Theosophy and Freemasonry: Esoteric Schools within the Theosophical Society
HISTORY OF Esoteric Schools within the Theosophical Society
The Theosophical Society did not become a secret, or occult fraternity, but it is true that the ideal for the Society was not to be a mere intellectual or literary society. The current condition of the Theosophical Society and its divided branches survives, though like a shell. Dr. Gregory Tillett of Australia dealt with this in his Paper presented to the Theosophical History Conference in San Diego, June, 1992.
It was warned by the chiefs, that the TS needed to be safely ushered into the 20th century, which it was not.
“The Chiefs want a Brotherhood of Humanity (…) one that would arrest the attention of the highest minds.”
“He has to infuse into the new branch the spirit of independent Theosophical Research, to make the members begin their work as though the Founders were no longer living persons, and the burden of continuing this movement rested entirely upon their shoulders.” (See Norendra Nath Sen, Theosophy in Calcutta, The Indian Mirror, Calcutta, Vol. XXII, May 2, 1882, p. 2)
H.P.B. declared the urgency and importance of the Theosophical Movement, as something that had to stay along its original lines. This is not about a selfish gain of power, but the necessity of the principles of Esoteric Philosophy as a guiding impulse, or milieu.
“…Whether by phenomenon or miracle, by spirit-hook or bishop’s crook, Occultism must win the day (…) before the end of the twenty-first century ‘A.D.’”
The tension between Henry S. Olcott and Helena P. Blavatsky is still mirrored in the Adyar and American Section Theosophical Society presently, in that its high members are joined to a revised “Esoteric Section” originally founded by H.P.B.
Detailing the origin of this conflict, the current ES of ‘Adyar Esoteric Tradition’ incorporates Co-Freemasonry — of men and women, founded on the combined structures of the Egyptian Rite of Freemasonry, and the Liberal Catholic Church (LCC). Esoteric groups and claims of unknown superiors within secret organizations are apart of Western Occult tradition through the Rosicrucians, Templar and Masonic tradition. Helena P. Blavatsky seemed to look towards a fusion of the Western masonic model and the Asian master-disciple model with the TS in her time.
Indian Theosophist, Damodar K. Mavalankar (1857-1885) remarked that Occultism was not per se apart of the Theosophical Society, so members weren’t compelled to get into subjects they wished not to:
(1) Either the entire Society should be devoted to occultism, in which case it should be quite as secret as the Masonic or the Rosicrucian Lodge or, (2) Nobody should know anything about occultism except those very few who may have by their conduct shown their determination to devote themselves to its study. The first alternative being found inadvisable by our “Brothers” and positively forbidden, the second remains. (D.K. Mavalankar, The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, Letter 142a, 1881)
Secrecy in the Early Theosophical Society
Years before, we find in the “CIRCULAR printed for the Information of Correspondents,” of May 3, 1878, the Fellowship of the Theosophical Society divided into three Sections, and each Section into three Degrees, and there were obligations and rules that followed the entry of a Fellow, that could be read in the Fifth Clause. They were also bounded by a rule of “absolute secrecy,” were they to leave the Society, concerning instructions they may have learned.
The precedent for secrecy was set in 1876, January 12, at the passing of a resolution in meeting, that the Society adopts the principle of secrecy in connection with its transactions and proceedings.
Helena P. Blavatsky also makes note of certain adversaries, particularly the Jesuits and Catholics, whom she said, the Theosophists avoided in their ranks, and this was mutual. The Catholic Church, Jesuits and Russian Orthodoxy actively instigated against the Theosophical Society as being covert Masons.
In reference to Damodar K. Mavalankar’s remarks, on December 17, 1879 the Council of the TS declared, that the Society consisted of three Sections. The First Section, the highest, were composed exclusively of proficients or initiates in Esoteric Science and Philosophy, who take deep interest in the Society’s affairs, and instruct the President-Founder how to regulate them. Others had no right to know of the affairs. The Second Section consisted of Fellows, and the Third, of Probationers.
Fellows were admitted through a ritual initiation with passwords, grips, and signs, However, by the 1885 Convention, initiation ceremony and obligatory rules were abandoned, and raised misunderstanding among the public. The signs and passwords were kept. The relationship with early Theosophy and Freemasonry, Gregory Tillett explains, was with marginal Freemasonry, but H.P.B.’s works were read with interest by a small group of Masons.
Idea to blend Masonry and Theosophy
Founders of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn joined the Theos. Society then. In April 17, 1878, Henry S. Olcott believed, that the TS should be constituted into a Masonic order with Rituals and Degrees. Its aims would have been to restore vital elements of Eastern mysticism to the craft. By allying it to the history of the Ancient Brotherhood, Olcott believed the TS would endure with permanency. However, this was abandoned when H.P.B. and Olcott went to Bombay (now Mumbai), India. The TS was growing rapidly, and it was seen as impractical to then merge it into the Masonic framework.
