The Hermetic Undertone of the Theosophical Society’s Foundations
Helena P. Blavatsky writes in the preface of Isis Unveiled that, the work is “a plea for the recognition of the Hermetic philosophy, the anciently universal Wisdom-Religion, as the only possible key to the Absolute in science and theology” (Isis Unveiled: A Master-Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology, Pasadena, CA: Theosophical University Press, 1999, Vol. 1. pg. vii.). In The Secret Doctrine, it favored Platonism and Hermeticism over Aristotelianism (*Aristotle was not an Initiate), remarking it was important to the progress of religion and spiritual philosophy. In the 1937 work, The New Culture: An Organic Philosophy of Education, Dr. A. Gordon Melvin, said this of Aristotelianism, as quoted in Theosophy Issue, Vol. 27, No. 11, September, 1939, which characterizes the modern scientific thought:
“The Aristotelian tends to be cocksure. He knows what he is talking about, but he does not talk about anything of importance. For the characteristic limitation of this type of search is that it apprehends bit by bit. It knows a corner of the world as long as that corner remains stationary. But it does not know wholes or fundamentals. The veil of matter is a particularization of truth, not its full realization.” (A. Gordon Melvin)
“(…) As the lady has rightly observed, the Western public should understand the Theosophical Society to be “a Philosophical School constituted on the ancient Hermetic basis” — that public having never heard of the Tibetan, and entertaining very perverted notions of the Esoteric Buddhist System. (…) and, we would remind our members of the “L.L.” [London Lodge] in this reference, that Hermetic Philosophy is universal and unsectarian, while the Tibetan School, will ever be regarded by those who know little, if anything of it, as coloured more or less with sectarianism. The former knowing neither caste, nor colour, nor creed, no lover of Esoteric wisdom can have any objection to the name, which otherwise he might feel, were the Society to which he belongs to be placarded with a specific denomination pertaining to a distinct religion. Hermetic Philosophy suits every creed and philosophy and clashes with none. It is the boundless ocean of Truth, the central point whither flows and wherein meet every river, as every stream — whether its source be in the East, West, North, or South. As the course of the river depends upon the nature of its basin, so the channel for communication of Knowledge must conform itself to surrounding circumstances. The Egyptian Hierophant, the Chaldean Mage, the Arhat, and the Rishi, were bound in days of yore on the same voyage of discovery and ultimately arrived at the same goal though by different tracks. There are even at the present moment three centres of the Occult Brotherhood in existence, widely separated geographically, and as widely exoterically — the true esoteric doctrine being identical in substance though differing in terms; all aiming at the same grand object, but no two agreeing seemingly in the details of procedure. It is an every day occurrence to find students belonging to different schools of occult thought sitting side by side at the feet of the same Guru. Upasika (Madam B.) and Subba Row, though pupils of the same Master, have not followed the same Philosophy — the one is Buddhist and the other an Adwaitee. Many prefer to call themselves Buddhists not because the word attaches itself to the ecclesiastical system built upon the basic ideas of our Lord Gautama Buddha’s philosophy, but because of the Sanskrit word “Buddhi” — wisdom, enlightenment; and as a silent protest to the vain rituals and empty ceremonials, which have in too many cases been productive of the greatest calamities. Such also is the origin of the Chaldean term Mage.
Thus it is plain that the methods of Occultism, though in the main unchangeable, has yet to conform to altered times and circumstances. (…) The only object to be striven for is the amelioration of the condition of MAN by the spread of truth suited to the various stages of his development and that of the country he inhabits and belongs to. TRUTH has no ear-mark and does not suffer from the name under which it is promulgated — if the said object is attained. (…) Let the members under her leadership resolutely try to live down the unpopularity which all esoteric teaching and all reform are sure to attract at the outset and they will succeed. The Society will be a great help to, and a great power in, the world, as well as a secure channel for the flow of its President’s philanthropy.” (K.H., The Mahatma Letters, Letter no. 85, December 7, 1883).