The Theosophical
Society in Australia

Brisbane Lodge

Theosophy and the Zeitgeist

The American Theosophist, 1987

Histories of the theosophical movement have tended to be personal or institutional. That is, they have concentrated on the personalities—often charismatic or eccentric, and thus interesting, individuals—who have been prominent in the movement, or they have dealt with the organizational structure in which the movement has been channelled.

Bad histories have abounded. Those written outside the movement have often taken rumour for fact and highlighted the sensational. Those written inside the movement have often been biased and thus treated with adulation those figures and branches of the movement with which the author sympathized and either ignored the others or treated them scurrilously.

Good histories, which succeed in being reasonably comprehensive and fair, have been rarer.[1] And even they have usually focused on persons and institutions. Those focuses are needed, but they are not enough. In addition to theosophical organizations and individual theosophists, the effect of theosophical ideas on modern thought is a part of the history of the movement—and a part that has been neglected.[2]

It is not possible within the limited scope of an essay like this adequately to treat the cultural and intellectual history of Theosophy and its interrelations with other aspects of modern thought. To an extent that few of its supporters realize today, Theosophy has affected modern life—art, music, literature, social concerns, and science. Theosophical ideas, once exceptional, are now commonplace in contemporary thought. Theosophy has become an integral part of the Zeitgeist—“the spirit of our time.”

On the following pages, the proposition that Theosophy has affected and reflects modern culture is argued in two ways. First are listed prominent persons in modern arts, society, and learning who are important figures in their fields and who carried theosophical ideas into their work; because of limitations of space this is hardly more than a catalog of names, whose purpose is simply to suggest the extent of theosophical influence. Then a few key ideas are briefly discussed as both characteristic of modern thought and relevant to a theosophical worldview.

The influence of Theosophy on religious and philosophical thought and on what, for lack of a better name, can be called pop culture are not treated at all, although such influence certainly exists. The philosopher Krishnamurti is hardly imaginable without the theosophical background out of which he developed, and Theosophy’s defense of the value of Eastern, especially Indic, culture helped to spread knowledge of it in the West. As for pop culture, the word karma is first attested in English use as early as 1827, but only in the context of a discussion of Indic religious philosophy. The general use of the word, as in the Rolling Stone magazine of 1971, “John Sebastian’s recording career has been plagued with an unusually bad karma,” is certainly in part a consequence of Theosophy’s use of the term; and the Oxford English Dictionary’s oldest example of the adjective karmic is from the theosophical book Esoteric Buddhism by A. P. Sinnett.

Theosophy and Art

One of the most noteworthy instances of influence by theosophical thought on modern culture is the extent to which the founders of modern art, and especially nonrepresentational or abstract art, were consciously affected by the teachings of the Society.[3] A major exhibit showing the influence of theosophical and allied ideas on modern art—The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890-1985—was presented at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and the Gemeentemuseum in the Hague during 1986-87.[4]

Artists who were influenced by theosophical and allied ideas include Jean Arp, Giacomo Balla, Joseph Beuys, Emil Bisttram, Serge Charchoune, Jean Delville, Theo van Doesburg, Arthur Dove, Marcel Duchamp, Paul Gauguin, Lawren Harris, Marsden Hartley, Jacoba van Heemskerck, Johannes Itten, Paul Klee, Yves Klein, Hilma af Klint, Franz Kupka, Kazimir Malevich, Brice Marden, Mikhail Matiushin, Georg Muche, Georgia O’Keeffe, Gordon Onslow-Ford, Jackson Pollock, Richard Pousette-Dart, Paul Ranson, Odilon Redon, Paul Serusier, and Jan Toorop.

Most significant perhaps are two giants of modern art, Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian. Kandinsky’s manifesto, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, is heavily indebted to H. P. Blavatsky and Theosophy, and his early efforts to free himself from the representational mode of painting were deeply influenced by the book Thought Forms by Annie Besant and Charles W. Leadbeater. Piet Mondrian was a long-time member of the Theosophical Society, and the whole body of his work is an effort to express certain fundamental theosophical concepts relating to the polarity of spirit and matter and the threefold nature of the ultimate world-stuff. (For more on these and other artists, see also The Spiritual Image in Modern Art, compiled by Kathleen J. Regier, Quest Books, 1987.)

