Copyright © 2011 by Theosophical University Press
The ancient Mystery schools and rites of initiation were founded upon the fact that the universe is the outer and living symbol of inner and spiritual verities. Just as the outer universe, the veil or body of the invisible worlds and hierarchies of consciousness, delineates the inmost mysteries of the spiritual side of nature, just so did the Mystery schools attempt to become the outward symbol of the wisdom which is all-permeant throughout the universe.
These Mystery schools were not artificial institutions for the purpose of teaching merely conventional ethics, but were actually foci of spiritual light. Thus the ancient initiation ceremonies symbolized actual spiritual facts, and in their higher degrees were, and indeed still are, the open portal by which the trained neophyte might enter, temporarily, into the heart of the universe, and bring back with him an unimpaired memory of what the greatest of adventures had taught him.
In very truth, the destiny of the earth and of man are not divorced from the rest of the universe, but are a part of it; and the destiny of all things is written in the stars — for everything in the universe works in a universal harmony. Therefore the changing astronomical positions of the planets and of the sun and moon all take place according to the workings of the wheels of the great and intelligently-guided cosmic mechanism — for indeed there are mechanicians, divine beings, guiding the mechanical operations; these operations being the automatic responses of nature to the manifold inner urges flowing from these divine and spiritual hierarchies of beings as urgent impulses expressing themselves in action.
Therefore everything in the universe is based on the cosmic intelligence. Even certain seasons of the year are more appropriate for initiatory ceremonies than others. One of the greatest of these ceremonies in the ancient Mystery schools took place at the time of the winter solstice and culminated fourteen days after the day of the winter solstice, in what later times the Christians called the Epiphany. According to the reformed calendar of Julius Caesar, and more or less about the beginning of the Christian era, this festival of the Epiphany fell on the calendar date of January 6th; but in our time, due to the Gregorian reform of the calendar, this mystic festival falls on January 4th, which is fourteen days after the winter solstice, about December 21-22.
This day, January 4th, because of certain important events in the neophyte's "new birth" or initiation, marks one of the greatest ceremonies of the ancient Mysteries, almost the most important event in the life of a chela striving for mastership. This was the manifestation on this day, through himself, of his own inner god; the inner god for the time being active and present in him, clothing him with solar splendor, so that his own inner divinity shone out through his very face and body and he became, as the ancient words ran, "clothed with the sun," resplendent with the spiritual solar light. These are technically true expressions, significant of actual facts, because the forces and substances which compose man's constitution have their ultimate source in the spiritual sun. The opening stage of this living drama of initiation fell on the day of the winter solstice, when sun and moon and at least two other planets were more or less in syzygy. Man is governed by the same laws as is the universe, and the forces that pour through him are the same as those that prevail in universal nature; hence man is deeply affected by cosmic events.
Some of the Mystery schools were national functions and were carefully supervised by the state; they were national religious festivals or training schools, in which the explanations of nature's secrets were in part given in dramatic form, in what were called the Lesser Mysteries. In these minor degrees of initiation many branches of knowledge which now would be called sciences were taught. This fact is known from scraps of information that have come down to us in what remains of the literary works of the Greek and Roman writers, and indeed of other ancient peoples.
But there were the Greater Mysteries, about which nothing was ever openly said. We know only from vague allusions that they existed and that they received the homage of the greatest minds of antiquity. These Greater Mysteries were intimately connected with secret knowledge concerning the sun, the moon, and the planets.
The initiates among the ancients were they who had passed through various courses of both inner and outer purification and trial, which mystic events were symbolized in the Mysteries by the "twelve labors of Hercules," these twelve labors having distinct reference to the secrets connected with the twelve signs of the zodiac. For the same reason they were likewise symbolized by the annual course of the sun during the twelve months. The representation of Jesus as the "Christ-Sun" and of his twelve disciples as representing the twelve signs of the zodiac, may be seen even today graven on the building stones of not a few churches in central and southern Europe, pointing to a distinct connection in early Christianity with the mystical teachings of the Mystery schools.
Thus the story of Jesus, the Syrian initiate, is a true Mystery-tale — a tale of the initiation of a great sage. This statement does not mean that no such person as Jesus lived; on the contrary, such a great soul, who was in fact an avatara, did live, but at a somewhat earlier time than that which has been accepted since the days of Dionysius Exiguus as the beginning of the Christian era.
These mystical legends are not to be accepted in their dead-letter sense, for they are, in fact, an allegory of certain important spiritual events which took place in initiation-chambers or crypts. The actual parables included in this syncretistic Mystery-tale of the Christians refer definitely, if imperfectly, to certain of the fundamental esoteric teachings previously given to the neophytes preparing for their "Day" and its accompanying trials. As the initiatory cycle in the case of individual men simply copied the grand term of cosmic existence, therefore likewise do the gospels in their symbolic allegory and imagery set forth the imbodiment of the cosmic spirit in the mire of material existence.
It may be interesting to allude to one illustration of the allegorical character of the events described in the New Testament. It is there stated that Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on an ass and the foal of an ass; and thereafter came unto him his life-work in the earthly Jerusalem. In the Hither East, the planet Saturn was frequently figurated under the form of an "ass," and the "foal of the ass" was earth, because the ancient seers taught that our physical globe was under the direct formative influence of the planet Saturn. This idea was based upon the ancient teachings of the interblending powers and influences of all the celestial bodies forming the solar system, each such body being intimately involved not merely in the life and evolution of every other body, but aiding in its formation. It is likewise to be remembered that the cyclical peregrinations of the monad after death take place strictly according to the psychomagnetic pathways, called the circulations of the universe, and connecting the sun and all his family of planets.
