Theosophical Society

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The Theosophical Society is the organisational body of Theosophy, an esoteric new religious movement. It was founded in New York City, USA in 1875. Among its founders were Helena Blavatsky, a Ukrainian mystic and the principle thinker of the Theosophy movement, and Henry Steel Olcott, its first president. It draws upon a wide array of influences among them older European philosophies and movements such as Neoplatonism and occultism, as well as parts of Asian religious traditions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam.[1]


The original organization, after splits and realignments, currently has several successors.[2] Following the death of Helena Blavatsky, competition emerged between factions within the Society, particularly among founding members. The organization split into the Theosophical Society Adyar (Olcott-Besant) and the Theosophical Society Pasadena (Judge).

The former group, headquartered in India, is the most widespread international group holding the name "Theosophical Society" today.

Theosophical Society-Adyar is located at Adyar situated in the Indian city of Chennai.[3]


Formation and objectives[edit]

Notes of the meeting proposing the formation of the Theosophical Society, New York City, 8 September 1875
The Society's seal incorporated the Swastika, Star of David, Ankh, Aum and Ouroboros symbols

The Theosophical Society was officially formed in New York City, United States, on 17 November 1875 by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Colonel Henry Steel Olcott, William Quan Judge, and 16 others.[4] It was self-described as "an unsectarian body of seekers after Truth, who endeavor to promote Brotherhood and strive to serve humanity." Olcott was its first president, and remained president until his death in 1907. In the early months of 1875, Olcott and Judge had come to realize that, if Blavatsky was a spiritualist, she was no ordinary one.[5] The society's initial objective was the "study and elucidation of Occultism, the Cabala etc."[6] After a few years Olcott and Blavatsky moved to India and established the International Headquarters at Adyar, in Madras (now Chennai). They were also interested in studying Eastern religions, and these were included in the Society's agenda.[7]

After several iterations the Society's objectives were incorporated at Chennai (Madras) on 3 April 1905. The Three Objects of the Theosophical Society are as follows :[8]

  1. To form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or colour.
  2. To encourage the study of comparative religion, philosophy, and science.
  3. To investigate the unexplained laws of nature and the powers latent in man.

Sympathy with the above objects was the sole condition of admission to the society. The Society was organized as a non-sectarian entity. The following was stated in the Constitution and Rules of the Theosophical Society

ARTICLE I: Constitution

  1. The Theosophical Society is absolutely unsectarian, and no assent to any formula of belief, faith or creed shall be required as a qualification of membership; but every applicant and member must lie in sympathy with the effort to create the nucleus of an Universal Brotherhood of Humanity



  1. Any Fellow who shall in any way attempt to involve the Society in political disputes shall be immediately expelled.
  2. No Fellow, Officer, or Council of the Theosophical Society, or of any Section or Branch thereof, shall promulgate or maintain any doctrin[e ]as being that advanced, or advocated by the Society.[9]

The Society reformulated this view in a resolution passed by the General Council of the Theosophical Society on December 23, 1924.[10] Three years before, in 1921, it was signed the institutive charter of the Spanish Sociedad Teosófica, which had local branches in Madrid, Tarrasa, Barcelona, Seville, Valencia, Alicante, Zanoni, Cadiz and Dharma.[11]

Seal of the Theosophical Society, Budapest, Hungary

The Hidden Masters[edit]

One of the central philosophical tenets promoted by the Society was the complex doctrine of The Intelligent Evolution of All Existence, occurring on a cosmic scale, incorporating both the physical and non-physical aspects of the known and unknown Universe, and affecting all of its constituent parts regardless of apparent size or importance. The theory was originally promulgated in the Secret Doctrine, the 1888 magnum opus of Helena Blavatsky.[12] According to this view, humanity's evolution on earth (and beyond) is part of the overall cosmic evolution. It is overseen by a hidden spiritual hierarchy, the so-called Masters of the Ancient Wisdom, whose upper echelons consist of advanced spiritual beings.

