Copyright © 1999 by Theosophical University Press. All rights reserved.
EDITORS’ NOTE: This online version of the Encyclopedic Theosophical Glossary is a work in progress. The manuscript, originally produced in the 1930s and ’40s, is currently being revised and expanded, and will be updated periodically. Comments, corrections, and suggestions are welcome; please send to firstname.lastname@example.org
For ease of searching, diacritical marks are omitted, with the exception of Hebrew and Sanskrit terms, where after the main head a current transliteration with accents is given.
Quick links: Aa-Adh | Adi-Ag | Ah-Al | Am-Ani | Anj-Arc | Ard-Asr | Ass-Atm | Ato-Az | Ba-Be | Bh-Bo | Br-Bz | Ca-Ce | Cha-Chy | Ci-Cz | Da-Der | Des-Dir | Dis-Dz | Ea-El | Em-Ez | F | Ga-Gl | Gn-Gz | Ha-Hh | Hi-Hz | I | J | Ka | Ke-Kz | La-Li | Lo-Lz | Ma-Mam | Man-Mar | Mas-Me | Mi-Mo | Mp-Mz | Na-Ne | Nf-Nz | O | Pa-Peq | Per-Pi | Pl-Pral | Pram-Prj | Pro-Pz | Q-Rec | Red-Roos | Root-Rz | Sa-Sal | Sam-Saq | Sar-Sec | Sh-Sir | Sis-Som | Son-Sq | Sr-Sum | Sun-Sz | Ta-Tel | Tem-Thn | Tho-Tre | Tri-Tz | U | Va-Vih | Vij-Vz | W-X | Y | Z
ETG Main Page
List of Abbreviations
Sedecla. See WITCH OF ENDOR
Sed et Serpens (Latin) “But the serpent also,” “but creeping also.”
Seed The essence or germ of an entity, imbodying its svabhava (essential nature) and determining the forms produced from it, partly by the accretion of various elements but mainly by the emanating stream working from within outwards or above downwards. The seed of a plant is a globule of physical matter, but the actual seed is ultra-physical. All seeds strictly speaking are the vital life-forces working in and through the physical germs, and hence these true seeds are ethereal organisms, structures composed of a higher order of matter (SD 1:201). Thus there is a succession of vital seeds pertaining to one individual entity, each such seed being the ultimate unit of that organism on a particular plane. There is the physical seed of a plant, containing the astral seed — a unit on its own plane containing a still subtler seed belonging to a higher plane, and so forth. Ultimately a seed is a life-atom, in itself the expression on a particular plane of a monad which is a thought in divine ideation.
Seed-Logos A translation or equivalent for the Stoic spermatic logos.
Seed-manu. See ROOT-MANU
Seer In its highest sense, one who discerns truths clearly by the use of the real inner vision, the Eye of Siva; who can see throughout the ranges of space and time belonging to a universe — not barring intuitions of the spaces and times of other surrounding universes. But it is also used for a number of varying degrees of ability to see clairvoyantly in the astral light. Swedenborg is sometimes called a seer, which he was in small degree, but because he was untrained, what he saw was mainly peculiar to himself, as is the case with seers of the same class. Instructions for aspirants to wisdom are replete with warnings as to the manifold dangers and deceptions of the astral light, and the obstacles thrown up by the unpurified and undisciplined nature of the disciple. The ability to become a true spiritual seer using the inner eye, means the fruits of many lives of aspiration and training, involving the successful passing of many trials and initiations. The science called gutpa-vidya is due to the collaboration and teaching of real seers, whose trained faculties enable them to have direct vision of actualities.
Sein. See SEYN
Seker, Seket (Egyptian) One of the aspects of Ptah, also the name of Osiris in Memphis, especially in his character of Lord of the Underworld — Ptah-Seker-Asar, the triadic god of the resurrection. Ptah-Seker is the personification of the union of the primeval creative power with a form of the inert power of darkness, or a cosmic rendering of the very mystical thoughts around the term the “night sun.”
The Seker-boat (Hennu), representing the second half of the daily journey of the sun through the Underworld, is so named because Ra the Aged is said to be like Horus, while Ra the Younger is said to resemble Seker.
Sekhem (Egyptian) A shrine or sanctuary; the gods of the shrine; the vital power of a human being; any power, spiritual or physical; as a verb, to read, be strong, etc.
Self Theosophical literature distinguishes between self and ego: self is a purely spiritual unit, divine in essence, the same in every being, expressed as “I am”; egos are many, different in different beings, and expressed as “I am I.” Egos are indirect or reflected consciousnesses, seeing themselves as apart from other egos, each having its own individualized characteristics. But the self or atman is the purest and strongest intuition of being as a universal principle and as the summit of the hierarchy called man. It is pure consciousness, the essential principle which gives to every person knowledge of selfhood. As it has no egoic consciousness, it seems to our reason to be unconsciousness. To become self-conscious, a vehicle is needed, so that the self may see itself reflected as in a mirror.
In humans what is called the personal self is a compound, in which the true selfhood or atmic ray shines dimly through many screens. This causes our various mental states to be regarded as pertaining to our own individuality, though they are actually influences which flow into and out of the mind, and to which we attribute a false sense of ownership, as when we say, “I am angry,” instead of “I am experiencing anger.” The path of liberation frees us progressively from these false selves; we abandon the heresy of separateness, and at last see the true self within us as being identical with that self in all beings.
Self-born Parentless, in Sanskrit aupapaduka or aja — terms used of the head of a hierarchy, such as the Logos, corresponding to the Son, the second person of the Christian Trinity. From another aspect, it is the cosmic dragon in the highest of its septenary meanings. All gods and beings born through and from will, whether of deity or adept, are said to be self-born, e.g., the pitris, who issued from Brahma’s body of twilight; or Daksha, a self-born power who sprang from his father’s body. Each cosmic monad is svayambhuva (the self-become or self-born) and in its turn becomes a center of force from within which emerges a planetary chain.
The first root-race is called self-born, for the individuals of this race were the astral shadows of their progenitors, and their method of reproduction was by fission. Seven self-born primordial gods emanated from the triadic One. The self-born were the primary creation of seven creations, otherwise emanations of self-born gods, or ’elohim, as the Hebrews call them.
