Sections: General Index Present Section: Index
THE NEW ILLUMINATION (1)
By Edward Maitland
1 - The Revival of Mysticism
2 - The “Modus” of Illumination
3 - Cyclical Illuminations
4 - Propositions Involved
5 - Previous Illuminations
6 - Previous Illuminations (Continued)
7 - The Obscuration
8 - The New Illumination
9 - The Crucial Tests
10 - Further Tokens
The Revival of Mysticism
THE present revival of Mysticism – a fact patent to all, whether able or not to discern its significance has already found recognition from a competent observer, as “one of the most remarkable notes of our era”. (2) For me this estimate errs only by its inadequacy; my study of the event – a study both particular and comparative – having led me to regard it as alike the most remarkable and most important of all the notes of our era – many and striking as these are – whether for its power to interpret the past or to influence the future. I propose in this paper to summarise the principal grounds of this conclusion, and to show that – viewed in the light of a comprehensive survey of the world’s religious history – the revival in process, so far from being accidental, pathological, retrogressive, or in any sense disorderly, is entitled to be regarded as an event at once logical, normal, and indispensable; appertaining to a series so long established and regular in its periodicity as to be susceptible of prediction; and accomplishing a step of supreme value in the evolution of the race. This is the step which consists in the attainment, on a scale far surpassing any hitherto reached, of that which to mystical apprehension constitutes the crowning qualification of humanity, namely, the perfectionment of its spiritual consciousness.
For to speak of mysticism is to speak of the spiritual consciousness; the consciousness, that is, whereby are morality, religion, and the knowledge of Divine things, and without which these are not nor can be. It is the possession of this consciousness that constitutes the mystic. Its products constitute mysticism. And the expression, “Revival of Mysticism,” implies the restoration or recovery at once of this faculty and of the knowledges attainable through it. The terms restoration, recovery, and revival are not, however, to be taken as implying that the faculty and its products have ever been extinct. The world is never wholly without mystics and mysticism. What is meant is that, after a period of ebb and withdrawal, such as to reduce the manifestation of them to a minimum, there has come a period of flood and promotion, such as to raise their manifestation towards a maximum. And this, it is considered, is occurring in our day in such kind and measure, and with so much of recognition, as to make and mark a new era; the phenomena which denote the event in question being, for their extraordinary multiplicity and significance, as well also as for the period and conditions generally of their manifestation, held to indicate the occurrence of what, from time immemorial, has been called, in the East, an Avatar, and, in the West, a Messianic Advent, an Angelic Message, or a Divine Illumination. Having for its function the close of an old dispensation and the introduction of a new one, such an event accomplishes a new and higher stage in the spiritual evolution of the races among whom it occurs, and, through them, in that of the human race at large.
It may be objected that evolution, while admitting, to a certain extent, of survivals, knows nothing of revivals, save by return, through degradation, to an earlier, and, therefore, an inferior, stage of development. But there are two considerations, either of which is fatal to this objection. One is the obvious possibility that our planet has already, in a remote past, witnessed the completion of many a series of evolutionary periods, and the disappearance of the subjects thereof, these having passed on to higher conditions of being after reaching a maturity involving the possession of faculties which the existing races have still to attain. The other consideration is the certainty that the earlier stages even of the evolutionary process of which the existing races are the latest products, exhibited instances of human excellence equalling, if not surpassing, any belonging to more recent times. In either case faculties and knowledges in respect of which we are still in arrear, may well have been possessed in the past, our acquisition of which, though no less due to evolution, will constitute, nevertheless, a revival without involving retrogression or degradation. The idea here involved is that the level generally of the race is rising by gradual evolution to a level previously reached – also by evolution – by individuals only.
The “Modus” of Illumination
The relation between mysticism and illumination is in this wise. Both refer to the spiritual consciousness. But whereas mysticism denotes the products – mental and emotional – of this faculty, illumination denotes its enhancement, and the consequent intensification and multiplication of its products.
Illumination, then, does not confer faculty; but evokes it where latent and enhances it where already operative. Nor is its influence restricted to the sphere of religion. It serves also to quicken in other departments of activity those who, while little sensitive on the religious side, are nevertheless, in some mode or degree, spiritually vitalised in that they recognise, and aspire towards the realisation of, an ideal whether in art, science, morals, or politics.
A conception of the modus of illumination may be gathered from the analogous phenomenon of magnetism. Individuals differ in respect of spiritual sensibility as do various metals in respect of magnetic sensibility. The approach of a mineral loadstone to a number of metallic particles, reveals – by the response it evokes from them – those which are, and those which are not, magnetic, the latter remaining inert. Similarly the approach of the Divine loadstone, the spirit, reveals the difference between men, in respect of their spiritual sensibility. The spirit knows its own and is known of them; and the human atoms respond or remain inert accordingly. Some respond who, until then, were unaware of their susceptibility to its influence. For susceptibility is a matter of interior condition, of which only when the test is applied does the subject become aware. In these the faculty was present, but latent until thus evoked.
This divine lodestone and the human atoms are, respectively, the “oversoul” or informing spirit, incarnate and unincarnate, of humanity, and the individuated members, embodied and disembodied, of humanity. And illumination is due to such approximation to each other of these two constituents of humanity as brings them into conscious mutual, harmonious relation, the effects of which are dependent upon individual condition. That the relationship and its effects are not constant, but vary between the extremes of full spiritual vision and total obscuration, is because man, while still subject to materiality, is unable to maintain the due balance between his two natures, the inner and the outer, or the higher and the lower, and is therefore incapable of constancy in his spiritual perceptions and affections.
