Encyclopedic Theosophical Glossary

editors’ note: This online version of the Encyclopedic Theosophical Glossary is a work in progress. For ease of searching, diacritical marks are omitted, with the exception of Hebrew and Sanskrit terms, where after the main heading a current transliteration with accents is given.

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Ba (Egyptian) Ba. The human soul; closely connected with the heart, and usually depicted as a hawk with a human head. It was regarded in the nature of a human “double,” and mortal, equivalent to prana in some of its functions, or to kama-manas.

Ba‘al, Baal. See BEL

Babel (Hebrew) Bābāh The inner meaning of the Tower of Babel, by which it was hoped that divinity might be reached or attained, is a house of initiation, a gate, portal, opening, or entrance to the divine. The physical tower was both the building set aside to house and protect the initiation chambers, together with the ceremonies that take place in them, and an architectural emblem to signify a raising up towards heaven. The tower may have either a divine or evil significance, either haughty pride and self-sufficiency or spiritual aspiration. Similar is the lightning-struck tower of the Tarot cards, and the Arabian Nights story of the man who built a palace completely except only for a roc’s egg to hang in the dome, and when the egg is thus hung, the whole palace collapses. The work of the black magician, building from below upwards, is impermanent and, when it strikes the sky, is blasted. If such a tower and system be followed by adepts of the left-hand path for ultimate and foredestined confusion, it is one thing; but if the tower and its inner mysteries be in the charge of adepts of the right-hand path, it is another. The concentration of the narrator in the Bible concerning the Tower of Babel seems to have been entirely upon its aspect of left-hand magic.

The later Atlanteans were noted for their magic powers, wickedness, and defiance of the gods, and this tradition is preserved in many legends, such as the Biblical Tower of Babel, which derived from still older Chaldean scriptures. The legendary stories of wicked antediluvian giants warring against heaven are common in every mythology. The defeat of the giants, in some at least of these legends, results in the confusion of tongues — the break-up and dispersal of a great racial division of mankind.

Babylon [from Assyrian “gate of the gods”] An ancient, celebrated city on the Euphrates said to have been founded by the Assyrian monarch Ninus or his legendary wife Semiramis. In ancient times one foci through which Brahmanical esoteric wisdom from India was diffused in Asia Minor, and its cosmogony forms a link between those teachings and the cosmogony of the Hebraic Bible.

Bacchus (Greek) Used by both Greeks and Romans, also called Dionysos by the Greeks, Liber by the Romans, Zagreus in the Orphic mysteries, Sabazius in Phrygia and Thrace; the same as Iacchus (connected with Iao and Jehovah). Generally represented as the son of Zeus and Semele, he is spoken of sometimes as a solar and sometimes as a lunar deity; for, like many other personifications of cosmic powers, he has both a solar and lunar (masculine or feminine) aspect. As a solar deity he has a serpent for his symbol and is a man-savior, parallel with Adonis, Osiris, Krishna, Buddha, and Christos. He is often called the god of wine, natural fertility, etc.

The original, pure Bacchic rites pertained to high initiation, in which the candidate becomes conscious of his oneness with divinity. Thus Bacchus, with his symbolic serpent and wine, stands for divine inspiration. But when the keys of the sacred science were lost and symbols were interpreted literally, the rites degenerated and often became profligate. Bacchus-Dionysos also figures as the inspirer of dramatic and representative art, inspiring the individual with the divine afflatus or mystic frenzy. Originally this meant the inner communion of the candidate with his own inner god and the consequent inspiration; on a lower plane it signifies the fleeting inspiration of poet and artist, and finally it degenerated into hysteria and morbid psychic states.

Baconian Methods The Baconian method corresponds roughly to what is known in logic as the inductive method of reasoning, of which Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was a great advocate, as contrasted with the deductive method. Considered to be the method of modern science, it consists in inferring general laws from the observation of particular instances; whereas in the deductive method, general laws are assumed because of the natural harmony of the universe, and particular instances or consequences are deduced as flowing forth from them. In the Baconian method particular phenomena are examined with the view of finding out what is essential and excluding what is nonessential, and thus establishing a general law; but the weakness of this method is that the number of particular phenomena or details to be examined in order to arrive at truth must be virtually coextensive with infinity; for in any instance a body of particular phenomena may be encountered which demands immediate readjustment or radical shiftings in opinions in process of crystallization. Actually the scientific method is a combination of both methods: we cannot interpret phenomena without having at the outset some principle in mind; moreover, no sooner have we established a general law than we begin to apply it for the discovery of other phenomena, thus using the deductive method.

A more important objection to the inductive method as used by modern science is that it limits the basis of reasoning to the relative paucity of data furnished by our physical senses, which data we must first learn to understand beyond doubt; otherwise our reasoning is vicious. Blavatsky states that the secrets of invisible nature cannot be thus inferred, but that we must call in the aid of higher senses in order to obtain the necessary foundation for reasoning and to insure the adequate understanding of discoverable data. See also INDUCTIVE METHOD

Bacteria A numerous and varied class of microorganisms which exist in the air, earth, water, and in and on the bodies of plants, animals, and men. Bacteria, like all manifested things, are dual in action, being both beneficial and injurious to others: some of them provide the necessary enzymes for functional use, and others produce dangerous toxins. They are vital factors throughout the plant and animal kingdoms between which they are an organic link; and they are also a medium of contact between the astral and physical planes. As such they serve as material agents for certain phases of the operations of the laws of nature on the terrestrial plane.

Bacteria, then, are a host of visible and invisible agents which, on our plane, subconsciously carry out many processes of evolutionary life and death. They are links in the karmic chain by which the divine recorders, who follow the immutable laws in the universal mind, return to each being the results of whatever it was the antecedent cause. Thus the bacteria of a disease will multiply and produce their injurious toxins only when the karmic conditions within or surrounding the individual provide a suitable culture-medium for them. Even then, the toxemia may or may not be modified or overcome by the natural antitoxins of the blood aided by competent medical treatment. The typical disease germs found inactive in healthy throats, etc., are instances of a karma which, paradoxically, provides a dangerous contact with individual protection. The healthy person may be an unconscious carrier of the disease germ to someone who is due to reap the full effects of causes he had set in motion at some time.

