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Theosophy (from Greek θεοσοφία theosophia, from θεός theos, God + 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.
The word theosophia appeared in both Greek and Latin in the works of early church fathers as a synonym for "theology". The "theosophoi" are "those who know divine matters." 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. By the 16th century the word theosophy was being used in at least one of its current meanings.
The term theosophy was used as a synonym for theology as early as the 3rd century CE
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.
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.
In Jewish mysticism, the theosophical 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, 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.
Modern theosophy arose in Germany in the 16th century.
In the 16th century Johannes Arboreus' Theosophia (volumes published 1540-1553) provided a lengthy exposition that included no mention of esotericism. 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.
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.
In the 18th century, the word theosophy came into widespread use in philosophy. Johann Jakob Brucker (1696–1770) included a long chapter on theosophy in his monumental work Historia critica philosophia (1741). He included all the theosophists in what was then a standard reference in the history of philosophy. German philosophers produced major works of theosophy during this period: Theophilosophia theoritica et practica (1710) by Samuel Richter (alias Sincerus Renatus) and Opus magocabalsticum et theosophicum (1721) by Georg von Welling (alias Salwigt, 1655-1727). Other notable theosophists of the period include Johann George Gichtel (1638–1710), 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.
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 Swedenborgian based beliefs.
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.
During the late 19th century, theosophical initiate societies emerged. In 1875, Helena Blavatsky (1831–1891) and others founded The Theosophical Society, an organization related to earlier theosophical ideas and also departed from them significantly by including concepts from eastern esotericism. The Esoteric Society, a theosophical initiate society, was founded by the Theosophical Society.
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.'"
Several organizations developed from the popularization of Blavatsky's ideas and are considered new religious movements. 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. 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).
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.
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." The knowledge that is acquired through meditation is believed to change the being of the meditator.
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. He concluded that the first four characteristics of esotericism are always present, while the latter two are sometimes present. Along with these six characteristics of esotericism, he identified three characteristics of theosophy.
The three characteristics of theosophy are listed below.
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.
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." When referring to the ideas related to Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society, the word "Theosophy" is capitalized; otherwise it is not.
The three fundamental propositions expounded in The Secret Doctrine are:
Helena Blavatsky taught that Theosophy is neither revelation nor speculation. 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.
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.
Theosophy was considered by Blavatsky to be "the substratum and basis of all the world-religions and philosophies". In The Key to Theosophy, she stated the following about the meaning and origin of the term:
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.
According to her, all real lovers of divine wisdom and truth had, and have, a right to the name of Theosophist. 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. 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.[a] 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.
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".[b]
According to Blavatsky, Theosophy is neither revelation nor speculation.[c] 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.[d] 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 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.
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.[e] 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 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, and in 1908 an international charitable organization to promote service, the Theosophical Order of Service, was founded.
Despite extensively using Sanskrit terminology in her works, many Theosophical concepts are expressed differently from in the original scriptures. To provide clarity on her intended meanings, Blavatsky's The Theosophical Glossary was published in 1892, one year after her death. According to its editor, George Robert Stowe Mead, Blavatsky wished to express her indebtedness to four works: the Sanskrit-Chinese Dictionary, the Hindu Classical Dictionary, Vishnu Purana, and The Royal Masonic Cyclopaedia.
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:
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…
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".[f] 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"[g] 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.[h]
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,'" 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.[i]
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.
In this recapitulation of The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky gave a summary of the central points of her system of cosmogony. These central points are as follows:
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"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."
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". 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."[j]
Theosophy holds that the manifested universe is ordered by the number seven, 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.
There are seven symbols of particular importance to the Society's symbology:
The seal of the Society contains all of these symbols, except aum, and thus contains, in symbolic form, the doctrines its members follow.
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."
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):
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.
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:
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:
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.
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 of the dead.
Therefore, besides the dense physical body, the subtle bodies in a human being are:
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".
It follows from the above that to Theosophy, all Evolution is basically the evolution of Consciousness, physical-biological evolution being only a constituent part.[k] 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.[l]
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 races.[m] 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.[n] 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.[o] The continuing development of the Aryan stage has been taking place since about the middle of the Calabrian (about 1,000,000 years ago).[p] 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.[q] 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, 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.[r] 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.[s]
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".
The Secret Doctrine states:
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.
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".
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:
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.
Her evolutionary view admits a difference in development between various ethnic groups:
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.
She also states that:
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.
Blavatsky's teachings talk about three separate levels of evolution: physical, intellectual, and spiritual. 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.
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.
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, some of them were Blavatsky's teachers early in her life.
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:
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.
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".
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 .
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.
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.
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.
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."
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."