In addition to the masters of abstract art, a number of symbolic painters have expressed theosophical themes. Noteworthy among them is Nicholas Roerich. The symbolic school of painters is no longer highly regarded by many art critics, and Roerich has shared their general decline in artistic reputation. However, Roerich’s paintings are prime examples of their genre and form a coherent whole with his other work, specifically his writings. Roerich was a mystic and was prescient, if not clairvoyant. His work, which has been praised for “an intense feeling for the epic dimensions and mystery of nature,” is a visual statement of some basic theosophical ideas.

The artist and architect Claude Bragdon, long-time and active member of the Theosophical Society, was interested in a variety of theosophically related subjects, including speculation on the nature of the fourth dimension. His analytical writings and visual productions became an influence in modern art.[5]

Theosophy and Music

Musicians have also responded to Theosophical themes, the best known and most responsive being Alexander Scriabin. Like Kandinsky, Scriabin wanted to interrelate musical tones and colours. The fascination with synesthesia—the correlation of impressions from different senses—was rife about the turn of the century. Like so much else that inspired the artists of that period, it has a theosophical basis in both theory and practice.

Synesthesia is an expression of the principle of analogy, on which H. P. Blavatsky placed great emphasis. For her, analogy was far more than a recognition of similarities between disparate things. It was rather a consequence of the fact that all things in this world have their origin in a single underlying unity and follow the same laws of development. The universe, in Blavatsky’s vision, is a web of correspondences; and correspondences among sensory impressions are among them.

Synesthesia was described as a literal fact by clairvoyants such as Annie Besant and C. W. Leadbeater, who reported seeing shapes and colours in the matter of subtler worlds. In those worlds, matter is said to be shaped and coloured by emotions and thoughts, but also by musical sounds. Besant and Leadbeater described the appearance of forms built up in the subtle worlds by the performance of music on the physical plane. By their account, they literally saw musical sounds.

Scriabin’s interest in synesthesia led him to compose his tone poem Prometheus: A Poem of Fire for the colour organ, which projected coloured shapes to match the music. That composition is said to have been Scriabin’s response to reading The Secret Doctrine and an effort to present musically and in colour the concept of the descent and reascent of the Logos.

A number of other composers share an interest in esoteric themes. Gustav Holst is best known for The Planets, which musically states the symbolism of seven planets from Mercury to Neptune. He also composed a number of works on Sanskrit themes, including an opera, Savitri, and a number of choral hymns from the Rig Veda.

Cyril Scott, one of the leading British composers of the early twentieth century, is perhaps best known for a piano piece, Lotus Land, which Fritz Kreisler transcribed for the violin and which became a favourite part of his repertory. Most of Scott’s music is not programmatically theosophical, but he approached his art from an esoteric perspective, and he is the most self-consciously theosophical of composers, having published books on esotericism and been involved with a variety of related movements and interests.

Theosophy and Literature

In literature, Theosophical influence has also been pronounced. Most significant is the Anglo-Irish poet William Butler Yeats, one of the major literary figures of the twentieth century. Yeats described his meeting with Blavatsky in his autobiography, and he became one of her private pupils. His writings are imbued with theosophical and other esoteric themes. Many of his poems can be understood only within the context of the theosophical, kabbalistic, and hermetic traditions.

Like Yeats a member of the Irish Literary Renaissance and an active Theosophist, George William Russell (A.E.) expressed the ideas of Theosophy in his poetry and prose, especially in The Candle of Vision. Another Irishman influenced by the esoteric tradition was James Joyce; although Joyce never professed theosophical beliefs, the esoteric ideas of the early twentieth century, shaped in large measure by Theosophy, were prominent themes in his work. Those themes appear also in the most influential poem of T. S. Eliot, The Wasteland. Eliot and Yeats were the two most prominent poets of the first half of this century; the fact that both dealt in esoteric motifs is symptomatic of the extent to which Theosophy permeated literary culture after the turn of the century.

