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Theosophy (from Greek θεοσοφία theosophia, from θεός theos, God[1] + σοφία sophia, wisdom; literally "God's wisdom"), refers to systems of esoteric philosophy concerning, or investigation seeking direct knowledge of, presumed mysteries of being and nature, particularly concerning the nature of divinity.

Theosophy is considered a part of the broader field of esotericism, referring to hidden knowledge or wisdom that offers the individual enlightenment and salvation. The theosophist seeks to understand the mysteries of the universe and the bonds that unite the universe, humanity, and the divine. The goal of theosophy is to explore the origin of divinity and humanity, and the world. From investigation of those topics, theosophists try to discover a coherent description of the purpose and origin of the universe.


  • Etymology 1
  • History 2
    • Antiquity and Medieval ending c. 1450 CE 2.1
    • Theosophy in early modern Europe beginning in the 1500s 2.2
      • 18th century 2.2.1
      • 19th century 2.2.2
      • 20th century to present 2.2.3
  • Common characteristics 3
  • Blavatskyan Theosophy and the Theosophical Society 4
    • Overview of Blavatsky's teachings 4.1
    • Definition and origin 4.2
      • Scope 4.2.1
      • Methodology 4.2.2
        • Law of correspondences
      • Applications 4.2.3
      • Terminology 4.2.4
    • Basic tenets 4.3
      • Three fundamental propositions 4.3.1
      • Cosmic evolution 4.3.2
        • Items of cosmogony
      • Anthropogenesis 4.3.3
      • Esotericism and symbolism 4.3.4
      • Septenary systems 4.3.5
        • Seven cosmic planes
        • Seven principles and bodies
      • Rounds and races 4.3.6
        • Racial theories
    • Criticisms of Helena Blavatsky and The Theosophical Society 4.4
      • Helena Blavatsky's skeptics 4.4.1
      • Blavatsky's Theosophy connected to antisemitism, racism 4.4.2
  • Post-Blavatskyan Theosophy and New Religious Movements 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
    • Notes 7.1
    • Citations 7.2
    • Bibliography 7.3
    • Online Sources 7.4
  • External links 8


The word theosophia appeared in both Greek and Latin in the works of early church fathers as a synonym for "theology".[2] The "theosophoi" are "those who know divine matters."[3] During the Renaissance, use of the term diverged to refer to gnostic knowledge that offers the individual enlightenment and salvation through a knowledge of the bonds that are believed to unite her or him to the world of divine or intermediary spirits.[3] By the 16th century the word theosophy was being used in at least one of its current meanings.[3]


Antiquity and Medieval ending c. 1450 CE

The term theosophy was used as a synonym for theology as early as the 3rd century CE[2]

Hellenistic Alexandrian culture expressed religion through a syncretism that included influences from Egypt, Chaldea, Greece etc. It became a "philosophizing and systematizing" culture containing mythology, theosophy and gnosis of the East.[4]

The 12th-century philosopher Al-Shahrastānī (died 548 AH / 1153 CE) explored theosophy in the context of Islamic thought. In the 13th century, a clear distinction was made between classical philosophers, modern (to the people then) philosophers, theosophers, and theologians in the work Summa philosophiae attributed to Robert Grosseteste. In Summa, theosophists were described as authors inspired by holy books, while theologians were described as persons whose task was to teach theosophy. During that time, the term theosopher was applied retroactively to include earlier people including Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Origen.[5]

In Jewish mysticism, the theosophical[6] doctrinal system of Kabbalah (Hebrew: "received tradition") emerged in late 12th-century southern France (the book Bahir), spreading to 13th-century Spain (culminating in the late 13th-century book Zohar). Kabbalah became the basis of later Jewish mystical development. The theosophical Kabbalah in Judaism was recast into its second version, Lurianic Kabbalah, in 16th-century Ottoman Palestine. From the Renaissance onwards, syncretic non-Jewish traditions of theological Christian Cabala and magical Hermetic Qabalah studied the Judaic texts, incorporating its system into their different philosophies, where it remains a central component of Western esotericism. Gershom Scholem, the founder of Jewish mysticism academia, saw Medieval and Lurianic Kabbalah as the incorporation into Judaism of Gnostic motifs,[7] though interpreted strictly monotheistically. At the centre of Kabbalah are the 10 Sephirot powers in the divine realm, their unification being the task of man. In Lurianism, man redeems the sparks of holiness in materiality, rectifying the divine persona from its primordial exile.

Theosophy in early modern Europe beginning in the 1500s

Modern theosophy arose in Germany in the 16th century.[8]

In the 16th century Johannes Arboreus' Theosophia (volumes published 1540-1553) provided a lengthy exposition that included no mention of esotericism.[5] In contrast fellow Germans Paracelsus (1493–1541), Aegidius Gutmann (de) (1490–1584), Valentin Weigel (1533–1588), Heinrich Khunrath (1560–1605), Johann Arndt (1555–1621), and Kaspar Schwenckfeld (1490–1584) demonstrated an interest in theosophy.

The 17th-century philosopher and self-identified theosophist Jakob Boehme (1575–1624) produced a complete explanation of theosophy that included esotericism. Boehme's system of philosophical speculation bases knowledge of nature upon knowledge of the divine nature. During that time, the Aristotelian method had lost favor among intellectuals. Boehme presented his system as an alternative to the Aristotelian method, which he believed could provide a more profound knowledge and more control of nature than the Aristotelian method did.[9]

Other notable contributors to the theosophical literature of the 16th and 17th centuries hailed from Holland, England, and France. They included both theosophists, historians, and theologians with a strong interest in theosophy. This group includes Jan Baptist van Helmont (1618–1699), Robert Fludd (1574–1637), John Pordage (1608–1681), Jane Leade (1623–1704), Henry More (1614–1687), Pierre Poiret (1646–1719), and Antoinette Bourignon (1616–1680).

