Index of Contents
Theosophical History: Vol. XIX, No. 1
IN THIS ISSUE
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 iapsop.com.]
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 article.
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”