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The silliness that is Theosophy

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John, thank you so much for catching that typo in General Theosophy #160.  After correcting it, I checked out the article you had found and posted. The content seems wonderfully accurate with perhaps only one, albeit Black-Hole, flaw--namely, confusing a proper general definition of Theosophy with only H.P Blavatsky's specific, now largely superannuated, Psycho-Spiritual quicksand. . . .

The Theosophical Society may have to take most of the blame for prevailing modern misunderstandings like this, of course.  Working so diligently for so many years, many Society officials and prominent individuals, past and unfortunately present, have tried to make "the teachings of H.P. Blavatsky" into more or less a synonym for the term Theosophy. Their success, in my view, may have made the whole "underlying human Aspirational Enterprise"--which Theosophy should now broadly and widely represent--into another merely over-ripe candidate for History's Stupid Things Trash Heap (right along with the more conventional, unsupported/unevidenced, speculative religious absurdities and curious cosmological crutches which modern atheists like Sam Harris, Matt Dillihunty, and Richard Dawkins are now doing a great job trash-compacting before utter disposal).

Anyway, here are a couple of general definitions/explanations of Theosophy which may or may not be so easy for article writer Richard Cypher to write-off as "silly":

Theosophy: "Intuitive knowledge or wisdom resulting from personal experience of one's Transcendental ('Divine') Nature--(and which, incidentally,  may be analogically associated with, and perhaps be the basis for, grand speculative formulations like karma and reincarnation)."

Adept Theosophy "Practical application of ('otherwise unsupported/unevidenced') intuitive knowledge or wisdom, including psychological insights and the ongoing development of 'personal operative devices' to make human life and consciousness a lot, lot better."

Thanks again and best wishes, Richard

Thanks Richard. You have good insight, as always..

I like your distinction between Theosophy and Adept Theosophy.

The evolution of the TS into a Blavatsky cult, which has the major goal of  "TS = HPB = Truth = Theosophy", is likely one of the most important goals in their 50-year plan. Without "TS = HPB = Truth  = Theosophy" the society is just another organization about one aspect (HPB's syncretic work) of Theosophy. A look at the Theosophical Society of ~ 1783 shows how easily any TS, based on one person's works, can devolve into yet another religion. Actually, it is fascinating to watch this decline of the TS in real-time.  Somewhat sad. They are good at self-destruction.

In any case, the TS is losing the battle.  Theosophy is bigger than the teachings of TS/HPB et al.  People are finding Theosophical Truth for themselves outside the TS.

Your comment "superannuated, Psycho-Spiritual quicksand. . . ." is a good description. It is a  Classic commentary born to be famous <g>.

Thank you for the response Richard!


I think you guys set up a straw man. ts=hpb=truth=theosophy. Where in any serious current theosophical literature do you find this. and no counter strand in the same organisation?

In Adyar TS, in my experience, HPB is not taken seriously. I have spoken to the most senior members in my country as well as general members and know this to be true.

For Pasadena, again in my personal experience, I doubt you'd find such un-nuanced statements about hpb in any real contemporary literature.

I have no experience in ULT.

one could say so much more, but i really feel you are for the most part evaluating older statements and are as anachronistic as the things you find so distasteful. 

That you may find individual members committed to hpb as truth, well, so what. that is their right as it is any other traditions.  The term 'theosophy' is an empty signifier, and your contestation of its 'real' meaning puts you, ironically, on par those you find irritating.

rgds, dewald

"How do we undo the marginalisation of theosophical thought in mainstream debates? Or, is it possible that there is no way to do this, in which case do we as 'believers' simply live in our own world, one which is irrelevant to society at large? And if this is the case, why are we content with this compromise?"

you wrote the above about a year ....  step 1 is to get HPB out of  theosophy, so people find something other than HPB = Theosophy. The article is a prime example as to why we have problems.

to quote, approximately, elias canetti - 'you cannot answer each passing fool according to his folly'. Though certainly i am guilty of trying this sometimes. I dont think you are the fool, the fool is the writer of the article (silliness which is theosophy) which even a cursory glance would show.

Let me give 2 examples: 

firstly he claims the 'local branch of the TS' is quite keen on 'her brand' of theosophy. I am in south africa and have been involved with the local lodge in my city for over 20 years and I know that alice bailey is far more in vogue than hpb has been for over 30 years. When i joined the adyar lodge some 25 years ago, the lodge president gave me a copy of alice bailey's initiations: human and solar to read. It took me 6 months to even find out who hpb was, so little was,and is the interest in her works.

Even a simple scan of the public lectures by the branches in RSA shows little hpb theosophy being presented. So the author of the article either straight up lied, or spoke to one hpb enthusiast, and like all pompous amateurs made up the rest. Furthermore, I have discussed the place of hpb with one of the 2 most senior adyar officials in RSA, who straight up told me that 'back to blavatsky' has been tried and failed.

secondly, as is clear from his article. he did not even read iu or the sd. he managed, it seemed, to complete the 'Key'. Now, I ask you, is that an opinion to value?