Theosophic philosophy postulates four methods of reproduction (chatur-yoni) in the manifested realms which run from the divine through many intermediate degrees to the physical: 1) the highest or self-born (aupapaduka), such as the inner birth at will of gods and bodhisattvas; 2) birth from the seeds of life of various kinds on the different planes, whether they be monads or physical seminal germs; 3) egg-born (andaja), such as reptiles and birds; and finally 4) womb-born (yonija), such as man and other mammalia. These four modes of birth are not given here in the order of their importance or spirituality, for human beings, who are womb-born, at a later stage through initiation and inner development finally attain the aupapaduka birth again.
Self-consciousness Awareness of oneself as the experiencer, attribution of one’s experiences to an ego, consciousness of being a separate individual; whereas consciousness in the abstract is merely awareness of the experience. Animals and very young children are conscious, man is self-conscious; yet the adult, when engrossed in an experience, may lose his self-consciousness for a while. But even man is only partially self-conscious, because he can contemplate only part of his being; that in him which is now the contemplator may become part of what is contemplated. As the subject, the knower, shifts upwards and inwards, so to speak, more and more of the vestures pass into the category of objects or what is known. The Unknown manifests the universe in order to attain full self-consciousness; and in man, the microcosm, an unself-conscious spark of divinity passes through stages of evolution and experience in order to achieve relatively full self-consciousness. The potentiality of self-consciousness, however, is in every atom. In order to become self-conscious, spirit must pass through every cycle of cosmic being, until every ego has attained full self-consciousness as a human being or equivalent entity. Man’s self-consciousness depends on his triple nature; it is man who is the separator of the One into various contrasted aspects.
Early humanity was not self-conscious; it was the living intellectual fires or manasaputras which gave to the human mind its self-perception and self-consciousness or manas. This manas is derived ultimately from cosmic mahat, and in man today it had become ahamship or ahankara. Full self-consciousness means consciousness of the one self, cosmic Purusha, the seventh principle, not only of the universe but likewise of man himself.
Self-directed Evolution That all evolution is caused by, and consists in the self-expression of the svabhava (essential characteristics) combined with the will of the monad dwelling within the form; in contradistinction to the doctrine that external circumstances are the determining evolutionary factor. The expression applies to every evolving entity, from the life-atom upwards, but has a special significance when applied to man, because he is endowed with the power to blend his personal consciousness with that of the monad within-above; so that what in the animal or unawakened person is an unconscious process becomes in the awakened person a process in which his mind and will acquiesce:
“no purely spiritual Buddhi (divine Soul) can have an independent (conscious) existence before the spark which issued from the pure Essence of the Universal Sixth principle — or the OVERSOUL — has (a) passed through every elemental form of the phenomenal world of that Manvantara, and (b) acquired individuality, first by natural impulse, and then by self-induced and self-devised efforts (checked by its Karma), thus ascending through all the degrees of intelligence, from the lowest to the highest Manas, from mineral and plant, up to the holiest archangel (Dhyani-Buddha)” (SD 1:17).
The sooner the individual realizes that he should take himself in hand, and govern or control his life by the highest within him, instead of being the slave of impulses arising from his lower nature, the more quickly will he reach the higher phases of his evolutionary progress, which humanity as a whole may take eons to attain through the slow procedures of the cosmic drive.
The phrase does not mean that each person should follow the bent of his own personal inclinations, but that he should follow the path of duty, which is the path of evolution, as revealed to him by intuition and purity of aspiration. He should become the master of his destiny, spiritually willing his future through self-devised training and efforts upwards.
Self-existent (Atmabhu, Svayambhuva) Existing in and by itself alone; applied to any self-contained entity when considered apart from others. Applied by Western theologians to Deity as contrasted with his creatures, whose being sprang from him and is dependent on him. In addition to its use in defining the cosmic monad or unity, it is also used for subordinate monads considered in relation to the entities which spring from them; for example, the logos or head of a hierarchy is self-existent by contrast with its emanations. In the Qabbalah the Heavenly Man (’Adam Qadmon) is called the self-existent, and the same may be said of Brahman, or even of Brahma, in Hindu systems. See SVAYAMBHUVA
Selfishness Making the gratification of the personal self or ego the paramount aim in conduct; a disregard of the interests of others. While individualism is a necessary stage in evolution, yet humanity on the upward arc of evolution is on the road towards realization of the essential unity of all selves. Hence selfishness is our greatest obstacle in spiritual unfolding or development. It is not its grosser manifestations that are most harmful, but the subtler forms in which it may wear the mask of the virtues. It is overcome by aspiration towards the source of our being, by recognizing the barrenness and futility of self-seeking and its destructive results, and by the cultivation of that primal instinct of altruism which is at the heart of every being.
What is here called selfishness corresponds in the minds of Buddhist philosophers and scholars to the ideas they disputed grouped about the word atman. They never intended to deny the fundamental meaning of atman or selfhood, and yet this misconception of ancient Buddhist teaching has brought about the false idea that Gautama Buddha and his followers taught that man has no essential self or selfhood. Because selfishness was popularly considered the permanent soulhood in man, the doctrine of anatma (in Pali, anatta) was strongly and continuously taught. The deduction shows clearly that even in India at the time of the Buddha, selfhood in its popular sense of concentration on the lower self and its interests was as popular and widespread as today. It is a paradox that in selflessness is found the noblest and highest emanation of self-expression of the atman or spiritual self in man.
Selflessness The attribute of the atman, the essential self or selfhood; on the upward arc of evolution we strive to wean our lower or personal self from attachments to objects of personal desire and to achieve the universality of feeling which pertains to this divine essence (atman). Without the altruistic intuition, no society, whether of animals or humans, could hold together. Instead of regarding selflessness as a lofty and difficult goal to be attained by climbing, we can regard it as an original “home” from which we have wandered.
Self-luminous Matter Matter which shines from itself and not by reflected light; the existence of such matter in interstellar space was believed in by Halley, and The Secret Doctrine states that matter in several phases of the nebulous condition, before it condenses into solar or planetary bodies, is self-luminous; and that the planets are also self-luminous before they become materially concreted globes. Science has long recognized self-luminosity in phosphorus, radium, and in some other bodies.
