Theosophy [Greek: theos = god + sophia = wisdom] is a non-denominational spiritualist movement founded in 1875 at New York City by the Russian born mystic Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Colonel Henry Steel Olcott, William Q. Judge, among other prominent social figures.
Drawing on the doctrine of reincarnation, theosophy repackages the ancient Gnostic-influenced belief that absolute knowledge is gained through direct, purifying mystical experience.
God, according to the Theosophists, emanates an immortal essence to all mankind. By understanding the hidden wisdom contained in myth and symbol, we may share in the immortality of the divine. This sacred task is called the “theurgy.”
Blavatsky’s most popular work is Isis Unveiled, where she reveals remarkable scholarship. But somewhat like C. G. Jung, Joseph Campbell and others, Blavatsky arguably oversimplifies similarities among different religious, mystical and mythological traditions at the expense of overlooking their real and important differences.
The term theosophy, itself, stems back to the 3rd century, where it was used synonymously with theosophy. During the renaissance it also took on the meaning of gnosis, or the alleged private knowledge of esoteric and paranormal realities. In the 16th century theosophy meant several things, including something similar to its current, widespread usage.¹
I think it’s interesting how spiritual ideas evolve. Some overzealous New Age enthusiasts latch on to the latest meaning of Theosophy and assume they’ve hit on some kind of unique, absolute truth. Either that or they’re just pretending because they want to sell books and gain publicity. I believe it’s far more fruitful (and responsible) to look at these beliefs and how they’ve evolved within an historical and political context.
Sincere spiritual exploration and opportunistic money-making rarely go well together.
On the Web: