar, India, his financial position improved so greatly that he was able to give far more time and energy to the work. An energetic body of helpers was soon attracted to this strong, able, quiet man, and many new lodges were started.

In W. Q. Judge's report to the American Section in 1888, page 7, he said that, at his suggestion, in 1884 Colonel Olcott in London,

under his powers as President, constituted the American Board of Control which was to supersede the Presidency of General Doubleday, . . .

But in 1885, on my return from India, I found that the importance of the Society had so increased that a radical change was demanded . . .

In accordance with my request, Madame Blavatsky suggested to the Board of Control to form the American Section, and Col. Olcott presented the matter to the General Council in India, . . .

The American Section was formed in 1886 with Judge as general secretary, and when he gave the above report it contained twenty-two lodges, while more were in process of formation.

The American Section soon became so prosperous under the great organizing ability of W. Q. Judge that it was able not only to initiate various new activities, but to give much needed support in money and other ways to the Society in general and especially to the Indian Section.

In April 1886, before this satisfactory condition was reached, Mr. Judge boldly started his magazine, The Path. Though the funds were low and suitable writers were very scarce, he saw the necessity of an American magazine in which the new era of thought and aspiration could be represented. Fortunately for all later students, the paucity of qualified contributors compelled Judge to write a large proportion of its contents under various pseudonyms, such as American Mystic, Eusebio Urban, Rodriguez Undiano, Hadji Erinn, and especially William Brehon. (Brehon meant a judge in ancient Ireland.) His series Letters That Have Helped Me (1888-1889) has been reprinted in book form, and continues to be invaluable to students who are starting on the path in search of themselves. His clear exposition of matters of practical mysticism, free from psychism, and the high spiritual quality of The Path, quickly attracted attention.

With the increasing demand for more theosophical information on the problems of life, The Theosophical Forum, chiefly consisting of answers to questions, was started, and in 1891 conditions warranted the engagement of qualified Hindu scholars to translate Sanskrit and other manuscripts. A large number of valuable pamphlets were published by the Oriental Department. W. Q. Judge's clear and concise handbook The Ocean of Theosophy, which has been the means of introducing theosophy to innumerable inquirers, appeared in 1893, and has never been equaled in its own line.

Information, unavailable until recently, has thrown a vivid and hitherto unsuspected light upon Judge's psychological development, and it adds greatly to the estimation in which he should be held. After his first seven or eight years in the T.S. a definite change took place in him. He showed a marked and rapid increase in power and knowledge toward the end of that period, and began to stand out as a natural leader of men. He was quickly recognized by the members as the one who had the capacity to organize successfully the spreading of the theosophical movement in America. H. P. Blavatsky relied on him more and more as her "only friend" in a very deep sense. This development is seen in his writings. His contributions in the early volumes of The Theosophist, though few in number, are practical and interesting; but they are very different from those which flowed in abundance from his pen when he started his Path in 1886. When H. P. Blavatsky started her magazine Lucifer in 1887, in order to have a freer opportunity to speak to the members than she could get in The Theosophist after leaving India, it seems to have been suggested that The Path might cease publication. Blazing with indignation, she promptly wrote to Judge:

If I thought for one moment that Lucifer will "rub out" Path I would never consent to be the editor. But listen, then, my good old friend. Once that the Masters have proclaimed your Path the best, the most theosophical of all theosophical publications, surely it is not to allow it to be rubbed out. . . . One is the fighting, combative Manas; the other (Path)is pure Buddhi. . . . Lucifer will be Theosophy militant and Path the shining light, the Star of Peace. . . . No, sir, the Path is too well, too theosophically edited for me to interfere. — Irish Theosophist, III, 156, June 1895

The remarkable advance in power and spiritual illumination on the part of Judge was no ordinary development. H.P.B. explained the secret cause to Judge himself when she told him, as noted earlier, that the Nirmanakaya, a high spiritual Adept, had mystically blended with his astral, although he did not know it till then. The enlightening of a trained personality by a higher spiritual consciousness is fully recognized in Eastern occultism. Judge himself, a chela for many preceding lives, had consciously incarnated in childhood into a chosen body, which, as W. Q. Judge, required the training and self-discipline partially obtained through struggles for a livelihood and through certain domestic difficulties. When the time arrived for his own work as teacher, inspiration came from the inner realms from which the nirmanakayas help humanity.

