Elsie Violet (Savage) Benjamin
“She Brought Theosophy to Life”
[Born May 30, 1897 - Died Sep. 25, 1981]
Elsie Savage was born in Liverpool, England on May 30, 1897. She was a third generation Theosophist — her grandparents had their diplomas signed by H.P. Blavatsky and H.S. Olcott. Her grandfather also had personal links with W.Q. Judge. Elsie was born into an austere life and suffered many setbacks during her lifetime. A friend wrote: “. . . never giving in to adversity, diminutive in physique, large of aura, she faced occult trials all her life and persevered on, gallantly.”
Elsie immigrated with her parents, brother and sisters to “Lomaland” near San Diego, CA when she was only three years old, arriving in the United States December 13, 1900. Lomaland was a theosophical Colony of about 132 acres, then known as the Point Loma Homestead and as the “School for the Revival of the Lost Mysteries of Antiquity”. The family grew up in that Centre under the harsh discipline which was imposed there. Living in tents and/or canvas topped wooden-framed cottages was very difficult for parents with a baby (Helena), and four other young children. Elsie’s father, Harry, died July 17, 1902, before the birth of youngest son, Arthur, in 1903. [See additional family history below]
Elsie eventually became the personal secretary to Katherine Tingley, the head of the Point Loma Community, until the latter’s death in 1929 at which time Dr. Gottfried de Purucker became the head. As a result of her secretarial talent as a skilled shorthand-typist, she managed to record and transcribe verbatim practically every word de Purucker uttered. Many of his works were published as a result. As secretary she travelled all over the world, meeting Theosophists of the whole movement, making the warmth and wisdom of the teachings into something alive and real in her unique way.
Harry Benjamin, a well-known Naturopath, and Elsie had been long-time pen friends. He describes the events following de Purucker’s death September 27, 1942: “. . . in September, 1942, I heard that Dr. de Purucker had quite suddenly and unexpectedly died from a heart attack (soon after the headquarters had been moved from Point Loma to Covina, California), and that immediately put an entirely different complexion on things. The way seemed clear at last for Miss Savage to come over to England (if she felt she wanted to do this, and if she could get the necessary permission and was ready to face the U-boats)! This course I repeatedly urged her to take, as by that time I felt convinced our future lay inevitably together in helping humanity along our destined lines of work. (She, too, was vitally interested in Nature Cure and Diet Reform, I had discovered, during the course of our correspondence, although life at the Theosophical headquarters did not always permit of their full application).
Harry and Elsie felt comfortable enough with each other through their years of correspondence to become engaged in March 1943 without having ever met. In October 1943 she chose to brave the war in the Atlantic and sailed with a convoy for England, arriving in blacked-out Glasgow in November. She found her way to Worthing where she lived with Harry and his mother until they married in December 1943 at the local registry office. Elsie was forty-six and Harry was forty-seven. In Harry’s own words, this “seemingly foolhardy step” was inspired by intuition and a palmist’s prediction four years earlier. They were devoted companions who “enlarged the cause of alternative medicine / wholefoods / Theosophy” until Harry’s death. They were married for twenty-three years.
Harry wrote: “At first we thought that when Elsie came over here she would help me in my writing activities, . . . but events worked out otherwise, and before long we had decided to insert an advertisement in Health for All giving details of a Theosophical correspondence course Elsie was preparing to inaugurate. There was to be no charge for the course, but intended students had to be prepared to pay the postage for any books loaned. The advertisement appeared in February, 1944, issue of the magazine, and was an immediate success.”
Responses came almost immediately and from that moment, despite difficulties imposed by the war years, the theosophical work she had undertaken prospered. The first issue of the Bulletin was published September 27, 1945 and the last Oct.-Nov. 1981— 414 issues in all. As a result of its success hundreds of students became members of the Theosophical Society (the Covina Society). Both Elsie and Harry were members of this Society and not members of the Adyar Society. It was decided to band these members together and form the Corresponding Fellows’ Lodge. Harry served as President and Elsie as the Corresponding Secretary. The Corresponding Fellows’ Lodge had members scattered all over the globe.
“The underlying theme in the Bulletin, not overly stated but weaving itself in and out of its every issue with unremitting emphasis, is the need and pledge to ‘Keep the link unbroken.’ This means as all Theosophists know, preserving and promulgating the Teachings as given by HPB and her own Teachers, keeping it unsullied and pure.”
