Theosophy and Science Contrasted

David Pratt

Jan 2000, May 2013

Part 3 of 5


Part 1: Astronomical cycles

Part 2: Science, psychics, and myths

Part 3: Poleshifts and theosophy
    1. The gradual inversion of the poles
    2. From eternal spring to age of horror
    3. Axial disturbances and geological cataclysms
    4. Cataclysms and the precessional cycle
    5. Earth in motio

Part 4: Climate change

Part 5: Appendices


1. The gradual inversion of the poles

That worlds (also races) are periodically destroyed by fire (volcanoes and earthquakes) and water, in turn, and renewed, is a doctrine as old as man. Manu, Hermes, the Chaldeans, all antiquity believed in this.1 Twice already has the face of the globe been changed by fire, and twice by water, since man appeared on it. As land needs rest and renovation, new forces, and a change for its soil, so does water. Thence arises a periodical redistribution of land and water, change of climates, etc., all brought on by geological revolution, and ending in a final change in the axis. ... [T]here is a secular change in the inclination of the earth’s axis, and its appointed time is recorded in one of the great secret cycles.2

According to theosophy, the inclination of the earth’s axis slowly changes by 4° every precessional cycle.3 At present the angle of inclination is decreasing, which means that the earth’s axis, which is currently inclined at 23.44° (23°26'), is steadily moving towards an upright position at the average rate of 56 arc-seconds (1/648°) per century, the current rate being 47 arc-seconds per century. Consequently, the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn4 are receding from the poles and approaching the equator, while the arctic and antarctic circles are receding from the equator and approaching the poles.

The following table compares the obliquity of the ecliptic measured by the Chinese in 160 BCE and 1100 BCE5 with the corresponding values calculated using the modern scientific formula6 and the theosophical rule of a 4° shift every 25,920 years.

    Chinese   Science   Theosophy
    160 BCE   23°45'52"   23°42'55"   23°46'21"
    1100 BCE    23°54'03"   23°49'40"   23°55'03"

Perhaps the 4° rule has more going for it than just being easier to apply than the scientific formula!

The 4° rule implies that just over 430,000 years ago the tilt was 90° and the earth was lying on its side with its axis in the plane of the ecliptic; at this time the tropics were at the poles and the ‘polar’ circles were at the equator. In just over 150,000 years, the tilt will reach 0°, and the earth’s axis will be perpendicular to the ecliptic; the tropics will then coincide with the equator and the polar circles will be at the poles.

H.P. Blavatsky states in the quotation at the head of this section that the earth’s axis undergoes a secular – i.e. gradual and progressive – change. This implies that when the poles become perpendicular to the ecliptic the change in the inclination of the axis continues in the same direction, and that the earth’s axis inverts a full 360° in a period of about 2,340,000 years.

G. de Purucker, too, states that there is a secular change in the inclination of a globe’s axis, and implies that it slowly shifts through a full 360° in a period of several million years:

every planet or globe in the solar system, visible or invisible, at different times in its planetary manvantara, slowly changes the position of its axis of rotation, so that the axis has a secular movement of inclination, slowly increasing (or decreasing) through the ages. Thus it is that at one time the axis of our earth is upright – the plane of its equator coinciding with the plane of the ecliptic – and then there is springtime over all the globe throughout the year. At other times the poles of the earth, i.e. of the axis of the earth, are parallel with the plane of the ecliptic, or with the earth’s own orbit. This secular movement of inclination continues until what is the north pole points, so to speak, downwards, and the south pole upwards. The poles then have become inverted; and the movement of inclination continues until finally the north pole resumes its former upright position in space when considered in relation to the plane of the ecliptic.

An inversion of the poles usually brings about great continental readjustments, with consequent karmic changes in the destiny of human races, such as those which took place in the long career of the fourth root-race, the Atlantean. It should be obvious that a slow secular movement of change in the earth’s axis takes millions of years; and an inversion of the poles brings about a retrograde rotation of the thus inverted globe.7

Of the nine planets known to science, Venus, Uranus, and Pluto have a retrograde motion (i.e. rotate clockwise about their axis), which means that they are inverted to some extent (Uranus 97°46', Venus 177°21', Pluto 119°37'). According to De Purucker this is also true of Lilith, or the ‘Planet of Death’, a planet too dense to be visible to us, which is situated ‘near’ or ‘behind’ the moon.8 As far as the other planets are concerned, Mars is inclined at 25°12', Jupiter at 3°07', Saturn at 26°44', and Neptune at 27°52'.

Elsewhere De Purucker states that the earth’s north and south poles have not been inverted during this manvantara.9 The meaning of this statement is made clear in the following passage:

... sudden shiftings of the poles do indeed take place; and by ‘shifting of the poles’ I mean a change in the direction in which the present poles of the earth point in space as against the stars or towards the stars, not that these poles shift within the earth from place to place. In other words, the present North Pole of the earth remains its North Pole during all this present manvantara; it does not shift geologically or geographically; but its direction in space, its pointing towards the stars, shifts secularly or constantly in space, undergoing at certain karmic periods sudden movements which are governed by the karma of the earth and the times of which are written, so to say, on the face of the clock of the universe.

He adds that when these sudden movements of the earth’s poles take place, the waters of the ocean rush northwards and southwards, dry land appears near the equator, and northern and southern lands are submerged. This sudden shifting of the poles in space also means that the angle of incidence of the sun’s rays likewise changes, so that lands which a short time previously – even a few hours – had a mild and subtropical climate are gripped in icy cold, and vice versa.10

In The Secret Doctrine Blavatsky refers on several occasions to Mythological Astronomy of the Ancients Demonstrated (1822/23) by Sampson Arnold Mackey, a shoemaker and amateur astronomer, whom she calls the ‘self-made adept of Norwich’.11 Mackey asserts that the tilt of the earth’s axis slowly inverts through a full 360° at the rate of 4° per precessional cycle. He says that according to the ancient Hindus, who generally reckoned a precessional cycle as approximately 24,000 years in length,12 the earth took 1,080,000 years (a ‘maha-yuga’) to invert 180°, 2,160,000 years (a ‘prajanatha-yuga’) to invert 360°, and 4,320,000 years (a ‘deva-yuga’) for two complete inversions.13 In theosophy, the period of 4,320,000 years is called a maha-yuga and is approximately equal to half the life-period of a root-race.14

