Esoteric Christianity

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Esoteric Christianity

By Annie Besant


ALL the religions known to us are the custodians of Sacred Books, and appeal to these books for the settlement of disputed questions. They always contain the teachings given by the Founder of the religion, or by later teachers regarded as possessing super-human knowledge. Even when a religion gives birth to many discordant sects, each sect will cling to the Sacred Canon, and will put upon its word the interpretation which best fits in with its own peculiar doctrines. However widely may be separated in belief the extreme Roman Catholic and the extreme Protestant, they both appeal to the same Bible. However far apart may be the philosophic Vedantin and the most illiterate Vallabhacharya, they both regard the same Vedas as supreme. However [Page 319] bitterly opposed to each other may be the Shias and the Sunnis, they both regard as sacred the same Kurãn. Controversies and quarrels may arise as to the meaning of texts, but the Book itself, in every case, is looked on with the utmost reverence. And rightly so; for all such books contain fragments of The Revelation, selected by One of the great Ones who hold it in trust; such a fragment is embodied in what down here we call a Revelation, or a Scripture, and some part of the world rejoices in it as in a treasure of vast value. The fragment is chosen according to the needs of the time, the capacity of the people to whom it is given, the type of the race whom it is intended to instruct. It is generally given in a peculiar form, in which the outer history, or story, or song, or psalm, or prophecy, appears to the superficial or ignorant reader to be the whole book; but in these deeper meanings lie concealed, sometimes in numbers, sometimes in words constructed on a hidden plan — a cypher, in fact — sometimes in symbols, recognisable by the instructed, sometimes in allegories written as histories, and in many other ways. These Books, indeed, have something of a sacramental character about them, an outer form and an inner life, an outer symbol and an inner truth. Those only can [Page 320] explain the hidden meaning who have been trained by those instructed in it; hence the dictum of S. Peter that "no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation". [2 Pet., i, 20. ] The elaborate explanations of texts of the Bible, with which the volumes of patristic literature abound, seem fanciful and overstrained to the prosaic modern mind. The play upon numbers, upon letters, the apparently fantastic interpretations of paragraphs that, on the face of them, are ordinary historical statements of a simple character, exasperate the modern reader, who demands to have his facts presented clearly and coherently, and above all, requires what he feels to be solid ground under his feet. He declines absolutely to follow the light-footed mystic over what seem to him to be quaking morasses, in a wild chase after dancing will-o'-the-wisps, which appear and disappear with bewildering and irrational caprice. Yet the men who wrote these exasperating treatises were men of brilliant intellect and calm judgment, the master-builders of the Church. And to those who read them aright they are still full of hints and suggestions, and indicate many an obscure pathway that leads to the goal of knowledge, and that might otherwise be missed. [Page 321] 

We have already seen that Origen, one of the sanest of men, and versed in occult knowledge, teaches that the Scriptures are three-fold, consisting of Body, Soul, and Spirit.[See ante, p. 88. ] He says that the Body of the Scriptures is made up of the outer words of the histories and the stories, and he does not hesitate to say that these are not literally true, but are only stories for the instruction of the ignorant. He even goes so far as to remark that statements are made in those stories that are obviously untrue, in order that the glaring contradictions that lie on the surface may stir people up to inquire as to the real meaning of these impossible relations. He says that so long as men are ignorant, the Body is enough for them; it conveys teaching, it gives instruction, and they do not see the self-contradictions and impossibilities involved in the literal statements, and therefore are not disturbed by them. As the mind grows, as the intellect develops, these contradictions and impossibilities strike the attention, and bewilder the student; then he is stirred up to seek for a deeper meaning, and he begins to find the Soul of the Scriptures. That Soul is the reward of the intelligent seeker, and he escapes from the bonds of the letter that [Page 322] killeth.[2 Cor., iii, 6. ] The Spirit of the Scriptures may only be seen by the spiritually enlightened man; only those in whom the Spirit is evolved can understand the spiritual meaning: "The things of God knoweth no man but the Spirit of God. . . which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth". [1 Cor., ii, 11, 13. ]

The reason for this method of Revelation is not far to seek; it is the only way in which one teaching can be made available for minds at different stages of evolution, and thus train not only those to whom it is immediately given, but also those who, later in time, shall have progressed beyond those to whom the Revelation was first made. Man is progressive; the outer meaning given long ago to unevolved men must needs be very limited, and unless something deeper and fuller than this outer meaning were hidden within it, the value of the Scripture would perish when a few millennia had passed away. Whereas by this method of successive meanings it is given a perennial value, and evolved men may find in it hidden treasures, until the day when, possessing the whole, they no longer need the part.[Page 323] 

The world-Bibles, then, are fragments — fragments of Revelation, and therefore are rightly described as Revelation. 

