A Hundred Years Ago
Theosophy, January-February, 1897
Here is a curious old book, duskily venerable in paper and binding outworn in the fashion of the German, Greek, Hebrew type, and with ink faded and uneven. It bears the date, 1784, and was published simultaneously at Frankfurt and Leipzig. Its title is,
“Magikon, or the Secret System of a Society of unknown Philosophers; arranged under different articles; explained and supplemented by annotations and postscripts; and its relation with older and newer Mysteriologies pointed out. By an Unknown, of the Luminous Square, who is neither Soothsayer nor Epopt.”
We shall return later to the Preface, which contains certain rather vague though suggestive details of the “Society of Unknown Philosophers;” meantime, let us try to master in outline at least the main conceptions of their Secret System. The first chapter, on “Godhead,” begins with these words:
“Everything that our Theosophists teach of the being of Being, rests on the twofold idea of the Unity of the most sacred Three, or Ternarius sanctus. As a Unity, the highest Being is the, eternal and enduring Source of all thinking and immaterial principles; the Root of all world-numbers; the first and only Cause; the Centre, from which the life and powers of all Being emanate every moment, streaming backwards again to this centre, as their final Goal.
The Ternarius sanctus is only spoken of cursorily; it is seen, however, that the teacher views it as essentially the Godhead, the fullness of its direct expression. For this most sacred Three was from eternity indivisible, as Three in One, but not as One in Three, the loftiest subject of adoration, and essentially distinct from the Ternary of the sensible. In it lies the fulness of divine Action and Reaction; the everlasting Bliss, which Divine Being possesses as its own nature.
The Christus, as inborn in the Godhead, belongs to the Unity, with the most sacred Three. He has Life and Light in himself; bears the number and name of Wisdom; stood from eternity in real union with the Unity, and retained this union upon earth also. Besides this, the teacher also speaks of a pure and mightily working Substance, which must descend from the Godhead upon man, if the centre of his spirit is to gain steadfastness, and not shrink back tottering for ever, on itself. This is what the Scripture calls the Spirit of the Godhead, or the Holy Ghost.”
To the first part of this paragraph is appended a note, that “our Theosophists” affirmed the principle that the Divine alone can be said to have life and light in itself; for all beings outside the Divine, are, live, and shine wholly in, through, and from Divinity, not in, through, and from themselves. The text continues:
“The scripture teaching, of the Divine Trinity in Unity, really belongs, therefore, to the system of our Theosophists.
The everlasting Fulness of the divine properties and powers rests on a Number for which man has no quotient. It finds direct expression in the consecrated names of that eternal Book from which life flows into all beings. Two of these necessary properties of the Divine are perfect Goodness and Freedom, both of which are equally absolute. Owing to the former, the Divine cannot have the slightest share in the origin of evil; and, owing to the latter, he follows his own Law alone, or, more truly, is himself law, and his freedom is, therefore, essentially distinct from the freedom of all other beings, and vastly higher.
The divine Action is no Creation from Nothing; but an inseparable and incessant Emanation, or Putting forth from himself.”
To this, again, is added a note, telling us that the Divine works according to his light so incessantly, that, in every moment, he gives and takes away the forces of all beings; an alternation which, however, rests wholly on Time, whose relations are likened to the wider or narrower space between the lines enclosing an angle, which, according to its greater or less distance from the apex, is subject to greater or less subdivision. The teaching as to world formation is then continued:
“Each of these Emanations is indestructible, because God emanates only Principles, and not composites. But all Principles come from the same source, the Divine, either directly or indirectly. The former is true of the Principles of all thinking, the latter, of all unthinking beings.
The whole activity of God consists in a revelation of his attributes, which are endless, like the numbers and powers. Outside Time,—that is, outside the realm of the sensible,—he reveals himself through those which indwell in himself; but in Time, through the intermediary of such as come from him, indeed, yet are outside him, and not himself.”
Thus far touching the Principles held by “our theosophists,” a hundred years ago, regarding the nature of the Divine. It will be seen that these principles are in essential agreement with those held by the Theosophists of today,—by the Theosophists of all ages. We have a curiously close analogy to the form of presentation met with here, in certain treatises of Shankara, where he writes as a teacher of philosophy working through the forms and with the phrases, of the popular religion of his day; speaking, for instance, of “the Lord,” rather than of the Supreme Self, and describing the Emanating Power in terms of the popular deity Vishnu. Under these outward forms of expression, however, we see quite clearly the firm grasp of first principles, in their most lucid and universal philosophic form; and we have, therefore, the most cogent evidence that the Theosophical movement of the last quarter of last century rested on the old, immemorial foundations which we have learned to perceive at the heart of all religions. Continuing this study, we shall subsequently have occasion to see what views were held by “Our Theosophists,” as to the nature of the visible universe and man; what doctrines they taught as to man’s relation to the Divine; what destiny they foresaw for man, in the great Beyond.
“THE WORLD-SYSTEM OF OUR THEOSOPHISTS.”
Taking up the parable where we left it, the quaint old German volume thus continues:
“The whole world-system of our Theosophists rests on the threefold division into the Celestial, the Intellectual, and the Sensible. Therefore they speak of three quadratures of similar names, which refer as well to the Regions as to the Natures of the living chain of Beings, by which this immeasurable ALL is bound together. Thus the Celestial square contains the seat and throne of the Godhead itself; the fulness of its majesty; and forms the immediate circle of its unspeakable glory. The Intellectual comprehends the different orders of Spirits; and the Sensible, everything belonging to the visible world.
According to this general statement, I now speak first:
Of the Living Chain of Beings, of which this Universe consists, and whose general and special relations to each other will be defined. From the Source of Life, down to the minutest grain of matter, everything is an unbroken Progression, a ray proceeding from the primeval Light, a series of potencies, which flow forth from Unity, as the first root of all numbers.
Beings are divided into Thinking and Unthinking. The former are either wholly intellectual, that is, pure spirits; or at the same time animal, that is, beings of two natures; the latter are either animal, that is, conscious of their life and activity; or merely operative, like the principle of the Sensible. The former proceed directly, the latter indirectly, from the Centre of all Beings.
The thinking Beings are the first and second potencies of the all-generating, Universal Term; they all have a real affinity with each other, because thinking can only be common to one class of Beings; and the whole Kingdom of the Intellectual, like that prophetic rainbow round the divine throne, consists of so many Radiations and Reflections of the highest primeval Light.
To these belong, besides the ever-holy Trinity of the Godhead, first, those godlike beings, or highest Spirits after God, amongst whom Man once was, until, following the example of more cunning predecessors, he lost his original worth; whereof, in the sequel. Their activity can know no intermission, they are raised above all the laws of Time. Then, the pure spirits, without gross bodily coverings, who were once Man’s helps and servants, and now his superiors and benefactors, under whose laws and pure influences he stands; they are bound to Time, and suffer intermission. They are the second class in the order of Being, and the highest Term for man’s striving on Earth, although it is very difficult for him to remain within their circle, yet he can find them, at every step he makes. Thirdly, the Mixed Beings, or beings of two natures. Besides Man, who now forms the last link in the chain of the Intellectual, there are yet other beings who unite in themselves the two natures, intellectual and sensible, and who, therefore, approach more closely to the present Circle of Man, in the degraded condition in which he now is.
To the Unthinking Beings belong all those, whose whole life-cycle is restricted to the Sensible alone, and is limited by the Sensible. The beasts, whose principles are wholly animal, do not think, from lack of the intellectual germ; all their actions are only the result of sensibility; their nourishment and bodily well-being are the only aim of their activities, including even such skill as they may artificially be induced to learn. The animal principle, or the corporeal soul, is found in the heart’s blood; and the animal nature itself is the lowest term of the corporeal or sensible.
All the Sensible rests on the principles of the Three Primal Elements; these border, according to the determination of their being and number, on the higher Powers, where the physical world passes into the spiritual. All bodies are forms and expressions of these. The principles of the Vegetable world, form the second step of the Sensible; those of the Mineral, the third. Each of these three Kingdoms of the visible is joined to that which follows, as well as that_ which precedes it, yet there is a far greater difference between the Animal and the Vegetable, than between the latter and the Mineral.
Every Being has its special Principle, of which it consists and manifests its powers. All Principles are, according to their nature, simple and indestructible, even the Principles of Matter, or their immaterial germs, and which are the cause of Matter’s becoming manifest, and being or becoming what it could not be or become, from and through itself.
After fulfilling their destinies, these Principles flow back again to the source from whence they came, while, on the other hand, the sensible Forms of their action are destructible, and, according to their inherent character, really cease to be, after the action of their Principles has ceased. There remains no Matter, so-called, which could be regarded as the waste of destroyed bodies, from which new might be formed; but all that remains, is the Principles. The falsely accepted opinion of an infinite divisibility of matter is based on the confusion of the Principles of Matter with Matter itself. For this very reason, the Principle of Matter has, hitherto, been sought, but not found,—because it has been sought in Matter itself, whereas the Immaterial cannot be in Matter.
Every Principle is the father of its bodily envelope: and the special quality of the character, according to which every Principle builds its own body for itself,—by means of its working outwards in all directions from the centre of Unity,—is the basis of the law that neither individuals nor species can be false to their own nature, and deny themselves, but must preserve their Number, so that there can be no exchange in Nature. Even what is called nourishment only supports the action of the Principle, but can neither direct it, nor mingle itself with the Principle.
There are, in Nature, general as well as special Principles; for the minutest particle of Matter has an indivisible, simple Unity in itself, which cannot be lost; the general Principles do not differ in essence from the special, but only with regard to their virtual quantity, and the duration of their activity. Their action is the same. All Principles must, it is true, pass through the Cycle of the Sensible, but when they have completed it, they return to their Source, without beginning a new life; therefore the bodies which daily come into existence are the fruit of such Principles as have not yet been dealt with, they are the inferior agents, which, in God’s stead, fashion the Transitory, so long as Time endures. That they differ among themselves, is clear from their varying products, but the true nature of this difference is difficult to define. At the beginning of Creation, they worked far more strongly and rapidly than later.
Every Being shows to which leaf of the secret book of Creation it belongs, not only by the character of its species, form and action; but all Beings further bear their numbers, and act according to numerical laws, the Thinking, as well as the merely Acting. Since all their Principles are so many Unities, which must be regarded as higher or lower Potencies of the All-generating Unity of the Infinite, the value and duration of their activity is consequently determined at once by their less or greater distance from the first term of their natural rank.
The Life and Existence of all Beings, depends, at each moment, from the continuous in-working of the Infinite, and the whole Universe rests on Seven invisible Powers or Original Forms, into which the different divine Forces which sustain the Universe are divided. They are the Seven Colors of the Original Light, or the Seven Stars of the Throne of God, which, after reaching the Sovereignty of the Infinite, are to become united again, to give forth a seven times brighter Light. The seven Planets of the visible world are images of those Seven Original Powers of the divine In-working in the invisible world.
The Kingdom of the Visibles stands under the guardianship and potent influence of a Chief Regent, who is at the same time united with the Godhead, essentially and from Eternity.
If, in the region of the Intellectual, all is good, pure Force, pure Life and Light, the whole domain of the Sensible, on the contrary, lies under the opposing influences of Good and Evil. But all Evil comes from a single Principle, or from a mighty Causer of a great disorder in the realm of Spirit, which brought about Man’s Fall, as well. But this original Cause of Evil is neither eternal nor unlimited, but owes his Being to the infinite Good, and was also good until his Fall. But as departing from the Law of the Sovereignty of the Highest One, he desired to found his own Unity, he grew dark, since, following the inverted tendency of his Will, he rejected the necessary influences of the infinite Light; he became the Occasional Cause of the Sensible, and limited to its realm. He has, therefore, as Prince of this Æon, influence on Time and the Sensible alone, and, outside this, can do nothing. The potent convulsions of the Earth are a consequence of his continual Antagonism, a power lent him by the highest Principle of Good, because this is the only means of purifying the Intellectual, and perfecting the great work of common Regeneration. For this reason, all his Confusions touch only secondary objects, and not the Chief Pillars of Creation, which ever stand unharmed by his onslaughts; his whole activity only consists in being limited to the circle of the Sensible, and opposing the pure Agents in the same,—like a thick mist, which breaks and weakens the Light of the Sun, without being able to check the projection of its beams.
All changes of the visible universe depend on the mutual relations of its four original Pillars, which still show manifold signs that a vast number of pure Beings were involved in the Fall of Man. Once these Pillars, or their Powers, lose their common equilibrium, the end of all things will be at hand. In Fire, the universe began, and in Fire will it come to an end, according to a common law of the whole Creation.”
Thus far, for the present, the teachings of “Our Theosophists” of a hundred years ago. It would, doubtless, be of much interest to compare each article of their teaching with the doctrines of earlier times, as well as those of later date; thus, for example, the Seven Colors, and the Seven Planets. Yet it seems to us that it will be even better to try to grasp their teaching as a whole, as a single complete view of the life of the world, without drawing these comparisons; and, at the end, we shall be able to see whether we have thereby grown any wiser, or gained any new insight into the universal riddle that life has posed for solution, since the beginning of time.