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Sep 16, 2003 05:00 AM
by W. Dallas TenBroeck

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Dear Friends:

In recent days some discussion has arisen concerning the real nature of

This article by H P B 


Was one of the first published by her in the new magazine the
THEOSOPHIST, in 1879 in Bombay.

Historically: ISIS UNVEILED had been published in 1877, a Branch of the
THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY had just been established in India, the first, in
Bombay, and a magazine was needed in which discussion, queries,
explanations and fresh information needed a public forum. In Russia H P

It covers the scope and history of those teachings that are
Theosophical and belong to the world.

The next article in this issue is WHAT ARE THE THEOSOPHISTS ?

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
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." 
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 Era.
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 animals.
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 as 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 Aryavart, 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 Svabhvikas of Nepaul, maintains that nothing exists but
"Svabhvt" (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 which can be defended and explained on strict philosophical
principles; and only by making a distinction between Paramtma
(transcendental, supreme soul) and Jivtm (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 "Notic 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 Bhshya (opasna prakaru ank.) -- "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 candour: "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 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 Atmn--"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 Bhme 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 getia (or black magic,
sorcery). 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
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 Cycloepdia (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." 

-- H P Blavatsky	[THEOSOPHIST Vol. I , 1879]


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