THEOSOPHY, Vol. 55, No. 2, December, 1966
(Pages 42-51; Size: 29K)
THE WISDOM RELIGION(7)
THE MYSTERIES: I
[Part 2 of a 12-part series]Nothing better than those MYSTERIES, by which, from a rough and fierce life, we are polished to gentleness (humanity, kindness), and softened.AN impenetrable veil of secrecy was thrown over the occult and religious mysteries taught, after the submersion of the last remnant of the Atlantean race, some 12,000 years ago, lest they should be shared by the unworthy, and so desecrated. It is this secrecy which led the Fifth Race to the establishment, or rather the re-establishment of the religious mysteries, in which ancient truths might be taught to the coming generations under the veil of allegory and symbolism.
--CICERO: de Legibus, ii, 14
It has become "fashionable," especially of late, to deride the notion that there ever was, in the mysteries of great and civilized peoples, such as the Egyptians, Greeks, or Romans, anything but priestly imposture. Even the Rosicrucians were no better than half lunatics, half knaves. Numerous books have been written on them; and tyros, who had hardly heard the name a few years before, sallied out as profound critics and Gnostics on the subject of alchemy, the fire-philosophers, and mysticism in general. Yet a long series of the Hierophants of Egypt, Chaldea, and Arabia are known, along with the greatest philosophers and sages of Greece and the West, to have included under the designation of wisdom and divine science all knowledge, for they considered the base and origin of every art and science as essentially divine. Plato regarded the mysteries as most sacred, and Clemens Alexandrinus, who had been himself initiated into the Eleusinian mysteries, has declared "that the doctrines taught therein contained in them the end of all human knowledge." Were Plato and Clemens two knaves or two fools, we wonder, or -- both?
The Gnostics entertained many of the Essenean ideas; and the Essenes had their "greater" and "minor" Mysteries at least two centuries before our era. They were the Isarim or Initiates, the descendants of the Egyptian hierophants, in whose country they had been settled for several centuries before they were converted to Buddhistic monasticism by the missionaries of King Asoka, and amalgamated later with the earliest Christians; and they existed, probably, before the old Egyptian temples were desecrated and ruined in the incessant invasion of Persians, Greeks, and other conquering hordes. The hierophants had their atonement enacted in the Mystery of Initiation ages before the Gnostics, or even the Essenes, had appeared. It was known among hierophants as the BAPTISM OF BLOOD, and was considered not as an atonement for the "fall of man" in Eden, but simply as an expiation for the past, present, and future sins of ignorant but nevertheless polluted mankind. The hierophant had the option of either offering his pure and sinless life as a sacrifice for his race to the gods whom he hoped to rejoin, or an animal victim. The former depended entirely on their own will. At the last moment of the solemn "new birth," the initiator passed "the word" to the initiated, and immediately after that the latter had a weapon placed in his right hand, and was ordered to strike. This is the true origin of the Christian dogma of atonement.
* * *
There is a wide-spread superstition (?), especially among the Slavonians and Russians, that the magician or wizard cannot die before he has passed the "word" to a successor. So deeply is it rooted among the popular beliefs, that we do not imagine there is a person in Russia who has not heard of it. It is but too easy to trace the origin of this superstition to the old Mysteries which had been for ages spread all over the globe. The ancient Variago-Rouss had his Mysteries in the North as well as in the South of Russia; and there are many relics of the bygone faith scattered in the lands watered by the sacred Dnieper, the baptismal Jordan of all Russia. No Znâchar (the knowing one) or Koldoun (sorcerer), male or female, can die in fact before he has passed the mysterious word to some one. The popular belief is that unless he does that he will linger and suffer for weeks and months, and were he even finally to get liberated, it would be only to wander on earth, unable to quit its region unless he finds a successor even after death. How far the belief may be verified by others, we do not know, but we have seen a case which, for its tragical and mysterious dénoument, deserves to be given here as an illustration of the subject in hand. An old man, of over one hundred years of age, a peasant-serf in the government of S-----, having a wide reputation as a sorcerer and healer, was said to be dying for several days, and still unable to die. The report spread like lightning, and the poor old fellow was shunned by even the members of his own family, as the latter were afraid of receiving the unwelcome inheritance.
