Is Theosophy racist? Do the writings of H. P. Blavatsky truly contain racially prejudiced and insulting statements about Africans and other black people?
Some people insist that the answer to such questions is “Yes!”
Yet their arguments and explanations invariably show a very incomplete study of the Theosophical literature alongside a tendency – whether deliberate or otherwise – to lift quotations out of context and present only part of the story.
It’s understandable for people to become emotionally riled at what they perceive as racism. Theosophists are the first to agree that racism is something idiotic, evil, and dangerously detrimental to humanity’s inner evolution.
In an earlier article – Responding to Lies about H. P. Blavatsky – we have already shown and demonstrated that Theosophy is not racist and that HPB’s writings and teachings did not influence Adolf Hitler and Nazism and contain nothing even vaguely resembling white supremacism.
There is no point repeating the whole of that article here. Those who truly wish to know the facts are invited to click on the link above and read it carefully for themselves.
The other article didn’t go into depth or detail regarding the Theosophical view of the African races, hence the need for this present article. We begin, however, by quoting a brief excerpt from the former:
“The term “Root Race” is used to refer to specific epochs of civilisation. According to the teachings of Theosophy and HPB, four of these epochs or Root Races have already come and gone on our globe, each succeeding the other after tens or even hundreds of thousands of years and each Root Race and its own particular continent eventually being largely destroyed and wiped out by natural disaster. The first four Root Races no longer exist, because those epochs have run their course. They were the Polarian Race, the Hyperborean Race, the Lemurian Race, and the Atlanteans. Mankind’s evolution requires that there will be seven major epochs and thus seven Root Races in total. It is the fifth which is currently underway and this is mainly referred to in Theosophy as the Aryan Root Race.
“It is called the Aryan because the beginnings of its civilisation were in the ancient land once known as Aryavarta but today known as India. All the various races in the world today descend originally from “Mother India,” according to Theosophy, with the exception of the Orientals, Africans, and some aboriginals such as the native Australians. They are considered to be the surviving descendants of older races, particularly of the last Lemurian and especially Atlantean sub-races.
“But this does not mean that those races or the billions of people belonging to them are in any way inferior. HPB taught that the real person is the soul within and that the soul reincarnates in the bodies of various races throughout its long cyclic journey of evolution. “Thus the reason given for dividing humanity into superior and inferior races falls to the ground and becomes a fallacy.” (The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 2 by H. P. Blavatsky, p. 425)”
But there must be some reason why people believe that Theosophy is “anti-black” and demeaning to black people.
One passage in particular is used by critics to support this view. It is a footnote on p. 421 of the second volume on “The Secret Doctrine”:
“Mankind is obviously divided into god-informed men and lower human creatures. The intellectual difference between the Aryan and other civilized nations and such savages as the South Sea Islanders, is inexplicable on any other grounds. No amount of culture, nor generations of training amid civilization, could raise such human specimens as the Bushmen, the Veddhas of Ceylon, and some African tribes, to the same intellectual level as the Aryans, the Semites, and the Turanians so called. The “sacred spark” is missing in them and it is they who are the only inferior races on the globe, now happily – owing to the wise adjustment of nature which ever works in that direction – fast dying out. Verily mankind is “of one blood,” but not of the same essence. We are the hot-house, artificially quickened plants in nature, having in us a spark, which in them is latent.”
Undoubtedly, this sounds very prejudiced. But a few things must be borne in mind:
(1) In the Victorian era, when this was written, the term “savage” was used in the sense of what we might now call “primitive peoples” and referred to their primitive and supposedly uncivilised way of life, rather than intending to imply that they were actually savage, vicious, and beastly; (2) The passage says “some African tribes.” Not all Africans by any means but some African tribes; (3) The word “happily” is not referring to some sort of macabre or sadistically gleeful delight at the extinction of certain races. This is what opponents of Theosophy would like the masses to believe but no-one who has properly done their research could draw such a false conclusion. Races come and go with the passing of the cycles of time and the dying out of any race, regardless of its skin colour, is not something to be particularly mourned, since the extinction applies only to the purely external coating and not to the soul within, which simply moves on to further incarnations in the bodies of other races.
The expression “some African tribes” appears elsewhere in “The Secret Doctrine,” in Vol. 2, p. 162, which says, “Here the inferior Races, of which there are still some analogues left – as the Australians (now fast dying out) and some African and Oceanic tribes – are meant.”
