H.P. Blavatsky: Principle founder of the modern theosophical movement.

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky was never formally the Leader of the Theosophical Society, although it is generally recognized that she was the motivating force of the Theosophical Society. Blavatsky was born on August 12, 1831, at Dnepropetrovsk (Ekaterinoslav), Ukraine, daughter of Colonel Peter Alexeyevich von Hahn and novelist Helena Andreyevna (née de Fadeyev). In 1849 she married N. V. Blavatsky, and shortly thereafter began more than 20 years of extensive travel, bringing her into contact with mystic traditions the world over. 

In 1873 Blavatsky arrived in New York. At first she attempted to interest Spiritualists in the philosophy behind the phenomena which so astounded them. But they resented her refusal to accept their standard explanations. In July 1875 her teachers urged her “to establish a philosophico-religious society”, and in the Fall of the same year she, along with H. S. Olcott, W. Q. Judge, and others, formed the Theosophical Society. She devoted the rest of her life to its humanitarian and educational objectives. 

About the time the Society began, she started to write her first major work, Isis Unveiled, and after its publication in 1878 she and H.S. Olcott left for India. There they worked to re-establish Oriental philosophical and religious ideas, largely through the pages of The Theosophist, a magazine which Blavatsky founded and edited. In 1884, while Blavatsky was travelling in Europe, disgruntled TS employees in India went to missionaries with forged documents, bringing charges of fraud against her. The Society for Psychical Research (SPR) then sent Richard Hodgson to investigate the charges, and subsequently published an unfavourable report. (In 1986 the SPR published an analysis of the Hodgson Report by Dr. Vernon Harrison, an SPR member expert in forgery and handwriting analysis, who concluded that the Hodgson Report was biased, unscientific, and completely unconvincing.) 

Under the strain of the SPR controversy, Blavatsky’s health had broken down, and in 1885 she left India for Europe, where she continued to write The Secret Doctrine, her masterwork. In 1887 she settled in London and began a new magazine Lucifer (“Light-bringer”). In 1888 The Secret Doctrine was published and, aided by W. Q. Judge, she formed the Esoteric Section of the Theosophical Society. Shortly afterwards she wrote The Key to Theosophy and The Voice of the Silence. In 1890 she became head of the newly-established European Section. She died on May 8, 1891 after many years of chronic illness.

If you are interested to read more of HP Blavatsky’s life, the best biography of HP Blavatsky is by Sylvia Cranston: The Extraordinary Life & Influence of Helena Blavatsky, Founder of the Modern Theosophical Movement (1995).

  • The Secret Doctrine (set of 2 vols.)
  • The Secret Doctrine Index
  • An Invitation to The Secret Doctrine
  • Isis Unveiled (set of 2 vols.)
  • The Key to Theosophy
  • The Voice of the Silence
  • Studies in Occultism
  • Secret Doctrine Commentary: Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge
  • H.P. Blavatsky to the American Conventions 1888-1891
  • Gems from the East
  • The Letters of H.P. Blavatsky to A.P. Sinnett, transcribed and compiled by A. Trevor Barker
  • H.P. Blavatsky and the Theosophical Movement, by Charles J. Ryan
  • H.P. Blavatsky and the SPR: An Examination of the Hodgson Report of 1885, by Vernon Harrison
  • Sunrise Special Issue 1991: HPB, Theosophy, and The Theosophical Society
  • H.P. Blavatsky: Collected Writings (15 vols.), compiled by Boris de Zirkoff
  • From the Caves and Jungles of Hindostan, by H.P. Blavatsky
  • Theosophical Glossary, by H.P. Blavatsky et al., edited by G.R.S. Mead
  • The Theosophist, (Vol. 1, 1879-1880), edited by H.P. Blavatsky
  • HPB: The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky, by Sylvia Cranston
  • The Occult World of Madame Blavatsky, compiled and edited by Daniel H. Caldwell
  • Blavatsky Reference Books compiled and annotated by H.J. Spierenburg. Includes The Buddhism of H.P. Blavatsky; H.P. Blavatsky on the Gnostics; The New Testament Commentaries of H.P. Blavatsky; The Veda Commentaries of H.P. Blavatsky; The Vedanta Commentaries of H.P. Blavatsky; Astrology of a Living Universe; The Inner Group Teachings of H.P. Blavatsky
  • Reminiscences of H.P. Blavatsky and The Secret Doctrine, by Countess Constance Wachtmeister, et al.
  • Nightmare Tales
  • Some Unpublished Letters of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, compiled, with commentary by Eugene Rollin Corson

WILLIAM Q. JUDGE: Leader from 1891-1896.

William Quan Judge was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1851. He came to New York with his father in 1864, and upon his maturity became a citizen of the United States and a lawyer by profession (New York Bar, 1872). 

In 1875 he was one of co-founders of the Theosophical Society. Impressed by the logic and practical value of the philosophy of the East, he actively advocated its introduction to the Western mind. More than any other, his work with the public through magazines, the press, and on the lecture platform broke the moulds of limited and dogmatic thought in relation to theosophy in America. He was held in high esteem by his fellow theosophists holding the offices of General Secretary of the American Section, Vice-President of the TS, and later Leader of our branch of the theosophical movement from 1895 until his passing in 1896. As an authority on theosophy he gained national recognition at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893, where in the Parliament of Religions he traced the thread of all beliefs to a common source. 

His works are classics in their clear presentation of theosophy to new students of theosophy, particularly his Ocean of Theosophy and pamphlets Echoes from the Orient and the Epitome of Theosophy. Letters That Have Helped Me, a series of personal hints to one of his students, stands as one of the very best guides to putting theosophy into practice in daily life. He also issued recessions of the Indian religious classics the Bhagavad Gita and Patanjali’s Yoga Aphorisms. His writings are collected in three volumes titled Echoes of the Orient. 

KATHERINE TINGLEY: Leader from 1896 – 1929.

Katherine Tingley succeeded William Quan Judge to become the second Leader of what is now the Theosophical Society (Pasadena). She was born Catherine Augusta Westcott in 1847 at Newbury, Massachusetts. From an early age she displayed a profound sympathy for the suffering of humanity brought graphically before her sensitive nature during the turbulent years of the American civil war. As she matured, she dedicated her life to philanthropic work in relieving the distress she witnessed in the cruel inequalities of late 19th-century American urban life.

In the early 1890s she organised a Women’s Emergency Relief Association in New York and a “Do-Good Mission” in one of the worst slum areas of the city.  One morning, when she had turned the Mission into a temporary relief station for feeding and clothing the families of destitute strikers, she noticed on the far edge of the crowd a gentleman observing her. When she tried to contact him, thinking he was also in need, he melted away into the crowd.  A day or so later he presented his card at her home: William Quan Judge. She was intuitively attracted to the teachings of theosophy as explained by Judge, which provided not only an explanation for the misery Tingley had attempted to relieve, but a philosophy which, if practiced, could lighten the burdens of “poor, storm-tossed humanity”. 

After Judge’s death in 1896, Katherine Tingley announced her intention to establish an educational centre which would restore a knowledge of the sacred mysteries of antiquity. Over the years the Raja Yoga School, Academy and College were established at Point Loma, California, near San Diego, with a curriculum emphasizing music, drama, and the arts as intrinsic factors of character building. A life of service and sharing was encouraged and regarded as the natural expression of the balanced individual.  Although Katherine Tingley is mainly remembered as the founder of these educational institutions, she made other major contributions, not least of these the expansion of the printing and publishing facilities of the Society to meet the growing demand for theosophical books and magazines around the world. She continued with her early relief work by organizing the “International Brotherhood League” in 1897, which attempted to put theosophy into practice through philanthropic work. This organization carried on extensive relief work in Cuba in 1898 after the Spanish-American War and later the Society sponsored the establishment of schools in that country. In 1898 she made major changes to the organizational structure of the Society, incorporating it into the new “Universal Brotherhood Organization”. 

