There is a belief current in the Theosophical Society (Adyar) that ceremonies may do a lot of good. This has its historical roots in the time of C.W. Leadbeater and Annie Besant, when many such initiatives were started or reactivated. Well known examples are co-freemasonry, the Liberal Catholic Church and Round Table. There are many more, most of them cloaked in silence.
There is also in the Theosophical Society Adyar the belief that H.P. Blavatsky would not have condoned these rituals, that she in fact spoke out against them. Well, it isn't as simple as that. H.P. Blavatsky spent much of her time defending the reality of things occult, such as ghosts, pagan rituals when performed by a sorceror, etc. She defended their reality. She also spoke against selfish use of such powers. One example of this is what she said on funeral rites:
A ceremony to furnish the shell “with an armor” against terrestrial attraction need not be repeated “a number of years” to become efficacious, could it but be performed by a person versed in the knowledge of the Magi of old. One such ceremony on the night of death would suffice. But where is the Mobed or priest capable of performing it now? It requires a true occultist—and these are not found at every street corner. Hence it becomes useless to add ruin to the living, since the dead cannot be helped.
(Collected Writings, Volume 5, p. 104; The Theosophist, Vol. IV, No. 11(47), August, 1883, p. 286.)
What she did speak against were dead-letter ceremonies or in other words, ceremonies where the real occult happenings did not occur. For instance in her famous article "The Roots of Ritualism in Church and Masonry" she says:
the Mysteries had become so universal that persons of all ranks and conditions, in every country, men, women, and children, all were initiated! Initiation had become as necessary in his day as baptism has since become with the Christians; and, as the latter is now, so the former had become then — i.e., meaningless, and a purely dead-letter ceremony of mere form. Still later, the fanatics of the new religion laid their heavy hand on the Mysteries.
So I guess, to find out whether the ceremonies performed by many members of the Theosophical Society are meaningless and dead-letter ceremonies - we have to find out two things.
- What is the motive for performing these ceremonies?
- Is something really occult happening, or is it merely a fancy gathering with people in nice clothes doing strange things?
I feel that it is up to those performing these ceremonies to judge that for themselves. I only want to add that if they don't know for themselves that these ceremonies work, they are not living up to these words of caution, given to Annie Besant in 1900:
The T.S. and its members are slowly manufacturing a creed. Says a Tibetan proverb ‘credulity breeds credulity and ends in hypocrisy’.
Because if one doesn't know for oneself that something works, it is credulity to believe that it does. The letter ends with:
The T.S. was meant to be the corner-stone of the future religions of humanity. To accomplish this object those who lead must leave aside their weak predilections for the forms and ceremonies of any particular creed and show themselves to be true Theosophists both in inner thoughts and outward observance.
This of course implies that though the leaders have the responsibility to leave behind the forms and ceremonies they are used to, each individual member is free to stay in whatever religious format he/she chooses. Still, it seems to me that individual members also need to ask themselves: do I know this is true? Do I know this works?
Both quotes are from: the last letter sent by KH to Annie Besant