Blavatsky and The Secret Doctrine

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2015


'Die Geheimlehre' - ('The Secret Doctrine') is possibly the most influential 'channeled' occult writing.
Blavatsky claimed to be in contact with hidden 'masters', who revealed to her the occult history of the universe.
In actual fact she had contacted 'elementals', who had information which had been derived indirectly, and in many cases inaccurately, from the Æons.
However, some of this information was valid, and encouraged an interest in the possibility of discovering the true teachings of the Æons, which subsequently gave considerable impetus to the occult revival of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Helena Blavatsky

Еле́на Петро́вна Блава́тская
Еле́на Петро́вна Блава́тская (Yelena Petrovna Blavatskaya) was an oculist, medium, and author who founded the Theosophical Society in 1875.
She gained an international following as the leading theoretician of Theosophy.
Born into an aristocratic Russian-German family in Yekaterinoslav, Blavatsky traveled widely around the Russian Empire as a child.
Largely self-educated, she developed an interest in Western occultism during her teenage years.
In 1849 she embarked on a series of world travels, visiting Europe, the Americas, and India.
During this period she states that she encountered a group of spiritual adepts, the "Masters of the Ancient Wisdom", who sent her to Shigatse, Tibet, where they trained her to develop her own psychic powers.

'Isis Unveiled'
In 1877 she published 'Isis Unveiled', a book outlining her Theosophical world-view. 
Associating it closely with the occult doctrines of Hermeticism and Neoplatonism, Blavatsky described Theosophy as "the synthesis of science, religion and philosophy", proclaiming that it was reviving an "Ancient Wisdom" which underlay all the world's religions.
She lived simply and refused to accept monetary payment in return for disseminating her teachings and, in ailing health, in 1885 she published 'Die Geheimlehre' - ('The Secret Doctrine'), as well as two further books, 'The Key to Theosophy' and 'The Voice of the Silence'.
She died of influenza on 8 May 1891.

Blavatsky was the leading theoretician of the Theosophical Society, responsible for establishing its "doctrinal basis".
The ideas expounded in her published texts provide the basis from which the Society and wider Theosophical movement emerged.
Blavatsky's Theosophical ideas were a form of occultism, a current of thought within Western esotericism, which emphasized the idea of an ancient and superior wisdom that had been found in pre-Christian societies, and which was absent from the doctrines of established Christianity.

Fundamentally, the underlying concept behind Blavatsky's Theosophy was that there was an "ancient wisdom religion" which had once been found across the world, and which was known to various ancient figures, such as the Greek philosophers, including Plato.
Blavatsky connected this ancient wisdom religion to Hermetic philosophy, a world-view in which everything in the universe is identified as an emanation from a Godhead.
Blavatsky believed that all of the world's religions developed from this original global faith.
Blavatsky understood her Theosophy to be the heir to the Neoplatonist philosophers of Late Antiquity, who had also embraced Hermetic philosophy. 
Neoplatonism is a term used to designate a tradition of philosophy that arose in the 3rd century AD, and persisted until shortly after the closing of the Platonic Academy in Athens in AD 529 by Justinian I. Neoplatonists were heavily influenced by Plato, but also by the Platonic tradition that thrived during the six centuries which separated the first of the Neoplatonists from Plato. The work of Neoplatonic philosophy involved describing the derivation of the whole of reality from a single principle, "the ONE". Neoplatonism posits the existence of a 'Demiurge' - responsible for some, or all aspects of material creation.
Hermeticism, or Hermetic philosophy, is a religious and philosophical/esoteric tradition based primarily upon writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus ("Thrice Great"). These writings have greatly influenced the Western esoteric tradition. The tradition claims descent from a prisca theologia, a doctrine that affirms the existence of a single, true theology that is present in all religions and that was given by God to man in antiquity. Its philosophy teaches that there is a transcendent God, or Absolute, in which we and the entire universe participate. It also subscribes to the idea that other beings, such as Aeons, angels and elementals, exist within the universe.
Blavatsky believed that the Theosophical movement's revival of the "ancient wisdom religion" would lead to it spreading across the world, eclipsing the established world religions.
The Theosophical Society disseminated an elaborate philosophical edifice involving a cosmogony, the macrocosm of the universe, spiritual hierarchies, and intermediary beings, the latter having correspondences with a hierarchical conception of the microcosm of man.
Blavatsky's Theosophy has been described as representing a major factor in the modern revival of Western esotericism, and that practically all modern occultism and esotericism can trace its origins back to her influence to some degree.
Contemporaries of Blavatsky contributed to the development of theosophical thought, producing works that at times sought to elucidate the ideas she presented, and at times to expand upon them.

