October 2010 Newsletter

The following articles are reproduced from the October 2010 Newsletter to members. Non-members may or may not be able to relate to the contents.

Outline of Occult History

An extract from The Purpose of Theosophy by Mrs. Patience Sinnett

As already stated, the Divine wisdom of the ancients has been the basis and essence of all great popular religions. The unwholesome growth fed by time and human passions that now overrun them, when brushed away, display underneath, the true revelation still uninjured and untouched.


What does this Divine wisdom really consist of, whence comes it, by whom has it been taught, and for what purpose?


In looking back along the records of the past, it may be observed that the educated members of society have always been in possession of knowledge the diffusion of which among the multitude was thought to be undesirable. In quite the most distant times of which history can give us any information, the highest and, from the present standpoint, the only class with any erudite culture was to be found among those who had been initiated in arcane knowledge by the hierophants of the mysteries. “Every nation had its mysteries and hierophants...... who alone could impart the awful knowledge contained in the Merkaba.” [Isis Unveiled] Those who had in their keeping this sacred religion were magicians, the word coming from “Mage”, or “Magian”; magic being in those days considered, as in truth it was and still is, a Divine science, its study leading to the discovery of the hidden workings of nature, by the cultivation of the spiritual qualities inherent in man. For in order to attain, while in the body, the state necessary for the perception and apprehension of these invisible operations, the initiate must have led a life of absolute purity in all respects — in actions, thoughts, motives, aspiration and desires. It was not the sacerdotal classes in Persia who discovered magic, as some might imagine from the word. Those were called “magic” who became learned in this science.


The study of ancient occult writings discloses the fact that the knowledge and practice of magic has been in the world since the earliest races of man. The following quotation from Isis Unveiled may help to assure the reader on these points: — “What we desire to prove is, that underlying every ancient popular religion was the same ancient wisdom doctrine, one and identical, professed and practised by the initiates of every country, who alone were aware of its existence and importance. To ascertain its origin and the precise way 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 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, cannot be the growth of a generation or even of a single epoch. Fact must have been piled upon fact, deduction on deduction, science has begotten science, and generations upon generations of the brightest human intellects have reflected on 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 sacerdotal castes which had the guardianship of mystical words of power, and a public display of phenomenal control over natural forces indicating association with preter-human 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 . . . Such was the case in the Egyptian 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”.


Again, “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”.


Thus it will be seen that the knowledge and practice of occult science may be traced back in the past as far as historical records extend, and in each successive generation the followers of, and practical workers in, these studies, have always been found among the most brilliant scholars of the day. But notwithstanding that at one period occult research brought in its train persecution, torture and death, it carried with it such an ardent desire for further knowledge, that no fear of consequences could prevent the pursuit of it when once entered upon by educated men. And it is only fair to assume that something more than theoretical results must have urged on those who risked their lives and reputations in devotion to this superstition, as it is vulgarly called.


The inmost secrets of the science, however, have been retained and scrupulously guarded from the profane by devoted custodians, who have exercised the powers within their grasp only for the advancement of the races, both materially and spiritually, as necessity arose, or the state of humanity allowed. In far distant ages the people on their part regarded these guardians with absolute devotion and reverence, abiding by their laws in simple faith.


From the great root of this science have shot out in various directions, sometimes underground and often unnoticed, branches and tendrils of less virtue and power as they wandered further and further away from the original stem, but ever kept alive and continually breaking out afresh into activity owing to their connection with the far distant source of life. Alchemy, astrology, witchcraft, demonology, sorcery, spiritualism and every other name and form of what is commonly called the supernatural, spring from and owe their existence to the esoteric doctrine of the Ancients. The same order of events may be observed in regard to the various phases of occult, as in those of religious, history, — the same substratum of truth, the gradual separation of groups of people following individual leaders, these in their turn dividing again, each successive rupture carrying the members further away from the truth, until at last it is with the greatest difficulty that the slight thread of resemblance can be perceived that shows the bond of union between these errant sects and their original point of departure.