The selective functions of these creative and destructive microorganisms are impersonally, and as it were automatically, directed by the invisible hierarchy of intelligences which guide the nature forces and so affect us physically and metaphysically as we have merited. The whole process is as natural as the analogous way in which a person’s trillions of body cells are dominated by, and react to, the stimulation or depression of his harmonious or discordant state of mind and emotions. Both cells and bacteria are living entities, sentient but not intelligent in the human sense. The typical appearance of bacteria in certain diseases gives them a place as diagnostic signatures of physical conditions. But to regard them as the primal cause of the disease is mistaking the phenomena for the noumena which is working out karmic effects.

Badarayana Vyasa. See VYASA

Baddha (Sanskrit) Baddha [from the verbal root bandh to bind, tie] Bound, tied, fixed; in Hinduism “bound by the fetters of existence, or evil” (Kapila). ” ‘Baddha’ differs from ‘Mukta’ in being encased as it were within these 36 Tatwams, while the other is free” (Subba Row, Theosophist 3:43). As a noun, used by Jains and Buddhists for that which binds or fetters the ray of the imbodied spirit.

Badha (Sanskrit) Bādha [from the verbal root bādh to harass, pain, trouble] Affliction, trouble, pain, hurt.

Baetyl. See BETYLOS

Bagavadam (Tamil) According to Blavatsky, a scripture on astronomy and kindred subjects (TG 48). The time periods in it differ from present-day reckonings: 15 solar days make a paccham; two paccham (30 days) make a month — equivalent to only one day of the pitris. Two of such months make a roodoo; three roodoo, an ayanam; two ayanam, a year. However, this year of mortals is but a day of the gods.

Bagh-bog (Slavonian) One of the principal ancient Slavonian divinities of pre-Christian times, associated with thunder or cosmic electricity; somewhat resembling the Roman Jupiter Tonans or Greek Zeus.

Bahak-Zivo bahak-ziwa (Gnostic) According to the Codex Nazaraeus, the genius who called the world into existence out of the dark water. He is also called the father of the genii or aeons. Bahak-Zivo was ordered to construct creatures, but failed to do so because he was ignorant of Orcus (the bottomless pit); so he called to his aid a still purer spirit, Fetahil, who likewise failed in the attempt (cf SD 2:17).

Bahishprajna (Sanskrit) Bahiṣprajña [from bahiṣ out, outside + prajñā intuitive consciousness] Also Bahir-prajñā. One whose knowledge is directed towards external objects; the present state of human consciousness.

Bai. See BA

Baital Pachisi (Hindi) Baitāl Paccīsī.In popular lore, a vampire believed to hover around graves and to subsist on the putrefying remains of corpses.

Bal. See BEL

Bala (Sanskrit) Bala Power, strength, might, vigor (cf Latin valor); one of the six functions of action, similar to the ten karmendriya (karmic energies) of Buddhism. In yoga practice the five powers (panchabalani) to be acquired are: complete trust or faith, energy, memory, meditation, and wisdom.

Balaam (Hebrew) Bil‘ām One of the prophets of the Old Testament, last and greatest of the gentile prophets, appearing at the time when the Israelites were completing their forty years of wandering (Numbers 22-4). “The Zohar explains the ‘birds’ which inspired Balaam to mean ‘Serpents,’ to wit, the wise men and adepts at whose school he had learned the mysteries of prophecy” (SD 2:409).

Baladeva. See BALARAMA

Balahala The fifth degree in the inferior Egyptian Mysteries; instruction in alchemy under the tuition of Horus was the principal feature of this degree, the word being chemia (Khemi was the old name of Egypt).

Balarama (Sanskrit) Balarāma Elder brother of Krishna, regarded by some as an avatara of Vishnu, by others as the incarnation of the great serpent Sesha. He spent his childhood with Krishna and during his life performed many daring exploits. Krishna, the indigo-complexioned, was considered to be a relatively full avataric manifestation of Vishnu, while Balarama, said to have been of fairer complexion, is known as a partial avataric incarnation of Vishnu.

Balder, Baldr (Icelandic) The best, foremost; the sun god in Norse mythology, the son of Odin and Frigga and a favorite with gods and men. His mansion is Breidablick (broadview) whence he can keep watch over all the worlds. One of the lays of the Elder or Poetic Edda deals entirely with the death of the sun god, also mentioned in the principal poem Voluspa. Briefly stated: the gods were concerned when Balder was troubled with dreams of impending doom. Frigga therefore set out to exact a promise from all living things that none would harm Balder, and all readily complied. One thing only had been overlooked: the harmless-seeming mistletoe. Loki, the mischievous god (human mind), became aware of this, plucked the little plant, and from it fashioned a dart. He approached Hoder, the blind god (of darkness and ignorance) who was standing disconsolately by while the other gods were playfully hurling their weapons against the invulnerable sun god. Offering to guide his aim, Loki placed on Hoder’s bow the small but deadly “sorrow-dart.” Thus mind darkened by ignorance accomplished what nothing else could: the death of the bright deity of light. Balder must then travel to the house of Hel, queen of the realm of the dead. Odin, as Hermod, goes to plead with Hel for Balder’s return, and Hel agrees to release him on condition that all living things weep for him. Frigga resumes her weary round and implores all beings to mourn the sun god’s passing. All agree save one: Loki in the guise of an aged crone refuses to shed a tear. This single taint of perverseness in the human mind condemns Balder to remain in the realm of Hel until the following cycle is due to begin. Thus death is linked with the active human mind, Loki. As the bright sun god is placed on his pyre-ship, his loving wife Nanna (the moon goddess) dies of a broken heart and is placed beside him, but before the ship is set ablaze and cast adrift, Odin leaned over to whisper something in the dead sun god’s ear. This secret message must endure unknown to all until Balder’s return, when he and his dark twin Hoder will “build together on Ropt’s (Odin’s) sacred soil.”

The allegory is subject to many interpretations. The sun god dies with every nightfall, to rise again the following morning; with every winter solstice, to return and bring a new year of light and life; and with every planetary cycle, as well as each solar lifetime. The tale also symbolizes the passing of the golden age of innocence which had to be superseded by more conscious and purposive evolution of the human race: Loki, who represents the fire of mind — human, imperfect, clever, but unevolved, which in time must become perfected spiritual intelligence.

Bali (Sanskrit) Bali Daitya king who through devotion and penance became ruler of the three worlds (heaven, the upper air, and patala). Vishnu as the dwarf avatara regains these for the gods by means of his three superhuman steps or strides. (BCW 13:158, 4:367). See also VAMANA-AVATARA

Bal-ilu (Chaldean) An ancient name for the sun, allegorically the largest of eight houses, built by the Mother for her eight divine sons, representing the sun and the seven planets. “Bal-ilu (Marrtanda) was not satisfied, though his house was the largest. He began (to work) as the huge elephants do. He breathed (drew in) into his stomach the vital airs of his brothers. He sought to devour them. . . . [Mother] exiled Bal-ilu to the centre of her kingdom, from whence he could not move. (Since then) he (only) watches and threatens” (SD 1:100).


Balthazar, Belshazzar Lord of riches, lord of prisoners; one of the three Magi, described as journeying to Judea to pay homage to the infant Jesus. The ancient Babylonian deity Bel or Ba‘al was associated with the moon — the lord of the high places; thus one interpretation of the legend indicates the three particular planets which were predominant at the birth of the Christ: Balthazar standing for the Moon, Kaspar for Mercury, and Melchior for Venus.

Bamian, Statues of Five colossal statues representing the height of the early human races, cut in rock by initiates of the late fourth and the fifth root-races to preserve for posterity a physical record of the height of the early races, located near Bamian (Bamiyan or Bamian), a small town in Afghanistan. The largest statue, 173 feet high, represents the first ethereal root-race of mankind. The next statue, 120 feet tall, represents the sweat-born or second root-race. The third statue, 60 feet high, immortalizes the third root-race. The fourth, representing the fourth root-race or Atlanteans, is 27 feet high. The fifth statue is only a little larger than the average tall man of today, and represents our present fifth root-race (cf SD 2:337-40).

Bandha (Sanskrit) Bandha [from the verbal root bandh to enchain, bind, fetter] A bond, fetter, confinings; in philosophy applied to life on earth, mundane bondage or attachment to this world, as opposed to mukti or moksha (final emancipation).

Bandhakarana (Sanskrit) Bandhakaraṇa [from bandha bondage + karaṇa from the verbal root kṛ to make, do] Making or causing bondage; binding, fettering, or a holding back. Subba Row (Notes on BG 71) assumes that mulaprakriti is the real or principal bandhakarana as the originating cause of karmic activity, but this has reference only to the most abstract and spiritual side of things, as in the last analysis even karma itself may be traced backwards and inwards to mulaprakriti as the field of all possible activity.

Banyan (Banian) The Indian fig tree (Ficus bengalensis of the Urticaceae), a shade tree remarkable for the enormous area that a single tree often covers, since roots are developed from the branches, which descend to the ground and take root. Inasmuch as each descending root in time becomes a tree trunk with branches of its own, which in their turn send roots to the ground, the gradual spread of the tree is theoretically indefinite and can reach more than a hundred yards in diameter. It was named tree of the merchants, as it was customary in olden times to hold markets under the shelter of these trees, called bar in Hindi, vata (covering) in Sanskrit.

In theosophy, used to express the peak of human evolutionary attainment on the earth-chain, the ever-living-human-Banyan or Wondrous Being (SD 1:207). Members of the hierarchy of Compassion under the Wondrous Being are referred to as tendrils descending from the heights to the lower planes of earth, these themselves aspiring to become like their spiritual superior.

Baphomet [from Greek baphe immersion + metis wisdom] A medieval mystic term usually identified with the goat of Mendes. The Templars of Malta were accused of worshiping Baphomet as an idol. Baphomet signifies a baptism in wisdom or initiation, but became degraded and misunderstood when the keys to its real meaning were lost. Pan, the Greek nature god, was often represented with the horns and hoofs of a goat; however, “Pan is related to the Mendesian goat, only so far as the latter represents, as a talisman of great occult potency, nature’s creative force” (TG 246).

Ba-po. See BON

Baptism [from Greek baptizein to sprinkle] Ceremonial of purification with water; one of the sacraments in the Christian churches, by which persons are initiated into the visible Church of Christ. It consists in either immersion in water or sprinkling with water, according to the practice of different churches. In the Protestant Churches it is “the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace,” accepted as a necessary preliminary to the other sacraments, and even as essential to salvation. In the Roman Catholic Church it carries remission of sin both original and actual. It existed in pre-Christian times among Jews and pagans, practiced in Chaldea, Egypt, India, Greece, Africa, Polynesia, North America, and ancient Europe, among others.

Mystically speaking, there are two baptisms: that of water and that of fire; the former pertaining to the plane of matter, the latter to that of spirit. In the New Testament, John the Baptist says: “I baptize you with water, but a greater than I shall come, who will baptize you with fire.” Jesus instructs Nicodemus as to the two births: the birth of water and the birth of the spirit. Baptism was therefore a ceremonial pertaining to an inferior degree of initiation.