It is obvious that, once granted the existence of a spiritual plane, or zone, of being, and the possession by man of a faculty competent for the cognition of it, the recurrence of spiritual phenomena becomes as much a matter of course as that of physical phenomena. The periodicity also of such recurrence must no less be determined by laws which, equally with those of the physical world, are capable of definition.
It is not, however, with the laws which govern their periodicity that our present concern lies, but with the fact of their existence and with their nature and significance. Observers of the course of the world’s spiritual development, as exhibited in history and myth, have seen reason to regard the period occupied in the process, in respect of any particular system, as constituting a great cycle which, while as a whole it represents the continuous ascent of an inclined plane, is composed of several minor cycles which constitute distinct steps like those of a ladder. These subordinate cycles, it is computed, are ten in number, each of them having a duration of about 600 years, and being ushered in by an Avatar or Messianic Advent, the first half of such period being in consequence one of illumination, and the last half one of obscuration.
Such, for the Hindus, are the ten Avatars, or incarnations, of Vishnu – the “second person,” or aspect, of their Divine Triad – each of which events denotes the accomplishment of a new stage or degree in the development of the spiritual consciousness of the East, as exhibited in a further unfoldment and recognition of the Gnosis, or system of thought, which, for the Oriental mind, best explains the nature of existence and supplies a rule of life in accordance therewith. This is the system of thought to which the Vedic, Brahman, and Buddhist schools equally belong, and of which they constitute various aspects or dispensations. Interiorly they are one and the same; the form, vehicle, or presentation only differs; their essential part being mystical and spiritual. This is to say, they deal primarily and really, not with persons or events which are physical and historical, but with principles, processes, and states which are interior and spiritual, and relate to the perfectionment of the individual, be he whom he may, and whenever or wherever subsisting. For their subject is the human Ego and its perfectionment.
Similarly with the religious consciousness of the West, and the system of thought which finds its latest expression in Christianity. In regard to this also the process of unfoldment and recognition appears to be capable of division into ten cycles, each having a period of about six centuries; and being introduced by an event corresponding to a Hindu Avatar, and, indeed, called by some mystics “Avatars of the Lord.” Of these two great evolutionary cycles, that of the East has generally been regarded as the elder, and as having accomplished certain of its stages at the time of the commencement of the Western series. Some question has, however, recently arisen on this point. But so far as they have run together they have been synchronous in respect of their constituent cycles. It is only in Biblical and other prehistoric myths and legends that traces of the initial cycles are to be found. The later and completing cycles fall within the range of history. Owing to the allegorical character of all ancient Scriptures, it is mainly by means of the historical cycles that the pre-historical are to be discerned. But the light to be derived from the mystical interpretation of the Scriptures concerned, constitutes an addition of no small value to that afforded by history and myth. It is a noteworthy circumstance that the same method of interpretation which discloses to us what of historical meaning there is in the Bible, compels us to recognise in the purpose of the Bible – as also in religion itself – a complete independence of history as the term is ordinarily understood.
The idea which, for the mystic, or student of Divine things, interprets these cycles is that of a correspondence and unity of method subsisting between man and the world without him, in virtue of which the course of the human soul – like that of the day and the year – has its regularly recurring seasons of rise and fall, heat and cold, light and darkness. But with the difference befitting their respective planes. For, whereas in the world physical, such periods repeat themselves with mechanical identity, and return, like circles, to themselves; in the world psychic they are progressive, making, instead of circles, a spiral, each round of which – though, perchance, at some point dipping below the level of its predecessor – yet, in virtue of experiences undergone and impressions retained, raises the consciousness of the race to a level previously unattained by it, the very intervals of cataclysm, catastrophe, and apparent retrogression, ministering to this end.
Illumination and Obscuration: these are the two terms by which mystics are wont to describe the alternations of perception to which, during its sojourn in a material environment, the human spirit is liable; and this alike as regards the individual and the collective, whether as a race, a people, or a Church; since, whatever the sphere of its activity, its behaviour is one and the same. There is no rest from change until it has found full manifestation for its potentialities by realisation of its proper divinity. Then comes its “Sabbath.”
The thesis under exposition comprises these seven propositions:
1. That from a certain remote period there has been in course of development among the Western races of our planet a certain faculty, and in course of unfoldment a certain system of thought which only through that faculty can be cognised and verified; – the faculty being that whereby is the knowledge of Divine things, namely, the spiritual consciousness, or intuition; and the system of thought being the essential truth concerning the nature of existence, the knowledge of which is necessary to enable man to turn his own existence – which is himself – to the utmost possible account.
2. That the process of this dual evolution is divisible into ten cycles, each covering a period of about six centuries, and constituting an advance upon its predecessor in respect both of the doctrine disclosed and of its extension and establishment in the world.
3. That the doctrine in question was originally in the world in its entirety, having been discerned, formulated, and maintained by mystics, whose capacity of perception was, equally with that of other men, the result of natural evolution, but who were the advanced, or mature, men of their time.
4. That both for its own preservation from profanation and loss, and for the security of its possessors from the enmity of the rudimentary majority, the doctrine was reserved from general cognition and communicated only to those who were competent to receive it, being therefore expressed by symbols to which initiates alone had the key; the period for its full disclosure being that of the tenth and completing cycle of the series.
5. That the function of the evolution in question is the elaboration of the human Ego, individual and collective, and the edification thereby of that which mystically is called the Church of Christ, this term denoting the whole congregation of the redeemed whether militant on earth or triumphant in heaven.
