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

Chapter 21


The last words of H. P. Blavatsky in regard to her work are said to have been: "Keep the link unbroken! Do not let my last incarnation be a failure." And notwithstanding many vicissitudes, crises, errors, and the defections of half-hearted members, the movement has not been a failure and unquestionably it has come to stay.

At the passing of H.P.B. the office of corresponding secretary, which she had reassumed after the near panic in India was over, was left vacant as a tribute to her memory. Instead of the depression that the enemies of theosophy imagined would be inevitable, the movement showed its innate vitality. The effect of H.P.B.'s departure from this plane was to arouse a tremendous determination to carry on her work with still greater success. A General Convention of the European Section was called, and as most of the leading members from the other sections, including the president and the vice-president, attended, it became practically a convention of the whole Society. The London Lodge, still under the direction of A. P. Sinnett, held aloof in its position as a quasi-independent body. Aside from this, a most fraternal and optimistic feeling prevailed, and when the members went away, the prospects were very bright. H. S. Olcott, W. Q. Judge, and Annie Besant stood out as the most capable and dedicated leaders in the Society at that time.

Link to Illustration: William Q. Judge and Henry S. Olcott, 1891

An important problem requiring immediate attention was the future of the Esoteric School. This should have been entirely confined to its own membership and settled within its own ranks, but unfortunate circumstances that arose later dragged the matter into public notice, and so a brief mention is necessary here. The most prominent persons in the School were W. Q. Judge and Mrs. Besant. Judge was one of the two remaining founders of the Society and had been for years the close and trusted friend of H.P.B., and, by appointing him her representative in America, she had given him the most responsible position, except her own, in the Esoteric School. Mrs. Besant was a new recruit, but she had quickly taken an active part in the School. H.P.B. wrote to W.Q.J. in March 1891, shortly before her passing, that Mrs. Besant by nature was "not psychic nor spiritual in the least — all intellect, and yet she hears Master's voice when alone, sees His Light, and recognizes his voice from that of D----." But her unselfish and courageous devotion to the service of suffering humanity had laid the foundation of this rapid progress under the guiding hand of the Teacher.

It was not surprising, then, when the question of the future management of the Esoteric School arose, and it was decided to carry it on along the lines laid down by H.P.B., that Mrs. Besant should have been regarded as a leading spirit in that department. To show the estimation in which she was held by H.P.B., the latter officially appointed her "Chief Secretary of the Inner Group and Recorder of the Teachings," shortly before she went to America to carry H. P. Blavatsky's Message to the American Convention in April 1891. When Mrs. Besant returned, the Teacher had passed away, and a new situation had to be met. There were no further teachings forthcoming from H.P.B., and so the position of Recorder had no duties attached.

Various candidates for leadership were vaguely indicated; even the kindly and devoted Countess of Caithness was looked on favorably by the French lodges, but she could not have fulfilled the duties. W. Q. Judge naturally appeared to the Council and the leading members to be the fitted person to take the lead. Not only was he a cofounder of the Society with H. S. Olcott (who by then had dissociated himself from the E.S.), but he had the spiritual dedication, the theosophical knowledge, the long experience in the Society needed, as well as H.P.B.'s entire and unshakable trust. It has already been mentioned (p. 238) that she considered Judge the only person in whom she had "confidence enough not to have extracted from him a pledge." He had offered himself in Master's service even before the founding of the T.S. He also was the only person whom, so far as is known, she spoke of as being in close union with a high Adept, a nirmanakaya (p. 243).

But for his own voluntary act, Judge would have been given the sole management of the Esoteric School. However, when the decision as to the future arrangement had to be made, he produced and read to the responsible group in London a private letter from H.P.B. to him, written shortly before her death, which contained a passage referring to Annie Besant in high appreciation. This passage continues from the sentence quoted on page 276:

"Judge, she is a most wonderful woman, my right hand, my successor, when I will be forced to leave you, my sole hope in England, as you are my sole hope in America." — H.P.B. and the Present Crisis in the Theosophical Society, 4

In view of this letter, and under a plan suggested by Judge, the managing group of representative members divided the control of the School between W. Q. Judge and Annie Besant, "the highest officials in the School for the present," as is recorded in the Minutes of the meeting. They were to be Co-Outer Heads, and it was expected that the work would be conducted according to H. P. Blavatsky's principles.

