The Theosophical Forum – March 1940

THEOSOPHICAL ENCYCLOPEDIC GLOSSARY

[Some years ago THE THEOSOPHICAL FORUM mentioned that preparations were under way for the publication of an Encyclopedic Glossary of Theosophical Terms. Our readers will be glad to know that this work has been steadily going forward during the ensuing years and is now nearing completion. The material, which will probably fill several volumes, covers the whole exoteric field of ancient and modern Occultism and Theosophy, including mythology, anthropology, cosmogony, symbolism, the ancient Mysteries and allied subjects, and will prove to be an exhaustive mine of philosophical, religious, and scientific information. The work of writing and compilation has been carried on by a group of students at the General Offices. Dr. de Purucker has then carefully checked the definitions and in many cases added new and valuable material.

It is too early to state when this Encyclopedic Glossary will be published, but the FORUM Editors have obtained permission to share with readers of our magazine extracts from this forthcoming work. No effort has here been made to follow any special sequence of arrangement, but random pages have been purposely chosen. — Eds.]

EQUINOX

The two annual epochs when the equator and ecliptic cut each other, occurring (since 1900) about March 21 and September 23, when the days and nights are equal to each other in length — hence the name "equal night." The position of this intersection or node, on the ecliptic, at the Vernal Equinox in the northern hemisphere, is called the first degree of Aries in the ecliptic zodiac. But this point shifts continuously, having a retrograde motion around the ecliptic occupying 25,920 years. (In astronomical tables, the annual recession is given as 50.2", which, if uniform, would give 25,868 years; but to calculate the period in this way, it would be necessary to know the mean value of the recession during the entire period.)

This period is very important in Occultism, because every astronomical cycle is indicative of cycles in both cosmic and human history. In accordance with the Signs of the Zodiac it is divided into twelve parts, each of 2160 years, called in Occultism the "Messianic Cycle" and marking the coming of a World-Savior. The starting-point of this cycle is not publicly known, but it is possible to place it with fair accuracy by means of the data which occult history furnishes. The starting-point is said in Hindu astronomy to have been the star Revatî, which star, however, seems to have disappeared. The recession of the equinoxes from Pisces into Aquarius is stated to occur somewhere about the present age, and to mark a new spiritual dispensation.

In The Secret Doctrine (II, 330) a cycle is mentioned which is obtained by compounding the precessional cycle with the cycle of the apsidal revolution; this, according to the astronomical figures quoted, gives a cycle of 21,128 years, which is probably 21,160 years; but the exact period cannot be calculated by modern astronomers unless we know the mean annual recession of the equinoxes as referred to the apsides.

The two equinoctial epochs of each year are highly important in Occultism, as they indicate conditions favorable to certain operations, initiations, and ceremonies. These times were the ones often chosen as being favored for the celebration of the ancient Mysteries and the initiation of candidates; although it may as well be said here that the two solstices, falling respectively in December and June, are equally important in their way and for the same reasons; but the teaching concerning these matters is not such as can be unveiled in a published work.

NÂGA

(Sanskrit) A word meaning "serpent." The serpent has ever been used in the symbolology of Occultism as the symbol of Immortality and Wisdom, of renewed births, of secret Knowledge and, when the tail is held in the mouth, as a symbol of Eternity. The Nagas or "Serpents of Wisdom" are, therefore, full Initiates. "In the Secret Doctrine, the first Nagas — beings wiser than Serpents — are the "Sons of Will and Yoga," born before the complete separation of the sexes, "matured in the man-bearing eggs produced by the power (Kriyasakti) of the holy sages" of the early Third Race." (S. D. II, 181) These First Nâgas were the human Adept-originals, who were, later, symbolized by the terms "serpents" and "dragons." "These "originals" — called to this day in China "the Dragons of Wisdom" — were the first disciples of the Dhyanis, who were their instructors; in short, the primitive adepts of the Third Race, and later, of the Fourth and Fifth Races. The name became universal, and no sane man before the Christian era would ever have confounded the man and the symbol." (S. D. II, 210)

The early Mexican word Nagual, now meaning sorcerer and medicine-man, is akin in its meaning to the Sanskrit word Nâga; for "Some of the descendants of the primitive Nagas, the Serpents of Wisdom, peopled America, when its continent arose during the palmy days of the great Atlantis, (America being the Pâtâla or Antipodes of Jambu-Dwipa, not of Bharata-Varsha)." (S. D. II, 182) The Hebrew equivalent of Nâga is Nâhhâsh also meaning "magic," "enchantment'; thus showing the same connexion of ideas.

