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Daily Theosophy Glossary – O

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Daily Theosophy Glossary


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This is a word coined by A. P. Sinnett, one of the pioneers in theosophical propaganda. A far better word than obscuration would have been dormancy or sleep, because this word obscuration actually rather obscures the sense. A man is not “obscured” when he sleeps. The inner faculties may be so, in a sense; but it is better actually to state in more appropriate words just what the real condition is. It is that of sleep, or latency — of dormancy, rather. Thus when one of the seven kingdoms has passed through its seven periods of progress, of evolution, it goes into dormancy or obscuration.

Likewise when the seven kingdoms — from the first elemental kingdom upwards to the human — have finished their evolution on globe A (for instance) during the first round, globe A then goes into obscuration, that is, into dormancy; it goes to sleep. Everything left on it is now dormant, is sleeping, awaiting the incoming, when round two begins, of the life-waves which have just left it. Again, when the life-waves have run their full sevenfold course, or their seven stock-races or root-races on globe B, then globe B in its turn goes into dormancy or obscuration, which is not pralaya; and the distinction between pralaya and obscuration is an extremely important one. It may be possible in popular usage at times to call the state of dormancy by the name of pralaya in a very limited and particular sense; but pralaya really means disintegration and disappearance, like that of death. But obscuration is sleep — dormancy.

Thus is it with each one of the seven globes of the planetary chain, one after the other, each one going into obscuration when a life-wave has left it, so far as that particular life-wave is concerned. When the final or rather the last representatives of the last root-race of the last life-wave leave it, each globe then goes to sleep or into dormancy.

During a planetary obscuration or planetary rest period, at the end of a round, the entities leave the last globe, the seventh, and enter into a (lower) nirvāṇic period of manvantaric repose, answering to the devachanic or between-life state of the human entity between one life on earth and the next life on earth. There is one very important point of the teachings to be noted here: a globe when a life-wave leaves it does not remain in obscuration or continuously dormant until the same life-wave returns to it in the next round. The life-waves succeed each other in regular file, and each life-wave as it enters a globe has its period of beginning, its efflorescence, and its decay, and then leaves the globe in obscuration so far as that particular life-wave is concerned. But the globe within a relatively short time receives a succeeding life-wave, which runs through its courses and leaves the globe again in obscuration so far as this last life-wave is concerned, etc. It is obvious, therefore, that a period of obscuration on any globe of the planetary chain is much shorter than the term of a full planetary round.



This word meant originally only the science of things hid; even in the Middle Ages of Europe those philosophers who were the forerunners of the modern scientists, those who then studied physical nature, called their science occultism, and their studies occult, meaning the things that were hid or not known to the common run of mankind. Such a medieval philosopher was Albertus Magnus, a German; and so also was Roger Bacon, an Englishman — both of the thirteenth century of the Christian era.

Occultism as theosophists use the term, and as it should be used, means the study of the hid things of Being, the science of life or universal nature. In one sense this word can be used to mean the study of unusual “phenomena,” which meaning it usually has today among people who do not think of the vastly larger field of causes which occultism, properly speaking, investigates. Doubtless mere physical phenomena have their place in study, but they are on the frontier, on the outskirts — the superficialities — of occultism. The study of true occultism means penetrating deep into the causal mysteries of Being.

Occultism is a generalizing term for the entire body of the occult sciences — the sciences of the secrets of universal nature; as H. P. Blavatsky phrases it, “physical and psychic, mental and spiritual; called Hermetic and Esoteric Sciences.” Occultism may be considered also to be a word virtually interchangeable with the phrase esoteric philosophy, with, however, somewhat more emphasis laid on the occult or secret or hid portions of the esoteric philosophy. Genuine occultism embraces not merely the physical, physiological, psychological, and spiritual portions of man’s being, but has an equal and indeed a perhaps wider range in the studies dealing with the structure and operations as well as the origin and destiny of the kosmos.



(Icelandic, Scandinavian) [from Wodan from odr cosmic mind; cf Greek nous, Sanskrit mahat] As a god, foremost of the aesir in Norse mythology; as a human being, the founder of the ancient Norse religion. Odin is the Great Sacrifice of our world system, hung or mounted on the Tree of Life throughout its duration, seeking runes of wisdom in the material worlds, “raising them with song” and at the end of time falling once more from the tree. He is said to have given one eye as forfeit to the matter-giant Mimer for the privilege of partaking of Mimer’s well of wisdom: experience in material life. Thus matter receives a part of divine vision during the god’s imbodiment.

