Copyright © 1999 by Theosophical University Press. All rights reserved.
1. Founding of the Brotherhood
2. The First Mystery Schools
3. The Raison d'etre of the Mysteries
4. The Pattern of Esotericism
5. Dual Character of the Mysteries
6. Degrees of Initiation
Millions upon millions of years ago in the darkness of prehistory, humanity was an infant, a child of Mother Nature, unawakened, dreamlike, wrapped in the cloak of mental somnolence. Recognition of egoity slept; instinctual consciousness alone was active. Like a stream of brilliance across the horizon of time, divine beings, manasaputras, sons of mind, descended among the sleeping humans, and with the flame of intellectual solar fire lighted the wick of latent mind, and lo! the thinker stirred. Self-consciousness wakened, and man became a dynamo of intellectual and emotional power: capable of love, of hate, of glory, of defeat. Having knowledge, he acquired power; acquiring power, he chose; choosing, he fashioned the fabric of his future; and the perception of this ran like wine through his veins.
Knowledge, more knowledge, and still greater knowledge was required by the maturing humans who looked with gratitude to the godlike beings who had come to awaken them. For many millennia they followed their guidance, as children lovingly follow the footsteps of their mother.
As the ages rolled by, a circulation of divine instructors succeeded these primeval manasaputras and personally supervised the progress of child-humanity: they initiated them in the arts and sciences, taught them to sow their fields with corn and wheat, instructed them in the ways of clean and moral living — in short, established primeval schools of training and instruction open and free to all to learn of things material, intellectual, and spiritual. At this early period there were no Mystery colleges: the ancient wisdom was the common heirloom of all mankind, for as yet there had been no abuse of knowledge, and hence no need for schools kept hid and sacred from the world. Truth was freely given and as freely accepted in that golden age. (Cf. H. P. Blavatsky Collected Writings 14:248-9.)
The race was young; not all were adept in learning. Some through past experience in former world periods learned quickly and with ease, choosing intuitively the path of spiritual intellection; others, less awake, were good though wayward in progress; while a third class of humans, drugged with inertia, found learning and aspiring a burden and became laggards in the evolutionary procession. To them, spiritual apathy was preferable to spiritual exertion.
Mankind as a whole progressed rapidly in the acquisition of knowledge and its subsequent use. Some obviously wrought evil — others good. What had been latent spirituality now became active good and active evil. Suffering and pain became nature's most merciful method of restoring the heart to its primeval instinct, that of spiritual choice. As mind developed keener potentialities and the struggle for mental supremacy overcame the spiritual, the gift of intellect became a double-edged weapon: on the one hand, the bringer of spiritual awareness and undreamed of intellectual ecstasy; and on the other, the wielder of a weapon of destruction, of horror and, in the worst cases, of deliberate spiritual wickedness — diabolism. As H. P. Blavatsky wrote:
The mysteries of Heaven and Earth, revealed to the Third Race by their celestial teachers in the days of their purity, became a great focus of light, the rays from which became necessarily weakened as they were diffused and shed upon an uncongenial, because too material soil. With the masses they degenerated into Sorcery, taking later on the shape of exoteric religions, of idolatry full of superstitions, . . . — The Secret Doctrine 2:281
Nature is cyclical throughout: at one time fertile in spiritual things, at another barren. At this long-ago period of the third root-race, on the great continent of Lemuria, now submerged, the cycle was against spiritual progress. A great downward sweep was in force, when expansion of physical and material energies were accelerated with the consequent retardation and contraction of spiritual power. The humanities of that period were part of the general evolutionary current, and individuals reacted to the coarsening atmosphere according to their nature. Some resisted its down- ward influence through awakened spirituality; others, weaker in understanding, vacillated between spirit and matter, between good and evil: sometimes listening to the promptings of intuition, at other times submerged by the rushing waves of the downward current. Still others, in whom the spark of intellectual splendor burned low, plunged headlong downstream, unmindful of the turbulent and muddy waters.
As the downward cycle proceeded, knowledge of spiritual verities and living of the life in accordance with them became a dull and useless tool in human hearts and minds. Such folly was inevitable in the course of cosmic events, and all things were provided for. Just as there are many types of people — some spiritual, others material, some highly intelligent, others slow of thought — so are there various grades of beings throughout the universe, ranging from the mineral, through the vegetable, animal, and human kingdom, and beyond to the head and hierarch of our earth.
