Theosophy

From The SpiritWiki

List of Connection Frameworks

Arica School, Baha'i, Eupsychian Theory, Gnosticism, LP Connection Framework, Neo-Hinduism, Sanatana Dharma, Shattari, Sufism, Theosophy, Wicca, Zen

Theosophy Terms

Atlantis, Deep Self, Divine Ego, Divine Fire, Divine Messengers, Ecstasy, False Personality, Father in Heaven, Neshamah, Real Ego, Root Races, Supreme Self, Universal Deity, Will-Prayer

Contested Spaces

Contested Spaces > Theosophy

Notes

Origins

"From its very beginning, the TS was an international movement. Its founders were an American lawyer and journalist, Colonel Henry Steel Olcott (1832-1907), an Irish-American lawyer, William Quan Judge (1851-1896), and a Russian occultist writer and adventurer, Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-1891). Following its founding in New York in 1875, the TS soon became a worldwide organization. In 1879, its headquarters moved to India, first to Bomaby, and later to Adyar, Madras."[1]

Blavatsky "established the Theosophical Society with three aims: to promote brotherhood of man, to encourage a comparative study of ancient and modern religions, philosophies and sciences, and to carry out “scientific” investigations of unexplained laws of nature involving hidden psychic powers immanent in matter."[2]

Early Theosophy - An elite attempt to suppress/control grass roots spirituality

Prothero divides Theosophy into two periods, early theosophy from founding until exodus of Olcott and Blavatsky from New York in 1878, and late theosophy which emphasized "oriental wisdom." [3] Argues that "early theosophy represented an attempt by elites like Blavatsky and Olcott to reform spiritualism by "uplifting" its masses out of their supposed philosophical and moral vulgarities-to trans- form the masses of prurient ghostseeking spiritualists into ethically exemplary theorists of the astral planes."[4] Links this to late 19th democratic Spiritualism, etc. See Contested Spaces

On the evening of September 7, 1875, at a gathering of spiritualists convened in Blavatsky's Manhattan apartment, Olcott rose to propose the formation of a new organization devoted not to the comparative study of Asian religious traditions but to the scientific investigation of spiritual phenomena. The proposal met with unanimous assent and the next evening the association was duly organized with all the pomp and circumstance Victorian fastidiousness required. Almost all of the sixteen founding members-Blavatsky was the notable exception--came from the metropolitan gentry. Lawyers, doctors, and journalists were all represented in the society's ranks. Soon, these reformers had settled on a name (the "Theosophical Society"), a president (Olcott), and a corresponding secretary (Blavatsky). [5]

Note that in its first state theosophy was completely unconcerned with Oriental knowledge. [6]

Olcott was a "genteel" reformer imposing patriarchy and liberal capitalist values onto Spiritualism. Madam Blavatsky was far more elite.

  • Blavatsky's version was esoteric/elitist. "While Olcott promoted the society as a relatively open, public body devoted to empirical investigations and scientific induc- tion of the laws of occult science, Blavatsky saw it as a smaller, private body, open only to a chosen few-an American lodge of an interna- tional esoteric order that included, for example, the mysterious "Brotherhood of Luxor" in Egypt. The society was devoted, in her view, not to the discovery of occult laws through scientific methods but to the "unveiling," through esoteric channels, of occult laws already known (if only to a few)."
  • Second, Blavatsky's cosmos was more hierarchical and less democratic. Although Olcott undoubtedly saw the individual as engaged in a lifelong struggle to improve ethically and spiritually, it was Blavatsky who developed the grand metaphysical scheme that depicted each person as comprised of seven interpenetrating bodies, each of which was subdivided into "higher" and "lower" sheaths. These seven bodies were themselves arrayed from the "lowest" physical body to the "highest" spiritual body. The individual's life was depicted, then, as a grand cosmic drama in which one was working to uplift one's essence from body to astral body to soul to spirit-away from the groveling animals and up toward the "masters" who had united their spirits with the imperishable and indescribable Absolute.
  • The third major difference between Olcott and Blavatsky was her relative indifference to his social-reform agenda. Blavatsky softpedaled this agenda for at least two reasons. First, she was in her personal life an unapologetic bohemian who enjoyed smoking and drinking almost as much as she enjoyed cursing. Second, for Blavatsky, the religious drama was individual rather than social. One labored to uplift oneself, not to uplift others. Hence, Olcott's repeated insistence that the cultivation of "entirely truthful, pure, temperate, self-helpful" theosophists would result in utopian social transformations was con- conspicuously absent from Blavatsky's work. [7]

"The difference between Blavatsky's secret society and Olcott's scientific society for social reform was, in short, the difference between Russian aristocracy and metropolitan gentility. Though Olcott and Blavatsky agreed that spiritualism was in need of reform, that it was worth reforming, and that it should be reformed from above by elites like themselves, the shapes their reforms took differed significantly. Blavatsky aimed to lord over the Theosophical Society like a czar, dif- fusing through secret rituals the ancient wisdom she claimed to have received from her "masters" through occult initiations. Olcott, on the other hand, aimed to govern the society like the president of a federa- tion of sovereign states and independent citizens. Moreover, while Blavatsky planned to initiate only a small coterie of trusted friends who would guard the secrecy of her ancient truths, Olcott hoped to publish theosophy's discoveries widely and thus to gather into the society a broad array of clever ladies and gentlemen. Finally, though Blavatsky was as interested as Olcott in uplifting bad science and bad theology into the higher philosophical synthesis of the ancient wisdom, she was less interested in individual moral uplift and collective social transfor- mation. Both reformers disdained the supposedly "vulgar" masses and saw Western society headed toward catastrophe, but only Olcott worked to uplift the masses and to save society. Blavatsky, on the other hand, was content to cultivate the intelligences of a select few, then to sit back and watch her prophesies of social ruin come true."[8]

Overview

Purports to be universalistic. "The first objective of the Society (as formulated in 1896) was “to form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or color,” and it was open to members of diverse religious, national, and ethnic backgrounds."[9]

Major impact on "areas as diverse as the arts, literature, and poetry, scholarship, modern interpretations of Judaism and of Kabbalah, Orientalism, and politics, especially nationalism."[10]

Deity/Fabric of Consciousness: " Our DEITY is neither in a paradise, nor in a particular tree, building, or mountain: it is everywhere, in every atom of the visible as of the invisible Cosmos, in, over, and around every invisible atom and divisible molecule; for IT is the mysterious power of evolution and involution, the omnipresent, omnipotent, and even omniscient creative potentiality."[11]

"...our Deity is the eternal, incessantly evolving, not creating, builder of the universe; that universe itself unfolding out of its own essence, not being made. It is a sphere, without circumference, in its symbolism, which has but one ever-acting attribute embracing all other existing or thinkable attributes -- ITSELF. It is the one law, giving the impulse to manifested, eternal, and immutable laws, within that never-manifesting, because absolute LAW, which in its manifesting periods is The ever-Becoming."[12]

"A God" is not the universal deity, but only a spark from the one ocean of Divine Fire. Our God within us, or "our Father in Secret" is what we call the "HIGHER SELF," Atma. Our incarnating Ego was a God in its origin, as were all the primeval emanations of the One Unknown Principle.But since its "fall into Matter," having to incarnate throughout the cycle, in succession, from first to last, it is no longer a free and happy god, but a poor pilgrim on his way to regain that which he has lost. "[13]"

Intent//Will-Prayer/Theosophy: "Will-Power becomes a living power. But woe unto those Occultists and Theosophists, who, instead of crushing out the desires of the lower personal ego or physical man, and saying, addressing their Higher Spiritual EGO immersed in Atma-Buddhic light, "Thy will be done, not mine," etc., send up waves of will-power for selfish or unholy purposes! For this is black magic, abomination, and spiritual sorcery. Unfortunately, all this is the favourite occupation of our Christian statesmen and generals, especially when the latter are sending two armies to murder each other. Both indulge before action in a bit of such sorcery, by offering respectively prayers to the same God of Hosts, each entreating his help to cut its enemies' throats."[14]

Is classically neo-liberal in its view of human nature. When speaking of prayer, Blavatsky notes that prayer "(a) kills in man self-reliance; (b) It develops in him a still more ferocious selfishness and egotism than he is already endowed with by nature" [15]

Is hierarchical, arguing for "classes" of "higher" spirits. [16]

Cosmology/Mythology

A descent from Light

Believe in the pre-existence of a "far more spiritual race than the one to which we now belong..."[17] but that the universe goes through cycles of ascent and descent

Good versus Evil

Theosophists partake of the general tendency towards the "salvation" of evil, suggesting it is a necessary part of life.

