What is Theosophy? (Qu’est-ce Que la Théosophie?)
La Revue Spirite, November, 1880
[Translation from the original French]
Bombay, August 5, 1880.
To Monsieur Charles Fauvety, president of the Society for
Psychological Studies, Paris.
Very Honored Sir And President,
Your esteemed letter of June 25 is so serious and important that after mature deliberation, the Supreme Council of the Theosophical Society has directed me to answer you equally seriously, and upon all the points.
You tell us that the reason compelling you to decline the honor of joining us—with several other persons of your learned society—is “Esotericism set up as a principle” in our statutes?
Allow me to say that you are making a mistake.
It is true that a wholly esoteric section exists in our Society; but it is only a section, a very tiny part of the society which would perhaps be best defined if I call it at the outset—not only the trunk of the Theosophical tree or its seed—because it is to that section that our whole Society owes its origin—but the vivifying sap that makes it live and flourish. Without this section, composed solely of Oriental adepts, the Theosophical Society, whose ramifications are beginning to cover the five regions of the globe, would be nothing but a dead and sterile body, a corpse without a soul. And yet the Theosophists who have been admitted therein up to this time could be reckoned on the fingers of one hand. Admission is not by asking. As for the rest of the Theosophists, with the exception of the passwords and signs that are changed at every expulsion of a bad and false brother—there are no secrets to preserve and nothing to conceal.
The following is what the Rules say on this subject:—
“XI. The Society includes three sections. The first is exclusively composed of initiates in occult sciences or esoteric philosophy. Taking a profound interest in the business of the administration of our society, they are constantly in touch with the President-Founder, but—they remain unknown to the mass of the members. It is only those they themselves choose who receive the right to know them and to communicate with them.1
(g) But none of these members (thus favored) shall have the right to divulge the secrets of Occult Science which may be communicated to them. And before one can be put in touch, direct or indirect, with the adepts of the first section, he must take a most solemn pledge never to reveal what he shall learn or see; or employ his knowledge for personal and selfish motives, or even to refer to it, unless he receives permission to that effect from his Master himself.”
All the rest is open to the day. But it is indeed true that our members have more privileges than persons who do not belong to our society. Every Branch of the society (and there are fifty-three) has its library containing books more or less rare, unpublished manuscripts, to which the public has no access. They hold weekly meetings and do not publish their business by shouting it from the house tops. But in this they do not show any greater feeling of exclusiveness or mystery than any other scientific society—in which scientific discussions are held or experiments made. If we do not admit visitors to our weekly assemblies, it is not because we have anything to hide, but simply in order not to be disturbed in our labors, and also to avoid the foolish talk and the premature comments of the skeptics. Every time we have made an experiment and have succeeded in making a discovery in the occult forces, the fact is published, and more than once you will have read, in The Theosophist, the account of such or another phenomenon that we can reproduce at will, whether in physical, physiological, or psychological science.
Aside from that special branch of esoteric studies, our society, as its name indicates, is nothing but the “Universal Brotherhood; the Brotherhood of Humanity!”
Our Society accomplishes what the Masonic societies promise, but never perform. All Brothers, without distinction of social position, race, or color, offer the hand of friendship to one another. The nobly born, proud, and wealthy Lord who, if he were not a Theosophist, would hardly permit a poor Hindu or Chinese to pass the threshold of his antechamber, treats his poor and more humble brother as his equal.
Day and night, we work in common for the spiritual regeneration of morally blind individuals, as well as for the elevation of the fallen nations.
