Theosophy is a body of belief which holds that all religions are attempts by man to ascertain "the Divine", and as such each religion has a portion of the truth. Theosophy, as a coherent belief system, developed from the writings of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (also Hélène). Together with Henry Steel Olcott, William Quan Judge, and others she founded the Theosophical Society in 1875.
A stricter definition from the Concise Oxford Dictionary describes theosophy as "any of various philosophies professing to achieve a knowledge of God by spiritual ecstasy, direct intuition, or special individual relations, esp. a modern movement following Hindu and Buddhist teachings and seeking universal brotherhood."
Adherents of theosophy maintain that it is a "body of truth" that forms the basis of all religions. Theosophy, they claim, represents a modern face of Sanatana Dharma, "the Eternal Truth", as the proper religion of man. Christian Theosophy is a term used to designate the knowledge of God and of the Christ obtained by the direct intuition of the Divine essence.
The five prominent symbols visable in the Seal of the Theosophical Society are the Star of David, the Ankh, the Swastika, the Ouroboros, and above the seal is the Aum. Around the seal are written the words: There is no religion higher than truth.
Basic Theosophical beliefs
Consciousness is universal and individual
According to theosophy, nature does not operate by chance. Every event, past or present, happens because of laws which are part of a Universal Paradigm. Theosophists hold that everything, living or not, is "impregnated" with Consciousness. This paradigm has been called variously: God (nonpersonal), Law, Heaven, the Great Architect, Evolution, and Logos. The term used in this article is "paradigm".
Man is "provisionally" immortal
Theosophists believe that all human beings in their "Higher Selves" are immortal, but their personalities are unconscious of the link with their Divine Nature and will perish unless they strive to effect a union of the two.
Reincarnation is universal
Like esoteric Buddhism, from which much of theosophical thought springs, theosophy teaches that beings have attained the human state through myriads of reincarnations, passing through the mineral, plant and animal stages since the birth of life on earth. However, theosophy differs from the exoteric belief that regression is possible. Humans cannot reincarnate as animals or plants again except in the rare cases of disintegrating "lost souls". However Man is only the epitome of physical life on earth and is not the end stage of evolution, which continues for three further stages in the form of the Dhyani Chohans or Buddhic beings.
There is a similarity to the beliefs of the Hindu Arya Samargh sect concerning Karma, Dharma, and Cosmogony. Theosophy teaches that evil and good are the result of differentiation of spirit/matter in a cycle of becoming. There is a natural involution of spirit into matter followed by an evolution of matter back into spirit. The purpose of the Universe is for spirit to manifest itself self-consciously through seven stages.
Theosophy teaches that every thing of whatever kind is from one divine source. All things are "monads" in reality. All monads potentially possess the same principles and their forms and natures are an expression of their present consciousness level.
Theosophists believe that religion, philosophy, science, the arts, commerce, industry, and philanthropy, among other "virtues", lead humans ever closer to "the Divine". This, in theosophy, is a continuation of the Divine purpose through evolution.
Theosophy, as well as many other esoteric groups and occult societies claim that the universe is ordered by the number seven. The monad possess seven bodies:
The first one is called physical body, it is the famous Stula-Sarira of the Oriental theosophists. The second one in Orient is called Linga-Sarira or Vital body and is the base of the organic life, the tetra-dimensional part of the physical body. The third body is Kamas, the principle of desire, the famous Astral body cited by the medieval alchemists. The fourth body is called the Mental body by the Hindustani and Mental body in Sanskrit. The fifth vehicle is the Causal body or Arupic as is called by the theosophists. The sixth body is the Buddhic or Intuitional, the Superlative Consciousness of the Being. The seventh is called Atman the Ineffable by the Hindustani.. -- Samael Aun Weor
A brief history of Theosophy
Theosophists trace the origin of theosophy to the universal striving for divinity that existed in all ancient cultures. It is found in an unbroken chain in India but existed in ancient Greece and also in the writings of Plato (427-347 BC), Plotinus (204/5-270) and other neo-Platonists , as well as Jakob Boehme (1575-1624). Some relevant quotes,
- "...we are imprisoned in the body, like an oyster in his shell." The Socrates of Plato, Phaedrus
- To the philosopher, the body is "a disturbing element, hindering the soul from the acquisition of knowledge..."
- "...what is purification but...the release of the soul from the chains of the body?" The Socrates of Plato, Phaedo
Modern theosophical esotericism, however, begins with Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-1891) usually known as Madame Blavatsky. She is one of the founders of the Theosophical Society (in 1875 in New York City), together with Henry Steel Olcott, who was a lawyer and writer, William Quan Judge, and others. Madame Blavatsky was a world traveller who eventually settled in India where, again with Olcott, she established the headquarters of the Society. She claimed numerous psychic and mediumistic powers and incorporated these alleged powers into a blend of Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism. These became the basic pillars of the Theosophical movement. Upon Blavatsky's death in 1891 Annie Besant became leader, focusing more on Hinduism within Theosophy.
At its strongest in membership and intensity during the 1920's there were around 7,000 adherents in the United States ( ).
Artists, besides the musicians listed below, who investigated Theosophy include Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, Franz Kupka , and T. S. Eliot, in Europe, and Arthur Dove , Marsden Hartley , and Wallace Stevens in America. ( )
Composers such as Ruth Crawford-Seeger, Dane Rudhyar, and most famously Alexander Scriabin, were theosophists whose beliefs influenced their music, especially by providing a justification or rationale for their dissonant counterpoint. According to Rudhyar, Scriabin was "the one great pioneer of the new music of a reborn Western civilization, the father of the future musician." (Rudhyar 1926b, 899) and an antidote to "the Latin reactionaries and their apostle, Stravinsky" and the "rule-ordained" music of "Schoenberg's group". (Ibid., 900-901) Scriabin devised a quartal synthetic chord, 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, "a grandiose religious synthesis of all arts which would herald the birth of a new world". (AMG  ). This piece, Mysterium, was never realized.
Early 20th-century literary references to theosophy
In the play Censored page (1924) by Sean O'Casey set in pre-independence Dublin one of the secondary characters is a theosophist. This character is quite shallow and is thought to reflect the emptiness of the movement as it was embodied in the Ireland of the time. During this period W.B. Yeats was an adherent to the philosophy.
- Blavatsky, Helena: The Key to Theosophy, ISBN 0911500073
- René Guénon. Theosophy: History of a Pseudo-Religion (2004), Sophia Perennis. ISBN 0-900-58879-9
- Washington, Peter Madame Blavatsky's Baboon: Theosophy and the Emergence of the Western Guru (1993), London: Secker & Warburg. ISBN 0-436-56418-1 Review
- Blavatsky Archives
- Theosophical Society - Adyar
- Theosophical Society (Pasadena)
- Theosophy Library Online
- United Lodge of Theosophists
- Theosophy and the Theosophical Society