Authored by: Olav Hammer

The Occult World

Print publication date:  December  2014
Online publication date:  December  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415695961
eBook ISBN: 9781315745916
Adobe ISBN: 9781317596769


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The Theosophical Society was founded in 1875 in New York City. It functioned as the vehicle for the dissemination of a religio-philosophical message that drew on a vast fund of Western esoteric sources, and was presented as a third option besides dogmatic religion and materialistic science, able to transcend the differences between the two. The primary spokesperson for this message was Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831–91), who synthesized and interpreted a host of esoteric teachings in numerous articles and several books. After her death, schisms followed, and several organizations claimed to carry on Blavatsky’s legacy. For very different reasons, both of the two main Theosophical bodies – one based in Adyar, India, the other with headquarters in Point Loma, on the outskirts of San Diego – experienced setbacks toward the end of the 1930s. Theosophy has nevertheless continued to play an important role in the religious landscape, not only through Theosophical organizations in the strict sense (the topic of this chapter), but also through various movements with a looser doctrinal affiliation to the mother society (see the chapter ‘The Theosophical Current in the Twentieth Century,’ in the present volume), and via the kind of non-affiliated folk religiosity often referred to as ‘New Age’ (see the chapter of that name, also in the present volume). The cultural influence of Theosophy is pervasive, and readers can pursue the topics presented in those three chapters in considerably more detail in Hammer and Rothstein (2013).

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