The "earthly Jerusalem," according to Jewish mystical symbology, was this earth, as the "heavenly Jerusalem," according to Christian symbology, was the "City of God" and the goal of human attainment. The spiritual soul, the inner christos, rides into "Jerusalem" — material existence on earth — on an ass, meaning Saturn, and the foal of an ass, meaning this earth; and the monad, the christ-spirit, descending into matter thus, is crucified on the cross of matter.
There would seem to be no doubt that the ass occupied some esoteric position with the ancient Jews and their religious worship. It is significant likewise that the ass was intimately connected with the so-called evil divinity Typhon, sometimes called Set or Seth in Egypt, a fact alluded to by Plutarch in his mystical tract Isis and Osiris (xxx-xxxi) where he repeats fragments of some old Egyptian legend. He states in sec. xxxi, that Typhon or Set, after the course of a long battle, fled on an ass into Palestine and there founded "Hierosolymus" and "Judaeus" — evidently "Jerusalem" and the "Jew," clearly enough an eponym of the Jewish people.
The Roman historian Tacitus wrote in his History (Bk. V, ch. iv) that the figure of the ass was consecrated in the sanctuary of the Jewish temple at Jerusalem. If this statement is a fact, and in view of the strong aversion of the ancient Jewish people to images of any kind in a place of worship, it would point to an important religious-mystical meaning. So well known was this extraordinary connection between the worship of the Jews in its astrological aspect and the ass, that the fiery Tertullian speaks of it several times (Apologeticus, par. 16, Ad Nationes, secs. xi, xiv), in terms of indignant repudiation, as if indeed he were an apologist for the Jews instead of being a very positive Christian frequently opposed to Jewish thought. He accuses Tacitus of having started this notion in the world, but this is obviously wrong because it is mentioned by a writer before Tacitus, i.e. Plutarch; and furthermore, common gossip in the lands of the Mediterranean peoples bruited the same singular fact about, and it had done so, apparently, for centuries.
When it is remembered that in ancient astrolatry every one of the seven sacred planets had its own astral spirit, and its own representative animal emblem on earth, and that the ass was considered as the emblem of the planet Saturn, and the ass's foal represented the earth, because it was considered to be the foal of the planet Saturn in conjunction with the lunar influences, we begin to see why the passage in Matthew describing the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem speaks of him as sitting upon an ass and the foal of an ass.
Both the Jews and the early Christians in Rome were frequently connected with the ass, and worship of some kind which undoubtedly was made to it as a type-figure by certain sectarians. Some time ago there was discovered a most interesting graffito or scrawl on one of the walls of the Domus Gelotiana, the Palace of the Caesars. This graffito shows a man with the left arm raised in familiar gesture of adoration known in Christian iconography as that of one praying, and before him and above him stands a human figure with arms outstretched, with the head of an ass; underneath this group is scratched the following inscription: Alexamenos sebete [sebetai] theon — "Alexamenos prays to [his] god." From this, and from other scattered fragments of ancient gossip, it is sufficiently clear that around the beginning of the Christian era both the Romans and the Greeks in some manner connected the worship of Jehovah, the astral spirit of Saturn, with both Jews and Christians, and that this worship itself included reference to the zoologico-mythic type-figure of the ass. Such connecting of the gospels with animal or quasi-animal figures is well illustrated by the mystical ascription of the bull, the lion, the eagle, and man or angel, with the four canonical gospels, and this goes back to a very early period in Christian iconography.
The passage describing the finding of the ass and its foal and the entrance of Jesus, seated thereon, into Jerusalem portrays, quite after the manner of ancient mythoi, the descent of the christ-spirit into manifestation, and its angelic mission of pity and "salvation"; the spirit comes into the scene of its labors riding on the combined influence of Saturn and the Moon and the Earth represented by the ass and its foal, and enters into "Jerusalem," the symbol of the multitudinous bustling life of human material existence, and on the way to its "crucifixion" on the cross of matter — pretty much as Plato describes the logoic Spirit crucified on and in the universe in the form of a cross.
The extremely mystical thought imbodied in this illustration gives an instance of the highly intricate manner in which parts at least of the Christian scriptures have been written. Hence, the one thing to be on guard against is to read any single line of these scriptures as recounting an actual historical physical event. Every main idea in the Christian scriptures is allegorical and refers directly to the cycle of initiation and to some of the teaching given during the initiation-ceremonies. Now this does not mean that there is no historical matter in the pages of the New Testament, for the names of towns, references to the Roman Imperium, or to geographical districts, and such other matters, are probably more or less correctly related.
Jesus lived. Whatever name he may have had, the individual known as Jesus was an actual man, a great sage — an avatara. It is a matter of extreme doubt whether he was physically crucified after the manner of the Romans in dealing with criminals; nor did he die an ordinary physical death. The truth was that when his work was done, he — disappeared; and around his person, there were finally gathered together events in the initiatory cycle of the Hither East.
