THEOSOPHY, Vol. 55, No. 5, March, 1967
(Pages 137-144; Size: 25K)



[Part 5 of a 12-part series]

THE ritualism of primitive Christianity sprang from ancient Masonry. The latter was, in its turn, the offspring of the, then, almost dead Mysteries. Of these we have now a few words to say.

It is well known that throughout antiquity, besides the popular worship composed of the dead-letter forms and empty exoteric ceremonies, every nation had its secret cult known to the world as the MYSTERIES. Strabo, one among many others, warrants for this assertion. No one received admittance into them save those prepared for it by special training. The neophytes instructed in the upper temples were initiated into the final Mysteries in the crypts. These instructions were the last surviving heirlooms of archaic wisdom, and it is under the guidance of high Initiates that they were enacted. We use the word "enacted" purposely; for the oral instructions at low breath were given only in the crypts, in solemn silence and secrecy. During the public classes and general teachings, the lessons in cosmogony and theogony were delivered in allegorical representation, the modus operandi of the gradual evolution of Kosmos, worlds, and finally of our earth, of gods and men, all was imparted in a symbolical way. The great public performances during the festivals of the Mysteries, were witnessed by the masses and the personified truths worshipped by the multitudes -- blindly. Alone the high Initiates, the Epoptæ, understood their language and real meaning. All this, and so far, is well known to the world of scholars.

It was a common claim of all the ancient nations that the real mysteries of what is called so unphilosophically, creation, were divulged to the elect of our (fifth) race by its first dynasties of divine Rulers -- gods in flesh, "divine incarnations," or Avatars, so called. The last Stanzas, given from the Book of Dzyan in the Secret Doctrine (Vol. II, p. 21), speak of those who ruled over the descendants "produced from the holy stock," and ... "who re-descended, who made peace with the fifth (race), who taught and instructed it."

The phrase "made peace" shows that there had been a previous quarrel. The fate of the Atlanteans in our philosophy, and that of the prediluvians in the Bible, corroborates the idea. Once more -- many centuries before the Ptolemies -- the same abuse of the sacred knowledge crept in amongst the initiates of the Sanctuary in Egypt. Preserved for countless ages in all their purity, the sacred teachings of the gods, owing to personal ambition and selfishness, became corrupted again. The meaning of the symbols found itself but too often desecrated by unseemly interpretations, and very soon the Eleusinian Mysteries remained the only ones pure from adulteration and sacrilegious innovations. These were in honour of (Ceres) Demeter, or Nature, and were celebrated in Athens, the flowers of the intellect of Asia Minor and Greece being initiated thereinto. In his 4th Book, Zosimus states that these Initiates embraced the whole of mankind; while Aristides calls the Mysteries the common temple of the earth.

It is to preserve some reminiscence of this "temple," and to rebuild it, if need be, that certain elect ones among the initiated began to beset apart. This was done by their High Hierophants in every century, from the time when the sacred allegories showed the first signs of desecration and decay. For the great Eleusinia finally shared the same fate as the others. Their earlier excellency and purpose are described by Clement of Alexandria who shows the greater Mysteries divulging the secrets and the mode of construction of the Universe, this being the beginning, the end and the ultimate goal of human knowledge, for in them was shown to the initiated Nature and all things as they are. This is the Pythagorean Gnosis. Epictetus speaks of these instructions in the highest terms: "All that is ordained therein was established by our masters for the instruction of men and the correction of our customs." Plato asserts in the Phædo the same: the object of the Mysteries was to re-establish the soul in its primordial purity, or that state of perfection from which it had fallen.

But there came a day when the Mysteries deviated from their purity in the same way as the exoteric religions. This began when the State bethought itself, on the advice of Aristogeiton (510 B.C.), of drawing from the Eleusinia a constant and prolific source of income. A law was passed to that effect. Henceforth, no one could be initiated without paying a certain sum of money for the privilege. That boon which could hitherto be acquired only at the price of incessant, almost superhuman effort, toward virtue and excellency, was now to be purchased for so much gold. Laymen -- and even priests themselves -- while accepting the desecration lost eventually their past reverence for the inner Mysteries, and this led to further profanation of the Sacred Science. The rent made in the veil widened with every century; and more than ever the Supreme Hierophants, dreading the final publication and distortion of the most holy secrets of nature, laboured to eliminate them from the inner programme, limiting the full knowledge thereof but to the few. It is those set apart who soon became the only custodians of the divine heirloom of the ages. Seven centuries later, we find Apuleius, his sincere inclination toward magic and the mystical notwithstanding, writing in his Golden Ass a bitter satire against the hypocrisy and debauchery of certain orders of half-initiated priests. It is through him also, that we learn that in his day (second century A.D.) the Mysteries had become so universal that persons of all ranks and conditions, in every country, men, women, and children all were initiated! Initiation had become as necessary in his day as baptism has since become with the Christians; and, as the latter is now, so the former had become then -- i.e., meaningless, and a purely dead-letter ceremony of mere form. Still later, the fanatics of the new religion laid their heavy hand on the Mysteries.

