The Theosophical
Society in Australia

With International Headquarters at Adyar, Chennai, India.

Is Psychism the Same as Spirituality?

On the human spiritual journey many powers are developed including the various aspects of psychism. Often called extrasensory perception, psychism may best be understood by comparing it with spirituality. The difference between the two becomes clearer as we examine the makeup of the human being.

Timeless teachings known today as Theosophy suggest that we function in three main fields: spirit, soul and body. In other words, a human has a physical body, a soul/mind and an all-pervading spiritual essence.

These teachings further propose that a human being has a sevenfold nature within these three fields: a Personality which is composed of four 'lower' aspects and an Individuality consisting of three 'higher' aspects. Our physical body is said to be interpenetrated by our other six aspects which are progressively finer than physical matter. The proposals which follow in this leaflet are presented for your consideration.


This consists of:

  • the dense physical body
  • the etheric sheath of superphysical matter through which the life force and sensation reach us
  • an emotional vehicle
  • that factual or analytical aspect of the mind which is aware of the world around us

The physical and its vital etheric sheath function very closely together. However, under anaesthesia and in deep sleep the functioning of our physical senses is stilled and the etheric is slightly dissociated from the physical.

The Soul/Mind

The mind functions in two main ways. How we use it, whether unselfishly or selfishly, has a direct influence on our developing spirituality. Two aspects of the personality, the emotions and the factual/analytical aspect of the mind, are sometimes together called the psyche or human soul. However, the purer, aspirational and spiritual aspect of the mind is known as the spiritual soul, which is part of our Individuality.


Consider that beyond the fourfold personality we have a threefold Individuality, which consists of:

  • the higher, spiritual aspect of the mind, subjective in nature, the seat of true 'knowing'
  • insight, intuition, compassion and understanding, known as 'Buddhi' in theosophical teachings
  • the all-pervading spiritual principle, the Source of all, known in theosophical teachings as 'Atman'

The Individuality is therefore the abiding spiritual essence of our being.

Through the process of evolution, the soul/ mind learns to express itself fully through the personality. Timeless teachings suggest that each Individuality reincarnates many times with a fresh personality in each lifetime, in order to evolve.

Spiritual inspiration flows through our Individuality. In this way we gain spiritual vision and illumination that can transform our life. Psychism or extra-sensory perception is primarily experienced through the emotions and the worldly aspect of the mind. Comprehending this distinction between the human Individuality and the human personality is crucial in understanding the difference between spirituality and psychism.

Balanced Development

Theosophical teachings emphasise that the seven human aspects are interdependent and that their integration is an essential part of our spiritual growth. We are all essentially one with the Supreme Spirit, whether known as God, the One Life, the Source of all existence or any other term.

A balanced development of the spiritual and the physical/psychical nature is crucial to our evolutionary development. The two do not always function together, however, and each can develop independently of the other. If psychic abilities do develop along with spiritual growth, they can be valuable tools for extending awareness of the ways in which the laws of nature guide our universe. It is emphasised here that psychic powers should not be seen as unnatural but as a normal extension of the sensory processes of our personality.

If our true spiritual nature is ignored, the training of psychic faculties will result in unbalanced development and can be dangerous. The Theosophical Society does not offer facilities for the training of psychic abilities, nor does it encourage deliberate attempts to develop them. Actually, such training is unnecessary since it is said that the development of senses other than the five with which we are all familiar will occur naturally in the course of our evolution. It is our spiritual awakening which is essential. This needs to be based on the highest ethical and moral standards.

It may be helpful to examine in more detail just what is meant by psychic perception in order to contrast the psychic faculties with spiritual insight or vision.

