The Esoteric Section, or Esoteric School, is a concept that has existed in several branches of the Theosophical Movement, wherein sincere students commit themselves to a regimen of study, service, meditation, and lifestyle disciplines. In the Theosophical Society based in Adyar, Chennai, India, members who have been in good standing for two years (and meet other requirements) may ask to join the ES, which is a separate, private organization:
The ES offers a spiritual path that requires a gentle daily discipline. A balanced life centered in harmlessness, good will, and altruism helps members come to establish Theosophy as a living power in their lives. Daily practice is grounded in meditation, self-purification, study, and service. Development of paranormal powers such as clairvoyance are not taught in the ES and their development is not encouraged.
The first attempt related to the formation of an Esoteric Section happened in early 1884, in London. A debate was going on in the London Lodge as to whom should be its President. On one hand was Mr. Sinnett, who wanted to promote the Esoteric Philosophy of the Masters. On the other hand was Anna Kingsford, interested in Esoteric Christianity, a subject with which the London Society of the nineteenth century was more familiar. The Masters thought that Mrs. Kingsford would be a more suitable President in London, and proposed that the Arhat Esoteric Doctrine be studied in an inner group of the London Lodge formed by those interested in the subject.
Letter 5 in the Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom First Series provides an interesting perspective on this 1884 attempt to form an inner group. People active at that time included: Francesca Arundale, Mary Anne Arundale [Francesca's mother], Alfred J. Cooper-Oakley, Isabelle Cooper-Oakley, Archibald Keightley, Bertram Keightley, Isabelle de Steiger, Laura E. Falkiner, Edmond W. Wade, John Varley, Isabella Varley, Toni Schmiechen, Hermann Schmiechen, Mary C. D. Hamilton, Gerard B. Finch, Louisa S. Cook, Mabel Collins (Mrs. Keningale Cook), Catherine Galindo, Patience Sinnett, R. Palmer Thomas, A. P. Sinnett, and Jane Wade.
The Esoteric Section of the Theosophical Society was officially formed on October 9, 1888, when Col. Olcott, then on a visit in London, issued an order in Council declaring it formed with Mme. Blavatsky as its responsible head. The circular stated:
The Esoteric Section of the Theosophical Society.
I. To promote the esoteric interests of the Theosophical Society by the deeper study of esoteric philosophy, there is hereby organised a body, to be known as the ‘Esoteric Section of the Theosophical Society.’
II. The constitution and sole direction of the same is vested in Madame H. P. Blavatsky, as its head; she is solely responsible to the members for results; and the section has no official or corporate connection with the Exoteric Society, save in the person of the President-Founder.
Persons wishing to join the Section, and willing to abide by its rules, should communicate directly with Madame H. P. Blavatsky, 17 Lansdowne Road, Holland Park, London, W.
(Sd.) H. S. OLCOTT,
President in Council.
H. P. BLAVATSKY,
According to one account, it was Dr. Jirah Dewey Buck who first suggested the idea of an Esoteric Section to William Quan Judge, "which was formulated by the latter, and approved by the former, and then the whole was taken to H. P. B., in London, to complete the real organization."
In July, 1890, HPB and her staff moved from Lansdowne Road into Annie Besant’s house in 19 Avenue Road. In August she formed the Inner Group of the Esoteric Section, which consisted of twelve members, six men and six women. They were Countess Constance Wachtmeister, Mrs. Isabelle Cooper-Oakley, Miss Emily Kislingbury, Miss Laura M. Cooper, Mrs. Annie Besant, Mrs. Alice L. Cleather, Dr. Archibald Keightley, Mr. Herbert Coryn, Mr. Claude Falls Wright, Mr. G. R. S. Mead, Mr. E. T. Sturdy, and Mr. Walter Old. There were also two "outsiders" that had been specially invited, namely, Rai B. K. Laheri and Dr. William W. Westcott, who were later joined by W. Q. Judge.
The group held its meetings weekly, in a room which had been specially built for it, leading out of HPB’s bedroom. Into it no one but herself and the members of the group ever entered. Each member had their our own place and chair; and during the instructions HPB sat with her six men pupils on her right and the six women on her left-hand side, in semi-circular formation.
In 1894 I was admitted into the Inner group of the London Lodge as a chela of the Master, and was present at the intimate and informal gatherings of the Group which were held on most Sunday mornings in Mr. Sinnett's library for discussion."
American Dr. Jirah Dewey Buck mentions having received all the written instructions from the Esoteric Section and Inner Group:
Not only from her voluminous writings, but from the Secret Instructions given in the Esoteric Section" and from that of the Inner Group" of the E. S. up to the time of her death, all of which I received, her method of teaching students is easily discerned.
Esoteric groups across the Theosophical Movement
Most major organizations in the Theosophical Movement have had their own versions of esoteric schools using various names.
Theosophical Society Adyar
The 1898 charter describes Katherine A. Tingley as Outer Head of the Esoteric School. A 1975 article about Point Loma history uses Esoteric Section and Esoteric School interchangeably.
United Lodge of Theosophists
Temple of the People
The Temple of the People has an Esoteric Section called the Order of the 36, composed of members called Templars. Templars are defined as "members who have served the specified time (not less than four years) as members-at-large, and have been admitted into the Order of the 36, or Eosteric Section of the Society, upon approval of the Guardian-in-Chief. These members are known as full participating members."
- Radha Burner, quoted in brochure "About the Esoteric School of Theosophy."
- Henry Steel Olcott, Old Diary Leaves Fourth Series (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1974), 62.
- "The Theosophical Society" Rosicrucian Brotherhood 2 no. 4 (October 1908), 198.
- Alice Leighton Cleather, H. P. Blavatsky As I Knew Her (Calcutta: Thacker, Spink, 1923), 24.
- C. Jinarājadāsa, The "K. H." Letters to C. W. Leadbeater (Adyar, Madras, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1941), 74.
- J. D. Buck, Modern World Movements (Chicago: Indo-American Book Co., 1913), 161.
- "A Queer Idea of Brotherhood" Light 18 no. 900 (April 9, 1898), 177.
- "Later Point Loma history" The Eclectic Theosophist no. 29 (July 15, 1975), 5-8.
- "Templars" The Temple Artisan 32 no. 1 (June-August, 1931), 2.
- Pat Deveney, "The Temple Artisan" in IAPSOP database.