Theosophical University Press Online Edition
There are no ancient symbols, without a deep and philosophical meaning attached to them; their importance and significance increasing with their antiquity. Such is the Lotus. It is the flower sacred to nature and her Gods, and represents the abstract and the Concrete Universes, standing as the emblem of the productive powers of both spiritual and physical nature. It was held sacred from the remotest antiquity by the Aryan Hindus, the Egyptians, and the Buddhists after them; revered in China and Japan, and adopted as a Christian emblem by the Greek and Latin Churches, who made of it a messenger as the Christians do now, who replace it with the water lily.* It had, and still has, its mystic meaning which is identical with every nation on the earth. We refer the reader to Sir William Jones.† With the Hindus, the lotus is the emblem of the productive power of nature, through the agency of fire and water (spirit and matter). “Eternal!” says a verse in the Bhagavad Gita, “I see Brahm the creator enthroned in thee above the lotus!”; and Sir W. Jones shows, as noted in the Stanzas, that the seeds of the lotus contain, even before they germinate, perfectly-formed leaves, the miniature shapes of what one day, as perfected plants, they will become. The lotus, in India, is the symbol of prolific earth, and what is more, of Mount Meru. The four angels or genii of the four quarters of Heaven (the Maharajahs, see Stanzas) stand each on a lotus. The lotus is the two-fold type of the Divine and human hermaphrodite, being of dual sex, so to say.
The spirit of Fire (or Heat), which stirs up, fructifies, and develops into concrete form everything (from its ideal prototype), which is born of water or primordial Earth, evolved Brahma — with the Hindus. The lotus flower, represented as growing out of Vishnu’s navel — that God resting on the waters of space and his Serpent of Infinity — is the most graphic allegory ever made: the Universe evolving from the central Sun, the point, the ever-concealed germ. Lakshmi, who is the
* In the Christian religion Gabriel, the Archangel, holding in his hand a spray of water lilies, appears to the Virgin Mary in every picture of the Annunciation. This spray typifying fire and water, or the idea of creation and generation, symbolizes precisely the same idea as the lotus in the hand of the Bodhisat who announces to Maha-Maya, Gautama’s mother, the birth of the world’s Saviour, Buddha. Thus also, Osiris and Horus were represented by the Egyptians constantly in association with the lotus-flower, the two being Sun-gods or Fire (the Holy Ghost being still typified by “tongues of fire”), (Acts).
† See Sir William Jones’ “Dissertations Relating to Asia.”
female aspect of Vishnu,* and who is also called Padma, the lotus, is likewise shown floating at “Creation,” on a lotus flower, and during the “churning of the ocean” of space, springing from the “sea of milk,” like Venus from the froth.
“. . . Then seated on a lotus
Beauty’s bright goddess, peerless Sri, arose
Out of the waves . . . ”
sings an English Orientalist and poet (Sir Monier Williams).
The underlying idea in this symbol is very beautiful, and it shows, furthermore, its identical parentage in all the religious systems. Whether in the lotus or water-lily shape it signifies one and the same philosophical idea — namely, the emanation of the objective from the subjective, divine Ideation passing from the abstract into the concrete or visible form. For, as soon as Darkness — or rather that which is “darkness” for ignorance — has disappeared in its own realm of eternal Light, leaving behind itself only its divine manifested Ideation, the creative Logoi have their understanding opened, and they see in the ideal world (hitherto concealed in the divine thought) the archetypal forms of all, and proceed to copy and build or fashion upon these models forms evanescent and transcendent.
At this stage of action, the Demiurge† is not yet the Architect. Born in the twilight of action, he has yet to first perceive the plan, to realise the ideal forms which lie buried in the bosom of Eternal Ideation, as the future lotus-leaves, the immaculate petals, are concealed within the seed of that plant. . . . .
In chapter lxxxi. of the Ritual (Book of the Dead), called “Transformation into the Lotus,” a head emerging from this flower, the god exclaims: “I am the pure lotus, emerging from the Luminous one. . . . . I carry the messages of Horus. I am the pure lotus which comes from the Solar Fields. . . . .”
The lotus-idea may be traced even in the Elohistic chapter, the 1st of Genesis, as stated in Isis.
* Lakshmi is Venus — Aphrodite, and, like the latter, she sprang from the froth of the ocean with a lotus in her hand. In the Ramayana she is called Padma.
† In Esoteric philosophy the Demiurge or Logos, regarded as the Creator, is simply an abstract term, an idea, like “army.” As the latter is the all-embracing term for a body of active forces or working units — soldiers — so is the Demiurge the qualitative compound of a multitude of Creators or Builders. Burnouf, the great Orientalist, has seized the idea perfectly when saying that Brahma does not create the earth, any more than the rest of the universe. “Having evolved himself from the soul of the world, once separated from the first cause, he evaporates with, and emanates all nature out of himself. He does not stand above it, but is mixed up with it; Brahma and the universe form one Being, each particle of which is in its essence Brahma himself, who proceeded out of himself.”
