Theosophical Encyclopedia

Collins, Mabel (1851-1927).

English novelist and mystical writer. She was born in Guernsey, Channel Islands, on September 9, 1851. Mabel Collins liked to refer to herself as a "Nine" because she was the ninth child and was born on the ninth day of the ninth month. In 1871 she married Kenningale Robert Cook, from whom she later separated. Collins joined the Theosophical Society in 1884, becoming a member of the London Lodge. She worked as assistant editor to Helena P. Blavatsky on the periodical Lucifer from September 1887 to February 1889. She was devoted to the welfare of animals and opposed vivisection. Collins was a prolific writer, having produced about a score of novels (several of them three-volume romances a la Barbara Cartland), such as The Prettiest Woman in Warsaw (1885) and Juliet’s Lovers (1893).

Publications include As the Flower Grows (1915), A Cry From Afar (1905), Fragments of Thought and Life (1908), Idyll of the White Lotus (1884), Light on the Path (1885), The Story of Senza (1913), The Story of the Year (1895), Through the Gates of Gold (1887), and When the Sun Moves Northward (1912).

Christmas and Its Esoteric Significance

Based on an article in the Theosophical Encyclopedia

Christmas is a Christian festival, presently celebrated on December 25 and commemorating the birth of Jesus, called Christ. It is the most popular festival in the Christian calendar, and has become increasingly elaborated over the years with customs, such as decorating a fir tree, drawn from pagan sources. In addition, in has absorbed some later Christian practices, such as erecting a crèche (first done by St. Francis and his followers)

More recent secular practices include exchanging presents, often claimed to come from "Santa Claus" (a figure first popularized in New York in the nineteenth century, the name being a modification of Dutch Sinterklaas, a popular alteration of Sint Nikolass, that is, Saint Nicholas, a fourth-century bishop who, according to legend, saved three girls from prostitution by throwing three bags of gold into their window at night). Another secular addition is exchanging greeting cards, a practice begun around 1846. Although the increasing commercialism associated with such practices is often decried, they can and often do serve a useful purpose, as Charles W. Leadbeater describes in The Inner Side of Christian Festivals (1973, pp. 41-2).

Read more: Christmas and Its Esoteric Significance

Olcott, Henry Steel (1832-1907)

President-Founder of the Theosophical Society, a Renaissance man who was an author, lecturer, agriculturalist, reporter, healer, social reformer, and ecumenist, whose life was—as he himself recognized—"stranger than fiction."

Olcott’s two most important publications are The Buddhist Catechism and Old Diary Leaves. The Buddhist Catechism is a textbook for teaching the principles of that major world religion to students in Buddhist schools but is also a source of information about the Buddha and his dharma for both Buddhists and non-Buddhists. Old Diary Leaves, on the other hand, is a personal and autobiographical account of the early years of the Theosophical Society by the President-Founder himself. It is no accident that these two works, on Buddhism and the Theosophical Society, are Olcott’s most important publications. Olcott believed that core Buddhism and core Theosophy are the same thing—both are expressions of the same timeless Wisdom.

Read more: Olcott, Henry Steel (1832-1907)

Maitland, Edward (1824-1897)

A member of the Theosophical Society and close associate of Anna Kingsford. Maitland was brought up in a strict religious family and tended to revolt against the rigid lifestyle imposed on him. He graduated from Cambridge University, and it was intended that he enter holy orders, but he refused to do so. Hearing about the discovery of gold in California, he saw it as a means of escape from the demands made on him by his family and emigrated there, later moving to Australia. In Australia he married, but his wife died after only a year of marriage. He remained away from England for about ten years, returning in 1857. Thereafter, he concentrated on writing for a living, publishing both essays and fiction. In 1875 he published his first book, The Keys of the Creeds. About this time, he met and formed an association with Anna Kingsford, and together they embarked on a campaign opposing vivisection and promoting vegetarianism.


The 1881 publication of their collaborated book, The Perfect Way, resulted in an invitation by Henry Olcott, then president of the Theosophical Society, to join the Society and, further, for Anna Kingsford to become president of the British Branch and Maitland its vice president. This surprising decision was implemented when they were duly nominated by Charles Massey and elected in 1883. Their reign was short-lived because of the opposition of many members who resented their action in introducing "Christian" theosophy, and they resigned from the London Lodge in 1884. Maitland, however, did not resign from the parent society.

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.

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