 völkische Bewegung
Since its inception, and through doctrinal assimilation or divergence, Theosophy has also given rise to or influenced the development of other mystical, philosophical, and political movements - including the völkische Bewegung.
Blavatsky's published Theosophical ideas, particularly those regarding the 'Root Races', have been cited as an influence on 'Ariosophy', the esoteric movement established in late 19th and early 20th century Germany and Austria by Guido von List,  and also on the writings and thought Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels, described as 'Theozoology'.
Lanz von Liebenfels (19 July 1874 – 22 April 1954), was an Austrian political and racial theorist and occultist, who was the creator of 'Theozoology'. He was a former monk and the founder of the magazine 'Ostara', in which he published racial and völkisch theories. In 1905, he published his book 'Theozoölogie oder die Kunde von den Sodoms-Äfflingen und dem Götter-Elektron' in which he glorified the "Aryan race" as "Gottmenschen" ("god-men"). Other races came from the biological evolution of animals. So Liebenfels explained the "racial fall" as a union of sex with each other. At the root of this fall, the Aryan race was involved in miscegenation, losing its divine powers (the elektron of the gods - including paranormal abilities such as telepathy and clairvoyance). The process of racial mixing made these qualities limited to a few descendants of Aryans. Liebenfels, therefore was concerned to restore the original purity of the Aryan race.
Undoubtedly Blavatsky's Theosophical ideas contributed to National Socialist ideology.
Blavatsky's Theosophical ideas regarding the 'Root Races' have also been cited as an influence on Anthroposophy, the esoteric movement developed by Rudolf Steiner in early 20th century Germany, with Steiner's Anthroposophical Society being termed a historical offshoot of the Theosophical Society.

'Die Geheimlehre'

Helena Blavatsky

'Die Geheimlehre', - the Synthesis of Science, Religion and Philosophy, is a book originally published as two volumes in 1888, and is Helena Blavatsky's magnum opus.
The first volume is named 'Cosmogenesis', the second 'Anthropogenesis'.
It was an influential example of the revival of interest in esoteric and occult ideas in the modern age, in particular because of its claim to reconcile ancient wisdom with modern science.
Blavatsky claimed that its contents had been revealed to her by 'spiritual beings' who had retained knowledge of humanity's spiritual history, knowledge that it was now possible, in part, to reveal

Volume One (Cosmogenesis)

The first part of the book explains the origin and evolution of the universe itself, in terms of the concept of cyclical development.
The world and everything in it is said to alternate between periods of activity, and periods of passivity.
Each period of activity lasts many millions of years, and consists of a number of eons. 
Blavatsky attempted to demonstrate that the discoveries of "materialist" science had been anticipated in the writings of the ancients, and that materialism would be proven wrong.

Cosmic evolution: Items of Cosmogony

In this recapitulation of 'Die Geheimlehre', Blavatsky gave a summary of the central points of her system of cosmogony.
These central points are:
Die Geheimlehre represents the "accumulated Wisdom of the Ages", a system of thought that
"is the uninterrupted record covering thousands of generations of the initiated, whose respective experiences were made to test and to verify the traditions passed orally by one early race to another, of the teachings of higher and exalted beings, who watched over the childhood of Humanity."
This section reiterates the first fundamental proposition (see above), calling the one principle "the fundamental law in that system of cosmogony".
Here Blavatsky says of this principle that it is
"the One homogeneous divine Substance-Principle, the one radical cause. … It is called "Substance-Principle," for it becomes "substance" on the plane of the manifested Universe, an illusion, while it remains a "principle" in the beginningless and endless abstract, visible and invisible Space. It is the omnipresent Reality: impersonal, because it contains all and everything. Its impersonality is the fundamental conception of the System. It is latent in every atom in the Universe, and is the Universe itself."
This section reiterates the second fundamental proposition (see above), impressing once again that
"The Universe is the periodical manifestation of this unknown Absolute Essence."
while also touching upon the complex ideas that ultimate being is beyond all conceptualizations.
This concept presents the idea that 'the One', the unconditioned and absolute principle, is covered over by a veil, so that the spiritual essence is forever covered by the material essence.
This section explains  that the entire universe is, in reality, an illusion, because everything in it is temporary, i.e. has a beginning and an end, and is therefore unreal in comparison to the eternal changelessness of the One.
The next section reiterates the third fundamental proposition (see above), stating that everything in the universe is conscious, in its own way, and on its own plane of perception.
Because of this, Occult Philosophy states that there are no unconscious or blind laws of Nature, that all is governed by consciousness and consciousnesses.
The next section gives a core idea of theosophical philosophy, that "as above, so below". 
This is known as the "law of correspondences", its basic premise being that everything in the universe is worked and manifested from within outwards, or from the higher to the lower, and that thus the lower, the microcosm, is the copy of the higher, the macrocosm. 
Just as a human being experiences every action as preceded by an internal impulse of thought, emotion or will, so too the manifested universe is preceded by impulses from divine thought, feeling and will.
These concepts gives rise to the notion of an "almost endless series of hierarchies of sentient beings", which itself becomes a central idea of many theosophists.
The law of correspondences also becomes central to the methodology of many theosophists, as they look for analogous correspondence between various aspects of reality, for instance: the correspondence between the seasons of Earth and the process of a single human life, through birth, growth, adulthood and then decline and death.