At last the public rumor in the village was that he had sent a message to a colleague less versed than himself in the art, and who, although he lived in a distant district, was nevertheless coming at the call, and would be on hand early on the following morning. There was at that time on a visit to the proprietor of the village a young physician who, belonging to the famous school of Nihilism of that day, laughed outrageously at the idea. The master of the house, being a very pious man, and but half inclined to make so cheap of the "superstition," smiled -- as the saying goes -- but with one corner of his mouth. Meanwhile the young skeptic, to gratify his curiosity, had made a visit to the dying man, had found that he could not live twenty-four hours longer, and, determined to prove the absurdity of the "superstition," had taken means to detain the coming "successor" at a neighboring village.
Early in the morning a company of four persons, comprising the physician, the master of the place, his daughter, and the writer of the present lines, went to the hut in which was to be achieved the triumph of skepticism. The dying man was expecting his liberator every moment, and his agony at the delay became extreme. We tried to persuade the physician to humor the patient, were it for humanity's sake. He only laughed. Getting hold with one hand of the old wizard's pulse, he took out his watch with the other, and remarking in French that all would be over in a few moments, remained absorbed in his professional experiment. The scene was solemn and appalling. Suddenly the door opened, and a young boy entered with the intelligence, addressed to the doctor, that the koum was lying dead drunk at a neighboring village, and, according to his orders, could not be with "grandfather" till the next day. The young doctor felt confused, and was just going to address the old man, when, as quick as lightning, the Znâchar snatched his hand from his grasp and raised himself in bed. His deep-sunken eyes flashed; his yellow-white beard and hair streaming round his livid face made him a dreadful sight. One instant more and his long, sinewy arms were clasped round the physician's neck, as with a supernatural force he drew the doctor's head closer and closer to his own face, where he held him as in a vise, while whispering words inaudible to us in his ear. The skeptic struggled to free himself, but before he had time to make one effective motion the work had evidently been done; the hands relaxed their grasp, and the old sorcerer fell on his back -- a corpse! A strange and ghostly smile had settled on the stony lips -- a smile of fiendish triumph and satisfied revenge; but the doctor looked paler and more ghastly than the dead man himself. He stared round with an expression of terror difficult to describe, and without answering our inquiries rushed out wildly from the hut, in the direction of the woods. Messengers were sent after him, but he was nowhere to be found. About sunset a report was heard in the forest. An hour later his body was brought home, with a bullet through his head, for the skeptic had blown out his brains!
What made him commit suicide? What magic spell of sorcery had the "word" of the dying wizard left on his mind? Who can tell?
* * *
Verily the "Christs" of the pre-Christian ages were many. But they died unknown to the world, and disappeared as silently and as mysteriously from the sight of man as Moses from the top of Pisgah, the mountain of Nebo (oracular wisdom), after he had laid his hands upon Joshua, who thus became "full of the spirit of wisdom" (i.e., initiated).
Paul declares that: "According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise master-builder, I have laid the foundation." (I Cor. 3:10.) This expression, master-builder, used only once in the whole Bible, and by Paul, may be considered as a whole revelation. In the Mysteries, the third part of the sacred rites was called Epopteia, or revelation, reception into the secrets. In substance it means that stage of divine clairvoyance when everything pertaining to this earth disappears, and earthly sight is paralyzed, and the soul is united free and pure with its Spirit, or God. But the real significance of the word is "overseeing," from optomai -- I see myself. In Sanscrit the word evapto has the same meaning, as well as to obtain.(1) The word epopteia is a compound one, from Epi -- upon, and aptomai -- to look, or an overseer, an inspector -- also used for a master-builder. The title of master-mason, in Freemasonry, is derived from this, in the sense used in the Mysteries. Therefore, when Paul entitles himself a "master-builder," he is using a word pre-eminently kabalistic, theurgic, and masonic, and one which no other apostle uses. He thus declares himself an adept, having the right to initiate others.
If we search in this direction, with those sure guides, the Grecian Mysteries and the Kabala, before us, it will be easy to find the secret reason why Paul was so persecuted and hated by Peter, John, and James. The author of the Revelation was a Jewish kabalist pur sang, with all the hatred inherited by him from his forefathers toward the Mysteries.(2) His jealousy during the life of Jesus extended even to Peter; and it is but after the death of their common master that we see the two apostles -- the former of whom wore the Mitre and the Petaloon of the Jewish Rabbis -- preach so zealously the rite of circumcision. In the eyes of Peter, Paul, who had humiliated him, and whom he felt so much his superior in "Greek learning" and philosophy, must have naturally appeared as a magician, a man polluted with the "Gnosis," with the "wisdom" of the Greek Mysteries -- hence, perhaps, "Simon(3) the Magician."
