What Blavatsky Meant in “Philosophicules” by Theosophy’s Mission for Philosophical Renaissance
H.P. Blavatsky saw the theosophical movement as an attempt to initiate a new renaissance, as known with the later general European Renaissance, and not as a literary club, nor of quietists. Philosophicules (term. a combination of philosophism and homunculus), a clever title, was written October 1889 in the LUCIFER Magazine, Vol. V., Issue no. 26 (pp. 85-91), where Blavatsky argues that theosophy is the equivalent of philosophy, and deserved to be taken seriously as an intellectual discipline; that theosophy is the quintessence of the discipline and general principles of philosophy, and what ancient philosophers like the Pythagoreans considered it to solve, or lead to. The poorly edited Wiki Article on Philosophers and Philosophicules on criticisms mentions Rene Guenon’s refuted doubts on the antiquity of theosophical concepts, which he claimed were modern Western ideas. However, researchers like David Reigle and Richard Smoley have shown, contrary to traditionalist Guenon’s personal issues, that some concepts Blavatsky presents on behalf of the Occultists, not Christian and Muslim traditionalists, were from unpublished Buddhist literature, nor hitherto elaborated in such breadth and detail, alongside classical sources.
Now, Blavatsky does often engage in fallacious logic, common for any skeptic to point out, suggesting, e.g., “The Occultists, however, know that the traditions of Esoteric Philosophy must be the right ones, simply because they are the most logical, and reconcile every difficulty.”—H.P. Blavatsky, “The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 2, Preliminary Notes, p. 3. This is of course, not good enough for both skeptics and the public, who are not convinced by the logic, preferring to rely on tired-out criticisms of theosophy through persons like Rene Guenon, or M.M. Lesevich.
Philosophicules spends equal words tackling misapprehensions about theosophy, which should be considerably taken into mind, explaining what PHILOSOPHY really is. Blavatsky is saying, that she was almost on the verge of giving up, because the press kept lying about the theosophists, and accusing her of being a Russian spy, repeating over and over her defenses. It is correct to say, that the word “philosophy” has lost its original meaning.
“We fail to find outside of our Society any attempt at philosophical revival, unless the word “philosophy” is made to lose its original meaning.” (H.P.B.)
So, the question is, do we find a genuine association in our time equivalent to the thinkers of the Theosophical Enlightenment, open and banded together, who actually believe, and are willing to elaborate and demonstrate these ideas to the public, and its legitimacy in the classical record? No. Hardly so. Everyone’s disparate, and even still slandering theosophists. So Philosophicules is relevant to today.
The article is instructive to the researcher on the structure and function of the Theosophical Society as an organization. H.P.B. states, that if the public was told the T.S. as a body, taught no special religion, but shows an equal impartiality toward virtually all religions, neither interfering or inquiring about the religious views of members.
“…our cavillers and even friendly opponents, do not feel satisfied. On the contrary: ten to one they will non-plus you with the following extraordinary objection:—“How can this be, since belief in ‘Esoteric Buddhism’ is a sine qua non for acceptance as a Fellow of your Society?”
All are not expected to become followers of Buddha, or Buddhism, since theosophical members were often of different schools of thought, but this was so, because this Indo-Tibetan school observed a similar policy. It nevertheless, had a system and a catechism. The modern theosophical system is deliberately, a selection of fragments of the fundamental tenets of the SECRET DOCTRINE of the Orient (the East), which includes the “Middle-East.” It is expressed, that these tenets were from an hitherto hidden system of thought, and we think there is a legitimacy to that statement (not that theosophy and its theories has to be believed but that the existence of this system and network of secret groups and persons was and is real).
“It is vain to protest any longer; useless, to assure our opponents that belief in Buddhism, whether esoteric or exoteric, is no more expected by, nor obligatory in, our Society than reverence for the monkey-god Hanuman, him of the singed tail, or belief in Mohammed and his canonized mare. It is unprofitable to try and explain that since there are in the T.S. as many Brahmins, Mussulmans, Parsis, Jews and Christians as there are Buddhists, and more, all cannot be expected to become followers of Buddha, nor even of Buddhism, howsoever esoteric. Nor can they be made to realize that the Occult doctrines—a few fundamental teachings of which are broadly outlined in Mr. Sinnett’s Esoteric Buddhism—are not the whole of Theosophy, nor even the whole of the secret doctrines of the East, but a very small portion of these: Occultism itself being but one of the Sciences of Theosophy, or the WISDOM-Religion, and by no means the whole of THEOSOPHY.”