Some have considered the footnote in Vol. 2, p. 717, to be racially prejudiced also:
“On the data furnished by modern science, physiology, and natural selection, and without resorting to any miraculous creation, two negro human specimens of the lowest intelligence – say idiots born dumb – might by breeding produce a dumb Pastrana species, which would start a new modified race, and thus produce in the course of geological time the regular anthropoid ape.”
As far as we can see, the passage is not necessarily expressing HPB’s or the Masters’ own views of the subject. She begins the paragraph by saying “On the data furnished by modern science, physiology, and natural selection…” but doesn’t say that she agrees with this. She is stating a hypothetical idea that people could have formulated at that time based on the – undoubtedly imperfect, inaccurate, and incomplete – “data furnished by modern science, physiology, and natural selection.”
Nowhere in the paragraph does she say or imply that “This is what the Esoteric Doctrine teaches” or “This is what we believe.” Critics ought to read it in context with the page and section in which it is found.
If such a statement was really HPB’s own view, then it is contradicted by her in the first footnote on p. 607 of the same volume where she says, “The unity of the human species was accepted by the illustrious Professor of Cambridge (U.S.A.) [Note: this is referring to Professor Agassiz] in the same way as the Occultists do – namely, in the sense of their essential and original homogeneity and their origin from one and the same source: – e.g., Negroes, Aryans, Mongols, etc., have all originated in the same way and from the same ancestors.”
Still others have accused the statement in Stanza X (titled “THE HISTORY OF THE FOURTH RACE”) of Vol. 2 which says that some human beings in Atlantean times “BECAME BLACK WITH SIN” of being a racist assertion, implying that black skin is the result of some type of sin or misdemeanour.
But the language of the Secret Book of Dzyan, from which the Stanzas on Cosmogenesis and Anthropogenesis in the two volumes of “The Secret Doctrine” are derived, is symbolic and allegorical, as is much of Eastern esotericism. HPB explains the meaning of the phrase in a footnote on p. 408 of that volume, clearly stating that “black with sin” is “a figure of speech” and not referring to skin complexion or ethnicity. The eagerness of some people to see racial prejudice where it does not exist reveals more about those people than about anyone or anything else.
Let us read and calmly weigh this statement:
“If to-morrow the continent of Europe were to disappear and other lands to re-emerge instead; and if the African tribes were to separate and scatter on the face of the earth, it is they who, in about a hundred thousand years hence, would form the bulk of the civilized nations. And it is the descendants of those of our highly cultured nations, who might have survived on some one island, without any means of crossing the new seas, that would fall back into a state of relative savagery. Thus the reason given for dividing humanity into superior and inferior races falls to the ground and becomes a fallacy.” (“The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 2, p. 425)
One might reasonably ask, therefore, why “the Bushmen, the Veddhas of Ceylon, and some African tribes” were distinctly described by the same author in the same book as being “inferior races” if the whole notion of superior and inferior races is fallacious. Our plain answer is that we don’t know. But we do know that in an interview with Charles Johnston, HPB once informed him that:
“There are really no “inferior races,” for all are one in our common humanity; and as we have all had incarnations in each of these races, we ought to be more brotherly to them.”
Can that be considered racist? Or how about this?
“It is well known that the first rule of the society is to carry out the object of forming the nucleus of a universal brotherhood. The practical working of this rule was explained by those who laid it down [i.e. the Eastern Masters behind HPB and the Theosophical Movement], to the following effect:-
“HE WHO DOES NOT PRACTISE 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.” (HPB, “Let Every Man Prove His Own Work”)
It should also be added that the words “Negro” and “Negroes” as used by HPB are simply the standard Victorian era equivalents for our more modern phrases such as “black person,” “black people,” or “black African person.” Nowadays if people speak of “Negro” and “Negroes” it’s often considered outdated and not very politically correct. But at the time “The Secret Doctrine” was written it was a harmless and purely descriptive phrase such as “black person” today, although personally we dislike referring to or describing anyone by their skin colour, since it’s something so external and superficial. When writing in depth about Anthropogenesis, however, it becomes unavoidable.
All know – or should know – that the first main aim and object for which the Theosophical Movement was founded was to bring about the actualisation of Universal Brotherhood, without distinction of race, creed, colour, caste, religion, gender, or any other distinctions. This is the very opposite and antithesis of racial discrimination and prejudice!
