A Short History of the Theosophical Society

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Item Code: NAD302
Author: Josephine Ransom
Publisher: The Theosophical Publishing House Adyar, Chennai
Language: English
Edition: 2007
ISBN: 8170595142
Pages: 602
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 900 gm
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Book Description
Back of the Book

The year 1875 was a milestone for both the Eastern and the Western world. The Theosophical Society, founded in that year, still thrives. This book traces its history over a period of sixty-two years, recording most of the important events and personalities of the time.

Mrs Josephine Ransom, the author, had access to more archival information than her predecessors, for Example, C. Jinarajadasa, who edited The Golden Book of the Theosophical Society in 1925. Moreover, of additional value are the initial chapters in which the author traces the spiritualism that pervaded in the period prior to the founding of the Society. The absence of personal opinions and criticism adds to the historical value of the Book.

About the Author

Mrs Josephine Maria Ransom (1879—1960) worked in many capacities for the Theosophical Society, presiding successively during the 1920s and 1930s over the Society’s organizations in Australia, South Africa and England. She also engaged educational work Lanka and belonged time staff at International Headquarters of the Society. She edited the international magazine The Theosophist.


THE Theosophical Society has reason to be grateful to Mrs. Ransom for this short history of its growth from 1875 to 1937. Both Colonel Alcott’s Old Diary Leaves and Mr. Jinarajadasa’s Golden Boo1 of The Theosoplzical Society are histories, but neither is they short histories, nor was there at the disposal of their writers a considerable amount of important material which has only recently been discovered in The Society’s Archives.

In any case, it is highly desirable that from time to time histories of The Society shall be written, partly to bring existing histories up to date, but also to be the medium for that new light on the work of The Society which from time to time will show more clearly the real, and sometimes the inner, trend of its activities.

It stands to reason that this short History will by no means satisfy everybody: This should have been given more prominence; that should have been relegated to obscurity; such and such an event has, in the critic’s view, been entirely misconstrued. No two people will see the history of The Society alike, and this fact is one of the reasons for the value of many histories, so that many angles of vision from which The Society’s life is viewed may be set forth.

And I need hardly say, I hope, that The Theosophical Society as such has no official responsibility for any statement made in this History’s pages. This History is not an official history, and I venture to think that either we shall never have an official history or that if ever we have one it will be written under the mellowing influences of long distances of time after the events described have taken place.

But I feel bound to say with all emphasis that Mrs. Ransom, as a very impersonal student of Theosophy and The Theosophical Society, has been scrupulous to state facts and only facts, and has chapter and verse for every line and page. The fact that the History has been designed to be short has made its writing much more difficult, for it is as difficult to avoid making a bare statement too bare as it is to avoid making a full statement too full. She has, however, been careful to omit nothing that has seemed to be essential to clarity and justice, and from my own perusal of every page of the manuscript I think she has been most successful in conveying to us the bare truth as to The Society’s growth without allowing to appear any of those frills of interpretation which too often conceal, or at least distort, the truth itself.

It may some day be possible to embark upon the expense of a large history of The Theosophical Society In the mean time, since such expense would be prohibitive and the wisdom of such a publication at present doubtful, I am sure this short account of The Society’s life up to 1937 will supply a long felt want, for every active member of The Society should find constant use for a careful and entirely unbiased history both for his own enlightenment and to help to refute the many misconceptions so prevalent in the outer world.

As there is likely to be a considerable demand for this book? Mrs. Ransom (care of The Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar, Madras) will be glad to receive as soon as possible any corrections of fact which readers may be able to offer out of their special facilities for information. These will, as verified, be embodied in subsequent editions.


The Theosophical Society is a World-Movement of ever-expanding influence and power. Like all truly great movements its sources are not to be sought in mundane regions and activities, but in the heights of superhuman spiritual realities, whence emerge those forces which direct evolutionary destiny. Since this is so, it is necessary to approach a history of The Theosophical Society with a brief summary of its inner origins.