Indeed, evil is but an antagonizing blind force in nature ; it is reaction, opposition, and contrast,—evil for some, good for others.  There is no malum in se : only the shadow of light, without which light could have no existence, even in our perceptions.  If evil disappeared, good would disappear along with it from Earth....Everywhere the speculations of the Kabalists treat of Evil as a force, which is antagonistic, but at the same time essential, to Good, as giving it vitality and existence, which it could never have otherwise. [18]

They also believe that good and evil must be "balanced" [19]

" ...the Christian Cabalist believes like the Jewish, in Asmodeus, the Ever-accursed One, or our good friend the orthodox Satan. Asmodeus, or Asmodi, is the chief of the elementary goblins."[20]

Eternal Evil a term used in the article "A Few Questions..."[21]

Justice, Judgment, Punishment and Reward

On the topic Justice, Judgment, Punishment, Hell, Paradise, Reward, they take a particularly hypocritical and self-delusional position on it, rejecting only the eternal aspect of punishment and reward but still falling down squarely on the side of violence against others, so long as it is justified.

As described in your catechisms, we reject them absolutely; least of all would we accept their eternity. But we believe firmly in what we call the Law of Retribution, and in the absolute justice and wisdom guiding this Law, or Karma. Hence we positively refuse to accept the cruel and unphilosophical belief in eternal reward or eternal punishment.[22]

For Karma in its effects is an unfailing redresser of human injustice, and of all the failures of nature; a stern adjuster of wrongs; a retributive law which rewards and punishes with equal impartiality. [23]

As I have said, we consider it as the Ultimate Law of the Universe, the source, origin and fount of all other laws which exist throughout Nature. Karma is the unerring law which adjusts effect to cause, on the physical, mental and spiritual planes of being. [24]

This last one clearly shows what this bullshit is all about, reconciling all the injustices in the world and laying it right back on the doorstep of the victim. Bad shit happens to you, it's not because some rich asshole is exploiting the people and destroying the world, it is because you deserve it.

But verily there is not an accident of our lives, not a misshapen day, or a misfortune, that could not be traced back to our own doings in this or in another life. . . . . The law of Karma is inextricably interwoven with that of reincarnation. . . . . It is only this doctrine that can explain to us the mysterious problem of good and evil, and reconcile man to the terrible and apparent injustice of life. [25]

Only the Chosen

Represents the masses of humanity as unable to handle/understand the truth, because it might "blind them," so a special elite must keep the secrets.[26]

Suggests the truths of Theosophy have been kept hidden for three reasons:

Firstly, the perversity of average human nature and its selfishness, always tending to the gratification of personal desires to the detriment of neighbours and next of kin. Such people could never be entrusted with divine secrets. Secondly, their unreliability to keep the sacred and divine knowledge from desecration. It is the latter that led to the perversion of the most sublime truths and symbols, and to the gradual transformation of things spiritual into anthropomorphic, concrete, and gross imagery -- in other words, to the dwarfing of the god-idea and to idolatry.[27]

Fool in School

Believes that in order to become a "genuine spiritual entity one must "thoroughly eliminate from his mind and spirit, not only the dominating influence of selfishness and other impurity, but also the infection of superstition and prejudice."[28]

The soul travels through countless births gaining the experience it needs to attain "perfection" "It is only through these births that the perpetual progress of the countless millions of Egos toward final perfection and final rest (as long as was the period of activity) can be achieved." [29]