It is in this idea that we must look for the origin and explanation of the verse in the Jewish cosmogony, which reads: “And God said, Let the earth bring forth . . . . the fruit-tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself.” In all the primitive religions, the “Son of the Father” is the creative God — i.e., His thought made visible; and before the Christian era, from the Trimurti of the Hindus down to the three kabalistic heads of the scriptures as explained by the Jews, the triune godhead of each nation was fully defined and substantiated in its allegories.
Such is the cosmic and ideal significance of this great symbol with the Eastern peoples. But, applied to practical and exoteric worship — which had also its esoteric symbology — the lotus became in time the carrier and container of a more terrestrial idea. No dogmatic religion has ever escaped the sexual element in it; and to this day it soils the moral beauty of the root idea. The following is quoted from the same Kabalistic MSS. already mentioned: —
“Pointing to like signification was the lotus growing in the waters of the Nile. Its mode of growth peculiarly fitted it as a symbol of the generative activities. The flower of the lotus, which is the bearer of the seed for reproduction, as the result of its maturing, is connected by its placenta-like attachment with mother-earth, or the womb of Isis, through the water of the womb, that is, the river Nile, by means of the long cord-like stalk, the umbilicus. Nothing can be plainer than the symbol, and to make it perfect in its intended signification, a child is sometimes represented as seated in or issuing from the flower.* Thus Osiris and Isis, the children of Chronos, or time without end, in the development of their nature-forces, in this picture become the parents of man under the name Horus. . .” (See § X., “Deus Lunus.”)
“We cannot lay too great stress upon the use of this generative function as a basis for a symbolical language and a scientific art-speech. Thought upon the idea leads at once to reflection upon the subject of creative cause. In its workings Nature is observed to have fashioned a wonderful piece of living mechanism governed by an added living soul; the life development and history of which soul, as to its whence, its present, and its whither, surpasses all efforts of the human intellect.† The new born is an ever-recurring miracle, an evidence that
* In Indian Puranas it is Vishnu, the first, and Brahma, the second logos, or the ideal and practical creators, who are respectively represented, one as manifesting the lotus, the other as issuing from it.
† Not the “efforts” of the trained psychic faculties of an Initiate into Eastern metaphysics, and the mysteries of creative Nature. It is the profane of the past ages who have degraded the pure ideal of cosmic creation into an emblem of mere human reproduction and sexual functions: it is the esoteric teachings, and the initiates of the Future, whose mission it is, and will be, to redeem and ennoble once more the primitive conception so sadly profaned by its crude and gross application to exoteric dogmas and personations by theological and ecclesiastical religionists. The silent worship of abstract or noumenal Nature, the only divine manifestation, is the one ennobling religion of Humanity.
within the workshop of the womb an intelligent creative power has intervened to fasten a living soul to a physical machine. The amazing wonderfulness of the fact attaches a holy sacredness to all connected with the organs of reproduction, as the dwelling and place of evident constructive intervention of deity.”
This is a correct rendering of the underlying ideas of old, of the purely pantheistic conceptions, impersonal and reverential, of the archaic philosophers of the prehistoric ages. Not so, however, when applied to sinful humanity, to the gross ideas attached to personality. Therefore, no pantheistic philosopher would fail to find the remarks that follow the above and which represent the anthropomorphism of Judean symbology, other than dangerous for the sacredness of true religion, and fitting only our materialistic age, which is the direct outcome and result of that anthropomorphic character. For this is the key-note to the entire spirit and essence of the Old Testament. “Therefore,” goes on the MSS., treating of the symbolism of art-speech of the Bible: —
“The locality of the womb is to be taken as the most holy place, the sanctum sanctorum, and the veritable Temple of the Living God.* With man the possession of the woman has always been considered as an essential part of himself, to make one out of two, and jealously guarded as sacred. Even the part of the ordinary house or home consecrated to the dwelling of the wife was called the penetralia, the secret or sacred, and hence the metaphor of the Holy of Holies of sacred constructions taken from the idea of the sacredness of the organs of generation. Carried to the extreme of description† by metaphor, this part of the house is described in the Sacred Books as the “between the thighs of the house,” and sometimes the idea is carried out constructively in the great door-opening of Churches placed inward between flanking buttresses.”
