/ Language: English / Genre:sci_history,sci_popular,

The Secret History of the World

Mark Booth

They say that history is written by the victors. But what if history—or what we come to know as history—has all along been written by the wrong people? What if everything we’ve been told is only part of the story? What if it’s the wrong part? In this groundbreaking new work, Mark Booth embarks on an enthralling intellectual tour of our world’s secret histories. Starting from a dangerous premise—that everything we’ve been taught about our world’s past is corrupted, and that the stories put forward by the various cults and mystery schools throughout history are true—Booth produces nothing short of an alternate history of the past 3,000 years. History is more than a list of things that have happened; it’s a measure of consciousness and experience. And in The Secret History of the World, Booth’s take on history is relentless, charging through time and space and thought in interdisciplinary fashion; embracing cognitive science, religion, psychology, historiography, and philosophy, a new timeline is drawn, and a huge swath of our cultural heritage that has for long been hidden is restored. From Greek and Egyptian mythology to Jewish folklore, from Christian cults to Freemasons, from Charlemagne to Don Quixote, from George Washington to Hitler—Booth shows without a doubt that history as we know it needs a revolutionary rethink, and he has 3,000 years of hidden wisdom to back it up.

Mark Booth

THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE WORLD

As Laid Down by the Secret Societies

Frontispiece of Sir Walter Raleigh’s The History of the World, 1614

Introduction

THIS IS A HISTORY OF THE WORLD that has been taught down the ages in certain secret societies. It may seem quite mad from today’s point of view, but an extraordinarily high proportion of the men and women who made history have been believers.

Historians of the ancient world tell us that from the beginnings of Egyptian civilization to the collapse of Rome, public temples in places like Thebes, Eleusis and Ephesus had priestly enclosures attached to them. Classical scholars refer to these enclosures as the Mystery schools.

Here meditation techniques were taught to the political and cultural elite. Following years of preparation, Plato, Aeschylus, Alexander the Great, Caesar Augustus, Cicero and others were initiated into a secret philosophy. At different times the techniques used by these ‘schools’ involved sensory deprivation, breathing exercises, sacred dance, drama, hallucinogenic drugs and different ways of redirecting sexual energies. These techniques were intended to induce altered states of consciousness in the course of which initiates were able to see the world in new ways.

Anyone who revealed to outsiders what he had been taught inside the enclosures was executed. Iamblichus, the neoplatonist philosopher, recorded what happened to two boys who lived at Ephesus. One night, lit up by rumours of phantoms and magical practices, of a more intense, more blazingly real reality hidden inside the enclosures, they let their curiosity get the better of them. Under cover of darkness they scaled the walls and dropped down the other side. Pandemonium followed, audible all over the city, and in the morning the boys’ corpses were discovered in front of the enclosure gates.

In the ancient world the teachings of the Mystery schools were guarded as closely as nuclear secrets are guarded today.

Then in the third century the temples of the ancient world were closed down as Christianity became the ruling religion of the Roman Empire. The danger of ‘proliferation’ was addressed by declaring these secrets heretical, and trafficking in them continued to be a capital offence. But as we shall see, members of the new ruling elite, including Church leaders, now began to form secret societies. Behind closed doors they continued to teach the old secrets.

This book contains an accumulation of evidence to show that an ancient and secret philosophy that originated in the Mystery schools was preserved and nurtured down the ages through the medium of secret societies, including the Knights Templar and the Rosicrucians. Sometimes this philosophy has been hidden from the public and at other times it has been placed in plain view — though always in such a way as to remain unrecognized by outsiders.

To take one example, the frontispiece of The History of the World by Sir Walter Raleigh, published in 1614, is on display in the Tower of London. Thousands file past it every day, missing the goat’s head hidden in its design and other coded messages.

If you’ve ever wondered why the West has no equivalent to the tantric sex on open display on the walls of Hindu monuments such as the temples of Khajuraho in central India, you may be interested to learn that an analogous technique — the cabalistic art of karezza — is encoded in much of the West’s art and literature.

We will see, too, how secret teachings on the history of the world influence the foreign policy of the present US administration regarding Central Europe.

Is the Pope Catholic? Well, not in the straightforward way you might think. One morning in 1939 a young man aged twenty-one was walking down the street when a truck drove into him and knocked him down. While in a coma he had an overwhelming mystical experience. When he came round he recognized that, although it had come about in an unexpected way, this experience was what he had been led to expect as the fruit of techniques taught him by his mentor, Mieczlaw Kotlorezyk, a modern Rosicrucian master.

As a result of this mystical experience the young man joined a seminary, later became Bishop of Cracow, then later still Pope John Paul II.

These days the fact that the head of the Catholic Church was first initiated into the spirit realm under the aegis of a secret society is perhaps not as shocking as it once was, because science has taken over from religion as the main agent of social control. It is science that decides what it is acceptable for us to believe — and what is beyond the pale. In both the ancient world and the Christian era, the secret philosophy was kept secret by threatening those who trafficked in it with death. Now in the post-Christian era the secret philosophy is still surrounded by dread, but the threat is of ‘social death’ rather than execution. Belief in key tenets, such as prompting by disembodied beings or that the course of history is materially influenced by secret cabals, has been branded as at best crackpot, at worst the very definition of what it is to be mad.

In Mystery schools candidates wishing to join were made to fall down a well, undergo trial by water, squeeze through a very small door and hold logic-chopping discussions with anthropomorphic animals. Ring a bell? Lewis Carroll is one of the many children’s writers — others are the Brothers Grimm, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, C .S. Lewis and the creators of The Wizard of Oz and Mary Poppins — who have believed in the secret history and the secret philosophy. With a mixture of the topsy-turvy and child-like literalness these writers have sought to undermine the common sense, materialistic view of life. They want to teach children to think backwards, look at everything upside down and the other way round, and break free of established, fixed ways of thinking.

Other kindred spirits include Rabelais and Jonathan Swift. Their work has a disconcerting quality in which the supernatural is not made a big issue of — it is simply a given. Imaginary objects are seen as at least as real as the mundane objects of the physical world. Satirical and sceptical, these gently iconoclastic writers are undermining of readers’ assumptions and subversive of down-to-earth attitudes. Esoteric philosophy is nowhere explicitly stated in Gargantua and Pantagruel or Gulliver’s Travels, but a small amount of digging brings it into the light of day.

In fact this book will show that throughout history an astonishing number of famous people have secretly cultivated the esoteric philosophy and mystical states taught in the secret societies. It might be argued that, because they lived in times when even the best educated did not enjoy all the intellectual benefits that modern science brings, it is only natural that Charlemagne, Dante, Joan of Arc, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Milton, Bach, Mozart, Goethe, Beethoven and Napoleon all held beliefs that are discredited today. But then isn’t it rather surprising that many in modern times have held the same set of beliefs, not just madmen, lone mystics or writers of fantasies, but the founders of the modern scientific method, the humanists, the rationalists, the liberators, secularizers and scourges of superstition, the modernists, the sceptics and the mockers? Could the very people who have done most to form today’s scientifically oriented and materialistic world-view secretly have believed something else? Newton, Kepler, Voltaire, Paine, Washington, Franklin, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Edison, Wilde, Gandhi, Duchamp: could it be true that they were initiated into a secret tradition, taught to believe in the power of mind over matter and that they were able to communicate with incorporeal spirits?

Recent biographies of some of these personalities hardly mention the evidence that exists to show that they were interested in these sorts of ideas at all. In the present intellectual climate where mention is made, they are usually dismissed in terms of a hobby, a temporary aberration, amusing ideas the personalities may have toyed with or used as metaphors for their work but never taken seriously.

However, as we shall see, Newton was undoubtedly a practising alchemist all his adult life and regarded it as his most important work. Voltaire participated in ceremonial magic through all the years he dominated the intellectual life of Europe. Washington invoked a great spirit in the sky when he founded the city that would bear his name. And when Napoleon said he was guided by his star, this was no mere figure of speech; he was talking about the great spirit who showed him his destiny and made him invulnerable and magnificent. One of the aims of this book is to show that, far from being passing fads or unaccountable eccentricities, far from being incidental or irrelevant, these strange ideas formed the core philosophy of many of the people who made history — and perhaps more significantly, to show that they shared a remarkable unanimity of purpose. If you weave together the stories of these great men and women into a continuous historical narrative, it becomes apparent again and again that at the great turning points in history, the ancient and secret philosophy was there, hiding in the shadows, making its influence felt.

In the iconography and statuary of the ancient world, starting from the time of Zarathustra, knowledge of the secret doctrine of the Mystery schools was denoted by the holding of a rolled scroll. As we shall see, this tradition has continued into modern times, and today the public statues of the world’s towns and cities show how widely its influence has spread. There’s no need to travel as far as sites like Rennes-le-Château, Rosslyn Chapel or the remote fastnesses of Tibet to find occult symbols of a secret cult. By the end of this book the reader will be able to see that these traces lie all around us in our most prominent public buildings and monuments, in churches, art, books, music, films, festivals, folklore, in the very stories we tell our children and even in the names of the days of the week.

TWO NOVELS, FOUCAULT’S PENDULUM and The Da Vinci Code, have popularized the notion of a conspiracy of secret societies that seeks to control the course of history. These novels concern people who hear intriguing rumours of the ancient and secret philosophy, set themselves on the trail of it and are drawn in.

Some academics, for example Frances Yates at the Warburg Institute, Harold Bloom, Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale, and Marsha Keith Suchard, author of the recent groundbreaking Why Mrs Blake Cried: Swedenborg, Blake and the Sexual Basis of Spiritual Vision, have researched deeply and written wisely, but their job is to take a measured approach. If they have been initiated by men in masks, taken on journeys to other worlds and shown the power of mind over matter, they are not letting on.

The most secret teachings of the secret societies are transmitted only orally. Other parts are written in a deliberately obscure way that makes it impossible for outsiders to understand. For example, it might be possible to deduce the secret doctrine from Helena Blavatsky’s prodigiously long and obscure book of the same name, or from the twelve volumes of G.I. Gurdjieff’s allegory All and Everything: Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson, or from the six hundred or so volumes of Rudolf Steiner’s writings and lectures. Similarly you might — in theory — be capable of decoding the great alchemical texts of the Middle Ages or the esoteric tracts of high-level initiates of later periods such as Paracelsus, Jacob Boehme or Emmanuel Swedenborg, but in all these cases the writing is aimed at people already in the know. These texts aim to conceal as much as they reveal.

Statue of Roman statesman.

Statue of George Washington, by Sir Francis Chantrey, engraving from 1861.

I have been looking for a concise, reliable and completely clear guide to the secret teachings for more than twenty years. I have decided to write one myself because I am convinced that no such book exists. It is possible to find self-published books and web sites that claim to do it, but, like collectors in any field, those who browse in bookshops on a spiritual quest soon develop a nose for ‘the real thing’, and you only have to dip into these books and sites to see there is no guiding intelligence at work, no very great philosophical training and very little hard information.

This history, then, is the result of nearly twenty years’ research. Books such as Mysterium Magnum, a commentary on Genesis by the mystic and Rosicrucian philosopher Jacob Boehme, together with books by his fellow Rosicrucians Robert Fludd, Paracelsus and Thomas Vaughan have been key sources, as well as modern commentaries on their work by Rudolf Steiner and others. These are referenced in the notes at the back, rather than considered in the main body of the text, for reasons of conciseness and clarity.

But, crucially, I have been helped to understand these sources by a member of more than one of the secret societies, someone who, in the case of one secret society at least, has been initiated to the highest level.

I had been working for years as an editor for one London’s largest publishers, commissioning books on a wide range of more or less commercial subjects and sometimes also indulging in my interest in the esoteric. In this way I have met many leading authors working in the field. One day a man walked into my office who was clearly of a different order of being. He had a business proposition, that we should reissue a series of esoteric classics — alchemical texts and the like — to which he would write new introductions. We quickly became firm friends and spent a lot of time together. I found I could ask him questions about more or less anything and he would tell me what he knew — amazing things. In retrospect I think he was educating me, preparing me for initiation.

On several occasions I tried to persuade him to write these things down, to write an esoteric theory of everything. He repeatedly refused, saying that if he did ‘the men in white coats would come and take me away’, but I also suspected that for him to publish these things would be to break solemn and terrifying oaths.

So in a sense I have written the book I wanted him to write, based in part on the Rosicrucian texts he helped me to understand. He guided me, too, to sources to be found in other cultures. So as well as the cabalistic, hermetic and neoplatonic streams that lie relatively close to the surface of Western culture, there are also Sufi elements in this book and ideas flowing from esoteric Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as a few Celtic sources.

I have no wish to exaggerate the similarities between these various streams, nor is it within the scope of this book to trace all the ways that these myriad streams have merged, separated then merged again down the ages. But I will focus on what lies beneath the cultural differences and suggest that these streams carry a unified view of a cosmos that contains hidden dimensions and a view of life as obeying certain mysterious and paradoxical laws.

By and large the different traditions from around the world illumine one another. It is rather wonderful to see how the experiences of a hermit on Mount Sinai in the second century or of a medieval German mystic fit with those of a twentieth-century Indian swami. Because esoteric teachings are more deeply hidden in the West, I often use oriental examples to help understand the secret history of the West.

I do not intend to discuss potential conflicts between different traditions. Indian tradition places far more emphasis on reincarnation than the Sufi tradition, which speaks of only a few. So for the sake of the narrative I have compromised by including only a small number of reincarnations of famous historical personalities.

I have also made cavalier judgements as to which schools of thought and which secret societies draw on authentic tradition. So the Cabala, Hermeticism, Sufism, the Templars, the Rosicrucians, esoteric Freemasonry, Martinism, the theosophy of Madame Blavatsky and Anthroposophy are included, but Scientology, the Christian Science of Mary Baker Eddy, together with a whole slew of contemporary ‘channelled’ material, is not.

This is not to say that this book shies away from controversy. Previous attempts to identify a ‘perennial philosophy’ have tended to come up with collections of platitudes — ‘we are all the same under the skin’, ‘love is its own reward’ — which are difficult to disagree with. To anyone expecting something similarly agreeable, I must apologize in advance. The teaching I will be identifying as common to Mystery schools and secret societies from all over the world will outrage many people and fly in the face of common sense.

One day my mentor told me I was ready for initiation, that he would introduce me to some people.

I’d been looking forward to this moment, but to my surprise, I refused. No doubt fear played a part. I knew by then that many initiation rituals involved altered states of consciousness, even what are sometimes called ‘near-death’ experiences.

But it was partly also because I didn’t want to have all this knowledge given to me all of a piece. I wanted to continue enjoying trying to work it out for myself.

And neither did I want to take an oath that forbad me to write.

THIS HISTORY OF THE WORLD IS structured in the following way. The first four chapters will look at what happened ‘in the beginning’ as taught by the secret societies, including what is meant in the secret teaching by the expulsion from Eden and the Fall. These chapters will aim, too, to provide an account of the world-view of the secret societies, a pair of conceptual spectacles — so readers may the better appreciate what follows.

In the following seven chapters many figures from myth and legend are treated as historical figures. This is the history of what happened before written records began, as it was taught in the Mystery schools and is still taught in the secret societies today.

Chapter 8 includes the transition into what is conventionally thought of as the historical period, but the narrative continues to tell stories of monsters and fabulous beasts, of miracles and prophecies and historical figures who conspired with disembodied beings to direct the course of events.

I hope that throughout the reader’s mind will be pleasurably bent equally by the strange ideas presented and by the revealing of the names of the personalities who have entertained these ideas. I hope, too, that some of the strange claims will strike a chord, that many readers will think… yes, that explains why the names of the week run in the order they do… That’s why the image of the fish, the water-carrier and a serpent-tailed goat are everywhere ascribed constellations that don’t really resemble them… That’s what we’re really commemorating at Halloween… That explains the bizarre confessions of demon-worship by the Knights Templar… That is what gives Christopher Columbus the conviction to set out on his insanely perilous voyage… That is why an Egyptian obelisk was erected in New York’s Central Park in the late nineteenth century… That is why Lenin was embalmed…

Through all this the aim is to show that the basic facts of history can be interpreted in a way which is almost completely the opposite of the way we normally understand them. To prove this would, of course, require a whole library of books, something like the twenty miles of shelves of esoteric and occult literature said to be locked away in the Vatican. But in this single volume I will show that this alternative, this mirror image view, is a consistent and cogent one with its own logic that has the virtue of explaining areas of human experience that remain inexplicable to the conventional view. I will also cite authorities throughout, providing leads for interested readers to follow.

Some of these authorities have worked within the esoteric tradition. Others are experts in their own disciplines — science, history, anthropology, literary criticism — whose results in their specialist fields of research seem to me to confirm the esoteric world-view, even where I have no way of knowing whether their personal philosophy of life has any spiritual or esoteric dimension.