The Belgian symbolist and Nobel Prize winner Maurice Maeterlinck was extraordinarily influential on literature and art in the early years of the twentieth century. His voluminous writings are said to have set the mood for an entire generation of artists in the decade before World War I. Although his symbolism is of the misty and languorous kind then fashionable, to no small extent because of his influence, it has clear theosophical affinities.

Literary figures of lesser reputation, such as Henry Miller and Talbot Mundy, also show the influence of Theosophy. In The Books in My Life, Miller discusses several well-known theosophical works, and Mundy was a resident of the Point Loma community in California. L. Frank Baum also was a member of the Theosophical Society, and theosophical ideas are central to his best known and most widely loved story, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.[6]

More recently, the Harry Potter novels of J. K. Rowling are filled with Theosophically relevant themes and at least one clear reference to H. P. Blavatsky as “Cassandra Vablatsky”, the author of a book on divination. Cassandra was a Trojan prophetess who spoke the truth but was not believed. Many of the themes of these novels, although not identified as from Theosophy, are unmistakably in its tradition.[7]

Theosophy and Social Concerns

Theosophical influence on politics is probably best exemplified in India, where a prominent early theosophist A. O. Hume, was one of the founders of the Indian National Congress, and where Annie Besant, the second president of the Theosophical Society, founded the Indian Home Rule League and was president of the Congress. Mohandas K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru were also members of the society for a time, and Gandhi was reintroduced to the philosophical tradition of Hinduism by Theosophy. Gandhi’s political philosophy was moulded in particular by reading the Bhagavad Gita in an English translation published by the Theosophical Society.

In Ceylon, now called Sri Lanka, Henry S. Olcott, the first president of the Society, was extremely active in promoting social justice and the rights of the native population. He established schools, instilled pride in local culture, gained recognition of Buddhist marriages, and generally revived Buddhism on the island.

One of the leading figures in the women’s rights movement in the United States was Matilda Joslyn Gage. She was active for women’s rights as early as the 1850s, became president of the National Woman Suffrage Association, and collaborated with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in writing the History of Woman Suffrage. She was also a member of the Theosophical Society. As the mother-in-law of L. Frank Baum, she was doubtless responsible for introducing him to Theosophy. Gage’s concern with women’s rights is consistent with the first object of the Society, “To form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or colour.”

In education, theosophical connections exist with the work of Maria Montessori, whose system of preschool education has seen a revival of interest in recent decades, and with the Waldorf Schools. The Montessori method is based on confidence in the inner creative potential of children, their natural impulse to learn, and their right to respect as individuals—all principles with strong theosophical affinities. The Waldorf School movement derives from the work of Rudolf Steiner, the first head of the Theosophical Society in Germany who later founded the Anthroposophical Society.

Theosophy and Science

In addition to the arts, politics, and social concerns, the theosophical worldview has remarkable affinities with recent scientific theories, although these affinities have been noted more often by theosophists than by scientists. Fritjof Capra’s Tao of Physics, subtitled An Exploration of the Parallels between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism (1975), notes similarities between the views of reality implicit in the theories of contemporary physics and those of the Indic and Chinese traditions.

Although Capra does not acknowledge the fact, the Eastern views he finds so compatible with the new physics were spread in the West by the Theosophical Society. One of those views is that in any act of observation, the observer and the observed are interrelated, not independent and unrelated. Traditionally scientific experimenters have assumed that they can look at what is going on in an experiment without disturbing it—that they are objective observers. But in the Eastern and theosophical view, there is no line separating the observer from what is observed; they are rather both part of a single process, a view that has also become fashionable in recent scientific theory.

A possible specific influence of Theosophy on modern physics has been reported from a 1935 conversation with Albert Einstein, in which the Father of Relativity is said to have remarked of H. P. Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine:

It’s a very strange book, and I’ve even told Prof. Heisenberg, my fellow physicist, to get a copy and keep it on his desk. I urged him to dip into it when he’s handicapped by some problem. The strangeness of this book may relax or possibly inspire him….For instance, here is something she said which intrigued me, and I’m astonished how much in keeping it is with modern physics:

This is sufficient to show how absurd are the simultaneous admissions of the non-divisibility and elasticity of the atom. The atom is elastic, ergo, the atom is divisible, and must consist of particles, or of sub-atoms. And these sub-atoms? They are either non-elastic, and in such case they represent no dynamic importance, or, they are elastic also; and in that case, they, too, are subject to divisibility. And thus ad infinitum. But infinite divisibility of atoms resolves matter into simple centers of force, i.e., precludes the possibility of conceiving matter as an objective substance.