No such thought “carried to the extreme” ever existed among the old primitive Aryans. This is proven by the fact that in the Vedic period their women were not placed apart from men in penetralia, or “Zenanas.” Their seclusion began when the Mahomedans — the next heirs to Hebrew symbolism after Christian ecclesiasticism — had conquered the land and gradually enforced their ways and customs upon the Hindus. The pre- and post-Vedic woman was as free as man; and no impure terrestrial thought was ever mixed with the religious symbo-
* Surely the words of the old Initiate into the primitive mysteries of Christianity, “Know ye not ye are the Temple of God” (I Corinth. iii. 16) could not be applied in this sense to men? The meaning may have been, and was so, undeniably, in the minds of the Hebrew compilers of the Old Testament. And here is the abyss that lies between the symbolism of the New Testament and the Jewish canon. This gulf would have remained and ever widened, had not Christianity — especially and most glaringly the Latin Church — thrown a bridge over it? Modern Popery has now spanned it entirely, by its dogma of the two immaculate conceptions, and the anthropomorphic and at the same time idolatrous character it has conferred upon the Mother of its God.
† It was so carried only in the Hebrew Bible, and its servile copyist, Christian theology.
logy of the early Aryans. The idea and application are purely Semitic. This is corroborated by the writer of the said intensely learned and Kabalistic revelation himself, when he closes the above-quoted passages by adding: —
“If to these organs as symbols of creative cosmic agencies the idea of the origin of measures as well as of time-periods can be attached, then indeed, in the constructions of the Temples as Dwellings of Deity, or of Jehovah, that part designated as the Holy of Holies, or the Most Holy place, should borrow its title from the recognised sacredness of the generative organs, considered as symbols of measures as well as of creative cause. With the ancient wise, there was no name and no idea, and no symbol of a first cause.” . . . .
Most decidedly not. Rather never give a thought to it and leave it for ever nameless, as the early Pantheists did, than degrade the sacredness of that Ideal of Ideals, by dragging down its symbols into such anthropomorphic forms! Here again one perceives the immense chasm between Aryan and Semitic religious thought: two opposite poles — Sincerity and Concealment. With the Brahmins, who have never invested with an “original Sin” element the natural procreative functions of mankind, it is a religious duty to have a son. A Brahmin, in days of old, having accomplished his mission of human creator, retired to the jungle and passed the rest of his days in religious meditations. He had accomplished his duty to nature as mortal man and its co-worker, and henceforth gave all his thoughts to the spiritual immortal portion in himself, regarding the terrestrial as a mere illusion, an evanescent dream — which it is. With the Semite, it was different. He invented a temptation of flesh in a garden of Eden; showed his God (esoterically, the Tempter and the Ruler of Nature) cursing for ever an act, which was in the logical programme of that nature.* All this exoterically, as in the cloak and dead letter of Genesis and the rest; and at the same time esoterically he regarded the supposed sin and fall as an act so sacred, as to choose the organ, the perpetrator of the original sin, as the fittest and most sacred symbol to represent that God, who is shown as branding its entering into function as disobedience and everlasting sin!
Who can ever fathom the paradoxical depths of the Semitic mind? And this paradoxical element, minus its innermost significance, has now passed entirely into Christian theology and dogma!
Whether the early Fathers of the Church knew the esoteric meaning of the Hebrew (Old) Testament, or whether only a few of them were aware of it, while the others remained ignorant of the secret, is for
* The same idea is carried out exoterically in the incidents of Egypt. The Lord God tempts sorely Pharaoh and “plagues him with great plagues,” lest the king should escape punishment, and thus afford no pretext for one more triumph to his “Chosen people.”
posterity to decide. One thing is certain, at any rate. As the esotericism of the New Testament agrees perfectly with that of the Hebrew Mosaic Books; and since, at the same time, a number of purely Egyptian symbols and pagan dogmas in general — the Trinity for example — have been copied by, and incorporated into, the Synoptics and St. John, it becomes evident that the identity of those symbols was known to the writers of the New Testament, whoever they were. They must have been aware also of the priority of the Egyptian esotericism, since they have adopted several such symbols that typify purely Egyptian conceptions and beliefs — in their outward and inward meaning — and which are not to be found in the Jewish Canon. One of such is the water-lily in the hands of the Archangel in the early representations of his appearance to the Virgin Mary; and these symbolical images are preserved to this day in the iconography of the Greek and Roman Churches. Thus water, fire, the Cross, as well as the Dove, the Lamb, and other sacred animals, with all their combinations, yield esoterically an identical meaning, and must have been accepted as an improvement upon Judaism pure and simple.