Volume Two (Anthropogenesis)

The second half of 'Die Geheimlehre' describes the origins of humanity through an account of "Root Races", said to date back millions of years.
The first root race was "ethereal".

the Fourth Root-Race
The second root had more physical bodies and lived in Hyperborea.

The fifth root race is approximately one million years old, overlapping the fourth root race, and the very first beginnings of the fifth root race were approximately in the middle of the fourth root race.
The third root race, the first to be truly human, is said to have existed on the lost continent of Lemuria, and the fourth root race is said to have developed in Atlantis.
"The real line of evolution differs from the Darwinian, and the two
'systems are irreconcilable, except when the latter is divorced from the dogma of 'Natural Selection'. By 'Man' the divine Monad is meant, and not the thinking Entity, much less his physical body. Occultism rejects the idea that Nature developed man from the ape, or even from an ancestor common to both, but traces, on the contrary, some of the most anthropoid species to the Third Race man. In other words, the 'ancestor' of the present anthropoid animal, the ape, is the direct production of the yet mindless Man, who desecrated his human dignity by putting himself physically on the level of an animal.'
Three Fundamental Propositions

Blavatsky explained the essential component ideas of her cosmogony with three fundamental propositions, of which she said: 
'Before the reader proceeds … it is absolutely necessary that he should be made acquainted with the few fundamental conceptions which underlie and pervade the entire system of thought to which his attention is invited. These basic ideas are few in number, and on their clear apprehension depends the understanding of all that follows…
The first proposition is that there is one underlying, unconditioned, indivisible Truth, variously called "the Absolute", "the Unknown Root", "the ONE".
It is causeless and timeless, and therefore unknowable and non-describable: "It is 'Be-ness' rather than Being".
However, transient states of matter and consciousness are manifested in IT, in an unfolding gradation from the subtlest to the densest, the final of which is physical plane.
According to this view, manifest existence is a "change of condition", and therefore neither the result of creation nor a random event.
Everything in the universe is informed by the potentialities present in the "ONE" and manifest with different degrees of Life (or energy), Consciousness, and Matter.
The second proposition is "the absolute universality of that law of periodicity, of flux and reflux, ebb and flow".

Boundless Plane
Accordingly, manifest existence is an eternally re-occurring event on a "boundless plane": "'the playground of numberless Universes incessantly manifesting and disappearing,'" each one "standing in the relation of an effect as regards its predecessor, and being a cause as regards its successor", doing so over vast but finite periods of time.
Related to the above is the third proposition: "The fundamental identity of all Souls with the ONE... and the obligatory pilgrimage for every Soul - a spark of the former - through the Cycle of Incarnation (or 'Necessity') in accordance with Cyclic law, during the whole term."
The individual souls are seen as units of consciousness (Monads) that are intrinsic parts of the ONE, just as different sparks are parts of a fire.
These Monads undergo a process of evolution where consciousness unfolds and matter develops.
This evolution is not random, but informed by intelligence and with a purpose.
Evolution follows distinct paths in accord with certain immutable laws, aspects of which are perceivable on the physical level.
One such law is the law of periodicity and cyclicity; another is the law of cause and effect.

Theories on Human Evolution and Race

The Aryan Race
In the second volume of Die Geheimlehre, dedicated to anthropogenesis, Blavatsky presents a theory of the gradual evolution of physical humanity over a timespan of millions of years.
The steps in this evolution are called root-races, seven in all.
Earlier root-races exhibited completely different characteristics: physical bodies first appearing in the second root-race, and sexual characteristics in the third.
Some races are clearly less fully human or spiritual than the "Aryans".
For example, 
"Mankind is obviously divided into god-informed men and lower human creatures. The intellectual difference between the Aryan and other civilized nations and such savages as the South Sea Islanders, is inexplicable on any other grounds. No amount of culture, nor generations of training amid civilization, could raise such human specimens as the Bushmen, the Veddhas of Ceylon, and some African Tribes, to the same intellectual level as the Aryans, the Semites, and the Turanians so called. The 'sacred spark' is missing in them and it is they who are the only inferior races on the globe, now happily – owing to the wise adjustment of nature which ever works in that direction – fast dying out. Verily mankind is not of the same essence. We are the hot-house, artificially quickened plants in nature, having in us a spark, which in them is latent"
 (Die Geheimlehre, Vol. 2, p 421).