Theosophists of this period often inquired into nature using a method of interpretation founded upon a specific myth or revelation, applying active imagination in order to draw forth symbolic meanings and further their pursuit of knowledge toward a complete understanding of these mysteries.[10][11]

18th century

In the 18th century, the word theosophy came into widespread use in philosophy. Gottfried Arnold (1666–1714), Friedrich Christoph Oetinger (1702–1782), William Law (1686–1761), and Dionysius Andreas Freher (1649–1728). By the 18th century, the word theosophy was often used in conjunction with panosophy, i.e., a knowledge of divine things that is acquired by deciphering the supposed hieroglyphics of the concrete universe. The term theosophy is more properly reserved for the reverse process of contemplating the divine in order to discover the content of the concrete universe.[12]

In England, The Theosophical Society was established in 1783 by a printer with a Methodist background, Robert Hindmarsh. The Theosophical Society was renamed in 1785 as The British Society for the Propagation of the Doctrines of the New Church, consisting of

  • European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism
  • Exeter Centre for the Study of Esotericism
  • Association for the Study of Esotericism
  • Contemporary Esotericism Research Network
  • Phoenix Rising Academy
  • Theosophical History
  • Esoterica
  • Western Esotericism in the Academy
  • Theosophy Network Library and Resources
  • Meta religion
  • Jacob Boehme

External links

  • Ellwood, Robert S. (1986). Theosophy: A Modern Expression of the Wisdom of the Ages. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House. p. 237.  
  • Antes, Peter; Geertz, Armin W.; Warne, Randi Ruth, editors (2004). New Approaches to the Study of Religion: Regional, critical, and historical approaches 1. Berlin, Germany: Walter de Gruyter. p. 559.  

Online Sources

  • Santucci, James A. (2004). "The Theosophical Society" in Controversial New Religions; James R. Lewis, Jesper Aagaard Petersen. USA: Oxford University Press. 
  • Sellon, Emily (1987). "Blavatsky, H. P." in The Encyclopedia of Religion; Mircea Eliade, Charles J Adams, et al. New York: Macmillan. 
  • OED (1989). Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 
  • Blavatsky, Helena (1888). The Secret Doctrine: The Synthesis of Science, Religion, and Philosophy. London: The Theosophical Publishing Company. 
  • Blavatsky, Helena (1889). The Key to Theosophy. London: The Theosophical Publishing Company. 
  • Rix, Robert (2007). William Blake and the Cultures of Radical Christianity. Hampshire, England: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. 


  1. ^ LIddell and Scott: Greek-English Lexicon.
  2. ^ a b Lobel, Diane (2007). A Sufi-Jewish Dialogue: Philosophy and Mysticism in Baḥya Ibn Paqūda's Duties of the Heart. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 27.  
  3. ^ a b c d Faivre 1987
  4. ^ Goodrick-Clarke 2008p. 16
  5. ^ a b Faivre 1987 p. 465
  6. ^ The Jewish Religion: A Companion, Louis Jacobs, Oxford University Press 1995; entry on Kabbalah
  7. ^ Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction, Joseph Dan, Oxford University Press; chapters on Medieval and Lurianic Kabbalah
  8. ^ Faivre, Antoine (1994). Access to Western Esotericism. State University of New York Press. p. 8.  
  9. ^ Faivre 1987 p. 465 & 467
  10. ^ OED 1989 v. XVII, p. 903.
  11. ^ Faivre 1987 v. XIV
  12. ^ Faivre 1987 p. 467
  13. ^ Rix 2007 p. 98
  14. ^ Goodick-Clarke 2008 p. 168,169
  15. ^ Faivre 1987 p. 466
  16. ^  
  17. ^ Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vladimir Solovyov
  18. ^ Santucci 2004 p. 259
  19. ^ Christoph Lindenberg, Rudolf Steiner. Eine Biographie. Freies Geistesleben, 1997, ISBN 3-7725-1551-7.
  20. ^ Greer, John Michael (2004), "Anthroposophical Society entry", The New Encyclopedia of the Occult (1st ed.), St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, p. 25,  
  21. ^ Faivre 2000
  22. ^ Faivre 2006 p. 259
  23. ^ Williamson, Lola (2010). Transcendent in America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements (HIMM) as New Religion. New York, NY: New York University Press. p. 31.  
  24. ^ Goodick-Clarke 2008 p. 9-10
  25. ^ a b Hanegraaff 2006 p. 340
  26. ^ Goodick-Clarke 2008 p. 6-10
  27. ^ Faivre 2000 p. 7, 8
  28. ^ Faivre 2000 p. 5. Faivre quotes and agrees with Jean-Louis Siémons.
  29. ^ Sellon 1987 v. II, p. 245-246
  30. ^ Blavatsky 1889 p. 3-4, 7-12, 87
  31. ^ Blavatsky 1888
  32. ^ Ellwood, Robert S (1986). Theosophy: a modern expression of the ages. The Theosophical Publishing House. pp. 14, 16–17, 22.  
  33. ^ Blavatsky 1918, p. 304: "Theosophia"
  34. ^ Blavatsky 1962, p. 1–4.
  35. ^ Blavatsky 1918, pp. 304–305: "Theosophists"
  36. ^ "Blavatsky Articles". Retrieved 2014-05-14. 
  37. ^ Melton 1990, pp. xxv–xxvi.
  38. ^ Wakoff 1998.
  39. ^ Blavatsky 1888a, p. 13.
  40. ^ Blavatsky 1888a, p. 177.
  41. ^ Blavatsky 2002, pp. 3–4, 7–12, 87.
  42. ^ Blavatsky 1888a, pp. xxxviii, 272–273.
  43. ^ Blavatsky 2002, p. 19.
  44. ^ Zirkoff 1968.
  45. ^ a b Blavatsky 1888a, p. 14.
  46. ^ Blavatsky 1888a, pp. 35–85.
  47. ^ Blavatsky 1888a, pp. 62–63.
  48. ^ Blavatsky 1888a, p. 274.
  49. ^ Blavatsky 1888a, p. 17.
  50. ^ Blavatsky 1888a, p. 43.
  51. ^ Blavatsky 1888a, p. 206.
  52. ^ Blavatsky 1888a, pp. 274–275.
  53. ^ Blavatsky 1888a, pp. 272–274.
  54. ^ Blavatsky 1888b, pp. 185–187.
  55. ^ Blavatsky 1888a, p. 227.
  56. ^ Massey, quoted in Blavatsky (1888a, p. 227). It is unclear which Massey work Blavatsky was quoting.
  57. ^ Blavatsky 1888a, p. 36.
  58. ^ Nilakant 1886.
  59. ^ Blavatsky 2002, p. 89.
  60. ^ Blavatsky 2002, pp. 90–93.
  61. ^ a b Blavatsky 1888c.
  62. ^ Blavatsky 1888a, p. 15.
  63. ^ Blavatsky 1888a, p. 179.
  64. ^ Blavatsky 1888a, pp. 170–190, 610–633.
  65. ^ Blavatsky 1888b, pp. 329, 353.
  66. ^ Blavatsky 1888b, p. 330.
  67. ^ Blavatsky 1888b, p. 434.
  68. ^ Blavatsky 1888a, p. 106.
  69. ^ Blavatsky 1888b, pp. 445–446.
  70. ^ Blavatsky 1888a, pp. 158–159.
  71. ^ Blavatsky 1888a, p. 184.
  72. ^ Blavatsky 1888b, p. 1.
  73. ^ Blavatsky 1888b, p. 610.
  74. ^ a b Blavatsky 1888b, p. 249.
  75. ^ Blavatsky 1888b, p. 200.
  76. ^ Blavatsky 1888b, pp. 195–6.
  77. ^ Blavatsky 1888a, p. 181.
  78. ^ The Key to Theosophy; 2nd ed. 1890, p. 39
  79. ^ Blavatsky 1918, pp. 252–254.
  80. ^ Blavatsky 1888b, p. 446.
  81. ^ Blavatsky 1962, Section 3.
  82. ^ Cranston 1995, p. 400.
  83. ^ Blavatsky 1888b, Stanza IX.
  84. ^ Guénon, René (2004). Theosophy: history of a pseudo-religion. Translated by Alvin Moore, Jr. and Cecil Bethell. pp. 82–89. 
  85. ^ Johnson, K. Paul. The Masters Revealed: Madam Blavatsky and Myth of the Great White Brotherhood, Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1994.
  86. ^ Zweig, Paul. "Talking to the Dead and Other Amusements", The New York Times, 5 October 1980.
  87. ^ Carroll, Robert Todd. The skeptic's dictionary, 2003, p. 376.
  88. ^  
  89. ^ Hanegraaff 2006 p. x-xii
  90. ^ Goodrick-Clarke, Claire and Nicholas (2005). G. R. S. Mead and the Gnostic Quest. North Atlantic Books. pp. 7 and 32.  
  91. ^ Goodrick-Clarke, Claire and Nicholas (2005). G. R. S. Mead and the Gnostic Quest. North Atlantic Books. pp. 9, 19 and 32.  