Much that might otherwise appear inexplicable in regard to the fact that the story of Jesus the Christ as found in the New Testament is but an allegory from the Mystery schools, is made clear when it is realized that Christianity is a thoroughly syncretistic system synthesized from various teachings and drawn from different sources, such as Neoplatonism, Neopythagoreanism, Gnosticism, etc., as well as no small amount of so-called pagan material which glided into the picture often in a truly curious manner.
Christianity was a religion which grew up during the time of the decay and final downfall of the Roman Empire, when it was a veritable melting-pot of religious and philosophical ideas as well as mystical notions, allegories, and downright superstitions.
Outside of Judaism and its names taken over by early Christianity, it has been derived from four main sources: Mithraism, supposedly a worship of the sun and originating in Persia, but really a religious philosophy based upon the inner sun, a vortex of the divine fire of the universe. Second, the Egyptian religion, centering around the worship of the goddess Isis, the Divine Mother, the Immaculate Virgin, giving birth to a god-child, a religion which had spread entirely over the Roman Empire and was very popular at about the time of the beginning of the so-called Christian era, although this worship had been spreading for several hundred years previously and even after the beginning of the Christian era, had continued to spread still more widely, exactly as Mithraism was doing. It was from Mithraism and Isisism that Christianity derived the larger part of its ceremonial and ritualistic observances.
The more mystical portions of Christianity were derived from Platonism and Neopythagoreanism, and in later days the stream flowed especially through the intermediary of the writings of the Pseudo-Dionysius called the Areopagite. Thus it was that from these two sources came the larger part of the mystical and theological doctrines which even the earliest Christians held.
It is curious that no one knows the exact date when Jesus was born. Even in the third and fourth centuries, the most learned men of the Christian Church knew nothing whatever of the date of his physical birth. In fact, in the early days of Christianity, his birth was placed at different times on three different dates. Up to the fifth and even the sixth century, in the Greek Orthodox Church and in the Oriental Church, the nativity of Jesus was commemorated on the 6th of January — year of birth totally unknown — which from the beginning, apparently, was also accepted as the date of his Epiphany or "appearance" to men as teacher. At another time his birth was celebrated at the festival of the spring equinox; but from about the fifth century, it became common custom among the Christians to celebrate the birth of Jesus on the 25th of December — year still entirely unknown.
It was Dionysius Exiguus, a Scythian monk who lived in the West in the sixth century under the emperors Justin and Justinian, who first began to reckon Christian chronology on the manner which was later universally adopted. This ambitious calculator did not know when Jesus was born, but he made calculations according to the literary material under his hand, and he tentatively set the birth of the Christian master at about 525 years before his own time. Soon after, this purely hypothetical date became accepted as the Year 1 of the Christian era.
The esoteric records state, however, that Jesus lived about one hundred years before the time set by Dionysius Exiguus. These records are based largely on astronomical and astrological wisdom, for the wise ones do not come irregularly or by chance. They come at stated periods, because everything in the universe moves according to order and law; and for this reason those who know how to calculate need not even consult the celestial bodies. They know that at a certain period after a great soul has appeared among men some other great soul will come in due course of time.
The Jews have a very early tradition, current among the rabbis — imbodied in a work known from the time of the Dark Ages in Europe, and called Sefer Toledoth Yeshua', which tradition runs back to a time preceding the first centuries of the Christian era — that Jesus lived in the time of King Alexander Jannaeus, who reigned as king of the Jews in the second century preceding the alleged date of the beginning of the Christian Era. This Jewish tradition was well known to the early Christian Fathers, who mention, more or less vaguely, the circumstances related by the earlier Jewish writers.
Jacob, bishop of Edessa in Mesopotamia, who lived in the sixth century of the Christian era, is quoted by Dionysius Bar-Salibi:
No one knows exactly the day of the nativity of the Lord; only this is certain, from what Luke writes, that He was born in the night. — Assemani, Bibl. Or., 2:163
Naturally; because in nearly all the ancient initiations, the mystic's "second birth" took place at night. Luke also says that the Epiphany of Jesus, in other words his "manifestation to the Gentiles" as the Christians put it, took place when he was beginning his thirtieth year — a mystical number, again closely linked with the rites of initiation as practiced in the Mystery schools.
The Master Jesus as known in Christian story and legend is a mystical idealization of the great avataric sage, and is thus an ideal figure. Yet, as stated, the great sage actually lived; he had his disciples and he did the work which he came to do. Verily so; and if we are to take the witness of the New Testament, Jesus the avatara came only unto the enlightening and saving of the Jews themselves; for as it is stated unequivocally in the Gospel according to Matthew 15:24: "But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the House of Israel." If this statement was inspired by the Holy Ghost, the Third Person of the Christian Trinity, then how shall we explain that it was precisely by the Jews that he was rejected, and became accepted by the peoples unto whom it is stated that he did not come? Is it not evident, if we are to give any weight to this passage from Matthew, that an avataric influence descending into the murk and mire of earthly affairs brings a message for all mankind, and that "the lost sheep of Israel" do not signify the Jews alone, but is an expression taken directly from the Hither Asian Mysteries, based on Jewish thought in this instance, that "Israel" does not mean the Jews alone but the children of Saturn and the Earth, and that the divine influence comes to aid those of its "children" who are "lost" and have need of a new inspiration?
Is the idea, therefore, not identic with that which is put into the mouth of Krishna, the Hindu avatara in the Bhagavad-Gita, where he says that he comes from age to age in order to right wrongs, overthrow evil, inspirit the good, and rescue the down-trodden, spiritually speaking? The point is that the gospels can be construed properly only in the light of the archaic Mystery-teaching.
