Theosophy: Origin of the New Age
C.C. Martindale, S.J.
Name and history
THE name Theosophy has had a long history. Ammonius Sakkas (d.
about 245), father of Neo-Platonism, claimed to have invented it;
and since his time it has often been used to describe the method
of reaching a direct intuition of God, and of all things only "in"
Him, and a way of achieving a mysterious self-identification with
the Self of God. Those who possessed this ideal and this method
considered themselves men of "divine wisdom," superior to all
The notion was flattering and captivated men of high character,
but also, of inferior calibre. The former displayed an activity
which may be called, roughly, "mystical"; the latter, one that can
be no less roughly called "magical." Mysticism is the effort to
reach the direct vision of God by spiritual means: magic, in this
sense, the effort to do so by relatively mechanical means.
The Catholic Church has always preached the Beatific Vision, which
transcends even the most sublime intellectual conceptions of God
and all imagination, as the destiny of all those who leave this
life "in grace," grace being mediated through Christ only,
incorporating us with Him, causing the Holy Spirit to indwell us
in a particular way, and making us true adopted sons of God.
The most startling manifestations of sanctity are but
manifestations of an interior fact, i.e., an exceptionally close
supernatural union between a soul and God; and theosophists are
quite right in subordinating the special phenomena that they claim
to experience, to the substance of their doctrine, even though it
has been, historically, the exhibition of such phenomena which
gave modern Theosophy its vogue.
Christian mysticism passed from St. Paul and St. John through
writers like the pseudo-Dionysius to St. Augustine, the
Victorines, German mystics like St. Gertrude, St. Thomas and St.
Bonaventure, SS. Catherine of Siena and of Genoa, the Spanish
school like SS. Teresa and John of the Cross down to modern times,
and Catholic writers on mysticism are perhaps more numerous than
they ever were.
There have been "second class" Catholic writers, like Maria
d'Agreda; but it is noticeable that Theosophists have preferred
"mystics" who diverge more or less from Catholic orthodoxy, like
Tauler and Eckhardt, "illuminist" authors, J. Bohme, and even
Swedenborg. Indeed, they display very great interest (and rightly;
the subject in itself is interesting, even though concerned with a
perversion of the human spirit) in "magical" writers such as the
degenerate Gnostics, inferior Neo-Platonists, the Kabbalists, and
men like Cornelius Agrippa, "Paracelsus," or Pico della Mirandola.
The occultist passion of the Templars and the Masons proceeds to
the Rosicrucians of the nineteenth century revival, through men
like Saint Martin "Eliphaz Levi" (the ex-abbe Constant), "Papus"
(Dr. Encausse), till it reaches those moderns who prefer even the
unwholesome and fantastic to the normal.
But Theosophy has its history "backwards," too. Through the
Gnostics, the Graeco-Judaic philosophies of Philo and Alexandria,
obscure parts of Plato's work (and the Pythagoreans, or Orphics)
it reaches back towards India and Persia, and ends by claiming
affinity with, if not the fatherhood of, some schools of Buddhism,
and in fine Brahmanism.
I fear we have to insist that the modern literature of Theosophy,
so far as it concerns itself with history, is of no value at all,
unless of course you admit a priori that clairvoyance provides the
authors with knowledge accessible to no one else. In particular,
Theosophic books dealing with oriental religions are misleading. I
recommend as an antidote two works of M. R. Guenon (Payot; Paris):
Thosophisme: Histoire d'une Pseudo-Religion: and his
Introduction Generale a l'Etude des Doctrines Hindoues. I do so
the more readily as these works were not by a Catholic; indeed,
the author displays a veneration for oriental modes of thought,
and a contempt for ours, which outpasses the due measure.
At least he shows very clearly how shoddy is the material turned
out by Theosophists on their own subject; and, while the
distinguished Italian scholar, P. Oltramare, could call his
studies of ancient Indian thought "L'histoire des idees
theosophiques dans l'Inde: I, La theosophie brahmanique" (Paris),
he has to apologise for the distrust his title must excite
nowadays, when the name Theosophy "is affixed to the strangest
wares: an amalgam of mysticism, charlatanism and thaumaturgic
pretensions which have been combined, in the most unlikely
fashion, with an almost childish anxiety to apply the method and
terminology of science to transcendent matters. India itself could
not but be besmirched by the ridicule and disfavour so justly
incurred by the curious doctrines of Mme. Blavatsky and Mrs.
Besant" (pp. ii., iii.).
M. Paul Carty competently contrasts M. Oltramare's work with Mrs.
Besant's quite unscientific study of Indian religions (Four Great
Religions: and The Religious Problem of India). It is a pity,
too, that English-speaking Theosophists should have learnt what
they know of the Hermetic literature not least through the work of
Mr. G. Mead, whose books have no scientific value.
