Table of Contents Charles Webster Leadbeater 1854-1934
A Biographical Study
by Gregory John Tillett
Table of Contents
Chapter 5: The Influence of Madame Blavatsky
It was Leadbeater's meeting with Helena Petrovna Blavatsky that really gave impetus to his Theosophical career, and led to his separation from the Church of England. At the time of his first meeting with her the London Lodge was engaged in considerable in-fighting over differences between the doctrines expounded by the President of the Lodge, Dr Anna Kingsford, and Mr Sinnett, the Lodge's actual leader.  The formalized orthodoxy which developed within the TS in later years - especially after the publication of HPB's magnum opus, The Secret Doctrine, - was at this time unknown. Individual teachers tended to present their own interpretations of the rather tenuous "Ancient Wisdom", and it was left to HPB, as the agent of the Masters, to decide which interpretations were acceptable in cases of conflict.
On April 7, 1884, the night appointed for the election of officers of the London Lodge, the disputes between the Sinnett and Kingsford factions developed into open argument. Colonel Olcott presided, and Mr G.B. Finch was elected President, with Mr Sinnett as Vice-President and Secretary, and Miss Francesca Arundale as Treasurer.  One of the members of the Council was Sir William Crookes. Dr Kingsford was distinctly angry at having lost the presidency
of the Lodge and the meeting was uncomfortably tense.
The tension was broken by an unexpected arrival:
" ...suddenly and sharply the door opposite to us opened, and a stout lady in black came quickly in and seated herself at the outer end of our bench. She sat listening to the wrangling on the platform for a few minutes, and then began to exhibit distinct signs of impatience. As there seemed to be no improvement in sight, she jumped up from her seat, shouted in a military command the one word 'Mohini' , and then walked straight out of the door into the passage. The stately and dignified Mohini came rushing down that long room at his highest speed and as he reached the passage he threw himself incontinently flat on his face on the floor at the feet of the lady in black. Many people arose in confusion, not knowing what was happening; but a moment later Mr Sinnett himself came running to the door, and went out and exchanged a few words and then, re-entering the room, he stood up at the end of our bench and spoke in a ringing voice the fateful words: 'Let me introduce to the London Lodge as a whole - Madam Blavatsky.' The scene was indescribable; the
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members, wildly delighted and yet half-awed at the same time, clustered round our great Founder, some kissing her hand, several kneeling before her, and two or three weeping hysterically." 
After some minutes of wild adulation, HPB - thought to be in Paris until her dramatic entry - took over the platform and the meeting, and restored order. She demanded an explanation of the unsatisfactory state of the meeting, and summarily closed it, taking the officers into conference with her privately. The rest of the members departed in what Leadbeater described as a "state of wild excitement". Since Leadbeater had been invited to stay the night with the Sinnetts, he remained behind to witness the discussions between HPB, Dr Kingsford and Sinnett. The situation was finally resolved when Dr Kingsford received an order to establish her own "Hermetic Lodge", while Sinnett took charge of the London Lodge. 
After the party retired to the Sinnetts' house, Leadbeater was presented to HPB, and Sinnett told her of Leadbeater's letter to the spiritualist journal, Light, in which he supported and defended the concept of the Masters.  She seemed pleased and commented:
"I don't think much of the clergy, for I find most
of them hypocritical, bigoted and stupid; but that was a brave action, and I thank you for it. You have made a good beginning, perhaps we may do something yet." 
Leadbeater was overawed by her presence, and "listened eagerly to every word that fell from her lips", as a result of which, he reflected in later years, he learnt a good deal. He felt that he had found, if not one of the Masters of the Wisdom, at least one of their close disciples.
"The impression that she made was indescribable. I can well understand that some people were afraid of her. She looked straight through one; she obviously saw everything there was in one - and there are men who do not like that. I have heard her make sometimes very disconcerting revelations about those to whom she spoke.... Prodigious force was the first impression, and perhaps courage, outspokenness, and straightforwardness were second." 
