Theosophical Encyclopedia

Mythology

From the Greek mythos meaning tale, talk, fable. All ethnic groups have mythology or folklore enshrined, some in writings, some in oral tradition and some in both. From the Australian Aborigines to the Zulus of Africa tales of heroes and villains are told around campfires that have been handed down for hundreds, in some cases, thousands of years. The universality of myths suggests that they perform an essential function in all nations. Plato states in the Phaedon and the Gorgias that myths are the vehicles of great truths well worth the seeking. Rudolf Steiner, a nineteenth century German mystic and Theosophist, stated that “myth is the collective dream of the people.”

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Scholars have interpreted myths in many contrasting ways, as allegories, as the romanticized stories of long dead kings, as the “seeds” of the religions and as the personifications of human traits. Max Müller described myths as a “disease of language”; a somewhat untenable view that contributed little to the debate (quoted in the E.B. ed. 1970, p. 1133). Mircea Eliade suggests that, “The myth defines itself by its own mode of being. It can only be grasped, as a myth, in so far as it reveals something as having been fully manifested, and this manifestation is at the same time creative and exemplary since it is at the foundation of a structure of reality as well as of a kind of human behavior. A myth always narrates something as having really happened as an event that took place, in the plain sense of the term — whether it deals with the creation of the World or of the most insignificant animal or vegetable species” (Myths, Dreams and Mysteries, 1960, p. 14/15).

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Spiritualism and Theosophy

[Based on the article in the Theosophical Encyclopedia, by Richard W. Brooks]

By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the Spiritualist movement, which began in the United States, had spread throughout the world. [For further information about the history of Spiritualism, see the article on “Psychical Research”.] There were many noted — and many fraudulent — mediums practicing in the U.S. Two who get no mention at all in the literature of psychical research or parapsychology were the brothers William and Horatio Eddy, who owned a farm in Chittenden, Vermont, where they held nightly séances. These séances came to the attention of Henry Steel Olcott (1832-1907) while he was working for a New York newspaper, the Daily Graphic, now defunct. Olcott, who expressed an interest in Spiritualist phenomena, requested the editor of his newspaper to send him to Chittenden to investigate. The results of that investigation were published in his book, People from the Other World (1875) and clearly establish Olcott as a careful, objective, and ingenious investigator. More important, it was there, late in the morning of October 14, 1874, that Olcott first met Madame Helena P. Blavatsky (1831-1891), who had been sent to Chittenden on the directions of her Master.

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Theravada Buddhism

[Based on the article in the Theosophical Encyclopedia, by Richard W. Brooks and Jay G. Williams]

Theravāda Buddhism is sometimes referred to as “Southern Buddhism” because it is the form of Buddhism found mainly in Sri Lanka, Burma, and Southeast Asia. Actually, the term theravada (Sankrit sthaviravada, literally “the doctrine of the elders”) was used by only one of the sects of early Buddhism, However, modern usage now lumps those different sects together and considers the others to be offshoots of Theravada. The Mahayana (“Greater Vehicle”) Buddhists, often referred to as “Northern Buddhists” because they are found mainly in Tibet, China, inner Asia, and Japan (as well as north Vietnam), considered the Theravadins to be an inferior form of Buddhism and referred to them as “Hinayana” (i.e., “the lesser vehicle”). Some Theravādins actually accepted that pejorative name, considering it an indication of humility, an important Buddhist virtue.

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Mysteries

[Based on the article in the Theosophical Encyclopedia, by Vic Hao Chin]

Systems of mystical initiation in the Graeco-Roman world flourished for about two thousand years up to the fourth century. Many great persons of antiquity were known to be initiates of such schools, such as Plato, Pythagoras, Plutarch, Cicero, Iamblichus, and Porphyry, as well as Christian Fathers such as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Ammonius Saccas. The Mysteries were sanctioned and publicly protected by the Greek states, and later by the Roman Empire, but declined and became prohibited when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century CE under the Emperors Constantine and Theodosius.

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Zulu Spiritual Teacher

[Based on the article in the Theosophical Encyclopedia, by Philip S. Harris]

The information contained in this article was derived primarily from an article in the Theosophist of August 1927, pp. 549-560). The statements made in the article were reviewed (in 1994) by a highly placed authority in South Africa (who asked not to be named), and he verified the material, which is associated with the various gifted grades of Sangoma (in southern Africa, a witch doctor, usually a woman, claiming supernatural powers of divination and healing grades), only commenting that the information is partial. There is much more information that is given only to high initiates, face to face with the teacher, and not written down.

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Sangoma

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Inca and Other Religions of South America

Richard Williams Brooks – USA

[From the Theosophical Encyclopedia Website; here slightly revised in content and adapted to Theosophy Forward style]

TE 2 Atahualpa Fourteenth Inca
Atahualpa, Atahuallpa, Atabalipa or Atawallpa was the last Sapa Inca of the Tawantinsuyu before the Spanish conquest.

There is some discussion in Theosophical literature of the advanced Inca culture, but no mention of the rest of South America or of the religious ideas of native groups in the Caribbean — other than a passing reference by Helena P. Blavatsky to Voodoo (or Vodun) in Haiti (Secret Doctrine 2:209). The most highly developed civilizations of South America were on the western side of the continent south of Ecuador. Archeological evidence shows that several remarkable civilizations preceded the Inca culture in that area.

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Mayan Religion

Richard Williams Brooks – USA

[From the Theosophical Encyclopedia Website; here slightly revised in content and adapted to Theosophy Forward style]

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Mayan civilization, which began in the lowlands of Guatamala at least 1000 BCE, flourished from the mid-third to tenth centuries CE in the Yucatán (which included its principal city, Chichén Itzá), Campeche, Quintana Roo, and parts of Tabasco and Chiapas, as well as all of Belize, most of Guatamala, and parts of El Salvador and Honduras. The principal sources of our knowledge of Mayan religion are from their scripture, the Popol Vuh, (literally “Council Book”), the several Books of Chilam Balam of Chumayel (as well as that of Mani), a few surviving manuscripts, and their iconography. Much can also be inferred from their elaborate pyramidal temple complexes, some of which include sweathouses (see J. Eric S. Thompson, The Rise and Fall of Mayan Civilization, 2nd edition, 1966, pp. 73-74), reminiscent of the sweat lodges of natives of North America. Dark, underground rooms have also been uncovered in these temple complexes (see Thompson, p. 74); their use is open only to speculation, but they could possibly have been used for secret initiatory ceremonies. The Books of Chilam Balam, which date from around 1000 CE and after and are named after an order of priests, contain quite a bit of religious mythology as well as information about Mayan society and history; they were apparently based on earlier hieroglyphic codices now lost. Unfortunately, most of the surviving hieroglyphic writing on religious matters is presently undecipherable (see Thompson, p. 196).

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