Barbelo (Gnostic) Prominent in the Pistis Sophia, where it is referred to as “an invisible God”; but it is one of three invisible divinities. Another passage, in which Mary is speaking to Jesus, refers to Mary as having come from the region of Barbelo; leading C. W. King to remark that the deity includes “the Divine Mother of the Savior” (SD 2:570). But comparing other passages in the manuscript, it is clear that the term is not used in this latter sense alone.

Bard [from Latin bardus from Gaulish and old Brythonic probably bardos cf Welsh bardd] Exalted one, initiate, teacher; one of the three holy orders of Druidism — Druids, Bards, and Ovates. The Bards had the duty of keeping alive among the people the knowledge or intuition that there is a path that leads to wisdom and initiation. They carried this out largely by telling stories: a Mabinogi, according to Sir John Rhys, was a story belonging to the equipment of the Bards. These stories were told in such a way that their symbolic meaning might be apparent to those with intuition, but hidden from the mass. In telling the stories they used verse form a good deal, so that now in every country but Wales bard has come to mean poet. In Wales, however, it retains some relic of its original meaning: a Bard is a member of the Gorsedd, and may or may not be a poet; no poet is a Bard unless the Gorsedd has admitted him to its ranks. The Bard’s robe was of blue; that of the Druid was white; the Ovate’s green.

Barddas (Welsh) A collection of manuscripts illustrating the teachings of the Druids, awarded the prize at the Llangollen National Eisteddfod in 1858. The original preface says: “there may be found in this collection some fragments which contain, as is very clear to every initiated Bard, the remains of that sublime learning. . . . In order to prove the genuineness and great antiquity of these particulars, it may suffice that they are also discoverable . . . in the ancient Bardism of Hindustan.”

Bardesanes Greek form of Bar Deisan or Bardaisan (154-222?), a Gnostic from Edessa in Mesopotamia in the time of Marcus Aurelius. Little is known of his life, and his teachings must be gathered from fragments preserved by commentators. He has something in common with Valentinus but, if he was ever a disciple of that Gnostic, he soon diverged on his own line. Though his doctrines frequently conflict with those of the Christian Church, he is considered by some to have been a Christian. He derived much of his doctrine from India. At the head of his cosmogony stands the unknown Deity, whose shadow is the root of matter — primordial chaos; from the One and Matter spring the Son, whose union with Sophia produces the elements; and duality pervades the manifested worlds in a system of seven syzygies or pairs of active and passive principles. He upholds human free will, and makes great use of the astrological keys connecting mankind with the seven planetary spheres. As to birth, regeneration, and the inner meaning of baptism, he taught the continuing existence of the essential self through many changes of vehicle.

Bardesanian System Applied often to the Codex of the Nazarenes, but with doubtful propriety, since the connection of the Nazarene system with Bardesanes seems one of similarity rather than personal relation.

Bardo (Tibetan) [from bar between + do two] Between two; generally a gap, interval, or intermediate state, especially the state between two births. The term has become known in the West through the Bar do thos sgrol (bar-do tho-dol), “Liberation through Hearing in the Bardo,” translated by W. Y. Evans-Wentz as The Tibetan Book of the Dead. According to the Bardo Thodol, there are six such “intervals”: the bardo of birth, the bardo of dreams, the bardo of samadhi (meditation), the bardo of the moment before death, the bardo of dharmata, and the bardo of becoming. The Bardo Thodol describes the last three of these, and is recited in the presence of the deceased believed to be experiencing these states, usually for a total period of 49 days. It is believed that the teaching contained in the text can enable the deceased to attain liberation while in the bardo states, or at least to attain the best possible rebirth.

Bardo is used in Tibet to refer to the many events and experiences undergone by the excarnate human being after death, generally considered to last from physical death until the next rebirth or reincarnation, though it is somewhat shorter than this. Since this period “may last from a few years to a kalpa” (ML 105), the bardo has more than the meaning commonly understood by the Tibetan populace which includes the time passed by the excarnate entity in kama-loka, in the intermediate or gestation period in which the entity is preparing for its birth into devachan, and the period of ineffable bliss and peace (illusory as it may be from the standpoint of reality) passed by the entity in the devachanic state itself. It also includes the later intermediate period — usually carefully veiled from common knowledge — existent between the ending of devachan and the rebirth of the reincarnating ego.

Baresma(n) (Avestan), Barsum (Pahlavi), Barsam (Persian) [from the verbal root bares to grow upright] A wand of the Magi, who were instructed in the Vendidad to go to the tree “that is beautiful, high-growing, and mighty amongst the high-growing trees,” and after an invocation, to cut off a twig, “long as a plowshare, thick as a barley-corn. The faithful one, holding it in his left hand, shall not leave off keeping his eyes upon it, whilst he is offering up the sacrifice to Ahura-Mazda and to the Amesha-Spentas.” To this day the Parsis use the baresman, but have replaced the twigs of the scared tree with brass wires.

Blavatsky hints that baresman is taken from the tree created by Ahura-Mazda, the tree of occult and spiritual knowledge and wisdom, and so is a symbolic rod of power and wisdom, such as is often ascribed in ancient mythologies to great leaders or teachers of peoples and to high adepts. Baresman symbolically represents a branch of the tree of knowledge, known as Gaokarena in Pahlavi literature, soul healing Haoma (the extract of this tree), and Zavr (its libation). “We praise mighty Vayu, with the Haoma mixed with milk and with Baresman with the tongue of Kherad (Intellect) and the holy word, with words and deeds, with Zavr and the true spoken words” (Ram Yasht 5).

It is said in Zad-Sparam that the tree of Harwisp Tohmag (all-seed-bearing tree) was created in the sea of Farakhkard (the unbounded sea) from which all plants grow, and that the Simorgh (Saena) nests on it. When the Simorgh flies away, all the dry seeds drop into the water which the rain brings down to earth. Next to the All-seed-bearing Tree exists the tree of white Haoma (Gaokarena), the foe of decrepitude, reviver of the dead, and giver of eternal life.

