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Privation is a term sporadically used by H. P. Blavatsky in her writings to refer to the "abstract ideal", "subtle mould" or "astral prototype" of anything that is to be manifested. She takes this word from the philosophy of Aristotle, but interprets it in a different way than it is normally understood in current scholarship.

Traditional understanding

In chapter I.7 of his book Physics Aristotle says that, in order to understand how something can change, we must take into account three elements: matter (an object or subject), a form (or quality), and a privation (or lack). What comes to be is a new form in the matter that persists through the change. This new form comes to be in what was previously lacking, that is, the privation of the form. Thus, for example, in the case of a person that did not know music and later he learns, the three elements would be:

1- Persisting matter: the person.

2- Lacking element: musical knowledge.

3- Acquired form: the musical faculty.

Theosophical interpretation

Mme. Blavatsky, however, interprets these three elements in a more metaphysical way. She wrote:

As Aristotle has it, [there must be] three principles for every natural body to become objective: privation, form, and matter. Privation meant in the mind of the great philosopher that which the Occultists call the prototypes impressed in the Astral Light — the lowest plane and world of Anima Mundi.[1]

A similar view can be found in one of the letters from the Mahatmas, where Master K.H. says:

At the same time they [the skandhas] are ever and ceaselessly at work in preparing the abstract mould, the "privation" of the future new being.[2]

There is an interpretation that can bring the view of the scholars and the Theosophical closer. The privation of something (e.g., the lack of musical knowledge) implies the possibility of having that quality. A human being has a privation of musical knowledge because he has the potential ability to learn music. So, in this case, we could take "privation" as the unmanifested potentiality of something which may become manifest in a particular form at some point in time. This potentiality, before expressing itself on the physical plane, exists as a "prototype" on the inner planes.

In Isis Unveiled, Mme. Blavatsky explains at length how she uses this term:

No form can come into objective existence—from the highest to the lowest—before the abstract ideal of this form—or, as Aristotle would call it, the privation of this form—is called forth. Before an artist paints a picture every feature of it exists already in his imagination; to have enabled us to discern a watch, this particular watch must have existed in its abstract form in the watchmaker’s mind. So with future men.
According to Aristotle’s doctrine, there are three principles of natural bodies: privation, matter, and form. These principles may be applied in this particular case. The privation of the child which is to be we will locate in the invisible mind of the great Architect of the Universe—privation not being considered in the Aristotelic philosophy as a principle in the composition of bodies, but as an external property in their production; for the production is a change by which the matter passes from the shape it has not to that which it assumes. Though the privation of the unborn child’s form, as well as of the future form of the unmade watch, is that which is neither substance nor extension nor quality as yet, nor any kind of existence, it is still something which is, though its outlines, in order to be, must acquire an objective form—the abstract must become concrete, in short. Thus, as soon as this privation of matter is transmitted by energy to universal ether, it becomes a material form, however sublimated.[3]


  1. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 59.
  2. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 68 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), ???.
  3. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1972), 310-311.