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Volume XX

Index of Contents

Theosophical History: Vol. XX, No. 1
January 2019


Elementals, also known as nature spirits, gnomes, sylphs, undines, and fairies, have been discussed in Theosophical literature since the Society’s earliest days. Taking her cue from H. P. Blavatsky, the author of “Elementals And Nature Spirits in The Western Tradition, With Special Reference To Theosophy,” emphasizes the numerous and varied manifestations of these entities that appear in literatures both ancient and modern. Furthermore, she demonstrates that they are not merely fanciful components of the imagination but rather entities that can have a profound, and often negative, impact upon the individual, as demonstrated in Dion Fortune’s Psychic Self-Defense. Otherwise, they are given credit (in A. P. Sinnett’s Esoteric Buddhism) for the physical phenomena that often occurred in Spiritualist séances.

It is not surprising then that the elementals also appear in “The Views of the Theosophists,” with those entities known as “Elementaries” or “Elementary Spirits.” Olcott hints at their relation in in the following passage:

The laws of polarity, in our judgment, make it absurd to expect that any pure disembodied spirit can come into, or near, or influence directly one of those mediums who have been teaching and living impurely, or among inquirers who perchance enter the circle flushed with strong drink, or steaming with the atmosphere of some demoralizing association, from rapping to full-form presentations, are manifestations of the power of either earthbound elementaries, helped by elementals, or the souls of the mediums themselves, acting transcorporeally with or without the help of elementals.

Materialization of spiritual phenomena is more complex than simply assuming that it is only the spirit of the deceased. These early descriptions do not portray a full picture, however; a fuller understanding appears in the Mahatma Letters, which in turn are partially incorporated within Esoteric Buddhism. From this period on, the Theosophical afterlife becomes more comprehensible.

This article, in addition the earlier article “What Col. Olcott Believes,” is an attempt to answer the question regarding the perception of Theosophical teachings from its inception in 1875 to the publication of Esoteric Buddhism in 1883. Prior to the publication of Isis Unveiled in 1877, the teachings were most likely perceived as reflective of the broader occult tradition within Western culture that included a host of practitioners and theorists such as Iamblichus, Trithemius, Cornelius Agrippa, Apuleius, Robert Fludd, to give just a few examples. What Blavatsky was developing was the incorporation of these teachings into the beginnings of a system reflective of their teachings. At first the teachings were an echo of the occult tradition with hints of a broader and eventually more comprehensive teaching that incorporated selected teachings from the East, most notably India. The institutional incorporation of Eastern Wisdom on the part of the Theosophical Society separates it from other modern and contemporary Western esoteric organizations. This is nothing new, however, but Olcott’s views help to illustrate the early domination of the Western tradition before India became the dominant focus from 1880 on.

Editor’s CommentsJames Santucci
“What Col. Olcott Believes” (The Spiritual Scientist III, no. 21 [Jan. 27, 1876]): 243
“The Views of the Theosophists” (The Spiritual Scientist II, no. 21 [Dec. 7, 1877]): 265–67
Elementals and Nature Spirits in the Western Tradition, with Special Reference to Theosophy Lynda Harris


Theosophical History: Vol. XX, No. 2
April 2019



Paul Johnson’s The Masters Revealed[1] must be regarded as the most controversial publication in Theosophical historical studies in the past thirty years. At the time of its publication (1994) and even before that with his self-published study, In Search of the Masters (1990),[2] a number of reviews appeared arguing the pros and cons regarding of their contents.  Of the many reviews that have appeared, a small number representing what Mr. Jacobs describes as the “insider/outsider spectrum” are examined in his insightful article, “Esotericists and the Academy: K. Paul Johnson and His Theosophical Respondents.”  As expected, the reviews ranged from glowing to denunciatory, with the latter mainly originating from committed Theosophists, representing those who accept wholeheartedly the orthodox perception of the Masters as defined by Theosophical teaching. Generally, reviews perform a positive service by confirming the observations and conclusions of the authors. Less appreciated, I am sure, are reviewers’ criticisms which generally call into question some aspect of the thesis, the quality and quantity of the evidence presented to substantiate the thesis, or some other aspect of the publication with which the reviewer disagrees.  Beyond the negative disagreements based upon some perceived omission or misinterpretation of the data are some reviews that appear excessively strident or even bordering on ad hominem attacks directed at the author. Whatever positive qualities contained in the publication, if any, will most likely be discounted or ignored if such attacks are accepted as reliable.  Such was the case regarding these books.  Not only did Mr. Johnson have to defend himself against these reviews, but he also had to strike a balance answering those reviews which agreed with the books’ thesis but arguing that it did not go as far as one hoped it would.  Whether a balance could have been achieved by answering both criticisms is open to question.  The most serious and accusatory criticisms, however, were ideological, not methodological, since the natural byproduct of Mr. Johnson’s thesis was calling into question the status of the Masters, which is the equivalent to questioning the status of Jesus for Christians or the Buddha for Buddhists.  It is not surprising, therefore, that many Theosophists viewed Johnson’s thesis as threatening and damaging to Theosophy.  This whole episode, because of the incessant attacks that went beyond legitimate academic criticism, resulted in bringing to a virtual halt further examination that might substantiate the thesis, either by Mr Johnson or by others inspired by his discoveries.  Had the reviews simply acknowledged the weakness of the methodology, for instance, without attacking the thesis in an ideological manner, there might not have been the complete cessation of investigations in this area.  There is no guarantee that a different outcome would have occurred, but one wonders how this and the many other missed opportunities that have been identified over the past century could have been brought to a more satisfactory conclusion had circumstances been different.   Since we sometimes need to be reminded about this episode, not to mention the many other similar events over the centuries,  Mr. Jacobs must be commended for reacquainting us with the circumstances surrounding the reception of Mr. Johnson’s thesis. 

