Copyright © 1999 by Theosophical University Press. All rights reserved.
7. The Lesser Mysteries
8. The Greater Mysteries
9. Routes of Initiation
10. The Closing of the Mystery Schools
11. Line of Occult Succession
12. The Mystery Schools of Today
The Lesser Mysteries are a preparation of the neophyte for initiation in the Greater Mysteries through various degrees of purification and discipline combined with training in intellectual and spiritual perception. As indicated in the previous chapter, seven were the degrees usually reckoned, the first three comprising the Lesser Mysteries. The fourth degree is the turning or deciding point where those who underwent the discipline and training of the preliminary stages are put to the test of actual experience in self-identification. If the candidate pass this fourth trial successfully, he enters upon more stringent discipline and purification, and a more intimate relationship between teacher and pupil. Henceforth he is a pledged disciple, his will is set firmly to pass successfully the fifth, sixth, and seventh degrees which comprise the Greater Mysteries.
The trials of the Lesser Mysteries are comparatively simple, but as the disciple proves his earnestness and ability to stand the probationary tests, the training becomes more rigorous, the demands upon his nature more severe, and the hand of karma deals more sternly with error.
Two particular features mark the Minor Mysteries: (a) instruction in the deeper sciences of the cosmos; and (b) dramatic rites portraying that which the initiant must go through without outside help in the Greater Mysteries. In the Eleusinian Mysteries, for example, the sacred rites acted as a spiritual aid in stimulating the candidate to live the higher life, as well as familiarizing him with the routes of the initiatory process.
To witness or participate in a drama is quite different from suffering the actual experience; even so, this serves as preliminary fortification to the neophyte when the time comes for the greater initiations. The Lesser Mysteries have been known and recognized by the keenest minds of all ages as institutions of higher learning for those who had proved themselves worthy and fit.
From the Mystery schools, knowledge of truth permeates the mental strata of the surrounding country, as initiates in the preliminary degrees mingle with the world. In Greece and Rome, nearly all the great men of historic note were initiates of one or more degrees of the Lesser Mysteries. This did not pertain to murderers or conquerors by the sword, for almost universally these were not initiates of the Mysteries, although in the declining days of the Roman Empire many applicants of indifferent caliber underwent the introductory rites in a more or less perfunctory fashion.
In fact, the Mysteries in olden times were regarded so highly that preparation for entrance was deemed the most royal gift a father could bequeath his sons. At the age of seven years, boys were received and disciplined in heart and mind, so that on reaching adulthood they either took their places in the world and exerted an edifying influence among the people; or if they were especially favored by right of inner fitness, they remained within the Sanctuary and passed as far as they could into the Greater Mysteries. Certain ones were trained for the sole purpose of teaching the laws of life in seats of higher learning; others received the preliminary rites in order to prepare them to govern the State with equanimity and honor. Still others underwent the discipline and purification of the first degrees and then devoted their lives to bringing beauty to mankind, whether in sculpture or color, in verse or harmony. Thus did these early civilizations ripen in spiritual things under the guidance of initiated philosophers and statesmen, artists, and musicians.
Many branches of the arts and sciences were taught in the Lesser Mysteries, notably geography, astronomy, chemistry, physiology, psychology, geology, meteorology, as well as music, the "most divine and spiritual of arts" (Mahatma Letters, Letter XXIVb, p. 188); similarly art and architecture were studied, whose lost "canon of proportion" immortalized the Greek temples. These sciences were held as secret studies of the Mysteries, not because they would not have been understood if taught as schools and universities teach them today, but because such sciences and arts were studied from their causal rather than their effectual aspect.
Much derision has been cast on the ancients for withholding knowledge that even a child can understand in its simpler forms. Certainly the simpler forms were taught openly, but their occult background was kept rigidly secret (as it is even now, though the world at large little dreams of this fact) as fit only for those who would not misuse the knowledge obtained. Can as much wisdom be shown today when, as soon as scientists discover some new device, opportunity is instantly found to turn that invention to destructive uses? One is driven to admire the strength and wisdom of the ancients who knew better than to turn knowledge over indiscriminately to those lacking moral control. With all our boasted superiority, we have not yet caught up on all lines with the scientific knowledge of our ancient forebears.
As H. P. Blavatsky wrote in 1877:
If modern masters are so much in advance of the old ones, why do they not restore to us the lost arts of our postdiluvian forefathers? Why do they not give us the unfading colors of Luxor — the Tyrian purple; the bright vermilion and dazzling blue which decorate the walls of this place, and are as bright as on the first day of their application? The indestructible cement of the pyramids and of ancient aqueducts; the Damascus blade, which can be turned like a corkscrew in its scabbard without breaking; the gorgeous, unparalleled tints of the stained glass that is found amid the dust of old ruins and beams in the windows of ancient cathedrals; and the secret of the true malleable glass? And if chemistry is so little able to rival even with the early mediaeval ages in some arts, why boast of achievements which, according to strong probability, were perfectly known thousands of years ago? The more archaeology and philology advance, the more humiliating to our pride are the discoveries which are daily made, the more glorious testimony do they bear in behalf of those who, perhaps on account of the distance of their remote antiquity, have been until now considered ignorant flounderers in the deepest mire of superstition. — Isis Unveiled 1:239
In the Mysteries, geography was not merely a study of topography; rather the periodical risings and sinkings of continents was the subject of investigation in accordance with the cyclic events of racial history; secret centers of the earth were learned of, and our intimate relation to the two poles and the four points of the compass. HPB suggestively hints:
The two poles are called the right and left ends of our globe — the right being the North Pole — or the head and feet of the earth. Every beneficent (astral and cosmic) action comes from the North; every lethal influence from the South Pole. They are much connected with and influence "right" and "left" hand magic. — Secret Doctrine 2:400n
Meteorology was the study of the currents of wind and rain, not from the effectual standpoint, but as bearing streams of vital energy from all parts of the solar system and beyond. Lightning and thunder, etc., were not merely electromagnetic phenomena — words that are accurate enough, yet unless occultly understood convey little more than a statement of effects produced. When considered from the causal aspect they are seen to be outer manifestations of interior forces bursting from cosmic space into our atmosphere and affecting the lives of earth.
