The Theosophical Forum – September 1950

ARIADNE'S THREAD: I — Hazel S. Minot

[Note: page numbers cited for The Esoteric Tradition are to the 2-vol. Second Edition and do not correspond to the 1-vol. 3rd & Revised Edition.]

All down the centuries there has been a persistent search for the answers to those gad-fly questions: "Where did we come from?" "Why are we here?" and "Where do we go from here?" Questions that we begin to ask even before we learn to read, and sometimes we are not so very much wiser when we come to the last chapter of this present life.

You know the story of Theseus: how he was enabled to reach the Minotaur, slay the monster, and then find his way back through the bewildering passages of the Labyrinth by means of the thread given to him by the princess Ariadne. It is, in fact, a story of universal life, and the "whys" and "wherefores" are so complicated because man — an important figure in the solution of the puzzle — is a mystery to himself. Long ages before present-day psychologists were posing the question of man's "psyche" the search was on, and with the ups and downs of the passing cycles there have been greater and lesser degrees of applied knowledge concerning true inner development. Progress has never been in a straight line, and this fact has served nicely as a smoke-screen to the real course of human progress — at any event, for those believing in an end-on evolution.

The way to the very heart of this "world labyrinth" has been found by more than one seeker, and the knowledge brought back has been a veritable Ariadne's Thread for the many others who have essayed to penetrate the mystery. The pattern created by these efforts tells its own story, and gives a revealing picture of the human race, guided and instructed from age to age by those who held this Ariadne Thread of spiritual truth. Throughout great cycles of time there have come those who were head and shoulders above their fellows in spiritual thought; then there have been smaller cycles, represented by outstanding figures of intellectual and spiritual capacity; and in between these latter have been the many of lesser stature who nevertheless also "held the thread" by reason of their will "to know God" — not through creeds and dogmas, but by clearing away misconceptions, by probing the Universe around them, studying their relation to it, and by seeking always for a greater knowledge of themselves.

We are more or less familiar with these names — whatever group they may belong to — but do we realize quite so readily their relation to the "pattern," especially those (searchers after truth) who have "filled in the gaps," as it were? Time and patience show that over a period of some twenty-five centuries, there have been names, sometimes two or three in each century, whom we can recognize as carrying the Ariadne Thread. The pattern is so continuous that where an occasional break seems to come we may well believe the work was carried on in silence, or else — entirely possible — our own research needs to be extended.

It is worthy of note that a great many of these men have been born towards the middle or last portion of one century, thus carrying their work over to the beginning of the following century. Also, while empire was slowly moving westward, the East was recognized as holding the keys to spiritual knowledge, and more than one wise man of the West received teaching from the sages of the East.

Our beginning — the seventh century, B.C., — is necessarily arbitrary, and through the succeeding centuries we shall confine our research in large part to representatives of European thought. The following table (1) will assist the reader in tracing the Ariadne Thread: unhampered by the usual details of biography, he will be free to make his own deductions from hints suggested in the appended quotations.

SEVENTH CENTURY, B.C., c. 639-559

Solon, mentioned by H. P. Blavatsky in both Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine. He studied with the Egyptian priests who told him, among other things, about Atlantis.

SIXTH CENTURY, B.C., B. c. 584

Pythagoras, whom H. P. B. designates as a great adept, and calls him "the most mystic of the eastern philosophers." He studied with the Brahmins in India.

522-443 ? 525-455

Pindar amd Aeschylus: Both give evidence in their writings of a knowledge of the Mysteries, and H. P. B. says of the latter: "it is not the 'father of the Greek tragedy' who invented the prophecy of Prometheus; for he only repeated in dramatic form that which was revealed by the priests during the mysteria of the Sabasia." Thus indicating that Aeschylus had been initiated, "as otherwise," she says, "he must, like Socrates, have had a daimon to reveal to him the secret and sacred allegorical drama of initiation." — The Secret Doctrine, II, 419

FIFTH CENTURY, B.C., 469-399

Socrates. Dr. de Purucker points out that "this great but misfortunate Greek suffered the penalty of death at Athens not so much for the reasons publicly promulgated for the carrying out of his execution, but really because he had unwittingly betrayed the teachings of the Greek Mysteries." — The Esoteric Tradition, p. 1030    This betrayal was unwitting because Socrates had not been initiated.

FOURTH CENTURY, B.C., c. 427-347

Plato, the pupil of Socrates. Dr. de Purucker writes of him: "The great Plato was once accused of the same crime of "impiety," which in this sense meant divulgation of forbidden knowledge connected with the Mysteries, but Plato was unquestionably an Initiate; and he wisely fled his fatherland for a time." — E. T., pp. 1030-1    H. P. B. states that "Plato having been initiated, could not believe in a personal God — a gigantic Shadow of Man. His epithets of 'monarch' and 'Law-giver of the Universe' bear an abstract meaning well understood by every Occultist." — S. D. II, 554


Aristotle, the pupil of Plato. Of him and his age, H. P. B. makes the following significant statement: ". . . the too great dependence upon physical facts led to growth of materialism and a decadence of spirituality and faith. At the time of Aristotle, this was the prevailing tendency of thought. . . . Few were the true adepts and initiates, the heirs and descendants of those who had been dispersed by the conquering swords of various invaders of Old Egypt. . . . The triumphant brand of Aristotle's pupil swept away from his path of conquest every vestige of a once pure religion, and Aristotle himself, the type and child of his epoch, though instructed in the secret science of the Egyptians, knew but little of this crowning result of millenniums of esoteric studies." — Isis Unveiled, I, 15-16


Druidism active in Britain and Gaul.


No outstanding historical representative.


Lucretius, a disciple of the atomistic philosophy. Dr. de Purucker says that he "has been greatly misunderstood in modern times." Citing De Rerum Natura ('On the Nature of Things'), by Lucretius, he adds: "in all important points, this is a fair approach to the Theosophical doctrine of Monads ensouling Atoms." — E. T., 276    H. P. B., writing of the atomists, states that "from Anaxagoras down to Epicurus, the Roman Lucretius, and finally even to Galileo, all those Philosophers believed more or less in animated atoms, not in invisible specks of so-called "brute" matter." — S. D., I, 568


Vergil, "versed as every ancient poet was, more or less, in esoteric philosophy." — S.D., II, 594    "Vergil, who speaks as a type of the initiates of his time in saying that after dissolution 'all beings return to the Divine,' doing so 'conscious and alive.' " — E. T., 847


Jesus the Christ. A "Messianic Cycle ended — or a new one began — some 2160 years ago, more or less, with the life and work of the Avatara whom the West knows under the name of Jesus the Christ." — E. T., 1058    "Christ — one of the several followers, but only a great and glorious Initiate for all the rest." — S. D., I, 653

B. C. 25 - A.D.?

"Philo Judaeus, or Philo the Jew, the great Platonizing Jewish philosopher, whose writings exercised a tremendous influence in their way over not only contemporary and later Jewish thought, but likewise on the beginnings of the Christian theology and therefore on the minds of many of the Church-Fathers. . . . The entire purpose of Philo's writings was to show the common grounds of mystical and theological thinking that, according to him, existed between the Platonic doctrines and the sacred books of the Jews." — E. T., 615

FIRST CENTURY, A.D., cir. beginning.

Apollonius of Tyana who, with Iamblichus, "held that it was not 'in the knowledge of things without, but in the perfection of the soul within, that lies the empire of man, aspiring to be more than men.' Thus they had arrived at a perfect cognizance of their godlike souls, the powers of which they used with all the wisdom, outgrowth of esoteric study of the hermetic lore, inherited by them from their forefathers." — Isis, I, 64    H. P. B. also says that the story of Apollonius is symbolically written, and that his journey to the wise men, and various interviews held with them "would disclose, if understood, some of the most important secrets of nature."

SECOND CENTURY, (end of 1st) 51-117, 76-138

Trajan and Hadrian: Though the Mysteries were no longer what they had been, these two of the "five good emperors" "did actually pass through the Eleusinian Rite . . . they did receive something; for as long as the Mysteries lived, the men who conducted them . . . still had some lingering sparks of the ancient verities, and were enabled to clothe their procedures and rites with at least a semblance of the Holy Fire of archaic times." — E. T., p. 1051

SECOND CENTURY, A.D., Cir. end & beginning of 3rd.

Ammonius Saccas, "the founder of the Neo-Platonic School of the Philalethians or 'lovers of truth.' " He was "endowed with such prominent, almost divine goodness as to be called Theodidaktos, the 'God-taught.' " — The Key to Theosophy, p. 313    "Ammonius, speaking of his philosophy, taught that their school dated from the days of Hermes, who brought his wisdom from India." — Isis, II, 342

THIRD CENTURY, A.D., c. 205-270

Plotinus, a pupil of Ammonius Saccas, called by his contemporaries Theiotatos, "divinest." "He taught a doctrine identical with that of the Vedantins, namely, that the spirit soul emanating from the One Deific Principle was after its pilgrimage on earth reunited to it." — Key, p. 360

233-c. 304

Porphyry, the pupil of Plotinus, to whom — as H. P. B. tells us — he gives the credit "of having been united with "God" six times during his life, and complains of having attained to it but twice, himself." — Isis, I, 292, fte.    "A natural-born mystic he followed, like his master Plotinus, the pure Indian Raj-Yoga system." — Key, p. 361

FOURTH CENTURY, A.D., c. 283-c. 330

Iamblichus, whose school "was distinct from that of Plotinus and Porphyry, who were strongly against ceremonial magic and practical theurgy as dangerous, though these two eminent men firmly believed in both." Yet Iamblichus, in line with the teaching of his predecessors, strictly forbade any endeavor to procure "phenomenal manifestations; unless, after a long preparation of moral and physical purification, and under the guidance of experienced theurgists." — Isis, I, xliii, 219

c. 331-363

Julian the Apostate. Dr. de Purucker writes of this misunderstood Emperor: "Julian one day will be vindicated for what he really was, and will be regarded in esoteric history as one of the most unfortunate martyrs in the ranks of the workers for the Ancient Wisdom." — E. T., 1052    H. P. B. refers to Julian several times in Isis, and gives the following regarding initiation: " 'And were I to touch upon the initiation into our sacred Mysteries,' says Emperor Julian, the kabalist, 'which the Chaldean bacchised respecting the seven-rayed God, lifting up the soul through Him, I should say things unknown, and very unknown to the rabble, but well known to the blessed Theurgists.' " — II, 417

FIFTH CENTURY, A.D., 410-485

Proclus, the last teacher of importance among the Neo-Platonists. Writing of the Mysteries, H. P. B. says: "What the hierophant was allowed to see at the last hour is hardly hinted at by them. And yet Pythagoras, Plato, Plotinus, Iamblichus, Proclus, and many others knew and affirmed their reality. . . . As Taylor correctly observes . . . it may be inferred, 'that the most sublime part of the epopteia . . . consisted in beholding the gods themselves invested with a resplendent light,' or highest planetary spirits. The statement of Proclus upon this subject is unequivocal: 'In all the initiations and mysteries, the gods exhibit many forms of themselves, and appear in a variety of shapes, and sometimes, indeed, a formless light of themselves is held forth to the view; sometimes this light is according to a human form, and sometimes it proceeds into a different shape.' " — Isis, II, 113

SIXTH CENTURY, A.D., 480-524

Boethius, Roman statesman and Stoic philosopher; one whose firm belief "in the truth of his philosophic ethics" governed his actions in both his official and his private lie. His translation of some of Aristotle's works into Latin, and his commentaries on them served largely to acquaint the Middle Ages with the writings of the Greek philosopher. H. P. B. refers to the Geometry of Boethius in vindication of the Pythagoreans and their knowledge, and use, of "the 1 and the nought as the first and final cipher."

The latter part of the sixth century leads into the seventh with the coming of Mohammed. Though concerned chiefly with the Moslem world, the rise of Mohammedanism had a tremendous impact on the nations of Western as well as Eastern Europe. We find, now, a definite change in the outward form of man's search for himself, though the inner drive is always the same. Thus the seventh century, a.d., offers a natural pause in our theme: the age-old quest for Truth, with those who have handed on the Ariadne Thread.


1. Not meant to be an exhaustive table, but one inviting to further study on the part of the reader. (return to text)

Theosophical University Press Online Edition