During these first millennia the spiritual head and guardian of the earth had been stimulating wherever possible the individual fires of active spirituality. Gradually as knowledge of divine things became abused by those strong in will but weak in morality, truth was increasingly veiled. The planetary watcher now felt the need of selecting a band of co-workers to act as bodyguard and protector of the ancient wisdom. Alone a handful of spiritually illumined human beings, in whom the divine fervor burned bright, acknowledged wholehearted allegiance to their planetary mentor — the spiritual hierarch of humanity. Through long ages certain individuals had been watched over and guided, strengthened and tested in innumerable ways, and those who passed the test of self-knowledge and self-sacrifice were gathered together to form the first association of spiritual-divine human beings — the Great Brotherhood. As G. de Purucker elaborates:
Then was formed or established or set in operation the gathering together of the very highest representatives, spiritually and intellectually speaking, that the human race as yet had given manifestation to; . . .
. . . the Silent Watcher of the Globe, through the spiritual-magnetic attraction of like to like, was enabled to attract to the Path of Light, even from the earliest times of the Third Root-Race, certain unusual human individuals, early forerunners of the general Manasaputric "descent," and thus to form with these individuals a Focus of Spiritual and Intellectual Light on Earth, this fact signifying not so much an association or society or brotherhood as a unity of human spiritual and intellectual Flames, so to speak, which then represented on Earth the heart of the Hierarchy of Compassion. . . .
Now it was just this original focus of Living Flames, which never degenerated nor lost its high status of the mystic center on Earth through which poured the supernal glory of the Hierarchy of Compassion, today represented by the Great Brotherhood of the Mahatmans, . . . Thus it is that the Great Brotherhood traces an unbroken and uninterrupted ancestry back to the original focus of Light of the Third Root-Race. — The Esoteric Tradition 2:1048-9n
Hence the elder brothers of the race remain "the elect custodians of the Mysteries revealed to mankind by the divine Teachers . . . and tradition whispers, what the secret teachings affirm, namely, that these Elect were the germ of a Hierarchy which never died since that period" (Secret Doctrine 2:281) — since the foundation and establishment of the Great Brotherhood some 12 million years ago. From this center for millions of years have been streaming in continuous procession rays of light and strength into the world at large and, more specifically, into the hearts of those whose lives are dedicated to the service of truth. From this Fraternity have gone forth messengers, masters of wisdom, to inspire the grand religions of the past, and they will continue to send forth their envoys as long as mankind requires their care.
Time marched on and the race waxed lusty in power. As Lemuria gave birth to Atlantis, the third root-race to the fourth, the fiercest battle was waged: the war between the lords of light and truth and the lords of darkness and ignorance.
Moral strength is not guaranteed by awakening intellect nor by the possession of psychic and physical power. The Atlanteans at their acme of development were a civilization of vigorous intellect motivated by psychophysical force, unreined in the main by moral stamina. Magic, which had been a natural gift of the Lemurians, in the hands of these giants became matter-magic, psychical magic, and the race plunged into an orgy of sorcery, the effects of which we are experiencing even today in outbursts of hate and madness.
Not all the Atlanteans, however, were overpowered by their own strength; not by any means. Nevertheless, a great portion of them became sorcerers of evil and perished in their tracks. Others, in whom the light of spirituality was "seen as through a glass darkly," became unhappy victims of the nefarious waves of unmoral power that swept over the continental system of Atlantis; in their confusion they wandered hither and yon, following false gods, unworthy guidance. A few — probably several millions, but few in proportion to the enormous population of the Atlantean continents — remained strong and clean throughout, morally illumined through contact with spirit. These became the chosen disciples of the Brotherhood, the stimulators of virtue and discipline in the land.
Until then there had been no call for Mysteries, truth having been the common property of mankind. With the increase of egoity,
selfishness was born out of desires and passions hitherto unknown, and but too often knowledge and power were abused, until finally it became necessary to limit the number of those who knew. Thus arose Initiation. — "The Origin of the Mysteries," Blavatsky Collected Writings 14:249
To insure the continuity of the race, something had to be done. Matters had come to such a pass that the only recourse was to establish a spiritual center in each national unit which would serve as a safeguard for the truths imparted there and as a secret training center where genuine seekers could be disciplined and instructed and, if found worthy, could learn truth firsthand — i.e., through initiation.
The Brotherhood, therefore, which had already established invisible lines of esoteric instruction even in late Lemurian times, in which those sensitive enough could be trained, purified, and made strong for the reception of truth and its safeguarding, now launched a systematic campaign. Disciples, messengers, went forth and inaugurated esoteric colleges, universities of the soul, special training centers for the select purpose of gathering into them the choicest men and women for discipline and instruction in the mysteries of nature.