Philosophically, it is a mere matter of choice whether to regard light as primordial and rudimentary and deduce other phenomena from it, or to consider luminosity as a result of the vibration of molecules — since light is both. But theosophy agrees with archaic thought in placing light as the first of all manifested things, regarding light as the very essence of matter, not as a decoration of it. Nor is light necessarily associated with heat, as even the humble glow worm attests. Theosophy teaches that self-luminosity, with or without heat, is of natural necessity a characteristic of everything that is, although this self-luminosity is by no means always visible to our human physical senses. Every entity anywhere, great or small, as well as every aggregate of atoms, is continuously and uninterruptedly self-luminous, continually emanating forth because of the energies ever active within itself an unceasing stream of radiation; and this radiation is of several different kinds, usually enumerated as sevenfold, of which ordinary or physical light is but one manifestation. Everything is radiant, radiating; radiant here meaning not only luminous, but self-luminous, generating radiation of many kinds from within itself. It is the imperfect ability of our organ of vision to see these many forms of radiation that causes us to be unconscious of them; our eyes have been evolved to sense only one small gamut in the great scale of radiation of the universe surrounding us. Science, with its various kinds of radiation, is becoming keenly cognizant of this ancient fact and scientists are pointing out that not only is visible light but a short stretch of the scale of radiation, but are envisaging the high probability that matter itself in all its forms is but concreted radiation or crystallized light.
Semele, Semele-Thyone (Greek) In Greek mythology, daughter of Cadmus, founder of Thebes, and of Harmonia, a daughter of Ares and Aphrodite. The Orphic myth is a permutation of Demeter-Kore the divine spouse, who becomes Semele the mortal maid and mother of Zagreus, later Zagreus-Dionysos, the third of the great Eleusinian deities in later times. Semele is beloved by Zeus, which excites the jealousy of Hera, who accordingly contrives a plot to destroy Semele. Appearing to her in the form of her nurse, Hera insinuates that the lover is not really Zeus, and persuades Semele to ask her lover to prove his identity by appearing to her in his divine panoply and form. Reluctantly Zeus does so, foreseeing the result yet bound by his pledge to her. Semele is reduced to ashes at the sight, and the babe which she had carried for seven months is snatched from the flames by Zeus himself who, that it might complete its term, sewed it up in his thigh. The babe Zagreus was born from the thigh of Zeus as Zagreus-Dionysos, the Savior. Identified with Iacchus, the divine son of Demeter-Kore in the later Eleusinian Mysteries, he visits the Underworld and brings his mother Semele back to earth, now as Thyone (the inspired) to reign with Demeter-Kore as the radiant queen and divine mother in the Orphic Mysteries.
Semele is a representative or type of the aspiring human soul which in its higher parts so passionately longs for complete union with the inner divinity, that when this unity of comprehension and being is once attained, the human soul is reduced to ashes and the son, the soul’s self in its higher and newer form, is saved by the divinity within as the newly born dvija (initiate).
Semitic, Semites; Shemitic, Shemites Applied to a group of Asiatic and African languages, including Hebrew, Phoenician, Aramaic, Arabic, and Ethiopic, some of which are no longer spoken tongues. It was believed that the races speaking these languages were descended from the Biblical Shem (son of Noah), hence they were termed Shemites or Semites. Theosophy maintains that there is no fundamental racial division between the Aryans and the Semites, inasmuch as the latter are in fact later Aryans, belonging to the very earliest of the so-called Aryan racial strains although somewhat later in appearance than what is now called the Aryan stock. “The Aryan Hindu belongs to the oldest races now on earth; the Semite Hebrew to the latest. One is nearly one million years old; the other is a small sub-race some 8,000 years old and no more” (SD 2:470-1). Further, the Semites (which include the Jews) are the descendants of the primordial “red ancestors” (the red Adam) — as narrated in the Hebrew Genesis: red here referring to the slow changing of human complexions, as a race evolves from the earliest light or moon-colored through various darker shades or tints until the chocolate or black is reached.
Semothees [possible corruption of Greek hemitheos half-god, demigod] Applied to the Druids of the Gauls (IU 1:18); like the true dvija (twice-born), one who is born of the spirit as well as of matter, and therefore, following the mystical language of archaic times, was the offspring of the divine spiritual parent on one side, and of human parenthood on the other, like the Greek heroes and demigods.
Sempe sems dpa’ (Tibetan) Mind-hero; a title of the celestial buddha, corresponding to the Sanskrit sattva (sentient being), especially in compounds like bodhisattva (Tibetan byang chub sems dpa’) and mahasattva (Tibetan sems dpa’ chen po). The Tibetan dor je sems dpa’ (dor-je sem-pa) translates the Sanskrit vajra-sattva.
Sena (Sanskrit) Senā The active female energy or sakti of Karttikeya, sometimes referred to as Kaumari.
Senary [from Latin senarius] Pertaining to six or having six as a radix; as a noun, a group of six or the number six, equivalent to the Greek hexad. The septenate without its synthesis, the interlaced triangles without their central point, hence standing for manifested nature, as shown in the six directions of space, the six faces of the cube, and hexagonal structures in nature. It may be regarded as composed of two triads, mystically those of fire and water. It represents imbodied man apart from the spiritual monad. The six rays of the creative Logos, considered apart from their synthesis, the six days of creation, etc., show the same idea.
More mystically, the senary or hexad stands for the six steps of progression in manifestation, and consequently for the six planes of nature, in and through which the monad, whether cosmic or individual, unfolds itself into full manifestation as an imbodied being on the various planes of nature. Thus the senary represents in man all the sheaths of the atmic consciousness from buddhi downwards to the physical body, the atmic life-stream knotting or focalizing itself on each plane as a child monad of the atmic parent. See also SIX
Senses In general, gateways of communication between the perceiving function of the ego and the corresponding elements of the plane where it is functioning. The physical senses appeared in serial evolution in the order of hearing, touch, sight, taste, and smell. These senses were not developed out of nothing but are expressions or reflection on the physical plane of previous latent, inner causal functions residing in the structure of the inner person.
The five physiological senses are modifications or specializations of a general perceptiveness which has different modifications in different animal species where the organs are different, especially in the insects. Sensitives and clairvoyants may be able to receive visual, auditory, or other impressions without the use of the physical organ, or the usual functions of a sense organ may be transferred to another part of the body.
The human senses are actually seven including, besides the usual five already developed, the organ or function of manas (mind) and of buddhi (understanding). These latter two are not senses in the physical significance pertaining to the bodily senses, but the emphasis is laid on organic and functional activities, both being inner and spiritual-intellectual. At the present stage of evolution man has not developed the power of manifesting the sixth and seventh sense functions and organs, but in the fifth round the development of ether will bring forth into relatively full evolution the manasic sense organ with the beginnings of the buddhic.
