Col. Olcott’s Disloyalty to H. P. Blavatsky

H.P. Blavatsky and Col. Olcott together in London, 1887.
H. P. Blavatsky and Col. Olcott together in London, 1887.

The Theosophical Movement was founded in New York in 1875 with three main founders – Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Colonel Henry Steel Olcott, and William Quan Judge. From that moment and up until his death in 1907, Olcott remained the organisational leader and international president of the Society, which eventually moved its headquarters from the USA to Adyar in India.

These are well known facts and they sometimes prompt some students of Theosophy, especially visitors to the United Lodge of Theosophists in its lodges and study groups around the world, to ask why Col. Olcott is only mentioned extremely rarely in the ULT, why there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of respect or admiration for him, and why it is frequently the case that only HPB and William Judge are spoken of as “the founders of the Theosophical Movement.”

To answer such questions we have to present a number of important historical facts, most of which are entirely unknown to the majority of the members and supporters of The Theosophical Society – Adyar, who seem to labour under the very mistaken idea that HPB and Olcott continually worked closely and happily alongside each other, were always the best of friends, and that Olcott remained completely faithful to HPB, her teachings, and the Masters. These ideas are not true.

Let us first see some of the things the Masters themselves had to say to and about Col. Olcott.

Sitting alone in his cabin on board a ship headed for London during the period that “The Secret Doctrine” was being written, a letter from the Master K.H. suddenly materialised on his table. This was a few years after he had first begun to turn against HPB in his thought and actions and the Master K.H. took the opportunity to give him a serious warning and a reminder of HPB’s high spiritual status and mission. Olcott accepted the letter as genuine – he had little choice considering its phenomenal means of appearance and its content! – and for a short time his attitude towards HPB and her work changed for the better. We quote some of the more relevant excerpts from that letter:

“One of the most valuable effects of Upasika’s mission [Note: “Upasika” is a Buddhist term meaning “female disciple” and was used by the Masters for HPB.] is that it drives men to self-study and destroys in them blind servility for persons. Observe your own case, for example. But your revolt, good friend, against her infallibility – as you once thought it – has gone too far and you have been unjust to her, for which I am sorry to say, you will have to suffer hereafter along with others. Just now, on deck, your thoughts about her were dark and sinful, and so I find the moment a fitting one to put you on your guard. …

“… we have no favourites, nor affections for persons, but only for their good acts and humanity as a whole. But we employ agents – the best available. Of these for the past thirty years the chief has been the personality known as H.P.B. to the world (but otherwise to us). Imperfect and very troublesome, no doubt, she proves to some, nevertheless, there is no likelihood of our finding a better one for years to come – and your theosophists should be made to understand it. … Theosophists should learn it. You will understand later the significance of this declaration so keep it in mind. Her fidelity to our work being constant, and her sufferings having come upon her thro’ it, neither I nor either of my Brother associates will desert or supplant her. As I once before remarked, ingratitude is not among our vices.

“With yourself our relations are direct, and have been with the rare exceptions you know of, like the present, on the psychical plane, and so will continue thro’ force of circumstances. That they are so rare – is your own fault as I told you in my last.

“To help you in your present perplexity: H.P.B. has next to no concern with administrative details, and should be kept clear of them, so far as her strong nature can be controlled. But this you must tell to all: – With occult matters she has everything to do. We have not abandoned her; she is not ‘given over to chelas’. She is our direct agent. I warn you against permitting your suspicions and resentment against ‘her many follies’ to bias your intuitive loyalty to her. …

“I have also noted your thoughts about the ‘Secret Doctrine’. Be assured that what she has not annotated from scientific and other works, we have given or suggested to her. Every mistake or erroneous notion, corrected and explained by her from the works of other theosophists was corrected by me, or under my instruction. It is a more valuable work than its predecessor, an epitome of occult truths that will make it a source of information and instruction for the earnest student for long years to come.” (Master K.H., Letters from The Masters of the Wisdom, First Series, Letter #19; this was also published by HPB in her magazine “Lucifer” and can be found in “Theosophical Articles and Notes” p. 148-149)

The famous statue of HPB and Col. Olcott at the international headquarters of the Adyar Theosophical Society, Adyar, Chennai, India.
The famous statue of HPB and Col. Olcott at the international headquarters of the Adyar Theosophical Society, Adyar, Chennai, India.

