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H P Blavatsky


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What is Theosophy?


H P Blavatsky



According to lexicographers, the term theosophia is composed of two

Greek words--theos "god," and sophas "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, Jamblichus,

Porphyry, Proclus, shows either intentional misrepresentation, or

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 upon some of the

most eminent leaders of modern 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 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 its revival by Ammonius

Saccas, the founder of the Neo-Platonic School.  He and his disciples

called themselves "Philaletheians"--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, that

pre-eminently Buddhistic and Indian feature among the ancient

Theosophists of 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 knowledges.  The Magi of

Zoroaster received instruction and were initiated in the caves and

secret lodges of Bactria; the Egyptian and Grecian hierophants had their

apporiheta, or secret discourses, during which the Mysta became an

Epopta--a Seer.


The central idea of the Eclectic Theosophy was that of a single Supreme

Essence, Unknown and Unknowable;  for "how could one know the knower?"

as inquires 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 decisively termed magicians--a corruption of the

word "Magh," signifying a wise or learned man. Sceptics 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 Dev

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 Britons, 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 all 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 129, Book x.), inquires:


     "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, he 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 Svabhavikas of Nepaul, maintains that nothing exists but

"Svabhavat" (substance or nature) which exists by itself without any

creator--he is the true follower of pure and absolute Theosophy.  That

Theosophy which prompted such men as Hegel, Fichte and Spinoza to take

up the labours 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 Judaism, including

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 from the infinite effulgence 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 of the personal ego,

which can be defended and explained on strict philosophical principles

by making a distinction between Paramatma (transcendental, supreme

spirit) and Jivatma (individual spirit) 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 carries 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 Dhyan Yog Samadhi, of the Hindu ascetics;  the

"Daimonlonphoti," 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 "Noetic

work" that which the Yogi 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 Dayanund Saraswati, who has

read neither Porphyry nor other Greek authors, but who is a thorough

Vedic scholar, says in his "Veda Bhashya" (opasna prakaru ank. 9)--"To

obtain Diksha (highest initiation) and Yog, one has to practise

according to the rules..... The soul in the 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 the 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 different form, in those same spiritual

powers that were believed in by the Yogis and the Pythagoreans, nearly

3,000 years ago.



* The reality of the Yog-power was affirmed by many Greek and Roman

writers, who call the Yogis Indian Gymnosophists--by Strabo, Lucan,

Plutarch, Cicero (Tusculum), Pliny (vii. 2), &c.



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 Atman, "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 capacity 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

Yogis, 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 a union between embodied and disembodied

spirits becomes possible.  Thus was it that Patanjali's Yogis, 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 Yogis, who maintained their ability to see Iswara "face to

face," this claim was successfully overthrown by the stern logic of the

followers of Kapila, the founder of the Sankhya philosophy.  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 Bohme 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

Jamblichus 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 goetia (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 a 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 schools, 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,

himself a mystic and a Theosophist, in his large and valuable work, "The

Royal Masonic Cyclopaedia" (articles "Theosophical Society of New York,"

and "Theosophy," p. 731).* 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 Royal Masonic Cycloptedia of History, Rites, Symbolism, and

Biography." Edited by Kenneth R. H. Mackenzie IX. (Cryptonymus) Hon.

Member of the Canongate Kilwinning Lodge, No. 2, Scotland. New York J.

W. Bouton, 706, Broadway. 1877.



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.


H.P. Blavatsky




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