But it may be asked, how can a sacred science, of such enormous pre-eminence as is claimed for this one, — the avenues to which are, and always have been, guarded with so much care, betrayal of knowledge acquired by an entrance into whose innermost mysteries was punishable by death — how does it happen, then, that in a community barricaded by such stringent rules, and so exceedingly difficult of access, deterioration could, even in the lapse of ages, ever take place? The answer is that deterioration of the real philosophy has never nor can ever set in, for the truths of these sublime mysteries can be given only to those who have, through years of study, preparation, and trial, proved themselves, beyond all doubt, worthy of them; and the fact that there are still custodians of these mysteries, and that initiation there into is the work of perhaps more than one or even two incarnations, shows that corruption, due to time and human desires, has not yet entered their community, nor sullied the purity of their work. At the same time, the position in the world held by these adepts in times gone by was one of immense power. They were the law-givers of their countries, and had entire control not only over the masses, hut also over temporal rulers. In spite, therefore, of the austerities and rigour of life required for admittance into the ranks of studentship, numbers, it may easily be imagined, would strive to attain the knowledge that carried with it such inestimable advantages, even from the worldly point of view. Again, those who had by dint of asceticism gained some little insight into the way to work occult phenomena of the physical kind, but who had failed of the higher initiations through, perhaps, want of purity of motive, were tempted, probably, to carry into distant places the limited knowledge they had gathered in the course of their training, and were able with comparative ease to pass themselves off on the ignorant people as real adepts, using thus, for their own personal benefit and aggrandisement, what was only intended to be for the good and progress of humanity at large. False teachers such as these would attract round them pupils or followers who in their turn would be inferior to their masters, until at last the science would be lowered and degraded in public estimation, first in the eyes of the upper classes, and eventually in those of the lower. History shows that, even in the time of the old Egyptians, belief in the supernatural powers of the priest and oracles, of the temples was, among the aristocracy, fast crumbling away, but the power and authority that the priests still maintained over the army and country at large was too great to be disregarded. The king and his courtiers went on fulfilling their public devotions for the sake of example, and to keep the favour of the priests, and not because they believed in the prophecies of the oracles or the so-called miracles performed at the religious rites and festivals. These may often have become too transparently fraudulent to deceive any but the most illiterate adherents. As long as the hierophants and priests of the temples were true adepts, i.e., had passed their initiations, and were consequently free from all worldly ambition — they had no need of resorting to the jugglery and imposture that eventually wore out the belief of the people and brought discredit upon the religion. But, in spite of this degradation of the science in general estimation, due in part to the lapse of time, and in part to some of the lower forms of its knowledge escaping and being misused, the highest initiation to adeptship has never been taken by any individual who was capable of bringing discredit on the brotherhood, or of divulging to any one the sacred mysteries. None but the deified man could attain the requisite development; and, having reached this height, he would be far above any temptation that the attractions of this world could hold out.


Moreover, there are other roads leading to occult science besides that by which each pupil or chela, in turn, hopes to attain adeptship. Even these may not be easy to climb, training, even for minor achievements, must be severe. But when, as occasionally may have been the case, the aim of the candidate has merely been the accomplishment of phenomena for worldly advantage or the desire for supremacy over his fellow-creatures, these lower aims may have been secured with relative facility, and consequently by students of an ignoble type. The possession of powers by such persons would obviously tend to lower in the eyes of the world the science from which powers spring. And this consideration gives another explanation of the way in which magic, as a source of power, has been turned from its intended use ; and, instead of being recognised as a necessary attribute of real religion, the knowledge of which must be wielded for the benefit of society, has been discredited as a branch of study both from the pulpit and by the State — from the former as being forbidden by the Bible and an unholy pursuit, by the latter as being an exploded and mischievous belief that never had any foundation except in the minds of the ignorant and superstitious people of the olden time.


The history of the rise and fall of all religions may be traced to reasons almost identical in every nation, whether Eastern or Western. The craving for immortality which is inherent in humanity, both among those who are too uneducated to be aware of it, and also among those who are too highly cultivated to admit of its existence, is the feeling that has always influenced people to follow one or another of the religions that have appeared from time to time in the history of the world. These religions, so long as the teaching given by their respective leaders was upheld by their disciples, or descendants, in its integrity, — so long as no worldly prejudices nor selfish motives sullied the lives of the clergy or priests, — would never have fallen into the state of decadence now only too apparent to their most fervent adherents. But when what ought to be regarded only as a vocation, the result of an overwhelming desire to help humanity to a perception of the spiritual in Nature, becomes a profession in which a struggle for pre-eminence is a matter of course, the effect on the religion will and must be the same. Whether that struggle takes the form of a desire for an enlarged sphere of action in the shape of a bishopric instead of a vicarage, or for priesthood in a large and popular temple as against an obscure and comparatively unknown one; gradually, but quite surely, doubts, disunions, separation, and disintegration follow in its train; until, as now, we see, both in the East and West, a large predominance among the thinking classes of agnosticism and atheism, — conceptions which are by degrees filtering down to the humbler working people. The majority of what are called Orthodox Christians are either those who have neither read nor thought at all on metaphysical subjects, or they are in truth, when their beliefs are dissected, esoteric Christians, with no firm attachment to the dogmas that go to make up and support the Church as it is now constituted.


The immediate disciples of Buddha, Jesus, or any of the other great religious reformers, were raised immeasurably above their contemporaries by contact with, belief in, and assurance of the absolute purity of motive, goodness, and entire unselfishness of their respective teachers, whose moral codes, miracles, and simple lives varied so little that it is hardly difficult for students to see that their knowledge must have been drawn from the same source, although they lived at very different periods of time.


The moral code taught and practised by Jesus, as far as it goes is perfect and most ennobling. But even this has been compatible with persecution, bloodshed, torture, and immorality of every sort. Scientific research and material progress have been paralysed in the desperate struggle of the clergy to maintain their power and supremacy, gained and upheld by violence. From the few simple words of Jesus his followers have been able to build up not only the two vast divisions in Christendom of Protestantism and Catholicism, but also the innumerable sects to be found within their respective folds. In view of all this, it is not surprising, considering its much greater antiquity, that the wisdom-religion of the ancients should have been misrepresented and disguised in the course of successive generations.


Enough has now been said to show the reader — or, at all events, to put him on the track of verifying for himself the fact — that Eastern and Western religions, magic, and occultism, with all their various developments, have one and the same origin.

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