Pronunciation: [thEos´ufE] (key)
[Gr.,=divine wisdom], philosophical system having affinities with mysticism
and claiming insight into the nature of God and the world through direct
knowledge, philosophical speculation, or some physical process. This
system of thought differs from many other philosophical positions in that it
begins with an assumption of the absolute reality of the essence of God,
from which it deduces the essentially spiritual nature of the universe. Other
assumptions frequently found in theosophical doctrine are that God is the
transcendent source of all being and all good; that evil exists in the world
because of human desire for finite goods and may be overcome by
complete absorption in the infinite; and that sacred writings and doctrines
are interpreted through allegory. This is the position of much speculative
mysticism. However, mysticism generally confines itself to the soul's
relation to God, while the theosophist uses these theories to formulate a
complete philosophy of humanity and nature.
The Neoplatonists, the Gnostics, and the kabbalists are generally
considered types of theosophists. Jakob Boehme, regarded as the father
of modern theosophy, developed a complete theosophical system
attempting to reconcile the existence of an all-powerful and all-good God
with the presence of evil in the world. The philosophy and theology of
Asia, especially of India, contain a vast body of theosophical doctrine.
Modern theosophy draws much of its vocabulary from Indian sources.
The Theosophical Society, with which theosophy is now generally
identified, was founded in 1875 by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky; associated
with her were H. S. Olcott and W. Q. Judge. Blavatsky wrote The Secret
Doctrine (1888, repr. 1964) and Key to Theosophy (1931, rev. ed.
1969). An active exponent of theosophy in Europe, America, and the East
was Annie Besant, who added many works to the literature on the subject.
The Columbia Encyclopedia, Fifth Edition Copyright ©1993, Columbia
University Press. Licensed from Inso Corporation. All rights reserved.
History of the Theosophical Society
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 Oriental 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.
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 Occident.
Over the last hundred 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 at 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 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, the present Leader of the Theosophical
Society, Grace F. Knoche, took office. She emphasizes publication activities, edits Sunrise: Theosophic Perspectives, and
encourages mutual respect and cooperation among all theosophical organizations, and the daily practice of altruism and
compassion as opposed to pseudo-occultism and self-centered spiritual search. The Theosophical Society offers theosophical
literature through Theosophical University Press, and sponsors correspondences courses, study groups, and library centers at
the International Headquarters and in its various National Sections.
Books on TS history available through Theosophical University Press:
H. P. Blavatsky and the Theosophical Movement,
by Charles J. Ryan
HPB: The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky, by Sylvia Cranston
The Dawning of The Theosophical Movement, by Michael Gomes
H. P. Blavatsky to the American Conventions 1888-1891, by H. P. Blavatsky
The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, transcribed and compiled by A. Trevor Barker
The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky To A. P. Sinnett, transcribed and compiled by A. Trevor Barker
Reminiscences of H. P. Blavatsky and The Secret Doctrine, by Countess Constance Wachtmeister, et al.
The Original Programme of the Theosophical Society, by H. P. Blavatsky
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