The following letters are from the Master M. to Col. Olcott and relate to his relations with HPB. Dating from around 1884, they are thus at least a couple of years earlier than the letter just quoted:

“The night before last will prove a memorable one for you. … You have alienated from yourself another brother – though a woman – and that, I am afraid, for ever. What possessed you to speak in the way you did of a friend, a woman, one to whom you owe all you know, and even the possibilities of the future – for she was the first to show you the way – is more than all the occult sciences are able to explain! … She went to Maha Sahib [Note: the title of a very high Initiate amongst the Masters] the same night and proved to him she had been all the time right and He wrong. … The Maha Sahib had nothing to say – neither have I or any of us, but to regret, and that very deeply, that want of discrimination and tact so prominent in a man of your intellect and sense.” – (Master M., Letters from The Masters of the Wisdom, Second Series, Letter #33)

“These are foolish, insane ideas of yours about Upasika, Henry, wretched thoughts – the mirage thrown upon your brain by some of those who surround you … You wrong her from beginning to end. You have never understood Upasika, nor the laws thro’ which her apparent life has been made to work since you knew her. You are ungrateful and unjust and even cruel. You take maya for reality and reality for illusion. … I have said and shall say no more, and now if you don’t listen and believe what I now tell you I shall have to turn Karma into a new direction.” (Master M., Letters from The Masters of the Wisdom, Second Series, Letter #47)

This next letter we quote from was HPB’s written account of statements made to her by the Master K.H. towards the end of her life:

“Olcott … wants to know why? Because the Society has liberated itself from our grasp and influence and we have let it go – we make no unwilling slaves. He says he has saved it? He saved its body, but he allowed through sheer fear, its soul to escape, and it is now a soulless corpse, a machine run so far well enough, but which will fall to pieces when he is gone. Out of the three objects the second alone is attended to, but it is no longer either a brotherhood, nor a body over the face of which broods the Spirit from beyond the Great Range. His kindness and love of peace are great and truly Gautamic in their spirit; but he has misapplied that kindness. … This is his (Olcott’s) sin. … In our sight there is no crime worse than ingratitude and injustice.” (Master K.H., Letters from The Masters of the Wisdom, First Series, Letter #60)

In time, Mr Judge became the vice-president of the entire Society, whilst also serving as the leader of the whole American section. His closeness and association of unshakeable trust with HPB – who wrote that he was “part of herself since several eons” and her “only friend” who she trusted “more than anyone in the world” – has been shown in the article Who was William Quan Judge? which should also be read with the shorter article The Welcome Influence of William Q. Judge. If the details and information presented in those two are not first understood, the reader will be unable to appreciate or comprehend this present article in its true light and significance.

In a private letter to HPB dated 29th November 1890, Mr Judge wrote:

“I know and have for years known what is the matter with Olcott. It is this, he has never been loyal to you who gave him all he ever knew of the Masters and their wisdom. He used to say and to write the most awful mean things to me about you, and that is why I have always been disgusted with him. But I regarded him as a man whom THEY had taken to use for THEIR purposes as long as he would carry them out. I am not surprised at his attitude now for it is perfectly in line with the past and now when he has been put in the fire he shows the weakness of his disloyalty. Whatever you are and whatever faults you have in the eyes of the world I have never found you to fail about the Masters and Their wishes, and more I know that I and all the rest of the Society owe all that we prize in that line to you.”

He wrote and published the following article in 1895, four years after HPB had passed away.

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H. S. Olcott versus H.P.B.

[The Path, Vol. X, June 1895; published today in Vol. 2 of William Q. Judge Theosophical Articles]

In the April Theosophist Col. Olcott makes public what we have long known to be his private opinion – a private opinion hinted at through the pages of Old Diary Leaves – that H.P.B. was a fraud, a medium, and a forger of bogus messages from the Masters. This final ingrate’s blow is delivered in a Postscript to the magazine for which the presses were stopped. The hurry was so great that he could not wait another month before hurling the last handful of mud at his spiritual and material benefactor, our departed H.P.B. The next prominent person for whom we wait to make a similar public statement, has long made it privately. [Note: This sentence referred to Annie Besant.]

Col. Olcott “stops the press” and rushes off the Postscript, “for the honor of the

William Judge and Col. Olcott in happier times.
William Judge and Col. Olcott in happier times.

Masters.” He wishes to defend those Masters, who sent H.P.B. as their messenger, by declaring that she “cooked up,” forged, and humbugged with, a long and important message to Brahmins at Allahabad in 1881. The Colonel is H.P.B.’s first Western disciple, ignorant to this day of practical occultism and not able to propound a question to the Masters; never heard of Masters except through H.P.B. He now preserves the honor of Masters by blackening the character of their messenger. Splendid defense, this, of the Masters!