In the meantime an important work had been going on in Ireland, in which Judge was greatly interested. In April 1886, theosophical activity began by the establishment of the Dublin Lodge, and the work of this remarkable group of original thinkers soon began to produce far-reaching effects in the world at large. Judge kept up an active correspondence with the members, and attended the lodge whenever he visited his native country.

The facts of the important literary work initiated by this lodge should be known to all theosophists and kept in mind, both as a tribute to William Q. Judge, and as an example of the real standing of the theosophical movement as shown by its power to inspire new achievements in the thought-life of the world. It is regrettable that only the briefest reference can be made to the unique work of the Dublin Lodge in starting the new current of research into, and appreciation of, the greatness of the Heroic Age in ancient Ireland, with its theosophical mythology and other spiritual factors so long obscured by misrepresentation and suppression. It was through this lodge, indirectly from H. P. Blavatsky and more directly through W. Q. Judge, that this revolution in thought was initiated, and the broad-minded and liberal Irish Literary Revival became a cultural power which has enriched the modern world with the forgotten treasures of Celtic antiquity.

In 1892, the group of brilliant young writers and other enthusiastic workers (including Fred. J. Dick, his wife, and Robert E. Coates, who in later years helped to build up the center at Point Loma) forming the Dublin Lodge, started a small magazine under the greatest financial and other difficulties. The high standard and unusual character of the articles and poems in The Irish Theosophist soon attracted wide attention, and the little periodical very quickly took a distinguished place in contemporary literature. Two challenging articles by George W. Russell (AE) on "Priest and Hero" and "The Hero in Man" struck the keynote of the new liberating movement. It was in this journal that his poems, unique for their mystical insight and spiritual beauty, first found an appropriate setting and obtained public recognition. Russell, afterwards so famous as poet and essayist, never failed to give credit to H. P. Blavatsky and W. Q. Judge for starting him on the path of knowledge. He was a close friend of Mr. Judge, and as long as he lived he declared his high regard for Judge both as a noble man and a wise teacher. He writes:

I had no private doctrine: nothing but H.P.B. eked out, for beginners by W.Q.J.; the Bhagavad Gita; Upanishads; Patanjali; and one or two other classics. I did what I could to keep always in line with the Message of H.P.B., . . .

My own writing is trivial, and whatever merit is to be found in it is due to its having been written in a spiritual atmosphere generated by study of H.P.B. and the sacred books of the East. — The Canadian Theosophist, XVI, 163-4, Aug. 1935

For further information about this movement the student must consult Ernest A. Boyd's Ireland's Literary Renaissance (1916), a standard work, in which he treats the subject at length. The following is quoted from that book:

The study of mysticism was the common factor which brought together the younger writers, W. B. Yeats, Charles Johnston [the accomplished Sanskritist who married H. P. Blavatsky's niece], . . . Charles Weekes and George W. Russell (A.E.), to mention only some of the names which have since come into prominence in Irish literature. By an irony of history, the late Professor Dowden seems to have given the impulse to the Theosophical Movement in Dublin. . . . It was at Dowden's house that W. B. Yeats heard the discussion of A. P. Sinnett's Esoteric Buddhism and The Occult World which induced him to read these two books, and to recommend them to his school-friend, Charles Johnston. . . .

Johnston's interest did not stop at reading and commentary. He went to London to meet Mr. Sinnett, through whom he became acquainted with various people of prominence in theosophical circles, and finally he returned to Dublin as a Fellow of the Theosophical Society. It was not long before he obtained recruits, who in time became the Charter-members of the Dublin Lodge of the Theosophical Society. This Lodge . . . was as vital a factor in the evolution of Anglo-Irish literature as the publication of Standish O'Grady's History of Ireland, the two events being complementary to any complete understanding of the literature of the Revival. The Theosophical Movement provided a literary, artistic and intellectual centre from which radiated influences whose effect was felt even by those who did not belong to it. . . . It was an intellectual melting-pot from which the true and solid elements of nationality emerged strengthened, while the dross was lost. . . . Depth without narrowness was their reward for building upon a human, rather than upon a political, foundation. . . .