Blavatsky portrayed the Theosophical Society as being part of one of many attempts throughout the millennia by this hidden Hierarchy to guide humanity – in concert with the overall intelligent cosmic evolutionary scheme – towards its ultimate, immutable evolutionary objective: the attainment of perfection and the conscious, willing participation in the evolutionary process. These attempts require an earthly infrastructure (such as the Theosophical Society) which she held was ultimately under the inspiration of a number of Mahatmas, members of the Hierarchy.[13]


Main building of the Theosophical Society in Adyar, India, 1890

After Helena Blavatsky's death in 1891, the Society's leaders seemed at first to work together peacefully. This did not last long. Judge was accused by Olcott and then prominent Theosophist Annie Besant of forging letters from the Mahatmas; he ended his association with Olcott and Besant in 1895 and took most of the Society's American Section with him. The original organisation led by Olcott and Besant remains today based in India and is known as the Theosophical Society – Adyar. The group led by Judge further splintered, after his 1896 death, into a faction led by Katherine Tingley, and another associated with Judge's secretary Ernest Temple Hargrove which split off in 1898. While Hargrove's faction no longer survives, the faction led by Tingley is today known as the Theosophical Society with the clarifying statement, "International Headquarters, Pasadena, California". A third organization, the United Lodge of Theosophists or ULT, in 1909 split off from the latter organization.

In 1902, Rudolf Steiner became General Secretary of the German-Austrian division of the Theosophical Society. He maintained a Western-oriented course, relatively independent from the Adyar headquarters.[14][15] After serious philosophical conflicts with Annie Besant and other members of the international leadership on the spiritual significance of Christ and on the status of the young boy Jiddu Krishnamurti (see section below), most of the German and Austrian members split off in 1913 and under Steiner's leadership formed the Anthroposophical Society, which then expanded to many other countries.[16]

The English headquarters of the Theosophical Society are at 50 Gloucester Place, London. The Theosophical Society in Ireland [3], based in Pembroke Road, Dublin, is a wholly independent organisation which claims to have received its charter directly from Helena Blavatsky. The original group contained (among others) George William Russell (A. E.) poet and mystic, and the leadership role later fell to Russell's friend P. G. Bowen, (author and teacher of practical occultism) and later still to Bowen's long time student Dorothy Emerson. The current leadership of this group were students of Emerson. The independent Dublin organisation should not be confused with a similarly named group affiliated to Adyar which is based in Belfast but claims an all-Ireland jurisdiction.

The "World Teacher"[edit]

Theosophical Society, Basavanagudi, Bangalore

In addition to the stated objectives, as early as 1889 Blavatsky publicly declared that the purpose of establishing the Society was to prepare humanity for the reception of a World Teacher: according to the Theosophical doctrine described above, a manifested aspect of an advanced spiritual entity (the Maitreya) that periodically appears on Earth in order to direct the evolution of humankind. The mission of these reputedly regularly appearing emissaries is to practically translate, in a way and language understood by contemporary humanity, the knowledge required to propel it to a higher evolutionary stage.

If the present attempt, in the form of our Society, succeeds better than its predecessors have done, then it will be in existence as an organized, living and healthy body when the time comes for the effort of the 20th century. The general condition of men's minds and hearts will have been improved and purified by the spread of its teachings, and, as I have said, their prejudices and dogmatic illusions will have been, to some extent at least, removed. Not only so, but besides a large and accessible literature ready to men's hands, the next impulse will find a numerous and united body of people ready to welcome the new torch-bearer of Truth. He will find the minds of men prepared for his message, a language ready for him in which to clothe the new truths he brings, an organization awaiting his arrival, which will remove the merely mechanical, material obstacles and difficulties from his path. Think how much one, to whom such an opportunity is given, could accomplish. Measure it by comparison with what the Theosophical Society actually has achieved in the last fourteen years, without any of these advantages and surrounded by hosts of hindrances which would not hamper the new leader.[17]