6. That the tenth and concluding cycle of the Western series has now actually commenced, and the illumination in introducing it is in progress, as proved by the fulfilment by the present epoch of all the conditions requisite for such an event.
7. That judged by its present achievements, the new cycle bids fair to realise the high anticipations formed of it, by carrying the consciousness of the race to a level far transcending any yet obtained by it.
In order fairly to comprehend the present epoch it is necessary to have some knowledge of the corresponding epochs of the past. This being the tenth, its predecessors are nine in number. And inasmuch as each cycle occupies a period of some six centuries, we have to remount the stream of history for some six millenniums to reach the initial cycle, and therefore to fall back upon Biblical and other pre-historic sources for our information. In fact, the whole of the first seven cycles fall within the period treated by Scripture; and only the last three, together with some of the intermediate ones – which belong equally to Biblical and historical times – come under the category of history properly so-called. Nevertheless, owing to the recent development in Bible hermeneutics – a development itself due to the New Illumination – it is possible to render a fair account even of the remotest and least known of these events.
It is in the precincts of
This event is an illumination succeeded by an obscuration. In mystical symbology, the soul is called the woman of man’s system; the advent of the spiritual consciousness is her manifestation; and the loss of that consciousness is her declension or “fall.” This last implies a lapse into materiality from a previous higher level of spirituality. In this aspect the parable is an eternal verity, applying to every soul born into the world. This is the universal aspect of the parable.
It is with the particular aspect that we are now concerned. In this the soul, or Eve, means the Church, and the reference supposed is to the first implantation, in the Western world, of the system of doctrine and practice of which Christianity represents the latest expression. Having had its rise in a period of illumination, this system, or Church, owing to the inability of its later members to maintain the high spiritual altitude of its founders, fell into obscuration – as every Church has done since – and from being a prophetic and intuitional communion, became a sacerdotal and idolatrous one. This is, denoted by Adam and Eve – who, as the masculine and feminine modes of the mind, represent the intellect and intuition – being driven from Paradise, or the place of a pure doctrine and life, and begetting Cain, the tiller of the ground, or lower nature, who, as the type of the priest, slays Abel the type of the prophet, whose offering – the “lamb” of a pure heart – is preferred to the offering, merely material and sensible, of the other. While thus, from the beginning, materialism is represented as the foe and destroyer of the intuition of things spiritual, from the beginning also the intuition is represented as the final conqueror of materialism, and redeemer of the race. For the seed of the woman in whom she, as the soul, crushes the head of the serpent of matter, is no other than the man who attains to full intuition, and, so, perfects his spiritual consciousness.
Following the same method of interpretation – that called the Hermetic and Kabalistic – we have no difficulty in identifying the six following cyclical events under their respective presentations in the Bible. The epochs represented respectively by Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Joshua, Ezra, and Christ, are each of them readily interpretable as implying cyclical revivals and enhancements of the spiritual consciousness, by means of special illuminations. And they are either separated from each other by a term of 600 years, or occur in the course of periods divisible into such lengths. It is not, however, necessary to restrict the cycles themselves to this or to any definite term; since they may very well overlap each other without their duration as a whole being affected. And owing to the peculiarity of mystical usage in respect to numbers, it is from historical rather than Biblical chronology that the duration of the cycles is ascertainable; while the fact that they have been found susceptible of exact prediction indicates their periodicity as controlled by some law capable of definition.
The expression “Enoch the seventh from Adam” does not necessarily imply either chronological or genealogical succession; but rather a series of stages corresponding to the seven days of the creative week, the last of which, the translation of Enoch, constitutes a Sabbath, in that it denotes the attainment of perfection and rest. The condition implied is one of full illumination, not necessarily restricted to an individual, but characterising, in all probability, an epoch, and occurring at the close of the first and beginning of the second cycle, and being in its turn succeeded by a period of obscuration.
The illumination of the third cycle, that represented by Noah, possesses a special interest for us by reason of the closeness of the parallel between it and that of our own time. For, mystically interpreted, the parable represents the earth, to its loftiest places – the established orthodoxies and recognised intellect of the age – as overspread by wickedness, offspring of the prevailing materialism, through which the idea of morality and religion had well-nigh disappeared. And the flood which submerges the earth, rising above its highest places, sweeping away the unbelief and wickedness, and bearing the faithful few unharmed on its bosom to the summit of the mount of regeneration and illumination, – is a flood of intuition such as that which is now welling up among ourselves, ere long to overwhelm the prevailing materialism and instate the soul in her rightful eminence, as the Ark – a type of the soul – on Sinai.
The illumination or “call” of Abraham needs no elucidation. And concerning the next and fifth cycle, it will be sufficient to remark that in their mystical sense the Exodus under Moses and the entry into the Promised Land under Joshua, represent the flight of the awakened soul – individual or collective – from the bondage of materiality and sense – typified by Egypt and its taskmasters – and its final attainment of full illumination and release.
