An independent quarterly journal founded in 1985 London England

January 1985
Vol. 1 No. 1

The Scope of Theosophical History

S.P.R. Archives
The Stack Memorandum

J. Herbert Stack

The Voice of the Silence

Jean Overton Fuller

Theosophical History Centre


The Scope of Theosophical History

This is the first issue of a new quarterly journal concerned with theosophical history. Our central focus is the foundation of the Theosophical Society in 1875, and the history of the Theosophical movement since then, but we are mindful that there have been theosophical activities in other eras, and will not be rigidly tied to the modern age. Nor will we be limiting our coverage to the Theosophical Society, and those who remained in it. The assessment of a variety of bodies and impulses that claimed to be Theosophical, or even used different terms altogether but were once part of the same family, is part of our task. Names such as Alice Bailey, Annie Besant, William Q. Judge and Rudolf Steiner that are offensive to this or that group of Theosophists even today, will be found in our pages.

Our position is one of sympathetic neutrality to the different definitions of Theosophical truth, and our columns are open also to the growing body of professional historians and social scientists to whom Theosophy is a fascination phenomenon worthy of research. That research is expanding worldwide, and we will try to keep readers in touch with it.

History is controversial, especially of spiritual movements. It can strengthen leaders, or undermine them, unsettle the faith of the followers, and resurrect embarrassing aspects that some would prefer to leave unsaid. We are not in the business particularly of employing history to these ends; but we think the long and complicated story of Theosophy needs a forum in which it can be examined in greater detail, in a wider perspective and more freely than existing publications permit. Excellent historical research is published in many Theosophical journals already — and we will be noting it, but there does not appear to be a purely historical channel for printing new papers, publishing archives for the first time and reprinting rare historical sources. Standing [3] on the shoulders of many excellent historical scholars who have gone before us in Theosophy, we hope to grow into this.

A word should be said about three bodies that have been linked with the Theosophical Society — the Esoteric Section, the Liberal Catholic Church and Co-Masonry. Theosophical history involves these bodies of which the editor is not and never has been a member (though he is a T. S. member.) We will be touching on them from time to time, and some of our writers will be members. This journal is not owned by any person or group except its editor, and will be independent in its coverage. We are concerned moreover with the past and not the present, and if we comment on present events, it will be where history is involved— for example, the treatment of local archives, or the handling of history books in parts of the Theosophical world. The editor is involved with the creation of a Theosophical History Centre which is part of the English T. S.—this journal, though close to the Centre is separate.

Finally and importantly, money. We are grateful to those who have assisted financially in the launch of the journal. Our main income will be derived from subscriptions, and we do earnestly urge you to subscribe. We cannot grow without much help, to make us known to everyone interested in our subject matter, We can supply subscription forms in quantity to those who can put them to use.


Leslie Price was formerly Secretary of the Olcott Centre and a Vice-President of its successor the Olcott Lodge. He is the author of "Madame Blavatsky Unveiled?", a paper read to the S.P.R. on 12 April 1983, and of "The Blavatsky Case on the Eve of the Centenary", a paper presented at the S.P.R. Oxford Conference in 1984.



In 1884 the Society for Psychical Research appointed a Committee to investigate phenomena connected with the Theosophical Society. All its members were to become well known in the infant field of psychical research, except one. John Herbert Stack escaped fame, and the corresponding criticism from the Theosophical side. Even in death he remained obscure. His obituary in the Journal of the SPR May 1892 reads;

"We regret to announce the death, on April 29th, of Mr. J. Herbert Stack, a former member of the Council of the SPR, Mr. Stack gave cordial co-operation to the Society's work from the time of its foundation. His strong sense and marked fairness of mind were of especial value to the "Committee on Alleged Marvels connected with Theosophy" on which he served in 1885. He will be much regretted by his many friends".

The SPR in those days was very socially conscious and it is just possible that Mr. Stack's profession was not considered respectable. He was in fact a senior journalist. One of his colleagues was A. P. Sinnett, whom he helped bring into contact with Theosophy. It is probable that after the issue of the SPR report, neither Stack or Sinnett wished to publicly emphasise their friendship. We hope to publish more testimony relevant to this later.

