Theosophy and Universal Brotherhood (2): The Foundation of the Theosophical Society and the Influence of the Mahatmas

(Chapter II of the work “Theosophy and Universal Brotherhood”)

4 – “The members of the Theosophical Society at large are free to profess whatever religion or philosophy they like, or none if they so prefer, provided they are in sympathy with, and ready to carry out one or more of the three objects of the Association. The Society is a philanthropic and scientific body for the propagation of the idea of brotherhood on practical instead of theoretical lines.” (H.P.Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy, p. 9. (Simplified Adyar Edition, by Clara M. Codd) Theosophical Publishing House, Madras , India , 1987. 242 p.)

The Theosophical Society (TS) was founded in New York City in 1875. The history of how it came to be founded is very interesting and replete with picturesque episodes. Henry Steel Olcott, one of its founders and its first president, in his Old Diary Leaves, wrote a somewhat detailed account of the early days of this organization.

A small group started the great body that the TS is today – little more than a dozen people. The TS began its activities as an organization of a reserved character and with the object to investigate occult phenomena such as the mediumistic manifestations, the materialization, and the like.

Although Olcott had been elected President for life since the foundation of the TS, and besides himself there were other founders who had been important in the beginning of the TS, such as William Q. Judge, the fact is that the main character around whom all the others gravitated – especially in those first years – was Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (from this point on she will be referred to by the initials HPB).

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky

HPB was born in Russia, the daughter of a noble family. At the time of the founding of the TS she was 42 years old. Up until that moment, her life had been full of adventures of the greatest interest. She married while still young and chose to keep her husband’s last name Blavatsky – throughout her life. But in that moment they did not stayed together more than a few months, after which she began a long series of journeys and adventures mentioned by her biographers, such as Alfred Percy Sinnett (The Life of Helena Blavatsky).

HPB was certainly very courageous and independent though at the same time compassionate and humanitarian. Along with these character traits she possessed multiple talents, outstanding among which were those for literature, drawing and music. However, of all her attributes, perhaps the one that brought her the most notoriety was the fact that she possessed psychic or paranormal powers, which she had already shown from childhood, although not in the controlled and developed form that would become apparent from the time of the founding of the TS.

Within the various interesting aspects related to psychic or paranormal powers HPB possessed, one is singled out as being of special importance and relevance to the original conception, the foundation, and the subsequent development of the TS. This aspect was the close communication (telepathic and otherwise) which HPB had with enlightened Sages. HPB called herself their disciple or apprentice and considered herself merely their servant, imperfect and inexperienced. A few years later several other influential members of the early days of the TS also established some kind of communication with these Sages, such as Olcott, Judge, Sinnett and Damodar. The quotation by Olcott given below serves to attest to this fact:

5 – “A strange concatenation of events brought us together, and unite our lives for this work, under the superior direction of a group of Masters, specially of One, whose wise teaching, noble example, benevolent patience, and paternal solicitude have made us regard him with the reverence and love that a true Father inspires in his children. I am indebted to H.P. Blavatsky for making me know of the existence of these Masters and their Esoteric Philosophy; and later, for acting as my mediator before I had come into direct personal intercourse with them.” (H.S. Olcott, quoted by A.P. Sinnett, in Incidents in the Life of Madame Blavatsky, p. 142)

Olcott was the first president of the TS from the date of its foundation in 1875 until his death in 1907. Reading his quotation above, it is not difficult for us to confirm that – although the existence of these Sages is not, and never has been a compulsory belief in the TS – it is almost impossible to come to a true understanding of the origins, the guiding principles, and the objectives of the TS without addressing the question of the influence on the TS of these enlightened Sages, who are generally referred to as Masters, Adepts, Mahatmas, Elders or still collectively as Occult Brotherhood, Great White Brotherhood or Occult Hierarchy.

Further on we shall study the connection existing between the Adepts and Theosophy (and therefore the name of the TS), as well as with the principle or law of the universal brotherhood of humanity which is the master idea of the TS. Nevertheless, before we reach these considerations, we shall examine other quotations which contain unequivocal proof of the many powers of HPB, as well as of the presence and influence of the Adepts in the foundation of the Theosophical Society.

The Influence of the Mahatmas

In Volume I of her Scrapbook we come across a note in the handwriting of HPB, with the title “Important Note.” Her words show something of the nature of her powers, as well as her relationship with these Adepts. This is so because the initial “M” is the way she referred to one of the Adepts, who was her spiritual Guru, as well as the Master referred to by Olcott in the earlier quotation. The following is the complete note:


“Yes. I am sorry to say that I had to identify myself during that shameful exposure of the mediums Holmes with the Spiritualists. I had to save the situation, for I was sent from Paris on purpose to America to prove the phenomena and their reality and – show the fallacy of the Spiritualistic Theories of ‘Spirits.’ But how could I do it best? I did not want people at large to know that I could produce the same thing at will. I had received ORDERS to the contrary, and yet, I had to keep alive the reality, the genuineness and possibility of such phenomena in the hearts of those who from Materialists had turned Spiritualists and now, owing to the exposure of several mediums fell back again, returned to their skepticism. This is why, selecting a few of the faithful, I went to the Holmes and helped by M.’. and his power, brought out the face of John King and Katie King in the astral light, produced the phenomena of materialization and allowed the Spiritualists at large to believe that it was done thro’ the mediumship of Mrs. Holmes. She was terribly frightened herself, for she knew that this once the apparition was real. Did I do wrong? The world is not prepared yet to understand the philosophy of Occult Sciences let them assure themselves first of all that there are beings in an invisible world, whether ‘Spirits’ of the dead or Elementals; and that there are hidden powers in man, which are capable of making a God of him on earth.

“When I am dead and gone people will, perhaps, appreciate my disinterested motives. I have pledged my word to help people on to Truth while living and – will keep my word. Let them abuse and revile me. Let some call me a MEDIUM and a Spiritualist, and others an impostor. The day will come when posterity will learn to know me better.

“Oh poor, foolish, credulous, wicked world!

“M.’. brings orders to form a Society – a secret Society like the Rosicrucian Lodge. He promises to help. HPB” (Collected Writings, Vol. I, p. 73)

What follows below are two more quotations with the same purpose of explaining something of the relationship HPB had with these Adepts, both taken from the first volume of HPB’s Collected Writings. The first is a notation in HPB’s handwriting in her Scrapbook, which appears after a newspaper cutting with a notice about the organization called “Miracle Club” of Olcott:

7 – “An attempt in consequence of orders received from T*** B*** through P*** personating J.K. Ordered to begin telling the public truth about the phenomena & their mediums. And now my martyrdom will begin! I will have all the Spiritualists against me in addition to the Christians & the Skeptics! Thy Will oh M.’. be done! HPB” (Collected Writings, Vol. I, p. 89)

The second of these quotations is directly connected to the TS:

8 – “Orders received from India direct to establish a philosophico-religious Society and choose a name for it – also to choose Olcott. July 1875.” (Collected Writings, Vol. I, p. 94)

Therefore it is perfectly clear from the testimony of the these two founders and great leaders in the early days of the TS, that the influence of the Adepts in the constitution and original direction of the TS was of central and decisive importance.

Nevertheless, it is good to say it again that the belief in the existence of these enlightened Sages never was compulsory in the TS, since its members are free to believe or not in the existence of these Mahatmas. Meanwhile, in view of such marked historical evidence as the testimony of the founders, it is natural that the great majority (although not all) of the members consider the existence of the Mahatmas a fairly probable hypothesis, which at least deserves the benefit of the doubt.