Theosophy and the Theosophical Society

by Emily B. Sellon and Dr. Renée Weber

“Theosophy has been described as knowledge of nature more profound than that obtained from empirical science and embodied in an esoteric tradition of which the various historical religions are only the exoteric expression. The word itself (from theos, “God”, and sophia, “wisdom”) means “wisdom concerning God or things divine” and carries the implication that such wisdom is accessible to the human soul through direct intuition of the supersensible reality.

In the West, theosophy may be said to have originated in Pythagorean Greece and to have been elaborated by such figures as Plato, Ammonius Saccus, and Plotinus, as well as through the Neoplatonic movement of Alexandria. It has affinities with kabbalistic and gnositc traditions and is a central doctrine in Islamic Sufism, as taught by such masters as Ghazzāli and Obn ‘Arabi. In Europe, it reappeared from time to time under different guises: in hermetic and alchemical doctrines and in fraternal organizations like the Rosicrucian’s and the Freemasons. In the modern period, the term theosophy is most legitimately associated with such figures as Meister Eckhart, Girodano Bruno, Emmanuel Swedenborg, and Jacob Boehme.

This esoteric tradition was, of course, not known under the name of theosophy in the East; but its major features are central to the classic literature of Hinduism, and its perspective is evident both in the worldview of Mahayana Buddhism and in the process philosophy of Taoism and the I Ching.

This claim to universality is supported by the fact that the theosophical world view, no matter how expressed, rests on a metaphysical foundations that is reached through insight into the essences of things as they are, rather than through intellectual reasoning. Furthermore, the pursuit of the insight holds out the possibility of the perfecting of the human soul and embraces a tradition of enlightened masters whose chosen task is to lead humanity toward a selfsame realization.

Metaphysical truths, while themselves nonrational are to be developed in a rational way, as “teachings,” but their purpose is not to elaborate or proselytize a particular philosophical system or dogma. Rather, they are designed to encourage seekers to explore the nature and meaning of existence, to test the validity of their values in experience, and thereby to accomplish not only their own self-transformation but the spiritualization of humanity.

After a considerable period of obscuration in the West, theosophy was revived at the end of the nineteenth century.”