The Epoptæ, they "who see things as they are," disappeared one by one, emigrating into regions inaccessible to the Christians. The Mystæ (from Mystes or "veiled") "they who see things only as they appear" remained very soon, alone, sole masters of the situation.

It is the former, the "set apart," who have preserved the true secrets; it is the Mystæ, those who knew them only superficially, who laid the first foundation stone of modern masonry; and it is from this half pagan, half converted primitive fraternity of Masons that Christian ritualism and most of its dogmas were born. Both the Epoptæ and the Mystæ are entitled to the name of Masons: for both carrying out their pledges to, and the injunction of their long departed Hierophants and "Kings" rebuilt, the Epoptæ their "lower," and the Mystæ, their "upper" temples. For such were the irrespective appellations in antiquity, and are so to this day in certain regions. Sophocles speaks in the Electra (Act 2) of the foundations of Athens -- the site of the Eleusinian Mysteries -- as being the "sacred edifice of the gods," i.e., built by the gods. Initiation was spoken of as "walking into the temple," and "cleaning," or rebuilding the temple referred to the body of an initiate on his last and supreme trial. (Vide St. John's Gospel, ii, 19.) The esoteric doctrine, also, was sometimes called by the name of "Temple" and popular exoteric religion, by that of "city." To build a temple meant to found an esoteric school; to "build a city temple" signified to establish a public cult. Therefore, the true surviving "Masons" of the lower Temple, or the crypt, the sacred place of initiation, are the only custodians of the true Masonic secrets now lost to the world. We yield willingly to the modern Fraternity of Masons the title of "Builders of the higher Temple," as the à priori superiority of the comparative adjective is as illusionary as the blaze of the burning bush of Moses itself in the Templars' Lodges.

The misunderstood allegory known as the Descent into Hades, has wrought infinite mischief. The exoteric "fable" of Hercules and Theseus descending into the infernal regions; the journey thither of Orpheus, who found his way by the power of his lyre; of Krishna, and finally of Christ, who "descended into Hell and the third day rose again from the dead" -- was twisted out of recognition by the non-initiated adapters of pagan rites and transformers thereof, into Church rites and dogmas.

Astronomically, this descent into hell symbolized the Sun during the autumnal equinox when abandoning the higher sidereal regions -- there was a supposed fight between him and the Demon of Darkness who got the best of our luminary. Then the Sun was imagined to undergo a temporary death and to descend into the infernal regions. But mystically, it typified the initiatory rites in the crypts of the temple, called the Underworld. Bacchus, Herakles, Orpheus, Asklepios and all the other visitors of the crypt, all descended into hell and ascended thence on the third day, for all were initiates and "Builders of the lower Temple." The words addressed by Hermes to Prometheus, chained on the arid rocks of the Caucasus -- i.e., bound by ignorance to his physical body and devoured therefore by the vultures of passion -- apply to every neophyte, to every Chrestos on trial. "To such labours look thou for no termination until the (or a) god shall appear as a substitute in thy pangs and shall be willing to go both to gloomy Hades and to the murky depths around Tartarus." (Æschylus: Prometheus, 1027, ff.) They mean simply that until Prometheus (or man) could find the "God," or Hierophant (the Initiator) who would willingly descend into the crypts of initiation, and walk around Tartarus with him, the vulture of passion would never cease to gnaw his vitals.(1) Æschylus as a pledged Initiate could say no more; but Aristophanes less pious, or more daring, divulges the secret to those who are not blinded by a too strong preconception, in his immortal satire on Heracles' descent into Hell. (Frogs.) There we find the chorus of the "blessed ones" (the initiated), the Elysian Fields, the arrival of Bacchus (the god Hierophant) with Herakles, the reception with lighted torches, emblems of new LIFE and RESURRECTION from the darkness of human ignorance to the light of spiritual knowledge -- eternal LIFE. Every word of the brilliant satire shows the inner meaning of the poet:

Wake, burning torches ... for thou comest
Shaking them in thy hand, Iacche,
Phosphoric star of the nightly rite.
All such final initiations took place during the night. To speak, therefore, of anyone as having descended into Hades, was equivalent in antiquity to calling him a full initiate. To those who feel inclined to reject this explanation, I would offer a query. Let them explain, in that case, the meaning of a sentence in the sixth book of Virgil's Æneid. What can the poet mean, if not that which is asserted above, when introducing the aged Anchises in the Elysian fields, he makes him advise Æneas his son, to travel to Italy ... where he would have to fight in Latium, a rude and barbarous people; therefore, he adds, before you venture there "Descend into Hades," i.e., get yourself initiated.

The benevolent clericals, who are so apt to send us on the slightest provocation to Tartarus and the infernal regions, do not suspect what good wishes for us the threat contains; and what a holy character one must be before one gets into such a sanctified place.

It is not pagans alone who had their Mysteries. Bellarmin states that the early Christians adopted, after the example of pagan ceremonies, the custom of assembling in the church the nights preceding their festivals, to hold vigils or "wakes." Their ceremonies were performed at first with the most edifying holiness and purity. But very shortly after that, such immoral abuses crept into these "assemblies" that the bishops found it necessary to abolish them. We have read in dozens of works about the licentiousness in the pagan religious festivals. Cicero is quoted (de Leg. lib. 2, cap. 15) showing Diagondas, the Theban, finding no other means of remedying such disorders in the ceremonies than the suppression of the Mysteries themselves. When we contrast the two kinds of celebrations, however, the Pagan Mysteries hoary with age centuries before our era, and the Christia Agapæ and others in a religion hardly born and claiming such a purifying influence on its converts, we can only pity the mental blindness of its defenders and quote for their benefit Roscommon, who asks:

When you begin with so much pomp and show,
Why is the end so little and so low?
Primitive Christianity -- being derived from the primitive Masonry -- had its grip, pass-words, and degrees of initiation. "Masonry" is an old term but it came into use very late in our era. Paul calls himself a "master-builder" and he was one. The ancient Masons called themselves by various names and most of the Alexandrian Eclectics, the Theosophists of Ammonias Saccas and the later Neo-Platonists, were all virtually Masons. They were all bound by oath to secrecy, considered themselves a Brotherhood, and had also their signs of recognition. The Eclectics or Philaletheians comprised within their ranks the ablest and most learned scholars of the day, as also several crowned heads. Says the author of The Eclectic Philosophy:
Their doctrines were adopted by pagans and Christians in Asia and Europe, and for a season everything seemed favourable for a general fusion of religious belief. The Emperors Alexander Severus and Julian embraced them. Their predominating influence upon religious ideas excited the jealousy of the Christians of Alexandria. The school was removed to Athens, and finally closed by the Emperor Justinian. Its professors withdrew to Persia,(2) where they made many disciples.
A few more details may prove perchance, interesting. We know that Eleusinian Mysteries survived all others. While the secret cults of the minor gods such as the Curates, the Dactyli, the worship of Adonis, of the Kabiri, and even those of old Egypt had entirely disappeared under the revengeful and cruel hand of the pitiless Theodosius,(3) the Mysteries of Eleusis could not be so easily disposed of. They were indeed the religion of mankind, and shone in all their splendour if not in their primitive purity. It took several centuries to abolish them, and they could not be entirely suppressed before the year 396 of our era. It is then that the "Builders of the higher, or City Temple" appeared first on the scene and worked unrelentingly to infuse their rituals and peculiar dogmas into the nascent and ever fighting and quarrelling church. The triple Sanctus of the Roman Catholic Mass is the triple S... S... S... of these early Masons, and is the modern prefix to their documents or "any written balustre -- the initial of Salutem, or Health" as cunningly put by a Mason. "This triple masonic salutation is the most ancient among their greetings." (Ragon.)

But they did not limit their grafts on the tree of the Christian religion to this alone. During the Mysteries of Eleusis, wine represented Bacchus and Ceres -- wine and bread, or corn.(4) Now Ceres or Demeter was the female productive principle of the Earth; the spouse of Father Æther, or Zeus; and Bacchus, the son of Zeus-Jupiter, was his father manifested: in other words, Ceres and Bacchus were the personifications of Substance and Spirit, the two vivifying principles in Nature and on Earth. The hierophant Initiator presented symbolically, before the final revelation of the mysteries, wine and bread to the candidate, who ate and drank, in token that the spirit was to quicken matter: i.e., the divine wisdom of the Higher-Self was to enter into and take possession of his inner Self or Soul through what was to be revealed to him.