Thus were established some four or five million years ago, when Atlantis was threatening to destroy itself through spiritual iniquity, the first Mystery schools. From these early centers sprang other Mystery schools in all parts of the Atlantean world. By the time the Atlanteans were in their heyday of material splendor, these schools were working their hardest to stem the increasing tide of sorcery. Many — millions probably — were saved through the establishment of the Mysteries. The more awakened of the race intuitively sought training there, while the great bulk of humanity, though unable to partake of the sacred rites of initiation on account of insufficient interior development, nevertheless were helped by the indirect radiation of spiritual force.
There were those, however, who had tasted of evil and found it to their liking, and whose hardening hearts led them to receive instruction in evil discipline. Simultaneously, therefore, with the establishment of spiritual centers of light and truth, schools of evil were founded whose pledged votaries became in time the left-hand adepts. The lords of light and truth united in a calm invincible force to
resist the terrible and ever-growing iniquities of the left-hand Adepts, the Atlanteans. This led to the foundation of still more Secret Schools, temples of learning, and of Mysteries inaccessible to all except after the most terrible trials and probations. . . .
. . . The Mysteries were imparted to the elect of that Race when the average Atlantean had begun to fall too deeply into sin to be trusted with the secrets of Nature. — Ibid. 14:251, 246
There now occurred the most dramatic moment — a moment millions of years long — in the whole history of this round: the turning point of the cycle from matter to spirit. At the middle of the fourth root-race in this fourth round the Atlanteans saw spirit and matter equilibrated: which way would the scales turn? Towards light and spirit, and the eventual liberation of mankind? Towards darkness and matter, and the enslavement of humanity? A great tremor shook the earth: would innate spirituality prove stronger than the weight of acquired materiality? Would mankind ascend the luminous arc or fall headlong into the pit of matter on the descending shadowy arc? Of the billions of human beings whose hearts must be weighed against the feather of spirit, each one had to pass the fateful test alone: failure, and be swept downwards into still greater materiality, unable to rise with spirit during the present great world cycle; success, and the rise upwards in the general current of evolutionary progress until self-conscious oneness with divinity may again be reclaimed.
The moment of a million years or so passed. Fortunately for the human race, due in large part to the efforts of the Mystery schools, the majority retained sufficient awareness of divinity to balance the scales in their favor. An unconscious choice for millions, but nevertheless a choice made by the better part of their natures — by what slender majority perhaps we shall never know.
Cataclysm after cataclysm occurred, and the leaden slag of the fourth race sank to its doom, deluged by the waters of heaven and earth as they flooded the lands according to karmic law. Along with the sinking of Atlantis, which extended over several million years, new lands had been rising in other parts of the globe, and these became peopled as time went by with certain of the Atlanteans who settled there in two or three great migratory waves (see G. de Purucker, Studies in Occult Philosophy, pp. 16-25).
Thus the fourth root-race gave birth to the fifth whose cradleland was the Desert of Shamo or Gobi and surrounding tablelands — a country whose present sandy wastes give no hint of lands once rich with verdure, where forests and lakes witnessed a succession of civilizations as grand as any the world has ever known. Here for many millions of years, while Atlantis was involved in her death struggle, seeds of the new race were being sown in virgin soil.
Nature is beneficent in her workings. While the consequences of her human children must be met and faced by them through the working of karma and cyclic reimbodiment, yet at each new racial birth she casts her seed in freshly-turned soil, so that the child-race may be conceived in purity and nurtured in spirituality. Peopled thus with egos who had remained clean and strong through the Atlantean upheavals, and helped once again by the reentrance into their midst of semi-divine beings, the new race became a focus of spiritual light. As the Master KH wrote:
the highest Planetary Spirits, those, who can no longer err . . . appear on Earth but at the origin of every new human kind; at the junction of, and close of the two ends of the great cycle. And, they remain with man no longer than the time required for the eternal truths they teach to impress themselves so forcibly upon the plastic minds of the new races as to warrant them from being lost or entirely forgotten in ages hereafter, by the forthcoming generations. The mission of the planetary Spirit is but to strike the KEY NOTE OF TRUTH. — The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, Letter IX, pp. 40-1
Simultaneously with the establishment of the Mystery schools in Atlantis some four or five million years ago, the fifth or Aryan race was slowly coming into being, immensely aided by egos of spiritual refinement attracted there by ties of divine kinship. Gradually the soil was prepared and, the work of striking the "Keynote of Truth" having been accomplished, the demigods retired to their superior spheres. One million years ago the new race was ushered into adult existence impressed with the knowledge of "eternal truths.''
