Lo! 'tis a gala night
Within the lonesome latter years,
An angel throng, bewinged, bedight
In veils, and drowned in tears,
Sit in a theater, to see
A play of hopes and fears,
While the orchestra breathes fitfully
The music of the spheres.
Mimes, in the form of God on high,
Mutter and mumble low,
And hither and thither fly —
Mere puppets they who come and go
At bidding of vast formless things
That shift the scenery to and fro,
Flapping from out their Condor wings
That motley drama — oh, be sure
It shall not be forgot!
With its Phantom chased for evermore,
By a crowd that seize it not.
Through a circle that ever returneth in
To the self-same spot,
And much of Madness, and more of Sin
And Horror the soul of the plot.
But see, amid the mimic rout
A crawling shape intrude!
A blood-red thing, that writhes from out
The scenic solitude!
It writhes! it writhes! with mortal pangs
The mines become its food,
And the Angels sob at vermin fangs
In human gore imbued.
Out — out are the lights — out all!
And over each quivering form,
The curtain, a funeral pall,
Comes down with the rush of a storm,
And the Angels, all pallid and wan,
Uprising, unveiling, affirm
That the play is the tragedy, "Man,"
And its hero the Conqueror Worm.
— Edgar Allen Poe
Oh! that we may be strong and selfless-minded, to call to the searching light from the crystal throne of Truth, and from the radiant sphere of Heart, to flutter down as a white dove into the dark regions of human life; to shine in silvery and golden beams upon the phantoms of the night; to change dark clouds into a cool, refreshing rain, quenching the red, sublunar flames, abating the fever of these infernal regions of earth, and shedding tears of storm, to veil with showery palls of tempest the fall and the untimely end of those submerged in the dark gulf of their own thoughts and deeds, covered and overflown with the insulted elements of nature.
And thus when we begin to see, not for sweet rest, not for the laurels of the deserved past, do we awake, we sleepy comrades, rubbing our eyes in this early morning hour; but we hear a bugle call, gathering us as knights, clad in full armor and ready for the battle against the strongest evil which oppresses the true light of human civilization, against that force which is dead for intelligence, void of choice, so glittering with its colors of false power and false friendship, and leaving only ruins in its dreadful progress.
How pleasant it is to run in memory to ancient times, to gather strength from the voice of Soul and from the ancient records of the past and to learn that at the beginning of antiquity it was not so. When the earth was fresh and young, when the Brontosauri walked the ground, which trembled under their weight of scores of tons, and the wings of Pterodactyles were circling in the air, when men and animals were of a giant size (2) and all powers were so exuberantly rich, it was then that those powers did not run into riotous extremes. It was then that souls were free and more glad of one another's presence than of any petty transitory things. It was then that God was dwelling, not somewhere afar in the high skies, but in this sweet Nature and in the golden days of the companionship of hearts. And no wonder, for it was the golden age, born of the morn, whose divine brightness is not now realized even in dreams.
For, as we have heard, these our bodies are from the earth below, and our forms from the beautiful fancy dreams of the lunar fields; yet our souls are not from these regions. So, too, it is said that the human soul is as a bird, flying above the field of shadows and searching for the realm of truth, hoping, striving for liberation against all earthly odds and sacrificing all for that which is just and noble and true, never satisfied till it gains its goal; that that soul is derived from the self-same eternal sphere, whereto it struggles to return. So in those early days it shone in the first men as though in some translucent lamps, the colors of which were not so dense as now, and whose fancies were not so strong and fixed as in the present days. For by the friends and companions of those times, whether their lamps shone as gold or purple; whether they were blazing with noonday glory of middle life, or with the mysterious sunset glow of calm and ecstasy as it dies down into the west; whether in the fiery glance of man's eyes, that conqueror of this nether world, or in woman's meditative gaze, wherein time ceased to be, and only a dream of eternal happiness rang its fairy bells and spread its fairy lights; everywhere the One Light was the life and the glory in all, and ever, when the soul looked with its luminous eyes, it was the mysterious inner fire that was the comforter of the heart, not the colors of the lamps, which were only its diaphanous screens.
Between man and woman there was not so much difference then as to make obscure their identity of life, and to force them, alas, to seek their identity of shadows. Neither was there that difference between youth and age, for youth was serene with its freshness, and old age with the restfulness of the twilight of its life, whose sun seemed not to disappear then, as it seems now for this shadow-dreaming generation of ours which in its fright of darkness forgets that consciousness is greater than the Sun and is subject to some heliocentric system of its own. But in those times life on earth did but slightly veil the eternal purpose of the life beyond; and those two lives — one, the real, the other its temporal reflection — softly blended in that golden era, in which the Divine Unity of the All found in every heart its radiating centre, and its shadows projected on the screen of manifestation were not so strong as to obscure it.
