Theosophical Encyclopedia

Theosophy and the Theosophical Societies - part 2 (2020 version)


By Dr. James Santucci

Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies

California State University

Fullerton, CA 92834-6868

Theosophy 420 i HQ Building wide angke

Adyar, the front of Headdquarters Building. photo taken with a wide angle lens

Theosophy 420 j HPB Sarony portrait 1877

HPB, photo taken in 1877


In 1898, Mrs. Tingley renamed the T. S. in America the Universal Brotherhood and Theosophical Society,[1] and as its “Leader and Official Head” she pursued her activities in applied Theosophy, including an ambitious educational program, called Raja Yoga, that was initiated in 1900, and which emphasized an integration of physical, mental, spiritual training, and education. From the earliest student population of five, the number quickly jumped to 100 by 1902, two-thirds of whom were Cuban, owing to her abiding interest in Cuba arising from the Spanish-American War in 1898 and the support by Mayor Bacardí of Santiago of Mrs. Tingley’s objectives. In 1919 the educational program was expanded with the establishment of the Theosophical University. With the closing of the lodges in 1903, most of the committed and talented members were now at Point Loma engaging not only in this formal educational experiment but also in related activities such as agriculture and horticulture, writing, researching, publishing, dramatic, and musical productions.

By the 1920s, however, these activities began to taper off, mainly because of financial problems. With the death of Mrs. Tingley in 1929, the direction under its more intellectual and scholarly Leader, Gottfried de Purucker, moved once again in the direction of theoretical Theosophy, with emphasis on the teaching and study of the core Theosophical works. Renaming the U.B. and T.S. as The Theosophical Society, Dr. de Purucker embarked on a Fraternization Movement—partly because of the approaching hundredth anniversary of the birth of H. P. Blavatsky in 183—with the ultimate aim of reuniting all the societies. Unification, however, was not possible but conventions and other cooperative activities between Adyar and Point Loma were held throughout the 1930s.

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De Purucker, toward the end of his tenure, made the practical decision of selling the community holdings at Point Loma, called Lomaland, and moving the Society to Covina, a small community east of Los Angeles. In that same year (1942), de Purucker died, and the Society was led by a Cabinet for the next three years until a new Leader, Col. Arthur Conger, was elected in 1945. According to one dissident account, shortly after his election, those members of the Cabinet who did not acknowledge Col. Conger’s esoteric status as “mouthpiece for the Masters”—thereby claiming the same status of H. P. Blavatsky—were stripped of all responsibilities in the T.S. These former officers and several other individuals in the U.S. and Europe eventually left the T.S. Headquarters: some voluntarily resigning their memberships, others having their memberships involuntarily canceled. The work of the Point Loma tradition established by Mrs. Tingley was continued by an organized number of groups in the United States and Europe, one such group being Point Loma Publications, which was chartered in 1971 as a non-profit religious and educational corporation.

Theosophy 420 l ALCportrait

Colonel Arthur Conger

In the meantime, The Theosophical Society in Covina remained under the leadership of Col. Conger until his death in early 1951. William Hartley (1879–1955), a long-time resident member of the Society, was appointed by Conger as successor, but James A. Long (1898–1971) was accepted by the Cabinet of the T.S. instead, the argument for his appointment being that the original document containing Col. Conger’s designated appointee was not produced, only a photostatic copy. Hartley, together with his followers, left Covina and established their own Theosophical Society, now headquartered in The Hague, the Netherlands.

James Long continued to head The Theosophical Society. A number of significant events took place during his leadership. The Theosophical University and all the lodges (chartered during the tenure of Dr. de Purucker) were closed; the National Sections (including the Swedish property in Visingsö) were also closed; the printing and publishing activities, headquarters, and library were moved to Altadena and Pasadena in 1951; and Sunrise, a monthly magazine, was established. Mr. Long also went on extensive lecture tours overseas and set about visiting the membership outside the U.S. Upon his death in 1971, Miss Grace F. Knoche became the Leader of The Theosophical Society.

Theosophy 420 m Francia LaDue

Francia LaDue

During the eventful year of 1898, another Theosophical organization came into existence with the founding of the Temple of the People by Dr. William H. Dower (1866–1937) and Mrs. Francia LaDue (1849–1922), who believed that they were following the instructions of the “Master” to separate from the Tingley-led Universal Brotherhood and T.S. and, according to its own declaration, to lay the “mental, physical, and spiritual foundations of the coming sixth race.” Arising out of the Syracuse (New York) Lodge of the U.B. and T.S., they and their group moved to California in 1903, where they settled on land east of Oceano, establishing the headquarters known as Halcyon. By 1904, Dr. Dower opened the Halcyon Hotel and Sanitorium in order to continue his medical practice, treating such maladies as tuberculosis, nervous disorders, alcoholism, and drug addiction. The following year (1905), the Temple Home Association was incorporated, which laid out a town plan and sold or leased house sites, thus organizing a co-operative colony with Mrs. LaDue, also known as Blue Star, becoming the first head—Guardian in Chief—of the Temple. In 1908, the Temple was incorporated under the title “The Guardian in Chief of the Temple of the People, a Corporation Sole.”

