Sunday, May 19, 2024
The following items are freely accessible: Theosophical History Vol. 1-12, Theosophical History Occasional Papers Vol. 1-8, and all THC publications. Later issues of Theosophical History and the Occasional Papers are password-protected. To access this material, please contact Tim Rudbøg at

Volume XIX

Index of Contents

Theosophical History: Vol. XIX, No. 1
January 2017


Early modern Western esotericism has been in evidence since the days of the Renaissance, but it is in the nineteenth century that it has taken on a special significance, especially with the establishment of the Theosophical Society in 1875 and its program to internationalize esotericism.   Another important development during this period is the subject of Patrick Bowen’s paper, “The British Birth of the Occult Revival, 1869–1875.”  Would the Theosophical Society have been possible without the presence of certain significant figures and organizations that helped plant the seeds for the ideas in the early Society?  We need only refer to the article “Rosicrucianism” by HIRAF, which incited H. P. Blavatsky to respond with her first significant statement on esotericism or occultism.  There appears to be a continuum between Blavatsky’s early understanding of occultism with earlier views on this topic, some included in HIRAF’s article.  When it came time to inaugurate the new society devoted to occultism, many of its founding members were closely allied to the ideas that were also discussed by those participants in the British occult revival, including Charles Sotheran, George Henry Felt, and Seth Pancoast.  Indeed, Mr. Bowen observes that “by 1875, this group of British Masons [i.e., Robert Wentworth Little, John Yarker, Kenneth R. H. Mackenzie, Richard Morrison (Zadkiel), and Francis George Irwin] and their ideas had instigated a chain reaction that ultimately resulted in a wide variety of ‘occult’ groups springing up in England, the U. S., and many other Western countries over the next thirty years, some of which, such as the Theosophical Society and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, went on to become incredibly influential in Western religious culture.”  One such prominent group included in his discussion is the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (SRIA), described as a Masonic research group.  Furthermore, the individual who established a platform for the discussion of occult ideas was George Kenning, a publisher and seller of regalia responsible for maintaining a forum for the discussion of such ideas.  During this time, the one publication that seemed to have announced the occult revival was the publication of Mackenzie’s Royal Masonic Cyclopaedia, of which the first fascicle appeared in October 1875 followed by the complete publication in 1877. [The Cyclopaedia will soon be available on]

Dr. Bowen also devotes space to the confusing array of speculative Masonic groups, including the Rite of Memphis (of which John Yarker’s group was one), and the Rite of Misraim groups.  Yarker’s version of Masonry would eventually be adopted by the occultists Theodore Reuss and Aleister Crowley.

Three entries from newspapers are also included.  The first, “Olcott the Theosophist,” which appeared in the New York Times (Sept. 24, 1891), echoes A. L. Rawson’s article, “Theosophical Thanks,” which appeared in the last issue.  In that article, Rawson portrayed H. S. Olcott’s arrival and address in New York City in a highly critical and sarcastic tone. This is in stark contrast to the more objective account in the Times article, which views Olcott, the Society, and recently-deceased Blavatsky as newsworthy accounts worthy of public attention. The article is mainly opinion-free and accurate in its description of the Society and does not negatively modify Olcott’s statements given in the interview with the reporter.

The second article, “What Dr. Elliott Coues Says About the Attack on Theosophy” originally had appeared in the Washington Star and later was reprinted in the Golden Gate, a spiritualist magazine.  As head of the Gnostic Branch of the Theosophical Society in Washington, D. C., it is not surprising that the Star would interview the leading representative of the T. S. in the city.  As a distinguished scientist in ornithology and a medical doctor, it was not surprising that the Society considered him on the same level  of distinguished scientists as William Crookes, Alfred R. Wallace, Camille Flammarion, Thomas Edison, and St. George Lane-Fox.  Yet, all was not well regarding Coues’ relationship with the President of the Aryan Theosophical Society of New York and General Secretary of the American Section, William Q. Judge.  His animosity toward Judge can be traced two years prior to the interview included in this issue, and it was in part this behavior which led to his expulsion in mid-1889.  The interview concerning the SPR Report displays the public face of Coues as a leading representative of the Society.  In less than two years time, however, a total transformation of attitude would be presented in the New York Sun.  The Sun article will appear in a future issue.