How does he explain the long silence of the Masters since 1881 on the subject? And another very pertinent question is this: How does this “defender of the Masters” explain his own silence in 1881 and since? He was present when the message was sent and knew of it. If he knew then that it was bogus why did he not divulge? If he did not know then, was it because he was unable to tell? If he has since been told by one of the Masters – a la Besant in the Judge case – will he kindly let us know which of the Masters told him, and when?

All these questions ought to be answered, and many proofs given by him showing the least occult ability to decide on false or genuine messages, because he has attempted to classify H.P.B. with frauds, forgers and mediums. Hence the Masters who sent her are put by him in similar categories. Observe that the forgery now alleged by him was at the very time H.P.B. was giving out from the Masters the series of messages which have become known to all. If we believe him, then the delivery by this irresponsible medium of one false message must throw doubt on every message. Certainly Col. Olcott is no occultist whose decision we will accept. Each of us will be left to decide for this, that, or the other message according to fancy. Olcott does not like the one in question because he lives in India, and it is too gallingly true. Perhaps others may like it, and not be willing to accept other messages that contradict their partisan view of the London Lodge papers or metaphysics and science. For my part, the message in question testifies to its genuineness by its text, except for those who are hit by it, or those who have the Indian craze and think themselves Brahmins, or those whose self-interest and comfort are against it.

The message condemns bigotry. The persons to whom it was sent were then of the most theologically bigoted families. They were wondering, like Pharisees, how it was possible that the Mahatmas could communicate with a beef-eating, wine-drinking Sinnett and not with them, who took no such things and never shook hands. To these very points, to their superstitions, to their upholding idolatry, to the horrors of caste, the letter adverts. The whole letter rings true and strong. Were one at all disposed to join Olcott in his absurd explanations by mediumship, this letter is the one that would be selected as true.

If for a moment we accept this view of H.P.B. put forward by Olcott then there is, as she published herself, no certainty about any message. Who is to decide? If she hoodwinked with one message, all may be the same – bogus – and the great force and strength derived from a firm belief in Masters will be swept away, because she, their first messenger to us, is made out a fraud. All this is precisely what Olcott et al. wish to do. He cannot tolerate the idea that H.P.B. was greater than himself, so he throws around her memory the dirty cloak of tricky and irresponsible mediumship. That done, anything can be explained and anything accounted for.

Well, for my part, I will not accept such nonsense, Col. Olcott being incompetent to decide on Mahatmic messages on occult lines, and being a disciple of H.P.B. is certainly much below her. His present utterance settles nothing about her character, about her mediumship or about the message; but it does serve to brand him as an ingrate and to place him plainly in view as one who calls that great teacher a fraud and a medium.

Now let the next and the next come on, so that we may have the lines clearly drawn and the hypocrisies unveiled.


Mrs Besant has sent an advance copy of an article to appear in Lucifer entitled “East and West.” It is a very long article devoted chiefly to William Q. Judge, but in it she takes up the message from the Master to the Allahabad Brahmins, which Col. Olcott deals with in his April Postscript. She says the message is not genuine, and thus walks beside Col. Olcott in abuse of H.P.B., for everyone with correct information knows that the message came through H.P.B.


~ * ~

Olcott’s words about HPB, to which the above was an understandable response, were that it was a “monstrous pretence” to believe that HPB transmitted “only genuine messages from the Masters,” that she was “as human and fallible as either one of us,” that the letter to the Brahmins above mentioned was “deceptive” and produced through mediumship, rather than coming from the Masters, and that “at times she was possessed by evil influences.”

It may be asked why Besant and Olcott had become so strongly opposed to the particular Mahatma Letter from 1881 under discussion. This letter had been sent to a group of Brahmins, sectarian orthodox Hindus, who comprised the main membership of a branch of the Theosophical Society at Allahabad in India, a place which is also known as Prayag, hence this particular letter often being referred to by Theosophists as “the Prayag letter.” It was the only branch or lodge of the Theosophical Society in the whole world which had specifically refused to adopt or accept the first main objective of the Movement, i.e. to form a nucleus of Universal Brotherhood without distinction or discrimination of caste, race, religion, gender, and so forth.

