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Theosophy

Theosophy

Overview
This article is about the philosophy introduced by Helena Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society
Theosophical Society
The Theosophical Society is an organization formed in 1875 to advance the spiritual principles and search for Truth known as Theosophy. The original organization, after splits and realignments has several successors...

. See Theosophy (history of philosophy)
Theosophy (history of philosophy)
Theosophy , designates several bodies of ideas since Late Antiquity. The Greek term is attested on magical papyri .-Neoplatonism:...

 for other uses.


Theosophy, in its modern presentation, is a spiritual philosophy
Spiritual philosophy
Spiritual philosophy is a generic term for any philosophy or teaching that pertains to spirituality and spiritual realities. It may incorporate religious or esoteric themes, especially those from Theosophy or Neo-Theosophy, New Age thought, mysticism, and Eastern philosophy...

 developed since the late 19th century. Its major themes were originally described mainly (though not exclusively) by Helena Blavatsky (1831–91), co-founder of the Theosophical Society
Theosophical Society
The Theosophical Society is an organization formed in 1875 to advance the spiritual principles and search for Truth known as Theosophy. The original organization, after splits and realignments has several successors...

. Blavatsky's sprawling magnum opus
Magnum opus
Magnum opus , from the Latin meaning "great work", refers to the largest, and perhaps the best, greatest, most popular, or most renowned achievement of a writer, artist, or composer.-Related terms:Sometimes the term magnum opus is used to refer to simply "a great work" rather than "the...

, published in 1888 as The Secret Doctrine
The Secret Doctrine
The Secret Doctrine, the Synthesis of Science, Religion and Philosophy, a book originally published as two volumes in 1888, is Helena P. Blavatsky's magnum opus. The first volume is named Cosmogenesis, the second Anthropogenesis...

, is considered to be the major foundational work of modern Theosophy.

Contemporaries of Blavatsky as well as later theosophists also contributed to the development of Theosophy, producing works that at times expanded on the original concepts.
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Encyclopedia
This article is about the philosophy introduced by Helena Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society
Theosophical Society
The Theosophical Society is an organization formed in 1875 to advance the spiritual principles and search for Truth known as Theosophy. The original organization, after splits and realignments has several successors...

. See Theosophy (history of philosophy)
Theosophy (history of philosophy)
Theosophy , designates several bodies of ideas since Late Antiquity. The Greek term is attested on magical papyri .-Neoplatonism:...

 for other uses.


Theosophy, in its modern presentation, is a spiritual philosophy
Spiritual philosophy
Spiritual philosophy is a generic term for any philosophy or teaching that pertains to spirituality and spiritual realities. It may incorporate religious or esoteric themes, especially those from Theosophy or Neo-Theosophy, New Age thought, mysticism, and Eastern philosophy...

 developed since the late 19th century. Its major themes were originally described mainly (though not exclusively) by Helena Blavatsky (1831–91), co-founder of the Theosophical Society
Theosophical Society
The Theosophical Society is an organization formed in 1875 to advance the spiritual principles and search for Truth known as Theosophy. The original organization, after splits and realignments has several successors...

. Blavatsky's sprawling magnum opus
Magnum opus
Magnum opus , from the Latin meaning "great work", refers to the largest, and perhaps the best, greatest, most popular, or most renowned achievement of a writer, artist, or composer.-Related terms:Sometimes the term magnum opus is used to refer to simply "a great work" rather than "the...

, published in 1888 as The Secret Doctrine
The Secret Doctrine
The Secret Doctrine, the Synthesis of Science, Religion and Philosophy, a book originally published as two volumes in 1888, is Helena P. Blavatsky's magnum opus. The first volume is named Cosmogenesis, the second Anthropogenesis...

, is considered to be the major foundational work of modern Theosophy.

Contemporaries of Blavatsky as well as later theosophists also contributed to the development of Theosophy, producing works that at times expanded on the original concepts. 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. Theosophy, through the Theosophical Society
Theosophical Society
The Theosophical Society is an organization formed in 1875 to advance the spiritual principles and search for Truth known as Theosophy. The original organization, after splits and realignments has several successors...

, remains an active philosophical school with presence in more than 70 countries around the world.

Etymology and definitions



The term Theosophy, literally "god-wisdom" or "divine wisdom", has been used in a religious or philosophical context since at least the beginning of the Common era
Common Era
Common Era ,abbreviated as CE, is an alternative designation for the calendar era originally introduced by Dionysius Exiguus in the 6th century, traditionally identified with Anno Domini .Dates before the year 1 CE are indicated by the usage of BCE, short for Before the Common Era Common Era...

. The term appeared in Neoplatonism
Neoplatonism
Neoplatonism , is the modern term for a school of religious and mystical philosophy that took shape in the 3rd century AD, based on the teachings of Plato and earlier Platonists, with its earliest contributor believed to be Plotinus, and his teacher Ammonius Saccas...