In exoteric mythologies the bodily senses and functions are said to have their presiding deities, so that there are two septenary sets: the causal spiritual, and their material reflections as effects. The cycles of septenary evolution bring forth the spiritual or divine; intellectual and higher psychological; the lower psychological, including the passional, and the instinctual; and the semi-corporeal and purely physical natures. The senses belong to the last two groups. The astral-vital-physical nature furnishes sensory organs, through which the inner senses can act, thus causing the functioning of the physical senses. These physiological senses develop pari passu with the physicalization of humanity.
In the first human protoplasts, the senses were nonexistent in the sense of being non-functional although latent; as evolution unfolded innate capacity and attribute, the functions and organs followed suit, and appeared in the evolving physical vehicle.
The senses belong to the third of seven creations mentioned in the Puranas, the first three constituting a group known as the prakrita creations: 1) mahat-tattva creation; 2) bhuta or bhutasarga; and 3) indriya or aindriyaka. These three are not so much senses as the three first or elemental prakrita creations of the cosmos, representing the first three stages of the development of manifestation after a solar pralaya. Nevertheless, as analogy is nature’s rule throughout, these creations are equally applicable to the human senses, applying to the generalized development of sense function and sense apparatus more than to the sense organs themselves. The last of the three is, in its human application, a modified form of ahankara, the conception of the egoistic and mayavi “I” in man, the reflection of the spiritual ego or monad; and this third creation is also termed the organic creation or creation of the senses.
Senzar The name given to the ancient mystery-language unknown to modern philologists, that was known to all initiates of the inhabited and civilized world; the secret sacerdotal language or mystery-speech of the adepts of whatever class belonging to or owing allegiance to the chief esoteric brotherhood, “still used and studied unto this day in the secret communities of the Eastern adepts, and called by them — according to the locality — Zend-zar and Brahma or Deva-Bashya” (BCW 4:518n). In this language, besides its common use as a universal means of intercommunication, were written the secret works preserving the history of the archaic continents and races, as well as prophecies of the future. It was used in the secret commentaries and stanzas forming the basis for The Secret Doctrine, wherein they are called the Stanzas of Dzyan or the Book of Dzyan.
“Tradition says, that it was taken down in Senzar, the secret sacerdotal tongue, from the words of the Divine Beings, who dictated it to the sons of Light, in Central Asia, at the very beginning of the 5th (our) race; for there was a time when its language (the Sen-zar) was known to the Initiates of every nation, when the forefathers of the Toltec understood it as easily as the inhabitants of lost Atlantis, who inherited it, in their turn, from the sages of the 3rd Race, the Manushis, who learnt it direct from the Devas of the 2nd and 1st Races” (SD 1:xliii).
As to the mode of writing this mystery-speech, “The sacerdotal language (Senzar), besides an alphabet of its own, may be rendered in several modes of writing in cypher characters, which partake more of the nature of ideographs than of syllables” (VS vii).
Separateness. See HERESY OF SEPARATENESS
Sepher (Hebrew) Sēfer Writing, something that is written, a book. In the plural (sĕfārīm), books or writings, the Jewish holy scriptures. In the Sepher Yetsirah, an early Qabbalistic treatise and one of the most important in the Qabbalah, the first verse states that the Lord and King of the universe formed “the universe in thirty-two secret paths of wisdom by means of three Sepharim:  Sephar,  and Sippur,  and Sepher, i.e. through  Numbering;  Numberer; and  Number.” The verbal root from which this word is taken originally meant to make marks — not only to write but also to number or count. Hence the play upon the three words, described as the three Sepharim, has reference to the activities of the Sephiroth in unfolding both intrinsic mathematical and numerical quantities and attributes by means of the spiritual beings forming the Sephiroth and eventuating in the “number” carpentry or structure of the cosmos.
Sepher Dzeniuta. See SIPHRA’ DI-TSENI‘UTHA’
Sepher Yetsirah (Hebrew) Sēfer Yĕtsīrāh Book of formation or creation; a Qabbalistic work formerly attributed by Hebrew Qabbalists to the patriarch Abraham, but by most scholars today to Rabbi ‘Aqiba’ (Akiba). It is a small work treating of the evolution of the universe as based upon a system of numbers and correspondences. Deity is described as forming the universe by means of numbers by 32 paths or ways of secret wisdom corresponding to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet and the ten fundamental numbers. The latter are the ten primordial numbers whence proceeded the universe in the Pythagorean sense. The 22 letters are divided into Three Mothers — a triad, a heptad, and a dodecad — corresponding to the three primal letters A M S, the seven planets, and the twelve signs of the zodiac. Blavatsky remarks that the Sepher Yetsirah is “the most occult of all the Kabalistic works now in the possession of modern mystics” (TG 165).
Sephira(h) (Hebrew, Chaldean) Sĕfīrāh [from sāfar to mark, scrape, write, engrave, count or number, plural sĕfīrōth; cf Sanskrit verbal root lip as in lipika] The emanations proceeding from ’eyn soph, these ten emanations being frequently called the Sephirothal Tree or the Qabbalistic Tree of (Cosmic) Life.
The primitive Qabbalists conceived the universe as coming into manifestation by a process of mathematical or numerical emanations, proceeding out of the bosom of ’eyn soph (no limit) in a series of nine or ten Sephiroth — imbodying the idea of cosmic mathematical quantities on the one hand, and of cosmic karmic consequences from previous universes as being thus written or numbered from a former universe. Thus the universe is envisaged as a karmic picture of destiny unrolling itself from ’eyn soph in form or number, and therefore as being based on strictly mathematical relations derivative from destiny.
Sephirah is especially applied to the first emanation, Kether (the Crown), the other nine Sephiroth being involved or held in germ within the first emanation, and emanating therefrom one by one in serial order as “nine splendid lights” (Zohar 111 288a). The first Sephirah is also called ’eyn soph ’or (boundless light). “The Spiritual substance sent forth by the Infinite Light is the first Sephira or Shekinah: Sephira exoterically contains all the other nine Sephiroth in her. Esoterically she contains but two, Chochmah or Wisdom, a masculine, active potency whose divine name is Jah (יה), and Binah, a feminine passive potency, Intelligence, represented by the divine name Jehovah (יהוה); which two potencies form, with Sephira the third, the Jewish trinity or the Crown, Kether” (SD 1:355).
Sephiroth (Hebrew) Sĕfīrōth [plural of sĕfīrāh] Emanations; applicable to the ten powers or potencies which compose the Qabbalistic Tree of Life, named Kether (the Crown); Hochmah (wisdom); Binah (understanding); Hesed (compassion); Geburah (strength); Tiph’ereth (beauty); Netsah (triumph); Hod (majesty); Yesod (foundation); and Malchuth (kingdom). The higher ones of this series of cosmic emanations imbody functions in cosmogony which exactly parallel the functions and attributes of the lipika in theosophical thought.
The Qabbalah states that when the Boundless (’eyn soph), driven by ineluctable destiny, wished to portray an aspect of itself, it caused a Point to appear in the bosom of space, and this primordial point expanded into the Sephirah Kether — the mother of the remaining nine Sephiroth. This primal point or Kether was therefore the first emanation of the universe, and is often called Sephirah. Having thus come into manifestation, the first Sephirah unrolled or emanated from itself a second Sephirah, Hochmah, which in its turn unrolled the third Sephirah, Binah; then the third unrolled the fourth, and so forth, each newly appearing Sephirah — though having its own individual characteristics — containing within itself the potencies and characteristics of all the preceding Sephiroth; and this process continued until the nine Sephiroth which had been inrolled within Kether all came into manifestation. Together the ten Sephiroth represent the cosmic Archetypal Man (’Adam Qadmon), — cosmic Purusha in Hindu thought. “The Sephirothal Tree is the Universe, and Adam Kadmon represents it in the West as Brahma represents it in India” (SD 1:352).
The ten Sephiroth are often referred to in the Qabbalah as the members or limbs of the manifested body of ’Adam Qadmon, and the parts were named as: 1) the head; 2) the right shoulder; 3) the left shoulder; 4) the right arm; 5) the left arm; 6) the heart; 7) the right thigh; 8) the left thigh; 9) the generative organs; and 10) the basis or feet.
The Sephiroth are often divided into three pillars, beginning as spiritual cosmic light and ending in matter by a process of increasing materiality. These three pillars represent three vertical streams of vitality or three currents of energy: the right pillar, considered to be the masculine stream and termed the Pillar of Mercy, consists of Hochmah, Hesed, and Netsah. The left stream or pillar is the feminine potency, called the Pillar of Judgment, and comprises Binah, Geburah, and Hod. The Middle Pillar is the stream of spiritual stability and consists of Kether, Tiph’ereth, Yesod, and Malchuth. Although the currents of the Middle Pillar run from the topmost to the lowest, nevertheless the potencies of the right and of the left pillars are interconnected so that the streams of vitality flow uninterruptedly through all of the ten Sphiroth.
Another way of viewing the Sephiroth is by a series of three triads, running from the uppermost downwards, known as three Faces or the three Qabbalistic Heads. The first Face, often termed the Supernal Triad or invisible triad, consists of the three highest Sephiroth Kether, Hochmah, and Binah; the second Face is emanated or produced from the first and comprises Hesed, Geburah, and Tiph’ereth; the third Face, the emanation of the first two triads, is formed of Netsah, Hod, and Yesod; and the three Faces find their base or fulfillment in Malchuth, the world as humans view it. The first Face or Head is called in the Qabbalah the spiritual or intellectual world; the second is the formative world or world of perception; and the third is known as the basic world, often called the material or physical world, but more accurately comprising the lower ranges of the anima mundi. The three Faces then conjointly emanate the truly physical world around us, which thus contains the productive essences of all, and hence is the carrier or vehicle of all, precisely as the physical body with its vitality is the carrier of the other six principles of the human constitution.
In the case of the solar system the ten Sephiroth correspond to the lokas and talas of Brahmanical philosophy. There is a direct correspondence between the twelve globes of a planetary chain and the ten Sephiroth plus Malchuth (the earth) and the highest globe of that chain:
(diagram SD 1:200).
Sephra Dzenioutha. See SIPHRA’ DI-TSENI‘UTHA’
Sephrim. See SEPHAR
Septarshis. See SAPTARSHIS
Septenary, Septenate. See SEVEN
Septerium [from Greek septerion pertaining to worship] In the Delphic legend, purification of Apollo after slaying Python took place in the laurel grove of Tempe, whence he returned after nine years of penance. This was represented in the festival of Septerium held at Delphi every nine years.
Seraphim (Hebrew) Śĕrāfīm [from the verbal root śāraf to burn; plural of śārāf] Fiery, burning, venomous, poisonous. The word came to have the significance of serpents, referring to those beings described in Isaiah 6:2 as possessing six wings, guarding the divine throne, and endowed with a voice with which they praise the deity; “they are the symbols of Jehovah, and of all the other Demiurgi who produce out of themselves six sons or likenesses — Seven with their Creator” (SD 2:387n). In later Jewish writings they are associated with the Cherubim and ’Ophannim (wheels) of Ezekiel. They parallel the Hindu nagas — semi-divine beings of serpent character. “The Seraphim are the fiery Serpents of Heaven which we find in a passage describing Mount Meru as: ‘the exalted mass of glory, the venerable haunt of gods and heavenly choristers. . . . not to be reached by sinful men. . . . because guarded by Serpents.’ They are called the Avengers, and the ‘Winged Wheels’ ” (SD 1:126) — avengers in the sense of being the agents of karma. They are the Flames, a class of dhyani-chohans who dried the “turbid dark waters” with which the earth was covered in an early stage of its development (SD 2:16).
In the Qabbalistic hierarchy of angels, the Seraphim correspond to the fifth Sephirah, Geburah. In the ancient Syrian system they are equivalent to the sphere of the nebulae and comets. The celestial hierarchy adopted by Dionysius the pseudo-Aeropagite ranks them first.
In the hierarchy of emanations proceeding from the cosmic monad, the Seraphim precede the cherubim in emanational order, because in the hierarchical scheme the Seraphim stand for the formative or creative fires, the spiritual archetypes, whereas the cherubim are the builders of forms and hence are of the rupa class themselves. Thus the Seraphim belong to the arupa class which works through and in the Cherubim or rupa class. Thus the Seraphim, whose color is the spiritual red or spiritual fire, precede both in time and in hierarchical dignity the Cherubim whose color is blue — the idea being that before manifestation of both mind and of forms can take place there must be in the cosmic monad the awakening of divine desire, signified as fiery or flamy color, spiritual red. As the Veda has it: “desire first arose in It.”