Theosophy, then, makes its peculiar boast out of its organic
connection with a world-stream of human-divine effort witnessed to
by a continuous history. Theosophy is a "divine science," complete
and eternal, known in its entirety to but a few, and communicated
by them so far as possible to those capable of receiving it, under
various symbols suited to the assimilative capacity of each, or of
successive generations. It is then the source of all religions,
all philosophies, all science, but it is no one of them.
"Theosophy is not a religion. But something of Theosophy can be
found under all religious symbols, in all religious dogmas, for
the good reason that it is the RELIGION-SCIENCE whence have issued
all religions and all sciences." (A. Arnould: Les Croyances
fondamentales du Bouddhisme, Paris, 1895, p. 5).
To the question "Is Theosophy a religion?" "It is not," answers H.
P. B. (cf. Key, p. 1). "It is Divine Knowledge or Science."
Similarly, "it is the doctrinal exposition of the Truths
demonstrated by OCCULT SCIENCE" (A. A., p. 6).
"In the sense given to it by those who first used it," writes Col.
Olcott, "the word means divine wisdom, or the knowledge of
divine things. The lexicographers handicap the idea with the
suggestion that it meant the knowledge of God, the deity before
their minds being a personal one; but such was not the intention
of the first Theosophists.
"Essentially a Theosophical Society is one which favours man's
original acquisition of knowledge about the hidden things of the
universe, by the education and perfecting of his own latent
powers. Theosophy differs as widely from philosophy as it does
from theology (italics ours). It has been truly said that, in
investigating the divine nature and attributes, philosophy
proceeds entirely by the dialectic method, employing as the basis
of its investigation the ideas derived from natural reason;
theology still employing the same method, superadds to the
principles of natural reason those derived from authority and
revelation. Theosophy, on the contrary, professes to exclude all
dialectical process and to derive its whole knowledge of God from
direct intuition and contemplation."
This has been quoted to emphasise the fact that Theosophy bases
its statements either upon the ipse dixit of some Mahatma, or on
a special psychic process unknown to the ordinary man. This must
always be recalled when it declares it advances nothing that has
not been proved up to the hilt.
Arnould writes of these Guardians of the Immemorial Doctrine that
"their number is great," that they are "Beings more completely
developed than antecedent or existing humanity. These more
advanced Beings have traversed the entire human course, and help
their less advanced brethren. All humanity shall one day reach
this degree of development, like that which Westerns assign to
their anthropomorphic God," and then it will be their turn to help
others (pp. 15, 16).
For while "a few isolated individuals, borne on by a peculiar
enthusiasm, a spiritual moral, and physical hygiene and
persevering toil," achieve the goal before their brothers (p. 46),
and alone have evolved that sixth principle, or Buddhi, which is
as superior to the intellect as the human soul is to the animal
(p. 66) yet they can and do put off their entry into Nirvana for
the sake of teaching fragments of their lore to men, and may then
be called Buddhas of Compassion (p. 49). H. P. B.
rationalizes these Mahatmas (=Great Spirits) not a little:
though they guide and protect, yet they do not inspire the T. S.
or the writings of its leaders (p. 299). So, too, Mrs. Besant says
they work for humanity, use the T.S. as an instrument, bless it,
and help it at a crisis. Miss Lillian Edger, in a very
convenient little book called Elements of Theosophy, says of
them that they can "function at will on any one of the three
planes on which our evolution is proceeding." They work "unseen,
unthanked, even as God Himself works in every form" (p. 121).
From them come the inspirations of art, the intuitions of genius,
and the promptings of heroism. From them come physical discoveries
and spiritual movements. They appear, it may be, as men, and are
misunderstood and persecuted. They may be called Initiates,
Adepts, Magi, Hierophants, Mahatmas, Elder Brothers, Great Souls,
or Masters. We are told to number among them Pythagoras, Orpheus,
Moses, Christ, St. Paul, St. John, Clement and Origen, Krishna and
Buddha, high-priests of various cults (including that of the
Temple at Jerusalem), Alexander the Great, and many others.
The evidence for their existence may indeed be its "metaphysical
necessity." It is postulated by the Law of Cyclic Evolution.
The divine germ in man comes from and returns to God, through an
uninterrupted series of more or less divine Beings. There cannot,
therefore, but be Mahatmas. However, H. P. B., H. S. O., A. B.,
and even humbler disciples, have been in epistolary communication
with these Masters, and A. B., in H. P. B. and the Masters,
collects a considerable amount of what she considers adequate
evidence of their consorting with mankind.
The Lamas of Tibet (where they are usually domiciled) are said,
however, to have denied their existence, while Mr. Hodgson, in the
service of the Society for Psychical Research, together with most
independent students, will not admit it either. To those who do
not grant its a priori necessity, the evidence of the few
"eyewitnesses" seems, he argues, valueless; and so is the
correspondence by which they, mistakenly enough, reveal their
"miserable poor style" and ideas which are "absolute rubbish."