In an article entitled ‘Secret cycles’, which was not published in her lifetime, Blavatsky quotes a very long passage from Mackey, in which he refers to the yugas and their connection with the gradual change in the inclination of the earth’s axis. She prefaces the quotation by saying that Mackey’s theory about the Hindu yugas and their length is ‘very near the correct doctrine’.15

The theosophical teaching of the gradual inversion of the poles means that in the course of each precessional cycle the earth’s axis does not trace out an approximate circle around the poles of the ecliptic with a radius of about 23.5°, but rather a spiral. Since the inclination of the axis is at present diminishing, each whorl of the spiral finishes 4° closer to the ecliptic pole. In about 150,000 years the axis will be upright and the earth’s north pole will point directly to the north pole of the ecliptic – the centre of the spiral will have been reached. But the tilt of the earth’s axis will continue to move past the vertical and the earth’s north pole will begin to trace out a new spiral, each whorl finishing 4° further from the centre. About half a million years later, the north pole will be in the plane of the ecliptic, and thereafter the spiral will continue towards the south ecliptic pole until the earth is completely upside down. But again, the inclination of the axis will continue to change and a new spiral will begin, moving from the south pole of the ecliptic round and round the celestial sphere back to the north pole.16 This process may be repeated again and again, each complete spiral circuit of the heavens, from the north pole to the south pole of the ecliptic and back, being composed of 90 whorls, and taking about two and a third million years to complete. However, no indication is given in theosophical writings as to how long the secular change in the inclination of the earth’s axis has been taking place, or how long it has averaged 4 degrees per precessional cycle.

It is worth noting that Blavatsky implies that at one time the earth made certain movements it no longer makes today. One of the stanzas of Dzyan states: ‘At the expiration of every forty (annual) Suns, at the end of every fortieth Day, the double one becomes four; male and female in one, in the first and second and the third.’ Blavatsky comments:

Which is clear, since ‘every sun’ meant a whole year, the latter being composed of one day then, as in the arctic circle it is now composed of six months. According to the old teaching, the axis of the earth gradually changes its inclination to the ecliptic, and at the period referred to, this inclination was such that a polar day lasted during the whole period of the earth’s revolution about the sun, when a kind of twilight of very short duration intervened; after which the polar land resumed its position directly under the solar rays. This may be contrary to astronomy as now taught and understood: but who can say that changes in the motion of the earth, which do not take place now, did not occur millions of years back?17

The effect described could be produced by significant annual changes in the earth’s tilt.18

Blavatsky does not follow the modern scientific fashion of ascribing axial shifts and other catastrophes to collisions with asteroids, comets, or other astronomical bodies. Indeed, she writes:

Science confesses its ignorance of the cause producing climatic vicissitudes and ... changes in the axial direction, which are always followed by these vicissitudes; nor does it seem so sure of the axial changes. And being unable to account for them, it is prepared rather to deny the axial phenomena altogether, than admit the intelligent karmic hand and law which alone could reasonably explain such sudden changes and their results. It has tried to account for them by various more or less fantastic speculations; one of which would be the sudden, and as imaginary, collision of our earth with a comet ..., as the cause of all the geological revolutions. But we prefer holding to our esoteric explanation, since FOHAT is as good as any comet, having, in addition, universal intelligence to guide him.19

She does, however, refer to the ‘pregenetic battles fought by the growing planets before the final formation of Kosmos’, and says that this accounts for ‘the seemingly disturbed position of the systems of several planets, the plane of the satellites of some (of Neptune and Uranus, for instance ...) being tilted over, thus giving them an appearance of retrograde motion’.20 The latter remark refers not to axial tilt but to orbital tilt: a few of the satellites of the outer planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) revolve around their primaries in a clockwise (retrograde) rather than anticlockwise direction.21

As far as large-scale polar wandering and lithosphere displacement are concerned, theosophical writings do not appear to give any support to such ideas. This is seen in De Purucker’s remark, quoted above, that the poles do not shift geologically or geographically within the earth. Blavatsky says that since the appearance of the first root-race (in the mid-Palaeozoic) the earth has been convulsed four times, and

though the whole face of the earth was transformed thereby each time, the conformation of the arctic and antarctic poles has but little altered. The polar lands unite and break off from each other into islands and peninsulas, yet remain ever the same.22

If the earth’s outer shell were to shift over the interior, latitudes and longitudes and the direction of the cardinal points would change. Archaeocryptographer Carl Munck has shown that ancient mounds, pyramids, temples, and other megalithic monuments the world over were designed and positioned according to a universal code, whereby their design features often encode their exact present-day latitude and longitude.23 This rules out any major lithosphere displacements or continental movements since these monuments were built. Officially they are all believed to have been built well within the last 10,000 years, but according to theosophy, some of them, or at least their original structures, date back several hundred thousand years. The Great Pyramid of Giza is said to have been built about three precessional cycles (78,000 years) ago.24 Since it is aligned with the present cardinal points with unprecedented accuracy, this would rule out any major lithosphere displacements since that time. Moreover, as shown in part 2, ‘poleshifts’ of this type are highly improbable.


1. ‘The Mexicans had, and still have, the tradition of the four-fold destruction of the world by fire and water, just as the Egyptians had, and the Hindus have, to this day’ (H.P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, Theos. Univ. Press (TUP), 1977 (1888), 2:311). ‘Christians ought not to object to this doctrine of the periodical destruction of continents by fire and water: for 2 Peter speaks of the earth “standing out of the water, and in the water, which earth, being overflowed, perished, but is now reserved unto fire” ’ (2:762). The Buddhists believe that the universe is periodically called forth from an invisible state into a visible state. ‘They reckon twenty-two such visible appearances of the universe governed by Buddhas, and as many destructions of it, by fire and water in regular successions’ (H.P. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, TUP, 1972 (1877), 2:156fn). Plato quotes an Egyptian priest as saying that there have been and will be many destructions of mankind, the greatest of which are by fire and water (Timaeus 22 C-D). Berossus asserted that the earth was to be submerged when all the planets met in Cancer, and consumed by fire when they met in Capricorn (R.H. Allen, Star Names: Their lore and meaning (1899), Dover, 1963, pp.107-8).

