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

Chapter 23


The original Society was now separated into two branches, a course which H.P.B. had herself been almost forced to adopt more than once as the only way to protect the work entrusted to her by the Masters. It is therefore necessary to touch on the fortunes of each division, but only in the briefest manner, because the main purpose of this book is not to give an extended picture of the theosophical movement so much as to present a concise outline of H. P. Blavatsky's career and her work as messenger and teacher.

On hearing of the decision of the American Section to continue its theosophical work without interference, Olcott issued an Executive Notice in which he recognized its "indisputable right" to do so, and proffered his best wishes for its success, saying that "a separation like the present one was far more prudent than the perpetuation of ill-feeling and disunity within our ranks by causes too well known to need special reference" (June 5, 1895). However, in the same Notice, he abrogated the Section charter, annulled those charters of branches which had voted for Judge and cancelled the diplomas of all Fellows who had elected to follow Judge's leadership. Yet two years before, on May 17, 1893, Olcott had written to Judge:

If you want separate Theosophical Societies made out of Sections, have them by all means. I offered this years ago to H.P.B., and even to A.P.S. [Sinnett]. — Report, 9th Convention, American Section, 1895, 23

Thus, as above stated, the original Theosophical Society was now divided into two autonomous branches, two sister societies, each thenceforth to work out its own destiny. The few lodges in America which had shown sympathy with Mrs. Besant and her views formed a new section recognizing Adyar as its headquarters. The entire Indian Section, a majority of the European, and most of the small Australian Section chose to follow Adyar. Mrs. Besant settled in India, where she devoted her tremendous energy to the development of the Adyar Society, temporarily depleted by the loss of support from the richer and more vigorous American Section and of so many active lodges and members in other countries.

For the remainder of his life Colonel Olcott worked indefatigably for Theosophy and Buddhism, making long and wearisome lecturing tours, establishing free schools for the "untouchables" and others, and constantly improving his headquarters at Adyar. Among his admirable contributions to human welfare and genuine scholarship, prominence must be given to the creation of an excellent Research Library at Adyar, now containing thousands of volumes and Oriental manuscripts. He died at Adyar in 1907, shortly after an accident on board ship. He was a good and unselfish man, as the Masters said, a very human man but not at all mystical, and he often misunderstood H.P.B. from ignorance of the occult orders under which she was acting, and which she could not reveal. She spoke and wrote very freely about his failings and his virtues to W. Q. Judge. Even during the times when Olcott was obstructing her plans and causing anxiety to those who could see his error, she was always just and kindly in her estimate of his character. For instance, in 1887, in writing to Judge, who was disturbed by certain of his activities, she says:

You make too much of me & too little of him. He is better than I am, in many respects, for I had & he never had any training.

. . . This is the one priceless quality in Olcott. FAITH in his Master, & no desire for reward; . . . — Forum, III, 225-6, July 1932

There can be no reasonable doubt that Olcott had occasional inner as well as some outer communication with his Master M. although, as he says, it was by no means continuous. At times he did need criticism and reproof from M. and K.H., yet they fully appreciated his record of devotion and unflagging energy.

Olcott had the unique task of building the material form, or vehicle, for the presentation of theosophy in the nineteenth century, and it is a wonder that he made so few mistakes. He had to blaze his way through unknown and difficult territory, confronted with obstacles and hampered with trials that would have made weaker and less determined men abandon the field in despair.

Link to Illustration: T.S. Headquarters, Adyar, Madras, 1887

Annie Besant was elected president of the Theosophical Society (with headquarters at Adyar) in succession to H. S. Olcott, and she soon initiated certain changes in policy. One of the first was the recommendation that theosophists should enter more positively into other fields of activity — religious, social, philanthropic, etc. — in order to "theosophize" them. A department called the Theosophical Order of Service was organized to carry out this plan.

About the year 1906 a very severe crisis arose within the Adyar Theosophical Society, but fortunately it only affected other theosophists indirectly by the unfavorable publicity it gave to the movement in the eyes of the world. It was caused by the teachings of a prominent English member, C. W. Leadbeater, connected with the work in India in the early years, and later secretary of Sinnett's exclusive London Lodge, but living at Adyar in 1906. The trouble arose because he advocated certain methods of dealing with adolescent sex problems which were strongly objected to by many of the Adyar theosophists. Very trying complications ensued, and amid the clash of bitter controversy a large number of Adyar members resigned and several lodges disbanded. To prevent more serious disruption, Leadbeater withdrew from the Society. Mrs. Besant at that time spoke very strongly against his teachings on the subject mentioned, and Colonel Olcott, who also wholly disapproved of them, was greatly disturbed by the entire situation. After Olcott's death in 1907, it was announced that Mr. Leadbeater gave Mrs. Besant, the new president, an assurance that he would no longer continue the objectionable teachings, and on her recommendation the Council reinstated him as a member of the Society.