Mme. Blavatsky, however, despises the attacks of the S.PR., which
she calls "a flock of stupid old British, wethers, who had been
led to butt at them by an over-frolicsome lambkin from Australia"
If she is asked why the Masters do not appear to disprove the
charges which are made against them, she asserts that they
sometimes do, but that they usually despise to (Key, p. 295).
She reiterates the argument that if they do not exist, then she
herself has invented the entire contents of their philosophy and
all the practical knowledge ascribed to them, so that since she
exists, it doesn't really matter whether they do or don't (ibid.,
p. 298); that to attempt to prove they do not exist is to wish to
prove a negative and, finally, that she wishes to goodness modern
Theosophists had never mentioned Masters, Adepts, or Occult
Knowledge (ibid., pp. 300, 302).
The Church has a doctrine of Tradition, of Sainthood, and of the
Beatific Vision and the "spiritual body" to which the saved are
destined. But the Tradition is not secret: nor is it doled forth
by privileged individuals. Nor can Sainthood be produced by human
effort only still less by any "cyclic law."
Nor are Christian beliefs held "blindly," as Theosophists often
say (e.g., Key: pp. 87, 218, etc.). Those of the Theosophist,
however, are. For they rest on evidence provided clairvoyantly or
clairaudiently or in some other extra-scientific way, or
transmitted by "Masters." But there is admittedly no "proof" of
the validity of the former, or of the existence of the latter.
Therefore the whole affair becomes subjective, and quite unlike
Mme. Blavatsky's Key is in the shape of a catechism; for the
sake of brevity we shall condense slightly its questions and
answers without affecting, we trust, their bearing.
"Do you believe in God-the God of the Christians, the Biblical
"In such a God we do not believe. We reject the notion of a
personal, or an extra-cosmic and anthropomorphic God. The God of
theology is a bundle of contradictions. We will have nothing to do
"Then you are Atheists?" "Not that we know of. We believe in a
Divine Universal Principle, the root of ALL, from which all
proceeds, and within which all shall be absorbed at the end of the
great cycle of Being. Our DEITY is everywhere, in, over, and
around every invisible atom and divisible molecule; for IT is the
mysterious power of evolution and involution, the omnipresent,
omnipotent, and even omniscient creative potentiality. IT does not
(think); because it is Absolute Thought itself. Nor does it
exist, as it is Be-ness, not a Being. Our Deity is the eternal,
incessantly evolving, not creating builder of the universe; that
universe itself unfolding out of its own essence. It is a sphere
without circumference-ITSELF" (Key, pp. 61-66).
The confusions here are manifold. Man has an "analogical"
knowledge of God: that is, he knows Him in a human way, not false,
but essentially inadequate. He does not know Him as God knows
Himself, immediately and comprehensively: if he did, he would be
God. Hence man's very idea of God as "Being" is derived and
inadequate, but not false. Moreover, God is eternal-this does not
mean "very old," but existing wholly simultaneously: and He is
omnipresent, which does not mean extended throughout the universe,
but wholly present in every part of it. Nor does the "personality"
of God mean that He exists as we do, with our "personal"
limitations; but that whatever perfection there is in
"personality" is also, essentially and as in its source and
infinitely, in Him.
H. P. B. is right in claiming for God that He is infinite and
unqualified: wrong, when she suggests that (i) we cannot know
anything about Him by our reason; and (ii) that He is the universe
or evolves into it. The "negative way" of speaking of God-denying
to Him anything that we humanwise know-is not adequate though
legitimate. It means, that we deny any of the human limitations of
our experience as true about God; but affirm all their substantial
content as infinitely true of Him.
The Christian God is therefore thinkable in a way imperfect, yet
true so far as it goes: the Theosophic God is not thinkable at
all. Yet the Theosophist keeps on thinking about God. He calls it
the causeless cause, the rootless root, the One, etc. To be
consistent He should say (and sometimes does) that we are equally
right in calling Him nonroot, non-cause non-principle, etc. He had
better define God as O=X, and let the matter drop.
Theosophy inclines to "idealistic Pantheism"; the Universe
emanates from God, as ray from sun, or is immanent in Him, as drop
in ocean, or is Himself, as my dream is I. There is no "creation,"
but the "'periodical and consecutive appearances of the universe
from the subjective on to the objective plane of being.' This is
the 'Cycle of Life,' the 'Days and Nights of Brahma,' or the time
of Manvantara and that of Pralaya (dissolution). (This process
is) Eternal reality casting a periodical reflection of itself on
the infinite spatial depths. This reflection 'is a temporary
illusion, and, as flitting personalities, so are we' (Key, pp.
83-85). 'In Eternity,' M. Arnould reminds us (p. 12), 'there is
but a single moment, ALWAYS.