Bargalmer. See BERGELMIR

Barhaspatyamana (Sanskrit) Bārhaspatyamāna [from bṛhaspati Jupiter + the verbal root to measure] Jupiter’s measure of time; a method of reckoning time based on the year of Jupiter, in which an earth-year is calculated as 361 days and 11 ghadias. One of the three methods of reckoning time used during the age when Gautama Buddha lived, especially in Magadha and by Pali writers in general, and still in use in parts of India.

Barhishad (Sanskrit) Barhiṣad [from barhiṣ sacred kusa grass, fire + the verbal root sad to sit] Mystically, those who attend to or who are engrossed in domestic affairs, material or merely pragmatical concerns; those pitris (fathers, ancestors) who evolved the human astral-physical form. These lunar ancestors — seven or ten classes — evolved forth their astral bodies or chhayas (shadows), thus forming the first astral-physical races of humanity in which the higher classes of pitris, the agnishvattas, incarnated, thus making out of a relatively intellectually senseless mankind, true thinking human beings.

“It thus becomes clear why the Agnishwatta, devoid of the grosser creative fire, hence unable to create physical man, having no double, or astral body, to project, since they were without any form, are shown in exoteric allegories as Yogis, Kumaras (chaste youths), who became ‘rebels,’ Asuras, fighting and opposing gods . . . Yet it is they alone who could complete man, i.e., make of him a self-conscious, almost a divine being — a god on Earth. The Barhishad, though possessed of creative fire, were devoid of the higher mahat-mic element. Being on a level with the lower principles — those which precede gross objective matter — they could only give birth to the outer man, or rather to the model of the physical, the astral man” (SD 2:78-9). The barhishads “could only create, or rather clothe, the human Monads with their own astral Selves, but they could not make man in their image and likeness. ‘Man must not be like one of us,’ say the creative gods, entrusted with the fabrication of the lower animal but higher; . . . Their creating the semblance of men out of their own divine Essence means, esoterically, that it is they who became the first Race, and thus shared its destiny and further evolution. They would not, simply because they could not, give to man that sacred spark which burns and expands into the flower of human reason and self-consciousness, for they had it not to give” (SD 2:94-5).

Barley. See WHEAT

Basht. See BAST

Basileus or Archon Basileus (Greek) King; when the archon at Athens was replaced by a board of nine archons, the official functions were divided, and the second archon held the presidency of religious observances, including those of the Eleusinian Mysteries. His functions should not be confounded with those of the chief hierophant, the true presider over the inner rites.

Basilides A celebrated Alexandrian Gnostic of about 120 AD, probably born in Syria, whose teachings included a system of emanations and hierarchies of powers; founder of the Basilidian Gnostics, declared an heretical sect. Basilides claimed to have derived his teachings from an original Gospel of Matthew and from Glaucus, a disciple of Peter.


Bast (Egyptian) Bubastis (Greek) Boubastis [from bes heat, fire] The goddess of the seventh nome of lower Egypt, the capital of which was Per-Bast (Greek Bubastis). She was identified with the female counterparts of Ra and Tem — hence called the eye of Ra and of Tem, and the Shetat (the hidden one) — and at Thebes identified with Mut and Isis; her son by Shu was Khensu (Khonsu).

Bast is regarded as the personification of the power of the sun which manifests in the form of heat, a position which she holds together with the goddess Sekhet. But she is also intimately connected with the moon, especially in her connection with the cat — Khensu being a lunar god. Thus when she is depicted as a lioness her attributes are solar; when as a cat, lunar. This dual aspect bears a close analogy with the moon, which is further indicated when Bast is represented as being one of the goddesses of the birth chamber; and her son Khensu was declared to make women fruitful and make the human germ grow, especially in his character of the moon, the lightbearer.

Herodotus gives the Greek Artemis (or in Latin Diana) as an equivalent of Bast.

Bath Qol, Bath Kol (Hebrew) Bath Qōl [from bath daughter + qōl voice] Daughter of the voice; used in the Qabbalah to signify the female side of the logos, the daughter of the primordial light, Shechinah, and is equivalent to the Hindu Vach and the Chinese Kwan-yin. It likewise signifies the wisdom that was received by initiates — figurated as a voice — this wisdom being the daughter of cosmic all-wisdom. “Bath Kol, the filia Vocis, the daughter of the divine voice of the Hebrews, responding from the mercy seat within the veil of the temple . . .” (SD 1:431n).

Batoo. See BATU

Batte-bazi (Hindi) Baṭṭe-bāzi The jugglery of a trickster, as opposed to genuine occult powers.

Batu (Egyptian) Batu. Also Batoo, Baiti. First man in the Egyptian legend of the Two Brothers, the probable original of the Greek story of Epimetheus and Prometheus. Just as Pandora was sent to Epimetheus, so is a beautiful girl, the creation of the heavenly artist Khnum, sent to Batu, whereupon Batu’s happiness is destroyed.

Batylos. See BETYLOS

Baubo The Matron Baubo, the enchantress “before she succeeds in reconciling the soul — Demeter, to its new position, finds herself obliged to assume the sexual forms of an infant. Baubo is matter, the physical body; and the intellectual, as yet pure astral soul can be ensnared into its new terrestrial prison but by the display of innocent babyhood. Until then, doomed to her fate, Demeter, or Magna-mater, the Soul, wonders and hesitates and suffers; but once having partaken of the magic potion prepared by Baubo, she forgets her sorrows; for a certain time she parts with that consciousness of higher intellect that she was possessed of before entering the body of a child. Thenceforth she must seek to rejoin it again; and when the age of reason arrives for the child, the struggle — forgotten for a few years of infancy — begins again” (IU 2:112).



Bee(s) Greek and Roman writers, having in mind the terminology of the Mysteries, used the term bees (melissai) to denote both priestesses and women disciples. Thus it was used for the priestesses of Delphi and other Mysteries, and by the Neoplatonists for pure and chaste persons. Honey and nectar are symbols of wisdom.

