Second Leo Decanate: Henry Olcott

From the first Aries decanate to the second Leo decanate, the Letters to the Sage correspondents abounded and we had examples every ten days (with the exception of the last Cancerian decanate). From August through February the pace slows considerably with fewer births, more concentrated in individual decanates. Elbert Benjamine singles out Helena Blavatsky as an example of a Sun in the second Leo decanate. Among Thomas Johnson correspondents born in this decanate, her colleague Colonel Olcott stands out as the most relevant. With an ascendant just inside this decanate, I can totally relate to this “explorer world traveler” aspect of both Olcott and Blavatsky, but for them it was a lifelong dislocation from home and family whereas for me it was a short-term detour from a life otherwise devoted to home and family history. (Four planets in the fourth in Scorpio plus two in the third in Libra equals “all the lies and truths told by our ancestors” and “everything the neighbors said about it both clarifying and muddying the record.”)

From The First Eighteen Decanates Analyzed

LEO—2nd Decanate. In the second, or Jupiter, decanate of Leo the inherent quality of dominant control characteristic of Leo is modified by the subinfluence of the sign of the higher mind, Sagittarius. The philosophical and religious elements are more in evidence, and those born here readily recognize the prevalent weaknesses both in current politics and in current religion. And what is more important, they have the courage of their convictions and the power to gain followers for their own progressive ideas.

To picture the ruthless onslaughts with which these people attack both persons and policies that seek to ravage society, CENTAURUS, a being having the lower parts of a horse and the upper parts of a man, is represented among the constellations as impaling on the end of his spear the wolf that pictures the last decanate of Libra. This wolf symbolizes those who use the brilliancy of their intellects to suppress truth and to foist ignorance and superstition upon society that they may profit by its exploitation. As those born in this middle decanate of Leo have the power to convince and lead others, it behooves them to put forth every effort to gain the truth, and to take great care that they do not disseminate erroneous notions.

Madam H. P. Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society, was born with her Individuality here. Mr. J. Malcolmn Mitchel, secretary of the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage, had his Moon in this decanate. And Martin Luther, founder of the Protestant Religion, was born with his Personality polarized to this section of the sky. It is the decanate of REFORMATION.

From Letters to the Sage, Volume One:

Henry Steel Olcott

            Henry Steel Olcott, first president of the Theosophical Society, was born August 1832 in Orange, New Jersey. He attended classes at New York University for one year before going to northern Ohio in 1848, where he spent five years and became familiar with various reform movements, including spiritualism, especially through the Steele brothers of Amherst, Ohio. Upon return to New York in 1853, he worked for James J. Mapes, a spiritualist who was his professor of agricultural chemistry and soon became Olcott’s employer as editor of the Working Farmer. Subsequently his three year tenure on Horace Greeley’s payroll at the Tribune coincided with the beginning of his family life. He married Mary Eplee Morgan, daughter of a New Rochelle Episcopal priest, in 1860 and they had two sons. Olcott was admitted to the New York bar in 1868, specializing in insurance law but also continuing journalistic work. His journalistic interest in spiritualism involved him with the Eddy Brothers of Vermont through whom he met Helena Petrovna Blavatsky in October 1874. He divorced his wife in December and in the following year he and Blavatsky formed the Theosophical Society with the support of about twenty colleagues. They two left New York at the end of 1878 and established TS headquarters in Bombay in early 1879, and subsequently relocated to Madras in 1882. Blavatsky left India permanently in 1885 and died in London in May 1891. A power struggle involving William Q. Judge and Annie Besant had led Olcott to resign his office briefly in January 1892, but he rescinded his resignation in August of that year. He died in office February 17, 1907.