Judge's high sense of honor was never more conspicuous than on this occasion for, if he had not brought H.P.B.'s letter forward, he would have been given without question the highest position in the theosophical movement that the Council could offer. This action was in consonance with the impersonal nature of the man, which is shown throughout his entire career.

Some have since thought that H.P.B.'s reference to "successor" meant that Mrs. Besant was to be the sole Head of the School, but the members took it in the obvious meaning of the words — successor in leadership in England, working in close harmony with Judge as leader in America. Knowing H.P.B.'s high opinion of Judge, and also that he was unanimously supported by the Americans (by far the largest body of active workers in the T.S. at that time) the Council adopted a course that was an excellent working plan for the time being. That Mrs. Besant regarded Judge as better qualified than herself to carry on the Esoteric School, is shown by a quotation from a letter to The Path, written by Dr. Archibald Keightley:

In a letter dated July 2, 1891, Mrs. Besant says, writing to esotericists who did not wish to accept the co-headship of Mrs. Besant, the following:

"If I could, I would say to you, my dear ----, sign only to Mr. Judge. I should be quite content, for indeed there is no reason why you should have any confidence in me. Only as They have put us together, I have no power to stand aside." (Italics mine [A.K.].) — The Path, X, 100, June 1895

The last sentence in the above letter refers to a written message found by her among her papers during the Council meeting, about the management of the School. It came from the Master M. and read: "Judge's plan is right." At that time and for about two years afterward, she was most insistent in her assurances that the conditions of its reception precluded any possibility of its being anything but a direct message from the Master, precipitated by occult means. In a statement dated July 14, 1893, signed by Constance Wachmeister, G. R. S. Mead, Annie Besant, Laura M. Cooper, W. Wynn Westcott, and Alice Cleather — all of them members of the General Council who were present at the fateful meeting in July 1891 — the phenomenal reception of the message "Judge's plan is right" is described. It is stated to have contained a seal-impression recognized by the countess and others as identical with that found on letters received during H.P.B.'s lifetime. The statement concludes with a significant paragraph:

The message was received as a most satisfactory sign of approval of the arrangement proposed, but that arrangement was in no sense arrived at in consequence of it, being, as above stated, based on H. P. Blavatsky's own letters and accepted as by her directions. — Reply by William Q. Judge to Charges, 22

In August 1893, Annie Besant and W. Q. Judge included the above statement in an E.S. circular, signed by their names alone. Mrs. Besant emphatically repeated to various members of the E.S. that it was absolutely impossible that there could be any mistake about the genuineness and phenomenal reception of the Master's message in question. However, shortly after her visit to America in September 1893, she entirely reversed her attitude toward Judge, and in a few months repudiated the authenticity of the message and charged him with having fabricated it. Yet even if Judge had been capable of anything dishonorable, such conduct would have been absurd because the decision of the Council had already been made. There was, however, a reason for this extraordinary and disastrous change in Mrs. Besant's point of view, which may become clear when certain events of the year 1893 are related.

A few words should be said here in regard to successorship in theosophical work. Colonel Olcott, in discussing the subject, said that H.P.B. mentioned, at different times, various persons as her successor, but as he found that nothing came from these suggestions he thought no more of them. Reasons could be given for the dropping out of such possible and, for a time, promising 'successors,' but in a spiritual enterprise like theosophy a true successor does not depend upon appointment or signed documents, but must bring the insignia of his office with him. The indiscriminating will ask for certificates, but the intuitive will recognize fitness when he sees it. It is worth recording, however, that Roger Hall, for one, states that shortly before her passing, H. P. Blavatsky personally told him that "W. Q. Judge was her favorite pupil and would worthily bear her mantle." She repeated this to him a little later, definitely saying that Judge was "her destined successor" (Irish Theosophist, III, 165, June 1895).