But above all — and this the point I want to emphasize — I am asking readers to approach this text in a new way — to see it as an imaginative exercise.

I want the reader to try to imagine what it would feel like to believe the opposite of what we have been brought up to believe. This inevitably involves an altered state of consciousness to some degree or other, which is just as it should be. Because at the very heart of all esoteric teaching in all parts of the world lies the belief that higher forms of intelligence can be accessed in altered states. The Western tradition in particular has always emphasized the value of imaginative exercises which involve cultivating and dwelling upon visual images. Allowed to sink deep into the mind, they there do their work.

So although this book can be read just as a record of the absurd things people have believed, an epic phantasmagoria, a cacophony of irrational experiences, I hope that by the end some readers will hear some harmonies and perhaps also sense a slight philosophical undertow, which is the suggestion that it may be true.

Of course, any good theory which seeks to explain why the world is as it is must also help predict what will happen next, and the last chapter reveals what that will be — always presuming, of course, that the great cosmic plan of the secret societies proves to be successful. This plan will encompass a belief that the great new impulse for the evolution will arise in Russia, that European civilization will collapse and that, finally, the flame of true spirituality will be kept burning in America.

TO HELP WITH THE ALL-IMPORTANT WORK of the imagination there are strange and uncanny illustrations integrated throughout, some of which have not previously been seen outside the secret societies.

There are also illustrations of some of the most familiar images from world history, the greatest icons of our culture — the Sphinx, Noah’s Ark, the Trojan Horse, the Mona Lisa, Hamlet and the skull — because all of these are shown to have strange and unexpected meanings according to the secret societies.

Lastly there are illustrations from modern European artists such as Ernst, Klee and Duchamp, as well as from American outlaws such as David Lynch. Their work is also shown to be steeped in the ancient and secret philosophy.

INDUCE IN YOURSELF A DIFFERENT STATE of mind and the most famous and familiar histories mean something very different.

In fact if anything in this history is true, then everything your teachers taught you is thrown into question.

I suspect this prospect doesn’t alarm you.

As one of the devotees of the ancient and secret philosophy so memorably put it:

You must be mad, or you wouldn’t have come here.

1. IN THE BEGINNING

God Peers at His Reflection • The Looking-Glass Universe

ONCE UPON A TIME THERE WAS NO TIME AT ALL.

Time is nothing but a measure of the changing positions of objects in space, and, as any scientist, mystic or madman knows, in the beginning there were no objects in space.

For example, a year is a measure of the movement of the earth round the sun. A day is the revolving of the earth on its axis. Since by its own account neither earth nor sun existed in the beginning, the authors of the Bible never meant to say that everything was created in seven days in the usual sense of ‘day’.

Despite this initial absence of matter, space and time, something must have happened to get everything started. In other words, something must have happened before there was anything.

Since there was noTHING when something first happened, it is safe to say this first happening must have been quite different from the sorts of events we regularly account for in terms of the laws of physics.

Might it make sense to say this first happening could have been in some ways more like a mental event than a physical event?

The idea of mental events generating physical effects may at first seem counter-intuitive, but in fact it’s something we experience all the time. For example, what happens when I’m struck by an idea — such as ‘I just have to reach out and stroke her cheek’ — is that a pulse jumps a synapse in my brain, something like an electrical current burns down a nerve in my arm and my hand moves.

Can this everyday example tell us anything about the origins of the cosmos?

In the beginning an impulse must have come from somewhere — but where? As children didn’t we all feel wonder when we first saw crystals precipitating in the bottom of a solution, as if an impulse were squeezing out of one dimension into the next? In this history we shall see how for many of the world’s most brilliant individuals the birth of the universe, the mysterious transition from no-matter to matter has been explained in just such a way. They have envisaged an impulse squeezing out of another dimension into this one — and they have conceived of this other dimension as the mind of God.

WHILE YOU ARE STILL ON THE THRESHOLD — and before you risk wasting any more time on this history — I must make it plain that I am going to try to persuade you to consider something which may be all right by a mystic or a madman, but which a scientist will not like. A scientist will not like it at all.

To today’s most advanced thinkers, academics like Richard Dawkins, the Charles Simony Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford, and other militant materialists who regulate and maintain the scientific world-view, the ‘mind of God’ is no better than the idea of a white-haired old man up above the clouds. It is the same mistake, they say, that children and primitive tribes make when they assume God must be like them — the anthropomorphic fallacy. Even if we allowed that God might conceivably exist, they say, why on earth should ‘He’ be like us? Why should ‘His’ mind be in any way like ours?

The fact is that they’re right. Of course there is no reason at all… unless it’s the other way round. In other words, the only reason why God’s mind might be like ours is if ours was made to be like His — that is, if God made us in His image.

And this is what happens in this book, because in this history everything is the other way round.

Alice enters the other-way-round universe.

Everything here is upside down and inside out. In the pages that follow you will be invited to think the last things that the people who guard and maintain the consensus want you to think. You will be tempted to think forbidden thoughts and taste philosophies that the intellectual leaders of our age believe to be heretical, stupid and mad.

Let me quickly reassure you that I’m not going to try to embroil you in academic debate, to try to persuade you by philosophical argument that any of these forbidden ideas are right. The formal arguments for and against can be found in the standard academic works referenced in the notes. But what I am going to do, is ask you to stretch your imagination. I want you to imagine what it would feel like to see the world and its history from a point of view that is about as far away from the one you’ve been taught as it is possible to get.

Our most advanced thinkers would be horrified, and would certainly advise you against toying with these ideas in any way at all, let alone dwelling on them for the time it will take to read this book.

There has been a concerted attempt to erase from the universe all memory, every last trace of these ideas. Today’s intellectual elite believes that if we let these ideas slip back into the imagination, even briefly, we risk being dragged back into an aboriginal or atavistic form of consciousness, a mental slime from which we have had to struggle over many millennia to evolve.

SO IN THIS STORY, WHAT DID HAPPEN before time? What was the primal mental event?

In this story God reflected on Himself. He looked, as it were, into an imaginary mirror and saw the future. He imagined beings very like Himself. He imagined free, creative beings capable of loving so intelligently and thinking so lovingly that they could transform themselves and others of their kind in their innermost being. They could expand their minds to embrace the totality of the cosmos, and in the depths of their hearts they could discern, too, the secrets of its subtlest workings. Sometimes the love in them was almost snuffed out, but at other times they found deeper happiness the other side of despair, and sometimes, too, they found meaning the other side of madness.

Putting yourself into God’s position involves imagining that you are staring at your reflection in a mirror. You are willing the image of yourself you see there to come alive and take on its own independent life.

As we shall see in the following chapters, in the looking-glass history taught by the secret societies this is exactly what God did, his reflections — humans — gradually and in stages, forming and achieving independent life, nurtured by Him, guided and prompted by Him over very long periods.

TODAY’S SCIENTISTS WILL TELL YOU THAT in the hour of your greatest anguish there is no point in crying out to the heavens with any expression of your deepest, most heartfelt feelings, because you will find no answering resonance there. The stars can show you only indifference. The human task is to grow up, to mature, to learn to come to terms with this indifference.

A nineteenth-century depiction of the cabalistic image of God reflecting on himself.

The universe that this book describes is different, because it was made with humankind in mind.

In this history the universe is anthropocentric, every single particle of it straining, directed towards humankind. This universe has nurtured us through the millennia, cradled us, helped the unique thing that is human consciousness to evolve and guided each of us as individuals towards the great moments in our lives. When you cry out, the universe turns towards you in sympathy. When you approach one of life’s great crossroads, the whole universe holds its breath to see which way you will choose.

Scientists may talk of the mystery and wonder of the universe, of every single particle in it being connected to every other particle by the pull of gravity. They may point out amazing facts, such as that each and every one of us contains millions of atoms that were once in the body of Julius Caesar. They may say we are stardust — but only in the slightly disappointing sense that the atoms we are made of were forged from hydrogen in stars that exploded long before our solar system was formed. Because the important point is this: however they deck it out with the rhetoric of mystery and wonder, theirs is a universe of blind force.

LHOOQ — Manifeste DADA by Marcel Duchamp, reproduced in the book Surrealism and Painting by André Breton. The notion that the physical world responds to our inner desires and fears is a difficult and perhaps somewhat troubling one that we will keep returning to in order to try to understand it better. In 1933 André Breton, a devotee of the philosophy of the secret societies, said something very wonderful that has illumined art and sculpture ever since — and never more so than in the case of the ready-mades of Duchamp: ‘Any piece of flotsam or jetsam within our grasp should be considered as a precipitate of our desire.’

In the scientific universe matter came before mind. Mind is an accident of matter, inessential and extraneous to matter — as one scientist went so far as to describe it, ‘a disease of matter’.

On the other hand in the mind-before-matter universe that this book describes, the connection between mind and matter is much more intimate. It is a living, dynamic connection. Everything in this universe is alive and conscious to some degree, responding sensitively and intelligently to our deepest, subtlest needs.

In this mind-before-matter universe, not only did matter emerge from the mind of God, but it was created in order to provide the conditions in which the human mind would be possible. The human mind is still the focus of the cosmos, nuturing it and responding to its needs. Matter is moved by human minds perhaps not to the same extent but in the same kind of way that it is moved by the mind of God.

In 1935 the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger formulated his famous theoretical experiment, Schrödinger’s Cat, to describe how events change when they are observed. In effect he was taking the secret societies’ teachings about everyday experience and applying them to the sub-atomic realm.

At some point in childhood we all wonder whether a tree falling really makes any sound if it takes place in a remote forest where no one is there to hear it. Surely, we say, a sound not heard by anyone can’t properly be described as a sound? The secret societies teach that something like this speculation is true. According to them, a tree only falls over in a forest, however remote, so that someone, somewhere at some time is affected by it. Nothing happens anywhere in the cosmos except in interaction with the human mind.

In Schrödinger’s experiment a cat sits in a box with radioactive material that has a 50 per cent chance of killing the cat. Both the cat’s being dead and its being alive remain 50 per cent probabilities suspended in time, as it were, until we open the box to see what’s inside, and only then does the actual event — the death or survival of the cat — happen. By looking at the cat we kill or save it. The secret societies have always held that the everyday world behaves in a similar way.

In the universe of the secret societies a coin flipped in strict laboratory conditions will still land heads up in 50 per cent of cases and tails up in 50 per cent of cases according to the laws of probability. However, these laws will remain invariable only in laboratory conditions. In other words, the laws of probability only apply when all human subjectivity has been deliberately excluded. In the normal run of things when human happiness and hopes for self fulfilment depend on the outcome of the roll of the dice, then the laws of probability are bent. Then deeper laws come into play.

These days we are all comfortable with the fact that our emotional states affect our bodies and, further, that deep-seated emotions can cause long-term, deep-seated changes, either to heal or to harm — psychosomatic effects. But in the universe that this book describes, our emotional states directly affect matter outside our bodies too. In this psychosomatic universe the behaviour of physical objects in space is directly affected by mental states without our having to do anything about it. We can move matter by the way we look at it.

In Chronicles: Volume One, Bob Dylan’s recently published memoirs, he writes about what has to happen if an individual is to change the times in which he or she lives. To do this ‘you’ve got to have power and dominion over the spirits. I had done it once…’ He writes that such individuals are able to ‘…see into the heart of things, the truth of things — not metaphorically either — but really see, like seeing into metal and making it melt, see it for what it is with hard words and vicious insight’.

Note that he emphasizes he is not talking metaphorically. He is talking directly and quite literally about a powerful, ancient wisdom, preserved in the secret societies, a wisdom in which the great artists, writers and thinkers who have forged our culture are steeped. At the heart of this wisdom is the belief that the deepest springs of our mental life are also the deepest springs of the physical world, because in the universe of the secret societies all chemistry is psycho-chemistry, and the ways in which the physical content of the universe responds to the human psyche are described by deeper and more powerful laws than the laws of material science.

It is important to realize that by these deeper laws are meant more than the mere ‘runs of luck’ that gamblers experience or accidents seeming to happen in sequences of three. No, by these laws the secret societies meant laws that weave themselves into the warp and weft of each individual life at the most intimate level, as well as the great and complex patterns of providential order that have shaped the history of the world. The theory of this book is that history has a deeper structure, that events we usually explain in terms of politics, economics or natural disaster can more profitably be seen in terms of other, more spiritual patterns.

ALL THE UPSIDE-DOWN, INSIDE-OUT, other-way-round thinking of the secret societies, all that is bizarre and mind-bending in what follows stems from the belief that mind preceded matter. We have almost no evidence to go on when we decide what we believe happened at the beginning of time, but the choice we make has massive implications for our understanding of the way the world works.

If you believe that matter came before mind, you have to explain how a chance coming together of chemicals creates consciousness, which is difficult. If, on the other hand, you believe that matter is precipitated by a cosmic mind, you have the equally difficult problem of explaining how, of providing a working model.

From the priests of the Egyptian temples to today’s secret societies, from Pythagoras to Rudolf Steiner, the great Austrian initiate of the late nineteenth to early twentieth century, this model has always been conceived of as a series of thoughts emanating from the cosmic mind. Pure mind to begin with, these thought-emanations later become a sort of proto-matter, energy that becomes increasingly dense then becomes matter so ethereal that it is finer than gas, without particles of any kind. Eventually the emanations became gas, then liquid and finally solids.

Kevin Warwick is Professor of Cybernetics at Reading University and one of the world’s leading creators of artificial intelligence. Working in friendly rivalry with his contemporaries at MIT in the United States, he has made robots able to interact with their environment, learn and adjust their behaviour accordingly. These robots exhibit a level of intelligence that matches that of the lower animals such as bees. Within five years, he says, robots will have achieved the level of intelligence of cats and in ten years they will be at least as intelligent as humans. He is also in the process of engineering a new generation of robotic computers he expects to be able to design and manufacture other computers, each level generating the lesser level beneath it.

An alchemical engraving from the Mutus Liber, published anonymously in 1677. In alchemy the precipitation of the morning dew is a symbol of the emanation of the Cosmic Mind into the realm of matter. As the Cabala puts it, the Ancient of Days shakes his shaggy head and a dew of divine white light falls. More particularly dew is a symbol of the spiritual forces that work on the conscience during the night. This is why a bad conscience may give us a sleepless night. Here initiates are seen collecting and working on the dew — in other words reaping the benefits upon waking of the spiritual exercises they performed when they went to bed.

According to the cosmologists of the ancient world and the secret societies, emanations from the cosmic mind should be understood in the same way, as working downwards in a hierarchy from the higher and more powerful and pervasive principles to the narrower and more particular, each level creating and directing the one below it.

These emanations have also always been thought of as in some sense personified, as being in some sense also intelligent.

When I saw Kevin Warwick present his findings to his peers at the Royal Institute in 2001, he was criticized by some for suggesting that his robots were intelligent and so by implication conscious. But what is undeniably true is that these robots’ brains grow in something like an organic way. They form something very like personalities, interreact with other robots and make choices beyond anything that has been programmed into them. Kevin argued that while his robots might not have consciousness with all the characteristics of human consciousness, neither do dogs. Dogs are conscious in a doggy way and his robots, he said, are conscious in a robotic way. Of course, in some ways — such as the ability to make massive mathematical calculations instantly — robots display a consciousness that is superior to our own consciousness.

We might think of the consciousness of the emanations from the cosmic mind in similar terms. We might also be reminded of the Tibetan spiritual masters who are said to be able to form a type of thoughts called tulpas by intense concentration and visualization. These beings — we might call them Thought-Beings — attain some sort of independent life and go off and do their master’s bidding. Similarly Paracelsus, the sixteenth-century Swiss magus, wrote about what he called an ‘aquastor’, a being formed by the power of concentrated imagination which may obtain a life of his or her own — and in special circumstances become visible, even tangible.

At the lowest level of the hierarchy, according to the ancient and secret doctrine in all cultures, these emanations, these Thought-Beings from the cosmic mind, interweave so tightly that they create the appearance of solid matter.

Today if you wanted to find language to describe this strange phenomenon, you might choose to look to quantum mechanics, but in the secret societies the interweaving of invisible forces to create the appearance of the material world has always been conceived of as a net of light and colour or — to use an alchemical term — the Matrix.

TOP SCIENTIST ASKS: IS LIFE ALL JUST A DREAM?

THIS HEADLINE RAN IN THE SUNDAY TIMES in February 2005. The story was that Sir Martin Rees, Britain’s astronomer royal, was saying, ‘Over a few decades computers have evolved from being able to simulate only very simple patterns to being able to create virtual worlds with a lot of detail. If that trend were to continue, then we can imagine computers which will be able to simulate worlds perhaps even as complicated as the one we think we’re living in. This raises the philosophical question: could we ourselves be in such a simulation and could what we think is the universe be some sort of vault of heaven rather than the real thing. In a sense we could ourselves be the creations within that simulation.’