Serapis [from Greek Sarapis from Egyptian Asar-Hapi Osiris-Apis] The most important deity at Alexandria during the time of Ptolemy Soter, its worship spread throughout Egypt and into the Roman Empire, establishing itself firmly even in Rome. Plutarch recounts that Ptolemy Soter in his desire to make Alexandria the chief center of his empire, sought to unite Greeks and Egyptians in a common worship. He dreamed that a strange god appeared to him and, on telling his friends, one said that he had seen such a statue at Sinope. The king immediately imported this statue, the Greeks, declaring that it represented Pluto, ruler of the underworld, with his guardian dog Cerberus, while the Egyptians stated that it portrayed Asar-Hapi (Osiris in the underworld) with Anubis. Plutarch states that Osiris is the same as Sarapis, “this latter appellation having been given him, upon his being translated from the order of Genii to that of the Gods, Sarapis being none other than that common name by which all those are called, who have thus changed their nature, as is well known by those who are initiated into the mysteries of Osiris” (On Isis and Osiris, sec 28).
A hieroglyphic text found on stelae and other objects in the Serapeum at Sakkara states that Apis is called “the life of Osiris, the lord of heaven, Tem (with) his horns (in) his head,” he who gives “life, strength, health, to thy nostrils for ever.” Thus Serapis is represented in the form of a man with the head of a bull; the horns being crescent-shaped, encircling the solar disk; in his hands he bears the scepter with the flail and crook of Osiris.
The fundamental idea ruling the worship and standing of Serapis among the later Egyptians corresponds to the Greek cosmic Logos, and particularly the creative or Third Logos, equivalent to the Hindu Brahma; and the bull-attributes connected with Serapis worship likewise refer to the generative power universally ascribed among ancient peoples to the bull, and in the cosmic sense to the creative urge inherent in the Logos itself, constantly producing, bringing forth, and reproducing.
Serpent One of the most fundamental and prolific symbols of the mystery-language. Its most basic meaning is of the eternal, alternating, cyclic motion during cosmic manifestation. For motion, which to the physicist and the philosopher alike seems an abstraction, is for the ancient wisdom a primordial principle or axiom, of the same order as space and time, existing per se. Never does motion cease utterly even during kosmic pralaya. And motion is essentially circular: where physics would derive circular motion from a composition of rectilinear motions, the opposite procedure would be that of the ancient wisdom. This circular motion, compounding itself into spirals, helixes, and vortices, is the builder of worlds, bringing together the scattered elements of chaos; motion per se is essential cosmic intelligence. This circular motion, returning upon itself like a serpent swallowing its tail, represents the cycles of time. This conscious energy in spirals whirls through all the planes of cosmos as fohat and his innumerable sons — the cosmic energies and forces, fundamentally intelligent, operating in every scale or grade of matter. The caduceus of Hermes, twin serpents wound about a staff, represents cosmically the mighty drama of evolution, in its twin aspects, the staff or tree standing for the structural aspect, the serpent for the fohatic forces that animate the structure.
The serpent is characteristically a dual symbol. In the beginnings of creation two poles were emanated, spirit and matter; and forthwith began interaction between the downward forces of the one and the upward forces of the other. Hermes, Mercury, intelligence, may represent a sage or a thief; the serpentine wisdom may work in every plane of materiality. The perverse will of man may turn natural forces to evil purposes, and thus we speak of the good serpent and the bad, of Agathodaemon and Kakodaemon, of Ophis and Ophiomorphos. A serpent can be a sage or a sorcerer.
The dragon is the eternally vigilant one, guardian of the sacred treasures; but he is the ruthless destroyer of him who attempts to gain by force the riches to which he has not won a title. To gain knowledge, we must know how to tame the serpent which rules the nether worlds, as the Christ refuses to make obeisance to Satan.
The seven sacred planets, or again the seven human principles, form a serpent, often collocated with the sun and moon as making a triad. One form of this spiraling conscious energy, when manifesting in man, is kundalini-sakti, the serpentine power, which in the ordinary person today lies relatively sleeping and performing merely automatic vital functions; but when aroused can ether waft to sublime heights of vision and power or blast like a lightning-stroke.
The power which a serpent has of casting its old skin is analogous to what the earth does at the commencement of each round, and to the clothing of the human jiva with a new body when it enters the womb. Again, the astral light is called a serpent; its lowest strata are dangerous and deceptive, while it extends through all planes up to the highest akasa, the vehicle of divine wisdom.
In early Christianity there arose more than one Gnostic sect using the snake as a symbol, such as the Ophites, which in the vision of certain ecclesiastic Fathers was designated devil worship, or by other uncomplimentary names. See also NAGA
Sesha (Sanskrit) Śeṣa [from the verbal root śiṣ to leave a remainder or residue] Remainder; the karmic remainders of the preceding cosmic manvantara which become the basis for the manifestation of the present manvantara. Also the name of the seven-headed serpent of space on which Vishnu rests during pralaya, representing the seven principles of the cosmos in which the spiritual or unmanifested universe remains until the period for its new manifestation arrives, thereafter to become manifest by degrees. Sesha or Ananta, the couch of Vishnu, is an abstraction symbolizing ever-continuing cosmic life in space, which contains the remainders or germs of the future manvantara, and throws off periodically the efflorescence of these germs as the manifested universe. But during a solar pralaya, the cosmic spirit from which all flows forth, reposes sleeping upon Sesha, the serpent of eternity, in the midst of the kosmic Deep. Hence Sesha is considered Vishnu’s first vahana (vehicle) in the primordial water of space, before manvantaric activity begins.
This serpent is often mythologically represented as also having a thousand heads, referring to the thousand main divisions of abstract time into which pralaya or manvantara can be divided; and as supporting, after giving birth to them by emanation, the seven lokas and seven talas out of which the manifested hierarchies of the universe are formed during cosmic manvantara. See also ANANTA-SESHA
Set or Seth (Egyptian) According to the Heliopolitan mythology, the son of Seb and Nut, is the brother of Osiris, Isis, and Nephthys; and the father of Anubis by Nephthys. In later times he became associated with Typhon. The attributes of the god underwent several changes: he is described as very closely connected with Aroeris (Heru-ur or Horus the Elder), his chief office being that of helper and friend to the deceased; in this association a twin-god is pictured, having the hawk head of Horus (light) and the Set animal (darkness) upon one human body. Furthermore, Horus was the god of the sky by day, while Set was god of the sky by night: in this sense were they opposite yet identic deities in earliest times, one the shadow of the other.