In Chaldea, Egypt, Mexico and Peru, Wales, Iceland, and India, astrology was regarded with veneration. Its deeper teachings were transmitted from mouth to ear, so sacred and profoundly spiritual were they then considered. Mere fortune-telling and other similar trifles were held vulgar in the eyes of the hierophants. The recognized influences of the sun and planets upon human beings were not viewed as simply mechanical, compelling individuals to this or that character or mode of conduct. Such interchange of planetary and solar life energies among terrestrial beings was understood as springing from our common galactic heritage. The septenary nature of the planets was taken into account in reckoning septenary human nature. Hence the intermingling of life-atoms from the various planetary systems with the earth, and vice versa, constitutes one of the major studies of esoteric astrology.
Furthermore, the science of prediction of tremendous cyclic occurrences on earth was mastered not only in India to a fine hair's breadth (see the Surya-Siddhanta of Asuramaya, the oldest treatise on astronomy extant, Secret Doctrine 2:326), but also in ancient Chaldea, whose modern representatives of some four and five thousand years ago still held archaic astrology as a major characteristic of their secret Mysteries. The famous ziggurat or high tower of Borsippa in Babylonia is clear testimonial to knowledge of the sevenfold planetary influences on humanity. Called the stages of the seven spheres, each of its stories bore a different color, representative of one of the seven sacred planets. At the top of a ziggurat was a sacred shrine, often with a table or couch of gold.
Thus what may have seemed to the public mere astronomical observatories were secret training centers within whose inner recesses esoteric astrology formed one of the important studies of the Lesser Mysteries. Medicine and surgery, physics and alchemy, poetry, mathematics, and philosophy likewise were studied from their inner standpoint. This instruction consists not in the learning by rote of scores of formulae, but in the inner perception of occult rationale, so that knowledge benevolently applied for others may in time become wisdom.
However fascinating to the imagination and of whatever degree of intellectual and psychic stimulation to the neophyte were these studies, they were not the major aim of the Mysteries. Behind all training of the mind was the impelling urge for soul purification through discipline and contemplation. As stimulus and guidance, dramatic presentations were given of the descent of the candidate into the underworld, his trial in the nether regions through meeting and conquering himself, his ascent into the stream of life and light, culminating in final communion and "friendship" with the divinities. So effective were the dramatic rites that participation in them constituted a signal part of the initiatory training in preparation for the Greater Mysteries.
Comparison of the ritual of the Lesser Mysteries, as practiced in the ancient world with slight variations of detail, reveals the universal story of the descent into the underworld in the symbol of the wheat or corn deity. The seed or grain represents the candidate. As the seed enters into the dark regions of the moist earth, many are the difficulties of soil and environment to contend with; it "dies" in giving birth to root and stalk. Finally, as the period of germination expires, tender shoots of the grain sprout above the surface of the earth, and in time the seed-that-was bursts forth in flower with the aid of sun and rain. In like manner the candidate "dies" in the regions of the underworld, the lower spheres, where he meets and conquers the difficulties of environment; shedding his impermanent self, he dies in giving birth to budding masterhood. At the appropriate hour, the disciple-that-was rises to the spheres of light and life; taken into the presence of other plants of divinity, he finds friendship with the gods and blooms into the full flower of adepthood.
Thus is dramatized in esoteric imagery the spiritual travail of those "giving birth to themselves" (Secret Doctrine 2:559) — as an ancient manuscript describes the birth of the adept within the neophyte, the supreme initiation.
The Greater Mysteries entered upon by the neophyte, after the successful consummation of the preliminary degrees, constitute the becoming by individual experience of that which had been learned in the Lesser Mysteries. In this higher department of esoteric training, no quarter is given. The neophyte must face himself and conquer — or die. All the stretches of his complex nature, from the divinely inspired to the grossly material, must be investigated and controlled. By this time the aspirant must have developed sufficient spiritual stamina to withstand reality. He must become nature in her lower and higher regions, pass the supreme test of self-identification, and yet retain his soul integrity.
Even as late as the second century, the rites of the Egyptian Mysteries, however modified by Greek influence, were carried on with due and appropriate reverence. Disciples from surrounding countries sought initiation there as a fitting advancement following their own ceremonies. Apuleius, Latin Platonic philosopher, describes in his Metamorphoses, or The Golden Ass, the initiation in the Mysteries of Isis of one Lucius Patras, now uniformly believed to be Apuleius himself:
Hear, then, and believe, for what I tell is true. I drew nigh to the confines of death, I trod the threshold of Proserpine [Hades], I was borne through all the elements and returned to earth again. I saw the sun gleaming with bright splendour at dead of night, I approached the gods above, and the gods below, and worshipped them face to face. Behold, I have told thee things of which, though thou hast heard them, thou must yet know naught.
