The Theosophical Forum – November 1943

THE TWENTY-THIRD PSALM — Grace Frances Knoche

"The Lord is my Shepherd, my Friend and Companion, I shall not grow less" — what more beautiful and strengthening thought than that the Self in man is one's Guardian, Friend and constant Companion through all the trials and sorrows of earthly life.

This Twenty-third Psalm when translated with words as grammatically accurate as the King James Version, but with an eye to freeing the spirit to perceive what the original Hebrew Song meant, is seen clearly as the story of the soul's birth in Godhood through initiatory trial.

The very beauty of the words used in the orthodox version can be a danger, however, for worship of form rather than reverence for the vital truth behind that form may lead to the closing of the Open Eye of the Seer which each one of us is in our inmost. In order more easily to discern the occult significance, therefore, of this psalm as contained in the Hebrew we have made our own translation with no attempt to compete with the literary excellence of the King James Version, which itself is a masterpiece of English prose, but rather, as stated, in order by the use of words carefully chosen for verbal as well as esoteric accuracy to release more fully its essential message. For ease of comparison and comment, on the left is the King James Version, and on the right our rendition:

1. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 1. The Self is my Guardian, I shall not grow less.
2. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters. 2. In open places of virgin growth he causes me to take birth; unto waters of repose he leads me.
3. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 3. He leads back my soul; he guides me in paths of strength for the sake of his essence.
4. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. 4. Yes, verily, although I press forward into the valley of the image of death I fear not evil, for thou art with me. Thy scepter and thy staff, they sustain me.
5. Thou prepares a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou anointest my head with oil; my cup overflows. 5. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of those who bind me; thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. 6. Assuredly, splendor and compassion will follow after me all the days of my lives, and I shall endure in the temple of the Self to the utmost extent of my days.

Verse 1: The Lord or Self in the Hebrew is Yehowah, because Jehovah to the Jewish people represented their God, which the Theosophist in this instance may interpret as signifying man's inner divinity or Highest Self, the Lord or Immanent Christ. The Self or the Lord, therefore, is my Guardian, ro'eh, meaning shepherd, also guardian, friend, companion, helper, to that human self which cannot "want," i.e., grow less or decrease, in power once the link is made with the Self, and as long as it wills to keep the links of such companionship unbroken.

Verse 2: Bine'oth deshe" yarbitseni — translated by King James as "green pastures," correctly enough, but likewise as accurately rendered, and we believe more suggestively, by "open places of virgin growth." Ne'oth, plural of na'dh, meaning "dwelling, habitation, likewise an unprotected open place"; deshe', "field, tender grass, young herbiage," i.e. virgin growth; a phrase which immediately suggests those ever virgin fields of the spirit where the soul seeks refreshment and renewed life. Yarbitseni, causative form of verbal root rabats, translated by Fuerst "to lie, lie down, especially of animals; of men, to settle down calmly, securely; and of birds to hatch." What objection then to using the idea of hatching, whether of birds or human souls, for did not the Egyptians depict both the human soul, ba, and the spiritual intelligence or Self, khu or akhu, in their hieroglyphics as birds? Thus, "in open places of virgin growth he (the Self) causes me (the human soul) to take birth," or "to rest securely" if we prefer, in the fields of Spirit, beside the waters of inner quiet.

Verse 3: My soul the Self of me leads back to its source; My Self guides me in paths of strength: tsedeq, meaning "power, strength, victory'; for the "sake of his essence" — shemo from shem, a word having a number of meanings, among them "sign, memorial, monument and name," but also signifying, according to Fuerst, "the internal essence," i.e., the monadic source.

These three verses thus portray, in the language of the Mystery-chamber, the trials and discipline undergone in the preliminary degrees of the Initiatory cycle: the katharsis or soul-purification coupled with wise instruction in and of the "open places of the spirit," i. e. the development of the spiritual and intellectual fiber of the constitution through correct knowledge pari passu with uninterrupted aspiration and self-imposed discipline.

Verse 4: In these lines is the story of the travail of the soul in the Fourth degree of Initiation: the dread journey "in the valley of the image of death," the Underworld, whither the soul must, not walk, but press forward without aid, without guidance, from above. Note the phrase "image of death," not the ordinary death of the physical body when the soul is released into the care of its Higher Self, but "image" or "phantom" of Death where the body is laid on a cruciform couch and kept alive through the agency of the Great Ones, while the soul, naked and bereft of outer help, travels self-consciously the paths of death: fearless of evil because "thou art with me," the "thou" being the self-developed spiritual integrity which must now prove itself adamant against the seductive regions of Hell.

"Thy rod and thy staff": this word "rod" in the orthodox version is perfectly correct, but it has bothered a number of earnest Christians, laymen and theologians alike; access to the Hebrew, however, solves the difficulty at once: the rod is shebet, which means "stick," "rod," but also "scepter," derived from the verb-root shabat, "to strike, to beat out, to card," but likewise "to be firm, durable, to make strong." Thus shebet is that scepter of power which is derived only from and through the disciplina arcana, lives of it, guided by aspiration, for what else will make a man's soul durable, strong, diamond-hard against the "delights" of matter? Mish'eneth: "staff" or "support," that sustaining help that comes when most needed, and indeed when least expected, as long as the links are kept firm with the Self.

Verse 5: Another phase of the muesis or initiation: the meeting of one's past: "mine enemies" as King James translated tsorerai, but equally correctly rendered as "those who oppress and bind me": that foul brood of weak and evil thoughts engendered in ages past, but which have not only left their heavy deposits in the fabric of the soul, but likewise in the record of surrounding Nature, the Astral Light, and which, at the moment of supreme trial, return as evil beings come to slay the aspirant, or themselves be vanquished by the neophyte triumphant in test.

And after the temptation, Success and the Summum Bonunt: "thou anointest my head with oil" — mystery-language pointing to one of the most beautiful and sacred of ancient rites: the crowning of the head with oil of purification, the making the man a Christos, a Mashiahh (Messiah) — an "anointed" one, i.e. an Initiate.

"My cup overflows" — so grand and potent is the wine of Life that pours into the chalice of the soul from the Spiritual Sun through the Self in this final solar rite, that it overflows into the entire nature, and the neophyte, now initiate, is literally, as Dr. de Purucker has taught us, bathed in solar glory, because he has become in his own right a "Son of the Sun."

Verse 6: Here is epitomized the boon of the final epopteia or "revelation" which follows as the natural sequence upon the successful passing of the katharsis and muesis, previously described: from now on tob wahhesed, "goodness, also beauty and splendor, and compassion" will follow me all the days of my lives (note the plural), for my soul henceforth is anchored in the temple of the Self unto the farthest extent of time. The Solar Initiation complete, the chela has become Adept, and another member is added to the Brotherhood.

Surely in this Hebrew Song is to be found a gem of profound beauty and esoteric worth, priceless beyond measure, for it is the song of the birth of the self in the Self, the human in the Divine.

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