Theosophical Encyclopedia

Theosophy and the Theosophical Societies - part 4 (2020 version)

 THEOSOPHY AND THE THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETIES

By Dr. James Santucci

Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies

California State University

Fullerton, CA 92834-6868

Theosophy 420 z 1 elephants at the headquarters building

Eight elephant heads, Headquarters Building, Adyar

Theosophy 420 z 2 Blavatsky 1875 1050x700

Famous H.P.B. photo taken in 1875

The United Lodge of Theosophists is “a voluntary association of students of Theosophy” founded in 1909 by Robert Crosbie and others, having as its main purpose the study of Theosophy using the writings of Blavatsky and Judge as their guide. Because personality or ego is considered to have negative effects, “associates” pursue anonymity in their Theosophical work. Regarding this work, the U.L.T. Declaration, the only document that unites associates, states that its purpose “is the dissemination of the Fundamental Principles of the philosophy of Theosophy and the exemplification in practice of those principles, through a truer realization of the SELF; a profounder conviction of Universal Brotherhood.” It regards as Theosophists all “who are engaged in the true service of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, condition or organization.”

Theosophy 420 z 3 building LA

Building U.L.T in Los Angeles

The work of the U.L.T. is mainly practical and educational, conducting meetings and classes on various Theosophical subjects, and publishing books, pamphlets, and magazines. Lodges and study groups exist, with lodges typically consisting of between twenty and one hundred associates, and study groups from five to thirty associates. Associates can voluntarily participate in the work of a study group or lodge, ranging from attending or teaching classes in the public dissemination of Theosophical teachings. All activities are voluntary. In addition, there are associates who do not belong to any lodge because they live in countries and regions that have no proximate U.L.T. center. No leader exists in the U.L.T., nor is there any formal organization although The Theosophy Company serves as fiduciary agent for the U.L.T. and its publications. All lodges and study groups are independent of one another but are united in a common goal, the individual goal of pursuing the three objects of the U.L.T., which are nearly identical to the objects of the Adyar T.S.: (1) “To form the nucleus of a Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or color”; (2) “The study of ancient and modern religions, philosophies and sciences, and the demonstration of the importance of such study; and (3) the investigation of the unexplained laws of Nature and the psychical powers latent in man”. The work of the lodges focuses on the dissemination of source Theosophy.

Those who are in accord with the U.L.T. Declaration are considered associates.” They express their sympathy with the work of the U.L.T. in the following manner:

Being in sympathy with the purposes of this Lodge, as set forth in its “Declaration,” I hereby record my desire to be enrolled as an Associate, it being understood that such association calls for no obligation on my part, other than that which I, myself, determine.

Theosophy 420 z 4 heosophy hall mumbai 759

Theosophy Hall (U.L.T.) in Mumbai, India

The number of associates is uncertain because renewable or “sustaining” memberships do not exist, nor is there a published list of associates. The only figure supplied by an associate in Los Angeles is that “many thousands of associates” have belonged to the U.L.T. since 1909, but the figure today is not more than a few thousand worldwide. Lodges and study groups exist in Los Angeles but also in other parts of the U.S., Canada, Belgium, England, France, India, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, and Sweden. Publications include the works of Blavatsky and Judge, compilations of articles, letters, and talks by Robert Crosbie, entitled The Friendly Philosopher, his commentary and discussion on Judge’s The Ocean of Theosophy entitled Answers to Questions on the Ocean of Theosophy, and a small book, Universal Theosophy. The Theosophy Company also publishes works that are associated with ancient theosophy (such as The Bhagavad Gītā, Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras, and The Dhammapada), and the magazines Theosophy, The Theosophical Movement (Bombay), and Vidya (Santa Barbara, California).

The Temple of the People as a religious society and the village of Halcyon are both currently under the leadership (known as Guardian in Chief) of Eleanor L. Shumway,[1] who was selected by her predecessor, Harold Forgostein. Besides this office, there is a seven-member board of officers, selected each year by the Guardian in Chief.

Front Garden Blue Star Memorial Temple 1923 Halcyon California

The Temple of the People, Halcyon-California (front-garden) 

On the board is an Inner Guard and Treasurer, both reserved for women, an Outer Guard and a Scribe, both reserved for men, and three Delegates at Large, selected from members not living in Halcyon. Membership of the Temple is neither solicited nor closed to any individual; the only responsibility of the member is his/her own development. Of the total of some 250 members worldwide, about eighty reside at Halcyon. An annual Convention that lasts about a week begins on the first Sunday of August. The objects of The Temple are:

(1) To formulate the truths of religion as the fundamental factor in the evolution of the human race. And this does not mean the formulation of a creed;

(2) To set forth a philosophy of life that is in accord with natural and divine law;

(3) To promote the study of the sciences and the fundamental facts and laws upon which the sciences are based which will permit us to extend our belief and knowledge from what is known to the unknown;

(4) To promote the study and practice of art on fundamental lines, showing that art is in reality the application of knowledge to human good and welfare, and that the Christos can speak to humanity through art as well as through any other fundamental line of manifestation;

(5) The promotion of a knowledge of true social science based on immutable law, showing the relationship between one human being and another, and between human beings, God, and nature. When these relationships are understood we will instinctively formulate and follow the law of true brotherhood: the unity of ALL life.

