Esoteric Christianity

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Esoteric Christianity

By Annie Besant


IN all religions there exist certain ceremonials, or rites, which are regarded as of vital importance by the believers in the religion, and which are held to confer certain benefits on those taking part in them. The word Sacrament, or some equivalent term, has been applied to these ceremonials, and they all have the same character. Little exact exposition has been given as to their nature and meaning, but this is another of the subjects explained of old in the Lesser Mysteries.

The peculiar characteristic of a Sacrament resides in two of its properties. First, there is the exoteric ceremony, which is a pictorial allegory, a representation of something by actions and materials — not a verbal allegory, a teaching given in words, conveying a truth; but an acted [Page 280] representation, certain definite material things used in a particular way. The object in choosing these materials, and aimed at in the ceremonies by which their manipulation is accompanied, is to represent, as in a picture, some truth which it is desired to impress upon the minds of the people present. That is the first and obvious property of a Sacrament, differentiating it from other forms of worship and meditation. It appeals to those who without this imagery would fail to catch a subtle truth, and shows to them in a vivid and graphic form the truth which otherwise would escape them. Every Sacrament, when it is studied, should be taken first from this standpoint that it is a pictorial allegory; the essential things to be studied will therefore be: the material objects which enter into the allegory, the method in which they are employed, and the meaning which the whole is intended to convey.

The second characteristic property of a Sacrament belongs to the facts of the invisible worlds, and is studied by occult science. The person who officiates in the Sacrament should possess this knowledge, as much, though not all, of the operative power of the Sacrament depends on the knowledge of the officiator. A Sacrament links the material world with the subtle and [Page 281] invisible regions to which that world is related; it is a link between the visible and the invisible. And it is not only a link between this world and other worlds, but it is also a method by which the energies of the invisible world are transmuted into action in the physical; an actual method of changing energies of one kind into energies of another, as literally as in the galvanic cell chemical energies are changed into electrical. The essence of all energies is one and the same, whether in the visible or invisible worlds; but the energies differ according to the grades of matter through which they manifest. A Sacrament serves as a kind of crucible in which spiritual alchemy takes place. An energy placed in this crucible and subjected to certain manipulations comes forth different in expression. Thus an energy of a subtle kind, belonging to one of the higher regions of the universe, may be brought into direct relation with people living in the physical world, and may be made to affect them in the physical world as well as in its own realm; the Sacrament forms the last bridge from the invisible to the visible, and enables the energies to be directly applied to those who fulfil the necessary conditions and who take part in the Sacrament. [Page 282]

The Sacraments of the Christian Church lost much of their dignity and of the recognition of their occult power among those who separated from the Roman Catholic Church at the time of the "Reformation". The previous separation between the East and the West, leaving the Greek Orthodox Church on the one side and the Roman Church on the other, in no way affected belief in the Sacraments. They remained in both great communities as the recognised links between the seen and the unseen, and sanctified the life of the believer from cradle to grave. The Seven Sacraments of Christianity cover the whole of life, from the welcome of Baptism to the farewell of Extreme Unction. They were established by Occultists, by men who knew the invisible worlds; and the materials used, the words spoken, the signs made, were all deliberately chosen and arranged with a view to bringing about certain results.

At the time of the Reformation, the seceding Churches, which threw off the yoke of Rome, were not led by Occultists, but by ordinary men of the world, some good and some bad, but all profoundly ignorant of the facts of the invisible worlds, and conscious only of the outer shell of Christianity, its literal dogmas and exoteric [Page 283] worship. The consequence of this was that the Sacraments lost their supreme place in Christian worship, and in most Protestant communities were reduced to two, Baptism and the Eucharist.

The sacramental nature of the others was not explicitly denied in the most important of the seceding Churches, but the two were set apart from the five, as of universal obligation, of which every member of the Church must partake in order to be recognised as a full member.

The general definition of a Sacrament is given quite accurately, save for the superfluous words, "ordained by Christ Himself", in the Catechism of the Church of England, and even these words might be retained if the mystic meaning be given to the word "Christ". A Sacrament is there said to be: "An outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given unto us, ordained by Christ Himself, as a means whereby we receive the same and a pledge to assure us thereof".

