Book Report: Theosophy: The Wisdom of the Ages by Cherry Gilchrist (1996)

Book coverThis book is a little, sixty page primer on Theosophy chock full of pictures and illustrations. The St. Louis chapter of the Theosophical Society had its office right above the Oasis coffee house in Webster Groves back when I hung out there a bunch, and it had crossed my mind to go up and see what it was about, but I never did. I wonder what twenty-five-year-old me would have thought about it. Something like what older me thinks, albeit probably more dismissive and rude about it.

What I have gleaned about this book is that Theosophy is a mystical religion/philosophy created by a Ukrainian noble woman around the turn of the twentieth century. She studied abroad and brought home elements of Buddhism and Hinduism. Although the first bit of the book talks about how she tried to glean the higher truth that lies at the core of all religions, it came to focus on the mystical elements of the imported religions such as reincarnation and chakras. It also picked up some other mysticism from turn-of-the-century thought, such as astral projection, other planes of existence, and mediumship.

So.

It’s a mystical tradition in the most mystical sense, and it prides itself as being the forerunner of New Age thinking. It’s not like the flavors of Buddhism one gets in contemporary book presentations–all the mindfulness and meditation stuff without any of the epistemelogical underpinings, the stuff that makes you go, “Wait, what?” I could probably make a good thesis and paper on how the practical elements of religion come to the forefront in American life, the stuff that tells you how to live your life (meditation and mindfulness in Buddhism, the practical parables in the Gospels) and the epistemological stuff (the Law, the wheel and reincarnation) gets overlooked or ignored.

But Theosophy is full-on mysticism where the epistemology is baked right into the practical.

At any rate, I learned what it is now, and although I’m not going to be hunting down the local branch personally, at least I’ll be ready if I’m asked at a trivia night what organization Madame Helena Blavatsky formed, I’ll know the answer while the other tables are guessing SPECTRE.