The Word Foundation, Inc. was established in 1950 “to make known to the people of the world all books written by Harold Waldwin Percival (1868–1953), and to ensure the perpetuation of his legacy to humanity.” Percival’s books include Thinking and Destiny, Adepts, Masters and Mahatmas, Masonry and its Symbols, Man and Woman and Child, and Democracy is Self-Government.

Theosophy 420 Z 5 Word Foundation unnamed

Thinking and Destiny

Percival (1868–1953) was born in Bridgetown, Barbados, British West Indies. He came first to Boston, then to New York City with his mother after the death of his father. There, he joined the Theosophical Society in 1892, eventually established The Theosophical Society Independent, which emphasized the study of the writings of H.P. Blavatsky and Eastern “scriptures” and from 1904 to 1917 published The Word magazine. In addition, he established the Theosophical Publishing Company of New York. In 1946, the Word Publishing Co., Inc. was constituted and it was under this aegis that Percival’s books were first published and distributed. The Foundation is directed by a Board of Directors consisting of the President, Vice-President, Treasurer, and Secretary. In addition to publishing the works of Percival, it also has introduced in 1986 a new series of The Word magazine, published quarterly. The Foundation claims a worldwide membership of about 1000 as of 1994. The purpose of membership is to support the Foundation’s publishing activities and to facilitate “student-to-student” study groups.

Point Loma Publications, Inc. (now identified as the Point Loma School of Theosophic Perennialism)   is not a society but an independent publishing firm whose aim is to carry on the literary legacy of members of the Point Loma Theosophical Society (now the T.S., Pasadena). It was established on January 22, 1971 by former members of the Cabinet of the T.S. who refused to acknowledge the esoteric status of Col. Conger, the new Leader of the T.S., in 1945. These individuals were originally members of the Esoteric Section led by Gottfried de Purucker, the Leader of the Theosophical Society (Point Loma) from 1929 to 1942, including Gordon Plummer, Helen Harris, Jan Venema, Geoffrey and Ila Barborka, Elsie Benjamin, Helen Todd and Emmett and Carmen Small. 

Theosophy 420 z 6 Geoffrey Barborka

Geoffrey Barborka, among many titles also the author of The Divine Plan and The Peopling of the Earth

The former Chairman of the Cabinet of the T.S., Iverson L. Harris, became the president and chairman of the Board of Directors. In the 1950s, many of these individuals started to organize and give public lectures in San Diego, California.  Some published their own material as early as 1944, including Boris de Zirkoff’s (1902–1981) journal Theosophia, published from 1944 to 1981 and his editing of the complete works of H. P. Blavatsky.  The importance of the name “Point Loma” in the history of the Theosophical Movement, however, led eventually to the establishment of Point Loma Publications in San Diego as is evident in the Articles of Incorporation:

...to publish and disseminate literature of a philosophical, scientific, religious, historical and cultural character, faithful to the traditions and high standards maintained by the Theosophical Society with International Headquarters formerly at Point Loma, California, under the leadership of Katherine Tingley from 1900 to 1929, and of Gottfried de Purucker, from 1929 to 1942: to pursue and perpetuate the aims of the original T.S., founded in New York City by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Col. H.S. Olcott, Wm. Q. Judge and others, as enunciated by them on October 30, 1875....

P.L.P. remained under the leadership of Iverson Harris until his death in 1979. W. Emmett Small became the new President that year and remained so until his retirement in 1993. With the recent establishment of the Point Loma School of Theosophic Perennialism, most of the activity is focused on the Perennial Wisdom Resources currently located at San Diego State University.  Kenneth Small, the Curator, remarks that[2]

Perennial Wisdom Resources currently consists of three library collections: The Krotona Theosophy and Perennialism Collection, the Lomaland Theosophy and Perennialism Collection and the Peter Philp Collection of Western Esotericism. These three collections have the common thread of being inspired by the “essential unity of all religions” and the Theosophical Society’s Sanskrit motto “There is no Religion Higher than Truth” (satyāt nā ’sti paro dharmaḥ) promoted by Theosophy’s founder, Helena Blavatsky.

The formation of Point Loma Publications arose largely due in large part to the controversy surrounding Col. Conger’s claims to the office of Outer Head of the Esoteric Section[3] and the consequences of opposing his leadership.  Another outcome of Conger’s leadership resulted in the circumstances following his death in 1951 and the selection of a successor.