"'If, for a single moment, there had been nothing, then there
would always have been Nothing. Before creation, as after, is
Eternity! Where seize, where place, the moment of Creation? It
exists not! It cannot exist!
"'The periods (of activity and rest) can be compared to the double
rhythmic beating of the heart. There is a great rhythmic throbbing
in the Infinite, in the UNIQUE ALL, which causes transitory forms
to emanate, where through the UNIQUE SPIRIT circulates and
develops and reabsorbs them.'
"Theosophists can never free themselves from this welter of
metaphor: and even Mrs. Besant says: 'God is all, and all is God'"
(Theosophy: Religious Systems of the World, p. 642,1903, etc.).
H. P. B. rejects Pantheism, at least in so far as its "real and
primitive meaning has been distorted by blind prejudice and a one-
sidedness of view. If you accept the Christian etymology of this
compound word, and form it of pan, "all," and theos, "God,"
and then imagine and teach that this means that every stone and
every tree in Nature is a God or the ONE God, then, of course, you
will be right, and make of Pantheists fetish-worshippers" (Key,
p. 63). But one must etymologize the word, she goes on,
"esoterically." The Christian etymology is as correct, as H. P.
B.'s conception of their theology is absurd.
The Indian terms quoted above are not only used by Theosophists as
symbols, but are explained in materialistic detail. A Manvantara
comprises 360,000,000 years, and, together with a Pralaya,
composes the 100 billion (and more) years of a world period, or
Kalpah. During a Pralaya (putting the thing in its Indian
form) only Brahma (neuter) exists-Sat, the Unknowable and
A new Manvantara dawns: Brahma (masc.) awakes. At once He sees,
"Nothing exists." Forthwith we have the opposition of Being and
Not Being, the Duality, sat-avidya. The vision of the "being"
that once was recurs to Him-Brahma's own revelation, Mahat, the
third "logos." The Trinity, Sat, Satavidya, Mahat, is complete.
The out-and in-breathings of Brahma then make and reabsorb the
Mrs. Besant (Introd., p. 21) develops this doctrine of the
Emanating All by means of a quite unhistorical adaptation of the
Greek term Logos, enabling her to assure the Bishop of London that
after all Theosophists believe in the Trinity. Underlying this is
a (i) fatalist and (ii) meaningless conception of the Infinite
"evolving," that is, in any case, changing, which it cannot do;
and either improving itself by becoming more than it was, or
degrading itself by getting mixed up with matter and having to
disentangle itself once more. The Christian doctrine of creation
is only inadequately thinkable: the Theosophist one of a
fluctuation, a throb, in the Godhead, is positively unthinkable.
Theosophic teaching presents the world as existing in seven
planes, not superimposed, but interpenetrating, for each consists
of a grosser or purer manifestation of reality so that the
slightly less gross has plenty of room to exist and vibrate
between the atoms of the grosser. Each plane therefore has its
special dimension, time, consciousness and inhabitants.
It seems idle to offer details of the history of this our evolving
world. Briefly, it rises in a septuple spiral, mankind passing
through seven cycles corresponding to the planets. Mr. Sinnett,
Growth of the Soul, 1896, p. 265, says that seven root-race
periods make up one world period; seven world-periods (following
each other on as many planets in succession), one round; seven
rounds, one manvantara; seven manvantaras, one scheme of
evolution; seven schemes of evolution (more or less
contemporaneous in their activity), the solar system.
He proceeds to relate just how far each planet has got in its
evolutionary process-Mars is behind us; many of us lived there;
did we but visit it, "as some of our more advanced companions can
and do," we should find traces of our passage. Venus is far ahead
of us: in fact, "the guardians of our infant humanity" descended
thence, stimulated our faculties, and caused us to stand rather
further on in our process than we have the strict right to do.
To these Elder Brothers he devotes an entire chapter. Earth-men
are at their fourth stage, our third having been lived in the lost
continent of Lemuria, where consciousness dawned and man split
into the two sexes. Mr. Scott Elliott, in The Lost Lemuria (with
two maps) established H. P. B.'s revelations about Lemuria by
geology and so forth, and describes also the fourth race that
lived in Atlantis (The Story of Atlantis; 4 maps).
Its catastrophes occurred respectively 800,000, 200,000, and
80,000 years ago. But, like H. P. B., he relies for his
information upon clairvoyance, scoffing somewhat less than she
does at the "abysmal ignorance" of palaeontologists who deny such
things, and indeed the whole school of Western Science formed in
the school of "Mill, Darwin, Tyndall, Hegel, and Burnouf." The
fifth or Aryan race is rushing down to absolute evil: Europe is in
a religious, philosophic and philanthropic cul de sac: it is in
America that the sixth root-race of our cycle shall be prepared,
due some 700 years hence.
Mr. Leadbeater indeed knows its very diet, consisting largely of a
sort of blancmange variously flavoured and tinted, and partaken of
in tea-gardens: no chairs; but marbled hollows in the ground: the
plates too are marble and the whole is flooded after each repast.
