The Theosophical Forum – July 1940

THE USE WE GIVE TO WORDS — P. A. Malpas

The very earliest church was in fact a secret society, as were its successors. Following the methods of such societies, they used words with two meanings, or even more than two. If the secrets were betrayed, then the public were little wiser than before. If the entered apprentice (idiot was the technical Greek term, the ignorant one, shall we say) thought he knew enough to betray the ritual to outsiders (technically "pro-fanes," those outside the temple), he was likely to find that he really knew nothing and that the secrets given him were mere blinds. The mystic teachers were not fools.

For instance, one of the passwords of the lodges or churches was Amen, with the almost childlike explanation that it means "So be it." This translation means very little indeed, but there are other explanations. Another password was Maranatha — "the Lord cometh," or "the Lord is come." Apprentices, companions and doubtless many a "master," thought this meant that some physical Jesus was coming at any moment to turn the world into a sort of glorified court-house with themselves as lawyers and judges. That was one of the symbolisms used in certain lodges. Some, we are told, even went so far as to sell their houses and camp in the streets in anticipation of the coming. Pious English people have done something very near that within our lifetime. These good people had simply no idea of what the word meant in its mystical meaning or meanings, and the outside profanes simply thought they were mad.

The Old Testament and the New, and for that matter many another mystical treatise or ritual-script, are full of words which have technical or disguised meanings.

Jesus says, "Suffer the little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven." Many good-hearted souls have taken this saying in the ordinary literal sense, and if they have acted up to it, they will have their reward. It is good. But "little children" in the technical lodge language simply means "initiates," like the Brahmin "twice-born," or even the word "chela," unimaginatively translated by some, "a brat." And of course the "kingdom of heaven" is made up of initiates — and not of lawyers and judges judging all the other inhabitants of the globe who do not happen to belong to one particular sect.

We have said that "faith" as translated in the Gospels is not faith at all in the dictionary sense. Learned professors and rabbins might discuss the word for ages, but in that way they would never know more about it than a plow-boy who actually possesses a grain of it freed from intellectualism.

A very interesting code-word is that of the "city." H. P. Blavatsky in her Secret Doctrine (1) with her usual modesty, is delighted to find that one of the most learned Masons in Europe has explained that this is a mystery word for a religion, or an esoteric worship or mysteries. A city temple is an occult system, but the words can be varied as required. If she had said it first — what arguments! But as Ragon said it — who shall discuss?

The "Father" has more meanings than one, and a distinctly technical meaning in the lodge or church.

The Gospels are full of double meanings, even puns, especially John. The very word "Evangelium" has been suspected by one of the most learned mystics in Europe to have a rather surprising secret meaning.

The delicate play on words in the simile of asking bread and being given a stone is very ingenious. Jesus is born in Bethlehem, the "House of Bread." That is, he is the type of the central figure in the Bread-mysteries, and "our daily bread" is one of the most sacred prayers in the ritual, although in some gospels it is asked in a rather different formula, such as, "give us this day our future bread." Opposed to this is the unwelcome substitute — a stone. And one of the Greek words for stone is "Peter." As a Hebrew word Peter is something else, but that is not mentioned in the Gospels. Some rather surprising sayings or doings of Jesus are really not what they seem to mean, the mistake being due to our scholars" ignorance of the mystic meaning of words.

The sea, the mountain, the heavens, wine (fancy a mystic drinking alcohol!), fishes, fishermen, the cross, the crown of acacia, the temple, the pearl, marriage, the garments — all these and many, many other words are technical terms of various mysteries. Their everyday meaning is often beautiful, and there is no harm in following that meaning, if good. But it is folly to say that the meaning we choose to give them, or the mere dictionary meaning, is the only one, or even the real one.

Paul is simply the Latin word for "the little one," the little child in the mystical sense. His real name was quite different. He was an initiate — a "little one" in that sense.

A small dictionary could be written of such words, but cui bono — to what purpose? What is wanted is not so much the technical meaning of words, but a knowledge of what they stand for. We have spoken of new methods of test and proof and research. Has it never occurred to any of the thousands of theological dogmatists that there is indeed such an infallible method to settle all their arguments? Let a man or a child tread the path of discipleship ever so lightly and he will be beyond the dead-letter of all the dictionaries ever published. He will know.

Someday in the distant future we may picture to ourselves the world full of "people who know" — gnostics — who may or may not know the words, but the thing they will know, because they have been through it by experience. Then will the world again be of "one lip" and the Tower of Babel, the Mouth of God, will be the temple of all humanity.

FOOTNOTE:
1. Volume II, page 796, original edition. (return to text)


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