As the Maha Chohan – the Master of the Masters – said in his famous Letter on the aims of the Theosophical Movement, “The white race must be the first to stretch out the hand of fellowship to the dark nations, to call the poor despised “nigger” brother. This prospect may not smile for all, but he is no Theosophist who objects to this principle.”
There have been keen African and African-American students of Theosophy and of “The Secret Doctrine” from the early days and continuing in the present. If it was truly racist or depreciating of their race and ethnicity in general, why would they continue with it?
An old news article from an October 1934 issue of “The Afro American” reported about the increasing interest and attendance at that time of African Americans at the United Lodge of Theosophists in New York. Miss Eloise Ives, described in the article as secretary of the New York ULT and one of the original co-founders of the ULT itself with Robert Crosbie and others, is quoted as saying, “We welcome colored members and wish we had more. Universal brotherhood is one of the main beliefs of Theosophists. We are convinced that all souls are the same in source, essence, and goal, and external appearance does not matter.”
The expressed mission statement of the United Lodge of Theosophists is “To spread broadcast the Teachings of Theosophy as recorded in the writings of H. P. Blavatsky and William Q. Judge.”
Today there is an active ULT Lodge in Cameroon and there are Theosophists of African birth and descent studying, working, giving talks and leading meetings at numerous ULT Lodges around the world. The writer of the present article has never known any Theosophist to have a negative or prejudiced view of African people or any people.
The words of “The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 2, p. 421, do indeed give the impression of racial prejudice. But by surveying the whole scene, it can readily be seen that neither H. P. Blavatsky, the teachings of Theosophy, nor the Theosophical Movement, are racially prejudiced at all. Those readers who may still be inclined to doubt or question this or who may merely just wish to learn more are again encouraged to read Responding to Lies about H. P. Blavatsky. If you find it useful or interesting, please share it with others.
HPB’s words in her 1890 article “The Mote and the Beam” are so important to be aware of with regard to this matter:
“And why not rather turn the public attention to more than one “disgrace to a civilized nation,” taking place on British soil and in American lands, e.g., to the revolting treatment by the Anglo-Indians of the millions of natives, from the highest Brahman to the lowest pariah, and the no less revolting attitude of the white Americans towards their black co-citizens, or the hapless Red-Indians? Cannibals inflict less torture on their prisoners of war than do the two cultured Christian nations in question on their colored Brethren of the “inferior” races. The former kill and devour their victims, after which these are at rest; while the whites of England and America act worse than Cains towards their black subjects and citizens: they torture them mentally, when not physically, from their cradle to their tomb; refusing them every privilege they have a right to, and then turning round and spitting on them as if they were so many toads.”
It is rather tragically ironic that many of those who accuse Theosophy of being “anti-black” or racist against Africans are devout adherents of the Christian Church. Do they not know or do they just choose to overlook the disturbing fact that the Christian Church and organised Christian religion was the driving force behind the slave trade?
The horrendous crime of slavery is decried by HPB in her book “The Key to Theosophy” p. 42-43, where we read, “The guilt of this great crime rests on the Christian Church.”
Could it be that although no longer engaged in enslaving people physically, the Church and its leaders still enslave them mentally and emotionally?
Whatever the case may be, it is well known that the Church has historically been one of the most vocal critics of interracial marriage. Theosophy, on the other hand, does not oppose it in the slightest. H. P. Blavatsky and William Judge made it clear that mixing of races is a vital necessity for human evolution to be able to go forward and to bring about more advanced physical types for the use of the ever-evolving and progressively unfolding souls of humanity. Both the white races and black races will one day be a thing of the past. Only the inner is the real and only the inner endures.
~ BlavatskyTheosophy.com ~
SOME RELATED ARTICLES: Responding to Lies about H.P. Blavatsky, H.P. Blavatsky and The Birth of the Theosophical Movement, 12 Things Theosophy Teaches, Theosophy – An Explanation and Overview, Gandhi on Blavatsky and Theosophy, Praise for H.P. Blavatsky and Theosophy, The Theosophical Movement after H.P. Blavatsky, Who was William Quan Judge?, The Welcome Influence of William Q. Judge, Original Theosophy and Later Versions, The Letter from the Maha Chohan, Unity of the World’s Religions, Human Evolution in The Secret Doctrine, Chains, Globes, Rounds and Root Races, The True Nature of Jehovah, Dismantling the Christian Edifice and “Satan is the only God” – Did Blavatsky really say that?