Not at all; "A God" is not the universal deity, but only a spark from the one ocean of Divine Fire. Our God within us, or "our Father in Secret" is what we call the "HIGHER SELF," Atma. Our incarnating Ego was a God in its origin, as were all the primeval emanations of the One Unknown Principle. But since its "fall into Matter," having to incarnate throughout the cycle, in succession, from first to last, it is no longer a free and happy god, but a poor pilgrim on his way to regain that which he has lost.[30] Try to imagine a "Spirit," a celestial Being, whether we call it by one name or another, divine in its essential nature, yet not pure enough to be one with the ALL, and having, in order to achieve this, to so purify its nature as to finally gain that goal. It can do so only by passing individually and personally, i. e., spiritually and physically, through every experience and feeling that exists in the manifold or differentiated Universe. It has, therefore, after having gained such experience in the lower kingdoms, and having ascended higher and still higher with every rung on the ladder of being, to pass through every experience on the human planes.[31]

Binary Gender

Theosophists promulgate binary gender as sacred, going right along with the Catholic sexism that presents the female as tainted in some way.

"“ The Astral Light or Anima Mundi is dual and bisexual.  The (ideal) male part of it is purely divine and spiritual, it is the Wisdom, it is Spirit or Purusha ; while the female portion (the Spiritus of the Nazarenes) is tainted, in one sense, with matter, is indeed matter, and therefore is evil already." [32]

Extreme Elitism

Despite proclamations to the contrary, TS is extremely elitist.

Blavatsky compares the members of mass society to servile Simia. "Society in its servile condition suggests to the intelligent observer of its mimicry a kinship between the Simia and human beings even more striking than is exhibited in the external marks pointed out by the great anthropologist."[33]

Firstly, the perversity of average human nature and its selfishness, always tending to the gratification of personal desires to the detriment of neighbours and next of kin. Such people could never be entrusted with divine secrets. Secondly, their unreliability to keep the sacred and divine knowledge from desecration. It is the latter that led to the perversion of the most sublime truths and symbols, and to the gradual transformation of things spiritual into anthropomorphic, concrete, and gross imagery -- in other words, to the dwarfing of the god-idea and to idolatry.[27]

Further Reading

Chajes, Julie, and Boaz Huss, eds. Theosophical Appropriations: Esotericism, Kabbalah, and the Transformation of Traditions. Israel: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Press, 2016.

For some history on the movement..

Godwin, Joscelyn. The Theosophical Enlightenment. Albany: State University of New York, 1994.

Goodrick-Clarke, Nicholas, ed. Helena Blavatsky. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2004.

———. The Western Esoteric Traditions: A Historical Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Washington, Peter. Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon: A History of Mystics, Mediums and Misfits Who Brought Spiritualism to America. New York: Schocken Books, 1993.