The writer of the article, knows nothing of hpb theosophy, nothing of contemporary academic research on theosophy and western esotericism, nothing of contemporary philosophy, and nothing of contemporary academic historiography. his well of ignorance is startling.

The only people confining theosophy to hpb are people with no living interest in it.

but you do make a point, which I think I have conceded before. how to avoid a dogmatic type of theosophy when our face is turned to the public. privately, I see no problem with individuals committing to hpb as a guide. But, the solution to me is not to dump hpb, anymore than one dumps the founder of any body of thought, but rather to contextualise her own works and build from them cautiously and intelligently and communally.

yes, hpb presented her work as the truth. But if you look at the late nineteenth century,that was how ideas were presented. if you looked at, for example, Houghton's - The Victorian Frame of Mind - one would note the dogmatic way many thinkers of that era presented their ideas.

I think your path is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Mine would keep the originator of a fine body of ideas in the circle.

but, I think we have been through this before. I'd enjoy a response - no reason i should get the last word - but wont continue with this after that.

rgds, Dewald

Hi Dewald,

I am not saying that Blavatskyism is wrong for those who believe in that religion. I am saying that Blavatskyism is not a good Theosophy to help solve the issue between Science and Theosophy.

peace - John

Greetings and good wishes, Dewald.

The general epistemological term Theosophy is one which I always try to capitalize (even though I know this conflicts with the conventional rule of only using a capital for something like a specific brand name etc.).  Therefore, just regard this upper case quirk of mine as merely as a little "apotheosized advertising" for the definition for Theosophy I posted above.

Anyway, I am not sure what you mean by saying that the word is an "empty signifier" (unless you are just indicating that many different people mean many different things when they use the term Theosophy--e.g., like God, philosophy, or pornography).

Thank you for your contribution, Dewald. Among other interesting points, and while what you said almost certainly does not characterize John, your phrase "[you are] anachronistic as the things you find so distasteful" nails me completely. . . .


WOOT WOOT! I am totally "in the zone" now! That is, now what is wrong with being informed about metaphysical science and I assure you I am on the right track to finding the correct Key...I have quite a collection of them already! Interpretation, (what I just said) Ha Ha...nothing like a good ol' belly laugh!

I only ask....shouldn't that be Blavatskyrim?

I like that! I'll add it to my religion-list!

Peace - John

Blavatsky and her bathwater. . . .

I figure I must be in at least the top 10% of Theosophical Society members when it comes to having lots of "mundane intuitions" about H.P. Blavatsky.

There is, of course, a distinction which should be drawn between such ordinary mundane intuitions and the more lofty type of Theosophical intuition defined earlier in this thread. The mundane variety can sometimes merely refer to the "sub-surface" collection of attitudes, beliefs, and things you know, or think you know, but can no longer remember what the evidence or reasoning was which previously convinced you one way or another about them. From this perspective a well-educated person may not always be able to rattle off a lot of specific supporting details or evidence about various subjects—he or she might have forgotten them—but this does not necessarily mean that his or her complex old conclusions, now dieted-down to simple mundane intuitions, have become invalid.

For example, there was a time when, after having studied it for many years, I could oh-so knowledgeably discuss the Theory of Evolution and utilize much sophisticated, articulated evidence all the way from molecules to mammals in the process. Now, alas, I might not do nearly so well in a debate with some of the well-rehearsed "Intelligent Design" advocates I have seen on YouTube. Indeed, I have forgotten way-too-much supporting detail and evidence. Fortunately, though, I would imagine that, after giving all the sneakily re-labeled "Creationists" a fair hearing (about savages finding God-proving designer watches on beaches etc.), there is every likelihood that my long-duration mundane intuition about the subject might continue to provide me, at least in my own private consciousness, with the last words of judgment. The last words being, "B*******! I'm still sticking with Evolution."

It may be the same with the subject of H.P. Blavatsky. Here, interestingly, there could be an extra reason why I, in particular, was able to accumulate more than my share of (at least possibly respectable) mundane intuitions about her. This does not have anything to do with the fact that, decades ago, I somehow managed to miraculously find my way through most of H.P.B.'s Life-Leeching Language Labyrinth, particularly THE SECRET DOCTRINE. No, it has to do with the fact that there is a book by a different author which I have been carting around in the backseat of my car for at least 15 years.

It should be noted in this connection that I also have a very strong mundane intuition regarding the validity of the Germ Theory of Disease. Therefore, even though I have forgotten most of the specific, gory, supporting evidence for this Theory, I intuitively continue to live in accordance with it. In brief, I am very reluctant to expose my Kindle or cell phone to new microorganisms in certain public places. Indeed, especially if I might have to wait in a doctor's or dentist's office for a considerable length of time, I will instead, almost always, take in with me the book from the backseat: MADAME BLAVATSKY; THE WOMAN BEHIND THE MYTH, by Marion Meade. After so many years, I have probably have read this long and highly impressive biography several times over.