None of our bigots has ever looked with more scorn on the abuses of magic than did the true initiate of old. No modern or even mediæval law could be more severe than that of the hierophant. True, he had more discrimination, charity, and justice, than the Christian clergy; for while banishing the "unconscious" sorcerer, the person troubled with a demon, from within the sacred precincts of the adyta, the priests, instead of mercilessly burning him, took care of the unfortunate "possessed one." Having hospitals expressly for that purpose in the neighborhood of temples, the ancient "medium," if obsessed, was taken care of and restored to health. But with one who had, by conscious witchcraft, acquired powers dangerous to his fellow-creatures, the priests of old were as severe as justice herself. "Any person accidentally guilty of homicide, or of any crime, or convicted of witchcraft, was excluded from the Eleusinian Mysteries." (See Taylor's Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries; Porphyry and others.) And so were they from all others. This law, mentioned by all writers on the ancient initiation, speaks for itself. The claim of Augustine, that all the explanations given by the Neoplatonists were invented by themselves is absurd. For nearly every ceremony in their true and successive order is given by Plato himself, in a more or less covered way. The Mysteries are as old as the world, and one well versed in the esoteric mythologies of various nations can trace them back to the days of the ante-Vedic period in India. A condition of the strictest virtue and purity is required from the Vatou, or candidate, in India before he can become an initiate, whether he aims to be a simple fakir, a Purohita (public priest) or a Sannyâsi, a saint of the second degree of initiation, the most holy as the most revered of them all. After having conquered, in the terrible trials preliminary to admittance to the inner temple in the subterranean crypts of his pagoda, the sannyâsi passes the rest of his life in the temple, practicing the eighty-four rules and ten virtues prescribed to the Yogis.
"No one who has not practiced, during his whole life, the ten virtues which the divine Manu makes incumbent as a duty, can be initiated into the Mysteries of the council," say the Hindu books of initiation.
These virtues are: "Resignation; the act of rendering good for evil; temperance; probity; purity; chastity, repression of the physical senses; the knowledge of the Holy Scriptures; that of the Superior soul (spirit); worship of truth; abstinence from anger." These virtues must alone direct the life of a true Yogi. "No unworthy adept ought to defile the ranks of the holy initiates by his presence for twenty-four hours." The adept becomes guilty after having once broken any one of these vows. Surely the exercise of such virtues is inconsistent with the idea one has of devil-worship and lasciviousness of purpose!
And now we will try to give a clear insight into one of the chief objects of this work. What we desire to prove is, that underlying every ancient popular religion was the same ancient wisdom-doctrine, one and identical, professed and practiced by the initiates of every country, who alone were aware of its existence and importance. To ascertain its origin, and the precise age in which it was matured, is now beyond human possibility. A single glance, however, is enough to assure one that it could not have attained the marvellous perfection in which we find it pictured to us in the relics of the various esoteric systems, except after a succession of ages. A philosophy so profound, a moral code so ennobling, and practical results so conclusive and so uniformly demonstrable is not the growth of a generation, or even a single epoch. Fact must have been piled upon fact, deduction upon deduction, science have begotten science, and myriads of the brightest human intellects have reflected upon the laws of nature, before this ancient doctrine had taken concrete shape. The proofs of this identity of fundamental doctrine in the old religions are found in the prevalence of a system of initiation; in the secret sacerdotal castes who had the guardianship of mystical words of power, and a public display of a phenomenal control over natural forces, indicating association with preterhuman beings. Every approach to the Mysteries of all these nations was guarded with the same jealous care, and in all, the penalty of death was inflicted upon initiates of any degree who divulged the secrets entrusted to them. We have seen that such was the case in the Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries, among the Chaldean Magi, and the Egyptian hierophants; while with the Hindus, from whom they were all derived, the same rule has prevailed from time immemorial. We are left in no doubt upon this point; for the Agrushada Parikshai says explicitly, "Every initiate, to whatever degree he may belong, who reveals the great sacred formula, must be put to death."
