The Cycle of Initiation was the crowning glory of the work of the ancient Mystery Schools. It was not a ritual formulated by the brain-mind of man. It was instituted by wise Sages and Seers, highly developed spiritual men, in an effort to co-ordinate the initiant with the forces of nature, especially the higher spiritual forces. We all believe in the inseparability of Man and Nature, but the process of initiation has to make that unity a living dynamic reality, so that through that unity the initiate becomes a master of Nature and her forces.
The Sages have chosen the seasons of the year when the cosmic and solar forces favor this the consummation of the most sublime achievement of human evolution. The object of initiation, if successfully accomplished, is to raise man to the stature, nature, and dignity of conscious godhood.
The ancient Mystery Schools were not founded by primitive men magnifying the glories and mysteries of nature, as is described in the encyclopaedias and other learned and labored books on the subject. Quite the contrary. The Mystery Schools were founded by great spiritually and intellectually enlightened men for the purpose of retaining and preserving the instruction given to them by great spiritual and intellectual beings commonly called the gods, who descended on earth to inaugurate and give the primal impulse to the intellectual and spiritual evolution of mankind. The Mystery Schools were essentially and fundamentally ethical and moral. In them were stored, as an Ark of Safety, the teaching of the gods as to the origin, nature, mode of operation, and destiny of the macrocosm and the microcosm, man and his limitless self, the universe.
The Mystery Schools, especially the central one, were designed as an Ark of Safety in which the wisdom of the gods could be preserved and carried on from generation to generation of initiates, from age to age, through cycles of spiritual light and of materialistic darkness, to the present, and will continue onward to the end of human time, when man shall have fully achieved his evolution on earth and graduated from humanhood to conscious godhood. From time to time as cyclic law permitted and human intellect searched for truth, and eager, aspiring human hearts demanded spiritual light and help, Messengers were sent from the Lodge of Light to supply the wants and fulfil the needs of the time. Thus were founded the great religions and philosophies which have raised mankind to such degrees of civilization as the different ages have attained. The greatest of these Teachers were the religious and spiritual ones, called by men in their love and gratitude "Saviors". At the evening twilight of descending cycles all is done that can be done to sustain mankind through the dark ages. At the dawn of rising cycles — as at present in the West — more teaching is given out by the Lodge, and provision is made that Mystery Schools or College-Temples, Theosophical Universities, or some form of permanent esoteric bodies suited to the times, are formed, and in them it is provided that a succession of Teachers shall carry on the light from generation to generation, clarifying and amplifying the teachings, and giving out all that the intelligence and character of the age can understand and assimilate.
Into these Esoteric Schools were attracted the intelligentsia of the youth of the age, though the elders were not excluded, and there they received definite teachings on the science of the soul and of the inner causal worlds far more definite, complete and accurate, than modern technical science. They had a system of education that educes and unfolds the entire intellectual, moral, and spiritual nature into full flower. A system more complete and efficient than has entered into the imagination of any modern educator or the best practice of any college or university. The esoteric discipline produced men with self-knowledge and self-control, and Christlike thoughtfulness for others.
There were many of these branch Mystery Schools, each suited to its time and place, and all radiating from the Central Lodge of the Brotherhood of Compassion. From them came thousands of the best citizens, men of talent, of genius, statesmen, and leaders, and teachers. The branch centers, Mystical Schools, College-Temples, Theosophical Universities all, were the life-giving heart and center of the civilization in which they lived. Sometimes these civilizations were sustained, through rising and falling periods, for countless thousands of years, and attained heights unimagined by us.
It is the noble destiny and sublime privilege and responsibility of the Theosophical Society to revive the knowledge of these lost mysteries of antiquity, and establish these centers of spiritual light and learning in the west where they will be the radiating heart and center of a new order of the ages, of a higher civilization in the occidental world. The Theosophical University is the first of these College-Temples. It is, and is to be, the radiant esoteric center of the occidental world.