Another cause of anxiety and loss of membership arose from the opposition to Mrs. Besant's encouragement of the Liberal Catholic Church and the Co-Masonic Order, in both of which Mr. Leadbeater became strongly interested as a high official. Many theosophical workers considered such undertakings quite out of place in close association with the Theosophical Society, even though they were not actually affiliated with it. They thought the identification of many well-known members with those extraneous activities compromised the nonsectarian character of the Society, but Mrs. Besant's forceful personality and the weight of her authority carried the majority with her, though not without loss. These and other side issues which caused such grave disturbances have been ascribed to the influence of the dominating personality of Leadbeater — a psychological problem which could be adequately treated only by a complete analysis of the voluminous data available.

Sincerely anxious to promote higher education in India, and to counteract the materialistic tendency of public secular education, Mrs. Besant started a High School and College at Benares in 1898. It was later handed over to the Hindu authorities and developed into the Benares Hindu University. Other valuable and extensive educational work has since been carried on in India, Ceylon, etc., under the auspices of the Adyar T.S. In 1918 Mrs. Besant organized the Indian Boy Scouts, she being appointed Honorary Commissioner of all India for the Boy Scouts Association.

In 1913 Mrs. Besant decided to enter the political field in order to promote the Dominion status of India within the British Empire. She founded several newspapers, and in 1917 she was elected president of the Indian National Congress. Although this activity was personal and not connected with the Theosophical Society (Adyar) as such, the public found it difficult to distinguish between her political and her theosophical work, owing to her prominence in both.

In 1911 Annie Besant organized the Order of the Star in the East to prepare for the coming of an expected "World Teacher." Jiddu Krishnamurti, a young Hindu boy, a protege of Mrs. Besant and a pupil of Leadbeater, was appointed its head, and it was widely believed by Adyar theosophists that he would provide the physical vehicle for the incarnation of a very high Adept. Although this Order was not officially a part of the T.S., its leading members and, it is supposed, the majority of the fellowship, were Adyar theosophists, and again difficulties arose from those who feared that it would divert attention from theosophical work. Some years later, however, Krishnamurti dissolved his Order, although it had attained a large membership, and he has since devoted his activities to lecturing and writing. He has stated publicly that he is no longer a member of the Adyar Theosophical Society, or associated with it in any way.

Annie Besant was not only a most remarkable orator, lecturing throughout the world in the interest of her large Society and her other activities, but also an accomplished and prolific writer on theosophy and Indian social and political topics. After Mr. Judge's 1894 circular declaring his appointment as sole Outer Head of the Esoteric School she carried on a School of her own for those who preferred to follow her. She passed away at Adyar on September 20, 1933.

Dr. George S. Arundale, former vice-principal of the Benares Hindu College, was elected as her successor in the presidency of the Theosophical Society with headquarters at Adyar. His policy was marked by strict moderation and the desire to harmonize diverse points of view within his Society. He and Mrs. Arundale, a Hindu lady, actively promoted the artistic and cultural methods of introducing theosophy to the world, and he contributed considerably to theosophical literature, notably in regard to practical ethics and social betterment. (1)

At various times since the division into the two Theosophical Societies with international headquarters in America and India, respectively, offshoots have branched out from each of them, with the result that today several other theosophical and some quasi-theosophical bodies are working independently under various names.

One of these active groups, The United Lodge of Theosophists, was established in Los Angeles, California, in 1909 by Robert Crosbie, who had been largely trained by William Q. Judge and Katherine Tingley, but who left the Theosophical Society, then headquartered at Point Loma, in 1904. It is announced in their Declaration that the U.L.T. "has no Constitution, no Bye-Laws, nor Officers," and that the only basis of association is "similarity of aim, purpose and teaching." The U.L.T. members publish the standard theosophical works of H. P. Blavatsky and W. Q. Judge, as well as magazines in which the technical and practical theosophy of H.P.B. and Judge are well presented.

The Independent Theosophical Society, and another small group, led by E. T. Hargrove (now dissolved) centered in New York, were derived from the original Society. There was also an "Independent T.S." in Australia. The "Blavatsky Association" in London was formed to perpetuate the memory and writings of H. P. Blavatsky. There are other (unattached) Theosophical Societies in Germany. Other associations and groups of students have been formed, such as Dr. Rudolf Steiner's Anthroposophical Society, originating as an offshoot from the Adyar Theosophical Society. These do not all employ the name theosophy, but they use its teachings to a considerable extent, interpreting them according to their own ideas, which may not always agree with the "Original Programme." The number of independent writers who have derived their inspiration directly or indirectly from H. P. Blavatsky's work is rapidly increasing.

