During the height of the Roman occupation of England and their attacks on the great centers of the Druidical mysteries, a scene was enacted in the remote fastnesses of Western England which was to be of the greatest importance to the future of that nation.
On a hill overlooking a wide valley stood a building surrounded by terraces and high steps. Within that ancient building lay the remains of a great and wise prince of the Bards. On one of the terraces were groups of Druids, some whispering, others gazing dejectedly down into the valley below at the people who could be seen winding over the lanes towards a circle of monolithic stones, for ages closely associated by them with a great mystery and held in the deepest reverence. It was only natural that the envoy of the new Christian Faith should summon the people to meet in that spot.
One young bard, however, stood apart, and alone seemed to be watching a violent thunderstorm which was roaring and flashing over the hills to the west. The distant storm heightened the atmosphere of ominous gloom which hung over the scene, over all but the solitary figure watching it, feeling the portent of the great change it appeared to betoken. All the assembled bards knew in their hearts that the mantle of the departed Arch-Druid had fallen on this young observer of the storm, himself shaken to the roots of his being by the impact of his great responsibility inherited from a past whose origins were lost in the night of time.
He alone was not watching the people below, for the great prince had given him a preview of what the future could be. Times had changed; the old Druid mysticism and the traditions of the Bards remained strong, but the spirit of the people had changed, a new type had grown up. These now flocked eagerly to the banners of the missionaries from Rome who brought them many of the old truths under a new guise — a simple and appealing one in the message of the early Christians: a personal God and a Son of God in whom they could put their trust, hopes and prayers. The esoteric teachings of the Bardic Hierarchy required a vigorous training which had lost its appeal to the layman, a while longer and they would have lost their heritage altogether.
At last the young Druid looked around at the bards standing in angry, sullen groups with their as yet unspoken desire to fight for the continuance of the Druidical powers and structure, and against the tide of the new Faith which was creeping into the people's hearts and minds. Yes, his biggest job, as the dying prince had told him, was to make the bards see that the new Christianity, if it were built on the mystic truths of Druidism kept alive in the hearts of the people could make them strong and enduring. Somehow he must make those bards realize that for too long they had been priests interested chiefly in the glory of the Druid Hierarchy; he must crush out that priest-side of their natures and bring forth the impersonal transmitter.
When he finally appealed to them in the hall below, there was great anger at first, but most followed him out of the hall. And from these and others their heritage was passed on for many centuries through a long line of devoted and often famous Bards, who kept alive in the hearts of the people the ancient Bardic truths by means of poems, tales and the trilogies. The historical record shows no opposition to Christianity, but much that aided the people to a fuller and deeper understanding, and thus the transition from the old to the new was made doubly rich and enduring. The Druids were to become a memory, but many of their truths and precepts lived on, transmuted and woven into the pattern of the new age. The lore of an unknown origin had met the Græco-Judaic on the frontiers of Europe and had formed the basis of a civilization destined to lay the seeds for the One World now being born. Small wonder is it that that lone figure of a stormy night had felt overwhelmed by his responsibility!
* * *
How many molds today stand in need of transmuting, molds of religious creeds, of economic ideologies, of habits? It is only the wise, like the Bardic prince in old England, who see that there is good and bad in everything, that what fitted yesterday may not fit today. Life, by its inherent evolutionary current, demands change — change within the bigger cycles of flux and reflux, a constantly expanding spiral ever bringing forth new facets of consciousness and thought which are demanded by the incoming forces of life as they find expression in each new generation. Every nation, religion, and each man, has had its cycle of birth, growth, efflorescence, decline and decay; and the decline may be the grandest epoch in one sense, that of its assimilating the results of the force which was trying to express itself. The decline of the Roman Empire, and the Greek, brought forth some of their greatest philosophers, artists and statesmen. The decline of a man's life is often the era of his greatest achievements — the statesmanship of a Jefferson, the philosophy of an Emerson, the art of a Milton, a Michelangelo.
These cycles are inherent in all life. Through them the heart and inspiring spirit is ever becoming; it shines forth in each and all, and is carried by all. This inner spirit is the great ocean of life in which everything has its being and we draw forth what we can in our spans of existence. It is unaffected by the way that it is called upon, but we are affected to the extent we manifest it. The worst that anyone can do is not to draw it forth, but when it is, our success is to the degree that we are in tune with the times. When the close of any cycle nears, can we translate the old to help the new birth or are we to shut it up like a dusty old book lost in an attic? Shall we write "Finis" or "To be continued" — in the new volume?
The value of a Jesus Christ, a Buddha, a Justinian or a Washington, is not in how much they were able to influence the men of their day, but in the universal appeal which they made to the general uplifting and progress of all. They set forth principles drawn from a universal reservoir, knowing well that no matter what the future might bring in circumstances, the same truths applied. What can not be controlled are the forms which would develop, thus necessitating men of like stature to carry the essential from the old to the new. Change being the nature of things, the adaptation of the truths of the old to the new becomes of great importance. It means the difference between battles and divisions or the quickened growth of the new by the basic factors of the old, by transmutation. Man makes wars, schisms; nature transmutes, grows, evolves. The outworn and too highly specialized is discarded, crowded out by the influx of the new simpler expressions of life, full of the vitality and strength of the young. The life force is the same as the old, but freer and more pure, because not encrusted with concretions and side issues.