For the Lotus and Water are among the oldest symbols, and in their origin are purely Aryan, though they became common property during the branching-off of the fifth race. Let us give an example. Letters, as much as numbers, were all mystic, whether in combination or each taken separately. The most sacred of all is the letter M. It is both feminine and masculine, or androgyne, and is made to symbolize water, the great deep, in its origin. It is mystic in all the languages, Eastern and Western, and stands as a glyph for the waves, thus: . In the Aryan Esotericism, as in the Semitic, this letter has always stood for the waters; e.g., in Sanskrit makara — the tenth sign of the Zodiac — means a crocodile, or rather an aquatic monster associated always with water. The letter MA is equivalent to and corresponds with number 5 — composed of a binary, the symbol of the two sexes separated, and of the ternary, symbol of the third life, the progeny of the binary. This, again, is often symbolised by a Pentagon, the latter being a sacred sign, a divine Monogram. Maitreya is the secret name of the Fifth Buddha, and the Kalki Avatar of the Brahmins — the last Messiah who will come at the culmination of the Great Cycle. It is also the initial letter of the Greek Metis or Divine Wisdom; of Mimra, the “word” or Logos; and of Mithras (the Mihr), the Monad, Mystery. All these are born in, and from, the great Deep, and are the Sons of Maya — the Mother; in Egypt, Mouth, in Greece Minerva (divine wisdom), Mary, or Miriam, Myrrha, etc.; of the Mother of the Christian Logos, and of Maya, the mother of Buddha. Madhava and Madhavi are the titles of the most important gods and goddesses of the Hindu Pantheon. Finally, Mandala is in
Sanskrit “a circle,” or an orb (the ten divisions of the Rig Veda). The most sacred names in India begin with this letter generally — from Mahat, the first manifested intellect, and Mandara, the great mountain used by the gods to churn the Ocean, down to Mandakin, the heavenly Ganga (Ganges), Manu, etc., etc.
Shall this be called a coincidence? A strange one it is then, indeed, when we find even Moses — found in the water of the Nile — having the symbolical consonant in his name. And Pharaoh’s daughter “called his name Moses . . . because,” she said, “I drew him out of Water” (Exod. ii., 10.)* Besides which the Hebrew sacred name of God applied to this letter M is Meborach, the “Holy” or the “Blessed,” and the name for the water of the Flood is M’bul. A reminder of the “three Maries” at the Crucifixion and their connection with Mar, the Sea, or Water, may close this example. This is why in Judaism and Christianity the Messiah is always connected with Water, Baptism, the Fishes (the sign of the Zodiac called Meenam in Sanskrit), and even with the Matsya (fish) Avatar, and the Lotus — the symbol of the womb, or the water-lily, which is the same.
In the relics of ancient Egypt, the greater the antiquity of the votive symbols and emblems of the objects exhumed, the oftener are the lotus flowers and the water found in connection with the Solar Gods. The god Khnoom — the moist power — water, as Thales taught it, being the principle of all things, sits on a throne enshrined in a lotus (Saitic epoch, Serapeum). The god Bes stands on a lotus, ready to devour his progeny. (Ibid, Abydos.) Thot, the god of mystery and Wisdom, the sacred Scribe of Amenti, wearing the Solar disc as head gear, sits with a bull’s head (the sacred bull of Mendes being a form of Thot) and a human body, on a full blown lotus. (IVth Dynasty.) Finally it is the goddess Hiquet, under her shape of a frog, who rests on the lotus, thus showing her connection with water. And it is this frog-symbol, undeniably the most ancient of their Egyptian deities, from whose unpoetical shape the Egyptologists have been vainly trying to unravel her mystery and functions. Its adoption in the Church by the early Christians shows that they knew it better than our modern Orientalists. The “frog or toad goddess” was one of the chief cosmic deities connected with creation, on account of her amphibious nature, and chiefly because of her apparent resurrection, after long ages of solitary life enshrined in old walls, in rocks, etc. She not only participated in the organization of the world, together with Khnoom, but was also connected with the
* Even to the seven daughters of the Midian priest, who, coming to draw the water, had Moses water their flock, for which service the Midian gives to Moses Zipporah (sippara = the shining wave) as wife (Exod. ii.) All this has the same secret meaning.
dogma of resurrection.* There must have been some very profound and sacred meaning attached to this symbol, since, notwithstanding the risk of being charged with a disgusting form of zoolatry, the early Egyptian Christians adopted it in their Churches. A frog or toad enshrined in a lotus flower, or simply without the latter emblem, was the form chosen for the Church lamps, on which were engraved the words “I am the resurrection” “[[ego eimi anastasis]].”† These frog goddesses are also found on all the mummies.
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* With the Egyptians it was the resurrection in rebirth after 3,000 years of purification, either in Devachan or “the fields of bliss.”
† Such “frog-goddesses” may be seen at Bulaq, in the Cairo Museum. For the statement about the Church lamps and inscriptions it is the learned ex-director of the Bulaq Museum, Mr. Gaston Maspero, who must be held responsible. (See his “Guide du Visiteur au Musee de Bulaq,” p. 146.)