Vergil says that bees have a portion of the divine mind, from which aethereal particles stream, and that divinity permeates the whole earth so that all beings draw from it the streams of life (Georgics 4, 320). The spiritual or monadic consciousness (the nous) manifests itself in innumerable ways, and this same consciousness is in man. A little later Vergil says that bees are born from the carcass of a slain bullock or bull. The bull or cow is a symbol of the moon, and the moon has always stood as a symbol of the psychic intelligence or lower human mind; thus the meaning is that out of his perfectly subordinated (“slain”) bull — the lunar body or psychic nature — is born the “bee” of the disciple, the will and the urge to enter into the solar life or the spirit. In the Finnish mythology of the Kalevala, a bee is the messenger between this world and higher realms. In Scandinavian mythology bees again play an important part with the world tree (Yggdrasil).

Beelzebub, Beelzebul (Hebrew) Ba‘al zĕbūb [from ba‘al lord + zĕbūb fly] Lord of the flies; a god of the Philistines, popularly worshiped as the destroyer of flies, to whom was erected a temple at Ekron. The mythical zoology of the ancients points directly to an inner and mystical significance: “flies” is used not in the sense of the insect, but for a certain class of elementals whose “flying” around and through the earth is governed directly by lunar influences. Thus Beelzebub is in this connection a lunar divinity.

Ba‘al-zebul, a form in the Old and New Testaments, is translated as Lord of the High House or Lord of the Habitation, the reference here being to the moon as the habitation or receptacle of these elemental souls at a certain time of their existence.

In Christian demonology, Beelzebub is one of the gubernatores of the infernal kingdom under Lucifer: thus in Milton’s Paradise Lost he is second to Satan. In Matthew 12:24, Beelzebub is referred to as the prince of the devils.

Behemoth (Hebrew) Bĕhēmōth, singular bĕhēmāh [from bāham to be dumb, mute] A beast, a nonspeaking living being; used in Job 40:15-23. Scholars are of the opinion that the reference here is to the hippopotamus or the Leviathan. “Behemoth is the principle of Darkness, or Satan, in Roman Catholic Theology, and yet Job says of him that ‘Behemoth is the chief (principle) of the ways of God’ ” (SD 2:486), and an entity spoken of, however poetically, as the chief of the ways of the divine, can hardly be a physical quadruped of earth.

Beijve (Sameh) The bright sun god of the nomadic people of northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola peninsula of Russia who call themselves Sameh (people of the sun). Beijve is the son of the divine Jubmel, and the Milky Way is the shining trail left by his skis when he hastened to obey the god’s summons. With Beijve’s advice and help, Jubmel caused a bridge to be created between the upper divine worlds “where the light begins” and the lower “dark and silent worlds”; on the upper end of the span he fashioned the earth from his little reindeer doe. Her bones became earth’s armature, her flesh its ground, her blood vessels became its rivers, and her hairs the forests. The little reindeer’s skull protects the earth from the intense light of the sun, and her two eyes are the morning and the evening star. But her heart he hid deep within the earth where the lonely mountaineer may sometimes, in the quiet summer night, hear it beating.

Being and Nonbeing; Be-ness Equivalent to the Sanskrit sat, asat, and tat. Asat is “a philosophical term meaning ‘non-being,’ or rather non-be-ness. The ‘incomprehensible nothingness.’ Sat, the immutable, eternal, ever-present, and the one real ‘Be-ness’ (not Being) is spoken of as being born of Asat, and Asat begotten by ‘Sat.’ The unreal, or Prakriti, objective nature regarded as an illusion. Nature, or the illusive shadow of its one true essence” (TG 33). So asat or nonbeing is used both to denote that which precedes Being, and out of which Being is born — or vice versa; and to denote the illusory world in contrast with the essential or fundamental cosmic self. Sat (or asat) corresponds very largely with the Absolute of ordinary European philosophy, whereas Be-ness or nonbeing corresponds with the extremely metaphysical Vedic and Vedantic tat and parabrahman.

Beith ’Elohim (Hebrew) Bēith ’Elohīm House of the ’elohim or gods; the title of a Qabbalistic work, classed as one of the treatises of the Zohar, which contains the doctrines of Rabbi Isaac Loria (edited by Rabbi Irira) and treats of angels, demons, elemental spirits, and souls.

Bel (Greek, Latin) [from Semitic ba‘al chief, lord] Lord, chief; one of the supreme gods of the Chaldeo- or Assyro-Babylonian pantheon: the second of the triad composed of Anu, Bel, and Ea. Assyriologists have assumed that Bel was simply the title of a deity, which they have designated as En-lil (the mighty lord). In the division of the universe into heaven, earth, and water, Bel was considered as the lord of the land, and his temple at Nippur was called E-kur (the mountain house), just as Ea’s was the watery house.

There have been many Bels, which may be one of the reasons that in The Secret Doctrine Bel is made equivalent to the Sun, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mercury. As Bel or Ba‘al means Lord, the title becomes applicable to any of the important celestial bodies.

According to one account, the creation of the world and especially of mankind is ascribed to Bel. He is also called father of the gods; and his consort, Belit, is called mother of the gods. His eldest son is Sin, god of the Moon. Bel also brings about the deluge which destroys humanity, showing his dual aspect of evolver and destroyer.

Bel has been associated with the Phoenician Baal, the supreme god of the Canaanites, conceived also as the protective power of generation and fertility, connected with the moon. His female counterpart, Ashtoreth (Astarte, Ishtar) was considered as the receptive goddess, also a lunar divinity. In later times the rites connected with these deities became degraded into licentious orgies; sacrifices were made, apparently even human sacrifices, but at one time Ba‘al was worshiped as a sun god.