The wider story was that leading scientists around the world are becoming increasingly fascinated by the extraordinary degree of fine-tuning that has been necessary for us to evolve. And this is making them question what is really real.

As well as these recent developments in science, novels and movies have gone some way to acclimatizing us to the idea that what we routinely take to be reality might be a ‘virtual reality’. Philip K. Dick, who was perhaps the first writer to seed these ideas in pop culture, was steeped in initiatic wisdom regarding altered states and parallel dimensions. His novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was filmed as Blade Runner. Other films with this theme include Minority Report — also based on a book by Dick — Total Recall, The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. But the biggest has been The Matrix.

In The Matrix menacing, shade-wearing villains police the virtual world we call reality in order to control us for their own nefarious purposes. In part, at least, this is an accurate reflection of the teachings of the Mystery schools and secret societies. Although all the beings that live behind the veil of illusion are part of the hierarchies of emanations from the mind of God, some display a disturbing moral ambivalence.

These are the same beings that the peoples of the ancient world experienced as their gods, spirits and demons.

THE FACT THAT SOME LEADING SCIENTISTS are again beginning to see possibilities in this very ancient way of looking at the cosmos is an encouraging sign. Although modern sensibility has little patience with metaphysics, with what might look like high-minded, recherché abstractions piled up on each other, the cosmology of the ancient world was, as any fair historian of ideas will allow, a magnificent philosophical machine. In its account of interlocking, evolving dimensions, the clashing, morphing and intermingling of great systems, in its scale, complexity and awesome explanatory power it rivals that of modern science.

We cannot simply say that physics has replaced metaphysics and made it redundant. There is a key difference between these systems which is that they are explaining different things. Modern science explains how the universe comes to be as it is. Ancient philosophy of the kind we will be exploring in this book explains how our experience of the universe comes to be as it is. For science the great miracle to be explained is the physical universe. For esoteric philosophy the great miracle is human consciousness.

Scientists are fascinated by the extraordinary series of balances between various sets of factors that has been necessary in order to make life on earth possible. They talk in terms of balances between heat and cold, wetness and dryness, the earth being so far from the sun (and no further), the sun being at a particular stage of evolution (neither hotter nor cooler). At a more fundamental level, in order for matter to cohere, the forces of gravity and electromagnetism must each be of a particular degree (neither stronger nor weaker). And so on.

Looked at from the point of view of esoteric philosophy we can begin to see that an equally extraordinary series of balances has been necessary to make our subjective consciousness what it is, in other words to give our experience the structure it has.

By ‘balances’ I’m talking about more than having a balanced mind in the colloquial sense, that is to say of having emotions which are healthy and not too strong. I’m talking of something deeper, something essential.

What, for example, is needed to make possible the internal narrative, the collection of stories we string together to form our basic sense of self? The answer is, of course, memory. It is only by remembering what I did yesterday that I can identify myself as the person who did these things. The key point is that it is a particular degree of memory that is needed, neither stronger nor weaker. The Italian novelist Italo Calvino, one of the many modern writers who have followed the ancient and mystical philosophy, puts it precisely: ‘Memory has to be strong enough to enable us to act without forgetting what we wanted to do, to learn without ceasing to be the same person, but it also has to be weak enough to allow us to keep moving into the future.’

Other balances are necessary in order for us to be able to think freely, to weave thoughts around that central sense of self. We have to be able to perceive the outside world through the senses, but it is equally important for us not to be overwhelmed by sensations which could otherwise occupy all our mental space. Then we could neither reflect nor imagine. That this balance holds is as extraordinary in its way as — for example — the fact that our planet is neither too far from, nor too close to, the sun.

We also have the ability to move our point of consciousness around our interior life — like a cursor on a computer screen. As a result of this, we have the freedom to choose what to think about. If we did not have the right balance of attachment and detachment from our interior impulses as well as from our perceptions of the outside world, then at this very moment you would have no freedom to choose to take your attention away from the page you are looking at now and no freedom to think about anything else.

And so, crucially, if the most fundamental conditions of human consciousness were not characterized by this set of exceptionally fine balances, it would not be possible for us to exercise free thought or free will.

When it comes to the very highest points of human experience, what the American psychologist Abraham Maslow usefully called ‘peak experiences’, even finer balances are necessary. For example, we may be required to make decisions at the great turning points of our lives. Again, it is the common, if not universal human experience, that if we try to work out what is the right thing to do with our lives using all our intelligence, if we work at it with a good and whole heart, if we exercise patience and humility, we can — just — discern the right thing to do. And once we have made the right decision, the chosen course of action will probably require all the willpower we are capable of, perhaps for just as long as we are able to bear it, if we are to complete it successfully. This is right at the core of what it means to experience life as a human being.

There is no inevitability about our consciousness having the structure that makes possible these freedoms, these opportunities to choose to do the right thing, to grow and develop into good, perhaps even heroic people — unless you believe in Providence, that is to say unless you believe that it was meant to be.

Human consciousness is therefore a sort of miracle. If today we tend to overlook this, the ancients were stirred by the wonder of it. As we are about to see, their intellectual leaders tracked subtle changes in human consciousness with as much diligence as modern scientists track changes in the physical environment. Their account of history — with its mythical and supernatural happenings — was an account of how human consciousness evolved.

Modern science tries to enforce a narrow, reductive view of our consciousness. It tries to convince us of the unreality of elements, even quite persistent elements in experience, that it cannot explain. These include the shadowy power of prayer, premonitions, the feeling of being stared at, the evidence for mind-reading, out-of-body-experiences, meaningful coincidences and other things swept under the carpet by modern science.

And much, much more importantly, science in this reductive mood denies the universal human experience that life has a meaning. Some scientists even deny that the question of whether or not life has meaning is worth asking.

We will see in the course of this history that many of the most intelligent people who have ever lived have become devotees of esoteric philosophy. I believe it may even be the case that every intelligent person has tried to find out about it at some time.

It is a natural human impulse to wonder if life has a meaning, and esoteric philosophy represents the richest, deepest, most concentrated body of thought on this subject. Before we embark on our narrative, therefore, it is vital that we apply one more sharp philosophical distinction to the softer edge of modern scientific thought.

SOMETIMES THINGS GO WRONG, AND LIFE seems pointless. But then at other times our lives do seem to have meaning. For example, life sometimes seems to have taken a wrong turn — we fail an exam, lose a job or a love affair ends — but then we find our true métier or true love as a result of this seeming wrong turn. Or it happens that someone decides against boarding a plane, which then crashes. If something like this happens, we may feel as if ‘someone up there’ is looking after us, that our footsteps have been guided. We may have a heightened sense of the precariousness of life, how easily things could have turned out differently had it not been for an almost imperceptible, perhaps otherworldy nudge.

Similarly with the down-to-earth, science-oriented part of ourselves we may see a coincidence as a chance coming together of related events, but sometimes deep down we suspect that a coincidence is not a matter of chance at all. In coincidences we sometimes feel we catch a hint, albeit an elusive one, of a deep pattern of meaning hidden behind the muddle of everyday experience.

And sometimes people find that just when all hope seems lost, happiness is discovered the other side of despair, or that inside hatred hides the growing germ of love. For reasons we’ll look at later, questions of happiness are these days closely connected with notions of sexual love, so that it is often the experience of falling in love that gives us the sense that ‘this was MEANT to be’.

RECENTLY LEADING SCIENTISTS HAVE been widely quoted as boasting that science is on the brink of discovering the explanation for — or the meaning of — everything in life and the universe. This is usually in relation to ‘string theory’, a theory, they say, shortly to be formulated, of all the forces of nature, which will combine the laws of gravity with the physics of the quantum world. We will then be able to relate the reasonable laws that govern objects we can sense with the very different behaviour of phenomena in the sub-atomic realm. Once this has been formulated we will understand everything there is to be understood about the structure, origin and future of the cosmos. We will have accounted for everything there is, because, they say, there is nothing else.

Before we can learn the secrets of the initiates and begin to understand their strange beliefs about history it’s important to be clear about the distinction between ‘meaning’ as it is used in connection with questions about the meaning of life and ‘meaning’ as scientists use it.

A boy arranges to meet his girlfriend for a date, but she stands him up. He’s hurt and angry. He wants to understand the painful thing that’s happened to him. When he tracks her down, he interrogates her. His repeated question is WHY?

… because I missed my bus, she says,

… because I was late leaving work

… because I was distracted and didn’t notice the time

… because I’m unhappy about something.

And so he presses and presses until he gets what he’s after (sort of):

… because I don’t want to see you any more.

When we ask WHY, it can be taken in two ways: either as in the girl’s first, evasive answers, as meaning the same as HOW, that is to say requiring answers which give an account of a sequence of cause and effect, of atom knocking against atom; — or, alternatively, WHY can be taken in the way the boy wanted to be answered, which is a matter of trying to winkle out INTENTION.

Similarly when we ask about the meaning of life and the universe we’re not really asking HOW it came about in the cause-and-effect sense of how the right elements and conditions came together to form matter, stars, planets, organic matter and so on. We’re asking about the intention behind it all.

So the big WHY questions — WHY life? WHY the universe? — as a matter of quite elementary philosophical distinction, cannot be answered by scientists, or more accurately not by scientists acting in their capacity as scientists. If we ask ‘WHY are we here?’ we may be fobbed off with answers which — like the girl’s early answers- are perfectly valid, in the sense of being grammatically correct answers to the question, but which leave a twist of disappointment in the pit of the stomach, because they don’t answer the question in the way that deep down we want it answered. The fact is that we all have a deep-seated, perhaps ineradicable longing for such questions to be answered at the level of INTENTION. The scientists who don’t grasp this distinction, however brilliant they are as scientists, are philosophical morons.

Obviously we can choose to give parts of our lives purpose and meaning. If I choose to play soccer, then kicking the ball into the back of the net means a goal. But our lives as a whole, from birth to death, cannot have meaning without a mind that existed beforehand to give it meaning.

The same is true of the universe.

So when we hear scientists talk about the universe as ‘meaningful’, ‘wonderful’ or ‘mysterious’, we should bear in mind that they may be using these words with a certain amount of intellectual dishonesty. An atheistic universe can only be meaningful, wonderful or mysterious in a secondary and rather disappointing sense — in the same sense that a stage conjuror is said to be ‘magic’. And, really, when it comes to considering the great questions of life and death, all the equations of science are little more than difficult and long-winded ways of saying ‘We don’t know’.

TODAY WE ARE ENCOURAGED TO PUT aside the big questions of life and death. Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? Such questions are strictly meaningless, we are told. Just get on with it. And so we lose some of the sense of how strange it is to be alive.

This book has been written in the belief that something valuable is in danger of being snuffed out altogether, and that as a result we are less alive than we used to be.

I am suggesting that if we look at the basics of the human condition from a different angle, we may appreciate that science doesn’t really know as much as it claims to know, that it fails to address what is deepest and highest in human experience.

In the next chapter we will begin to imagine ourselves into the minds of the initiates of the ancient world and to see the world from their perspective. We will consider ancient wisdom we have forgotten and see that from its perspective even those things which modern science encourages us to think of as most solidly, reliably true, are really just a matter of interpretation, little more than a trick of the light.

A ‘perspected’ picture, which may be seen either as a witch or a young woman in a feathered hat, depending on your predisposition.

2. A SHORT WALK IN THE ANCIENT WOODS

Imagining Ourselves into the Minds of the Ancients

CLOSE YOUR EYES AND IMAGINE A TABLE, a good table, the table you’d ideally like to work on. What size would it be? What wood would it be made of? How would the wood be joined? Would it be oiled or polished or planed bare? What other features would it have? Imagine it as vividly as you can.

Now look at a real table.

Which table can you be sure of knowing the truth about?

What can you be more sure of — the contents of our mind or the objects you perceive with your senses? Which is more real, mind or matter?

The debate springing from these simple questions has been at the heart of all philosophy.

Today most of us choose matter and objects over mind and ideas. We tend to take physical objects as the yardstick of reality. Contrariwise Plato called ideas ‘the things that really are’. In the ancient world the objects of the mind’s eye were taken as the eternal realities we can really be sure of, as opposed to the transitory, external surfaces out there. What I want to suggest now is that people did not formerly believe in a mind-before-matter universe because they had carefully weighed up the philosophical arguments on either side and come to a reasoned decision, but because they experienced the world in a mind-before-matter way.

While our thoughts are pale and shadowy in comparison with our sense impressions, in the case of ancient man it was the other way round. People then had less of a sense of physical objects. Objects were not as sharply defined and differentiated to them as they are to us.

If you look at depiction of a tree on the walls of an ancient temple, you will see that the artist has not really looked to see how branches are joined to the trunk.

In ancient times no one really looked at a tree in the way we do.

An irritating thing that tour guides on ancient sites like to say goes something like this: ‘Look at this carving of women washing clothes in the river, or men sowing crops — you can still see exactly the same scene very near here.’ There are two types of history, one being the modern, commonsensical approach that assumes that human nature has not substantially changed. This history belongs to the other type. In this history consciousness changes from age to age, even from generation to generation. Note the anatomically inaccurate and somewhat perfunctory depiction of a tree from an 8th Dynasty tomb. The artists who painted these walls were less interested in these physical objects than in the gods depicted only a few paces away in the inner sanctum of the temple. What they looked at in detail and with their greatest powers of concentration were the objects of the mind’s eye. These they portrayed in golden, bejewelled and highly detailed images. The contention of this history, therefore, is that, contrary to what our tour guide might say, any similarity between women washing today and women washing four or five thousand years ago is little more than a matter of appearances.

THESE DAYS WE TEND TO THINK VERY reductively about our thoughts. We tend to go along with the prevailing intellectual fashion that sees thoughts as nothing more than words — perhaps with a penumbra of other stuff, such as feelings, images and so on — but with only the words themselves having any real significance.

However, if we dwell on this fashionable view, even only briefly, we will find that it flies in the face of everyday experience. Take an apparently mundane and insignificant thought such as ‘I mustn’t forget to phone my mother this evening’. If we now try to examine a thought like this as it weaves through our field of consciousness, if we try to hold it back in order to throw a little light on it, we can perhaps see that it carries a loose cluster of word associations, such as might come to light in a psychoanalyst’s word association test. If we then concentrate harder, it may well become apparent that these associations are rooted in memories that bring with them feelings — and may even carry with them their own impulses of will. The guilt I feel at not having phoned my mother earlier, as we now know from psychoanalysis, has roots in a complex knot of feelings that go back to infancy — desire, anger, feelings of loss and betrayal, dependency and the desire for freedom. As I contemplate my feelings of failure, other impulses arise — nostalgia for when things were better perhaps, when my mother and I were one — and an old pattern of behaviour is reanimated.

Signet ring from Mycenae with poppy-bearing priestess. Experience of a thought in all its constantly mutating, multi-dimensional glory may well be familiar to people who experiment with drugs such as marijuana or hallucinogens such as LSD. William Emboden, Professor of Biology at California State University, has published convincing evidence to show that in ancient Egypt the blue lily was used, along with opium and the mandrake root, to induce a trance state.

As we continue to try to pin this thought down, it will twist this way and that. The very act of looking at it changes it, causes reactions, perhaps sometimes even contradictory reactions. A thought is never still. It is a living thing that can never be identified definitively with the dead letter of language. This is why Schopenhauer, another proponent of the mystical philosophy at the heart of this book, said that ‘as soon as you try to put a thought into words it ceases to be true’. Words can never convey or capture the complexity of an image or of the feelings.

Whole dimensions lie glistening on the dark side of even the most dull and commonplace thought.

The wise men and women of the ancient world knew how to work with these dimensions, and over many millennia they created and refined images which would perform just this function. As taught in the Mystery schools, the very early history of the world unfolds in a series of images of this type.

Before considering these powerful and evocative images I now want to ask the reader to begin to take part in an imaginative exercise: to try to imagine how someone in ancient times, a candidate who hoped for initiation into a Mystery school, would have experienced the world.

Of course it is a way of experiencing the world that is completely delusional from the point of view of modern science, but as this history progresses we will see more and more evidence that many of the great men and women of history have deliberately cultivated this ancient state of consciousness. We will see that they have believed that it gives them a view of the way the world really is, the way it works, that is in some ways superior to the modern way. They have brought back into ‘the real world’ insights that have changed the course of history, not only by inspiring works of art and literature of the greatest genius, but by prompting some of history’s greatest scientific discoveries.

THEREFORE LET US NOW TO TRY IMAGINE ourselves into the mind of someone about two and a half thousand years ago, walking through woodland to a sacred grove or a temple such as Newgrange in Ireland, or Eleusis in Greece…

To such a person the wood and everything in it was alive. Everything was watching him. Unseen spirits whispered in the movements of the trees. A breeze brushing against his cheek was the gesture of a god. If the buffeting of blocks of air in the sky created lightning, this was an outbreak of cosmic will — and maybe he walked a little faster. Perhaps he sheltered in a cave?

