THEOSOPHY, Vol. 55, No. 4, February, 1967
(Pages 113-118; Size: 17K)



[Part 4 of a 12-part series]

THE reason why in every age so little has been generally known of the mysteries of initiation, is twofold. The first has already been explained by more than one author, and lies in the terrible penalty following the least indiscretion. The second, is the superhuman difficulties and even dangers which the daring candidate of old had to encounter, and either conquer, or die in the attempt, when, what is still worse, he did not lose his reason. There was no real danger to him whose mind had become thoroughly spiritualized, and so prepared for every terrific sight. He who fully recognized the power of his immortal spirit, and never doubted for one moment its omnipotent protection, had naught to fear. But woe to the candidate in whom the slightest physical fear -- sickly child of matter -- made him lose sight and faith in his own invulnerability. He who was not wholly confident of his moral fitness to accept the burden of these tremendous secrets was doomed.

The Talmud gives the story of the four Tanaïm, who are made, in allegorical terms, to enter into the garden of delights; i.e., to be initiated into the occult and final science.

"According to the teaching of our holy masters the names of the four who entered the garden of delight, are: Ben Asai, Ben Zoma, Acher, and Rabbi Akiba....

"Ben Asai looked and -- lost his sight.

"Ben Zoma looked and -- lost his reason.

"Acher made depredations in the plantation" (mixed up the whole and failed). "But Akiba, who had entered in peace, came out of it in peace, for the saint whose name be blessed had said, 'This old man is worthy of serving us with glory'."

"The learned commentators of the Talmud, the Rabbis of the synagogue, explain that the garden of delight, in which those four personages are made to enter, is but that mysterious science, the most terrible of sciences for weak intellects, which it leads directly to insanity," says A. Franck, in his Kabbala. It is not the pure at heart and he who studies but with a view to perfecting himself and so more easily acquiring the promised immortality, who need have any fear; but rather he who makes of the science of sciences a sinful pretext for worldly motives, who should tremble. The latter will never withstand the kabalistic evocations of the supreme initiation.

The licentious performances of the thousand and one early Christian sects, may be criticised by partial commentators as well as the ancient Eleusinian and other rites. But why should they incur the blame of the theologians, the Christians, when their own "Mysteries" of "the divine incarnation with Joseph, Mary, and the angel" in a sacred trilogue used to be enacted in more than one country, and were famous at one time in Spain and Southern France? Later, they fell like many other once secret rites into the hands of the populace. It is but a few years since, during every Christmas week, Punch-and-Judy boxes, containing the above named personages, an additional display of the infant Jesus in his manger, were carried about the country in Poland and Southern Russia. They were called Raliadovki, a word the correct etymology of which we are unable to give unless it is from the verb Kaliadovât, a word that we as willingly abandon to learned philologists. We have seen this show in our days of childhood. We remember the three king-Magi represented by three dolls in powdered wigs and colored tights; and it is from recollecting the simple, profound veneration depicted on the faces of the pious audience, that we can the more readily appreciate the honest and just remark by the editor, in the introduction to the Eleusinian Mysteries, who says: "It is ignorance which leads to profanation. Men ridicule what they do not properly understand. ... The undercurrent of this world is set toward one goal; and inside of human credulity -- call it human weakness, if you please -- is a power almost infinite, a holy faith capable of apprehending the supremest truths of all existence."

If that abstract sentiment called Christian charity prevailed in the Church, we would be well content to leave all this unsaid. We have no quarrel with Christians whose faith is sincere and whose practice coincides with their profession. But with an arrogant, dogmatic, and dishonest clergy, we have nothing to do except to see the ancient philosophy -- antagonized by modern theology in its puny offspring -- Spiritualism -- defended and righted so far as we are able, so that its grandeur and sufficiency may be thoroughly displayed. It is not alone for the esoteric philosophy that we fight; nor for any modern system of moral philosophy, but for the inalienable right of private judgment, and especially for the ennobling idea of a future life of activity and accountability.

