Foreword by James A. Santucci to
Theosophical History Occasional Papers No. 6:
Astral Projection and the Work
of the Early Theosophical Society
by John Patrick Deveney

James Santucci

What the Theosophical Society was at its inception is not the Society it has become. I have slowly come to this conclusion after years of investigating its origins and early years. One of the clues that led me to this judgment was the role that George Henry Felt played in the founding of the Society.1 In a lecture, variously titled "The Lost Canon of Proportion of the Egyptians" or simply "The Cabala," presented before a group of individuals who were later to become founders of the Theosophical Society, Mr. Felt disclosed his solution to the Egyptian and Greek Canon of Proportion. What was puzzling about this event was Felt's promise, during the course of his presentation of this subject, to manifest elementals or "creatures evolved in the four kingdoms of earth, air, fire, and water, and called by the kabalists gnomes sylphs, salamanders, and undines." 2What this had to do with the Canon of Proportion, the main topic of the lecture, was unclear, but there could be no doubt that Felt's claim impressed and roused his audience, so much so that Col. Henry Steel Olcott, one of the individuals present at the lecture suggested the formation of a society to investigate such phenomena. This incident, together with a reevaluation of documents and articles and the uncovering of new material, strengthened my suspicions that the Theosophical Society was not an organization that pursued only speculative or theoretical knowledge but cultivated certain practices derived from this knowledge. Furthermore, it was not a Society founded on three well-defined objects, as one information circular published in 1897 indicated, nor was the first object--"to form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity"--to be considered of greatest significance in the early days of the Society, for the simple reason that a "Universal Brotherhood of Humanity" was non-existent at the time of the Society's establishment. I say this knowing full well that what Madame Blavatsky has claimed in her "Original Programme," 3that Universal Brotherhood was indeed present at the time of the Society's inception. Despite this claim, for those present when the Society was first proposed by Col. Olcott, none ever mentioned Universal Brotherhood as the reason for its existence. Col. Olcott 4described the proposal for a society as "a plain, business-like affair, unaccompanied by phenomena or any unusual incident." Why he saw fit to write this was due, in his opinion, to the widespread "misconception of historical facts" that has led "so many . . . high-minded and conscientious colleagues going aside into blind paths through simple ignorance of the sequence of events . . . . 5Another founder, William Q. Judge, stated in his address to the Convention of the New York Theosophical Society in April 1895, that "it was agreed to form a Society for the purpose of Occult Study." 6Still another founder, Henry J. Newton, contended that he was the person who orally proposed the founding of a society and not Olcott for the purpose of investigating the phenomena referred to by George H. Felt. 7Again, no Brotherhood platform is mentioned. Indeed, Mr. Newton is reported to have left the Society when it was clear to him that neither Mr. Felt nor H.P.B. was "going to show him either an adept or an elemental." 8Still another founder, Emma Hardinge Britten, included an anonymous notice in her book, Nineteenth Century Miracles--perhaps written by Mrs. Hardinge Britten but certainly by one of the guests present at Mr. Felt's lecture--that substantiates the above. The relevant passage reads as follows: "His (Olcott's) plan was to organise a society of occultists and begin at once to collect a library, and diffuse information concerning those secret laws of nature which were so familiar to the Chaldeans and Egyptians, but are totally unknown by our modern world of science." 9The preponderance of evidence, therefore, points in the direction of a society conducting occult work, both in a practical manner--judging from Mr. Felt's claims--as well as in a theoretical manner. As for Brotherhood, I give the last word to Col. Olcott1:10

Determining the most plausible sequence of historical events can be precarious. In historical analysis, whenever there is a conflict among written primary sources and participants in the event--assuming that the individuals are of upstanding moral character and have equal observant abilities--it is safest to accept the version with the most corroborative and convincing evidence. There can be no room for doctrine nor advocation.
It is with pleasure, therefore, that this work of John Patrick Deveney be presented to the public. It is a work based on abundant and convincing evidence that "practical occult or magical work among the members of the T.S. in its New York days" existed. It is a study that in some ways is as original and illuminating as his award-winning Paschal Beverly Randolph: A Nineteenth Century Black American Spiritualist, Rosicrucian and Sex Magician (Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 1996). Just as nineteenth-century occultism must be viewed in a new light with the latter, so too must the early Theosophical Society be viewed from a totally different perspective.
It is my hope that Mr. Deveney's discoveries be given serious consideration by the community of scholars both within the Theosophical Society and without and that this study serves as the beginning of future innovative research.