After Mrs. LaDue’s death in 1922, Dr. Dower became the second head of the Temple, supervising the construction of the Blue Star Memorial Temple. Begun in 1923 and completed in 1924, the Blue Star Memorial Temple was built in accordance with mathematical and geometrical symbolism illustrating the Unity of all Life, or the Higher Self. Upon Dr. Dower’s death in 1937, Mrs. Pearl Dower became the third Guardian in Chief, who organized the property according to its present specifications, a 95-acre property consisting of 52 homes, 30 of which are owned by the Temple, the William Quan Judge Library, which also houses the Temple offices and an apartment for visitors. The successor to Mrs. Dower in 1968 was Harold Forgostein, who is painted 22 pictures in the early 1930s at Dr. Dower’s request depicting the Native Americans’ contributions to understanding the balance in nature and scenes from the life of Hiawatha, both important in Temple teachings. These paintings are now in the Temple’s University Center. Mr. Forgostein remained head of the Temple until 1990; the present Guardian in Chief is Eleanor L. Shumway.

Another association, the United Lodge of Theosophists, was organized by a former member of the U.B. and T.S. at Point Loma and Hargrove’s Theosophical Society. Robert Crosbie (1849–1919), a Canadian living in Boston who became a Theosophist under the influence of W.Q. Judge, originally lent his support to Mrs. Tingley as Judge’s successor. Around 1900, he moved to Point Loma to help in the work she initiated there. In 1904, losing confidence in her leadership and methods for private reasons, he left Point Loma and moved to Los Angeles, where he associated for a time with Hargrove’s Theosophical Society and with a number of Theosophists who were later to support the U.L.T., John Garrigues among them.

In 1909, Crosbie, with these same interested acquaintances who shared his view that only the Source Theosophy of Blavatsky and Judge contained the teachings of Theosophy as it was intended to be delivered in modern times (i.e., in the latter decades of the nineteenth century and beyond), formed the United Lodge of Theosophists in Los Angeles. What set this group apart from other Theosophical societies was (and continues to be) its stress only on Source Theosophy and such writings as are in accord philosophically with those of Blavatsky and Judge but excluding the letters of the Masters K.H. and M. written between 1880 and 1886 to the prominent Theosophical writer, Vice–President of the T.S., and rival to H.P. Blavatsky, A.P. Sinnett, that is, the letters in The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett.[2] But those in Sinnett’s The Occult World are accepted, as is the letter from the Maha-Chohan.  The reason for rejecting most of the letters is that private letters are no substitute for the actual Theosophical teachings; also, many U. L. T. members consider that the letters were never intended for publication.

Theosophy 420 n Robert Crosbies Life and Work 

Robert Crosbie

The U. L. T. rejects leaders and teachers (all associates in the U.L.T. are described as students), and lays stress on anonymity for those who write on behalf of the U.L.T. Even Crosbie himself claimed no special status, although he is held in high esteem by associates. After Crosbie’s death, the Lodge in Los Angeles established the Theosophy Company in 1925 to serve as fiduciary agent for the associates. No leader was recognized, but John Garrigues was acknowledged

as a major figure in the L.A. U.L.T. until his death in 1944, along with Mrs. Grace Clough and Mr. Henry Geiger, but students in the U.L.T. insist that the principle of anonymity outweighs its disadvantages.

The U.L.T. developed into an international association of study groups through the efforts of another important figure in the Theosophical Movement, the Indian Parsi B. P. Wadia (1881–1958). Originally a member of the Adyar T.S., which he joined in 1903 and where he served in a number of capacities—including that of Mrs.  Besant’s  secretary—he resigned in 1922 because of his perception that the Theosophical Society “strayed away from the ‘Original Programme.’”  From 1922 to 1928 he remained in the U.S. and assisted in founding U.L.T. lodges in New York, Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia. Following his departure for India via Europe, he encouraged local students to found U.L.T. lodges, including those in Antwerp, Amsterdam, London, Paris, Bangalore, and Bombay. At present, U.L.T. lodges and study groups are located throughout the U.S. and in Belgium, Canada, England, France, India, Italy, Mexico, The Netherlands, Nigeria, Sweden, and Trinidad (West Indies).  Because of the considerable contributions of Mr. Wadia, he is the only person, with the exception of Mr. Crosbie, within the U.L.T. who is identified by name.


