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Re: What is Theosophy ?

Nov 25, 2001 11:23 PM
by Mark Kusek

If anyone is interested to delve further into this topic, there is a very good
reference history to Western Esotericism, or the "theosophical current" in a book

Theosophy, Imagination, Tradition : Studies in Western Esotericism
(Suny Series in Western Esoteric Traditions)
by Antoine Faivre, Christine Rhone (Translator)

It's available at

-- Mark

> From:
> >From the time of The Renaissance until today the word "Theosophy" has
> continuously had different meanings ascribed to it. One form began to
> acquire shape in the spiritual climate of late sixteenth-century
> Germany, reaching such heights in the seventeenth century that it has
> continued to penetrate part of Western culture until the present day.
> A second major form is represented by the Theosophical Society
> itself, officially founded in 1875 , which it is in academic circles
> regarded as a new religious movement, but went in itself through
> various stages of devellopment.
> Toward the end of the fiftennth century, when scientists and
> humanists undertook to appropriate various traditions of the past-
> Neo-Pythagoreanism, Neo-Platonism, Alexandrian hermetism, Jewish
> Kabbalah with the concern to show that some of them, indeed all of
> them, mutually enrich one another and represent more or less the
> branches of a common trunk, that is, of a. philosophia perennis,
> something taken up later again by Blavatsky.
> Marsilio Ficino, who in 1463 translated from Greek into Latin the
> Corpus Hermeticum (a set of Alexandrian texts dating from the second
> and third centuries of our era) attempted to marry the teachings of
> these texts with those of Christianity and Platonism, while drawing
> inspiration from the old "magical" tradition. In parallel, the Jewish
> Kabbalah, whose texts began to be known in Christianity especially
> after 1492 (the date of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain), became
> an instrument of knowledge for henneneuts applied to the
> christianization of its symbolismwhence the name Christian Kabbalah
> to refer to this new form of literature.
> It is also the era when Pico della Mirandola affirmed that the
> Kabbalah and magic prove the truths of Christianity, allowing it to
> be better understood, and when other hermeneuts began to associate
> the Kabbalah with alchemy. The philosophia perennis thus expressed a
> need to have recourse to traditions of the past through the
> deciphering of documents and scholarly work, in the light of analogy.
> It was expected from all the texts thus solicited that they
> represent a higher knowledge a gnosis which by the same token
> presupposed a faculty in Man, to penetrate the mysteries of founding
> or revealed texts.
> This accounts for the series of names, often given in the period,
> where we see side by side Moses, Zoroaster, Hermes Trismegistus,
> Orpheus, Pythagoras, Plato, and the Sibyls. But when the time came
> when the sciences of Nature tended to separate from theology, then
> mostly reduced to metaphysics, this vast domain then became the
> subject of reinterpretations. These were, on the one hand,prefiguring
> modern science, which would spring to life in the seventeenth
> century; on the other, "extratheological", that is "new religious" as
> it is commonly called today.
> It is among the representatives of this second category of
> reinterpretations that one finds the first "esotericists" in the
> modern sense of the term. Their thought came in some manner to fill
> in the interface between meta- physics and cosmology, with
> speculations tending to account for the relationships between the
> particular and the universal, or among God, Man, and the universe.
> They established these relationships referring to different
> authorities of the past, but almost always with a vision of universal
> correspondences inseparable from the idea that the cosmos is alive.
> The appropriation of philosophy by the scholastics was thus matched,
> marginally or reactively, by that of Alexandrian hermetism, the
> Jewish Kabbalah, magia inherited from the Middle Ages, and so on, by
> scholars who had become "specialists" in these traditions.
> Its referential corpus was constituted little by little, made up of
> texts belonging to ancient traditions that, at the dawn of the
> Renaissance, began to be compared with one another, and new texts
> starting at the end of the fifteenth century which often were
> commentaries on the first. It was also enriched, especially beginning
> in the sixteenth century, by works that were not "erudite"thus, those
> of Paracelsus presenting themselves far less as commentaries on
> ancient texts, with the exception of the Bible, than as direct
> readings of the Book of Nature, supposed to clarify that of the
> Revelation.
> But these works themselves were incorporated straight away into the
> referential corpus of esotericism. Among the representatives