2. The Secret Doctrine, 2:725-6.

3. ‘Every sidereal year the tropics recede from the pole four degrees in each revolution from the equinoctial points, as the equator rounds through the zodiacal constellations’ (The Secret Doctrine, 2:331). There is ‘a secular change in the inclination of the earth’s axis’ (2:726). ‘According to the old teaching, the axis of the earth gradually changes its inclination to the ecliptic ...’ (2:292). For examples of the application of the 4° rule (all taken from S.A. Mackey), see: 2:357, 407-8, 768.
    In his book Pole Shift (A.R.E. Press, 1991), John White devotes a whole chapter to the views of H.P. Blavatsky and theosophy, but apparently fails to realize that she speaks of a secular axial shift of 4° per precessional cycle, even though he quotes the relevant passage from The Secret Doctrine (2:331).

4. When Hipparchus (re)discovered and publicized the precession of the equinoxes around 130 BCE, the vernal equinox occurred in the constellation Aries, the summer solstice in Cancer, the autumnal equinox in Sagittarius, and the winter solstice in Capricorn. (According to Blavatsky, the vernal equinox was already in Pisces in 130 BCE, at least as far as the artificial zodiac of 12 equal constellations is concerned.) Since the time of Hipparchus, the earth has precessed about 30°, and, astronomically, the vernal equinox now lies in Pisces (approaching Aquarius), the summer solstice in Gemini, the autumnal equinox in Virgo, and the winter solstice in Sagittarius. As far as the constellations of the zodiac are concerned, the tropics should really be called the tropics of Gemini and Sagittarius at present (or the tropics of Taurus and Scorpio, if we divide the zodiac into 12 equal arcs of 30° each and the earth is considered to have already entered Aquarius). However, as far as the signs of the zodiac are concerned, since the equinoctial point is by definition the first point of the sign Aries, the summer and winter solstices still occur at 0° Cancer and 0° Capricorn respectively.

5. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1898, 2:794.

6. The scientific formula for calculating the obliquity of the ecliptic (ε) for different epochs is:
       ε = 23°26'21.448" - 46.8150"T - 0.00059"T2 + 0.001813"T3
where T = time from epoch J2000.0 in Julian centuries (1 Julian century = 36525 days); T is negative for dates before 2000 CE. This formula is considered to be accurate only for a period of a few thousand years.

7. G. de Purucker, Fountain-Source of Occultism, TUP, 1974, pp. 346-7.

8. G. de Purucker, Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, TUP, 2nd ed., 1979, pp. 324, 349-50; Fountain-Source of Occultism, pp. 346-9.

9. G. de Purucker, Studies in Occult Philosophy, TUP, 1945, pp. 445-7.

10. ES Instructions, pp. 112-3.

11. See Appendix 6, Sampson Arnold Mackey.

12. A precessional cycle of 24,000 years corresponds to an annual rate of precession of 54". This figure can be found in the Surya-Siddhanta (1860) (Wizards Bookshelf, n.d., pp. 243-4). It results from the fact that the ancient Hindus measured the precessional cycle not from a fixed point but from the star Revati, which has a direct proper motion of 4" per year: 50" + 4" = 54". See Fred J. Dick, ‘Ancient astronomy’, The Theosophical Path, July 1911, pp. 64-8.

13. Samson Arnold Mackey, Mythological Astronomy of the Ancients Demonstrated (1822/23), Wizards Bookshelf, 1973, Pt. 2, pp. 28-9, 142.

14. Blavatsky says that the occult sciences show that the founders of the root-races have all been connected with the polestar. She then quotes the following from a Commentary: ‘He who understands the age of Dhruva who measures 9090 mortal years, will understand the times of the pralayas, the final destiny of nations, O Lanoo.’ The ‘9090 mortal years’ could be a veiled reference to inversions of the axis (90+90 = 180°). The paragraph that follows this quotation does at any rate refer to the secular change in axial inclination: ‘Moreover there must have been a good reason why an Asiatic nation should locate its great progenitors and saints in the Ursa Major, a northern constellation. It is 70,000 YEARS, HOWEVER, SINCE THE POLE OF THE EARTH POINTED TO THE FURTHER END OF URSA MINOR’S TAIL; and many more thousand years since the seven Rishis could have been identified with the constellation of Ursa Major.’ (The Secret Doctrine, 2:768; see also 2:307fn)
      In Mythological Astronomy (pt. 2, p. 74), S.A. Mackey wrote: ‘It is 70,000 years since the pole of the earth pointed to the tip of Ursa-major’s tail!’ Fred J. Dick points out that in writing ‘tip’, Mackey had made an error of 180° – which Blavatsky corrects (The Theosophical Path, March 1916, p. 299fn). Dick also says that Blavatsky’s reference to ‘Ursa Minor’s tail’ is apparently a misprint for ‘Ursa Major’s tail’ (the constellation mentioned by Mackey). Thus, Blavatsky (who may have been writing at a master’s dictation) corrected ‘tip’ to read ‘further end’, but then wrote ‘Ursa Minor’ instead of ‘Ursa Major’. The sentence in question means that 70,000 years ago the celestial pole and the tip of Ursa Major’s tail (Alkaid) were both located about the same number of degrees from the ecliptic pole, and were approximately 180 degrees of longitude apart. The celestial pole was situated in Ursa Major between about 81,500 and 85,000 years ago.

15. H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings, Theos. Publ. House, 1950-91, 14:365-8; see Appendix 6.

16. G. de Purucker says that the pole of the ecliptic can be considered as remaining virtually stationary for immense periods of time, though it actually undergoes minute but cumulative movements of which modern astronomy knows almost nothing (Fountain-Source of Occultism, p. 671).

17. The Secret Doctrine, 2:292. The ‘period referred to’ was probably the early third race of the fourth round (early Mesozoic), in view of the preceding reference to hermaphrodites (2:291).

