Theosophy and the Society in the Public Eye

Swedenborg as Theosophist

By G. Baseden Butt – England

The truths of Theosophy continually receive confirmation from unexpected quarters. An instance of this is provided by the Swedish seer and mystic, Emmanuel Swedenborg. Swedenborg died in 1772 at the age of eighty-four, most of his religious works being produced in the last twenty or thirty years of his life. All his theology is Christo-centric and he betrays no indication of having given the idea of reincarnation even cursory attention.

Emmanuel Swedenborg

But in spite of these limitations Swedenborg anticipates several doctrines to be found in Theosophy and also, of course, in modern spiritualism. He makes what must then have been the revolutionary announcement that man after death pursues for a time a life similar to that which he has followed in the world—thought, character, personality, and tastes remaining unchanged. Swedenborg refers to the astral plane as the “world of spirits” and the lower and higher mental planes are doubtless his “celestial” and “spiritual” heavens, in the former of which dwell angels, grounded primarily in goodness, and in the latter angels grounded primarily in the love of truth.

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Thought Control

“thoughts are things — have tenacity, coherence, and life, — . . .  they are real entities.” [Mahatma Letter 18 (chronological ed.)]

Time magazine for November 14, 2011, has an article on “Thought Control” (pp. 52-4) that does not mention Theosophy but is of interest in providing scientific and technological confirmation of a central Theosophical idea—the one enunciated in the quotation above from the Mahatma Letters.

Thought Control

Briefly, a North Carolina former school science teacher created a device that can detect electrical pulses from the brain that are transmitted to the skin throughout one’s body and reflect concentrated thought processes. The device is attached by a strap to one’s arm, for example. Then, when we concentrate our thoughts, thereby increasing the prominence of beta waves that the brain is sending through our central nervous system and into our skin, the device picks up those waves and sends the information to a computer, which can be programed to perform various operations when our brain-wave information reaches it.

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Scriabin: Musician and Theosophist

Sybil Marguerite Warner

[Edited and slightly expanded from Music and Listeners, by Sybil Marguerite Warner, with a foreword by C. Jinarajadasa (London: Service Magazine and Publications, 1911)]


The growth of Western music is the product of the soul development of its individual composers. Through the creative energy of many of varying stature, the form and power of music changes and expands, and at intervals a giant arises, who, while synthesizing all that is past, transmutes it into something higher and hitherto undreamed. Such a one was Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin: composer, pianist, and Theosophist.

In the widely differing fields of lyric passion, expressed through piano music, and of a profound psychological philosophy, symbolized in myths and mighty music dramas, Chopin and Wagner reigned supreme. It would have seemed fantastic to predict that a composer would shortly appear who would blend these two types of thought; yet, idolizing Chopin, Scriabin followed in his steps until the path led him far beyond the heights reached by the old master, while into this realm of poems in music the Russian genius brought a wealth and profundity of psychological expression and interpretation that has widened the boundaries of musical speech.

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Colonel Olcott Honored in New Jersey

[On September 10, 2011, a memorial statue of Henry Steel Olcott was unveiled at a Sri Lankan Buddhist temple near Princeton, New Jersey. The statue is modeled on one in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where Olcott is a national hero for the work he did to establish Buddhist schools and to procure British respect for the civil and religious liberties of Sri Lankans. The following is a summary of remarks given at that event by the Vice President of the Theosophical Society in America, Edward Abdill.]

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Theosophists in the Public Eye: Dana Ivey

Betty Bland calls our attention to the fact that a new movie, “The Help,” includes a performance by Theosophist Dana Ivey, in the role of Gracie Higginbotham. Dana, who was born in Atlanta, Georgia, comes from a Theosophical family. She is among the few actresses (the others including Angela Lansbury and Julie Harris) who have received five or more Tony nominations. She premiered Driving Miss Daisy in New York, playing the title role. In 2011, she appeared as Miss Prism in the Broadway production of The Importance of Being Earnest. Her earlier Broadway productions include Sunday in the Park with George, Major Barbara, Henry IV, and The Rivals. Her films include roles in The Color Purple, Sabrina, The Addams Family, and The Adventures of Huck Finn. She has received many awards and nominations for her acting roles on the stage, in films, and on TV. She has also recorded Light on the Path and At the Feet of the Master for the Theosophical Society in America.

Nicholas Roerich: The Treasures Within

Kathleen F. Hall – Canada

Nicholas Roerich was a spiritually inspired artist whose visionary paintings depict vistas beyond our usual perception of human reality. Roerich’s paintings are alive with the color and light of other worldly realms allowing us to encounter visually that which we may have imagined, grasped, or somehow inherently recognize as the spiritual essence behind the veil of our unseeing eyes; Roerich’s paintings seem intent to inspire, educate and reveal the glorious mysteries of the ancient wisdoms in the landscapes of our souls.

Svetoslav Roerich. Nicholas Roerich with Sacred Casket.
Tempera on canvas. 
Private assembly, USA.

Nicholas Roerich was born October 9, 1874, in St. Petersburg, Russia. His father was a liberal-minded and well-respected lawyer whose many friends included scientists, scholars, and artists.  These family friends would often visit the Roerich household and would engage in lively discussions that left an impression on young Nicholas. Roerich’s grandfather, Fyodor Ivanovich Roerich also lived with the family until his death at 105; he had a large collection of Masonic symbols that fascinated Nicholas and his brothers, and these too left an impression on Nicholas that would later be revealed through his life’s work.

Nicholas Roerich Estate Museum in Izvara

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“English Book of the Dead”: Tibetan or Theosophical?

[A friend, Thomas Wittenberg, sent us an article from the journal Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly (summer 2011). It is a review of a new edition of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, by Walter Yeeling Evans-Wentz; the editor of the new version (Princeton University Press, 2011; $19.95. 192 pp.) is Donald S. Lopez, Jr.; the Buddhadharma reviewer of the new edition is Roger Jackson, a professor of Asian Studies and Religion at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota.]

The Tibetan text Bardo Thodol (“Liberation through Hearing While in the Intermediate State”) was first published in English in 1927 by W. Y. Evans-Wentz, characterized as an “American traveler, scholar, and Theosophist.” The editor of the new version calls the well-known and influential English version, somewhat surprisingly, “not really Tibetan,” “not really a book,” and “not really about death.” The book had significant influence on the Beatles, movies like Jacob’s Ladder, TV shows like Twin Peaks, and respected authors on death like Elisabeth Kuebler-Ross and Raymond Moody. However, the editor argues that it is not really about death because it focuses on tantric practices used by the living, not really a book because it is based on only a fragment of the original, and not really Tibetan because it was inspired by and focuses on a Theosophical view of reality. Nevertheless, the reviewer concedes that the English book “has indeed become a ‘timeless world spiritual classic,’ whose influence will continue to be felt despite all we now know about its composition and contents.”

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