I will recount, therefore, only that which may without sin be imparted to the understanding of the uninitiate. So soon as it was morning and the rites were accomplished, I came forth clothed in the twelve cloaks that are worn by the initiate, a raiment that is most holy. . . . The precious cloak hung from my shoulders down my back, even to my heels, and I was adorned, wheresoever thou mightest cast thine eye, with the figures of beasts broidered round about in diverse colours. . . . This cloak the initiates call the cloak of Olympus. In my right hand I bore a torch flaming with fire, and my head was garlanded with a fair crown of spotless palm, whose leaves stood out like rays . . . adorned as the sun and set up like to the image of a god. — quoted by Lewis Spence, The Mysteries of Egypt, pp. 70-1
In the Greater Mysteries, the passage into the underworld ceases to be a mere ritual of the Lesser Mysteries in which the candidate participates. He must now approach "the confines of death" with full knowledge, and in the garment of soul-consciousness pass beyond the veil of visible nature into the arena of worlds invisible:
It is one of the fundamental teachings of occultism that nothing can be truly known which is not experienced, lived through. . . . different stages or degrees of initiation are really a kind of forcing-process, for certain chosen spirits, certain chosen souls, who have proved themselves worthy: . . . These different stages or degrees of initiation are marked by preparatory purifications, first. Then came the "death," a mystic death. The body and lower principles, so to say, are paralyzed, and the soul is temporarily freed. And, to a certain extent, the freed inner man is guided and directed and helped by the initiators while it passes into other spheres and to other planes and learns the nature of these by becoming them, which is the only way by which knowledge thereof roots itself into the soul, into the ego: by becoming the thing. — Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, pp. 258-9
This mystic death constitutes the fourth initiation, which consists not only in one's ability to receive spiritual light, but likewise in one's power to face with equanimity and awakened morality the darkness of evil. To become a thing is actually to unite one's cognizing intelligence with the essence of that being or thing; in other words, to take on the nature of such entity for the time being. Hence, to weld one's consciousness with beings in spheres lower than the human is greatly to test the stamina of the individual: will the malefic fumes of the lower spheres stifle the delicate petals of the budding adept? Will the sensuous delights of the lower hells have any attraction for the neophyte stern in his resolve? Conversely, to assume the nature of beings in spheres higher than the human calls for an equally tempered constitution: will the brilliance and splendor of truth undimmed blind the soul? Will vision of reality shatter the awakening eye of wisdom?
This fourth degree may be considered a prelude to, a minor reflection of, the final and seventh degree of initiation in which the individual must undergo the trial of identification with all spheres of being. To complete the full initiatory cycle, therefore, demands the awakening and strengthening of all seven human principles. The candidate must have so tuned his seven-stringed lyre, so energized it with spiritual harmony, that it will vibrate in perfect synchrony with the spiritual essence of the seven principles or spheres of the cosmos. As Master KH wrote in 1882 to Allan O. Hume of Simla, India: "The degrees of an Adept's initiation mark the seven stages at which he discovers the secret of the sevenfold principles in nature and man and awakens his dormant powers" (Mahatma Letters, Letter XV, p. 99).
Of these higher degrees scarcely anything is known to us. This is natural, and indeed appropriate; for how could words describe that which can be understood only by the initiate? How could that which is essentially esoteric be revealed and still retain its mystic integrity? Important hints, however, have been given regarding the fifth, sixth, and seventh degrees.
In the fifth initiation, the initiant "meets his own god-self face to face, and for a longer or shorter time becomes one with it'' (Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, p. 283). This degree was called by the Greeks theophany, a word signifying "divine appearance" or "showing forth of a divinity," the appearance or manifestation of
man's own higher self to himself. And while in the average candidate this sublime moment of intellectual ecstasis and high vision lasted but a short time, with further spiritual progress of the candidate the theophanic communion became more enduring and lasting, until finally, ultimately, man knew himself, not merely as the offspring spiritually of his own inner god, but as that inner god itself, in his essential being. — Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, p. 447
The sixth initiation was consummated as the inevitable course of events following upon the successful spiritualization of the entire nature. This was called theopneusty by the Greeks — a word literally signifying "god-breathing" or "divine inspiration" — where the disciple
felt the inbreathing from his own inner god and became, thus, inspired, the very word inspiration meaning "inbreathing." With the passing of time and the greater purification of the soul-vehicle, which is man himself, this inbreathing or inspiration became permanent. — Ibid.
In this degree "the inner god of the candidate breathes down into him, for a longer or shorter time, depending upon his advancement, the wisdom and the knowledge of all the universe . . ."; and "in the sixth degree, instead of one's own Higher Self, the initiant meets another One, . . ." (Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, pp. 284, 260).
Then comes the seventh and last of the degrees of initiation before masterhood is achieved. This initiation usually took place at the winter solstice. The ancient pagan initiates considered the four points of the year, the winter and summer solstices and the spring and autumnal equinoxes, as representative of holy workings in the cosmos. The birth of the sun at the beginning of the year symbolized to them the mystic birth of the initiate, and it is significant that nearly all the great world saviors, such as Jesus the Christ, Krishna the Avatara, Apollonius of Tyana, and others, celebrate their "birthdays" at this sacred time: the rebirth of the solar deity.