It is not necessary here to refer to the unseemly counterfeits, the vulgar parodies which pervert the true teachings of occultism and exploit them for questionable purposes.


A brief sketch must now be given of the work done under W. Q. Judge and his successors. The growth of the American Section before the severance of the T.S. into two main bodies was so pronounced under Judge's masterly direction that it soon became the most active and vigorous of the three sections which constituted the Society. Unfortunately, Judge's health had been seriously undermined by the strain of the nearly three years' controversy, which accentuated the effects of a fever contracted in South America many years earlier. From the formation of the "Theosophical Society in America" in April 1895, until his death on March 21, 1896, he was struggling to carry on in spite of wasting disease and growing weakness; and although his voice completely failed he was able to write and thus continue to inspire the work of the Society till his death.

In 1890, shortly before her passing, H.P.B. emphasized the aphorism — "Ingratitude is a crime in Occultism" — by calling on the members to defend Judge against the attacks that had begun even during her lifetime. She called him "the Resuscitator of Theosophy in the United States" and "one of the three founders of the Theosophical Society, the only three who have remained as true as rock to the Cause." (2) By his great organizing ability and the inspiration of his example as well as his teaching, he had brought the American work to a high standard of devotion, harmony, and energy. Whenever trouble arose, he urged the members to concentrate on the spread of theosophy rather than to waste time wrangling on matters that would soon become a back number. The power of will that makes its way through any obstacle is shown in his early attempt to build an active center in New York. He hired a room for public meetings, and at first very few attended; sometimes he was the only person present. But whether any audience came or not, he would read from the Bhagavad-Gita, and give his announced address. He had the faith that moves mountains, and by degrees helpers came; and the little seed grew into the large and important Aryan Lodge, the heart of the American work. He was an excellent speaker, and his lectures on the theosophical solution of the problems of life are masterpieces of clear exposition.

His books — though few — and his many articles in The Path are noteworthy for their practical good sense and their happy method of stating difficult mystical subjects in simple and attractive form. The Ocean of Theosophy, presenting briefly the teachings of the philosophy, and Letters That Have Helped Me, in which the first steps on the path of attainment are traced, are theosophical classics. W. Q. Judge possessed the true teacher's power of awakening the soul-life in others. A member who was asked if she had received psychic teachings from him replied: "I will tell you the kind of psychic teaching he gave me. It was this: 'Cast no one out of your heart.'" George W. Russell (AE), the Irish poet and close friend of Judge, wrote on hearing of his passing:

It was no surface tie which bound us to him. No one ever tried less than he to gain from men that adherence which comes from impressive manners. . . . Here was a hero out of the remote, antique, giant ages come among us, wearing but on the surface the vesture of our little day. We, too, came out of that past, but in forgetfulness; he with memory and power soon regained. — Irish Theosophist, IV, 123, April 1896

The last sentence refers to the record that when he was seven years old he had a mortal illness and was pronounced dead by the physician, but came to life in an inexplicable way and was found to be greatly changed, displaying knowledge and qualities of mind not evident before. He afterwards explained that the original ego occupying the Judge boy's body had abandoned it on its 'death,' and that he had been directed by his Master to enter it before the last spark of life had vanished. In consequence of this most unusual method of reincarnating, he brought over certain memories and aptitudes from his past.

Fortunately, the Society was not left without a guiding hand after his passing. About two years before his death he met a cultured New York lady busily engaged in philanthropic and similar activities. Her name was Katherine A. Tingley. She quickly recognized in W. Q. Judge one who was in perfect sympathy with her ideals and aspirations, and in theosophy a much larger field for her humanitarian zeal than that in which she had previously worked. Her years of labor among the poor and the criminal had convinced her that the true method of improving conditions had not been found, and that little permanent improvement was possible without a new system of education for the young. Her dream was to see what she called "schools of prevention" established which involved a change in character as the essential preliminary to any successful reformation. When she met W. Q. Judge she realized that theosophy contained the solution of the problem. She first saw him during a winter storm when she was working at the Do-Good Mission, the headquarters of an emergency relief society she had started. She was striving to feed several hundred starving women and children in a sudden crisis. Two days later Judge called upon her, and she writes:

He told me he had read of my work among the poor, and had gone down there to see it for himself. He had found it, so far, practical and valuable, he said; but also had divined my discontent with it, and my hunger for something that would go much deeper — removing the causes of misery, and not merely relieving the effect. — The Gods Await, 79

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; and in view of certain criticisms that were circulated after Judge's death, as to the fitness of an apparently new and unknown member to become leader of the Society, the following statement is quoted. It was made by Mrs. Archibald Keightley, a brilliant writer for theosophy and a close and trusted associate of W. Q. Judge, well known under her pen name of Jasper Niemand. She wrote:

It is well known to members of the Inner Council in America and Europe that the present Outer Head [Mrs. Tingley] has for two years past assisted Mr. Judge in the inner work of the School as his associate and equal. Some of these Councillors were doing important work under her directions, and by the order of Mr. Judge, for some time before he passed away. The present Outer Head had the entire confidence of Mr. Judge and has that of the Council. The Council, composed of members in America and Europe, is in entire harmony and unity on this point, and especially those members of it who were in close touch with H.P.B. during her lifetime. . . . For myself, I may say that as early as June, 1894, Mr. Judge told me of the standing of the present Outer Head in the School, . . . Of his appointment of the present Outer Head there is absolutely no doubt; and there is also no doubt of her entire ability to fill that appointment; or of her right to it; or that it came from and was directed by the Master. — The Search-Light, I, 30, May 1898

W. Q. Judge left papers containing information confirming Mrs. Keightley's statement and expressing the very high estimation he had for Katherine Tingley.

At first, Katherine Tingley held no official post in the Society, though she was immediately called upon to direct its policies. In accordance with her wish, E. T. Hargrove of London was appointed president. He retained the office until September 1897, when he was succeeded by E. A. Neresheimer, a devoted member who had given great help to Judge during the strenuous years when he was building up the American Section.

In June 1896, Katherine Tingley set forth with a group of students on a lecture tour throughout the world, the first of many journeys. Her entire theosophical teaching was directed to the preservation of the philosophy as given by the Masters through H. P. Blavatsky. She protested against wanderings from the plainly defined theosophical course, either into identification with ecclesiasticism in any form or into the promotion of psychic, yoga, or other so-called occult practices, or other such side issues.

Katherine Tingley's world tour in 1896-7 attracted great attention, and many new centers of activity were started and connections made with influential persons. During this visit to the Orient she met certain Eastern occultists who are interested in the theosophical movement and, when in northern India, she was called to meet the Mahatma M. in the Himalayas just across the frontier near Darjeeling, where she received instructions about the special work she would be called on to do for the movement. An account of this interview with the Master in his natural body is given in her book The Gods Await. During a second world tour in 1903, in which G. de Purucker took part, she again met the Teacher, this time in Egypt.

Soon after the return of Katherine Tingley and her associates to New York in 1897, it was decided to move the headquarters from 144 Madison Avenue, New York, to California. A large estate had been purchased at Point Loma, San Diego, at her specific direction while on tour. In the same year the "International Brotherhood League" was organized as a means of bringing theosophy into public note through philanthropic work. This department carried on an extensive relief work in Cuba in 1898 after the Spanish-American War, and also among sick and wounded soldiers returning from the war. President McKinley authorized the use of government transportation to take Katherine Tingley, her physicians and other workers to Cuba with large supplies of food, clothing, and medicines. This practical brotherhood work attracted wide attention and helped to make theosophy better known in America and, of course, in Cuba, where schools for children were established by the Society later on, when conditions had become more settled.

Not long after Katherine Tingley had become de facto director of the Society, opposition to her methods was shown in a few quarters. Warned by previous experience, the great majority of the members decided to take action which might guard the Society against the danger of further disruption. At the convention of the Theosophical Society in America in Chicago, on February 18, 1898, by an almost unanimous vote it became an integral part of the "Universal Brotherhood," established by Katherine Tingley, January 13, 1898. Under the new constitution the duties and responsibilities of the presidential office were greatly enlarged, the leader being given complete administrative authority for life over the business affairs and policy of the Society, with power to appoint a successor. Katherine Tingley was elected to fill the office. The T.S. in Europe, and the other sections and members that had followed W. Q. Judge, promptly affiliated with the Universal Brotherhood and united under its constitution. A limited number of individuals who disliked the extension of the principle of leadership dropped out of the organization, some continuing to work for theosophy in other ways.

