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NOTE: For the periodical of this name, see The Theosophist

The word Theosophist is today generally applied to a member of a Theosophical organization or to a student of Theosophy. However, the founders of the Theosophical Society reserved this term for those people who had attained theos-sophia, that is, divine wisdom.

Related terms such as the Greek "theosophos" and "theosopher" were used by some Neoplatonists and Christian mystics (such as Jakob Böhme) respectively.

Historical use

Mme. Blavatsky expounded on the historical use of the term "Theosophist" as follows:

Theosophists. A name by which many mystics at various periods of history have called themselves. The Neo-Platonists of Alexandria were Theosophists; the Alchemists and Kabbalists during the mediaeval ages were likewise so called, also the Martinists, the Quietists, and other kinds of mystics, whether acting independently or incorporated in a brotherhood or society. All real lovers of divine Wisdom and Truth had, and have, a right to the name, rather than those who, appropriating the qualification, live lives or perform actions opposed to the principles of Theosophy. As described by Brother Kenneth R. Mackenzie, the Theosophists of the past centuries -- "entirely speculative, and founding no schools, have still exercised a silent influence upon philosophy; and, no doubt, when the time arrives, many ideas thus silently propounded may yet give new directions to human thought. . . . However accurate and beautiful some of the ideas of Swedenborg, Pernetty, Paschalis, Saint Martin, Marconis, Ragon, and Chastanier may have been, they have but little direct influence on society." This is true of the Theosophists of the last three centuries, but not of the later ones. For the Theosophists of the current century have already visibly impressed themselves on modern literature, and introduced the desire and craving for some philosophy in place of the blind dogmatic faith of yore, among the most intelligent portions of humankind.[1]

Modern use

In connection with the modern use of this term, Mme. Blavatsky stated:

A member of the Theosophical Society is not necessarily a Theosophist . . . and therefore it is so necessary that all should learn what a Theosophist is, and what any man must do to make Theosophy a living factor in his life".[2]

The Theosophist who is at all in earnest, sees his responsibility and endeavours to find knowledge, living, in the meantime, up to the highest standard of which he is aware.[3]

He who does not practice altruism; he who is not prepared to share his last morsel with a weaker or poorer than himself; he who neglects to help his brother man, of whatever race, nation, or creed, whenever and wherever he meets suffering, and who turns a deaf ear to the cry of human misery; he who hears an innocent person slandered, whether a brother Theosophist or not, and does not undertake his defence as he would undertake his own––is no Theosophist.[4]

A similar statement can be found in the words of one of Blavatsky's teachers, Mahatma K.H., who wrote:

The first object of the Society is philanthropy. The true theosophist is the Philanthropist who—"not for himself, but for the world he lives."[5]

Because a Theosophist is preparing himself to become a helper in the work of the Masters for humanity, he or she must be willing to make personal sacrifices and employ his time in making himself fit for that work. As Mme. Blavatsky wrote:

Every true Theosophist is morally bound to sacrifice the personal to the impersonal, his own present good to the future benefit of other people.[6]

In regards to the qualities of a Theosophist, Mme. Blavatsky wrote:

Any person of average intellectual capacities, and a leaning toward the metaphysical; of pure, unselfish life, who finds more joy in helping his neighbour than in receiving help himself; one who is ever ready to sacrifice his own pleasures for the sake of other people; and who loves Truth, Goodness and Wisdom for their own sake, not for the benefit they may confer—is a Theosophist.[7]

She also connected this term with an unbiased and non-dogmatic search for Truth:

Theosophists have no dogmas, exact no blind faith. Theosophists are ever ready to abandon every idea that is proved erroneous upon strictly logical deductions.[8]

True to the colours of Universal Brotherhood, the Theosophist is always ready to accept undisguised truth; to bow before the man of whatever race or creed, who, being but mortal has struggled onward, and achieving purification through his own exertions, risen to the eminence of the imaginary personal God. But he will ever refuse worship or even recognition, to the virtue and righteousness of that extra cosmic deity.[9]

Online resources





  1. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Theosophical Glossary (Krotona, CA: Theosophical Publishing House, 1973), 328-329.
  2. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. XII (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1980), 508.
  3. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. IX (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1974), 4-5.
  4. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. XII (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1980), 508.
  5. Curuppumullage Jinarājadāsa, Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom Second Series No. 68 (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1977), 125.
  6. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy (London: Theosophical Publishing House, [1987]), 282.
  7. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. I (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1988), 156.
  8. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. IX (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1974), 304.
  9. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. V (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1997), 356.