It would, of course, be rash to assert that the newcomers would not have written but for that Movement, but there can be no doubt of its having helped many to find themselves, and of its having given a definite mould and impulse to their work. George Russell (A.E.), . . . Charles Weekes, and Charles Johnston [and others] were the specific contribution of the Theosophical Movement to the Revival. As writers, editors and publishers they are directly and indirectly responsible for a considerable part of the best work in Anglo-Irish literature. . . . — pp. 213-17

The Theosophical Movement in Dublin not only gave us a great poet in A.E., but also our only essayist, . . . — p. 239

Link to Illustration: New Year Card from H.P.B. to Dublin Lodge

The year 1886 also saw the first mention of a new activity, the work for children, which developed into Lotus-Circles or Theosophical Sunday-Schools and the Junior Theosophical Clubs. In a letter dated May 28, 1886 (2), W. Q. Judge writes advising the establishment of weekly meetings where the children of theosophists can be taught reincarnation and karma. The children of today, he said, will be the men and women of tomorrow, and by teaching them the elements of the laws of being in ways adapted to their growing intelligence, especially the divinity of their real nature, a new generation will arise fitted to take great responsibilities in the redemption of humanity.

The first effective work for the children, of which definite record is available, began in California at Orange in 1888 and rather later in San Francisco. This purely theosophical work must not be confused with the numerous Sanskrit schools for young people already established in India under H.P.B.'s direct inspiration and help.

A rapid development was taking place in California in 1886, and H.P.B. watched it with great interest. About that time she sent two pictures of the Masters to the Pacific Coast Committee in token of her prevision that California would take an important part in the spread of theosophy.

Mention was previously made of troubles that arose from Dr. Coues' ambition to become leader. Enraged by his expulsion and anxious for revenge, in 1890 he wrote one of the most scandalous attacks ever made on H.P.B., Colonel Olcott, and Judge, which was published in full in the New York Sun. This produced a most dignified reply from H.P.B. in which she said that as one of the slanders — an attack on her moral character — brought into disrepute the name of a dead man, an old family friend, the Prince Emil Wittgenstein, she could not remain silent. She had therefore taken an action against the New York Sun and Dr. Coues for libel for, as she said, if this rich and powerful newspaper could prove only one of the dastardly charges made in this article her character would be ruined and the Society disrupted. The onus was on the publishers to prove her guilty by the production of facts, not by claiming a verdict on false evidence, innuendo, or hearsay, as was attempted in the Hodgson-Coulomb travesty of justice.

In spite of every effort to press the case by her counsel, it was a long time before it came into court, and early in 1891 the attorneys for The Sun admitted that they could not prove the charge on which the suit depended — immorality — and asked Judge Beach of the Supreme Court of New York to be allowed to retain a mass of irrelevant matter. The Judge refused, as this was only meant to prejudice the jury. This decision was a substantial victory, and the only question seemed to be the amount of damages to be assessed. Before the judgment was given, however, H. P. Blavatsky passed away, and her death automatically terminated the suit.

But the matter was not closed. The Sun decided to make further inquiries on its own account, and finding that it had been entirely misled and victimized by Dr. Coues, made a most honorable retraction and apology and, as the best method of restitution, published a long article by W. Q. Judge, "The Esoteric She," outlining the truth about H. P. Blavatsky and exposing the slanders. Judge comments on this voluntary action in The Path (VII, 249, Nov. 1892):

As many newspaper men since have said, it is as complete as anything of the kind that was ever published. And in view of the fact that no suit by H.P.B. was then pending, it reflects credit on the paper in this age when newspapers in general never retract except when forced by law or loss of money. Thus ends this libel.


1. Nirmanakaya is the Sanskrit name for a highly advanced Adept who has evolved beyond the need of a physical body, and while living on the plane of being next superior to the physical one, yet remains closely in contact with mankind in order to help by continually instilling thoughts of spiritual and moral beauty into the hearts of men. (return to text)

2. [Cf. Practical Occultism: From the Private Letters of William Q. Judge, 28. — ED.] (return to text)


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