The cyclic appearance and reappearance of mystery schools implies that there has at all times existed a source from which these outward manifestations could spring, an undercurrent, a thread, an immortal basis, never absent, but alternately latent and manifest. This is somewhat like the familiar idea that the Masters of Wisdom, who collectively constitute the Great Lodge, continue to exist, while yet it is only at certain specific epochs that they send forth into the outer world of men their messengers to proclaim anew the tidings of the Wisdom-Religion or Secret Doctrine which they preserve and guard. But it is not to be doubted that these guardians of the ancient lore have at all times secret bodies of disciples in various parts of the world, unknown to mankind, yet secretly preserving the teachings; esoteric schools in fact, continuous as to their esoteric side, but only periodically exoteric. That this is not merely inference or speculation might readily be established by historical research; and if this has not already been done, it is only because the attention of scholars has not been turned in that direction. On the contrary, the attitude of mind of our historians has been such as to turn their eyes in a contrary direction. For we have to bear in mind that history is largely an artificial made-to-order commodity. Historians examine ancient records, and from these they draw and put together all that they consider worthy of credence, rejecting whatever they regard as unworthy of credence. Such a selective process must inevitably result in the production of a biased history. But if a scholar, whose mind was not previously biased against such a subject as the mystery schools, were to go to a great library in search of all the evidence he could find — would he not then collect all the things which other scholars have rejected and ignored? In short, I maintain that the evidence will be forthcoming in abundance so soon as any scholar or historian is prepared to search for it with an unprejudiced mind. Some while ago I reviewed a book which dealt elaborately with mysticism in Europe throughout the centuries of the Christian era, and I was astonished to find what a wealth of information is accessible of which the world at large, even the learned world, is entirely ignorant.
What we know as history may be a mere record of outward events, mere chronicles; or it may go a step further and be colored by some shade of political opinion, as the Whig history of Macaulay or the Tory history of Hume. Some historians may seek to give an economic color to history, others to interpret it according to theories of social evolution, and so on. There is a subject called the philosophy of history, in which writers seek to define the causes which produce events. Sometimes history has been viewed materialistically as a causal sequence of events, the one producing the other in an endless chain, with no cause operating from outside the chain. But such an interpretation would mean that there could be no progress; the stream of events would resemble a river running downhill and could never rise higher than it stood at any previous time. The facts prove that there is progress, and hence there must be forces operating from outside. One of these, as Theosophists know, is the continual reincarnation of souls who bring with them the results of their former experience. All great movements in history start from the dynamic effect of some great personality, who draws around him other personalities. But another potent force in the molding of events is surely that emanating from these secret mystery schools. How is it conveyed? It is neither easy nor indeed necessary to give a concise answer to this question; it hinges upon the general question of what theologians call inspiration. Whence did such men as Jacob Boehme, Meister Eckhart, Paracelsus, Giordano Bruno — to mention but a few out of an almost countless number — draw their inspiration? In what form or manner did they receive it? There may have been some who received instruction directly from wise men and who openly acknowledged the fact. Others there may have been who, though thus being taught, were precluded by vows of silence from acknowledging it. But apart from these two classes, how many mystics must there have been who received knowledge from the mystery schools by one of the means of what is called inspiration? We know not whence our thoughts come to us; and a man of pure life and high aspirations opens that very door which the unseen helpers of humanity stand always ready to enter.
We Theosophists cannot afford to forget that, behind this outer world of visible events, there stands the mighty world of thought, whereof this outer world is but the visible manifestation; that, behind this stage whereon the actors play their parts, is the great drama itself which they are enacting, the author whose ideas they are bodying forth. The history of humanity unfolds itself according to the true laws of evolution: it grows from within. Whatever conventional historians may be, Theosophists are not metaphysical enough to imagine an evolution which grows mysteriously out of nothing towards an unknown goal. The drama shows us the progressive outward manifestation of what is latent within.
Mystery schools throughout the ages — even the darkest ages — have kept burning the sacred fires, have kept alive the seeds, as the winter snows preserve the seeds of future harvests. Had there been no such guardians, where would have been the means by which in our own time a new proclamation of the Wisdom-Religion could have been made? True, the sacred fire would have been there, in its own realm; but what of the link? For just as the human mind is the link between the Spiritual Soul and the man of flesh, so have the mystery schools been the link between the Light of the Great Lodge and the children of earth — a necessary vehicle that could not be allowed to perish.
