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Theosophist, The

(PUB.). A monthly periodical issued by The Theosophical Society (TS), Adyar.

Some four years after the founding of the TS, the President, Henry S. Olcott and Recording Secretary Helena P. Blavatsky were finding it difficult to keep up with the flood of correspondence they received and so they decided to publish a magazine in which many of the matters raised in correspondence might be dealt with. In July 6, 1879, they issued a Prospectus which reads, in part:

“The rapid growth of the Theosophical Society — a body which was organized at New York in 1875 to promote the study of the universal arcane philosophy, and especially the secret sciences of Oriental nations — and the transfer of its executive offices to Bombay, render necessary the publication of the present journal.”

A cover was designed, articles chosen, format decided upon and Blavatsky and Olcott worked intensively to deliver the first 400 copies in September 1879. The cover, designed by Edward Wimbridge, bore the title and description:

The Theosophist. A monthly journal devoted to Oriental Philosophy, Art, Literature and Occultism, embracing Mesmerism, Spiritualism, and other Secret Sciences. Conducted by H. P. Blavatsky, Bombay, India.

The first format was 13 inches (33cm) by 9 inches (24cm). The first issue, dated October 1879, was 32 pages in length.

The first issue was well received and subscribers totaled 381. It was decided to print 750 copies of the November issue. The second issue in November rapidly ran out of stock and had to be reprinted.

The October 1885 issue changed size to that of octavo and the description on the title page now read, “A Magazine of Oriental Philosophy, Art, Literature and Occultism. Conducted by H. P. Blavatsky.”

Blavatsky held the editorship of the magazine until 1887 when she handed it to Olcott. She had left India for reasons of health in 1885 and found it difficult to continue as Editor of a journal published so far away. Olcott was Editor until his death in 1907. On December 17, 1905, Olcott made an indenture, or deed, transferring ownership of The Theosophist and the Theosophical Publishing House to the TS with the proviso that the President of the TS shall have control of the magazine and net profits shall be at the disposal of the President.

After the death of Olcott, the Editorship passed to Annie Besant, who, in 1908, began the Watch-Tower series which has continued until the present time. Besant had occasion to emphasize that The Theosophist was not the official organ of the TS, but a means of communication between the President and the members.

In 1909, under the editorship of Besant, the magazine first showed the picture of Lucifer, the Light-Bringer, which it continued to carry for many years. In 1911 Besant reported that the circulation had risen to 4,000 per month, but the war years 1914-18 forced economy measures which reduced the size and the circulation considerably; the content also suffered from severe censorship imposed by the Government. In 1917 the Editor, Besant, was interned and responsibility devolved on others. By 1923 the circulation had dropped to just over 2,000. In 1930 it was announced that The Theosophist would be divided into two — The International Theosophist to be published in the US and The Adyar Theosophist from Adyar, but the change was short-lived and Besant announced in the following year that publication of the international edition would revert to Adyar.

In 1934, following the death of Besant, George Arundale, the third President of the TS, became editor and announced that the format would be slightly increased to that of the National Geographic magazine and there would be two columns per page. Arundale died in 1945 and Curuppumullage Jinarajadasa became President and Editor of the magazine until 1953 when he relinquished office in favor of the new President N. Sri Ram. In Sri Ram’s custody the magazine pursued a traditional approach to content and no significant changes took place. Sri Ram died in 1973 and the Editorship passed to John Coats who changed the format to the larger size of 8½ (21.2cm) by 10 (27cm) inches and three column page layout with features such as “Reader’s Forum” which gave theosophists opportunity to comment on TS affairs. Coats passed away in 1979 and was succeeded as President by Sri Ram’s daughter, Radha Burnier who assumed office in 1980 and of course, editorship of the journal. Burnier elected to change the format once again to approximately 7¼ (18.3cm) by 9¾ (24.5cm) inches with two columns each page.

In its more than 121 years of existence, the editors have largely followed a traditional policy of a conservative approach to material selected and the articles have, in the main, been devoted to theosophy and the religions with less frequent attention to social matters and current ethical considerations. However, a casual scrutiny of the contents will discover a very wide range of subjects dealt with including Art, Biography, Education, Literature, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Science, Social Reconstruction, and Theosophy. The Editors have undoubtedly elected to pursue a policy which rejects the sensational approach or the trivialization of important subjects and as a result the circulation has rarely exceeded about ten per cent of the total membership. The files of the journal undoubtedly represent a very rich source of archival material and have been used by a succession of biographers and historians. Accessibility of material has been a problem for researchers in the past, but a consolidated index has been prepared which is available on computer floppy disk.


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