The Theosophical Society, Adyar, is the largest Society by far (despite the loss of most of the original American Section in 1895), the work that was conducted primarily by Col. Olcott, and also to a lesser extent by Mme. Blavatsky during her abbreviated stay in India, adopted an activist stance with their championing of Hinduism and Buddhism upon their arrival in India in 1879. Col. Olcott was especially active in helping to initiate a Buddhist revival in India and Sri Lanka and to upgrade the position of the outcastes in India. As the first American to convert to Buddhism overseas in 1880, he worked with great enthusiasm for the cause of Buddhism not only in Sri Lanka but also in other Buddhist nations: promoting the foundation of Buddhist schools, writing the Buddhist Catechism—which attempted to unite both Northern and Southern Buddhists—helping to design a Buddhist flag that all Buddhist nations could adopt as their universal emblem symbolizing Buddhist unity. In India, Col. Olcott established “pariah schools” for the uplift of the depressed classes.

One such school, known today as the Olcott Memorial School in the vicinity of Adyar, was established in 1894 for the purpose of offering free education for the children of these classes in skills that would provide self-sufficiency, such as tailoring, gardening, carpentry, and printing. One further contribution made by Col. Olcott was the establishment of the Oriental Library in December 1886 in order to preserve Indian manuscripts from neglect and to keep them in India. The manuscripts are now housed in the Adyar Library building built in 1967.


Besant’s activities within the Society during her presidency are closely associated with another prominent though controversial Theosophist, Charles Webster Leadbeater (1854–1934).  In large part, under his influence, Theosophical teachings were introduced in the T.S. that were considered by Blavatskyites to have deviated from the original teachings of Blavatsky and her Masters.  Derisively called “Neo-Theosophy” by F. T. Brooks, a Theosophical writer and the tutor of Jawaharlal Nehru in the early years of the twentieth century, these teachings were considered by those who limited themselves to the writings of Blavatsky and Judge to be heretical, judging from the opinions that appeared in Theosophical literature of the 1920s. 

Charles Webster Leadbeater.019

Charles Webster Leadbeater

“Neo-Theosophy” included two highly significant and innovative actions: Leadbeater’s discovery, in 1909, of the physical vehicle for the coming World Teacher—known as Maitreya or the Christ—Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895–1986), and also an alliance with the Old (later, Liberal) Catholic Church from 1917 under the direction of Bishops Leadbeater and James Wedgwood. As if the foregoing activities were not controversial enough for many within the Theosophical movement, the man behind these innovations, Leadbeater, was himself under a cloud of scandal. In 1906, charges were raised by the Secretary of the Esoteric Section in America, Helen Dennis, that he was teaching her young son and other boys masturbation as a form of occult practice. This charge, which raised the specter of pederasty in the eyes of his accuser, led to Leadbeater’s resignation from the Society. Upon his reinstatement in 1908, with the help of Mrs. Besant, Leadbeater soon thereafter discovered J. Krishnamurti, a young Hindu boy who he said was to be the vehicle for the coming World Teacher. Much of the work of the Society revolved around the training of the boy and preparing the way for the World Teacher’s coming.


Jiddu Krishnamurti 

In 1911, another organization known as the Order of the Star in the East (O.S.E.) was founded in Benares by George Arundale—which soon became a worldwide organization with the help of Mrs. Besant—specifically for this purpose.   In the official organ of The Order of the Star in the East, The Herald of the Star,[3] J. Krishnamurti (or whoever wrote on his behalf) notes that George S. Arundale, the Principal of the Central Hindu College, was the true founder of the Order, known at the time of its formation (January 11, 1911) the “Order of the Rising Sun.” Its purpose was “to draw together those … who believed in the near coming of a great Teacher, and were anxious to work in some way to prepare for Him.”

Theosophy 420 o Steiner

Rudolf Steiner

Not long thereafter, the General Secretary of the German Section, Rudolf Steiner, disenchanted with the O. S. E. and displeased with Besant’s Presidency, took action that caused the General Council of the T.S. to advise the President to cancel the German sectional charter and to issue a new sectional charter to some German Lodges.[4]   Fifty-five out of sixty-nine German lodges followed Dr. Steiner, who soon organized  a new society, the Anthroposophical Society, in early 1913. Despite the defections of Steiner and others, however, the Theosophical Society gained more members than it had lost. The promise of the imminent coming of the World Teacher in the vehicle of Krishnamurti contributed to both unprecedented controversy within, and wider popularity of, the Theosophical Society until 1929, when Krishnamurti renounced his role and left the Society. Thereafter, the Society never regained the popularity that it had in the 1920s.

