Philip D. Henderson

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Major Philip D. Henderson was a British Chief of Police who was a member of the party at the picnic at Simla at which Madame Blavatsky produced the cup and saucer phenomenon. He joined the Theosophical Society that day and his membership diploma was produced phenomenally on the spot. Colonel Henry S. Olcott described the event:

Major Henderson asked her to explain the science of it, but she said she could not, as he was not yet a Theosophist. He said he meant to be one. “When?” said she. “To-morrow” he replied. Mrs. Sinnett said “Why not to-day?” “So I will,” said the Major; “come Madame produce me a diploma on the spot!” “If I do, will you really join us?” “I will.” “ Then you shall have it.” She looked here and there and walked about near us a few moments, then sat down on the edge of a little bank. “If you want the diploma, you must hunt for it yourself; the ‘Brother’ who is helping me says it is rolled up tied with about 50 feet of blue twine and covered with creeping vines,” she said to the Major. The party all went to searching and presently Major Henderson, raising the low branches of a deodar shrub and parting the grass said “ I have it! ” He really had — one of our diplomas filled out to Major Philip D Henderson as Corresponding Fellow, and an official letter on my Headquarters letter-paper, WRITTEN IN MY OWN HANDWRITING and signed “Faithfully yours — (the name in Tibetan characters) for H. S. Olcott, President of the Theosophical Society”! Fancy my astonishment! The letter was dated October 2/3 — that is at the point (or night) between the two days and it referred to a conversation that had taken place between Major Henderson and Madame Blavatsky on the preceding evening.

As Mr. Mahmood and Mrs. Reed were with us at the Sinnetts’ until midnight, and at 3 A. M. Madame sent Babula to enquire what Mr. Sinnett was calling a servant for and waking her up, you see that not even an enemy could suspect her of any fraud: the more so as it was the Major who asked for the diploma in the wild woods, 3 or 4 miles from home, and got it himself from beneath a small tree which Madame had not even approached.[1]

He immediately became suspicious and resigned. Col. Olcott wrote about the Major's change of mind as follows:

Two of the gentlemen — the Major and the one who last joined us — strolled away together, and, after a half-hour, returned in a very serious mood. They said that, at the time when the cup and saucer were exhumed, they thought the circumstances perfectly convincing, and were prepared to uphold that view against all comers. They had now, however, revisited the spot, and made up their minds that by tunneling in, from the brow of the hillock, the articles might have been put where they were found. This being so, they regretted that they could not accept the phenomenon as perfectly satisfactory, and offered H. P. B. the ultimatum of doing another phenomenon under conditions to be dictated by themselves. I leave anyone who was acquainted with H.P.B., her family pride and volcanic temperament, to picture to himself the explosion of wrath that followed this speech. She seemed about to take leave of her senses, and poured out upon the two unfortunate sceptics the thunder of her wrath. And so, our pleasant party ended in an angry tempest.[2]

Major Henderson thereafter joined H.P.B.’s critics. He may have been the "amorous major" referred to by the Mahatma Koot Hoomi in Mahatma Letter No. 3c.[3]


  1. Henry Steel Olcott letter to Damodar K. Mavalankar. October 4, 1880. Quoted by C. Jinarājadāsa in "The Early History of the T.S.: XVIII The Cup and Saucer Phenomenon" The Theosophist 47.1 (October, 1925), 71-72.
  2. Henry Steel Olcott, Old Diary Leaves Second Series (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1974), 235-236.
  3. George E. Linton and Virginia Hanson, eds., Readers Guide to The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett (Adyar, Chennai, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1972), 233.