  1. ^ Some of the later works have become the focus of, or have contributed to, lively discussion among leading proponents of theosophy, and on occasion have led to serious doctrinal disputes. See Neo-Theosophy.
  2. ^ Blavatsky stated that in practical terms, her Theosophical exposition concerned itself only "with our planetary System and what is visible around it".[39] "Bear in mind that the Stanzas given treat only of the Cosmogony of our own planetary System and what is visible around it, .... The secret teachings with regard to the Evolution of the Universal Kosmos cannot be given, .... Moreover the Teachers say openly that not even the highest Dhyani-Chohans have ever penetrated the mysteries beyond those boundaries that separate the milliards of Solar systems from the 'Central Sun,' as it is called. Therefore, that which is given, relates only to our visible Kosmos, ...." However, some of her statements have been unclear or contradictory on the subject and she often stressed, "Everything in the Universe follows analogy. 'As above, so below'".[40]
  3. ^ "Faith is a word not to be found in theosophical dictionaries: we say knowledge based, on observation and experience. There is this difference, however, that while the observation and experience of physical science lead the Scientists to about as many 'working' hypotheses as there are minds to evolve them, our knowledge consents to add to its lore only those facts which have become undeniable, and which are fully and absolutely demonstrated. We have no two beliefs or hypotheses on the same subject."[41]
  4. ^ "It is the uninterrupted record covering thousands of generations of Seers whose respective experiences were made to test and to verify the traditions passed orally by one early race to another, of the teachings of higher and exalted beings, who watched over the childhood of Humanity. That for long ages, the 'Wise Men' of the Fifth Race, ... had passed their lives in learning, not teaching. ... By checking, testing, and verifying in every department of nature the traditions of old by the independent visions of great adepts; i.e., men who have developed and perfected their physical, mental, psychic, and spiritual organizations to the utmost possible degree. No vision of one adept was accepted until it was checked and confirmed by the visions—so obtained as to stand as independent evidence—of other adepts, and by centuries of experiences."[42]
  5. ^ "The Society is a philanthropic and scientific body for the propagation of the idea of brotherhood on practical instead of theoretical lines. The Fellows may be Christians or Mussulmen, Jews or Parsees, Buddhists or Brahmins, Spiritualists or Materialists, it does not matter; but every member must be either a philanthropist, or a scholar, a searcher into Aryan and other old literature, or a psychic student. In short, he has to help, if he can, in the carrying out of at least one of the objects of the programme."[43]
  6. ^ "An Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless, and Immutable PRINCIPLE on which all speculation is impossible, since it transcends the power of human conception and could only be dwarfed by any human expression or similitude."[45]
  7. ^ "The expansion 'from within without'..., does not allude to an expansion from a small centre or focus, but, without reference to size or limitation or area, means the development of limitless subjectivity into as limitless objectivity. ...It implies that this expansion, not being an increase in size—for infinite extension admits of no enlargement—was a change of condition." Manifest existence is often called "Illusion" in Theosophy, owing to its conceptual and actual differentiation from the only Reality.[47]
  8. ^ "Everything in the Universe, throughout all its kingdoms, is CONSCIOUS: i.e., endowed with a consciousness of its own kind and on its own plane of perception. We men must remember that because we do not perceive any signs—which we can recognise—of consciousness, say, in stones, we have no right to say that no consciousness exists there. There is no such thing as either 'dead' or 'blind' matter, as there is no 'Blind' or 'Unconscious' Law".[48]
  9. ^ Blavatsky states that each complete cycle lasts 311,040,000,000,000 years.[51]
  10. ^ Blavatsky, Helena P. (1893). The secret doctrine: the synthesis of science, religion, and philosophy 1 (Original from Harvard University ed.). Theosophical Publishing Society. pp. 129–130, 523, 573–4. 
  11. ^ The terms "spirit" and "matter" have uncommon meanings in Theosophy, standing in as two aspects of the single, absolute reality. More accurate terms according to Blavatsky would be the notions of "subject" (spirit) and "object" (matter). [62] "But once that we pass in thought from this (to us) Absolute Negation, duality supervenes in the contrast of Spirit (or consciousness) and Matter, Subject and Object. Spirit (or Consciousness) and Matter are, however, to be regarded, not as independent realities, but as the two facets or aspects of the Absolute"; [63] "Matter is Spirit, and vice versa ... the Universe and the Deity which informs it are unthinkable apart from each other". [Emphasis in original]
  12. ^ Information about the Monads in this section is almost exlusively based on two chapters in The Secret Doctrine: "Explanations concerning the Globes and the Monads" and "Gods, Monads, and Atoms".[64] They cover the complicated Monad doctrine in some detail.
  13. ^ The concept of race in this case and Theosophy in general has a different meaning than the one given by early 21st-century Anthropology and Sociology. One of the reasons for the "Root" appelation is in order to account for constituent evolutionary paths called "sub-races".
  14. ^ "Our globe is subject to seven periodical entire changes which go pari passu with the races ... three occasioned by the change in the inclination of the earth's axis ... such changes in the axial direction ... are always followed by [climatic] vicissitudes .... Occult data show that even since the time of the regular establishment of the Zodiacal calculations in Egypt, the poles have been thrice inverted."[65]
  15. ^ "Since ... Humanity appeared on this Earth, there have already been four such axial disturbances; when the old continents—save the first one—were sucked in by the oceans, other lands appeared, and huge mountain chains arose where there had been none before. The face of the Globe was completely changed each time".[66]
  16. ^ "Now our Fifth Root-Race has already been in existence—as a race sui generis and quite free from its parent stem—about 1,000,000 years". [Emphasis in original].[67]
  17. ^ "And when we say human, this does not apply merely to our terrestrial humanity, but to the mortals that inhabit any world, i.e., to those Intelligences that have reached the appropriate equilibrium between matter and spirit, as we have now, since the middle point of the Fourth Root Race of the Fourth Round was passed."[68]
  18. ^ "Everything in the metaphysical as in the physical Universe is septenary. Hence every sidereal body, every planet, whether visible or invisible, is credited with six companion globes. ... The evolution of life proceeds on these seven globes or bodies from the 1st to the 7th in Seven ROUNDS or Seven Cycles. ... Our Earth ... has to live, as have the others, through seven Rounds. During the first three, it forms and consolidates; during the fourth it settles and hardens; during the last three it gradually returns to its first ethereal form: it is spiritualised, so to say. ... Its Humanity develops fully only in the Fourth—our present Round. Up to this fourth Life-Cycle, it is referred to as 'humanity' only for lack of a more appropriate term. ... During the three Rounds to come, Humanity, like the globe on which it lives, will be ever tending to reassume its primeval form ... Man tends to become a God and then—GOD, like every other atom in the Universe."[70]
  19. ^ "As shown, the [now human] MONAD had passed through, journeyed and been imprisoned in, every transitional form throughout every kingdom of nature [mineral, vegetable, and animal] during the three preceding Rounds."[71]
  20. ^ "In this manner the reason for division of humankind into higher and lower races is obsolete and a erroneous belief."[83]



