Preamble and By-laws of the Theosophical Society

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The Preamble and By-laws of the Theosophical Society was a 20-page booklet that was published on October 30, 1875 in New York by Colonel Henry Steel Olcott, upon the founding of the Theosophical Society.

Officers of TS, from Preamble

Officers and Council


President, Henry S. Olcott

Vice-Presidents, George Henry Felt, Dr. S. Pancoast, M.D.

Corresponding Secretary, Mme. H. P. Blavatsky

Recording Secretary, John Storer Cobb

Treasurer, Henry J. Newton

Librarian, Charles Sotheran

Councillors, Rev. J. H. Wiggin,

Mrs. Emma Hardinge Britten,
R. B. Westbrook,
Dr. C. E. Simmons, M.D.,
Herbert D. Monachesi.

Counsel to the Society, William Q. Judge.


The rooms of the society are at Mott Memorial Hall, No, 64 Madison Avenue, New-York, to which address all books or other articles for the society may be sent.

Letters of inquiry, relating to the society, should be addressed to the Corresponding Secretary, and business communications to the Recording Secretary, P. O Box 4335, New-York.



The title of the Theosophical Society explains the objects and desires of its founders: they seek “to obtain knowledge of the nature and attributes of the Supreme Power and of the higher spirits by the aid of physical processes.” In other words, they hope, that by going deeper than modern science has hitherto done, into the esoteric philosophies of ancient times, they may be enabled to obtain, for themselves and other investigators, proof of the existence of an "Unseen Universe,” the nature of its inhabitants, if such there be, and the laws which govern them and their relations with mankind.

Whatever may be the private opinions of its members, the society has no dogmas to enforce, no creed to disseminate. It is formed neither as a Spiritualistic schism, nor to serve as the foe or friend of any sectarian or philosophic body. Its only axiom is the omnipotence of truth, its only creed a profession of unqualified devotion to its discovery and propagation. In considering the qualifications of applicants for membership, it knows neither race, sex, color, country, nor creed.

That all the members of a society should acquire an equal degree of knowledge within the same period of time is not to be expected. Knowledge is always progressive, and proportional to natural capability and susceptibility to intellectual impression. Even the most intelligent and the most perseveringly studious must labor in order to obtain or attain. To all, however, are alike indispensable, rectitude of principle and conduct, and love of truth and wisdom. No student can win his diploma without undertaking a long course of study and proving a good character; and every handicraftsman has to serve his apprenticeship before he can be journeyman or master. So theosophy, which claims to teach the vital points of science and art, exacts from its adepts an assiduity of purpose, a catholicity of mind, an unselfish devotion, an unflinching courage and perseverance, and a purity of life and thought commensurate with the nature of their self-imposed task, before admitting them into the arcana of nature, and intrusting them with powers not shared by meaner souls.

The founders of the Theosophical Society begin their work with a solemn conviction of its importance. They do not undervalue the difficulties, intrinsic and extrinsic, of the task. Their work is that which the Spiritualists have neglected, the Materialists have not attempted, and the Theologians have misunderstood and undervalued. Starting with a hope, rather than a conviction, of the attainment of their desires, they are animated solely by an earnest purpose to learn the truth, wheresoever it may be found; and esteem no obstacles so serious, no pains so great, as to excuse them for relinquishing it.

They look in vain to the Church for such evidence of immortality as will satisfy the exactions of a fearless reason; in vain to her opponents for an explanation of the preterhuman experiences of mankind, from the earliest periods. The Spiritualists, who profess to be in constant relations with the departed, are unable to agree upon a system of philosophy. Thus the longing of the race for a practical demonstration of its future existence goes unsatisfied; the laws of intercommunication between the visible and the invisible worlds are not accurately defined; and the problem of the two eternities which bound this life remains unsolved, despite a multitude of churches and academies.

Everywhere the greatest activity in metaphysical speculation is manifested. In the East, the corrupted ancient faiths are confronted with European propagandists, who struggle to keep the foothold which was won for them by the sword and diplomacy. Japan is becoming educated in the modern arts and sciences, and her intelligent minds, in acquiring our languages, gain access to the most profound and persuasive teachers in all departments of advanced thought. In China, the missionary is pushing his way more and more deeply into the heart of the country, and coming into closer relations with its inhabitants. In India, the Brahmo-Somaj, or “Society of God,” has begun in earnest the colossal work of purifying the Hindoo religions from the dross which centuries of priest-craft have infused into them.

