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The Founding of The Theosophical Society by Henry S. Olcott

Sep 09, 2006 10:40 AM
by danielhcaldwell

Henry S. Olcott
Sept.–Nov., 1875
New York City 

[Collated from Olcott, "First Leaf" 65–66, 67–70, and Olcott, 
Historical Retrospect 2–3] 

[On September 7, 1875,] a group of ladies and gentlemen agreed, upon 
my motion, to form a body, which became in due course the 
Theosophical Society. The meeting was an informal gathering of 
friends and acquaintances in Madame Blavatsky's parlour [at 46, 
Irving Place], to listen to Mr. George H. Felt's explanation of a 
certain alleged discovery by him of the Lost Canon of Proportion [of 
the Egyptians] by use of which the peerless architects of [Egypt 
and] Greece had built their temples and forums. His lecture, 
illustrated by a set of very fine colored drawings, was tenfold 
heightened in interest by his assertion that he had not only found, 
on reading the hieroglyphs, that the elemental spirits were largely 
used in the [Egyptian] temple mysteries, but he had even deciphered 
the mantrams by which they were subjugated, had practically tested 
them, and found them efficacious. In the company present were 
several old Spiritualists, myself included, of open mind, who were 
ready and willing to investigate this subject. As for myself, I had 
acquired a full conviction of [the] existence [of elemental spirits] 
and of the power of man to subjugate them, from seeing many 
phenomena produced by Madame Blavatsky. I had also come to know of 
the existence of initiated magical adepts in Egypt, India, and 
certain other parts of the world. The chance, therefore, of being 
able, with Mr. Felt's help and without dragging in the names of 
either of my Teachers, to throw such a flood of light upon the 
problem of psychical phenomena at once suggested itself to my mind; 
so I wrote on a slip of paper a line or two asking HPB if she 
thought it a good idea to propose the formation of such a Society, 
got Mr. Judge to pass it over to her to the opposite side of the 
room, and, upon her nodding assent, rose and, after making some 
remarks about the lecture and lecturer, asked if the company present 
would join me in organizing a society of research in the department 
covered by Mr. Felt's alleged discovery. I dwelt upon the 
materialistic tendencies of the age and the desire of mankind to get 
absolute proof of immortality; pointing to the enormous spread of 
the spiritualistic movement as the best evidence of the fact, and 
hinting at the possibility of our being helped in our philanthropic 
work by the Teachers, from whom HPB. had learned what she knew, if 
we seriously and unselfishly set ourselves to study.

My views as to the necessity of such a society receiving general 
assent, a motion was made by Mr. Judge and adopted that I be elected 
chairman of the meeting, and on my motion Mr. Judge was elected 
secretary. A committee to frame Bye-laws was chosen. An adjourned 
meeting was held on the [8th] and another on the [13th of] September 
following, at which latter, the Bye-laws Committee reported 
progress, and the name of "The Theosophical Society" was adopted. 
Other meetings were held on the 16th and 30th October, at which the 
Bye-Laws were considered and adopted, subject of final revision: at 
a final meeting, on the 17th November, they were formally adopted as 
revised, the President delivered his Inaugural Address, and the 
Society was launched as a perfected organization. The officers had 
been elected at the meeting of October 30th, and were:

President: H. S. Olcott; 
Vice-Presidents: Dr. S. Pancoast and G. H. Felt; 
Corresponding Secretary: H. P. Blavatsky; 
Recording Secretary: John Storer Cobb; 
Treasurer: H. J. Newton; 
Librarian: Charles Sotheran; 
Councillors: Rev. J. H. Wiggin, R. B. Westbrook, Emma Hardinge 
Britten, Dr. C. E. Simmons, Herbert D. Monachesi; 
Counsel to the Society: W. Q. Judge, H. S. Olcott; 
Vice-Presidents: Dr. S. Pancoast and G. H. Felt; 
Corresponding Secretary: H. P. Blavatsky; 
Recording Secretary: John Storer Cobb; 
Treasurer: H. J. Newton; 
Librarian: Charles Sotheran; 
Councillors: Rev. J. H. Wiggin, R. B. Westbrook, Emma Hardinge 
Britten, Dr. C. E. Simmons, Herbert D. Monachesi; 
Counsel to the Society: W. Q. Judge.

The originally declared objects of the Theosophical Society were the 
study of occult science and esoteric philosophy, in theory and 
practice, and the popularization of the facts throughout the world. 
The original Preamble says: "(the Founders) hope that by going 
deeper than modern science has hitherto done into the Esoteric 
philosophies of ancient times, they may be enabled to attain for 
themselves and other investigators proof of the existence of 
an `Unseen Universe,' the nature of its inhabitants, if such there 
be, and the laws which govern them and their relations with 
mankind." In a word, our hope was to acquire this occult knowledge 
with the aid of Mr. Felt and HPB. That our ideas were eclectic and 
nonsectarian is clearly shown in the second paragraph of our 

    Whatever may be the private opinions of its members, the Society 
has no dogmas to inforce, no creed to disseminate. It is formed 
neither as a Spiritualistic schism, nor to serve as the foe or 
friend of any sectarian or philosophic body. Its only axiom is the 
omnipotence of truth, its only creed a profession of unqualified 
devotion to its discovery and propagation. In considering the 
qualifications of applicants for membership, it knows neither race, 
sex, color, country, nor creed.

    Our first bitter disappointment was the failure of Mr. Felt to 
fulfil his promises. With difficulty I got him to give one or two 
more lectures, but he never showed us so much as the wag of the tail 
of a vanishing elemental. HPB, then working night and day upon her 
first book, Isis Unveiled, soon refused to even attend our meetings, 
let alone do so much at them as make the smallest phenomenon—though 
she was continually astounding her visitors with them at her own 

The above is a plain, unvarnished narrative of the beginnings of the 
Theosophical Society as it appears from the outside. I got 
no "order" to make the Society. The provocation of the suggestion 
lay in my long-felt and practical interest in psychical science, now 
fanned into a hot flame by HPB's phenomena, my fresh contact with 
Eastern adepts, and the apparently easy means of contributing 
enormously, with Mr. Felt's help and HPB's participation, to the 
current knowledge of the astral world and its races. The idea sprang 
up in my mind as naturally and spontaneously as possible, as such 
ideas do usually occur in one's every-day experience. But a deeper 
problem lies back of this mental fact. Did the thought of forming 
the Theosophical Society, really spring from my own brain, or was it 
put there ab extra, by some master of thought transference?

[In a note dated July, 1875, in her scrapbook HPB writes: "Orders 
received from India direct to establish a philosophico-religious 
Society and choose a name for it—also to choose Olcott." And in 
another note from the same scrapbook HPB specifically states: "M
[orya] brings orders to form a Society—a secret Society like the 
Rosicrucian Lodge. He promises to help" (Blavatsky, Collected 
Writings 1:94, 73). — DHC]


Olcott, Henry Steel. "The First Leaf of T. S. History." Theosophist 
12.2 (November 1890): 65–70. 
———. A Historical Retrospect—1875–1896—of the Theosophical Society. 
Madras: Theosophical Society, 1896. 

[The narrative above has been transcribed from the original sources 
but spelling and punctuation has been modernized. For people's 
names, the spelling used in HPB's Collected Writings has been 
adopted. Material not relevant to the narrative has been silently 
deleted. The original texts, however, can be found from the 
bibliographical references. Explanatory notes added by the editor 
are enclosed within brackets.]

Extracted from:


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