There are many other significant statements of hers which I find interesting.[8]

Sir Williams Crookes, chemist, physicist, and inventor, known especially for his work with cathode rays, was also a Theosophist and president of the Society for Psychical Research. Another scientist-inventor who was a member of the society was Thomas Alva Edison

David Bohm, a contemporary theoretical physicist especially associated with quantum theory, has been heavily influenced by Krishnamurti, the philosopher educated and launched upon the world by Theosophists. Bohm’s ideas include an “implicate order”—“a hidden order . . . at work beneath the seeming chaos and lack of continuity of the individual particles of matter described by quantum mechanics…the source of all the visible (explicate) matter of our space-time universe.”[9]

Transpersonal psychology, a system of psychotherapy that recognizes altered states of consciousness and transcendent experiences as means of expanding human awareness and healing psychological malfunctions, numbers among its leaders Ken Wilber, two of whose books were first published by the Theosophical Publishing House, Roberto Assagioli, founder of a related technique called psychosynthesis, has theosophical connections through the Alice Bailey movement.

One of the most original and interesting of the theorists about human language in the twentieth century was Benjamin Lee Whorf. Building on the work of his teacher Edward Sapir, Whorf set forth what has been called the Whorf Hypothesis: that the language we speak moulds the way we think about and even the way we perceive the universe. Whorf was a member of the Theosophical Society, and his major statement of his theory was first published in its international magazine The Theosophist.[10] Whorf’s theorizing about the nature of reality and its relationship to human cognition and language is founded on a theosophical view of the universe and mind.

Key Ideas and the Theosophical Worldview

The Theosophical Society has been promulgating its worldview since the 1870s, and its ideas have been influential on our culture during the past century and more. But in addition to influences of the usual kind, there is a remarkable harmony between some of the dominant ideas of our time and the theosophical worldview. That synchronistic coincidence is evidence of the relevance of much theosophical thought to the spirit of our time.

There seems to be an inner impulse in a culture which manifests itself in a variety of ways. Marilyn Ferguson, referring to what she calls the “personal and social transformation in the 1980s,” has called that inner impulse in our present time “the Aquarian Conspiracy.”[11] The latter term is unnecessarily dramatic, and carries inaccurate connotations. However, Ferguson cogently argues her point—that the latter part of the twentieth century has seen a confluence of views concerning social and personal values, scientific and philosophical outlooks, alternative medicine, ecology, psychological transformation, and a “network” of other “new age” concerns. Ferguson may have overstated her thesis and been indiscriminate in the evidence advanced to support it, but the thesis is a strong one. In our time, not just the last twenty years but the last 120, we have come to look at the world differently, with certain key ideas shaping our view of things.

Every cultural epoch can be seen as expressing some few seminal ideas that pervade the thinking and sensitivity and automatic responses of a society. The Middle Ages were dominated by the idea of hierarchy, the Renaissance by that of humanism, the Enlightenment by that of order, the Romantic period by that of nature. In our own time, a case can be made that the governing ideas since the late nineteenth century have been evolution, relativity, systems, esotericism, and unity.


Evolution was known to the ancient Greeks and Hindus, but in European culture it was not until the nineteenth century that it became a model for thinking about the world. The turning point was the publication in 1859 of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, although Alfred Wallace and others were also influential at about the same time. Nowadays we assume evolution as the norm for all manner of historical change. Not only biological species, but governments, languages, ideas, computer designs, and haute couture all evolve. For us, to change is to evolve.

It is not surprising that evolution plays a major role in theosophical thinking and is a governing concept in H. P. Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine. Any movement sensitive to the currents of intellectual development and coming into existence three-quarters of the way through the last century would necessarily have been oriented towards evolution.