In Europe, we see Materialism gradually encroaching upon the domain of the Church, and even gaining ground among her clergy; the congregations are composed almost exclusively of women; adult males, as a rule, are free-thinkers; the Roman Catholics are losing their political influence; and the whole Christian hierarchy is arraigned at the bar of public opinion by the philosophical scientists, who, in searching after the secrets of mere material nature, have had their own views of a God almost, if not wholly, obscured. Russia, in civilization the youngest of European nations, has just begun, through its Imperial University, a scientific investigation of the spiritualistic phenomena. In Great Britain, the safety of the Established Church is threatened by the non-conforming sects, and all by the principles promulgated by many members of the British Association, who, in indirectly teaching the doctrine of rationalism, strike a fatal blow at an establishment which is based upon simple reactionary faith, and is incapable of appeasing the newly awakened spirit of reasonable inquiry.

In the United States, the rebellion of the public mind against ecclesiastical authority has been comparatively more general than in the parent country, and at the present time, so inconsiderable has the influence of the Protestant Church become, that it may almost be said that the conflict is between the Romanists and the Spiritualists — the former representing the idea of ultra-montanism and intolerance; the latter, that of the absolute sovereignty of the individual in the matter of belief as regards their assumed intercourse with a spirit-world, and, with many, that of unbridled license in the relations of the sexes.

It is probable that, but for the extraordinary multiplicity of the alleged spiritual phenomena, and the consequent revival of faith in the immortality of the spirit, Materialism and various forms of atheism would have acquired a far more general hold upon the American people. As it is, however, the defection from the sectarian bodies has been to the advantage of Spiritualism, rather than to that of its adversaries, notwithstanding the numerous exposures of deception on the part of mediums.

In view of the existing state of things, it will be seen that the Theosophical Society has been organized in the interest of religion, 1science, and good morals; to aid each according to its needs.

The founders being baffled in every attempt to get the desired knowledge in other quarters, turn their faces toward the Orient, whence are derived all systems of religion and philosophy. They find our ancestors practicing important arts now lost to us. They discover them dealing with forces whose very names are now unknown, and the simplest demonstration of whose existence is impossible to our scientists. In the Bible occurs a multitude of passages which corroborate the inferences deducible from the picture-writings on the architectural remains of the ancient nations; while every important museum of antiquities augments the proof of their wisdom and enlightenment.

The Theosophical Society, disclaiming all pretension to the possession of unusual advantages, all selfish motives, all disposition to foster deception of any sort, all intent to wilfully and causelessly injure any established organization, invites the fraternal cooperation of such as can realize the importance of its field of labor, and are in sympathy with the objects for which it has been organized.

November, 1875.




The title of the society is “ THE THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY.”


The objects of the society are, to collect and diffuse a knowledge of the laws which govern the universe.


The society shall consist of active, honorary, and corresponding fellows.

  1. Honorary fellows shall be chosen on account of their distinction as theosophists.
  2. Corresponding fellows shall be chosen from those who have aided the advancement of theosophy.
  3. Fellowship shall be conferred only upon persons in sympathy with the objects of the society.
  4. Nominations for fellowship shall be made in writing by two fellows in good standing, at a regular meeting of the society, and referred without debate to the council, which shall vote thereon not sooner than thirty nor later than sixty days thereafter.
  5. Any fellow may, on the recommendation of the council, and by a vote of two thirds of the fellows present at a regular meeting of the society, be expelled.


  1. The initiation fee, except for honorary and corresponding fellows, shall be five dollars, to be paid on proposal. In case of non-admission of the applicant, the fee shall be refunded.
  2. The annual dues shall be six dollars, to be paid in advance.
  3. Any fellow of the society, not in arrears, may commute for life all dues for fellowship by the payment, at one time, of fifty dollars.
  4. Any fellow one year in arrears for his dues may, upon the recommendation of the council, be expelled by vote of the society.
  5. Dues of fellows in arrears may be compromised or remitted by the council for cause shown.
  6. The fiscal year of the society shall, for all purposes, be the calendar year; that is, commence on the first day of January, and end with the thirty-first day of December, in each year.


  1. The officers of the society shall be a president, two vice-presidents, a corresponding secretary, a recording secretary, a librarian, a treasurer and five councillors; and these officers together shall form the council of the society.
  2. The officers of the society shall be chosen from among its fellows; they shall be elected annually by ballot, and shall hold their offices until others are elected in their places.
  3. All officers of the society to be chosen at an election, may be voted for on one ballot.
  4. No fellow shall at the same time hold two offices in the society.