One of the Masters, in a letter to A. P. Sinnett, also uses the word Nâga as being equivalent to the Ananta-śesha, the seven-headed endless serpent of Vishnu, and speaks of it as "the great dragon eternity biting with its active head its passive tail, from the emanations of which spring worlds, beings and things. . . . Now think: the Nag awakes. He heaves a heavy breath and the latter is sent like an electric shock all along the wire encircling Space." (The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, p. 73)

SARPA

(Sanskrit) "Serpent." The serpent has ever been used in symbological Occultism as signifying Wisdom, Immortality, therefore renewed birth, and secret knowledge. Hence Sarpa is a mystical term applied to an initiate. (See Nâga, another Sanskrit word of similar meaning and of identic application.)

"There is a notable difference esoterically between the words Sarpa and Naga, though they are both used indiscriminately. Sarpa (serpent) is from the root Srip, serpo — to creep; and they are called "Ahi," from Ha, to abandon. "The sarpa was produced from Brahma's hair, which, owing to his fright at beholding the Yakshas, whom he had created horrible to behold, fell off from the head, each hair becoming a serpent. They are called Sarpa from their creeping, and A hi because they had deserted the head" (Wilson). But the Nagas, their serpent's tail notwithstanding, do not creep, but manage to walk, run and fight in the allegories." (S. D. II, 181-2)

The difference between these two Sanskrit terms Sarpa and Naga may be briefly set forth in the following observations: Sarpa was the original Sanskrit term signifying a snake or serpent; whereas Naga, although possibly originally likewise signifying a snake or serpent — which it does consistently throughout the range of Sanskrit literature — nevertheless early became identified in mystical thought with initiates because of their power of casting off human physical body after human physical body almost at will. Both terms therefore signify serpent or snake: the wriggling reptile was well known, and both later were used almost indiscriminately likewise to signify initiates. Nevertheless, because of habit or use, Naga is the more common term for a full initiate, Sarpa in this sense being of less frequent usage.

The point is that Sarpa is from the verbal root srip meaning "to wriggle," "to creep," "to crawl" — a meaning which it has not lost in any period of Sanskrit literature. Now initiates do not wriggle or creep or crawl. Hence Nâga is the better word for an initiate, despite the fact that through ignorance Sarpa has frequently been employed as the synonym of Naga.

Besides the facts given above, it must be remembered that just as the forces of Nature are in themselves neutral, and become "good" or "bad" as they are used by individuals, similarly so is a symbol usable in a good sense or a bad sense. This is shown in the use of these two Sanskrit words Nâgas and Sarpas. The Brothers of Light are properly called Nâgas, and the Brothers of Darkness are more properly called Sarpas, from the verbal root srip, meaning "to wriggle," hence to insinuate, to creep in by stealth and deceive. Both the Brothers of Light and the Brothers of Darkness are focuses of power, of subtilty, of wisdom, and of knowledge; in the one case rightly and nobly applied, and in the other case wrongly applied. The former are the Nâgas, the Serpents of Light: subtil, wise, and with power to cast off the garment or vehicle when the body has grown old and to assume another at will. The others, the latter, are more strictly the Sarpas, the Serpents of Darkness, insinuating, worldly wise, selfishly shrewd, deceitful, venomous, and dangerous; and yet possessing the same powers, but in less degree, and using them wrongly, thus deceiving human hearts and succeeding in their work often by lies and misrepresentations. Nevertheless, precisely because the two words Nâgas and Sarpas are used almost indiscriminately, the student should be careful to remember this fact when, in reading, either of these two words falls under his eye. Either may apply both to the Servants of Light or to the Servants of Darkness.


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