The Eleusinia were highly esteemed in the ancient Greek world, for the beneficial moral influence which they diffused; though there were also, unfortunately, certain other schools which, through inculcating perverted doctrines and rites, diffused an influence that was recognised as pernicious. Some important names in Greek history have come down to us as owing the chief part of their prestige to their being more or less closely connected with one or another of these genuine schools. For example, we have Epaminondas, the celebrated Theban leader, who contacted the school of Pythagoras through a friend who had come from there; and not only his unusual ability but also the magnanimity and justness of his character are celebrated by the historians. By his influence the Thebans are restrained from the usual acts of revenge and destruction upon some hostile and conquered neighbors, and these neighbors are instead treated mercifully and taken into alliance. Even so rapacious a man as Alexander the Great included in his character an element of nobility and enlightenment which he had imbibed indirectly through his teacher Aristotle, and which greatly tempered the severity of his policy towards the peoples whom he conquered. It would be easy to compile a list of similar instances of the direct and traceable effect of the mysteries upon men of prominence; and the more so, as I said before, if the minds of historians were directed towards finding, instead of ignoring, such cases.
Around the time of the Christian era, when the seat of civilization was the Roman empire and was spread around the Mediterranean as a center, there were many schools of occultism in Egypt, Asia Minor, and other adjacent territories. These undoubtedly had a connection with India. Through Egypt, India, Persia, filtered through many channels the ancient teachings of the Wisdom-Religion; and we have notable examples in the Neoplatonists and Gnostics, which it may please scholars to define as vague speculations or as syncretistic patchworks of Platonism and whatever else the professors of these cults could find. But a juster estimate, such as we are enabled to take, shows that both the Neoplatonists and the Gnostics had their source in the ancient Mysteries, and that instead of borrowing from religions, they simply interpreted them. Christianity in its origins was of this nature; and it was only through the course of some centuries that all the most valuable doctrines were driven out and the later materialistic and dogmatic religion formed. Yet were these elements not entirely killed; they were driven out of sight, compelled to hide; and a careful study of all the various secret schools and cults and isolated writers and teachers between those early centuries and the present day would prove amply that the contact between the outer world of men and the inner world of the gods has never entirely ceased.
Perhaps we may see in this theme the solution of a historical problem which has puzzled many. I refer to the extraordinary vitality and influence of the Christian religion, so out of proportion, as far as one can see, with the merits of its content. Can it be that this hardy plant, however stunted or grotesque its visible form may be, is continually nourished from an inexhaustible fount of life that ever wells up anew and replenishes its dwindling vigor? This is surely the case, nor can we believe that such power could be brought to the external organism from the life fount within unless there have always existed intermediaries of some kind — not merely individuals but groups — the mystery schools or their equivalent in some one or other esoteric body.
When the Sanskrit literature first began to be translated, Europe experienced a second Renaissance. Then was a circuit closed which established contact with the ancient mystery schools of India. The Transcendental school in America, through Emerson, acknowledges its indebtedness to this source; in the realm of German philosophy, Schopenhauer profited by it. Its influence since then has steadily widened more and more, until now it is a source of inspiration for pulpit, pen, forum, and lecture hall in every quarter. This could not have happened if the Mystery Schools had not been kept alive.
We have been privileged in our day to witness and to participate in a revival of the lost Mysteries of antiquity, whose purpose and effect is to restore to actual use the eternal principles upon which successful living is based; and to counteract the desolating and destructive effect of those wrong principles which have ensued upon a too exclusive devotion to an individualistic selfishness aided by scientific discovery. Thus we have seen this influence diffused ever more widely, everywhere being recognised and applied; so that it needs only the rise of younger generations and the passing of the older, for great and beneficent changes in our whole social polity to become apparent and active. And this influence is conveyed not merely by the visible channels of printed and spoken word, but also and powerfully through the invisible currents of thought which bring to receptive and aspiring minds the sacred teachings which we broadcast into the ether from our assemblies and from our private meditations. Organization is an all-important thing; every living being is an organism. Our society is an organism; it was formed largely to bring together into a common focus the many scattered sparks of divine fire cherished in the hearts of individuals powerless from their isolation. There are individuals who avail themselves of the benefits rendered available by organizations, without desiring themselves to affiliate with such an organization. They may have good and sufficient reasons which justly preponderate over arguments on the other side: it is not for us to judge. Yet for those of us who see the joining of an organization as being at once a privilege and a duty, the way seems sufficiently clear. It is ours to promote the work of the body of which we are members, and to stand ever loyal and true to our fellows and to those to whom we look up as leaders and inspirers.
The Theosophical ForumTHEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE