The Theosophical Forum — August 1943


This is the twelfth of a series of radio talks on Theosophical subjects, given over station XQHB, Shanghai, China, during 1941 by Miss Elsa-Brita Bergqvist and Miss Inga Sjostedt. In this article Miss Sjostedt explains the theosophical doctrine of Hierarchies: of how the different units in Nature are composed of smaller units and form the parts of larger units in infinite extension through universal being.

Good evening, everybody:

One of the most important and interesting of the Theosophical teachings is that of hierarchies. If we look up the word "hierarchy" in a dictionary, it gives us this, among many explanations: "organization in grades or orders." We wrongly associate the word only with ecclesiastical government in ascending grades of superiority, with the highest representative of a church as the Hierarch or supreme head. This is a limited conception. Man-made laws and organizations are, at best, an imperfect copy of nature, and the occult student knows that the universe itself is built up of hierarchies in an endless succession, reaching from the lowest and most minute to the highest and most spiritual.

The speaker last Sunday gave us a clear picture of one type of hierarchy: Man himself. A man is made up of different centers of consciousness, for instance the physical, the instinctual, the emotional, the mental, and the spiritual or devotional. All these together constitute a hierarchy, a collection of inferior and superior forces and impulses. The Hierarch is the inner god, the divine entity which emanates all the lower portions of man's psychological and physical nature.

On the earth we see the different kingdoms built up in hierarchies. There is the world of the elements, the mineral kingdom, the vegetable kingdom, the animal kingdom, the human kingdom, and a vast aggregate of super-human, spiritual and divine entities above us. The first thought that strikes us is that all these different forms of life are dependent on one another, and that no entity, however insignificant, can live by itself and for itself alone. Human beings depend on each other in every way, and the least progressed look up to and learn from the more advanced and civilized. In a cultured nation the average man looks up to and is ruled by the great men, the geniuses, the leaders in religion, government and science.

Among the Oriental peoples special reverence has always been shown for old people, because they had seen life and could instruct the young; and also for teachers. They were considered the heads of their respective hierarchies, the school or the home. In the world today, as in the days when Man first became a self-conscious, responsible being, we have a still more inspiring summit of the human hierarchy — the White Lodge or the Masters of Wisdom and Compassion. In the quiet places of the world, in the deserts and secluded mountains, live these wonderful men who have overcome the pull of the lower human nature and who live in the pure regions of their spiritual selves — just as most of us live in our lower mental and instinctual natures. From time to time a Messenger is sent out into the world from this White Brotherhood of Adepts and Initiates, and these Messengers remain great and unforgettable figures in the pages of history — as did Jesus, Gautama the Buddha. Except for these few grand Messengers, the Masters live in seclusion, away from the prying eyes of mediocre men, and only those who live for Truth and for mankind contact them, even today, and become their disciples. This White Lodge is the summit of our human hierarchy on earth, but it is only the beginning of a still greater hierarchy which reaches from the earth and its concerns to the spiritual regions of divine beings, or gods. These spiritual beings who in past ages had been men and who have now advanced beyond our form of life counsel and inspire the Buddhas and Christs among men. They are the "powers," "thrones," and "principalities" of the Jewish scriptures, the "seraphim" and "cherubim," and so on. The Hindus call these semi-divine entities "devas'; the ancient Greeks and Romans called them gods. Throughout every religion we thus see an endless ladder of life, without beginning or end.

On a bigger scale we have the planetary hierarchies of the universe. Our planet, earth, is a member of the solar family, together with the other planets that form part of our particular solar system, and this solar system constitutes one hierarchy. Only a thorough materialist would deny the possibility of life on the other planets. The esoteric teaching is that every other planet in space contains its particular form of life, and that there are various humanities on different planets, but each living in bodies and using sense-organs appropriate to the conditions on those planets. Scientists have argued that our earth-humanity could not possibly live on the other planets because conditions of climate and atmosphere are quite different there; but this is a very short-sighted theory. Even on our earth there are different forms of life. For instance there are the inhabitants of the sea. We, human beings, could not live in water, nor could they live above water, but each lives in the surroundings and under the conditions which are suitable. Therefore, there are undoubtedly beings living on Saturn and Mars and the other planets which revolve about our sun, but they would not be able to live on our planet, nor we on theirs. The notion that God created the sun and moon and all the stars and planets in space just to give us something pretty to look at in the darkness of night is, incredibly enough, still held by many educated people, but such narrow-minded conceit is fortunately disappearing, and even Science is nowadays speculating about the possibilities of life on other planets.

We have, then, the solar or planetary hierarchy of our solar system, the Hierarch or summit being the central sun. However, there are innumerable suns scattered throughout space, and therefore, there are many such hierarchies. These together form the greater hierarchy of the Galaxy, or all that is encompassed by the Milky Way, and, of course, there are countless such galaxies in the Cosmos, galaxies that we are not even aware of because they are so immense and so distant. The mind reels at the thought of anything even greater than a galaxy, but no doubt there is a super-galaxy which embraces our own together with many others.

 It is always easier to picture the immense if we compare it with the minute. Take our own body. That is also a hierarchy, for it is builded of infinitesimal entities, cells and atoms, and the atoms are made up of protons and electrons — just like miniature solar systems, for the electrons of an atom rotate around the central proton, or sun, just as our planets do around the sun. If we can imagine a tiny creature living on an electron and compare it to a man living on the earth, we realize at once how vast our physical body must seem to such a creature. A cell, which is composed of atoms, is probably a galaxy in miniature to such an entity, and we can imagine how many cells there are in a human body! The human personality is, in this case, the Hierarch of the bodily cosmos, the super-god, and just as we are unaware of the separate functions of all our bodily atoms, so the super-divinity which rules our galactic universe cannot be aware of the separate personal needs of men. Yet the Divine energy permeates the universe, unconsciously filling it with its essence, exactly as the human personality unconsciously permeates the entire physical body during the life of a man. We can always, in some degree, understand the great by analogy, for the small is a copy of the great. A famous Hermetic saying is: "As above, so below; as below, so above" — meaning that the great is always reflected in the small. Perhaps this will make clear the Theosophical belief in an impersonal Divinity and the rejection of a personal god. When God is made in man's image, he is no longer God, because he is limited. If he is a Person, he cannot be Infinite, eternal, and truly Divine. The gods of the ancients, even the highest of them, were never meant to portray the ultimate, eternal Spirit from which sprang life in all its manifold forms. The gods of mythology are merely the various forces and intelligences of Nature, the Builders of the physical universe, the spiritual entities controlling the movement of the suns and planets; they are beings that are higher, more evolved than Man.

Such is the picture presented by the Theosophical teaching of hierarchies. From atom to man; from man to the planets; from the planets to the pervading Spirit which men call God, and which is impersonal, formless, and incomprehensible, but which, nevertheless, is the center of all living things. All the forms of life are interblended, linked to each other, and all the energies and habits of the different hierarchies make up the so-called laws of nature. By understanding this teaching it becomes evident that there can be no limits to our advancement, for we climb from one hierarchy to the one above it, and when we reach the summit of that one, find that it is but the beginning of a still higher one. There never was and never will be any beginning or end to advancement and evolution, because the main attribute of Life is constant, never-ending motion.

The Theosophical Forum