Naturally enough, this same extreme penalty was prescribed in all the multifarious sects and brotherhoods which at different periods have sprung from the ancient stock. We find it with the early Essenes, Gnostics, theurgic Neo-platonists, and medieval philosophers; and in our day, even the Masons perpetuate the memory of the old obligations in the penalties of throat-cutting, dismemberment, and disemboweling, with which the candidate is threatened. As the Masonic "master's word" is communicated only at "low breath," so the selfsame precaution is prescribed in the Chaldean Book of Numbers and the Jewish Mercaba. When initiated, the neophyte was led by an ancient to a secluded spot, and there the latter whispered in his ear the great secret. (Franck: Die Kabbala.) The Mason swears, under the most frightful penalties, that he will not communicate the secrets of any degree "to a brother of an inferior degree"; and the Agrushada Parikshai says: "Any initiate of the third degree who reveals before the prescribed time, to the initiates of the second degree, the superior truths, must be put to death." Again, the Masonic apprentice consents to have his "tongue torn out by the roots" if he divulge anything to a profane; and in the Hindu books of initiation, the same Agrushada Parikshai, we find that any initiate of the first degree (the lowest) who betrays the secrets of his initiation, to members of other castes, for whom the science should be a closed book, must have "his tongue cut out," and suffer other mutilations.
As we proceed, we will point out the evidences of this identity of vows, formulas, rites, and doctrines, between the ancient faiths. We will also show that not only their memory is still preserved in India, but also that the Secret Association is still alive and as active as ever. That, after reading what we have to say, it may be inferred that the chief pontiff and hierophant, the Brahmâtma, is still accessible to those "who know," though perhaps recognized by another name; and that the ramifications of his influence extend throughout the world. But we will now return again to the early Christian period.
As though he were not aware that there was any esoteric significance to the exoteric symbols, and that the Mysteries themselves were composed of two parts, the lesser at Agræ, and the higher ones at Eleusinia, Clemens Alexandrinus, with a rancorous bigotry that one might expect from a renegade Neo-platonist, but is astonished to find in this generally honest and learned Father, stigmatized the Mysteries as indecent and diabolical. Whatever were the rites enacted among the neophytes before they passed to a higher form of instruction; however misunderstood were the trials of Katharsis or purification, during which they were submitted to every kind of probation; and however much the immaterial or physical aspect might have led to calumny, it is but wicked prejudice which can compel a person to say that under this external meaning there was not a far deeper and spiritual significance.
It is positively absurd to judge the ancients from our own standpoint of propriety and virtue. And most assuredly it is not for the Church -- which now stands accused by all the modern symbologists of having adopted precisely these same emblems in their coarsest aspect, and feels herself powerless to refute the accusations -- to throw the stone at those who were her models. When men like Pythagoras, Plato, and Iamblichus, renowned for their severe morality, took part in the Mysteries, and spoke of them with veneration, it ill behooves our modern critics to judge them so rashly upon their merely external aspect. Iamblichus explains the worst; and his explanation, for an unprejudiced mind, ought to be perfectly plausible. "Exhibitions of this kind," he says, "in the Mysteries were designed to free us from licentious passions, by gratifying the sight, and at the same time vanquishing all evil thought, through the awful sanctity with which these rites were accompanied."(4) "The wisest and best men in the Pagan world," adds Dr. Warburton, "are unanimous in this, that the Mysteries were instituted pure, and proposed the noblest ends by the worthiest means."(5)
In these celebrated rites, although persons of both sexes and all classes were allowed to take a part, and a participation in them was even obligatory, very few indeed attained the higher and final initiation. The gradation of the Mysteries is given us by Proclus in the fourth book of his Theology of Plato. "The perfective rite precedes in order the initiation -- Muesis -- and the initiation, Epopteia, or the final apocalypse (revelation)." Theon of Smyrna, in Mathematica, also divides the mystic rites into five parts: "the first of which is the previous purification; for neither are the Mysteries communicated to all who are willing to receive them; ... there are certain persons who are prevented by the voice of the crier ... since it is necessary that such as are not expelled from the Mysteries should first be refined by certain purifications which the reception of the sacred rites succeeds. The third part is denominated epopteia or reception. And the fourth, which is the end and design of the revelation, is the binding of the head and fixing of the crowns(6) ... whether after this he (the initiated person) becomes ... an hierophant or sustains some other part of the sacerdotal office. But the fifth, which is produced from all these, is friendship and interior communion with God." And this was the last and most awful of all the Mysteries.
