For information on individuals important in the history of the society,
see Annie Besant; Helena P. Blavatsky; Jakob Boehme;
of the Theosophical Society, see Occultism; Theosophy.
Theosophy (Greek theos, "god"; sophos, "wise"): designation for any religiophilosophical system purporting to furnish knowledge of God, and of the universe in relation to God, by means of direct mystical intuition, philosophical inquiry, or both.
Early examples of theosophic thought are found in the Sanskrit metaphysical treatises known as the Upanishads. Hindu philosophy subsequent to the composition of the Upanishads (about the 8th century BC) has been predominantly theosophic in tone. Indian thought probably had some influence in Persia, where theosophic speculation became popular after the Arab conquest in the first half of the 7th century AD. In China, both the I Ching (Book of Changes), one of the so-called Five Classics of Confucianism, and the Daode Jing (Tao-te Ching) (Classic of the Way and Its Power), a major treatise of Daoism (Taoism), contain theosophic elements. In the West such systems of thought as Neoplatonism and Gnosticism contain theosophic elements. Elements similar to those of Neoplatonism and Gnosticism reappear in the Cabala, a mystical interpretation of Scriptures current among the Jews of Europe between the 12th and 16th centuries. In the Middle Ages, theosophic teachings were expounded by the German mystics and preachers Meister Eckhart and Johannes Tauler and by the Swiss physician and alchemist Philippus Aureolus Paracelsus, and, in later periods, by the German mystic Jakob Boehme and the Flemish physician and chemist Jan Baptista van Helmont.
The term theosophy has been employed with particular reference to a system of occult philosophy set forth by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and her followers in the Theosophical Society, which she helped organize in New York City in 1875. She maintained that she had received her doctrines from Oriental religious teachers who had reached a higher plane of existence than that of other mortals. According to her teaching, God is infinite, absolute, and unknowable (an attribute apparently incompatible with the claim implicit in the term theosophy). The deity is also said to be the source of both spirit and matter. Through the operation of an immutable law, spirit is said to descend into matter, and matter to ascend into spirit, by cyclical action. In its psychological application, Blavatsky's doctrine represents all souls as being the same in essence, although differing in degrees of development. The more advanced souls are said to be the natural guardians of the less developed. Human beings are presented as complex, with both a higher and lower nature. The higher (comprising mind, soul, and spirit) has been polluted by the lower (physical and other) and must be purified before it can completely return to the divine. Purification is thought to take place through a series of incarnations.
"Theosophy," Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 99. © 1993-1998 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
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