As creative spirit Odin and his brother creators, Vili and Vi (will and awe), give rise to the worlds in manifestation. At the creation of humanity, Odin again participates with two creative energies on a lower level, Honer and Lodur (water and fire). Odin gives the breath of spirit, Honer mind, and Lodur vitality to the incipient humans.

In the myths Odin rides the eight-legged steed Sleipnir, wears a blue fur coat, and is the owner of a marvelous ring, Draupnir, from which eight more drip every ninth night, symbolizing proliferating cycles of every kind. His spear is named Gungnir (swaying), perhaps an allusion to the pendulum swing between life and death which is nature’s eternal way. Odin has two wolf hounds (the animal nature), Gere (greedy) and Freke (gluttonous); he feeds them, but himself subsists on wine or mead (wisdom) alone. His two ravens, Hugin (mind) and Munin (memory), fly daily over the battlefield Vigridsslatten (plain of consecration, earth), and report back to Allfather by night.

Odin’s hall is named Valhalla (hall of the chosen), where his heroes are brought by the Valkyries (crowners of the chosen) to feast with Yggjung (the ever-young, Odin).

As a planetary deity Odin is connected with Mercury, and his day is Wednesday (Woden’s day). He has many names, each fitting the role he has to play. At the beginning of a life cycle he is named Ofner (opener), while at the end he is called Svafner (closer). Blavatsky refers to the human Odin as “one of these thirty-five Buddhas; one of the earliest, indeed, for the continent to which he and his race belonged, is also one of the earliest” (SD 2:423).



(Sanskrit) A word meaning “energy,” “vigor,” “power.” It is often used for the principle of vital heat permeating the human constitution. From this fact, it sometimes is employed to signify virility or the generative faculty. Its use is extremely uncommon in modern occult literature.



Also AUM. A word considered very holy in the Brahmanical literature. It is a syllable of invocation, as well as of benediction and of affirmation, and its general usage (as elucidated in the literature treating of it, which is rather voluminous, for this word Om has attained almost divine reverence on the part of vast numbers of Hindus) is that it should never be uttered aloud, or in the presence of an outsider, a foreigner, or a non-initiate, and it should be uttered in the silence of one’s mind, in peace of heart, and in the intimacy of one’s “inner closet.” There is strong reason to believe, however, that this syllable of invocation was uttered, and uttered aloud in a monotone, by the disciples in the presence of their teacher. This word is always placed at the beginning of any scripture or prayer that is considered of unusual sanctity.

It is said that by prolonging the uttering of this word, both of the o and the m, with the mouth closed, the sound re-echoes in and arouses vibration in the skull, and affects, if the aspirations be pure, the different nervous centers of the body for good.

The Brahmanas say that it is an unholy thing to utter this word in any place which is unholy. It is sometimes written Aum.



(Greek) An early religious teacher and reformer in Greece about whom clustered so many legends that in course of time his historic existence came to be disputed. He was, however, an actual historic character, probably born in Thrace about the 13th century BC, lived and taught at Pimpleia on Mount Olympus, revived the ancient wisdom-religion, reformed the then degraded popular religion, and was killed — according to the story — because of it. He gathered pupils or disciples about him, and founded a famous Mystery school from which in time emanated a vast literature, now perished with the exception of the Orphic Hymns, the Lithica (a poem on the nature of precious stones), the Argonautica (which recites the connection of Orpheus with the Argonautic expedition), and some other fugitive fragments — and in our time these are supposed to be apocryphal or of a far later date than Orpheus himself, although certainly containing Orphic elements.

There appears to have been no question in antiquity as to the actual historical existence of a godlike man who founded the Orphic religion or Mysteries, and whose work was continued by others in direct line, some of whom took his name, for no less than six different teachers by the name of Orpheus were known. When we add to the historic account the story of Orpheus as the Magician-Bard, and the legends of his divinity, his marriage with Eurydice (esoteric wisdom), his teaching, his agony and passion, and finally his martyr’s death — legends almost identical with some of those attached to world-saviors such as Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, and Mithra — it is clear that he was not only a great teacher in himself, but an important link in the Hermetic Chain of esoteric succession.