18. Two possible scenarios are given below. It should be noted that due to atmospheric refraction the sun will not set at the poles unless the inclination is greater than 2°, while for inclinations greater than 18° there would be complete darkness (rather than twilight) at the poles for part of the year.
      a. If the axis were inclined at 0° to 2°, the poles would enjoy continuous sunlight throughout the year. To produce a brief annual twilight at the north pole, at the end of each orbit around the sun the inclination of the earth’s axis would have to increase to no more than 18° (the north pole being tilted away from the sun) and then decrease again to below 2°, in the space of, say, a few days or weeks.
      b. For inclinations greater than 2° (and a very high obliquity is implied by the statement that the ‘polar land’ was ‘directly under the solar rays’), the axis would have to precess around the ecliptic pole in the space of a year (i.e. the precessional cycle would have to coincide with the annual revolution), so that the north pole permanently points towards the sun. To produce the brief annual twilight at the north pole, the axis would have to shift so that the north pole is tilted away from the sun (by between 2° and 18°), and then return to its previous position.
      As Joscelyn Godwin says, ‘the whole situation is most puzzling’ and ‘presumes conditions and motions which astronomy would be very hard put to imagine’ (Arktos: The polar myth in science, symbolism, and Nazi survival, Phanes Press, 1993, p. 210).

19. The Secret Doctrine, 2:329-30. In its broadest sense, fohat is a collective name for the myriad forces of nature, which work from the inner planes outwards into the physical world – not randomly but in conformity with the ‘laws’, or rather karmic habits, of nature.

20. Ibid., 1:101, 593.

21. Pari Spolter points out that it is only satellites that are at very great distances from their primaries that have retrograde orbits, and suggests that this forms an integral part of gravitation (Gravitational Force of the Sun, Orb, 1993, pp. 199-201).

22. The Secret Doctrine, 2:776. Blavatsky states that modern science ‘denies any violent shiftings of the Earth’s axis, and would attribute the reason for the change of climates to other causes. But this question is still an open one. If Dr. Croll will have it that all such alterations can be accounted for by the effects of nutation and the precession of the equinoxes, there are other men of Science, such as Sir H. James (Athenaeum, Aug. 25, 1860), and Sir John Lubbock (ibid), who feel more inclined to accept the idea that they are due to a change in the position of the axis of rotation. Against this the majority of the astronomers are again arrayed’ (2:314). The expression ‘a change in the position of the axis of rotation’ refers here to polar wander rather than a change in the inclination of the axis (see Charles Gould, Mythical Monsters (1886), Wizards Bookshelf, 1981, pp. 92-3).

23. Carl P. Munck, Whispers from Time, 1997, L L Productions; www.pyramidmatrix.com.

24. The Secret Doctrine, 2:432; see The Great Pyramid, https://davidpratt.info.

2. From eternal spring to age of horror

Blavatsky makes several references to times when the earth’s axis was more or less upright, and, like Mackey, says that the earth then enjoyed an ‘eternal spring’.1 The vernal equinoctial point is the point on the celestial equator which the sun crosses at the vernal equinox. When the earth’s poles are upright, the celestial equator coincides with the ecliptic, and therefore every point on the equator is the vernal equinoctial point. In this sense, the earth does indeed enjoy an ‘eternal spring’. This does not mean that every part of the earth enjoys springlike weather all year round, but day and night would always be of approximately equal length and there would be no major seasonal changes such as result from the inclination of the axis, though there would still be minor seasonal changes resulting from the earth’s elliptical orbit. Blavatsky says that Jupiter enjoys an eternal spring at present (its axis being inclined at only 3.1°).2

Blavatsky also refers to times when the earth’s axis was tilted by 90° and therefore lay in the plane of the ecliptic.3 Mackey refers to such periods as the ‘age of horror’. At such times the contrast of the seasons would be at its maximum. There would be a period of continuous daylight in summer and a period of continuous darkness in winter, and most of the globe would suffer extreme annual variations in climate, from tropical heat to frigid cold.

At present the angle of inclination of the earth’s axis is about 23.4° (or rather 336.6°); the tropics lie 23.4° north and south of the equator, and the polar circles lie at 66.6° north and south latitude (or 23.4° from the north and south poles). All regions north of the arctic circle and south of the antarctic circle are still in their ‘age of horror’; they do not experience a normal succession of day and night throughout the year, but have a period of continuous daylight and a period of continuous darkness of between one day (at the polar circles) and six months (at the poles) every year.

The angle of inclination of the earth’s axis at which the ‘age of horror’ begins and ends depends on latitude. The further north or south of the equator a particular location lies, the longer its age of horror will last. The age of horror in any particular latitude begins when the ‘arctic’ or ‘antarctic’ circle coincides with that latitude as it recedes from the pole to the equator (i.e. as the tilt of the axis shifts from 0° to 90°, or from 180° to 270°), and ends when the polar circle again coincides with that latitude as it returns from the equator to the pole (i.e. as the tilt of the axis shifts from 90° to 180°, or from 270° to 360° [or 0°]). At 25° north or south latitude, for instance, the age of horror would last while the north pole was between 25° above the ecliptic and 25° below it, equivalent to about 324,000 years. At 45° north or south latitude, it would last about 583,000 years. Every latitude would experience two ages of horror during each 360° inversion of the axis.4

During the age of horror, the annual period of complete darkness would be shorter than the period of constant daylight, due to atmospheric refraction. Twilight is generally reckoned to begin when the centre of the rising sun is 18° below the horizon, and when the setting sun is about 2° below the horizon. At the poles, for example, darkness does not really continue for six months but for less than half this period. When the sun sets at the north pole, about 22 September, there is perpetual twilight for about two months until the sun has descended 18° below the horizon. Likewise, a new twilight commences about two months before the winter solstice, when the sun is again 18° below the horizon.5 The stars, moon, and auroras provide additional light for the polar regions. When the axis is perpendicular to the ecliptic, the north pole will therefore not enjoy perpetual twilight but perpetual sunlight due to the refraction of the sun’s rays by the atmosphere. The axis would have to be tilted by more than 2° before the sun will rise and set, and sunlight gives way to twilight for part of the year. When the axis is inclined at 90°, during the northern-hemisphere summer there will be a band of permanent sunlight extending 2° south of the equator, and beyond it a band of permanent twilight extending to 18°S.