. The adjective theosophical, meaning "wise or skilled in divine matters", was used by Iamblichus (245–325) in De Mysteriis
De Mysteriis Aegyptiorum
The Theurgia, or De Mysteriis Aegyptiorum , was attributed to Iamblichus Chalcidensis, a Neoplatonic philosopher who studied under Porphyry....

 which was probably composed between c. 280–c. 305. Blavatsky stated the following about the origin of the term:
The Oxford English Dictionary defines theosophy as "any system of speculation which bases the knowledge of nature upon that of the divine nature", with particular reference to Jakob Böhme
Jakob Böhme
Jakob Böhme was a German Christian mystic and theologian. He is considered an original thinker within the Lutheran tradition...

.

In 2007 an article in a Theosophical publication assigned the term three meanings according to the ways it has been used since the founding of the Theosophical Society
Theosophical Society
The Theosophical Society is an organization formed in 1875 to advance the spiritual principles and search for Truth known as Theosophy. The original organization, after splits and realignments has several successors...

:
  1. A state of inner enlightenment
    Enlightenment (spiritual)
    Enlightenment in a secular context often means the "full comprehension of a situation", but in spiritual terms the word alludes to a spiritual revelation or deep insight into the meaning and purpose of all things, communication with or understanding of the mind of God, profound spiritual...

    , or of "Divine Wisdom", that a person can reputedly attain through intellectual and spiritual evolution.
  2. The wisdom said to be underlying all religions when they are stripped of accretions and superstition.
  3. The works of the leaders of the Theosophical Society
    Theosophical Society
    The Theosophical Society is an organization formed in 1875 to advance the spiritual principles and search for Truth known as Theosophy. The original organization, after splits and realignments has several successors...

    .

Scope


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
Occult
The word occult comes from the Latin word occultus , referring to "knowledge of the hidden". In the medical sense it is used to refer to a structure or process that is hidden, e.g...

 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
Metaphysics
Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:...

".

Methodology


According to its adherents, Theosophy is neither revelation
Revelation
In religion and theology, revelation is the revealing or disclosing, through active or passive communication with a supernatural or a divine entity...

 nor speculation. 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 Theosophists, 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. 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. In this sense, the Theosophical literature has predicted some findings which were later corroborated by modern science. For example, the accepted model of the atom in the nineteenth century resembled that of a billiard ball - a small, solid sphere. It was only in 1897 that J. J. Thomson
J. J. Thomson
Sir Joseph John "J. J." Thomson, OM, FRS was a British physicist and Nobel laureate. He is credited for the discovery of the electron and of isotopes, and the invention of the mass spectrometer...

 discovered the electron suggesting that the atom was not an "indivisible" particle, as John Dalton had suggested, but a jigsaw puzzle made of smaller pieces. Nine years before, in 1888, Blavatsky had written:

Applications


Applied Theosophy was one of the main reasons for the foundation of the Theosophical Society in 1875 (see below); the practice of Theosophy was considered an integral part of its contemporary incarnation. 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 motto
Motto
A motto is a phrase meant to formally summarize the general motivation or intention of a social group or organization. A motto may be in any language, but Latin is the most used. The local language is usual in the mottoes of governments...

and of its three objectives are part of the Theosophical life.

Efforts at applying its tenets started early. Study and meditation are normally promoted in the activities of the Theosophical Society
Theosophical Society
The Theosophical Society is an organization formed in 1875 to advance the spiritual principles and search for Truth known as Theosophy. The original organization, after splits and realignments has several successors...

, and in 1908 an international charitable organization to promote service, the Theosophical Order of Service
Theosophical Order of Service
The Theosophical Order of Service is an international organization founded in 1908 by Annie Besant, the second International President of the Theosophical Society...

, was founded.

However, members of the Society are not asked to follow any kind of discipline, Theosophical or otherwise, and are free to decide what is best for them. For those concerned with a more comprehensive study and application of Theosophy in depth, Blavatsky established in 1888 the Esoteric Section (now called Esoteric School of Theosophy). The Esoteric School (ES) is independent of the Theosophical Society
Theosophical Society
The Theosophical Society is an organization formed in 1875 to advance the spiritual principles and search for Truth known as Theosophy. The original organization, after splits and realignments has several successors...

; they are separate organizations. However, they are connected in the fact that all ES members must be active members of the Society. Unlike the latter,
which serves both its members and the public, the ES is a private community. Its meetings, communications, study materials, retreats and other programs are limited to members. Every person who joins the Theosophical Society
Theosophical Society
The Theosophical Society is an organization formed in 1875 to advance the spiritual principles and search for Truth known as Theosophy. The original organization, after splits and realignments has several successors...

 receives a welcome letter written by the international president where it is stated that "The Esoteric School is meant for all those who wish to live truly theosophical lives, and not merely to study Theosophy and allied subjects. Wisdom comes to those whose minds are capable of receiving it. Members of the Esoteric School prepare themselves by a life of purity and self-discipline to become worthy to receive."

Terminology



Despite extensively using Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 terminology, many Theosophical concepts are often expressed differently than in the original.