  1. The annual meeting of the society shall be held on the first Wednesday after the first day of January in each and every year hereafter, when the annual election of the officers of the society shall take place; and if, from any cause, there shall be a failure of the annual election at the time above designated for that purpose, the same may be held on the Wednesday next but one following; that is, on the third Wednesday after the first day of January, and of which due notice shall be given.
  2. But the officers first elected after the adoption of these by-laws shall hold office until the expiration of one year from the first Wednesday after the first day of January next ensuing.
  3. Every fellow of the society who is not in arrears for dues, shall be entitled to vote at the said election.
  4. At the annual meeting of the society, the council shall present a general report of its proceedings and of those of the society during the past year, and the secretaries, treasurer and librarian shall also present their annual reports.


  1. The society, unless it shall otherwise specially order, shall hold its stated meetings for the transaction of business, on the first and third Wednesdays of each month of the year, except July, August, and September.
  2. The president or, in his absence, one of the vice-presidents, may, and upon the written request of ten fellows, shall, call a special meeting of the society, by giving five days’ notice thereof, in two daily newspapers published in the City of New York, and in the organ of the society.


1. At all stated meetings of the society, for the transaction of ordinary business, the order of business shall be as follows:
I. Reading of minutes.
II. Reports, and communications from officers of the society.
III. Reports from the council.
IV. Reports from committees.
V. Nominations of fellows.
VI. Special orders.
VII. Unfinished business.
VIII. Miscellaneous business.
IX. Papers, addresses, and experiments before the society.
X. Adjournment.
2. Any proposition presented for the action of the society, at any of its meetings, shall be in writing, and signed by the member presenting it. A proposition, thus presented,
when seconded, and the question thereon stated from the chair, shall be deemed in the possession of the society, and open for discussion.
3. No fellow shall speak more than once upon the same question, until all the other fellows present desiring to speak shall have spoken;
nor more than twice on any question without leave of the society.
4. The proceedings of the society in all its meetings shall be governed by Cushing’s Manual, except as otherwise provided by these by-laws.


At all the meetings of the society, eleven fellows shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of business.


At all the meetings of the society, on the arrival of the appointed hour, and the presence of a quorum, the president, or, in his absence, one of the vice-presidents, or, in their absence, a chairman pro tem., shall be elected, and preside.

The presiding officer shall have only a casting vote.

He shall preserve order and decide all questions of order, subject to an appeal to the society. He shall also, unless otherwise specially ordered, appoint all committees authorized by the society; and, at every annual election, before the opening of the polls, he shall appoint two tellers of election.


  1. It shall be the duty of the corresponding secretary to conduct the general correspondence of the society with individuals and associate bodies.
  2. The corresponding secretary shall keep, in suitable books provided for that purpose, at the society’s rooms, true copies of all letters written on behalf of the society; and shall preserve, on proper files, at the said rooms, all letters received on the same account, and at each stated meeting of the society or the council shall report the correspondence, or such parts thereof as may be required.
  3. It shall be the duty of the recording secretary to give due notice of the time and place of all meetings of the society, and to attend the same.
He shall keep accurate minutes of the proceedings of the society, and record the same when approved, in the society’s journal, to be open to the inspection of fellows in good standing.
He shall give immediate notice to the several officers and committees of the society, of all votes, orders, resolutions, and proceedings of the society, affecting them, or appertaining to their respective duties.
He shall prepare a list of the fellows of the society entitled to vote, to be handed to the tellers before the opening of the polls at each annual election. He shall officially sign and affix the corporate seal of the society to all diplomas and other instruments or documents authorized by the society or council. He shall have charge of the corporate seal, charter, by-laws, records, and general archives of the society, except so far as they may be expressly placed under the charge of others. He shall certify all acts and proceedings of the society, and shall notify the council of the death, resignation, or removal of any officer or fellow of the society. He shall have charge of the rooms of the society, and shall perform all such other and further duties as may, from time to time, be devolved upon him by the society or the council.
He shall receive, for his services, such salary or pecuniary compensation as shall be determined by the council; but he shall not have a vote on any question relating to, or affecting, his salary or pecuniary compensation.
4. All documents relating to the society, and under the charge of the secretaries, respectively, shall be placed in such depositories in the rooms of the society as the council may provide and designate for that purpose.


The librarian, together with the council, shall have the charge and arrangement of the books, maps, and collections belonging to the society. He shall cause to be kept in the rooms of the society, a registry of all donations to the library or collections of the society, acknowledge their receipt by letter to the donors, and report the same, in writing, to the society, at its next stated meeting. Under the direction of the council, he shall superintend the publication and the purchase of such books, pamphlets, and other matter, relating to the library, as maybe ordered by the society or council.