(Man, p. 427; 1913). No one will want us to offer more of this
sort of detail.
Meanwhile Man, the Microcosm, is himself septuple, four parts
composing the physical, three the spiritual, man. The following is
H. P. B.'s chart (Key, p. 92):
(a) Rupa, or Sthula Sha ira = Physical Body
(b) Prana = Life, or Vital Principle
(c) Linga Sharira = Astral body
(d) Kama rupa = Seat of animal desires and passions
(e) Manas-a dual principle in its functions = Mind,
intelligence, the higher human mind, whose light or radiation
links the Monad, for the lifetime, to the mortal man
(f) Buddhi = The Spiritual Soul
(g) Atma = Spirit
The first four "principles" compose a man's personality, the last
three his Individuality. The Atma, H. P. B. says, is "one with
the Absolute"; Sinnett, that it is matter like the rest, only very
subtle. Arnould (who describes all this, pp. 63-67) prudently
exclaims, "Quant au septieme principe, Atma, n'en parlons pas."
At death, the first four principles, or rather "states of
consciousness," evanesce: the one real man, immortal in essence,
if not in form, Manas, embodied consciousness (Key, p. 100),
"God fallen into matter" (A. B., Introd., p. 27), alone will
subsist. Human evolution is the effort of this god to reascend to
its proper plane, taking as much of its purified personality with
it as it can. But it cannot do this in one lifetime only;
reincarnations are therefore necessary, a discarnate existence
averaging 1,500 years occurring between each, in the Devachanic or
Of this and of the Astral plane, Mr. Leadbeater can give many
details based on clairvoyance and the teaching of the Masters.
Each is divided into seven sections. In the Astral plane, its
scenery, inhabitants and phenomena, the soul is in a sort of Hades
or Purgatory: crass sensualists live as in a black viscous "fluid"
at the bottom: on the second highest is the selfish religionist
enjoying harp and crown; on the highest, the selfish
This astral condition is largely responsible for fairies, angels,
ghosts, etc.; apparitions are often the astral corpse shelled off
by the purified spirit; they try to maintain a fictitious life by
obsessing living persons, or haunting public-houses or butchers'
shops. Mr. Leadbeater's account of the Devachanic Plane (1902)
is fuller; to its planes he assigns inhabitants according to what
he considers their degree of unselfish but anthropomorphic
religion or respectability: on the lowest you may find a "small
grocer"; on the sixth, Vishnu and Siva worshippers "wrapped up in
a cocoon of their own thoughts", the Irish peasant and the
Madonna; the Spanish ecstatic and her Christ. On the fourth are
unselfish pursuers of spiritual or artistic knowledge, like Mozart
or Bach; but Mohammedanism or Christianity seldom get their
devotees so far as this, save for a few Gnostics or Sufis.
Devachan is a result, not a reward: it is still illusory; you get
there the best version of the best you had absorbed before death.
It lasts as long as one's garnered spiritual forces need in order
to energise and express themselves. There is then for the
Theosophist no permanent heaven nor hell: nothing finite can
remain "stationary." We do not remember our previous incarnations,
for the Ego is furnished in each with a new body, brain, and
memory-a clean shirt on which it were idle to look for bloodspots
though the murderer may wear it.
And the "astral eidolons" of man's lower quaternity await a
"second death"; meanwhile, they are but phantoms without divine or
thinking elements left in them; it is these that can be magnetised
towards a medium, take form within his aura (outside which they
dissolve like jellyfish outside water) and live through his brain.
Now reincarnation is not in itself unthinkable: whether it takes
place can be decided only by a due authority. Vague elusive
impressions that "I have been here before," "I inexplicably
dislike so and so," have no probative value of any sort:
"unmerited inequalities of birth," or physique, etc., do not need
reincarnation to explain them, and men are judged according to
their lives in their circumstances, and not in the air, merely
according to an abstract morality: finally, if the break in my
consciousness between two incarnations is complete, I am morally
and practically a new person; continuity between my selves is
merely mechanical; it would be immoral to punish my new self for
sins committed by the old one.
Karma means the law of cause and effect working itself out,
deterministically, and rigorously governing the whole process of
man's existence and the series of his states. It is the Ultimate
Law of the Universe, for social and national Karmas grow out of
the aggregate of individual ones (Key, pp. 198-215). It leaves
then no room for regret, hope, repentance, atonement, or prayer.
"'We do not believe in vicarious atonement, nor in the possibility
of the remission of the smallest sin by any god. What we believe
in is strict and impartial justice. [This is the sense in which
Karma is "Relative and Distributive," a law of readjustment giving
back Harmony (which is synonymous with Good) to the world.] There
is no repentance' (here we resume H. P. B.'s assertions in
standard works): no 'casting our sins at the foot of the Cross.'