Owing to the conditions prevailing within and without the T.S. when Katherine Tingley took the leadership she found the time opportune to introduce certain new activities. While she devoted much energy to the spread of the fundamental principle of universal brotherhood, by writing and lecturing in nontechnical but eloquent language which appealed to all who were seeking for the solutions of the practical problems of daily life, her plans comprehended the building up of the training center at Point Loma rather than the increase of the general membership. In fact, so strict was Katherine Tingley in her visioning of an ideal Theosophical Society devoted to essentially theosophic principles and practice, that as a preliminary to later expansion, since inaugurated, she finally closed a great many of the then existing lodges of the T. S.

With the establishment of a modern printing-press at Point Loma the output of literature was increased, and has never been interrupted. W. Q. Judge's Path — or Theosophy, as he renamed it shortly before his death — was enlarged later on and, under Katherine Tingley in 1911, became The Theosophical Path. New books and new editions of classical theosophical works are constantly being published.

Katherine Tingley passed away on July 11, 1929 on the historic island of Visingso, Lake Vettern, Sweden, where for many years the Summer School for children and other theosophical activities were conducted. Sweden was always close to the heart of Katherine Tingley, and she visited that country on many of her lecture tours.

Theosophical work had started there a few years before H. P. Blavatsky's death, and in 1891, Colonel Olcott visited the then small but dedicated group at Stockholm, where he was graciously received as the official representative of the Society by the scholarly and philosophic King Oscar II. In later years Katherine Tingley and her party met King Oscar, who showed his appreciation of what the theosophical movement meant for the world at large. In 1907, shortly before his death, he granted her a long personal audience at Drottningholm Castle.

When Katherine Tingley died she left a united and harmonious Society and a well-knit, devoted body of students ready to support her successor, Dr. H. L. Gottfried de Purucker, in carrying out the "Original Programme" of the Masters. His assumption of the leadership was enthusiastically received by members of the Universal Brotherhood and Theosophical Society throughout the world, and his declaration of the policy he proposed to adopt, in accordance with Katherine Tingley's wishes, was fully endorsed.

A few months after he assumed office, on December 5, 1929, a congress was convened at Point Loma, at which an amended constitution was unanimously adopted; also the name of the Society was shortened to what it had been in 1875, "The Theosophical Society."

In 1931 Dr. de Purucker made a lecture tour in Great Britain and the Continent, and while there participated in the H.P.B. Centennial Conference held in London on June 24 and chaired by A. Trevor Barker, president of the English Section of the Theosophical Society (Point Loma). This meeting, celebrating the hundredth anniversary of H. P. Blavatsky's birth, was well attended by leading representatives of the principal Theosophical Societies. A significant early feature of G. de Purucker's leadership was the promotion of fraternization among the separated portions of the theosophical movement.

G. de Purucker's literary output includes Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, a technical study of the basic principles of the cosmos and man; The Esoteric Tradition, dealing with theosophy in all its aspects, historical, religious, scientific and philosophical, with a special section on the Mystery schools. Among his shorter works are Questions We All Ask, an introductory series; Man in Evolution, a closely-reasoned refutation of the mechanistic interpretation of human origins; Golden Precepts of Esotericism, a devotional treatise for all who would set their feet on the path of spiritual attainment; and Occult Glossary, a Compendium of Oriental and Theosophical terms. (3)

In retrospect, it is seen that Dr. de Purucker's major contribution to the thought-consciousness of man consisted in the interpretation and elucidation of the spiritual principles of theosophy as outlined by H. P. Blavatsky and her teachers.

For more than forty-two years the international headquarters of the Theosophical Society was situated at Point Loma, California. In June 1942 Dr. de Purucker moved the headquarters to Covina, near Los Angeles.

He lived only a few months after carrying out this arduous undertaking, passing away suddenly on September 27th. The direction of the Society devolved for the time being upon the Cabinet as provided by Article VII, Section 7, of the Constitution. On October 20, 1945, the Cabinet selected as Leader Arthur L. Conger, who had joined the Society under William Q. Judge. (4)


1. [Dr. Arundale passed away on August 11, 1945. Succeeding him as president of the T.S. (Adyar) have been C. Jinarajadasa (1946-1953), N. Sri Ram (1953-1973), John B. S. Coats 1973-79), and Radha Burnier (1980- ). — ED.] (return to text)

2. E.S. Instructions, III, 1890. (return to text)

3. [Further volumes, derived from Dr. de Purucker's private and public lectures and writings, published posthumously are: Messages to Conventions (1943); Wind of the Spirit (1944); Studies in Occult Philosophy (1945); The Dialogues of G. de Purucker (1948); Fountain-Source of Occultism. (1974). — ED.] (return to text)

4. [In 1950-51 Colonel Conger moved the Society's international headquarters to its present location at Pasadena, California. — ED.] (return to text)

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