Henry Steel Olcott

H.S. OLCOTT  (1832-1907)


Henry Steel Olcott was born on 2 August 1832 in the United States. Early he showed his extraordinary talent. After the 1861 civil war broke out, he joined the Army of the North. Soon he was entrusted with the delicate and difficult task of detecting and disclosure of major frauds and crimes that were committed by unscrupulous fraudsters, without ignoring the welfare of soldiers and sailors. With great courage he fought against slander and opposition of the army and navy, to put things in the right place. For his successful work and steadfast courage he has received many accolades and was promoted to the position of colonel. In 1865, the Olcott gave up his position in the army and decided to advocacy and specialized in customs, financial and insurance cases. Soon he was at the forefront of its industry and its legal advice and representation has been a very sought-after. He was appointed to the position of Registrar and Director of the National Insurance Convention with a purpose to regulate and simplify the laws that affect the operation of insurance companies. The statute went through the process of national adopting, its published records of the conference have become prevail work on insurance in the United States. If he had not placed himself on side of opponents of then President of the United States, he would be appointed as Minister of Finance.


Early in life he became interested in mesmerism and hypnotism, and discovered the healing and the hypnotist gifts, which he later used advantageously. Spiritual movement has attracted the careful attention of scientists, and when in 1874 the world was astonished by appearances on the homestead of Eddy, Colonel Olcott on basis of reports, as much as they were real, realized their importance and decided to go the Chittenden and record his obvservations for   New York Daily Graphic, which, after they have been published, circled the world. It is here, on the homestead of Eddy’s in Chittenden, he met H. P. Blavatsky, who clearly demonstrated its strength and persuaded him about the facts about “another world”; in particular, they have concluded a lasting friendship. As Colonel Olcott was married and had four children, with whom he always maintained contact. He separated from wife when he met H. P. B. and was forced to take a life decision.


Thus, in 1875, Olcott, H. P. Blavatsky and William Q. Judge founded the Theosophical Society in New York. Olcott has first few years after founding of Society financially supported it by doing lawyer’s service, he was president of Society, while
Blavatsky was doing work as Secretary. With the growth of mutual trust, H.P.B. began to teach him occultism and she led into contact with many Masters. Finally he became a ‘disciple’ of Master Morya, to whom he completely surrendered.Masters, which inspired the creation of the Theosophical Society, have long ago planned his involvement in its creation and development. Olcott was also the first known European who moved to Buddhism. As president of the Theosophical Society, he with his actions helped create a renaissance in the study of Buddhism. He is considered as Buddhist modernist for his efforts in interpreting Buddhism through a Western lens.


In December of 1878, all three left New York and moved headquarters of the Society to India. Pictured: Helena Blavatsky behind Henry Steel Olcott (seated in center) and Damodar Mavalankar (seated to his left) in Mumbai in year 1881. For the headquarters of the Association, Adyar was choosen and it was named as Theosophical Society Adyar, where they established at headquarter also  Adyar Library and Research Center. This year, the Colonel Olcott lost both their wealth and position. It’s beautiful gifts he laid without reservation on the altar of great ideal – ‘ holy work for Mankind ” – to whom he devoted the rest of his exceptional life. In 1882, he together with Blavatsky set up headquarters at Adyar Society.

From here, the Society spread throughout the world . Members have integrated into an autonomous lodges and those in autonomous sections or national associations, which were connected by belonging to Rules, that were accepted by the General Council or the governing body of the Association. In 1885 Olcott founded the Adyar Library and by this, he got support of major religions. The library has become a very rich and there reside many rare books and manuscripts. It has become one of the most rich oriental libraries of the world. In addition to his unwavering work for the Society, on whose behalf he traveled and lectured in many countries, he inspired to the reconstruction of many movements. In India, he promoted the revitalization of Sanskrit, which has again become a living language. He designed the Hindu schools, movements, libraries and youth newspaper; he encouraged the organization of the first exhibition of Indian arts and crafts and planned institute for technological education in Baroda. While in India, Olcott endeavored to obtain the original translations of texts, which were as a result of colonial collections of sacred oriental texts, very popular.

On picture: Olcott (left), A. Besant and Leadbeater (right), 1905

It’s purpose was to prevent Western interpretations that are often encountered in America, and to discover pure message in texts of Buddhist and Hindu religions and so appropriately educate  Westerners.

Olcott has solved religious persecution of Ceylon Buddhists and designed a strong and lasting Buddhist educational movement. Slowly he built a brotherhood between the sects in Ceylon, Burma, Siamu and Japan and between the northern and southern Buddhism. It’s well-known Buddhist Catechism is even now used as an international guide and it has been released in around fifty editions and was translated into more than twenty languages. After his work in Sri Lanka, he is still widely known today.

In addition, he supported informal inaugural conference of the National Women’s Society – a precursor movement for the full emancipation of women, which is now a reality . He opened the many free schools for the very poor and the suppressed classes, which are now known as Harijans . The government has  gradually taken over the school, but there remains one school in memory of Colonel Olcott closely related to Adyar and it receives voluntary financial assistance from the Society.

Olcott has received a significant honor in many countries. He died in Adyar, 17. February of 1907. For details of the work of Colonel Olcott for the Society and other movements – especially Buddhism – readers should turn to his six notebooks Old Diary Leaves, in The Golden Book of the Theosophical Society, A Short History of the Theosophical Society, the Theosophist, and Annual Reports .

His works and online resourcs:

An Epitome of Aryan Morals
Applied Theosophy
Buddhism and Science
Buddhist Catechism
Character Sketch of Madame Blavatsky
Eastern Magic and Western Spiritualism
Fundamental Beliefs of Buddhism
How best to become a Theosophist
Madame Blavatsky at the Lamasery
Madame Blavatsky’s Secret Marriage
Max Muller on Esotericism
Old Diary Leaves 1 – 6
On Buddha and Buddhism
On Theosophy
People From the Other World
Projection of the Double
Psychometry and Akashic Readings
Spiritualism and Theosophy
Starting to Heal
The Common Foundation of All Religions
The Dharma or Doctrine
The Golden Rules of Buddhism
The Life of Buddha and Its Lessons
The Master K. H. at Lahore
The Painting of Adept Portraits
The Passing of a Bird
The Possible Discovery of the Secret of Psychopathic Healing
The Spirit of the Zoroastrian Religion
The Theosophical Society and Its Aims
The Vampire
The Occult Sciences
Theosophy or Materialism – Which?
Theosophy the Scientific Basis of Religion
Theosophy: Its Friends and Enemies
Theosophy: Religion and Occult Science

Photos of H. S. Olcott