"'There is no destiny but what we ourselves determine; no
salvation or condemnation except what we ourselves bring about.'
Weak natures may accept the 'easy truth of vicarious atonement,
intercession, forgiveness.' The Ego, then, becomes its own saviour
in each world and incarnation (Key, p. 155). Christianity does but
introduce one external, miraculous, and therefore unmoral Saviour.
"Hence prayer especially is idle.
"'Do you ever pray?' the Theosophist is asked. 'We do not, we
act.' 'Pray?' (Buddhists would exclaim)'to whom? or to what?' (and
yet they are confessedly far more virtuous than Christians.) To
ask for help from Christ were 'morel idleness, revolting,
degrading to human dignity' (Key, pp. 66-72). It is absurd to
suppose that an answer can be given to every foolish and
"Both Buddha and Christ corroborate this. Doubtless Jesus says:
'Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name (that of "Christ"; H. P. B.),
that will I do'; but this, interpreted esoterically, means Christ
= Buddhi-Manas = Self. The only God we must recognize and pray
to, or rather act in union with, is that Spirit of God of which
our body is the temple" (ibid.).
Free Will is certainly the greatest mystery of human life, and no
metaphor drawn from the mechanistic universe around us can
properly describe it, though we have a direct consciousness of it.
The history of Theosophy, in this matter, has been a desperate
effort to reconcile the doctrine of Karma with free will.
We are told that we can "choose" to alter the tendency due to some
wrong act; but that very choice is as much dictated by one's Karma
as the wrong act was-each is the necessary result of what preceded
Do what I will, I cannot see any reason, offered by Theosophists,
for denying that Karma is a doctrine of fatalism and, quite
logically, involves a rejection of merit, reward, or punishment,
all of which flow no less logically from a belief in the radical
freedom of the will. Karma offered as an explanation of an
undoubted mystery annihilates the possibility of choice.
H. P. B., therefore, by Prayer, "will-prayer," "internal command"
to "our Father in heaven" in its esoteric sense, is but an
inevitable communing with self, i.e., the core of self, and a
"suggestion" administered to all the outer selves. All men (Christ
included) have Divinity more or less dormant within them. Wake it
up! Or rather when because of Karma, it inevitably starts to wake
up, your prayer will become less of a petition from a man, that an
angel could grant, than-just God talking to Himself.
Theosophy tends towards a "social," non-self-regarding Ethic, with
a sort of mechanical justice because everything, in the long run,
is one. The Theosophist will therefore de-animalise the body, but
not injure it-especially by abstinence from meat, alcohol and
marriage, by breathing exercises accompanied by noble thoughts:
"I breathe the breath of Life: I send love to all mankind. I
breathe the life-dispensing ether: I send forth thoughts of life
for all mankind. I breathe the eternal movement of the divine
life; I send wishes for health for all mankind. I breathe the
universal Life Spirit, full of strength: And deny all weakness of
Life and of the Soul." And so on, ending, for Amen, "So breathes
every man that is born of God."
But there are no hard and fast rules for behaviour, and all such
practices are "esoteric," the Enlightened seeing that there is but
one soul in all, and refusing to sacrifice the life even of beast
or fish. We are not told what to do about vegetables. The essence
therefore of Theosophist ethic is altruism-though even this is a
misnomer, since All are One, I am you, and you I. Hence, on lower
planes, tolerance, social effort, forgiveness-even the supreme
sacrifice made by those who put off their Nirvana so as to help
others. We refer, for Nirvana, to Essay No. 6, since Theosophists,
while rightly refusing to call it annihilation, or to admit
Pantheism, have added nothing to an explanation of what it is.
It would then seem that Theosophy, confronting the immemorial
problem set by the coexistence of the individual and society, and
the fact that the former can never cease to be an individual yet
reaches his perfection only in "society," have, by their habitual
looseness of talk, modifications
of doctrine to suit their audiences, and personal impressionisms,
complicated that problem not a little, save when they have
destroyed it by teaching a fatalistic Karma, which explains
nothing, either as to origin or end, let alone as to route.
III. THEOSOPHY AND RELIGIONS
Buddhism and spiritualism
Theosophy professes to be the ancient wisdom allegedly lying
behind all philosophies and religions. But it has been so strongly
coloured with Indian expressions that it is often confused with
Buddhism, and Buddhism (as in Ceylon) has been much used by
Theosophists for political and nationalist purposes.
Col. Olcott, by the way, had been King Asoka in a previous
incarnation, and H. P. B. (Key, pp. 12-15) considers even the
"dead letter" of southern Buddhism to be far grander, nobler, more
philosophical and scientific than that of any other religion.
