When Helena Blavatsky died in 1891, she left a strong movement. Her last book, the massive 2 volume The Secret Doctrine contained an enormous amount of deep thinking, wild assertions, challenging revelations and talking points to last for years. Indeed, the Secret Doctrine attracted all manner of interested new potential members and for anyone interested in the occult or heady spiritual matters divergent form the dominant paradigms laid out by Christianty, Theosophy was one of the most deep and intellectually stimulating games in town.
However, all movements founder after the death of their leaders, especially when said leader is responsible for all the great insights and revelations of the movement. Desputes began popping up, certain factions broke off, but what destroyed Theosophy didn’t finally occur until around 1909.
Enter upon our stage Annie Besant and Charles Leadbeater.
Charles Leadbeater became involved in Theosophy in 1883 and met Blavatsky the following year. He moved to India, to Theosophy’s main headquarters, became a vegetarian, started practicing clairavoyance and claimed he was “visited” (astrally or telepathically) and trained by some of the same Secret Masters who had trained Blavatsky. He also became close with Charles Olcott, Blavatsky’s right hand man, and moved steadily up the chain.
In 1894 he met Annie Besant who herself has just become interested in Theosophy. He told her he could help her become clairavoyant, and supposedly over the next year did just that. They would then go on clairvoyant journeys together, exploring space, dimensions, thought forms and history. They wrote several books on what they discovered and saw.
By 1906 Annie was almost at the top of the Theosophy ladder, but Charles Leadbetter got into trouble when it came out that he was advising some boys to masturbate. He said he did this to keep them celibate which was necessary for spiritual development. This caused quite a ruckus and he was expelled from Theosophy.
In 1907 Annie became President. She had Leadbetter reinstated (although these types of allegations continued to come up for the rest of his career) and the two of them pursued their visions and spiritual direction which brought down the movement.
Annie allied Theosophy with some groups she was quite fond of, Co-Freemasonry (a branch of Freemasonry which admitted women), and the Liberal Catholic Church, an esoteric form of Christianity. This caused some schisms but not the giant ruckus that would truly decimate the Society.
What really did it was the World Teacher Project.
“Blavatsky had stated in 1889 that the main purpose of establishing the Society was to prepare humanity for the future reception of a “torch-bearer of Truth”, an emissary of a hidden Spiritual Hierarchy that according to Theosophists guides the evolution of Humankind. This was repeated by Besant as early as 1896; Besant came to believe in the imminent appearance of the “emissary”, who was identified by Theosophists as the so-called World Teacher.”
Well, in 1909 they found him.As it turns out, what a coincidence, living just next door to Theosophy’s headquarters in India, was a 14 year old boy Leadbetter discovered who was this great Teacher, the next Jesus and Buddha. Jiddu Krishnamurti was put into care of Theosophists, his father being too poor to care for him well, and Annie started grooming him for his great future role and established The World Teacher Project to trumpet his Messiahood.
She also began the group The Star In The East, which would follow and spread his teachings. These became the new center of Theosophy alongside Blavatsky’s work.
It was too much for some and the final straw for others. Theosophy began cracking and splitting. The worst split came in 1912 when Rudolph Steiner decided he had enough, split from Theosophy and took over 90% of German Theosophists with him. Steiner went on to have a long and distinguished career and to be honest, i have a real soft spot for him.
However, Annie held what remained together, raised Junni to be the World Teacher, the next Messiah, and she was also his surrogate mother. The movement then grew and after WWI attracted a larger and larger following
In 1929 The World Teacher, now grown and ready to assume his rightful place as the new Spiritual Master of this era, stepped upon stage and announced to Theosophists and The Star of the East that he thought the entire thing was deluded. He firmly stated he was not any World Teacher, the whole thing was well intentioned but misguided and then walked away.
My sincere hats off to Junni Krishnamurti. He’s practically my hero for this. What i’m applauding isn’t the destruction of Theosophy, although it was indeed shattered irreparably after this, but the fact that a man with power and followers handed to him on a silver platter, who could have ruled his little own cult and been a god to them, actually had the state of mind, heart and spirit to do the honest and noble thing, and walk away from it.He went on to have a long distinguished career writing and teaching spiritual philosophy, but he refused to have any group form around him.
He’s almost an advertisement for Theosophy. They managed to produce a spiritual guru so advanced he refused the job. Seriously, that gets huge props in my book. They’re obviously doing something right.
Theosophy never recovered. Most groups quietly disbanded and the few that remained kept quiet and continued their work out of any spotlight. The ideas Theosophy presented and discussed in detail continued to be disseminated and covered until finally, when the New Age movement sprang up, they rebranded Theosophy in its own image.
Tomorrow we shall conclude this series by examining just what on earth Theosophy was all about anyway, and what they believed and practiced.