Proud and exclusive, believing their Brahmin caste to have endowed them with spiritual superiority and believing themselves to be entitled to special treatment from the Indian Mahatmas or Masters who were most closely connected with HPB and the Movement she had founded, their actions – or rather, lack of actions on behalf of the Theosophical Cause – had prompted the Master M. to write in one letter, “Then those Prayag theosophists – the Pundits and Babus! They do naught and expect us to correspond with them. Fools and arrogant men.” (“The Mahatma Letters” Letter No. XXXVI, p. 248)

In 1893, two years after the death of HPB, Besant had met one of these Prayag Brahmins, namely G. N. Chakravarti, and was very soon entirely under his psychological and occult influence, eventually believing that he was a Master and Adept himself and trusting him implicitly.

On a visit to India she was officially received into the fold of orthodox Hinduism and it was at his encouragement and injunction that she (a) lost much of her previous respect for HPB and began to criticise, belittle, and depreciate her, both privately and publicly, sometimes in the most awful of ways, (b) turned against William Q. Judge and began – alongside Col. Olcott, who had also fallen under Chakravarti’s influence – the destructive conspiracy against him and all of his students and followers who supported and revered HPB, finally resulting in the first split in the Theosophical Movement in 1895, (c) started presenting her own and contradictory version of “Theosophy” in the place of the original teachings, and (d) began the mass editing and alteration of HPB’s written works, including publishing the “Third and Revised Edition” of “The Secret Doctrine” which was found to contain approximately 40,000 alterations of various sorts from HPB’s original text and later the so-called “Third Volume” of “The Secret Doctrine,” the inclusion of certain material in it having involved her consciously and willingly breaking her Esoteric Section pledge of secrecy, a pledge which had been made on her “most solemn and sacred word of honour” and invoking the Higher Self, and which had been made on the understanding that it was binding for life and for lives.

It was also during what could be called “the Chakravarti period” that Olcott published his volumes of “Old Diary Leaves,” which purport to be “The True History of the Theosophical Society” – and which are blindly accepted as such by Adyar Theosophists and even many misguided researchers and scholars – but which are nothing of the sort.

Those who wish to know the real facts about the history and background of the Theosophical Movement are invited to read these three important books.
Those who wish to know the real facts about the history and background of the Theosophical Movement are invited to read these three important books.

Their repeated inaccuracies, along with their conceited criticisms and belittling misrepresentations of HPB, her character, spiritual status, and intentions, have been shown and discussed in the books “The Theosophical Movement 1875-1925” and “The Theosophical Movement 1875-1950,” the latter of which is available from the ULT. It provides a much wider, more extensive, and fully referenced overview of these and other important matters than can even be attempted in an online article like this. As well as demonstrating painfully but accurately the eventual disloyalty of both Olcott and Besant to the Cause, the Message, and the Messenger of genuine Theosophy, it provides important information about what became known as “The Judge Case.” A huge book by Ernest Pelletier devoted specifically to this subject was published just a few years ago, titled “The Judge Case: A Conspiracy which ruined the Theosophical CAUSE.”

The aforementioned letter, received in 1881 by Chakravarti and others via A. P. Sinnett, was dictated to HPB by the Master M., her own Master and Guru. It is Letter No. CXXXIV in “The Mahatma Letters” and runs from p. 461-464. The Master says:

“I wrote to Sinnett my opinion on the Allahabad theosophists. Adetyarom B. wrote a foolish letter to Damodar and Benemadhab writes a foolish request to Mr Sinnett. Because K.H. chose to correspond with two men, who proved of the utmost importance and use to the Society they all – whether wise or stupid, clever or dull, possibly useful or utterly useless – lay their claims to correspond with us directly – too. Tell him that this must be stopped. For ages we never corresponded with anyone, nor do we mean to. What has Benemadhab or any other of the many claimants done to have a right to such a claim? Nothing whatever. They join the Society, and though remaining as stubborn as ever in their old beliefs and superstitions, and having never given up caste or one single of their customs, they, in their selfish exclusiveness, expect to see and converse with us and have our help in all and everything. I will be pleased if Mr Sinnett says, to everyone of those who may address him with similar pretensions the following: “The ‘Brothers’ desire me to inform one and all of you, natives, that unless a man is prepared to become a thorough theosophist i.e. to do as D. Mavalankar did, – give up entirely caste, his old superstitions and show himself a true reformer (especially in the case of child marriage) he will remain simply a member of the Society with no hope whatever of

Annie Besant with G.N. Chakravarti.
Annie Besant with G. N. Chakravarti.