When ancient man ventured into a cave he had a strange sense of being inside his own skull, cut off in his own private mental space. If he climbed to the top of a hill, he felt his consciousness race to the horizon in every direction, out towards the edges of the cosmos — and he felt at one with it. At night he experienced the sky as the mind of the cosmos.

Modern drawing, after Rudolf Steiner, illustrating the disposition of human organs as taught in Rosicrucian philosophy.

When he walked along a woodland pathway he would have had a strong sense of following his destiny. Today any of us may wonder, How did I end up in this life that seems to have little or nothing to do with me? Such a thought would have been inconceivable to someone in the ancient world, where everyone was conscious of his or her place in the cosmos.

Everything that happened to him — even the sight of a mote in a sunbeam, the sound of the flight of a bee or the sight of a falling sparrow — was meant to happen. Everything spoke to him. Everything was a punishment, a reward, a warning or a premonition. If he saw an owl, for example, this wasn’t just a symbol of the goddess, this was Athena. Part of her, a warning finger perhaps, was protruding into the physical world and into his own consciousness.

It’s important to understand the particular way in which human beings have affinities with the physical world according to the ancients. They believed in a quite literal way that nothing inside us is without a correspondence in nature. Worms, for example, are the shape of intestines and worms process matter as intestines do. The lungs that enable us to move freely through space with a bird-like freedom are the same shape as birds. The visible world is humanity turned inside out. Lung and bird are both expressions of the same cosmic spirit, but in different modes.

To the teachers of the Mystery schools it was significant that if you looked down on to the internal organs of the human body from the skies, their disposition reflected the solar system.

In the view of the ancients, then, all biology is astrobiology. Today we know full well how the sun gives life and power to living things, drawing the plant out of the seed, coaxing it to unravel upwards, but the ancients also believed that the forces of the moon, by contrast, tend to flatten and widen plants. Bulbous plants such as tubers were thought to be particularly affected by the moon.

More strikingly, perhaps, the complex, symmetric shapes of plants were believed to be caused by the patterns that the stars and planets make as they move across the sky. As a heavenly body takes a path that sees it curving back on itself like a shoelace, so that same shape is traced in the curling motion of a leaf as it grows, or a flower. For example, they saw Saturn, which traces a sharp pattern in the sky, forming the pine needles of conifers. Is it a coincidence that modern science shows that pine trees contain unusually large traces of lead, the metal believed by the ancients to be inwardly animated by the planet Saturn?

In the ancient view the shape of the human body was similarly affected by the patterns made in the sky by stars and planets. The movements of the planets, for example, were inscribed in the human body in the loop of the ribs and the lemniscate — bootlace shape — of the centripetal nerves.

Science has coined the word ‘biorhythms’ to describe the way the relationship of the earth with the moon and the sun, marked by the sequence of the seasons and day following night, is built biochemically deep into the function of every living being, for example in sleep patterns. But beyond these more obvious rhythms, the ancients recognized how other, more mathematically complex rhythms that involve the outer reaches of the cosmos work their way into human life. Humans breathe on average 25,920 times per day, which is the number of years in a great Platonic year (i.e. the number of years it takes the sun to complete a full cycle of the zodiac). The average or ‘ideal’ human life — seventy-two — also has the same number of days in it.

This sense of interconnectedness was not just a matter of bodily interconnectedness. It extended to consciousness too. When our man on a walk saw a flock of birds turn as one in the sky, it seemed to him as if the flock were one moved all together by one thought — and indeed he believed that this was the case. If the animals in the wood moved altogether in a sudden, violent way, if they panicked, they had been moved by Pan. Our man knew that this was exactly what was happening, because he commonly experienced great spirits thinking through himself and through other people at the same time. He knew that when he reached the Mystery school and his spiritual master introduced astonishing new thoughts to him and his fellow pupils, they would all be experiencing the very same thoughts, just as if the Master were holding up physical objects for them all to see. In fact he felt closer to people when sharing their thoughts than he ever did through mere physical proximity.

Today we tend to be very proprietorial about our thoughts. We want to take credit for originating them, and we like to think that our private mental space is inviolate, that no other consciousness can intrude on it.

However, we don’t need to dwell on these assumptions long to see they don’t always fit experience. If we are honest we must admit we do not invariably construct our thoughts. It’s not just that geniuses like Newton, Kepler, Leonardo, Edison and Tesla talk of inspiration coming to them, as if in a dream and sometimes literally in a dream. For all of us it is the case that everyday thoughts naturally just come to us too. In common parlance we say ‘It strikes me that…’ and ‘It occurs to me that…’ If you’re lucky it may happen now and then that a perfectly phrased quip comes to you that sets the table aroar. Then of course you’re happy to bask in the glory — but the unvarnished truth is that the quip probably just jumped up and out of your mouth before you had any time consciously to phrase it.

The reality of everyday experience is that thoughts are quite routinely introduced into what we like to think of as our private mental space from somewhere else. The ancients understood this ‘somewhere else’ as being some-one else, the someone being a god, an angel or a spirit.

And an individual is not always prompted by the same god, angel or spirit. While today we like to think of ourselves as each having one individual centre of consciousness located inside the head, in the ancient world each person experienced him or herself as having several different centres of consciousness originating outside the head.

We saw earlier that gods, angels and spirits were believed to be emanations from the great cosmic mind — Thought-Beings in other words. What I am asking you to consider now is that these great Thought-Beings expressed themselves through people. If today we naturally think of people thinking, in ancient times they thought of Thoughts peopling.

As we shall see later on, gods, angels and spirits can bring about great changes in a nation’s fortunes. The focus of these changes will often be an individual. For example, Alexander the Great or Napoleon were vehicles for a great spirit, and for a while carried all before them in a remarkable way. No one could oppose them and they succeeded in everything they did — until the spirit left them. Then quite suddenly everything began to go wrong.

We see the same process in the case of artists who become vehicles for the expression of a god or spirit for a certain period of their lives. Then they seem to ‘find their voice’ and create masterpiece after masterpiece with a sure hand, sometimes transforming the consciousness of a whole generation, even changing the whole direction of a culture in history. But when the spirit leaves, an artist never again creates with the same genius.

Similarly if a spirit weaves through an individual to create a work of art, the same great spirit may once again be present whenever that work of art is contemplated by others. One of his contemporaries said: ‘When Bach plays the organ, even God comes to Mass.’

Today many Christians believe that God is present in the blood and wine at the climax of the Mass, albeit in a rather elusive way which centuries of theological debate have never quite managed to pin down. On the other hand if you read liturgies that have survived from ancient Egypt, notably The Book of the Opening of the Mouth, or consider chronicles kept in the temple of the Vestal Virgins in Rome that record the regular ‘epiphanies’, or appearances of the gods, it is quite clear that in those days the gods’ presence was expected at the climax of religious ceremonies — and in a far more imposing way than in Christian services today. The people of the ancient world experienced the gods’ presence as awe-inspiring.

When a thought came to the man walking through the woods, he felt as if he had been brushed by the wing of an angel or by the robe of a god. He sensed a presence even if he could not always perceive it directly and in detail. But once inside the holy precinct, he could perceive not just the wing, not just the swirling waves of light and energy that made up the robe. In the midst of the light he saw the angel or god itself. On these occasions he would have believed that he really was perceiving a being from the spiritual realm.

Today we experience moments of illumination as interior events, while the ancients experienced them as impinging on them from outside. The man we have been following expected the Thought-Being he saw to be visible to others — what today we would call a collective hallucination.

We don’t know how to go about having such an experience. We don’t know how to go about meeting a disembodied spirit. We don’t know who they are. Today it often seems that we search and search for a genuine spiritual experience but are seldom sure we’ve had one that genuinely deserves the name. In the ancient world experience of spirits was so strong that to deny the existence of the spirit world would not have occurred to them. In fact it would have been almost as difficult for people in the ancient world to deny the existence of spirit as it would for us to decide not to believe in the table, the book, in front of us.

Paucity of experience makes belief in disembodied spirits difficult today. In fact the Church teaches that belief is admirable because it is difficult. The more your belief is out of proportion to the evidence the better, it seems. This teaching would have seemed absurd to people in the ancient world.

IF YOU BELIEVE IN A MIND-BEFORE-MATTER universe, if you believe that ideas are more real than objects as the ancients did, collective hallucinations are, of course, much easier to accept than if you believe in a matter-before-mind universe — in which case they are almost impossible to explain.

In this history gods and spirits control the material world and exercise power over it. We will see, too, how sometimes disembodied beings break through, unbidden. Sometimes whole communities are possessed by a convulsion of uncontrollable sexual savagery.

This is why commerce with the spirits was always considered highly dangerous. In the ancient world controlled communion with the gods and spirits was the preserve of the Mystery schools.

ROBERT TEMPLE, WHOSE CURRENT affiliations include Visiting Professor of Humanities, History and Philosophy of Science, University of Louisville, USA, and Visiting Professor of the History and Philosophy of Science, Tsinghua University, Beijing, has demonstrated that ancient cultures such as the Chinese and the Egyptians had an understanding of the universe that was in some ways in advance of our own. For example, he has shown that the Egyptians, far from being primitive or backward in these matters, knew that Sirius is a three-star system — something which modern science only ‘discovered’ in 1995 when French astronomers, using powerful radio telescopes, detected the red dwarf, subsequently named Sirius C. The point is that the ancient Egyptians were neither ignorant nor childlike, even though we may be tempted to consider them so.

First-century Roman relief of a candidate being led to an initiation ceremony.

One of the stupid beliefs we are fond of attributing to the ancients is that they worshipped the sun, as if they believed the physical object were a sentient being. Robert Temple’s commentary on key texts by Aristotle, Strabo and others shows they saw the sun as a sort of lens through which the spiritual influence of a god rayed from the spiritual into the earthly realm. Other gods rayed their influences through the other planets and constellations. As the positions of the heavenly bodies changed, so the various patterns of influence give history direction and shape.

Returning to the man walking through the ancient wood, we see now that he experienced the spirits behind the sun, the moon and the other heavenly bodies as working on different parts of his mind and body. He felt his limbs move like flowing Mercury and he felt the spirit of Mars raging inside him in the fierce river of molten iron that was his blood.

The state of his kidney was affected by the movement of Venus. Modern science is only just starting to understand the role the kidney plays in sexuality. At the beginning of the twentieth century it discovered the kidney’s role in the storing of testosterone. Then in the 1980s the Swiss pharmaceuticals giant Weleda began to conduct tests which showed that the movements of the planets affect chemical changes in metal salt solutions that are dramatic enough to be seen with the naked eye, even when these influences are too subtle to be measured by any scientific procedure so far devised. What is even more remarkable is that these dramatic changes come about when a solution of metal salt is examined in relation to the movement of the planet with which it has traditionally been associated. Thus copper salts contained in the kidney are affected by Venus, copper being the metal traditionally associated with Venus. Modern science may be on the verge of confirming what the ancients knew well. It really is true to say that Venus is the planet of desire.

The Mystery schools taught that as well as head-consciousness we each have, for example, a heart-consciousness which emanates from the sun then enters our mental space via the heart. Or to put it another way, the heart is the portal through which Sun god enters our lives. Likewise a kind of kidney-consciousness beams into us from Venus, spreading out into our mind and body via the portal of our own kidneys. The working together of these different centres of consciousness makes us variously loving, angry, melancholy, restless, brave, thoughtful and so on, forming the unique thing that is human experience.

Working through our different centres of consciousness in this way, the gods of the planets and constellations prepare us for the great experiences, the great tests that the cosmos means us to have. The deep structure of our lives is described by the movements of the heavenly bodies.

I am moved to desire by Venus and, when Saturn returns, I am sorely tested.

IN THIS CHAPTER WE HAVE ALREADY BEGUN to use some of the imaginative exercises used in the esoteric teaching. In the next chapter we will cross the threshold of the Mystery school and begin to follow the ancient history of the cosmos.

3. THE GARDEN OF EDEN

The Genesis Code • Enter the Dark Lord • The Flower People

SCIENCE AND RELIGION AGREE THAT IN the beginning the cosmos moved from a state of nothingness to the existence of matter. But science has very little to say about this mysterious transition, all of it highly speculative. Scientists are even divided on whether matter was created all at once or whether it continues to be created.

By contrast, there was remarkable unanimity among the initiate priests of the ancient world. Their secret teachings are encoded in the sacred texts of the world’s great religions. In what follows we will see how a secret history of creation is encoded in Genesis, that a few overfamiliar phrases can be opened up to reveal extraordinary new worlds of thought, mighty vistas of the imagination. And we shall see, too, that this secret history chimes with the secret teachings of other religions.

IN THE BEGINNING THERE PRECIPITATED out of the void nothing but a matter that was finer and more subtle than light, then an exceptionally fine gas. If a human eye had been looking at the dawn of history it would have seen a vast cosmic mist.

This gas or mist was the Mother of All Living, carrying everything needed for the creation of life. The Mother Goddess, as she was sometimes also called, will metamorphose in the course of this history and assume many different forms, many different names, but for now ‘the earth was without form and void’.

Now for history’s first great reversal of fortune. The Bible narrative continues: ‘Darkness was upon the face of the earth.’ According to biblical commentators working within the esoteric tradition, this is the Bible’s way of saying that the Mother Goddess was attacked by a searing dry wind that almost extinguished the potential for life altogether.

Again, to a human eye it would have looked as if the gently interweaving mists that had first emanated from the mind of God were suddenly overtaken by a second emanation. There was a violent storm like some rare and spectacular phenomenon observed by astronomers — the death of a massive star, perhaps — except that here ‘in the beginning’ it would have been on a completely overwhelming scale that filled the entire universe.

So this it what it would have looked like to a physical eye, but to the eye of the imagination this great cloud of mist and the terrible storm that attacked it can be seen to cloak two gigantic phantoms.

BEFORE WE TRY TO MAKE SENSE OF THIS ancient history of the cosmos, or to understand why so many brilliant people have believed in it, it is important to try to absorb it in the form it would have been presented in ancient times — as a series of imaginative images. It is important to let these images work on our imaginations in the same way that initiate priests intended them to work on the imagination of the candidate for initiation.

A few years ago I found myself falling into conversation with one of the legendary figures of London’s gangland, a man who had helped spring a villain called Frank ‘the Mad Axeman’ Mitchell from a psychiatric prison and then, according to the stories, gone a bit mad himself. He killed the Mad Axeman in the back of a van with a sawn-off shotgun, then bathed in his blood, laughing. But his most vivid memory, the one he personally found the most chilling, was also his earliest. He remembered a fight he must have seen when he was perhaps just two or three years old.

His grandmother was bare-knuckle fighting on the cobbles outside her home among the Victorian terraces of the old East End. He remembered the gaslight on the wet cobbles and flying spittle, and how his grandmother resembled a giantess, lumbering but supernatural in strength. He remembered, too, that her massive forearms, built up and rubbed raw by the washing she took in to help feed him, thudded again and again into the other woman, even as she lay on the ground unable able to defend herself.

We must try to imagine something similar as we contemplate the two titanic forces locked in combat at the beginning of time. The Mother Goddess would often be remembered as a loving, life-giving and nurturing figure, comfortingly round and soft looking, but she also had a terrifying aspect. She was warlike when needs be. Among the people of ancient Phrygia, for instance, she was remembered as Cybele, a merciless goddess who rode on a chariot pulled by lions and who required devotees to work themselves into such a wild and savage delirium that they would castrate themselves.

Her opponent was, if anything, more frightening. Long, bony, his skin was a scaly white and he had glowing, red eyes. Swooping low over Mother Earth, the Dark Lord was armed with a deadly scythe — giving away his identity to anyone who hasn’t already guessed it. For if the first emanation from the mind of God would metamorphose into the goddess of the earth, the second emanation would become the god of Saturn.

Saturn would trace the limits of the solar system. In fact he was the very principle of limitation. What Saturn’s intervention introduced into creation was the potential for individual objects to exist and therefore the transition from formlessness to form. In other words because of Saturn there is a law of identity in the universe by which something exists and is nothing else and neither is anything else it. Because of Saturn an object occupies a certain space at a certain time and no other object can occupy that space, and neither can that object be in more than one place at one time. In Egyptian mythology Saturn was Ptah who moulds the earth on a potter’s wheel, and in many mythologies Saturn’s title is Rex Mundi, King of the World or ‘Prince of this world’, because of his control of our material lives.

If an individual entity can exist through time, then by implication it can cease to exist too. This is why Saturn is the god of destruction. Saturn eats his own children. He is sometimes portrayed as Old Father Time and sometimes as Death himself. Because of Saturn’s influence everything that lives contains the seeds of its own end, and it is because of Saturn that what feeds us also destroys us. Death is in everything in the cosmos — woven into the bright blue sky, a blade of grass, the pulse of a baby’s fontanel, the light in a lover’s eye. Because of Saturn our lives are hard. Because of Saturn every sword is double-edged and every crown a crown of thorns. If we sometimes feel our lives almost too hard to bear, if we bruise and if we do cry out to the stars in despair, it is because Saturn pushes us to our limits.