International Conference on Annie Besant (1847–1933)
London, September 30 – October 1, 2017

The Theosophical Society in England will hold a conference on Annie Besant at the headquarters of the Theosophical Society in England (50 Gloucester Place, London WIU 8EA).  The program extends over two days with Muriel Pecastaing-Boissiere chairing the Saturday session and Kurt Leland chairing the Sunday session.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Jean-Michel Yvard, “Atheist or Agnostic? Annie Besant’s Religious Beliefs”
Deborah Lavin, “Annie Besant’s Neo-Malthusian Passion”
Marie Terrier,  “Revisiting Annie Besant’s Last Years of Socialism with the Link ‘A Journal for the Servants of Man'”
Yves Mühlematter, “Annie Besant as Translator: the Bhagavad Gita within the Theosophical Society and Its Public Impact”
Allan Johnson,  “Annie Besant in Bernard Shaw’s ‘Plays Pleasant’”
Muriel Pecastaing-Boissiere, “‘I Would Not Have Left Your Platform Had I Not Been Compelled…’:  Annie Besant’s Exclusion from the National Secular Society (1891)”
Mriganka Mukhopadhyay, “Besant and Bengal: Shaping the Political Culture in Early Twentieth Century Calcutta”
Kurt Leland, “Besant, Theosophy and Academic Bias”

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Wim Leys, “Annie Besant, A Dutch Perspective”
Kurt Leland, “Annie Besant: Philosopher King”
Kim Farnell, “The Alan Leo Project”
Daniel Guéguen, “Annie Besant, Jean Delville and Krishnamurti”
Massimo Introvigne, “A Fair Skinned Kashmiri Brahmana: Annie Besant and the Portraits of the Masters.”
Karl Baier, “Annie Besant, Yoga and Meditation”
Gwyn Hocking, “Annie Besant and Occult Chemistry”
Alejandro Ninin, “Sixty Years of Public Work”

Editor’s Comments James Santucci
The British Birth of the Occult Revival, 1869-1875 Patrick Bowen
“Olcott the Theosophist [From the New York Times,
September 24, 1891, p. 2]
Professor Elliot Coues: Introduction James Santucci
“What Dr. Elliott Coues Says Abouts the Attack on
Theosophy” (From the Golden Gate (San Francisco, Cal.),
Vol. VI, No. 2 (Jan. 28, 1888), p. 1 [reprinted from the
Washington Star, Saturday, January 7, p. 2]
Elliot Coues
“The Astonishing Career of Mme. Blavatsky”
[From The New York Sun [January 2, 1888, page 2]
Elliot Coues

Theosophical History: Vol. XIX, No. 2
April 2018

Editor’s Comments


Are diacritics necessary when writing Sanskrit words?  The answer is a resounding yes, especially when the meaning of a word or its determinant is crucial in understanding the full implication of the text.  H.P. Blavatsky certainly understood this, and although her knowledge of Sanskrit was limited, she nevertheless demonstrated on a number of occasions the importance of the placement of diacritics. Perhaps the most notable example of this recognition is the emphasis she placed on the distinction between brahma and brahmā (or brahmâ as she rendered the latter).  This difference is observed in a number of her publications as well as in her letter of February 17, 1887 to James Ralston Skinner, which was previously published in Theosophical History (Vol. XVIII, no. 1-2).  On page 47 of that issue she writes: “But then Brahmâ (male) is not Brahma (neuter) or Parabrahma.”  I explained this distinction in greater detail in note 14 on page 59, which need not be repeated here.