ever hearing from us. The Society, acting in this directly in accordance with our orders, forces no one to become a theosophist of the IId. Section. It is left with himself and at his choice. It is useless for a member to argue ‘I am one of a pure life, I am a teetotaller and an abstainer from meat and vice. All my aspirations are for good etc.’ and he, at the same time, building by his acts and deeds an impassable barrier on the road between himself and us. What have we, the disciples of the true Arhats, of esoteric Buddhism and of Sang-gyas [Note: the Tibetan name for Buddha] to do with the Shasters and Orthodox Brahmanism? There are 100 of thousands of Fakirs, Sannyasis and Saddhus leading the most pure lives, and yet being as they are, on the path of error, never having had an opportunity to meet, see or even hear of us. Their forefathers have driven away the followers of the only true philosophy upon earth away from India and now, it is not for the latter to come to them but to them to come to us if they want us. Which of them is ready to become a Buddhist, a Nastika as they call us? None. Those who have believed and followed us have had their reward. Mr Sinnett and Hume are exceptions. Their beliefs are no barrier to us for they have none. They may have had influences around them, bad magnetic emanations the result of drink, Society and promiscuous physical associations (resulting even from shaking hands with impure men) but all this is physical and material impediments which with a little effort we could counteract and even clear away without much detriment to ourselves. Not so with the magnetism and invisible results proceeding from erroneous and sincere beliefs. Faith in the Gods and God, and other superstitions attracts millions of foreign influences, living entities and powerful agents around them, with which we would have to use more than ordinary exercise of power to drive them away. We do not choose to do so. We do not find it either necessary or profitable to lose our time waging war to the unprogressed Planetaries who delight in personating gods and sometimes well known characters who have lived on earth. There are Dhyan-Chohans and “Chohans of Darkness,” not what they term devils but imperfect “Intelligences” who have never been born on this or any other earth or sphere no more than the “Dhyan Chohans” have and who will never belong to the “builders of the Universe,” the pure Planetary Intelligences, who preside at every Manvantara while the Dark Chohans preside at the Pralayas. Explain this to Mr Sinnett [Note: this is the Master speaking to HPB, who recorded his words.] – tell him to read over what I said to them in the few things I have explained to Mr Hume; and let him remember that as all in this universe is contrast so the light of the Dhyan Chohans and their pure intelligence is contrasted by the “Ma-Mo Chohans” – and their destructive intelligence. These are the gods the Hindus and Christians and Mahomed and all others of bigoted religions and sects worship; and so long as their influence is upon their devotees we would no more think of associating with or counteracting them in their work than we do the Red-Caps [Note: “Red Caps,” “Red Hats,” and “Red-Capped Brothers of the Shadow” are terms used by the Masters in their letters for certain black magicians and sorcerers belonging primarily to the Nyingmapa and Kagyupa sects of Tibetan Buddhism, both of whom wear red ceremonial hats as opposed to the yellow hats of the Gelugpas, and also referring to the Bon or Bhon sorcerers of Tibet.] on earth whose evil results we try to palliate but whose work we have no right to meddle with so long as they do not cross our path.”

This was also published by Mr Judge in his article “A Mahatma’s Message To Some Brahmans,” to be found in “William Q. Judge Theosophical Articles” Vol. 2.

As can be seen from this and the Masters’ other letters, they are direct and straight to the point, whilst being sufficiently stern and forceful in their tones when necessary. They have no interest in pandering to people’s religious, social, or personal prejudices and preferences but simply say the truth as it is.

As for Chakravarti, Besant eventually parted company with him after some years

Col. Olcott at his desk with framed photo of HPB.
Col. Olcott at his desk with framed photo of HPB.

and sent him away, saying that she had come to realise that he had a dark influence. She then adopted C. W. Leadbeater as her guide and confidant, which was even worse! After having presided over the proceedings in London in 1906 which resulted in Leadbeater being forced out of the Theosophical Society after allegations and confessions of sexual misconduct against young boys, Olcott’s last great mistake in that incarnation was to succumb to Besant’s pressures the following year to have Leadbeater re-admitted and raised to a place of prominence. He died believing that Leadbeater was a chosen agent of the Masters.

In closing, despite his many serious mistakes and faults, Col. Olcott achieved much for the Cause of Theosophy, particularly in the earlier part of his Theosophical career, and also deserves our lasting gratitude and appreciation for his tremendous contribution to the revival of Buddhism and Buddhist philosophy in Asia and elsewhere. But when it comes to the living Theosophical Movement itself, the fact is that this sincere but eventually very misguided man disqualified himself through his own actions from the great respect and reverence in which he would otherwise have been held by all Theosophists everywhere.

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