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H P B's 1st article in THEOSOPHIST -- Octo bebr 1879, Bombay WHAT IS THEOSOPHY ?

Feb 09, 2003 05:12 AM
by dalval14

Feb 9th 2003

Dear Friends:

Sometimes people wonder about the meaning and coverage of "Theosophy."

Here is what H P B set down as a basis for all of us to consider and
adopt if we agree with

Best wishes,




Article by H. P. Blavatsky

THIS question has been so often asked, and misconception so widely
prevails, that the editors of a journal devoted to an exposition of
the world's Theosophy would be remiss were its first number issued
without coming to a full understanding with their readers. But our
heading involves two further queries:

What is the Theosophical Society; and

What are the Theosophists?

To each an answer will be given.

According to lexicographers, the term theosophia is composed of two
Greek words--theos, "god," and sophos, "wise." So far, correct. But
the explanations that follow are far from giving a clear idea of
Theosophy. Webster defines it most originally as "a supposed
intercourse with God and superior spirits, and consequent attainment
of superhuman knowledge, by physical processes, as by the theurgic
operations of some ancient Platonists, or by the chemical processes of
the German fire-philosophers."

This, to say the least, is a poor and flippant explanation. To
attribute such ideas to men like Ammonius Saccas, Plotinus,
Iamblichus, Porphyry, Proclus -- shows either intentional
misrepresentation, or Mr. Webster's ignorance of the philosophy and
motives of the greatest geniuses of the later Alexandrian School. To
impute to those whom their contemporaries as well as posterity styled
"theodidaktoi," -- god-taught -- a purpose to develop their
psychological, spiritual perceptions by "physical processes," is to
describe them as materialists. As to the concluding fling at the
fire-philosophers, it rebounds from them to fall home among our most
eminent modern men of science; those, in whose mouths the Rev. James
Martineau places the following boast: "matter is all we want; give us
atoms alone, and we will explain the universe."

[Thomas] Vaughan offers a far better, more philosophical definition.
"A Theosophist," he says--"is one who gives you a theory of God or the
works of God, which has not revelation, but an inspiration of his own
for its basis."

In this view every great thinker and philosopher, especially every
founder of a new religion, school of philosophy, or sect, is
necessarily a Theosophist. Hence, Theosophy and Theosophists have
existed ever since the first glimmering of nascent thought made man
seek instinctively for the means of expressing his own independent

There were Theosophists before the Christian era, notwithstanding that
the Christian writers ascribe the development of the Eclectic
theosophical system to the early part of the third century of their
Diogenes Laertius traces Theosophy to an epoch antedating the dynasty
of the Ptolemies; and names as its founder an Egyptian Hierophant
called Pot-Amun, the name being Coptic and signifying a priest
consecrated to Amun, the god of Wisdom.

But history shows it revived by Ammonius Saccas, the founder of the
Neo-Platonic School. He and his disciples called themselves
"Philalethians"--lovers of the truth; while others termed them the
"Analogists," on account of their method of interpreting all sacred
legends, symbolical myths and mysteries, by a rule of analogy or
correspondence, so that events which had occurred in the external
world were regarded as expressing operations and experiences of the
human soul.

It was the aim and purpose of Ammonius to reconcile all sects, peoples
and nations under one common faith--a belief in one Supreme Eternal,
Unknown, and Unnamed Power, governing the Universe by immutable and
eternal laws.

His object was to prove a primitive system of Theosophy, which at the
beginning was essentially alike in all countries; to induce all men to
lay aside their strifes and quarrels, and unite in purpose and thought
as the children of one common mother; to purify the ancient religions,
by degrees corrupted and obscured, from all dross of human element, by
uniting and expounding them upon pure philosophical principles

Hence, the Buddhistic, Vedantic and Magian, or Zoroastrian, systems
were taught in the Eclectic Theosophical School along with all the
philosophies of Greece. Hence also, the preeminently Buddhistic and
Indian feature among the ancient Theosophists and Alexandria, of due
reverence for parents and aged persons; a fraternal affection for the
whole human race; and a compassionate feeling for even the dumb

While seeking to establish a system of moral discipline which enforced
upon people the duty to live according to the laws of their respective
countries; to exalt their minds by the research and contemplation of
the one Absolute Truth; his chief object in order, as he believed, to
achieve all others, was to extract from the various religious
teachings, as from a many-chorded instrument, one full and harmonious
melody, which would find response in every truth-loving heart.

Theosophy is, then, the archaic Wisdom-Religion, the esoteric doctrine
once known in every ancient country having claims to civilization.
This "Wisdom" all the old writings show us, was an emanation of the
divine Principle; and the clear comprehension of it is typified in
such names as the Indian Buddh, the Babylonian Nebo, the Thoth of
Memphis, the Hermes of Greece; in the appellations, also, of some
goddesses--Metis, Neitha, Athena, the Gnostic Sophia, and finally the
Vedas, from the word "to know."