The Ancient Wisdom and its Spiritual Hierarchy


First principles


The first Theosophical axiom 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". 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. According to this view, manifest existence is a "change of condition" and therefore neither the result of creation nor a random event.

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.

The second Theosophical axiom 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, each one "standing in the relation of an effect as regards its predecessor, and being a cause as regards its successor", doing so over vast but finite periods of time.

Related to the above is the third axiom of Theosophy: "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
Karma
Karma in Indian religions is the concept of "action" or "deed", understood as that which causes the entire cycle of cause and effect originating in ancient India and treated in Hindu, Jain, Buddhist and Sikh philosophies....

 or cause and effect. Theosophy additionally holds that the manifested universe is ordered by the number seven, a common claim among Esoteric and mystical
Mysticism
Mysticism is the knowledge of, and especially the personal experience of, states of consciousness, i.e. levels of being, beyond normal human perception, including experience and even communion with a supreme being.-Classical origins:...

 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.

The Septenary



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."

Seven Cosmic Planes
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
Charles Webster Leadbeater
Charles Webster Leadbeater was an influential member of the Theosophical Society, author on occult subjects and co-initiator with J. I. Wedgwood of the Liberal Catholic Church...

 and Annie Besant
Annie Besant
Annie Besant was a prominent British Theosophist, women's rights activist, writer and orator and supporter of Irish and Indian self rule.She was married at 19 to Frank Besant but separated from him over religious differences. She then became a prominent speaker for the National Secular Society ...

 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):
  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
    Monad
    -Philosophy:*Monad a term meaning "unit" used variously by ancient philosophers from the Pythagoreans to Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus to signify a variety of entities from a genus to God....

    )
  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)


Seven Principles and Bodies
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
The Key to Theosophy
The Key to Theosophy is a popular book by Helena Blavatsky first published in 1889 and still in print today, expounding the principles of theosophy in a readable question-and-answer manner...

; in descending order, it ranges from a postulated purely spiritual essence (called a "Ray of the Absolute") to the physical body.

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:
  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)


These Principles in Man may or may not form one or more bodies. Mme. Blavatsky's teachings about subtle bodies were few and not very systematic. In an article she described three subtle bodies:
  • Linga Sharira - the Double or Astral body
    Astral body
    The astral body is a subtle body posited by many religious philosophers, intermediate between the intelligent soul and the physical body, composed of a subtle material. The concept ultimately derives from the philosophy of Plato: it is related to an astral plane, which consists of the planetary...

  • Mayavi-rupa - the "Illusion-body."
  • Causal Body - the vehicle of the higher Mind.


The Linga Sharira is the invisible double of the human body, elsewhere referred to as the etheric body
Etheric body
The etheric body, ether-body, æther body, a name given by neo-Theosophy to a supposed vital body or subtle body propounded in esoteric philosophies as the first or lowest layer in the "human energy field" or aura...

 or doppelgänger
Doppelgänger
In fiction and folklore, a doppelgänger is a paranormal double of a living person, typically representing evil or misfortune...

 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.

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."

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
Ghost
In traditional belief and fiction, a ghost is the soul or spirit of a deceased person or animal that can appear, in visible form or other manifestation, to the living. Descriptions of the apparition of ghosts vary widely from an invisible presence to translucent or barely visible wispy shapes, to...

 of the dead.

C.W. Leadbeater and Annie Besant
Annie Besant
Annie Besant was a prominent British Theosophist, women's rights activist, writer and orator and supporter of Irish and Indian self rule.She was married at 19 to Frank Besant but separated from him over religious differences. She then became a prominent speaker for the National Secular Society ...

 in their writings described the subtle bodies in more detail than Blavatsky did. They divided Blavatsky's dual mayavi-rupa into two different bodies: the emotional and the mental bodies. They also redefined some terms. The Linga Sarira (sometimes called astral body by Blavatsky) was denominated by Annie Besant
Annie Besant
Annie Besant was a prominent British Theosophist, women's rights activist, writer and orator and supporter of Irish and Indian self rule.She was married at 19 to Frank Besant but separated from him over religious differences. She then became a prominent speaker for the National Secular Society ...

 as Etheric Double. C.W. Leadbeater, regarding the emotional body as the seat of the kamic principle of Blavatsky's constitution, denominated it astral body
Astral body
The astral body is a subtle body posited by many religious philosophers, intermediate between the intelligent soul and the physical body, composed of a subtle material. The concept ultimately derives from the philosophy of Plato: it is related to an astral plane, which consists of the planetary...

. Therefore, besides the dense physical body, the subtle bodies in a human being are:
  • Etheric body
    Etheric body
    The etheric body, ether-body, æther body, a name given by neo-Theosophy to a supposed vital body or subtle body propounded in esoteric philosophies as the first or lowest layer in the "human energy field" or aura...

     (vehicle of prana
    Prana
    Prana is the Sanskrit word for "vital life" .It is one of the five organs of vitality or sensation, viz. prana "breath", vac "speech", chakshus "sight", shrotra "hearing", and manas "thought" Prana is the Sanskrit word for "vital life" (from the root "to fill", cognate to Latin plenus...