And it could have been worse. The potential for life in the cosmos could have been extinguished even before birth. The cosmos would have remained through all eternity a place of the endless sifting of dead matter.

In the course of this history we will see that Saturn has returned at different times and in different guises to pursue his aim of mummifying humanity and squeezing the life out of it. At the end of this history we will also see that his most decisive intervention, an event long predicted by the secret societies, is expected to take place shortly.

In Genesis the Evil One’s attempt to nullify God’s plans at birth, this first act of rebellion of a Thought-Being against the Mind that emanated it, is dealt with in just one short phrase, but, as we have already suggested, the Bible is not here dealing with a scale of time we would recognize today. Saturn’s tyranny over Mother Earth, his murderous attempt to squeeze all potential for life out of the cosmos, continued over vast periods immeasurable to the human mind.

His tyranny was eventually overthrown, and Saturn, if not entirely defeated, was kept in check and confined to his proper sphere. Again, Genesis tells us how this came about: ‘And God said Let there be light, and there was light.’ Light was pushing back the darkness that had been brooding over the waters.

How was this victory achieved? Of course there are two accounts of creation in the Bible. The second, at the start of the Gospel of St John, is in some respects fuller and it can help us to decode Genesis.

But before we can continue to decode the biblical story of the creation, we must deal with a sensitive issue. We have already started to interpret Genesis in terms of the Earth goddess and Saturn. Anyone brought up in one of the great monotheistic religions will naturally feel some resistance to this. Surely this polytheistic belief in the gods of stars and planets is characteristic of more primitive religions like those of the ancient Egyptians, Greeks or Romans?

Conventionally minded Christians may wish to stop reading now.

TODAY’S CHURCH PREACHES AN EXTREME and radical monotheism. This is perhaps partly because of the dominance of a science that leaves little room for God. In science-friendly Christianity God has become an undifferentiated and undetectable immanence in the universe, and spirituality is nothing more than a vague and fuzzy feeling of at-oneness with this immanence.

But Christianity has roots in older religions of the region in which it arose and all of these were naturally polytheistic and astronomical. The beliefs of early Christians reflected this. For them spirituality meant commerce with actual spirits.

Christian churches from the cathedral at Chartres and St Peter’s in Rome to small parish churches all over the world have been built on the sites of ancient holy wells, sacred caves, temples and Mystery schools. Throughout history certain sites like these have been regarded as portals for the spirits, cracks in the normal fabric of the space-time continuum.

The science of astro-archaeology has demonstrated that these portals are aligned with astronomical phenomena, intended to funnel influx from the spirit worlds at propitious times. At Karnak in Egypt at sunrise on the summer solstice a thin ray of sunlight would enter the portals of the temple and travel five hundred yards through courtyards, halls and passageways until it penetrated the darkness of the Holy of Holies.

It may surprise some Christians to learn how far this tradition has continued. All Christian churches are astronomically aligned, normally due east on the saint’s day to which the Church is dedicated. Great cathedrals from Notre Dame in Paris to the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona are covered with astronomical and astrological symbols.

Christian chapel of the Seven Sleepers, built over a dolmen neat Plouaret, France.

Beautiful astronomical symbolism on the exterior of Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris.

Modern churchmen are often quick to condemn astrology, but none can deny, for example, that the great Christian festivals are all astronomically derived — Easter being the first Sunday following the full moon that falls on or follows the vernal equinox, or that Christmas is the first day after the winter solstice when the rising sun begins to move visibly back in the reverse direction along the horizon.

Even a glance at the biblical texts reveals that today’s radically monotheistic reading of the scriptures is out of step with what the writers of these texts believed. The Bible refers to many disembodied spiritual beings, including the gods of rival tribes, angels, archangels, as well as devils, demons, Satan and Lucifer.

All religions believe that mind came before matter. All understand creation as taking place by a series of emanations, and this series is universally visualized as a hierarchy of spiritual beings, either gods or angels. A hierarchy of angels, archangels and so on has always been a part of Church doctrine, alluded to by St Paul, elucidated by his pupil St Dionysus, codified by St Thomas Aquinas and vividly imagined in art and also in literature by Dante and others.

These doctrines are often overlooked and disregarded by modern Christianity, but what Church leaders have been actively determined to suppress — what has been reserved for esoteric teaching — is that different orders of angels are to be identified with the gods of the stars and planets.

Though it hasn’t filtered down to the wider congregation, modern biblical scholarship acknowledges that the Bible contains many passages that should be understood as referring to astronomical deities. For example, Psalm XIX says: ‘He set a tabernacle for the Sun, Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, His going forth is from the end of heaven, And his circuit unto the ends of it.’ Study of this passage in conjunction with comparative texts from neighbouring cultures reveals that it describes the marriage of the sun to Venus.

The Four Cherubim in Ezekiel’s dream in Raphael’s painting.

The combination of the Cherubim — the ‘Tetramorph’ — in Hindu mythology.

A passage like this might be dismissed as incidental to the main theological thrust of the Bible. You might suspect it of being an interpolation from a foreign culture. But the reality is that after layers of mistranslation and other types of obfuscation have been removed, the most important passages in the Bible can be seen to describe the deities of the stars and planets.

The four Cherubim are among the most powerful symbols in the Bible, appearing in key passages in Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Revelation. Popular in Hebrew and Christian iconography, prominent in Church art and architecture everywhere, they are symbolized by the Ox, the Lion, the Eagle and the Angel. In esoteric teaching these four Cherubim are the great spiritual beings behind four of the twelve constellations that make up the zodiac. The proof of their astronomical identities lies in the imagery associated with them: Ox = Taurus, Lion = Leo, Eagle = Scorpio, and Angel = Aquarius.

This fourfold pattern of symbolism regarding the constellations is repeated in all the world’s great religions. But for the most important and telling example of polytheism in Christianity we must return to the story of the creation as it is told in Genesis and the Gospel of St John.

Genesis 1:26 is usually translated as ‘In the beginning God made heaven and earth’, but in fact any biblical scholar will admit, even if only when pressed, that the word ‘Elohim’ here translated as ‘God’ is plural. The passage properly reads ‘In the beginning the gods made heaven and earth’. This is a rather puzzling anomaly that clergymen outside the esoteric tradition tend to turn a blind eye to, but inside this tradition it is well known that what is being referred to here are astronomical deities

We can discover their identity, as I have suggested, by matching the passage in Genesis with the parallel passage in the Gospel of St John. ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God… All things were made by him… And the light shineth in the darkness and the darkness comprehended it not.’

This parallel is helpful because John did not newly mint the phrase [the Word]. He was referring to a tradition already ancient in his lifetime, and which he evidently expected his readers to understand. Some four hundred years earlier Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, had written ‘the Logos [i.e. the Word] was before the Earth could be’. The important point here is that according to ancient tradition the Word that shone in the darkness in John’s gospel — and so we now see, the gods who ‘let there be light’ in Genesis — are the seven great spirits who work together as the great spiritual influence emanating from the sun.

Thus both Old and New Testaments allude to the role of the Sun god in creation as it was generally understood in the religions of the ancient world. Depiction of Apollo from a Roman sculpture. In the ancient world the Sun god was typically depicted emanating seven rays, as a mark of the seven sun spirits that make up his nature. In the Egyptian Book of the Dead they are called the Seven Spirits of Ra and in ancient Hebrew tradition as the Seven Powers of Light. Exactly the same Sun-god imagery is used to depict Christ in the very earliest Christian art, here in a mosaic of the third century in the Vatican grottes.

THE SECOND GREAT ACT IN THE DRAMA of creation comes about when the seven-fold Sun god arrives in order to rescue Mother Earth from Saturn.

In the eye of imagination the Sun is a beautiful and radiant young man with a leonine mane. He rides a chariot and he is a musician. He has many names — Krishna in India, Apollo in Greece. Arising in splendour in the midst of the storm, he pushes back the darkness of Saturn until Saturn becomes like a giant dragon or serpent encircling the cosmos.

The Sun then warms Mother Earth into new life, and as he does so, he gives vent to a great, triumphal roar that reverberates to the outer limits of the cosmos. The roar causes matter in the cosmic womb to vibrate, to dance and form patterns. In inner group esoteric circles this process is sometimes known as ‘the dance of the substances’. After a while it causes matter to coagulate into a variety of strange shapes.

What we are seeing here, then, is the sun singing the world into existence.

The Sun-Lion is a common image in ancient art. Whenever it appears it refers to this early stage in the mind-before-matter account of creation. A magnificent re-telling of the history of the Sun-Lion in the act of creation was written as late as the 1950s. It comes in the prequel to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, called The Magician’s Nephew. Something that non-esoteric schools of literary criticism have missed is that the work of C.S. Lewis is steeped in Rosicrucian lore. In his story the Sun-Lion is called Aslan:

In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory — the first child to explore Narnia — found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming. Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. There was hardly even a tune. But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful voice he had ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it… The eastern sky changed from white to pink and from pink to gold. The Voice rose and rose, till the air was shaking with it… The Lion was pacing to and fro about that empty land and singing his new song. And as he walked and sang the valley grew green with grass. It spread out from the Lion like a pool. It ran up the sides of the hills like a wave.

What the teachers of the Mystery schools meant to indicate by the victory of the Sun god was the momentous transition from a purely mineral cosmos to a cosmos burgeoning with plant life.

In the earliest and most primitive form of plant life according to the Mystery tradition, single germs were joined together in vast floating structures like webs that filled the whole universe. In the Vedas, the sacred books of India, this stage of creation is described as ‘the net of Indra’, an infinite net of luminous, living threads, perpetually interweaving, coming together like waves of light then dissolving again.

Time passed and some of these threads began to weave together more permanently, the light streams dividing into tree-like forms. An imaginative impression of what this was like can perhaps be got by remembering what it was like, as a small child, to visit a great hothouse like the ones that Alice Liddell, the girl who inspired Alice in Wonderland, liked to visit at Kew Gardens. Great tendrils stretch everywhere. Here are humid mists and a sunny, luminous greenness.

If you were able to land in the midst of all of this and if you sat on one of the great green branches stretching out of sight, and if this great branch on which you were sitting suddenly stirred, you would have an experience like a hero in a fairy story sitting on a rock that moves and reveals itself to be a giant. Because the vast vegetable being at the heart of the cosmos, whose soft and luminous limbs stretched to all four corners of it, was Adam.

This was Paradise.

Because there was as yet no animal element to the cosmos, Adam was without desire and so without care or dissatisfaction. Needs were satisfied before they could even be felt. Adam lived in a world of endless springtime. Nature yielded an unending supply of food in the form of a milky sap, similar to that which we find in dandelions today. Memorials to this blissful satiation have come down to us in statues of the many-breasted Mother Goddess.

From a thirteenth-century manuscript. Adam stretched to the corners of the cosmos.

A comparison of this with the famous drawing by Leonardo reveals a layer of meaning often missed. Adam literally occupied the whole cosmos.

As time went on the plant forms became more complex, more like the plants of today. Again, if you had been able to see this time in the history of the cosmos with the physical eye, you would have been struck by the myriad fluttering, palpitating flowers.

We have suggested that the secret history of the creation shadows the scientific history of creation in intriguing ways. We have just seen, for example, how a purely mineral stage of existence has been followed by a primitive plant stage, followed by an era of more complex plants. But there is a vital difference I must draw to your attention. In the secret history not only is it true to say that what eventually evolved into human life passed through a vegetable stage, but the vegetable element remains an essential part of the human being today.

If you removed the sympathetic nervous system from the body and stood it up on its own, it would look like a tree. As one of Britain’s leading homeopathic healers put it to me, in a rather beautiful phrase: ‘The sympathetic nervous system is the gift of the vegetable kingdom to the physical body of man.’

Esoteric thought all over the world is concerned with the subtle energies that flow round this vegetable part of the body and also with the ‘flowers’ on this tree, the chakras which operate, as we shall see, as its organs of perception. The great centre of the vegetable component of the human body, feeding on the waves of light and warmth radiating from the sun, is the chakra of the solar plexus — called ‘solar’ because it was formed in this, the era controlled by the sun.

Awareness of this vegetable element in the human body has remained greatest among the peoples of China and Japan. In Chinese medicine the energetic flow of this vegetable life force, called chi, is understood to animate the body, and disease arises when the delicate network of energies becomes blocked. The fact that the flow of this energy is undetectable by modern, materialistic science, the fact that it seems to operate in some elusive realm between the human spirit and the meat of the animal body, does not make the medicine any the less effective, as generation upon generation of patients attest.

Germanic sun-idol. Engraving of 1596. J. B. van Helmont, an important alchemist and scientist who will feature later in this history, called the stomach ‘the seat of the soul’.

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Hindu illustration of the seven major chakras and, for comparison, illustration by Johann Gichtel to the writings on chakras by the seventeenth-century Christian mystic Jacob Boehme.

As well as in medicine, the Chinese and Japanese tend to lay great emphasis on the role of the solar plexus in spiritual practice. If you contemplate a statue of a meditating Buddha, you will see someone who has gathered himself inward, and that the centre of this meditation, his centre of mental and spiritual gravity, is his lower belly. This is because he has withdrawn from the rigid, deadly mentality of the brain and sunk down into the centre within himself — sometimes called the hara — that is connected with all life. He is concentrating on becoming more aware of being alive, of his unity with all living things. ALTHOUGH THE IDEA OF CHAKRAS HAS become popular in the West because of an influx of oriental esoteric thought, the chakras are also central to the Western esoteric tradition and can be seen in both Egyptian and Hebrew thought. And just as Christianity contains a hidden tradition of gods of the stars and planets, so it also contains a hidden tradition of the chakras.

The organs of the vegetable body are situated in nodes up and down its trunk. They are made up of different numbers of petals — the solar plexus chakra, for example, having ten petals and the brow chakra having two petals. The seven major chakras — situated at the groin, solar plexus, kidneys, heart, throat, brow and crown — feature in the seventeenth-century writings of Jacob Boehme and, as we will see later, in those of his near-contemporary, the Catholic Saint, Teresa of Avila, where they are called ‘the eyes of the soul’.

Moreover, on closer inspection the Bible itself can be seen to contain many coded references to the chakras. The ‘horns’ with which Moses has traditionally been depicted are explained away by conventionally minded Christians as the result of a misunderstanding based on a mistranslation. But in the esoteric tradition these horns represent the two petals of the brow chakra, sometimes called the Third Eye. The flowering rod of Aaron refers to the activation of the chakras, the opening of the subtle flowers up and down the subtle tree. In the final chapter we will see how in Revelation the account of the opening of the seven seals is in fact a way of talking about the enlivening of the seven chakras, and predicting the great visions of the spiritual world that will result.

The almond shape that surrounds this vision of Jesus, called the vesica piscis, is derived from the Egyptian hieroglyph called the Ru, which symbolized the birth-portal and also the Third Eye, or brow chakra. What is intended by the masons who carved this device on a church at Alpirsbach, Germany, is that you can have direct experience of and communication with the great spiritual beings by activating the Third Eye. It is extraordinary to consider that Christian art and architecture all over the world commonly features a representation of the Third Eye, unrecognized by the great majority of Christians.

THE PINEAL GLAND IS A SMALL GREY gland, the size of an almond, which is situated in the brain where the spinal chord reaches up into it. In esoteric physiology, when we have a hunch, our pineal gland begins to vibrate, and if spiritual disciplines are used to increase and prolong this vibration, this may lead to the opening of the Third Eye, situated, of course, in the middle of the brow.

The Third Eye as a uraeus snake in an Egyptian wall carving.

Man meditating on the pineal gland, taken from a drawing by Paul Klee with Hindu depiction of the same for comparison.

Modern anatomists only ‘discovered’ the pineal gland in 1866, when two monographs were published almost simultaneously by H.W. de Graaf and E. Baldwin Spencer. Later it was discovered that the pineal gland is large in children and when the crystallization of various body parts happens around puberty — that is to say when we naturally become less imaginative — the pineal gland begins a process of calcification and also shrinks. Scientists now know that melatonin is a hormone, most of which is produced by the pineal gland, mostly at night. Melatonin is essential for the rhythm of waking and sleeping and the maintenance of the immune system.

If modern science discovered the pineal gland relatively late, the ancients certainly knew of it very early on, and also believed they understood its function. They knew, too, how to manipulate it to achieve altered states. The Egyptians clearly depicted it as a uraeus snake and in Indian literature it is shown as the Third Eye of Enlightenment, or the Eye of Siva. It was depicted as the pine-cone-topped wand of the followers of Dionysius, and a fourth-century BC Greek anatomist described it as ‘the sphincter which regulates the flow of thought’.