This is a program which you will perhaps hardly believe without reluctance, and will be inclined to consider purely utopian, yet the proofs are there. Read The Theosophist and the Reports of the Society and you will find many a letter written by Hindus, Ceylonese (or Singhalese), and Mohammedans to thank us for our efforts and to give us news of results obtained. A young Englishman, a magistrate, who is at present in the Central Provinces, R. Scott, Esq., admits to us that since he became a member of our Society, he listens to the pleadings of the natives with much more attention than he had done till then. He no longer thinks, as formerly for some years, that, in every case or dispute between a European and a Hindu it is always the Hindu who must be wrong; he is delighted to find so much education and intelligence among the natives. He regards them now as men, as “Brothers,” while before they were merely dogs or niggers in his eyes. The wife of a general, Mrs. Murray, who has lived in India for eighteen years, after her initiation, began to converse amiably with some educated Brâhmanas of our Society and shook hands on leaving. “It was the first time in her life,” she said, “that she had touched any Hindûs or exchanged a word with them”!!! She had never spoken to a man of that race during the eighteen years she had passed in those surroundings; she was delighted to find so many highly cultured persons among these people! That is one of the fruits of Theosophy as “Universal Brotherhood.” We include many English people among us, all of them employed by the Government. Do you think, Monsieur, that in a dozen years the effects of our Theosophical principles will not have brought some good to this people, hitherto so unjustly despised, suppressed, and ignored?
Believe me, the Theosophical Society is a harp with more than one string; and there is not one of them that will not finish by vibrating sympathetically in response to our constant efforts. We have a place for everyone and for every aspiration. All depends on what you want to do. Are you Christian, Buddhist Brahman, Jew, or Zoroastrian? You have only to affiliate with the Branch composed of the followers of the religion you profess. Are you a Spiritualist? Join the Spiritualistic branch. Freethinker? Become a member of the Lankâ Theosophical Society, etc. Are you none of these, but only a thinker, a laborer in search of Truth, and nothing but the Truth; a historian, an ethnologist, a savant devoted to the physical sciences, an archaeologist, a philologist, an antiquary? You will find among us most learned, most illustrious names. You will not work alone or isolated any longer. If a member of an Academy, of one of the Royal Societies recognized as “learned,” you will have no further need to tremble in bringing to it any of your discoveries in the ridiculed sciences which are regarded as emanating from dreams and impossible hallucinations, because you will no longer need to appeal to it in order to prove that discovery. Where one “Royal Society” would show you the door, or make you look like a fool or a charlatan (as in the Crookes’ case), you would find a dozen colleagues and true scientists who would support and help you, because they are members of the Theosophical Society like yourself, and have sworn to mutually help and teach one another. (Compare your Religion laïque; is it not extinguished under the conspiracy of silence?)
To conclude this subject, our Society is entirely the opposite of every other society that exists. We do not permit in it the shadow of dogmatism, whether of religion or of science. Each in his own particular branch does and acts as it seems good to him, but no one thinks of imposing his ideas on others in our general meetings. A member who would say to his “Brother,” of another religion: “Believe as I do or you will be damned,” or who would try to make him believe that he alone possessed truth, or who should insult his beliefs, would be immediately expelled from the Society. The Parent Society protects every belief, every private opinion, as it would protect the purse of one of its members. No one has the right to touch the sacred or private property of one of his Brothers, except with respect and with the authorization of the latter. This is why our Society works in harmony, and why, even quite recently, a delegation of nine members of whom two are Buddhists, two Freethinkers, one Christian, two Sun-worshippers (Pârsîs), and two Brâhmanas, has been sent on a mission to Ceylon to defend the rights of the Buddhists (hitherto their implacable bitter enemies, mutually hating one another) to establish Buddhist Theosophical Societies, and to hold meetings and give addresses in favor of the religion of the latter.