Perhaps her most lasting legacy was her dedication to the dissemination of the fundamental principal of universal brotherhood by writing and lecturing in non-technical but eloquent language which appealed to those who were seeking for the solutions of the practical problems of daily life. Amongst her many books which convey beautifully the heart doctrine essence of theosophy are The Wisdom of the Heart and Theosophy: The Path of the Mystic. Katherine Tingley passed away on July 11, 1929 on the historic island of Visingso, Sweden, where for many years a summer school for children and other theosophical activities were conducted. She left a united and harmonious Society and a well-knit, devoted body of students ready to support her successor, Dr. Gottfried de Purucker.

DR. GOTTFRIED DE PURUCKER: Leader from 1929-1942.

G. de Purucker was born in 1874 at Suffern, New York, son of a prominent Anglican Minister who some years later served as chaplain of the American Church in Geneva, Switzerland. He received his early education there, in the College de Genève and under private tutors, specializing in Hebrew, Latin, Greek and the writings of the early Church Fathers in preparation for the ministry.

When 18 years of age he went to the USA, settling for several years in California where he worked on different ranches. In 1894, whilst in San Diego he joined the Theosophical Society and after returning to Switzerland met Katherine Tingley in September 1896, while she was on her first world tour. Over the next seven years Dr. de Purucker travelled extensively, first in South America, returning to New York, thence to Geneva and Paris, where he worked on the editorial staff of a newspaper. In 1903 he took up permanent residence at the International Headquarters of the Theosophical Society, then located at Point Loma, California. He accompanied Katherine Tingley on several of her overseas lecture tours and was appointed professor of Sanskrit and Hebrew at Theosophical University, Point Loma in 1919 and received the Doctor of Literature degree in 1921. 

His assumption of the Leadership in 1929 was enthusiastically received by the members of the “Universal Brotherhood and Theosophical Society”. A few months after he assumed office a Congress was convened at Point Loma which amended the T.S. Constitution and shortened the name of the Society to what it had been in 1875, “The Theosophical Society”.  In 1930 Dr. de Purucker founded the world-wide Theosophical – Fraternisation Movement with the object of bringing all Theosophical groups to closer friendly relationships. In 1931 he made a lecture tour in Great Britain and the Continent, and whilst there participated in the H. P. Blavatsky Centennial Conference held in London on June 24 and chaired by A. Trevor Barker, President of the English Section of the Theosophical Society. This meeting, which celebrated the 100th anniversary of H. P. Blavatsky’s birth, was well attended by leading representatives of the principal Theosophical Societies.

Dr. de Purucker conducted several international lecture tours. His legacy to the administrative structure of the Society was immense, with the growth of National Sections throughout the world and the re-establishment of the firm financial basis of the Society after the 1929 economic crash. He founded three theosophical magazines, which in the mid-1930s were combined into The Theosophical Forum, and in June 1942 he supervised the removal of the International Headquarters from Point Loma to Covina, near Los Angeles, California. 

In retrospect, it appears that Dr. de Purucker’s major contribution consisted in the interpretation and clarification of the spiritual principles of theosophy. Amongst his many works are the following titles: Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy: a technical study of the basic principles of the cosmos and of man. The Esoteric Tradition: dealing with theosophy in all it aspects, historical, religious, scientific and philosophical, with a special section on the Mystery schools. Questions We All Ask: an introductory series to theosophical teachings. Man in Evolution: a closely-reasoned refutation of the mechanistic interpretation of human origins. Golden Precepts of Esotericism: a devotional treatise for all who would set their feet on the path of spiritual attainment. Occult Glossary (in print) and the complete Encyclopedic Glossary (online): a vast compendium of Oriental and Theosophical terms. Further volumes derived from Dr. de Purucker’s private and public lectures and writings, published posthumously include: Messages to Conventions (1943), Wind of the Spirit (1944), Studies in Occult Philosophy (1945), The Dialogues of G. de Purucker (1948) and Fountain Source of Occultism (1974). 