Later the mythological account describes warlike combats between the two. Horus popularly represented the bright, upward motion of the sun — resulting in spring and summer; Set represented the downward motion, the mythologic account dwelling upon the fact that Set stole the light from the sun, resulting in autumn and winter. The combats engaged in by Set are rendered in four themes: against Horus, resulting in night coming upon day; against Ra, the sun god; against his brother, Osiris, resulting in the latter’s death; and against Horus the Younger who was striving to avenge the death of his father, Osiris. In the fight between Osiris and Set (or Typhon), Typhon is in one sense the shadow, and hence the material aspect of Osiris, “Osiris is the ideal Universe, Siva the great Regenerative Force, and Typhon the material portion of it, the evil side of the god, or the Destroying Siva” (TG 90).
In late dynastic times, all forms of evil and darkness were attributed to Set as well as all the storms of nature. His kingdom was placed in the northern sky in the constellation of the Great Bear — the north being designated as the realm of darkness, originally mystically meaning the darkness of recondite spirit. When Typhon or Set is allied with earth and matter, these refer not to physical matter but to the body of space itself, the garments or wraps of space, and hence the clothing of the inscrutable darkness of spirit which is boundless light. See also CROCODILE
Seth (Hebrew). See CAIN
Sethianites Also Sethiotai, Sethians, Sethites. A branch of the Gnostics Ophites, who regarded Seth, the son of Adam, as the first spiritual man, and maintained that Seth reappeared as Christ. The teachings of the Ophites in their different branches were extremely profound and highly philosophic, but the Christians neither could nor would understand the inner meanings of the Ophite doctrines, but took their allegories; and in the process of grossly distorting them, and misquoting them for the purpose of ridicule, succeeded in confusing later centuries as to just what the Ophites did teach.
Sevekh, Sevekt. See SEBEK
Seven The fundamental number of manifestation, frequently found in the different cosmogonies as well as in many religious dogmas and observances of the different ancient peoples. Although ten was called one of the perfect numbers by the Pythagoreans, seven was unique in their series of numbers because it has all the “perfection of the Unit — the number of numbers. For as absolute unity is uncreated, and impartite (hence number-less) and no number can produce it, so is the seven: no digit contained within the decade can beget or produce it” (SD 2:582). Seven is the number of the manifested universe, while ten or twelve is the number of the unmanifested universe.
Pythagoras taught that seven was composed of the numbers three and four, explaining that “on the plane of the noumenal world, the triangle was, as the first conception of the manifested Deity, its image: ‘Father-Mother-Son’; and the Quaternary, the perfect number, was the noumenal, ideal root of all numbers and things on the physical plane” (ibid.). Further, seven was called by the Pythogoreans the vehicle of life for it consisted of body and spirit: the body was held to consist of four principal elements, while the spirit was in manifestation triple, comprising the monad, intellect or essential reason, and mind.
There are innumerable instances of sevening — the seven days of the week, the seven colors of the spectrum, the seven notes of the musical scale — while special emphasis is placed upon the seven human and cosmic principles; the seven senses (five senses now in manifestation and two more to be attained in the future through evolutionary unfolding); the seven cosmic elements; the seven root-races and seven subraces; the seven kingdoms, human and below; the seven rounds; the seven lokas and talas; the seven manifested globes of the planetary chain; the seven sacred planets; the seven racial buddhas; the seven dhyani-bodhisattvas and -buddhas; the seven Logoi; etc.
Man as well as nature is called saptaparna (seven-leaved plant), symbolized by the triangle above the square. While the senary was applied to man in all ranges from the physical to the spiritual, when completed by the atman, thus making the septenary, the latter signified the entire range of the constitution, whether of man or nature, crowned by the immortal spirit.
In Hindu literature the number seven continually appears: the saptarshis (the seven sages), the seven superior and inferior worlds, the seven hosts of deities, the seven holy cities, the seven holy islands, seas, or mountains, the seven deserts, the seven sacred trees, etc. In Greece seven was often connected with the gods and goddesses: Mars had seven attendants, seven was sacred to Pallas Athene and to Phoebus Apollo — the latter with his seven-stringed lyre playing hymns to septenary nature as well as to the seven-rayed sun; Niobe’s seven sons and seven daughters, etc.
Apart from mythological considerations, in physical life manifestations of the number seven occur continuously: “if the mysterious Septenary Cycle is a law in nature, and it is one, as proven; if it is found controlling the evolution and involution (or death) in the realms of entomology, ichthyology and ornithology, as in the Kingdoms of the Animal, mammalia and man — why cannot it be present and acting in Kosmos, in general, in its natural (though occult) divisions of time, races, and mental development?” (SD 2:623n).
Seven is indeed the sacred number of life, and with the circle and the cross it forms a triad of primordial symbols of the ancient wisdom.
Seven Eternities Seven kosmic aeons or vastly long periods of duration, becoming time to human thought; and each such kosmic aeon is an eternity [from Latin aeternitas from aetas age, time period, a space of time] which the Latins looked upon as a generalizing term for an aeon (cosmic age). “The Seven Eternities meant are the seven periods, or a period answering in duration to the seven periods, of a Manvantara, and extending throughout a Maha-Kalpa or the ‘Great Age’ — 100 years of Brahma — making a total of 311,040,000,000,000 of years” (SD 1:36). The expression applies both to the mahakalpa and to the solar pralaya.
Sevenfold Division. See PRINCIPLES
Seven (Solar) Rays Sunlight contains the characteristic potency of every one of the seven solar logoi. It is possible for the adept to sound seven notes, each of which will be in more or less perfect synchrony with the vibrational rate of the respective solar ray or power issuing from its own solar logos. Such ancient magic is not only an act of reverential unity with the lord and giver of life for the solar system, but puts one in synchrony of a spiritual and intellectual as well as psychical type with the spiritual and other powers resident in and issuing from the sun (cf ML 73). Mystic words of seven vowels refer in a general fashion to the same ancient wisdom-magic. See also OEAOHOO
Seven Rishis. See SAPTARSHIS
Seven Sacred Planets. See PLANETS, SEVEN SACRED
Seventh Principle Generically, the highest member of a septenary hierarchy, the crown from which emanate six rays. Among the seven sacred planets it is that one which, exoterically at least, was called the sun. In man it is the atman. It is likewise called the root of every atom, whether life-atom or chemical atom. This septenate is represented on lower planes of manifestation by an ogdoad, and correspondentially there are anthropomorphized religious doctrines where the seventh principle is no longer the crown but merely one of a group of eight (SD 2:358), although almost always occupying the position of first importance.
