FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

A working definitions of Esotericism and Theosophy used within our site is included in the side bar to the left. The section below is intended for the common internet user or layperson (us).

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What is different and unique on Theosophy.net compared to other theosophy sites?

We use working definitions for Theosophy and Esotericism as found in international university academic departments. We chose these definitions in order to fulfill our two main goals of serving two different internet audiences. One audience is the common internet user, or lay person. The other audience is the academically inclined. Providing for both of these user groups is difficult. We feel that we have reached the best of all compromises. We are the only site using the non-doctrinal approach to theosophy as found in universities. We are dedicated to assuring we remain doctrine free as well as independent from any and all outside organizations. We also try to assure high standards and reasonable quality information on our site. We favor math, physics and peer reviewed articles for information and sound speculations.

What is Esotericism

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Esotericism has the following four characteristics:

  1. Correspondence: Two or more realities exist that can appear to correspond or relate to one another. Nature is the external world outside the human mind. A higher level of reality above the physical level also exists. This level is generally unseen and is often referred to as mystical, astral, spiritual, etc. Everything in Nature is a sign. These signs can be read (recognized).
  2. Nature is alive: Nature is more than correlations between pieces of matter. It is a living entity that changes, evolves, communicates, and has a form of natural mind that is its own. Nature is a whole comprised of many individual necessary working parts.
  3. Imagination and mediations; Symbols and spiritual beings (e.g., angels, dakinis, fairies) serve as mediators that connect the pieces of reality. Tarot cards, statues of gods, astrological charts, etc. also serve as mediators. The human mind uses imagination to mediate or actively connect the realms. The mind as imagination uses these mediations to obtain knowledge.
  4. Experience of Transmutation: Observing and understanding reality will ultimately create a Gnosis (direct knowledge) and illumination of self and mind. These, in turn, create a transmutation (transformation) of consciousness creating enlightened states of the mind and body. The birth of awareness or a second new life is born within the person.

    The following two items are occasionally found in Esotericism, but are not part of the definition.

  5. Practice of Concordance: The belief that there is one universal common perennial tradition or religion that is the same for all cultures and times, often referred to as the universal or universalism.
  6. Transmission: Belief in universalism often leads to a requirement for transmission of this knowledge between teacher and student. This is referred to as Master-Disciple, Master-Initiate, initiation into the Occult Practice or Occult Science.

What is Theosophy

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Theosophy consists of the characteristics of Esotericism plus the following three additional characteristics:

  1. Divine/Human/Nature Triangle: The Theosophist explores the interactions, dependencies and invisible correlations between the Divine/Human/Nature. Understanding this reality is their primary pursuit.
  2. Primacy of the Mythic: Myths abound in and among cultures. These myths are stories rich with symbolisms and synchronicities pertaining to the Divine/Human/Nature. A Theosophist uses his creative (imaginal) abilities to connect and learn about these relationships and their meanings.
  3. Access to the Divine: The Theosophist uses an active, creative mind as an instrument to explore the intuitive relationships between the Divine/Human/Nature. The active imagination gives the human mind direct access to the Divine, enabling Gnosis to occur and illuminating the human mind into experiences of higher mental states.

Note: the above is a working definition. It is not definitive. Also note that Theosophy is a part of the study of Esotericism.

Various theosophies include a wide variety of practices to activate this imagination. Humans who insist on only “one” path as the true path are wrong, and confused. As Sri Aurobindo stated, “Systemize we must, but even in making and holding the system, we should always keep firm hold on this truth that all systems are in their nature transitory and incomplete.”

What is Occult Science

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Occult science is an systematization (similar to math and physical sciences) of the workings between the microcosm, mesocosm, and macrocosm (macrocosm and microcosm). Many occult sciences exist within different cultures, religions, and eras. There are many overlaps between several of the systems. There are also many divergences.

Is theosophy occult science?

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No. Theosophy is a process that involves an individual’s pursuit of esoteric ideas and philosophies. Theosophy has no religious or occult doctrines. Most theosophists do believe, or follow, some specific occult science. It is the theosophist’s choice.




Is belief in any specific occult science required?

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No. Theosophy is a process which involves an individual’s pursuit of esoteric ideas and philosophies. Theosophy has no religious nor occult doctrines they must follow.