This seventh degree, which is called theopathy — a Greek word meaning "god-suffering" or "divine- enduring" — is the
most sublime mystery of all, . . . the initiant, the candidate, suffered himself to become, abandoned himself fully to be, a truly selfless channel of communication of his own inner god, his own higher self; he became lost as it were in the greater self of his own higher self. — Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, p. 447
Few indeed are those whose soul strength is so great that they can suffer in fullness the presence of divinity. This is the reward of the highest adepts, those whose sacrifice and wisdom surround humanity with a guardian wall diamond-like in compassion and protection.
In the seventh degree, the neophyte passes the portals of the sun; "he becomes for a passing moment the Wondrous Watcher himself '' (Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, p. 260). The solar initiation is complete: the neophyte dies, and the hierophant is born.
In the deeper Mystery-training, the pupil must not only learn to build the mystic vessel of awakened consciousness which will carry him from plane to plane but, in the process of such individual becoming, must rediscover for himself the ageless routes of initiation.
In wisdom and foresight, nature is consistent throughout: one law, one plan, one structure. With charming thrift she rehearses the pathways of initiation through the cycles of sleep and death. Death and its processes form the heart and core of the Greater Mysteries: through death of the inferior the superior finds birth. Except the seed die, the flower cannot bloom; except the flower die, the seed cannot form. "He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it'' (Matt. 10:39).
Sleep is an incomplete death — unconsciously experienced; death is a complete sleep — unconsciously experienced; initiation is a self-conscious sleep or "death'' of the lower elements with a fully conscious liberation of the spiritual soul along the pathways of sleep and death.
In sleep the body "dies" imperfectly, for the golden cord remains linked to the slumbering body. If the soul is not weighted with material desire, then a natural quiescence ensues. During the brief hours of nightly sleep, if the karma be favorable the freed spirit-soul may ascend out of the sphere of earth along the invisible magnetic pathways to higher realms. The ascent is instantaneous, followed by the return along identic pathways until the soul once again enters the sleeping body and a new day dawns.
The pathways of sleep traversed night after night constitute an unconscious journey along the routes of initiation. Such momentary and unrecognized contact during sleep is not wasted; the very repetition of the selfsame process acts as an invisible spur to the ordinary person. If the aspirations continue and the life is made purer, faint impressions of beauty and grandeur will penetrate the soul, intuitions will manifest, and the aspirant will find benediction sweeping into his days through nightly communion with higher spheres.
Death is the following of the same processes of sleep, only perfectly so. The body is cast off permanently and dissipates; the golden cord is withdrawn, and the soul, freed of its terrestrial elements, enters the spheres of temporary purgation. Liberated and cleansed of earthly dross, the soul ascends to its spiritual parent, the higher self, and in peace and bliss undreamed of pursues the identic journey of sleep. In each of the mansions of space, a stop is made, shorter or longer depending upon the links of affinity formerly made through past experience of the spiritual soul until, strengthened by divine contact, it once again treads the ancient pathway, and a child is born on earth.
Thus in death the age-old routes of initiation are followed by the spiritual monad in conscious recognition, but as yet in unconscious appreciation by the ordinary human soul.
A human being is many-sided: he has within him a divine monad, a spiritual soul, and a human soul which works through his vital-astral-physical nature. We must guard against the lower gaining dominion over the higher and must watch carefully, particularly in discussion of these holy themes, lest we become so fascinated by their beauty and intellectual splendor, that we forget their essential worth — that of ethics. Unless an individual has made ethics the foundation of his character, his heart and mind will be continually shaken by the storms of desire.
Those who care for little beyond the immediate will have scant attraction to deeper things, but those who have begun to think and feel intuitively may find themselves irresistibly drawn to the ancient wisdom. However, to those already stirring from the sleep of matter, warning is repeatedly given against entertaining the notion that initiation is just around the corner. One must defend the heart against selfish desire for so-called occult powers as one would defend oneself against the bite of a serpent. The initiations referred to, more particularly in the previous chapter, are not described but only alluded to as hints of what some day the worthy disciple may find himself fortunate enough to experience.
In summation, over and over the journey of initiation is traversed: in sleep imperfectly, in death more perfectly; nightly by the soul in sleep, periodically by the soul in death. Unconsciously undergone, nature thus rehearses that which the soul must one day follow with will and consciousness fully active. This latter process is the journey of initiation: the deliberate paralysis of terrestrial influence followed by the self-perceptive journey through every plane and sphere of the cosmos.
In his Esoteric Tradition, Purucker elaborates:
The purpose of the passing of the Monad postmortem through the various planetary chains is to allow it to free itself on each such planetary chain of the integument or habiliment or vehicle which belongs to the vital essence of such planetary chain. It is only thus that the Monad strips off from itself one after the other the different "coatings" with which it has enwrapped itself during its long evolutionary journey; and thus when it has freed itself from all the seven "coatings" it is then ready, because freed and in its pure and "unclothed" state, to enter into its own native spiritual Home. When the return journey towards Earth's planetary chain begins, the Monad then passes through all these same seven planets, but in reverse order to that by which it had ascended through them, and in each such planet that it visits . . . it picks up and re-assumes or clothes itself in the lifeatoms forming the "coatings" that it had previously dropped or cast off in each one of these seven planets respectively. — 2:869-70
So important is this journey that the Greater Mysteries dealt almost entirely with processes of the mystic death. As stated in the previous chapter, the fourth initiation comprised a partial descent into lower spheres, accompanied by a partial ascent into superior spheres. The soul as yet has not developed sufficient strength to withstand the full revelation of the universe. There is a Babylonian legend which points to a Mystery-teaching. Ishtar descends to the underworld and, arriving at the gates of Arallu (Hades), stands beautiful and regal. The archaic decree, however, demands that none may enter the dread precincts of the underworld who are not bare of garment or jewel.