See also

G.R.S. Mead was an early Theosophist. In 1909 he resigned from the Theosophical Society which was Orientalist. Prior to his break from the Society Mead had already begun emphasizing sources from the Western esoteric tradition in his writing. Mead was among the first Theosophists to explicate a "'Western' theosophy deriving from Alexandrian and Hellenistic sources in the early centuries A.D."[91]

Notes: Reasons regarding the division of traditional theosophy from the Theosophical Society [89][90]

Post-Blavatskyan Theosophy and New Religious Movements

Jackson Spielvogel and David Redles of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance analyze Blavatsky's racial ideas in her book Secret Doctrine. According to Spielvogel and Redles, Blavatsky labeled some races superior and others inferior. They clarify that Blavatsky did not advocate "domination of one race over another" and that she was against violence. They comment that Blavatsky's work "helped to foster antisemitism, which is perhaps one of the reasons her esoteric work was so rapidly accepted in German circles." They state Blavatsky "sharply differentiated Aryan and Jewish religion" and believed "The Aryans were the most spiritual people on earth." They quote Blavatsky's writing in Secret Doctrine as stating Aryans used religion as an "everlasting lodestar" in contrast to Judaism which Blavatsky claimed was based on "mere calculation" while characterizing it as a "religion of hate and malice toward everyone and everything outside itself."[88]

Blavatsky's Theosophy connected to antisemitism, racism

Robert Todd Carroll in his book The skeptic's dictionary (2003) wrote that Blavatsky used trickery into deceiving others into thinking she had paranormal powers. Carroll wrote that Blavatsky had faked a materialization of a teacup and saucer as well as writing the messages from her masters herself.[87]

The article "Talking to the Dead and Other Amusements" by Paul Zweig New York Times October 5, 1980, maintains that Madame Blavatsky's revelations were fraudulent.[86]

K. Paul Johnson suggests in his book The Masters Revealed: Madam Blavatsky and Myth of the Great White Brotherhood that the Masters that Madam Blavatsky claimed she had personally met are idealizations of certain people she had met during her lifetime.[85]

René Guénon wrote a detailed critique of Theosophy entitled Theosophism: history of a pseudo-religion (1921), in which he claimed that Blavatsky had acquired all her knowledge from reading books, and not from any supernatural masters. Guenon pointed out that Blavatsky was a regular visitor to a library in New York, where she had easy access to the works of Jacob Boehme, Eliphas Levi, the Kabbala and other Hermetic treatises. Guenon also wrote that Blavatsky had borrowed passages from extracts of the Kanjur and Tanjur, translated by the eccentric orientalist Sándor Kőrösi Csoma, published in 1836 in the twentieth volume of the Asiatic Researchers of Calcutta .[84]

Helena Blavatsky's skeptics

Criticisms of Helena Blavatsky and The Theosophical Society

Cranston quoted Blavatsky saying that in reality there is no inferior or low-grade races because all of it are one common humankind.[82] A view which is also evident in the Secret Doctrine.[20]

The first aim of the Theosophical Society she founded is "To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or colour", and her writings also include references emphasizing the unity of humanity: "all men have spiritually and physically the same origin" and that "mankind is essentially of one and the same essence".[81]

Thus will mankind, race after race, perform its appointed cycle-pilgrimage. Climates will, and have already begun, to change, each tropical year after the other dropping one sub-race, but only to beget another higher race on the ascending cycle; while a series of other less favoured groups—the failures of nature—will, like some individual men, vanish from the human family without even leaving a trace behind.
Such is the course of Nature under the sway of KARMIC LAW: of the ever present and the ever-becoming Nature.[80]

Blavatsky does not claim that the present Aryan Root-race is the last and highest of them all. The Indo-European races will also eventually degenerate and disappear, as new and more developed races and cultures develop on the planet:

Even though she declares that at this point of their cultural evolutionary cycle the Semites, especially the Arabs, are "degenerate in spirituality and perfected in materiality", she also stated that there were wise and initiated teachers among the Jews and the Arabs,[79] some of them were Blavatsky's teachers early in her life.

She also states that cultures follow a cycle of rising, development, degeneration, and eventually disappear. Also, according to her there is a fixed number of reincarnating souls evolving, all of which are beyond sex, nationality, religion, and other physical or cultural characteristics. In its evolutionary journey, every soul has to take birth in every culture in the world, where it acquires different skills and learns different lessons.[78]

Blavatsky's teachings talk about three separate levels of evolution: physical, intellectual, and spiritual.[77] Blavatsky states that there are differences in the spiritual evolution of the Monads (the "divine spark" in human beings), in the intellectual development of the souls, and in the physical qualities of the bodies. These levels of evolution are independent. A highly evolved Monad may incarnate, for karmic reasons, in a rather crude personality. Also, a very intellectual person may be less evolved at the spiritual level than an illiterate.

There are, or rather still were a few years ago, descendants of these half-animal tribes or races, both of remote Lemurian and Lemuro-Atlantean origin ... Of such semi-animal creatures, the sole remnants known to Ethnology were the Tasmanians, a portion of the Australians and a mountain tribe in China, the men and women of which are entirely covered with hair.[76]

She also states that:

The occult doctrine admits of no such divisions as the Aryan and the Semite, accepting even the Turanian [as part of the same language group] with ample reservations. The Semites, especially the Arabs, are later Aryans—degenerate in spirituality and perfected in materiality.[75]

Her evolutionary view admits a difference in development between various ethnic groups:

The Aryan races, for instance, now varying from dark brown, almost black, red-brown-yellow, down to the whitest creamy colour, are yet all of one and the same stock—the Fifth Root-Race—and spring from one single progenitor, (...) who is said to have lived over 18,000,000 years ago, and also 850,000 years ago—at the time of the sinking of the last remnants of the great continent of Atlantis.[74]

The present Root-race was preceded by the fourth one, which developed in Atlantis, while the third Root-race is denominated "Lemurian". She described the Aryan Root-race in the following way:

Blavatsky used the compounded word Root race to describe each of the seven successive stages of human evolution that take place over large time periods in her cosmology. A Root-race is the archetype from which spring all the races that form humanity in a particular evolutionary cycle. She called the current Root-race, the fifth one, "Aryan".[74]

Mankind did not issue from one solitary couple. Nor was there ever a first man—whether Adam or Yima—but a first mankind. It may, or may not, be "mitigated polygenism." Once that both creation ex nihilo—an absurdity—and a superhuman Creator or creators—a fact—are made away with by science, polygenism presents no more difficulties or inconveniences (rather fewer from a scientific point of view) than monogenism does.[73]

The Secret Doctrine states:

Regarding the origin of the human races on earth, Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine argued for polygenism—"the simultaneous evolution of seven human groups on seven different portions of our globe".[72]

Racial theories

Humanity's evolution is a subset of planetary evolution, which is described in the doctrine of Rounds, itself a subject of Theosophy's Esoteric cosmology. Rounds may last hundreds of millions of years each. Theosophy states that Earth is currently in the fourth Round of the planet's own sevenfold development.[18] Human evolution is tied to the particular Round or planetary stage of evolution—the Monads informing humans in this Round were previously informing the third Round's animal class, and will "migrate" to a different class of entities in the fifth Round.[19]

Theosophy describes humanity's evolution on Earth in the doctrine of Root races.[13] These are seven stages of development, during which every human Monad evolves alongside others in stages that last millions of years, each stage occurring mostly in a different super-continent—these continents are actually, according to Theosophy co-evolving geological and climatic stages.[14] At present, humanity's evolution is at the fifth stage, the so-called Aryan Root race, which is developing on its appointed geologic/climatic period.[15] The continuing development of the Aryan stage has been taking place since about the middle of the Calabrian (about 1,000,000 years ago).[16] The previous fourth Root race was at the midpoint of the sevenfold evolutionary cycle, the point in which the "human" Monad became fully vested in the increasingly complex and dense forms that developed for it. A component of that investment was the gradual appearance of contemporary human physiology, which finalized to the form known to early 21st century medical science during the fourth Root race.[17] The current fifth stage is on the ascending arc, signifying the gradual reemergence of spiritualized consciousness (and of the proper forms, or "vehicles", for it) as humanity's dominant characteristic. The appearance of Root races is not strictly serial; they first develop while the preceding Race is still dominant. Older races complete their evolutionary cycle and die out; the present fifth Root race will in time evolve into the more advanced spiritually sixth.[69]

All individuated existence, regardless of stature, apparent animation, or complexity, is thought to be informed by a Monad; in its human phase, the Monad consists of the two highest-ordered (out of seven) constituents or principles of human nature and is connected to the third-highest principle, that of mind and self-consciousness (see Septenary above).

It follows from the above that to Theosophy, all Evolution is basically the evolution of Consciousness, physical-biological evolution being only a constituent part.[11] All evolutionary paths involve the serial immersion (or reincarnation) of basic units of consciousness called Monads into forms that become gradually denser, and which eventually culminate in gross physical matter. At that point the process reverses towards a respiritualization of consciousness. The experience gained in the previous evolutionary stages is retained; and so consciousness inexorably advances towards greater completeness.[12]

Rounds and races

These bodies go up to the higher mental plane. The two higher spiritual Principles of Buddhi and Atma do not form bodies proper but are something more like "sheaths".

Therefore, besides the dense physical body, the subtle bodies in a human being are:

The higher part of this body, containing the spiritual elements gathered during life, merges after death entirely into the causal body; while the lower part, containing the animal elements, forms the Kama-rupa, the source of "spooks" or apparitions of the dead.

The mayavi-rupa is dual in its functions, being: "...the vehicle both of thought and of the animal passions and desires, drawing at one and the same time from the lowest terrestrial manas (mind) and Kama, the element of desire."[61]

The Linga Sharira is the invisible double of the human body, elsewhere referred to as the etheric body or doppelgänger and serves as a model or matrix of the physical body, which conforms to the shape, appearance and condition of his "double". The linga sarira can be separated or projected a limited distance from the body. When separated from the body it can be wounded by sharp objects. When it returns to the physical frame, the wound will be reflected in the physical counterpart, a phenomenon called "repercussion." At death, it is discarded together with the physical body and eventually disintegrates or decomposes. This can be seen over the graves like a luminous figure of the man that was, during certain atmospheric conditions.