As the centuries passed and civilization succeeded civilization, the love of truth once again became dimmed in human hearts and the ancient precepts fell into disuse. The Mysteries were withdrawn even further, so that the knowledge once universal became the prized guerdon bestowed by the great Brotherhood upon that choice minority whose lives were dedicated to truth and truth alone, unstained by weakness or selfish ambition. With enduring consistency the ongoing purpose of the Mysteries has remained threefold in character:
(1) the persistent spiritualization of the thought-life of humanity so that knowledge of things spiritual may penetrate into the heart, and life in time may become a benediction of peace instead of a tragedy of conflict;
(2) seeding grounds of adepts, nurseries for future recruits, who through trial and initiation may become fit to receive the supreme dignity of membership in the great Brotherhood; and
(3) the preservation of truth for future races unsullied by human hand; and the polishing of the knowledge of truth through investigation by trained seers of the secrets of nature in worlds visible and invisible.
The first of these aims is fulfilled by the periodic appearance of world teachers, the inspirers of what later became the great religious and philosophical schools: messengers from the Lodge who come forth at cyclic periods to strike anew the "Keynote of Truth." Hence every great religion, every noble philosophy, every fundamental scientific insight was born from the Sanctuary, to become a new religion, a new philosophy, a new science: fresh and new for the age and the people, but ancient beyond time because nurtured in the womb of esoteric antiquity.
All that is good, noble, and grand in human nature, every divine faculty and aspiration, were cultured by the Priest-Philosophers who sought to develop them in their Initiates. Their code of ethics, based on altruism, has become universal. — "The Origin of the Mysteries," Blavatsky Collected Writings 14:256
The second of these aims is ages-long in accomplishment and deeply occult: to rouse the hidden fire of divinity in the human soul, and through the kindling of that flame burn the dross of imperfection, sloth, and unworthy desire from the heart. One of the impelling aims of such discipline is to restore to humanity inner sight, to free people "from every danger of being enslaved whether by a man or an idea" (Blavatsky Collected Writings 14:251; see also Mahatma Letters, pp. 40-1).
The disciple must become vajradhara ("diamond-bearer"), a title used for Bodhisattva Gautama, whose many-faceted heart was ever merciful in reflecting human sorrow, but whose spiritual essence was like a diamond, unyielding at its core to the subtle disguise of illusion (maya).
The third of these aims is made possible through the selection of new recruits into the Brotherhood, so that (a) truth may be preserved untarnished by human selfishness; and (b) investigation into the arcana of nature may go on unhindered, and the results of such examination by generations of trained seers be checked and rechecked, and only then recorded as occult fact for the benefit of humanity.
As far as the labor of the Masters is concerned, the following written by one of their number in 1881 speaks for itself:
If, for generations we have "shut out the world from the Knowledge of our Knowledge," it is on account of its absolute unfitness; and if, notwithstanding proofs given, it still refuses yielding to evidence, then will we at the End of this cycle retire into solitude and our kingdom of silence once more. . . . We have offered to exhume the primeval strata of man's being, his basic nature, and lay bare the wonderful complications of his inner Self — something never to be achieved by physiology or even psychology in its ultimate expression — and demonstrate it scientifically. It matters not to them, if the excavations be so deep, the rocks so rough and sharp, that in diving into that, to them, fathomless ocean, most of us perish in the dangerous exploration; for it is we who were the divers and the pioneers and the men of science have but to reap where we have sown. It is our mission to plunge and bring the pearls of Truth to the surface; theirs — to clean and set them into scientific jewels. And, if they refuse to touch the ill-shapen, oyster-shell, insisting that there is, nor cannot be any precious pearl inside it, then shall we once more wash our hands of any responsibility before human-kind. — Mahatma Letters, pp. 50-1
Unthanked, unknown, unconsidered, the Masters go on in their compassionate work for mankind's enlightenment, a work that has never ceased in its outpouring of spiritual vitality for many millions of years, to continue another such period if necessity demand, until such time as humanity stirs from its lethargy and once again wills to unite its heart with truth. Master KH continues:
For countless generations hath the adept builded a fane of imperishable rocks, a giant's Tower of INFINITE THOUGHT, wherein the Titan dwelt, and will yet, if need be, dwell alone, emerging from it but at the end of every cycle, to invite the elect of mankind to co-operate with him and help in his turn enlighten superstitious man. And we will go on in that periodical work of ours; we will not allow ourselves to be baffled in our philanthropic attempts until that day when the foundations of a new continent of thought are so firmly built that no amount of opposition and ignorant malice guided by the Brethren of the Shadow will be found to prevail. — p. 51
To the spiritual eagle eye of the seer and the prophet of every race, Ariadne's thread stretches beyond that "historic period" without break or flaw, surely and steadily, into the very night of time; and the hand which holds it is too mighty to drop it, or even let it break. — The Secret Doctrine 2:67
This thread of esotericism stretches further still into the dawntime of the human race, where "Truth, high-seated upon its rock of adamant, is alone eternal and supreme" (Isis Unveiled 1:v). Where is this truth, this loom of esoteric history, and what the pattern of its fabric? In the home of the Brotherhood stands this loom, whose warp is the ancient threads of initiation held in occult tension by the sacrifice of adepts, and whose woof is woven century by century as each national unit spins the luminous threads of esotericism in its Mystery centers.