Therefore at each of the successive gates through which Ishtar must pass, the keeper divests her of some garment or ornament: first her crown, then her ear-rings, then her necklace, then the ornaments from her bosom, then her many-jeweled girdle, then the spangles from her hands and feet, and lastly her loin-cloth. — Will Durant, The Story of Civilization 1:238
Free and pure she enters the Land of No Return where her sister, Ereshkigal, holds sway. Full of jealousy, she sends against Ishtar sixty diseases. Having passed the tests of the lower world, Ishtar retraces her steps through the seven gates, receiving in reverse order the garments and jewels which she had cast aside on her descending journey, and finally, as she ascends into the regions of light, Ishtar is adorned with the seventh jewel, the crown of spiritual glory.
The descent to the underworld is not an automatic process, but a willing decision to undertake the journey as a supreme test of intellectual and spiritual integrity. If the candidate succeed, union with the divine and bliss supernal will be his; if he fail, then death or madness lies in store. Far better had he never ventured upon these trials, for fearful indeed are they. But all is not lost, for in a future life he may try again.
If the aspirant has through austerity, utter devotion, discipline, and learning become as gold in the fire, swift and sure will be his passage through the lower worlds. With the flame of spirituality burning within, the successful candidate rises to the spheres superior, where the passage from planet to planet is made with full awareness. Passing the ultimate test, the pupil, now become master, returns to earth and to his entranced body.
The guardian of the initiation chamber, who has watched over the body of his disciple with patient and loving care, is filled with joy: the initiation is consummated.
Fifteen centuries ago the death knell of the Mysteries in the West sounded when Emperor Theodosius II banished paganism from the Roman Empire, which at that time included Thrace, Macedonia, Crete, Syria, and Egypt. The final blow came less than a century later, in 529 AD, when Emperor Justinian closed the last philosophical school of Athens, the Academy founded by Plato. Aside from the suppression of everything non-Christian, much of what had once been held beautiful and holy in the Mysteries — the sacred ritual of the union of the aspiring soul with the higher self — had become orgies of the most degraded sort.
Never in the history of occultism, past or present, can it be said that the Mysteries — in their purity and spiritual integrity — cater to the personal and emotional nature. It is precisely to free the soul of limitation, to purify the heart and discipline the mind, that the Mystery training is so severe, for in initiation only spiritual strength, only diamond caliber can withstand the searching ordeal.
Birth, growth, maturity, and senescence are the inevitable processes of nature in all her departments. A Mystery school need not undergo a degenerate senescence, any more than a person's declining years need be marked by degradation. But, as with ourselves, the seeds of degeneracy and ambition are too frequently sown in the heyday of material success. Likewise with a genuine Mystery-center, if the challenge of spiritual growth is not met with ever greater austerity of heart than in days of probation, the venomous seeds of inner decay take root and grow. Degradation replaces quiescence, and the school decays. The spirit of the Brotherhood retreats, the rind of ritual remains.
The real cause, therefore, of the closing of the Mystery schools is the inner faithlessness of the guardians of the temple. Never would the light die out if the hierophants remained loyal to the timeless principles of the school, for the Brotherhood watches with eagle eye for every light, and when the call is strong and the cry for truth powerful, the Mysteries remain pure and true.
When the human race, or any branch of it, or even an individual, makes the spiritual and intellectual appeal in terms so strong, with spiritual energy so vibrant, with the very fiber of the inner life so to say, it actually operates with the spiritual magnetism of a Teacher, and the call is heard in the Great Brotherhood invariably, and an Envoy or Messenger appears in the world as its representative. The Mysteries have always degenerated because men became involved more and more in selfishness and the self-seeking ways of the material world, and lost the inner touch, the inner consciousness of communion with the spiritual Powers mentioned above. — Esoteric Tradition 2:1053
There are two paths in occultism: the right-hand path of white magic and spiritual progress; and the left-hand path of black magic and spiritual retrogression. No third path of cessation or rest exists. If one does not go forwards, then he will remain behind. The stream of evolutionary progress is forwards, toward the light of spirit and truth. If one does not travel this path, he falls by the wayside; the caravan moves on, the idler remains behind.
The further one proceeds on the path of esoteric training, the sharper is the line of demarcation between these two paths; yet, paradoxically, just because of the richer development of the disciple, the finer sensitivity to right and wrong, the greater are the depths sounded as well as the heights attained. The middle line of wisdom becomes ever more elusive as progress in spiritual things is made. It is not the gross pitfalls of former lives that the pupil need guard against, but the subtle refinements of Mara, the "tempter," who with cruel and insidious measure tries the soul relentlessly.
An Eastern proverb says that between the "right and the left hand [magic] there is but a cobweb thread" (Blavatsky Collected Writings 14:106). He who would remain on the path must cling with all his strength and courage to the cobweb thread of wisdom.
One of the most effective weapons of the dark forces is doubt — doubt of oneself, of one's aspirations and inherent strength. To doubt is a natural reaction of discipleship, but a highly dangerous state while it lasts. If not checked with stern resolve to keep on — no matter how often one falls or how grave the error — self-pity obtains mastery and the door to a graver peril is opened: doubt of the teacher, doubt of the school, doubt of the Brotherhood. Here flourishes the fatal seed of interior disarray which, if not cast out from the heart, will grow into the weed of infidelity.