This, the fifth era of the spiritual evolution of the Church of the West, was,
according to some computations, contemporaneous with that of
As Enoch, as a type of Christ, was the “Seventh from Adam” in the initial cycle of the series, so Christ himself was the “Seventh from Adam” on the whole series. For the product of the next and seventh illumination was a complete exemplar of the perfected soul, or Man Regenerate, the production of whom is the crowning triumph of religious science. So far as an individual specimen was concerned, humanity culminated in “Christ Jesus,” the great work of man’s spiritual creation was accomplished, and its Sabbath attained. The “Mystery of Godliness” was disclosed, and the Divine “wisdom was justified of her children.” But only an elect few could comprehend the essential lesson implied. For the race, and even for the Church generally, redemption continued to be regarded as dependent upon persons and events, extraneous and physical, instead of upon principles and processes, mystical and spiritual. Hence, it still remained to be understood that, in order to be efficacious for salvation, that which had been Divinely written concerning the Christ on the objective plane, must be transferred to the subjective plane and substantialised in the individual, by being interiorly enacted by him. This was the secret of the Gnosis, a secret which even the immediate disciples of the typical Man Regenerate could not receive; – the “Hermetic Mystery,” that man contains within himself the seed of his own regeneration, which must be effected in himself, and by no extraneous process or person can be accomplished. As he himself had declared, “Ye must be born again, as I myself am said to have been born, of a pure soul and spirit, such as are variously termed Water and the Spirit, Virgin Maria and Holy Ghost.”
The first great step towards the recognition of this only real, because mystical, Christianity by the Church was accomplished by the illumination of which the writings of the so called Dionysius the Areopagite, were the product. It was in the sixth century that they first found promulgation, and they at once took up a position in the Church, and exercised an influence, second only to that of the Bible. They represented the formulation of Christian doctrine in accordance with the Gnosis, and as the details of the method of their origination, as given by the writer himself, fully show, were the immediate product of Divine illumination. During the whole of this cycle, the eighth, which extended from the sixth to the thirteenth century, they continued more and more to permeate the Church, their presentation of Christianity as a mystical system being accepted by both the Eastern and Western communions.
This illumination, however, was not confined to Christendom. It transformed
Arabia; and while, on the lower plane of its manifestation in that region it
gave birth to Mahommedanism – the masses brought under its influence being
incapable of aught higher or purer – on the higher plane it carried mystical
religion, under the name of Sufism, to an altitude rarely equalled and never
surpassed; – an event the influence of which upon Christianity was destined to
bear the most precious fruit. For, next to the writings of the so-called
Dionysius Areopagiticus, the chief factor in the great Hermetic renaissance,
which constituted the illumination of the next and ninth cycle, was the
The most conspicuous outcome for Christendom of the illumination which ushered in this ninth cycle – the illumination and cycle immediately preceding our own – was the formulation of the system of philosophy to which the name “scholastic” has been given. The order represented by this name comprised in its ranks an assemblage, perhaps the most remarkable the world has seen, of men distinguished at once for genius, learning, and piety. Foremost among them were Buonaventura, called the Seraphic Doctor, Thomas Aquinas, called the Angelic Doctor, Albertus Magnus, esteemed – for his mastery over nature – a formidable magician, and a host of others who were recognised as pillars at once of faith and of science, – this term including occult as well as physical science. For in their hands alchemy and other occult arts and sciences, as well as mystical philosophy, attained a development almost unexampled.
Neither exclusively ecclesiastical nor exclusively Christian, the renaissance of the previous cycle had been shared, not only by the Arabians, but also by the Jews, whose chief representatives were, for the latter, the commentator Maimonides, and for the former, Averroes and Avicenna. The chief aim of the work of these two was the reconciliation of religion and science, by means of a combination of the systems represented by Plato and Aristotle. With Maimonides in particular, the plan was to demonstrate the compatibility of reason and revelation by the exhibition of an esoteric and philosophical meaning in Scripture. This also was the aim of the scholastics, headed by Albertus and Aquinas. And, what is noteworthy for our purpose, so fully did Aquinas recognise the divinity of the inspiration of Dionysius, that he incorporated so large a portion of his writings in his own great work, the Summa Theologiae [also referred to as the Summa Theologica], as to give Corderius, the editor of Dionysius, occasion to describe the Summa as little else than a hive stored with honey gathered by Dionysius. The mere list of his citations occupies four folio pages of small type. Of Aquinas himself Anastasius remarks: “He wrought through the operation of the Spirit, who quickened in him at once the fire of love and the fire of eloquence.”
All these writings were eminently Hermetic alike in their character and. in their origin. For they were produced under illumination, and drawn from interior sources. And they were recognised by the Church, and their writers canonised, no exception being taken to their admittedly Hermetic character, the Church thus identifying the esoteric doctrine as orthodox.
It was at this period, and under these influences that the Kabala, or traditional transcendental doctrine of the Hebrews, was committed to writing; while, besides mystic theosophy, occult science in all its branches – Alchemy, Astrology, Necromancy, Magic, and the rest – attained a development which for extent exceeded that reached in the hands of the Neoplatonists and Gnostics under the illumination of the preceding cycle. The details of the experiences of one of these events in the past, reads like an account of experiences occurring in the present.
The great monastic orders which then took their rise also belonged to the movement. They consisted of bodies of philosophers who accepted Christianity in its mystical and esoteric sense, either receiving the Gnosis directly by illumination, or adopting it through their recognition of its inherent divinity.
The illumination of this cycle was (as Dr. Ginsburg has stated) regarded in its own day as a Messianic advent, and had been predicted as such; and, as the Catholic writer, Gorres, has expressed it, – “The movement of ascension, produced by the Christian spirit, then attained a height which it could not transcend, and from which it was bound to decline” (La Mystique Divine, B. 1, viii – French Edition). It is not, however, to be understood that the movement was favourably regarded by the Sacerdocy. Rather was it tolerated as being in the Church than approved as being of the Church. And how far removed from and inaccessible to the “Christian spirit” was the governing power of the Church, is shown in the fact that the terrible persecutions of the Albigenses and the institution of the Inquisition took place while the illumination was at its height. So vast is the interval which may divide the two natures of man, the spiritual and interior, and the physical and exterior, whether in his individual or his collective capacity. The Church of that day seems, even more than is its wont, to have modelled itself after the character of David – itself obviously intended as a type of the Jewish Church – who, while capable in one region of his nature of polarising inwardly to the loftiest reaches of mystical perception, was capable in another region of descending into the lowest and grossest abysses of materiality.