Dr. de Purucker passed away suddenly on September 27, 1942. Eulogies to Dr. de Purucker published at that time, such as the following, emphasised the beauty of his contribution to uplifting world consciousness which provides an example of service to all involved in this endeavour today: “Across the pages of all G. de Purucker’s books, march the great universal ideas of the Ancient Wisdom, with the cosmic spaces for backdrop and eternities for the time sequences. You cannot think small thoughts when you read his books. To know them is to come close to one for whom the whole universe breathed with divine and spiritual life, for whom Divinity spoke, not remotely in some far off heaven, but here at hand within the hearts of men”. (from Theosophical Forum, December, 1942, page 542.) 

COLONEL ARTHUR L. CONGER: Leader from 1945-1951.

Dr. Gottfried de Purucker died during WW II, and in line with the TS Constitution and Purucker’s instructions, the direction of the Society devolved for a period of three years upon the TS Cabinet. On October 20, 1945, the Cabinet eventually recognized retired U.S. army Colonel Arthur L. Conger as the fourth leader of the Theosophical Society. Conger was born in Akron, Ohio, in 1872.

At the age of 16 he entered Harvard University and whilst there joined the Theosophical Society, then under the leadership of William Quan Judge. After graduation the 1890s he worked at the International Headquarters, then in New York City, and was highly regarded by both for his dedication and meticulous sense of duty. In 1898 he enlisted as a private in the Spanish-American War. After graduating from Fort Leavenworth Infantry and Cavalry schools in 1905 and from Army Staff College in 1907, he served as an instructor there and later for four years in the Philippines. In World War I, as a Major, he served as general staff officer accompanying General Pershing to France as assistant Chief of Staff in 1917, and was promoted to Colonel in 1918. In the Meuse-Argonne battle he commanded the 56th brigade in driving through the Argonne forest paving the way for the advance toward Sedan, which led to the armistice on November 11, 1918. For his outstanding service in World War I he received the U.S. Distinguished Service Medal, the British C.M.G. and the French Legion of Honour and Croix de Guerre with palms.

After the war as head of the Department of Military Information of the U.S. Army, he rendered service by his “fearless and intelligent leadership”. In 1924 he became military attaché to the American embassy at Berlin, and to the U.S. legations at Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, and later Berne, Switzerland. Colonel Conger wrote extensively on U.S. military history with his best known work being The Rise of U.S. Grant published in 1931. A close personal friend and associate of many national leaders whilst in the Army, Col. Conger was highly complimented in John Gilbert Winnant’s Letter from Grosvenor Square. Mr. Winnant, former U.S. ambassador to England, stated that he had learned the structure of World War I from Col. Conger. Among other things, Winnant said that Col. Conger had a profound influence on General George Marshall who administered what became known as the Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Europe after World War II. 

Colonel Conger retired from active military service in July 1928 to devote his full attention to theosophical work. Often asked how he reconciled the life of a professional soldier with the ideals of a theosophist, he would reply: “I see no conflict between my two-fold career as a military officer and a theosophist. Duty and service are my guiding principles”. Under the leadership of Dr. G. de Purucker, Col. Conger in 1931 accepted the post of President of the American National Section, retiring in 1933 on account of ill health. Showing his soldierly tenacity in the face of adversity he resumed office in 1939. In 1945 he resigned the American Section Presidency when called upon to become Leader of the Theosophical Society. 

Although the Colonel was a man of few words and throughout his leadership was confined to a wheel chair by Parkinson’s disease, he had a profound influence on the future course of the Society’s work. Dr. de Purucker had provided a clarification of H. P. Blavatsky’s masterful reintroduction of the ancient teachings of theosophy to the Western world. Col. Conger administered the dissemination of these books, publishing several articles in his own right, editing The Theosophical Forum for many years and, perhaps his major contribution, editing The Dialogues of G. de Purucker in three volumes issued in 1948. His first wife, Mrs. Margaret Conger, who passed away in 1945, was a distinguished author and lecturer whose works include her Combined Chronology for use with The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett and The Letters of H.P. Blavatsky to A.P. Sinnett, a work which had called for years of careful research.

