The Theosophical Forum – December 1939


Centers of Ancient Mystery Teachings

Could you name for us the centers where Mystery-Schools existed in ancient times?

G. de P. — The mistake of all scholars and mystics is to put too much emphasis upon places as Mystery-Schools. And this is why comparatively little is said about localities and places of Mystery-Schools in occult literature — ours, for instance.

From time immemorial there have been Schools of the Mysteries, some more or less publicly known like those of Eleusis and Samothrace in Greece, others thought to exist, whispered about, but not known to the multitude. These Schools of the Mysteries were formed always of two aspects, the exoteric and the esoteric. Those schools which emphasized more strongly the exoteric aspect — which was a noble work in its way because it attracted the attention of the populace and raised their eyes to higher things — were such places as the Greek Eleusis and Samothrace, Abydos and Thebes in Egypt, Ephesus in Asia Minor.

Eleusis and Samothrace were almost wholly devoted to the Mysteries, and hence they are so often spoken of, and have become wrongly looked upon as the type of Mystery-Schools elsewhere in the world. This is not so. Most of these Mystery-Schools were attached as secret bodies to the main temples of different countries. In other words, every great temple had its private or secret Mystery-School which was unknown to the multitude or partially known. And this applies to all ancient countries. This does not mean that every ancient temple had a Mystery-School, for that is not true. It was only the main centers of religious teaching that were the places where the secret Mystery-Schools existed — not always, but usually so. Now this it seems to me is quite clear, and I hope you will understand it.

Sometimes the Mystery-Schools, as above said, were attached to the greatest of the temples; but the greater Schools of the Mysteries 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.

The location of these places was most carefully hid from everyone's knowledge, except that of the Initiates. Thus as regards Druidism and Mithraism and Judaism, as instances, the secret Mystery-Schools were often carried on in these underground or subterranean chambers; or even as in the case of the former two, in the midst of a forest — such, for instance, as Stonehenge in England, Carnac in Brittany, various places for Mithraism in the Roman Empire, and various places in Judaea, etc.

In India, certain ones of the great cave-temples like Karli, and one or two mentioned by H. P. B., were Mystery-Centers. There were equivalent ones in Ceylon and the south of India. Memphis, Abydos, Thebes, Abu-Simbel, and Karnak in Egypt, were Mystery-Centers. Sippar in Assyria, Ecbatana in Medea, Babylon and Ur and Lagash were also others. But it would be a mistake to say that all the different countries which had places of exoteric worship were all likewise centers of esoteric initiations, for they were not.

Is it true that there are Mystery-Schools similar to those of the Ancients functioning today? — and if so, where are they, and why are they not better known?

G. de P. — People like concrete facts, but there is just a danger in giving concrete facts. Dynamite is a concrete fact, whereas we can talk about explosions with safety.

If I were to tell openly where some of the Mystery-Schools are situated, these places would be pestered and overrun, not so much now, because it might take years for people to grow to believe, but in future time. For example, the Mystery-Centers today in Tibet are largely held in secret places in the mountains, but there is a Mystery-School right in Shigatse, and I don't care to specify the place, for obvious reasons!

Just as in the past, the same general system of both exoteric and esoteric aspects of teaching the Occultism of the ages, in other words, the same system of Mystery-Schools exists even today. Only today, the exoteric form has been largely replaced by the different activities of the Theosophical Movement which itself is exoteric as a Movement.

The esoteric groups of Mystery-Schools are perhaps more numerous today than they have been for thousands of years, but they are more secretly conducted and more carefully hid.

You ask where these secret centers exist. My answer is, generally speaking, one in every great country; although as a matter of fact, "great" refers not to frontiers or the rolling leagues of land, but to influence. 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 — "great" in the sense of being at peace and quiet, etc. 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.

There is still a third aspect of this question which is much more complicated than the man in the street might think. 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. The chief of such groups lives in what Theosophists call Sambhala. It is the center of the Occult Brotherhood of Tibet, called of Tibet merely because that happens to be at the present time the land chosen by them as the most easily guarded. There is another branch brotherhood, affiliated with the Chief Brotherhood of Tibet in Syria, still another one in Egypt, still another one in South America. There is one in Mexico and there is one in the United States. There is likewise one in Europe.

All these smaller groups are affiliates or subordinate to the mother-group of the Occult Hierarchy in Sambhala. Please understand that Sambhala is just the old Sanskrit name given to this occult center from almost immemorial time. The word Sambhala itself has no occult significance, I mean in the numerological sense or anything like that. It might just as readily have been called the Brahma Vidya, Asrama, or by some similar name, but the ancients called it Sambhala, and we merely perpetuate the same old name.

Do not confuse these occult centers just last spoken of with the National Guardians previously mentioned. These National Guardians never interfere in politics. One might almost say that their attempt is to undo the evil wrought by national and international political combines and activities. The National Guardians supervise the spiritual and intellectual welfare of the people over whom they watch, as far as karman and the natural intuitive faculties of the various peoples allow it to be done, but they never interfere in politics. They never make wars or revolutions or anything of that kind. 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. All these National Guardians are as it were envoys or deputies of one or other of the occult centers mentioned above.

Theosophical University Press Online Edition