1. The Secret Doctrine, 2:138, 332, 356, 368, 400.

2. Ibid., 2:135.

3. Ibid., 2:52, 356-7, 368, 534.

4. Mackey points out that in the latitude of the ancient Hindus (36°N), the age of horror would last 432,000 years (assuming a precessional cycle to last 24,000 years), and this explains why the kali-yuga (the dark age) is of this length (Mythological Astronomy, pt. 2, pp. 95, 98).

5. William F. Warren, Paradise Found (1898), Health Research reprint, 1964, pp. 61-2.

3. Axial disturbances and geological cataclysms

In addition to the gradual inversion of the axis, amounting to about 4° per 25,920 years, ‘sudden’ poleshifts or axial disturbances occur, resulting in major geological upheavals. No details are given in theosophical literature on the magnitude of such shifts or the rate at which they take place.

Blavatsky says that since the appearance of the first root-race in the present, fourth round of the earth’s evolution,

there have already been four such axial disturbances; when the old continents – save the first one – were sucked in by the oceans, other lands appeared, and huge mountain chains arose where there had been none before. The face of the globe was completely changed each time ...1

Poleshifts have therefore played a role in the geological cataclysms that affected all four preceding root-races and continental systems referred to in theosophy.

Blavatsky writes:

after the first geological disturbance in the Earth’s axis which ended in the sweeping down to the bottom of the seas of the whole second continent [which included northern Asia, Scandinavia, and Greenland], with its primeval races ... there came another disturbance by the axis resuming just as rapidly its previous degree of inclination; when the Earth was indeed raised once more out of the waters ...2

The destruction of Lemuria is said to have been caused by submarine volcanoes and earthquakes, and by a decrease in the earth’s velocity of rotation.3 A poleshift took place in the middle of the third race: ‘The axle of the Wheel tilted. The Sun and Moon shone no longer over the heads of that portion of the SWEAT BORN; people knew snow, ice, and frost, and men, plants, and animals were dwarfed in their growth.’4

In the case of Atlantis, destruction ‘was brought on by successive disturbances in the axial rotation’, beginning in the earliest Tertiary times and continuing for long ages.5 The submergence of Atlantis began in the Eocene, and much of it sank in the Miocene,6 but the largest remaining island, Ruta, situated in the Pacific Ocean, was destroyed about 850,000 years ago, at a time of the shifting of the earth’s axis.7

Although Blavatsky sometimes states that there have been four axial disturbances to date, she also says on one occasion that three of the seven great cataclysms during the present round will be caused by changes in the inclination of the earth’s axis.8 This may mean that poleshifts only play a central role in three of the cataclysms (perhaps those connected mainly with flooding, involving the second, fourth, and sixth continents, since the sinking of the second continent is said to have been the result of ‘the first geological disturbance of the earth’s axis’).9

The cataclysms concerned may well have involved a series of axial disturbances, spread over extremely long periods. As Blavatsky says, ‘The racial cataclysms are not a Noah’s deluge of forty days – a kind of Bombay monsoon.’10 De Purucker states that it took hundreds of thousands of years for the main portions of Atlantis to be submerged and for new lands to rise to take their place.11 The sinking of the island of Ruta is said to have taken 150,000 years.12


1. The Secret Doctrine, 2:330. Each inversion of the poles causes ‘the displacement of the oceans, the submersion of the polar lands, and the consequent upheaval of new continents in the equatorial regions, and vice versa’ (2:360).

2. Ibid., 1:369.

3. Ibid., 2:141fn, 266, 324-5.

4. Ibid., 2:329.

5. Ibid., 2:314. The Tertiary began less than 8 million years ago according to theosophy, and 66 million years ago according to science (see Geological timescale, https://davidpratt.info).

6. Ibid., 1:439fn, 2:8fn, 314, 395, 433fn, 693, 710, 740.

7. Ibid., 2:144-5. Daitya, a fairly large island in the Indian Ocean, though smaller than Ruta, sank about 270,000 years ago, while the last remaining island, Poseidonis, about the size of Ireland, and situated in the Atlantic Ocean, sank in a great cataclysm in 9565 BCE (G. de Purucker, Studies in Occult Philosophy, TUP, 1945, pp. 19, 24; The Secret Doctrine, 1:650-1; The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, TUP, 2nd ed., 1926, pp. 151/155). Sometimes both Daitya and Ruta are said to have sunk 850,000 years ago (The Secret Doctrine, 2:314, 433); this may mean that parts of Daitya sank at the same time as (most of) Ruta.

8. The Secret Doctrine, 2:329.

9. Ibid., 1:369. The fourth race is said to have been affected by the ‘second flood’ (2:146), but also by the ‘the fourth deluge on our globe in this round’ (2:350).

10. Ibid., 2:325.

11. G. de Purucker, Wind of the Spirit, TUP, 2nd ed., 1984, p. 297.

12. The Secret Doctrine, 2:395, 751fn.

4. Cataclysms and the precessional cycle

Cataclysms are said to occur at every renewal of the precessional cycle.1 This suggests that earthshaking events will also occur at the end of the present precessional cycle (in which axial disturbances may or may not play a role). When will this be? Blavatsky states that since the present angle of inclination is just under 23.5°, there are still another two and a half degrees to go before the end of the precessional cycle, which gives humanity in general, and our civilized races in particular, a reprieve of about 16,000 years.2

But the question arises: how does Blavatsky arrive at the figure of two and a half degrees? This figure would imply that the current precessional cycle began when the angle of inclination was 25° (i.e. one and a half degrees ago) and will end when it reaches 21°. At the rate of 4° every 25,920 years, one and a half degrees is equal to about 9740 years, which would mean that the present precessional cycle began around 7740 BCE, when the equinoctial point was in the middle of Cancer – whereas it might be expected that the precessional cycle would have begun when the equinox entered Aries (in 2410 BCE) or when it coincided with the first point of the constellation Aries, some 2160 years later.

One of the sources of the figure of 16,000 years (or two and a half degrees) which Blavatsky gives for the end of the present precessional cycle was apparently S.A. Mackey, as a comparison of quotations will show.