Under this designation, all the ancient philosophers of the East and
West, the Hierophants of old Egypt, the Rishis of Aryavarta, the
Theodidaktoi of Greece, included all knowledge of things occult and
essentially divine.

The Mercavah of the Hebrew Rabbis, the secular and popular series,
were thus designated as only the vehicle, the outward shell which
contained the higher esoteric knowledge. The Magi of Zoroaster
received instruction and were initiated in the caves and secret lodges
of Bactria; the Egyptian and Grecian hierophants had their apporrheta,
or secret discourses, during which the Mysta became an Epopta--a Seer.

The central idea of the Eclectic Theosophy was that of a simple
Supreme Essence, Unknown and Unknowable--for--"How could one know the
knower?" as enquires Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.

Their system was characterized by three distinct features: the theory
of the above-named Essence; the doctrine of the human soul--an
emanation from the latter, hence of the same nature; and its theurgy.
It is this last science which has led the Neo-Platonists to be so
misrepresented in our era of materialistic science.

Theurgy being essentially the art of applying the divine powers of man
to the subordination of the blind forces of nature, its votaries were
first termed magicians--a corruption of the word "Magh," signifying a
wise, or learned man, and--derided. Skeptics of a century ago would
have been as wide of the mark if they had laughed at the idea of a
phonograph or telegraph. The ridiculed and the "infidels" of one
generation generally become the wise men and saints of the next.

As regards the Divine essence and the nature of the soul and spirit,
modern Theosophy believes now as ancient Theosophy did. The popular
Diu of the Aryan nations was identical with the Iao of the Chaldeans,
and even with the Jupiter of the less learned and philosophical among
the Romans; and it was just as identical with the Jahve of the
Samaritans, the Tiu or "Tiusco" of the Northmen, the Duw of the
Britains, and the Zeus of the Thracians.

As to the Absolute Essence, the One and all--whether we accept the
Greek Pythagorean, the Chaldean Kabalistic, or the Aryan philosophy in
regard to it, it will lead to one and the same result. The Primeval
Monad of the Pythagorean system, which retires into darkness -- and
is itself Darkness (for human intellect) was made the basis of all
things; and we can find the idea in all its integrity in the
philosophical systems of Leibnitz and Spinoza. Therefore, whether a
Theosophist agrees with the Kabala which, speaking of En-Soph
propounds the query: "Who, then, can comprehend It since It is
formless, and Non-existent?"--or, remembering that magnificent hymn
from the Rig-Veda (Hymn 129th, Book 10th)--enquires:

"Who knows from whence this great creation sprang?
Whether his will created or was mute.
He knows it--or perchance even He knows not;"

or again, accepts the Vedantic conception of Brahma, who in the
Upanishads is represented as "without life, without mind, pure,"
unconscious, for--Brahma is "Absolute Consciousness"; or, even
finally, siding with the Svabhâvikas of Nepaul, maintains that nothing
exists but "Svabhâvât" (substance or nature) which exists by itself
without any creator; any one of the above conceptions can lead but to
pure and absolute Theosophy -- that Theosophy which prompted such men
as Hegel, Fichte and Spinoza to take up the labors of the old Grecian
philosophers and speculate upon the One Substance--the Deity, the
Divine All proceeding from the Divine Wisdom--incomprehensible,
unknown and unnamed--by any ancient or modern religious philosophy,
with the exception of Christianity and Mohammedanism.

Every Theosophist, then, holding to a theory of the Deity "which has
not revelation, but an inspiration of his own for its basis," may
accept any of the above definitions or belong to any of these
religions, and yet remain strictly within the boundaries of Theosophy.
For the latter is belief in the Deity as the ALL, the source of all
existence, the infinite that cannot be either comprehended or known,
the universe alone revealing It, or, as some prefer it, Him, thus
giving a sex to that, to anthropomorphize which is blasphemy.

True, Theosophy shrinks from brutal materialization; it prefers
believing that, from eternity retired within itself, the Spirit of the
Deity neither wills nor creates; but that, from the infinite
effulgency everywhere going forth from the Great Centre, that which
produces all visible and invisible things, is but a Ray containing in
itself the generative and conceptive power, which, in its turn,
produces that which the Greeks called Macrocosm, the Kabalists Tikkun
or Adam Kadmon--the archetypal man, and the Aryans Purusha, the
manifested Brahm, or the Divine Male.

Theosophy believes also in the Anastasis or continued existence, and
in transmigration (evolution) or a series of changes in the soul (1 )
which can be defended and explained on strict philosophical
principles; and only by making a distinction between Paramâtma
(transcendental, supreme soul) and Jivâtmâ (animal, or conscious soul)
of the Vedantins.

