Sunday, November 18, 2018
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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 Atack 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] Elliott Coues
“The Astonishing Career of Mme. Blavatsky” [From The New York Sun [January 2, 1888, page 2] Elliott 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.
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).
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.’
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