Before quoting the relevant passage from Mackey, it is necessary to outline the context. Mackey interprets each of the ten avataras of Vishnu as signifying one precessional cycle. Varanasi (Benares), the chief seat of celestial science in India, lies at about 25° north latitude. At the end of the ‘age of horror’ in the latitude of Varanasi, the earth’s axis would have been inclined at 65°. Ten ‘avataras’ or precessional cycles later, the angle of inclination would have been 25°, and the tropic of Cancer would therefore have passed through Varanasi. This was 9000 years ago. Mackey writes:

Now, we have seen, that the tropics would recede from the pole four degrees in each revolution from the equinoctial points ... And as we know in our time, that the tropic is but twenty-three degrees and something less than half a degree from the equator; it has still to move two degrees and nearly half before the formation of another round or Avatar, or age; which take about 16,000 years to perform. And as we know that about 9,000 years have elapsed since the tropic was vertical at Benares, so we know that the TEN AVATARS bring down the knowledge of Astronomy to that period.3

In other words, Mackey is saying that, reckoning from the time, 9000 years ago, when the tropic passed through Varanasi, 16,000 years will bring us to the end of a precessional cycle of about 25,000 years, and this is equivalent to 2.5 degrees.

Compare the above quotation with what Blavatsky writes in The Secret Doctrine:

Every sidereal year the tropics recede from the pole four degrees in each revolution from the equinoctial points, as the equator rounds through the Zodiacal constellations. Now, as every astronomer knows, at present the tropic is only twenty-three degrees and a fraction less than half a degree from the equator. Hence it has still 2.5 degrees to run before the end of the sidereal year; which gives humanity in general, and our civilized races in particular, a reprieve of about 16,000 years.4

Blavatsky therefore gives the same figures as Mackey, but drops all reference to Benares and avataras. At first glance, it seems as though the figure of 16,000 years (or 2.5 degrees) has been taken out of context.

In 16,000 years, as 9000 years ago, the sun will be in Cancer, and Blavatsky therefore appears to be measuring a precessional cycle from this point. De Purucker says that the European national race has completed about 9000 years of its 25,920-year cycle and still has another 16,000 years to go,5 when it will be overtaken by a cataclysm. Since the length of a national race is the same as that of a precessional cycle, De Purucker, too, seems to be saying that the present precessional cycle associated with the national-race cycle began about 9000 years ago.6

Further corroboration that an important cycle began about 9000 years ago is provided by Fred J. Dick. Quoting from an ancient Commentary, Blavatsky says that the great pyramids of Egypt were built at the beginning of a precessional cycle ‘when Dhruva (the then pole-star) was at his lowest culmination, and the Krittika (Pleiades) looked over his head (were on the same meridian but above) to watch the work of the giants’, and she identifies the polestar in question as Polaris.7 Dick interpreted this obscure statement to mean that the first pyramids were built when Polaris, the polestar at the time the Commentary was written, was furthest from the actual pole at the time the Pyramid was built, and was on the same meridian both with the latter and Alcyone (the chief star of the Pleiades), the latter being higher than the pole. He calculated that the last time such an event occurred was 86,960 years ago.8 This would mean that subsequent precessional cycles began at intervals of 25,920 years thereafter, or 61,040, 35,120, and 9200 years ago.


1. The Secret Doctrine, 1:649. ‘... the weal and woe of nations is intimately connected with the beginning and close of [the precessional] cycle’ (2:330).

2. Ibid., 2:331. At the rate of 4° per 25,920 years, it would take 16,234 years for the axis to move 2.5°.

3. Mythological Astronomy, Appendix, pp. 25-6.

4. The Secret Doctrine, 2:331.

5. Studies in Occult Philosophy, pp. 35-9. Elsewhere De Purucker states that the geological racial cataclysm will take place in 16 thousand or more years (pp. 485-6); in 15 or 16 to 18 thousand years (pp. 702-3; Fountain-Source of Occultism, pp. 163-4); or in 16 to 20 thousand years in the latter part of a precessional cycle (G. de Purucker, Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, TUP, 2nd ed., 1979, pp. 280/282; G. de Purucker, Occult Glossary, TUP, 2nd ed., 1996, p. 143).

6. Fountain-Source of Occultism, p. 164.

7. The Secret Doctrine, 1:435.

8. The Theosophical Path, March 1916, p. 299. 86,960 years ago, the equinox was at 6.4° Cancer (the Crab) – a constellation that features prominently in the two Dendera zodiacs (see Appendix 5). This figure is in agreement with Blavatsky’s statement that ‘the Egyptians have on their Zodiacs irrefutable proofs of records having embraced more than three-and-a-half sidereal years [precessional cycles] – or about 87,000 years’ (The Secret Doctrine, 2:332). 87,000 = 3.356 x 25,920, or 3.48 x 25,000, or 3.625 x 24,000.

5. Earth in motion

Besides its annual revolution around the sun, the earth has three distinct movements: rotation, precession, and inversion.

The slow gyratory motion that gives rise to the precession of the equinoxes is said by science to be caused mainly by the moon’s gravitational pull on the earth’s equatorial bulge. Since the moon does not revolve around the earth in the plane of the earth’s orbit but in an orbit which sometimes gives it a north declination and sometimes a south declination, it pulls alternately downwards and upwards. The resulting force tries to make the earth’s axis become upright, but the momentum of the earth’s rotation prevents this. Instead, the solar and lunar forces slightly twist the earth’s axis around in a new direction, causing it to gyrate. Thus, precession is said to be due to the motion of the spinning earth under the action of the gravitational torque or couple exerted by the sun and moon on the non-spherical earth.