A similar instance of the importance of diacritics appears regarding related lexical forms that appear in Don Shepherd’s article, “Theosophy and the Nepalese Swābhāvikas.”  The family of forms mentioned therein—for instance, svabhavat, svabhāvat, svābhāvat, svabhāvāt, and their equivalents with “w” (swa-) replacing “v”—are almost guaranteed to cause confusion from the perspectives of orthography and semantics.  This is illustrated in The Mahatma Letters.  In the Barker edition of The Mahatma Letters[1] (eighth impression), Letter 11 includes a derivative of the root √bhū—“Swabâvat,” i.e., svabhāvat—which is reflective of the rendering in E. Burnouf and L. Leupos’s Dictionnaire classique sanscrit-français[2] (1866), which substitutes  “w” for “v” and “b” for “bh” in the Roman texts[3].  In the online edition of Letter 11 the form appearing therein is “Swabhavat,” whereas the form appearing in the chronological edition[4] is “Swabhāvat.”  Dr. Shepherd considers the last form as the correct one based upon his examination of the photographic reproduction of the original Mahatma Letters housed in the T.S. Pasadena archives.   Yet, “Swabhāvat” (svabhāvat) is a form not found in any Sanskrit text as far as I can determine.  Spelled as svabhavat (short –a– rather than long –ā-), it may be identified as a present participle, in this instance a weak form of the stem (-bhavat-), also representing the nominative, accusative, and vocative declensions.  In contrast to this verbal, svabhāvat does not appear in any of the Sanskrit dictionaries that were published prior to 1875, including Wilson’s Sanskrit-English Dictionary (1832), Yates’ Sanskrit-English Dictionary (1846), and those of Benfey (1866), Monier-Williams (1872), and Böhtlingk and Roth’s Sanskrit Wörterbuch (1855).  What does appear in the latter, however, are such forms as svabhāvāt—the added diacritic on the last -a- indicating the ablative singular—and svabhāvitas, the adverbial suffix –tas converting the form to an adverbial with an ablative sense.  Bhavant- (bhavat), minus sva, occurs in the dictionaries, with Böhtlingk and Roth giving the participial meaning (“seiend”), its temporal sense (“gegenwärtig”), and as the pronominal “you,” indicating respectful address (bhos; bhavān), in place of the second person pronominal “tvam.”  

The above reference to ablative forms (svabhāvāt and svabhāvitas), especially the form svabhāvāt, illustrate the coincidental similarity to svabhavat, the form that occurs three times in the Mahatma Letters and commonly in one edition of The Secret Doctrine[5].  The use of the correct ablative form, absent in both the Mahatma Letters and The Secret Doctrine, surprisingly appears in Isis Unveiled in three passages, both appearing as “Svabhâvât.”[6] Yet, why would this form, defined as “the Eternal and the uncreated Self-existing Substance which produces all”[7] be represented in the ablative case?  And if the ablative is represented in Isis Unveiled,  why was it not correctly represented in the Mahatma Letters and The Secret Doctrine?  “Svabhāvat,” if a stem—the usual method of representing nominals—should end in “a-.”[8]  The fact that it ends in “-t” has led to a discussion on David Reigle’s blog, “,” at and, which mentions Daniel Caldwell’s discovery[9] that “svabhavat” [note the lack of diacritics] was actually based upon the passages in Max Müller’s first volume of his Chips from a German Workshop[10], which accurately renders the ablative form as “svabhâvât.”  The relevant passage is important:  “The Svâbhâvikas maintain that nothing exists but nature, or rather substance, and that this substance exists by itself (“svabhâvât”), without a Creator or a Ruler.”  The ablative form reflects Müller’s phraseology, “this substance exists by itself,” which itself is translated variously in Böhtlingk and Roth’s Sanskrit dictionary (Part 7: 1433) as “durch sein eigenes Wesen, von Natur, von Haus aus, durch sich selbst, von selbst.”  Much earlier, Müller cites “svabhāvāt” in his booklet, Buddhism and Buddhist Pilgrims (1857) on page 46, by repeating the sentence quoted above. He adds: “Human beings, who, like everything else, exist svabhâvât, ‘by themselves,’ are supposed to be capable of arriving at Nirvritti, or passiveness, which is nearly synonymous with Nirvâna.”

