Theosophical Encyclopedia

Neff, Mary K. (1877-1948)

American Theosophical author who served in various capacities at Adyar and in the Australian Section. Neff was born on September 7, 1877, in Akron, Ohio. During 1911-13 she was resident at Adyar, where she worked in the Theosophical Publishing House and the Adyar Library, and for a time was private secretary to Charles W. Leadbeater. She was also in charge of the business department of the Boys' High School at Madanapalle and Vasanta Ashrama, a Theosophical boarding school for Indian girls.

Neff served for five years as principal of the Middle School for Girls at Lucknow, where she introduced many reforms and was Organizing Secretary for the Anti-tuberculosis League. During 1922-23, Neff assisted J. J. van der Leeuw at King Arthur's School, North Sydney, Australia. She served for two years as Assistant General Secretary and National Lecturer for the Australian Section of the Theosophical Society. In 1925 she returned to Adyar at the request of C. Jinarajadasa to take charge of the archives, again acting as secretary to Leadbeater. 

Neff's publications include The "Brothers" of Madame Blavatsky (1932), Personal Memoirs of H. P. Blavatsky (1937,1967), The Mahatma Letters: Their Chronological Order (1940), Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett: Their Chronological Order (1940), A Guide to Adyar (1943), and How Theosophy Came to Australia and New Zealand (1943).

Doubleday, Abner (1819-1893)

Doubleday was international vice president of the Theosophical Society (1880-1888), and was interim president January 17 to February 1879. He was born June 26, 1819, at Ballston Spa, New York. Doubleday graduated from West Point Military Academy in 1842, achieved the rank of Major General in the army, and served at Gettysburg during the Civil War. He met Henry S. Olcott when he was president of a United States military tribunal at which Olcott was the prosecutor and joined the Theosophical Society on June 30, 1878.


Doubleday was a dedicated worker for the Theosophical Society and a supporter of the founders. He has been called the "father" of modern baseball, although evidence to support that claim is lacking. The legend of his inventing the game was created by a Cooperstown native who claimed to remember the event.

Atkins, Anita (Sylvia Cranston) (1915-2000)

Author, known by her pen name Sylvia Cranston or S. L. Cranston, who wrote books on reincarnation and a biography of Helena P. BLAVATSKY.

Anita Atkins was born on December 12, 1915, and spent her childhood and youth living in the Grand Concourse, Bronx, New York. Her formal academic education ended with high school, after which she became a self-taught scholar.

Her parents both attended meetings at the United Lodge of Theosophists in New York City, Anita's introduction to Theosophy coming from her father's reports of those meetings. As she later remembered, her "soul soared" when she listened to her father tell about the ideas presented in the lectures. Because of her extreme shyness, it was many months before Anita could bring herself to attend her first public Theosophical meeting, to which she was accompanied by her father. After that first meeting, however, the high-school teenager attended every possible United Lodge meeting. 



Never married, Anita Atkins devoted her life to service through her lectures for various public organizations and Theosophical groups, teaching Theosophy School at the United Lodge of Theosophists in New York City, as well as participating in national and international radio and television interviews. She supported herself by working at a five-and-ten-cents store, the Eastern News Distribution Company, and the Theosophy Company by managing the New York United Lodge until her retirement. As an author, Anita never used the royalties from her books personally, but instead financed donations of her books to libraries worldwide, to promote the ideas of Theosophy as her way of serving humanity.

Anita read every word that Helena P. Blavatsky published, not once but many times. One keynote that sounded as a call for Anita to serve the worldwide Theosophical Movement was HPB's message to the fourth annual (1890) American Convention at the Palmer House Hotel, Chicago, Illinois, in which HPB stated:

"What I said last year remains true today, that is, that the Ethics of Theosophy are more important than any divulgement of psychic laws and facts. The latter relate wholly to the material and evanescent part of the septenary man, but the Ethics sink into and take hold of the real man the reincarnating Ego. We are outwardly creatures of but a day; within we are eternal. Learn, then, well the doctrines of Karma and Reincarnation, and teach, practice, promulgate that system of life and thought, which alone can save the coming races. Do not work merely for the Theosophical Society, but through it for Humanity."