            The Theosophical Society expanded dramatically in India and Ceylon under Olcott’s leadership, and his letters to Johnson reflect different stages of its success. Olcott wrote four letters to Johnson in 1882, one in 1898 and another in 1902, which allows a longitudinal view of Johnson’s relationship with Olcott and the TS. He seems to have been interested in Blavatsky’s Mahatmas in Tibet only as teachers who could be reached independently of her phenomena. Olcott’s response to Johnson contains a deflection of Johnson’s inquiry on the issue and an assertion that the Tibetan Mahatmas were inherently inaccessible by normal worldly means. Olcott’s second 1882 letter reveals that Johnson had persisted in his effort to make contact with the teachings of adepts in Tibet through other channels than Blavatsky, inquiring about the “Stambroul” (a transcription of the source usually rendered as Kangyur/Tangur). In October 1882 Olcott was once again in Ceylon, one year after the publication of the Buddhist Catechism, and his activities there were over the objections of Blavatsky. Another several months elapsed before another letter in which we see evidence of Olcott admiring the Concord School of Philosophy and specifically Alexander Wilder’s contributions to its activities. Johnson’s Platonist had been intended to coincide with the first session; the session discussed in the correspondence of 1882 was the final one presided over by Bronson Alcott. 

            By 1898, several years had elapsed since Johnson abandoned the TS, and he continued to be actively involved with the H.B. of L., but he wrote to Olcott in a friendly manner as is evident from the tone of the reply. Johnson has inquired about obtaining a Buddha figure, which Olcott has attempted to do for him as reported from Ceylon four years later in 1902; the statue has not yet been provided but Johnson has presumably reminded Olcott of the promised “Buddha Rupa” and the colonel has now attended an auction but failed to find a feasible way to fulfill his promise.

Headquarters Theos. Socy[1]


January 5, 1882

My Dear Sir.

            To our great regret Madame Blavatsky has for the moment mislaid your friendly letter of recent date respecting the means of getting to L’hassa, and she asks me to answer it in general terms by the mail.

            It is not only impossible to reach the Tibetan capital—a far inland city—by water, but also—except for initiates or their accepted neophytes of European [birth?] to get there at all. It is the present stronghold of Esoteric science, and any inroad of unmystical, not to say impure, foreigners would be Equivalent to the adepts being driven to some other and more inaccessible retreat. The devotees of material and spiritual study are incompatible with each other, and in close propinquity the less rude are crowded out as the fabled Indian was off his log by the paleface. Despite the position and resources of the British in India only three Englishmen ever penetrated to the interior of Tibet, and of these the one who really saw any thing of the kind you and ourselves are interested in—Mr Manning[2]—Kept his lips sealed until his death as to his experiences. The project, therefore, of yourself and friends for an ocean trip to Asia in search of occult knowledge is impracticable. The doors of the temple are assuredly open, but only those can enter who have learned the secret during the prescribed long course of neophism.

            Sympathising most cordially in your unselfish effort to popularize Eastern philosophy in its Platonic garb among our American people

            I am Very truly yours

            H.S. Olcott

Theosophical Society, President’s Office


 April 8,[3] 1882

Dear Sir

            The venerable and universally respected Balm Peary Chand Mittra[4] happened to be in my room when I read your favor of the 20th Feb. He very kindly said he would send you copies of his three works on Spl philosophy,[5] so I gave him you address and you will no doubt hear from him. Should you review them please send him a copy of the paper.[6] His address is: Sec’y Calcutta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 111 Radhabazar, Calcutta. My Buddhist Catechism (English Edn)[7] is out of print here and the new edn will not be out for some months, as time will not permit my revising it. You can get a copy from Messirs Trubner and Co, Publishers, London and New York. The Raja Yoga pamphlet is not to be had.[8] The Dnyaneshwari[9] I will cause enquiries to be made about at Bombay.

            I am overworked. We now have 30 Branch Societies established in India alone, and 8 in Ceylon.

            F’ly yours

            H Olcott

Theosophical Society, President’s Office


6 V. `82 [most likely May 6]

Dear Sir.

            Yours of Mch 19th. The Stan-gyour is—so far as we know—not yet rendered into English. There is a translation of portions of it from the Bouriat version into Russian by the scholar Vasilief,[10] and for this you must address yourself to the Imperial Academy of Sciences at St Petersburg.