According to Caldwell and Reigle’s assessment, the addition of “t” after svabhāva- was adopted from Müller’s use of the ablative form.  Mr. Caldwell, in his email to David Reigle (October 13, 2009), suggests that Blavatsky adopted the final “-t” in svabhāvat as the stem and not as part of the ablative declension.  

These are reasonable observations which, until there is a better explanation, make the most sense in explaining the disparity of forms.   For whatever reasons, the fact that there are different forms in The Secret Doctrine presents some confusion in understanding the text.  And to make matters worse, the disagreement among various editions of The Secret Doctrine—especially those of Point Loma and of the de Zirkoff editions—only adds to the confusion.   

It is against this background that the article in this issue, “Theosophy and the Nepalese Swābhāvikas,” attempts to make sense of “Swabhavat” and “Swabhāva” as they appear in The Mahatma Letters and as envisioned in elements of Northern Buddhism.  There is enough information provided to incite reaction and perhaps to view the Theosophical teachings in a new light.  

The author of the article, Don Shepherd, received his M.A. in History in 1995 with a thesis that explored Katherine Tingley’s Performing Arts program at the Point Loma Theosophical Society. In 2001, he received his Ph.D. in History with a dissertation on Frederick Jackson Turner’s “Frontier Theory.” He has taught at a number of higher education institutions, including the College of Southern Nevada and University of Phoenix. In recent years, he has turned his attention to writing on Theosophical subjects for Theosophy Downunder, 21st Century PATH, and the Kali Yuga Rag.

The Current Issue’s New Date

Because of the long hiatus between publications, I have decided to date this issue April 2018 instead of April 2017.  This repeats the change in date that was undertaken for the July-October 2010 issue (Vol. XIV, No. 3 – 4). In the latter, I assured the subscribers that such a change will not affect the number of subscriptions received, since subscriptions are based upon volume and number, not date.

1 The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett from The Mahatmas M. & K. H.  Transcribed, compiled, and with an Introduction by A. T. Barker.  Second edition, eighth impression (N.Y., Melbourne, Sydney, Capetown: Rider and Company, 1926 [1948]), 60.

Dictionnaire classique sanscrit-français.  Coordonnés, revises et completes les travaux de Wilson, Bopp, Westergaard, Johnson, etc. (Paris: Masssonneuve, 1866), 744.

3  The use of “w” for “v” also appears in Brian Hodgson’s Essays on the Languages, Literature, and Religion of Nepál and Tibet (London: Trübner & Co., 1874): 23, 24, 25, 26, 55, 56, 57, 58, 61, 69, 73, 74, 75, 82, 89, 106, 107, 109, 110, 112: “Swábhávika(s)”; “Swabháva” appears on pp. 25, 26, 57, 73, 74, 75, 76, 80, 82, 89, and 110; “Swábhávaka” occurs on pp. 50, 73, and “Swabhavika” appears without diacritics on pp. 73, 74, and 75.

4 The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett from the Mahatmas M. & K.H.  Transcribed and Compiled by A. T. Barker.  In Chronological Sequence arranged and edited by Vicente Hao Chin, Jr. (Adyar, Chennai and Wheaton, IL: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1998), 165.  Letter 11 appears as letter 65 (which is dated June 30, 1882).

5 If the facsimile edition is compared, for instance, to the de Zirkoff edition, a disagreement arises regarding the lack of diacritics (i.e., Svabhavat) in one (de Zirkoff) as opposed to the facsimile edition, which adds diacritics on the first two vowels (i.e., Svâbhâvat). See, for instance, The Secret Doctrine I: 3, 61, 83, 635, and 671.  The facsimile edition is published by the Theosophy Company (Los Angeles), 1974; the edition edited by Boris de Zirkoff was published in 1978 by the Theosophical Publishing House (First Quest edition, 1993), in Wheaton, IL.

