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The society was formed in September 1875. Its co-founders were Henry Steele Olcott and William Q. Judge.
Its secretary was Helena P.
Blavatsky who was the actual instigator of the organization.
Its name was furnished by Charles Sotheran who was of independent means,
a high Mason, a Rosicrucian, and a student of the kabbalah.
Sotheran looking through a dictionary, found the word theosophy,
a word that was unanimously agreed on at the next meeting because it seemed
to express esoteric truth as well as covering the aspects of occult scientific
research, both of which were goals of the Society.
After its establishment the Theosophical Society expounded the esoteric
tradition of Buddhism aiming to form an universal brotherhood of man, studying
and making known the ancient religions, philosophies and sciences, and investigating
the laws of nature and divine powers latent in man. The direction of the
society was claimed to be directed by the secret Mahatmas
or Masters of Wisdom.
Following Olcott the successive international presidents were Annie Besant,
G. S. Armdale, C. Jinarajadasa, and in the 1970's N. Sri Ram.
In 1882 the international headquarters was established in Adyar, Madras,
India, with national organizations in more than 60 countries by the 1970's.
The headquarters of the American Theosophical Society is in Wheaton, Ill.
There are over 150 branches. At Wheaton there is a Reference and Lending
Library. The Society publishes The American Theosophist a monthly
The three objectives of the Theosophical Society are (1) to form a nucleus
of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity without distinction of race, creed,
sex, caste, or color; (2) to encourage the study of comparative religion,
philosophy, and science; (3) to investigate unexplained laws of nature and
the powers latent in man.
The society's policy is one of complete freedom of individual search and
Joy Mills, The Theosophy Society in America 61.
Meade, Marion, Madame Blavatsky: The Woman Behind the Myth, New
York, G. P. Putman's Sons, 1980.
Williams, Gertrude Marvin, Priestess of the Occult: Madame Blavatsky,
New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1946.