Admittedly, most of the mundane intuitions I have accumulated by means of my prophylactic reading strategy undoubtedly fall into the general category of "Ad Hominem Considerations About H.P. Blavatsky." Also admittedly, I well understand that ad hominem—where one evaluates the person or his or her situation rather than the merit of what he or she is saying—is conventionally considered to be a major fallacy in formal logic. However, when it comes to trying to estimate an individual's supposed Theosophical knowledge or wisdom (here I am referring to that which is derived by Transcendental intuition, and not merely the "aftermath" type of mundane intuition originating from common experience, study, or reasoning), I believe that a BIG EXCEPTION might be in order.

To me, endeavoring to get some insight into how another person has actually applied Theosophy in the conduct of his or her own daily life sometimes seems like the only thing one has to go on—at least for calculating how much time one is justified in wasting listening to or laboriously studying what the person has to say. While it is absurd to think that I could even take a wild-guess about H.P. Blavatsky's actual progress in Psycho-Spiritual development in this way, at the minimum my ad hominem considerations have let me un-stick myself from the Grand Tar Baby of her "Cosmogenesis/Anthropogenesis" many a time . . . and thus let me remain firmly oriented toward a more experiential, less academic, approach to Theosophy.

Adept Theosophy is what a person becomes able to do or Be with the help of Theosophy. (I always capitalize the "A" in Adept just for this reason.) In one way or another most of this help involves advancement in an individual's (maybe possibly even "trans-lifetime") Degree of Self-awareness. Many years ago I coined the expression "semi-Selves" just to psychologically describe the various animating, physical/sensory, desire-feeling, desire-mental, mental, Spirit-mental, states of "temporary ego-delusions" which work against ongoing Self-awareness and keep common life all-too common.

In summary, then, MADAME BLAVATSKY; THE WOMAN BEHIND THE MYTH has given me some mundane intuitions that this spectacularly uncommon woman with an off-the-chart IQ was likely a little all-too common in the conduct of much of her personal life (e.g., hair-trigger temper, lack of foresight, status-promoting trickery, etc.) for me to automatically rely upon her as a genuine first-hand Source for Theosophically-derived knowledge or wisdom.

Here, of course, some will still be quick to point out that H.P.B. was not really teaching from her own Psycho-Spiritual authority, anyway. They will say she was merely passing along "esoteric" information that much more highly developed, tea-cup precipitating "Mahatmas" (Koot Humi, Master Moya et.al.) had communicated to her. OK, but just like the modern atheists—again Sam Harris, Matt Dillahunty, and Richard Dawkins—are always having to say to their religiously bloviating opponents, there is really no way to actually disprove the existence of beings like gods, unicorns, Santa Clauses, etc. One can only say, "I remain unconvinced." In my view one could add to the unconvincing No-Fly List not only Helena Blavatsky's Masterfully Unfalsifiable Entities but Alice Bailey's well-channeled Tibetan "Master" Djwhal Khul as well . . . and maybe a full preternatural nation of "Others" to boot. . . .

However—and here it may seem like I am completely reversing myself—even though I cannot fully rely on H.P.B. as a Primary Source for Theosophy (like Ramana Maharshi, for example), and even though many critics (e.g., William Emmette Coleman, Arthur Lillie) have accused her of plagiarizing (or at least not providing attribution when she used the work of others), one should not overlook the very important fact that probably no one else in history has EVER brought together in one place so much high-level "arcane," religious, and Spiritually-related material. The odds may be good that at least a little bit of it could actually be "epistemologically passable" Theosophical knowledge and/or wisdom of real Masters who lived somewhere at some time.

Therefore, it seems highly unlikely that I will ever completely throw out Blavatsky and her considerable volume of suspicious bathwater. . . .



Richard -

I pretty much agree. However - she has (displaces?) a lot of dirty water...   and some good ideas.

Are we settling  for the *lesser* of evils, or the best?   That question seems rather common in the USA this election year. <g>

There is also Meher Baba's "God Speaks", which covers some interesting ground. Also, Steiner fills in some gaps as well.  Those two are Sufi and Christian approaches, vs. HPB's Buddhism.

I have had days/years(!) where I want to throw it all out (HPB included).  I do not see it helping to solve any of the World's problems. Typically, if you just go for only Esotericism, does it not serve a rather selfish purpose for people to be so self-absorbed? It reminds me of the TM movement's claim that 1% of the people meditating will bring peace and harmony to the world. I think Gaia's attitude is that killing off 99% of the people will do the same thing a lot quicker (sarcasm). Human's excel at that. All working together; One with Nature! 

Peace! -



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