Among the primitive Christians, the event in the life of their teacher which filled their hearts most fully with reverence, was his transfiguration at initiation, which they called the Epiphany. Epiphany is a Greek compound formed of epi, "upon," and phaino, meaning to "shine," to "make to appear," and was commonly used in ancient mystical custom as the word signifying the appearances of deities to their worshippers. In the Mysteries the word was transferred with but slight shifting of significance to mean the showing forth, in, and upon the initiant or neophyte of his own inner god, the christos. A similar term, with a somewhat different esoteric meaning, was theophany, which means the actual "appearance of a god" — a term likewise taken from the Greek Mysteries and not uncommon in ancient Greek literature, dealing with divine appearances. The Christians used these two words interchangeably, although the meanings are not identical. Epiphany means the appearance of a god through the body of a postulant for initiation when he has successfully passed his trials, when the inner divinity shines forth through him, as the Christians said, "as the Christ-sun." It does not mean exclusively that some deity "outside" of the neophyte-initiant manifests itself through him, but rather that his own inner god, brought forth into appearance through long months of purification and training, manifested itself in splendor through the physical body of the postulant. But the epiphany was usually temporary, whereas the theophany means something more complete and therefore more permanent. In the latter case, the neophyte-initiant is "clothed with the sun" or is resplendent even physically with spiritual light, and this for a period more or less long. He was surrounded with a nimbus, a glory. In other words, Epiphany means the inner divinity shining upon the successful initiate, and illuminating him, usually for a short period; whereas theophany means the shining forth in splendor of the man's own inner god, or higher self, and for a period more or less long. There were two further degrees of such divine infilling of the successful candidate in the ancient Mysteries and they were respectively, theopneusty and theopathy.
In Christian mystical and pictorial representations of their "persons" of divine standing or of sanctity, there are frequently found not only the Persons of the Christian trinitarian god-head, but also Mary and the saints surrounded by a luminous cloud or by a halo. The luminous cloud surrounding the entire person was called an aureole, and when the head alone was surrounded it was called a nimbus; when the aureole and the nimbus were contained together in pictorial representations, the union was called a glory. These figurations were symbolic representations of sanctity or spiritual status, and were taken by the early Christians directly from the usage of the pagans.
It was customary among the Greeks and Romans at times in their pictorial art to surround the heads of their divinities with such a shining light. The god Mercury is frequently so shown. Further, such surroundings of great spiritual dignitaries, either of the whole body or the head, were a common form of ancient Asiatic art, both in China and in Hindustan, and from immemorial time. These representations were attempts to picturate in artistic imagery of symbolism one or other of the four mystic infillings of the initiate.
Vergil in the Aeneid speaks of the goddess Juno as descending clothed with a nimbus. The word nimbus in Latin meant a "cloud," and Vergil's usage of it means a luminous cloud or glory surrounding the entire person of the divinity. For the initiated Greeks and Romans were well acquainted with the esoteric significance of the nimbus and they employed the term to signify exoterically what took place behind the veil in the chambers of initiation.
Representations of the aura or of the nimbus in Christian usage are of relatively rare occurrence before the fifth century, after which it became very common. The probable reason for this curious fact was that in the early centuries the primitive Christians were averse to copying a method of symbolic representation which, although taken directly from the initiation-chambers, became devoted nearly exclusively to figurate Greek and Roman divinities or for apotheosized emperors. But after the fifth century, when Christianity began to grow apace with the downfall of the ancient wisdom, it was probably thought no longer necessary to guard against confusion with prevalent pagan ideas; and thus this very beautiful symbol lost its Mystery-meaning and became symbolic only of spiritual light.
This clothing with glory, this clothing "with the sun," may be described in the following manner: the constitution of man in its essence is a composite of spiritual, intellectual, and other forces working as a unity, and these forces are all luminous, potent, penetrating. Ordinarily we do not see these forces; nevertheless they are continuously playing through man's constitution, and permeate the entire physical vehicle and pass through it as a continuous stream of energy, producing a luminous cloud or aura around the body. Although this aura is usually invisible to us, nevertheless animals are often conscious of this streaming of light from the human body. Sensitives see it easily. To the eye of the adept, this luminous aura is visible at any time, whether the man be awake or asleep; and a single glance by the adept enables him to ascertain instantly, not merely the state of health of the human being, but likewise his spiritual, intellectual, psychical, and emotional condition; for all these conditions are expressed in the aura, which is extremely sensitive to the respective foci of consciousness which are its sources of radiation.
Now when the human being is in a state of intense spiritual or intellectual, psychical or emotional activity, then his aura reflects these different states of inner activity and, outside of the amazing play of coruscation in color, etc., it may become so active that it becomes visible even to the ordinary human being. Thus, one just having successfully completed the "solar rite" is so infilled with the power of the god within, that the outward flow of the aura clothes even the physical body with light which becomes perceptible to ordinary human vision. Hence the ascription to the gods, or to beings of high spiritual dignity, of an aureole or nimbus or glory.