How was Mr. Stack of especial value to the SPR Committee? Apart from his personal association with Sinnett, and his meeting with Olcott described in volume 3 of "Old Diary Leaves", he cast a critical eye over the draft of the preliminary report of the Committee. (That preliminary report was circulated privately to SPR members and should be distinguished from the final report.) Mr. Stack's comments on the preliminary report in draft survive in the SPR archives in handwritten form under the title "Rough Noses on Report". What appear to be Professor Henry Sidgwick's comments in [5] response are also on the manuscript, and in the copy that follows these are printed in capitals (though this is not the case in the original.)

Special attention is called to paragraph (5) in which the decision is taken to omit evidence of an ostensible paranormal phenomenon produced by Madame Blavatsky. Apart from the importance to Theosophy of this decision, it is possibly the first time in psychical research that a phenomenon produced by a subject being investigated was concealed from students of the report. That the evidence was weak does not alter the fact that it should have been included in any proper report of how she was studied by the Committee. Incidentally the testimony of witnesses to the bell survives, and will be printed in full at a later date. Mr Walter Carrithers discovered its presence in the proof of the preliminary report, and reported it in a letter published in JSPR December 1969 under his pseudonym Adlai Waterman.

L. P.

All documents from the SPR archives are printed by kind permission of the SPR, and should not be reproduced without their written consent.


There is a published account of the S.P.R. and Elgin Crescent in Mrs. Arundale's contribution to the 1891 H.P.B. Memorial volume.

Mr. Ewen's evidence (Stack, pare. 9) is criticised in the Hodgson report p. 391-2, (Proc. S.P.R. Dec. 1885)

Although Mr. Stack's writing is in general legible (in contrast, say, to Mrs. Sidgwick's !), there are certain difficult words, and students are advised to check with the original.


Rough Notes on Report

(1) It seems to me that its length alone is an objection. It will appear that Theosophy is a very serious and important matter when we devote to it

such a voluminous document. AGREED SHORTEN

(2) We should remember and perhaps point out that persons indifferent to pecuniary temptations may be tempted to invent or exaggerate tales in order to excite wonder and secure social consideration for themselves. AGREED

(3) To quote from books already published long lists of witnesses about whom we know nothing is unprecedented. We have not asked a Roman Catholic member to give us a secondhand account of the miracles at Lourdes nor a convinced Spiritualist to collect from "Light" and other sources tales of apparitions. Why in this case depart from our proper work "research" and simply go in for compilation? DISAGREE

(4) As regards the appearance of Damodar at Adyar the evidence is not conclusive — simply because if he and Madame Blavatsky arranged the affair beforehand the "miracle" was easy. Of course if they are incapable of such collusion the miracle is established: if not, not. OF COURSE

(5) That Mr Myers, Mr Gurney and Mr Thurstan (note spelling—LP) heard two tinkles of a bell in Madame Blavatsky's presence is clear—but surely this is a very small fact to be so elaborately and solemnly recorded. The phenomenon is parallel with the un accountable raps heard in the presence of a medium. No one can say that such things are by themselves proofs of anything supernatural: the possibility of fraud or confederacy is always present, unless we insist on tests which Madame B. would certainly not submit to. AGREED OMIT BELL


(6) As regards the vast mass of Oriental evidence for what is called the "existence" of the Mahatmas it only disproves the absurd theory of those who believe that Madame Blavatsky stands alone in this matter. Why should there not be all over India many persons calling themselves "Masters" and claiming to have supernatural powers? India in all ages has swarmed with them. Why should not some of these men be associated with Madame B.—some honest, some dishonest, all believing in antient (?—LP) magic and some half believing their own powers? Why may not some of them actually possess the powers exercised undoubtedly by travelling native conjurors? In what do their marvels differ from those of the conjurors except that they are on the whole less wonderful but accompanied by higher pretensions. IRRELEVANT?

(7) One distinction between the wonders produced by mediums or Indian conjurors and those produced through Madame Blavatsky and her allies is very obvious. Everybody suspects the mediums or conjurors and surrounds them with severe conditions. The Theosophists on the contrary require to be approached with respect and they perform their marvels where they like, when they like, and before whom they like. They select time, place and witnesses. Give such chances to the others and they could probably much more—but who in his sense would attach importance to "miracles" so produced? WE AGREE AS TO MOST OF SHRINE ? MARVELS

