An Approach to the Proem of “The
Secret Doctrine”, by Helena P. Blavatsky
Steven H. Levy
There are three introductions to “The Secret Doctrine” (SD). There is the “Preface” in which H.P.B. states the purpose of the book. There is the “Introductory” which explains the need, intended purposes, and right attitude of study of the book. The third introduction to the SD is the “Proem”.
A proem is a special kind of introduction that serves specific purposes. In classical literature, it sets the tone of epic narratives by invoking the muses or offering a prelude to a hymn. However, it was also used to reveal the main content of a work or speech. Regarding the use and effect of proems, or introductions, Aristotle notes that they:
“…Produce the same kind of effect as the dramatic prologues and the epic exordia…they provide a sample of the speech, so that the hearers may know in advance what the speech is about…Other forms of the proem help to remove or create prejudice…to secure the hearer’s good will…(and) to engage the hearer’s attention or the opposite.” 
There is symmetry and proportion to “The Secret Doctrine” (SD) such as characterizes the ancient temples of Rome. The “Proem” is also threefold in its content: symbolism, a “few fundamental conceptions”, and a “skeleton outline” of the STANZAS OF DZYAN.
Each in their own way align themselves with the purposes of the proem to set the tone, invoke the muses or sources of inspiration, introduce a hymn, reveal the main content of the work, engage the reader’s attention, and attempt to remove prejudice and secure the reader’s good will.
The “Proem” reminds the student that the SD is also a book of poetry, a devotional book that has the same effect as poetry to arouse the intuition and imagination in the reader or hearer. Introducing each of the volumes of the SD, as well as the thesis of each section, are stanzas from the “Book of Dzyan”. A stanza is a section of a poem containing a number of verses or slokas. The word “sloka” means “song” and comes from the Sanskrit root, sru, meaning “hear”. Even in the English translation the stanzas are clearly characterized by the symbolism, rhythm, and lyrical qualities of poetry. The Proem invokes the sources of inspiration. Hesiod refers to the Muses as the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, who preside over and inspire the arts and sciences, especially poetry and philosophy. The Mother of the Muses, Mnemosyne, is the goddess of memory. The Proem speaks to and invokes the memory of the Soul, reminiscence or intuition, which will inspire the sincere reader in the study and comprehension of the SD.
The symbolism in the Proem is the language of the soul and the storehouse of the accumulated wisdom of the ages. The apprehension of the few fundamental conceptions offered in the Proem is necessary to the understanding of all that follows in the book, and the skeleton outline of the subject matter of the stanzas makes the task of grasping the grand scope of cosmic evolution easier for the student. Besides revealing the content of the book in this threefold way, the Proem introduces a very specific hymn. Immediately following the Proem and prior to the Stanzas is the “Hymn of Creation” from the Rig Veda that proclaims the identity and unity of the student with the One, Divine, Eternity. The SD offers a path to the realization of that unity, interdependence and oneness of all. The “Proem”, true to its derivation from the Greek word “prooimos” (pro, before, and oimos, a path or way), introduces the student to that path of spiritual knowledge that is everywhere and nowhere. In closing, a few excerpts from the SD will illustrate these points:
* “But such is the mysterious power of Occult symbolism, that the facts which have actually occupied countless generations of initiated seers and prophets to marshal, to set down and explain, in the bewildering series of evolutionary progress, are all recorded on a few pages of geometrical signs and glyphs.” (SD 1, pg. 272)
* “An Archaic Manuscript - a collection of palm leaves made impermeable to water, fire, and air, by some specific unknown process - is before the writer’s eye. On the first page is an immaculate white disk within a dull black ground. On the following page, the same disk, but with a central point. The first, the student knows to represent Kosmos in Eternity, before the re-awakening of still slumbering Energy, the emanation of the Word in later systems. The point in the hitherto immaculate Disk, Space and Eternity in Pralaya, denotes the dawn of differentiation.” (SD 1, pg. 1)
* “A moment’s thought shows that such a state can only be symbolised; to describe it is impossible. Nor can it be symbolised except in negatives; for, since it is the state of Absoluteness per se, it can possess none of those specific attributes which serve us to describe objects in positive terms. Hence that state can only be suggested by the negatives of all those most abstract attributes which men feel rather than conceive, as the remotest limits attainable by their power of conception.” (SD 1, pg. 21)
* “Hence it must be left to the intuition and the higher faculties of the reader to grasp, as far as he can, the meaning of the allegorical phrases used. Indeed it must be remembered that all these Stanzas appeal to the inner faculties rather than to the ordinary comprehension of the physical brain.” (SD 1, pg. 21)
* “Before the reader proceeds to the consideration of the Stanzas from the Book of Dzyan which form the basis of the present work, it is absolutely necessary that he should be made acquainted with the few fundamental conceptions which underlie and pervade the entire system of thought to which his attention is invited. These basic ideas are few in number, and on their clear apprehension depends the understanding of all that follows; therefore no apology is required for asking the reader to make himself familiar with them first, before entering on the perusal of the work itself.” (SD 1, pg. 13)
* “It would not be in place here to enter upon any defence or proof of their inherent reasonableness; nor can I pause to show how they are, in fact, contained - though too often under a misleading guise - in every system of thought or philosophy worthy of the name.” (SD 1, pg. 20)
* “Once that the reader has gained a clear comprehension of them and realized the light which they throw on every problem of life, they will need no further justification in his eyes, because their truth will be to him as evident as the sun in heaven.” (SD 1, pg. 20)
 In the present article, “The Secret Doctrine”, by H. P. Blavatsky (Theosophy Co., Los Angeles, 1982, two volumes) is referred to as “SD”. The acronym “SD” will be followed by the number of the volume of the work and by the number of the page the passage refers to.
 See Book III, part 14.
In September 2016, after a careful analysis of the state of the esoteric movement worldwide, a group of students decided to form the Independent Lodge of Theosophists, whose priorities include the building of a better future in the different dimensions of life.
E-Theosophy e-group offers a regular study of the classic, intercultural theosophy taught by Helena P. Blavatsky (photo).
Those who want to join E-Theosophy e-group at YahooGroups can do that by visiting https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/E-Theosophy/info.