His various names in the Old and New Testaments demonstrate the various aspects in which he was regarded. Thus in Exodus he was named Ba‘al-Tsephon, the god of the crypt. He was likewise named Seth or Sheth, signifying a pillar (phallus); and it was owing to these associations that he was considered a hid god, similar to Ammon of Egypt. Among the Ammonites, a people of East Palestine, he was known as Moloch (the king); at Tyre he was called Melcarth. The worship of Ba‘al was introduced into Israel under Ahab, his wife being a Phoenician princess.

“Typhon, called Set, who was a great god in Egypt during the early dynasties, is an aspect of Baal and Ammon as also of Siva, Jehovah and other gods. Baal is the all-devouring Sun, in one sense, the fiery Moloch” (TG 47). As to the leaping of the prophets of Ba‘al, mentioned in the Bible (1 Kings 18:26), Blavatsky writes: “It was simply a characteristic of the Sabean worship, for it denoted the motion of the planets round the sun. That the dance was a Bacchic frenzy is apparent. Sistra were used on the occasion” (IU 2:45).

Bel is also the name for the sun with the Gauls.

Bel-Belitanus. See BELIT

Belgamer. See BERGELMIR

Belial (Hebrew) Bĕliyya‘al [from bĕlī nothing, not + ya‘al worth, profit, use] Worthless, signifying wickedness; also a wicked man, a destroyer, a waster. A name given by Hebrew and Christian demonologists to the aggregate of evil astral forces or influences, some of them partaking of an individualized type, whose influence is always pernicious to humans, and association with which is invariably immoral because suggestive of evil. It is a name personifying these astral entities of evil.

In the New Testament Belial is associated with Satan (2 Cor 6:15), although “if Belial must be personified to please our religious friends, we would be obliged to make him perfectly distinct from Satan, and to consider him as a sort of spiritual ‘Diakka’ [Kama-lokic elementary]. The demonographers, however, who enumerate nine distinct orders of daimonia, make him chief of the third class — a set of hobgoblins, mischievous and good-for-nothing” (IU 2:482).

Belit, Belita (Bab, Chald, Assyr) Chief lady; a title applicable to any important goddess in the pantheon, applied especially to Nin-lil, consort of Bel (or En-lil) at Nippur, where she was known as mother of the gods, ruler of heaven and earth. The title was likewise later applied to Ishtar (Greek Beltis).

Bel-Belit was the combined occult powers of this representation of the godhead as both male and female, called by the Greeks and the Romans Bel-Belitanus.

Bells, Astral; Bell Sounds A melodious silvery sound as of a bell, said to be produced by creating “an inter-etheric vacuum” (SD 1:557).

Bel-Merodach. See MARDUK

Bel-Moloch. See MOLOCH

Bel Shemesh (Hebrew) Lord of the sun; a title also given to the moon, during the time when the Jews worshiped the moon as a male and when the sun was considered to be a female divinity. Later the title was applied to the sun (likewise to Jehovah), and then Ashtoreth became queen of the heaven or the moon. See also ASTARTE; SHAMASH

Belus. See BEL

Ben (Hebrew) Bēn Son; used in names to denote “son of,” as Ben-Hadad (son of Hadad).

Benei ’Elohim (Hebrew) Bĕnēi ’Elohīm Sons of gods — less accurately, sons of God; the phrase occurs in Genesis 6:2, 4. In the Qabbalah, however, it often has reference to the mal’achim or mal’achayya (Chaldean), meaning either angels or messengers.

Benei Shemesh (Hebrew) Bēl Shemesh Sons of the sun; “the term belongs to the period when the Jews were divided into sun and moon worshippers — Elites and Belites” (TG 53-4). See also BEL SHEMESH


Beni-Nabim (Hebrew) Bĕnēi Nĕbī’īm [from bēn son, disciple + nābī’ seer, prophet] Sons of seers; disciples of prophets. Blavatsky speaks of the Essenes as descendants of the Beni-Nabim (IU 1:xxx).

Bennu (Egyptian) Bennu. Also Benu, Benoo. A bird of the heron species, identified with the phoenix. It was prominent in Egyptian mythology, being associated with the sun: it was said to have come into being from the fire which burned at the top of the sacred Persea Tree; that the renewed morning sun rose in the form of the bennu; and that it was the soul of Ra, the sun god. The sanctuary of the bennu was likewise that of Ra and of Osiris. A hymn in the Book of the Dead says: “I go in like the Hawk, and I come forth like the Bennu, the Morning Star (i.e., the planet Venus) of Ra” (xiii 2). Blavatsky terms the bennu “the bird of resurrection in Eternity . . . in whom night follows the day, and day the night — an allusion to the periodical cycles of cosmic resurrection and human re-incarnation” (SD 1:312).

Ben Shamesh. See BENEI SHEMESH

Berasit, Berasheth. See BERE’SHITH

Bere’shith, (Hebrew) Bĕrē’shīth The first two words of the Hebrew Genesis. As Hebrew was originally written from right to left in a series of consonants, without vowels, several renderings may be made of any passage, according to the manner of inserting vowels and of dividing the consonants into words. Thus the original Hebrew  בראשת (b r ’ sh th) may be divided as be-re’shith, as is common in European translations, and rendered “in the beginning” [ in + rē’shīth beginning from rē’sh or rō’sh chief, head, first part, summit]; a second translation could be “in the first part.” If the meaning “head” be taken, then as head signifies wisdom, the rendering “in wisdom” follows. But this same combination of letters could be rendered “by arrangement” or “by establishment,” by dividing it as bare’-shith [from bārē’ forming + shīth establishment, arrangement].

Bergelmir, Bargalmer (Icelandic, Scandinavian) [from ber to bear + gelmir shrieker, possibly a screaming eagle (gemlir) or a noun suffix attached to the Icelandic verb gella scream or to the Swedish adjective gall shrill] The giant who survives the destruction of a world; the fruit born of a life cycle (Trudgelmir). Bergelmir is called a son of Trudgelmir who in turn is born of Orgelmir (original sound), keynote of the gamut of existence.

