Wood Besant was a prominent Theosophist, women's rights activist,
writer and orator.
Annie Wood was born in 1847 in London and married in 1867 in Hastings,
Sussex to 26-year-old, clergyman Frank Besant, younger brother
of Walter Besant.
marriage lasted six years, they seperated in 1873. Her husband
was given sole custody of their two children. She fought for the
causes she thought were right, starting with freedom of thought,
women's rights, secularism (she was a leading member of the National
Secular Society alongside Charles Bradlaugh), birth control, Fabian
socialism and workers' rights.
most notable victory in this period was perhaps her 1888 campaign
for improved health and safety conditions for workers in matchstick
factories. At the time, the matchstick industry was an immensely
powerful lobby, since electric light was not yet widely available,
and matches were essential for lighting candles, oil lamps, gas
lights, etc. (Only a few years earlier in 1872, lobbyists from
the match industry had mananged to get the British government
to change its planned tax policy.) Besant's campaign was the first
time anyone had successfully challenged the match manufacturers
on a major issue, and was seen as a landmark victory of the early
years of British Socialism.
Besant was a prolific writer and a powerful orator. In 1889, she
was asked to write a review on The Secret Doctrine, a book by
H.P. Blavatsky. After reading it, she sought an interview with
its author, and in this way, was converted to Theosophy.
after becoming a member of the Theosophical Society she went to
India for the first time (in 1893). After a dispute, where William
Quan Judge, leader of the American section was accused of falsifying
letters from the Masters, the American section split away. The
remainder of the Society was then led by Henry Steel Olcott and
Besant and is today based in Chennai, India and is known as the
Theosophical Society Adyar. Thereafter she devoted much of her
energy not only to the Society, but also to India's freedom and
progress. Besant Nagar, a neighborhood (near the Theosophical
Society) in Chennai is named in her honor.
Together with Charles Webster Leadbeater she investigated the
universe, matter and the history of mankind through clairvoyance.
The two became embroiled over Leadbeater's advice to young boys
to masturbate. At the time such advice was highly controversial.
He had to leave the Theosophical Society over this in 1906. In
1908 he was taken back into the fold through the agency of Besant,
who had been elected president of the Theosophical Society in
1907 upon the death of the previous president Henry Steel Olcott.
until Besant's presidency, the society had as one of its foci
Theravada Buddhism and the island of Ceylon, where Henry Olcott
did the majority of his useful work. Under Besant's leadership
there was a decisive turn away from this and a refocusing of their
activities on "The Aryavarta", as she called central
India. Besant actively courted Hindu opinion more than former
Theosophical leaders. This was a clear reversal of policy from
Blavatsky and Olcott's very public conversion to Buddhism in Ceylon,
and their promotion of Buddhist revival activities on the subcontinent
(see also: Maha Bodhi Society).
Soon after Besant's inheritance of the presidency, in 1909, Leadbeater
discovered Jiddu Krishnamurti on the private beach that was attached
to the societies headquarters at Adyar. Krishnamurti had been
living there with his father and brother for a few months prior
to this. This discovery started years of upheaval in the Theosophical
Society in Adyar, as the boy was proposed as the incarnate vessel
for the Christ. Jiddu Krishnamurti and his brother Nitya were
brought up by Theosophists from that moment on, with a subsequent
lawsuit filed by his father.
in 1929, Krishnamurti ended up disbanding the Order of the Star
of the East, which had been founded to support him and of which
he had been made the leader.  This destroyed Besant's spirit,
as it went against her ideals.
She tried to accommodate Krishnamurti's views into her life, but
never really succeeded. The two remained friends, though, until
the end of her life. Annie Besant died in 1933 and was survived
by her daughter, Mabel.
She is the Great-Grandmother of Andrew Castle a television presenter
and former professional tennis player and the Great-Aunt of Justin
Besant, a popular Canadian jazz-funk pianist.
philosophy, no religion, has ever brought so glad a message to
the world as this good news of Atheism."
yet has a God been defined in terms which were not palpably self-contradictory
and absurd; never yet has a God been described so that a concept
of Him was made possible to human thought."
position of the atheist is a clear and reasonable one. I know
nothing about God and therefore I do not believe in Him or it.
What you tell me about your God is self-contradictory and is therefore
incredible. I do not deny "God," which is an unknown
tongue to me. I do deny your God, who is an impossibility. I am
my interlocutor desires to convince me that Jupiter has inhabitants,
and that his description of them is accurate, it is for him to
bring forward evidence in support of his contention. The burden
of proof evidently lies on him; it is not for me to prove that
no such beings exist before my non-belief is justified, but for
him to prove that they do exist before my belief can be fairly
claimed. Similarly, it is for the affirmer of God's existence
to bring evidence in support of his affirmation; the burden of
proof lies on him."
centuries the leaders of Christian thought spoke of women as a
necessary evil, and the greatest saints of the Church are those
who despise women the most."
and insulting way of regarding woman, as though they existed merely
to be the safety-valves of men's passions, and that the best men
were above the temptation of loving them, has been the source
of unnumbered evils."