In this definition we find laid down the two distinguishing characteristics of a Sacrament as given above. The 'outward and visible sign' is the pictorial allegory, and the phrase, the "means whereby we receive the inward and spiritual grace" covers the second property. This last [Page 284] phrase should be carefully noted by those members of Protestant Churches who regard Sacraments as mere external forms and outer ceremonies. For it distinctly alleges that the Sacrament is really a means whereby the grace is conveyed, and thus implies that without it the grace does not pass in the same fashion from the spiritual to the physical world. It is the distinct recognition of a Sacrament in its second aspect, as a means whereby spiritual powers are brought into activity on earth.

In order to understand a Sacrament, it is necessary that we should definitely recognise the existence of an occult, or hidden, side of Nature; this is spoken of as the life-side of Nature, the consciousness-side, more accurately the mind in Nature. Underlying all sacramental action there is the belief that the invisible world exercises a potent influence over the visible, and to understand a Sacrament we must understand something of the invisible Intelligences who administer Nature. We have seen in studying the doctrine of the Trinity that Spirit is manifested as the triple Self, and that as the Field for His manifestation there is Matter, the form-side of Nature, often regarded, and rightly, as Nature herself. We have to study both these aspects, [Page 285] the side of life and that of form, in order to understand a Sacrament.

Stretching between the Trinity and humanity are many grades and hierarchies of invisible beings; the highest of these are the seven Spirits of God, the seven Fires, or Flames, that are before the throne of God.[Rev., iv, 5. ] Each of these stands at the head of a vast host of Intelligences, all of whom share His nature and act under His direction; these are themselves graded, and are the Thrones, Powers, Princes, Dominations, Archangels, Angels, of whom mention is found in the writings of the Christian Fathers, who were versed in the Mysteries. Thus there are seven great hosts of these Beings, and they represent in their intelligence the divine Mind in Nature. They are found in all regions, and they ensoul the energies of Nature. From the standpoint of occultism there is no dead force and no dead matter. Force and matter alike are living and active, and an energy or a group of energies is the veil of an Intelligence, of a Consciousness, who has that energy as his outer expression, and the matter in which that energy moves yields a form which he guides or ensouls. Unless a man can thus look at Nature all esoteric teaching must remain for [Page 286] him a sealed book. Without these angelic Lives, these countless invisible Intelligences, these Consciousnesses which ensoul the force and matter [The phrase "force and matter" is used as it is so well-known in science. But force is one of the properties of matter, the one mentioned as Motion. See Ante, p. 228. ] which is Nature, Nature herself would not only remain unintelligible, but she would be out of relation alike to the divine Life that moves within and around her, and to the human lives that are developing in her midst. These innumerable Angels link the worlds together; they are themselves evolving while helping the evolution of beings lower than themselves, and a new light is shed on evolution when we see that men form grades in these hierarchies of intelligent beings. These angels are the "sons of God" of an earlier birth than ours, who "shouted for joy"; [Job, xxxviii, 7 ] when the foundations of the earth were laid amid the choiring of the Morning Stars.

Other beings are below us in evolution — animals, plants, minerals, and elemental lives — as the Angels are above us; and as we thus study, a conception dawns upon us of a vast Wheel of Life, of numberless existences, inter-related and necessary each to each, man as a living Intelligence, as a self-conscious being, having his own [Page 287] place in this Wheel. The Wheel is ever turning by the divine Will, and the living Intelligences who form it learn to co-operate with that Will, and if in the action of those Intelligences there is any break or gap due to neglect or opposition, then the Wheel drags, turning slowly, and the chariot of the evolution of the worlds goes but heavily upon its way.

These numberless Lives, above and below man, come into touch with human consciousness in very definite ways, and among these ways are sounds and colours. Each sound has a form in the invisible world, and combinations of sounds create complicated shapes.[See on forms created by musical notes any scientific book on Sound, and also Mrs. Watts-Hughes' illustrated book on Voice Figures. ] In the subtle matter of those worlds all sounds are accompanied by colours, so that they give rise to many-hued shapes, in many cases exceedingly beautiful. The vibrations set up in the visible world when a note is sounded set up vibrations in the worlds invisible, each one with its own specific character, and capable of producing certain effects. In communicating with the sub-human Intelligences connected with the lower invisible world and with the physical, and in controlling and directing these, [Page 288] sounds must be used fitted to bring about the desired results, as language made up of definite sounds is used here. And in communicating with the higher Intelligences certain sounds are useful, to create a harmonious atmosphere, suitable for their activities, and to make our own subtle bodies receptive of their influences.