Anita's heart was pierced by that proclamation, and so at the age of sixteen she began compiling what great thinkers, writers, artists, psychologists, composers and philosophers have had to say throughout history on the subject of death and reincarnation. The idea came to Anita of collecting such quotations into an appendix for a future publication by the Theosophy Company, Los Angeles. This appendix grew into a volume of its own, and Grace Clough of the United Lodge in Los Angeles advised Anita to select a pen name and have her work published as a separate book by a New York publishing house. Mrs. Clough chose "Sylvia L. Cranston" as the nom de plume for Anita Atkins. Anita used it, or its variant "S. L. Cranston," for all the books she wrote and published. 

Anita's first three books were compiled and edited with a co-author, Joseph Head: Reincarnation: An East-West Anthology (1961), Reincarnation in World Thought (1967), and Reincarnation: The Phoenix Fire Mystery (1977). Her fourth was written in collaboration with Carey Williams (pen name of Caren M. Elin): Reincarnation: A New Horizon in Science, Religion and Society (1984).

Anita Atkins's last book went in a different direction. HPB: The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky, Founder of the Modern Theosophical Movement was published in 1993, with a revised edition in 1994. Later editions were prepared by Caren Elin, Anita's research assistant, who, together with Anita's brother, A. Edgar Atkins, formed the Path Publishing House to keep the Blavatsky biography in print. Anita wrote this volume while suffering with Parkinson's disease, from which she died on June 20, 2000. All the Cranston books are in print today in many languages around the world.

Anita Atkins's lifelong wish was that the ideas of Theosophy be used to benefit humanity through gentle acts of service. An additional wish was for all Theosophical groups, organizations, and independent individuals to work symbiotically for the greater Theosophical movement and through it to benefit the global human family.

Long, James Albert (1898-1971)

International head of the Theosophical Society, Pasadena, from 1951 to 1971. His administration was marked by an emphasis on the practical expression of Theosophy in daily living and, to combat crystallization, a reorganization of the Society's methods and activities.



Long was born in York, Pennsylvania, on August 27, 1898. Following a career in private business, he worked during World War II as management consultant in the Office of the Quartermaster General in Washington, D.C., and was later transferred to the Department of State, where he assisted in the changeover to peacetime responsibilities. While there, Long was sent as an adviser to the U.S. delegation to the United Nations at the opening of its second session in 1946.

In 1935, Long joined the Pasadena Theosophical Society, then headquartered at Point Loma, California. In 1939, he was appointed business manager of its American Section by Colonel Arthur L. CONGER, the Society's leader at that time, and a cabinet member in 1945. Upon retirement from government service in 1947, he joined the staff of the Society's headquarters (relocated at Covina shortly after the outbreak of World War II), where he continued to work closely with Conger. In December 1950, Conger sent Long on a world tour in order to contact officials and members with regard to the future work of the Society. He returned just ten days before Conger's death and succeeded him as leader in February 1951.

Frequently referring to his predecessor's and his own administrations as a transition period from the "receiving end to the giving end" of Theosophy, Long urged members to share their Theosophical knowledge from their own experience, in their own words without propagandizing, i.e., with sensitivity to what is being called forth by karma and the need of others. For this purpose, he founded and edited Sunrise magazine as a bridge between Theosophy and the general public, each issue offering Theosophical perspectives on relevant trends in science, philosophy, and religion, as well as studies in ancient and modern Theosophy.

Recognizing the membership's greater understanding of the Society's objectives and the necessity of periodical renovation, Long placed his Society entirely on a volunteer basis without fees or dues. He also brought to completion a consolidation program initiated by Gottfried de PURUCKER, and continued by Colonel Conger, so that incoming generations could rebuild organizational forms and activities relevant to their needs. Accordingly, Long requested that virtually all branch activity be temporarily discontinued and that members give greater emphasis to realizing Theosophical ideals in daily life, to become better examples of true brotherhood in action, the original program of the Theosophical Society.

To enhance the flow of Theosophical teachings into the world, he strengthened the publishing activity of Theosophical University Press and its overseas agencies, featuring the primary source books and classics of Theosophy, including the first soft-cover editions of The Secret Doctrine and lsis Unveiled. A number of Long's writings, drawn largely from his editorials and "Roundtables" in Sunrise magazine, were published in 1965 as Expanding Horizons, which has been in wide use as an introductory text on Theosophy. Long died on July 19, 1971, and was succeeded by Grace F. KNOCHE.

Ransom, Josephine Maria (née Davies) (1879-1960)

Theosophical historian who served as General Secretary of three different sections of the Theosophi¬cal Society. Ransom was born on March 22, 1879, in Armidale, Australia. She joined the Theosophical Society (Adyar) on November 23, 1897. Ransom was General Secretary of the Australian Section, 1924-5; South African Section, 1926-7; and English Section 1933-6. She worked with Annie BESANT in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and founded the British and India Society. Ransom was nominated Vice-President of the Adyar Theosophical Society in 1960, but did not formally take office as she was badly injured in a vehicle accident in London and died on December 2, 1960. 



Ransom's publications include: Schools of  Tomorrow; Indian Tales of Love and Beauty; Irish Tales; Madame Blavatsky as Occultist; Studies in the Secret Doctrine; The Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Book of the Theosophical Society; and notably A Short History of the Theosophical Society.

Arnold, Sir Edwin (1832-1904)

English poet, scholar, and journalist, as well as a friend of Henry S. Olcott, co-founder of the TS. Arnold was born at Gravesend in Kent on June 10, 1832, and educated at King's College, London, and University College, Oxford. After receiving his degree from Oxford, he was appointed Principal of Deccan College, Poona, in 1856. There he quickly mastered Sanskrit, Arabic, Turkish and Persian, thanks partly to a phenomenal memory. He returned to England in 1861, on the staff of the Daily Telegraph, of which he became editor.

Arnold became well-known to his contemporaries after the publication of his epic poem on the life and teachings of the Buddha, entitled The Light of Asia (1879). His reputation was further enhanced by his translation of the Bhagavad-Gita, entitled The Song Celestial (1885). Both works have been continually in print.

Read more: Arnold, Sir Edwin (1832-1904)

Van Manen, Johan – Dutch Orientalist (1877-1943)

Johan van Manen was born on April 16, 1877, in the city of Nijmegen, the Netherlands, into a well-to-do Dutch family. As a youth he was not exactly a symbol of virtue. On the contrary, he gave his parents and teachers a lot of trouble. Van Manen was one of the innovative young artists and thinkers, and it is said that he remained a Bohemian for the rest of his life. However, Theosophy, its principles and tenets, took his fancy, and he started a thorough study of its teachings. At the same time, his remarkable linguistic talents helped him to explore the folklore of ancient peoples.

Not only was he fluent in several European languages, but without pretending to be a Sanskritist, he knew much about that ancient language, as well as about Tamil and other languages of south India. It is not surprising that ultimately van Manen was drawn to India. Between 1896 and 1908 he collaborated with Henry Olcott and Annie Besant by propagating Theosophy in the Netherlands, the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and Europe. In 1909 he set off for the international headquarters in Adyar to become Charles Webster Leadbeater’s private secretary, a function he fulfilled until 1916. During this period he witnessed the discovery and initial education of the young Krishnamurti. From 1910 until 1916 he was assistant general manager of the Western branch of the Adyar Library.

Read more: Van Manen, Johan – Dutch Orientalist (1877-1943)

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