    )
  • Emotional or astral body
    Astral body
    The astral body is a subtle body posited by many religious philosophers, intermediate between the intelligent soul and the physical body, composed of a subtle material. The concept ultimately derives from the philosophy of Plato: it is related to an astral plane, which consists of the planetary...

     (vehicle of desires and emotions)
  • Mental body
    Mental body
    The mental body is one of the subtle bodies in esoteric philosophies, in some religious teachings and in New Age thought. It is understood as a sort of body made up of thoughts, just as the emotional body consists of emotions and the physical body is made up of matter...

     (vehicle of the concrete or lower mind)
  • Causal body
    Causal body
    The Causal body - originally Karana-Sarira - is a Yogic and Vedantic concept that was adopted and modified by Theosophy and from the latter made its way into the general New Age movement and contemporary western esotericism...

     (vehicle of the abstract or higher mind)


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".

Intelligent evolution



It follows from the above that to Theosophy, all Evolution is basically the evolution of Consciousness, physical-biological evolution being only a constituent part. All evolutionary paths involve the serial immersion (or reincarnation
Reincarnation
Reincarnation best describes the concept where the soul or spirit, after the death of the body, is believed to return to live in a new human body, or, in some traditions, either as a human being, animal or plant...

) 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.

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).

Theosophy describes humanity's evolution on Earth in the doctrine of Root race
Root race
Root Races are stages in human evolution in the esoteric cosmology of theosophist Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, as described in her book The Secret Doctrine . These races were said to have existed on now-lost continents. Blavatsky's model was developed by later theosophists, most notably William...

s. 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
Geology
Geology is the science comprising the study of solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which it evolves. Geology gives insight into the history of the Earth, as it provides the primary evidence for plate tectonics, the evolutionary history of life, and past climates...

 and climatic
Climate change
Climate change is a significant and lasting change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns over periods ranging from decades to millions of years. It may be a change in average weather conditions or the distribution of events around that average...

 stages. 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. The continuing development of the Aryan stage has been taking place since about the middle of the Calabrian (about 1,000,000 years ago). 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
Physiology
Physiology is the science of the function of living systems. This includes how organisms, organ systems, organs, cells, and bio-molecules carry out the chemical or physical functions that exist in a living system. The highest honor awarded in physiology is the Nobel Prize in Physiology or...

, which finalized to the form known to early 21st century medical science during the fourth Root race. 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.

Humanity's evolution is a subset of planetary evolution, which is described in the doctrine of Rounds
Round (Theosophy)
A round in the esoteric cosmology of Theosophy, Anthroposophy and Rosicrucianism is a cosmic cycle or sequence by which an evolving reincarnating being passes through the various stages of existence as the Earth, the Solar System or the Cosmos comes into and passes out of manifestation.-The...

, itself a subject of Theosophy's Esoteric cosmology
Esoteric cosmology
Esoteric cosmology is cosmology that is an intrinsic part of an esoteric or occult system of thought. It almost always deals with at least some of the following themes: emanation, involution, spiritual evolution, epigenesis, planes of existence or higher worlds , hierarchies of spiritual beings,...

. Rounds may last hundreds of millions of years each. Theosophy states that Earth
Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

 is currently in the fourth Round of the planet's own sevenfold development. 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.

Continuity with earlier philosophies


Theosophists attribute the origin of Theosophy to a universal striving for spiritual fulfilment, which they assert exists in all cultures and at all times. According to Theosophical texts, kindred practices and philosophies are found in an unbroken chain in India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, but are also said to have existed in Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

 and to be hinted in the writings of Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

 (427–347 BCE
Common Era
Common Era ,abbreviated as CE, is an alternative designation for the calendar era originally introduced by Dionysius Exiguus in the 6th century, traditionally identified with Anno Domini .Dates before the year 1 CE are indicated by the usage of BCE, short for Before the Common Era Common Era...

), Plotinus
Plotinus
Plotinus was a major philosopher of the ancient world. In his system of theory there are the three principles: the One, the Intellect, and the Soul. His teacher was Ammonius Saccas and he is of the Platonic tradition...

 (204–270), and other neo-Platonists.

The term "theosophy" was used during the Renaissance
Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

 to refer to the spiritually oriented thought and works of a number of philosophers including Cornelius Agrippa, Paracelsus
Paracelsus
Paracelsus was a German-Swiss Renaissance physician, botanist, alchemist, astrologer, and general occultist....

, Robert Fludd
Robert Fludd
Robert Fludd, also known as Robertus de Fluctibus was a prominent English Paracelsian physician, astrologer, mathematician, cosmologist, Qabalist, Rosicrucian apologist...

, and especially Jakob Böhme
Jakob Böhme
Jakob Böhme was a German Christian mystic and theologian. He is considered an original thinker within the Lutheran tradition...