Mr. Jacobs is a Research Masters (RMA) student in Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Amsterdam specializing in Western Esotericism. He also has BSc in Psychology and an MA in Interfaith Dialogue with Theosophy as his primary research interest.

The second item in this issue is a review of Kim Farnell’s Modern Astrologers: The Lives of Alan and Bessie Leo.  There are many insights that lead us to a reevaluation of the Leos as also their place in modern astrology.  The review is by Kurt Leland, the creator of the Anni Besant Shrine, an online bibliography of Besant’s more than six-hundred books, pamphlets, and articles as well as the author of Rainbow Body: A History of the Western Chakra System from Blavatsky to Brennan.

[1] K. Paul Johnson, The Masters Revealed: Madame Blavatsky and the Myth of the Great White Lodge (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1994).

[2] Paul Johnson, In Search of the Masters Behind the Occult Myth (South Boston, VA: Paul Johnson, 1990).
Editor’s Comments: “Who are the Masters?”
James Santucci
Esotericists and the Academy: K. Paul Johnson and His Theosophical Respondents
Bas J. H. Jacobs
Modern Astrologers: The Lives of Alan and Bessie Leo
Kurt Leland

Theosophical History: Vol. XX, No. 3
July 2020


Much has been written by and about Julius Evola and Paul Brunton, two individuals with peripheral connections to the Theosophical Society.  Evola’s association with the Theosophical Society was initiated at an early age when he became involved with the Theosophical Association of Rome during the first decade following World War I.  His activities during this time are related in Marco Rossi’s article, “Julius Evola and the Independent Theosophical Association of Rome.”[1]  Evola, however, engaged in broader esoteric and Eastern milieus that aided in his views of achieving human apotheosis. 

Paul Brunton’s direct association with the T. S. was through his membership with the Astrological Lodge in London beginning in 1920.  Both Evola and Brunton’s relationship, however, was not as consequential as one might suspect, since they had interests elsewhere:  Daoism and Tantrism for Evola, and Buddhism and Vedānta for Brunton. 

Although Evola and Paul Brunton’s goal was directed to the Transcendent—the reality of which was variously interpreted by the two, Brunton’s interpretation was more of an experience rather than a transformation.  Although they shared little regarding their families, nationalities, and personalities, the author, Dr. Joscelyn Godwin, has revealed “synchronicities” concerning their interests and activities.  This is especially true regarding “unusual states of consciousness,” and their ultimate goal of transcending the “cosmic ladder.”  This goal is described differently, however.  For Evola the approach of the “Absolute Individual” is Dionysian; for Brunton the “Overself” is Apollonian.  Aside from this disparity, their similarities are quite remarkable, as Dr. Godwin demonstrates.

The history of the early Theosophical Society has been reviewed numerous times, mainly from the perspective of H. S. Olcott’s Old Diary Leaves. A few alternative eyewitness accounts exist, including the account of first treasurer of the T. S., Henry J. Newton, as related to “Quæstor Vitæ” in Light XV, no. 776 (November 23, 1895): 569–70  and XV, no. 777 (November 30, 1895): 577 (reprinted in Theosophical History I, no. 7 (July 1986): 176–85.[2]  Newton, the first Treasurer of the T.S., claimed that it was he, not Col. Olcott, who proposed the formation of the T. S.  Furthermore, it was Newton, not Olcott, who was appointed  chairman of the committee formed to organize the society.  Newton also claimed to be in possession of what was described as “the original manuscript book… containing the record of the constitution of the society with its bye laws, and bearing the fifty-five signatures of the original members.” The book was later described as “the Record List of The Society” (Josephine Ransom, A Short History of the Theosophical Society, 113), mentioned in John W. Lovell’s account as the “minute book of the first meeting of the Society on September 8, in which all those present had signed their names.”[3] 

