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CWL02.TXT - The Ladbeater Affair

Jun 11, 1996 04:53 PM
by Alan



In my previous introduction to "The Leadbeater Affair" published as
CWL01.TXT mention was necessarily made of a letter from Annie Besant to
the members of the T.S. of November 1908.  This text reproduces that
letter.  It is an eminently reasonable plea for justice, eloquently
worded by a skilled orator. It was not, however, accepted at face value
by all of its readers for reasons which will become apparent.  Some
members clearly saw, whether rightly or wrongly, that a skilled writer
and speaker might also be a skilled manipulator, and in a reply dated
the same month as this letter, G.R.S.Mead. Herbert Burrows, W.Kingsland
and Edith Ward sought to show that this was indeed the case.

This will become CWL03.TXT as the next article in this study and
research exercise.

Alan Bain, June 1996






President of the Theosophical Society.



AN appeal has been made to the General Council and to myself, by the
British Section in Convention assembled, to take action to put an end to
the painful condition of affairs which has arisen in consequence of
certain "pernicious teaching" ascribed to Mr. C. W. Leadbeater. The
General Council does not meet until December next, and will then take
such action as it may deem right. The appeal to myself I answer, after
such delay as has been imposed on me by the fact that I was in the
Antipodes, on the Society's business, when the appeal was made, and
could not complete my reply until I had verified certain data by
reference to documents not then within my reach.

My wish is to lift the present controversy out of the turmoil of passion
in which all sense of proportion has been lost, and to submit the whole
case to the judgment of the Theosophical Society, free from the
exaggerations and misunderstandings which have surrounded it. I
recognise fully that those who denounce Mr. Leadbeater are inspired, for
the most part, by all intense desire to protect the purity of public
morals and the good name of the Society, and are therefore worthy of
respect. I ask them to believe that others may have an equal love of
purity and of the Society's good name, while not accepting their view of
Mr. Leadbeater's advice, and while considering that they have been
misled by exaggerated and distorted statements, as I was myself. I even
ask them whether they seriously think that I, after nearly twenty years
of unstinted labor for the Society, and of a life more ascetic than lax,
am likely to be indifferent either to purity or to the Society's good
name? I ask them to give credit to others for good intent, as they claim
good intent for themselves.

 From the occult standpoint, the duality of sex represents the
fundamental duality of the universe, and in the individual human being
the duality once existed, as it still exists in the universe and in some
forms of vegetable and animal life. The separation of humanity into two
sexes, in each of which one sex predominates and the other is
rudimentary, is but a temporary device for the better development of
complementary qualities, difficult of simultaneous evolution in the same
person. The separation being thus necessary, but the presence of both
sex elements being essential to reproduction, the sex instinct, drawing
the separated halves together, became a necessary factor in the
preservation of the race. To subserve this purpose is its natural
function, and any other use of it is unnatural and harmful. In the
animal kingdom it has never gone astray from its due utility. In the
human, owing to the activity of mind, with vividness of memory and of
anticipation, it has become abnormally developed, and its true function
has become subsidiary. It should serve to draw one man and one woman
together, for the creation of pure bodies fit for incoming souls, and
thus aid in cementing an enduring union of two lives complementary to
each other, a union also needed for the nurture and protection of the
young ones within a settled home during their years of helplessness. But
by unbridled indulgence, both within and without marriage, it has
developed into an overmastering passion, which seeks merely for
gratification; its one rightful use, its only natural and legitimate
function, is forgotten; the great creative power is prostituted to be an
agent of pleasure, and this has brought an inevitable nemesis. Society
is honeycombed with diseases which, directly and indirectly, spring from
the general abuse of the creative function; by an extraordinary reversal
of facts, continence is regarded as unnatural instead of natural, and
the demand of the sex instinct for constant gratification is looked on
as normal instead of as abnormality evolved by habitual excess, Doctors
know  the suffering and the misery wrought under marriage sanction by
unbridled incontinence; faced by the sex passion in unmarried lads, they
bid them resort to the women of the streets, and thus increase the evil
heredity;   statesmen vainly try by Contagious Diseases Acts to minimise
the ruin both of men and women; solitary vice is becoming more
widespread, and is the deadly peril which teachers in schools are forced
continually to face, against which they ineffectually strive.

