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The Esoteric Aspect of Religion
By C.R.F. Seymour
General Conclusions and Summary
"One God there is, greatest of gods and mortals;
(Xenophanes, fragment I, 2, 5 and 6)
In this the concluding chapter let us try to recapitulate that which the Mystery traditions of Chaldea, Greece and Egypt sought to do and to teach during the thousand years they held sway over the world of the Mediterranean.
They came at a time when the beautiful myths of the gods of Hellas were being riddled by the skeptics and cynics of Greece. In Egypt the might of the Pharaohs had crumbled. Life was insecure for the ordinary man and sorrow and suffering was the lot of the poor. In Asia Minor the conquering armies of Assyria had destroyed civilizations older and more refined than that of the city of the winged bulls. Outwardly it would seem that the gods were powerless against the gibes of their scorners and were impotent to protect right from might.
From the gods without, man was turning to the god, which is within - the Un-manifest and the Most-Manifest, the One and the Many, the Objective and Subjective, the Transcendent and Immanent, the "All".
This is the great redemptive work of the Ancient Mysteries. They taught man to turn from the Without to the Within; from the bloodstained sacrifice upon the altar to the stainless sacrifice which is made only within the human heart. They taught that no person can stand between the god who is within and the human who is without. Priests, however, have their functions and their uses, for they act as a restraining influence upon the folly of the totally blind.
The Initiates of the Ancient Mysteries, priestly or lay, made no attempt to bring the teaching of the Mysteries to the masses. Then, as now, the masses have to be spoon-fed by paid teachers with religious pap. Such diet, for the tranquility of the State, is better than nothing.
Once the restless questing human intellect has tasted the pleasures of religious destruction, it is apt to turn its attention and slake its appetite on the decalogues of social life. Its desire for destruction becomes dangerous to the organized life of nations. Hence the value of State priesthoods and great conservative bodies, such as rich Churches; hence also the danger of dynamic teachers such as the Master, Jesus - "King of the Elements", and the crown and flower of pagan civilizations. Christianity, as a state institution, muzzled the Master, Jesus, and turned attention from His teachings by making Him "God."
The Mysteries stood between the humanity of their time and the dangers which are run by civilization when organized religions fail to meet the needs of their worshippers. True, they taught the educated man to see the folly of the organized religion of his time, but they did not give this teaching to the unprepared masses; hence the necessity for their secrecy, and oaths. They had a constructive side to their work for they taught the discontented and potentially destructive intellectuals to see in man a miniature of the Cosmos, in man's daily life and progress an epitome of the evolution of worlds.
By means of personal experience they taught man to see himself as an individualized portion of a great evolving scheme of things, to feel himself to be a conscious part of a great, living, conscious Whole.
They taught man that as there are orders of creatures whose minds are more lowly than the mind of man, so there are orders of creatures whose minds vastly transcend in their powers the mind of Man, and the trained mind can commune with both Strata of Evolution.
In the Cosmic background of the Mysteries there was no place for a god who fabled by his priesthood to be at one moment a blood-thirsty tyrant, at another a sentimental parent. The god of the Mysteries required no sacrifice of his only-begotten son to appease him for the crimes with which man, born in sin and apparently only for the purpose of committing more sin, annoyed him.
The God of the Mysteries was no person at all; and Man could not make, without error, any conception of him. The most they could say symbolically of Him was that He is Infinite Being in which all things living have their becoming. In, through, and from this Being (which they sometimes symbolized as the thrice-Greatest Darkness, the Abyss beyond all Abysses, the Light beyond all Lights, and the Life beyond all Life) they conceived by way of imagery, a pouring forth of a tremendous life-power which built all worlds, visible and invisible. Within this infinite Life which they called the Primal Mind, they postulated the existence of other stupendous Minds whose lives and powers sustained the worlds that we know, as well as worlds that are as yet unknown to us. Within these Minds again there existed hierarchies of subordinate beings in an ever-descending progression until Man is reached.
By means of a sacerdotal theurgy the ancient Mystery Schools taught their neophytes to realize - that is, to make real through experience - these hierarchies of Beings which are evolving in states of consciousness more subtle than Man's physical consciousness. They also instructed them how to enter into conscious communion with super-human minds and to draw into their own human nature that life and power that radiates from the Cosmos into every crack and cranny of this Universe.
They pictured this great Cosmic life welling up from a state of being into a state of becoming, and in its progress passing through spheres of becoming which are more subtle and refined than that of matter. So far as man is concerned this physical sphere is the end result of this progression, but they did not teach that this endless descent of power stopped short at the physical world as we know it; for there may be worlds of becoming, so to speak, still lower in the scale of progress than is this world.
All through this endless scheme of becoming there is life, order, and definite purpose. The ordinary man sees in life a disorder which appears to exist solely for the purpose of testing his powers of clinging to life and eventually of destroying him in death. For the Initiate this view of life was replaced by the idea of divine life pressing into Manifestation, working to an ordered plan, and bringing order out of chaos; Man in this scheme of things is a conscious partner of the Divine Mind. Man is, as it were, a junior partner in a great firm whose head - i.e. guiding mind - is symbolized by the term God.
The training given in the Mysteries was physical, mental and spiritual. For the Initiate, the physical body was a valuable tool whose powers had to be kept at their highest pitch of development. Man's mind is part and parcel of that great Mind which directs this Universe. His conscious mind was trained by the study of the arts, and of science as then known, so as to make it a keen instrument in the search of Truth. His unconscious mind was given special training, by means of meditation and ritual, to enable it to apprehend abstract truth; and for the ancient Initiate, the apprehension of abstract truth was conceived to be the work of a faculty which lay beyond the borderline of conscious sense-perception.
The whole theory of that magical training which is so prominent a part of the ancient Mystery systems is based upon the idea that man in body, in soul, and in spirit, is an integral part of the body, soul and spirit of a Being greater than himself. Apprehension of the divine was the aim and object of the training given in the Lesser Mysteries, and the method by which it was achieved was the uniting of the Higher and the Lower Self, of the man without and the god within; of the neophyte and his vision of the goddess Isis, of Osiris or of Iacchus. By means of this blending and mixing, as it was called, the Initiate, while still living on Earth, was enabled to reach out to those super-essences or Cosmic Beings whom the vulgar call the gods of the Mystery Religions.
* * * * *
The student who has persevered so far is entitled to ask how all this information about the technical training of the Ancient Mysteries is going to assist him in his search for practical religious experience. How is he to get away from Authority and secure that personal conviction which is the result of personal experience?
Someone has said that "the roads to God are as many as the breaths of the sons of men," and the student must first realize that a method which may suit one man may not suit another. Also that there are many sound methods, and most of them are of value to the student who gets hold of the one that suits him.
The following method has been tried out with a number of students and a large percentage, have found it to be a successful method. If the student will spend ten minutes every morning in meditation on certain subjects - such as, for example, the goddess Isis, if he be attracted to the Egyptian Mysteries, or Demeter, if he prefer the Greek Mysteries - he will find that a change will slowly come over his own attitude towards that aspect of divine power which man has personified under the names of Isis or Demeter. A mutual sympathy will begin to develop. An example of this method of training is given in the novel - "The Winged Bull," by Dion Fortune.
If he will also go to neighboring shops and buy reproductions of these gods and goddesses, (colored in the case of the Egyptian), and before meditation study them carefully, he will find that these 'god-forms' tend to build up automatically in his imagination.
If he will further collect and note all the information he can get with regard to these gods, their history, religions and social attributes, and above all, their symbols, he will make the discovery that at the back of the idolatrous tendencies of the ancients there is a sound system of mental and religious training.
This method sounds childishly simple. Its very simplicity is its chief difficulty.
Commenting on "The Tao The King," a modern translator has written: "The Simple Way; but so marvelous is its immaculate simplicity that those who find it, being like little children, oftentimes know it not, while those who seek it, but are not child-like, find it not."
The student should note, especially, that in connection with this system, meditation does not mean sitting passive and warming a chair seat. This Meditation is hard thinking. It involves the processes of analysis, synthesis, and above all, comparison with other things of a similar nature.
The student may ask how long he should persevere. The answer to that question is: - some students obtain results very quickly, in a few weeks; others spend years apparently without tangible results. Quite a large number never get any results at all, because they get fed-up with the hard work which clear thinking involves; they find the daily discipline of concentrated thinking, at a special time, in a special place, and the accurate and immediate recording of results, if any, to be too irksome for them.
Success in the attainment of religious experience demands from the student a whole-hearted and regular application of the best of his mental, moral, and spiritual qualities. If the student is not prepared to undertake this long continued drudgery then he must give up his quest for gaining - through the Ancient Mysteries - that personal inward authority which can come only from convictions born from experience.
The "Adventure" of personal religion, as understood by the Initiates of the Western Tradition, is not for him.
C. R. F. Seymour
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