When discussing "sterility between two human races" as observed by Darwin, Blavatsky notes:
"Of such semi-animal creatures, the sole remnants known to Ethnology were the Tasmanians, a portion of the Australians and a mountain tribe in China, the men and women of which are entirely covered with hair. They were the last descendants in a direct line of the semi-animal latter-day Lemurians referred to. There are, however, considerable numbers of the mixed Lemuro-Atlantean peoples produced by various crossings with such semi-human stocks – e.g., the inhabitants of Borneo, the Veddhas of Ceylon, most of the remaining Australians, Bushmen, Negos, Andaman Islanders, etc"
 (Die Geheimlehre, Vol. 2, pp 195–6)

In the 'Die Geheimlehre' there is also a connection between physical race and spiritual attributes:
"Esoteric history teaches that idols and their worship died out with the Fourth Race, until the survivors of the hybrid races of the latter (Chinese, African negroes, &c.) gradually brought the worship back."
(Die Geheimlehre, Vol. 2, p 723)
According to Die Geheimlehre,
"The MONADS of the lowest specimens of humanity (the "narrow-brained" savage South-Sea Islander, the African, the Australian) had no Karma to work out when first born as men, as their more favoured brethren in intelligence had"
(Die Geheimlehre, Vol. 2, p 168)

Die Geheimlehre also prophesies of the destruction of the racial "failures of nature" as the "higher race" ascends:
"Thus will mankind, race after race, perform its appointed cycle-pilgrimage. Climates will, and have already begun, to change, each tropical year after the other dropping one sub-race, but only to beget another higher race on the ascending cycle; while a series of other less favoured groups – the failures of nature – will, like some individual men, vanish from the human family without even leaving a trace behind"
(Die Geheimlehre, Vol. 2, p 446)

In Die Geheimlehre it is stated: "Verily mankind is not of the same essence." (Vol. 1, p. 255).

Study of Die Geheimlehre

Blavatsky gave the following instructions regarding the study of Die Geheimlehre
'Reading the Die Geheimlehre page by page as one reads any other book will only end us in confusion. The first thing to do, even if it takes years, is to get some grasp of the 'Three Fundamental Principles'. Follow that up by study of the Recapitulation – the numbered items in the Summing Up to Vol. I (Part 1.) Then take the Preliminary Notes (Vol. II) and the Conclusion (Vol. II)'
Writings About "Die Geheimlehre"

Alice Bailey 'rode on the back' of "Die Geheimlehre", and in order to advance her own writings, (which were all based on Blavatsky's work), she was forced to overstate the significance of "Die Geheimlehre".
"But those of us who really studied it and arrived at some understanding of its inner significance have a basic appreciation of the truth that no other book seems to supply. HPB said that the next interpretation of the 'Ageless Wisdom' would be a psychological approach, and 'A Treatise on Cosmic Fire', which I published in 1925, is the psychological key to 'Die Geheimlehre'. None of my books would have been possible had I not at one time made a very close study of 'Die Geheimlehre'."
Of course many were take in by Blavatsky's claims to have received knowledge for 'hidden masters'.
Max Heindel in 'Blavatsky and Die Geheimlehre' (1933) is an example of a Thoesophist who was prepared to make claims regarding Die Geheimlehre that were unjustified.
"Die Geheimlehre is one of the most remarkable books in the world... Behind her [H.P.B.] stood the real teachers, the guardians of the Secret Wisdom of the ages, who taught her all the occult lore which she transmitted in her writings."
Еле́на Петро́вна Блава́тская


While not all of the teachings of  'Die Geheimlehre' were accepted by many völkisch theorists and philosophers, it strongly influenced their thinking.
Most influential were the chapters dealing with the development of the 'Root-Races', and their relative positions in the hierarchy of race - and in particular the exaltation of the Nordic Aryan race.
In addition the suggestion that the Aryan race would, at some time in the future, become the dominant race, while the other, lesser races would fall into decline was held to be of importance by the völkisch movement.
Also, the rejection of Christianity, along with other Semitic religions, was very much in keeping with the general mood and feeling in Germany and Austria, and also much of Europe, at the time.
It was unfortunate that Blavatsky felt it necessary to 'dress up' her revelations in pseudo Vedic (or possibly Hindu) costume, as this was inappropriate, and off-putting for cultured and educated Europeans.
This had the effect of severely limiting the appeal of Theosophy, as a distinct doctrine, in Europe, but it did not prevent the more perceptive from sensing that behind the 'Orientalist' facade, and all the talk of 'hidden masters', there were some significant truths, - and so 'Die Geheimlehre' undoubtedly gave considerable impetus to the occult revival of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.