Profane history reveals scarcely anything of consecutive value, except insofar as the relics of this mystic pageantry all point to an identic motif. To "have a consecutive and full history of our race from its incipient stage down to the present times," archaic records must needs be sought. By such alone could one trace even in faint outline the ancient pattern. Access to these, however, is the privilege of the adept alone, for such "knowledge is only for the highest Initiates, who do not take their students into their confidence" (Secret Doctrine 2:437-8). Nevertheless, we have received a priceless gift: the benefit of evidence gathered by those who have penetrated the veils of the adyta and have had the compassion to return and share with us a guarded portion of their vision. Study of their findings may at first reveal only a broken pattern, but if faithfully pursued such study will point with unmistakable clarity to one universal source of truth.
From Central Asia whose lands comprised a vast territory, including the Desert of Gobi or Shamo, the mountains of Tien Shan and Kuen Lun, the regions of Baluchistan, Afghanistan, Persia, and Turkestan, went forth bands of emigrants, in large part glowing with determination to conquer, to subdue, and many were the battles waged in those early days. A primal cause, yet unrecognized by the populace, was the urge of the Brotherhood aided by karma to carry the light of the Mysteries into other lands, to spread the ancient wisdom far and wide on the surface of the earth:
Not one people alone inhabited and built up these civilizations of Central Asia. They were recurrent waves of our present Fifth Root-Race. . . . each one of such civilizations being in its turn a cradle out of which grew children-colonies sent forth to carry light and initiation to what were then barbarous and uncultivated parts of the world, such as what is now Europe, what is now China, what is now Siberia, what is now India. — Studies in Occult Philosophy, pp. 23, 22
To Bharata-varsha or India went forth the Aryas or "worthy ones," a band of emigrants who founded a civilization and a culture as yet unrivaled in esoteric history, whose ramifications of spiritual influence extended to Egypt, Asia Minor, and Europe. Another band moved westward to Egypt, the "gift of the Nile" as Herodotus called it, and mixing with the aboriginal stock peopled its valleys. From this union sprang a princely civilization, the glory of which remains after thousands of centuries, the more so as the influence of its Mysteries spread far and wide as conquering nation after conquering nation became captive to the interior grandeur of Egypt. Persia, Babylonia, Judea and Crete, Greece and Rome, all trace their spiritual inspiration to the Egyptian and early Aryan cultures. Furthermore, so immense in esoteric power were these primeval civilizations, that
there are records which show Egyptian priests — Initiates — journeying in a North-Westerly direction, by land, via what became later the Straits of Gibraltar; turning North and travelling through the future Phoenician settlements of Southern Gaul; then still further North, until reaching Carnac (Morbihan) they turned to the West again and arrived, still travelling by land, on the North-Western promontory of the New Continent [the British Isles].
What was the object of their long journey? And how far back must we place the date of such visits? The archaic records show the Initiates of the Second Sub-race of the Aryan family moving from one land to the other for the purpose of supervising the building of menhirs and dolmens, of colossal Zodiacs in stone, and places of sepulchre to serve as receptacles for the ashes of generations to come. — Secret Doctrine 2:750
What was the mainspring of these civilizations but the Mystery-teachings — teachings which penetrated into the very thought-life of nations, perhaps unknown of source, unrecognized by the multitudes as esoteric? Nonetheless they constituted the inspiration of the artist in his search for divinity, the intuition of the poet in his yearning for truth, and the resounding harmony of the musician as he sought the music of the spheres. It is no idle phrase to say that all things of spiritual, intellectual, and artistic value were born root and seed from the Sanctuary.
What are the stone and papyrus of Egypt but witness to knowledge of ancient truths long forgotten? The scenes of the weighing of the heart against the feather of truth in the papyri of Pert Em Hru — "Coming forth into Day," commonly known as the Book of the Dead — portray in symbol and allegory what actually took place in the secret chambers of the initiation-pyramids. Living testimonial is the Great Pyramid of Khufu or Cheops, which H. P. Blavatsky hints more than once may go back at least 75,000 years BC, if not more (see Secret Doctrine 2:432, 750).
What of the Druids and their ancient ceremonies under oak and myrtle, with their stone monuments so oriented that the beams of the rising sun touched the brow of the candidate as he rose from his couch of initiation "clothed with the sun," literally aflame with solar glory? Whence the training of their candidates in three degrees, a training which demanded absolute moral purity, spiritual vigor, and profound understanding of truth?