Shortly after Conger’s death, it was presumed by many in the Society that the position of  Leader was to pass to Conger’s designated successor, William Hartley (1879–1955), who was named as such in a document dated March 27, 1946. Instead, his selection was rejected in favor of James Long (1898–1971).  The justification for not recognizing Hartley was the legal status of the document itself.  What was produced was a copy of the original, therefore having no legal status.  James Long was therefore elected Leader of the Theosophical Society, now headquartered in Pasadena.[4]

Hartley left the headquarters but continued to associate with members of the T. S. in the Netherlands, in particular D. J. P. Kok.  Because of this association, the new society established in 1951 by Hartley as the Theosophical Society—HPB did not survive in the United States. The Dutch Section however continued, with Mr. Kok assuming leadership in 1958.  In the obituary written by the present leader of The Theosophical Society Point Loma, Herman C.  Vermeulen, his assistant and co-worker for many years and Kok’s successor in 1985, writes[5]:

In the years that followed he [Kok] had extensive correspondence with William Hartley, during which it was suggested he would look after the affairs of the TS. In Europe.  In 1958, three years after the death of William Hartley, the Chairman of the Leader’s Cabinet Mrs. Helen G. Steward called him to California, where he was asked to assume the leadership of The Theosophical Society, under the condition that no publicity would be given to this fact.  It was not until 1963 that, after a second visit to Mrs. Steward, his succession was made public.

Theosophy 420 z 7 herman3 390x390

Herman C. Vermeulen

As head of the Society, he founded the International Study-centre for Independent Search for Truth (I.S.I.S.), the purpose of which “to prohibit any future malpractice with the possessions of The Theosophical Society as had taken place in 1951.  I.S.I.S. also was responsible for publications and all teaching activities.  In 1970 Blavatskyhouse in The Hague was purchased, thus establishing a location for the International Headquarters. Three years later a house next to the headquarters was purchased wherein a printing department was set up. 

At present, the Theosophical Society Point Loma functions as a non-profit organization whose primary work is “to help and teach others” in all matters related to Theosophy.  Its objectives are[6]:

  1. To diffuse among men a knowledge of the laws inherent in the Universe.
  2. To promulgate the knowledge of the essential unity of all that is, and to demonstrate that this unity is fundamental in Nature.
  3. To form an active brotherhood among men.
  4. To study ancient and modern religion, science, and philosophy
  5. To investigate the powers innate in man. 

FOOTNOTES PART 4

[1] Paul Eli Ivey, Radiance from Halcyon: A Utopian Experiment in Religion and Science (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2013), 237.

[2] Kenneth R. Small, “Perennial Wisdom Resources,”  Theosophical History XX, no. 3 (July 2020): 259.  The Website summarizing the Collections is located at: https://humanitieshub.sdsu.edu/omeka/exhibits/show/perennial-wisdom-resources/summary 

[3] This is a controversial opinion to be sure, but it is based upon a document signed by Col. Conger,  dated March 27, 1946, appointing Hartley as his “successor and Leader.”  The document is reproduced in Theosophical History VIII, no. 1 (January 2000): 32.  This issue explains the reasons for the events in 1945, with the selection of Col. Conger, and 1946, leading to a series of expulsions and resignations from the Society.  The presentation, however, is not the only interpretation.  Alan Donant wrote an article  on Col. Conger (Theosophical History VII, no. 1 [January 1998]: 35-56) presenting a different interpretation of the events at this time.  The “dismissals,” resignations, or expulsions of prominent members of the Society over Col. Conger’s leadership are explained either through “prejudice against this illness [i.e., Parkinson’s disease], which in Mr. Donant’s opinion caused dismay among some in the Cabinet” (“Editor’s Comments,” Theosophical History VII, no. 1 (January 1998): 2 or to Col. Conger’s claim to be Outer Head or the Esoteric Section and therefore “a Teacher as H. P. B. was.”  This claim appears in a verbatim report of the E.S. Council meeting of December 21, 1945 (the document appears in “Document 3,” Theosophical History VIII, no. 3, 21.These were therefore the arguments facing members of the T. S. Society, especially those who held positions in the T.S. Cabinet and were members of the E.S.               

Besides Mr. Donant’s article in Theosophical History above, an updated and revised version was published by Theosophical University Press in 1999.  The ebook is online at https://www.theosociety.org/pasadena/conger/ColALCongerAED.pdf

[4] The current headquarters and library are actually situated in Altadena, but the post office designation is Pasadena.

[5] Herman Vermeulen, “In Memory of D.J.P. Kok,” The Eclectic Theosophist 90 (October-November 1985): 9.

[6] https://blavatskyhouse.org/about-us/the-theosophical-society/the-theosophical-society-point-loma-characteristic/https://blavatskyhouse.org/about-us/the-theosophical-society/the-theosophical-society-point-loma-characteristic/

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

 

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