Terrible are the tests of an aspirant to chelaship, and severe have been the warnings to the over-eager. As KH wrote to A. P. Sinnett in 1881:
those who engage themselves in the occult sciences . . . "must either reach the goal or perish. Once fairly started on the way to the great Knowledge, to doubt is to risk insanity; to come to a dead stop is to fall; to recede is to tumble backward, headlong into an abyss." — Mahatma Letters, Letter VIII, p. 31
There are three results of initiation: (a) success; (b) failure which means death; and (c) partial failure which usually means madness (see Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, p. 292). It is for this reason that would-be chelas are repeatedly warned against undue rushing into occultism. Far safer to remain in the outer courts of the temple of wisdom as earnest and sincere aspirants for greater knowledge, as learners striving to practice the age-old rules of the Sanctuary: loyalty, duty, and selfless fidelity to the cause of humanity. If these are cherished and held to through the travail and heartache of human existence, the time will inevitably come when help will be forthcoming, and the aspirant will know that he has been "accepted." Until such time, wiser to live a noble life in the position karma has ordained.
Unwise ardor for spiritual discipline, however, is not half so dangerous as personal desire for occult training merely for self-gain. It was the overweening rush for occult powers which laid the foundation for degeneration of the Mystery schools in the early centuries of our era. For hundreds of years the Mysteries had been slowly losing their sanctity; too many had been received into the preliminary degrees not by virtue of inner development, but for temporal reasons. The rites became perfunctory observances, and perception of interior worth diminished. Dogma, ritual, and priestcraft waxed, the spirit of truth and esotericism waned. The few — all too few indeed — who had remained faithful to their sacred pledge fled the precincts of the Mysteries which in later Roman times had become so degenerate as actually to repel from their chambers those whose hearts sought only the genuinely esoteric.
The light was withdrawn, but so compassionately does the Brotherhood work that the truths have been preserved in symbol and stone, in allegory and mythos. As H. P. Blavatsky writes with respect to Egypt:
Her sacred Scribes and Hierophants became wanderers upon the face of the earth. Those who had remained in Egypt found themselves obliged for fear of a profanation of the sacred Mysteries to seek refuge in deserts and mountains, to form and establish secret societies and brotherhoods — such as the Essenes; those who had crossed the oceans to India and even to the (now-called) New World, bound themselves by solemn oaths to keep silent, and to preserve secret their Sacred Knowledge and Science; thus these were buried deeper than ever out of human sight. In Central Asia and on the northern borderlands of India, the triumphant sword of Aristotle's pupil swept away from his path of conquest every vestige of a once pure Religion: and its Adepts receded further and further from that path into the most hidden spots of the globe. — Blavatsky Collected Writings 14:294
Thus periodically is accomplished the work of the Brothers of the Shadow, the destruction of the outposts of the Mysteries, while the core and heart, the Brotherhood of Light, remains intact. Never will the hand of darkness lay hold upon the heart of esotericism which beats as strongly today as it did some 18 million years ago, and will continue to pulsate in undiminished power till the death of our solar system — and beyond. The light of truth is the light of the spiritual sun of our universe. As long as its rays gleam down into the world of earth, so long will the rays of spirit warm human hearts. In the stirring words of KH to A. O. Hume:
Fear not; . . . our knowledge will not pass away from the sight of man. It is the "gift of the gods" and the most precious relic of all. The keepers of the sacred Light did not safely cross so many ages but to find themselves wrecked on the rocks of modern scepticism. Our pilots are too experienced sailors to allow us [to] fear any such disaster. We will always find volunteers to replace the tired sentries, and the world, bad as it is in its present state of transitory period, can yet furnish us with a few men now and then. — Mahatma Letters, Letter XXVIII, p. 215
The Greeks were adept in the use of imagery to convey profound esoteric truths, often using the form of sport; or, for instance, they would read into the exercises of the stadium inner significance. One of the best known examples of this was their portrayal through the torchbearer race of the mystic line of succession of great teachers.
In the torch-race, the torch-bearer ran from post to post. On reaching the end of his stage he handed the lighted torch which he carried to the one there waiting, who immediately took up the race and in his turn handed it to the one waiting for him. This exercise of the arena or stadium was taken by many Greek and Latin writers as symbolizing the carrying on of Light from age to age, and as pointing to the spiritual Torch-bearers who pass the Torch of Truth from hand to hand throughout unending time. — Esoteric Tradition 2:1071
This handing on of the light of truth "throughout unending time" has formed the theme of many Mystery parables. The Greeks also referred to this spiritual succession as the Golden Chain of Hermes which they believed to stretch far into the realms of Olympus, to "Father Zeus downwards through a series or line of spiritual beings and then through certain elect and lofty human beings to ordinary men" (Esoteric Tradition 2:1070-1).
Purucker described this mystic succession as the guruparampara. This is a Sanskrit compound literally meaning "teacher beyond beyond." The term signifies a line of teachers reaching beyond the beyond, through past, present, and into the distant future, whose sublime purpose is ever the same: the work of spiritualization.
The ancient Mystery-Schools of every country of the globe and of whatever epoch in time, have had each one a Succession of Teachers trained and authorized by their training to teach in their turn; and as long as this transmission of the light of Truth was a reality in any one country, it was in every sense a truly spiritual institution. — Esoteric Tradition 2:1071
An outstanding example of this ancient transmission is the succession of "living buddhas" of Tibet, which "is a real one, but of a somewhat special type, and it is by no means what Occidental scholars mistake it to be or have frequently misunderstood it to be" (Esoteric Tradition 2:1071).
