Theosophy

Tagged: Theme

The Theosophical Society is an occult organization founded in 1875 by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-1891) and two colleagues; it continues to exist, though in a state of schism. The doctrines propounded by this crypto-religion – theosophy means, literally, "knowledge of God" – have a relationship to Fantastika similar to that of nineteenth-century spiritualism in general, though the cosmological narrative embedded in the basic concepts comprises a secret history of the world, and has the same oblique relationship to sf as the backstory that shapes L Ron Hubbard's Scientology. It is a drama – with some elements derived from earlier fiction – that could easily, in other words, be transformed in a toolkit by later writers. In any case, because Blavatsky was probably a conscious charlatan, and certainly an opportunistic packrat when it came to assembling her cosmology, her own two main books – Isis Revealed: A Master-Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology (1877) and The Secret Doctrine: The Synthesis of Science, Religion, and Philosophy (1888 2vols) – are themselves anything but drily didactic. They are in fact enormous, entrancing honeypots of Mythology, Cosmology, revelations of Time Abyss, fairytale, speculation, fabrication and tomfoolery – and so diffusely voluminous that it is difficult to know where their direct influence ceases and the spirit of the time takes over. In Isis Revealed, Blavatsky concentrates, rather unoriginally, on ancient Egypt; it is in The Secret Doctrine that the full intoxicating complexity of her system – based primarily on cod readings of Hinduism, Gnosticism and the Kabbalah – is revealed. In presenting the incrementally successive cycles that articulate the Theosophical cosmos, the numbered elucidation provided by David Morris in The Masks of Lucifer: Technology and the Occult in Twentieth-Century Popular Literature (1992) is invaluable:

  1. As in much of the occult tradition, a Great Architect of the Universe underlies the created world, but does not operate directly upon it.
  2. That world is an agon, both spatially (for good and evil are contraries in constant conflict) and temporally (for – as in The Worm Ouroboros [1922] by E R Eddison – the conflict recurs and recurs in a great cycle or Time Loop, though on different levels). "The war of the Titans," Blavatsky says, "is but a legendary and defiled copy of the real war that took place in the Himalayan Kailas (heaven) instead of in the depths of Cosmic interplanetary space."
  3. The universe (like almost every secondary world to come) is animate: "This cosmic dust," she says, "is something more; for every atom in the Universe has the potentiality of self consciousness in it; IT IS AN ATOM AND AN ANGEL." An author like John Crowley need not, in other words, bother to trace this notion back to its Gnostic roots: it is available here.
  4. Each soul is complexly connected to a Universal Oversoul.
  5. Governed by the Law of Karma, each soul progresses through a cycle of Reincarnations.
  6. This refutes Darwin.
  7. Each soul passes through seven rounds of reincarnation, and on each round traverses the seven planets, there being lifeforms on each planet.
  8. On Earth, each reincarnation represents a progress into greater corporeality and higher consciousness (see Superman).
  9. Each of the seven rounds take place in an Age, and each Age has a "root-race" whose nature is inescapable. In the First Age, humanity lived on a continent called "The Imperishable Sacred Land" and looked like astral jellyfish (a concept echoed in some of H P Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos entities). In the Second Age, we lived in the polar continent of Hyperborea (the name was later appropriated by Clark Ashton Smith who set a series there). In the Third Age we were hermaphrodites in Lemuria (where Lin Carter set his Thongor sequence); in the Fourth we were giants (see Great and Small) in Atlantis. The Fifth Age is now. Each root-race is, moreover, divided into seven races, the seventh of each representing the seed (see Pariah Elite) of the next root-race. The Negroid hermaphrodites of Lemuria have left as fossil descendants on Earth the Negroes and some other Black races. It should be noted that Theosophy clearly works as a justification for racism and Imperialism (see also Race in SF), because the Lemurians are lower than us in the cycle; but also, more generally, as a generator of the "philosophical" background of many Lost Race tales, including James Hilton's Lost Horizon (1933) and various novels by Talbot Mundy, in particular Om: The Secret of Abhor Valley (1924). The seventh subrace of the giant Mongoloids from Atlantis are the Semites, who bear the seed of the White man today.
  10. The portrait of humanity's long evolution through the cycles incorporates the knowledge that humanity, having been created by a Superior Being and enjoying successive Uplifts, pre-exists other forms of life on Earth; and that the Holocausts which end each cycle happen because humans err and sin – i.e., they are caused by the subsequent karmic disturbance.
  11. All souls are equal, but some souls are more equal than others: ours.
  12. Satan (see Gods and Demons) is the Prometheus figure who helps humanity, the serpent in the garden who brings us light.
  13. Jehovah is an important angel (see Supernatural Creatures), but fatally opposed to the bringing of the light.
  14. Christ was an adept, one of several, and his teachings were occult – i.e., intended for the elect.