Such is the condition of humanity at the present time, and for this
condition - at the root of most of the misery and crime in civilised
life-Occultism has but one remedy - the restoration of the sex function
to its one proper use by the gradual raising of the standard of sex
morality, the declaration that its only legitimate use is the creative,
that its abuse for sensual pleasure is immoral and unnatural, and that
humanity can only be raised out of its present sensuality by self-
control. This view is not likely to be acceptable in a society
hereditarily self-indulgent, but occult morality is higher and
sterner than that of the world. Also it cares for realities not
conventions, and regards unbridled indulgence within marriage as
degrading both to mind and body, although, because monogamous, somewhat
less ruinous to both than outside the marriage union.

Hence, Occultism condemns "neo-Malthusian practices," as tending to
strengthen sex passion, it condemns the medical advice to young men to
yield to their "natural passions"; it condemns solitary vice as only
less harmful than prostitution; all these things are degrading, unmanly,
unwomanly. [See my Theosophy and the Law of Population, 1891.] It
exhorts man to remount by self-control the steep incline down which he
has slipped by self-indulgence, until he becomes continent, not
incontinent, by nature. On all this Mr. Leadbeater and myself are at

I do not seek to Impose this view on the Theosophical Society, for every
member is free to form his own judgment on the sexual problem, as on any
other, and mutual respect, not wild abuse, is the rightful attitude of
members in face of this, the most difficult problem which confronts
humanity. I speak on this as Occultist. "He that is able to receive it,
let him receive it."

I turn now to the accusations against Mr. Leadbeater, reminding the
Society against whom these accusations are levelled. Mr. Leadbeater was
a clergyman of the Church of England who in 1883 entered the
Theosophical Society, and in 1884 threw up his career to devote his ripe
manhood to its service. From that date until now he has served it with
unwavering fidelity, through good and evil report, has travelled all
over the world to spread its teachings, has contributed to its
literature some of its most valued volumes, and thousands, both inside
and outside the Society, owe to him the priceless knowledge of
Theosophy. During the last two and a half years, under a hurricane of
attack as unexampled as his services, he has remained silent, rather
than that the Society should suffer his reproach. Because he loved the
Society better than his own good name, I, at his wish, have also kept
silence. But now that I am appealed to, I will speak, and the more
gladly because I also wronged him, believing that he had admitted
certain statements as true; I wrote in 1906: "June 7th, I received an
account of the acceptance by Mr. Leadbeater before the Committee of the
facts alleged in the evidence". I thus accepted on what I believed to be
his own word, that which, on the word of others, I had rejected as
impossible, and that which I ought to have continued to reject even
coming as from himself both he and I have suffered, by my blunder, for
which I have apologised to him, to an extent which our unmerciful
critics little imagine; but it is over, and never the shadow of a cloud
can come between us again.

The so-called trial of Mr. Leadbeater was a travesty of justice. He came
before judges, one of whom had declared beforehand that "he ought to be
shot"; another, before hearing him, had written passionate denunciations
of him; a third and fourth had accepted, on purely psychic testimony,
unsupported by any evidence, the view that he was grossly immoral and a
danger to the Society. In the commonest justice, these persons ought not
to have been allowed to sit in judgment. As to the "evidence," he stated
at the time: "I have only just now seen anything at all of the
documents, except the first letter"; on his hasty perusal of them, he
stated that some of the points "are untrue, and others so distorted that
they do not represent the facts"; yet it was on these points, unsifted
and unproven, declared by him to be untrue and distorted, that he was
condemned, and has since been attacked.

It was also on these points that I condemned his teaching; on the
central matter I had before expressed disagreement, but no condemnation.

The following statement is the one which has been so widely used against
him, and contains the teaching that both he and I condemn. That
condemnation I hold to, but the teaching thus condemned was never his;
part of it was repudiated by him before the Advisory Council in 1906,
and the rest of it had been denied in a private letter of February,
1906, since widely published. I wrote, on the false information then in
my hands:

"The advice supposed to be given to rescue a boy, as a last resort, in
the grip of sexual passions, became advice putting foul ideas into the
minds of boys innocent of all sex impulses, and the long intervals, the
rare relief, became twenty-four hours in length, a daily habit. It was
conceivable that the advice, as supposed to have been given, had been
given with pure intent, and the presumption was so, in a teacher of
Theosophical morality; anything else seemed incredible. But such advice
as was given in fact, such dealing with boys before sex passion had
awakened, could only be given with pure intent if the giver were, on
this point, insane."