Soon after H.P.B.'s departure, numerous mediums claimed to receive communications from her, as she had expected and had provided against by positively stating that she would never communicate through such means. At least one psychic demanded to take her place on the strength of his 'messages'! W. Q. Judge and others showed the absurdity of these claims, and when the most importunate applicant for the post asserted that H.P.B. had "guaranteed" him the allegiance of the "higher spiritual intelligences and forces," Judge explained that no such guarantees were possible. The occult (not mediumistic) powers, the intellect, and other unique characteristics of a genius like H. P. Blavatsky cannot be guaranteed to anyone. In that sense any claim to successorship is preposterous and impossible. Speaking of the same claimant, Mr. Judge pointed out to him that he was not a member of the Society, and that he did not even accept its teachings! He wrote:

Knowledge of and control over the higher potencies in Nature comes only by individual attainment through long discipline and conquest. . . . If a person moves on a lofty level, it is because he worked his way there. . . . When Mr. Foulke [the claimant-medium] produces a work like Isis Unveiled or The Secret Doctrine, he may be cited as H.P.B.'s intellectual peer; when he imparts such impulsion as does The Voice of the Silence, he may be recognized as her spiritual equal; when he adds to these an utter consecration to the work of the T.S. as his life-long mission, he may participate in such "succession" as the case admits. But it will not be through alleged precipitated pictures and imagined astral shapes. The effect of these on Theosophy, . . . may be stated in one word — nothing. — Lucifer, X, 82, Mar. 1892

Let there be no mistake about this. W. Q. Judge was referring to the outstanding fact that there could not be another leader of the same character and attainments as H. P. Blavatsky. Even Adepts of high rank have marked individualities, though they have far more consciousness of spiritual unity with all that exists than ordinary men. But, as she wrote in her "Preliminary Memorandum," while the "sluggards" who had neglected their opportunities would lose the chance of advancement in their present incarnation because of the approaching close of a great cycle in 1899, that did not mean that the Esoteric School would be closed and that there would be no successor to herself to protect it and to keep alive the spirit of the "original programme." Her own words are very significant:

The writer of the present is old; her life is well-nigh worn out, and she may be summoned "home" any day and almost any hour. And if her place is even filled up, perchance by another worthier and more learned than herself, still there remain but a few years to the last hour of the term — namely, till December the 31st, 1899 . . . those who will not have reached a certain point of psychic and spiritual development, or that point from which begins the cycle of adeptship, by that day — those will advance no further than the knowledge already acquired . . . the sluggards will have to renounce every chance of advancement in their present incarnation . . . — First Preliminary Memorandum


As to the relations of the Masters to this Section, it may be further said, paradoxically, that with Them everything is possible and everything impossible. — Ibid.

In regard to the effect on the "sluggards" of this close of the first five thousand years of the kali-yuga cycle there has been much misunderstanding of H.P.B.'s words, and a few passages from an answer by G. de Purucker to a question on that subject must be quoted here. The questioner wonders if it is true, as asserted by some, that the Masters started a great movement, made "great promises, and then left it like a piece of driftwood on the uncharted seas." This was not so, as Dr. de Purucker explains:

H.P.B. points out that she is old, and that in consequence those who have been following her teachings, inner and outer, have but a relatively short time in which to profit by her presence amongst them; for during the last quarter of every century an especial impulse or effort is made by the Masters of Wisdom and Compassion to help the world, or rather humanity as a whole; and that this outpouring of a spiritual and intellectual impulse is a particularly important opportunity for esoteric students; and that they should not allow the remaining years of her presence with them to pass without straining every nerve to reach a certain point of psychic and spiritual development, i.e., that point from which begins the cycle of adeptship. Otherwise, she says, those who fail so to strive, will advance no farther than the knowledge already acquired. Such sluggards, she pointedly declares — and I repeat this word — such sluggards will have to forego all chance of advancing to chelaship, in their present incarnation . . .