On October 30, 1884, Leadbeater travelled to London to bid farewell to HPB, who was preparing to leave for India on November 1. He stayed the night at the Sinnetts', and that evening was informed by HPB that the
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Master DK said a reply to his letter to the Master KH had been sent to him.  No doubt Leadbeater had made his correspondence to the Master generally known in the Lodge and HPB would have been aware of it. HPB told him nothing of the contents of the reply, and so on the morning of October 31 he hurried back to Bramshott by train. The promised letter was waiting for him:
"Last spring - March 3rd - you wrote a letter to me and entrusted it to 'Ernest'. Tho' the paper itself never reached me - nor was it ever likely to considering the nature of the messenger - its contents have. I did not answer it at that time, but sent you a message through Upasika [i.e. HPB]. In that message of yours you said that since reading Esot. Bud: and Isis your 'one great wish has been to place yourself under me as a chela, so that you may learn more of the truth.' 'I understand from Mr S.' you went on 'that it would be impossible to become a chela without going to India.' You hoped to be able to do so in a few years, tho' for the present ties of gratitude bind you to remain in this country. 
The Theosophical theory at the time held that it was necessary for a pupil or chela to spent seven years during a
probationary period living in India, a country believed not only to be more spiritual than the materialist West, but also to be the home of several Masters.  Accordingly, many Theosophists looked to India with great longing, and wanted to travel to the mystic East. In his letter to Leadbeater, however, KH declared that it was not necessary to go to India, and talked about the moral qualities necessary for acceptance as a chela.
While there seemed to be no special problem with Leadbeater's morals, the fact that he was a clergyman did create a difficulty, much as it had done when he had first applied to join the TS. KH explained:
"There is also the collective karma of the caste you belong to to be considered. It is undeniable that the cause you have at heart is now suffering owing to the dark intrigues, the base conspiracy of the Christian clergy and missionaries against the Society. They will stop before nothing to ruin the reputation of the Founders. Are you willing to atone for their sins Then go to Adyar for a few months. 'The ties of gratitude' will not sever or even become weakened for an absence of a few months if the step be explained plausibly to your relative. He who would shorten the years of
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probation must make some sacrifices for theosophy." 
The envelope in which the letter from KH had been posted bore the postmark "Kensington CX OC 30 84", indicating that it had been posted in Kensington, a district in the west of London, on October 30, 1884. In response to suggestions that it was strange that a letter purporting to come from a Master in Tibet should have been posted not far from the home of HPB in London, it has been explained that the letter "seems to have been sent to somebody in London to post"; the stamp had been put in the bottom right hand corner. Underneath the address, "The Rev'd C.W. Leadbeater, Liphook" had been written an "E", subsequently crossed out, and the word "Hants.", the standard abbreviation for Hampshire, written.
The reference in the letter to the "dark intrigues" and the "base conspiracy" was to troubles besetting the TS at its Indian headquarters. Christian missionaries, displeased at the spectacle of Englishmen travelling to the orient to sit at the feet of teachers of those religions from which the missionaries sought to make converts, sought to take action against the Society and its founders. Not only were they outraged by the encouragement the TS was giving to the native religions, but also by the
bad publicity (from their point of view) resulting from any acknowledgement by Westerners that oriental philosophies or religions had more than a curiosity value. At this time the East tended to be collectively dismissed as amongst the barbaric and primitive superstitions of African tribes and other uncivilized realms as yet unreached by the British Empire and the accompanying gospel of the Church of England. An interest in bizarre religions in anything other than an anthropological spirit was not only bad for the prospective native converts to Christianity, it was also undignified and politically dangerous.
The missionaries also regarded HPB as a charlatan and a fraud, and, probably worse, immoral. Charges of immorality and fraud followed her throughout her Theosophical career, much as they would later pursue Leadbeater. He, no doubt, saw something of a challenge in being a convert from the Established Church to a very anti-establishment philosophy, though, of course, the TS in 1884 represented only the educated upper-middle classes, and was, in morals and manners, if not in philosophy, very Establishment. The early English Theosophists may have been excited by hints of HPB's immorality and her Bohemian lifestyle, but their public reputations could not allow them to follow her in anything more practical than metaphysics. The Society in its early years was a semi-secret society for
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the upper-middle classes, and this certainly added to the indignation of the British missionaries in India. 