How it happened later that the shadows of the screen grew dense and shut out the ideal light, who knows? The dreams seem so real to the dreamers — perhaps it never happened and we are only dreaming yet. . . . But in those glorious millenniums, happiness was not an object of search, for it was rather an interior bliss than anything extraneous; it was rather something to give than to receive, and in its fold the stronger protected their weaker brothers, as a hen does her young; the wiser were glad to see their fire kindled and fanned to an exceeding brightness and angelic power upon the minds and hearts of pupils, and to rejoice in feeling their life in others; and pupils, with gratitude and trust supreme, felt safer than babes on their mothers' breasts. But, alas, as everything has its light and its shadow, its substance and its seeming, its reality and its dream, its truth and its illusion, so it happened that the youthful and inexperienced humanity began to find delight in forms and in appearances, and thus attracted to itself the powers of the fanciful lunar meadows, of the glittering saturnian mountains, of the evil-eyed legions, and who can tell from what orbs and spheres the powers came which ever come to humankind at its desire and change the whole aspect of the world, so that it seemed at times that it was another race of men that appeared, and not ours — so thickly and densely they began to circle in our minds and in the riotous currents of our blood. Then came the worst evil, when those ambitious, selfish, cruel, crafty powers of our mind — who knows from what hiding places of the planetary thought they had descended? — when those lords of an hour, heirs of the shadows born of the glitter of illusion, rulers of the dreams on this side of the awakening only, when they began to strive to create their mock unity reflection of the uncreated glory — unity of a tyrant and a victim instead of that of a lover and his beloved.
The old traditions which we are now recalling, not speaking from our fancy, but from what we have heard with our minds bowed and our hearts hushed and intent, those old traditions say that it happened so, that humanity descended deep into this earthly pit of torture, and that the god-like beings lost their high estate. New kings arose, new builders of the airy castles of the intellectual civilization, divorced from the heart and wedded to the seeming and to the evanescent — glittering and yet so cold, like creeping serpents' blue and silver scales sparkling, jingling, rustling, then vanishing into darkness.
When Intellect became king of this enticing realm, prince of this aerial world, the old memory of something that was no evanescent haunted yet its deep, the permanence of that truth-essence wherefrom it came was echoing yet in its dreary halls; but, alas, not seeing it in its own interior subjective heights, renouncing the hope of finding reality in its own heart, the intellect mistook the lowest, strongest, the most unintelligible reflection, the outermost shadow, as its permanent base and as its material ground to build upon. Oh! if it had but looked up through its own subjective window, it might have observed then the grand reality, the highest, which corresponded to its lowest shadow! Oh! if it had desired it! But, deaf to all entreaties of the White Kings of Light, "Lords of the Dazzling Face," whom all traditions speak of as the Divine Kings of the Golden Age, dumb to their tender care, unresponsive to their love, which would fain wrap them about in its divine mantle, the majority of mankind continued to build their labyrinth of dreams so vast and high that they lost themselves in its bright, bewitching maze, where the Sun of the One Spirit could reach no more, and which was illuminated no longer by the eternal daylight, but by the bright will-o'-the-wisps of pride and the red lurid flames of passion.
That haunting memory of permanence was now no more the surety and the glow of direct perception of the immortal life, but it changed into a frightful tool of punishment and magnetic force, driving the culprits toward the outer shadow of the material stability only to break their ship of life against its hard and unrelenting rocks. The same happened when those shadow-chasers sought unity not as something already existing, as a fact in soul and nature, as a light and substance of the Soul itself and as the root of Universal Brotherhood, which needs but recognition after the dream has passed, which needs only to open eyes and heart to see it as plainly as the sun in the heavens — feeling ourselves in every brother, and every brother in ourselves. Instead of that, these fancy riders sought it in imposing their own proud and illusory opinion upon the greatest number of their fellows. Seeing their fancies living in another, making of the earth an amphitheatre for their own play and sport, they imagined for themselves a greater life, and with their thought to embrace a larger world, caring little whether the play be conducted from actors' real wish and love, or they be but blind automata of the rulers. This was the motive of the first stroke at the sacred treasure of the human beings, at freedom of their thought and action.
