Theosophical Society’s foundation act

The Theosophical Society was founded in New York City, USA, in 1875 by Helena Blavatsky, Henry Steel Olcott, William Quan Judge and others. Its initial objective was the investigation, study and explanation of mediumistic phenomena. After a few years Olcott and Blavatsky moved to India and established the International Headquarters at Adyar, Madras (Chennai). There, they also became interested in studying Eastern religions, and these were included in the Society’s agenda. After several iterations the Society’s objectives have evolved to be:

  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.

In addition to the stated objectives, as early as 1889 Blavatsky purportedly had told a group of Theosophical students that the real purpose of establishing the Society was to prepare humanity for the reception of the World Teacher when he appeared again on earth. This was repeated again more publicly by Annie Besant in 1896, five years after Blavatsky’s death. In Blavatsky’s own writings, the only reference to a similar idea indicated that it would not be for at least a century .


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 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 into a faction led by Katherine Tingley, and another associated the Judge’s secretary Ernest Temple Hargrove. While Hargrove’s faction no longer survives, the faction led by Tingley is today known simply as the Theosophical Society, but often 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, and various small splinter groups began to take shape including the Palmers Green Theosophical Lodge under the leadership of Thomas Neumark-Jones — which was influential among British New Liberal intellectuals.[citation needed]
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 headquarter led by Besant and Olcott. After serious philosophical conflicts, primarily on the spiritual significance of Christ and on the status of the young boy Krishnamurti (see below), most of the German and Austrian members split off in 1913 and formed the Anthroposophical Society. The latter remains very active and influential today and has branches in almost all western communities, including the US and Canada.

Controversy / Racial Beliefs

Blavatsky posited that humanity had descended from a series of non-human “Root Races” (Cosmologically on par with the Christian sacraments, Cabalistic Tree of life, the eastern phylosophy of the chakras) naming the fifth root race (out of seven) the Aryan race. The Root Races were evolutionary stages, each new Root Race being more evolved than the previous one. She thought that the Aryans originally came from Atlantis, who were part of the fourth Root Race. The Aryan Root Race was only one more step in the evolutionary progress and it would eventually be superseded by a more spiritual Root Races , the sixth. She believed that “The Semites, especially the Arabs, are later Aryans — degenerate in spirituality and perfected in materiality. To these belong all the Jews and the Arabs. The former are a tribe descended from the Tchandalas of India, the outcasts, many of them ex-Brahmins, who sought refuge in Chaldea, in Scinde, and Aria (Iran), and were truly born from their father A-bram (No Brahmin) some 8,000 years B.C.

The latter, the Arabs, are the descendants of those Aryans who would not go into India at the time of the dispersion of nations, some of whom remained on the borderlands thereof, in Afghanistan and Kabul,* and along the Oxus, while others penetrated into and invaded Arabia. But this was when Africa had already been raised as a continent. We have meanwhile to follow, as closely as limited space will permit, the gradual evolution of the now truly human species. It is in the suddenly arrested evolution of certain sub-races, and their forced and violent diversion into the purely animal line by artificial cross-breeding, truly analogous to the hybridization, which we have now learned to utilize in the vegetable and animal kingdoms, that we have to look for the origin of the anthropoids.”

She did not encourage any feeling of superiority by any person or race, spreading the idea of the common origin and destiny of all humanity, and establishing the principle of universal brotherhood as the First Object of the Theosophical Society: “To form the nucleus of a Universal Brotherhood of Humanity without distinction of race, colour, or creed.”  Thus, she declares “Theosophists, collectively, respect the Bible as much as they do the sacred scriptures of other people, finding in it the same eternal truths as in the Vedas, the Zend-Avesta, the Tripitakas, etc.”

Guido von List (and his followers such as Lanz von Liebenfels) later took up some of Blavatsky’s ideas, mixing her ideology with nationalistic and fascist ideas; this system of thought became known as Ariosophy.

Some researchers, when tracing the links between Ariosophy and Theosophy, tried to portray the latter as relying mostly on “intellectual expositions of racial evolution”.However, in The Key to Theosophy Elena Blavatsky had clearly pointed out that “The Society is a philanthropic and scientific body for the propagation of the idea of brotherhood on practical instead of theoretical lines.”

“ENQUIRER. Can you attain the “Secret Wisdom” simply by study? Encyclopaedias define Theosophy pretty much as Webster’s Dictionary does, i. e., as “supposed intercourse with God and superior spirits, and consequent attainment of superhuman knowledge by physical means and chemical processes.” Is this so?
THEOSOPHIST. I think not. Nor is there any lexicographer capable of explaining, whether to himself or others, how superhuman knowledge can be attained by physical or chemical processes. Had Webster said “by metaphysical and alchemical processes,” the definition would be approximately correct: as it is, it is absurd. Ancient Theosophists claimed, and so do the modern, that the infinite cannot be known by the finite — i.e., sensed by the finite Self — but that the divine essence could be communicated to the higher Spiritual Self in a state of ecstasy. This condition can hardly be attained, like hypnotism, by “physical and chemical means.“.

Unlike Theosophists (whose first objective was “to form the nucleus of a Universal Brotherhood of Humanity without distinction of race, colour, or creed”), “The Thule Society preached Aryan supremacy and acted to achieve it. It provides the final link between occult racial theories and the racial ideology of Hitler, who skewed the fundamental principles of and understandings for sociological and economic control by the emerging Nazi party.”

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