The two points on which stress is laid here, to which my condemnation
applies were: (1) the fouling of "the minds of boys innocent of all sex
impulses"; (2) the advice for daily self-indulgence; neither of these is
true, and with the falsity of these my condemnation no longer applies to
Mr. Leadbeater's advice.

(1) In the case on which most stress has been laid, the boy had already
contracted an evil habit. Mr. Leadbeater found it impossible to cure the
vice at once, but he induced the boy to give up his daily habit, and to
lessen the frequency of the self-indulgence, gradually lengthening the
intervals, that it might at last be entirely renounced. In a second
case, the boy wrote to his father, expressing his intense gratitude to
Mr. Leadbeater for helping him, and adding: "They were to be continued
only for a very short time.  Do not call them a habit, because they were
never intended to be anything of the kind." Instead, then, of advising
self-indulgence Mr. Leadbeater sought to help boys in their difficulties
by leading gradually up to a perfect control of the sex-functions,
laying especial stress upon the avoidance of haunting lascivious
thoughts. If a man is poisoned with arsenic, what is the treatment by a
doctor? he does not cut off the poison at once, for that would kill; he
prescribes lessening doses till the body regains its normal state. Is
the doctor to be denounced as a poisoner because he takes the only means
of saving his patient?

Mr. Leadbeater says positively that he has never given such advice
except in cases where certain symptoms had already shown themselves
either on the physical plane or in the aura, even though in one or two
instances this may have taken place before what is commonly called
puberty. Unhappily - as is known to every teacher of children - this
vice is found at a very early age, an age much below that of any boy to
whom Mr. Leadbeater spoke. This statement of his - sufficient to all of
us who know him - is thoroughly borne out by the fact that most of the
boys who were much in his company had never heard of any such advice
being given. His usual habit was to speak to the boy of the danger of
both solitary and associated vice, to advise non-stimulating diet,
exercise, and the turning of thought away from subjects connected with
sex-advice on the lines borne witness to by a lad who was much with him,
in a brave letter to the ~Vahan~. This was Mr. Leadbeater's ordinary
advice, as it is the advice of all of us.

(2) This Mr. Leadbeater positively denied before the Advisory Committee,
and there is not a shred of evidence to support the charge. He said:
"The interlineation in writing giving a statement by the mother as to
interval is untrue. The original Interval was a week, and then it was
lengthened to ten days, then a fortnight, and so on."

I ask the members of the Theosophical Society to consider whether this
simple explanation is not more consonant with the character of the great
teacher who has lived among them for twventy-four years, than the lurid
picture of the monster of sexual vice painted by the inflamed fancy of a
few Americans and English? It must be remembered that every effort has
been made to construct personal charges against him, without avail.

I have had In my possession for nearly two years a letter from one of
Mr. Leadbeater's most prominent enemies, addressed to a boy whom Mr.
Leadbeater was said to have corrupted, in which (with many caressing
words, himself using an expression stronger than that which has been
taken, in Mr. Leadbeater's case, to imply impropriety) the writer tried
to coax the boy into confessing criminal relations with Mr. Leadbeater,
begging him not to show the letter to his father, and to destroy it when
read. The lad, utterly ignorant of what was suggested, took the letter
to his father, and the father indignantly sent a copy to me. I have also
seen the original.

It is not true that this advice was given as theosophical or occult. On
the contrary, Mr. Leadbeater has stated throughout that it was a purely
physical matter, from his standpoint, and was given as a doctor gives
advice to a patient, as a temporary expedient to avoid a worse danger,
while lifting the boy out of vice Into purity. Mr. Leadbeater agrees
with me that the advice is dangerous when scattered broadcast - as has
been done by his assailants - and from the very first he volunteered the
promise never to give it again; but in the few special cases in which he
gave it, he thought he had safeguarded it from the obvious danger.