In 1882, when Alfred P. Sinnett, Vice-President of the TS (1880-1888) was in correspondence with Morya and K.H., he proposed a grade structure of seven degrees for the Third Section, and K.H. advised, that this was impractical, and nothing came of this either. Sinnett and Hume kept suggesting these measures, as his personality reveals in the letters, because they thought this would bring a great repute amongst the aristocracy and upper class for the TS.
But K.H. rebutted:
“…the philanthropy you Western thinkers boast of (has) no character of universality. Since, in its empirical nature this kind of philanthropy is like love, but something accidental, exceptional, and like that has its selfish preferences and affinities, it is necessarily unable to warm all mankind with its beneficent rays. This, I think, is the secret of the spiritual failure and unconscious egotism of this age. And you, otherwise a good and wise man, being unconsciously to yourself the type of its spirit, are unable to understand our ideas upon the Society as a Universal Brotherhood.” (K.H., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, Letter no. 28, 1881)
H.P.B. attempts to found a group of disciples
This dimension of Theosophical History becomes greatly interesting, when over the years H.P.B. had attempted forming small groups of disciples for instruction in ‘Esoteric Theosophy,’ and in 1884, at the suggestion of Tamil colleague, T. Subba Row. The role of, or the idea of the role of ‘unknown Superiors,’ to which the members of the Inner Groups sought permissions and advice, was vital, in so far as W.Q. Judge, H.P.B., or another claimed to be under their guidance. Also, within the Society and to outside witnesses, are the recorded accounts of psychical phenomena, that is also apart of the history and drama of the TS.
In this period however, there was an underlying conflict, that split even the principal co-founders like Emma Hardinge Britten, James Sanua and others, like the Golden Dawn (Hermetic Order), because the TS moved more toward Eastern Esotericism in orientation from its originally proposed “Hermetic basis.”
It was not until 1889, when Annie Besant joined the TS May 21st, that she enters the scene, and becoming a favorite disciple of Helena P. Blavatsky, was admitted soon after that same year. April 1, 1889, Annie Besant was appointed Chief Secretary of the Inner Group and Recorder of the Teachings.
When Helena P. Blavatsky subsequently died May 8, 1891, in London on May 27, the Council of the Esoteric Section decided that Annie Besant and American Theosophist, William Q. Judge were the highest officials, jointly ruling, and upon them rested the authority of the School. We can see where the trouble begins with rings within rings in the TS, Olcott noted, and ascetic side orders being developed, as in the case of novelist, Gustav Meyrink (1886-1932).
The Judge and Besant conflict
A conflict between William Q. Judge and Annie Besant led to great issues, that created a schism historians recognize as the conspiracy that destroyed the Theosophical Movement.
In the beginning of the work analyzing this case, a quote from H.P.B. is given:
“If W.Q. Judge, the man who has done most for Theosophy in America, who has worked most unselfishly in your country, and has ever done the biddings of Master, the best he knew how, is left alone in . . . and if the . . . Society in general and its Esotericists especially leave him alone, without their unanimous moral support, which is much more than their money — then I say — let them go! They are NO theosophists; — and if such a thing should happen, and Judge be left to fight his battles alone, then shall I bid all of them an eternal good-bye. I swear on MASTER’S holy name to shake off the dust of my feet from everyone of them. . .I am unable to realise that at the hour of trouble and supreme fight . . . any true Theosophist should hesitate for one moment to back W. Q. J. publicly and lodge in his or her protest. Let them read Master’s letter in the preliminary —–. All that which I said about W. Q. J. was from His words in His letter to me. . . . Do with this letter what you like. Show it to anyone you please as my firm determination. . . .” (W.Q.J., Letters That Have Helped Me, Vol. 1.)
It was in 1894, that Judge claimed, the master under the pseudonym of M. ordered Judge to reorganize the ES and take charge of it. Judge claimed that Annie Besant was under the influence of a black magician, and controlled by her then acting guru, Gyanendra Nath Chakravarti (1863-1936), an orthodox Brahmin.
At the time, Annie Besant, not entirely innocent in this case, believed that H.P.B. was reincarnated in Chakravarti’s daughter, which W.Q.J. repudiated. The issue led to the split of the ES, and these two Outer Heads formed their own group. Within Annie Besant’s group, certain other claims were made according to a master she said was Count Germain, asserting she had met him in 1896. This led to the belief, that Adepts were not mortals, but immortals. Hence, Besant and Leadbeater created this notion, that they were in contact with a Spiritual Hierarchy of “The Masters” composed of Jesus, Count Germain, Maitreya, etc.
Besant formed two ES groups herself, one short-lived and adventist, with ceremony and ritual, called the Temple of the Rosy Cross. In 1902, because of philosophical differences on Christology and the role of Jiddu Krishnamurti between Annie Besant and Austrian philosopher and architect Rudolf Steiner (General Secretary of the German-Austria division of the TS), R. Steiner split off and founded the Anthroposophical Society.
During these times, members within the TS protested and formed a “Back to Blavatsky” movement as a result of conflicts and scandals involving Charles W. Leadbeater. Hence, certain persons who were of the TS (the exoteric body), but not apart of the ES under Besant’s leadership still recognized issues that were taking priority over the TS organization.
These Theosophists began to after the manner of H.P.B.’s coinage of “Pseudo-Theosophy” term the new differences, “Neo-Theosophy.” This particular moment born from the credulity of Annie Besant reveals her, when in response, she closes all the ES groups internationally. Besant does this only because of the opposition to it by Jiddu Krishnamurti, to whom she was devoted, and claimed to be the only teacher.
Concerning the Temple of the Rosy Cross Leadbeater never approved of, he was relieved when in 1929, Krishnamurti dissolved the Order of the Star. Through December 1929-1930, the ES was re-opened, and Besant asserted herself as the Outer Head, and falsely declared Morya, no longer involved with the Theosophical Society, the Inner Head of the Esoteric Section.
Leadbeater and the “Seven Virgins of Java”
After the dissolution, the TS and ES suffered from drastic 15,000 membership lost in five years. Under the inspiration of C.W. Leadbeater, several secret groups developed, one which he ran was a secret tantra group, which had its history during the time of Jiddu Krishnamurti and involved teaching little boys to masturbate.
Another of these manipulative secret societies formed by Charles W. Leadbeater was in Java, Indonesia. He gathered a group of seven girls from the Dutch East Indies, for a project to manifest the special force of what he called the “World Mother.” They were trained and initiated into Co-Masonry, and into other psychic experiences. Leadbeater raised them to the 33rd°, and made them ES members.
Leadbeater called them, the “Seven Virgins of Java.”
As written about C.W.L. and the case with Jiddu Krishnamurti, Leadbeater tried to force incarnations of whatever he believed he is in contact with into bodies. Throughout his entire career he attempts this with individuals he ascribes spiritual status to.
Despite the end of this era, the esoteric organizations and their histories within the Theosophical Society still have an influence. Co-Masonry is still apart of the Adyar Theosophical Society (International Branch) and the American Section Branch.
On W.Q. Judge’s side, with the schism he founded, led by Katherine Tingley, this led to the Theosophical Society (International Headquarters Pasadena, California), and from this split developed a faction led by Robert Crosbie under the United Lodge of Theosophists.
With this comes the approach of the TS-Adyar, which has the same outlook as modern interfaith movements, or Karen Armstrong. Criticisms of this system is seen as “unbrotherly” and discouraged. This Theosophical Society presently tries to embrace all of its history, and the different groups that have formed or stayed following their descent from Annie Besant and C.W.L.
The Adyar and even Pasadena branches do not look favorably on the United Lodge of Theosophists, whom they see as dogmatists.
There are a few within the TS leadership who have devised ways to teach about all the differences, and explain the reasons for Annie Besant and Leadbeater’s terminology and concepts. I do not favor this approach, but they strangely rebut, that it should be taught, because censoring or erasing them would make Theosophists as bad as religions.
Contemporary Theosophy (associated with the TS) may certainly to an outsider appear as what Catholic Traditionalist circles and Guenonians term “Theosophism,” false, not Traditional Theosophy, or Perennialism. The embrace and assimilation of “Neo-Theosophy” orientation bolsters such arguments.
Robert Crosbie’s beliefs on Co-Masonry in the TS
Concerning Co-Freemasonry entering the Theosophical Movement, U.L.T. founder Robert Crosbie describes in a letter to a friend his beliefs about how the Theosophical Society had undergone a phase into a quasi-Catholic organization headed by Besant and Bishop Leadbeater.
The same could be said about Alice Bailey, regarding intelligent and bountiful concepts, that “give the impression” of great erudition about Theosophy, but distort it:
“I was looking over the magazine article you mentioned. It is interesting, instructive in places, intelligent and bountifully interspersed with diagrams. It gives the impression of great learning on the subject. But it speaks here and there of the Logos and His care of His children. Too much of the personal God under another name, thus leaving ‘His’ poor, ignorant, sinful children none the wiser as to their godlike nature! The article made me think of the way the Jesuits side-tracked Masonry. They entered it, obtained its secrets, invented ‘higher degrees’ to draw attention from what lay hidden in the original ones, and gradually made it innocuous, and incapable of leading to the knowledge that they feared.” (Robert Crosbie)
I end with this letter from K.H. in The Mahatma Letters about Theosophists destroying their own Society from within:
“I say then that it is the vilification and abuse of the founders, the general misconception of the aims and objects of the Society that paralyses its progress – nothing else. There’s no want of definitiveness in these objects were they but properly explained. The members would have plenty to do were they to pursue reality with half the fervour they do mirage.
It is he alone who has the love of humanity at heart, who is capable of grasping thoroughly the idea of a regenerating practical Brotherhood who is entitled to the possession of our secrets. A man who places not the good of mankind above his own good is not worthy of becoming our chela – he is not worthy of becoming higher in knowledge than his neighbour.” (K.H., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, Letter no. 38, Allahabad 1882)