This effect on the subtle bodies is a most important part of the occult use of sounds. These bodies, like the physical, are in constant vibratory motion, the vibrations changing with every thought or desire. These changing irregular vibrations offer an obstacle to any fresh vibration coming from outside, and, in order to render the bodies susceptible to the higher influences, sounds are used which reduce the irregular vibrations to a steady rhythm, like in its nature to the rhythm of the Intelligence sought to be reached. The object of all often-repeated sentences is to effect this, as a musician sounds the same note over and over again, until all the instruments are in tune. The subtle bodies must be tuned to the note of the Being sought, if his influence is to find free way through the nature of the worshipper, and this was ever done of old by the use of sounds. Hence, music has ever formed an integral part of [Page 289] worship, and certain definite cadences have been preserved with care, handed on from age to age.

In every religion there exist sounds of a peculiar character, called "Words of Power", consisting of sentences in a particular language chanted in a particular way; each religion possesses a stock of such sentences, special successions of sounds, now very generally called "mantras", that being the name given to them in the East, where the science of mantras has been much studied and elaborated. It is not necessary that a mantra — a succession of sounds arranged in a particular manner to bring about a definite result — should be in any one particular language. Any language can be used for the purpose, though some are more suitable than others, provided that the person who makes the mantra possesses the requisite occult knowledge. There are hundreds of mantras in the Samskrit tongue, made by Occultists of the past, who were familiar with the laws of the invisible worlds. These have been handed down from generation to generation, definite words in a definite order chanted in a definite way. The effect of the chanting is to create vibrations, hence forms, in the physical and super-physical worlds, and according to the knowledge and purity of the singer will be the worlds his song [Page 290] is able to affect. If his knowledge be wide and deep, if his will be strong and his heart pure, there is scarcely any limit to the powers he may exercise in using some of these ancient mantras.

As said, it is not necessary that any one particular language should be used. They may be in Samskrit, or in any one of the languages of the world, in which men of knowledge have put them together.

This is the reason why, in the Roman Catholic Church, the Latin language is always used in important acts of worship. It is not used as a dead language here, a tongue "not understanded of the people", but as a living force in the invisible worlds. It is not used to hide knowledge from the people, but in order that certain vibrations may be set up in the invisible worlds which cannot be set up in the ordinary languages of Europe, unless a great Occultist should compose in them the necessary successions of sounds. To translate a mantra is to change it from a "Word of Power" into an ordinary sentence; the sounds being changed, other sound-forms are created.

Some of the arrangements of Latin words, with the music wedded to them in Christian worship, cause the most marked effects in the supra-physical worlds, and any one who is at all sensitive [Page 291] will be conscious of peculiar effects caused by the chanting of some of the most sacred sentences, especially in the Mass. Vibratory effects may be felt by any one who will sit quiet and receptive as some of these sentences are uttered by priest or choristers. And at the same time effects are caused in the higher worlds directly affecting the subtle bodies of the worshippers in the way above described, and also appealing to the Intelligences in those worlds with a meaning as definite as the words addressed by one person to another on the physical plane, whether as prayer or, in some cases, as command. The sounds, causing active flashing forms, rise through the worlds, affecting the consciousness of the Intelligences residing in them, and bringing some of them to render the definite services required by those who are taking part in the church office.

Such mantras form an essential part of every Sacrament.

The next essential part of the Sacrament, in its outward and visible form, are certain gestures. These are called Signs, or Seals, or Sigils — the three words meaning the same thing in a Sacrament. Each sign has its own particular meaning, and marks the direction imposed on the invisible [Page 292] forces with which the celebrant is dealing, whether those forces be his own or poured through him In any case, they are needed to bring about the desired result, and they are an essential portion of the sacramental rite. Such a sign is called a "Sign of Power" as the mantra is a "Word of Power'.

It is interesting to read in occult works of the past references to these facts, true then as now true now as then. In the Egyptian Book of the Dead is described the post-mortem journey of the Soul and we read how he is stopped and challenged at various stages of that journey. He is stopped and challenged by the Guardians of the gate of each successive world, and the Soul cannot pass through the Gate and go on his way unless he knows two things: he must pronounce a word the Word of Power: he must make a sign, the Sign of Power. When that Word is spoken when that Sign is given, the bars of the Gate fall down, and the Guardians stand aside to let the Soul pass through. A similar account is given in the great mystic Christian Gospel the Pistis Sophia, before mentioned.[See Ante, pp. 118,119 and 260. ] Here the passage through the worlds is not of a Soul set free from the body by death, but of one who has [Page 293] voluntarily left it in the course of Initiation. There are great Powers, the Powers of Nature, that bar his way, and till the Initiate gives the Word and the Sign, they will not allow him to pass through the portals of their realms. This double knowledge, then, was necessary — to speak the Word of Power, to make the Sign of Power. Without these progress was blocked, and without these a Sacrament is no Sacrament.

Further, in all Sacraments some physical material is used, or should be used.[ In the Sacrament of Penance the ashes are now usually omitted, except on special occasions, but none the less they form part of the rite. ] This is ever a symbol of that which is to be gained by the Sacrament, and points to the nature of the "inward and spiritual grace" received through it.This is also the material means of conveying the grace, not symbolically, but actually, and a subtle change in this material adapts it for high ends.

Now a physical object consists of the solid, liquid, and gaseous particles into which a chemist would resolve it by analysis, and further of ether, which interpenetrates the grosser stuffs. In this ether play the magnetic energies. It is further connected with counterparts of subtle matter, in [Page 294] which play energies subtler than the magnetic, but like them in nature and more powerful.

When such an object is magnetised a change is effected in the ethereal portion, the wave-motions are altered and systematised, and made to follow the wave-motions of the ether of the magnetiser; it thus comes to share his nature, and the denser particles of the object, played on by the ether, slowly change their rates of vibration. If the magnetiser has the power of affecting the subtler counterparts also he makes them similarly vibrate in assonance with his own.

This is the secret of magnetic cures: the irregular vibrations of the diseased person are so worked on as to accord with the regular vibrations of the healthy operator, as definitely as an irregularly swinging object may be made to swing regularly by repeated and timed blows. A doctor will magnetise water and cure his patient therewith. He will magnetise a cloth, and the cloth, laid on the seat of pain, will heal. He will use a powerful magnet, or a current from a galvanic cell, and restore energy to a nerve. In all cases the ether is thrown into motion, and by this the denser physical particles are affected.

A similar result accrues when the materials used in a Sacrament are acted on by the Word of [Page 295] Power and the Sign of Power. Magnetic changes are caused in the ether of the physical substance, and the subtle counterparts are affected according to the knowledge, purity, and devotion of the celebrant who magnetises — or, in the religious term, consecrates — it. Further, the Word and the Sign of Power summon to the celebration the Angels specially concerned with the materials used and the nature of the act performed, and they lend their powerful aid, pouring their own magnetic energies into the subtle counterparts, and even into the physical ether, thus reinforcing the energies of the celebrant. No one who knows anything of the powers of magnetism can doubt the possibility of the changes in material objects thus indicated. And if a man of science, who may have no faith in the unseen, has the power to so impregnate water with his own vital energy that it cures a physical disease, why should power of a loftier, though similar nature be denied to those of saintly life, of noble character, of knowledge of the invisible ? those who are able to sense the higher forms of magnetism know very well that consecrated objects vary much in their power, and that the magnetic difference is due to the varying knowledge, purity, and spirituality of the priest who consecrates [Page 296] them. Some deny all vital magnetism, and would reject alike the holy water of religion and the magnetised water of medical science. They are consistent, but ignorant. But those who admit the utility of the one, and laugh at the other, show themselves to be not wise but prejudiced, not learned but one-sided, and prove that their want of belief in religion biases their intelligence, predisposing them to reject from the hand of religion that which they accept from the hand of science. A little will be added to this with regard to "sacred objects" generally in Chapter XIV.

We thus see that the outer part of the Sacrament is of very great importance. Real changes are made in the materials used. They are made the vehicles of energies higher than those which naturally belong to them; persons approaching them, touching them, will have their own etheric and subtle bodies affected by their potent magnetism, and will be brought into a condition very receptive of higher influences, being tuned into accord with the lofty Beings connected with the Word and the Sign used in consecration; Beings belonging to the invisible world will be present during the sacramental rite, pouring out their benign and gracious influences; and [Page 297] thus all who are worthy participants in the ceremony — sufficiently pure and devoted to be tuned by the vibrations caused — will find their emotions purified and stimulated, their spirituality quickened, and their hearts filled with peace, by coming into such close touch with the unseen realities. [Page 298]



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