There is a good deal of "occultistic" piffle written about "auras" in quasi-mystical literature, but all this can be set aside as quite valueless; nevertheless the human aura is a very real fact, and is the physical as well as psychological basis of the popular expression about a man's or woman's "atmosphere." When we hear someone say: "his atmosphere is repugnant to me," the explanation is that the aura of such a person, i.e., his psycho-electro-magnetic atmosphere, happens to be repellent to the one who speaks. Contrariwise, certain human auras to certain other people are sympathetic and are at once felt as being a "friendly atmosphere."
Every man is surrounded with an aura, which is as individual in characteristics as the man is himself; he is clothed with auric energy, with what may be called etheric or electromagnetic power, to use scientific terminology; and this is of psychophysiological origin having a spiritual source. These astral-physical effluvia or this electromagnetic field surrounding the body of every man is visible to those who have the eyes to see it, as a marvelous play of color; for the aura changes instantly with every passing phase of thought or emotion, and its colors flash and scintillate, like some unearthly but at times extremely beautiful "rainbow" or aurora. The most interesting deduction is that man is continuously radioactive after his own type — a radioactivity which varies with minute and perfect exactitude according to the changing thoughts and moods of the individual. Science is even beginning to opine that not merely radium and the other so-called radioactive chemical elements, but practically everything that exists, is more or less radioactive.
This luminous psychoastral cloud possesses a more or less egg-shaped form and being sensitive to changes of thought and emotion in an incredible degree, it assumes different colors corresponding with the organs of the body which may at any time be most active, whether brain or solar plexus, stomach or heart, liver or spleen. Hence it follows that when a man is under great stress of spiritual activity or inspiration, and the currents of energy from his higher nature are running strong, then this aura surrounding the physical body usually does make itself apparent to the normal vision as a glory surrounding the individual. If one were to observe a man plunged in profound spiritual and intellectual meditation, and had one the gift of the "inner sight," his head would be seen to be surrounded with a magnificently luminous cloud shot through with color: with a cloud of golden light, streaked with a flashing play of indigo and deep blue, while the body would be seen as more or less resplendent in the same colors, duly modified by the different effluvia pouring forth each from its own organ, and therefore possessing each its own subordinate color.
Let us turn for a moment now to one of the more striking facts accompanying the successful fulfillment of the solar rite. During the time of this high union of man's self-conscious ego with his own inner god, the tremendous power of the divine entity within the human brain-heart or heart-brain, shines forth in an efflux of glory, and the initiant for the time being becomes an incarnate human god. The lower man, the human ego, is then temporarily united through and by his divine-spiritual nature with its own cosmic source, the spiritual essence of the universe; and this fact, so briefly sketched, is the real meaning of the "transfiguration" in Christian theology, which takes place during initiation.
There have been from immemorial time seven degrees or stages of initiation, corresponding with an equivalent number of different possibilities latent in the average man, but becoming manifest through the proper initiatory training and inner spiritual, intellectual, and psychical growth; and in the ancient Mystery schools these seven stages of the mystic path were not only fully known, but actually were the seven "steps" to be taken in one life or through a series of lives by every neophyte working his way upwards to adeptship. When the seventh and highest step was successfully taken, producing the sublime epopteia or "visioning," then the inner god of the postulant — which inner god is a ray of the divine sun of the solar system — shone forth at least temporarily through the man of flesh, and he thus being "at-one" with his own inner divinity, even his body was "clothed with the sun," the core of the man's essential being.
Thus, when the successful pilgrim attains the seventh degree of this initiatory journey, he reaches the consummation of all possible inner evolution attainable on this earth during this fourth round; and in attaining this consummation of his pilgrimage before the end of the globe-manvantara, he lives, if he so will, as a god-man on earth. This is the final initiation in the earthly career of every truly great seer and sage. These few are the elder brothers of the race, the mediators or links between the higher principle of the Hierarchy of Light and ourselves, which mediators the various great religions of the world revere, and in some cases ignorantly worship, as their respective "saviors" and "redeemers." This was the case with Jesus the Syrian initiate and avatara; and this glorious fact was remembered by his followers after he had disappeared from amongst them, and commemorated as the Epiphany or the "manifestation" of Jesus the man, clothed with the glory of his own inner Father. It is the highest spiritual "new birth" of the ego in a human being, signifying not, as has been commonly supposed, a god from without incarnating in the body of flesh or a mere human being, but the rebirth, the highest spiritual "new birth" through initiation, of the god in the man himself. Yet this statement is not exclusive of another fact of more infrequent occurrence. This other marvelous event involves the actual imbodying of another "outside" spiritual power or individual in a human being of lofty spiritual and intellectual and psychical development, the "outside" power or individual coalescing for the time being with the high adept selected for this purpose.
It has been stated that Christianity is a syncretistic system built of materials gathered largely from so-called pagan sources, nevertheless it is an unfortunate fact that the Christians early lost the real inner key to their religion; and with this loss coincidently went the profound mystical philosophy which explained the true significance of the religious symbolism of the Christian faith. This brought loss of comprehension and involved the consequent and often bitter ecclesiastical disputes which in their more violent forms at one time disgraced the Christian name. Loss of understanding of the inner meanings of some of the most prominent Christian tenets brought about great confusion of ideas. An example of this confusion is found in the fact that the physical birth of Jesus and his mystical "new birth" of initiation, later celebrated as the Epiphany, were confounded into one instead of being cherished as two distinct and separate events in the life of the Christian master.