They saw the pineal gland as an organ of perception of higher worlds, a window opening on to the brightness and wonder of the spiritual hierarchies. This window could be opened systematically by meditation and other secret practices which gave rise to visions. Recent research at the University of Toronto has shown that meditating on the pineal gland using methods recommended by Indian yogis causes it to release a rush of melatonin, the secretion that causes us to have dreams and, in sufficient dosages, can also cause waking hallucinations.

Artists such as Peter Breugel, Henri Met Des Bles and, here, Hieronymus Bosch often depicted proto-human creatures of pink, waxy-bone. Art critics have not until now discovered the source of these images.

RETURNING TO THE CREATION NARRATIVE and the great imaginative images encoded within Genesis, we see that Adam’s body had at first been very soft and amorphous, his skin almost as delicate as the skin on a pond, but now it began to harden. As the great Christian mystic and Rosicrucian philosopher Jacob Boehme wrote in Mysterium Magnum, his commentary on Genesis, ‘what would in time become bone now hardened and became something closer to wax’. Warmed by the sun, his green limbs also began to become tinged with pink.

As Adam solidified he also began to divide into two, that is to say he was an hermaphrodite who reproduced in an asexual way. When pressed, any scholar of biblical Hebrew will have to admit that Genesis 1.27, the passage usually translated ‘Male and female He created them’, properly reads ‘Male and female they [i.e. the Elohim] created him [singular]’.

So, it was by this plant-like method of reproduction that Eve was born out of Adam’s body, moulded from the waxy cartilage which served Adam for bone.

The progeny of Adam and Eve also reproduced asexually, procreating by using sounds in a way that was analogous to the creative activity of the Word. This episode in history is related to Freemasonic lore pertaining to ‘the Word that has been lost’, the esoteric belief when in the far future this Word is rediscovered, it will be possible to impregnate using only the sound of the human voice.

The separation of the earth and sun in a seventeenth-century English print, illustrating the writings of Robert Fludd, an eminent Rosicrucian scholar traditionally believed to have been one of the board employed to translate the King James Bible.

Adam, Eve and their progeny did not die, but now and then they merely went to sleep in order to refresh themselves. But the lotus-eating state of the Garden of Eden could not go on forever. If it had done, humanity would never have evolved beyond the vegetable stage.

It was always intended that the Sun god would separate from the earth… for a while.

OF COURSE NO ARTEFACTS HAVE SURVIVED from the time when gods and proto-humans lived in plant form, but there is at least a reliable record of such artefacts.

Herodotus, the Greek writer of the fifth century BC is sometimes called the father of history, because he was the first to try to research and piece together a coherent and objective account of history.

In approximately 485 BC Herodotus visited Memphis in Egypt. There in vast underground vaults, he was shown rows of statues of former kings stretching back as far as the eye could see into almost unimaginably distant times. Walking with the priests along the rows, he came to a series of 345 colossal wooden carvings of beings who had reigned before Menes, their first human king. These beings, said the priests, were ‘born one from the other’, that is to say without need of a sexual partner, by the plant-like method of parthenogenesis. Each carrying a plaque giving name, history and annals, the wooden monuments were a record of a long lost era of the vegetable life of humankind.

Mandrake men in nineteenth century engraving. Mandrake roots have always played a prominent part in esoteric lore because their shapes often seem to represent a vegetable striving towards the human form. Might the colossi Herodotus saw have looked something like this?

4. LUCIFER, THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD

The Apple of Desire • A War in Heaven • The Secrets of the Days of the Week

CREATION WAS RE-ENACTED IN THE Mystery schools, a drama in three acts.

The first act dramatized Saturn’s oppression of Mother Earth. This was called the Age of Saturn.

The second act dramatized the birth of the Sun and his protection of Mother Earth. This, the paradise time of the flower people, was remembered as the Age of the Sun.

During the re-enactment of these great events the candidate for initiation found himself in the middle of what was partly a play with special effects, and partly a séance. In an altered state, perhaps drugged and with little ability to distance himself from events, the candidate was guided by the priests on a shaman-like journey through the spirit worlds. Drama as we know it today would eventually move out of the Greek Mystery centres to become public performances, but in the early days of the Mystery schools at least, candidates would never have seen anything like this before.

We now come to the third act, the subject of this chapter. At the start of it, there is the momentous event we alluded to at the end of the last chapter. Earth and sun separate. From now on the sun’s life-giving rays, rather than illuminating it from inside, shine down upon the earth from the sky. As a result the earth cools and becomes denser. It becomes less gaseous and more liquid. It shrinks and the whole of its watery surface is covered by Adam and Eve and their flowery, gently fluttering progeny.

Suddenly, at the climax of the third act, the candidate for initiation into the Mystery school watching this drama would have caught a whiff of sulphur, maybe even been half-blinded by a flash like lightning, as the peaceful pastoral scene was invaded by a glistening alien life-form, horrifyingly livid and horned. The picture that was being presented to his imagination was of a snake seemingly endlessly long, millions of miles of it weaving its way into the cosmos, a snake with a perverse kind of beauty. ‘Thou hast been in Eden, the garden of God,’ says Ezekiel 28:13, ‘every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald and carbuncle and gold.’

The candidate for initiation would have watched with horror as it coiled itself ever more tightly around Adam’s vegetable trunk. He would have understood that what he was watching was the series of events by which life on earth moved painfully to the next stage of evolution. Because the story of the serpent entwined around the tree contains the clearest possible image of the earth’s transition from vegetable to animal life.

Since the eighteenth century when a matter-before-mind world-view began to take over from the ancient, mind-before-matter world-view, the Church has tried to reconcile the Genesis account of creation with the findings of science. This has been a doomed enterprise because it is based on a modern, anachronistic reading of Genesis.

Genesis does not consider evolution objectively as a modern scientist does, piecing together bits of geological, anthropological and archaeological evidence impartially and objectively evaluated. The story of Genesis is a subjective account of the way humanity evolved, what it felt like. In other words the story of the entwining of snake and tree is a picture of the formation of the spine and central nervous system characteristic of animals as it has been retained in the human collective subconscious.

Again and again we will see that the esoteric account is not necessarily inconsistent with the scientific one. As we suggested by the perspected picture, it views the same facts from a very different point of view.

WE SAW IN THE LAST CHAPTER HOW MATTER had in a sense prepared the ground in which vegetable life could be born. Now vegetable life as it were formed a cradle into which animal life could be born. To put it another way, vegetable life formed a seed bed into which the seeds of animal life fell.

This is the beginning of the momentous episode in history called the Fall.

The candidate for initiation would be made to feel the terrible sense of crisis and danger involved in the Fall in a quite literal way. Suddenly and as if impelled by an earth tremor, he found himself falling down into a black hole, pitched into what he immediately discovered to be a snake pit. In the esoteric tradition the rough-hewn chamber that lies underneath the Great Pyramid at Gizah, known as the Chamber of Ordeal, performed just this function. Recent excavations at Baia in Italy, where a system of caves, part natural and part man-made were believed by the Romans to be the actual entrance to the Underworld, have actually revealed the site of a trap door which would have flung the candidate for initiation down into the snake pit below.

The candidate experienced for himself how Lucifer and his legions infested the whole earth with a plague of glistening serpents. He saw how, according to the secret history, the whole earth had once begun to seethe with primitive animal life. He saw, too, how desire tormented the very ground, making it heave, and he realized traces of this torment could be seen in expressive rock formations.

Adam, Eve and the serpent by Masaccio.

Renaissance engraving of the tree in the Garden of Eden as a skeleton, after Sebald Beharne.

But why should the translation from vegetable to animal life be marked by such torment? The account of the catastrophe in Genesis certainly emphasizes this tormented aspect in some of the most sonorous phrases on the Old Testament: ‘Unto the woman He said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children… And unto Adam He said… cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee.’ It seems that as a result of the Fall, humans have to suffer, to strive, and to die — but why?

Wrapped up in this ancient language are more truths modern science would recognize. Plants reproduce by a method called parthenogenesis. A part of the plant falls off and grows into a new plant. This new plant is in a sense a continuation of the old one, which therefore — in a sense — does not die. The evolution of animal life and its characteristic method of reproduction — sex — brought death with it. As soon as hunger and desire were felt so too were dissatisfaction, frustration, sorrow and fear.

Loki, the Norse equivalent to Lucifer, is usually portrayed as a beautiful and fiery god but also evil, quick-witted and cunning. Ninteenth-century illustration by R. Savage

WHO IS IT WHO TEMPTS EVE? WHO IS the serpent who inflames the world with desire?

We probably all feel we know the answer to this question — but naively. The problem is that those in charge of our spiritual development have kept us at a nursery level of understanding.

We began to see in the last chapter how the Church has covered up its astronomical roots, how the beginning of Genesis contains hidden within it stories of the same gods of the planets we know from other, more ‘primitive’ religions — the god Saturn, the Earth goddess and the Sun god. As we now move further into the Genesis account of history we can see again how this covering up of astronomical roots, the radical monotheism of the modern Church, can stop us from understanding clearly what the ancient text is trying to tell us.

Most people would naturally assume that Christianity allows the existence of only one Devil — the Devil — in other words that Satan and Lucifer are the same entity.

In fact we need only a quick, fresh look at the texts to see that the authors of the Bible intended something quite different. Again, this is something biblical scholars accept, but which hasn’t filtered down to congregations.

We have seen that Satan, the Dark Lord, the agent of materialism, is to be identified with the god of the planet Saturn in Greek and Roman mythology. Is Lucifer, the snake, the tempter who inflames humanity with animal desire also to be identified with Saturn — or perhaps with a different planet?

There is a vast, erudite body of literature comparing biblical texts to older and contemporary texts from neighbouring cultures, which shows that the two main representatives of evil in the Bible, Satan and Lucifer, are not the same entity. Fortunately we do not need to immerse ourselves in this literature, because there is a quite explicit statement in the Bible itself: Isaiah 14.12, ‘How thou art fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning.’

The Morning Star is, of course, Venus. The Bible, therefore, identifies Lucifer with the planet Venus.

It might at first seem counter-intuitive to equate the goddess of Venus in Greece and Rome — Aphrodite to the Greeks — with Lucifer in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Venus/Aphrodite is female and seems more life-enhancing. But in reality there are key points of similarity.

Both Lucifer and Venus/Aphrodite are bound up with animal desire and sexuality.

The correlation between Lucifer and Venus can also be seen in the mythology of the Americas, where he appears in the figure of the horned and feathered snake god Quetzal Coatl.

The snake sometimes found coiled round the body of the goddess was called ‘the minister of the goddess’ by the Greeks.

The apple is the fruit associated with both. Lucifer tempts Eve with an apple and Paris hands Venus an apple in a gesture that precipitates the abduction of Helen and the Great War of the ancient world. The apple is universally the fruit of Venus because if you slice an apple in two, the path that Venus traces in the sky over a forty-year period is a five-pointed star, pinpointed by the position of the pips.

Lucifer and Venus are also ambiguous figures. Lucifer is evil, but he is a necessary evil. Without Lucifer’s intervention, proto-humanity would not have evolved beyond a vegetative form of life. As a result of Lucifer’s intervention in history we are animated, both in the sense that we can move about the surface of the planet and also in the sense that we are moved by desire. An animal has a conscious awareness of itself as a distinct entity that is denied to plants. To say that Adam and Eve ‘knew they were naked’ is to say that they became aware that they had bodies.

Many beautiful representations of Venus have come down to us from the ancient world, but there were terrifying representations too. Behind the image of a woman of matchless beauty lurked the terrifying serpent woman.

IN ORDER TO DELVE DEEPER INTO THIS ambiguity and to understand better the next great event in the secret history of the world, we now turn to an early German version of Venus/Lucifer tradition which appeared in medieval poetry and would enter the mainstream of world literature when it was taken up and adapted by Wolfram von Eschenbach in Parzifal.

See! Lucifer, there he is!
If there are still master-priests
Then you know well that I am saying the truth.
Saint Michael saw God’s anger…
He took Lucifer’s crown from his head
In such a way that the stone jumped out of it
Which on earth became Parsifal’s stone.

Tradition tells us that as Lucifer fell a great emerald dropped from his forehead. This signals that humanity would increasingly suffer a loss of vision in the Third Eye, the brow chakra.

These small Greek statues capture something of the joy the Greeks took in the pleasures of desire, their joy in the material world. In Greek creation stories the birth of Venus is brought about by an act of rebellion by Saturn, who takes his sickle and slices at the testicles of Uranos, the Sky god, castrating him. As the sperm of Uranos falls into the sea, the beautiful goddess Venus springs into being, fully formed, and floats ashore on a sea shell. The ancients believed that shells were precipitated out of water, just as matter is precipitated out of spirit, hence their symbolizing emanation from the cosmic mind, both here and in the iconography of St James of Compostela.

While the result of the influence of Satan is that life is often hard to bear, it is as a result of the influence of Venus that life is often hard to understand. The influence of Venus brought a paradoxical, tricky quality to the heart of the universe.

In other words, delusion entered the world. Lucifer endowed matter with a glamour that would dazzle humankind, and blind people to higher truths.

Why is it that the way forward sometimes looks like the way backwards? Why is it that the thing we most ought not to do looks almost indistinguishable from the thing we ought to do? In my heart of hearts I know what I ought to do, but I have another, alien element entwined inside me that wants to lead me astray. The Luciferic element is infused into my very physiology. Desire and delusion combine in me dangerously. Because of Lucifer’s influence, ‘the good that I would do I not; but the evil which I would not, that I do’. (Romans 7.19.) St Paul, who as we shall see was an initiate of the Mystery tradition, is saying that part of me always knows what is right, but that it is often overruled by a part that is in thrall to Lucifer.

MODERN SCIENCE NEVER FRAMES THE questions, How did delusion come into the world? Or imagination? Or willpower? But to the ancients delusion, imagination and will were among the greatest forces in the universe, living out there in three-dimensional space as well as in our own minds. For them the history of creation was an account of how these things came to be.

Friedrich Nietzsche said, ‘Unless you have chaos inside you, you cannot give birth to a dancing star.’ Humans would never have been able to become freely creative, brave or loving if they had not been able to make mistakes, to see things as other than they are and to believe things to be other than they are. Because of Lucifer it is the case that we do not always believe in proportion to the evidence. We can often believe what we want to believe. For instance, the life of someone we know can appear a miserable failure or a heart-warming success depending on how we choose to look at it, whether good-heartedly or mean-spiritedly. And when the harsh fire, the primeval sulphur burns in the pit of our stomachs, it is difficult for us to choose to be good-hearted.

When in the very beginning the Earth goddess had been attacked by the god of Saturn, the young Sun god had arrived to protect her, and, fighting a great battle in heaven, had defeated Saturn. The candidate for initiation who was being shown the secret history of the world had therefore already watched one great battle. He now had to watch another one in which the enemy was the great snake that had slithered into Paradise in order to corrupt it.

Who was to be the new champion to fight this second battle?

As with the Church’s conflation of Satan and Lucifer in order to disguise its astronomical roots, we must now disentangle another deliberately created confusion.

In the early chapters of Genesis telling the story of creation, the word usually translated as ‘God’ is, as we have seen, ‘Elohim’. Later Genesis ceases to refer to Elohim and instead the word usually translated as ‘God’ is ‘Jehovah’. Biblical scholars working outside the esoteric tradition have tended to explain what appears to them as two different names for the same God as the result of two different literary strands, the Elohim strand and the Jehovah strand, probably dating from different periods and woven together by a later redactor.

However, scholars working within the esoteric tradition have a much simpler explanation. Elohim and Jehovah are not different names for the same entity but different entities. Elohim is, as we have seen, a collective name for the Seven Spirits working together as the god of the Sun, while Jehovah came into being when one of these seven broke away to defend the Earth from Venus.

In order to discover Jehovah’s true, astronomical identity, we must look again at the iconography of his opponent, Venus. We must also remember that for the ancients the history of the origins of the cosmos was as much about how human experience was put together, how experience gained its characteristic structure, as it was about how the physical universe was put together. In other words, it was as much about the principles of human nature as about the laws of the natural world.

Human nature is so formed that any power I may have to resist my animal desires — indeed what stops me from becoming a mere animal — derives from my capacity for thought and reflection. Venus was traditionally depicted holding a mirror, but not out of vanity as is nowadays supposed. The mirror was a symbol of the power of reflection to modify desire.

Depicted here on the back of a Greek mirror from the first century BC is the story of Semele, goddess of the Moon, and a beautiful youth called Endymion. In the story Semele falls in love with Endymion and casts a spell that leaves him in perpetual dreamy sleep. Here is an explicit depiction of the moon working on the pineal gland in the form of the wand of Dionysus.

Medieval depiction of Jehovah as a war god.