Col. Conger’s legacy to the organisational structure of the Society was no less significant, some major contributions being closing the Esoteric Section and in 1950/51 moving the International headquarters from Covina to its present location near Pasadena, California.  On February 22, 1951, Col. Conger passed away. Although he maintained a low profile, the Colonel’s quiet demeanour, forthright action and forbearance in the face of personal hardships and major challenges facing the Society have much to teach theosophists in the twenty-first century about standing firm at our appointed tasks in carrying this ageless work forward.

In Col. Conger’s own words: “There is an immutable law in the domain of the occult which compels each aspirant, once he is pledged, to stand or fall by the strength of his purpose. If his purpose be not personal, he will soon learn that his one-pointed effort to do his duty as man and theosophist has brought him into a unique fraternity” (from The Theosophical Forum December 1950).  A detailed treatment of the life and contributions of Col. Arthur L. Conger is available in print and on-line from Theosophical University Press: Colonel Arthur L. Conger by Alan E. Donant Theosophical University Press 1999. 

JAMES A LONG: Leader from 1951-1971.

Following the death of his friend and mentor, Colonel Arthur L. Conger, in February, 1951, James A. Long assumed the leadership of the Theosophical Society. His leadership marked a major turning point in the organisational structure of the work of the Society which paved the way for the present period of public work, open discussion of esoteric aspects of theosophical teachings, and expressing theosophic ideas in one’s own words based on trying to practice them in daily life.  Jim Long was born at York, Pennsylvania, on August 27, 1898. At four years of age he was severely crippled with polio, long before modern therapy had found means to relieve its effects.

But typical of his tenacious spirit, he turned this “handicap” into a blessing, for it brought with the passing of time a depth of compassion and richness of understanding. Graduating from York High School in 1916, he specialized in the study of business administration and entered private business as an accountant and auditor. He later became a business management consultant following his profession in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Washington D.C.  At the outbreak of World War II, Mr. Long entered Government Service as a Management Consultant in the Office of the Quartermaster General. There, with other consultants, he assisted in streamlining the procurement and distribution procedures in order to expedite the supply of Quartermaster’s materials to U.S. troops in foreign theatres of operation. In addition to cutting red tape, it became his duty to develop and conduct concentrated training programmes, involving the development of procedures and methods for the proper instruction of supervising personnel.

Upon completion of his work with the Office of the Quartermaster General, Mr. Long was transferred to the War Production Board in 1944, where he participated in the planning necessary for the readjustments required in the domestic economy at the cessation of hostilities. This involved the preparation of a satisfactory means of making the gradual transition from rationing of commercial vehicles and other major products, as well as planning for the de-control of industrial output and distribution. At the conclusion of the war in 1945, Mr. Long was transferred to the Department of State where he assisted in making necessary organisational changes to meet the Department’s peacetime responsibilities. During his assignment there, Mr. Long was sent to the 1946 General Assembly of the United Nations, then in session at New York, as Advisor to the United States Delegation. Whilst there, he was also commissioned to fulfil certain Management Consultant responsibilities for the Control Office of the Assistant Secretary of State in connection with the Council of Foreign Ministers also in session in New York at that time. 

In October 1947, Jim Long resigned from the State Department and came to California, placing himself at the service of Colonel Conger, then Leader of the Theosophical Society. Mr. Long’s association with the Theosophical Society (Pasadena) had commenced a decade earlier. In 1935, shortly after taking up membership in the Society, Mr. Long assisted in the work of its American Section accepting the appointment of Business Manager when Col. Conger was made President of the American Section in 1939. Mr. Long having moved to Washington D.C., he worked closely with Col. Conger in his theosophical activities. When Col. Conger assumed the office of Leader in 1945, Mr. Long was made a member of the Cabinet of the Theosophical Society. 

