What is the Theosophical Society?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 22 March 2020
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First organized in New York City in 1875, the Theosophical Society was founded for the express purpose of giving orderly and constructive investigation to matters of mediumistic phenomena. Born into an environment where the concept of spiritualism was sweeping the country, the Theosophical Society sought to separate the sincere from the con artists by using study, investigative techniques, and scientific information when possible.

Over time, the mission of the Theosophical Society evolved to include Eastern thought as well as Western, creating a platform for the study of transcendental philosophies, religious and otherwise. Here is some historical highlights of the Theosophical Society, including the status of the organization today.

Shortly after the founding of the Theosophical Society, the key leaders chose to move the organization to India. It was there that the TS was exposed to Eastern thought in a society where those belief assumptions had an impact on the function of society as a whole. By 1889, the stated objectives of the organization had been broadened to include the mission of creating a sense of a universal brotherhood that would work toward the establishment of a Utopia. The envisioned utopian community would be composed of persons of all races, colors, and creeds.


This dream of a better world, according to Theosophist reasoning, would be accomplished by promoting the active study of the sacred texts of all the great religions, as well as actively studying a variety of oral traditions and religious practices. In a sense, the Theosophical Society became an organization devoted to the pursuit of syncretism, integrating what Theosophists esteemed to be the best and most noble concepts from all types of faith traditions and philosophies.

Schisms within the Theosophical Society began to emerge during the 1890’s. The group based in India became known as the Theosophical Society – Adyar, while the American group is normally referred to simply as the Theosophical Society, with an addendum that notes the group is based in Pasadena, California. A third organization emerged in 1909, taking on the name of the United Lodge of Theosophists as another splinter group from the Pasadena organization. Throughout the 20th century, other groups continued to emerge, among them the Palmers Green Theosophical Lodge, and the Anthroposophical Society.

Beliefs among the various branches of the movement vary greatly. Some believe in the concept of what is referred to as root races. Purportedly, all current nationalities and races can be traced back to one or more root races. There is conjecture that the peoples of Atlantis represent one of these root races. One extremist point of view of this concept of root races led to the concept of master races, specifically the Aryan race. At least one Theosophist group, the Thule Society, used this as the basis for its teaching on Aryan supremacy.

Other groups turned more to Eastern thought, finding links between various ideas contained within the world religions, and created a concept that embraced what was considered truth from all the different religious paths known to the world. Through it all, the Theosophical Society in all its incarnations sought to keep an open mind to new understandings, which often led to additional schisms.

Many organizations trace their origins back to ideas perpetuated by the Theosophical Society. Among them are such diverse organizations as the Liberal Catholic Church, the I AM foundation, and the Church Universal and Triumphant. The Theosophical Society itself continues to grow and function, with various factions often having adherents in a number of different countries.


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