From the earliest times the Christians have been in doubt as to the year and day of the birth of their great teacher, but the 25th of December in time became accepted as the day of his physical birth. The Epiphany or the event of his "appearance to the Gentiles," which is but an ignorant way of saying his appearance as christos or as a fully initiated adept-avatara, finally became settled in popular recognition as having taken place on the sixth of January, although the year of this event was also unknown from primitive Christian times. Now the 25th of December was evidently intended to be the date of the winter solstice, occurring in our times on or about December 21-22, and was from early times in Imperial Rome observed as the day of the new birth of the Sol Invictus or Unconquered Sun, signifying the lowest course of the solar orb and the beginning of his return on his northern journey.
The ancient pagan festivals that were held in many lands at the time of the winter solstice have been mistaken by scholars to be commemorative merely of the return of the physical sun to the northern hemisphere; but it was the mystic birth of the "spiritual sun" or divinity in man that they commemorated. Many of the ancient religions, Mithraism, for instance, were based upon a "worship" not of the physical sun alone, but upon a profound mystical philosophy dealing with the divine sun, of which the outer orb was but the veil or body. This unseen divine luminary has the same great cosmic labor to perform in the solar system that in man his own transcendent divine monad has; and this divine monad, individual for each man, is a ray from the divine luminary.
In the fifth century, Pope Leo I is found writing in his Sermo, XX, a statement imbodying what the leaders of the Christian Church then openly averred, to wit: that what made the Christmas festival worthy of veneration was not so much the alleged birth of the boy Jesus on that particular day of the year, but the return and, as it was expressed, the "new birth" of the sun.
Furthermore Cyprian and Ambrose, two orthodox theologians who are also saints of the Christian Church, referring to the mystical connection of Christ with the sun — a widely popular idea in the early centuries of Christianity — speak as follows: Cyprian calls Christ the Sol Verus, or "true sun" (De Orat. dom., IV.35), while Ambrose speaks of Christ as Sol Novus Noster, "Our New Sun" (Sermo, VII, 13).
Yet it should not be supposed that the early Christians were sun-worshippers, nor were the ancient Persians. They knew that the physical sun is but the vehicle of the inner spiritual and other powers which flow forth from within outwards, and thus give life as well as light to the solar system over which the sun presides. They knew likewise that behind the physical sun is the cosmic solar spirit which worked through the physical sun, even as man's spirit works through him and gives light not only unto himself but unto others. The early Christians used many hymns addressed to the Christos-spirit, to the Logos or Word, all these terms being taken from the ancient Greek Mysteries; and both the spirit of these hymns, and the words in which they were couched, could readily be construed as hymns to the sun.
Verusque Sol, illabere,
Micans nitore perpeti,
Jubarque Sancti Spiritus
Infunde nostris sensibus!
— St. Ambrose (340-387), "Splendor paternae gloriae"
O Thou, Real Sun, infill us,
Shining with perpetual light!
Splendor of the holy Spirit
Pervade our minds!
This is an early hymn to the Christ-sun, used as late as the seventh century of our era; and must have been much older in origin to have gained the wide vogue it one time had.
As every scholar knows, there were a number of quasi-religious and quasi-mystical sects flourishing at about the time of the alleged beginning of the Christian era, who had pretty much the same body of ideas connected with the divine cosmic sun that the Mithraists and the Christians held. The Manichaeans were an association of mystical and in some points even esoteric thinkers, and who were widely disseminated over the Roman Empire as well as in the Hither East. They held certain beliefs linking them with the more mystical ideas of primitive Christianity, and said that the divine sun was the source of the individual christos-spirit in man, which latter is a ray of that cosmic christos. The Christian Fathers Theodoret and Cyril of Jerusalem attest this fact of Manichaean belief; and Pope Leo I called the "Great," in his Sermon XXXIV on the Epiphany (IV), stated that the Manichaeans placed the Christos of men in the [luminous substance of the invisible] sun. Such significant ideas were widely spread in the world at the time of the formation of the Christian faith and ecclesiastic system.
Of course, this view of the divine sun was not Christian only. This wonderful conception of the indwelling cosmic divinity is as old as it is universal and was the very soul of the inner meaning of ancient Greek and Latin, Persian and Mesopotamian, as well as Egyptian and Hindu religions and philosophies. A verse from one of the hymns of the Rig-Veda is called the Savitri or the Gayatri:
Tat Savitur varenyam bhargo devasya dhimahi;
Dhiyo yo nah prachodayat!
That superexcellent splendor of the Divine Sun we meditate upon:
May it arouse our minds!
— iii, 62, 10
This verse is considered so sacred, as imbodying that very spiritual essence of all the Vedas, that exoteric purists in India refuse even to copy it in writing. Today, the orthodox Hindu chants it in low tones both in the morning and in the evening.
Many of the Church Fathers, among them the fiery Tertullian, and the more moderate but equally dogmatic and ignorant Jerome, tell us that on December 25th (on the seventh day before the Kalends of January, according to the old reckoning of the Romans), it was held by many "pagans" that an incarnation of a ray from the God-Sun, as the solar divinity was then called, was born in human form in a cave or grotto. In Syria and Phoenicia this God-Sun was called Adonis, a word evidently having a Semitic root, for Adon in Hebrew means "Lord." In Persia the same human incarnation was called Mithras. This word Mithras is etymologically interesting, because, while it is found in the Avesta, a collection of books comprising the religion of the ancient Persians, it is likewise well known in the Sanskrit literature of India under the form Mitra. The original meaning of this word is "friend," "companion." This solar divinity of the Persians, Mithras, likewise was said to have been born in a cave or grotto; and equally with Adonis, the birthday of Mithras was celebrated on December 25th, evidently intended to be the astronomical date of the winter solstice itself. This festival, commemorated as the "birthday of Mithras," was often called the "Night of Light." The idea evidently was that this incarnation was that of a ray of the logos, or a high spiritual intermediary between the divine and man; and for that reason the divinity was called friend, mediator, and later savior, redeemer.