This was the first Dead Sea fruit of the striving after that outer unity, which has no inner link. This was the first dead weight — for, aye, even thought may turn into a dead and darkening weight, when it renounces its ever-living source and turns for succor and imitation to the blind material outer forces. Oh treacherous help! For the dead weight rebounded, and all the legions of the monsters of the pit became aroused. And when the dead mass sank down, it was engulfed in a hornets' nest of passions, and each hornet-passion was as heavy as stone. There is a law in the world of being, that where we find separateness there we find resistance, and so it was now with the mind. This was the first hypnotic touch, and a resistance was speedily found, for it happened that others had also minds, besides the rulers of the fancy; and the first wars arose, which had not yet degenerated then into physical scrambles, for they were purely on the plane of mentality and emotion, though more oppressive and more dangerous on account of that.
Gently at first, as though of silver-voiced nightingales' competitive strain, they sang — alas! not the song of soul rising above the earth and sending back its parting notes; they spread the wings of mind — not for the fountain where from all mind doth flow, they sang only about the fancy birds of the bright plumage, seeking forms, striving for a temporal existence, perching on the trees and rocks of the dark valley of illusion, lit only by the flames of passion, fanned only by the breezes of personal enjoyment.
Enticing was the first hypnotic spell, bewitching was the second. Glaring was the armor of those first dark conquerors, when, standing proud upon their lofty towers, they spread illusive light upon the nocturnal screen and sent out forms innumerable, blinding with their phantom lustre, ponderous with sound, and in the distance sparkling like the iris of soap bubbles on the dark of night. Some called it poesy; some called it art; some, civilization — especially when it allied itself with the protean nature forces and the powers of the earth and when it imaged and sculptured itself in every stone and metal. Thus were taught the simple minded, thus they called it, but it was only fancy's riot falling down into a nothingness. And for its sake were so many sins committed, so many minds turned from the communion of the Universal Heart to the powers of the gigantic sport and play, so many beings free and bright as children, basking in the melody of the primeval Golden Voice of that which gave them birth into soul-life — now were dragged into dizzy, magnetic whirls, where phantom called to phantom with a mocking greeting, and spectre parted from spectre with shriek of pain and torture of regret.
The tragedy was interesting, but not for the actors. But what cared the rulers? New allurements they devised. They gathered from all the quarters of the globe, from the deep earth and from the skies above, from the reflective films playing on the water and from fire's smoky wreaths. The secrets of nature they extorted, which filled with awe and fear the already dizzy slaves of pain and passion, and the rule of one part of humanity over another was already an established fact.
It was not the crude hypnotism of the modern times, but it was that subtle, elastic kittens' play of mind, whose weight and pressure grow step by step, till the sharp claws of its cruel power smoothly glide into the flesh, and liberty is lost forever.
And now a word to the modern diminutive heirs of their ancient sin, to those who now try to rule, to influence, to mold the world as a blind mass forever destined to be as plastic material for their haughty minds — to those who, instead of sharing their thoughts in a fraternal way with fellow beings, instead of clasping hands as free and yet interdependent fellow students, instead of pledging themselves as many voluntary links to their own Great Soul and Heart, try to forcibly imprint, imbue, instill, their ponderous imaginings into the heads that they themselves have stunned and pressed and frightened into obedience. In the name of principles they speak, they use high sounding words, but in their interior dogmatic fancy they wish rather the whole world perish and go down in ruin to Hell than to escape their grasp. Yes, even in this present age modern sects, workers for the same end (?), but by other means, may learn something from this ancient lesson and, perhaps, see the difference between the angel of the day and a monstrosity of night.
Uninterrupted is the light of day, save for the obstructions we ourselves oppose, and not one single spark of light, however thickly veiled in clouds of superficial error, but has its source and life from the universal Light. Even he who worships an idol, worships it under a guise. This is the light of day. This is the unbroken, universal link of truly universal faith. This is modest tolerance, and boundless love unlimited. But the monster of the night cannot love farther, cannot see farther than its own bewitched circle ever turning round and round. With what self-satisfaction do some think that they are a centre and a receptacle of all divine treasures; and that everything else, the infinite expanse of everything else in this wide universe is cursed and forlorn; that matter is dead, that the animal and vegetable lives are shadows of our servitude and uselessness and isolation, and only they are specks of light on the dark of boundless night! But is it so pleasant after all? Where is their God? Nowhere, except on the frail films of their imagination and in the red, tyrannic weight of their terror-stricken, gloom-enveloped power, sectarian, clannish, fenced off from this wide world and seemingly so self-satisfied, power; and we ourselves detached blots of questionable light floating in a satanic plot of Horror. How infinitely more pleasant it is to unveil the gloom, to lift our own fanciful self-created incubus from all nature and from all our fellow beings, that the Soul Divine may shine for us and greet us through the souls of men! How immensely more delightful it is to see our neighbor everywhere, and even much more in a merciful Samaritan and Heretic, than in an orthodox, yet powerless-to-act Levite; to feel the angelic throb in the song of birds and in the flowers' beauty even much more than in our penitent, pain-enveloped, expiating body; to discern God's will and mind acting much more in Planets' swing, in crystals' architecture and spectral scintillations of atomic tiny sparks, than in our own slow and sluggish brain intelligence reflection.