That the full success of the movement was reserved for a future era and another illumination was – humanly speaking – due to the paralysing influence, for the Arabians, of the Koran; for the Jews, of the Synagogue; and for the Christians, of the Sacerdocy, – an influence by which, as is always the case with an established orthodoxy, not only expression, but thought itself, was first restrained and then extinguished, and with them well nigh the race of thinkers and seers. For the world-old Cain and Abel conflict of priest and prophet, which is never really composed, once more re-asserted itself in renewed force. The spirit was quenched, the intuition proscribed, the garden of perfection forsaken, the mount of illumination descended, the well of clear vision choked up. The voice of the prophets was silenced; the prophets themselves were suppressed, and – veritable régime of Cain – under the rule of the priests, human sacrifices, in the guise of persecution for conscience sake, made of Christendom one vast torture-house and shambles, the false gods to whom the victims were offered being sacerdotal authority and tradition. This is to say that a reign of materialism and idolatry – convertible terms – once more succeeded to the reign of the spirit. And it is in the depths of the obscuration thus initiated that the New Illumination has found us, and from which it is rescuing us.
For, there is a materialism in religion as well as in science, and it is the besetting sin of the priesthoods of both cults. It consists in making the outward and visible the all, and recognising and exalting the things of sense to the exclusion of those of spirit.
Such is Idolatry, which the priest of religion commits when he prefers the letter and the form to the spirit and the substance in respect of Divine things; and which the priest of science commits when he recognises the body to the exclusion of the soul, and panders to the promptings of the animal nature at the cost of the moral and spiritual. Thus, all materialism is idolatry; the error of which lies, not in the use, but in the abuse of symbols. And idolatry is superstition, which consists equally in believing, either above and in excess, or below and in defect, of evidence and reason. The world was never so idolatrous, and therefore never so superstitious as now, because never so materialistic. Its present exaltation of the symbol, matter, is a fetish worship than which none more fatuous has ever existed. And for the materialism now prevalent in the world, the materialism so long prevalent in the Church is responsible. The one is the inevitable sequence of the other. Had the Church not first fallen, the world had not fallen. For, save for the Church, the world had never risen.
It is an old and often repeated saying, that “the priest is the enemy of man.” That is, the priest as separated from and opposed to the prophet. For this implies sense as divorced from spirit. But the manner in which the priest is the enemy of man is not that ordinarily understood; nor is the priest in question a priest of religion merely; he is also priest of science. In either capacity he is the enemy of man; and he is this by reason of his antagonism – not merely as commonly regarded of the former, to the pleasures of life, but – to the two essential constituents of humanity, the head and the heart, or the intellect and the moral conscience. Thus, as priest of religion, repressing thought and insisting on a blind faith in things declared by him to be incomprehensible, he has well nigh crushed out the intelligence of the race; and as priest of science, repressing the intuition and denying God and the soul, he has well nigh crushed out its moral conscience. This last he could not have done had he not done the other first. Thus have the two moieties of humanity, the masculine or intellect, and the feminine or intuition, been suppressed; and so humanity itself has well nigh perished in all save the exterior form, so far as the race at large is concerned. This is the condition in which the New Illumination has found the world. Humanity, in every essential sense of the term, was in extremis, and only through some new and blessed Avatar could redemption be looked for.
A crucial instance of the depth of the prevailing obscuration, intellectual, moral, and religious, is afforded by the practice of Vivisection. This monstrous, but logical, outcome of materialism is the typical sin of our age, as persecution for conscience sake was of the Middle Age. The torture-chamber of the vivisector – an institution with which Christendom has replaced the Inquisition – marks the lowest depth to which humanity has fallen, or can fall – a depth lower than that indicated by the torture-chamber of the Inquisition, in that the pretext for its atrocities is not the soul but the body, and the victims are absolutely harmless and incapable of self-defence; so that to the grossest selfishness, cruelty and injustice, is added the basest cowardice.
The plea advanced for the practice is itself a proof of the completeness of the collapse of the general intelligence and moral sense. That plea is the good of humanity, meaning by the term men and women. As if humanity could be benefited by that which is in itself subversive of humanity! And as if men and women constituted humanity, instead of their representing but humanity in the making! Whereas that of which the world stands in need is not men and women, but humanity; and of persons so destitute of humanity that, knowing what vivisection is and means, they would consent to accept for themselves benefits obtained by it, – of persons such as these the world would be the richer for the loss; humanity would gain by being quit of them as it gains by the extirpation of a brood of monsters.
Now, herein is the point of the instance. So low has the perception sunk of the idea and meaning of humanity, that the physical part only is recognised as constituting man. Man has become for the world but a particular disposition of organs and limbs and other characteristics merely physical and wholly perishable, instead of that which he really is, – a manifestation in the individual and finite of all the principles, attributes and qualities, at once human and divine, which appertain to the universal and infinite, and in their original absolute perfection constitute the nature of God.
It is the negation alike of head, heart, and soul, that is represented by vivisection; that is, of the intelligence, the moral conscience, and the religious instinct. For it represents the belief that the universe is so perversely constituted that it is possible to get good by doing evil. This is to say, it represents the belief either that there is no informing Mind in the universe or that its creator is a devil. And it involves the acceptance of benefits for self – the merely bodily self – regardless of the cost to others and to the higher self.