6 H.P. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled.  Two volumes (Los Angeles: The Theosophy Company, 1982), I: 292 and II: 264 and 266 [facsimile edition].  The online Theosophy Trust edition (2006) is differently paginated: I: 262 and II: 239 and 243.

7 Isis Unveiled (facsimile edition): II: 266.

8 Svābhāvat is unattested.  It would necessarily derive from a different form: su-ā-√bhū, yielding the form svābhū- ‘right, true, prepare, obliging.’

9 The exchange between Mr. Reigle and Mr. Caldwell appears in Mr. Caldwell’s first suggested this solution in an email dated October 13, 2009.

10 New York: Scribner, Armstrong, and Co., 1872, p. 278.
Editor’s Comments James Santucci
Conference Report: “Modernity And Esoteric Networks” Joscelyn Godwin
“Theosophy and the Nepalese Swābhāvikas” Don Shepherd

Theosophical History: Vol. XIX, No. 3
July 2018

Barry Loft’s article, “Oriental Order of Sikha and the Sat Bhai,” discounts two notions that should now be obvious to historians: (1) the view that the Theosophical Society arose in a vacuum without consideration of contemporary esoteric organizations and (2) the view that many of its early members limited their membership only to the T. S. These assumptions were almost universally evident in older accounts of the T. S., perceptions which are gradually changing to interpreting Theosophical history within a wider context. 

Mr. Loft’s article is illustrative of this broader perspective. He argues that the organization in question, the Sat Bhai (or Sât B’hai), contributed to the reorienting and reorganizing of the Theosophical Society from a public to a secret society shortly after its inception. Although it is true that during the incipient months of the Theosophical Society—probably as early as the final weeks of 1875 or early 1876—President Olcott suggested that conversion to a secret society was required so that “we may pursue our studies uninterrupted by the falsehoods and inpertinences [sic] of outside parties.” When the Society actually had converted to this status, Mr. Loft suggests that it adopted the Sat Bhai’s “secret signs, words or tokens” and the nine-degree syllabus based upon the “seven sequential offices of the Sat Bhai.” Among the individuals who associated with both societies, one individual, John Yarker (1833–1913), must certainly be considered as the most significant because of his many contributions to Masonry and Masonic organizations. Another member of Sat Bhai was the Mason, Socialist, and bibliophile Charles Sotheran (1847–1902), whom Theosophists know as one of the founders of the Theosophical Society, its first librarian, and the individual credited for introducing the name of the society that we identify as the “Theosophical” Society. Sotheran perhaps was the culprit who instigated Olcott to consider converting the T. S. to a secret society. What may be surprising to some was Blavatsky’s own status, whom Yarker admitted into the Sat Bhai and who, as Mr. Loft observes, “conferred the 12° Crowned Princess or Sovereign Mistress of the Rite of Adoption affiliated to the A&PR on the ‘Countess & widow’ H.P.B.” One should therefore not find her membership in other Masonic organizations surprising since she readily admitted to this fact. It is in this context that Mr. Loft discusses the Sat Bhai as an organization comparable to the Theosophical Society and which contributed to the T. S.’s conversion to a secret society due to the mutual interests of Yarker and Blavatsky.

Who better to discuss this topic but the co-Trustee of the Yarker Library, Barry Loft, the Librarian and co-Trustee of the Yarker Library? Mr. Loft has recently prepared a greatly expanded second edition of The Arcane Schools from Yarker’s annotated copy and is currently engaged in writing Yarker’s biography.

