• SUBBA ROW, T. The Virgin of the World [review by T. Subba Row]. Review by T. Subba Row, with answers by Anna Kingsford and Edward Maitland, and the answer to them by T. Subba Row.
Review by T. Subba Row of the
The Virgin of the World (The Virgin of the World of
Hermes Mercurius Trismegistos. Anna
Bonus Kingsford and Edward Maitland. A translation of Hermetic manuscripts. Introductory
essays (on Hermeticism) and notes by Anna Kingsford and Edward Maitland. George
Read below the complete texts:
[Number of the pages in the TPH’s edition, 1931 and 1980.]
The Virgin of the World
[review by T. Subba Row]
This is the title of a recent publication in English of some of the books generally attributed to Hermes. The first book however is the only part of the publication to which this heading is strictly appropriate. Two philosophical discourses named “Asclepios on Initiation” and “Definitions of Asclepios” and a few fragments of Hermetic philosophy are added to it, with two introductory Essays by Mr. Maitland and Dr. Kingsford, which are very interesting and instructive.
It will be a most interesting study for every occultist to compare the doctrines
of the ancient Hermetic philosophy with the teachings of the Vedantic and Buddhist systems of religious thought. The
famous books of Hermes seem to occupy with reference to the Egyptian religion
the same position which the Upanisads occupy in Aryan
religious literature. As there were forty-two provinces in ancient
veils a profound truth. It has nothing to do with the number of stars in any particular constellation, as some Egyptologists have imagined. So long as these investigators of the Egyptian religious doctrines erroneously believe that they are based on the signs of the Zodiac, the motions of the heavenly bodies, or the appearances of particular groups of stars, it will be impossible for them to penetrate into the profound depth of their meaning. These books of Hermes, if they can be discovered, will no doubt put an end to all speculations. But Hermes said, “O Sacred Books of the Immortals, ye in whose pagers my hand has recorded the remedies by which incorruptibility is conferred, remain for ever beyond the reach of destruction and of decay, invisible and concealed from all who frequent these regions, until the day shall come in which the ancient heaven shall bring forth instruments worthy of you, whom the Creator shall call souls.”
This passage has a double meaning, applicable alike to the works of the Divine
Hermes and the human Hermes; and the time is yet distant when the true Hermetic
philosophy and the ancient civilization of
some Egyptian compilation professing to be one of
the Hermetic books. It is curious to notice that in it we find
the doctrines inculcated in this book it is
necessary to point out that Persephone is not the Cosmic Virgin, and cannot be
represented as such from the standpoint of Hermetic philosophy. This title is
only applicable to the great
placed on quite a different footing by the ancient Egyptian writers; and in this very discourse Isis said that she would not and dared not “recount this nativity” and “declare the origin” of the race of Horus. The so-called myth of Osiris is the great central mystery of Egyptian occultism, and has probably a closer relation with the appearance of Buddha than has usually been imagined. It must further be stated here that the Greek God Dionysos has no proper position to occupy in the Egyptian Pantheon. Dr. Kingsford speaks of the “incarnation, martyrdom and resuscitation of Dionysos Zagreus” in the essay prefixed to this book. She says that “the spirit of Dionysos was regarded as of a specially divine genesis, being the son of Zeus by the immaculate Maiden Kore-Persephoneia (…)”. If so, Dionysos is the seventh principle in man, the Logos that manifests itself in the microcosm. But we are informed at the end of the essay that “Osiris is the microcosmic sun, the counterpart in the human system of the macrocosmic Dionysos or Son of God”. This latter statement is clearly inconsistent with what has gone before, and is evidently the result of misconception – a misconception generally prevalent in the minds of the Western Hermetic students regarding the real position of Osiris – and an attempt to interpret the higher mysteries of the Egyptian religion by the mythological fables of ancient Greece, which, though elegant and refined in form, bear
no comparison whatever to the allegories of the ancient Egyptian writers in point of occult significance.
There is a remarkable passage on p. 34 of the book under consideration which, if
closely examined, may throw some light on the subject.
Some of the important doctrines taught by
THE SOLAR SPHINX.
Most of the important doctrines explained to Horus by his divine mother are in perfect harmony with the corresponding teachings of Hinduism and Buddhism, as will be seen from the following explanations. Horus represents the regenerated spirit of man, and it is to
him that the Cosmic Virgin unveils herself and reveals the mysteries of human existence.