Now this complete repudiation of mind, soul, and spirit as constituting any part of man, and this acceptance of the physical and material as constituting the whole man, and the consequent practical repudiation of all the sentiments of humanity, accomplish, for the mystic, that long predicted revelation of the “Man of Sin” – an humanity deliberately self-made in the image of the Not-God – which was to mark the latter days of the dispensation. And before this image, so far from recognising its features, and rejecting it with abhorrence, the Church and world of Christendom – at the bidding of an avowedly atheistic and non-moral science – have with one consent bowed their heads; society at large accepting with eagerness the proffered alleged gains of its unhallowed practices, and no single Church of all the Churches called Christian, as a Church, uttering protest; while their members, clerical as well as lay, with few exceptions acquiesce in the wrong, as if the existence of any Divine Principle in the universe were for them an open question; or as if they had not so much as heard there is a Divine Principle, or any rule of right and wrong, but believed that it is no sin to yield to temptation, provided only the inducement is strong and the expected result desirable! Thus has a religion which represented humanity as demonstrating its divinity by the sacrifice of its own lower nature to its higher, and of itself for others, been practically renounced for a system which insists on sacrificing man’s higher nature to his lower – the sentiments of the soul to the impulses of the body – and others to himself, reckless of their sufferings. “All for the body, and the soul well lost,” – such is the motto of the age in which the New Illumination has manifested itself. Now, a man is demonised when he says “No matter what others suffer, so I be benefited thereby.” And this is what the Society says that sanctions vivisection. And as Society does sanction vivisection, vivisection represents the demonisation of Society. Meanwhile the general Press, almost with one consent, has conspired with the dominant school and sustains the practice, falsifying or suppressing the facts, as if wishing a method so hideous to be really necessary and right.
When under the influence of the New Illumination, mankind shall have regained the perceptions and feelings of their lost humanity, then will be seen the populations everywhere rising in horror and indignation, and with one voice declaring that no longer will they endure the reproach of suffering the earth to be made a hell for the helpless innocents of their fields and forests; that the reign of torture for selfish ends shall cease; and that if indeed it be that the way to Divine ends lies through infernal means, and health be unattainable save at the cost of all that makes manhood – a thing not for a moment to be believed – better far to die men than to live fiends!
For what but a hell is a place where the stronger and cleverer members of the community, for their own ends ruthlessly torture the weaker and simpler; and what but fiends are they who do this? Morally a crime, religiously a blasphemy, and scientifically a blunder, – if vivisection be right, then nothing is wrong.
The New Illumination
The first form of the protest of the Spirit of Humanity against extinction has been the phenomenon – at once startling, grotesque, and incredible – which has now for several years sorely perplexed and irritated the world, – the portentous phenomenon known as Modern Spiritualism. Just when the science of the day had demonstrated to the satisfaction of its professors the non-being of God, the soul, immortality, and moral responsibility; and when the world was on the point of accepting, and to a vast extent had accepted, its conclusions, and was fast subsiding into a blank, hopeless pessimism; – in this stupendous juncture there has come from far and wide on all sides, from persons reckoned by millions, a large proportion of whom are of high culture, intelligence, gravity, and station, – declarations positively affirming the receipt of experiences of such kind and number as to constitute for their recipients absolute demonstration of the reality and accessibility of a world at once spiritual and personal; of the manifestation of life, intelligence, and force by entities devoid of material organism, and of the survival of death by the dead. And with these tokens of the soul’s reality and persistence are conjoined others, no less convincing to their recipients, which exhibit man’s character and condition in a future life as dependent upon the tendencies voluntarily encouraged by him in the present life, – thus demonstrating also his moral responsibility, to the utter discomfiture of the system in vogue. Such are the nature and results of modern “Spiritualism.”
This, however, is not all. Spiritualism comprises but a single department of the experiences and knowledges disclosed by the New Illumination. For it represents but a single zone, and this an inferior one, of the world so newly re-opened to human cognition, a world which comprises many zones. The term for the comprehensive science of this world is Occultism, and it is to Occultism that we must look for explanation alike of the phenomena of Spiritualism and of the other and allied zones, – the order of entities disclosed by Spiritualism not sufficing for this. Though constituting a science apart and by itself, Occultism is an indispensable adjunct both to physical and physiological science, and only by means of it are these completed. The revival of this science is a conspicuous feature of the present illumination as it was of previous illuminations; and, like Spiritualism, has manifested itself rapidly and simultaneously in all parts of Christendom, and notably in the lands subject to our own race, the token being the multiplication of associations having for their express purpose the culture of knowledges which, being of the transcendental and substantial, are subversive of materialism. Such is the significance of the societies everywhere springing up, called Spiritualist, Theosophic, Psychic, Gnostic, Hermetic, and the like.
But the revelation of the regions open to the cognisance of the Spiritualist and Occultist does not exhaust the achievements of the New Illumination. Being extraneous to the individual, and constituting but a medium and an environment, those regions appertain rather to the objective than to the subjective, to the phenomenal than to the noumenal, even though the faculty to which they appeal be itself interior to the ordinary consciousness. And so far from the knowledge of them sufficing for all man’s needs, intellectual, moral, and spiritual, it requires to be supplemented and complemented by the knowledge of a yet higher and more interior region, that which being the very source itself of light and life, alone interprets the whole. The true and ultimate object of man’s quest is to be found, not in any region extraneous to himself, how sublime so ever it be, but in that “kingdom within,” the kingdom of his own higher Selfhood, to reach which he must climb the ladder within himself, – the ladder whose steps are the constituent zones of his own system, having its lowest round planted in matter, and its topmost one in Divinity. Two extremes are these, which not withstanding the stupendous interval which separates them, have between them no boundary line, and both of which are in man.