The subject of the Mahatmas or Masters has been an important part of the history of the Theosophical Society since its inauguration. H. P. Blavatsky claims that she was aware of their existence since August 1851, when she claimed to have met her Master at Ramsgate. Well before the foundation of the Society in 1875, Masters have communicated with a number of individuals, Col. Olcott included, but it was in the early 1880s when their importance and exposure to the T. S. membership and the broader esoteric community increased because of the publication of A. P. Sinnett’s The Occult World (1881) and Esoteric Buddhism (1883). Shortly after the appearance of The Occult World, the founder-editor of the London-based Spiritualist, William Henry Harrison (1840–1897) commented on two topics appearing therein: secrecy and the Masters (i.e., Mahatmas, Brothers), especially regarding Blavatsky’s relation to these Brothers and her own powers to produce phenomena. Harrison’s article, “The Alleged Himalayan Brothers,” is one of the first articles to discuss the contents of The Occult World with a critical eye. Of interest also is the mention of one “Mr. Jencken,” the husband of Kate Fox (or Mrs. Jencken as Harrison identifies her). Also mentioned is “J. K.”—identified in the article only as “our correspondent” whose article, “More of the Thoughts of An Adept” (pp. 3–5), immediately follows Harrison’s. This mysterious figure was actually one Julius Kohn (1860–1934), who was described by the Rev. William Alexander Ayton (1816–1909) in a letter to Frederick Leigh Gardner (1857–1930) as “a Jewish learned friend who was very advanced tho’ he never would belong to any Order or Society.”

At the time of the publication of both The Occult World and Harrison’s review, the T. S. was already a secret society for a number of years, which may have been one reason why Harrison brought up the topic of secrecy and its shortcomings. Harrison argues that “the lower the spiritual nature of the individual, the more secretive is he,” which leads him to state that “we have always hitherto refused to join even any society which enjoins secresy [sic] in any particular.” Apropos the Himalayan Brothers, he argues that “it is manifestly a selfish and reprehensible life to leave the world with its sorrows and its sins needing alleviation, for the sake of personal spiritual advantage. Such a life does not appear to be a good life, but one of intense greediness on the spiritual plane.” How Harrison would consider the term “secret” in the title, The Secret Doctrine, is an open question since The Spiritualist ceased publication in 1882.

Harrison left a definite mark in the Spiritualist world as founder-editor of The Spiritualist Newspaper (its full title) from 1869 until 1882. The issues, now located on The International Association for the Preservation of Spiritualist and Occult Periodicals Website ( is described in John Patrick Deveney’s introduction as:

  The leading British spiritualist periodical of the era, filled with “scientific” and somewhat skeptical (for the genre) investigations of and comments on the phenomena of the time. From 1874 to 1879 it was the organ of the British National Association of Spiritualists, but lost the position when its editor quarreled with William Stainton Moses and the BNAS took its patronage to Spiritual Notes. Contributions from practically everyone in England (and America) who was interested in spiritualism, including C.F. Varley, William Crookes, Alfred R. Wallace, Emil de Sayn Wittgenstein, Robert Dale Owen, John L. O’Sullivan, C.C. Massey, Alexander Calder, Mrs. Makdougall Gregory; Alexander Aksakov; Adelma von Vay; C. Carter Blake; Emily Kislingbury; Anna Blackwell, et al. Edward W. Allen, who was involved with this and also published Spiritual Notes and The Spiritual Record, was a member of the New Church (Swedenborgian) and published one of its journals, The Dawn.LOC; Harvard University; National Library of Scotland; University of Manchester; ZDB: Freiburg Inst Grenzgeb Psychol.

Marc Demarest, the author of the article on Harrison, is a founder, together with Mr. Deveney and others, of IAPSOP, currently serving as the “technology arm of IAPSOP.” Marc also has a blog, “Chasing Down Emma: Resolving the contradictions of, and filling in the gaps in, the life work and world of Emma Hardinge Britten,” which is a valuable source of information based upon Spiritualist and esoteric literature. Besides these activities, Marc is CEO and Principal of Noumenal, Inc., a private intellectual capital-consulting firm based in the Pacific Northwest and the United Kingdom.