On December 25th was celebrated in Italy what was there called the "new birth" of the "Unconquered Sun," the Sol Invictus, as may be seen in the Roman calendars that have come down to us. Mithras was also given this title of "Unconquered"; and as wrote Justin Martyr (Dialog with Trypho, chap. lxx) — Mithras was mystically said to have been born in a cave or grotto, as was also Jesus. Justin adds: "He was born on the day on which the sun was born anew, in the stable of Augeas."
Historians tell us that the ancient Druids likewise celebrated the night of December 24-25 with bonfires, kindling their symbolic fires on the tops of mountains and hills, and placing beacons of light on the summits of their Druidical towers; for with them it was a true mystical festival of light or illumination, symbolized by the "rebirth" of the sun as manifested in the beginning of his return journey to the northern latitudes. For the bringing back of "light" and new "life" to the earth and to men was held as symbolic of the cyclic course of the human soul in its journey toward perfection.
The Venerable Bede, an old English chronicler, writing in the seventh century, tells us that the ancient Anglo-Saxons "began the year on December the 25th when we now celebrate the birthday of the Lord."
And the very night which is now so holy to us they called in their own tongue Modranecht and their meaning is "Night of the Mothers," by reason of the ceremonies, we believe, that they performed in that night-long vigil. — De temporum ratione 15, ccl 123b:330
It is obvious that Bede's reference to this midwinter festival was taken from some ancient non-Christian ritual, based on the fact of a divine motherhood, which had its correspondence in a mystical human birth. It goes without saying that if the sun were symbolized as being born at a certain season of the year, motherhood was closely involved in the idea — the Celestial Virgin giving birth to man's greatest friend and illuminator. Some such idea must have swayed the minds of the early Christians in fixing upon so wide-spread a pagan festival as the date commemorating the birth of their own human savior, Jesus, from the woman whom they call Mary the maiden.
In the early Christian Church and in both of its oldest branches today, the Greek Orthodox and the Church of Rome, titles of honor and of worship commonly given to the mystical Virgin are: "Our Lady," "Star of the Sea," "Immaculate Virgin," "Mother of God," "Queen of Heaven," etc. Turning now to the titles of honor and adoration given to the Egyptian Isis, Virgin-Mother of Horus the Sun, one finds in this worship of Isis, which had spread so widely over the Roman Empire, the following titles: "Our Lady," "Star of the Sea," "Rose, Queen of Heaven," "Mother of God," "Intercessor," "Immaculate Virgin," and other such.
Plutarch, in his essay On Isis and Osiris (Section ix) informs us that over the front of the Temple of Isis at Sais in Egypt there was engraven the following inscription: "Isis am I: all that has been, and is, and will be; and my garment hath no one of mortals ever raised." Proclus, a Neoplatonic philosopher, adds that the conclusion of this inscription was the following significant words: "And the fruit which I brought forth became the Sun." The immaculate Virgin-Mother of Space brought forth the Logos or "Word," the intermediary between the Unspeakable and all conscious beings, and this Logos or intermediary is the divine Sun. Here then is the germ of the Christian idea, indeed, almost identic thoughts — the cosmic virgin-mother and the god-child.
It will be seen that the "Immaculate Conception" refers to no physical historic event whatsoever, but was originally a mystical and philosophical teaching, which became in time a theologic dogma and legend. It refers to the birth of the Christ in man from the virgin-part of one's being, i.e. from the spiritual portions of man's constitution. It also has a cosmical significance — the virgin-mother of space giving birth through her child, the cosmic logos, to her multitudes of children of various kinds. There are thus two aspects of this mystical or symbolic doctrine: first, the cosmical virgin; and second, the mystical "virgin-birth" of an initiate — one "reborn," or, as the saying goes, "born a second time." For in initiation, the "new man," the christ-man, is born from himself because of his bringing out into active manifestation the divinity within him; and his "virgin-mother" is the root of his being, the spiritual soul in its spotless and unstained purity — from which is born the human christ or the human buddha, without other means than the man's own yearnings and strivings to become the god within.
The Christian Church has interpreted these doctrines physically and thus has lost the noble and profound symbolism; but the same mystical teaching and legend is found in other countries: for instance, in India there is Krishna who was born of a virgin, and in Egypt, Horus born of the virgin-mother Isis.
One branch of the Christians say that "Twelfth Night," as the English call it — in other words the date of the Epiphany, or January 6th — was instituted by the Church in commemoration of the "manifestation" of Jesus the infant to the "Three Magi," who, according to the pretty legend in the Christian gospels, "saw his star in the East," and sought him and found him in the "manger" at Bethlehem, over which the "star" stood at rest.