Theosophical evolution, however, has some distinctive characteristics. It plays a central role in the genesis of the cosmos and of humanity; the birth and history of the universe are evolutionary processes. Ancient concepts of evolution are wedded to the modern passion for it, so it is regarded as an exceedingly old rather than as a spanking new concept. Theosophical evolution involves not merely causes but also purposes; it is teleological, or goal-oriented, guided by an intelligent principle within the evolving universe rather than by unconscious responses to external pressures.

In addition to the physical evolution of form that is the subject of scientific study, theosophical evolution is seen as operating also within the intellectual and spiritual aspects of our nature—the mind by which we grasp the world and the awareness of ourselves and of ultimate reality. This distinctive theosophical concern for evolution marks the movement as both a revival of ancient ways of looking at the universe and a contemporary expression of the spirit of our time.


Relativity entered modern thinking as a dominant concept with Albert Einstein’s 1905 Special Relativity Theory, one consequence of which was to lead physicists to think of space and time not as independent of each other, but rather as aspects of a single four-dimensional reality. That space and time are part of a single continuum would hardly have come as news to anyone familiar with Blavatsky’s 1888 Secret Doctrine.

More significant is the fact that the concept of relativity has pervaded all aspects of modern thought. Nothing, we have come to assume, has meaning or value or identity on its own; each thing has an identity only as it relates to other things. A person is a mother in relation to her children, but a child in relation to her parents. The earth is moving with relation to the sun, but the sun is also moving with relation to the earth. There is no absolute motion; it is all relative.

Relativity is also a central concept of Theosophy, in which, however, it is called mayaMaya is the concept that nothing in this world is what it seems to be. That is the case because, as the teaching of the Buddha makes clear, nothing has an inherent, absolute nature; everything is anatta, without a separate self-nature. Lacking a separate self-nature, things have identity only as they relate to other things: they have relative reality. As Blavatsky says (Secret Doctrine 1:39):

Maya or illusion is an element which enters into all finite things, for everything that exists has only a relative, not an absolute, reality, since the appearance which the hidden noumenon assumes for any observer depends upon his power of cognition.


Systems thinking is a natural concomitant of relativity. If things have reality only in relation to other things, then the patterns or systems of relationship become of paramount importance. Today systems thinking is familiar. In computer science, system programs, systems analysis, and systems software are buzzwords of the trade. One school of linguistics calls itself Systemics, and another talks about systematic phonemes. The “System” is another term for the society in which we live with its rules governing our behaviour, so people talk about learning to “work the system” or “beat the system.” We have come to view nature in terms of ecological systems. Even cities can be looked upon as systems.

Nobel Prize winner Ilya Prigogine describes living beings as systems that can to some extent escape the pull of entropy by their ability for self-organization. His theories explain how systematic order emerges out of chaos. The cybernetics of mathematician Norbert Wiener deals with systems of communication and control. Wiener notably said, “We are not stuff that abides, but patterns [i.e. sytems] that perpetuate themselves.” Systems are everywhere in modern thought.

Theosophy is likewise full of systems. The view of cosmic and human history outlined in The Secret Doctrine envisions a system of evolution going on in a system of worlds. Theosophy talks about cycles, laws, hierarchies, and correspondences. Those are all aspects of systems. Cycles are systems in time, laws are systems in behaviour, hierarchies are systems in responsibility, correspondences are systems in patterns. In a sense, Theosophy is nothing but a statement of the system of cosmic and human life.


One of the principal concerns of our time has been to get below surface appearances to the truth beneath, to seek out a deeper level of reality. Such a search is an expression of esotericism. For example, David Bohm’s concept of the implicate order is one of a hidden or esoteric pattern beneath the observable explicate order of things. Similarly, the idea of a subconscious level of the human psyche, popularized by Sigmund Freud, has become a cliche of modern thought; the subconscious is the esoteric side of our exoteric personality. A respect, often grossly exaggerated, for the expertise of specialists—doctors, engineers, dictionary makers, or what have you—is characteristic of our times; specialized information and skill is esoteric knowledge not available to the exoteric masses. We are in fact devoted to the esoteric, which we call by various names.