Although Frank Chesley and Kirsten van Gelder’s book, A Most Unusual Life, Dora Van Gelder Kunz, Clairvoyant, Theosophist, Healer, has been in print for over three years, it deserves a belated review because of Dora Kunz’s prominence within the Theosophical Society. As a member of a prominent Theosophical family, the wife of Fritz Kunz, the student of C. W. Leadbeater, a past President of the Theosophical Society in America, and her development (with Dolores Krieger) of the healing practice Therapeutic Touch, she must be considered to be one of the twentieth century’s most influential figures in the Theosophical Society.

The reviewer, Lynda Harris, is the author of a book on Cathar art, The Secret Heresy of Hieronymus Bosch, and articles in the Psypioneer, Insight, and The Quest. She holds degrees from Bryn Mawr College, Boston University, and the Courtauld Institute of Art.

Editor’s Comments James Santucci
Archival Material:
“The Alleged Himalayan Brothers” 

(The Spiritualist 19, No. 1, no 462 [July 1, 1881],
pp. 1-3).
William H. Harrison
“Oriental Order of Sikha and the Sat Bhai, Yarker
and Blavatsky”
Barry Loft
“William Henry Harrison” Marc Demarest
Book Review:
“A Most Unusual Life, Dora Van Gelder Kunz,
Clairvoyant, Theosophist, Healer”
Lynda Harris

Theosophical History: Vol. XIX, No. 4
October 2018


Over the years, Theosophical History has increased our understanding of a number of prominent individuals who were either members of or loosely affiliated with the Theosophical Society.  The current issue presents new insights into the status of the psychologist William James’s membership in and relationship to the Theosophical Society.  It is no surprise that a number of professional and scholarly individuals were attracted to the Society’s teachings, so James’s involvement should not surprise us. Kurt Leland’s article, “Alarums and Excursions: William James and the Theosophical Society,” presents some notable contributions about James’s involvement, not least of which is his discovery of the inclusive years of his membership.  His admission date is actually later (1891) than that given in other publications. Although his resignation is not known for certain, Mr. Leland gives the most likely date to be 1897 because of certain factors explained in the article. James’ membership, although brief, is somewhat deceiving since he continued to correspond and associate with prominent Theosophists, including George David Ayers, William Scott-Elliot, and Edward Douglas Fawcett.  

Membership in any society, however, is not necessarily indicative of a person’s degree of commitment to its teaching and principles. From the evidence provided in this article question it would seem that James was not as engaged in the Theosophical teachings principally espoused in Blavatsky’s writings or in those that followed. The same could be said about Jack London, James Joyce, and a host of artists such as Piet Mondrian and Wassily Kandinsky, who were familiar with Blavatsky’s works by Blavatsky or those who followed her.  Was their interest predominant or was it only one of many casual interests introduced through intellectual inquisitiveness? Mr. Leland raises this question and by doing so reveals a more complex relationship than otherwise suspected.

The author, Kurt Leland, is a past contributor to Theosophical History (“The Chakras: An Editorial Report”, Vol. XVII, No 4).  His latest book is Rainbow Body: A History of the Western Chakra System from Blavatsky to Brennan (Ibis Press, 2016). His website,, contains an extensive listing of the works of Annie Besant, making it one of the more important Theosophical sites.  

The second article, “From the Seventh Arrondissement to the Seventh Ward: Blavatsky’s Arrival in America 1873,” discusses the arrival of H. P. Blavatsky in New York City in 1873 and her experience during this period of her residency in the city.  The author, Shawn Higgins, provides valuable information about New York City at this time and Madame Blavatsky’s probable experience as an immigrant residing in lower Manhattan.  Mr. Higgins has also corrected the date of her arrival to be one day later than that given by Sinnett in his Incidents in the Life of Madame Blavatsky (July 8, 1873 and not July 7).  He also identifies the vessel to be the S.S. City of London, on which she was a steerage passenger.  The port of entry, Castle Garden (now known as Castle Clinton and located in Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan), was the main location where immigrants disembarked from 1855 to 1890 before being replaced by Ellis Island in 1892.