What about Persia and its long line of Zoroasters, within whose mystic seven-chambered centers truths of great intellectual and spiritual value were taught to neophytes who underwent the traditional discipline of the Mysteries? Were the Magi born from any other source than the archaic mother of occultism? What of the Orphic Mysteries, whose austere discipline and esoteric content may have had a stronger impact on Greek culture than the Eleusinian Mysteries, so popular for centuries? Do not the teachings of Orpheus indicate an Eastern origin reminiscent of those from India's asramas or mystery-temples? Did not Pythagoras and Plato likewise travel India-wards and bring back to their disciples the identic pattern of esotericism?
Thus one might go on, with the Norse and Germanic mysticism, the Hindu and Chinese philosophies, the Greek and Roman ceremonial — all weavers of one pattern in one universal motif, a motif applicable to all times, to all nations, because capable of infinite variations. To grasp the inner purport of one Mystery school is to perceive the sacred identity of all of them — not in detail of cultural and ethnic interpretation, but in esoteric essentials.
What therefore is the test of truth? One basic requirement is universality: has it been taught by all those who have been "clothed with the central sun" of initiation? Did Buddha Gautama instruct his disciples in the selfsame doctrine that Christ Jesus did? Did Sankaracharya teach the same esotericism that Pythagoras and Empedocles did? Were Zoroaster and Tsong-kha-pa born in their adepthood from the same womb of the initiation chamber as Apollonius of Tyana, Orpheus, or Lao-Tz\bu? Have Persia and Greece, China and ancient America, Iceland, Wales, and Babylonia all received a message which, stripped of outer vestments, is one in essentials? Assuredly, it is so, for such patterns have been woven on one loom — the ageless loom of truth.
These Mystery schools are not a unique system but, based on the spiritual structure of the universe, they were
established from the same motives of compassion that presided over the acts of the great actors of the primal drama, the opening acts of our manvantara. They copied, as it were in miniature, what took place in those primordial times, and what took place in actual life in the Hierarchy of Compassion on our earth, or that section, rather, of the Hierarchy of Compassion which we call the Great White Lodge. — G. de Purucker, Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, 2nd ed., p. 322
One primeval humanity, many children-colonies; one Mystery teaching, many Mystery schools; one archaic pattern, many variations of color and texture as each nation contributes the woof of its national Mysteries. Three are the variants of motif as seen from the present:
(1) the original unveiling of truth to infant humanity by divine instructors working in consonance with the spiritual planetary of our earth who, through the early millennia, successfully gathered together the choice few into a center of esoteric light — the great Brotherhood;
(2) the secondary unveiling springing directly as the fruit of the first: the spiritualizing influences uninterruptedly sent forth by the Brotherhood, and more specifically energized at cyclic intervals by their disciples, the great world teachers; and
(3) the third unveiling born as the progeny of (1) and (2): the penetration of truth into human life through the Mystery schools, the centers of esoteric discipline, in whose inner chambers initiation of the "elect" alone takes place, but in whose outer courts the world-at-large may seek entrance to learn fundamental verities so that life may be ennobled and death accepted as naturally as is sleep. Thus is the pattern of esotericism woven century by century on the loom of truth.
The whole essence of truth cannot be transmitted from mouth to ear. Nor can any pen describe it, not even that of the recording Angel, unless man finds the answer in the sanctuary of his own heart, in the innermost depths of his divine intuitions. — The Secret Doctrine 2:516
How are those "innermost depths" to be sounded, so that knowledge of reality may be won? Through training, discipline, and self-born wisdom. Such training and soul-discipline is the distinguishing mark of the Mystery colleges, which since their inauguration have been divided into two parts: the exoteric form commonly known as the Lesser Mysteries, open to all sincere and honorable candidates for deeper learning; and the esoteric form, or the Greater Mysteries, whose doors open but to the few and whose initiation into adeptship is the reward of those whose interior nobility enables them to undergo the solar rite (see chapters 8 and 9).
Universal testimony of stone and papyrus, symbol and allegory, cave and crypt, tells of the twofold trial of neophytes. Jesus the Avatara spoke to the multitudes in parable, but "when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples" (Mark 4:34). The Essenes had their greater and minor Mysteries, in the former of which Jesus of Nazareth is believed to have been initiated.
