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Wheaton and Cults

Oct 06, 1995 09:32 PM
by Jerry Hejka-Ekins

Eldon Writes:

>There's a large turnover in membership, but not 95 percent. In
>the first four years, a large percentage of members have lapsed
>(very few actually quit). I don't remember if it's 40 percent,
>but that figure comes to mind. I could look up the figure, since
>I've had the data for about seven years, but since Wheaton has
>not released such statistics, I'm not sure that I would be
>permitted to give the actual figure out.

It's been about five years since I've seen the data (several
people have it) and I don't remember the exact numbers either.
But the actual numbers on your seven year old data sheet was only
a confirmation of what the old timers in the TS already knew--
that the majority of the new members leave within a short time.
So this isn't a matter of revealing Wheaton's secrets. I
remember this mass exodus being a matter of continued discussion
and speculation as far back as the 60's, and no doubt much
longer. Also, I'm not sure if it tells us that much that members
let their dues lapse rather than quit. Letting one's dues lapse
is a passive way of quitting. Writing a letter of resignation
would require a special effort that I think most people don't
bother to make.

We have to ask if people have received their benefit from a
theosophical group by joining, becoming acquainted with the
literature, then dropping out to follow an individual quest.
Their spiritual progress is not limited to the time period
that they continue to pay membership dues.

I think this is a fair and important question and we can hope
that some benefit was gained. On the other hand, it appears that
the TS was at best, beneficial to the new members for only a
short time. Why is this so? My own theosophical teaching
experience has been that it usually takes about five years of
study before a student of Theosophy is really able to grasp the
teachings. So it isn't that people come in, master what we have
to offer and then leave. I'm sure that these people take
something with them when they leave, but what is it that they

There's a good side, in a sense, to this turnover. It means that
our 4200 membership does not represent everyone reached by
Wheaton, but there are many more thousands of people that have
been exposed to Theosophy that don't show up in that count. The
membership count does not reflect the total count of people
reached in the past decade or two.

Fair enough. But what kind of exposure did they get? Apparently
it did not impress them enough to stay around for further
exposure--or perhaps some were so negatively impressed that they
just bailed out.

>> the TS would
>> more likely have stayed on the original lines as outlined by
>> and the Masters.

They started it along certain lines. If they were around since
then, perhaps they would have changed it as appropriate to the
changing social climate and spiritual thawing in the west. We
can't take their original *intent* and assume that it is a
dogma to be followed. It is a *work plan*, not a divine truth.

I think that the original intent is indeed the heart of the TM,
and is immortalized in the first object. HPB wrote herself, that
the first object is the only dogma of the TS. I do agree,
however that "changing social climate" etc. cannot be ignored,
but that would affect our approach, not the goal.

>> the Theosophical Society would not be
>> regarded by the public as a cult as it is today.

Regardless of how we try to define "cult", it is often used as a
hate word to put down groups one doesn't like. One person may
call, for instance, the Mormon Church a cult, another may call it
the best church in Christianity.

Yes, it is often used as a hate word, particularly by one cult
labeling another cult. It is also used as a precautionary word
such as, "don't get hooked into that nonsense" by many others.
One of our students tell us that he has been constantly jibed at
work since he mentioned his interest in theosophy to them. This
is so common, that I think we all have had more than our share of
experiences like this. When I mention Theosophy to the typical
uninformed person, they think of Besant and Krishnamurti,
Blavatsky as a "tea leaves reader," fraud, fakery and pop
psychism. I submit that most, if not all of these negative
images could have been prevented.

Jerry Hejka-Ekins
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