 (1575–1624); the work of these early theosophists is considered to have influenced the Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in church and state...

 theologian Emanuel Swedenborg
Emanuel Swedenborg
was a Swedish scientist, philosopher, and theologian. He has been termed a Christian mystic by some sources, including the Encyclopædia Britannica online version, and the Encyclopedia of Religion , which starts its article with the description that he was a "Swedish scientist and mystic." Others...

 and philosopher Franz von Baader.

The Theosophical Society



To promote Theosophy, the Theosophical Society
Theosophical Society
The Theosophical Society is an organization formed in 1875 to advance the spiritual principles and search for Truth known as Theosophy. The original organization, after splits and realignments has several successors...

 was founded in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 in 1875 with the motto
Motto
A motto is a phrase meant to formally summarize the general motivation or intention of a social group or organization. A motto may be in any language, but Latin is the most used. The local language is usual in the mottoes of governments...

, "There is no Religion higher than Truth". Its principal founding members were Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831–1891), Henry Steel Olcott
Henry Steel Olcott
Colonel Henry Steel Olcott was an American military officer, journalist, lawyer and the co-founder and first President of the Theosophical Society....

 (1832–1907), and William Quan Judge
William Quan Judge
William Quan Judge was a mystic, esotericist, and occultist, and one of the founders of the original Theosophical Society. He was born in Dublin, Ireland. When he was 13 years old, his family emigrated to the United States...

 (1851–1896).

After several changes and iterations its declared objectives became the following:
  1. To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or color.
  2. To encourage the study of Comparative Religion, Philosophy, and Science.
  3. To investigate the unexplained laws of Nature and the powers latent in man.


The Society was organized as a non-proselytizing, non-sectarian entity. Blavatsky and Olcott (the first President of the Society) moved from New York to Bombay, India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 in 1878. The International Headquarters of the Society was eventually established in Adyar, a suburb of Madras. The original organization, after splits and realignments has several offshoots; all of them accept the three objectives above, and the precepts put forth by Blavatsky.

Helena Blavatsky was a charismatic, unconventional and controversial woman of mixed Russian and German descent, who had reputedly travelled extensively; she became the major proponent of both theoretical and practical Theosophy. Following her death, disagreements among prominent Theosophists caused a series of splits and several Theosophical organizations emerged. The formal successor of the original Society is known as the Theosophical Society Adyar
Theosophical Society Adyar
The Theosophy Society - Adyar is the name of a section of the Theosophical Society founded by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and others in 1875. Its headquarters moved with Blavatsky and president Henry Steel Olcott to Adyar, an area of Chennai in 1883...

. After a split in 1895, William Quan Judge established a new Theosophical organization in New York City which later eventually moved to Pasadena, California
Pasadena, California
Pasadena is a city in Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although famous for hosting the annual Rose Bowl football game and Tournament of Roses Parade, Pasadena is the home to many scientific and cultural institutions, including the California Institute of Technology , the Jet...

. It is known as the Theosophical Society Pasadena
Theosophical Society Pasadena
The Theosophical Society is a successor organization to the original Theosophical Society founded by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and others in 1875....

. The latter split yet again; another Theosophical organization, the United Lodge of Theosophists
United Lodge of Theosophists
The United Lodge of Theosophists, or ULT, was founded in 1909 by a Theosophical Society member, Robert Crosbie . Crosbie wanted to focus exclusively on the literature left behind by H.P. Blavatsky and William Quan Judge....

 was the result, formed by Robert Crosbie
Robert Crosbie
Robert Crosbie was a theosophist and founder of the United Lodge of Theosophists ....

 in 1909.

Post-Blavatsky Theosophy



During the two decades that followed the death of Blavatsky, a number of leading Theosophists expanded or reinterpreted her own and other theosophical works. Prominent among them were Charles Webster Leadbeater
Charles Webster Leadbeater
Charles Webster Leadbeater was an influential member of the Theosophical Society, author on occult subjects and co-initiator with J. I. Wedgwood of the Liberal Catholic Church...

 (1854–1934), then considered the Society's main occult
Occult
The word occult comes from the Latin word occultus , referring to "knowledge of the hidden". In the medical sense it is used to refer to a structure or process that is hidden, e.g...

 investigator, and Annie Besant
Annie Besant
Annie Besant was a prominent British Theosophist, women's rights activist, writer and orator and supporter of Irish and Indian self rule.She was married at 19 to Frank Besant but separated from him over religious differences. She then became a prominent speaker for the National Secular Society ...

 (1847–1933), who became the International President of the Society in 1907, following the death of Olcott. Some of their (and others') prolific commentaries and newly-introduced concepts became subjects of doctrinal debate and dispute; dissidents charged them with straying from Theosophical orthodoxy
Orthodoxy
The word orthodox, from Greek orthos + doxa , is generally used to mean the adherence to accepted norms, more specifically to creeds, especially in religion...

 and derisively labeled such works Neo-Theosophy
Neo-Theosophy
The term Neo-Theosophy is a term, originally derogatory, used by the followers of Blavatsky to denominate the system of Theosophical ideas expounded by Annie Besant and Charles Webster Leadbeater following the death of Madame Blavatsky in 1891...

