There are indeed times that are holy, which is why we call them holidays. Or is not all time holy, if we give it its due attention and respect? Four times in the year — the solstices and equinoxes — are still celebrated although we may not know how they got that special regard. Their quality of sacredness must be due to something that has a particular significance for the human race. Because consciousness in human beings is closely related with that of the governors that move the spheres and bear responsibilities for the motions and qualities of the celestial beings in the solar system, the times we regard as sacred are in fact when certain celestial bodies focus their psychological, gravitational, spiritual, or psychic influences on their surroundings.
The solstices, for instance, occur two weeks before the earth crosses the major axis of its orbit round the sun in early January and July. Ancient astrologers had special reverence for those two-week periods because they make possible a closer communion between humans and the gods — the kingdom above the human, that the Christian tradition refers to as angels ("messengers"), archangels, thrones, principalities, powers, etc. We tend to forget that we are part of a living universal organism, where consciousnesses undergo the experience of life. All gainful experience takes place in our conscious ego which long ago traversed the kingdoms below the human in other spheres and prior phases of existence. Humanity has graduated from the mineral, vegetable, and animal conditions, but we are not fully human yet. When we become completely human, we shall be ready to move up a step and become gods of the lowest degree.
The human is a crucial stage, where choice and intelligence guide the will. Here individual evolution can be accelerated by systematic training and discipline, aided by those who once stood where we now stand on the ladder of experience. Such individuals of great spiritual stature who have left directives for inner growth — Buddha and Jesus are exemplars of such forerunners — are anxious to help others evolve for the sake of the entire human race, for every increment of spiritual awakenment in anyone gives an impetus forward to the whole of mankind by raising the general thought climate.
Much is said but little is known about the phenomenon called initiation. Initiation means beginning — the beginning of a new life, a novel phase of existence, when the consciousness opens to a greater sphere of awareness and direction. This happens when a human being, from being preoccupied with himself and his material concerns, allies himself with the spiritual soul and learns to serve as its agent, furthering growth into the next phase of existence. Initiation is not something artificial or contrived, but a natural event in the development of human consciousness toward the higher status it will have to achieve before we shall be fit to share in the governance of universal nature. At a natural initiation, the consciousness of the candidate must face itself, pass through the hell of its own weaknesses unmoved, confront and merge the personal with the spiritual egoless soul that is at the root of our being. A major initiation is a death. The human being who is able to cast off all personal concerns and remain without a shred of attachment, perfectly willing and able to dissolve its insignificant self in the wholeness, who can melt away, as it were, in impersonal nature, becomes cool fire, blending the individual in the one All, free of the thousand threads we ordinarily are enmeshed in. Initiation is and yet is not a journey, for we recover ourself where we are, having lost nothing but gained something immeasurable that will remain with us for all our lives. As a natural process, rather than a man-made ritual, such an experience awaits us all — some sooner, some later; the difference in time is unimportant.
Such events are somewhat facilitated when certain juxtapositions occur in the solar system: ideally, the highest initiations take place when a number of events coincide to provide the conditions for the maximum effectiveness of needed magnetic influences. At long cyclic intervals the inner planets Mercury, Venus, and Earth, are aligned in a row called a syzygy. When these spheres are thus favorably positioned and the moon is new, preferably eclipsing the sun, there is a more or less straight line connecting all five bodies. This lets the soul, after leaving its "dead" body entranced on Earth, pass by natural attraction through the spheres of Balthasar (Moon), Melchior (Venus), and Caspar or Gaspar (Mercury) to the center of our spiritual hierarchy. These are the names of the gift-bearing Kings or Magi of medieval Christian legend. At each planetary location the soul abandons its characteristics belonging to that sphere and, denuded of excess baggage, proceeds to the pure divine fire of which it is a spark. Absorbed therein it partakes of universal wisdom before beginning its return journey to share with the world of Earth what it has been vouchsafed, resuming at each station its unique characteristics that had been left there (symbolized by the myrrh, frankincense, and gold of the Magi). (Cf G. de Purucker, The Esoteric Tradition, 3rd & rev. ed., p. 623 et seq.)