In India, theosophy was given a Brahman colour, and Mrs. Besant
fought bitterly against Catholic missionaries, being indeed
received as an incarnation of the goddess Sarasvati, goddess of
science, wife of Brahma, Christ being, she said, an incarnation of
Vishnu. Enough to say that Theosophy would disdain to be
linked with Spiritualism, though H. P. B. allows a certain amount
of credibility to spiritualist "phenomena" provided the
spiritualist explanations be not admitted. She regards such
phenomena as proper to one of the lower ranges of occult science,
a science singularly apt to be misused for selfish ends.
Theosophists made much more of phenomena at first than they do
now: H. S. O. was in fact converted from Spiritism because he saw
spiritist phenomena equalled and transcended at will and in broad
daylight by H. P. B. and eastern adepts. He gives examples in
Theosophy, Religion and Occult Science, p. 251. Whatever be the
facts about Theosophist "miracles," it must be noticed that they
differ from those of the Gospels and of Catholic history at large,
in origin, nature, moral and spiritual setting and consequences,
and probative value.
We mentioned above (p. 2) the Coulomb scandal, information about
which exists in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical
Research, vol. iii., parts vii., ix., pp. 201-400. Mme. Coulomb
said that H. P. B. faked her "phenomena"; H. P. B. said that all
the letters alleged by Mme. Coulomb to have been written by her
were forgeries. A. B. says that they could not possibly have been
written by her, because they are "uneducated," whereas H. P. B.
was "brilliant, however familiar and conversational." To others
they seem exactly in H. P. B.'s style.
H. P. B. repudiated the accusation, in the undisputed words
subjoined, which sufficiently show her style:-
"I swear by the Master whom I serve faithfully, and for the sake
of carrying whose orders I suffer now, let Him curse me in the
future birth, aye, in a dozen of births, if I have ever done
anything on my own hook, if I have ever written one line of these
infernal letters And if the only person I believe implicitly on
earth-Master-came and told me I had, then I would lay it at his
door; for nothing and no one in this world could have taken away
the recollection of that deed-that idiotic and insane deed-from my
brain and memory but Himself-so you had better shut up and ask
Him. The idea of it! Had I been such an ass...." etc.
H. S. O. prevented Mme. Blavatsky from prosecuting for libel the
Christian College Magazine, Madras, which had published the
letters, just as she was stopped from prosecuting Hodgson when he
called her a Russian spy.
When Theosophists speak well of Christianity it must be firmly
remembered that they do so at the cost of denying its absolute,
final, and unique validity, and of detecting in it an esoteric
doctrine which Christians are ignorant of or deny. Mrs. Besant
finds (rather like Modernists) a way of using the terms "Trinity,"
and "Redemption," but also of holding that in "all religions of
the world" the Second Person of her Trinity somehow incarnates
Himself and that Christ is adored by the Hindu as Vishnu.
This is the bad old system of amateurish comparative religion,
which vaguely identified, or interconnected, the stories of
Mithra, Osiris, Krishna, and Christ. It has no scientific value
nor ever had, but was current in Mrs. Besant's middle life. Mrs.
Besant, in Esoteric Christianity (1901) said that Comparative
Mythologists derived their "similarities" in religion from a
common trunk-human ignorance: and Comparative Religionists also
did so from a common trunk-Divine Wisdom.
Supreme Teachers, possessed of the whole Wisdom, doled it out,
though reluctantly (pearls before swine) to inferior men, Paul,
the Great Initiate, for example, saying he gave them but milk, and
insisting much on the "mystery" that was his to impart. (We say
curtly, that what St. Paul meant was that divine revelation
hitherto believed to be given by God to the Jews only was as a
matter of fact, for all men, and that he in particular was
"apostle to the Gentiles." (see Essay No. 21, p. 31).
Relying on some worthless Gnostic work, but above all on
clairvoyance, she and H. P. B. know that the Roman Church really
considers Christ as the Gnostics did, i.e., as chief of the Aeons.
Of the iniquitous Roman distorters of theosophic truth, need we
say that the Jesuits are the worst (A. B., in the Theosophist,
January, 1913, p. 481, etc.). "Money is poured out like water; one
day's post brings attacks from Rome, from Stockholm, Hong Kong."
Since the Masters confessedly convey their instruction in a shell
of myth, we need not suppose that A. B. believed all, or any, of
What is clear about most Theosophists that I have read is that
they neither had, nor have, any knowledge of the ordinary doctrine
of the Catholic Church (open to all, not to an elite); that they
originally drew their notions about it from the worst version of
Christianity supplied (as apparently it still is) by the Middle
West of the U.S.A., and that they utilised the shockingly bad
religious history of the period in which modern Theosophy
blossomed in order to speak of Isis, Buddha, and what not in
connection with Christianity, and, that they have never learnt
anything ever since.
A. B. therefore borrows a historical, a mythical, and a mystical
"Jesus" from other writers; considers that the historical Jesus
was born 105 B.C., became an Essene monk, studied Indian occultist
books, travelled into Egypt and at 29, surrendered his body to a
Buddha of Compassion, who entered it at the Baptism. The man Jesus
in his human body suffered for the services rendered to its
superhuman occupant. Gradually a "myth" crystallised around this,
the husk of legend being identical all over the world.