In tracing the evolution of the physical man
the lower organisms, and were forbidden to transgress certain limits assigned to their action. In course of time however they rebelled, and with a view of imprisoning them in organisms and thereby curtailing their power and freedom, God convened a meeting of the celestials and asked them “What they could bestow upon the race about to be born?” Sun, Moon, Kronos (Saturn), Zeus (Jupiter), Aries (Mars), Aphrodite (Venus), and Hermes (Mercury) responded to this call and promised to invest human nature with various qualities, intellectual and emotional, good and bad, peculiarly appertaining to the nature of the donors; and Hermes constructed organisms out of the existing material for the monads to inhabit. Thus was formed the man before his fall. With the transition from simple self-consciousness to the plane of mind and its varied activities there came then a change of Upãdhi also, from a mere center of force to an astral body. While the spiritual monad is evolver by God himself, the latter Upãdhi is represented as the work of subordinate powers.
There yet remained one more step of descent into matter. The souls perceived the change in their condition and bewailed their fate; hopes of a better and happier future were held out to them, and it was further pointed out that if any of them should merit reproach they would be made to inhabit abodes destined to them in mortal organisms. In spite of this warning the necessity for a further degradation of the spiritual monad
soon arose. Man as an astral being was in a
transition stage; and this condition was not such as could be permanently to
control and restrain their action were likely to produce evil results. The
genius of the law of Karma soon arose from the earth in the form of Momos and pointed out to Hermes the evil results which would
inevitably follow if mankind were allowed to remain in their then condition. The
wisdom of Hermes soon designed “a mysterious instrument, a measure inflexible
and inviolable, to which everything would be subject from birth even to final
destruction,” and which would be the bond of created entities – in short, the
inexorable law of Karma. The instrument forthwith operated, it would seem, as
Karmic impulses were already being generated by men, owing to the very mental
qualities with which he was invested, and the consequence was that souls were
incorporated. This is the summary of the account given by
Man thus left encased in matter, with his internal light altogether clouded and obscured, began to grope in the dark. Without a guide, a teacher and enlightener,
mankind developed tendencies which if left unchecked would lead to a still lower level of existence. Confusion and discord reigned supreme. Even the very elements could not bear the presence of man. Loud were the complaints made by the whole of nature against the moral and spiritual chaos that prevailed. It was found that if left to himself man would be unable to liberate his soul from the trammels of matter and attain to salvation. As long as he remained a trinity merely he would remain an imperfect being. It was necessary to convert this trinity into a quaternary. This condition of things had to be remedied, and “forthwith God filled the Universe with His divine voice: ‘Go’, said He, ‘Sacred offspring, worthy of your father’s greatness; seek not to change anything, nor refuse to my creatures your ministry.’”
This divine Voice is the Logos – the seventh principle in man. He is the real Ĩśvara of the Vedantins and the Saviour of mankind. Through Him alone can salvation and immortality be secured by man; and the end and object of all initiation is to ascertain His attributes and connection with humanity, realize His sacred presence in every human heart, and discover the means of transferring man’s higher individuality, purified and ennobled by the virtuous Karma of a series of incarnations, to His feet as the most sacred offering which a human being can bestow.
God further found it necessary to send a teacher and a ruler to mankind to disclose to them the laws of initiation
and point out the way to reach their own Logos. In spite of the presence of Ãtma in his own heart, man might remain ignorant of that sacred presence unless the veil of ignorance were removed from his eyes by a spiritual teacher. To meet this necessity God thought of sending down into the world such a teacher, and made the following promise to the complaining elements:
“I will send you an efflux of myself, a pure being who shall investigate all actions, who shall be the dreadful and incorruptible judge of the living: and sovereign justice shall extend its reign even into the shades beneath the earth. Thus shall every man receive his merited deserts.”
This efflux manifested itself as Osiris and his female counterpart Isis.
This nativity, the mystery of which
Christ or Christos is the divine voice or Logos which manifests itself in every man; and the biblical narrative of Christ is an allegorical account of every regenerated spirit generally. It is not the historical value of the biblical account which is of importance to mankind in general, but its philosophical and occult significance, as asserted by Dr. Kingsford and Mr. Maitland. But it will be erroneous to look upon the incarnation of Buddha or this nativity of Osiris and Isis in the same light as that of Christ. Every Buddha
is also a Christ; but every Christ is not a Buddha. Every man may become a Christ and identify himself with Christ, but it is not open to every man to develop into a Buddha. Every true Kabalist knows that Christ is the son of man, and not Ennoia the primitive man; or to express the same thing in Buddhist phraseology, Christ is a Bodhisattva and not a Buddha. It must be remembered that by the term Christ I do not refer to any particular individual, but to the spiritual entity with reference to which the Bible account has its philosophical importance. The germ of a Bodhisattva is in every man, but not the germ of a Buddha; hence when a Buddha is evolved by humanity in the course of its progress, his appearance will become a matter of historical importance. The appearance of Osiris was placed on the same footing, and was looked upon in the same light by the Egyptian initiates. Osiris is not the Logos, but is something higher than the Logos. The Logos itself has a soul and a spirit as everything else has which is manifested; and there is nothing unreasonable in supposing that Osiris or Buddha may represent the soul of the Logos. The Sphinx cannot and dare not say anything more on the subject. The reader may find a very interesting and instructive commentary on the foregoing statements in the second volume of Isis Unveiled.