The god of reflection was the god of the great reflector in the sky — the moon. In all ancient cultures the moon regulated not only fertility but thought.

In fact the initiate priests believed that in order to create the conditions in which human thought would be possible, the cosmos had had to arrange itself in a particular way. In order for human reflection to be possible, the sun and the moon had had to arrange themselves in the sky so that the moon reflected the light of the sun down to earth.

They also believed that this arrangement in the sky had to be reproduced on a smaller scale inside the human head. There the pineal gland represented the sun, and the gland which could modify and reflect on the visions that the pineal gland received from the spirit worlds was the pituitary gland.

This might seem one of the madder things that anyone has ever believed, but to the ancients it corresponded to their everyday, lived experience. They tracked small changes in their consciousness, which seemed to them to mutate with the changing positions of the sun and moon. Readers are invited to check their own experience to see whether their dreams are more vivid when the moon is big and full.

If you observe oysters in a tray for a month, you will see that they wax and wane with the moon. Modern science has confirmed that the pituitary gland behaves like an oyster.

THE GOD OF THE MOON WOULD BECOME known to the Hebrews as Jehovah and to the Muslims as Allah, the great god of thou-shalt-not.

So at the climax of this great cosmic drama of creation, with the earth in danger of becoming a living Hell, a new force arose to meet Lucifer. Just as the seven Elohim had acted to hold Saturn/Satan in check, now one of these seven broke away to become the god of the Moon, and from there directed operations to hold Venus/Lucifer in check.

Perseus, the wielder of the Moon-shield.

This great cosmic battle against Venus was remembered in cultures around the world, for example in the story of Krishna’s battle with the snake-demon Kaliya, and the stories of Apollo’s battle with the Python and of Perseus combating the sexually ravenous dragon that threatened Andromeda by using his shield as a mirror.

The Jehovah of the Old Testament is a jealous, angry and warlike god. In Hebrew tradition, Jehovah’s forces are led by Archangel Michael. As the Book of Revelation has it: ‘And there was a war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon fought against his angels… and the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent which deceiveth the whole world, he was cast out into the earth.’

WE HAVE SEEN, THEN, THAT IN THE THIRD great act of the drama of creation, the god of the Moon won a great victory.

So began the era of the moon. The first three epochs of the cosmos, the mineral, vegetable and animal eras — Saturn-day, Sun-day and Moon-day — are remembered in the names of the first three days of the week. These days of the week are named after these three heavenly bodies in this particular order for this reason alone.

Here we see a sun god’s battle against a snake or dragon in an engraving taken from the painting by Raphael.

5. THE GODS WHO LOVED WOMEN

The Nephilim • The Genetic Engineering of Humankind • The Fish Gods • The Original History of the Origin of the Species

WE ARE NOW ABOUT TO LOOK INTO ONE of the murkier and more shameful episodes in the history of the world. Even within the secret societies a veil is sometimes drawn.

A priest in Babylon at the time of Alexander the Great was one of the first historians. It is clear from the few remaining fragments that Berosus, like Herodotus before him, had studied the king lists inscribed on temple walls and delved into the secret priestly archives.

The few fragments of Berosus that survive contain teachings on the history of the origins of the earth and the sky and of the race of hermaphrodites, the pre-sexual humans who reproduced by means of parthenogenesis.

Berosus goes on to describe how the land came to be inhabited by a primitive race. Then one day a monster emerged on the seashore, an animal called Oannes ‘… whose whole body was that of a fish; under the fish’s head he had another head with feet also below similar to those of a man, subjoined to the fish’s tail. His voice and language were articulate and human; and representation of him is preserved even to this day…’

‘This monster was accustomed to pass the day among men, but took no food then; and he gave them an insight into letters and sciences and arts of every kind. He taught them to construct cities, to found temples, to compile laws, and explained to them the principles of geometrical knowledge. He made them distinguish the seeds of the earth and showed them how to collect fruits; in short, he instructed them in everything which could soften manners and humanize their lives…’

‘And when the sun had set this being Oannes retired again into the sea, and passed the night in the sea, for he was amphibious… ’

Oannes: nineteenth-century engraving taken from the walls of Nineveh — original now in the British Museum.

‘After this appeared other animals like Oannes…’

Similar stories of fish gods who suddenly appear and become the teachers of mankind can be found in other traditions, for example the Indian stories about Matsya, the first avatar of Vishnu, and the stories of the ancient Phoenicians of the Dagon, who taught humankind the art of irrigation, and the ancient fish gods of the Dagon tribe in West Africa. We even know from Plutarch that the earliest representations of Zeus were of a man with a fish tail, an image which survived in Greek mythology in the form of his brother Poseidon.

Some modern writers outside the esoteric tradition have seen in this fish imagery evidence for an alien invasion in ancient times. It’s even been suggested that the human race was genetically engineered by alien invaders, which is a good illustration of the way that esoteric traditions are misinterpreted by people trying to impose a materialistic interpretation on them.

If our candidate for initiation had been initiated to a high enough level, he would have been taught the truth of the matter, something very like the following…

IN GENESIS THERE IS A PASSAGE WHICH may at first not seem to refer to exactly the same fishy events, though it is also about invasion by beings from another realm:

Genesis, 6:1-5. ‘And it came to pass when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair: and they took wives which they chose… when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown. And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.’

What on earth are we to make of this passage? The phrase here translated as ‘sons of God’ is elsewhere in the Bible a phrase used to mean angels, messengers coming down from heaven. But in this context ‘coming down’ also seems to carry with it moral opprobrium. By saying that the angels had sex with women is Genesis perhaps saying that these angels lowered themselves to participate in the material world? And perhaps they had become too enamoured with it?

As I say, we are now trying to penetrate one of the murkier episodes in the secret history, and indeed these five verses in Genesis might well remain completely impenetrable were it not for the fact that this episode is treated rather more fully in ancient Hebrew traditions — particularly the Book of Enoch.

This book disappeared from mainstream, exoteric history in AD 300-400, but traditions regarding its existence, its contents and teachings were preserved in Freemasonry. Then in 1773 some very tattered scripts of it were tracked down in Ethiopian monasteries by the Scottish explorer James Bruce, and in this way the old Freemasonic traditions were vindicated.

Never part of the canon of Christian scripture as it was put together in the fourth century, the Book of Enoch was nevertheless sufficiently esteemed by writers of the New Testament for them to quote from it, evidently viewing it as an authority with a status something like sacred scripture. It is a measure of the status of this book that Jesus Christ evidently recognized its notions of a coming kingdom and the judgement of the world. Moreover the phrase used at his Transfiguration, ‘This is my Son, the Elect One’, is meant to show that Jesus Christ is the One promised by the Book of Enoch.

This is what the Book of Enoch has to say about the angels who loved women:

Enoch 6.1-4. ‘And it came to pass when the children of men had multiplied that in those days were born unto them beautiful and comely daughters. And the Angels, the children of heaven, saw and lusted after them, and said to one another: “Come, let us choose ourselves wives from among the children of men and beget us children.”… And all the others together with them took unto themselves wives, and each chose for himself one, and they began to go in unto them and to defile themselves with them, and they taught them charms and enchantments… and they became pregnant.’

Later Enoch is given a tour of the Heavens, where the rebel angels — or Watchers — ask Enoch to intercede with God on their behalf. But when Enoch tries to do so, God only repudiates them, sending Enoch back:

‘And go say to the Watchers, who have sent thee to intercede for them: You should intercede for men, and not men for you… ’

The story of the rebellious angels is then retold, as it were, in God’s own words with additional details:

Enoch 6. 15-16. ‘Wherefore have ye left the high, holy and eternal Heaven, and lain with women, and defiled yourselves with the daughters of men and taken to yourselves wives, and done like the children of the Earth, and begotten giants as your sons. And though you were spiritual beings living the eternal life, you have defiled yourselves with the blood of women, and have begotten children with the blood of flesh and blood as those also who die and perish… And now as to the Watchers who have sent thee to intercede for them, who have been aforetime in Heaven, say to them: “You have been in Heaven, but all the mysteries had not yet been revealed to you, and you knew worthless ones, and these in the hardness of your hearts you have made known to women, and through these mysteries women and men work much evil on earth.” Say to them therefore: “You have no peace.”’

The Epistle of Jude 6:6 describes the Watchers as having ‘not kept their own appointed habitations’. A third century Christian writer, Commodorius, wrote: ‘The women who seduced the angels were of such lewdness that their seducers could not now desire to return to heaven.’

But beyond these few, strange fragmentary hints lies a set of characters very familiar to us all.

When the Epistle to Jude describes the Watchers as not having kept to their appointed seasons, it seems to be referring to them in some way as timekeepers. But the final, telling clue to revealing the hidden identity of these ‘fallen angels’ lies in their number, given in one of the versions the Book of Enoch as seven.

In all traditions seven is the number of the great gods of the solar system. Again we see that the biblical narrative has encoded within it stories of the same astronomical gods as those of Greece and Rome.

The angels who became sexually attracted to human women are none other than the gods of Olympus.

WE HAVE SEEN THAT THE BIBLE CONTAINS encoded within it an account of creation in which key roles have been played by Saturn, earth, the sun, Venus and the moon. We have followed the story from the purely material to the vegetable to the first stirrings of animal life. The age that followed would be marked by the arrival of the gods of the solar system; Jupiter — or Zeus, as he was known to the Greeks — became the king of all the gods. The gods of Mars and Mercury would fly into view during this age too.

The infant Jupiter had to be hidden from his father, Saturn. Mother Earth kept Jupiter on the island of Crete in a cave deep underground. Isolated from the other gods, the boy Jupiter lived on the milk of a goat-nymph and ate the honey of sacred bees.

Mother Earth hid Jupiter in this cave because she was afraid that Saturn and the Titans, the elder sons and daughters of Saturn, would come to destroy him. She knew that the birth of Jupiter showed that the reign of Saturn was coming to an end, but the transition from one age to another is always a painful one. The old order always tries to stay on beyond its allotted time.

The Titans were Saturn’s enforcers. They were the consciousness eaters. They wanted to swallow up the new life and create what Milton, who knew all about the secret history, called ‘a universe of Death’.

The Titans would always be the enemies of Jupiter. They failed to kill him while he was still an infant, but they did not cease to wage war on him, sporadically and in great battles, until finally and decisively Jupiter defeated them and imprisoned them underground. There these great forces of materialism became part of the very structure of the earth, and whenever volcanoes rumbled and threatened to erupt the ancients heard their discontent.

With the Titans imprisoned, Jupiter became for a while the undisputed ruler of Mount Olympus, king of the gods and god of a new age. He shook his magnificent locks and the whole earth trembled. He was the only god strong enough to throw the thunderbolt.

In his masterpiece The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, the great Italian scholar and writer Roberto Calasso, who has done much to bring esoteric lore regarding the historical reality behind myths to a wider public, put it like this: ‘Olympus is a rebellion of lightness against precision.’ In other words the Olympic gods — Jupiter, Apollo, Mars, Mercury, Diana, Athena and the others — rebelled against the limitations imposed by Saturn. The Olympians flew through the air to perform magical deeds and defeat terrible monsters. It was a splendid, spectacular era that thrashes and writhes in the mind, inspiring some of history’s most imaginative art, sculpture and literature.

But it was also somewhat sinister, an age charged with moral ambiguity. The thunderbolt of Jupiter struck through a dense fug of testosterone, the feral reek of animal passion, the fell heartlessness of animal ferocity.

Jupiter raped Callisto and she was turned into a bear. He raped Io, turning her into a cow. He punished Lycaon for cannibalism by turning him into a wolf. Apollo’s lust for Hyacinth caused the beautiful youth to metamorphose into the flower and his rape of Daphne ended in her morphing into the laurel bush.

We should take note that all these myths are concerned with is the proliferation of natural forms, the cramming of every square inch of our planet with the almost infinite variety of plants and animals, the biodiversity that is its great natural glory. Zeus is not moral in a sense that Moses would have recognized, but he and his fellow Olympians direct the galvanizing fecundity, the myriad creativity of the biological world.

Telamones depicted being forced to hold up the earth in a nineteenth-century engraving of recent discoveries at Pompeii. The Telamones were Titans forced to become a part of the earth’s structure. Their progeny were earth-demons, or goblins. As late as the nineteenth century they were still feared in some remote rural regions in southern Europe. These red-eyed creatures with skin made of scales like dead grey fingernails were said to pursue you in spirit even after you had died.

BUT WHAT OF THE STORY OF THE FISH GODS? How does that fit in?

We have seen that many mythologies around the world tell the strange story of the arrival of the fish gods, and we have touched on the fact that even Jupiter in his earliest representations was one of them. We have seen, too, that the myths of Jupiter and the other Olympian gods are an account of the proliferation of animal forms. Bringing these two things together gives rise to an astonishing possibility.

Could it be that the ancient myths anticipated the modern, scientific insight that the animal life that would eventually evolve into the human form began life as a fish?

If this were true, it would be an astonishing revelation

DARWIN’S DISCOVERY OF THE EVOLUTION of the species is one of history’s great scientific discoveries, ranked alongside Galileo’s, Newton’s and Einstein’s. Could it be that the priests of the Mystery schools knew of the evolution of species many thousand of years earlier? We shall now discover how evidence for this claim, which may, initially at least, sound implausible, is written across the sky in blazing lights for all to see.

We are cracking the code of the cosmos. We saw how the earliest episodes in history are to be understood in terms of the ordered creation of the solar system. One after the other Saturn, the Sun, Venus, the Moon and Jupiter joined in the work of weaving together the basic conditions that made possible the evolution of life on earth. Following this sequence has brought us to the dawn of animal life and of consciousness and the beginning of the proliferation of animal forms.

In order to understand the history of the development of these animal forms, we must turn again to astronomy, and following on from the sequence in which the ancients believed the planets were created we turn to an interlocking sequence — the constellations of the zodiac.

TO ANCIENTS THE FORCES OF NATURE WERE asleep during winter and then reawakened, exerting their influence anew in the spring. The constellation in which the sun rose in the spring was therefore very important to them. The sun vivified that constellation, energizing it and increasing its power to shape the world and its history.

Because of a slight wobble in the earth as it spins on its axis, the sun seems to us to fall slowly backwards against the backdrop of stars. Over a period of some 2160 years the sun rises in the same constellation. It then moves on to the next one. We are currently in the Age of Pisces and famously awaiting the dawn of the Age of Aquarius. As constellation follows constellation, and age follows age, the symphonic variations of the Music of the Spheres signal a new movement. The cycle of animating powers, of instinctual drives sweeping through the cosmos, moves on to a new plane.

We think of the twelve constellations of the zodiac following in a sequence according to months of the year, Aries followed by Taurus, then Gemini and so on. In the larger cycle measured by the appearances of these constellations at the spring equinox, the constellations move ‘backwards’, Gemini is followed by Taurus, then Aries and so on.

This phenomenon is known as precession. There is some dispute among academics as to when the ancients first became aware of it. The breakthrough book on this subject was Hamlet’s Mill, written by MIT Professor of the History and Philosophy of Science Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend, Professor of Science at Frankfurt University, and published in the late 1950s. Tremendously erudite, it began a process of rediscovering an astronomical dimension of myths that had long been forgotten outside the secret societies. Their thesis is that one of the stories central to all mythology, indeed all literature from Oedipus Rex to Hamlet, the story of the dispossessed son who defeats his uncle to regain his father’s throne, is a description of an astronomical event: of one precessional epoch succeeding another.

But Hamlet’s Mill provides an essentially static model. It shows that precession is encoded on one particular archetype, not how the succession of ruling constellations allows us to organize different layers of myth in their proper chronological sequence.

Let us now look at this sequence in terms of the historical reality that lies behind the myths of Jupiter and the other gods, according to esoteric tradition.

Because we have been looking at history as it has been remembered in myths, particularly the myths of the gods of Olympus, we have naturally been picturing for ourselves anatomically modern humans. However, we should continue to bear in mind that these myths represent what these things would have looked like to the eye of the imagination. But to a physical eye, if any such had existed, it would all have looked very different.

Because what these imaginative pictures represent is the beginning and development of primitive life-forms.

If the age of the first marine life was marked by the rulership of the planet Jupiter, then in terms of the precession of the constellations it was marked by Pisces. When the sun first began to rise in the constellation of Pisces, a new form condensed out of the semi-liquid substance on the earth’s surface. This was the earliest embryonic form of the fish — somewhat like a modern jellyfish.

The ancients conceived of this evolutionary impulse as a god. If primitive life on earth — the life that would eventually evolve into human life — took on a primitive fish form, that was because a god took on this form and, as it were, pulled life on earth with him.

In Egypt this miraculous event, the birth of animal life, was known as the birth of Horus, and the earliest representations of Horus, like those of Jupiter, were half-man, half-fish.

So we again see that the Greeks and Egyptians, like the Greeks and the Hebrews, worshipped the same god in different cultural clothing.

