Apologies in advance for the length of this article. While it is important to highlight this topic, it is not important enough to warrant two articles.
In recent discussions on the relative happiness of people based on their religiosity, one of the points raised on why religious folk might be generally happier than non-religious folk is the sense of belonging that comes from “church” membership.
I also noticed over the past year or so (especially when Rapport still had its own website) that there are a few atheists who belong to some kind of religious organisation, apparently because the fundamentals of said organisation is compatible with their atheism and grounded in science. So I thought, well hey, let’s see if there is something worthwhile in the Theosophical Society (TS hereafter). Sense of belonging and all that.
To my shame, in retrospect, I ended two of my articles with the TS catch phrase “There is no religion higher than the truth” and alluded to it in another. It sounded so virtuous, until I realised that firstly truth can be very relative and secondly the TS is as kooky as any other vanilla religious organisation, despite their deceptive motto.
Usually whenever something tickles my fancy, I quickly scan the Wikipedia page. It generally gives an OK high-level overview and the accuracy is usually not too far off. Consulting the links and references at the bottom of every page is recommended though. Well, the Wikipedia page sketched a pretty woowoo picture.
Not wanting to put my complete trust in or base my opinion on a Wikipedia page, I went to the source material itself. Considering that Helena Blavatsky’s material is often and reverently quoted, that seemed the place to start. The local TS here in SA appear quite keen on her brand of Theosophy. Armed with the electronic copies, I waded through The Key to Theosophy, as well as some way through her magnum opus, Isis Unveiled. Magnum is indeed the operating word here, as the PDF is 1216 pages long. I tried but could not read the whole thing in minute detail, because the rational mind can only take so much woowoo. Licking a few brightly coloured frogs might have assisted further reading, but it really did not seem worth the effort. The Secret Doctrine was simply too much nonsense parading itself as encyclopaedic to be taken seriously without being hopelessly lost in the clutches of either mind-altering drugs, religion or both.
I will now highlight some of the hilarity that makes up this religion.
Firstly, one can do a one-year open-learning diploma in Theosophy. If theology is a fully acknowledged academic discipline, this only seems fair. It is presented by the TS in England exclusively for Members of the TS and the syllabus is comprised of the following modules (copied from the website):
UNIVERSAL LAWS (From the within to the without, as above so below)
KARMA AND REINCARNATION (As balancer, teacher, Self initiator, Cycle of Life, Death and Rebirth, etc)
HUMAN CONSTITUTION (Physical, etheric, astral, lower and higher mind, the spiritual triad or higher Self, personality or lower self)
COSMOGENESIS (The awakening of the Cosmos)
INVOLUTION AND EVOLUTION (Principles of materialization, from the One to the Many and Principles of spiritualization, from the Many to the One)
THE SEVEN PLANES (Varieties of groupings – two, three, five, seven etc)
HIERARCHIES (Angels/devas, nature spirits, and elementals)
CHAINS, ROUNDS & LIFE-WAVES (General pattern only)
FOLLOWED BY TIME FOR REVISION WHICH IS FOLLOWED BY EXAM
The use of meditation will help to enhance deeper levels of understanding and is strongly recommended to all students.”
In short, this is a Christmas vomit conflation of all the major religions, served with a side order of oriental mystical gravy, drizzled with a dash of conspiracy theory and topped off with a drop of superiority complex. The word “esoteric” is readily employed and any time someone starts dusting off that word, my BS alarm goes off. Noisily.
The aforementioned BS alarm goes nuclear whenever people start talking about reincarnation. I find the core acceptance of reincarnation peculiar, especially given the “no religion higher than truth” mantra. If truth (whatever and whose they mean by it) is so important, why is there no scientific evidence for reincarnation? At all. Why the need for a section called “Why do we not remember our past lives?” in The Key to Theosophy, if not for justification of religious woowoo and some textbook special pleading?
Let’s take a few quotes from their holy books. Sorry about the sarcasm, but the gushing reverence with which some TS members quote the words of Blavatsky and with which they mention her name, is embarrassingly nauseating. They stop barely short of suffixing PBUH.
I simply love this quote from the Preface of The Key to Theosophy:
“For the past year Theosophy has been the target for every poisoned arrow of Spiritualism, as though the possessors of a half-truth felt more antagonism to the possessors of the whole truth than those who had no share to boast of.”