We will now proceed with the account of
things, taught mankind the secrets of the occult science and the sacred mysteries of initiation. After finishing their work on earth the divine couple were recalled by “the inhabitants of heaven”.
After having thus traced the descent of spirit into matter and indicated the
provision made by God for securing salvation to mankind,
as blessed as when they were free”. If this reply
There are differences, it would appear, among these
royal souls, due to the nature of the angels and genii who assist them. The
reader must not suppose that these powers are elementals; they are the guardians
of the souls, whose teaching and guidance the souls
follow, as declared by
“How are souls born male or female?” asks Horus; and
The real difference between a man who has spiritual vision and discernment, and another who does not possess these faculties, is not to be found in the inmost nature of the soul; just as the clearness of
vision depends, not on the latent perceptive faculty of the soul or mind, but upon the nature of the organ of vision and the tunics in which it is developed, the clearness of spiritual or clairvoyant perception depends, not on the nature of the soul, but on the condition and nature of the Upãdhis in which it is placed.
Consequently all progressive development consists in the improvement of the Upãdhis; the soul is perfect from the beginning and undergoes no alteration during the course of evolution.
Speaking of the agencies which cause “in living men during long maladies an alteration of discernment ‘of reason’ even of the soul itself,” Isis points out “that the soul has affinity with certain elements and aversion for others” and that therefore its functions are sometimes disturbed and affected by changes in either the physical or the astral body.
The last chapter of the treatise under review contains the explanations of
There is nothing more of importance to consider in this treatise. The points already referred to show that the same main doctrines of the ancient wisdom religion underlie every exoteric creed whether ancient or modern. It is not true, as Mr. Herbert Spencer says, that the
only statement with reference to which all the nations in the world agree in the matter of religious belief is that there is an unknown and unknowable Power in the universe. The religious history of humanity shows that there are a number of doctrines regarding the origin, the nature and the ultimate destiny of the human soul, highly philosophical and complicated, which form the foundation of every exoteric religion and which have influenced the religious sentiments of mankind from time immemorial. How are we to account for these beliefs? Have they any inherent special connection with human nature as it is? Or are they the outcome of a divine revelation during the infancy of the human race, whose influence has survived the vicissitudes of so many civilizations? If neither of these hypotheses is acceptable to the mind of a modern agnostic, can the evolution of these doctrines from a few simple ideas which are common to humanity in general be explained by the operation of known psychological laws? If the latter hypothesis is tenable, how is it that these products of human experience have not undergone any change in spite of great improvements in material civilization and mental culture?
It is not my object now to undertake a discussion of the above subject and offer my own solutions of the problem; I only beg to call the reader’s attention to this important question, and request him not to lose sight of it in meditating on the origin and history of religious belief amongst mankind, and the possibility of
discovering a common platform on which the followers of the various religions on the globe may take up their stand with brotherly love and affection, forgetting the petty differences of their exoteric dogmatic creeds. The Sphinx does not think it necessary to say anything about the contents of the short philosophical dissertations appended to The Virgin of the World as they seem to contain more of Grecian speculation than of Egyptian wisdom.
THE SOLAR SPHINX.
[Answers by Anna Kingsford and Edward Maitland,
with another answer by T. Subba Row]
To the Editor of The Theosophist
(From Anna Kingsford)
In your remarks upon my prefatory essay to the Virgin of the World, you assert that Persephone cannot be regarded as the Kosmic Virgin. She was, however, undoubtedly so regarded by all the neo-Platonic school, whose exponent, Thomas Taylor, in his Dissertation of the Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries, quotes largely from Greek Hermetic authors to prove this very point. I wish that my reviewer, before committing himself to the statement he has made on page 97 of the November number of The Theosophist, had made himself familiar with this standard work, and also with certain passages of Proclus, Olympiodorus, the Orphic hymns, Claudian, Apuleias, and other accredited and classic authorities, from all of which it is abundantly clear that the mythos of the rape of Persephone, the theme of the Mysteries, represented the descent into Matter, or Generation, of the Soul, and that the title “Kore Kosmou” was throughout the whole mythos attributed to Persephone, the daughter of Demeter or supermundane Intelligence.
as such, has been identified with Osiris, the Egyptian
presentation of the same Principle. And Persephone is alike, in both aspects,
greater and lesser, the Soul. But the Greek Mysteries dealt ostensibly with the macrocosmic presentation of the divine drama,
and with its individual meaning by implication only. Hence Persephone is
generally taken to signify the Soul in her larger acceptation, as “Kore Kosmou” and hence also, her
son Dionysos represents rather the son of God in the
World than the son of God in
And, in this connection, in order further to elucidate the function and position
of Isis in the macrocosm as it is expounded by Hermetists
and neo-Platonists, I may add that her counter-partal
analogy in the microcosm, or individual, is found in the Genius, – the guardian
angel of Christian Theosophy. This Genius is good or bad, helpful or hindering,
bright or dark, favorable or hostile, according to the state of grace (Karma)
which the Soul has acquired. The Genius sheds upon the Soul the light derived
from her own celestial Sun (see pp. 88 and 89 of the
In the Discourse accompanying the allegory of the “Virgin of the World,” I
I must content myself with a simple expression of dissent from your reviewer’s appreciation of the relation existing between the Mysteries of Egyptian and of Grecian origin. No doubt I feel somewhat strongly on this point, because my own instruction and illumination in mystic doctrine have been obtained chiefly through the splendid arcana which I cannot, without regret, find characterized by your reviewer in a sentence evidently intended to disparage them, as “mythological fables”.
Christmas, 1885 ANNA KINGSFORD, M.D., F.T.S.
To the Editor of The Theosophist
(From Edward Maitland)
SIR, – In thanking you for the notice of
this book in the November Theosophist, I wish to correct a
misapprehension caused by your reviewer’s statement that the books now being
published do not appear to be the real Hermetic books. The misapprehension in
question consists in the impression that this statement is made in contradiction
of the position taken up by me. Whereas, the fact is it correctly describes that
position, the only conclusion to which I have committed myself in the point
being “that the doctrine contained in the Hermetic books is in part, at least, a
survival from the times of ancient
meant other than a certain school or system of doctrine, originating, so far as the Western World is concerned, in Egypt, and bearing the name of Hermes Trismegistus, a name which has long been, for the Western world, a synonym for the intellectual principle.
Your reviewer’s expression “misconception generally prevalent in the minds of
the Western Hermetists” seems to me unfortunate as
constituting an affirmation that the “
P.S. – Allow me to state, in justice to my fellow-editor and myself, that the responsibility for the defective title-page and table of contents does not rest with us, these not having been submitted to us prior to publication.
To the Editor of The Theosophist
(From T. Subba Row)
SIR, – Kindly permit me to say a few words with reference to the two letters sent by Dr. Kingsford and Mr. Maitland in connection with my review of the Virgin of the World.
If my critics had borne in mind that the subject-matter of my review was the Virgin of the World and not their introductory essays on Hellenic mysteries, they would no doubt have refrained from making all the irrelevant statements which their letters contain. There were but two specific references to these introductory essays in my article. One of my objections remains altogether unanswered, and the explanation given with reference to the other throws no additional light on the real question at issue as the following remarks will show.
Virgin of the World was published though not as a genuine work of Hermes
himself, yet as a treatise on Egyptian mysteries. In reviewing it, therefore, I
found it necessary to examine it by the light of Hermetic science and not by
that of Grecian philosophy. With reference to the title of the Hermetic fragment
under consideration, I made the following statement in my article – “(…) it is
necessary to point out that Persephone is not the Cosmic Virgin and cannot be
represented as such from the standpoint of Hermetic
philosophy.” Dr. Kingsford objects to this statement on the authority of
various writers on Grecian philosophy. If Grecian
writers have bestowed this title on Persephone, it is no proof whatever that
Egyptian writers did the same thing. Persephone might be the Kore Kosmou of the Hellenic
mysteries, but she was not the Cosmic Virgin of the Egyptians. It will even be
difficult to find the corresponding goddess of the Egyptian Pantheon. It cannot
even be contended that the Virgin of the World not being a
genuine Egyptian book, but a work written by some Grecian author, to some extent
according to Egyptian models, the title in question might have been used
according to the conceptions of Grecian writers in general. For, under such a
supposition, there would be no connection whatever between the contents of the
book and the title chosen for it. There is no special reference whatsoever to
Persephone or any corresponding goddess in the treatise as we find it at
present. The only female deity who figures prominently in it is
It is my humble opinion that my critic has misconceived the position of the Egyptian Isis. What
is really meant by saying that
them is on that account ever confounded with the
Universe; and the rejoicings and sufferings of
the soul encased in matter do not disprove the real and genuine claims of
I did not say and did not mean to insinuate in my articles that Dr. Kingsford made any incorrect statements as regards Dionysos Zagreus as is now alleged. I simply pointed out in my article that Dionysos as contrasted with Osiris had no place in the Egyptian Pantheon to preclude the possibility of any misconception that might otherwise arise regarding the real position of Osiris from certain passages in the introductory essay: and I must further state now that if Osiris is to be left out of account Dionysos has no correspondence in the Egyptian Pantheon.
The inconsistency pointed out in my article is in no way removed by the explanation now given. I beg to call the reader’s attention to the following passages in the introductory essay in this connection.
1. “(…) The incarnation, martyrdom and resuscitation of Dionysos Zagreus.”
2. “For, Osiris
is the microcosmic sun, the counterpart in the human system of the
Dionysos or Son of God. So that these authors who
3. “The Hermetic books admit three expressions of Deity; first, the supreme, abstract, and infinite God, eternally self-subsistent and unmanifest; secondly, the
only Begotten, the manifestation of Deity in the universe; thirdly, God in man, the redeemer, or Osiris.”
Comparing these various statements with each other we find Dionysos, described as the macrocosmic sun or the only Begotten Son of God manifested in the Universe, undergoing incarnation, martyrdom and resuscitation as if he were the incarnated spirit. It is now asserted that Dionysos represents the spirit or 7th principle, whether macrocosmically or microcosmically. If so he is identical with Osiris as is virtually admitted. Why then was it stated in the introductory essay that some authors confounded Dionysos with Osiris and Isis with Demeter? If one and the same principle is alike the Logos manifested in the Cosmos and the Logos manifested in man, what foundation is there for the three expressions of Deity above described? If the Greek mysteries dealt ostensibly with the macrocosmic presentation of the Divine Drama, and with its individual meaning by implication only as is now asserted, this statement is altogether at variance with the following statements in the introductory essay: “The Greek mysteries dealt only with two subjects, the first being the Drama of the rape and restoration of Persephone; the second that of the incarnation, martyrdom and resuscitation of Dionysos Zagreus.” It cannot, surely, be contended that these form the subject-matter of the macrocosmic presentation of the Divine Drama; and we are further informed that the Hellenic Mysteries dealt only with these two subjects.
If so, the presentation is pre-eminently if not entirely microcosmic, and the macrocosmic position assigned to Dionysos and the difference pointed out between him and Osiris in the introductory essay by reason of such position, is out of place in the Grecian mysteries. Any number of difficulties may be pointed out in the position assumed by Dr. Kingsford, and the explanation now offered is likely to make matters worse.
As regards the guardian angel of Christian Theosophy, I find it necessary to
state that this guardian angel is not the counterpart of
With reference to Dr. Kingsford’s letter I have only to state further that I did
not use the expression cited for the purpose of disparaging the Grecian mystical
doctrines. According to ordinary usage the expression in question was the only
one which I could use to indicate that part of the Grecian literature which
dealt with mystical and occult subjects. But my convictions are equally strong
that there is a greater depth of occult significance in the allegorical fables
Mr. Maitland’s letter requires but very few words in reply. He makes no attempt to justify his assertion
that the number of the Vedas or their sub-divisions
is 42, but raises a discussion which is altogether irrelevant and unnecessary. I
do not see how he can hold me responsible for any misapprehension that might
have arisen from his own words. Mr. Maitland seems to think that I have no right
whatever to speak of the misconceptions regarding the Hermetic doctrine that
seem to exist in the minds of the so-called “Western Hermetists,” because the said doctrine is “their own
doctrine,” and it must therefore be presumed that they know all about it. If, by
Hermetic doctrine Mr. Maitland simply means the doctrine now professed by the
But if Mr. Maitland goes to the length of saying that the Hermetic doctrine of
the ancient Egyptians can be claimed by the
initiation. There were mysteries of
Under such circumstances it is highly desirable that “
But as these ranges of perception have very little to do with the Virgin of the World or my review of the same, or with the introductory essays appended to it, it is unnecessary to enter into any controversy with Mr. Maitland on this subject.
THE SOLAR SPHINX.