Theosophical Encyclopedia

Purucker, Gottfried de (1874-1942)

Head of the Theosophical Society (now headquartered in Pasadena) from 1929 to 1942. Born in Suffern, New York, on January 15, 1874, Purucker was destined for the clergy by his father, an Anglican minister who in the late 1880s was chaplain of the American church in Geneva, Switzerland. There Purucker’s education stressed Latin, Hebrew, Greek, and the writings of the early Church Fathers. He enrolled in the Collège de Genève, but left school and went to America, settling in San Diego County. There he read a translation of the Upanishads and learned Sanskrit. In 1893 he joined the San Diego Lodge of the Theosophical Society (Adyar) and soon was leading a class on The Secret Doctrine.

Purucker returned to Europe for several years, in 1899-1900 working on the editorial staff of the Paris Daily Messenger. In 1903 he joined the headquarters staff of Katherine Tingley’s Theosophical Society, which she had moved from New York City to Point Loma, California, in 1900. He studied and taught at the Theosophical University, where he received a doctorate in literature and held the chair in Hebrew and Sanskrit.

Read more: Purucker, Gottfried de (1874-1942)

Leadbeater, Charles Webster (1854-1934)

An English clergyman and Theosophical author in the generation following Blavatsky. He was born at Stockport, Cheshire, on February 16, 1854. He became a priest in the Church of England in 1879, but became interested in Spiritualism and, after reading A. P. Sinnett’s Occult World, join the Theosophical Society 1883. He met Madam Blavatsky in1884 and followed her to India, where he developed his power of clairvoyance.

In much of 1886-9, Leadbeater directed educational and Theosophical work in Ceylon, where he met the thirteen-year-old C. Jinarajadasa, whom he took to England in 1889 to be educated there. He also tutored George Sydney Arundale and A. P. Sinnett’s son, Dennis. Leadbeater increased his occult investigations, which led to publication of The Astral Plane (1894), The Devachanic Plane (1895), and, in collaboration with Annie Besant, papers that resulted in Occult Chemistry (1908). In these works, Leadbeater presented clear, distinct, easily visualized word-pictures of forces, entities, and patterns of life on the inner planes. Thought Forms (1905), also in collaboration with Annie Besant, had a remarkable influence on modern art, especially through Wassily Kandinsky, by its vivid color illustrations representing the subtle energy patterns of various moods and feelings, as seen clairvoyantly. In 1899, Leadbeater published The Christian Creed, followed by Man Visible and Invisible (1902), An Outline of Theosophy (1902), and The Other Side of Death (1903).

Read more: Leadbeater, Charles Webster (1854-1934)

Besant, Annie Wood (1847-1933)

The second international president of the Theosophical Society, Adyar, and the most prominent woman orator and social reformer of her time. She was born on October 1, 1847, in London to parents of Irish extraction. Between the ages of 7 and 16, Annie was reared and educated by a family friend, Ellen Marryat.

In 1867, Besant married the Rev. Frank Besant. Their son, Arthur Digby, was born in 1869 and daughter, Mabel, in 1870. When the infant girl nearly died from whooping cough, Annie questioned why a benevolent God would allow an innocent child to suffer and underwent a crisis of faith, leading her eventually to refuse to take communion in her husband’s church. He insisted that she either resume taking communion or leave his house. She left and obtained a legal separation with custody of Mabel.

Read more: Besant, Annie Wood (1847-1933)

Gardner, Edward Lewis (1896-1969).

A prolific writer on Theosophical subjects and a dedicated worker for the Theosophical Society. He was born at Coggeshall, Essex, England. He joined the Society on April 17, 1907, was General Secretary of the English Section in 1924-8, and travelled widely as an international lecturer. In 1926 he founded a Theosophical community at Stamford House, Wimbledon, London, and presided over it until 1940. Gardner was one of a group that bought Tekels Park, now vested in the English section of the Society. His first wife was Clara Beard, who died in 1920; in 1922, he married Eliza Adelaide Draper.

Publications include The Fourth Creative Hierarchy (1913), Matter Is the Shadow of Spirit (1918), The Web of the Universe (1936), The Play of Consciousness (1939), This World and the Next (1941), The Mysteries (1945), Chains and Rounds (1948), Fairies: The Cottingley Photographs and Their Sequel (2nd ed. 1951), The Heavenly Man (1952),and A Mind to Embrace the Universe (1960).

Mavalankar, Damodar K. (1857–after 1885).


