Published by Blavatsky Study Center.  Online Edition copyright 2003.

A Brief Overview of Theosophy [1]

by James A. Santucci

[James A. Santucci is professor of religious studies and linguistics at
California State University, Fullerton and editor of Theosophical History.]

Theosophy or "Divine Wisdom" according to Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-91) and her followers, refers to the Ultimate Truth of the Supreme, the Cosmos, and Humanity. It is a Truth that in its pure form is primordial, in that it existed from the dawn of Humanity; esoteric, since only those few individuals capable of understanding such knowledge are allowed to receive it; and universal, because all great minds throughout the world enunciated the same Wisdom. Though esoteric, at least a portion of the Wisdom was "known in every ancient country having claim to civilization."

Furthermore, it was Blavatsky’s contention that the Wisdom could be partially recoverable from a "comparative study and analysis" [3] of selected philosophers (Pythagoras, Plato, Plotinus, Porphyry, Proclus, Pata˝jali, and Shankara) or schools of philosophies (the Greek Mystery Schools, Neo-Platonism, Vedanta, Taoism, Cabalism), and the sacred writings of the great historical religions (Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism).

A study of these philosophers, schools, and religions by Blavatsky, under the guidance of two Masters of this Ancient Wisdom [4] —one usually identified by the initials K. H. (Koot Hoomi), the other by the initial M. (Morya)—led to the writing of her two great works, Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine, works that partially revealed the Ancient Wisdom in a modern form. [5]

The "Truth" that has been revealed in The Secret Doctrine [SD], the principal source of modern theosophical doctrine, [6] and works based on its contents may be summarized in the following statements:

(1)  a single, Supreme, Eternal, Immutable, Unknown and Unknowable, Infinite Principle or Reality [SD 1:14];

(2) the fundamental unity of all existence: no thing is apart from the Infinite Reality [7] ;

(3) the eternal, manifested Universe and everything within it is subject to the "law of periodicity, of flux and reflux, ebb and flow": such is the doctrine of cycles [SD 1:17];

(4) the evolution of nature—material and spiritual [8] —reflects progressive development and not merely repetitive action [SD 1:43, 277-78; 11:6531;

(5) the evolution of the individual is not limited to one life but continues through innumerable lives made possible by the process of reincarnation, the entrance of Self—the trinity of Spirit, Soul, and Mind —into another (human) body [9] ;

(6) this evolution is brought about by the Law of Cause and Effect— Karma —a teaching that assigns full and individual responsibility to the individual who performs the action as well as providing the impetus to future births or incarnations [10] ;

(7) the structural framework of the universe, humanity included, is by nature septenary in composition [SD II:605-41] [11] ;

(8) the cyclic, evolving universe is hierarchical in constitution, each component—for instance, our Solar System, Planetary Round, Globe Round—repeating the same divisions of time as the Universal Solar System but on different scales [SD II:68f., 434f.];

(9) with regard to Humanity evolution on the Earth is taking place in seven major groups called Root Races, each of which is divided into seven sub-races. At the present time, we humans belong to the fifth sub-race (the Anglo-Saxon) of the fifth Root Race (Aryan) [SD 1:610; II:lf., 86f., 300f., 434f., 688f.];

(10) the individual is in actuality the microcosm, a "miniature copy of the macrocosm" [SD 1:274], or to put it in terms of the Hermetic Axiom:

As in the Inner, so is the Outer; as is the Great, so is the Small; as it is above, so it is below;
there is but ONE LIFE AND LAW; and he that worketh it is ONE. 
Nothing is Inner, nothing is Outer;
nothing is GREAT, nothing is Small;
nothing is High, nothing is Low, in the Divine economy
[12] ;

(11) the universe is guided and animated by a cosmic Hierarchy of sentient beings, each having a specific mission [SD 1:274-77].


[1] This article has been excerpted from "The Aquarian Foundation" by James A Santucci.

[2] H.P. Blavatsky, "What is Theosophy?," in Boris De Zirkoff, H. P. Blavatsky: Collected Writings, Volume II (Wheaton, IL: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1967), 89.

[3] James A. Santucci, Theosophy and the Theosophical Society (London: Theosophical History Centre, 1985), 1.

[4] Men who are highly evolved morally, intellectually and spiritually and who belong to a Brotherhood (the Great White Lodge, as it is sometimes called) preserving the Wisdom of the Ages and guiding the evolution of humanity. See H.P. Blavatsky, "The Theosophical Mahatmas," Theosophical Articles by H.P. Blavatsky, Volume 1 (Los Angeles: The Theosophy Co., 1981), 302, 301-7; and Bruce F. Campbell, Ancient Wisdom Revived: A History of the Theosophical Movement (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), 53f.

The connection of Theosophy with the Masters is stated in clear terms by Annie Besant in her address to The Theosophical Congress held at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago, aptly titled "Theosophy is a System of Truths Discoverable and Verifiable by Perfected Men":

These truths [are] preserved in their purity by the great brotherhood, given out from time to time as the evolution of man permits the giving; so that we are able to trace in all the religions the source whence they flow, the identical teaching which underlies them.  [The Theosophical Congress Held by the Theosophical Society at the Parliament of Religions, World’s Fair of 1893, at Chicago, IL, September 15, 16, 17: Report on Proceedings and Documents, (NY: American Section headquarters, 1893), 24.]

[5]  Charles D. Ryan, What is Theosophy? (San Diego: Point Loma Publications, Inc., 1975): 3. The following quote from The Secret Doctrine is pertinent:

The Secret Doctrine is the accumulated Wisdom of the Ages, and its cosmogony alone is the most stupendous and elaborate system... It is useless to say that the system in question [of ancient cosmogony] is no fancy of one or several isolated individuals. That it is the uninterrupted record covering thousands of generations of Seers whose respective experiences were made to test and to verify the traditions passed orally by one early race to another, of the teachings of higher and exalted beings [Masters], who watched over the childhood of Humanity... No vision of one adept was accepted till it was checked and confirmed by the visions— so obtained as to stand as independent evidence — of other adepts, and by centuries of experiences. [1:272-3 of the edition cited in note 6.]

[6] H.P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, 2 volumes in 1 (Los Angeles: The Theosophy Company 1974). This is a facsimile of the original 1888 edition.

[7]  Commander Robert Bowen, "The Secret Doctrine and its Study," in Foundations of Esoteric Philosophy by Ianthe H. Hoskins (London: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1980), 17, 64.

[8] William Q. Judge, The Ocean of Theosophy (Los Angeles: The Theosophy Company 1915), 61 [reprint of the original 1893 edition].

[9] Ibid., 60f.

[10] Ibid., 89f., 90: ". . . Karma produces the manifestation of it [the cause] in the body brain, and mind furnished by reincarnation." For a general overview of Karma and reincarnation as it is taught in Blavatsky’s writings, see Ronald Neufeldt, "In Search of Utopia: Karma and Rebirth in the Theosophical Movement" in Karma and Rebirth: Post Classical Developments, Ronald W Neufeldt, ed. (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986), 233-55.

[11] In Isis Unveiled 1:508, Blavatsky observes that "Everything in this world is a trinity completed by the quaternary, and every element is divisible on this same principle." The edition employed is published by The Theosophy Company (Los Angeles, 1982), a photographic facsimile reproduction of the original 1877 edition.

[12] Bowen, "The Secret Doctrine and its Study," 18, 65-66.