Now all this is mystically descriptive and is wholly allegorical and symbolical; but the early Christians (perhaps not the immediate disciples of Jesus the initiate, but the Christians of a hundred or more years later) took these traditions and more or less vague memories which had not yet become incorporated into the gospels of the New Testament, as actual facts, and believed them literally. Pious imagination embroidered these traditions until it came to be believed that these three Wise Men were Magi who had come from Persia in order to worship the new "Son of God," whose "star they had seen." Then, somewhat later in time, these three Magi became transformed into three "Kings." No one knows exactly how, but such is what took place in the Western Church; and consequently the Epiphany is commonly called the "manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ to the Three Kings."
Now, what is the meaning of this allegory? Among the ancients the planets were called kosmokratores, a Greek compound meaning "world-rulers" or "world-builders"; and this conception reposed on the fact that the sun and the moon and the planets were fundamentally instrumental in framing the origin, and greatly affect the destiny, of our earth, which in turn would be one of the kosmokratores or "builders" to certain other planets of our solar system. These kosmokratores or regnant powers were therefore mystically spoken of as "kings," and were frequently conceived of as possessing mighty powers, as wearing crowns of glory and holding the scepter of dominion. These ideas, confused as they were, were current as legends in the Greek world at that time; and so it is little wonder that people misunderstood that the symbolic representations of the planets were "kings" of actual regal human personalities, instead of being the mighty spiritual powers or individualized life-forces of every celestial body.
These three "Magi" were given the names Melchior, Kaspar, and Balthasar. Now Melchior is obviously Hebrew, and means "king of light," and is the name that doubtless was applied frequently to the planet Venus on account of the splendor of that celestial body, which the Greeks also called Phosphoros, and the Romans, Lucifer: "Light-Bringer" or "Light-Bearer" — a title, by the way, which was applied by some early Christian sects to Jesus himself, who was called Lucifer, the Light Bringer.
Kaspar is more difficult to understand, because Semitic words have no exact transliteration into the Roman alphabet. However, Kaspar could be translated as derived from the Hebrew, as "like unto a recorder," or "a scribe"; and Hermes, Mercury, whom the Egyptians called Tehuti and the Greeks transliterated as Thoth, was in legend the sacred recorder and therefore the interpreter. Hence Kaspar perhaps stood for the planet Mercury, otherwise for the god called Hermes among the Greeks, and Mercury among the Latins.
The third name, Balthasar, is still more difficult. One ventures only a guess at the meaning of this word, but it signifies the Moon. The bal is simply a render of the Semitic Ba'al, sometimes written Bel; and the meaning of the entire name may be given as "lord of riches," or perhaps "lord of prisoners."
It is very curious that these three names or titles are mystical ones, and identical names or titles at least in significance are given to the three celestial bodies just named. How came it that these three celestial bodies were chosen in connection with the mystic ideas of the initiation-ceremonies?
Christmas or the festival of the winter solstice was celebrated in its greatest splendor — with the most telling cooperation of the cosmic influences of these three celestial bodies, when the Sun, Mercury, Venus, the Moon and our Earth, were in syzygy, in other words, more or less in a straight line connecting the Earth and the Sun. Such a conjunction is a rare occurrence. Thus then, at the time of the winter solstice, the Moon, following the teaching of the ancient wisdom, must stand in a straight line connecting the Earth and the Sun, and it must be new; and in order to make the proper compound conjunction, the Moon must be at new in direct line with the Earth, the planet Venus, the planet Mercury and the Sun. Esoterically, Mercury, Venus, and the Moon in ancient ceremonial rites were represented by three initiators. With these celestial bodies of our solar system in such conjunction, this powerful influence, astronomically speaking, was working at greatest advantage in affecting our Earth and all beings thereon; and thus, for the same reason, they powerfully affect the postulant for the especial initiation taking place at these rare times.
Now the three "Magi" or spiritual magicians, or initiating masters, were present at the transfiguration of the one whom they had by teaching and training successfully brought to the mystic "new birth," the ceremony beginning at the winter solstice and concluding two weeks later when the moon was at full orb. This mystic "new birth" was the "birth" of the inner christos, and during it the whole being of the initiant was transfigured, and, to use the saying of the Hebrew bible, "his face shone like the sun."
It has been attempted briefly to outline some of the keys in connection with the winter-solstice festival: the rebirth of the astronomical sun, really of the "Christ-Sun" of our solar system, and the mystical or "new birth" of the "Christ-Sun" within the postulant himself — this expression "Christ-Sun" being the title given to Jesus the Christos by his original followers. Such a man thus transfigured or glorified, became, at least for the time being, a human spiritual sun among his fellows, the "Logos" or "Word" or interpreter to them of his inner god; therefore a true lawgiver, a spiritual leader and a teacher of his fellowmen.
Such divine communion of human beings with their invisible progenitors has not vanished from the face of our earth, because there still continues in uninterrupted line the spiritual succession of the great teachers, who are the representatives in our fifth root-race of their spiritual predecessors and ancestors. This sublime institution of training and initiation still lives and receives its candidates who are found worthy and well qualified; and if successful, they take their places in the ranks of the Great Brotherhood as guardians of the ancient wisdom of the gods.
Some day in the ages of the future this supreme school on our earth will have its almost equally great offspring-schools in different parts of the globe, doing the work that their predecessors of the archaic ages did, and in those future times, man will once again confabulate with the invisible spiritual powers, and earth then will see the multitudes of mankind ruled over and taught by initiate-hierophants, initiate-kings.