. However in later usage the term came to signify presumed theosophical or quasi-theosophical thought advanced by people not directly connected to the Theosophical movement or its institutions, especially former Theosophist Alice Bailey
Alice Bailey
Alice Ann Bailey , known as Alice A. Bailey or AAB to her followers, was an influential writer and theosophist in what she termed "Ageless Wisdom". This included occult teachings, "esoteric" psychology and healing, astrological and other philosophic and religious themes...

 and groups associated with her; and also the people and organizations mentioned below under the heading New Age Movement.

The World Teacher Project



During the 1890s and 1900s, the international leadership of the Society and their circle became increasingly convinced that the appearance of an "emissary" from the Spiritual Hierarchy was imminent; the expected emissary was further identified as the so-called World Teacher or Maitreya
Maitreya (Theosophy)
Maitreya or Lord Maitreya is described in Theosophical literature of the late 19th-century and subsequent periods as an advanced spiritual entity and high-ranking member of a hidden Spiritual Hierarchy, the so-called Masters of the Ancient Wisdom...

, originally by Leadbeater, who "discovered" fourteen-year-old Jiddu Krishnamurti
Jiddu Krishnamurti
Jiddu Krishnamurti or J. Krishnamurti or , was a renowned writer and speaker on philosophical and spiritual subjects. His subject matter included: psychological revolution, the nature of the mind, meditation, human relationships, and bringing about positive change in society...

 (1895–1986) as the entity's probable "vehicle". Krishnamurti was groomed extensively for his expected messianic
Messiah
A messiah is a redeemer figure expected or foretold in one form or another by a religion. Slightly more widely, a messiah is any redeemer figure. Messianic beliefs or theories generally relate to eschatological improvement of the state of humanity or the world, in other words the World to...

 role, and a new organization, the Order of the Star in the East
Order of the Star in the East
The Order of the Star in the East was an organization established by the leadership of the Theosophical Society at Adyar, India, from 1911 to 1927...

 (OSE), was formed in 1911 to support him in this mission. The project received widespread publicity and enjoyed worldwide following, chiefly among Theosophists. It also encountered opposition within and without the Theosophical Society, and contributed or led to years of upheaval, power struggles and doctrinal schism within Theosophy. Additional negative repercussions occurred in 1929, when Krishnamurti repudiated the messianic status claimed on his behalf and dissolved the OSE; soon after he severed ties with the Society and Theosophy in general. The adverse reactions and mixed publicity generated by the entire World Teacher Project, and especially by its demise and aftermath, damaged the standing of Theosophy and of its institutions. However, Krishnamurti eventually established a worldwide reputation as an original and respected independent speaker and thinker on spiritual and philosophical issues.

Major works


Listed by date of original publication, in ascending order.
  • Isis Unveiled
    Isis Unveiled
    Isis Unveiled, published in 1877, is a book of esoteric philosophy, and was Helena Petrovna Blavatsky's first major work.The book discusses or quotes, among others, Plato, Plotinus, the Chaldean Oracles, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Bible, Pythagoras, Ammonius Saccas, Porphyry, Iamblichus,...

    (1877) – Blavatsky's first major book, published in 1877, became a best seller. It presented elements mainly from the so-called Western wisdom tradition based on her travels in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
  • The Secret Doctrine
    The Secret Doctrine
    The Secret Doctrine, the Synthesis of Science, Religion and Philosophy, a book originally published as two volumes in 1888, is Helena P. Blavatsky's magnum opus. The first volume is named Cosmogenesis, the second Anthropogenesis...

    (1888) – Blavatsky's magnum opus
    Magnum opus
    Magnum opus , from the Latin meaning "great work", refers to the largest, and perhaps the best, greatest, most popular, or most renowned achievement of a writer, artist, or composer.-Related terms:Sometimes the term magnum opus is used to refer to simply "a great work" rather than "the...

    , it was published in 1888 in London, in two volumes, and is considered the foundational work of contemporary Theosophy. It contains commentary on the so-called Book of Dzyan. Based on what she called an Unwritten Secret Doctrine (also referred to as the Wisdom tradition, Wisdom Religion, etc.), claimed as the underlying basis of all religions.

Influence


Following

During the 1920s the Theosophical Society Adyar
Theosophical Society Adyar
The Theosophy Society - Adyar is the name of a section of the Theosophical Society founded by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and others in 1875. Its headquarters moved with Blavatsky and president Henry Steel Olcott to Adyar, an area of Chennai in 1883...

 had around 7,000 members in the USA. According to a Theosophical source, the Indian section in 2008 was said to have around 13,000 members while in the US the 2008 membership was reported at around 3,900.

India

The Theosophical Society Adyar was closely linked to the Indian independence movement
Indian independence movement
The term Indian independence movement encompasses a wide area of political organisations, philosophies, and movements which had the common aim of ending first British East India Company rule, and then British imperial authority, in parts of South Asia...

: the Indian National Congress
Indian National Congress
The Indian National Congress is one of the two major political parties in India, the other being the Bharatiya Janata Party. It is the largest and one of the oldest democratic political parties in the world. The party's modern liberal platform is largely considered center-left in the Indian...

 was founded across the street in 1885 during a Theosophical conference, and many of its leaders, including M. K. Gandhi were associated with Theosophy. However Hindu
Hindu
Hindu refers to an identity associated with the philosophical, religious and cultural systems that are indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. As used in the Constitution of India, the word "Hindu" is also attributed to all persons professing any Indian religion...

 spiritual teacher and leader Swami Vivekananda
Swami Vivekananda
Swami Vivekananda , born Narendranath Dutta , was the chief disciple of the 19th century mystic Ramakrishna Paramahansa and the founder of the Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission...

 has criticized Theosophy and Theosophists.

Anthroposophy

Rudolf Steiner
Rudolf Steiner
Rudolf Joseph Lorenz Steiner was an Austrian philosopher, social reformer, architect, and esotericist. He gained initial recognition as a literary critic and cultural philosopher...

, head of the German branch of the Theosophical Society in the early part of the 20th-century, disagreed with the Adyar-based international leadership of the Society over several doctrinal matters including the so-called World Teacher Project (see above). Steiner left the Theosophical Society in 1913 to promote his own Theosophy-influenced philosophy, which he called Anthroposophy
Anthroposophy
Anthroposophy, a philosophy founded by Rudolf Steiner, postulates the existence of an objective, intellectually comprehensible spiritual world accessible to direct experience through inner development...

 through a new organization, the Anthroposophical Society
Anthroposophical Society
The General Anthroposophical Society is an organization dedicated to supporting the community of those interested in the form of spiritual philosophy known as anthroposophy. The society was initiated during 1913 by members of the Theosophical Society in Germany, including Rudolf Steiner who was at...

; the great majority of German-speaking Theosophists joined him in the new group.

Ariosophy

Austrian/German
Austrian German
Austrian German , or Austrian Standard German, is the national standard variety of the German language spoken in Austria and in the autonomous Province of South Tyrol...

 ultra-nationalist Guido von List
Guido von List
Guido Karl Anton List, better known as Guido von List was an Austrian/German poet, journalist, writer, businessman and dealer of leather goods, mountaineer, hiker, dramatist, playwright, and rower, but was most notable as an occultist and völkisch author who is seen as one of the most important...

 and his followers such as Lanz von Liebenfels
Lanz von Liebenfels
Adolf Josef Lanz aka Jörg Lanz, who called himself Lanz von Liebenfels was an Austrian publicist and journalist...

, selectively mixed Theosophical doctrine on the evolution of Humanity and on Root races with nationalistic and fascist ideas; this system of thought became known as Ariosophy
Ariosophy
Armanism and Ariosophy are the names of ideological systems of an esoteric nature, pioneered by Guido von List and Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels respectively, in Austria between 1890 and 1930. The term 'Ariosophy', meaning wisdom concerning the Aryans, was first coined by Lanz von Liebenfels in 1915 and...

, a precursor of nazism.

New Age movement

The present-day New Age movement is said to be based to a considerable extent on original Theosophical tenets and ideas. "No single organization or movement has contributed so many components to the New Age Movement as the Theosophical Society. ... It has been the major force in the dissemination of occult literature in the West in the twentieth century."

Other organizations loosely based on Theosophical texts and doctrines include the Agni Yoga
Agni Yoga
Living Ethics has also another equivalent but less widespread meaning Agni Yoga  — a philosophical and ethical teaching which embraces all sides of being — from cosmological problems, down to daily human life...

, and a group of religions based on Theosophy called the Ascended Master Teachings
Ascended Master Teachings
The students of "Ascended Master Teachings" organizations believe that the Presence of Life/God - Individualizes as the "I AM", and incarnates throughout the created universes until it achieves The Ascension . The "Teachings" as all Religious Teachings.....

: the "I AM" Activity, The Bridge to Freedom
The Bridge to Freedom
The Bridge to Freedom, an Ascended Master Teachings religion, was established in 1951 by Geraldine Innocente and other Students of the Ascended Masters, after she received what was believed to be an "anointing" to become a "messenger" for the Great White Brotherhood. This organization believed...

 and The Summit Lighthouse
The Summit Lighthouse
The Summit Lighthouse is an international New Age spiritual organization founded in 1958 by Mark L. Prophet. Today it is the outreach arm of Church Universal and Triumphant, founded in 1975 by Prophet's wife, Elizabeth Clare Prophet...

, which evolved into the Church Universal and Triumphant
Church Universal and Triumphant
Church Universal and Triumphant is an international New Age religious organization founded in 1975 by Elizabeth Clare Prophet. It is an outgrowth of The Summit Lighthouse, founded in 1958 by Prophet's husband, Mark L. Prophet...

. These various offshoots dispute the authenticity of their rivals.