G. de Purucker says that the two main causes of solar and planetary movements are the twelve ‘fohatic magnetisms’ of the zodiac together with forces in the inner constitution of celestial bodies. They account for the precession of the equinoxes, apsidal motion, and the inversion of the earth’s axis.1 The latter brings about the extraordinary cataclysms marking the endings and beginnings of root-races and their main subraces; two complete inversions (through 360°) are approximately equal to half the lifetime of a root-race. Blavatsky states that changes in the earth’s axis, deluges, and other cosmic cataclysms are brought about by the influence of the sun and moon.2

De Purucker emphasizes that psycho-spiritual forces as well as physical forces are involved. In a similar vein, Blavatsky writes:

it is absolutely false, and but an additional demonstration of the great conceit of our age, to assert (as men of science do) that all the great geological changes and terrible convulsions have been produced by ordinary and known physical forces. For these forces were but the tools and final means for the accomplishment of certain purposes, acting periodically, and apparently mechanically, through an inward impulse mixed up with, but beyond their material nature. There is a purpose in every important act of Nature, whose acts are all cyclic and periodical. But spiritual forces having been usually confused with the purely physical, the former are denied by, and therefore, have to remain unknown to science, because left unexamined. ... There is a predestination in the geological life of our globe, as in the history, past and future, of races and nations. This is closely connected with what we call karma ...3

The important impact of human thought and behaviour on our globe is highlighted by W.Q. Judge:

Karma operates to produce cataclysms of nature by concatenation through the mental and astral planes of being. A cataclysm may be traced to an immediate physical cause such as internal fire and atmospheric disturbance, but these have been brought on by the disturbance created through the dynamic power of human thought.4

In other words, however fortuitous and indiscriminate natural disasters may appear, their root causes may be traced back to the individual and collective thoughts and deeds of human beings.

In theosophy, it is said that the earth’s poles are the storehouses and liberators of cosmic and terrestrial vitality (electricity), and that without these two safety valves the earth would have been destroyed long ago by surplus forces. The agitation of the fohatic electric and magnetic forces at the poles is said to produce the auroras.5 Blavatsky quotes the following from a Commentary:

‘The abodes of Fohat are many,’ it is said. ‘He places his four fiery (electro-positive) sons in the “four circles” ’; these circles are the equator, the ecliptic, and the two parallels of declination, or the tropics ... ‘Other seven (sons) are commissioned to preside over the ... lokas at the two ends of the Egg of Matter (our Earth and its poles). ...’6

Fred Dick disagreed with the scientific theory that the present diminution in the obliquity of the earth’s axis is due to gravitational planetary influences or to tidal friction, and ascribed it instead to an electromagnetic torque or couple produced by one magnetic end of the earth being repelled and the other attracted by impinging solar electric forces, combined with the effects of gyroscopic action. He argued that the subtle electromagnetic forces emanating from the sun, interacting with the earth’s own magnetic emanations, especially at the poles, could set up a dynamic torque sufficient to bring about both the precession of the equinoxes and the gradual inclination of the axis.7

A thermo-electric torque with a resolved axial component in the plane of the ecliptic would account for the phenomenon of precessional movement. ... An electromagnetic torque ... only one-ninetieth of that causing precession, with a resolved axial component perpendicular to the plane of the ecliptic, would account for [the] slow phenomenon of inversion.8

He adds that inversion (which may also be called vertical or inversional precession) may take place rapidly at certain cyclic periods in response to forces connected with the karma of the earth and its inhabitants, producing major cataclysms.

As far as the earth’s rotation is concerned, De Purucker states:

rotation is caused by the entry into it at its north pole of spiritual and psychomagnetic energies; for electricity, and magnetism perhaps especially, pursue a circuitous or serpentine path, somewhat like that of a spiral, and the entity through which it flows follows the circular impulse given to it and therefore whirls or rotates.9

Fred Dick called attention to a ‘beautiful and suggestive’ experiment performed by Ampère:

A magnet, loaded with platinum at the lower end, floats upright in mercury contained in a circular glass vessel, at some distance from its center. On dipping a point, connected with one of the terminals of a battery, in the center of the mercurial surface, the other terminal being connected with the outer edge of the mercury, the magnet is seen to rotate on its axis. Here is a perfect analogy to the sun, considered as a radiator of electric forces.10

In The Secret Doctrine, changes in the earth’s spin velocity are identified as a major cause of geological upheavals. If the spin velocity increases, the greater centrifugal force will lead to an increase in the flattening of the poles and in the equatorial bulge. The oceans would immediately adjust to the new ellipsoid, causing increases in sea level at latitudes below 45°, with decreasing sea level at latitudes above 45°. If the spin velocity slows down, the effect will be reversed.

A Commentary describes the effects of a decrease in the earth’s speed of rotation as follows:

    ‘When the Wheel runs at the usual rate, its extremities (the poles) agree with its middle circle (equator), when it runs slower and tilts in every direction, there is a great disturbance on the face of the Earth. The waters flow toward the two ends, and new lands arise in the middle belt (equatorial lands), while those at the ends are subject to pralayas by submersion. ...’
    ‘Thus the wheel (the Earth) is subject to, and regulated by, the Spirit of the Moon, for the breath of its waters (tides). Toward the close of the age (Kalpa) of a great (root) race, the regents of the moon (the Pitar fathers, or Pitris) begin drawing harder, and thus flatten the wheel about its belt, when it goes down in some places and swells in others, and the swelling running toward the extremities (poles) new lands will arise and old ones be sucked in.’11

Blavatsky says that it was a decrease in the earth’s speed of rotation that caused the gigantic continent of Lemuria to begin separating into smaller continents.12 She also says that the cataclysm which destroyed Lemuria was due to ‘a series of subterranean convulsions and the breaking asunder of the ocean floors’13 – triggered or accelerated perhaps by the decrease in the spin velocity.

