Theosophical Anthropology, or the Septenary Constitution of Man Reconsidered

Ulrich Harlass, Dr. phil., postdoctoral researcher
Institute of Religious Studies and Pedagogics of Religion
University of Bremen, Germany
e-mail: uharlass@uni-bremen.de


In “The Secret Doctrine” (1888), Helena P. Blavatsky declares to the astonishment of many readers that man is constituted by seven principles corresponding to the general “septenary” cosmic structure. This clearly represents a shift in comparison with her first major work “Isis Unveiled” (1877), where Blavatsky speaks of the “tripartite man”. The change from three to seven principles was irritating not only to her contemporaries, but remained an enigma that evoked debates among later theosophists and their critics. In scholarly analyses, the sevenfold constitution marks the theosophical shift from occident to orient, which is not only geographical, but also doctrinal in nature. However, what has escaped scholarly analysis is the historization of this particular ìshiftî and its context that lead to the first theosophical book that introduces the sevenfold scheme – namely “Esoteric Buddhism” (1883). The paper shows that this septenary constitution was a result of the historical discursive context and developed in response to ongoing disputes. To this end, the paper will illustrate this concept’s genealogy rather than its “sources”. Theosophists in India and confidantes of Blavatsky both attempted to circumvent what they claimed to be the esoteric knowledge of occultism. In doing so they addressed and interpreted modern science and spiritualism in equal measure, rejected Christianity, integrated reincarnation and, despite the absence of explicit references, relativized the oriental traditions.

Keywords: Theosophical Society, Helena P. Blavatsky, postcolonialism, orientalism, theosophical anthropology, septenary constitution


How to cite:
Harlass, U. (2022). “Theosophical Anthropology, or the Septenary Constitution of Man Reconsidered.” Journal of Comparative Studies 15 (44), 80–101.