The Celtic Revival emerged in late nineteenth-century Scotland and Ireland from a desire for a distinct national identity and a rise in academic interest in history and folklore.
As artists and writers were exploring themes of Celtic mythology and mysticism, a spiritual sect called the Theosophical Society was also quickly gathering steam. Among the many people attracted to the tenets of Theosophy were Celtic Revivalists. (Willamette)
The various forms of theosophical speculation have certain common characteristics. The first is an emphasis on mystical experience. Theosophical writers hold that there is a deeper spiritual reality and that direct contact with that reality can be established through intuition, meditation, revelation or some other state transcending normal human consciousness.
In addition, most theosophical speculation reveals a fascination with supernatural or other extraordinary occurrences and with the achievement of higher psychic and spiritual powers. Theosphists maintain that knowledge of the divine wisdom gives access to the mysteries of nature and humankind’s inner essence. (Britannica)
Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, a Russian woman of noble birth, and Henry Steel Olcott, an American lawyer and newspaperman, founded the modern Theosophical movement in New York City in 1875.
“As a system of thought, however, Theosophy (derived from the Greek theos and sophia, meaning ‘divine wisdom’) has roots in the thought of Greek philosophers such as Pythagoras and Plato and early Indian philosophy dating from the Vedas and Upanishads.” (Karpiel)
When Theosophy emerged in New York as an innovative transnational religious movement represented by the Theosophical Society it was not based on any particular religious tradition, but on the idea of an ancient universal wisdom religion that had been largely buried for centuries and was to be revived and spread under the guidance of the theosophists and their mysterious masters.
From its US American beginnings and even more so after the shift of its headquarters to Adyar, Theosophy was no more “at home” in Europe than in other parts of the world. Like elsewhere, special efforts, e. g. translation work, the reinterpretation of native traditions and the reshaping of Theosophy according to diverse local contexts were necessary to gain a foothold there. (Baier)
The basic goals of the Theosophical Society are enunciated in the so-called Three Objects: ‘to form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or color; to encourage the study of comparative religion, philosophy, and science; and to investigate unexplained laws of Nature and the powers latent in human beings.’ (Britannica)
By the late 1890s, the Theosophical Society had more than six hundred branches worldwide, primarily on the Indian subcontinent and in Europe and the United States, with membership ranging from dozens to a few hundred in each chapter.
Not a mass movement, the society instead acted as a catalyst in the revival of Buddhism in Asia and a primary vehicle for the introduction of Asian religious ideas to the West.
Theosophy was often perceived by critics as identical to Buddhism after Blavatsky and Olcott relocated the Society to India in 1880 and took up a pro-Buddhist and anticolonial position. (Karpiel)
Theosophy made it to the Islands; Mary Foster organized the first Hawaiian Theosophical study group, the ‘Aloha Branch,’ in February 1894, along with Auguste Marques. Subsequently they established several other study groups: the Hawai‘i and Lotus branches. (Karpiel)
Mary (Robinson) Foster was the oldest child of James Robinson, an early English immigrant who founded Honolulu’s first shipbuilding concern, and Rebecca Prever, the half-Hawaiian descendent of a line of Maui chiefs.
In 1860 Mary Robinson married Thomas Foster, a young shipyard owner from Nova Scotia who founded the Interisland Steam Navigation Company, one of two main interisland shipping concerns during the last two decades of the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries.
Foster inherited considerable property from both her father, who died in 1876, and her husband and became responsible for managing a wide range of business interests and large tracts of land in rural O‘ahu (including Kahana valley) and in Honolulu.
Auguste Marques was a doctor of science, philanthropist, scientist, musician, teacher, diplomat, and capitalist. In 1890-1891, he served in the last year of the King’s legislature. He was the Russian consul from 1908 to 1917, the Panamanian consul in 1909, French consul from 1910 to 1929, and of Belgium in 1914. He continued to be Russian consul long after the revolution.
Marques hosted weekly Theosophical classes at his house on Wilder Avenue with membership fluctuating between seven and twenty-five in the first decade of the group’s existence.
Despite the sparse number of members, Foster and Marques brought a succession of visiting lecturers and prominent personalities to Honolulu during the same period, drawing large crowds and press attention.
Marques also penned a series of articles for The Theosophist, the journal of the Theosophical Society published in Adyar, India. Expounding on Hawaiian mythology and symbolism, he documented chants and prayers that connected families and communities with the land, sea, and ancestral gods.
Foster shared this intense interest in Hawaiian culture, fusing it in later years with Theosophical and Buddhist beliefs. It was perhaps at this juncture that the independently wealthy Marques and Foster met and became friends and allies.
Marie de Souza Canavarro, the wife of the Portuguese consul, was another early Theosophist in Honolulu, finding kindred spirits within the group following her disillusionment with Roman Catholicism.
Canavarro, who came to Hawai’i from California, engaged in a lifelong quest for spiritual truth through esoteric traditions, gaining minor celebrity a few years later for her promotion of Buddhism nationwide through lectures and books. (Karpiel)
The Theosophical Society website notes Hawaii Island Study Center in Pahoa, Puna as one of their “lodges, study center and camps.”