The experiences I am about to describe belong to the category of the mystical,
rather than the Spiritualistic or Occult, and represent the entry into the world
variously called exemplary and celestial, the world of pure thought, yet not the
less personal and real because spiritual and ideal. Access to it is attained
only when the perceptions, sensible and mental, of the interior man are at their
zenith, all the consciousnesses of his system having polarised to their highest
point, – that which lies within and beyond the etherial or astral. The Biblical
term for this elevation in man is the “Mount of the Lord,” and for the kingdom
on its summit, the “City of
The avenue to experiences of this order lies, as I have said, within the recipient himself, since only by the sun of a man’s own system can he be illumined, and only by ascending his own ladder can he obtain access to his centre. From without comes no Divine illumination. The point of radiation is within. Such experiences may be attained alike through the act of the man from below, and of the spirit from above. Either may take the initiative. But the spirit must be willing. The man cannot coerce the spirit; but the spirit may coerce the man, as by withdrawing him from preoccupations the most engrossing, or no less vividly impressing him when sunk in slumber, – realising for him in such case the expression – now admitted into the margin of the Bible as a true reading – “He giveth to His beloved in sleep.” And that which is thus imparted ever surpasses, both in substance and in form, the utmost capacity of the recipient to devise of himself.
Such are among the experiences which – always in the world – make for their recipients all times “Bible-times.” And such are among the experiences which, by reason of their extraordinary multiplicity and significance, are held by those who have cognisance of the facts, to indicate the occurrence of a new cyclical illumination. Being accounted sacred, the relation of them is ever rigidly reserved for the few intimates who, knowing enough to be able to believe, respect their sanctity, and when recorded they are couched in terms not understood of the generality. The results, indeed, may be promulgated for the world’s instruction, but never, or rarely, the particulars. Hence the world at large can know but a minute fraction of that which is knowable and known concerning Divine things. Were it capable of knowing more, it would no longer be “the world.” For the worldly or “natural man knoweth not the things of the spirit, nor can receive them.”
The Crucial Tests
The crucial tests of the New Illumination consist, first, in the nature of the knowledges disclosed, and secondly, in the coincidence of the event, as regards date, character, and circumstance, with the order established in the past, and with the predictions concerning it.
To speak first of the predictions. Owing to the recent discovery, first, of the astronomical cycles called soli-lunar, and of their identification as those upon which the Biblical prophecies were constructed; and next, of the method of Scripture symbology, there is now no room for doubt on either head. In virtue of the former discovery, we can confidently regard the present as the time indicated by Daniel as that of the “End,” – the end, namely, of the prophetic period, and the time, therefore, of the illumination then to occur. And in virtue of the latter discovery we are able no less confidently to recognise the actual presence of the portent declared by both Daniel and Jesus to be the sign of that end; namely, the spectacle of the “abomination of desolation standing in the holy place.” This is readily recognisable by mystics as implying the exaltation – already described – of matter and appearance, as the all in all of being, to the exclusion of spirit and reality, the “holy place” being the place of God in the soul, universal or individual. The fulfilment of this condition appears in the fact that in our days, for the first time in the world’s history, the human mind, as represented by the recognised intellect of the age, has pronounced definitely against the idea alike of God and the soul, in favour of an hypothesis which, being exclusive of spirit, extinguishes the light and life of the universe; deprives man of hope beyond the present; confounds good and evil, right and wrong, true and false; and makes of existence a desolation utterly horrible and abominable, for all who are possessed of sentiments and aspirations transcending the material.
While such, according to this and other Biblical predictions, was to be the
time, and character of the time, of the end of the age or dispensation, the
nature of the accompanying event was no less clearly indicated. This is
described in Daniel, as the breaking of the seals and
opening of the book, as shown in the ability to interpret the prophecies and
sacred mysteries generally, – a result which, under the influence of the New
Illumination, is now being actually accomplished. Even the utterance in the
Apocalypse – so long regarded as
hopelessly obscure – announcing the drying up of the River Euphrates in
preparation of the way of the kings of the East, is no longer an enigma
unsolved. The East, as we now know, is the mystical expression for the place of
spiritual light in man himself; the
The writings of the mystics and occultists of the later Middle Age contain several yet more explicit predictions to the same purport; not adopted from Scripture, but based on independent calculations. Among the most notable are the predictions of Trithemius, Tycho Brahe, and Guillaume Postel. According to them the present period, especially from 1879 to 1886 inclusive, was to be a time at once of disintegration and of illumination, wherein the old order, social, political and religious, should commence to break up amid much perturbation and distress, and a new one take its rise founded upon the recovery and revelation anew of Divine knowledges obtained through a cyclical illumination. Especially were the people who at the time specified should hold the keys of the East, and who were to be the foremost recipients of the illumination and agents of the regeneration to follow, to undergo severe national and other humiliations if only by way of fitting them for their new and tremendous responsibilities.
