Theosophical Encyclopedia


Today this word is used by a conjuror in performing a trick, supposedly a charm that causes magic to work; or, more generally, it denotes meaningless talk and thus is used as a term of ridicule, but the word has a long history of use in ancient magical procedures. It was used as an amulet and often arranged in triangular form:


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Theosophy in Italy

The first contact with Theosophy in Italy may be traced to the frequent presence of H. P. BLAVATSKY there, where she undoubtedly met many persons who later became members of the Theosophical Society. She visited Trieste, Venice, Rome, Bologna, Bari, and Naples. She is reported to have been with the Italian patriots Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-82) and Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-72); the latter she apparently met in London in the year 1851. She claimed to have participated with volunteers at Garibaldi’s battle of Mentana (in an attempt to capture Rome) in the year 1867 (Cranston and Williams, p. 79).

Italian Theosophists, great organizers …

Theosophy (in the early broad sense of teachings about this and the divine worlds) was known in Italy before the formation of the Theosophical Society. The Italian philosopher Antonio Rosmini Serbati (1797-1855), a Catholic priest, wrote a large work in eight volumes with the title Teosofia, published in 1859 after his death, and condemned by the Catholic Church. The first Theosophical Center was established in Milan (1890) by J. Murphy, helped by Alfredo Pioda, who also established the first Theosophical Center in Locarno (Switzerland) and commenced the magazine La Nuova Parola. The first Lodge and lending library was organized in Rome (1897) through the efforts of C. A. Lloyd and Decio Calvari, who was the secretary of the Italian Parliament. This Lodge translated and published several Theosophical books, among which were The Occult World and Esoteric Buddhism by Alfred P. SINNETT. At about the same time, Lodges were established at Genoa and Palermo through the efforts of the British Consul, Macbean Reginald Gambier. Later Isabel COOPER-OAKLEY helped to form Lodges in Florence, Milan, Naples, Rome, and Torino. The Italian Section of the Society was established on February 1, 1902, in the presence of Charles W. LEADBEATER, with Oliviero Boggiani as its first General Secretary. At Trieste, the first Lodge was established in 1908, after a visit by Annie BESANT, but a Theosophical center may have existed earlier and been visited by the famous explorer and British Consul at Trieste Francis Richard Burton (1821-90) who translated The Thousand Nights and a Night (1885-88), popularly known as The Arabian Nights, into English.

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This Sanskrit word, derived from the root yuj, “join, unite, fix the mind on,” means, among other things, “union” and, by extension, the discipline leading to union with one’s higher Self or the Divine. It is cognate with the English word yoke. It entered the English language about 1820 and is now popularly associated in the West with the discipline involving various bodily postures called HATHA YOGA, which is one of several different systems:

1. RAJA YOGA, the “kingly” discipline which is based on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and involves a type of meditation designed to control the movements (vrittis) of the mind (citta) and lead to realization of the Self.
2. JNANA YOGA, a discipline which focuses on analysis of the constituents of the world and oneself, such as is described in chapters 13-17 of the Bhagavad Gita. The word jnana means “knowledge.”
3. KARMA YOGA, a discipline which emphasizes action (karma) with renunciation of any desire to see the results (phala, “fruit”), work without attachment; this is described in chapters 2-7 of the Bhagavad Gita.
4. BHAKTI YOGA, a discipline which focuses on total devotion to the Divine, such as is described by RAMAKRISHNA or chapters 9-12 of the Bhagavad Gita.
5. JAPA yoga, a practice that uses repetition of a MANTRA, such as a spiritual passage or the name of a deity. It is sometimes used as an adjunct to bhakti yoga. The word japa literally means “muttering” in Sanskrit.
6. HATHA YOGA, a practice involving a variety of bodily postures (asanas) said to enhance both health and Self-realization. It, too, is often used as an adjunct to other forms of yoga. The Sanskrit word hatha literally means “force, persistence, oppression.”
7. KUNDALINI yoga, a technique which is designed to raise the kundalini (“serpentine”) energy said normally to lie dormant at the base of the spine. Its awakening vivifies the CHAKRA centers in one’s body, enabling one to attain certain psychic powers (SIDDHI) and, eventually, Self-realization.

Hatha Yoga

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Temple of the People

The beautiful building of the Temple of the people in Halycon, Calfornia

After the death of H. P. BLAVATSKY in 1891, there was a short period of leadership confusion in the Theosophical Society in America which eventually resulted in the formation of a separate organization in America under the leadership of William Q. JUDGE. After Judge’s death in 1896, leadership of this American group was assumed by Katherine TINGLEY, but a certain number of members rejected her appointment, and William H. Dower (1866-1937) and Francis A. LaDue (1849-1922) chose to be independent, forming The Temple of the People in 1898. The organization bought land at Halcyon in California and moved there in 1903. Dower and LaDue claimed to have received communications from certain Masters instructing them to carry on the work begun by H. P. Blavatsky. Subsequent work included a number of publications, notably Theogenesis, said to be a third volume of the Stanzas of DZYAN, following the two volumes of THE SECRET DOCTRINE written by H. P. Blavatsky in 1888. In 1904 Dower opened a sanatorium for the treatment of alcoholics and drug addicts which achieved considerable success for many years. The first members of The Temple expected that a new AVATAR would be born and that they were to be the spearhead of the Messianic Age. The focus of the community’s work continues to be at Halcyon where about a hundred persons are in residence. It has been estimated that about 350 people participate worldwide in the work of the organization. A periodical entitled The Temple Artisan is published.