The Mystical Christ is the Logos, crucified (i.e., extended
throughout matter) and, equally, the divine spark in man. Mr.
Kingsland, in his Esoteric Basis of Christianity, and Mr.
Leadbeater, in his Christian Creed, respectively prepare the way
for follies of this sort by declaring that science has destroyed
the credibility of the historic Bible and that clairvoyance
reveals the "inner meaning" of the Creed.
Others interpret the Catholic ritual "esoterically," seldom, we
may mention, describing it accurately.
The Catholic Church has never admitted that it has an esoteric and
an exoteric doctrine, suitable to the few and the more crass of
Christians. St. Paul's doctrine of "mystery" has, of course,
nothing to do with any such thing. The "discipline arcani" is a
special subject and has nothing to do with a special lore, and the
term in fact appears to have been invented about 1750 by a
In a word, Theosophic treatment of Christianity has nothing
historical to recommend it: on the contrary, it is historically
inexcusable, unless of course you resort to clairvoyant knowledge
which cannot be tested by anyone. If it be said that those who
claim to possess it "know" that they do so possess it, one can
only say that the material they offer as the result of their
knowledge, while containing elaborate descriptions of alleged
mental and other conditions, explains none of them, and is
exhibited with a vulgarity such that one hardly knows to whom
these writers can be speaking, and, that there is nothing in the
ethical character of Theosophist protagonists, as discernible in
their writings or lives, that would tempt anyone for one moment to
attach any significance to their assertions.
There are certain vast problems that have tormented mankind ever
since it began to reflect. Such are the existence and nature of
God and the extent to which man can know Him: the origin and
destiny of human life: the relation of the "one" to the "many":
the extent to which man can term himself free, or again, immortal.
Human intelligence cannot form complete ideas about all of this
nor can it know all that has happened in the past, or will yet
Human curiosity has, however, loved to speculate upon such
matters; and we feel human vanity has recurrently wished to
flatter itself and impress others by alleging that it possesses
all such knowledge, or at least more of it than other people do.
It is into this category of "knowers" that Theosophy enters.
Unfortunately H. P. B. and A. B. lived at a time when there was an
outburst of new human knowledge, and an accumulation of intriguing
books, especially about ancient religions, full of the most
unsifted and now discarded information. Intoxicated by this, they
made use of all of it, and bequeathed their damnosa haereditas
to their successors.
However since all such things are, or should be, logically held by
them to be illusory and as false as they are true, and anyhow
conveyed to the world by a method of knowing that the world cannot
share, yet without any guarantee for the method, we are justified
in regarding them, as a rule, as an amateurish and indeed
disgusting mismanagement of ancient philosophies and myth, a realm
into which quite untrained minds like those of H. P. B. and A. B.
and their subordinates exasperatingly intruded themselves. Yet the
will to seek and the effort to know are to be respected: we can
but regret the addition of so much confusion into English and
American minds, themselves as a rule so untrained.
This essay was published by the London-based Catholic Truth
Society as part of its "Studies in Religion" series. The first
part of the essay appeared in last month's issue. Fr. Martindale
was a well-known Jesuit writer of the early part of the century.
1. Theosophy, Religion, and Occult Science, 1885, p. 246. 2.
Key to Theosophy, 1890, pp. 215, 288-303.
3. Introd. a la Theosophie, tr., Paris, 1903, p. 20.
4. T.P.S., 1907; it is based on Mrs. Besant's Ancient Wisdom,
reprinted in 1922, and a handy textbook for reference. It is
increasingly the fashion to suggest that the existence of
"Masters" is but one theory to account for the underlying "unity"
of religions, etc.
5. Arnould, pp. 17-19. But H. P. B. calls Alexander (Key, p.
289) "a drunken soldier."
6. So "Hera," in Le Lotus Bleu for Sept., 1904, pp. 193-199.
7. pp. 10-20. "If human evidence can ever substantiate a fact, the
appearance (and therefore existence) of the Masters is placed
beyond the possibility of a doubt."
8. P.S.P.R., 1891, ix. p. 312.
9. Month, 1892, 1xxiv, p. 180.
10. H. P. B., in the Glossary to Key, says Brahma's day consists
of 4,320,000,000 years. Brahma's Age = 100 years of
3,110,400,000,000 solar years each.
11. See an account of her triumphal progress in Etudes, cxxiv.,
pp. 261-265, 1901: H. S. O.'s methods in Ceylon are criticised in
C. Gordon Cumming's Two Happy Years in Ceylon, ii., pp. 413-419.
This article was taken from the March 1996 issue of "This Rock,"
published by Catholic Answers, P.O. Box 17490, San Diego, CA
92177, (619) 541-1131, $24.00 per year.
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