Further, in the Eleusinian Mysteries of Greece,
hierophants were drawn from one family, the Eumolpidae, living in Athens, and the torchbearers were drawn from another family, the Lycomidae, living in Athens; and we have reason to believe that the Mysteries of Samothrace, the seat of an older rite, and which were, like the Mysteries of Eleusis, a State function, were also conducted in the same manner by the passing on of the tradition held sacred and incommunicable to outsiders; and the bond of union between the initiates of these so-called Mysteries was considered indissoluble, impossible of dissolution, for death merely strengthened the tie. — Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, p. 287
In Persia as well as Egypt, we find this line of succession manifesting in another form. For example, there were the thirteen or more Zoroasters whose esoteric contribution to Persia's history was the inspiration of that once mighty civilization:
The number of Zoroasters who have appeared from time to time is confusing, so long as we consider, and wrongly consider, these Zoroasters to be reimbodiments of one single ego, instead of different egos imbodying what we may interpret from the occult records as the "Zoroaster-spirit." The truth of the matter is that in the scheme and terminology of Zoroastrianism, every Root-Race and sub-race, and minor race of the latter, has its own Zoroaster or Zoroasters. The term Zoroaster means in Zoroastrianism, very much what the term Buddha does in Buddhism, or Avatara does in Brahmanism. Thus there were great Zoroasters, and less Zoroasters — the qualificatory adjective depending upon the work done by each Zoroaster, and the sphere of things. Hence we can speak of the Zoroasters as being thirteen in number from one standpoint, or fourteen from another; or like the Manus in Brahmanism, or like the Buddhas in Buddhism, we can multiply each of these by seven again, or even fourteen if we take in every little branchlet race with its guiding Zoroaster-spirit. — Studies in Occult Philosophy, p. 636
In Egypt, Hermes Trismegistus ("Hermes the thrice greatest") stands out from the long Hermes line, whose writings and teachings were founded on the ancient Mystery doctrine. In Greece also we find the Orphic Mysteries, from whose halls of esoteric instruction came forth many who bore the name of Orpheus.
What impelled these pupils to take the names of their teachers? Why did they sign their work, or give oral instruction, in the name of Orpheus, Hermes, or Zoroaster? Was it a kind of spiritual plagiarism, or was it rather because of a compelling gratitude to the teacher who had given them ALL, who had lighted the flame of esoteric fire in their hearts? Surely the latter, for whatever message they had of inspiration and light they deemed not theirs, but "his who sent me" — "As we have received it, thus shall we pass it on." This practice is distressing to later historians who struggle always to attach correct labels to things, yet one cannot help but love these old disciples for that loyalty of soul which banishes all thought of individual greatness.
The relationship between disciple and teacher is a most sacred bond of spiritual intimacy. Gratitude wells up from the disciple commensurate with greatness of soul: the little of heart feel only resentment when guidance and protection are offered; but the large of heart burn with the flame of loving and inextinguishable gratitude. The links in this Golden Chain of Hermes are joined by gratitude. As each link is coupled with its brother link, heart with heart, teacher with pupil, pupil with teacher — each teacher a pupil to the one above, each pupil a teacher to the one below — all bonded by unbreakable links of love, fidelity, and gratitude to the teacher, to the Brotherhood, to the esoteric wisdom:
Like signal-fires of the olden times, which, lighted and extinguished by turns upon one hill-top after another, conveyed intelligence along a whole stretch of country, so we see a long line of "wise" men from the beginning of history down to our own times communicating the word of wisdom to their direct successors. Passing from seer to seer, the "Word" flashes out like lightning, and while carrying off the initiator from human sight forever, brings the new initiate into view. — Isis Unveiled 2:571
This "long line of `wise' men" has been kept unbroken since the middle of the third root-race by two methods: (a) the actual reincarnation of adepts, and (b) the birth of the initiate out of the disciple. In this way the Brotherhood revitalizes its membership through the rebirth of hierophants, and the "second birth'' of recruits from the ranks of the Mystery chambers (see Esoteric Tradition 2:1070). The "Passing of the Word" was the final rite of the solar initiation: without it no transmission of occult authority could be made from initiator to disciple.
Hence the line of esoteric authority and wisdom advances in serial order through grade after grade of chelaship to the adepts; from adepts to high mahatmas; from high mahatmas to buddhas; from buddhas to dhyani-buddhas; from dhyani-buddhas to the spiritual guide and protector of the planetary chain of earth; from the earth planetary spirit to the heart of the sun. Truly a line of luminous glory linking the humblest of disciples of wisdom with the solar logos.
The Brotherhood of great ones never deserts humanity. Underneath and behind and within there pulsates the eternal heart of compassion. Withdrawal of the Mystery schools from public knowledge by no means indicates withdrawal of the perennial support of the Mahatmas. Mystery-centers are to be found today all over the world, writes H. P. Blavatsky, for "the Secret Association is still alive and as active as ever" (Isis Unveiled 2:100). Guarded with jealous care by their protectors, the precise location of these schools is undiscoverable except by the worthy; however, a veil of secrecy is not synonymous with nonexistence.
Does the physical body remain alive and functional if the heart ceases to pump blood into the circulatory system, if the organs do not receive their vital flow from the heart? Thus with the spiritual body of the earth, whose mystic heart is Sambhala, and from whose ventricles flows forth into organic centers the esoteric life-blood of the Brotherhood. Every Mystery-center is an organic focus, every human being is a living cell. All owe spiritual allegiance to the central heart. Is it logical to infer that a heart beats in vain? Is it logical to infer that organs function apart from the heart? Such conclusions are against reason or experience.