Recent scholarship has focused on the role of the explicity esoteric or the occult in contemporary life and Western culture. The terms “esoteric” and “occult” are basically synonymous, referring to that which is hidden from view and thus not easily understood. This aspect of our culture had been insufficiently recognised and undervalued by intellectual historians, but is now receiving much needed attention.[12]

The notion of esotericism is integral to Theosophy, which is also called the “Esoteric Tradition” or, following the title of Blavatsky’s masterwork, the “Secret Doctrine.” Theosophy is concerned with experiencing the Reality behind the mayavic relativity of this world. That experience must, by its very nature, be esoteric, not public, and incommunicable. In that sense, esotericism became a major concern of many avant-garde thinkers in the so-called Occult Revival of the late nineteenth century.


Unity is another governing idea of our time. Theoretical scientists are obsessed with the desire to discover a Grand Unified Theory that will explain all natural processes by a single principle. Politically we have tried twice in this century to unite the separate governments of the world, first in a League of Nations, later in the United Nations. In America we have unified school systems in an effort to integrate the races. Ecologists urge us to see ourselves and nature as part of a single, unified environment. Holistic medicine seeks to treat the entire person, body, mind, and spirit. Ilya Prigogine seeks to unite biology and physics, necessity and chance, science and human values, humanity and nature.[13] Astronomers perceive the entire universe as one interrelated whole, the result of a primordial Big Bang. And so on and on. Unity may be the single most characteristic and dominant idea of our time.

Unity is also the single most important idea in Theosophy. When asked how theosophical principles apply to social cooperation and betterment, the first two principles Blavatsky cited were “universal Unity and causation” and “Human Solidarity” (Key to Theosophy, p. 233). And in The Secret Doctrine(1:120), she wrote:

The radical unity of the ultimate essence of each constituent part of compounds in Nature—from Star to mineral Atom, from the highest Dhyan Chohan [guiding intelligence] to the smallest infusoria, in the fullest acceptation of the term, and whether applied to the spiritual, intellectual, or physical worlds—this is the one fundamental law in Occult Science.

David Bohm, a philosopher as well as a physicist, sees an underlying unity beneath matter and consciousness and beneath the superficially separate consciousnesses of all of us:

Consciousness is possibly a more subtle form of matter and movement, a more subtle aspect of the holo-movement. In the nonmanifest order there is no separation in space and time. In ordinary matter this is so and it’s even more so for this subtle matter which is consciousness. Therefore if we are separate it is because we are sticking largely to the manifest world as the basic reality where the whole point is to have separate units, relatively separate anyway, but interacting. In non-manifest reality it’s all interpenetrating, interconnected, one. So we say deep down the consciousness of mankind is one.[14]

The Spirit of the Time

In all these ideas—evolution, relativity, systems, esotericism, and unity—Theosophy focuses upon major concerns of our time. Theosophy is not the source of those ideas, which are far older and more prevalent than modern Theosophy. But the Theosophical Society joins with numerous other movements or schools of thought in enunciating those ideas, and in the process gives to them its own coloration and tone. More important, Theosophy, and perhaps Theosophy alone, links those ideas in a single coherent pattern: The purpose of our life is that we should evolve through the systems of the universe, learning and finally passing beyond the relative truths of the phenomenal world—maya—to the underlying esoteric reality which we experience as the ultimate Unity of all life.

Theosophy thus proposes a coherent worldview which honours the individual’s place in the universe and contribution to the world process, respects the past and its accomplishments, and is open to and confident of the future. That worldview is the Zeitgeist, the spirit of our time.


[1] A notable such recent history of the Theosophical Society in America is 100 Years of Theosophy by Joy Mills (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1987).

[2] One of the few exceptions is Ancient Wisdom Revived by Bruce F Campbell (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1980), which devotes one chapter to ‘The Influence of Theosophy East and West.’ Another is HPB: The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky, Founder of the Modern Theosophical Movementby Syvia Cranston and Carey Williams (3rd rev. ed Santa Barbara, CA: Path Publishing House, 1999), part 7 ((pp.421-554) of which deals with the later influence of H. P. Blavatsky. A notable article on the subject is John Cooper’s “The Influence of the Theosophical Movement on World Thought,” Theosophy in Australia 47 (September 1983): pp. 153-58; he deals, however, more with religious than with secular thought.