To fully define Theosophy, we must consider it under all its aspects.
The interior world has not been hidden from all by impenetrable
darkness. By that higher intuition acquired by Theosophia--or
God-knowledge, which carried the mind from the world of form into that
of formless spirit, man has been sometimes enabled in every age and
every country to perceive things in the interior or invisible world.

Hence, the "Samadhi," or Dyan Yog Samadhi, of the Hindu ascetics; the
"Daimonion-photi," or spiritual illumination of the Neo-Platonists;
the "sidereal confabulation of soul," of the Rosicrucians or
Fire-philosophers; and, even the ecstatic trance of mystics and of the
modern mesmerists and spiritualists, are identical in nature, though
various as to manifestation. The search after man's diviner "self," so
often and so erroneously interpreted as individual communion with a
personal God, was the object of every mystic, and belief in its
possibility seems to have been coeval with the genesis of humanity,
each people giving it another name.

Thus Plato and Plotinus call "Noëtic work" that which the Yogin and
the Shrotriya term Vidya. "By reflection, self-knowledge and
intellectual discipline, the soul can be raised to the vision of
eternal truth, goodness, and beauty--that is, to the Vision of
God--this is the epopteia," said the Greeks. "To unite one's soul to
the Universal Soul," says Porphyry, "requires but a perfectly pure
mind. Through self-contemplation, perfect chastity, and purity of
body, we may approach nearer to It, and receive, in that state, true
knowledge and wonderful insight."

And Swami Dayanand Saraswati, who has read neither Porphyry nor other
Greek authors, but who is a thorough Vedic scholar, says in his Veda
Bháshya (opasna prakaru ank. 9)--"To obtain Diksh (highest initiation)
and Yog, one has to practise according to the rules . . . The soul in
human body can perform the greatest wonders by knowing the Universal
Spirit (or God) and acquainting itself with the properties and
qualities (occult) of all the things in the universe. A human being (a
Dikshit or initiate) can thus acquire a power of seeing and hearing at
great distances."

Finally, Alfred R. Wallace, F.R.S., a spiritualist and yet a
confessedly great naturalist, says, with brave candor: "It is 'spirit'
that alone feels, and perceives, and thinks--that acquires knowledge,
and reasons and aspires . . . there not unfrequently occur individuals
so constituted that the spirit can perceive independently of the
corporeal organs of sense, or can perhaps, wholly or partially, quit
the body for a time and return to it again . . . the spirit . . .
communicates with spirit easier than with matter." We can now see how,
after thousands of years have intervened between the age of
Gymnosophists (2 ) and our own highly civilized era, notwithstanding,
or, perhaps, just because of such an enlightenment which pours its
radiant light upon the psychological as well as upon the physical
realms of nature, over twenty millions of people today believe, under
a different form, in those same spiritual powers that were believed in
by the Yogins and the Pythagoreans, nearly 3,000 years ago.

Thus, while the Aryan mystic claimed for himself the power of solving
all the problems of life and death, when he had once obtained the
power of acting independently of his body, through the Atmân--"self,"
or "soul"; and the old Greeks went in search of Atmu--the Hidden one,
or the God-Soul of man, with the symbolical mirror of the
Thesmophorian mysteries;--so the spiritualists of today believe in the
faculty of the spirits, or the souls of the disembodied persons, to
communicate visibly and tangibly with those they loved on earth.

And all these, Aryan Yogins, Greek philosophers, and modern
spiritualists, affirm that possibility on the ground that the embodied
soul and its never embodied spirit--the real self, are not separated
from either the Universal Soul or other spirits by space, but merely
by the differentiation of their qualities; as in the boundless expanse
of the universe there can be no limitation. And that when this
difference is once removed--according to the Greeks and Aryans by
abstract contemplation, producing the temporary liberation of the
imprisoned Soul; and according to spiritualists, through
mediumship--such an union between embodied and disembodied spiritst
becomes possible.

Thus was it that Patanjali's Yogins and, following in their steps,
Plotinus, Porphyry and other Neo-Platonists, maintained that in their
hours of ecstasy, they had been united to, or rather become as one
with God, several times during the course of their lives. This idea,
erroneous as it may seem in its application to the Universal Spirit,
was, and is, claimed by too many great philosophers to be put aside as
entirely chimerical. In the case of the Theodidaktoi, the only
controvertible point, the dark spot on this philosophy of extreme
mysticism, was its claim to include that which is simply ecstatic
illumination, under the head of sensuous perception. In the case of
the Yogins, who maintained their ability to see Iswara "face to face,"
this claim was successfully overthrown by the stern logic of Kapila.
As to the similar assumption made for their Greek followers, for a
long array of Christian ecstatics, and, finally, for the last two
claimants to "God-seeing" within these last hundred years--Jacob Böhme
and Swedenborg--this pretension would and should have been
philosophically and logically questioned, if a few of our great men of
science who are spiritualists had had more interest in the philosophy
than in the mere phenomenalism of spiritualism.