There are writers who have often wondered at the meaning of this claim to a "friendship and interior communion with God." Christian authors have denied the pretensions of the "Pagans" to such "communion," affirming that only Christian saints were and are capable of enjoying it; materialistic skeptics have altogether scoffed at the idea of both. After long ages of religious materialism and spiritual stagnation, it has most certainly become difficult if not altogether impossible to substantiate the claims of either party. The old Greeks, who had once crowded around the Agora of Athens, with its altar to the "Unknown God," are no more; and their descendants firmly believe that they have found the "Unknown" in the Jewish Jehovah. The divine ecstasies of the early Christians have made room for visions of a more modern character, in perfect keeping with progress and civilization. The "Son of man" appearing to the rapt vision of the ancient Christian as coming from the seventh heaven, in a cloud of glory, and surrounded with angels and winged seraphim, has made room for a more prosaic and at the same time more business-like Jesus. The latter is now shown as making morning calls upon Mary and Martha in Bethany; as seating himself on "the ottoman" with the younger sister, a lover of "ethics," while Martha goes off to the kitchen to cook.
From the birth of the solemn and majestic conception of the unrevealed Deity of the ancient adepts to such caricatured descriptions of him who died on the Cross for his philanthropic devotion to humanity, long centuries have intervened, and their heavy tread seems to have almost entirely obliterated all sense of a spiritual religion from the hearts of his professed-followers. No wonder then, that the sentence of Proclus is no longer understood by the Christians, and is rejected as a "vagary" by the materialists, who, in their negation, are less blasphemous and atheistical than many of the reverends and members of the churches. But, although the Greek epoptai are no more, we have now, in our own age, a people far more ancient than the oldest Hellenes, who practice the so-called "preterhuman" gifts to the same extent as did their ancestors far earlier than the days of Troy. It is to this people that we draw the attention of the psychologist and philosopher.
THE WISDOM RELIGION
THE MYSTERIES: II
[Part 3 of a 12-part series]
"THE WISDOM RELIGION"
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SEVEN (7) FOOTNOTES LISTED BELOW:
(7) NOTE.--"The Mysteries," second section of THE WISDOM RELIGION -- a study which began in the November issue -- will appear in five parts. The material for this issue was taken from Isis Unveiled, The Secret Doctrine, and The Key to Theosophy in the following order: Isis II, 167; S.D. II, 124; Key, 36-37 fn.; Isis II, 42-44; 90-91; 97-102.
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(1) In its most extensive meaning, the Sanscrit word has the same literal sense as the Greek term; both imply "revelation," by no human agent, but through the "receiving of the sacred drink." In India the initiated received the "Soma," sacred drink, which helped to liberate his soul from the body; and in the Eleusinian Mysteries it was the sacred drink offered at the Epopteia. The Grecian Mysteries are wholly derived from the Brahmanical Vedic rites, and the latter from the ante-vedic religious Mysteries -- primitive Buddhist philosophy.
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(2) It is needless to state that the Gospel according to John was not written by John but by a Platonist or a Gnostic belonging to the Neoplatonic school.
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(3) The fact that Peter persecuted the "Apostle to the Gentiles," under that name, does not necessarily imply that there was no Simon Magus individually distinct from Paul. It may have become a generic name of abuse. Theodoret and Chrysostom, the earliest and most prolific commentators on the Gnosticism of those days, seem actually to make of Simon a rival of Paul, and to state that between them passed frequent messages. The former, as a diligent propagandist of what Paul terms the "antitheses of the Gnosis" (1st Epistle to Timothy), must have been a sore thorn in the side of the apostle. There are sufficient proofs of the actual existence of Simon Magus.
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(4) Mysteries of the Egyptians, Chaldeans, and Assyrians.
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(5) "Divine Legation of Moses"; The "Eleusinian Mysteries" as quoted by Thomas Taylor.
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(6) This expression must not be understood literally; for as in the initiation of certain Brotherhoods it has a secret meaning, hinted at by Pythagoras, when he describes his feelings after the initiation and tells that he was crowned by the gods in whose presence he had drunk "the waters of life" -- in Hindu, a-bi-hayat, fount of life.
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