The second significant statement on the Society’s origins was a summary of “facts”—“The Theosophical Society”—extracted from a presentation delivered at the Ninth Convention held on April 28–29, 1895 in Boston: both “The Theosophical Society” and the Proceedings of the Ninth Convention included herein.[4]  This summary, prepared most likely by W. Q. Judge or at least under his supervision, was intended to justify in part the action taken by the Theosophical Society declaring its autonomy from the T. S. Adyar.  A close examination of the events of the events from the early 1890s to the 1895 Convention leaves little doubt that the declaration of autonomy was instigated by the “Judge Case” in which William Q. Judge was charged with forging letters from the Mahatma. This is confirmed in J. D. Buck’s statement in The Theosophical Forum (included in this issue)

If the charges against Judge were proven and voted on, his future as an officer of the Society and moral leader in the T. S. would have been effectively terminated.  As the leader most responsible for revitalizing the American Section, this would have also seriously damaged the standing of the Section.  The challenge to Judge and the Section involved the justification of the Section from separating from Adyar.  Rather than declare autonomy on a less than principled position, the American group either discovered or resuscitated a series of actions that questioned the legality of the Theosophical Society outside of America following the year 1878.  The validity of the Society rested on the 1875 bye-laws.  The only segment of the Society to abide by these rules was the Parent Theosophical Society in New York founded in 1875.  Its local membership continued to conduct meetings that were in accordance with the original bye-laws under Acting President Abner Doubleday until “after January 1, 1882” according to Statement 14 of the “facts.”  While the legitimate Society operated, Col. Olcott and others proceeded to change the Rules of the Theosophical Society in October 1879 while at the same time converting the Society into an international Theosophical Society, which did not have any legal basis.  In other words, there was “no legal connection with ‘The Theosophical Society’ founded at New York, September 8, 1875” (Statement 26e). 

Keeping these observations in mind, the question that I raised in “The Theosophical Society in America: Origins”—“Is the Theosophical Society today the same Society as was founded in New York City in 1875?”—is not easily answered if one takes a neutral stance.  The American position took the position that it is the only true T. S. while the T. S. Adyar, or as it was identified then—the “Theosophical Society and Universal Brotherhood,” its officers and “General Council”—had no legal status, only de facto status.  For all intent and purpose, the only T. S. is the Theosophical Society formed in New York in 1875 and continued through the Theosophical Society in America formed in 1895. 

The leaders of the international Theosophical Society as we might expect did not accept this interpretation.  Mrs. Besant and G. R. S. Mead simply rejected the arguments of the T. S. A. without argument, since they considered its whole legal argument not worthy of response except scorn and ridicule:

The only comfort remaining to the disembodied ghosts of the thousands of self-imagined members of the non-existent Society, and to Colonel Olcott, their shadowy and illegal chief, is that he is graciously allowed to retain the “unique and honorary title of President-Founder,” by the Theosophical Society of America—an honorary title truly, as he presides over nothing, and is founder of a non-existent organization.

The status of the Theosophical Society in America is confirmed by J. D. Buck’s statement in The Theosophical Forum and the Ninth Annual Convention Proceedings held on April 28–29, 1895 in Boston, both of which are included in this issue.

[1] Marco Rossi, “Julius Evola and the Independent Theosophical Association of Rome.”  Trans. By E. E. Rehmus, Theosophical History VI, No. 3 (July 1996): 107–114.

[2] Leslie Price provides additional comments on page 175 to accompany original  correspondence on pages 185–86, the latter originally appearing in Light XV, no. 779 (December 14, 1895): 607 and in no. 780 (December  21, 1895): 617. 

[3] “Reminiscences of Early Days of the Theosophical Society,” The Canadian Theosophist X, no. 3 (May 15, 1929): 71.

[4] The paper was supposedly read at the Ninth Convention, held in April 1895.  The minutes of this Convention are included in this issue.
Editor’s CommentsJames Santucci
Perennial Wisdom Resources
Kenneth R. Small, Curator
Beyond the Cosmic Ladder: The Ultimate State, According to Julius Evola and Paul Brunton
Joscelyn Godwin
The Theosophical Society in America: Origins
James Santucci
From the Theosophical Journals:
The Theosophical Society: Inside Facts to Its Organization
[W. Q. Judge]
From the Theosophical Journals:
The T. S. in America
J. D. Buck
From the Theosophical Journals:
The Ninth Annual Convention of the Theosophical Society in America Held at Boston on April 28-29, 1895