(8) The "appearance" of Koot Hoomi to Eglinton on board the Vega is to my mind the most suspicious circumstances in the whole history of Theosophic wonders. Here is Koot Hoomi—one of the Mahatmas who manages the universe—performs the most astounding of all his feats—transit from Thibet to mid-ocean—to visit not a Chela, not even a Theosophist, but a professional Medium—and to give him in writing what he calls a certificate of his "wonderful mediumship" ! That it should be pointed out that the identity of


the letter as seen on board the Vega with the letter seen in India has never been established—simply because Eglinton deliberately destroys the marked envelope. The whole affair was a splendid advertisement for Eglinton and in that we see, perhaps, the motive for its invention by him. How far there was collusion in the Theosophical side it is impossible to say, but if there were, the "miracle" is easy enough. TIME (?LP) NOT (?LP) ADMITTED (?LP) IN REPORT SHORTEN REPORT

(9) The appearances of Damadar at Elgin Crescent Notting Hill are not established. There is no confirmation of Mr. Ewen's impression while the "confirmation" of the appearance to Madame Blavatsky simply depends on the supposition that she did not send the telegraph to India at a cost of £12. My own impression is that she did not, but you cannot establish a fact of this kind on probabilities. HELPS AS REGARDS DAMODAR

(10) It is curious as regards the dropping of letters that the instances are all, or nearly all, confined to India or in Europe to railway carriages. Indian ceilings are not generally plastered—they are often even in first-class houses made of rough boards with chinks. A railway carriage is a very easy place for the "chucking up" of a letter so as to make it fall from the ceiling. Nobody sees a letter fall from an "English ceiling while he is quite alone." IRRELEVANT POINT IS THAT OLCOTT IS INVOLVED

(11) It should be remembered that the whole argument implying that Madame Blavatsky's absence is after a manner a guarantee of the genuine character of a phenomenon falls to the ground if we for a moment suppose that she has confederates. There is no country in the world where confederates and witnesses could be purchased so cheaply as in India and where false



(12) Many of the appearances of the Mahatmas are simply attested by the evidence of witnesses who say they saw a figure in white walking or floating at night many yards off, and that in some cases the figure resembled the portraits they had seen of Mahatmas. Many of the so-called portraits are signally wanting in individuality end to make up an Indian figure that would look like them "twenty or thirty yards away" in the moonlight would not be difficult. AGREED

(13) We must bear in mind that Theosophy has made very few converts amongst Englishmen in India—notwithstanding the conversion of Mr Hume, Mr Sinnett General Morgan, Colonel Gordon and perhaps one or two more. English people in India have ample opportunities of judging the leaders and the phenomena. The slow progress of the cause amongst Anglo-Indians many of whom are highly educated and its rapid progress amongst uneducated, superstitious and credulous natives is prima facie against it. UNIMPORTANT

(14) One advantage of circulating this long and detailed report amongst our members is obvious: it places within their reach an interesting account of many marvels. But there is something to be said on the other side. May not some of the members be repelled by our unscientific treatment of these tales? There are two methods of investigation—the judicial and the experimental. We make a judicial or quasi-judicial inquiry into isolated abnormal facts but in presence of the Spiritualists or the Theosophists we ought to adopt the experimental method, They say "These things are occurring day by day" and so we should wait until we can see them under our own eyes with test conditions. There is the more reason to do this in the case of the Theosophists because they claim to have powers that the Masters or Madame Blavatsky can exercise at will. Yet


after all we heard of what they could do, and all our respectful solicitations for a "sign", the net result is that the Secretaries of the S.P.R. heard a bell sound in Madame Blavatsky's presence and that they cannot account for the phenomenon. That is the sole outcome of the research of the Society into these Oriental phenomena. The rest is the collection of depositions more or less trustworthy—the immense mass, of Indian testimony. THIS REPORT GIVES PRIMA FACIA CASE FOR INQUIRY. IF R.H. IS TO GO, WE HEDGE BY REPORTING NOW

(15) One thing should not be allowed to drop out of sight. Colonel Olcott published in the Pall Mall Gazette an account of himself in which he claimed to have cured 2,000 persons in India—he made the blind see, the deaf hear, etc. He told us at Dean's Yard that his power was in full force—probably better because he was not in India. He has not supplied the Society with evidence of a single indisputable case in Europe or attested by Europeans: he has done nothing to justify his original tale. Compare in this case the pretensions that "roared so loud and thundered in the index" with the performance. Are the other pretensions of the Theosophists as baseless when brought to the test? ? RELEVANT

(16) It is suggested that by spending £70 on circulating Theosophic legends we may get new members. May we not rather secure new members for the Theosophical Society itself? Can not Mr Sinnett or others say to our friends "If you want to get at the heart of this mystery—to be admitted to the inner sanctum, become Theosophists. Then Isis will unveil her face and you will see the whole secret: the S.P.R. simply stands in the outer court."