Scholarship

Scholar Alvin Boyd Kuhn
Alvin Boyd Kuhn
Alvin Boyd Kuhn was a scholar of comparative religion, mythology, linguistics and language.Born in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, Kuhn studied the Ancient Greek language at university. He started his career working as a language teacher in high schools. He later enrolled at Columbia University to...

 wrote his thesis, Theosophy: A Modern Revival of Ancient Wisdom, on the subject – the first instance in which an individual obtained his doctorate with a thesis on Theosophy.

Art, music, literature

Artists and authors who investigated Theosophy include Talbot Mundy
Talbot Mundy
Talbot Mundy was an English writer. He also wrote under the pseudonym Walter Galt.-Life and work:...

, Charles Howard Hinton
Charles Howard Hinton
Charles Howard Hinton was a British mathematician and writer of science fiction works titled Scientific Romances. He was interested in higher dimensions, particularly the fourth dimension, and is known for coining the word tesseract and for his work on methods of visualising the geometry of...

, Geoffrey Hodson
Geoffrey Hodson
Geoffrey Hodson was an occultist, Theosophist, mystic, Liberal Catholic priest, philosopher and esotericist, and a leading light for over 70 years in the Theosophical Society...

, James Jones
James Jones (author)
James Jones was an American author known for his explorations of World War II and its aftermath.-Life and work:...

, H. P. Lovecraft, and L. Frank Baum
L. Frank Baum
Lyman Frank Baum was an American author of children's books, best known for writing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz...

. Composer Alexander Scriabin
Alexander Scriabin
Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin was a Russian composer and pianist who initially developed a lyrical and idiosyncratic tonal language inspired by the music of Frédéric Chopin. Quite independent of the innovations of Arnold Schoenberg, Scriabin developed an increasingly atonal musical system,...

 was a Theosophist whose beliefs influenced his music, especially by providing a justification or rationale for his chromatic language. Scriabin devised a quartal
Quartal and quintal harmony
In music, quartal harmony is the building of harmonic structures with a distinct preference for the intervals of the perfect fourth, the augmented fourth and the diminished fourth. Quintal harmony is harmonic structure preferring the perfect fifth, the augmented fifth and the diminished fifth...

 synthetic chord
Synthetic chord
In music the mystic chord or Prometheus chord is a complex six-note chord, scale, or pitch collection, which loosely serves as the harmonic and melodic basis for some of the later pieces by Russian composer Alexander Scriabin...

, often called his "mystic" chord, and before his death Scriabin planned a multimedia work to be performed in the Himalayas that would bring about the armageddon
Armageddon
Armageddon is, according to the Bible, the site of a battle during the end times, variously interpreted as either a literal or symbolic location...

; "a grandiose religious synthesis of all arts which would herald the birth of a new world." This piece, Mysterium, was never realized, due to his death in 1915.

See also

  • Buddhist Theosophical Society
  • Great White Brotherhood
    Great White Brotherhood
    The Great White Brotherhood, in belief systems akin to Theosophical and New Age, are said to be supernatural beings of great power who spread spiritual teachings through selected humans. The members of the Brotherhood may be known as the Masters of the Ancient Wisdom or the Ascended Masters...

  • Jewish Theosophy
    Jewish theosophy
    Jewish theosophy is a mystical movement in Judaism. Its fundamental tenet involves the overcoming of existential motives of the ego. The Self becomes more aware of its relationship to God, and thus with the eternal Cosmos. It deals with the improvement of the individual spiritually, physically and...

  • Kuthumi
    Kuthumi
    The Master Kuthumi, sometimes spelled Koot Hoomi, Kut Humi, rarely Kut-Hu-Mi, Master K.H., or simply K.H. in Theosophy, is regarded as one of the "Masters of the Ancient Wisdom." According to Theosophy, Kuthumi is considered to be one of the members of the Spiritual Hierarchy called the Masters of...

  • Morya
    Morya
    Morya, one of the "Masters of the Ancient Wisdom" spoken of in modern Theosophy and in the Ascended Master Teachings is considered one of the "Ascended Masters." He is also known as the "Chohan of the First Ray" . Morya first became known to the modern world when H. P...

  • Sanat Kumara
    Sanat Kumara
    According to the post-1900 publications of Theosophy, i.e. the writings of C. W. Leadbeater, Alice A. Bailey, and Benjamin Creme, as well as the Ascended Master Teachings of Guy Ballard, Elizabeth Clare Prophet, Geraldine Innocente, Joshua David Stone, and other Ascended Master Teachings teachers,...


Further reading

Positive profile of Theosophy by a religious scholar and academic. Guénon attempts a thorough examination of Theosophy as it appeared in the early part of the 20th-century. Early profile of the Society and Theosophy by the entomologist and folklorist William Forsell Kirby
William Forsell Kirby
William Forsell Kirby was an English entomologist and folklorist.He was born in Leicester. He was the eldest son of Samuel Kirby, who was a banker. He was educated privately, and became interested in butterflies and moths at an early age. The family moved to Brighton, where he became acquainted...

. Full text from Google Books Search. Volume 5 of the Krotona Series, drawing from rare archival documents on the history of Theosophy in California.

External links