We eagerly applaud such commentators as Godfrey Higgins, Inman, Payne Knight, King, Dunlap, and Dr. Newton, however much they disagree with our own mystical views, for their diligence is constantly being rewarded by fresh discoveries of the Pagan paternity of Christian symbols. But otherwise, all these learned works are useless. Their researches only cover half the ground. Lacking the true key of interpretation they see the symbols only in a physical aspect. They have no password to cause the gates of mystery to swing open; and ancient spiritual philosophy is to them a closed book. Diametrically opposed though they be to the clergy in their ideas respecting it, in the way of interpretation they do little more than their opponents for a questioning public. Their labors tend to strengthen materialism as those of the clergy, especially the Romish clergy, do to cultivate belief in diabolism.

If the study of Hermetic philosophy held out no other hope of reward, it would be more than enough to know that by it we may learn with what perfection of justice the world is governed. A sermon upon this text is preached by every page of history. Among all there is not one that conveys a deeper moral than the case of the Roman Church. The divine law of compensation was never more strikingly exemplified than in the fact that by her own act she has deprived herself of the only possible key to her own religious mysteries. The assumption of Godfrey Higgins that there are two doctrines maintained in the Roman Church, one for the masses and the other -- the esoteric -- for the "perfect," or the initiates, as in the ancient Mysteries, appears to us unwarranted and rather fantastic. They have lost the key, we repeat; otherwise no terrestrial power could have prostrated her, and except a superficial knowledge of the means of producing "miracles," her clergy can in no way be compared in their wisdom with the hierophants of old.

In burning the works of the theurgists; in proscribing those who affect their study; in affixing the stigma of demonolatry to magic in general, Rome has left her exoteric worship and Bible to be helplessly riddled by every free-thinker, her sexual emblems to be identified with coarseness, and her priests to unwittingly turn magicians and even sorcerers in their exorcisms, which are but necromantic evocations. Thus retribution, by the exquisite adjustment of divine law, is made to overtake this scheme of cruelty, injustice, and bigotry, through her own suicidal acts.

True philosophy and divine truth are convertible terms. A religion which dreads the light cannot be a religion based on either truth or philosophy -- hence, it must be false. The ancient Mysteries were mysteries to the profane only, whom the hierophant never sought nor would accept as proselytes; to the initiates the Mysteries became explained as soon as the final veil was withdrawn. No mind like that of Pythagoras or Plato would have contented itself with an unfathomable and incomprehensible mystery, like that of the Christian dogma. There can be but one truth, for two small truths on the same subject can but constitute one great error. Among thousands of exoteric or popular conflicting religions which have been propagated since the days when the first men were enabled to interchange their ideas, not a nation, not a people, nor the most abject tribe, but after their own fashion has believed in an Unseen God, the First Cause of unerring and immutable laws, and in the immortality of our spirit. No creed, no false philosophy, no religious exaggerations, could ever destroy that feeling. It must, therefore, be based upon an absolute truth. On the other hand, every one of the numberless religions and religious sects views the Deity after its own fashion; and, fathering on the unknown its own speculations, it enforces these purely human outgrowths of overheated imagination on the ignorant masses, and calls them "revelation." As the dogmas of every religion and sect often differ radically, they cannot be true. And if untrue, what are they?

"The greatest curse to a nation," remarks Dr. Inman, "is not a bad religion, but a form of faith which prevents manly inquiry. I know of no nation of old that was priest-ridden which did not fall under the swords of those who did not care for hierarchs. ... The greatest danger is to be feared from those ecclesiastics who wink at vice, and encourage it as a means whereby they can gain power over their votaries. So long as every man does to other men as he would that they should do to him, and allows no one to interfere between him and his Maker, all will go well with the world."