The legendary Orpheus was the son of Apollo, god of music and the sun, and of Calliope, muse of epic poetry. With his seven-stringed lyre, the symbol of the cosmic and human constitution, he became the magical musician: rocks moved, trees bent, flowers sprang forth, mountains bowed themselves before his song. He journeyed with the Argonauts on their quest for the Golden Fleece. His mystic union with Eurydice, like the Argonautic quest, is clearly allegorical. Orpheus won his mystic bride by the power of his music and after the mystic union returned to Pimpleia on Mount Olympus where he lived and taught in a cave (recorded also of other great teachers).

When Eurydice died from the bite of a venomous snake, Orpheus visited the Underworld to reclaim her, and his descent there is a veiled record of initiation. Orpheus was permitted to take Eurydice back with him on condition that he did not look back, symbolic of a stern condition for successfully traveling the mystic path. But Orpheus did look back and his union with the esoteric doctrine, personified as Eurydice, was broken. After mourning, he withdrew to Mount Rhodope, where a group of Maenads or Bacchanals tore him limb from limb.

Blavatsky identifies Orpheus with Arjuna, son of Indra and disciple of Krishna, who taught mankind, established Mysteries, and went to Pātala (hell or the Antipodes) and there marries the daughter of the nāga king (TG 242).

Orpheus may be regarded both as an ideal or as a man and teacher. In either case, whether cosmic or terrestrial, Orpheus corresponds to the unceasing attempts of the higher or spiritual ego to raise the lower ego out of the toils of matter, much as in the Gnostic story the Christos attempts to raises the Sophia, his own lower self or vehicle, out of the mire and toils of the inferior worlds. If the call of impersonal compassion be so strong that it become personal, in other words if Orpheus looks back to see and becomes attracted to the lower planes, he loses his Eurydice. Eurydice means “wide judgment,” the function of reason in the human constitution. Orpheus here would represent intuition, and Eurydice the reason: manas sunk in the earthly nature is raised to wisdom through budhi.

When the ideal Orpheus in the neophyte conjoins with Orpheus the struggling soul, then Orpheus becomes the initiate who during the trials in the Underworld secures the safety of mind (Eurydice) and thus becomes a son of the sun. Should, however, Orpheus look back — should buddhi itself become entangled in the lower morass — then Eurydice is not rescued, Orpheus is enchained, and the task must be essayed anew.

Orphism, Orphic Mysteries

[from Greek orphikos] Orphism originally taught of the Causeless Cause on which all speculation is impossible; the periodical appearance and disappearance of all things, from atom to universe; reimbodiment; cyclic law; the essential divinity of all beings and things; and the duality in manifestation of the universe. It postulated seven emanations from the Boundless: aether (spirit) and chaos (matter), from which two spring the world egg, out of which is born Phanes, the First Logos; then Uranus (and Gaia) the Second Logos, with Kronos (and Rhea, mother of the Olympian gods) a later phase of the Second Logos; and Zeus, the Third Logos or Demiurge — who starts a minor sevenfold hierarchy of emanation by begetting ZagreusDionysos the god-man, the divine son. Characteristic of Orphic cosmogony is the important place given to the number seven. “The rise of the Orphic worship of Dionysos is the most important fact in the history of Greek religion, and marks a great spiritual awakening. Its three great ideas are (1) a belief in the essential Divinity of humanity and the complete immortality or eternity of the soul, its pre-existence and its post-existence; (2) the necessity for individual responsibility and righteousness; and (3) the regeneration or redemption of man’s lower nature by his own The Orphic teachings were kept intact by the Golden or Hermetic Chain of Succession down to the days of the Neoplatonists after which (as symbolically told in the archaic story of Eurydice) they were killed — obscured or lost, so far as the public was concerned. Their keynote was consecration to the mandates of the god within: perfect purity, perfect impersonal love, perfect understanding, and devotion to the interests of humanity.

The three Orphic mystery-gods were Zeus, the divine All-father; Demeter-Kore, the earth goddess as both mother and maid; and Zagreus-Dionysos, the divine son. This trinity finds its counterpart in Egyptian, Indian, Chaldean, Christian, and other religions. There were two forms of baptism, one purification by water, later adopted into the Christian ritual; and the other a ceremony in which the face of the neophyte was cleansed with a mixture of earth and bran, symbolizing the washing away of stains from the soul.

The ceremony of the Eucharist was also adopted by the Christians and as Orphic ritual forbade the use of wine (substituting for it a mead of honey and milk), in the rite as adopted by the primitive Christians the neophyte drank not only wine but also milk and honey. Under Orphism, the honey symbolized not only purification and preservation, or endless life and bliss, but the secret knowledge obtained during initiation. Bees, the gatherers of honey, were emblems of the reincarnating soul, as was the butterfly; and as the bees gathered the nectar from flowers and made it into honey, so the human soul in its various peregrinations gathers from the beings and things of life the mystic experience and stores it away in the chambers of the soul. Milk symbolized knowledge, which fed the inner man, as a child of eternity, just as milk feeds the human child.

Orphism flourished from before the 14th until the 6th century BC, and again, after some five centuries of obscuration, during the first four centuries of the Christian era. Plato, Empedocles, the Pythagorean teachings, some of the Greek dramatists and poets are our main source material for the earlier period, as well as the various Orphic fragments including the Orphic Tablets. These Tablets, with the Orphic Hymns, consist of eight gold plates containing inscriptions, dating from about the 4th century BC. They consist of instructions given to the soul for its journey through the afterdeath worlds or states very reminiscent of the Egyptian Book of the Dead. The keynote is spoken by the soul: “I am a child of earth and of starry Heaven, but my race is of Heaven (alone). . . . Lo, I am parched with thirst . . .” For the later period we have the writings of the Neoplatonists and their opponents, the early Christian Fathers.

That the entire Orphic mythogony is intentionally allegorical does not invalidate that a great prehistoric religious reformer named Orpheus lived, worked, taught, and founded a religion as the outgrowth of a genuine Mystery school.


Osiris (Greek) As-ar, Us-ar (Egyptian)

The most famous deity of the Egyptian pantheon, corresponding to ZagreusBacchus of the Eleusinian Mysteries. In Plutarch’s On Isis and Osiris, Osiris is represented as the son of Nut, space and primordial matter (equivalent to the Greek Rhea) by Seb, celestial fire (Kronos). He became king of Egypt, teaching the people the worship of the gods, and husbandry, and formulating laws. His brother Set, filled with envy, brought about his destruction. Isis, his distraught wife, set out in search of the body, and finally recovered it. But Set then dismembered the body into fourteen pieces, scattering them over Egypt, of which Isis recovered all but one.

After meeting with death on earth Osiris became resurrected, and then became the ruler of the other world (Khenti-Amentet). His death and resurrection depict the drama of the initiation chamber which is one interpretation of glorification or osirification of the defunct human, as mystically portrayed in the Book of the Dead.

Cosmologically, Osiris is the Third Logos, containing in himself the seeds of all things and beings in the universe to be unrolled from the Logos:

“the self-existent and self-creative god, the first manifesting deity (our third Logos), identical with Ahura-Mazda and other ‘First Causes.’ For as Ahura-Mazda is one with, or the synthesis of, the Amshaspends, so Osiris, the collective unit, when differentiated and personified, becomes Typhon, his brother, Isis and Nephthys his sisters, Horus his son and his other aspects. . . . The four chief aspects of Osiris were — Osiris-Phtah (Light), the spiritual aspect; Osiris-Horus (Mind), the intellectual manasic aspect; Osiris-Lunus, the ‘Lunar’ or psychic, astral aspect; Osiris-Typhon, Daimonic, or physical, material, therefore passional turbulent aspect. In these four aspects he symbolizes the dual ego — the divine and the human, the cosmico-spiritual and the terrestrial” (TG 243).

Osiris’ place in cosmological mythology is seen to be that of the cosmic creator; thus on a more abstract scale Osiris is equivalent to the svabhavat of Buddhist thought. As in other archaic religions and philosophies, when Osiris is considered as an individual divinity, he becomes the cosmic source from which flow forth in hierarchical series of emanations the gradually descending groups of the hierarchy of Light; and from this aspect he is the chief of all initiates of the right-hand path, who thus trace their spiritual ascendance and origin directly to the Third Logos itself.