Filled with enthusiasm and anxious to devote his life to the service of the Masters, Leadbeater hurried back to London the day after he received the letter. He hoped to be able to send a reply to KH via HPB. At first HPB refused even to read the letter, saying that such things were private, but at Leadbeater's insistence she finally did so, and asked him what reply he proposed to make. He wanted to say that he was willing to give up his career in the Church and go to India, to devote himself entirely to the Master's service, but that it would be some three months before his affairs could be put in order to allow him to do so. HPB assured him that, because of her close association with the Master, he would immediately be aware of Leadbeater's reply, and would answer in the near future. For this reason, she warned Leadbeater, he must stay near her at all times until the reply was forthcoming, and not leave her for even a moment. Thus he accompanied her while she donned her coat and hat for a carriage ride, and sat, uncomfortably cramped, beside her huge bulk as they travelled to a meeting in the home of Mrs Cooper-Oakley.  Whilst HPB was seated in an armchair before the fire in the Cooper-Oakley's drawing room, casually rolling a cigarette , her hand jerked strangely, and a small mass of whitish mist formed on her
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palm, condensing into a piece of folded paper. She handed it to Leadbeater, saying: "There is your answer." Despite the curiosity of the assembled group, HPB ordered Leadbeater out of the room to read his note, instructing him to reveal the contents to no-one. The letter read:
"Since your intuition led you in the right direction and made you understand that it was my desire you should go to Adyar immediately, I may say more. The sooner you go the better. Do not lose one day more than you can help. Sail on the 5th if possible. Join Upasika at Alexandria. Let no one know that you are going, and may the blessing of our Lord and my poor blessing shield you from every evil in your new life. Greeting to you, my new chela. K.H." 
As Leadbeater commented, "In occult terms, to hear is to obey" and he resolved to carry out Master's direction immediately.
HPB left London that day for Liverpool, and Leadbeater spent the day going from one shipping office to another trying to arrange a passage for himself. Eventually he found that the only available passage was on the Messageries Maritime's S.S. Erymanthe, which sailed from
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Marseilles to Alexandria. This meant that he had to leave London on the night of November 4th. He hurried back to his Hampshire parish to gather his belongings together, and make the necessary arrangements for his departure. No doubt his uncle was astonished to be informed that Leadbeater was severing all connection with the Church and his family, and leaving England in three days to go to India; he never saw his uncle again. For Leadbeater, the break with the Established Church must have been both painful and extremely exciting.
All his church activities had to be given up; he ceased to be headmaster, choirmaster, Sunday school director, organizer of boys' clubs. He returned to London on December 1, buying his clothes for the tropics, and returning in the afternoon to spend the evening with his two favourite boys. On the 2nd he took his last Sunday services at Bramshott, and stayed up until 3.00 a.m. with the two boys, as he also did after a fireworks display on the 3rd. On the 4th he left Bramshott at 8.16 a.m., and departed from Charing Cross at 9.05 p.m., being seen off by Mohini and Miss Arundale. After a Channel crossing described as "very stormy" he reached France, and boarded a train for Paris. He had not slept since making his decision to follow HPB. After reaching Paris at 6.00 a.m. on the 5th, he left for Marseilles, and boarded the French steamer Erymanthe for
The voyage through the Mediterranean was rough, but Leadbeater spent his time reading and re-reading Esoteric Buddhism , commenting in his recollections of the trip, "we were fairly thorough in our studies in those days." Arriving at Alexandria he found the authorities preparing to quarantine all passengers for five days because of rumours of cholera at Marseilles, and he was taken away by the Egyptian officials to some barracks at Ramleh where the passengers were charged a pound a day for what Leadbeater described as "very unsatisfactory accommodation". After several days under very trying circumstances, and alarmed at the prospect of missing HPB and her party, Leadbeater was also to get a letter [from] the British Consul, who informed him that HPB was waiting for him at Port Said. He eventually arrived on the Erymanthe, and was met by Mr Cooper-Oakley and taken to the hotel where HPB greeted him enthusiastically, saying: "Well, Leadbeater, so you have really come in spite of all the difficulties." He replied, in correct English manner, that when he made a promise he made of point of trying to keep it. But HPB was pleased with his appearance for less than altruistic reasons: she was returning to India specifically to reply to attacks on her character and the Society by Christian missionaries, and saw it as something of a triumph that she should arrive
accompanied by a clergyman of the Established Church who had become her disciple.
Following directions from the Master, HPB and her group went to Cairo via the Suez Canal. In the course of an uncomfortable and unpleasant journey, partly in a small boat and partly in a train, Leadbeater was the recipient of yet another communication from the Master KH. During the railway journey from Ismailia to Cairo, HPB precipitated a letter from KH with a message for Leadbeater:
"Tell Leadbeater I am satisfied with his zeal and devotion." 
They stayed for several days in Cairo where HPB, assisted by Leadbeater, found material for use against Mr and Mrs Coulomb, former employees and friends of hers who had made accusations of fraud against her.  The Coulombs claimed that HPB had sought their assistance in fraudulently producing messages from the Masters by using a cuaboard in the shrine room on the TS estate at Adyar. They also claimed to have assisted her in producing alleged manifestations of psychic powers, including appearances of the Masters and letters purporting to come from them.
In May, 1884, the Society for Psychical Research
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[the SPR] appointed a committee to investigate the phenomena associated with the TS, and HPB, Colonel Olcott and others appeared to give evidence before the committee in London. In November, 1884, an investigator from the SPR, Richard Hodgson, visited Adyar, interviewed various people, including the Coulombs, and examined the shrine room.  He returned to London in April, 1885, to present his report to the SPR, and the committee enquiring into the Theosophical phenomena presented its conclusions at the SPR's general meeting on June 24th of that year.  They concluded with regard to HPB:
"For our own part, we regard her neither as the mouthpiece of hidden seers, nor as a mere vulgar adventuress; we think she has achieved a title to permanent remembrance as one of the most accomplished, ingenious, and interesting imposters in history." 
Controversy still surrounds the report of the SPR and its conclusions, and the SPR itself has declared these findings - as with all its reports - to be the responsibility of those who produced them. 
However, this controversy was still in the future, and no doubt HPB hoped to avoid it by casting
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sufficient doubt upon the credibility of the principal witnesses against her, ably assisted by a clergyman. One evening, sitting in HPB's room sorting papers, Leadbeater was startled to notice a figure standing in the room, and even more startled to be introduced to the figure as the Master DK. HPB commented scathingly: "A nice occultist! You will not go far on the path of occultism if you are so easily startled at a little thing like that." It was Leadbeater's first meeting with a Master, and marked the beginning of an association that was to continue for some fifty years until his death - or so he said.
During their stay in Cairo HPB's party mixed with both the elegant society of the Egyptian upper classes, including dinners with the Prime Minister and the Russian consul, and with the fringes of society where the more interesting and the bizarre could be found. Leadbeater witnessed what he described as "many curious phenomena" constantly taking place around [HPB] - including the mediumistic reception of messages, the use of HPB's body by other entities, automatic writing, the precipitation of money, paintings, drawings and writings.  The closeness of things psychic gradually faded from the TS, as Leadbeater noted with nostalgia:
"In the early days of the Society messages and
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instructions from the Masters were frequent, and we lived at a level of splendid enthusiasm which those who have joined since Madame Blavatsky's death can hardly imagine." 
During the few weeks of their voyage, HPB totally transformed and remade Leadbeater's personality, changing him from an "ordinary lawn tennis playing curate - well meaning and conscientious, I believe, but shy and retiring"  into a pupil of the Masters. Her methods were "drastic and distinctly unpleasant" he later recalled, but effective. On one occasion she ordered him to carry a chamber pot, complete with its contents, around the deck of the vessel, to the amazement, not to say the horror, of the other passengers as they basked in the morning sun. Whether this was an effective means of tempering him against the influence of public opinion, or merely the manifestation of a rather strange sense of humour on HPB's part, is unclear. 
The party eventually left Cairo and journeyed on to Port Said where they embarked on the vessel Navarino. On December 17th, they arrived at Columbo where Colonel Olcott was waiting for them, and were introduced to the leading officials of the Society. Leadbeater had at last set foot in the mystic East. He had come a long way - geographically and
psychologically, and not least of all theologically - from St Mary's Parish church in Brainshott.
But he had only just begun to travel.
Table of Contents Charles Webster Leadbeater 1854-1934
A Biographical Study
by Gregory John Tillett
Table of Contents