In the first issue of the Bulletin Elsie, quoting de Purucker, claimed the following as “a keynote of our Theosophical work”:
“‘Keep the teaching unadulterated and pure for the future’ — Oh, how those words ring in my heart, for it is what I want too; and yet I feel impelled and compelled to call your attention to a very serious danger here. Agreeing absolutely with the principle of the thing, I must call attention to the danger, and it is this: In striving to retain the purity of the teachings of our blessed God-Wisdom, let us never drop into the dogmatic attitude which will spell the dearth of free conscience, free thought, free speech, sane and legitimate freedom of all kinds in the T.S. By all means retain the purity of the teaching, it is the grandest thing we can do; but never refuse to a man his right to speak, and speak freely, even if you know what he says is not true, or distorted. The principle of freedom is so precious, it must never be forgotten.”
“The CFL Bulletin was unique—it spoke out. No timidity, no kowtowing to passing humours of the day, held it back from unfurling the theosophical banner and proclaiming that Theosophy had the answers to today’s problems. Her program was carried on with common sense, with consistency, with unfailing enthusiasm, holding ever firmly to what has been called “Following the Blavatsky tradition”, which words were printed on the masthead of the Bulletin.”
Elsie also served as Trustee for The Mahatma Letters Trust. When A.P. Sinnett died in 1921 his executrix, Miss Maud Hoffman, was left with the correspondence he had received from 1880 to 1884 from certain Eastern Teachers said to belong to an Occult Brotherhood living in the Trans-Himalayan mountains of Tibet. These occult Teachers were known as Mahatmas M and K.H. Miss Hoffman authorized Trevor Barker to edit and publish the letters. The first edition was published in 1923. A second edition was published in 1926. After Barker’s death in 1941 Hoffman agreed to have a third edition published and created “The Mahatma Letters Trust”. She appointed three trustees to control the copyright of the book. The first three trustees were Christmas Humphreys (1901-1983), his wife—Mrs. Aileen Humphreys, and Elsie Benjamin. In 1939 the original letters were deposited in the British Museum.
Elsie worked to the end — despite not feeling well since May she completed her last Bulletin in early August. One friend wrote "We have just heard that Elsie has passed into the Great Peace she so richly deserves. The end was peaceful, quiet, this 25th of September so near the Equinox, just a slipping away after some days of coma. She died around 6.30 sundown, Greenwich time. She had been briefly ill and was in the hospital in Worthing. Friends with her on two evenings after she was taken there said she was so happy when they visited her, so alert, and they talked of theosophical teaching; and then the next day she lapsed into unconsciousness from which she never recovered.”
Elsie had three sisters Francis, Madeline (Clark), Helen (Todd), and two brothers, Charles and Arthur.
Some of her published works are The Stanzas of Dzyan; A Study of the Whole of Man; Search and Find: Theosophical Reference Index; and Man at Home in the Universe: A study of the Great Evolutionary Cycle.
Additional family history:
Grandfather Charles William Savage, (1836-1921). His application was endorsed by H.S. Olcott and Sidney G.P. Coryn, on October 13, 1888.
Grandmother Frances Milton (Timms) Savage (1838-1921). Her application was endorsed by M.C. Londini and H. Morel, on February 14, 1889.
Elsie’s parents, Harry Milton Savage (1862-1902) and Florence Rose (Hudson) Savage (1862- ?) joined the Theosophical Society on February 14, 1889. Their applications were also endorsed by M. C. Londini and H. Morel. They were members of the Liverpool Lodge.
Viewpoint Aquarius, #108, Nov. 1891.
Theo. Journal, Vol. 23, Winter 1982.
California Utopia: Point Loma: 1897-1942
ADVENTURE IN LIVING: The Autobiography of a Myope. 1950
The Eclectic Theosophist, No. 66, Nov.-Dec., 1981; No. 67, Jan.-Feb. 1982; No. 86, March-April, 1985.
Corresponding Fellows’ Lodge Bulletin, Sep. 27, 1945
The Canadian Theosophists, Vol. 45, March-April 1964, Jan.-Feb. 1965; Vol. 59, Jan.-Feb. 1979; Vol. 62, Nov.-Dec. 1981; Vol. 63, July-Aug., 1982.
The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, Third and Revised Edition, Adyar 1979.
Archives of Edmonton Theosophical Society.