Much has been made of a "cipher letter." The use of the cipher arose
from an old story in the Theosophist, repeated by Mr. Leadbeater to a
few lads; they, as boys will, took up the cipher with enthusiasm, and it
was subsequently sometimes used in correspondence with the boys who had
been present when the story was told. In a type-written note on a
fragment of paper, undated and unsigned, relating to an astral
experience, a few words in cipher occur on the incriminated advice. Then
follows a sentence, unconnected with the context, on which a foul
construction has been placed. That the boy did not so read it is proved
by a letter of his to Mr. Leadbeater - not sent, but shown to me by his
mother - in which he expresses his puzzlement as to what it meant, as he
well might. There is something very suspicious about the use of this
letter. It was carefully kept away from Mr. Leadbeater, though widely
circulated against the wish of the father and mother, and when a copy
was lately sent to him by a friend, he did not recognise it in its
present form, and stated emphatically that he had never used the phrase
with regard to any sexual act. It may go with the Coulomb and Pigott

There is no doubt that the sex problem is in the air, and it may be, as
Dr. van Hook thinks, that that problem must be discussed in the
Theosophical Society, as it is being discussed by sociologists, doctors
and teachers outside. It can, however, only be decently and usefully
discussed by mature men and women, possessed of physiological and
pathological knowledge and of experience of the darker side of life. On
the moral question we are all at one; it is the method of dealing with
dangerous physiological conditions which is under debate. Personally I
think - basing the view on well known physiological facts - that as
every secretory gland is readily stimulated by thought, and without
stimulation does not work to excess, the occupation of the mind along
healthy lines will generally avoid dangerous excess, and will preserve
in the body the vital elements necessary for the continuance of youth
and strength. Dr. van Hook's medical experience is, of course,
enormously wider than my own, but many doctors hold the view expressed
by me that nature may, in normal cases, be left to give any necessary
relief. But this does not touch Mr. Leadbeater's effort to help boy's
through a difficult period by counsel often given by Catholic priests
under similar circumstances, and given by himself when a priest of the
English Church. Mr. Mead has lately stated, in the pages of the
Theosophical Review, that the facts of sex should be explained to boys
and girls, so as to avoid the dangers to which they are exposed by
hearing the coarse talk of evil-minded servants or vicious comrades. I
agree with him on this, but he will be a bold man who ventures to give
such instruction, in the face of the hideous misconstruction with which
Mr. Leadbeater has been met. The giving by an elder of a scientific and
common sense explanation would be incredible to a society which can only
regard sex through an atmosphere of prudery or vice. In all speech
thereon a vicious purpose would be taken for granted.

With regard to the preamble of the resolution condemning Dr. van Hook, I
am bound to say that it is based on a misrepresentation.  Dr. van Hook
does *not* say that any "corrupting practices . . . . are the high
doctrine of Theosophy and the 'precursor of its introduction into the
thought of the outer world'"; he says that certain habits, characterised
a few lines lower as "this degrading practice," "could not be instantly
interrupted by unspiritualised boys. What more natural *than that he
should recommend that the practice be curbed?* And who knows how many
boys, taking this advice from Mr. Leadbeater, *have not been gradually
weaned away from their vice and brought to entire cleanness of life.?"*
(Italics are mine.) He then speaks of other boys who had not yet fallen
into vice, but who were surrounded by dangerous thought-forms, as
already mentioned above. Dr. van Hook, after this, says that "the
introduction of this question" - obviously the question of how to deal
with boys addicted to vice or on the brink of it, alluded to on the
preceding page as a " problem " known to " every woman school teacher
dealing with children" - "into the thought of the Theosophical world is
but the precursor of its introduction into the thought of the outer
world." It is a proof of the danger of introducing an important
resolution without notice, and of inflaming the listeners with a garbled
account of a paper which they had not read, although they were called on
to vote its condemnation, that such a misrepresentation should have been
imposed on the Convention.

The further statement that Dr. van Hook has said that his letter. was
"dictated verbatim by one of the Masters" suggests, though it does not
say, that Dr. van Hook had made this statement publicly. It would,
perhaps, have been fairer to point out that Dr. van Hook had said this
privately, with a request that it should not be published, and that it
was promptly published by the person to whom he privately wrote it. On
this, as President. I follow the decision laid down by the General
Council on July 7th, 1894, in the case of Mr. W.Q.Judge. Mr. Judge was
charged with certain offences "with respect to the misuse of the
Mahatmas' names and handwriting"; Mr. Judge contended that he, as Vice-
President, could not be tried on such a matter; the Council, on the
motion of Messrs. Keightley and Mead, decided that the point was well
taken. The Judicial Committee, on July 10th, followed this decision, and
apart from the question of his office, it further declared that they
could not consider a charge which involved declaration on their part as
to the existence or non-existence of Mahatmas, as "it would be a
violation of the spirit of neutrality and the unsectarian nature and
constitution of the Society." The President-Founder further declared:
"The authoritative and dogmatic value of statements as to the existence
of Mahatmas, their relations with and messages to private persons, or
through them to third parties, the Society or the general public, is
denied; all such statements, messages or teachings are to be taken at
their intrinsic value and the recipients left to form and declare, if
they choose, their own opinions with respect to their genuineness; the
Society, as a body, maintaining its constitutional neutrality in the
premises." Until those decisions of the General Council, the Judicial
Committee of 1894, and the President-Founder are annulled, I am bound by
them, and cannot officially, nor can the General Council, express any
opinion on the origin of Dr. van Hook's "Open Letter" By parity of
reasoning, no Sectional Council should express any opinion on such a
matter. Dr. van Hook is perfectly free to assert publicly - though he
has not done so - that the "Open Letter" was dictated verbatim by one of
the Masters, and any other member is equally free to deny it.