The second event that generated controversy was the promotion of the Old Catholic, later Liberal Catholic, Church by members of the Society. This promotion was primarily the brainchild of C.W. Leadbeater, who, with James Ingall Wedgwood (1883–1951), helped to establish the Church. Theosophists, especially those belonging to non-Adyar groups, viewed the L.C.C. ritual and the acceptance of the apostolic succession, on which the bishopric is authenticated, as having no place in Theosophical teaching. As the 1920s progressed, there was an attempt to combine the claims centering on the World Teacher with the ritual of the L.C.C., including the selection of twelve “apostles” for Krishnamurti, but ultimately the whole plan dissolved with Krishnamurti’s rejection of the role of World Teacher.

After 1929, the T.S. retrenched and returned more to those teachings generally associated with Theosophy. After the death of Mrs. Besant in 1933, the presidency passed on to George Arundale (1934–1945), who continued the activism that was so typical of Mrs. Besant’s term. During his tenure, his wife, Srimati Rukmini Devi (1904–1986), established the International Academy of Arts on January 6, 1936 (later known as Kālakshetra “the Field or Holy place of Arts”), having as its objects (1) “[t]o emphasise the essential unity of all true Art,” (2) “[t]o work for the recognition of the arts as vital to individual, national, religious and international growth,” (3) [t]o provide for such activities as may be incidental to the above objects.” Associated with the second purpose of Kālakshetra was a revival and development of the ancient culture of India. To Dr. Arundale, Indian dance revealed occult ritual, in his words “the occultism of beauty.” Following him was a protégé of Leadbeater’s, C. Jinarājadāsa (1946–1953), who, among his many contributions to the Society, displayed an active interest in publishing many documents relating to the history of the Society from the early years of the T.S. As one of the foremost Theosophical authors, Jinarājadāsa displayed a distinctly scholarly bent in his published works, and, in order to carry out the third object of the Society, inaugurated in 1949 The School of the Wisdom  at the International Headquarters of the Theosophical Society at Adyar on the date of the T. S.’s own inauguration,  November 17.  It was called the International Centre of Theosophical Studies in the 1970s but renamed The School of the Wisdom in 1985.

In his Address on the inauguration of the school, Jinarājadāsa stated that its purpose was “to equip its students to become, each according to his temperament and aptitude, philosophers, scientists, ethical teachers, artists, givers of economic law, statesmen, educators, town planners and every other possible type of server of humanity.”[5]

Following Mr. Jinarājadāsa were N. Sri Ram (1953–1973), responsible for building the current Adyar Library building, John S. Coats (1973–1979),[6] Radha Burnier (1980–2013), and the current International President, Tim Boyd (2014-). 


[1] The name of the Society was changed to Universal Brotherhood on January 13, 1898: “With the first day of the new cycle, February 18th, was ushered in before the world  the Universal brotherhood founded by Katherine A. Tingley on January 13, 1898.”  See J. H. Fussell,  “Miscellaneous News,” Universal Brotherhood XII, no. 12 (March 1898): 313.  The Proclamation presented at the Fourth Annual Convention of the T. S. A. explains the changes in title.  The original name, the Theosophical Society in America, was retained to refer to a department of the Universal Brotherhood:  “Through it will be disseminated all literatures regarding the Theosophical philosophy.  Books, giving detailed and definite knowledge for the student; pamphlets and leaflets, giving in a simple  and readily understood form, the true philosophy of life to those thirsting and hungering for it. … all literature of any value or importance in this great work for Universal brotherhood will also be introduced and distributed through the Theosophical Society in America” (317).

[2] The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett from the Mahatmas M. & K.H., transcribed, compiled, and with an introduction by A.T. Barker, 2nd edition (London: Rider and Company, 1926).

[3] Vol. I, no. 1 (January 11, 1912): 1-2.

[4] “On the Watch-Tower,” The Theosophist XXXIV, no. 5 (February 1913): 637.

[5] “The School of the Wisdom: Inaugural Address Delivered on November 17, 1949,” The

Theosophist, 71, no. 3 (December 1949): 156.

[6] John Coats died on December 26, 1979. From January to June 1980, Surendra Narayan became the Vice-President in Charge. Mrs. Burnier took office in July 1980.


This article is published in collaboration with Professor James Santucci, editor of Theosophical History. For more interesting articles and subscriptions follow this link:

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