Readers may wonder if the account of the exchange of tickets with an immigrant woman in distress (Olcott, Old Diary Leaves, Vol. I: 29) was true, but the author could find no solid evidence that it actually took place. The original passenger list that is included reveals Blavatsky’s nationality to be a “wife,” Swedish, and 39 years of age. It is somewhat puzzling that she would be identified as a Swede, but as Mr. Higgins observes the British had a negative view towards Russians, perhaps because of the Crimean War (1853–1856), an attitude that was to be a detriment in her later life, exacerbated by the accusation made by Richard Hodgson in his S. P. R. Report issued in 1885.  

Mr. Higgins is a cultural historian and current Resident Fellow at Harvard University’s Center for the Study of World Religions.

His second contribution consists of the letter from George Ayers to William James, dated July 25, 1894, which is mentioned in Mr. Leland’s article.  The letter, whose importance was recognized by both Mr. Leland and Higgins, was uncovered by Dr. Ermine Algaier, who is preparing the catalog of the William James Philosophical Library (Harvard).  This work, Reconstructing the Personal Library of William James: Markings and Marginalia from the Harvard Library Collection, will be published later this year.  The letter then came to the attention of both Mr. Leland and Higgins during the course of their research.   

*  * *


The passing of one of the leading Canadian Theosophists must be noted in the journal.  Ted G. Davy (1926–2017) has not only contributed greatly to the Theosophical cause but also emphasized the importance of Theosophical history by encouraging the publications of historical studies.  This is especially evident during his editorship of The Canadian Theosophist.  This historical interest culminated in his book, Theosophy in Canada: “The Split” and other Studies in Early Canadian Theosophical History and Some Early Canadian Theosophists (Edmonton: Edmonton Theosophical Society, 2011).   The obituarist, Ernest Pelletier, is himself a historian of note, producing encyclopedic The Judge Case (Edmonton Theosophical Society, 2004).

*  * *

ITHCon 2019

International Theosophical History Conference

Athens, Greece 12-13 October 2019

An international conference on Theosophical history will be held in Athens, Greece on Saturday and Sunday, 12-13 October 2019. The chair of the conference is Professor James Santucci, editor of the quarterly journal Theosophical History ( Dr. Santucci will also chair the Programme Committee, assisted by Tim Rudbøg (Ph.D.) and Erica Georgiades (PgD). 

Paper Proposals 
Any person may submit a paper to the Programme Committee on any aspect of the subject. Summaries of no more than 200 words and 50 words biography should be sent to the secretary of the THC Erica Georgiades via email ( 

Conference participants will be responsible for their own travel, meals, and accommodation but those presenting papers will be exempt from registration fees. 

Suggested presentation time 30-45 minutes depending upon the requirements of the presenter.  

Important dates 
The cutoff date for submission of paper and panel proposals is the 30th of April 2019. 

Registration Fees 
Participants presenting papers are exempt from registration fees. Otherwise, the registration fee is 30 Euros for students and concessions; for non-presenters 50 Euros. 

THC Conference Bursaries 
This year the Theosophical History Conference is providing 5 travel bursaries for participants presenting papers, from developing countries and in financial hardship. The value of each bursary is € 200.00 Application for a bursary should be made after the submission is approved by the committee and sent to

Location and Accommodation   
The conference will be in Athens, Greece, at the headquarters of the Theosophical Society in Greece at 25 Voukourestiou St., Athens. The headquarters is 5 minutes walking distance from the metro station Syntagma Square in Athens city centre. Refreshments and light lunch buffet will be provided during the conference.

This is a non-residential conference, you may find accommodation options in this link

It is recommended to book your accommodation as early as possible.   

To register please contact

Editor’s Comments James Santucci
Ted. G Davy (1926-2017)
Ernest Pelletier
Archival Material:
A Letter from George D. Ayers to
William James
Shawn Higgins
Alarum and Excursions: William James and
the Theosophical Society
Kurt Leland
Blavatsky’s Arrival in New York
Shawn Higgins