The treasurer shall have charge of, and safely keep, all contracts, certificates of stock, securities, and muniments of title belonging to the society. He shall collect the dues and keep the funds of the society, and disburse the same under the direction of the council; and so often as the said funds in the hands of the treasurer shall amount to one hundred dollars, he shall deposit the same, in the name of the society, in some incorporated bank in the City of New-York, to be designated for that purpose by the council; and the said funds thus deposited, shall be drawn out of the bank on the check of the treasurer, countersigned by the president of the society; and only for the legitimate and authorized purposes of the society. The treasurer shall, previous to the annual meeting of the society, prepare and submit to the council, for audit, a detailed statement of his receipts and disbursements for account of the society during the past year; and such annual report, duly audited, he shall present, with his general report, to the society, at its annual meeting.


  1. The council shall have the management and control of the affairs, property, and funds of the society ; and shall designate an incorporated bank In the City of New-York, where the said funds shall, from time to time, as they accrue, be deposited by the treasurer.
  2. It may frame its own by-laws, not inconsistent with the charter or by-laws of the society.
  3. It may, from time to time, determine the salary or pecuniary compensation of the recording secretary; and shall also appoint the necessary agents, clerks, and servants of the society, with such powers, duties, privileges, and compensation, as it may from time to time determine; and may at pleasure revoke such appointments, and make others in their stead.
  4. It shall have power to fill, for the unexpired term, any vacancy that may occur in any of the offices of the society.
  5. It shall have power, in its discretion, to declare vacant the seat of any member of its own body (except those of the president and vice-presidents) who shall have been absent from its meetings for three successive months; and also, by a vote of a majority of the whole council, to remove, from its own body, any member thereof for cause ; but in such case it shall be the duty of the council to report every such vacancy or removal to the society, at its next stated meeting thereafter, when such cases shall be subject to review by the society.
  6. It shall not, without an approving vote of the society, at a stated meeting thereof, make any contract whereby a liability in amount above two hundred and fifty dollars may be incurred by the society; nor without such vote make any sale or disposition of the property of the society, exceeding that sum in value.
  7. The council may, in its discretion, remit the initiation fee, or annual dues, of any fellow of the society.
  8. No member of the council, except the recording secretary, shall receive any salary or pecuniary compensation for his services.
  9. The council shall hold stated meetings for the transaction of business, at least once in every month, except the months of July, August, and September.
  10. At all meetings of the council, five members present shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of business.


  1. The library is and shall remain free to all fellows of the society not in arrears for dues.
  2. Every book when taken out must be neatly and cleanly kept, carefully used and punctually returned at the time marked upon it.
  3. Fellows taking out books from the library shall give to the librarian a receipt for such book or books on the printed form provided for that purpose.
  4. A fine of twenty-five cents and upward shall be imposed by the librarian for each infraction of either of the two preceding rules, which fine must be paid before other books are taken.
  5. Books of exceptional rarity or value will not be circulated without a deposit, but may be consulted at the library when open, or by special arrangement.
  6. The library will be open for the half hour preceding each stated meeting of the society, and at such other times as may be agreed upon with the librarian.
  7. All other matters relating to the books and use of the library are subject to the control of the librarian; but an appeal from him may be taken to the council.
  8. The society will accept loans of books, from persons possessing any that may be of value to the society, and it is understood that such contributors may have their books returned to them when, in the opinion of the council, they are no longer needed. Any contributor may, at any time, withdraw the books contributed by him, upon two weeks’ notice, in writing, to the librarian of his desire to do so. While books remain in the library they are subject to the rules and regulations of the same.


No debt on account of the society, beyond the funds in the treasury for its payment, shall, for any purpose at any time, be incurred; and if, at any time, it shall appear that there are resting upon the society, pecuniary obligations beyond the funds in the treasury for their liquidation, no appropriation of funds from the treasury whatever, except for the necessary current expenses of the society, shall be made, until the said pecuniary obligations shall be fully discharged, or the funds necessary for their extinction shall have been set apart for that purpose.


No alteration in the by-laws of the society, and no substitution of others in their place, shall be made unless offered in writing at a stated meeting of the society, at least one month prior to final action and adoption, by a vote of two thirds of the fellows present.

Availability of the publication

Copies of the original 20-page booklet are available in the Wisconsin Historical Society Library and presumably in the Theosophical Society library in Pasadena, California. The Preamble was printed in the September, 1947 issue of The Theosophical Forum.[1]


  1. "Preamble of the T.S." The Theosophical Forum 25.9 (September, 1947) 515-518.