> of "erudite" esotericism appeared, in the sixteenth century, Ludovico
> Lazarelli, Francois Foix de Candale, Francesco Patrizi (all three are
> inscribed in the current of Neo-Alexandrian hermetism), and in
> addition, Johannes Trithemius, Henricus Cornelius Agrippa, Giordano
> Bruno, Giorgi of Venice.
> For the seventeenth century one should expecially mention, Robert
> Fludd, Thomas Campanella, and Michael Maier.
> With Jacob Boehme (1575-1624) began the first golden age of
> theosophy; it extended over the whole seventeenth century with the
> immediate successors of Boehme (for example, Jane Leade, John
> Pordage, Quirinus Kuhlmann, Johann Georg Gichtel).
> Then followed a period of relative latency, interrupted by the
> appearance of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), who had a considerable
> cultural and spiritual influence. It is from the Swedenborg
> Theosophical Society in London that the inspiration for the name of
> the name for the New York TS of Olcott/HPB has come.
> Toward the end of the eighteenth century,there where also Martines
> de Pasqually, Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin, Friedrich Christoph
> Oetinger, and others.
> Three common and complementary characteristics could serve to
> account for the notion of theosophy: (a) an illuminated speculation
> bearing on the relationships among God, Man, and the universe
> (Nature); (b) the primacy of myths (biblical) of foundation or origin
> as a point of departure for this speculation; (c) the idea that Man,
> by virtue of his creative imagination, can develop in himself the
> faculty of acceding to the higher worlds.
> It is, furthermore, the Rosicrucian current, whose birth certificate
> is the publication in German, at Kassel, of the two famous Manifestos
> Pama Fraternatis, 1614; and ConfessioFraternatis, 1615 (they had been
> circulating for several years in manuscript form)and then of the
> novel, also in German, by Johann Valentin Andreae, The
> ChemicalWeddingofChristianRosenkreuz (Strasbourg, 1616). Just as the
> Latin translation of the CorpusHermeticum by Ficino, almost a century
> and a half previously, had been at the origin of the current of
> modern Neo-Alexandrian hermetism, so these three texts constituted
> the founding act of Rosicrucianism. In the beginning, this placed
> itself under the authority of Paracelsus, more so than theosophy had
> done, and presented itself as an attempt at religious reform not
> meant to found a newly established Church, but rather to improve, to
> palliate the insufficiencies of Protestantism,, to foster a form of
> spirituality as much open to alchemy and occult philosophy as to all
> the sciences of the era.
> Starting from the eighteenth century, one sees various initiatic
> societies proliferating. While they placed themselves explicitly
> under the sign of the Rosy Cross, they drew their inspiration from
> other esoteric currents, too. Both the former and the latter took on
> various forms according to the periods, in function of the culture
> and the society of the time. One also sees new currents being born,
> breaking away from those that had preceded but from which they
> issued: Eesotericism is riddled with discontinuities, rejections,
> reinter- pretations.
> Although there is no single point of doctrinal unity among
> theosophers, they do have some common traits, and carry both eastern
> and western influences.
> J.van Helmont, Thomas Moore, together with the Lurian Kabbalah
> popularised for the first time the teachings of reincarnation to
> enter the west based partly on the Lurian Caballah.
> Swedenborg learned about Tibetan and Chinese Yoga from Swedish
> soldier-scholars, who had been prisoners of war in the Siberian and
> Tartar areas of Russia and returned to Sweden in the 1720s. In his
> Spiritual Diary, Swedenborg drew on the travel journal of Philip
> Strahlenberg, a Swedish officer and former prisoner, to describe the
> spiritual relation between the Tibetans, Tartars, Chinese, and
> Siberians, Chinese and Tibetan Tantrism .
> See also: Philangi Dasa, Swedenborg the Buddhist; or, The Higher
> Swedenborgianism, Its Secrets and Thibetan Origin ,Los Angeles:
> Buddhistic Swedenborgian Brotherhood,1887.
> Note that Blavatsky and Olcott where still living in the US at this
> time, and would move to India the following year and
> become "Budhists".
> Swedenborg even predated the idea of the latter Stanza's of Dzyan
> idea by claiming that that angels had explained to him that the Old
> Testament was modeled on an original text from Central Asia.
> The Theosophical Society of 1875 first drew more on Western but also
> oriental sources, with a specific Indianisation as of 1878.
> Olcott wrote in his "Old Diary Leaves; "Now that I come to look back
> at it, we were in reality but planning to repeat the work of
> Cagliostro, whose Egyptian Lodge was in his days so powerful a centre
> for the propagation of Eastern occult thought."
> Brigitte

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