The Chinese Buddhists hold to a well-loved tradition that Buddha Gautama had two doctrines: one for the people and his lay-disciples; the other for his arhats. His invariable principle was
to refuse no one admission into the ranks of candidates for Arhatship, but never to divulge the final mysteries except to those who had proved themselves, during long years of probation, to be worthy of Initiation. — "The Doctrine of Avataras," BCW 14:370
Intensity of purpose marks the Hebrew initiates in their shrouding of inner teaching. To the multitude they taught the Torah, the "Law," but to the few they taught its unwritten interpretation, the "Secret Wisdom" — hokhmah nistorah — "in 'darkness, in a deserted place, and after many and terrific trials.' . . . Delivered only as a mystery, it was communicated to the candidate orally, `face to face and mouth to ear.' '' The Persian and Chaldean Magi also were of two castes: "the initiated and those who were allowed to officiate in the popular rites only" (see Isis Unveiled 2:306n and The Kabbalah by Christian D. Ginsburg, p. 86).
Eleusis and Samothrace are limned in exquisite silhouette against the blue-black sky of history. Classical scholars tell us that the Lesser Mysteries were conducted in the springtime at Agrai near Athens, while the Greater Mysteries were celebrated in the autumn at Eleusis. In the Lesser Mysteries the candidates who experienced the first rites were called mystai (the closed of eye and mouth). In the Greater Mysteries the mystai became epoptai (the clear-seeing), who participated in the mysteries of the Divine Elysion — i.e., communion with the divine.
Similarly, the Hindu arhat, the Scandinavian skald, and the Welsh bard guarded the soul of esotericism with the sanctity of their lives and the discipline of their sacred tradition:
Belonging to every temple there were attached the "hierophants'' of the inner sanctuary, and the secular clergy who were not even instructed in the Mysteries. — Isis Unveiled 2:306n
Further, in all ancient countries "every great temple had its private or secret Mystery-School which was unknown to the multitude or partially known," and which was attached to it as a secret body. A Mystery school is not necessarily a school of people situated at some specific place, with definite and fixed locality throughout time, and with physical conditions of environment always alike. Wherever the need is great, work must be done; and the "mistake of all scholars and mystics is to put too much emphasis upon places as Mystery-Schools" (Studies in Occult Philosophy, pp. 635, 634).
What about the temples of Greece and Rome, of Syria and Judea; the cave-temples of Elephanta and Karli in India; the dagobas of Buddhist countries; the pyramids of Egypt and Peru, Mexico and Yucatan? What of Stonehenge in England; Carnac in Brittany; Sippara in Assyria; Babylon, Borsippa and Erech in Babylonia; Ecbatana in Media; Bibracte in Gaul; and last but not least, Iona in Scotland whose secret learning was as a jewel of wisdom set in the heart of the northern land? Where are they now? Mere names, relics, remnants of forgotten splendor — or so it would appear.
A Mystery school is not dependent on location; rather it is an association or brotherhood of spiritually disciplined individuals bound by one common purpose, service to humanity, a service intelligently and compassionately rendered because born of love and wisdom. It is a fact, nevertheless, that certain centers appear to be more favorable to success in spiritual things than others. Why, for instance, were the ancient seats of the Mysteries almost invariably in rock-temple or subterranean cave, in forest or mountain pass, in pyramid chamber or temple crypt? Because the currents of the astral light become quieter, more peaceful, cleaner, the farther removed from the madding crowd. Rarely will one find a seat of esoteric training near a large metropolis, for such are "swirling whirlpools . . . ganglia, nerve-centers, in the lower regions of the Astral Light" (Esoteric Tradition 2:1026).
Hence the locations of the Greater Mysteries were usually carefully chosen and their schools
were those which paid no attention to buildings of any kind, mainly for the reason that buildings would at once attract attention and draw public notice, which is the very thing that these more secret, more esoteric Schools tried to avoid. Thus sometimes, when the temples were mere seats of exoteric ritual, the Mystery-Schools were held apart in secret, conducting their gatherings, meetings, initiations, initiatory rites, usually in caves carefully prepared and hid from common knowledge, occasionally even under the open sky as the Druids did among the oaks in their semi-primeval forests in Britain and in Brittany; and even in a few cases having no permanent or set location; but the Initiates receiving word where to meet from time to time, and to carry on their initiatory functions. — Studies in Occult Philosophy, p. 635
It is the places of quiet, of peace, of strong silence, where the Adepts find themselves drawn, and where the secret or Greater Mysteries can most effectively function. There in the recesses of their initiation chambers the forces and currents are those of the higher astral light, the akasa, the tenuous substance which responds to the higher currents of spirit and intellect. In this way does the Brotherhood transmit its potent spiritual vitality to the initiation halls, and the candidate whose seven-rayed soul is attuned may receive the divine imprint.