In the Mystery schools of any age, less and less ceremonial is observed as the disciples advance in their growth. For progress is a matter of growth and maturation, not of learning. At first there is learning, until the student feels the effects of what he has learned in theory, and knows the truth of his own knowledge. There has always been secrecy regarding the higher degrees of training, not because anyone wants to deprive others of knowledge, but because understanding has to develop naturally. If we want to learn what the gods feel, think, and know, we must feel, think, and know like the gods. Illustrating this, the Tevijja Sutta relates of a sage:
And he lets his mind pervade one quarter of the world with thoughts of Love, and so the second, and so the third, and so the fourth. And thus the whole wide world, above, below, around, and everywhere, does he continue to pervade with heart of Love, far-reaching, grown great, and beyond measure . . . .
And he lets his mind pervade one quarter of the world with thoughts of pity, sympathy, and equanimity, and so the second, and so the third, and so the fourth. And thus the whole wide world, above, below, around, and everywhere, does he continue to pervade with heart of pity, sympathy, and equanimity, far-reaching, grown great, and beyond measure. — ch. III, 1, 3.
This constitutes evolution, and is the proper path of progress for humanity.
People have always been intrigued by the unfamiliar, and particularly by metaphysical things. They want to find out all about the mysteries of nature without questioning their fitness to know. Little do they realize the immense gap that separates the least from the most evolved human beings and that what characterizes one or another is not cleverness and skill or knowledge but essential character. There have been striking cases of persons having had a rapid, instantaneous "con-version," turning their vices into virtues in a sudden change of direction, as in the case of the emperor Asoka of India. There have also been tragic cases of conversion in reverse, where promising disciples have become demons incarnate as a result of concentrating on personal instead of universal values. Perhaps no greater harm can be done by or to the human race than indulging in spiritual pride, the self-satisfaction that can come from believing oneself to have some special status in the scheme of things. Yet every one is singular and special as a contributor to the whole. As a separate being he is of no account: only as a part of the All do any of us have great worth; as such we are indispensable — to the world as well as to ourselves.
On the other hand the kind of person who can become wise in an occult sense does not slavishly follow another, believing what he is told without testing it for himself. What is needed is complete self-reliance and individual enterprise. Life is a voyage of discovery and all of us are pioneers. Wisdom is not conferred, it must be earned. The candidate for initiation has to rely on his inner senses and make his own demands on nature to teach him. Only such venturers into the unknown depths of consciousness can hope to make the necessary discoveries of truth.
A lot of printer's ink has been squandered on the subject of Masters and chelas but few know what is required in such a relationship. Some people have a curiosity and ambition which makes them want to establish contact with one they believe to have superior status, and readily fall prey to the false prophets who abound. The more cautious will be content with the inspiration that properly comes from the higher self and seek to find the source of truth within. A few feel the urge to serve those who are confessedly the servants of mankind, whose existence is centered on the effort to bring enlightenment to all men and women the world over without favor or prejudice.
If they succeed in spite of obstacles to remain true to their altruistic feelings as helpers of the helpers, they will in due course receive training that enables them eventually to undertake the tremendous task of initiation into the new life as one "twice born" or "virgin born" who has entered the larger arena of perfected humanity with its greater obligations — no triumphant parading of miraculous powers, but endless sacrifice and continued effort without expectation of surcease.
What lies before us as evolvers toward becoming planetary and in time solar beings? Those celestials seem in certain ways to have less freedom than we humans. We have free choice to become co-workers with nature or antagonists to the progress of evolution; the greater souls have long ago made their choice in this matter and deliberately taken the path of acquiescence in the process that best furthers the common good. They are obedient to laws of nature that we don't even know about, continuing in perpetual motion for aeons, nurturing their component lesser lives, supporting and aiding the evolution of their dependent kingdoms in ways compatible with cosmic harmony, however stubbornly we humans abuse our patient planet. Theirs are lessons we have yet to learn, not with our minds alone, but with our hearts and understanding.
If a person's greatest desire is to promote the advancement of the human race as a whole toward a nobler condition, the sacred seasons have a special significance and may bring some awakening of the higher part of a sensitive nature that will be unmistakably an initiation into a larger sphere of obligation. Very possibly all our future — yours and mine — will take a turn for the better as a result of some selfless soul who, at this very time, is adding power to the pervasive influence of spiritual solidarity that makes itself felt at this season.
(From Sunrise magazine, December 1990/January 1991. Copyright © 1991 by Theosophical University Press)