For or untold millennia man has stared into the beauty of the night sky and asked ageless questions about his place in the universal plan. By crackling campfire or radio telescope, the questions are the same. Who am I? How does our home planet fit into the glittering pattern of the stars? Is there life out there in the seeming abyss of space? Sages of old from around the globe provided clues to these hidden mysteries from their explorations of inner space. Over the past twenty years of outer space exploration, astrophysics has approached many teachings of the ancient wisdom, theosophy, regarding the nature of our universe — though further intriguing questions still remain to challenge future generations of questing souls.
According to theosophy every mathematical point in the universe is vibrant with life. The stars and their families of planets are divine beings expressing themselves through titanic forces and myriad forms, now being catalogued by science. Astronomers and physicists observe that the universe displays exquisite balance. To some this bespeaks the presence of consciousness and intelligence in energies and forms beyond the wildest dreams of science fiction. The universe is an apparently huge organism with many hierarchies and kingdoms of life cooperating in a grand march forward.
Initiates of the Mysteries have stated that even the most developed intelligences on earth can penetrate inner and outer space only within the limits of our solar system. So let us confine ourselves to the wonders of our solar universe. As we undertake our fantastic journey, let us remember that the small mirrors the great throughout nature, that the structure and operations of an atom or a cell can give us a clue to the functions of the solar system and to what lies beyond, the abyss of interstellar space.
New technologies developed during World War II heralded the present age of space exploration. Since October 1957, when the Russians launched Sputnik as man's first known artificial satellite, advances have been rapid. American and Russian scientists have launched a wide variety of spacecraft to measure radiation belts around the earth, track global weather patterns, measure X rays and gamma rays from the sun and other stars in the galaxy. They have landed spacecraft on Mars and Venus, revealing the hidden face of planets that for centuries had been a mystery to earth-based astronomers. Neil Armstrong's "one small step . . ." on the moon in July 1969 ushered in the age of interplanetary exploration. In the '70s and '80s the Pioneer, Viking, and Voyager spacecraft have taken us to the outer limits of our home universe, with Voyager II due to visit Neptune in August 1989 and sail gently beyond into interstellar space.
Science knows the solar system as an orderly community of nine planets, 54 moons (including the 10 moons circling Uranus discovered in 1986), and myriads of asteroids, comets, and other smaller bodies, many of them sweeping in regular orbits around the sun. As stars go, our sun is not particularly large, but in comparison with the planets it is enormous, with a diameter of approximately 864,000 miles — 9.75 times that of the largest planet, Jupiter. Jupiter and Saturn in turn are gargantuan compared to the other planets, having diameters respectively more than 11 and 9 times that of earth. The distances between the sun and the outer planets are almost beyond imagination with Pluto, at aphelion, being nearly 3-7 billion miles from the sun. Still farther out, at a distance of one light-year (approximately 5.87 trillion miles) from the sun, a swarm of comets is believed to enclose the solar universe like the permeable skin of a cell (the Oort cloud) [cf K. Frazier, Solar System, Planetary Earth Series, pp. 36, 40.].
The beautiful and sometimes forbidding photographs taken by modem spacecraft come alive as the words of ancient sages regarding the seven (or twelve) sacred planets echo in the recesses of our consciousness. Theosophical writers state that the solar system is alive with many more planets and suns than are visible or known to science. These planets and suns are invisible to us because they exist on planes of cosmic matter either above or below the level of our perceptions. The seven planets with which the destiny of our earth is most closely connected are called the Seven Sacred Planets. They are Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun (standing as a substitute for an invisible planet very near the sun, sometimes referred to as Vulcan), Venus, Mercury, and the Moon (also a substitute for an invisible planet). These planets are sacred to us because they, as conscious entities, cooperate in the building and subsequent evolutionary history of the earth. There is a constant and orderly circulation of electromagnetism among the various planets "by and through individual consciousnesses, whether these be gods, monads, souls, or atoms, working in and through and in fact composing the various elements" of which these worlds are built [G. de Purucker, Fountain-Source of Occultism, pp. 204-5.]. Through these circulations the kingdoms of life are sustained by the sevenfold spiritual and other powers of the sun. Further, over vast periods of time, the monadic energies embodying in the various kingdoms circulate among the seven sacred planets, following their destined pathways.
Let us now launch forth upon our journey from the portals of the sun to the twilight zone of the Oort cloud, noting recent discoveries about our solar universe in the light of theosophic teaching.
THE SUN: Ancient peoples around the world revered the sun as the living heart and benign ruler of its family of planets and their myriad lives. Modern scientific discoveries and theorems speak of forces and wonders befitting the glorious raiments of a solar divinity. In the 1980s most scientists believe the sun to be a self-sustaining nuclear furnace powered by the fusion of hydrogen atoms into helium exactly balanced by the compression of the sun's mass due to gravity. Changes in the sun's magnetic field over 11 and 22-year cycles are believed to create sunspots: gigantic rents or openings through which solar flares arc thousands of miles into space. Many stars, including our sun, pulsate like huge bells, each ringing its own note in the "music of the spheres."
The ancient wisdom indicates that the sun is a self-sustaining energy source for the visible and invisible kingdoms that teem within its domain. It is at once the living heart and brain of its kingdom, beating in an 11-year cycle, issuing streams of life force through the sunspots via its circulatory system. Confirming ancient myths, theosophy restates that the visible sun is but the reflection of a bright celestial entity or god. This solar divinity pours forth its life forces from the inner planes of its being, sustaining and providing an arena of experience for myriads of evolving entities over vast periods of time. This sacred truth was beautifully epitomized by the bards of ancient India in their Invocation to the Sun, the Gayatri:
Unveil, O Thou who givest sustenance to the Universe, from whom all proceed, to whom all must return,
That face of the true sun now hidden by a vase of golden light,
That we may see the truth and do our whole duty on our journey to thy sacred seat. (paraphrase)
VULCAN: Theosophy teaches that one of the sacred planets has its orbit between Mercury, the innermost planet recognized by astronomers, and the sun. For long ages this planet has been invisible to us but in future, as we grow in spiritual perception, it may become more visible. It is claimed to have been observed once by the French country doctor and amateur astronomer Lescarbault on March 28, 1859. The French astronomer Le Verrier investigated 50 sightings whereof he considered 6 to be reliable. In 1878 U.S. astronomers also saw a dark body transiting the face of the sun. Many astronomers now dispute these sightings, attributing them to asteroids which occasionally transit the sun. However, other evidence, such as perturbations of the orbit of Mercury, suggests that there may indeed be an intramercurial planet, one of the many invisible worlds of the solar universe postulated by theosophy.
MERCURY: according to G. de Purucker the distance of a planet from the sun is an indicator of its evolutionary status. "The basic rule is as follows: the nearer the sun, the more advanced is the planet in its evolution, and consequently the more evolved is its burden of living beings" [op. cit., p. 327]. Space science confirms that the nearer the planets are to the sun the denser and more consolidated they are compared to the massive and largely gaseous outer planets. Mercury, the closest observable planet to the sun, was the subject of intense scrutiny by the Mariner 10 spacecraft in March 1974. Mariner's cameras revealed a bare, rocky, heavily cratered planet with a density similar to that of Earth. Other instruments indicated that Mercury suffers searing midday temperatures as high as 800?? F (hot enough to melt zinc!), while lows on the dark side can plunge to -300?? F.
In many nations of antiquity, Mercury was closely associated with the after-death teachings of the Mysteries. The Greeks called it Hermes, guide of mystics and conductor of souls to the Underworld. In theosophy Mercury, being so close to the sun, is said to be emerging from a long period of rest into its last or seventh round of life experience.
VENUS: Mystics and astronomers speak of Venus as Earth's "twin," and theosophy sees a close kinship between them. Mythographers and poets through the ages have waxed lyrical about our bright morning and evening "star." Soviet spacecraft Venera 7 in 1970, U.S. Mariner 10 in 1974, and four Soviet landings in 1975 and 1982 give us a picture of an inhospitable world: daytime temperatures of 900?? F; thick clouds of carbon dioxide and sulphuric acid rains beating on the bare rocky surface with a pressure 90 times Earth's atmosphere! The U.S. spacecraft Pioneer Venus, orbiting the planet in 1978, mapped its surface through the obscuring clouds and revealed that Venus has a landscape not unlike Earth's, but that its oceans have long since disappeared. Huge volcanoes dominate an enormous valley at the equator and in the northern hemisphere a gigantic volcano towers 36,000 feet above a parched plain.
Though Venus may seem the antithesis of a life-bearing world we should at least remain receptive to the idea that each planet has its own evolutionary history and may have evolved forms of life in what, to us, is a deathly environment. Thus it is said in theosophical literature that Venus is inhabited by highly intelligent entities as much at home in their atmosphere as we are in ours; and that it is currently in its seventh round of planetary experience whereas Earth is in its fourth round.
EARTH AND MOON: From the sulphuric acid rains and the searing heat of Venus, what a relief it is to greet the blue oceans and warm green forests of our Mother Earth. The ancient wisdom teaches that the earth is stalked by a ghostly remnant of its former embodiment, the moon. The moon has been intensively studied by spacecraft, and a series of manned landings in the 1960s and early 1970s confirm what theosophy tells us, that it is a dead world in the process of slow disintegration. Lunar emanations pour earthward and profoundly influence growth and decay of life on Earth, as testified by the mythologies of the ancient world. Orbiting close to the moon is another invisible planet, sometimes called the Eighth Sphere or Planet of Death. This planet is too dense for us to see, and serves as a receptacle of negative influences from Earth, not unlike the sewerage and drainage systems of a great city [op. cit., "The Planet of Death," pp. 346-9].
Our journey has taken us to the limits of the inner solar system. Outside Earth lie Mars and the giant gaseous planets and cometary remnants of the formation of our solar universe. As we stare in awe at the wonders of our neighboring worlds recorded in dramatic photographs by our spacecraft, we gain new perspectives on our problems here on Earth. Our individual concerns retreat into proportion before the mighty and timeless works of universal Nature. We can be humble yet exalted, knowing that we have our rightful place amid the wondrous brotherhood twinkling in the night sky.
(From Sunrise magazine, October/November 1987; copyright © 1987 Theosophical University Press)