As to the identification of the people thus indicated, there can, I think, be no
difficulty. Notwithstanding her manifold and grievous shortcomings, our own
country has long been the foremost representative among the nations of the
conscience of things moral and religious, in such manner and degree as to
constitute her the
Concerning the supreme test, namely the nature and order of the knowledges acquired under the New Illumination, a brief account only can be given here. Nor is more necessary, seeing that they have already been indicated in the course of this exposition. A complete account would involve a review of an entire literature of no slender dimensions. All that is possible, or indeed necessary for our purpose, is to indicate its general character and direction. We have already seen the character of all previous revelations, and that the purpose and result of the successive cyclical illuminations has been the disclosure of the knowledges which constitute the Gnosis called Hermetic and Kabalistic, this being the doctrine of existence which constituted the core and basis of all Divine Scriptures and sacred mysteries from the beginning; and for their loss or suppression of which the doctors of the synagogue were so bitterly reproached by Jesus. A careful survey of the literature of the New Illumination shows, I believe, indisputably, that, wide as is its range and multifarious its contents, as a whole it represents a structure essentially homogeneous which, when complete and its superfluities eliminated, will constitute a veritable pandect [digest] of Divine knowledges, leaving no problem unsolved, and satisfying man’s loftiest aspirations towards those three essentials of a Divine Revelation, goodness, truth, and beauty, in measure such as the world has never before seen.
Among the tokens which abound of the new and divine influence operative among us, are to be reckoned the enhanced manifestations of a spirit of charity and justice – manifestations the mere enumeration of which would fill a, goodly volume – comprising in their beneficent operation the poor, the helpless, the oppressed, the ignorant, the suffering, and the fallen, regardless of race, religion, language, country, class, age, sex, colour and form. All these manifestations point to some new and blessed Avatar which has unlocked and expanded the heart and conscience as never before, prompting to the recognition of all existence as but a larger self, and the direction of which is in direct reversal of that of the system hitherto dominant, – the system which being wholly materialistic, recognises the bodily self as all in all, and makes the gratification of that self, regardless alike of the cost to other selves, and to the higher self, the fulfilling of all rational law. In this view the disintegration which the old order is on all sides palpably undergoing – distressing as the process may be – may well be regarded as the result of causes operating to accomplish a reconstruction on a new and higher level, that of a fuller, nobler, richer conception of humanity. In it we may see the supreme Alchemist accomplishing the “great work,” – the redemption of spirit from matter – on a vast scale, according to the mystic formula Solve et Coagula! Dissolve and Resume! Disintegrate and Reconstruct!
I will conclude with a brief allusion to one token of striking significance in confirmation of our thesis. The present Pope, Leo XIII, signalised his accession to the chair of St. Peter in 1878 by the assumption of a title and emblems, at once Hermetic and Zodiacal in character, denoting the term of his Pontificate as that which was to witness the initiation of the event mystically called the “Exaltation of the Woman,” and signifying the rehabilitation of the soul, and consequent restoration of the intuition, and, as the sequel of this, the restoration of the Gnosis, and the establishment of a reign of truth and justice.
In the following year (August 4th) the Pope issued an Encyclical letter the purport of which may be described in the following propositions:
(1) The necessity to religion of a reconciliation with the understanding.
(2) The necessity to the world of a system of thought instead of a system to which – being unthinkable – only a mechanical assent can be given.
(3) The obligation of the Church to supply such a system.
(4) The ability of the Church to do this.
In order to give practical effect to these propositions, and do what lay in the Church's power to promote the movement thus recognised by the Pope as imminent, the Pope authoritatively reinstated the scholastic philosophy – especially as represented by St. Thomas Aquinas – to be thenceforth the basis of Catholic education and teaching.
The significance of this step for our argument will be recognised from what has already been said, and can hardly be overrated. The scholastic philosophy was the outcome of the great revival of Mysticism and Occultism which represented the illumination of the ninth and last cycle, – that which dates from the thirteenth century to the present time. And the Pope, by his reinstatement of it, as well as by his choice of insignia, has shown that – whatever may be the source of his information or sincerity of his intention – he also has come within the influence of the New Illumination, and is under impulsion to promote it, despite the opposition of a sacerdocy implacably hostile to the very idea of an illumination, and of everything savouring of mysticism.
Brief and meagre as this retrospect necessarily is, it will suffice to establish at the least a strong presumption in favour of these two propositions: – (1) That the Pope – whether wittingly or not, – for that is a question beside our purpose – by his action in reinstating the scholastic method and philosophy, is ministering to the recognition of religion as spiritual and mystical, and as resting on experience and reason, instead of – as hitherto under sacerdotal control – historical and formal merely, and resting on tradition. And (2) that this is precisely the direction in which all previous illuminations – so far as yet appears – have tended, as well as all the manifestations of the present illumination.
A word in conclusion on the discovery of these cycles and their illuminations. This was due to no preconception or desire to sustain a foregone conclusion, on my part. But, just as the discovery of the astronomical cycles which are the basis of prophecy, was made by means of the prophecies themselves; so the discovery of the cycles and their illuminations of the past was made by means of the illumination itself of the present. This is to say: – Instead of inferring from history that such an event was possible and due, it was only on searching history for a parallel, if any, to the present, that I was led to the conception at all of the existence and recurrence of such a phenomenon. The result of my historical and other researches in this relation is the conviction that, so far from there being an antecedent improbability against such an event, – even though regarded as involving a transcendental element, – the historical evidences show an antecedent probability for the event, and this of a kind and in a degree so irresistible as to constitute a certainty. In other words: – I believe that for those who have studied, with ordinary intelligence and candour, the nature and history of man on his spiritual side, the marvel would be, not the occurrence, but the non-occurrence, at this time, of an illumination of the kind in progress. Its failure to take place would constitute for them an irregularity as perplexing – not to say also as disastrous – as would be the failure of the day to follow the night or of the summer to follow the winter.
(1) This text was
originally a paper read before the Hermetic Society, July 15th,
1886. It was later published as a booklet – George
references and fuller particulars concerning the astronomical cycles, the
position and destiny of