This universal symbol was a part of the mystical language of initiates in the Mystery Schools of many ancient civilizations. It carries in the potency of its hidden message, depths of thought that are to us inexpressible in words when we are able to grasp even a portion of it with our intuition. It is only because the human race has moved forward to the extent of having some of the esoteric teaching given out in Theosophical literature, that we dare approach the subject with an effort to turn the key at least once.
We have been taught that each occult symbol is capable of being turned with a sevenfold key, revealing the meaning in its relation to the individual man, the races of humanity, the earth, the solar family, the galaxy or home universe, perhaps the operations of the Hierarchy of Compassion, and the greater universes of which galaxies are but atomic parts.
The Cup and Vine symbol seems to be as old as anything that we know. We find it described in the Rig Veda, the oldest book we have according to esoteric records which places it back some 20,000 years. We find it in the Sufi writings of the Persian mystics and in the writings of the apostles in the New Testament. We know that it was a prominent symbol in the Greek Mysteries where they drank from the Kykeon, but it was in the decadent remnants of Greek and Roman Mysteries that it came to its unfortunate end. The Bacchic rites, for example, became evil as we entered the dark ages and the light of the Mysteries was no longer permitted to shine.
Like all significant symbols, the Cup and Vine deals entirely with the evolution of the soul, with the lifting of the human soul to become at one with the spiritual soul. It refers to Initiation and the life of the initiate in his relation to the teacher. For this mystical unfoldment of man's spiritual nature can come only from knowledge of the Divine Life in its magnificent scheme of manifestation. Of such is the Wisdom of the Ages and this Wisdom belongs to all planets and to all beings. So potent is it that, as Katherine Tingley said, it puts new blood in one's veins, it changes one's heart and mind.
This Divine Wisdom becomes a revelation as man lives it and becomes it. He knows then how to be quiet, how to be at peace, how to see the ineffable beauty in life all about him, how to see the light of Divinity in his fellow men because he has it awake in himself. Then he may become a channel for the flow of this wine of life which pours forth from the fountainheads of the Hierarchy of Compassion and comes to human beings through the spiritual touch of a great teacher and through the thoughts and lives of good men and women.
In the Rig Veda we read of the highest of the Gods, Indra, God of the Firmament, drinking of the Soma, being drunken with Soma-drink. This Soma juice is the fruit of the tree of knowledge. It is this that was forbidden to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden — truly the allegorical way of telling man when he became a self-conscious, responsible human being, that he must prepare himself, raise himself before he could partake of this elixir of life.
The third eye became ossified as man descended for experience into planes of material life, making this descent in order to self-consciously lift himself to a higher experience through suffering and learning. Originally the Soma juice was said to be the fluid of this first eye of man reaching the heart when spiritual illumination was attained. As the Persian says, "It is that wine which raises me above myself."
The Soma is linked with the teaching that we can only know God by becoming godlike. The more inwardly pure the man, the nobler his position. H. P. Blavatsky in his Unveiled describes Soma in this way:
This Hindu sacred beverage answers to the Greek ambrosia or nectar, drunk by the gods of Olympus. A cup of kykeon was also quaffed by the mysta at the Eleusinian initiation. He who drinks it reaches Bradhna, or place of splendor (Heaven). The soma-drink known to Europeans is not the genuine beverage, but its substitute; for the initiated priests alone can taste of the real soma; and even kings and rajas, when sacrificing, receive the substitute. . . . The soma-drink is also commemorated in the Hindu Pantheon, for it is called the King-Soma. He who drinks of it is made to participate in the heavenly king, because he becomes filled with it, as the Christian apostles and their converts became filled with the Holy Ghost, and purified of their sins. The soma makes a new man of the initiate; he is reborn and transformed, and his spiritual nature overcomes the physical; it gives the divine power of inspiration, and develops the clairvoyant faculty to the utmost. According to the exoteric explanation the soma is a plant, but, at the same time it is an angel. It forcibly connects the inner, highest "spirit" of man, which spirit is an angel like the mystical soma, with his "irrational soul," or astral body, and thus united by the power of the magic drink, they soar together above physical nature, and participate during life in the beatitude and ineffable glories of Heaven. (1)
We find the same idea well expressed by the Sufi poet Omar Khayyam when he sang:
For "Is" and "Is-not" though with Rule and Line
And "Up-and-down" without, I could define,
I yet in all I only cared to know,
Was never deep in anything but — Wine.
And lately, by the Tavern Door agape,
Came stealing through the Dusk an Angel Shape
Bearing a Vessel on his Shoulder; and
He bid me taste of it; and 'twas — the Grape! (2)
The ancients loved analogy and comparison. There is an interesting one suggested in the frequent use of the reference to the juice of the moon-plant (Soma). Soma is associated with the lunar goddesses, Isis, Diana, and others. We believe there is a very deep connection there in regard to the moon and its part in initiation; but the most obvious one is the fact that the moon watches over child birth, conception, etc., and the analogy is made to the quickening of the child-seed in the approach to its time of birth and the actual quickening that takes place in man's spiritual nature when the veils of selfishness begin to fall away and he heeds the call of his higher self to bring into birth the savior that is within him.
This is what Jesus meant when he spoke of himself as the Vine and his apostles as the fruit. They are the carriers of the inspiration which must bear fruit in the quality of living. In Luke 20 we find the parable of the Vine: "A certain man planted a vineyard, and let it forth to husbandmen, and went into a far country for a long time." Truly everywhere this wisdom of man's true nature and his relation to the Universe is the bread of life, the wine of life, the elixir of life, the sustainer of all mankind.
It makes clear the meaning of the Feast of the Passover, for we find the following verses in Luke 22 telling what befell after the Lord was seated at this feast:
For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.
And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves:
For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come.
And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.
Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you. — vv. 16-20
"Whoso tasteth my blood hath eternal life; and I will raise him up on the last day." The Holy of Holies in any religion refers to this communion of man's human self with the God within. It is the true meaning of the Sacrament of the church. The soma juice is the Holy water used in the Church.
When all the inner meaning of these symbols is better understood, men shall recognize themselves as brothers of divine origin. For this hunger is in every human heart and we shall all sometime set out to find the Holy Grail.
1. Isis Unveiled, p. xl. (return to text)
2. The Rubaiyat, 1st Edition of Edward Fitzgerald's translation. (return to text)