It has been consistently affirmed by all who have exercised the highest authority in The Society that these origins are to be found in a group of Superhuman Men, Teachers, Masters, Adepts, Whose universal knowledge of evolution and its laws constitutes them the wise Initiators and Guides of all movements designed to influence profoundly the growth of the world, and Whose directions The Theosophical Society has, through its leaders, with considerable success striven to follow.

One chapter, however brief, must be devoted to an attempt to summaries from accessible information the nature and work of these Superhuman Men. This information remains somewhat meager, though more is now available publicly than was ever before disclosed. The purpose, it is declared, of those among them interested in promoting The Theosophical Society was to assist in showing to men that such a thing as Theosophy exists, and to help them to ascend towards it by studying and assimilating its eternal verities.” This department of the work of The Society was entrusted to Madam Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (H. P. B.) because of her rare and precious gifts.

2. To promote “a genuine practical Brotherhood of Humanity, where all will become co-workers with Nature

“a real Universal Fraternity.” In this department Colonel Henry Steel Wolcott proved eminently practical and effective.

A chapter must be devoted to the lives of each of the “Co-Founders•• of The Society, as, without some acquaintance with their powerful personalities, it would not be easy to understand the development of the Theosophical Movement while they remained responsible for it, under the Masters’ guidance.

At the time The Society was formed “Modern Spiritualism” was attracting serious and world-wide attention. Both Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Wolcott were for some years deeply concerned with this movement ; the former purposefully defended and explained true Spiritualism, and exposed its abuses the latter investigated its phenomena. Many noted Spiritualists throughout the world became members of The Society and assisted its growth. Some indication must therefore be given of the position and influence of Spiritualism at that period.

The Theosophical Society has passed through several well-marked and profoundly important phases. They are

1. From its Inception in 1875 to 1884

During this time H. P. B. and Col. Olcott are together laying distinctive and enduring foundations. Isis Unveiled is published; challenging scientific “materialism” and religious dogmatism. The Headquarters, and all Executive powers, are transferred from America to India, where H. P. B. and Col. Olcott finally establish themselves in the first Occult Centre at Adyar, Madras. Both in India and Ceylon they stimulate the various religions into renewed activity,

Buddhism particularly. H. P. B. continues to excite keen world-wide interest by her constant and striking phenomena. Mr. A. P. Sinnett is given instruction by actual correspondence with various Masters, which he ably embodies in several books. The Theosophist is started (and is still pursuing its successful career). The Society commences that expansion throughout the world which continues, despite periodic disturbances within and attacks from without. The note of Brotherhood begins to sound forth insistently.

2. From 1885 to 1891

In Madras the attack upon H. P. B., in which Christian Missionaries engage, is launched. The Society for Psychical Research, recently formed, takes upon itself to appoint an inexperienced investigator to examine the issues raised by one attack. Statements are published, no defense is permitted, and the self-appointed judges declare H. P. B. an impostor and her previous phenomena, of which they knew nothing, to be fraudulent. H. P. B. leaves India to reside in Europe, then in London. She immerses herself in writing the famous epitome of Theosophy, The Secret Doctrine, and other mast valuable books, in starting and editing the magazine Lucifer, and in teaching the essentials of Theosophy. She establishes the Eastern or Esoteric School of Theosophy to train in practical occultism those prepared to make the necessary effort in self-discipline and trustworthiness. Men and women of note gather round her. The Theosophical Society is now greatly expanded. The Ayer Library is opened. Col. Olcott develops his notable efforts to draw all the Buddhist sects in several countries into a great unity. H. P. B. passes.

3. 1892 to 1907

W. Q. Judge, one of the original members who had done much excellent work for The Society in the U. S. of America, attempts to secure the President ship. He fails. He secedes, together with a large majority of the Lodges in the United States. Mrs. Annie Bezant rises to prominence, and commences her magnificent services to India along religious, educational, social, and later political lines. Hinduism is greatly stimulated. She becomes sole head of the Esoteric School. She travels very widely in the interests of The Society, as does Col. Olcott. Dissensions arise over a line of action taken by Mr. C. W. Lead beater and cause much perturbation. Col. Olcott passes.

