History of the Theosophical Society

The Theosophical Society is a worldwide association of men and women dedicated to the uplifting of humanity through a better understanding of the oneness of life and the practical application of this principle. Founded in New York City in 1875 by Helena P. Blavatsky, Henry S. Olcott, William Q. Judge, and several others, it is an expression of a spiritual and educational movement that has been active in all ages.

In 1877, two years after forming The Theosophical Society, Blavatsky published her first major work, Isis Unveiled — two volumes showing the universality of theosophic ideas in ancient and modern religions, and their basis in nature. The following year Blavatsky and Olcott left America for India, where they worked for recognition of the value of Eastern religions and philosophies, especially among the educated classes who were rejecting their own traditions in favor of modern Western materialistic education. They also sought to expose religious superstition and dogmatism. At the same time, Blavatsky encouraged the study of Western mystical traditions such as Gnosticism, Kabbala, Freemasonry, and Rosicrucianism. In 1879 she founded the first theosophical magazine, The Theosophist (text of volume 1 online), to help forward these ends.

At that time, however, Blavatsky's fame in the West rested largely on published accounts of the paranormal phenomena she had produced privately over the years. In 1884 the Society for Psychical Research issued a report — since repudiated by that Society — declaring Blavatsky and her phenomena frauds. Gravely ill, Blavatsky moved to Europe, finally settling in London. There she published her masterwork, The Secret Doctrine, which presents a comprehensive view of cosmic and human evolution, bringing together mythic, religious, and scientific material from many cultures to illustrate the universality of theosophy's basic concepts. In response to the many questions from inquirers, she issued The Key to Theosophy and, for those seeking to practice theosophy's altruistic ideals, The Voice of the Silence, aphorisms embodying the heart of Mahayana Buddhist teaching. Blavatsky also founded and edited the magazine Lucifer ("lightbearer") and before her death in 1891 revitalized the theosophical work in the West.

Over the years, the modern theosophical movement has divided into several separate organizations, each of which seeks to fulfill the Society's objectives in its own way and with its own emphasis. A few years after Blavatsky's death, the parent organization split into two: the Society following H. S. Olcott and Annie Besant which retained its international headquarters at Adyar, Madras, India (its Amer. Sec. became known as the TS in America); and the Society following W. Q. Judge, Vice President of the TS and General Secretary of its American Section, with international headquarters first in New York City and now in Pasadena. On Judge's death in 1896, Katherine Tingley was recognized successor. She traveled worldwide, establishing schools in several countries, emphasizing practical humanitarianism, education, prison reform, and world peace. In 1900, she moved the international headquarters to Point Loma, California, where she established the Raja-Yoga School and College, Theosophical University, and the School for the Revival of the Lost Mysteries of Antiquity. Tingley built the first open air Greek Theater in America, and formed youth and adult symphony orchestras with the headquarters staff and students. In 1909 a group spearheaded by Robert Crosbie formed another major theosophical association, the United Lodge of Theosophists, based in Los Angeles, California.

On Katherine Tingley's death in 1929, G. de Purucker became Leader of the Society. He lectured widely and taught several groups of private students, while working to put the Society on a sound financial basis during the Depression. Perhaps his greatest contribution to the theosophical movement was his presentation and elucidation of the basic theosophic ideas found in Blavatsky's The Secret Doctrine and other works. Shortly before his death, he moved the international headquarters to Covina, California, near Los Angeles.

For three years after Purucker's death the Society was administered by the Cabinet of the TS. In 1945, Colonel Arthur L. Conger was recognized as leader of the Society. He concentrated on expanding the publishing program and restarting the work in Europe after W.W.II. He closed the Esoteric Section of the Society and moved the International Headquarters of the Society to Pasadena, California.

On Conger's death in 1951, James A. Long became Leader. He emphasized the importance of making theosophy a living force in daily life, and of seeking to read the natural karma of each moment. He founded SUNRISE magazine to be a bridge between the deeper teachings of theosophy and the general public. On his death in 1971, Grace F. Knoche took office. She emphasized publication activities, also making most TUP materials available on the internet without charge. She encouraged mutual respect and cooperation among all theosophical organizations, and the daily practice of altruism and compassion.

Under Randell C. Grubb, the present Leader, The Theosophical Society continues to offer theosophical literature in print and online through Theosophical University Press, offers a series of correspondences courses, and sponsors study groups through the various National Sections.

Books and Articles on TS history available through Theosophical University Press:
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