This was repeated by then prominent Theosophist Annie Besant in 1896, five years after Blavatsky's death.[18] Besant, who became President of the Society in 1907, thought the appearance of the World Teacher would happen sooner than the time-frame in Blavatsky's writings, who had indicated that it would not take place until the last quarter of the 20th century.[19]

Jiddu Krishnamurti[edit]

One of the people who expected the imminent reappearance of the Maitreya as World Teacher was Charles Webster Leadbeater, then an influential Theosophist and occultist. In 1909 he "discovered" Jiddu Krishnamurti, an adolescent Indian boy, who he proclaimed as the most suitable candidate for the "vehicle" of the World Teacher.[20][21] Krishnamurti's family had relocated next to the Theosophical Society headquarters in Adyar, India, a few months earlier.[22] Following his "discovery", Krishnamurti was taken under the wing of the Society, and was extensively groomed in preparation for his expected mission.

However, by 1925 Krishnamurti had begun to move away from the course expected of him by the leaders of the Theosophical Society Adyar and by many Theosophists. In 1929 he publicly dissolved the Order of the Star, a worldwide organization created by the leadership of the Theosophical Society to prepare the world for the Coming of the Maitreya, and abandoned his assumed role as the "vehicle" for the World Teacher.[23] He eventually left the Theosophical Society altogether, yet remained on friendly terms with individual members of the Society.[24] He spent the rest of his life traveling the world as an independent speaker, becoming widely known as an original thinker on spiritual, philosophical, and psychological subjects.

Related individuals and organizations[edit]