So, in terms of woowoo, they have the whole truth. BS alarm approaching air raid siren…
Another one from the same book on page 33 (43 of 227 in the PDF) is just classic:
“Enquirer: But Theosophy, you say, is not a religion?
Theosophist: Most assuredly it is not, since it is the essence of all religion and of absolute truth, a drop of which only underlies every creed.”
On the next page it is claimed that all the great religions are derived from Theosophy, yet they are very adamant that theirs is not a religion. Lovely special pleading going on there.
In Isis Unveiled, vol 1, page 251 (302 of 1216 in the PDF with my emphasis in italics), we find this little jewel:
“Theurgical magic is the last expression of occult psychological science. The Academicians reject it as the hallucination of diseased brains, or brand it with the opprobrium of charlatanry. We deny to them most emphatically the right of expressing their opinion on a subject which they have never investigated. They have no more right, in their present state of knowledge, to judge of magic and Spiritualism than a Fiji islander to venture his opinion about the labors of Faraday or Agassiz.”
This can be roughly translated as Blah- blah-blah-magic- blah-blah-occult-blah-blah-blah, if you haven’t investigated it, shut up, blah-blah-magic-blah-blah-spiritualism-blah-blah gibberish word sosatie.
Sadly it is not limited to this quote. The Key to Theosophy is simply riddled with references to various forms of magic.
There is of course no evidence to back up any of this, except the 19th century delusional ramblings of a batsnotcrazy woman and maybe some other “holy books” from which she plagiarised hers, yet people are only allowed to have an opinion if they investigated it. I call BS and dismiss it out of hand as BS, because that which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.
Back to the Wikipedia page. A quick overview of Blavatsky’s teachings, the specific brand adhered to in SA, yields the following. Take particular note of the dubious use of the word “science” after the numbered list.
“The three fundamental propositions expounded in The Secret Doctrine are:
That there is an omnipresent, eternal, boundless, and immutable reality of which spirit and matter are complementary aspects.
That there is a universal law of periodicity or evolution through cyclic change.
That all souls are identical with the universal oversoul which is itself an aspect of the unknown reality.
Helena Blavatsky taught that Theosophy is neither revelation nor speculation. Blavatsky stated that Theosophy was an attempt at a gradual, faithful reintroduction of a hitherto hidden science called the occult science in Theosophical literature. According to Blavatsky occult science provides a description of reality not only at a physical level but also on a metaphysical one. Blavatsky said occult science had been preserved and practiced throughout history by carefully selected and trained individuals. The Theosophical Society believes its precepts and doctrinal foundation will be verified when a Theosophist follows prescribed disciplines to develop metaphysical means of knowledge that transcend the limitations of the senses.”
Hidden science? That can only be verified when you are a specially trained Theosophist? “Ancient Aliens theorists believe”, anyone? There is no such thing as hidden science.
So, to truly understand and verify the woowoo they sell, you have to be a member, and a trained one at that. Sounds almost cultish, never mind religious. As someone who grew up irreligious and who never was part of any religion, I find the stuff religious people believe to be generally silly. This specific religion though, which bears all the hallmarks of a drug-induced conflation of a veritable cornucopia of religions, conspiracy theory and apparently some predestination, is particularly bizarre. That being said, crazy is crazy. Someone who barks at the moon is not necessarily crazier than someone who communes with ancestral spirits.
I am, of course, waiting for the “out of context” accusation regarding the quotes.
One thing I find somewhat odd though, is the almost guarded silence from the usual suspects whenever someone quotes some batsnotcrazy Blavatsky ramblings or whenever Theosophy is promoted. Granted, it does not happen very often and Blavatsky really had it in for Christianity, but why the silence? The mickey gets taken out of most other religions, but there seems to be this hands-off approach regarding Theosophy. Almost as if it is taboo to criticise. Did I miss something? Should I be afraid of someone?
On the face of it, there is very little difference between Theosophy and One †rue Christianity™ (hereafter OTC). Both try desperately to distance themselves from the term “religion”, both claim to know the truth (or even Truth) and both see themselves as superior to all others outside of their fold. The main difference is that atheists can be Theosophists, provided they are not averse to woowoo, whereas OTC and atheists are immiscible.
So, Theosophy is essentially like an infomercial: very appealing at first glance, but ultimately a cheap flea market knock-off with good branding. If you consider Ancient Aliens to be a documentary, this is the thing for you. Everyone else, exercise caution.
There is no religion higher than... well, anything.