Theosophical Encyclopedia


TE 2 Witchcraft

The word witchcraft is derived from the Old English word “wicca,” which in turn was derived from Old High German “wīt, meaning “holy.” Witchcraft was originally associated with spiritual practices but got a bad reputation at the hands of European and American orthodox Christians. Hence its present dictionary definition attributes to it “the exercise of supernatural powers” or “the use of sorcery or magic.” It is assumed that witches are in league with evil spirits or the Devil. However, the practice originally referred to priests (usually called wizards or warlocks) and priestesses (witches) of the old religion in Europe who discharged many functions in the community, such as farmers, doctors, or lawyers.

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Free Will

[From Theosophical Encyclopedia, here slightly revised in content and adapted to Theosophy Forward style.]

TE 2  Free Will
Free Will

The question of whether human beings have or do not have free will has been a perennial problem in Western philosophy, starting with the Greeks and continuing down to the present time. Early Chinese philosophy did not address the question, and it took an Indian approach when Buddhism entered China in the first century CE. Indian philosophy, however, has considered the question of central importance, most systems arguing that human beings do not exercise real free will until they have attained Self-realization. Theosophy has generally adopted the Indian point of view when it treats the issue at all.

Two different approaches have been taken to the problem in the West, usually stated as “freedom from” and “freedom to.” The former claims that causal determinism (“Every event has a cause”) implies lack of real free will since one’s actions are always the result of prior causal conditions. If one knew all those prior causal conditions, so the argument goes, one could predict unerringly what a person would do under any specific circumstances. But, as some philosophers have pointed out, if one did not have such causal conditions, one would never be able to do anything at all. From this it follows logically that causality is both necessary for free will and incompatible with it! Obviously something has gone wrong somewhere.

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

TE 4 Ontology

The main branch in metaphysics that deals with the nature of being or existence, and the properties and relationships of beings. The word was first used in the seventeenth century, but the concept was already treated in Aristotle’s Metaphysics. Christian Wolff brought it into popular currency in the eighteenth century, when it was widely adopted to distinguish it from the other branches of metaphysics, such as cosmology and theology.

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Perennial Philosophy

[From Theosophical Encyclopedia, here slightly revised in content and adapted to Theosophy Forward style.]

TE 6 Perennial Philisophy

The ageless philosophy about the cosmos and human life that is at the core of all great religious and mystical traditions. The term philosophia perennis was used by Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716), who adopted it from the writings of Italian Catholic theologian Agostin Steuco (1496-1549). It was popularized by Aldous Huxley in his book Perennial Philosophy, published in 1946. This worldview is closely similar to the ageless wisdom as propounded in Theosophy, although the latter has a larger scope than the former usually includes.

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

TE 8 Metaphysics

A branch of philosophy that includes cosmology and ontology. The term is derived from an untitled work by Aristotle called merely meta ta physica, i.e. “The book after the Physics.” In it Aristotle claimed to discuss Being in an abstract sense. Since his time, the term has been extended to cover cosmology as well as what types of things may be reliably said to exist, i.e. ontology.

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TE 8 Greek Philosophy

The beginning of Western philosophy is ascribed to Thales of Miletus (6th century BCE), who claimed that the basic element of the universe, from which all other elements were derived, was water. Exactly what he meant by this is unknown, since only fragments of his writings remain and we are not always sure that later philosophers, such as Aristotle who cited his ideas centuries later, interpreted them correctly. Contemporary historians hypothesize that Thales, observing that water was capable of various conditions: solidification (as ice) and evaporation (as steam or vapor) as well as noting the silting process of rivers, came to his conclusion by induction. But that is not at all certain. Mythology often identifies water (understood metaphorically) as the primary element of creation (cf. Genesis 1.2, Rg Veda x.129, verse 1, etc.) as Helena P. Blavatsky points out when mentioning Thales in The Secret Doctrine (SD 1:345 fn and 2:591 fn). Furthermore, she notes that he (and other early Greek philosophers) were initiates in the Mystery Schools (SD 1:117). If that is so, Thales had not abandoned a mythological account of the universe, as is sometimes believed. But certainly the fragments of his writings that we have do not cite myths as a justification for his belief, so this suggests at least a reasoned, rather than a dogmatic, approach to the creation stories of his day. In any event, cosmological speculation was the initial impetus for Western philosophy.



TE 6 Pythagoras

A pre-Socratic Greek philosopher who lived circa 582-507 B.C. Although the neo-Platonists Proclus (circa 232-304) and Porphyry (410?-484) both wrote biographies of him, little is known historically about his life. He was born on the Greek island of Samos, but migrated to Italy (called Magna Graecia in his day) and founded a school at Krotona, which taught an esoteric doctrine to a group of disciples who revered Pythagoras as a demigod. He and his ideas appear frequently in Theosophical literature, such as The Secret Doctrine and Isis Unveiled by Helena P. Blavatsky, The Masters and the Path by Charles W. Leadbeater, and The Lives of Alcyone by Leadbeater and Annie Besant. In the last two books, Pythagoras is identified as a previous incarnation of Mahātma Koot Hoomi, one of Blavatsky’s teachers.


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