At Byblos, the neophytes as well as the hierophants were, after participating in the Mysteries, obliged to fast and remain in solitude for some time. There was strict fasting and preparation before as well as after the Bacchic, Adonian, and Eleusinian orgies; and Herodotus hints, with fear and veneration about the LAKE of Bacchus, in which "they (the priests) made at night exhibitions of his life and sufferings." In the Mithraic sacrifices, during the initiation, a preliminary scene of death was simulated by the neophyte, and it preceded the scene showing him himself "being born again by the rite of baptism." A portion of this ceremony is still enacted in the present day by the Masons, when the neophyte, as the Grand Master Abiff, lies dead, and is raised by the strong grip of the lion's paw.

In the Eleusinian and other Mysteries the participants were always divided into two classes, the neophytes and the perfect. The former were sometimes admitted to the preliminary initiation: the dramatic performance of Ceres, or the soul, descending to Hades.(1) But it was given only to the "perfect" to enjoy and learn the Mysteries of the divine Elysium, the celestial abode of the blessed; this Elysium being unquestionably the same as the "Kingdom of Heaven." To contradict or reject the above, would be merely to shut one's eyes to the truth.

The narrative of the Apostle Paul, in his second Epistle to the Corinthians (xii. 3, 4), has struck several scholars, well versed in the descriptions of the mystical rites of the initiation given by some classics, as alluding most undoubtedly to the final Epopteia. "I knew a certain man -- whether in body or outside of body, I know not: God knoweth -- who was rapt into Paradise, and heard things ineffable, which it is not lawful for a man to repeat." These words have rarely, so far as we know, been regarded by commentators as an allusion to the beatific visions of an "initiated" seer. But the phraseology is unequivocal. These things "which it is not lawful to repeat," are hinted at in the same words, and the reason for it assigned, is the same as that which we find repeatedly expressed by Plato, Proclus, Iamblichus, Herodotus, and other classics. "We speak WISDOM only among them who are PERFECT," says Paul; the plain and undeniable translation of the sentence being: "We speak of the profounder (or final) esoteric doctrines of the Mysteries (which were denominated wisdom) only among them who are initiated." "They related to the human soul, its divine parentage, its supposed degradation from its high estate by becoming connected with 'generation' or the physical world, its onward progress and restoration to God by regenerations or ... transmigrations." So in relation to the "man who was rapt into Paradise" -- and who was evidently Paul himself -- the Christian word Paradise having replaced that of Elysium. To complete the proof, we might recall the words of Plato, given elsewhere, which show that before an initiate could see the gods in their purest light, he had to become liberated from his body; i.e., to separate his astral soul from it. Apuleius also describes his initiation into the Mysteries in the same way: "I approached the confines of death; and, having trodden on the threshold of Proserpina, returned, having been carried through all the elements. In the depths of midnight I saw the sun glittering with a splendid light, together with the infernal and supernal gods, and to those divinities approaching, I paid the tribute of devout adoration."

The date of the hundreds of pyramids in the Valley of the Nile is impossible to fix by any of the rules of modern science; but Herodotus informs us that each successive king erected one to commemorate his reign, and serve as his sepulchre. But, Herodotus did not tell all, although he knew that the real purpose of the pyramid was very different from that which he assigns to it. Were it not for his religious scruples, he might have added that, externally, it symbolized the creative principle of nature, and illustrated also the principles of geometry, mathematics, astrology, and astronomy. Internally, it was a majestic fane, in whose sombre recesses were performed the Mysteries, and whose walls had often witnessed the initiation-scenes of members of the royal family. The porphyry sarcophagus, which Professor Piazzi Smyth, Astronomer Royal of Scotland, degrades into a corn-bin, was the baptismal font, upon emerging from which, the neophyte was "born again," and became an adept.

COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:

Belief quickly becomes conviction of possessing certain knowledge, and that stands in the way of gaining more knowledge. Trust is a deep personal commitment. 


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(2) NOTE.--This series began in the November, 1966, issue, Sources for this installment are: Isis II, 118-22, 138, 145-6; Isis I, 518-19.
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(1) This descent to Hades signified the inevitable fate of each soul to be united for a time with a terrestrial body. This union, or dark prospect for the soul to find itself imprisoned within the dark tenement of a body, was considered by all the ancient philosophers, and is even by the modern Buddhists, as a punishment.
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