Mankind embarks on crusades and revolutions in order to renew itself when any one faction or school grows old in its entrenchment and seeks to annex to itself all power over those in its ranks, either by choice, birthright, or geographical and political position. No other kingdom in Nature progresses this way, but then they do not have to contend with the world of ideas and human egotism. They are not self-conscious, only conscious. However, the wise of our planetary history have progressed from consciousness, through self-consciousness and on towards life-consciousness; they have gone beyond the limitations of the personality and thus can draw upon and manifest some of that deep mysticism whose light fills the universe, and of which all men have intimations when not in their normal self-conscious state. Jesus' admonition to become as little children, is of especial application to this realization. In other words: clean out your lamps; the wicks of your minds, so that the flame can burn brighter; and the globes of the body, so that the light can shine through.
Yes, revolutions and crusades are often very necessary as long as we are looking for no permanent advancement. God save the world, in truth, if it were not for these upheavals! But that Bardic prince was a representative of a way that should become common to all men some day. He could well have joined forces with the contenders and preservers, perhaps have kept alive the established way for a longer time. Would the result have been so strong? Not according to history, for the great truths would have sunk lower and lower within an outer degenerated form of worship and belief; they would have been forced to adapt themselves to a people who no longer derived inspiration therefrom — only a half-forgotten faith based on the power of the priests, and ceremonies to propitiate the Unknown and to save their souls. The bards chose to close the outer forms and rituals, and to encourage the wavering constituents by keeping alive only the spirit of Druidism. They incorporated themselves into the new Faith, which was then sweeping over the Western world, in much the same manner as the representatives of the great Neo-Platonic and Alexandrine schools of philosophy colored and interpreted the teachings of the early Christian Fathers and church formation. In this way a more universal appeal and strength was given to the growth of a Faith and a church founded upon the teachings and allegorical life of the Master Jesus.
As in all things, the few are unimportant. The people as a whole get what they demand in the end, based upon what they are, what they have builded, and when they are ready. We are all basically searching for meanings to life and the best way of expressing the forces which seek to push us on. No religion, philosophy, or ideology will survive fixed creeds, dogmas and governing boards. Concretions, crystallization and crutches are not long endured; even great and powerful systems and organizations have to follow the precept of Christ to become as little children, or perish from their own weight.
Christian or Buddhist, conservative or liberal, Western or Oriental — the same truth applies: throw out the crutches, streamline the ideas and forms, keep to the pristine purity of the basic truths inherent in all. If not, they will become smothered and die; killed by distortions, crippled by the selfishness of the few, those who are more interested in using the truths for their own benefit, and so hide it from the people behind slogans, altars and ceremonies. Believe as we say, do as we direct; and your souls will be saved, your bodies cared for. Don't think, don't plan; we will take all unto ourselves.
Jesus did not come to man to save him. No such thought is to be found in His teachings. He did everything in His power to point out that the Way was through the Christ in each one, that even as I do ye shall do likewise, and again, the Kingdom of Heaven is within each — not in the Church; not in this or that man; not in this or that belief.
The "Fathers" of the American republic did not draw up a Bill of Rights and fight for independence for America. They expressed themselves as believing that equal rights and freedom were for ALL men; and today we are witnessing attempts at spreading these basic rights to all men. History will judge the manner of so doing, but so far circumstances and the general character of free people all over the globe have tended towards a transmutation, and not a conquest, concept. American concepts and manners are considered childlike by many, but the future may reveal that the light of the ancient truths was shining through. Let us hope so, for America has the ball this time and perhaps will use it as did the young Bard — not the world for America, but the spirit behind America for the world — and thus close a long 'black' cycle of each for himself and devil take the hindmost.
This cannot be accomplished by a revolutionary change of other peoples, of national beliefs and ways of life, but by a transmuting through the injection of some of the "Child" ideals, a reawakening of the fine and basic principles inherent in all the older nationalities and beliefs — made mandatory today by this One World being born. There is no country, religion or people who are not involved in this world house-cleaning, de-barnacling and reviewing of their forms and ceremonies. Those that do not do it themselves will find that others will, that Nature will step in as it does with individuals, restoring the balance by sicknesses and even death, or in terms of a nation: revolutions or conquest, and in that of a church, by schisms or oblivion.
No one today knows in what dress the religious beliefs, political rule or scientific dicta will come at the next turn of the great wheel, but we can be assured, on the basis of the turns made in the recorded past, that the basic truths in all will endure. As a lesson for the future we might think deeply of the value of transmuting and purifying versus violent overthrows. It must be one or the other if we are to avoid stagnation and its resulting despotism. By revolutions and schisms we destroy the outer corruptions and distortions, but we also kill the inner spirit of the thing — the same spirit which impels the act of revolting — while no divisions or contests would be necessary if man as a whole would take a tip from Nature: the primary law of growth, change and renewal of the life-force as it is called for by changing climates and conditions.
When any new impulse breaks through the miasma of material life, let us hope that it will not be met by armed forces, fixed in molds and chained to outworn edifices, but by open minds ready to add the spirit which is the basis of them to the then incoming tide. The forerunners of a new impulse have always been those men and women from all walks of life who place all others before themselves, who speak and live by ideals of seeming simplicity and triteness, but who basically hold Universal Brotherhood and Truth as their religion, philosophy and way of life. Co-workers, not self-workers, picking out the best in everything and using it for the benefit of all.
(From Sunrise magazine, July 1952; copyright © 1952 Theosophical University Press)