By Richard B. Spence, Ph.D., University of Idaho
Aleister Crowley was the most famous example of the murky connection between secret societies, occultism, and espionage, but by no means was he the only one. Several Theosophists colluded with intelligence agencies, and, in many cases, Crowley comes into the picture as well. Let’s learn more about Theosophy and how it’s connected to occultism and espionage.
Helena Blavatsky and the founding of Theosophy
Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, who was born in Russia, was the founder of Theosophy. Basically, Blavatsky mixed Western occultism with elements of Hinduism and Buddhism to create an exotic system of spiritual enlightenment.
She was inspired by her great-grandfather, Pavel Dolgoruki, a Freemason and Rosicrucian, who possessed a library of rare and occult books. Blavatsky established the Theosophical Society in New York in 1875, assisted by men like the socialist journalist Charles Sotheran, who was yet another Freemason and Rosicrucian.
Theosophy, or divine wisdom, sought to create a ‘universal syncretic religion’. Blavatsky did much to popularize Hinduism and Buddhism in the West, and she is the mother of the New Age movement.
Theosophists believe that spiritual evolution is guided by ascended masters, or mahatmas. Blavatsky gave them exotic names like Koot Humi and Master Morya, and portrayed them as quasi-divine beings levitating somewhere in the Himalayas.
Blavatsky’s mahatmas were basically identical to Aleister Crowley’s secret chiefs. They even belonged to the same Great White Lodge, which—in Blavatsky’s version—functioned as an inner government of the world. And they were opposed by the same evil Black Lodge.
Blavatsky claimed to channel the mahatmas by using her powers as a medium. She produced letters from them, apparently written in different hands. However, Blavatsky’s claims came under the scrutiny of the Society for Psychical Research, or SPR, which investigated claims of the paranormal and supernatural—especially mediums.
In 1886, the SPR branded Blavatsky a fake and liar. They detailed how she’d concocted the mahatma letters and other evidence. Blavatsky’s reputation never quite recovered, but most of her followers stuck with her.
As it turns out, Blavatsky’s masters weren’t entirely fictional. Invented names disguised real persons. For instance, her co-founder, Charles Sotheran, was a master, as was her great-grandfather. Another was the Italian nationalist, revolutionary, and Freemason, Giuseppe Mazzini. The masters also included Indian nationalists and members of the revolutionary secret society, the Carbonari.
Theosophy was to be a stepping stone to a brotherhood of humanity; a new world order based on enlightened spiritual principles. But there wasn’t anything democratic about it. The masters ruled, and everyone else obeyed.
Learn more about secret societies: the underworld of history.
Annie Besant and the Theosophical Society
After Blavatsky died in 1891, the Theosophical Society splintered. The main faction ended up under Annie Besant, an Englishwoman of even more radical tendencies.
Besant was a Fabian Socialist, and a founder of Co-Masonry, the branch that initiated women. She was also a militant supporter of Indian nationalism. She gravitated to Communism in the 1920s.
Winston Churchill’s spy master, Desmond Morton, later concluded that “nearly all these Theosophists and Theosophical societies are connected in some way with Bolshevism, Indian revolutionaries and other unpleasant activities.”
Crowley, as a secret servant of the crown, despised Besant. He damned her as a “shameless, nauseating fraud” and worse, a member of the evil Black Brotherhood.
This is a transcript from the video series The Real History of Secret Societies. Watch it now, Wondrium.
Theosophy and Soviet Intelligence
The Russian artist and explorer Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich, who was also a notable Theosophist, collaborated with Soviet intelligence. Like many educated Russians, Roerich had fled his homeland during the chaos of revolution and civil war. But by the early 1920s, he was itching to return.
Roerich, through his medium wife Helena, claimed his own communication with Master Morya and the mahatmas; and claimed to see a convergence between the ideals of Communism and Theosophy. Both aspired to create a new world order based on brotherhood.
Roerich became a Soviet agent of influence. He lobbied with Bolshevik leaders to dispatch him as a missionary to Tibet, and to other areas of the Buddhist East. He found supporters, too.
One was Gleb Boky, a high-ranking member of the secret police, or OGPU. A dedicated communist, Boky was a devoted student of the occult. Before the revolution, he’d been a Freemason and a brother of the Kabbalistic Order of the Rose Cross. And he might have dabbled in Satanism, too.
On a practical level, Boky saw the pursuit of mystical knowledge to be excellent cover for intelligence gathering. In late 1923, Roerich got the okay to lead an expedition to Tibet. This took him through part of the British Himalayas.
Soviet intelligence and political agents were attached to his party, disguised as religious pilgrims. One was Yakov Blumkin, among the most experienced and resourceful of Soviet spies. Actually, Roerich used Communism to advance Theosophical interests, while the Kremlin masters used Theosophy to advance communist ones.
In response to Indian officials’ concerns about Roerich, British intelligence officer Vivian Burberry advised that India reach out to another man whom he said “had curiously intimate knowledge of all these things”—Aleister Crowley.
Learn more about the real history of secret societies.
Roerich Takes Theosophy to America
Roerich and his brand of Theosophy also spread their influence to America. During the 1920s, he cultivated a following among wealthy spiritual seekers in New York and other cities. One of them was millionaire Wall Street broker Louis Horch.
In 1934, Roerich met Henry Wallace, President Franklin Roosevelt’s secretary of Agriculture. This was the same Henry Wallace who helped to persuade FDR to put the Great Seal on the dollar bill.
Wallace became one of Roerich’s devotees. In correspondence, he gushingly addressed the Russian as ‘Dear Guru’. Wallace even got Roosevelt to sign off on a bizarre scheme to dispatch Roerich to Mongolia and Manchuria. His supposed job there was to collect samples of drought-resistant grasses for Dust Bowl research.
Roerich’s real mission, at least as he saw it, was to instigate a revolt to create a vast Pan-Buddhist empire in Central Asia. When this became known, Wallace dropped Roerich like a hot potato.
So, we see, secret societies, occultism and espionage fit together very nicely, and once again secret societies are the invisible links that connect people, organizations, and events.
Common Questions about Theosophy
Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky combined Western occultism with elements of Hinduism and Buddhism to create an exotic system of spiritual enlightenment, which is known as Theosophy. She also played a key role in popularizing Hinduism and Buddhism in the West.
Theosophy, or divine wisdom, sought to create a ‘universal syncretic religion’. Theosophists believe that spiritual evolution is guided by ascended masters, or mahatmas. Theosophy was supposed to be a stepping stone to a brotherhood of humanity; a new world order based on enlightened spiritual principles.
Annie Besant became President of the Theosophical Society in 1891, after the death of Madame Helena Blavatsky.
Henry Wallace was President Franklin Roosevelt’s secretary of agriculture. In fact, it’s he who helped to persuade FDR to put the Great Seal on the dollar bill. However, it’s also worth noting that Wallace was a devotee of the Russian artist and Theosophist Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich.