Book Review

Wading into The Ocean: A Companion to "The Ocean of Theosophy" by Ann Forsyth Danno, Point Loma Publications, San Diego, 2002; 220 pages, ISBN 1889598070, paper, $12.95.

In the early 1890s, most of what was known about theosophy derived from H. P. Blavatsky's writings -- principally Isis Unveiled (1877), The Secret Doctrine (1888), The Key to Theosophy (1889), and The Voice of the Silence (1889), as well as her numerous magazine articles. As public interest grew, so did the need for a concise survey of the basic teachings to help explain what theosophy is and what it is not. William Q. Judge, a co-founder of the Theosophical Society and General Secretary of its American Section, responded with The Ocean of Theosophy, which has been continuously in print since its first publication in 1893.

The book had its origin in a series of articles for a Ft. Wayne, Indiana, newspaper. As Judge later wrote to an inquirer, "The Ocean of Theosophy is not meant as a complete treatise in which every point is elaborated with the detail permitted in a larger work, and at the same time it is my own work and claims no authority." And to another correspondent: "The book is a condensation of all that has been written by the best Theosophists, especially by Madame Blavatsky, on the subjects therein contained, as her books are very large and difficult to understand."

Over the decades The Ocean has been used as an introductory text in study groups and correspondence courses, its seventeen chapters covering such topics as karma and reincarnation; the sevenfold nature of man, earth, and the universe; afterdeath states and cyclic evolution; masters, sages, and adepts; spiritualism and psychic phenomena. It is a user-friendly book, relatively short, and not burdened with footnotes or other scholarly apparatus. The language is clear, straightforward, and, like Blavatsky's, unadorned by the rhetorical flourish common to the era. Despite the simplicity, its concepts are large and often challenging to first-time readers, who may occasionally feel their foothold slipping. Part of this is due to exposure to new ideas and terminology, and at times to a lack of context which the longer works provide.

It is for this latter reason especially that we welcome a new book, Wading into The Ocean, by the late Ann Forsyth Danno, who for many years conducted study classes on The Ocean. In her words, the book "consists of references quoted from numerous Theosophical and other important sources, such as the Bible, to clarify and enlarge upon the concise ideas presented by Judge. It is designed to serve as a study aid, either for the individual student, or as a class text." In addition, the book features answers to commonly asked questions at study groups (mostly in the form of excerpts from theosophical literature), and a glossary of Sanskrit terms; also three brief appendices on Rounds and Races, the Seven Principles of Man, and Colonel Olcott Meets a Master. To help readers, the editors of the book, Nancy and David Reigle, have thoughtfully added page references for both the Theosophical University Press and Theosophy Company editions of The Ocean, and an index.

The year 2002 sees the happy synchronicity of these two publications: a new reprint based on Judge's revised Second Edition, reset in fresh type; and a study companion for beginner and long-time students alike. Both volumes offer a refreshing dip into that "ocean of knowledge which spreads from shore to shore of the evolution of sentient beings." -- W. T. S. Thackara

(From Sunrise magazine, August/September 2002; copyright © 2002 Theosophical University Press)