An important early worker for the Theosophical Society, which he joined on August 3, 1879. Damodar was born in September 1857 at Ahmedabad in Gujarat, India, into a wealthy family of the Karhada Maharashtra Brahmana caste. In his childhood, he suffered a severe illness, during which he had a vision of an imposing person who gave him medicine that led to his recovery and whom he later identified as the Master Koot Hoomi. Damodar was reared as a Hindu and received an excellent English education, which he used in his later literary work for the Society.

Damodar read Isis Unveiled, Helena Blavatsky’s first major work, which so impressed him that he contacted the TS, then located in Bombay. He joined the Society in 1879 and renounced his Hindu caste status. Almost immediately he was made joint secretary with HPB and business manager of the publications department, with considerable editorial duties. He wrote many articles for the Theosophist magazine. In 1880, while in Sri Lanka with Olcott and Blavatsky, Damodar and the founders “took pansil,” that is, recited the panca-sila, the five moral precepts that every Buddhist promises to observe.

He was reported to have demonstrated remarkable psychic powers and claimed to recall an association with the Master Koot Hoomi in earlier lives. He also claimed to have visited Koot Hoomi’s ashram in November 1883, when he is said to have left Adyar as a frail, timid, and deferential person, but returned robust, energetic, and sun-tanned. 

The year 1884 was critical, not only for Damodar, but for the TS as well. It was the year that saw the commencement of the Coulomb crisis. Olcott and Blavatsky were in Europe, and Damodar had been left to shoulder a great deal of responsibility for affairs at the Adyar headquarters. He wrote long and detailed letters to the founders, warning them of the serious nature of the Coulombs’s plotting, but there was little that they could do at such a distance. Friction also developed between Damodar and Franz Hartmann, chairman of the Board of Control at Adyar. Hartmann seems to have resented the correspondence that took place between Damodar and the founders. The stresses of this time aggravated the tubercular condition that Damodar suffered from, and he began hemorrhaging. He sought and received permission from his Master to go to his ashram in Tibet. 

Damodar left Adyar on February 23, 1885. He was never seen again, but a message came from the Tibetan ashram in June 1886, claiming that he was alive and well. Nothing more was heard from him. Damodar and the Pioneers of the Theosophical Movement (1965), by Sven Eek, recounts his work in the early Theosophical Society.

Wachtmeister, Countess Constance Georgina Louise (née de Bourbel de Monpiçon; 1838-1910).


A close friend of Helena P. Blavatsky, Wachtmeister was born on March 28, 1838, in Florence, Italy. Her parents were the Marquis de Bourbel, formerly of the French diplomatic service, and Constance Bulkley. She lost her parents when she was very young and was sent to an aunt in England, where she lived and in 1863 married a cousin, Count Karl Wachtmeister, then Swedish and Norwegian minister at the Court of St. James. After three years, they moved to Scandinavia, where her husband served as a government minister in Copenhagen and Stockholm. Wachtmeister was widowed in 1871. She had one son, Count Axel Raoul, a well-known musical composer in his day.

Wachtmeister joined the Theosophical Society in 1881 and met H. P. Blavatsky in London in April 1884. She was secretary and treasurer of the Blavatsky Lodge in London and also worked for the Theosophical publishing company there, contributing generously to its funds. In 1887, Wachtmeister, the Keightleys, and Blavatsky acquired a large house at 17 Lansdowne Road, London, where Blavatsky continued to write The Secret Doctrine.

Read more: Wachtmeister, Countess Constance Georgina Louise (née de Bourbel de Monpiçon; 1838-1910).

Tingley, Katherine Augusta (1847-1929).


The successor to William Quan Judge as leader of the Point Loma Theosophical Society. She was born on Ju1y 6, 1847, in Newbury, Massachusetts, and educated in Newburyport schools and by private tutors. As a child she would talk with her grandfather, Nathan Chase, a mystic and Freemason, and his neighbor, John Greenleaf Whittier, about the White City she would build in the golden West. Her encounter with “the horror and appalling insanity” of the Civil War in Virginia in 1861 was a pivotal experience from which her father tried to protect her by enrolling her in the Villa Marie Convent in Montreal, Canada.

After she left the convent, two unsuccessful marriages followed, both childless. While she lived in New York City, the plight of prisoners and the conditions in East Side tenements weighed heavily on her. Early in 1887, she formed a Society of Mercy to visit hospitals and prisons. The following spring she married Philo B. Tingley, a steamship employee and in¬ventor. From their West End Avenue home, they launched philanthropies for those she described as “worsted in the struggle for life. . . . I saw hardship as the result of vice and vice as the outcome of hardship. I realized that all our systems of helpfulness were totally backhanded” (quoted in Boston Herald, Sept. 21, 1913).


Read more: Tingley, Katherine Augusta (1847-1929).

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