Adyar International Convention - 1885
Adyar – International Convention 1885

History of the International Theosophical Society

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky was a Russian woman of noble birth and the first woman from that country to become an American citizen.

Colonel Henry Steel Olcott was a veteran of the American Civil War and a successful special investigator for the Government into corruption in the armed service during that war. He was member of a commission assigned to investigate the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, an internationally renowned authority on certain branches of agriculture, and a well-known practising attorney. His was the administrative genius which built the Society into an international organization whereas Blavatsky’s task was that of bringing the spiritual wisdom of the East, along with forgotten Western mysteries, to the Western world, where they were virtually unknown at that time.

Associated with these two was William Quan Judge, a young New York attorney and together they formed the Theosophical Society on November 17, 1875. In 1879, two of the founders, Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott, moved to India and, in 1882, transferred the international headquarters of the Society to Adyar, a suburb of Madras (now Chennai) where it has since remained. It was incorporated in Chennai on April 3, 1905. The Society presently has branches in fifty six countries throughout the world.

History of the Theosophical Society in Canada

In 1924, the Canadian Federation of the Theosophical Society was established in this country and was issued a certificate by the International Headquarters at Adyar. On April 29th, 1999 we were confirmed as a Regional Association and on August 2nd, 2001, the Canadian Federation was incorporated under the Canada Corporations Act, now known as the NFP Act, as the Canadian Theosophical Association (CTA). The CTA is the official representative within Canada of the Theosophical Society at Adyar. It is an integral and indivisible part of the Theosophical Society, but is constituted as an autonomous body composed of members-at-large, study centers, and lodges or branches. These last two are fully autonomous bodies within the CTA, provided however, that no lodge or study center may take any action which is contrary to the purposes of the Theosophical Society and must abide by the rules and regulations of the International Society and of the Canadian Theosophical Association.

The Emblem of the Theosophical Society

The emblem of the Theosophical Society is composed of a number of symbols, all of which have been used from very ancient times to express profound spiritual and philosophical concepts about humanity and the universe. They are found in a variety of forms in the great religions of the world, and their universality is further shown by their appearance in widely separated cultures. 

Each symbol studied separately will yield a wealth of understanding. Taken together, as in this emblem, they suggest a vast evolutionary scheme embracing the whole of nature, physical and spiritual, and their study may lead the serious inquirer to contemplate some of the deepest mysteries of existence. 

Partly because of their antiquity and partly because of the difficulty of establishing their origin, the symbols cannot be interpreted with a narrow precision. The interpretation here offered is to be taken as suggestive of the truths they seek to convey rather than as an exact statement of their meaning.

The Ankh

In the centre of the two interlaced triangles is what is known as the ankh (or the Crux Ansata). This comprises a circle surmounting the Tau Cross (the type of cross which follows the shape of the letter ‘T’). The ankh is an Egyptian symbol of great antiquity and portrays the resurrection of the spirit out of its encasement of matter, otherwise expressed as the triumph of life over death, of spirit over matter, and of good over evil. This concept of the ‘Resurrection’ is found in all the great religions.

The Aum 

Above the emblem, apart from the symbols that comprise it, are the Sanskrit letters of the sacred word “AUM.” This depicts the One in Three, the Trinity. There is also the idea of the creative Word or Logos sounding throughout and sustaining the universe: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” 

The Serpent

The serpent is the timeless symbol of the highest spiritual wisdom. Swallowing its tail, it is a symbol of regeneration. It is the self-born, the circle of infinite wisdom, life and immortality. The circle itself is an ancient symbol of eternity and represents the Absolute, the unmanifested universe containing the potentials of all form. As representative of the infinite sphere, the “world egg” of archaic cosmology, this symbol is found in every world religion and philosophy.

The Swastika

Placed here at the head of the serpent, it is another of the numerous forms in which the cross is found. It is the fiery cross, with arms of whirling flames revolving clockwise which represent the tremendous energies of nature incessantly creating and dissolving the forms through which the evolutionary process takes place. In religions which recognize three aspects of deity or Logos, the swastika is associated with the third aspect, the Third Person of the Trinity, who is the Creator: Brahma in Hinduism and the Holy Ghost, or Spirit, in Christianity. Again, spirit and matter are represented by the two lines forming the cross, and the four hooks suggest the motion of the revolving cycles. Applied to humanity, this figure shows us as the link between heaven and earth, one hand pointing toward heaven and the other towards earth.

The Interlaced Triangles

Often called the Double Triangle and known in the Hebrew religion as the Seal of Solomon or the Star of David, it symbolizes the three facets of the manifestation which is known as the Trinity in various religions. It is personified in Christianity as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost; in Hinduism as Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma. The darker of the two triangles, which is downward pointing, and the higher one, which is upward pointing, symbolize respectively the descent of the presence of God into matter and its ascent out of matter into spirit. It is the perpetual opposition between the light and the dark forces in nature and in man. Surrounding the emblem runs the motto of the Theosophical Society, ‘There is no Religion Higher than Truth.’ Truth is the quest of every Theosophist, whatever their faith, and every great religion reflects in some measure the light of the one eternal and spiritual wisdom. 

The emblem as a whole symbolizes the Absolute, God transcendent and immanent, transcendent meaning that which is in and beyond creation in the AUM that overshadows the cycle of manifestation – the serpent, energized by the divine activity represented by the swastika. Within this field of manifestation, the linked triangles of spirit and matter enshrine the symbol of immortality, the ankh, God immanent, meaning that which is indwelling in all created form. 

The above information is but a fraction of the great range and depth of meaning contained in the emblem of the Society. The study of its symbolism is almost inexhaustible. Those wishing to pursue this study in greater detail are referred to The Theosophical Seal by Arthur M. Coon. The Hastings Dictionary of Religion and Ethics also contains useful information on symbolism in general and on particular symbols.