Three are the distributions, therefore, of this esoteric life-flow:
(1) Through the exoteric and the esoteric Mysteries. The exoteric or Lesser Mysteries are now "largely replaced by the different activities of the Theosophical Movement which itself is exoteric as a Movement'' (Studies in Occult Philosophy, p. 637). The esoteric or Greater Mysteries, because of the weight of matter blinding the world- consciousness, are at present far more carefully hid. Significantly, just because of the increased need for light and truth, "the esoteric groups of Mystery- Schools are perhaps more numerous today than they have been for thousands of years, . . . '' (ibid.).
This fact is of far-reaching importance for seekers after truth. Once the power and force of the ancient wisdom seizes the citadel of the heart, one may receive not only genuine spiritual uplift through contact with the exoteric Mysteries but, more importantly, he places himself in direct line of inspiration from the esoteric Mysteries, the seats or organic centers of the Brotherhood.
(2) Through organic foci of national compass. In the circulation of spiritual influences all countries are in magnetic and sympathetic vibration with Sambhala. Every great country has its esoteric centers:
Thus a little country like The Netherlands might be the center of a secret Mystery-School whose ramifications and influence would extend over half of Europe . . . Yet as a matter of fact, every single National unit of the globe, has its own secret spiritual protectors, who as a body form a true esoteric center. We can call these the Occult Guardians of a people. Thus Britain has hers, Germany has hers, Russia has hers, likewise so with Switzerland, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, China, India, Japan, the United States, Mexico, Canada, Brazil, etc., etc., etc. — Ibid.
These national occult guardians do not meddle in political affairs; their work is "purely spiritual, moral, intellectual, and wholly benevolent, and indeed universal, and is a silent guide to the intuitive minds of the different races'' (ibid., p. 638).
(3) The third channel of esoteric work is one of the most fascinating, yet least recognized: that of preserving the knowledge from age to age.
There are actually groups whose sole business is forming occult centers of Initiation, preparation of students for esoteric work in the world, and for the safeguarding of priceless treasures, the heirlooms of the human race, treasures both intellectual and material. — Studies in Occult Philosophy, p. 637
The generations of seers are not wasteful, nor are the grand systems of philosophy and religion lost in the darkness of receding ages. All that is of essential spiritual value is preserved in the secret archives of the planet:
There are, scattered throughout the world, a handful of thoughtful and solitary students, who pass their lives in obscurity, far from the rumors of the world, studying the great problems of the physical and spiritual universes. They have their secret records in which are preserved the fruits of the scholastic labors of the long line of recluses whose successors they are. The knowledge of their early ancestors, the sages of India, Babylonia, Nineveh, and the imperial Thebes; the legends and traditions commented upon by the masters of Solon, Pythagoras, and Plato, in the marble halls of Heliopolis and Sais; traditions which, in their days, already seemed to hardly glimmer from behind the foggy curtain of the past; — all this, and much more, is recorded on indestructible parchment, and passed with jealous care from one adept to another. — Isis Unveiled 1:557-8
Some day worthy explorers will recover the lost keys, and mystery after mystery will be solved; temples will be unearthed; secrets of the initiatory chambers revealed; the occult history of the planet and human races unfolded. When? At the appointed hour, an hour not fixed by whim or fancy, but brought into being as the third eye now "most carefully hidden and inaccessible" opens once again in esoteric birth.
According to Purucker, the chief of these hid centers has its home in Sambhala, with branches in Syria, Mexico, Egypt, the United States, and Europe, each one "subordinate to the mother-group of the Occult Hierarchy in Sambhala" (Studies in Occult Philosophy, p. 637).
In The Mahatma Letters a wonderful description is given by Master M of a secret retreat in which his brother and friend KH enters the silence of further initiation. Masters, though vastly superior to us, are still human beings — grandly human, but human nevertheless — and must undergo further testing, but such initiations are of supernal character. Of the trial of his co-worker, Master M writes:
Two days later when his [KH's] "retreat" was decided upon in parting he asked me: "Will you watch over my work, will you see it falls not into ruins?" I promised. What is there I would not have promised him at that hour! At a certain spot not to be mentioned to outsiders, there is a chasm spanned by a frail bridge of woven grasses and with a raging torrent beneath. The bravest member of your Alpine clubs would scarcely dare to venture the passage, for it hangs like a spider's web and seems to be rotten and impassable. Yet it is not; and he who dares the trial and succeeds — as he will if it is right that he should be permitted — comes into a gorge of surpassing beauty of scenery — to one of our places and to some of our people, of which and whom there is no note or minute among European geographers. At a stone's throw from the old Lamasery stands the old tower, within whose bosom have gestated generations of Bodhisatwas. It is there, where now rests your lifeless friend . . . — Letter XXIX, p. 219
There within the Sanctuary are "gestated generations of Bodhisattvas," among whose esoteric purposes is the enlightenment of humanity. Through all the heartache and sorrow of the world, this strong network of occult vitality flows in unceasing rhythm along the invisible arteries and veins of the body spiritual of our earth. So profound is the compassion of the Brotherhood, so untiring its labor, that not until the heartbeat of every human being shall pulsate in harmony with the heartbeat of the Great Brotherhood will it lay down its task.
Theosophical Society Homepage