This is apart from the undesirable nature of the precedent set by a
Sectional Convention in its condemnation of the chief officer of another
Section; every General Secretary is amenable to his own Section
primarily, and this hasty setting of a dangerous precedent is another
proof of the unwisdom of springing on an official body an important
resolution without notice. While technically accepting this resolution
as from "the British Section in Convention assembled," I cannot but know
that it is only the individual opinion of thirty-eight persons, unshared
in by another twenty-six. It is not the deliberate opinion of the

As regards the main problem:
The Theosophical Society, as a whole, cannot be committed to any special
solution of this problem, and its members must be left free. Dr. van
Hook, a medical man of high repute and for many years a university
professor, has as much right to his view, without being charged with
supporting solitary vice, as his assailants have a right to theirs,
without being charged with favoring prostitution. Both accusations are
equally foul and equally unjust, and people who fling them about are
ipso facto disqualified from being judges. These difficult and delicate
questions of sex cannot be efficiently, or even decently, discussed in
open conventions, in which young people are present. The conclusions
arrived at under such conditions are inevitably those of passion, not of
reason. We are all at one in condemning vicious practices, solitary or
associated, and in desiring to rescue the young who have fallen into
either form of vice. There is no approval of vice anywhere within the
Theosophical Society; there is therefore no need for the Society to
repudiate pernicious teaching on this matter any more than to repudiate
assassination. Mr. Leadbeater and myself labor as earnestly to help
others to pure and noble living as do Mr. Sinnett, Mr. Mead, and their
co-signatories, and there should be room enough in the Society we all
love for us as well as for them.

Mr. Leadbeater resigned two and a half years ago in the vain attempt to
save the Society from this dissension ; he does not ask to return. I am
not at liberty to resign, being where I am by my Master's order, nor am
I at liberty to ask him again to take his place within the Theosophical
Society without a vote of the Theosophical Society. If the Theosophical
Society wishes to undo the wrong done to him, it is for the Convention
of each Section to ask me to invite his return, and I will rejoice to do
so. Further, in every way that I can, outside official membership, I
will welcome his co-operation, show him honor, and stand beside him. If
the Theosophical Society disapprove of this, and if a two-thirds
majority of members of the whole Theosophical Society demand my
resignation because of this, I will ask my Master's permission to
resign. If not, is it not time to cease from warring against chimeras,
and to devote ourselves wholly to the work ?  The trouble is confined to
a small number of American and a considerable number of British members;
can they not feel that they have done their duty by two years and a half
of protest, and not endeavor to coerce the remainder of the Society into
a continual turmoil? The vast majority of you affirmed last year that
you regarded me as the President chosen by the Masters to steer what
They have called "our Theosophical ship." In Their name I call on all,
who are loyal to Them and to Their choice, to work for Them, each in his
own way, but in charity with all.

Your faithful servant,
President of the Theosophical Society.

P.S. - Since the above was written, Dr. van Hook has been re-elected as
General Secretary, his Section's answer to the British attack on him. In
answer to a letter from England, he has repudiated the misrepresentation
of his paper, and has made a statement similar to that made by me above,
on pp. 9, IO. No unprejudiced person can read his paper in any other

I am glad to take this opportunity of rebutting a statement widely
circulated, but utterly untrue, that Mr. Leadbeater " deceived" me in
his statement of the case at Benares. Neither then, nor at any other
time, has he said anything to me which has deviated from truth in any
way. I have utter confidence in his candor.
Scanned and uploaded by Alan Bain
Ancient Wisdom for a New Age

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