(17) The present time seems especially in suitable for this publication. India is ringing with the Coloumb scandal. Suddenly the Theosophists can point to the


Society with some of the highest names in English literature and science coming forward to gravely give their theories and gravely reprint their wildest legends. We may serve the Theosophists and in doing so injure ourselves. Just as we are sending a representative to India we commit ourselves to their indirect partisanship—for to republish these stories without a severe searching analysis of the evidence is, in a way, to give the stamp of our silent approval to them. Why not wait until Mr Hodgson has seen the Coloumb letters and determined whether or not they are forgeries? GOOD ARGUMENT FOR MAKING NEUTRALITY CLEARER

The covering letter of Mr Stack is printed below.

30 Kensington Park Gardens, W.

London 17 Oct 84

My dear Sidgwick,

I find I cannot come to Cambridge tomorrow: many thanks for asking me to stay with you if I came.

I tried to convert Myers and Gurney yesterday: I am afraid my arguments had not much effect: they are still under the spell of Mme Blavatsky. I have therefore jotted down some "Rough Notes" on the Report and enclose them: they may be of some use in enabling you to revise the report or in inducing its suppression for a time.

One of the greatest difficulties of any decisive or clear verdict in Theosophy arises from the reluctance we all feel to speak plainly. For instance if you touch on the Coloumb letters you ought in candour to point out that Madame Blavatsky has been already detected in a fraud closely resembling some of those attributed to her by the Coloumbs. She wrote to Mrs Billings "Deliver this letter to Mr Massey in a [12] phenomenal way". She wrote (or is said to have written) to Madame Coloumb "Deliver this to Damodar in a miraculous way". Then we must bear in mind that her own friends and disciples admit that she is "untruthful" and "untrustworthy". Next we have Koot Hoomi convicted not only of plagiarism but of a deliberate falsification order to get rid of the charge. Add the Coloumbs, confessed cheats—and we find the foundress of the Society, the leading Mahatma, and the guardians of the sacred "Shrine" all tainted.

Now to point out all this clearly in your report would be just but painful and harsh. I should not like to write such a public report for personally I have a strong respect for Sinnett. But if you talk of character at all you cannot in justice omit these facts. My refuge in such cases would be silence—or very great reserve.

Gurney seems to think we are on the horns of a dilemma: we must believe or impute fraud. But I know from my researches into alleged Spiritualist miracles that you are constantly confronted with cases where you honestly suspend your judgment: you neither accept the tales or impute fraud. You sometimes find a family circle including a private "medium", and they tell you marvellous tales of what occurs when no stranger is present. You do not decide that they are storytellers — they seem respectable disinterested people—but for all that you do not accept their evidence as conclusive nor should dream of quoting their confidential family miracles as proofs of the supernatural. The same argument applies to the wonders wrought in the inner ring of Theosophists.

As to their favourite phenomenon, the dropping of letters, there is none so well within the reach of a conjuror and none that if they pleased could be so unmistakably attested by outsiders. Men who are once a week or so conveying letters thousands of miles away by occult means could surely for once [13] send one bearing on its surface the London and Calcutta postmarks of the same day. They will not, they say: they will not condescend so far. Then why all these publications and lectures and private efforts at propaganda? Why try to convert the West at all if they are resolved to remain wrapped up in Oriental dignity?

What perfectly honest persons may say in good faith as to marvels of a supernatural kind I learned, not for the first time, at a public meeting other day. I heard a leading and most respected Spiritualist say that he had of late frequently seen the vision of his wife—at night, in his own bedroom, no medium present. The statement caused great sensation. But only the day before he had given my wife full particulars of these "visions" and the tale amounted to this that he saw a white light in the corner of the room and believed it was his wife! There was not even the outline of a human form. Yet he was perfectly honest, is quite disinterested, has been a liberal supporter of "the cause" and is in his way a religious conscientious man. He simply spoke loosely but he deceived the whole audience. It is men like these who make investigations so difficult, and who ought to make investigators cautious.

