Fifteen Years Ago
The Path, December, 1890
Fifteen years ago in November the Theosophical Society was started at the residence of H.P. Blavatsky in Irving Place, New York City, and was inaugurated in Mott Memorial Hall not far away. Since then the great Emile Bournouf has said in a prominent Parisian journal that the Theosophical Society is one of the three great movements of the age, the other two being Roman Catholicism and Buddhism. Of those who helped to start it, but few remain in the ranks. Nearly all the spiritualists dropped out in disgust, because they saw in it a foe to the worship of the dead. The Society has been often since then solemnly declared dead by a coroner’s inquest composed of those who neither knew nor cared.
Its center of activity was moved to India in pursuance of a deliberate purpose, a purpose which has been accomplished. That was to affect the thought of the age even if in doing so the Society itself should meet its death. There, too, the coroner’s inquest was held, but by those who knew and feared, and who rendered the same verdict, rehashed last month by Major Twigg in Chicago, who informed astonished members and the world that the Society was dead in India. However, we may disbelieve his report in view of over 160 branches there and an imposing headquarters building erected upon 21 acres of land.
The wave of interest once more arose in the United States, and upon our records are 49 Branches reaching from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, and after rolling over this country it suddenly raised itself in England where the sphinx of the Century, the original founder, took hold of the work in 1886. Then there was in England one Branch; now there are many, and the Society there owns a building for its centre of activity from which the wave is bound to roll again even unto far Cathay.
The work of those Fifteen years is not to be measured by the number of Branches or by the three magazines carried on in the three great countries, India, England, and the United States. It is to be measured by the thoughts of men. What are they now? They are full of the great doctrines the Adepts said should be thoughts once more, drawn from Brahmanism and Buddhism,—Karma and Reincarnation; with all the other doctrines brought forward prominently to the Occident. It was once impossible to find three men in New York or London who know the word theosophy. Now the Reviews print articles upon it, people in drawing rooms speak of it, the clerk, the merchant, and the professor read of it. But surer sign than all, though sadder than any, is the adoption of the terms found in Theosophical literature by men who design thereby to gain a living or get fame. They could not do this with that which was unfashionable, unfamiliar, or repulsive. Next comes literature in general. It is full of the words so long used by our members. The greatest publishers do not fear to print books ground out by writers whose knowledge of theosophy is derived for its popularity. They are sure barometers. They indicate an area of pressure or of high expansion.
Who did this, How was it? You may say that it would have been anyway. But you cannot rub out an historical fact, nor postulate for the past reasons which are impossible by reason of their non-existence. There is a sequence in cause and effect that compels us to accept all the factors. The Theosophical Society for many years has been giving out theosophical ideas and language, and now the whole world is using them. These fifteen years of its work just fading out to reincarnate in its sixteenth have been of use to the world, even though the world should deny it.
And who has held the position for strong and weak members alike? Two figures, a woman and a man, Helena P. Blavatsky and Henry S. Olcott. His devotion and her tremendous strength have carried us to this point, and been the main agents for the influence our movement now has upon the thought of the world.
Such work can not be stayed or counteracted. The flimsy edifice of dogmatism is crumbling, the period of total disintegration is nearer, and our work has only begun. We have to hasten on with the materials for the future, so that ere the old structure is demolished the new one shall be ready for occupation. In five more years the Society will be of age, and must then be able to stand upon its feet, to think for itself, to act upon its convictions. Every day of this sixteenth year should be used wisely, earnestly, thoroughly, so that we shall be a able at each anniversary to feel that we have lived nearer to our highest ideals and at least tried to do the work which of all others humanity needs.