  • Linga Sharira – the Double or Astral body
  • Mayavi-rupa – the "Illusion-body"
  • Causal Body – the vehicle of the higher Mind

These Principles in Man may or may not form one or more bodies. Blavatsky's teachings about subtle bodies were few and not very systematic. In an article she described three subtle bodies:[61]

  1. Physical
  2. Astral (later called etheric)
  3. Prana (or vital)
  4. Kama (animal soul)
  5. Manas (mind, or human soul)
  6. Buddhi (spiritual soul)
  7. Atma (Spirit or Self)

The Theosophical teachings about the constitution of human beings talk about two different, but related, things: principles and bodies. Principles are the seven basic constituents of the universe, usually described by Mme. Blavatsky as follows:

Just as the Cosmos is not limited to its physical dimension, human beings have also subtler dimensions and bodies. The "Septenary Nature of Man" was described by Blavatsky in, among other works, The Key to Theosophy; in descending order, it ranges from a postulated purely spiritual essence (called a "Ray of the Absolute") to the physical body.[60]

Seven principles and bodies
  1. Adi (the supreme, a divine plane not reached by human beings)
  2. Anupadaka (the parentless, also a divine plane home of the divine spark in human beings, the Monad)
  3. Atmic (the spiritual plane of Man's Higher Self)
  4. Buddhic (the spiritual plane of intuition, love, and wisdom)
  5. Mental (with a higher and lower subdivisions, this plane bridges the spiritual with the personal)
  6. Emotional (a personal plane that ranges from lower desires to high emotions)
  7. Physical plane (a personal plane which again has two subdivisions the dense one perceivable by our five senses, and an etheric one that is beyond these senses)

The Cosmos does not consist only of the physical plane that can be perceived with the five senses, but there is a succession of seven Cosmic planes of existence, composed of increasingly subtler forms of matter-energy, and in which states of consciousness other than the commonly known can manifest. Blavatsky described the planes according to these states of consciousness. In her system, for example, the plane of the material and concrete mind (lower mental plane) is classified as different from the plane of the spiritual and holistic mind (higher mental plane). Later Theosophists like Charles Webster Leadbeater and Annie Besant classified the seven planes according to the kind of subtle matter that compose them. Since both the higher and lower mental planes share the same type of subtle matter, they regard them as one single plane with two subdivisions. In this later view the seven cosmic planes include (from spiritual to material):

Seven cosmic planes

In the Theosophical view all major facets of existence manifest following a seven-fold model: "Our philosophy teaches us that, as there are seven fundamental forces in nature, and seven planes of being, so there are seven states of consciousness in which man can live, think, remember and have his being."[59]

Septenary systems

The seal of the Society contains all of these symbols, except aum, and thus contains, in symbolic form, the doctrines its members follow.[58]

  1. the seal of the Society
  2. a serpent biting its tail
  3. the gnostic cross (near the serpent's head)
  4. the interlaced triangles
  5. the cruxansata (in the centre)
  6. the pin of the Society, composed of cruxansata and serpent entwined, forming together "T.S.", and
  7. Om (or aum), the sacred syllable of the Vedas.

There are seven symbols of particular importance to the Society's symbology:

Theosophy holds that the manifested universe is ordered by the number seven,[57] a common claim among Esoteric and mystical doctrines and religions. Thus, the evolutionary "pilgrimage" proceeds cyclically through seven stages, the three first steps involving an apparent involution, the fourth one being one of equilibrium, and the last three involving a progressive development.

In The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky quoted Gerald Massey a "suggestive analogy between the Aryan or Brahmanical and the Egyptian esotericism" She said that the "seven rays of the Chaldean Heptakis or Iao, on the Gnostic stones" represent the seven large stars of the Egyptian "Great Bear" constellation, the seven elemental powers, and the Hindu "seven Rishis".[55][56] Blavatsky saw the seven rays of the Vedic sun deity Vishnu as representing the same concept as the "astral fluid or 'Light' of the Kabalists," and said that the seven emanations of the lower seven sephiroth are the "primeval seven rays", and "will be found and recognized in every religion."[10]

Esotericism and symbolism

"The real line of evolution differs from the Darwinian, and the two systems are irreconcilable," according to Blavatsky, "except when the latter is divorced from the dogma of 'Natural Selection'." She explained that, "by 'Man' the divine Monad is meant, and not the thinking Entity, much less his physical body." "Occultism rejects the idea that Nature developed man from the ape, or even from an ancestor common to both, but traces, on the contrary, some of the most anthropoid species to the Third Race man." In other words, "the 'ancestor' of the present anthropoid animal, the ape, is the direct production of the yet mindless Man, who desecrated his human dignity by putting himself physically on the level of an animal."[54]


  1. The first item reiterates Blavatsky's position that The Secret Doctrine represents the "accumulated Wisdom of the Ages", a system of thought that "is the uninterrupted record covering thousands of generations of Seers whose respective experiences were made to test and to verify the traditions passed orally by one early race to another, of the teachings of higher and exalted beings, who watched over the childhood of Humanity."
  2. The second item reiterates the first fundamental proposition (see above), calling the one principle "the fundamental law in that system [of cosmogony]". Here Blavatsky says of this principle that it is "the One homogeneous divine Substance-Principle, the one radical cause. … It is called "Substance-Principle," for it becomes "substance" on the plane of the manifested Universe, an illusion, while it remains a "principle" in the beginningless and endless abstract, visible and invisible Space. It is the omnipresent Reality: impersonal, because it contains all and everything. Its impersonality is the fundamental conception of the System. It is latent in every atom in the Universe, and is the Universe itself."
  3. The third item reiterates the second fundamental proposition (see above), impressing once again that "The Universe is the periodical manifestation of this unknown Absolute Essence.", while also touching upon the complex Sanskrit ideas of Parabrahmam and Mulaprakriti. This item presents the idea that the One unconditioned and absolute principle is covered over by its veil, Mulaprakriti, that the spiritual essence is forever covered by the material essence.
  4. The fourth item is the common eastern idea of Maya (illusion). Blavatsky states that the entire universe is called illusion because everything in it is temporary, i.e. has a beginning and an end, and is therefore unreal in comparison to the eternal changelessness of the One Principle.
  5. The fifth item reiterates the third fundamental proposition (see above), stating that everything in the universe is conscious, in its own way and on its own plane of perception. Because of this, the Occult Philosophy states that there are no unconscious or blind laws of Nature, that all is governed by consciousness and consciousnesses.
  6. The sixth item gives a core idea of theosophical philosophy, that "as above, so below". This is known as the "law of correspondences", its basic premise being that everything in the universe is worked and manifested from within outwards, or from the higher to the lower, and that thus the lower, the microcosm, is the copy of the higher, the macrocosm. Just as a human being experiences every action as preceded by an internal impulse of thought, emotion or will, so too the manifested universe is preceded by impulses from divine thought, feeling and will. This item gives rise to the notion of an "almost endless series of hierarchies of sentient beings", which itself becomes a central idea of many theosophists. The law of correspondences also becomes central to the methodology of many theosophists, as they look for analogous correspondence between various aspects of reality, for instance: the correspondence between the seasons of Earth and the process of a single human life, through birth, growth, adulthood and then decline and death.