According to modern science, the earth and moon raise tides in the bodies of one another, resulting in the dissipation of energy into heat, which in turn leads to the slowing of the earth’s spin velocity and the recession of the moon. At present, the earth’s spin velocity is declining by about two milliseconds per century, and the length of the earth’s day is increasing at the same rate. By extrapolating this trend backwards in time, scientists have concluded that the year must have been far longer in the distant past. For instance, there were supposedly about 425 days in a year in the early Palaeozoic. It is also said that the moon was only 346,000 km from the earth in Precambrian times and has receded since then at a rate of just over 2 cm per year to its present distance of 384,000 km, and that as a result there were 13.1 lunar months in a year 650 million years ago compared to 12.4 at present.14

The prediction that there were far more days in a year in the distant past has supposedly been confirmed by counting growth rings in fossil shells.15 However, this ‘evidence’ has been challenged. For instance, Stephen Gould says that we cannot be sure what periodicity the lines reflect. Instead of recording solar days, they might be a response to tidal cycles, or even to internal metabolic rhythms with no apparent relationship to days, tides, and seasons. He concludes: ‘The result of these unsolved problems is a body of poorly synchronized data. Uncomfortably large differences exist in the literature.’16 Warren Carey notes that the growth lines on fossil coral vary in spacing from a few thousandths of a millimetre to nearly zero, and it is often difficult to decide whether one should be counted or not. He says that ‘it is notorious that total counts come out at what the investigator thinks they should be’. One researcher first counted 253 ridges and later 359 ridges on the same specimen.17

De Purucker says that the earth’s spin velocity periodically increases and decreases, so that the number of days in a year also increases and decreases, perhaps between limits of about 366 and 354 days. However, during the planet’s lifetime the number of days in a year averages 360.18 A periodic increase and decrease in the speed of rotation is also implied by the above passage from an ancient Commentary. De Purucker says that these changes are due to a number of interacting cosmic causes, under the governance of the fohatic magnetisms of the zodiacal constellations.

A decline in the earth’s spin velocity would lead to an increase in the polar diameter and a decrease in the equatorial diameter. Confirmation that this has occurred can be found in the measurements of the Great Pyramid, which represents the earth’s northern hemisphere on a scale of 1:43,200: its perimeter equals a half minute of latitude at the equator; the perimeter of the corner sockets equals a half minute of equatorial longitude, or 1/43,200 of the earth’s circumference; and its height, including the platform on which it stands, is 1/43,200 of the earth’s polar radius.19 The pyramid value for 1/43,200 of the earth’s equatorial circumference is 927.72161 m, which is 0.0559 m longer than the current value; the pyramid value for 1/43,200 of the earth’s polar radius is 147.14479 m, which is 0.741 m shorter than current figure. In other words, the polar radius has lengthened and the equatorial radius has shortened since the Pyramid was built – about three precessional cycles ago, according to theosophy.20

Fracturing caused by variations in the rotation speed may help to account for the global network of linear crustal features or lineaments, such as rifts and ridges, often parallel and persisting for hundreds and thousands of kilometres. Lineament systems are also found on the moon, Mars, and Mercury.21


1. Fountain-Source of Occultism, pp. 140-2, 307.

2. The Secret Doctrine, 2:771.

3. Ibid., 1:640-1.

4. W.Q. Judge, Echoes of the Orient, Point Loma Publ., 1975-87, 1:315-6, see also 1:528.

5. The Secret Doctrine, 1:204-5. De Purucker states that the auroras are manifestations of the psychomagnetic vitality of the earth, and are intimately linked with the sun, especially the sunspots. They usually occur during the periods of inrush and outrush of the numberless hosts of monads (or consciousness centres) constantly entering and leaving our globe (Fountain-Source of Occultism, pp. 306-7).

6. The Secret Doctrine, 1:204.

7. F.J. Dick, ‘Climatic and axial changes’, The Theosophical Path, February 1912, pp. 83-7; ‘The spinning earth’, The Theosophical Path, September 1920, pp. 227-31.

8. ‘Thoughts about the earth’s rotation etc.’, The Century Path, 31 October 1909, pp.11-2. The rate of precession is 90 times faster than the rate of axial inversion.

9. Fountain-Source of Occultism, p. 307.

10. The Century Path, 31 October 1909, pp. 11-2.

11. The Secret Doctrine, 2:324-5.

12. Ibid., 2:324.

13. Ibid., 2:314.

14. Whitaker’s Almanac 1990, p. 1152. In theosophical literature it is stated that the moon used to be much closer to the earth and much larger (H.J. Spierenburg (comp.), The Inner Group Teachings of H.P. Blavatsky, Point Loma Publ., 2nd ed., 1995, p. 14; G. de Purucker, The Esoteric Tradition, TUP, 2nd ed., 1940, p. 858fn; Dialogues of G. de Purucker, TUP, 1948, 2:170).

15. William R. Corliss (comp.), Anomalies in Geology: Physical, chemical, biological, Sourcebook Project, 1989, pp. 55-60. Some of the data suggest that although there has been an overall deceleration of the rotation rate, at certain times it has accelerated (Karsten M. Storetvedt, Our Evolving Planet: Earth history in new perspective, Alma Mater, 1997, pp. 228-30).

16. S.J. Gould, The Panda’s Thumb, Penguin, 1990, pp. 262-8.

17. S. Warren Carey, Theories of the Earth and Universe: A history of dogma in the earth sciences, Stanford University Press, 1988, p. 196.

18. Fountain-Source of Occultism, pp. 161-2. The absolute length of the year is likewise said to both lengthen and decrease (Dialogues of G. de Purucker, 1:368-70).

19. Wm.R. Fix, Pyramid Odyssey, Jonathan-James Books, 1978, pp. 22-33, 236-45; L.C. Stecchini, ‘Notes on the relation of ancient measures to the Great Pyramid’, appendix to Peter Tompkins, Secrets of the Great Pyramid, Harper & Row, 1978.

20. The Secret Doctrine, 2:432. The slow change in the dimensions of the earth resulting from variations in the rate of rotation could bring about a change in latitudes and longitudes. The present latitude of the Great Pyramid is 29°58'51". Fred J. Dick suggests that when the pyramid was built, some 67,700 years ago, the latitude was exactly 30° (‘Geophysics’, The Theosophical Path, July 1922, pp. 69-70). However, this view is based on the assumption that the volume of the earth remains constant. If the earth undergoes a periodic inbreathing and outbreathing, its volume might change, and its surface may lengthen and compress in such a way that most latitudes and longitudes remain essentially the same. Carl Munck has shown that the Pyramid’s present latitude is its design latitude.

21. William R. Corliss (comp.), Carolina Bays, Mima Mounds, Submarine Canyons, Sourcebook Project, 1988, pp. 102-5; G.H. Katterfeld & G.V. Charushin, ‘General grid systems of planets’, Modern Geology, vol. 4, 1973, pp. 243-87.

Poleshifts: Part 4

Poleshifts: Contents