            My colleague and I thank you heartily for your sympathetic expression respecting our work in Asia. You will be glad to learn that the venomous attacks of Mr J. Cook[11] have given our Society a marvelous impetus, and that we are growing stronger every day. We have just founded a Branch at Madras with over 100 members.

            Ffy yours

            H.S. Olcott

Theosophical Society, President’s Office

 Keembiya (Ceylon)

 October 6, 1882

Dear Mr Johnson.

            Yours of Aug 15. Thanks, very much, for your approving remarks upon my answer to Swami Daynand.[12] His attack was as unexpected as would be that of a friend with whom one might be walking and who should suddenly turn and give one a whack over the head with his stick. We have “a hard row to hoe”, what with the missionaries and their friends, and the reactionists and humbugs of all sorts. But I must not expatiate to one who of course has been going through like experiences these many years.

            What a noble discourse was Dr Wilder’s at Concord! But why do not your party go back of Plato and Plato’s Master and successor to Plato’s Masters and predecessors, the sages of the Himarat Himavat? The river-source is at the mountain spring, and the river of human though came from the Asian schools.

            Ffy yours

            H.S. Olcott

The T.S. does not print the volume of my lectures. I will ask the Madras publisher to send a few copies to Colby and R[13] on sale, and you can order of them.

Ontam in South India, Negapatam

August 15, 1898

Dear Mr Johnson

            I was glad to hear from you once more after so long a break, and to feel that your vigor of body and mind is unimpaired. Yes, the T.S. is going ahead with ever increasing momentum. Last year I issued 64 new Branch charters—a larger number than in any one previous year, and our sky is more clear. You do not tell me how your Platonic movement gets on. Wilder wrote me recently and kindly offered to send me something for the Theosophist. If you are not too much engaged will you not do likewise for old times’ sake?

            I shall keep in mind the promised “Buddha rupa” and send one when I can.

            Yours truly

            HS Olcott

Theosophical Society, President’s Office


 November 26, 1902

Dear Mr. Johnson

            Yours of 26 Oct: thanks for kind words.

            At an auction yesterday was sold a bronze sitting figure of the Buddha and I bid for it on your behalf. But the price ran up to R 28=$9 and that was too much for my purpose: besides which the weight was so great that it would have made the cost of transport prohibitive. So I let it go. When the chance appears I would shall send you a smaller statuette.

            R.C. Bary[14] was alive at last accounts, but not taking an active part in the T.S. or the Arya Samaj.

            I do not know if ever Damodar[15] will be sent back. Should not be surprised if he came at about the time when the Masters take me away.

            Yours truly

            HS Olcott

[1] This was handwritten.

[2] Thomas Manning (1772-1840), the first Briton to enter Lhasa in Tibet.

[3] Handwriting unclear; possibly August 4.

[4] Peary Chand Mitra (1814-1883), an Indian writer and activist, first Bengali Theosophist.

[5] That is, spiritual philosophy. These works were presumably The Spiritual Stray Leaves (1879), Stray Thought of Spiritualism (1879), and Life of Dewan Ramkamal Sen (1880).

[6] The Platonist

[7] Originally published in 1881.

[8] This was almost certainly Sabhapaty’s Vedantic Raj Yoga book; see the introduction to this volume.

[9] A thirteenth-century commentary on the Bhagavad Gita.

[10]Vasily P. Vasiliev (1818-1900) authored a three-volume history of Buddhism that was published from 1857 through 1869 in Russian and later translated into French and German; he also translated a Mongolian travel book about Tibet in 1895.

[11]The Reverend Joseph Cook, an American missionary, had attacked the TS, Hinduism, and Buddhism in public lectures during 1882 that generated press controversy in both India and Ceylon.

[12]A supplement to the July 1882 issue of the Theosophist consisted of a defense by Olcott against charges made in an attack by Swami Dayananda Sarasvati.

[13] The publisher, Colby and Rich.

[14] See his biography and letters in this volume.

[15] See his letter in this volume.