4. 1907to 1933

Mrs. Annie Bezant is elected President. A period of rapid expansion begins, and the publication of much momentous literature, which is still in universal demand. J. Krishnamurti is introduced to the world as a probable vehicle of the expected World Teacher. The Society is a dynamic force flowing in many directions, fertilizing the fields of Religion, Education, Freemasonry (admitting women) and Social Service. A second Occult Centre is established at Sydney, Australia, with Bishop C. W. Lead beater in charge. A third Centre is established in Horizon, Holland, with Bishop J. 1. Wedgwood in charge. Christianity receives special attention in these two Centers. J. Krishnamurti announces his views and decides not to be connected with any organization. These views cause disturbance. Dr. Besant passes.

5. 1933to 1937

In 1934 Dr. George Sydney Arundel is elected’. President, and, inspired by his emphasis upon “Straight Theosophy” and consolidation, The Society enters upon a new phase. Bishop C. W. Lead beater, noted occultist and rare clairvoyant, passes. Mr. C. Jinarajadasa takes his. Place as head of the Esoteric School and of the Sydney Centre. Dr. Arundale’s keen interest in Youth enlists its services, which are directed by Shrimati Rukmini Devi. Wife of Dr. Arundel, in the World Federation of Young Theosophists. She becomes head of the Horizon Centre.

These are some of the main trends in a fascinating story, where into are woven the activities of man’s many- sided nature. It is a story of great Ideals and of the people who courageously work out these Ideals—so well expressed in the now familiar and distinctive Three Objects

1. To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or color.

2. ‘To encourage the study of Comparative Religion, Philosophy and Science.

3. To investigate unexplained laws of Nature and the powers latent in man.

Through the devoted services of its members, The Society holds an unchallenged position to-day as a tried and experienced pioneer in the promotion of the progress of humanity towards its goal of Universal Brotherhood; the realization of the Unity of the Eternal Self in all things; and the unfolding of the divine qualities in human nature.

That everyone will agree with my rendering of the history of The Theosophical Society can scarcely be expected, but I have endeavored to be fair and impartial—and this is not always easy. I would recommend the reader of this history not to be too concerned with success and failure as they come and go, but to watch the steady fulfillment of a purpose no matter what the obstacles. That purpose burns, an unquenchable beacon, along the pathway of The Society. It is unquenchable because its flame is fed from sources which we do not supply, and which none may extinguish save those who in their wisdom lit it so long ago.

I must put on record my appreciation of the encouragement given me in this congenial task by the President, Dr. G. S. Arunclale, at whose request it has been undertaken. He has generously put at my disposal the archives and records of The Society. Mr. C. Jinarajadasa has also given me access to other necessary and valuable information. To Mrs. N. Langdon Thomas my thanks are especially due, for, without her assistance in examining the large mass of available material, and in doing all the typing, I could not have completed this History in the time allotted.


Preface vii.
Introductory 1
Spiritualism 7
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky 27
Henry Steel Olcott 35
The Masters 42
1874-75 : Preparation 57
1875-79: The Theosophical Society 76
Appendix I. The Other Founders . 110
II. The Theosophical Society and The Arya Samâj 115
1879-82 In India 123
The Subba Row Medal 189
1884 The Founders visit Europe 191
The Indian National Congress 207
1884-5 The Coulomb Conspiracy 209
1885-7 Expansion in East and West 217
The Key to Theosophy 263
1888-91 H. P. B.’s Last Years 265
1892-95 Stormy Years 286
1896-1900 Peaceful Growth 316
1901 -05 The New Century Opens with Promise 340
1906-07 Problems of Morality 355
1908-12 Under Mrs. Besants Leadership 375
1913-18 Theosophy applied 401
1919-24 Problems of Neutrality 430
1925 The Fiftieth Year 467
1926-30 New Aspects bf Brotherhood 473
1931-33 Pause 479
Under Dr. Arundale’s Leadership 514
Conclusion 543
Objects and Rules of The Theosophical Society 545
National Socities 554
Activities undertaken or promoted by Members 554
Bibliography, etc 559
Index 565
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