The questioner will note that there is not one word in this paragraph, . . . supporting the grotesque and to me wicked idea that the Theosophical Society was left deserted when H.P.B. died, without spiritual guidance and without the direct link or connection with the Great Lodge. She does not say, nor has she ever said, that with her death the link would surely be broken. It is said that her final words were, before she drew her last breath in London: "Keep the link unbroken," which keeping could only be done by means of human hearts and minds devoted to the Cause which she ever so grandly served. — Forum, V, 230-1, April 1934

H. P. Blavatsky, then, fully envisaged the possibility of a competent successor who would be able to take charge of the central core of her work and who would carry the movement safely over the critical last hours of the term when the danger was greatest, owing to the confusion arising from the closing of the first five thousand years of the "dark age," kali-yuga. That, however, does not imply that another Blavatsky, with her exceptional endowments and unique character, would take her place, but it certainly indicates the probability that another chela of absolute devotion, impersonality, and considerable occult experience, was ready. More than one may have been available among the high Oriental chelas, such as Damodar, Gual Khool, or others, but, as it happened, a qualified Western chela, William Q. Judge, was at hand. He had been personally trained by H. P. Blavatsky, was familiar with her plans, and the Master himself called him "my dear and loyal colleague." Not only did H.P.B. mention "successors," but Judge himself had no doubt that successorship was in order, as is shown, not only by his acceptance of the Co-Headship in 1891, but in his carrying out of a new arrangement made by the Master in 1894 for the administration of the Esoteric School.

Colonel Olcott, also, had no doubt that a successor to H. P. Blavatsky was coming immediately or at least very soon after her death, even though he did not know who it would be. Writing to Miss Francesca Arundale on February 9, 1885, just before Damodar went to Tibet and H.P.B. was sent by him and the rather weak-kneed councillors to Europe, he says:

Damodar goes to Tibet for development and if she [H.P.B.] should die before his return I am to be the temporary link between the Masters and the T.S. These are His orders but I shall be a sorry substitute. However, let us hope I may not be called upon for that, but that they will keep her alive until her successor can be sent. — Theos., LIII, 732, Sept. 1932

This "successor" would not be the Outer Head of the Esoteric School, because the School was not started in 1885, but it would obviously be a high chela closely in touch with the Masters and through whom they could communicate with the members, and perhaps give further teaching. Damodar would possibly have been selected, as Olcott hints in this letter, but this was out of the question, as he did not return before H.P.B.'s death.

As already mentioned, the Council, in June 1891, placed the E.S. in the charge of Annie Besant and W. Q. Judge, with the approval of Master M. With certain adjustments, this arrangement was carried out for some years without difficulty. In 1894, however, the Master saw that a very critical time had arrived and that the movement was in danger of falling under ultraconservative Brahmanical influence and probably of being diverted from its true course. In view of this serious condition, he decided to reorganize the management of the School and to place it under the sole direction of W. Q. Judge.

In response, then, to the Master's orders, Judge issued a circular, dated November 3, 1894, in which he announced the change, saying (p. 12):

I resume in the E.S.T. in full all the functions and powers given to me by H.P.B. .. . and that came to me by orderly succession after her passing from this life, and declare myself the sole head of the E.S.T.

W. Q. Judge made it clear that although the Masters had adjusted the situation by this change, it was not because Annie Besant was personally ill-intentioned but because she had "simply gone for a while outside the line of her Guru (H.P.B. ' .), begun work with others, and fallen under their influence" (Ibid., 4).

Mrs. Besant, however, saw the matter in another light, and declined to admit the authenticity of the orders. Her refusal widened the breach in the Society, which had been insidiously started as early as 1892, a year before the World Parliament of Religions at Chicago, where she represented the European Section of the T.S. She withdrew from cooperation with Judge in the inner work, and carried on an esoteric body in her own way until her death.

Theosophical University Press Online Edition