This rite was adopted by the Christian Church. The Hierophant who was called the "Father," has now passed, part and parcel -- minus knowledge -- into the "Father" priest, who today administers the same communion. Jesus calls himself a vine and his "Father" the husbandman; and his injunction at the Last Supper shows his thorough knowledge of the symbolical meaning (Vide infra, note) of bread and wine, and his identification with the logoi of the ancients. "Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life." "This is a hard saying," he adds. ... "The words (rhemata, or arcane utterances) that I speak unto you, they are Spirit and they are Life." They are; because "it is the Spirit that quickeneth." Furthermore these rhemata of Jesus are indeed the arcane utterances of an Initiate.

But between this noble rite, as old as symbolism, and its later anthropomorphic interpretation, now known as transubstantiation, there is an abyss of ecclesiastical sophistry. With what force the exclamation -- "Woe unto you lawyers. For ye have taken away the key of knowledge" (and will not permit even now gnosis to be given to others); with what tenfold force, I say, it applies more now than then. Aye; that gnosis, "ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were (and are) entering ye prevented," and still prevent. Nor has the modern priesthood alone laid itself open to this blame. Masons, the descendants, or at any rate the successors, of the "Builders of the upper Temple" during the Mysteries, they who ought to know better, will pooh-pooh and scorn any one among their own brethren who will remind them of their true origin. Several great modern Scholars and Kabalists, who are Masons, and could be named, received worse than the cold shoulder from their Brethren. It is ever the same old, old story. Even Ragon, the most learned in his day among all the Masons of our century, complains of it, in these words:

All the ancient narratives attest that the initiations in the days of old had an imposing ceremonial, and became memorable for ever through the grand truths divulged and the knowledge that resulted therefrom. And yet there are some modern Masons, of half-learning, who hasten to treat as charlatans all those who successfully remind of, and explain to them these ancient ceremonies! (Cours. Philos. p. 87 note [2].)

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(5) NOTE.--This series began in the November, 1966 issue. This installment comprises sections VII-XI of H. P. Blavatsky's article "The Roots of Ritualism in Church and Masonry," first printed in Lucifer for May, 1889, and last reprinted in THEOSOPHY 45:196-203.
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(1) The dark region in the crypt, into which the candidate under initiation was supposed to throw away for ever his worst passions and lusts. Hence the allegories by Homer, Ovid, Virgil, etc., all accepted literally by the modem scholar. Phlegethon was the river in Tartarus into which the initiate was thrice plunged by the Hierophant, after which the trials were over and the new man born anew. He had left in the dark stream the old sinful man for ever, and issued on the third day, from Tartarus, as an individuality, the personality being dead. Such characters as Ixion, Tantalus, Sisyphus, etc., are each a personification of some human passion.
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(2) And we may add, beyond, to India and Central Asia, for we find their influence everywhere in Asiatic countries.
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(3) The murderer of the Thessalonians, who were butchered by this pious son of the Church.
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(4) Bacchus is certainly of Indian origin. Pausanias shows him the first to lead an expedition against India, and the first to throw a bridge over the Euphrates. "The cable which served to unite the two opposite shores being exhibited to this day," writes this historian, "it being woven from vine-branches and trailings of ivy." (X, 29, 4.) Arrianus and Quintus-Curtius explained the allegory of Bacchus' birth from the thigh of Zeus, by saying that he was born on the Indian Mount Meru (from meros thigh). We are aware that Eratosthenes and Strabo believed the Indian Bacchus had been invented by flatterers to simply please Alexander, believed to have conquered India as Bacchus is supposed to have done. But on the other hand Cicero mentions the god as a Son of Thyoné and Nisus; and Dionysus means the god Dis from Mount Nys in India. Bacchus crowned with ivy, or Kissos is Krishna, one of whose names was Kissen. Dionysus was pre-eminently the god who was expected to liberate the souls of men from their prisons of flesh -- Hades and the human Tartarus, in one of its symbolical senses. Cicero calls Orpheus a son of Bacchus; and there is a tradition which not only makes Orpheus come from India (he being carted orphos dark, of tawny complexion) but identifies him with Arjuna, the chela and adoptive son of Krishna. (Vide Five Years of Theosophy, Art. "Was Writing known before Panini?")
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