In December 1950, Jim Long was sent on a world tour in order to contact officials and key members with regard to the future work of the Society. He was charged with the difficult task of closing down the Esoteric Section in every country visited. For, in Jim Long’s words, the time had come when the “esoteric has become exoteric and the exoteric has become esoteric”. This presaged other directives under his Leadership which over time dismantled much of the organisational structure of the National Sections and Branches. This in turn precipitated a new era of theosophical endeavour where members were given the opportunity for a long period of reflection and inculcation of the teachings given out in the previous 75 years.   Jim Long was well qualified by training and temperament for this difficult task. He had little time for what he called “intellectual tennis” or for those who indulged in merely dissecting the shell of doctrine while the kernel of applied soul-wisdom lay unnoticed.

In his many tours to the National Sections and in his writing and conversations, he re-emphasized the heart doctrine over the intellectual speculation which is a constant temptation as organisational and “theological” aspects develop in any religious or philosophical organisation. This message pervaded the new theosophical magazine he founded in October 1951 called Sunrise.  The magazine was founded not as an official or learned journal, but as an informal meeting ground. He envisaged it as a magazine dedicated to forming “bridges of understanding” between the seeking, restless souls of every generation and the ageless body of wisdom – teachings which are the quintessence of every religious and philosophical system. The beauty of this approach to theosophy is encapsulated in his Expanding Horizons, published in 1965. This book provides a straightforward introduction to theosophical teachings yet maintains a depth for reflection.  

For twenty years Jim Long steadfastly maintained his objective as Leader: to present these enduring spiritual principles simply and directly, so that all who wanted seriously to search out the sources of truth and discover in the process a deeper meaning for human existence, would have the opportunity to build a sound philosophy by which they could live.


GRACE F. KNOCHE: Leader from 1971 – 2006. 

Grace Knoche was born February 15, 1909 at the International Headquarters of the Theosophical Society, then located at Point Loma, California, where her father, J. Frank Knoche, was general and business manager. Her mother, Grace Green Knoche, was a writer, teacher, and the international superintendent of the children’s work of the Society.   

Educated at the Raja Yoga School and Academy at Point Loma, Grace completed her education at Theosophical University with a BA (1929), MA (1935), and PhD (1944). She joined the Theosophical Society in 1929, shortly before the death of Katherine Tingley. Under G. de Purucker she worked at Theosophical University Press as a compositor, in the Secretary General’s office, and on the Leader’s secretarial and editorial staffs. At various times from 1933 to 1946 she taught violin, Greek, Hebrew, Sanskrit, Bible translation and Qaballah at Theosophical University, as well as primary and junior high school classes in sculpture and painting at the Lomaland School. She also participated actively in theosophical lectures, field work, and study groups. 

From 1942-1945 Grace was private secretary to the Chairman of the T.S. Cabinet and, after Colonel Arthur L. Conger became Leader in 1945, she was his private secretary and sub-editor of The Theosophical Forum. Upon Col. Conger’s death in 1951, she became private secretary to the next Leader, James A. Long and did most of the editorial footwork on Sunrise magazine until Long’s death in 1971. At that time Grace became Leader of the Theosophical Society, Director and Editor-in-Chief of Theosophical University Press, and Editor of Sunrise until her passing on February 18, 2006.

During her administration she emphasized theosophy as a practical and compassionate way of living. She encouraged mutual respect and cooperation among the members of various theosophical organizations, while recognizing the value of each organization as an independent entity. She put special emphasis on the publications program, in print and online, making the full text of virtually all the Society’s press publications freely available on the Internet. Besides scores of articles in theosophical magazines, especially Sunrise, she wrote three books: To Light a Thousand Lamps (2001), The Mystery Schools (1999), and Theosophy in the Qabbalah (2007). The word “retirement” was not in Grace’s vocabulary, as she worked daily for the betterment of humanity until her passing at age 97. She will be missed by all whose lives she touched – for her wisdom, sparkling sense of humour, and her spiritual and literary contribution to the world.

RANDELL C. GRUBB:  Leader from 2006 onwards.

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