|Preach to the choir
|Crux of the matter
|Speak of the devil
|An act of faith
“”THEOSOPHY, n. An ancient faith having all the certitude of religion and all the mystery of science. The modern Theosophist holds, with the Buddhists, that we live an incalculable number of times on this earth, in as many several bodies, because one life is not long enough for our complete spiritual development; that is, a single lifetime does not suffice for us to become as wise and good as we choose to wish to become. To be absolutely wise and good—that is perfection; and the Theosophist is so keen-sighted as to have observed that everything desirous of improvement eventually attains perfection. Less competent observers are disposed to except cats, which seem neither wiser nor better than they were last year. The greatest and fattest of recent Theosophists was the late Madame Blavatsky, who had no cat.
|—Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)
Theosophy is an esoteric pursuit of faith-based beliefs considered knowledge dealing with the nature of the universe and the divine. It is a syncretic religious philosophy drawing on both Greek (mostly Platonic) ideas about the universe and Indian ideas about the soul and reincarnation. According to Theosophy, all people have a higher self that is seeking to become perfect, and does so through reincarnation. As in Hindu reincarnation, there are different levels of existence, with human existence considered greater than animal or plant. Unlike Hinduism, however, once a soul has achieved humanity, it cannot regress. To ascend further, it is necessary for a person to delve within him or herself to achieve wisdom, particularly the wisdom to avoid hurting others.
Helena P. Blavatsky co-founded Theosophy in 1875; the movement achieved its greatest influence in the 1920s. Blavatsky has been accused of faking paranormal powers. Many theosophical tenets have since been absorbed into the New Age movement. Theosophy also significantly influenced other mystical traditions, including the Golden Dawn (1887-1903, Aleister Crowley's movement, not the Greek neo-fascists), and has also influenced neopaganism.
Theosophical Society buildings from Theosophy's heyday tend to have swastikas on their lintels. This freaks some people out. "Aryan" was also a term often used in Theosophical literature, though it had a very different meaning than later uses.
Theosophist philosophy is heavily reductionist, regarding all religions as making the same claims and having the same goals. Theosophists thus view their philosophy as the distillation of the fundamental truths found in all religions. As a result, Theosophists like to deny the concept of diversity, since according to them everything is pretty much the same.
An inconvenient truth
Many New Agers view Madame Blavatsky and her movement as one of their "predecessors" (at least the ones who don't think they are part of a secret, ancient cult spanning thousands of years say that). They are correct in this assumption, as modern New Age philosophy owes much in its development (especially the early stages) to Theosophy. What they do not — or choose not to — realize, though, is that Blavatsky was quite fond of the 19th century racial theories common in her day. While a certain amount of racialism may be expected for any intellectual of the time, Blavatsky took her prejudice to unusually bat-shit extremes, even for then. While she was regarded as somewhat of a "progressive" in her day for her belief in near-equality between white Europeans, Arabs, and the Chinese, she more than made up for it by her utterly stupefyingly ignorant views about pretty much everyone else. Her writings include numerous statements that aboriginal Australians were human-animal hybrids without souls, and she regarded the "superior" races as being threatened by Jews and dark-skinned people (because of course she did), who could not be salvaged even by indoctrination into her cult, because they were just bad. Her reasoning for such bigotry never seem to have expanded beyond the level of "they live like savages!" or "they're too hairy!" (she actually said that). She also advocated a belief in a sort of natural selection/genocide hybrid which she thought would lead to the "natural" extinction of all the ethnic groups she didn't like in favor of those she did. Blavatsly also rejected the idea that humanity had evolved from apes, claiming the opposite was the case-apes had devolved from early humans due to "putting themselves on the animal level". Which, you may have noticed, outright contradicts her religion's tennet that a soul cannot regress once it's achieved humanity.
In 1909, members of the Theosophical Society claimed to have discovered Maitreya in the person of a young Indian boy named Jiddu Krishnamurti. Krishnamurti was then raised by the society until, in 1929, he renounced Theosophy and all organized religion while dissolving the organization devoted to preparing the world for his ascension to messiah-hood. A spin-off movement, Anthroposophy, was created by Society member Rudolf Steiner due to this, since he was upset that they said Krishnamurti was the second coming of Christ whereas he thought Christ would return spiritually rather than in a body, and felt they did not deem Christ as important enough, whereas he saw him as central. Anthroposophy and its associated organizations, such as Waldorf schools, remain in existence today.