I am sending you The Theosophist, from its first issues, and we will send it to you regularly, requesting you and your society to accept it with our sincere and fraternal compliments. Read, I beg you, in the August number2 an article or two which I have marked. You will see therein what the Ceylon Examiner, a Christian paper, says of our Society, of its plans, and of the practical good it has done in the world. We are all human and can easily make mistakes, and we have our opinions and our preferences as well as our tastes and different ways of seeing things. Let us then help each other mutually with the light we may have, and never dogmatize about anything, at least until a hypothesis has become an undeniable fact to the whole universe—such as the existence of the sun or the oceans. Why should we worry about the personal opinions of our members on the question of religion? Provided that a person is in sympathy with us, in general, on the principal points of the rules of our Brotherhood, that he is honest, pure, sincere, and ready to help his neighbor, what is it to us whether that person does it in the name of Christ or of Buddha! You have merely to re-read the fine saying of Spinoza that you quote in Religion laïque to understand that mutual tolerance, that indifference to secondary names and objects: “It is not at all necessary to know Christ . . . (we will add—nor Buddha, nor Zoroaster, nor Parabrahman) according to the flesh, but rather the ideal Christ, that is to say the eternal son of God, that Divine Wisdom which manifests itself in everything . . . because it is that alone which can carry us to the perfect state, by teaching us what is true and false, good or bad.” The Theosophical Society, then, does not derive its name from the Greek word Theosophia, composed of the two words “God” and “wisdom” taken in the dead letter, but rather in the spiritual sense of the term. It is the Society for searching into Divine Wisdom, occult or spiritual wisdom which, while hardly yielding itself either to the crucible of an entirely physical science, or to the investigation of the materialist, lies, however, at the foundation of everything, material or immaterial, because it is the omega or last word of creation, or rather of the evolution of every form, of every idea, even the most abstract.
This Divine wisdom has been discovered by Mr. Edison, the Theosophist, in the eternity of sound, which never disappears, not even when its organ, the sheet of lead, disappears; and Robert Fludd, the great Rosicrucian, intercepted and interrogated it in the flame, in the fire, of which neither the essence nor the origin are yet known to official science, and which will never be known, at least unless it condescends to walk in the way traced by the Fire-Philosophers of the Middle Ages, those “dreamers” and those “idiots,” according to Mr. Littré. But is not that Divine wisdom also found in the harmony of the spheres as well as in the harmony of races and men? As members of the great Universal Fraternity, the fraternity of sciences, religions, and ideas, we have nothing to hide; we do everything in the open, because harmony can never become harmful, and it cannot be abused.
The few favored persons among us who have or could have crossed the threshold of the occult sciences (that double-edged sword which saves, but also kills), have no right to expose these truths in open day nor to betray the great secret. That secret is not for us, Monsieur, it does not belong to our century; it is the heritage of the martyrs, of the philosophers and the saints of the great Past. If for one reason or another, the custodians of those secrets, who alone possess them, find it right that they should be well protected and never exposed to the risk of falling into the hands of the profane, the people who indulge themselves in discord and who despise every idea of harmony between the so-called “superior” races and those they treat as “inferior,” to us belongs the choice of rejecting their conditions, or accepting them and defending those secrets “with our life.”
You see clearly, then, that Esotericism is “erected as a principle” among us only for the purpose of gaining admission as neophytes in the Branch of the Yogins, the Sannyasis.
As I have had the honor of informing you, that Branch only reckons five members. Their names even are unknown to the rest of the Theosophists, who, with the exception of the signs and passwords, have nothing to hide, nothing to reveal, which may not be made public in our magazine.
And now, Monsieur, begging to be excused for my long letter, as well as for my bad French, a language that I am completely forgetting here—I have finished. I have explained everything to you, and I will request you to explain everything in your turn to your esteemed members, and to do with this letter whatever you wish.
Accept, Monsieur le Président, the expression of my respectful compliments.
H. P. Blavatsky.
Corresponding Secretary of the New York Theosophical Society.
1. Up to the present there are only five members or Fellows of the Third Section who have seen them or spoken with any of them; and no more than two who have received advice and some instruction in occult sciences; and we are 45,000! You may judge how easy it is to know or approach our “Brothers” of the First Section!
2. Please see numbers 9, 10, and 11 of The Theosophist. The articles to read are marked in red pencil.