“So firmly rooted seem these ideas, however, in the mind of the average Britisher, that it is like telling him that there are Russians who are neither Nihilists nor Panslavists, and that every Frenchman does not make his daily meal of frogs; he will simply refuse to believe you. Prejudice against Theosophy seems to have become part of the national feeling. For almost three years the writer of the present—helped in this by a host of Theosophists—has tried in vain to sweep away from the public brain some of the most fantastic cobwebs with which it is garnished; and now she is on the eve of giving up the attempt in despair! While half of the English people will persist in confusing Theosophy with “esoteric bud-ism,” the remainder will keep on pronouncing the world-honoured title of Buddha as they do—butter.”
“France, why do you misunderstand us? European and American Journalists, why don’t you study genuine Theosophy before criticizing it? Because scientific aristocracy is full of vanity and struts on stilts of its own fabrication; because modern philosophy is materialistic to the roots of its hair; because both, in their pride, forget that in order to understand and to appreciate the evolution of the future it is necessary to know the evolution of the past, should one consider everything that is not understood by this scientific aristocracy and this materialistic philosophy to be “intellectual derangement and mere jugglery”? (Helena P. Blavatsky, Reply to the Article “Revolution” by Aleph in La Revue de Mouvement Social, Le Lotus, Paris, Vol. I, No. 6, September, 1887, pp. 321-338.)
She says in Philosophicules:
“Let us try to give once more a clear and concise definition of Theosophy, and show it to be the very root and essence of all sciences and systems.”
Philosophy. “When applied to god or gods, it became in every country theology; when to material nature, it was called physics and natural history; concerned with man, it appeared as anthropology and psychology; and when raised to the higher regions it becomes known as metaphysics. Such is philosophy —“the science of effects by their causes….”
Theosophy is “divine” or “god-wisdom,” “the wisdom of the gods,” hence must be the essence of the system of philosophy, Sir William Hamilton defined as “the science of things divine and human and the causes in which they are contained.” In the most basic understanding, philosophy is the love of, and the search after wisdom; which includes divine wisdom, but the modern philosophers hold to nothing of the kind. No materialist philosopher, or physicalist position can redefine the meaning, not even science; and if the scientific skeptic community want to adopt and reclaim terms, then we should reclaim terms from them as well.
“Theosophy claims to explain and to reconcile religion with science. We find G. H. Lewes stating that “Philosophy, detaching its widest conceptions from both (Theology and Science), furnishes a doctrine which contains an explanation of the world and human destiny.” (The History of Philosophy, Vol. I, Prolegomena, p. xviii.) “The office of Philosophy is the systematisation of the conceptions furnished by Science . . . Science furnishes the knowledge, and Philosophy the doctrine” (loc. cit.). The latter can become complete only on condition of having that “knowledge” and that “doctrine” passed through the sieve of Divine Wisdom, or Theosophy.
Ueberweg (A History of Philosophy) defines Philosophy as “the Science of Principles,” which, as all our members know, is the claim of Theosophy in its branch-sciences of Alchemy, Astrology, and the occult sciences generally.
Hegel regards it as “the contemplation of the self-development of the ABSOLUTE,” or in other words as “the representation of the Idea” (Darstellung der Idee).
The whole of the Secret Doctrine—of which the work bearing that name is but an atom—is such a contemplation and record, as far as finite language and limited thought can record the processes of the Infinite.
Thus it becomes evident that Theosophy cannot be a “religion,” still less “a sect,” but it is indeed the quintessence of the highest philosophy in all and every one of its aspects. Having shown that it falls under, and answers fully, every description of philosophy, we may add to the above a few more of Sir W. Hamilton’s definitions, and prove our statement by showing the pursuit of the same in Theosophical literature. This is a task easy enough, indeed. For, does not “Theosophy” include “the science of things evidently deduced from first principles” as well as “the sciences of truths sensible and abstract”?”
H.P.B. was very aware of the opinions about her and Theosophists in Philosophicules:
“It is they also who have started the proposition now generally adopted by the flippant press that “Theosophy is not a philosophy, but a religion,” and “a new sect.”
“We need not go out of our way to notice at any length such foolish statements about Theosophy and Theosophists as are found almost daily in the public press. Such definitions and epithets as “newfangled religion” and “ism,” “the system invented by the high priestess of Theosophy,” and other remarks as silly, may be left to their own fate. They have been and in most cases will be left unnoticed.”
Unpopular persons aren’t judged on their intrinsic value, but by personality, gossip, and the prejudices attributed to that character by the masses, whose prejudices are strengthened or manipulated.
“Our age is regarded as being pre-eminently critical: an age which analyses closely, and whose public refuses to accept anything offered for its consideration before it has fully scrutinized the subject. Such is the boast of our century; but such is not quite the opinion of the impartial observer. At all events it is an opinion highly exaggerated since this boasted analytical scrutiny is applied only to that which interferes in no way with national, social, or personal prejudices. On the other hand everything that is malevolent, destructive to reputation, wicked and slanderous, is received with open embrace, accepted joyfully, and made the subject of everlasting public gossip, without any scrutiny or the slightest hesitation, but verily on a blind faith of the most elastic kind. (…) Neither unpopular characters nor their work are judged in our day on their intrinsic value, but merely on their author’s personality and the prejudiced opinion thereon of the masses. In many journals no literary work of a Theosophist can ever hope to be reviewed on its own merits, apart from the gossip about its author. (…) As a first result, the former is judged by the distorted reflection of the latter created by slander repeated in the daily papers. The personality of the writer hangs like a dark shadow between the opinion of the modern journalist and unvarnished truth; and as a final result there are few editors in all Europe and America who know anything of our Society’s tenets.”
“How then can Theosophy or even the T.S. be correctly judged?”
She also directed her criticism toward Christian missionaries.
“How long, O radiant gods of truth, how long shall this terrible mental cecity of the nineteenth century Philosophists last?”
H.P. Blavatsky calls the Theosophical Society a humble but unworthy vehicle of theosophy:
“How much longer are they to be told that Theosophy is no national property, no religion, but only the universal code of science and the most transcendental ethics that was ever known; that it lies at the root of every moral philosophy and religion; and that neither Theosophy per se, nor yet its humble unworthy vehicle, the Theosophical Society, has anything whatever to do with any personality or personalities!”
Theosophists have a legitimate right to the title of Philosopher?
I think the title has to be earned, as even the title theosophist must be earned, given the criticisms of traditionalists on the matter; and even Aleister Crowley, who jokingly defined a theosophist as one who talks about Yoga, and does nothing. Blavatsky argues, that theosophists have a legitimate right to the title of philosopher. A letter by Blavatsky to her sister Vera in 1894 shows her thoughts, when she declares that humanity “has lost its faith and its higher ideals; materialism and pseudo-science have slain them. The children of this age have no longer faith; they demand proof, proof founded on a scientific basis – and they shall have it. Theosophy, the source of all human religions, will give it to them.” (Vera Petrovna de Zhelihovsky, “Helena Petrovna Blavatsky,” Lucifer, London, Nov. 15, 1894, April 15, 1895). She defended the theosophical expression, by cleverly referring to the slanderers as Philosophicules, i.e., small, or faux-philosophers, in comparison to the learning of the Initiates.
“Many optimistic writers would fain make of this mercantile century of ours an age of philosophy and call it its renaissance. We fail to find outside of our Society any attempt at philosophical revival, unless the word “philosophy” is made to lose its original meaning. For wherever we turn we find a cold sneer at true philosophy. A sceptic can never aspire to that title. He who is capable of imagining the universe with its handmaiden Nature fortuitous, and hatched like the black hen of the fable, out of a self-created egg hanging in space, has neither the power of thinking nor the spiritual faculty of perceiving abstract truths; which power and faculty are the first requisites of a philosophical mind. We see the entire realm of modern Science honeycombed with such materialists, who yet claim to be regarded as philosophers. They either believe in naught as do the Secularists, or doubt according to the manner of the Agnostics. Remembering the two wise aphorisms by Bacon, the modern-day materialist is thus condemned out of the mouth of the Founder of his own inductive method, as contrasted with the deductive philosophy of Plato, accepted in Theosophy. For does not Bacon tell us that “Philosophy when superficially studied excites doubt; when thoroughly explored it dispels it”; and again, “a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth of philosophy bringeth man’s mind about to religion”?
The logical deduction of the above is, undeniably, that none of our present Darwinians and materialists and their admirers, our critics, could have studied philosophy otherwise than very “superficially.” Hence while Theosophists have a legitimate right to the title of philosophers—true “lovers of Wisdom”—their critics and slanderers are at best PHILOSOPHICULES—the progeny of modern PHILOSOPHISM.”
“…critics and slanderers are at best PHILOSOPHICULES—the progeny of modern PHILOSOPHISM.”
As one of the theosophical adepts expressed the suffocation of the times:
“Between degrading superstition and still more degrading brutal materialism the white dove of truth has hardly room where to rest her weary unwelcome foot.”
The Philosophic Revival
The doubts about theosophists are misplaced, and they should be more appreciated. One like Peter Kingsley on the Presocratic Sages who created Western Civilization moves in our direction. Based on the pop-culture scientists of our day, they are giving us an incomplete, even distorted picture of the history of religion, philosophy, and science, and often mockingly. We have allowed in our day, the scientific skeptics, the agnostics, and the atheists to be our teachers in these areas and in the departments, but then our view of these are also crippled by the old biases and polemics of the theologians. So, we think that we are in need of a body of persons, associations, discipline and study that solves these most perplexing questions — the relationship of theology, science, and philosophy in its real linguistic meanings, and conclusion. Science holds, that man is a mere animal; and theologians say, man was created by God. What if there are alternatives? We’ve excluded the chance of their being any, through the loud centuries of bickering between the two.
The theosophical mission in the West, according to a co-founder of the Theos. Soc. (William Quan Judge) can be broadly described as being aimed toward its moral, national, spiritual, and philosophical revitalization.
H.P.B. explains the last hour 47 B.C.E. of the European Mysteries with the fall of the city of Alesia and Bibractis; and its end began 320 B.C.E. The Indian K.H. and M. (a Rajput) were prideful and patriotic friends, and knowing that the Anglosphere looked down on India, they tried to enlighten them as to their history, and what they abandoned.
Speaking of his home country, the elusive K.H. stated that “India has been going down for thousands of years. She must take equally long for her regeneration. (…) No effort is ever lost. Every cause must produce its effects. (…) It is always wiser to work and force the current of events than to wait for time—a habit which has demoralized the Hindus and degenerated the country.” (K.H., Letter XXXI, Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom ed., 1881-1888)
So, they had hopes in the West for this new Anglo-Indian relationship, and William Q. Judge, an Irish-American directed his efforts toward western theosophists, telling them, that they did not need to run to India to be taught by Indian Yogis, and in fact, that obstructions against the theosophical movement were likely to come about through what he called the “Yogi craze.” This being long before the 60s, 70s and 80s, the Christians and the Vatican blamed this on heretical elements, including the theosophical movement, which in its original expression condemns personality/guru/hero-worship, as a hindrance to the promulgation of its ideas.
“This movement has, among others, an object which should be borne in mind. It is the union of the West with the East, the revival in the East of those greatnesses which once were hers, the development in the West of that Occultism which is appropriate for it, so that it may, in its turn, hold out a helping hand to those of older blood who may have become fixed in one idea, or degraded in spirituality.” (William Q. Judge, Letters That Have Helped Me)
“Let us refer to the published record which is in The Occult World, by Mr Sinnett, where K.H. says what I quote: “I had come for a few days, but now find that I myself cannot endure for any length of time the stifling magnetism even of my own countrymen. [Italics mine. – J] I have seen some of our proud old Sikhs drunk and staggering over the marble pavement of their sacred temple. (…) I turn my face homeward tomorrow.” (William Q. Judge)
Judge states, that the desire of the theosophical movement is not to “have members think that Eastern methods are to be followed, Eastern habits adopted, or the present East made the model or the goal. The West has its own work and its duty, its own life and development. Those it should perform, aspire to and follow, and not try to run to other fields where the duties of other men are to be performed. If the task of raising the spirituality of India, now degraded and almost suffocated, were easy, and if thus easily raised it could shine into and enlighten the whole world of the West, then, indeed, were the time wasted in beginning in the West, when a shorter and quicker way existed in the older land. But in fact it is more difficult to make an entry into the hearts and minds of people who, through much lapse of time in fixed metaphysical dogmatism, have built in the psychic and psycho-mental planes a hard impervious shell around themselves, than it is to make that entry with Westerners who, although they may be meat eaters, yet have no fixed opinions deep laid in a foundation of mysticism and buttressed with a pride inherited from the past.” (William Q. Judge, The Path, 1895)
So, we find that there is strength in the ideas of the theosophists, and Judge captures the confidence of the Adepts, as to its mission to the West. “Now, this is, as I said, an era. I called it that of Western Occultism, but you may give it any name you like. But it is Western.” (William Q. Judge, Letters That Have Helped Me, pg. 95)
This was to assist the rise of a new development in the minds of the western people, and W.Q. Judge describes it as an evolutionary wave, a progressive impulse, which could not be stopped, nor should be hindered. The West plays an important role, with the task to absorb from the East, the philosophy and metaphysics it needs to, as T. Subba Row once said, “rebuild Western philosophy.” and “to change the whole social and economic order; and then react back, compulsorily, upon the East for its good and uplifting. (…)”
Now in the face of all these facts, and of many more which could be brought forward, where is the brotherliness, the Theosophy, the truth in starting against me a charge that I wish or try to set the East and West against each other? If in India are initiates – which H.P.B. often denied, if there is the highest spiritual wisdom, why so many Hindus trying to reform it; why so many Hindus at the feet of H.P.B. asking for truth and how to find the Master; why so many Hindus in the E.S.T. for the purpose of getting teaching from Westerners? The answers are easy. Let those who are not carried away by a mere name, who can calmly examine facts, see that the West is the advancing conqueror of human destiny; that the Eastern lands, both India and other places, are storehouses for the world, holding from the past treasures that the West alone can make avail of and teach the East how to use. Let sectional jealousy cease, and let us all be careful that we do not inject into the mental sphere of the Theosophical Society any ideas, arising from sentiment or from insufficient reflection, which might become a hindrance, however slight, to the evolutionary impulse…”
Going on the statements of the Indian teachers associated with them, Judge states, that it is the mission of theosophists to also lend the East a hand, in understanding the root of their philosophies, just the same as Peter Kingsley suggests for the Europeans. While, this concern is partially and superficially manifesting in the movements of Identitarian-minded Europeans through aesthetics and book annotations, it is not manifesting in any sense the theosophist expects. Considering these modern movements characterized as far-right, in Judge’s view, they would be considered a hindrance to the evolutionary impulse of the European, and rather than helpful, thus incapable of heralding the intellectual, and spiritual renaissance they are hopeful for. The theosophists seemed to be adamant about their, and their chiefs concerned, that the future of the West depends on the correct understanding of their history, and the origins of the Mysteries; and yet all its critics can do is charge the theosophists of anti-Christian and anti-Western conspiracy and antisemitism, because it does not kowtow to the dominant religious hierarchy. There are ignorant slanderers, who because of the strength and need of the ideas, have drawn connections to the “Natzis,” Alt-Right and Identitarians, who themselves (these slanderers) have no ideas and solutions for the problems facing the civilization.
Yet, these are the ideas, that have built up, and lay at the foundations of the civilizations and philosophy. Anyone who understands the history and failure of the theologians and philosophers of Hermetic and Platonic Thought to impress the Catholic Church in the last Renaissance should be able to understand this vision, and how far it extends into the vision of ancient thinkers, even older than the Socratic. There are cunning and jealous persons who have been in the way, thus Blavatsky implores theosophists to not be deterred, because “old sleeping dogs” are obstructing the way — criticizing the skeptics, scientists, and theologians, because they must be. There is therefore, this value to thank in the efforts of this historical movement, and in the present-day we are in serious need of more of its likeness.
“The members of the (…) Lodge have such an opportunity as seldom comes to men. A movement calculated to benefit an English-speaking world, is in their custody. If they do their whole duty, the progress of materialism, the increase of dangerous self-indulgence, and the tendency towards spiritual suicide, can be checked. The theory of vicarious atonement has brought about its inevitable reaction: only the knowledge of Karma can offset it. The pendulum has swung from the extreme of blind faith towards the extreme materialistic skepticism, and nothing can stop it save Theosophy. Is not this a thing worth working for, to save those nations from the doom their ignorance is preparing for them?
Think you the truth has been shown to you for your sole advantage? That we have broken the silence of centuries for the profit of a handful of dreamers only? …” (K.H., written 1884, Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom, TPH, 1973/77, Vol. 1, pg. 20)
Post updated May 16, 2018.