This open view is more likely to bring on earth that Divine kingdom of the Galilean Master than all the sulphur and mercenary sweet (?) incense of burning, bewildered, horror-bound, powerless and loveless hunting parties of our own salvation. Now think only: our own — what is, in fact, our own except our person, our lower self, which is ours only by our limits, which therefore is our prison, whether as mind or form, and which, precisely, not by being saved but by getting lost, can thus set at liberty our real Soul-Self, the Higher, the Unborn? A child's wisdom, even its single smile, beaming with comradeship to a friend, a star, a flower, greater is than all theologies, opening their windows on any fancy place, save the true place of recognition of the indwelling God in the Soul-Realities of life. What joy it is, then, to see in the dark days of dream-religion such awakening children, as, for instance, Francis of Assisi, upon whose shoulders birds alighted, whom sunbeams and soft breezes, sweet sister-water and mighty brother-fire greeted and invited. He and many others, the humblest, the compassionate, alone kept back the darkest powers in the darkest hour. For the sake of these few faithful the rod of the four karmic angels was withheld.
And the rod of punishment now is lifted by conquering science. But what is it? A dreary power against a dreary power. Could these two colliding rocks create a spark of life? Who knows what suffering brings us to our senses? Oh! that our scientific friends could also profit by it, noticing the danger of thinking too much with thoughts of other people. It is so pleasant to seem learned, but it is a million times more hopeful to hear a confession of our modest comrades of the Academy of Muses, that our knowledge is, after all, only a classification of appearances; and it is immeasurably sweet, for instance, to hear a physicist say that we know nothing about the atom, force, and ether; and hear a doctor proclaim his ignorance of the formative power which builds a body and keeps life and health; and to hear a chemist's awe and admiration before that first primeval matter, of which all elements are built, and who knows, perhaps all dreams and thoughts of ours; and to see a psychologist stand with greater reverence before the mysteries of consciousness, which eludes him, than any priest had ever stood before his idol.
This humility keeps knowledge fresh and sweet, and full of true poetic spirit, and blessed are those who have preserved it. They are the children of the morning, opening their eyes to ever fresh and blooming nature, and for them the magic lustre of the life around will never wane, and the stream of heart will never dry or turn into a stagnant pond. But to those brothers who are entranced with the scientific glitter, let the history of the past be a warning lesson.
And, verily, how could selfishness and all its pain and terror have been abated in those terrible times when, really, those fancy-dreamers, those haughty builders of the empty forms, had nothing vital there to love and cherish, to aspire and hope, but running like a squirrel in a wheel, contracted their civilization into a vortex, drawing them into a gulf where all wrecks fall into darkness and oblivion.
And with it fell untimely those giants of old, whose pride superb exceeded that of Rome, and whose culture outshone the lofty genius of Greece, and whose imperial mantle covered all the world, gemmed with glorious cities of the white stone of mountains, and of the dark volcanic lava, and bedecked with silver, gold and orichalcum. And yet, who of that brilliant assemblage would aspire to a seat upon the Blessed Thrones of Mercy? (3) Who would strive after the flower of the Golden Stem and Azure Blossom? who would follow the Doctrine of the Heart? The earth was trembling under the blackness of the sins committed; Nature herself was insulted, and the waters of the sea ran swelling upon the sinking continent. The Divine Teachers, the Lords of the Dazzling Face departed with the faithful from this doomed land, seven great islands were swallowed up by the waters.
The narrative which is here related is, as many of the readers have guessed already, the history of that Niobe of the nations, that marble pain trembling in every heart of ours and the lesson as unavoidable as fate itself — the unfortunate Atlantis.
1. Adapted from an unpublished story, "In The Hesperides." (return to text)
2. This statement dares to disagree perfectly with the Haeckelian diagram of man's origin. If man is a mammalian in his body, it is not by a heredity from a mammalian branch. He reached that degree on the previous planetary globe. On this he started separately. See "The Secret Doctrine" by H. P. Blavatsky. (return to text)
3. As complains a contemporary writer. (return to text)