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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Round Table, the International Order of

An international Order for young people of all creeds and races. Inspired by the Arthurian legends and with “Service” as its keynote, the modern Round Table Movement had its genesis in London on July 25th, 1908, under the aegis of the Theosophical Society (TS) and the direction of the Order’s Founder and first Senior Knight, George Herbert Whyte (1879 -1917).

Originally intended for boys and girls from thirteen years upwards, it evolved from, and later absorbed into itself, the “Golden Chain” and “Lotus Circle” organizations, which were for younger children, and therefore the admission age was lowered. Prior to the amalgamation, Whyte had the responsibility for all three movements.

The Lotus Circles had begun in the USA and in 1895 Annie Besant, then President of the TS, took advantage of the visit to London of an American member of the Theosophical Society, Miss Stabler, to ask for help in establishing one at the Society’s London Headquarters in Avenue Road, St. John’s Wood. Some aspects of those Lotus Ceremonies are still to be found in the Round Table workings, the most notable being the Flower Ceremony. In 1899 the Golden Chain groups commenced in the USA and their “Declaration of Principles” which begins, “I am a link in the Golden Chain of love. . . .” is used today in some countries after the Bread and Salt Ceremony and by individual members as part of a voluntary daily discipline.

The movement was enthusiastically supported by Besant and Charles Leadbeater, who wrote to Herbert Whyte, “. . . it is one of the noblest conceptions that I have seen, and I am very much pleased with it.” Besant became the first Protector of the Order, serving in that capacity until her death in 1933. Following the death of Whyte in 1917, Leadbeater became the second Senior Knight for the ensuing sixteen years. Successors to that Office have been George S. Arundale, Rukmini Devi Arundale, Ingrid Nyborg-Fjellander, Philippa Hartley and Margaret Stagg (formerly Banyard). The first Chief Secretary was Ethyl Whyte (nee Mallet), the wife of the Founder, who continued in that capacity until 1930, becoming a Knight Counselor in 1936.

The Order spread quickly, and by 1920 there were Tables in England, Australia, Holland, New Zealand, Switzerland, Sweden, Belgium, France and Egypt. Today it is active in 22 countries. In the 1920’s it was recommended as one of the “side” activities of the TS, together with Co-Freemasonry, the Liberal Catholic Church, the Order of the Star, and the Montessori movement. In the early 1930’s it became an independent organization, while remaining in close touch with the parent Theosophical Society as an affiliated body with shared ideas and roots.

The informing ideals remain unchanged even though there have been some adjustments to the form itself. It is intended to inspire youth with a vision of the ideal life, and to inculcate the concepts of the Brotherhood of all Life, the Great Law which governs our universe, and the Quest for Truth as expressed in the allegorical tales of the Holy Grail and the mythologies of east and west. That “Service” which is its keynote is offered in the name of the highest ideal of each member, the King being the symbol of that ideal, and since there are no limitations of race and creed, each is free to clothe his or her ideal in the form most revered. Herbert Whyte wrote: “Let our motto be ‘Follow the king.’ Who is the King? That we must each one of us find out for ourselves, and we shall be free to choose, as long as our King is great and wondrous and there shines about Him the glory of the Perfect Man. We shall know Him as we begin to serve Him and shall find Him when, in years to come, we have learned to serve Him well.”

The spiritual aim is therefore to form an international young Brotherhood, and to nurture the inner growth and understanding of young people.

Its Objects are as follows:

1. To create in the minds of the young a recognition of the unity of people and of all living things.

2. To help the young to be useful and happy members of society.

3. To create conditions for harmonious living, and to promote, in all ways possible, Universal Love and Compassion by encouraging the young to be of service to all living creatures.

The means of promoting those objects include ceremonial activities, study, involvement in ecological issues, self expression through arts and crafts, social service, camps and group work.

The membership of the Order is composed of Pages, Companions, Squires and Knights, the ages for the different ranks being:

Pages 4 to 10 years Companions 10 to 14 years Squires 14 to 17 years Knights 17 years and over

The members work in groups called Tables, each of which is led by a Leading Knight, who should be at least 25 years of age.

The international work is directed by the Senior Knight, the Chief Secretary, and the International Senior Council. The responsibility for the work in each country rests with their Chief Knights, with their National Councilor with their National Representative.

D.H.

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