W. Pease (?LP) suggested at the Council yesterday that we should print the Report and hold the copies back from circulation until Hodgson returns. That seem a fair compromise between the Believers and Unbelievers.

Yours very faithfully, leaving the whole matter with great confidence to the second thoughts of the Committee meeting tomorrow.

J. Herbert Stack


Book Review

The Voice of the Silence, H. P. Blavatsky, 1889 (a reprint of the Pekin edition of 1927, by the H. P. B. Lending Library, Vernon, B. C., Canada), $3.00 Canadian

This is such a classic there can be few Theosophists who are not familiar with it already. Short and gemlike, it encapsulates the difference between two kinds of Buddhist ideal. The first part is about the attainment of Nirvana, the second about the renunciation of Nirvana. When one has cancelled out one's karma, Nirvanic bliss is there for the entering into it. Entry into that state, however, extinguishes concern for those left toiling along the road. To turn back and give them a hand re-involves one in karma. To do this is to become a Bodhisatva. To become a Bodhisatva is higher than to become a Nirvanee.

The special interest of this edition lies in that it is a reprint of the Pekin edition of 1927, which was produced by Alice Leighton Cleather and Basil Crump, at the behest of the Panchen (or as English people usually call him, the Trashi or Tashi) Lama, otherwise the Abbot of the Grand Monastery of Trashi Lhunpo, near Shigatse, in the environs of which Madame Blavatsky received her teaching. After her death, there had appeared some editions with slight alterations, and he had wished her own text restored. Now, I have checked through the texts of this reprint and of the 1959 Adyar edition, line by line, all the way through, and the only differences I can find are that in the Adyar edition somebody had supplied diacritics to the Sanskrit terms (I have not the Sanskrit scholarship to say whether this had been done correctly), and regularised H. P. B.s apparently erratic use of capital letters.

There is, however, a verse with a footnote which was deleted from the editions that followed her death, though I see that they have been restored in the Adyar edition of 1959. The verse, 191 of 'The Two Paths', with its footnote, 38, refers to the Pratyeka Buddhas, as being, relative to the Bodhisatvas, selfish, in that they enter Nirvana. Annie Besant felt H. P. B. must have made a mistake, and urged the meaning of texts perhaps consulted must be that they were not on the 2nd or teaching ray but on the first or ruling one. The insistence of His Holiness that this verse and its footnote be restored, marks H. P. B.'s understanding of it as the correct one.

The great importance of the Pekin edition, long unavailable, and therefore of this Canadian reprint of it, lies in the endorsement of H. P. B.'s work by the great Lama under whose protection she studied, which surely answers those who doubt her having received genuine Tibetan teaching. Specially to be prized are a photograph of His Holiness, and four lines in his own hand from what is probably the set of stanzas from which H.P. B. made the selection known as The Voice of the Silence.

Jean Overton Fuller

Miss Overton Fuller is the author of a forthcoming biography of Madame Blavatsky, about which more details appear in the next issue.


A correspondent writes from India; "I have been distributing copies of the sub forms and everyone is usually taken aback by seeing Alice Bailey's name first". This refers to the list of Theosophical pioneers whose achievements the journal hopes to assess. It was intended only as a sample of names, inadvertently omitted Rudolf Steiner (perhaps some Anthroposophists were relieved) and could include many others, such as Mrs. Tingley. Mrs. Bailey was first alphabetically, an order chosen to avoid offence!



At its monthly meeting on 2nd February, the English T.S. Executive Committee gave its approval to the creation of a Theosophical History Centre (attached to the English Section), of which Leslie Price is Secretary. For convenience the activities of the T.H.C. will be announced and reported in this journal, although the two are technically separate.

T.S. members may affiliate with the Centre either as Full members or Associates (£2 in 1985). Non-members of the T.S. will be able to keep in touch with the Centre through these pages. The pattern of activities is likely to include meetings at which historians describe their current Theosophical researches; surveys of archives; visits to historical sources and in time a short annual conference. More details in the March issue.

Theosophical History is edited by Leslie Price. Assistant Editor—Helen Jameson. Cover design by Claire Jameson. Subscription—£5 per year ($10) or £8 for 2 years ($15) from Editor, 46 Evelyn Gardens, London SW7 3BH.

All material is copyright to authors and publishers, and may not be reproduced without permission.

Copyright © James A. Santucci and Theosophical History