Just as important as the actual narration of the doctrines of Theosophy is the justification which frames their exposition. Blavatsky claims to have been accorded the wisdom presented in The Secret Doctrine by the Hidden Masters or Secret Brothers (see Secret Masters), who have resided since the beginning of things in a Keep in the heart of Tibet, in a holy sanctuary known as Shamballah or Shangri-La [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below; see also James Hilton and Lost Horizon]. Underneath their feet, in a Library secreted within an intricate network of Underground caverns, is stored the occult knowledge of all the ages. The Masters' messages to Blavatsky are an enabling, highly Paranoid secret history, given to her (and to the elite which listens to her) to explain not only the history of the universe (see above) but also to justify the existence of the "inner government of the world", ie the Great White Lodge of Hidden Masters itself. In its content, and by virtue of the framing devices which intensify the effect of that content, Theosophy is a sacred drama, a romance, a secret history of the world, and a story. Those whose souls are sufficiently evolved to understand that drama know the tale is enacted in another place, beyond the threshold, in a longed-for Elsewhere, within a land exempt from secular accident. It cannot be suggested that Blavatsky consciously created a playground for fantastika, or that any Theosophist consciously anticipated the use to which later writers might put the Theosophical tendency, but it is clear that Theosophy paced along with figures like William Morris and Lord Dunsany as they began to move away from the Wonderlands and Lands of Fable of mid-nineteenth-century fantasy towards the Secondary World [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. It also seems that Latin American authors, like the Argentinian Leopoldo Lugones, felt that the secret history of Theosophy might provide at least a structural model for the transformative integration of "primitive" Latin American literatures with the accepted Western story of the world. Edgar Rice Burroughs borrowed plot turns and settings from Theosophy especially in his Planetary Romances, whose flora and fauna evoke various venues from the seven Ages, and in his description of John Carter's translation to Mars by astral projection. Nor is it insignificant that Robert E Howard and Clarke Ashton Smith both made use of the Theosophical canon of earlier worlds. Smith's Zothique sequence, moreover, places in a Dying-Earth setting a highly ironized and decadent (see Decadence) revision of Theosophy's transcendental dream of future and higher stages of consciousness. It might also be noted that in John Crowley's Little, Big (1981), which can be read as a summa theologica of modern fantasy, a member of the Bramble family defines the book's title (i.e., the inside is bigger than the outside) in a lecture – concerning the nearly infinite interior worlds of Faerie – that he delivers to the Theosophical Society.

Figures of general interest involved in the Theosophical Society include Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) and Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948). Of some importance to later developments is Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), who began as a Theosophist then formed a breakaway group, the Anthroposophical Society, which espoused ancient sciences and postulated a spiritual world accessible primarily through a time- and space-transcending inner Perception. Michael Moorcock, who as a child attended a Rudolf Steiner school and whose Temporal Adventuress Una Persson is an unmistakably Blavatskyan personage, was affected by Anthroposophy, without adhering to its doctrines. Further authors involved in Theosophy more broadly conceived, or who made use of its universe, include Fergus Hume; H P Lovecraft, who used Theosophical constructs with some disdain; Otto Viking; Henry Kuttner, who used Theosophical names, perhaps for the sound they made; and Lin Carter, whose Thongor sequence is literally set in Lemuria. [JC]

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