Seventh Race, Seventh Root-race. See ROOT-RACE, SEVENTH
Seventh Round. See ROUND, SEVENTH
Seven Vowels. See OEAOHOO; VOWELS
Sex As applied to the organism as a whole, the differentiation of the reproductive function and the character of being male and female. Organisms reproduce their kind in various ways: fission, gemmation, parthenogenesis, hermaphrodite reproduction, and sexual reproduction. In the course of evolution, organisms pass from one method to another; the passage from the hermaphrodite method to the one in which the sexes are in separate individuals took place in the animals in the third root-race of this round on this globe, and shortly afterwards in humanity (SD 2:184), the latter then being in the fifth subrace of the third root-race. The process of separation did not occur suddenly, but slowly. This is often called the Fall, and is so in one sense, since it is a descent from spirit toward matter, and was an initiation of the beasts. “THEY (the animals) BEGAN TO BREED. The TWOFOLD MAN (then) SEPARATED ALSO. HE (man) SAID: “LET US AS THEY: LET US UNITE AND MAKE CREATURES.’ THEY DID” (ibid.). But from another viewpoint, it was simply a following of the natural course of unfolding progress in evolution. The separation is symbolized by a circle with a vertical diameter.
The hermaphroditic state is repeated in the developing embryo where the organs of both sexes arise from the same germinal layer of cells, and the differentiation does not occur until near the middle of the viable period of fetal life. Today, the orderly unfolding of embryonic cells into a human form is due to following the invisible model which, in keeping with the imbodying ego’s karma, is directed by creative spiritual entities and forces.
“Before man could become male and female physically, his prototype, the creating Elohim, had to arrange his Form on this sexual plane astrally. That is to say, the atoms and the organic forces, descending into the plane of the given differentiation, had to be marshaled in the order intended by Nature, so as to be ever carrying out, in an immaculate way, that law which the Kabala calls the balance, through which everything that exists does so as male and female in its final perfection, in this present stage of materiality. Chochmah, Wisdom, the Male Sephiroth, had to diffuse itself in, and through, Binah, intelligent Nature, or Understanding” (SD 2:84). After the separation, the third eye began to disappear, and death as we now understand it was not known until then.
Thus the primeval polarity of all things differentiated on the material plane — including sexual humanity — was of immaculate origin and purpose. This sublime ancient teaching has been degraded generally in theological interpretations of cosmic sex symbols in crude physiological terms, such as the substitution of a Jehovistic god of generation for an ineffable, unknown deity.
The originating causes of sex are not rooted in the higher principles or elements of the human composite constitution. It is the effect of former thought-deposits, of emotional and mental tendencies and biases given way to in preceding lives on earth. The predominating and it may perhaps truly be said that the main cause of sex-change in incarnation is strong attraction to the opposite sex during the few — or in rare cases it may be a fairly large number — preceding lives on earth. This attraction, which is the instrumental cause of the tendencies and biases spoken of, arising out of thought and emotional energy, feminizes the life-atoms, or masculinizes them, as the individual case may be, and the natural consequence is incarnation in a body of the sex to which attraction leads. Thus a reincarnating ego may have several incarnations in bodies of one sex, and then incarnate in bodies of the opposite sex for a number of times in succeeding incarnations. How many times, therefore, a reincarnating ego may imbody in a male or a female body is not subject to any arbitrary rule but depends solely upon the karmic impulse laid aside in the treasury of psychomental experiences.
Though the distinction of sex is biologically regarded as a profound and nearly universal attribute of organized beings, yet knowledge of composite human nature shows that it does not reach into the roots of the human constitution. Its causes go no deeper than the lower part of the human ego or soul, the psychophysiological nature. It is an evolutionary condition or cycle of the reincarnating ego’s development in this present stage of materiality. Therefore, it is a transitory event in its bipolar earthly experience. As sex has been nature’s plan for the race for some 18 million years, it will continue to be the natural plan for some ages to come. Some ages hence, sex differentiation will have given way to the activities of impersonal, spiritual creative energies.
Sexual Worship. See PHALLIC; LINGA
Seyn, Sein (German) Being; the German philosopher Fichte distinguished between Sein and Dasein: and, according to him, in thought we know Sein (Being or the One) through Dasein (Existence) or the manifested. Fichte’s philosophical speculations on this point are echoes of tremendously old philosophical propositions in Hindu writings, where the Sein of Fichte is called the sat, and his Dasein the asat. It is equally permissible to invert these Sanskrit terms to propose an even more spiritual conception, making Sein equivalent to asat and Dasein the parallel of sat.
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
BCW - H. P. Blavatsky: Collected Writings
BG - Bhagavad-Gita
BP - Bhagavata Purana
cf - confer
ChU - Chandogya Upanishad
Dial, Dialogues - The Dialogues of G. de Purucker, ed. A. L. Conger
Echoes - Echoes of the Orient, by William Q. Judge (comp. Dara Eklund)
ET - The Esoteric Tradition, by G. de Purucker
FSO - Fountain-Source of Occultism, by G. de Purucker
Fund - Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, by G. de Purucker
IU - Isis Unveiled, by H. P. Blavatsky
MB - Mahabharata
MIE - Man in Evolution, by G. de Purucker
ML - The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, ed. A. Trevor Barker
MU - Mundaka Upanishad
OG - Occult Glossary, by G. de Purucker
Rev - Revelations
RV - Rig Veda
SD - The Secret Doctrine, by H. P. Blavatsky
SOPh - Studies in Occult Philosophy, by G. de Purucker
TBL - Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge (Secret Doctrine Commentary), by H. P. Blavatsky
TG - Theosophical Glossary, by H. P. Blavatsky
Theos - The Theosophist (magazine)
VP - Vishnu Purana
VS - The Voice of the Silence, by H. P. Blavatsky
WG - Working Glossary, by William Q. Judge
ZA - Zend-Avesta
Theosophical Society Homepage