Commemorative plaque of Theosophical Society, Adyar, India

Well-known intellectuals associated with the Theosophical Society include Thomas Edison,[25] William Butler Yeats,[26] and Laura Carter Holloway.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Theosophical Society".
  2. ^ Melton, Gordon J. (Sr. ed.) (1990). "Theosophical Society". New Age Encyclopedia. Farmington Hills, Michigan: Gale Research. pp. 458–461. ISBN 0-8103-7159-6. "No single organization or movement has contributed so many components to the New Age Movement as the Theosophical Society. ... It has been the major force in the dissemination of occult literature in the West in the twentieth century." In same, see sections "Theosophy" and "Theosophical Offshoots", pp. xxv–xxvi [in "Introductory Essay: An Overview of the New Age Movement"]. Note "Chronology of the New Age Movement" pp. xxxv–xxxviii in same work, starts with the formation of the Theosophical Society in 1875.
  3. ^ "Theosophical Society International Headquarters, Adyar Chennai Visit, Travel Guide". June 19, 2019.
  4. ^ Syman, Stefanie (2010). The Subtle Body : the Story of Yoga in America. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. pp. 62–63. ISBN 978-0-374-53284-0. OCLC 456171421.
  5. ^ The Theosophical Movement 1875–1950, Cunningham Press, Los Angeles 1951.
  6. ^ See photographic reproduction of the notes to the meeting proposing the formation of the Theosophical Society, New York City, 8 September, in the image from Wikimedia Commons.
  7. ^ Kirby, W. F. (January 1885). "The Theosophical Society". Time XII (1): 47–55 (London: Swan Sonnenschein; OCLC 228708807). Google Books Search retrieved 2011-01-12. Profile by the entomologist and folklorist William Forsell Kirby.
  8. ^ "Missions,Objectives and Freedom". T S Adyar.
  9. ^ Olcott, H. S. (January 1891). "Constitution and Rules of the Theosophical Society". The Theosophist 12 (4): 65–72. (Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House). ISSN 0040-5892. "As Revised in Session of the General Council, all the Sections being represented, at Adyar, December 27, 1890".
  10. ^ "About the TS" Archived 2011-05-14 at the Wayback Machine [see section "Freedom of Thought"]. Adyar: Theosophical Society Adyar. Retrieved 2011-01-11.
  11. ^ Aguiar Bobet, Valeria (October 16, 2016). "Orientalist soldiers: Theosophy and Freemasonry in North Africa during Second Spanish Republic" (PDF). Rehmlac: Revista de Estudios Históricos de la Masonería Latinoamericana y Caribeña (in Spanish and English): 99. doi:10.15517/rehmlac.v8i2.26648. hdl:10234/165932. ISSN 1659-4223. OCLC 8521647527. Archived (PDF) from the original on July 23, 2020. Retrieved May 13, 2021 – via {{cite journal}}: External link in |via= (help)
  12. ^ Blavatsky, Helena (1888). "The Three Postulates of the Secret Doctrine". The Secret Doctrine: The Synthesis of Science, Religion, and Philosophy. Vol. I: Cosmogenesis. London et al.: The Theosophical Publishing Company et al., 1888 (OCLC 8129381), pp. 14–20 [in "Proem"]. Reprint Phoenix, Arizona: United Lodge of Theosophists, 2005. Electronic version retrieved 2011-01-29. "This electronic version of The Secret Doctrine follows the pagination and style of the A FACSIMILE OF THE ORIGINAL EDITION OF 1888" (webpage editor's description). Also in same, see "The pith and marrow of the Secret Doctrine". pp. 273–285 (in "Summing Up").
  13. ^ Blavatsky 1888. "Our Divine Instructors". The Secret Doctrine. Vol. II: Anthropogenesis, pp. 365–378. Phoenix, Arizona: United Lodge of Theosophists, 2005. Retrieved 2011-01-29.
  14. ^ Rudolf Steiner's book Theosophy, An Introduction to Supersensible Knowledge of the World and the Destination of Man (published in German as Theosophie. Einführung in übersinnliche Welterkenntnis und Menschenbestimmung), first appeared in 1904 ([1]).
  15. ^ Rudolf Steiner, Theosophy of the Rosicrucian, lectures given in 1907 ([2]).
  16. ^ Paull, John (2018) The Library of Rudolf Steiner: The Books in English, Journal of Social and Development Sciences. 9 (3): 21–46.
  17. ^ Blavatsky, Helena (1889). "The Future of the Theosophical Society". The Key to Theosophy. London: The Theosophical Publishing Company. pp. 304–307 [context at pp. 306-307. Emphasis in original]. OCLC 315695318. Wheaton, Maryland: Theosophy Library Online. Retrieved 2011-01-29. "Scanned Reproduction from a Photographic Reproduction of the Original Edition as First Issued at London, England: 1889".
  18. ^ Lutyens, Mary (1975). Krishnamurti: The Years of Awakening. New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux. p. 12. ISBN 0-374-18222-1.
  19. ^ Blavatsky 1889 p. 306. Wheaton, Maryland: Theosophy Library Online. Blavatsky, Helena (1966). "Esoteric Instructions (EI): The Esoteric Section: Introduction by the Compiler". Collected Writings. Series. Volume XII. Wheaton, Illinois: Quest Books. pp. 478–511 [context at p. 492]. ISBN 978-0-8356-0228-0. Groningen, Netherlands: Links retrieved 2011-01-29.
  20. ^ Washington, Peter (1995) [Originally published 1993]. "Boys and Gods". Madame Blavatsy's Baboon: A History of the Mystics, Mediums, and Misfits Who Brought Spiritualism to America. New York: Schocken Books. Hardcover. pp. 126–144. ISBN 978-0-8052-4125-9.
  21. ^ Lutyens pp. 20-21.
  22. ^ Lutyens p. 7.
  23. ^ Jiddu, Krishnamurti (1929). "Order of the Star Dissolution Speech". J. Krishnamurti Online. Krishnamurti Foundations. Retrieved 2010-04-27.
  24. ^ Lutyens pp. 276, 285. Krishnamurti left the Society in 1931; Lutyens considered the "last tie" severed with the death of Besant in 1933.
  25. ^ "Theosophical Society Members 1875-1942 – Historical membership list of the Theosophical Society (Adyar) 1875-1942". Retrieved 3 August 2019.
  26. ^ "William Butler Yeats".
  27. ^ Sasson, Diane (2012). Yearning for the New Age: Laura Holloway-Langford and Late Victorian Spirituality. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-00177-1.

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