In this recapitulation of The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky gave a summary of the central points of her system of cosmogony.[53] These central points are as follows:

Items of cosmogony

Cosmic evolution

Related to the above is the third proposition: "The fundamental identity of all Souls with the Universal Over-Soul... and the obligatory pilgrimage for every Soul—a spark of the former—through the Cycle of Incarnation (or 'Necessity') in accordance with Cyclic and Karmic law, during the whole term." The individual souls are seen as units of consciousness (Monads) that are intrinsic parts of a universal oversoul, just as different sparks are parts of a fire. These Monads undergo a process of evolution where consciousness unfolds and matter develops. This evolution is not random, but informed by intelligence and with a purpose. Evolution follows distinct paths in accord with certain immutable laws, aspects of which are perceivable on the physical level. One such law is the law of periodicity and cyclicity; another is the law of karma or cause and effect.[52]

The second proposition is "the absolute universality of that law of periodicity, of flux and reflux, ebb and flow". Accordingly, manifest existence is an eternally re-occurring event on a "boundless plane": "'the playground of numberless Universes incessantly manifesting and disappearing,'"[49] each one "standing in the relation of an effect as regards its predecessor, and being a cause as regards its successor",[50] doing so over vast but finite periods of time.[9]

Everything in the universe is informed by the potentialities present in the "Unknown Root," and manifest with different degrees of Life (or energy), Consciousness, and Matter.[8]

The first proposition is that there is one underlying, unconditioned, indivisible Truth, variously called "the Absolute", "the Unknown Root", "the One Reality", etc. It is causeless and timeless, and therefore unknowable and non-describable: "It is 'Be-ness' rather than Being".[6] However, transient states of matter and consciousness are manifested in IT, in an unfolding gradation from the subtlest to the densest, the final of which is physical plane.[46] According to this view, manifest existence is a "change of condition"[7] and therefore neither the result of creation nor a random event.

Before the reader proceeds … it is absolutely necessary that he should be made acquainted with the few fundamental conceptions which underlie and pervade the entire system of thought to which his attention is invited. These basic ideas are few in number, and on their clear apprehension depends the understanding of all that follows…[45]

Blavatsky explained the essential component ideas of her cosmogony in her magnum opus, The Secret Doctrine. She began with three fundamental propositions, of which she said:

Three fundamental propositions

Basic tenets

Applied Theosophy was one of the main reasons for the foundation of the Theosophical Society in 1875; the practice of Theosophy was considered an integral part of its contemporary incarnation.[5] Theosophical discipline includes the practice of study, meditation, and service, which are traditionally seen as necessary for a holistic development. Also, the acceptance and practical application of the Society's Theosophical Order of Service, was founded.


Despite extensively using Vishnu Purana, and The Royal Masonic Cyclopaedia.[44]


In The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky spoke of a basic item of cosmogony reflected in the ancient saying: "as above, so below". This item is used by many theosophists as a method of study and has been called "The Law of Correspondences". Briefly, the law of correspondences states that the microcosm is the miniature copy of the macrocosm and therefore what is found "below" can be found, often through analogy, "above". Examples include the basic structures of microcosmic organisms mirroring the structure of macrocosmic organisms (see septenary systems, below). The lifespan of a human being can be seen to follow, by analogy, the same path as the seasons of the Earth, and in theosophy it is postulated that the same general process is equally applied to the lifespan of a planet, a solar system, a galaxy and to the universe itself. Through the Law of Correspondences, a theosophist seeks to discover the first principles underlying various phenomenon by finding the shared essence or idea, and thus to move from particulars to principles.

Law of correspondences

According to Blavatsky, Theosophy is neither revelation nor speculation.[3] It is portrayed as an attempt at gradual, faithful reintroduction of a hitherto hidden science, which is called in Theosophical literature The Occult Science. According to Blavatsky, this postulated science provides a description of Reality not only at a physical level, but also on a metaphysical one. The Occult Science is said to have been preserved (and practiced) throughout history by carefully selected and trained individuals.[4] Theosophists further assert that Theosophy's precepts and their axiomatic foundation may be verified by following certain prescribed disciplines that develop in the practitioner metaphysical means of knowledge, which transcend the limitations of the senses. It is commonly held by Theosophists that many of the basic Theosophical tenets may in the future be empirically and objectively verified by science, as it develops further.


Broadly, Theosophy attempts to reconcile humanity's scientific, philosophical, and religious disciplines and practices into a unified worldview. As it largely employs a synthesizing approach, it makes extensive use of the vocabulary and concepts of many philosophical and religious traditions. However these, along with all other fields of knowledge, are investigated, amended, and explained within an esoteric or occult framework. In often elaborate exposition, Theosophy's all-encompassing worldview proposes explanations for the origin, workings and ultimate fate of the universe and humanity; it has therefore also been called a system of "absolutist metaphysics".[38][2]


According to her, all real lovers of divine wisdom and truth had, and have, a right to the name of Theosophist.[35] Blavatsky discussed the major themes of Theosophy in several major works, including The Secret Doctrine, Isis Unveiled, The Key to Theosophy, and The Voice of the Silence. She also wrote over 200 articles in various theosophical magazines and periodicals.[36] Contemporaries of Blavatsky, as well as later theosophists, contributed to the development of this school of theosophical thought, producing works that at times sought to elucidate the ideas she presented (see Gottfried de Purucker), and at times to expand upon them.[1] Since its inception, and through doctrinal assimilation or divergence, Theosophy has also given rise to or influenced the development of other mystical, philosophical, and religious movements.[37]

ENQUIRER. Theosophy and its doctrines are often referred to as a new-fangled religion. Is it a religion?
THEOSOPHIST. It is not. Theosophy is Divine Knowledge or Science.
ENQUIRER. What is the real meaning of the term?
THEOSOPHIST. "Divine Wisdom," (Theosophia) or Wisdom of the gods, as (theogonia), genealogy of the gods. The word theos means a god in Greek, one of the divine beings, certainly not "God" in the sense attached in our day to the term. Therefore, it is not "Wisdom of God", as translated by some, but Divine Wisdom such as that possessed by the gods. The term is many thousand years old.
ENQUIRER. What is the origin of the name?
THEOSOPHIST. It comes to us from the Alexandrian philosophers, called lovers of truth, Philaletheians, from phil "loving," and aletheia "truth". The name Theosophy dates from the third century of our era, and began with Ammonius Saccas and his disciples, who started the Eclectic Theosophical system.[34]

Theosophy was considered by Blavatsky to be "the substratum and basis of all the world-religions and philosophies".[33] In The Key to Theosophy, she stated the following about the meaning and origin of the term:

Definition and origin

The Theosophical Society believes its precepts and doctrinal foundation will be verified when a Theosophist follows prescribed disciplines to develop metaphysical means of knowledge that transcend the limitations of the senses.[32]

Helena Blavatsky taught that Theosophy is neither revelation nor speculation.[30] Blavatsky stated that Theosophy was an attempt at a gradual, faithful reintroduction of a hitherto hidden science called the occult science in Theosophical literature. According to Blavatsky occult science provides a description of reality not only at a physical level but also on a metaphysical one. Blavatsky said occult science had been preserved and practiced throughout history by carefully selected and trained individuals.[31]

  1. That there is an omnipresent, eternal, boundless, and immutable reality of which spirit and matter are complementary aspects.
  2. That there is a universal law of periodicity or evolution through cyclic change.
  3. That all souls are identical with the universal oversoul which is itself an aspect of the unknown reality.