Footnotes

  1. Chajes, Julie, and Boaz Huss, eds. Theosophical Appropriations: Esotericism, Kabbalah, and the Transformation of Traditions. Israel: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Press, 2016. p. 9.
  2. Nanda, Meera. “Madame Blavatsky’s Children,” 2010. https://www.academia.edu/27289493/Madame_Blavatskys_children_pdf. p. 296.
  3. Prothero, Stephen. “From Spiritualism to Theosophy: ‘Uplifting’ a Democratic Tradition.” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation 3, no. 2 (July 1, 1993): 197–216. https://doi.org/10.2307/1123988.
  4. Prothero, Stephen. “From Spiritualism to Theosophy: ‘Uplifting’ a Democratic Tradition.” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation 3, no. 2 (July 1, 1993): 197–216. https://doi.org/10.2307/1123988. p. 198.
  5. Prothero, Stephen. “From Spiritualism to Theosophy: ‘Uplifting’ a Democratic Tradition.” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation 3, no. 2 (July 1, 1993): 197–216. https://doi.org/10.2307/1123988. p. 205
  6. Prothero, Stephen. “From Spiritualism to Theosophy: ‘Uplifting’ a Democratic Tradition.” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation 3, no. 2 (July 1, 1993): 197–216. https://doi.org/10.2307/1123988
  7. Bullet points from Prothero, Stephen. “From Spiritualism to Theosophy: ‘Uplifting’ a Democratic Tradition.” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation 3, no. 2 (July 1, 1993): 197–216. https://doi.org/10.2307/1123988. p. 208.
  8. Prothero, Stephen. “From Spiritualism to Theosophy: ‘Uplifting’ a Democratic Tradition.” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation 3, no. 2 (July 1, 1993): 197–216. https://doi.org/10.2307/1123988 p. 208.
  9. Chajes, Julie, and Boaz Huss, eds. Theosophical Appropriations: Esotericism, Kabbalah, and the Transformation of Traditions. Israel: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Press, 2016. p. 10.
  10. Chajes, Julie, and Boaz Huss, eds. Theosophical Appropriations: Esotericism, Kabbalah, and the Transformation of Traditions. Israel: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Press, 2016. p. 10.
  11. Blavatsky, H. P. The Key to Theosophy: A Clear Exposition Based on the Wisdom Religion of All Ages. Theosophical University Press, 1889.
  12. Blavatsky, H. P. The Key to Theosophy: A Clear Exposition Based on the Wisdom Religion of All Ages. Theosophical University Press, 1889.
  13. Blavatsky, H. P. The Key to Theosophy: A Clear Exposition Based on the Wisdom Religion of All Ages. Theosophical University Press, 1889.
  14. Blavatsky, H. P. The Key to Theosophy: A Clear Exposition Based on the Wisdom Religion of All Ages. Theosophical University Press, 1889.
  15. Blavatsky, H. P. The Key to Theosophy: A Clear Exposition Based on the Wisdom Religion of All Ages. Theosophical University Press, 1889.
  16. Blavatsky, H. P. The Key to Theosophy: A Clear Exposition Based on the Wisdom Religion of All Ages. Theosophical University Press, 1889.
  17. Blavatsky, H. P. Isis Unveiled. Vol. 1 and 2. Global Grey, 2016. p. 2
  18. Blavatsky, H.P. The Secret Doctrine: The Synthesis of Science, Religion, and Philosophy. Vol. One. Pasadena, California: Theosophical University Press, 2019. p. 413.
  19. Blavatsky, H.P. The Secret Doctrine: The Synthesis of Science, Religion, and Philosophy. Vol. One. Pasadena, California: Theosophical University Press, 2019. p. 196.
  20. Blavatsky, H. P. “A Few Questions to "Hiraf***.” Spiritual Scientists July 15 and 22 (1875): 217-18,244,236-7.
  21. Blavatsky, H. P. “A Few Questions to "Hiraf***.” Spiritual Scientists July 15 and 22 (1875): 217-18,244,236-7.
  22. Blavatasky, H.P. The Key to Theosophy: A Clear Exposition Based on the Wisdom Religion of All Ages. Theosophical University Press, 1889
  23. Blavatasky, H.P. The Key to Theosophy: A Clear Exposition Based on the Wisdom Religion of All Ages. Theosophical University Press,
  24. Blavatasky, H.P. The Key to Theosophy: A Clear Exposition Based on the Wisdom Religion of All Ages. Theosophical University Press,
  25. Blavatasky, H.P. The Key to Theosophy: A Clear Exposition Based on the Wisdom Religion of All Ages. Theosophical University Press,
  26. Blavatsky, H. P. “A Few Questions to "Hiraf***.” Spiritual Scientists July 15 and 22 (1875): 217-18,244,236-7.
  27. 27.0 27.1 Blavatsky, H. P. The Key to Theosophy: A Clear Exposition Based on the Wisdom Religion of All Ages. Theosophical University Press, 1889
  28. Blavatsky, H. P. Isis Unveiled. Vol. 1 and 2. Global Grey, 2016. p. 42. Italics added.
  29. Blavatsky, H. P. The Key to Theosophy: A Clear Exposition Based on the Wisdom Religion of All Ages. Theosophical University Press, 1889.
  30. Blavatsky, H. P. The Key to Theosophy: A Clear Exposition Based on the Wisdom Religion of All Ages. Theosophical University Press, 1889.
  31. Blavatsky, H. P. The Key to Theosophy: A Clear Exposition Based on the Wisdom Religion of All Ages. Theosophical University Press, 1889.
  32. Blavatsky, H.P. The Secret Doctrine: The Synthesis of Science, Religion, and Philosophy. Vol. One. Pasadena, California: Theosophical University Press, 2019. p. 196.
  33. Blavatsky, H. P. Isis Unveiled. Vol. 1 and 2. Global Grey, 2016. p. 42.