Every country has its own methods of preserving the knowledge and tradition of the Mysteries. The degrees are variously reckoned, sometimes four, five, seven, or even ten; but whatever the divisions, during the days of their purity they all honored the one divine purpose of consummating the spiritual marriage of the higher self with the awakened human soul, from which union springs the seer, the adept, the master of life. Through the ravages of time and priestcraft, and the tangle of intrigue and ignorance in which exoteric rites are enmeshed, one perceives the venerable tradition.
In Asia Minor, Theon of Smyrna writes of five degrees in the initiatory cycle: (1) "the preliminary purification," because taking part in the Mysteries "must not be indiscriminately given to all who desire it"; (2) "the tradition of sacred things" which constitutes the "initiation proper"; (3) the "epoptic revelation," where the candidate may experience direct intuition of truth; (4) "the binding of the head and placement of the crown" — a clear reference to the mystical authority received with the crown of initiation to pass on the sacred tradition to others; and, finally, (5) "friendship and interior communion" with divinity — this was considered the highest and most solemn mystery of all, the complete assimilation of the enlightened mind with the divine self (see Theon of Smyrna, Mathematics Useful for Understanding Plato, pp. 8-9; also Isis Unveiled 1:XIV-XV, 2:101).
In Persia during the time of Mithraism, when the sun god was honored above earthly things, seven were the degrees, the candidate receiving a name relevant to each stage of interior growth. Using the Graeco-Latin names that have come down to us, the first-degree neophyte was called Corax, "raven" — the dark bird, one in whom the light of wisdom had not yet awakened in great measure. It signified likewise a servant: one who gives of his heart totally before receiving admission into the second degree which was termed Cryphius, "occult": one accepted as a disciple of esoteric lore; the third was Miles, "soldier," one who had received sufficient training and purification to become a worker for good. The fourth — Leo, "lion," emblem of solar power — has reference to the fourth initiation in which the candidate begins the conscious solarizing of the nature through instruction and specialized training (see chapters 7 and 8). The fifth degree was known as Perses, "Persian," signifying to the Persians of the time one who was becoming spiritually human — manasaputrized, that is, mind-born. The sixth, Heliodromus, "messenger or runner of Helios (the sun)" is a reference to Mercury or Budha, as messenger between the sun in the cosmos and the sun in man: the bloom of buddhi. The final and seventh was called Pater, "father," the state of a Full Initiate (see The Ancient Mysteries, A Sourcebook, Marvin W. Meyer, editor, pp. 200-1; also Esoteric Tradition 2:864).
The Hindus likewise had various names for their disciples as they passed from one degree to another. For instance, in one school the candidates received the names of the ten avataras of Vishnu. The first degree neophyte was termed Matsya, "fish": one yet low in the scale of spiritual mastery. The second was Kurma, "tortoise": one step higher in evolutionary development. The third degree was called Varaha, "boar," a further advance in individualization, while the fourth was termed Nara-simha, "man-lion." This fourth stage marks the turning point between the preliminary degrees of the Lesser Mysteries and the advanced degrees of the Greater Mysteries. This title of man-lion points to the choice demanded of the aspirant between dominance of animal soul qualities and the supremacy henceforth of the truly human attributes. Success in the fourth degree insured the entrance into the fifth called Vamana, "dwarf," in which the candidate assumed the robes of occult humanhood, though such humanhood was as yet infantile compared to full mastery. Parasu-Rama, "Rama with an axe," name of the sixth-degree neophyte, suggests one capable of hewing his way with equanimity through the worlds of both spirit and matter. In the seventh degree the disciple becomes fully humanized, receiving the name of Rama, hero of the Ramayana, an important epic of Hindustan.
The last three degrees, the eighth, ninth, and tenth, are called respectively: Krishna, the avatara whose death ushered in the Kali yuga some 5,000 years ago; Buddha, whose renunciation of nirvana brought light and peace to a sorrowing world; and the final and tenth, Kalkin or Kalki, the "white-horse" avatara who is yet to come. As noted in the Vishnu Purana (Bk IV, ch. xxiv), he is destined to appear at the end of the Kali or Iron Age, seated on a white horse, with a drawn sword blazing like a comet, for the destruction of the wicked, the renovation of creation, and the restoration of purity. In ancient symbology the horse also symbolized the sun, hence the tenth avatara will come riding the steed of solar glory to usher in the New Age clothed with the sun of spiritual illumination.
While seven were the degrees usually enumerated in the Mysteries, hints have been given of three higher degrees than the seventh. But so esoteric would these be that only the most spiritualized of humanity could comprehend and hence undertake these divine initiations.
Rare indeed are those who become avatara-like; rarer still, "as rare as are the flowers of the Udumbara-tree" are the Buddhas. As for the tenth and last — such has been left unmarred by description.
Theosophical Society Homepage