The three fundamental propositions expounded in The Secret Doctrine are:[29]

Overview of Blavatsky's teachings

Eventually the Theosophical Society became virtually synonymous with Theosophy in the vernacular sense. There are many differences between traditional Western theosophy and the Theosophical movement begun by Helena Blavatsky, though the differences "are not important enough to cause an insurmountable barrier."[28] When referring to the ideas related to Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society, the word "Theosophy" is capitalized; otherwise it is not.

In 1875 Helena Blavatsky, Henry Steel Olcott, and William Quan Judge co-founded The Theosophical Society. Blavatsky combined Eastern religious traditions with Western esoteric teachings to create a synthesis she called the Perennial Religion. She developed this in Isis Unveiled (1877) and The Secret Doctrine (1888), her major works and exposition of her Theosophy.

Blavatskyan Theosophy and the Theosophical Society

  1. Divine/Human/Nature Triangle: The inspired analysis which circles through these three angles. The intradivine within; the origin, death and placement of the human relating to Divinity and Nature; Nature as alive, the external, intellectual and material. All three complex correlations synthesize via the intellect and imaginative processes of Mind.
  2. Primacy of the Mythic: The creative Imagination, an external world of symbols, glyphs, myths, synchronicities and the myriad, along with image, all as a universal reality for the interplay conjoined by creative mind.
  3. Access to Supreme Worlds: The awakening within, inherently possessing the faculty to directly connect to the Divine world(s). The existence of a special human ability to create this connection. The ability to connect and explore all levels of reality; co-penetrate the human with the divine; to bond to all reality and experience a unique inner awakening.


The three characteristics of theosophy are listed below.

  1. Correspondence: Everything in Nature is a sign. The signs of Nature can be read. The microcosm and macrocosm interplay. Synchronicity exists, and can be found as signs from Nature and may lead to the understanding of the divine.
  2. Nature is Alive: It is not just correlations between pieces of matter. It is a living entity that will, and does, surge and evolve through its expanding self, replete with dynamic flows of energy and light.
  3. Imagination and mediations: Imaginations as a power that provides access to worlds and levels of reality intermediary between the material world and the divine.[25]
  4. Experience of Transmutation: The Gnosis and illuminations of self and mind performing a transmutation of consciousness. The birth of an awareness, a second new life becomes born.
  5. Practice of Concordance: Primordial Tradition. Studying traditions, religions etc. seeking the common one Root from which all esoteric knowledge grows.
  6. Transmission: Master-Disciple, master-Initiate, initiation into the Occult.


Antoine Faivre successfully created a taxonomy approach as a means to comparing the various traditions. He proceeded by taking the concordance of neoplatonism, Hermeticism, Kaballah, astrology, alchemy, magic etc. and deduced six fundamental characteristics of esoteric spirituality.[24] He concluded that the first four characteristics of esotericism are always present, while the latter two are sometimes present.[25][26] Along with these six characteristics of esotericism, he identified three characteristics of theosophy.[27]

Theosophists engage in analysis of the universe, humanity, divinity, and the reciprocal effects of each on the other. The starting point for theosophists may be knowledge of external things in the world or inner experiences and the aim of the theosophist is to discover deeper meanings in the natural or divine realm. Antoine Faivre notes, "the theosophist dedicates his energy to inventing (in the word's original sense of 'discovering') the articulation of all things visible and invisible, by examining both divinity and nature in the smallest detail."[3] The knowledge that is acquired through meditation is believed to change the being of the meditator.[23]

The use of the term "theosophy" has changed over time. As such, the use of the term in antiquity, or even using a strictly etymological definition, is not common in the academy. Theosophy actually designates a specific flow of thought or tradition within the modern study of esotericism. Thus, it follows the path starting from the more modern period of the 15th century onward (e.g. neo-Alexandrian, hermeticism, Christian Kaballah, Rosicrucianism, Alchemy etc.). The usage here is not intended to be inclusive of the concept as used in The Theosophical Society.[22]

Common characteristics

Several organizations developed from the popularization of Blavatsky's ideas and are considered new religious movements.[18] Theosophical Society lodges also continue to exist in many places. Some of the German-speaking members of the Theosophical Society left it to follow Rudolf Steiner's Anthroposophy after the forming of the Anthroposophical Society in 1912.[19][20] Theosophical concepts can be seen in the work of Sergei Bulgakov (1877–1945), Nikolai Berdyaev (1874–1945), Leopold Ziegler (1881–1958), Valentin Tomberg (1901–1973), Auguste-Edouard Chauvet (1885–1955), Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944), Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888–1975) and Henry Corbin (1903–1978).[21]

20th century to present

Meanwhile, outside of the initiate societies, others such as the Martinist Order founded by Papus in 1891, followed a prior theosophical current which was closely linked to the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition and Western esotericism. Theosophists outside of the initiate societies included people such as Vladimir Solovyov (1853–1900). According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Solovyov thought, "Although empiricism and rationalism (= idealism) rest on false principles, their respective objective contents, external experience, qua the foundation of natural science, and logical thought, qua the foundation of pure philosophy, are to be synthesized or encompassed along with mystical knowledge in 'integral knowledge,' what Solovyov terms 'theosophy.'"[17]

During the late 19th century, theosophical Theosophical Society.[16]

19th century

In France, Louis Claude de Saint-Martin (1743–1803) and Jean-Philippe Dutoit-Membrini (alias Keleph Ben Nathan, 1721-1793) contributed to a resurgence of theosophy in the late 18th century. Other theosophical thinkers of this period include Karl von Eckartshausen (1752–1803), Johann Heinrich Jung-Stilling (1740–1817), Frederic-Rodolphe Salzmann (1749–1821), Michael Hahn (1758–1819), and Franz von Baader (1765–1841). Denis Diderot gave the word theosophie a permanent place in the French language by including it in an article in his Encyclopédie, published during the French Enlightenment.[15]


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