The next deeper sense of the word describes the mass of teaching held by the great Brotherhood of spiritual Teachers in trust for men; this teaching is embodied in books, written in symbols, and in these is contained an account of kosmic laws, of the principles on which the kosmos is founded, of the methods by which it is evolved, of all the beings that compose it, of its past, its present, its future; this is The Revelation. This is the priceless treasure which the Guardians of humanity hold in charge, and from which they select, from time to time, fragments to form the Bibles of the world.

Thirdly, the Revelation, highest, fullest, best is the Self-unveiling of Deity in the kosmos, the revealing of attribute after attribute, power after power, beauty after beauty, in all the various forms which in their totality compose the universe. He shows His splendour in the sun, His infinity in the star-flecked fields of space, His strength in mountains, His purity in snow-clad peaks and translucent air, His energy in rolling ocean-billows, His beauty in tumbling mountain-torrent in smooth, clear lake, in cool, deep forest and in [Page 324] sunlit plain, His fearlessness in the hero, His patience in the saint, His tenderness in motherlove, His protecting care in father and in king, His wisdom in the philosopher, His knowledge in the scientist, His healing power in the physician, His justice in the judge, His wealth in the merchant, His teaching power in the priest, His industry in the artisan. He whispers to us in the breeze, He smiles on us in the sunshine, He chides us in disease, He stimulates us, now by success and now by failure. Everywhere and in everything He gives us glimpses of Himself to lure us on to love Him, and He hides Himself that we may learn to stand alone. To know Him everywhere is the true Wisdom; to love Him everywhere is the true Desire; to serve Him everywhere is the true Action. This Self-revealing of God is the highest Revelation; all others are subsidiary and partial. 

The inspired man is the man to whom some of this Revelation has come by the direct action of the universal Spirit on the separated Spirit that is His offspring, who has felt the illuminating influence of Spirit on Spirit. No man knows the truth so that he can never lose it, no man knows the truth so that he can never doubt it, until the Revelation has come to him as though he stood [Page 325] alone on earth, until the Divine without has spoken to the Divine within, in the temple of the human heart, and the man thus knows by himself and not by another.

In a lesser degree a man is inspired when one greater than he stimulates within him powers which as yet are normally inactive, or even takes possession of him, temporarily using his body as a vehicle. Such an illuminated man, at the time of his inspiration, can speak that which is beyond his knowledge, and utter truths till then unguessed. Truths are sometimes thus poured out through a human channel for the helping of the world, and some One greater than the speaker sends down his life into the human vehicle, and they rush forth from human lips; then a great teacher speaks yet more greatly than he knows, the Angel of the Lord having touched his lips with fire.[Is., vi, 6, 7. ] Such are the Prophets of the race, who at some periods have spoken with overwhelming conviction, with clear insight, with complete understanding of the spiritual needs of man. Then the words live with a life immortal, and the speaker is truly a messenger from God. The man who has thus known can never again quite lose the memory of the knowledge, and he [Page 326] carries within his heart a certainty which can never quite disappear. The light may vanish and the darkness come down upon him; the gleam from heaven may fade and clouds may surround him; threat, question, challenge, may assail him; but within, his heart there nestles the Secret of Peace — he knows, or knows that he has known.

That remembrance of true inspiration, that reality of the hidden life, has been put into beautiful and true words by Frederick Myers, in his well-known poem, S. Paul. The apostle is speaking of his own experience, and is trying to give articulate expression to that which he remembers; he is figured as unable to thoroughly reproduce his knowledge, although he knows and his certainty does not waver: 

So, even I, athirst for His inspiring, 
I, who have talked with Him, forget again ; 
Yes, many days with sobs and with desiring, 
Offer to God a patience and a pain. 

Then through the mid complaint of my confession, 
Then through the pang and passion of my prayer, 
Leaps with a start the shock of His possession, 
Thrills me and touches, and the Lord is there.

Lo, if some pen should write upon your rafter 
Mene and Mene in the folds of flame, 
Think ye could any memories thereafter 
Wholly retrace the couplet as it came ? [Page 327]

Lo, if some strange intelligible thunder 
Sang to the earth the secret of a star, 
Scarce should ye catch, for terror and for wonder, 
Shreds of the story that was pealed so far !

Scarcely I catch the words of His revealing, 
Hardly I hear Him, dimly understand. 
Only the power that is within me pealing 
Lives on my lips, and beckons to my hand.

Whoso hath felt the Spirit of the Highest 
Cannot confound, nor doubt Him, nor deny ;
 Yea, with one voice, O world, though thou deniest, 
Stand thou on that side, for on this am I. 

Rather the world shall doubt when her retrieving 
Pours in the rain and rushes from the sod ; 
Rather than he in whom the great conceiving 
Stirs in his soul to quicken into God.

Nay, though thou then shouldst strike him from his glory, 
Blind and tormented, maddened and alone, 
E'en on the cross would he maintain his story, 
Yes, and in Hell would whisper, "I have known".

Those who have in any sense realised that God is around them, in them, and in everything, will be able to understand how a place or an object may become "sacred" by a slight objectivisation of this perennial universal Presence, so that those become able to sense Him who do not normally feel His omnipresence. This is generally effected by some highly advanced man, in whom the inner Divinity is largely unfolded, and whose subtle bodies are therefore responsive to the subtler vibrations of consciousness. Through [Page 328] such a man, or by such a man, spiritual energies may be poured forth, and these will unite themselves with his pure vital magnetism. He can then pour them forth on any object, and its ether and bodies of subtler matter will become attuned to his vibrations, as before explained, and further, the Divinity within it can more easily manifest. Such an object becomes "magnetised", and, if this be strongly done, the object will itself become a magnetic centre, capable in turn of magnetising those who approach it. Thus a body electrified by an electric machine will affect other bodies near which it may be placed.

An object thus rendered "sacred" is a very useful adjunct to prayer and meditation. The subtle bodies of the worshipper are attuned to its high vibrations, and he finds himself quieted, soothed, pacified, without effort on his own part. He is thrown into a condition in which prayer and meditation are easy and fruitful instead of difficult and barren, and an irksome exercise becomes insensibly delightful. If the object be a representation of some sacred Person — a Crucifix, a Madonna and Child, an Angel, a Saint — there is a yet further gain. The Being represented, if his magnetism has been thrown into the image by the [Page 329] appropriate Word and Sign of Power, can reinforce that magnetism with a very slight expenditure of spiritual energy, and may thus influence the devotee, or even show himself through the image, when otherwise he would not have done so. For in the spiritual world economy of forces is observed, and a small amount of energy will be expended where a larger would be withheld. 

An application of these same occult laws may be made to explain the use of all consecrated objects — relics, amulets, etc. They are all magnetised objects, more or less powerful, or useless, according to the knowledge, purity, and spirituality of the person who magnetises them.

Places may similarly be made sacred, by the living in them of saints, whose pure magnetism, radiating from them, attunes the whole atmosphere to peace-giving vibrations. Sometimes holy men, or Beings from the higher worlds, will directly magnetise a certain place, as in the case mentioned in the Fourth Gospel, where an Angel came at a certain season and touched the water, giving it healing qualities.[S. John, v, 4. ] In such places even careless worldly men will sometimes feel the blessed influence, and will be temporarily softened [Page 330] and inclined toward higher things. The divine Life in each man is ever trying to subdue the form, and mould it into an expression of itself and it is easy to see how that Life will be aided by the form being thrown into vibrations sympathetic with those of a more highly evolved Being, its own efforts being reinforced by a stronger power. The outer recognition of this effect is a sense of quiet, calm, and peace; the mind loses its restlessness, the heart its anxiety. Any one who observes himself will find that some places are more conducive to calm, to meditation, to religious thought, to worship, than others. In a room, a building, where there has been a great deal of worldly thought, of frivolous conversation, of mere rush of ordinary worldly life, it is far harder to quiet the mind and to concentrate the thought, than in a place where religious thought has been carried on year after year, century after century; there the mind becomes calm and tranquillised insensibly, and that which would have demanded serious effort in the first place is done without effort in the second. 

This is the rationale of places of pilgrimage, of temporary retreats into seclusion; the man turns inward to seek the God within him, and is aided [Page 331] by the atmosphere created by thousands of others, who before him have sought the same in the same place. For in such a place there is not only the magnetisation produced by a single saint, or by the visit of some great Being of the invisible world; each person, who visits the spot with a heart full of reverence and devotion, and is attuned to his vibrations, reinforces those vibrations with his own life, and leaves the spot better than it was when he came to it. Magnetic energy slowly disperses, and a sacred object or place becomes gradually demagnetised if put aside or deserted. It becomes more magnetised as it is used or frequented. But the presence of the ignorant scoffer injures such objects and places, by setting up antagonistic vibrations which weaken those already existing there. As a wave of sound may be met by another which extinguishes it, and the result is silence, so do the vibrations of the scoffing thought weaken or extinguish the vibrations of the reverent and loving one. The effect produced will, of course, vary with the relative strengths of the vibrations, but the mischievous one cannot be without result, for the laws of vibration are the same in the higher worlds as in the physical, and thought vibrations are the expression of real energies. [Page 332] 

The reason and the effect of the consecration of churches, chapels, cemeteries, will now be apparent. The act of consecration is not the mere public setting aside of a place for a particular purpose; it is the magnetisation of the place for the benefit of all those who frequent it. For the visible and the invisible worlds are inter-related, interwoven, each with each, and those can best serve the visible by whom the energies of the invisible can be wielded. {[Page 333]




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