A religion is a system of beliefs and actions shared by a group, giving the members of that group an object for their worship and a code of behavior, although early Shinto lacked the latter and only in more recent times has adopted ethical codes either from Confucianism, Buddhism, or Christianity. The object of worship or veneration of most religions is a transcendental Being (God, Allah, Jehovah, Shiva) who is considered the “creator of heaven and earth,” although early Jainism does not identify such a being, since that religion considers the universe to be beginningless and endless, i.e. not to have been created at some specific time. Religions also usually include some idea of both the purpose of life (teleology) and the consummation of it (eschatology) for those who adhere to its moral principles. Many religions also include ideas about the afterlife (heaven, a happy hunting ground) and some have a belief in rebirth or reincarnation, which suggests a gradual development of the soul toward some supreme goal, often called liberation (moksha, nirvana). Some religions teach that people who have not lived up to their moral code will suffer in an unpleasant world, usually identified as hell. Many, though not all, religions identify a hierarchy of supernatural beings (angels, archangels, houris) superior to humans but inferior to the supreme Being. Most religions also identify certain people who are especially identified as qualified, by their training or by a special gift they are perceived to have, to lead the rest of the members in worship (priests and nuns, rabbis, mullahs, medicine men).

The word religion is derived from Latin re-ligio, etymologically “bind back,” which some Theosophists interpret to indicate a reunion with one’s ultimate source and equate with the literal meaning of yoga, “union.” The Protestant theologian, Paul Tillich, once defined religion as “an attitude of ultimate concern,” which could include materialism or even terrorism in its definition, hence is too broad for the customary use of the term. Any definition must cover all those belief systems usually identified as religions, not just Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions, but also Buddhism, Jainism, the various forms of Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Shinto, religious Taoism, Sikhism, Native American religions, Kahuna beliefs, African religions, the Baha’i faith, and (some would say), Confucianism. Since there is a considerable variation of beliefs in that list, a definition to cover all of them must be very general.

Read more: Religion

Karma Yoga

This approach to yoga is based on action, as contrasted with intellectual analysis (JNANA YOGA) or devotion (BHAKTI YOGA). The Sanskrit term combines KARMA, “action,” and YOGA, “union.” The principal text on which karma yoga is based is the BHAGAVAD GITA, although that text also extrols bhakti (esp. in chs. 8-11) and jnana (esp. in chs. 12-18); in fact, it presents the three yogas as interrelated, that is, action should be permeated by love and directed by wisdom. Most actions, except involuntary ones, are motivated by self-interest (for self-preservation, economic gain, achieving success in competition, etc.), but karma yoga shifts the emphasis to doing one’s duty — toward oneself, one’s family, one’s country, etc. — as skillfully as possible but without thought of personal reward, i.e., renouncing the “fruit” of action, as the Gita puts it. Obviously, one cannot abstain from action, since one could not even maintain one’s physical being without action of some sort. As the Gita points out (3.5, 4.18), one’s very nature requires one to engage in action; even not doing anything is a kind of action.

Service and being content, no matter what...

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This term, ultimately from the rabbinical Hebrew qabbalah, “tradition,” in turn from the verb qibbel, “receive, accept,” denotes a form of mysticism and esotericism, originally transmitted by oral tradition. The Kabbalah probably dates to the second or third century CE in Palestine, and flourished in Babylonia in the sixth to eleventh centuries. It spread to Italy, Spain, and other parts of Europe. Its early stages received influences from NEOPLATONISM and GNOSTICISM. Its earliest major source of teaching was the Sefer ha-Zohar (Book of Splendor), first published in the thirteenth century by Moses de Leon (c. 1240-1305) but traditionally said to have been written in the second century by Rabbi Shimon ben Yohai. A second book that played a major role in Kabbalistic mysticism was the Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Formation). A third one is Sefer Ha-Bahir (Book of Illumination).

Gershom Scholem states that the Kabbalah is but one of many terms for the mystical and esoteric aspects of Judaism. The Talmud refers to razei torah or the “secrets of the Torah,” which include the Ma’aseh Bereshit (“work of creation”) and the Ma’aseh Merkabah (“work of the chariot”). Bereshit, “in the beginning,” is the first word in the Book of Genesis, and thus the Hebrew origin of the Greek name for the text. The Merkabah is a mystical tradition derived from the first chapter of the book of Ezekiel, in which Ezekiel has a vision of a heavenly chariot. This tradition is believed to have been current during the Second Temple period in Jewish history (c. 538 BCE - 70 CE). Its primary sources are the Greater and Lesser Hekhaloth, which speak of the various halls or palaces that the mystic must go through while ascending in the Merkabah.

Read more: Kabbalah

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