On the Etymology of Senzar

Excerpted from an article on Universal Theosophy by Jon W. Fergus

Senzar in the Writings of Blavatsky (In Chronological Order)

Yes, the letter-tree of Tibet is a fact; and moreover, the inscriptions in its leaf-cells and fibres are in the Senzar, or sacred language used by the Adepts, and in their totality comprise the whole Dharma of Buddhism and the history of the world.

(“The Sacred Tree of Kum Bum,” Theosophist, March, 1883)

[Quoting from a Letter received by T. Subba Row from the Sankaracharya (possibly referring to Sacchidananda Shivabhinava Nrusimha Bharati Mahaswami, native of Mysore and head of Sringeri Śārada Pīṭhaṃ in 1883), with HPB’s comments in square brackets:]

Here is the letter received by T. Subba Row, from Mysore. Let us remember that the former is an initiated adept, the only man in India who now possesses the key to all the Brâhmanical mysteries and has spiritual authority from Cape Comorin to the Himâlayas and whose library is the accumulation of long centuries. Moreover, he is recognized, even by the English, as the greatest authority on the value of archaic manuscripts. Here is what he says: “If the manuscript [the ‘Hieratic Code’ in question] is written in Senzar Brahmabhâshya [secret sacerdotal language], it can only be read or understood by initiated Brâhmanas, who have already received the revelation of Atharvan and Angiras [the last and supreme initiation]. Now, none of these manuscripts, not even a copy, can possibly be in the possession of a Mlechchha [impure foreigner] because to begin with, the list of the books [codes] was carved on the column of the Âśrama [a sacred place, a temple] at the time when the Great and Holy Achârya, ‘Master’ [in this case, Śankarâchârya of the Vedânta himself, who founded the hierarchy, and built and lived in that temple of Mysore] traced the names thereof with his own hand, and they are all still there . . .”

(“Theosophy and Spiritism,” Bulletin Mensuel de la Société Scientifique d’Études Psychologiques, Paris, June 15, 1883; translated from the French)

Tradition says, that it [the “very old book,” the “parent volume”] was taken down in Senzar, the secret sacerdotal tongue, from the words of the Divine Beings, who dictated it to the sons of Light, in Central Asia, at the very beginning of the 5th (our) race; for there was a time when its language (the Sen-zar) was known to the Initiates of every nation, when the forefathers of the Toltec understood it as easily as the inhabitants of the lost Atlantis, who inherited it, in their turn, from the sages of the 3rd Race, the Manuṣyas, who learnt it direct from the Devas of the 2nd and 1st Races.

(Secret Doctrine 1:xliii)

The Stanzas which form the thesis of every section are given throughout in their modern translated version, as it would be worse than useless to make the subject still more difficult by introducing the archaic phraseology of the original, with its puzzling style and words. Extracts are given from the Chinese, Tibetan and Sanskrit translations of the original Senzar Commentaries and Glosses on the Book of Dzyan—these being now rendered for the first time into a European language.

(Secret Doctrine 1:22-23)

However it may be, the records of the temples, Zodiacal and traditional, as well as the ideographic records of the East, as read by the adepts of the Sacred Science and Vidya, are not a whit more doubtful than the so-called ancient history of the European nations, now edited, corrected, and amplified by half a century of archæological discoveries, and the very problematical readings of the Assyrian tiles, cuneiform fragments, and Egyptian hieroglyphics. So are our data based upon the same readings, in addition to an almost inexhaustible number of Secret works of which Europe knows nothing—plus the perfect knowledge by the Initiates of the symbolism of every word so recorded. Some of these records belong to an immense antiquity. Every archæologist and palæontologist is acquainted with the ideographic productions of certain semi-savage tribes, who from time immemorial have aimed at rendering their thoughts symbolically. This is the earliest mode of recording events and ideas. And how old this knowledge is in the human race may be inferred from some signs, evidently ideographic, found on hatchets of the Palæolithic period. The red Indian tribes of America, only a few years ago comparatively speaking, petitioned the President of the United States to grant them possession of four small lakes, the petition being written on the tiny surface of a piece of a fabric, which is covered with barely a dozen representations of animals and birds. (See Lubbock.) The American savages have a number of such different kinds of writing, but not one of our Scientists is yet familiar, or even knows of the early hieroglyphic cypher, still preserved in some Fraternities, and named in Occultism the Senzar. Moreover, all those who have decided to regard such modes of writing—e.g., the ideographs of the Red Indians, and even the Chinese characters—as “attempts of the early races of mankind to express their untutored thoughts,” will decidedly object to our statement, that writing was invented by the Atlanteans, and not at all by the Phœnicians.

(Secret Doctrine 2:439)

The sacerdotal language (Senzar), besides an alphabet of its own, may be rendered in several modes of writing in cypher characters, which partake more of the nature of ideographs than of syllables.

(Voice of the Silence)

The Senzar and Sanskrit alphabets, and other occult tongues, besides other potencies, have a number, color and distinct syllable for every letter, and so had also the old Mosaic Hebrew.

(see CW 12:642)

Senzar. The mystic name for the secret sacerdotal language or the “Mystery-speech” of the initiated Adepts, all over the world.

(Theosophical Glossary)

Zend means “a commentary or explanation”, and Avesta (from the old Persian âbashtâ, “the law”. (See Darmsteter.) As the translator of the Vendîdâd remarks in a foot note (see Int. xxx.): “what it is customary to call ‘the Zend language’, ought to be named ‘the Avesta language’, the Zend being no language at all; and if the word be used as the designation of one, it can be rightly applied only to the Pahlavi”. But then, the Pahlavi itself is only the language into which certain original portions of the Avesta are translated. What name should be given to the old Avesta language, and particularly to the “special dialect, older than the general language of the Avesta” (Darmst.), in which the five Gâthas in the Yasna are written? To this day the Orientalists are mute upon the subject. Why should not the Zend be of the same family, if not identical with the Zen-sar, meaning also the speech explaining the abstract symbol, or the “mystery language,” used by Initiates?

(Theosophical Glossary, “Zend-Avesta”)

[In an unpublished MS. in HPB’s handwriting she says the following:]

The Brahmans alone spoke both the tongue of the Gods (Sanskrit and its hieratic supplement, the Senzar), the Sanskrit bhāsha and the Prakriti bhāsha. The tongue of the gods was unknown to all but themselves.

(CW 13:317)


HPB suggests that Senzar is ideographic or hieroglyphic in nature.

She refers to Senzar as: the “mystery language,” or “mystery speech”; the “sacred language,” the “sacerdotal language,” “secret sacerdotal language,” or “secret sacerdotal tongue”; and also “speech explaining the abstract symbol.” The Sankaracharya of 1883 reportedly used the term “Senzar Brahmabhâshya” in a letter to T. Subba Row, thus connecting Senzar with a known Sanskrit term. HPB’s unpublished MS. quoted above also makes a connection between Senzar and Sanskrit.

In each of the phrases used by HPB to describe Senzar we see two components:

1. mystery, secret, sacerdotal, hieratic, abstract symbol
2. language, speech, tongue

This may suggest “Sen-zar” to be a compound term, formed of two terms with these two general meanings. Alternatively, Senzar may be a single term either with a suffix or merely as tranformed into a noun from a root form. We will explore both these options together in the following.