The story relates that when Ymir, the frost giant, was killed (transformed) by the creative trinity of gods, and made into the worlds, all the evil frost giants were drowned in his blood, save Bergelmir. He is saved on a boat-keel and ground on the mill to become the substance for a new creation.

Beri’ah (Hebrew) Bĕrī’āh [from bārā’ to create, shape] The beri’atic world or ‘olam hab-beri’ah is “world or sphere of creation”; second of the four worlds (’olamim) which according to the Qabbalah are emanated during the period of world manifestation. It is considered to contain pure or spiritual forms and originant ideas, for in this ’olam creation commences. This sphere is a continuation of the emanation of the first (’olam ’atstsiloth) and contains likewise, as do each of the ’olamim, a complete tenfold Sephirothal Tree, though on ’olam hab-beri’ah certain ones only of the ten Sephiroth find their especial field of action. The substance of the beri’atic world is still of a highly ethereal or quasi-spiritaual type. Just as the Prototype (Diyyuqna’) occupies the first world, so Metatron occupies the second — also named Kursyai’ (the Throne). From this world is emanated the third world, ’olam hay-yetsirah.

Interestingly, when written without Massoretic points, beri’ah comprises the same letters — BRH — found in the Sanskrit the verbal root brih (to expand) from which is derived Brahma, the first Hindu creator.

Berosus (3rd century BC) A Chaldaean priest of Belus living in Babylon at the time of Alexander the Great, who translated the primeval traditions of the human race down nearly to his own times. Fragments of this work have been preserved by the historians and mythographers Apollodorus and Polyhistor, and also Josephus, of the 1st and 2nd centuries BC. His cosmogony shows that the Biblical stories of creation and deluge were derived from older sources, as since has been confirmed by Babylonian archaeology.

Bes (Egyptian) Bes [from besa, basu panther] A deity of foreign origin, portrayed as a dwarf with large bearded head, flat nose, protruding tongue, shaggy hair with an African headdress, girded with a panther’s skin and tail. He is represented as a god of dance and music, also as a god of war, and as a protector of children. In later periods he became merged with some of the aspects of Horus. Perhaps in most aspects, however, Bes is the Egyptian representation of the Latin Cupid.

Beth Elohim. See BEITH ’ELOHIM

Bethel Stone (Hebrew) Bēith-ēl The pillar of Jacob, which he set up as a memorial or massebah at Bethel and anointed with oil (Genesis 28:18, 22); a phallic stone similar to the Hindu linga. Blavatsky writes: “How could anyone worthy of the name of a philosopher, and knowing the real secret meaning of their ‘pillar of Jacob,’ their Bethel, oil-anointed phalli, and their ‘Brazen Serpent,’ worship such a gross symbol, and minister unto it, seeing in it their ‘Covenant’ — the Lord Himself!” (SD 2:473; BCW 12:101) See also BETYLOS

Betrayal of the Mysteries Ancient writers affirm that the prime requisite of every candidate seeking entrance into the Mysteries was a pledge of utter secrecy. Persons guilty of the betrayal of the Mysteries were rigidly excluded from participation in the celebration of the rites. Likewise those were debarred who accidentally were guilty of homicide or any major crime, or who had been proved guilty of sorcery. If merely unfortunate mediums, they were taken care of in hospitals maintained for that purpose in the neighborhood of temples, and if possible restored to health; if consciously traitorous or wicked, they were dealt with in other ways. Thus it is clear that even in the degenerate days dating from before Plato’s time in the countries surrounding the Mediterranean, abuse of occult power was considered one of the most heinous of human offenses, for it struck directly at the roots of society, and it was for this last reason that betrayal of the Mysteries, sorcery, or similar offense was punished by the State itself.

The rules governing betrayal of the secrets were of the utmost severity, the common penalty for such infringement being death. Yet this was a sign of degeneration from the original purity of the Mysteries, for “never in any circumstances has the power or the force of the Lodge, has the hand of a Teacher, been raised in violence or in hatred against a betrayer, against the unfaithful, no matter how grave the crime might have been. Their punishment was in this: they were left strictly to themselves; and the inner penalty was the withdrawal of the Deathless Watcher, the higher self within, which had been consciously and successfully invoked upon entrance into the Mysteries, and in the higher degrees of initiation had been faced, literally face to face. The early and automatic penalty was inner death by the soul-loss. The betrayer lost his soul” (Fund 254-5).

Betylos, Baetylus (Latin) [from Greek baitylos meteoric stone] Also betylus, baetyl, betyles. In Classical antiquity a stone, either natural or artificially shaped, venerated as of divine origin, or as a symbol of divinity. There were a number of these sacred stones in Greece, the most famous being the one on the omphalos at Delphi. Likewise there were the so-called animated or oracular stones. “Strabo, Pliny, Helancius [Hellanicus] — all speak of the electrical, or electro-magnetic power of the betyli. They were worshipped in the remotest antiquity in Egypt and Samothrace, as magnetic stones, ‘containing souls which had fallen from heaven’; and the priests of Cybele wore a small betylos on their bodies” (IU 1:332). In Persia they were called oitzoe; but their origin was of far greater antiquity, for “Lemuria, Atlantis and her giants, and the earliest races of the Fifth Root-Race had all a hand in these betyles, lithoi, and ‘magic’ stones in general” (SD 2:346n). See also OPHITES

Beverage, Sacred. See SOMA

Be With Us, Great Day. See DAY BE WITH US, GREAT

Top of File


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

M-Wms Dict - Sanskrit-English Dictionary, by Monier Williams

N on BG - Notes on the Bhagavad Gita, by T. Subba Row

OG - Occult Glossary, by G. de Purucker

Rev - Revelations

RV - Rig Veda

SBE - Sacred Books of the East, ed. Max Müller

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 University Press Online Edition