The question was asked the other evening: Just what is the meaning of the four beasts — the man, the lion, the bull, and the eagle — whether in the Christian Book of the Apocalypse or as used by early and medieval Christian artists? The question is not hard to answer. In the first place the Christian Book of Revelation was written by a Qabbalist, a student of the early, not the late, Qabbalah. (1) It was edited or touched up at a later date by a later Christian editor. No one knows what he took out, what he kept in. But it was touched up and given a more Christian coloring.
Now if you will read that chapter four of this Christian book called Revelation or the Apocalypse, you will see that it mentions these four beasts "full of eyes within," who proclaimed truths and unsealed seals, and they are stated to have encompassed the throne of the Hierarch.
Whether through this Qabbalistic book, or by early tradition now forgotten, or in some other way at present unknown to scholars, possibly through neo-Platonic sources, or neo-Pythagoric, the early Christians ascribed the same meaning to these four 'beasts' of the Apocalypse, and to the writers of the four Gospels, to wit, the man, the lion, the bull, and the eagle, that the Hindus ascribed to what they called their four Loka-palas, or guardians of the worlds, the four Maharajas if you like; albeit in simple justice be it said, the Hindu conception even today is incomparably vaster and more spiritually mystical than is the strongly anthropomorphic picture presented in the Christian book of Revelation. These four Maharajas, or four Loka-palas were by exoteric explanation, attributed severally and respectively to the North, the East, the South, and the West; and hence by those who did not understand the inner meaning, the Loka-palas were called the guardians of the four quarters. The public took the husk of the explanation and left the meat, the bread of the grain of truth.
Nature being spiritually generated and spiritually governed or controlled in so far as the divine law can have its way on this earth of matter, in the lower degrees of hierarchies where the conflict of wills rises daily and nightly in a hideous shriek to heaven — in so far as the divine law can control the affairs of men, it does so in four stages: the birth or the beginning technically called the North, the divine birth; adolescence or the sun-rise, technically called the East; full maturity of spirit and power in manhood, technically called the South, and governed by the Lord of Death, Yama; and the fourth, the West, the Land of Shades, the Land of the great Passing — so called by Egyptian, and Persian, and Babylonian, and Hindu, and Greek, and American Red Skin, in fact all over the world.
The ancients also celebrated four holy seasons in the wheeling of the year: the winter solstice and the spring equinox, and the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox. First comes the Great Birth, the winter — the birth of the sun when he first begins to reassume his powers of light, when his journey to the South is over, and he begins to retrace his journey back to the North. It is called the great birth. And then comes Adolescence at the spring equinox, when the laws of life and light begin magically to work on the earth. Trees burgeon, flowers spring forth, Nature begins to sing with the new elements of life coursing through her veins. And in the summertime comes the Great Temptation or the great trial which a man always undergoes in maturity and full power of his strength, determining whether he goes up or down; for in the summertime likewise the fruits are ready for the harvest. Grain has been cut and stored Nature is rich and powerful, overflowing with her exuberance of vitality. And then comes the fourth sacred season, that of the autumn equinox, when the sun, as it were, seems to take leave of the northern regions and pursues his journey southward The days shorten, the nights lengthen, chills come upon the earth, the leaves fall, the sap retreats from twig, leaf, branch, and stock, into the roots. Rest comes and peace. And this was called the season of the Great Passing.
Thus, the ancients taught that the spiritual life which governs our world has its day of birth, has its day of adolescence, has its day of full material power and strength, has its day of passing, to begin anew the same cycle, let us hope on a somewhat higher plane. Year follows year and season follows season, the manvantaras come and the manvantaras go, the pralayas come and they go. But the divine endures forever.
These four Loka-palas or governors of the world are the four as it were karmic divinities, actually not so much single entities but hierarchies of divinities, each Loka-pala representing a hierarchy, one inaugurating the manvantara or the beginning of manifestated life in our world. When its duty is done, then the second hierarchy takes up the task which is passed on to it The second Loka-pala steps into the arena of action and carries the burden for a while, like the bearer of a torch in a torch-race running swiftly to the goal, and on reaching it, handing the torch on to the next runner to carry it on to the next goal.
Thus when the second Loka-pala has finished his work, the torch, the duty, is passed to the third; from it to the fourth, and the cycle is ended! Karman has been expended, new karman has been written in the Book of Life by the Lipikas, the divine recorders And the next manvantara, the next period of manifestation, will see the Loka-pala springing anew into spiritual and intellectual activity.
This is a very abstract and truly divine conception, Companions, difficult for Occidentals who are not accustomed to this way of thinking. The early Christians were fascinated by it, which showed they had their modicum of the original god-wisdom of Theosophy. But they found it difficult to explain. And by and by, the inner meaning of the four beasts, the four Loka-pala representations, symbols of the divinities: the soaring eagle, the thinking man, the bull of strength, and the lion of courage, symbols of qualities: the symbolic concept was forgotten, and the four animals were simply painted by early medieval artists, Christian artists, as symbols of the four Evangels who wrote the Gospels; because the early Church taught that in the four Gospels was the Word of God. The Word of God is the law of the universe, and in these four Gospels are the four laws of being, the four divine laws. So therefore these beasts later came merely to symbolize these transcripts, these gospels of early Christian Theosophical teaching; and the original, almost the divine meaning was lost.
1. It is to be noted in passing, however, that the term Qabbalist as used in this connection and similarly often used by H. P. B., refers not so much specifically to the Jewish Qabbalah itself but to mystical and philosophical lines of thought having kinship with the inner meaning of the Jewish Qabbalah, but not specifically using the technical terms of the Jewish Qabbalah, although of course both the Jewish Qabbalah and these other systems of so-called Qabbalistic thought are in greater or less degree all based on archaic Theosophy. Thus when I say that the writer of the Christian Book of Revelations, called the Apocalypse, was a Qabbalist, as H. P. B. also calls him, I do not mean that necessarily he was a follower of the strictly Jewish Qabbalah, but rather that he employed similar, or parallel lines of expression and thinking, which by no means necessarily had a Jewish origin. In other words the Jewish Qabbalah was used as a sort of standard manner of expression and terminology, yet greatly modified by these other schools who refused to accept the Jewish Qabbalah as such, but nevertheless followed its type and even its lead in thought in more than one particular. The reason for this of course stands out clearly: that the Jewish Qabbalah as well as these other later systems and indeed all ancient mystical and religious Theosophical thought, were either original offsprings from the archaic Theosophy or descendants from earlier archaic Theosophic branches or stems thereof. (return to text)