Extra-sensory Perception

As the term implies, extrasensory perception (ESP) or psychism is an extension of the physical senses. It involves the analytical mind. However, such psychic perceptions are often influenced and coloured by emotions and therwefore can be inaccurate. Generally ESP includes clairvoyance, clairaudience, telepathy, psychokinesis and similar phenomena. Extrasensory or psychic perception may leave the individual with the same character traits as before the awakening of such faculties – just as greedy, just as self-centred, or just as petty. Spiritual vision or insight, if it is genuinely spiritual, can completely change human nature, transforming the individual into a more caring, loving and compassionate person with more understanding and deeper awareness of the wholeness of all life.


Since clairvoyance is one of the most common psychic faculties, let us consider it as an example of extrasensory perception in order to appreciate the difference between psychism and spiritual vision. Clairvoyance literally means 'clear seeing'. However, it does not necessarily follow that clairvoyant people understand the nature of their 'seeing' or that their mental assessment of what they have seen is always accurate. In fact, clairvoyants observing the same phenomena have been known to disagree with one another.

How easily we make mistakes at the everyday level of physical perception. In a court of law there will inevitably be different accounts given of any event, such as a car accident. If this is true at the physical level, it is ev en more so at the less visible levels of life, in which matter is said to alter rapidly in shape, colour, design, form, texture and other qualities.

Types of Clairvoyants

There is great variation in the quality and type of clairvoyance possessed by different people, often influenced by their temperament and psychological makeup. In general, there are two main types of clairvoyants. On the one hand, there are passive clairvoyants who may not be able to fully control their psychic ability and sometimes operate in a semi-trance state.

The other principal type of clairvoyant has his or her psychic capacity actively under control and integrated with daily life. These psychics are more self-aware and have developed a steady, controlled mind, perhaps using techniques such as meditation to quieten the outer mind. Therefore their psychic perception is more accurate.

Practical Uses of Psychic Perception

There are various ways in which a clairvoyant or any individual with awakened psychic faculties can make practical use of such an ability, particularly if it is sufficiently trained. For example, in the field of education, many of the more difficult problems with children might either be avoided or dealt with positively and intelligently if we had people with trained, sensitive perception. Another use is in the field of medicine where trained clairvoyants have been helpful to health practitioners in determining whether disorders are psychological or physiological in origin.

Spiritual Vision

There are great differences between spiritual and psychic perception. True and deep spiritual perception is of inestimable value in our understanding of life at all levels, whereas psychic perception is more limited in scope. We all know the difficulties and antagonisms that can emerge in many areas of life such as religion and politics, to name only two. If we had spiritual perception so developed that we could merge our consciousness with that of other people and truly understand them, we would be able to discover our common ground as human beings.

Psychism, unsupported by spiritual insight, belongs to the personality with all its misconceptions and can be misleading. We separate and categorise our perceptions of the world in order to understand it. Spiritual insight, on the other hand, heightens our awareness of the significance of the unity of all life, transforms our minds and brings about a deep sense of wholeness, caring and responsibility for the world and all its life forms.

A most urgent need for our time is to understand the common spiritual essence, not only within human beings, but within all forms of life. When we recognise that we all derive from one spiritual Source, we understand that every life form is a manifestation of pure Spirit. One of the greatest dangers in the world today is that we may lose sight of the inherent dignity and interrelatedness of every form of life. Remembering that we are essentially Divine, we can learn to use whatever psychic faculties may be awakened within us, illumined by spiritual vision, to bring about peace and happiness in our troubled world.

Books Suggested for Further Reading

Theosophy Wiki:

Man: Visible And Invisible by C. W. Leadbeater

Our Psychic Sense by Phoebe and Laurence Bendit

Man Incarnate by Phoebe and Laurence Bendit

Exploring Psychic Phenomena: Beyond Mind and Matter by D. Scott Rogo

The Chakras and the Human Energy Field by Shafica Karagulla and Dora van Gelder Kunz

The Human Aura by Dora van Gelder Kunz

Psychism and the Unconscious Mind edited by H. Tudor Edmonds

Science of Seership by Geoffrey Hodson

Leaflet: Is Psychism the Same as Spirituality?


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