[3] That influence has been no secret. It has been dealt with, for example, by Sixten Ringbom, “Art in ‘The Epoch of the Great Spiritual’: Occult Elements in the Early Theory of Abstract Painting,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 29 (1966): 386-418 and The Sounding Cosmos, Acta Academiae Aboensis, ser. A, 38 Abo, Finland: Abo Academy, 1970); Gerrit Munnik, “The Influence of H. P. Blavatsky on Modern Art,” in H. P. Blavatsky and “The Secret Doctrine”, ed. Virginia Hanson (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1971); an exhibition and catalog, Art of the Invisible (Jarrow: Bede Gallery, 1977); and Rose-Carol Washton Long, Kandinsky: The Development of an Abstract Style (Oxford: Clarendon, 1980).

[4] The catalog of the exhibition, The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890-1985 (New York: Abbeville, 1986), is a collection of essays on aspects of the esoteric in modern art.

[5] Linda Dalrymple Henderson, The Fourth Dimension and Non-Euclidean Geometry in Modern Art (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 1983).

[6] John Algeo, “A Notable Theosophist: L. Frank Baum,” American Theosophist 74 (1986): 270-73, and “The Wizard of Oz: The Perilous Journey,” American Theosophist 74 (1986): 291-97, reprinted in Quest 6.2 (Summer 1993): 48-55.

[7] John Algeo, “Harry Potter and the Ancient Wisdom”, Quest 90 (November-December 2002): 220-5; “Harry Potter’s Four Fathers: The Quest for the Father in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”, Quest 92.4 (July-August 2004): 144-9; “Harry Potter’s Quest in the Chamber of Secrets”, Theosophy in Australia 69.1 (March 2005); 9-12; “Harry Potter and the Dugpa”, Quest 95.4 (July-August 2007); 134-9.

[8] Jack Brown, “I Visit Professor Einstein,” Ojai Valley News, 28 Sept. 1983, C-7. This article, for a copy of which I am indebted to William Laudahn, is part of the legend that Einstein kept a copy of The Secret Doctrine on the corner of his desk; Brown’s reminiscences are perhaps the source of the legend. Documentary evidence for the legend is slight, but the parallels that inspired it are clear, as in the quoted paragraph about the infinite divisibility of the atom, from The Secret Doctrine 2:519.

[9] Renée Weber, Dialogues with Scientists and Sages (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986), 25; Weber’s book contains dialogues with several contemporary scientists, exploring the mystical and Theosophical dimensions of their ideas.

[10] “Language, Mind, and Reality,” The Theosophist 63 (1942): 1.281-91, 2.25-37.

[11The Aquarian Conspiracy: Personal and Social Transformation in the 1980s (Los Angeles: Tarcher; New York: St. Martin’s, 1980).

[12] Examples are Antoine Faivre’s Theosophy, Imagination, Tradition: Studies in Western Esotericism (Albany: Sate University of New York Press, 2000), Antoine Faivre and Jacob Needleman’s Modern Esoteric Spirituality (New York: Crossroad, 1995), Joshua Gunn’s Modern Occult Rhetoric: Mass Media and the Drama of Secrecy in the Twentieth Century (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2005), Wouter J. Hanegraff’s New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998), David Katz’s The Occult Tradition from the Renaissance to the Present Day (London: Jonathan Cape, 2005), Alex Owen’s The Place of Enchantment: British Occultism and the Culture of the Modern (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), and Arthur Versluis’s The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001).

[13] For example in Order out of Chaos by Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers (New York: Bantam, 1984).

[14] In Weber, op. cit., p.41.


For comments on an earlier version of this essay, I am indebted to Adele Algeo, Diana Dunningham-Chapotin, Joy Mills, and Shirley Nicholson.

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Dr John Algeo is Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Georgia, USA. He is a former International Vice-President of the Theosophical Society, and also a former National President of the TS in America. He has many academic distinctions to his credit. He is the author of the book Reincarnation Explored and of many articles published in a number of journals around the world.

This article was originally published in the November 1987 issue of The American Theosophist.

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Leaflet: Theosophy and the Zeitgeist


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