For dynamic reasons the Cycle of Initiation coincided with the solstices and the equinoxes. The cycle begins with the Winter Solstice, December 21-22, when the sun reaches the southernmost point of his journey, and turning northward — is reborn as the saying goes. The exact moment of this last Solstice, the astronomers tell us, was December 22nd, 4:14 a. m. at Point Loma, 7:14 Eastern Standard Time, 1938.
Then follows the initiation at the Spring Equinox; then the Summer Solstice; and the Autumnal Equinox. Each initiation has relation to and is in co-ordination with the cosmic forces of the season. The Winter Solstice is the season of the greatest of the initiations — when the Christs and Buddhas are born — spiritually born. Christmas is celebrated on the 24-25 of December through a shift in the calendar.
A few words about what initiation really means is important because there are those who make a pretense of selling secrets of initiation, and also because so much nonsense has been written on the subject. The process is one of accelerated evolution. In a sense it is terrible, because the slow work of ages is focalized and concentrated into three or fourteen days. The "tragedy" is depicted in many religions, mystery-tales, and hero stories, such as the Labors of Hercules, the Descent of Orpheus into the Under-world, the Crucifixion of Christ, and the trial of the Buddha under the Bo-tree.
In the Near East at the time of the beginning of the Christian Era, the initiant was laid upon a cruciform couch, though any comfortable couch would do, and was plunged into the "sleep of siloam," a deep spiritual trance, in which the soul, the thinker, the individual man himself, was freed from the chains of the body and the attractions of the earth. He first went into the underworld where he met all his own bad Karman congealed into objective form and focalized upon him in all its force and quality, and he had to face and overcome and dissipate it. Next he had to meet and overcome all the elemental forces of nature — forces that are natural and all right in their own sphere, but so far beneath the highly evolved individuality of man that they are evil and inimical to him. This "battle" is variously described, as in the Temptation of Jesus by the devil, and Gautama under the Bo-tree — a struggle from which the triumphant Siddartha rose as the divinely illuminated Buddha. Having become master of himself within, and of the elemental forces of nature without, he right there begins to practice his powers as a member of the Brotherhood of Compassion by ministering to the denizens of these nether spheres, "preaching to the spirits in prison." (1)
Now, master of himself, of the Underworld, and of Nature, his free spirit wings its way through the air-ways of the soul, along the "circulations of the Cosmos," to the Inner Worlds, the spiritual or causal worlds, to the "many mansions in my Father's house," or certain of the Sacred Planets, where he gains first-hand knowledge by actual experience, by becoming for a time a denizen of these Inner Spheres. In daily life man can aspire or pray or appeal for help to his Higher Self, to the powers within or above him; but in initiation the initiant can have no outside help. It is he himself, as a man, that is being tested; it is he himself that must have developed and become strong in his own inherent godlike qualities. He must now and henceforward be the captain of his own soul. Furthermore he must know what to do and where to go through the air-ways of the soul. For this he must have had a Teacher to impart to him definite technical knowledge during the period of his novitiate. He must now through his own definite knowledge and inherent power be his own pilot; he can have no benevolent hand of god or Master extended to him. No kindly Mercury or Pushan can act as psychopomp, shepherd of the souls of the dead, to guide him as the Monad has during sleep and death.
Having accomplished his journey through certain Sacred Planets he goes to the Sun, where he fully unfolds the solar qualities which we all have, and for a time he becomes a Sun-god, one of the Solar Logoi. Then he returns to earth by the same pathway through which he went, and rises from the "tomb" or couch or "cross" as a full Initiate, a Master of Life and Death, osirified, a Son of the Sun. He rises resplendent, radiant, with the light of Divinity. No words are needed to tell who he is; his condition is self-evident by his presence. To put it into words, his condition is well described by the Cry of Jesus Christ on the Cross, rightly translated: O God, my God within me, how Thou dost fill me with glory!
1. 1 Peter, iii, 18-19. (return to text)
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