The Alexandrian Theosophists were divided into neophytes, initiates,
and masters, or hierophants; and their rules were copied from the
ancient Mysteries of Orpheus, who, according to Herodotus, brought
them from India.

Ammonius obligated his disciples by oath not to divulge his higher
doctrines, except to those who were proved thoroughly worthy and
initiated, and who had learned to regard the gods, the angels, and the
demons of other peoples, according to the esoteric hyponia, or
under-meaning. "The gods exist, but they are not what the hoi polloi,
the uneducated multitude, suppose them to be," says Epicurus. "He is
not an atheist who denies the existence of the gods whom the multitude
worship, but he is such who fastens on these gods the opinions of the
multitude." In his turn, Aristotle declares that of the "Divine
Essence pervading the whole world of nature, what are styled the gods
are simply the first principles."

Plotinus, the pupil of the "God-taught" Ammonius, tells us that the
secret gnosis or the knowledge of Theosophy, has three
degrees--opinion, science, and illumination. "The means or instrument
of the first is sense, or perception; of the second, dialectics; of
the third, intuition. To the last, reason is subordinate; it is
absolute knowledge, founded on the identification of the mind with the
object known."

Theosophy is the exact science of psychology, so to say; it stands in
relation to natural, uncultivated mediumship, as the knowledge of a
Tyndall stands to that of a school-boy in physics. It develops in man
a direct beholding; that which Schelling denominates "a realization of
the identity of subject and object in the individual"; so that under
the influence and knowledge of hyponia man thinks divine thoughts,
views all things as they really are, and, finally, "becomes recipient
of the Soul of the World," to use one of the finest expressions of
Emerson. "I, the imperfect, adore my own perfect"--he says in his
superb Essay on the Oversoul.

Besides this psychological, or soul-state, Theosophy cultivated every
branch of sciences and arts. It was thoroughly familiar with what is
now commonly known as mesmerism. Practical theurgy or "ceremonial
magic," so often resorted to in their exorcisms by the Roman Catholic
clergy--was discarded by the theosophists.

It is but Iamblichus alone who, transcending the other Eclectics,
added to Theosophy the doctrine of Theurgy. When ignorant of the true
meaning of the esoteric divine symbols of nature, man is apt to
miscalculate the powers of his soul, and, instead of communing
spiritually and mentally with the higher, celestial beings, the good
spirits (the gods of the theurgists of the Platonic school), he will
unconsciously call forth the evil, dark powers which lurk around
humanity--the undying, grim creations of human crimes and vices--and
thus fall from theurgia (white magic) into göetia (or black magic,

Yet, neither white, nor black magic are what popular superstition
understands by the terms. The possibility of "raising spirits"
according to the key of Solomon, is the height of superstition and
ignorance. Purity of deed and thought can alone raise us to an
intercourse "with the gods" and attain for us the goal we desire.
Alchemy, believed by so many to have been a spiritual philosophy as
well as physical science, belonged to the teachings of the
theosophical school.

It is a noticeable fact that neither Zoroaster, Buddha, Orpheus,
Pythagoras, Confucius, Socrates, nor Ammonius Saccas, committed
anything to writing. The reason for it is obvious. Theosophy is a
double-edged weapon and unfit for the ignorant or the selfish. Like
every ancient philosophy it has its votaries among the moderns; but,
until late in our own days, its disciples were few in numbers, and of
the most various sects and opinions. "Entirely speculative, and
founding no school, they have still exercised a silent influence upon
philosophy; and no doubt, when the time arrives, many ideas thus
silently propounded may yet give new directions to human
thought"--remarks Mr. Kenneth R. H. Mackenzie IXo . . . himself a
mystic and a Theosophist, in his large and valuable work, The Royal
Masonic Cycloepædia (articles Theosophical Society of New York and
Theosophy, p. 731). ( 3 )Since the days of the fire-philosophers, they
had never formed themselves into societies, for, tracked like wild
beasts by the Christian clergy, to be known as a Theosophist often
amounted, hardly a century ago, to a death-warrant. The statistics
show that, during a period of 150 years, no less than 90,000 men and
women were burned in Europe for alleged witchcraft. In Great Britain
only, from A.D. 1640 to 1660, but twenty years, 3,000 persons were put
to death for compact with the "Devil."

It was but late in the present century--in 1875--that some progressed
mystics and spiritualists, unsatisfied with the theories and
explanations of Spiritualism, started by its votaries, and finding
that they were far from covering the whole ground of the wide range of
phenomena, formed at New York, America, an association which is now
widely known as the Theosophical Society. And now, having explained
what is Theosophy, we will, in a separate article, explain what is the
nature of our Society, which is also called the "Universal Brotherhood
of Humanity."


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