Esotericism in Academia

The Association for the Study of Esotericism defines Esotericism as follows:

The word “esoteric” derives from the Greek esoterikos, and is a comparative form of eso, meaning “within.” Its first known mention in Greek is in Lucian’s ascription to Aristotle of having “esoteric” [inner] and “exoteric” [outer] teachings. The word later came to designate the secret doctrines said to have been taught by Pythagoras to a select group of disciples, and, in general, to any teachings designed for or appropriate to an inner circle of disciples or initiates. In this sense, the word was brought into English in 1655 by Stanley in his History of Philosophy.

Esotericism, as an academic field, refers to the study of alternative or marginalized religious movements or philosophies whose proponents in general distinguish their own beliefs, practices, and experiences from public, institutionalized religious traditions. Among areas of investigation included in the field of esotericism are alchemy, astrology, Gnosticism, Hermeticism, Kabbalah, magic, mysticism, Neoplatonism, new religious movements connected with these currents, nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first century occult movements, Rosicrucianism, secret societies, and Christian theosophy.

(Note: Christian theosophy is code for Faivre's formulation. His sources were western, and mostly Christian... hence the name. It applies elsewhere - i.e. wherever it applies!). One good example of an alternative approach is Hanegraaff's book: Western Esotericism: A Guide for the Perplexed (Guides for the Perplexed)(reviewed on this site)

Other Important Questions

How old is theosophy?

No one knows. It is possible to track the term back to the 3rd century CE. It is often assumed that human beings practiced theosophy going back through antiquity.

Where does the term theosophy come from?

Etymologically, Theosophy (from Greek θεοσοφία, theosophia, from θεός theos, divine + σοφία sophia, wisdom; literally "divine wisdom"), refers to systems of speculation or investigation seeking direct knowledge of the mysteries of being and nature, with particular concern for the nature of divinity.

What is your association with theosophical societies and Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (HPB)?

We have no affiliation of any kind with any of the various Societies and related organizations which were formed from the current of theosophy started by Helena P. Blavatsky

I thought Helena P. Blavatsky (HPB) created theosophy. Did she?

No. Henry Olcott explains the choice of names for the Theosophical Society as follows: "The choice of a name for the Society was, of course, a question for grave discussion in Committee. Several were suggested, among them, if I recollect right, the Egyptological, the Hermetic, the Rosicrucian, etc., but none seemed just the thing. At last, in turning over the leaves of the Dictionary, one of us came across the word 'Theosophy,' whereupon, after discussion, we unanimously agreed that was the best of all; since it both expressed the esoteric truth we wished to reach and covered the ground of Felt's methods of scientific research" (H. S. Olcott, Old Diary Leaves, Adyar, The Theosophical Publishing House, 1974, 1st ed., 1895, vol. I, p. 112). The gist of this is that they took the pre-existing term, theosophy, which they were not familiar with, and decided to use it.

Isn't Theosophy defined in The Secret Doctrine?

No. Theosophy has no universal “Doctrine” as some would believe. The Secret Doctrine is Helena P. Blavatsky's Occult Science as transmitted by her Gurus. Belief in Masters, Great White Brotherhood, Hierarchy of Hierophants etc. are not presumed to exist and belief in such is a personal decision only.

I understand that theosophy is a personal practice. Do I have to create my own theosophy?

No. Theosophists nearly always use existing practices from within their own religion or training (guru-disciple). Theosophists explore differing traditions and choose the one they prefer or the one that makes the most sense to them. It is a personal decision.

Resources

Online Resources:

Theosophy on Wikipedia
Esotericism on Wikipedia
European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism
American Academy of Religion
Association for the Study of Esotericism

Reference Books:

Theosophy, Imagination, Tradition: Studies in Western Esotericism (2000), Antoine Faivre, Albany, NY: SUNY.

Western Esotericism: A Guide for the Perplexed (Guides for the Perplexed) (2013), Hanegraaff, London, GB: Bloomsbury

The Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism (2006), Wouter J. Hanegraaff, Editor. The Netherlands: Brill Academic Publishers.

The Western Esoteric Traditions (2008) Goodrick-Clarke, New York: Oxford University Press.

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