The next precessional age was the first Age of Aquarius. This was the era of the evolution of amphibians, giant floating creatures, somewhat like the modern dolphins but with webbed limbs and lantern-like foreheads. This lantern was the pineal gland; protruding from the top it still holds in some reptiles, such as the Tuatara species of lizard, from New Zealand.

The ‘Lantern of Osiris’ is an ancient record of this late vegetable protuberance from the animal form.

The ‘lantern’ was still these proto-human creatures’ main organ of perception. Sensitive to warmth and coolness in other living beings, both in the vicinity and in the distance, the lantern could intuit their inner nature. These proto-humans could intuit, too, the nature of plants, assessing their suitability as food or medicine — in the way that some animals can. And because the laws of natural growth were not yet completely fixed, humans could also speak to plants in a way which might, as the ancient sagas of the Jews have it, make ‘a tree yield fruit or ears of wheat grow as tall as the cedars of Lebanon’. We must imagine the speech made by these amphibian-humans as sounding something like the bellow of a stag.

Lantern-headed humans were later idealized as unicorns. The Earth goddess still told them what to do clairvoyantly, so that the natural law and the moral law were the same thing. This historical truth is beautifully portrayed in the famous tapestry in the Musée de Cluny in Paris, where the unicorn lays its head in the lap of a virgin.

Our collective memory of the unicorn is, of course, of a hunted creature. Humans might seek sanctuary in the lap of Mother Earth, but the world was becoming a dangerous place. We saw that desire had originally existed independently of humankind, and desires continued to exist independently, unintegrated into the proto-human form. These desires running wild were the dragons of mythology. They terrorized the rest of creation.

As the marshy surface of the earth began to harden into something like dry land, the next stage of the development of human form began. This was the beginning of the Age of Capricorn, when proto-humans developed calves and limbs to crawl on to land to pursue their burgeoning animal desires.

According to the ancient wisdom it was the arrival of Mars that led to the evolution of warm-blooded animals. Mars arrived at the time of the transition from the lizard-like amphibians of the Age of Capricorn to the land animals of the Age of four-footed Sagittarius.

The iron of Mars yielded red blood and provided the conditions that would make egotism possible — and not only in the sense of a healthy drive to survive. As the earth continued to harden and become denser and drier, it shrank further, with the result that one being could only prosper at another’s expense. It became part of the human condition that I can hardly move without harming, even killing, another living creature. Because of Mars there is also a cruel part of human nature that rejoices in this, exults in forcing a fellow human being to submit, and experiences euphoria when it is dominant over others, when it is able to exercise willpower without restraint.

As proto-humans became wholly land creatures, it also became necessary to create new ways for humans to communicate. It was as the result of the influence of Mercury that the thorax evolved. Mercury also fashioned leaner and fitter limbs, the better for humans to move towards each other and live and work together. He was, of course, the messenger and scribe of the gods, known as Hermes to the Greeks and Thoth to the Egyptians.

He was also the god of tricks and thieving.

Zodiacs from Egypt, India and Greece showing an extraordinary similarity of imagery.

THIS CHAPTER HAS BEEN A COMMENTARY on Genesis, taking into account parallel traditions, such as the Egyptian and the Greek. This way of interpreting or decoding the Bible surfaced among the Neoplatonists and early Cabalists and was exposed by groups like the Rosicrucians. Much of what we have been considering can be found, for example, in the seventeenth-century writings of Robert Fludd (highly influential on Milton’s Paradise Lost) and, slightly later, Jacob Boehme’s commentary on Genesis, already mentioned, Mysterium Magnum. The work of elucidating these commentaries and reframing the wisdom of the Rosicricians in modern times was carried out by the great Austrian scholar and initiate Rudolf Steiner, whose Anthroposophical Society perhaps has the best claim to be a genuine survivor of the true Rosicrucian stream.

However, even outside the esoteric tradition, it is acknowledged that the ancient civilizations around the world showed remarkable agreement when it came to the images associated with the sequence of the constellations of the zodiac. This agreement is all the more remarkable, you might think, when you consider how little the arrangements of the stars as seen from the surface of the earth suggest these images.

The reality is that the ancients saw in this sequence of the constellations the history of the evolution of humanity and the world, as it was collectively remembered and understood. For them the history of the world was written in the stars.

The head of the Medusa, on a Greek gem. The night sky was a living history, because the heavenly bodies were seen as the material bodies of spiritual beings or gods. The ancients believed they had the ability to communicate with these beings and felt their influence. For instance, it is no coincidence that the star Algol — associated with the head of the Gorgon Medusa in Greek tradition — was felt to be a malignant influence in all the cultures of the ancient world. The Hebrew astrologers named it after the dark spectre Lilith, and even before this Hebrews of the desert had called it the Head of Satan, while the Chinese named it by a phrase meaning ‘piled up corpses’. Diverse cultures were experiencing the same spiritual reality when they looked up at the same area of the sky.

THEREFORE, WHAT IS GENERALLY REGARDED as a modern idea that put paid to ancient superstition is in fact itself an ancient idea. An understanding of the ordered evolution of the species originated thousands of years before Darwin set sail in HMS Beagle.

This secret history was encoded in the zodiac, written down by initiates such as Jacob Boehme and Robert Fludd, and preserved into modern times by esoteric groups such as the Freemasons and various Rosicrucian groups, but always and very deliberately in a way that was hard for outsiders to understand.

Then in the nineteenth century, when the sacred texts of Hinduism were first translated into European languages and openly published, much esoteric knowledge which had previously been carefully managed and controlled, now leaked into the public consciousness. Fascination with these ideas also led to a renewed interest in the Cabala and other Western traditions and helped fire the craze for spiritualism. Many of the great intellectuals of the period became interested in trying to apply scientific methodology to spiritual and spiritualist phenomena. In 1874 Charles Darwin attended séances with the novelist George Eliot. Darwin’s rival A.E. Wallace took part in several controlled experiments into spiritualism, believing its phenomena could be measured and verified just as well as other types of phenomena were measured and verified by the other sciences. As we shall see later, many leading intellectuals, including scientists, believed that there was something in esoteric philosophy, and that science and the supernatural would eventually come together.

Friedrich Max Müller was a young German scholar, employed by the East India Company in the 1840s to translate the Rig Veda, before being awarded a professorial chair at Oxford. He went on to translate the sacred books of the East in fifty volumes, making oriental esoteric doctrines widely available for the first time. He was also very friendly with Darwin with whom he kept up a regular correspondence. The Origin of Species was published in 1859.

IN THE SECRET HISTORY THE EVOLUTION of the species was not the even progress that science supposes. There were twists and turns that have important implications for the way we understand our own physiology and mental make-up. There were dead ends, false starts and even deliberate attempts at sabotage.

Snakes, spiders, beetles and parasitic creatures, on the other hand, were formed under the malignant influence of Dark Side of the Moon.

According to the secret doctrine the animals we know today evolved into the forms we are familiar with today, influenced by the stars and planets, lions by the constellation of Leo, for instance, bulls by the constellation of Taurus. Centaurs, mermaids, sirens, fauns and satyrs were predecessors of anatomically modern humans, representing the impulse to create anatomically modern humans in various transitional stages.

The cosmic plan was that all the world’s biological forms would gradually be incorporated into humankind, which was intended to be the crown of all creation. As the gods led humanity closer and closer to human anatomy as we know it, they assumed the part-animal, part-human forms remembered by the Sumerians, the Egyptians, the Persians and the Babylonians, until they finally assumed anatomically perfect forms remembered by the last great civilizations of the ancient world, the Greeks and Romans. For example, the goddess of the planet Venus was cow-headed Hathor and the god of the planet Mercury was dog-headed Anubis on the walls of Egyptian temples. According to the secret tradition, these same gods, the same living beings, were remembered by the classical Greeks in a later, more evolved form.

The ancient texts describing this era also lay great emphasis on its giants. The author of the Book of Enoch writing in the Hebrew tradition and Plato writing in the Greek tradition agree that in these early pre-Flood times there arose a race of giants. In fact, traditions of an antediluvian race of giants can be found all over the world from the Danavas and Daityas of India to the Miaotse of China. In a Dialogue between Midas the Phrygian and Silenus that has survived in fragmentary form from the time of Alexander the Great, Silenus says that ‘men grew to double the size of the tallest men in his time, and they lived to twice the age’. In the secret tradition, the gigantic Bamyan statues recently destroyed in Afghanistan were not three giant statues of buddhas but three life-sized statues of giants of 173, 120 and 30 feet high. The drapery that made them look like buddhas was made of plaster, said to have been added to the stone later. In the nineteenth century it was recorded that the locals believed them to be statues of the Miaotse, the giants of Chinese tradition. The famous statues of Easter Island are also supposed to record the real heights of historical giants.

Then there were the dead-end freaks — the one-legged men, the bat-men, the insect-men and the men with tails. Manetho, an Egyptian historian of the third century BC, also recorded traditions of the progency of the Watchers, writing ‘they… brought double-winged human beings, also others with four wings and two faces, human beings with one body and two heads, still other human beings had thighs of goats and horns upon their heads; others had the feet of horses behind and men in front; there were also others said to have been man-headed bulls and four-headed dogs, whose tails emerged like fish-tails from their backs… and other monsters, such as all kinds of dragon-like beings.’

This, then, is the era remembered in the great myths and finds echoes in great fantasy literature, such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings or the Narnia books of C.S. Lewis. This fantasy literature represents a welling up into the present of a collective memory of this period when humans lived on the earth with giants, dragons, mermaids, centaurs, unicorns, fauns, satyrs. Legions of dwarves, sylphs, nymphs, dryads and other lesser spiritual beings served the gods and humans rubbed shoulders with them, fought battles with them and sometimes fell in love with them.

IN THE SECRET HISTORY, THE LAST CREATURES to incarnate before humans were the apes. They came about because some human spirits rushed into incarnation too early, before human anatomy had been perfected.

In the secret history, therefore, it is not right to say that humans are descended from apes, rather that apes represent a degeneration of humankind.

Of course none of the fabulous creatures have left any trace in the fossil record. So why have the great men and women of history who were initiates of the secret societies believed in them? Why should any intelligent person even begin to toy with the idea?

6. THE ASSASSINATION OF THE GREEN KING

Isis and Osiris • The Cave of the Skull • The Palladium

IN THE PERIOD DESCRIBED BY THE MYTHS of Olympus, gods walked among humans. But the history of the last god to rule as king of the earth is recorded in its fullest version in Egyptian rather than Greek tradition. The Egyptians unquestioningly believed that their most important god had once walked among them, led them into battle and ruled them wisely and well.

Herodotus described a visit to the shrine where Osiris was said to be buried. ‘Gigantic stone obelisks stand in the courtyard and there is a circular artificial lake next to it. It is on this lake at night that the Egyptians act out the Mysteries, the Black Rite that celebrates the death and resurrection of a being whose name I dare not speak. I know what goes on but… say no more.’

Fortunately we can supplement this teasing account with the history of Osiris as told by Herodotus’s near-contemporary Plutarch, an initiate priest of the Oracle at Delphi. In the following I have used Plutarch’s account as a basis, weaving in additional material from other sources…

We have to start by imagining a world at war, ravaged by roaming monsters and wild animals. Osiris was a great hunter, a ‘Beast Master’ — remembered as Orion the Hunter in Greek mythology and Herne the Hunter in Norse mythology — and a great warrior. He cleared the land of predatory beasts and defeated invading armies.

But this great warrior’s downfall came not in combat with monsters or on the battlefield, but because of the enemy within.

Returning from another military campaign, Osiris was welcomed back by cheering crowds, by the populace who loved him. The reign of Osiris, though constantly under attack from outside the country, would be remembered as a golden age. And it was an age of domestic as well as civil bliss. His name is connected with insemination, ‘ourien’ meaning semen, and what we today call the belt of Orion is a euphemism. In ancient times it was a penis that became erect as the new year progressed. These things should alert us to the fact that there is a strong sexual current in the history that follows.

Osiris accepted an invitation from his brother Seth to a gala dinner to celebrate victory.

Some said Osiris had been sleeping with beautiful dark-skinned Nepthys, wife of Seth and sister of his own wife, Isis. Did this provide Seth with a motive for murder? He may not have needed one. The clue to Seth’s animosity is contained in his name. He was an envoy of Satan.

After dinner Seth announced a game. He had made a beautiful chest, something like a coffin but fashioned out of cedar and inlaid with gold, silver, ivory and lapis lazuli. Whoever fitted most neatly into this chest, he said, could take it away.

One by one the guests tried but they were too fat, to thin, too tall, too short. Finally Osiris stepped in and lay down. ‘It fits!’ he cried. ‘Fits me like the skin I was born in!’

But his pleasure at winning was cut short as Seth slammed down the lid. Seth hammered in nails and filled every crack with molten lead — the metal of Satan. Then Seth and his followers carried the chest down to the banks of the Nile and cast it on the waters.

Osiris was an immortal, and Seth knew he couldn’t kill him, but he could, he believed, get rid of him for good.

The chest floated down the Nile for several days and nights, eventually washing ashore on the coast of what we now call Syria. A tender young tamarisk tree growing there wrapped the chest in its branches, and eventually grew all around it, enclosing it lovingly and protectively in its trunk. In time this tree became famous for its splendour, and the king of Syria had it chopped down and fashioned into a pillar that stood in the centre of his palace.

In the meantime Isis, separated from her man and deposed from her throne, cut her hair, blackened her face with cinders and wandered the surface of the earth, searching, tearfully, for her beloved husband. After a while she took a job as a servant girl at the court of a foreign king. (Readers will readily appreciate how this story, originally a sacred drama in the temples of Egypt, has come down to us in slightly garbled form as the pantomime Cinderella.)

But Isis never gave up hoping to find her man, and one day her magic powers led her to see Osiris clairvoyantly in the chest inside the tree in the middle of the very palace where she was working, the palace of the Syrian king. Isis revealed her true identity as a queen and persuaded the king to chop down the pillar and let her take the chest away.

She left by boat and landed on the island of Chemmis in the Nile delta. There she intended to use her magic arts to revive her husband.

But Seth had magic powers too. He and his evil cohorts were hunting by moonlight, and in a vision Seth suddenly saw Isis cradling Osiris. While she lay sleeping, he swooped down upon the loving couple.

Wall-carving from the temple at Philae.

Determined to make sure this time, he attacked Osiris with savage glee, hacking him into fourteen different pieces that he then had hidden in secret in different corners of the land.

So the widowed Isis had to set out on her travels again. (Freemasonic readers will perhaps be aware that they call themselves ‘Sons of the Widow’ partly as a mark of their participation in her quest.)

Isis wore seven veils to disguise herself from Seth’s minions and was aided by Nepthys. She also loved Osiris and now turned herself into a dog to help find and dig up the parcels of Osiris’s corpse. They retrieved all of them except the penis, which had been eaten by fish in the Nile.

They arrived at an island in Abydos in southern Egypt and there at night Isis and Nepthys bandaged all the remaining parts together using a long, winding piece of white linen.

The first mummy.

Finally, Isis fashioned a penis out of gold and attached it. She was not able to bring him wholly back to life, but she revived Osiris sexually so that she was able to hover, touching him gently and delicately as she enveloped his penis in the form of a bird until he ejaculated. In this way she impregnated herself on him, and in this same way Horus, the new Master of the Universe, was conceived.

Horus grew up to avenge his father’s death by killing his Uncle Seth. Osiris meanwhile lived in the Underworld as its king and Lord of the Dead. It is in this role that he was most often depicted by the Egyptians, usually with a green face, heavily swathed and apparently immobile, but emanating a power that is symbolized in his royal regalia, and carrying the crook and flail.

Isis suckling Horus. For idealists who believe in a mind-before-matter universe, that the universe has helped nurture mankind and helped it to evolve, the image of the mother goddess and child, perhaps even more than the cross, is their central and most important icon.

WHAT THE HELL DOES ALL THIS MEAN? How can we decode it?

On one level it seems to represent the succeeding of one constellation by another in the precession of the equinoxes. Horus deposes Seth and supplants him.

On another level, perhaps the most obvious one, it is a fertility myth about the yearly cycle of the seasons. The appearance of the star Sirius on the horizon after months of being hidden was a sign to the ancient Egyptians that Osiris would arise again shortly afterwards and that the inundation of the Nile was due. Myths of the resurrected god-king were told all around the world from Tammuz and Marduk to the Fisher King stories associated with Parsifal and the King Arthur cycle. They follow this same pattern. The king is fatally wounded in the genitals and while he lies suffering the land stays barren. Then in the spring a magical operation is performed and he rises again, both sexually and in a way that fertilizes the whole world.

This is why Osiris came to be worshipped in Egypt as a god of crops and summer fertility. The longed-for yearly appearance in the east of Orion and his consort Isis, known to us as Sirius, the brightest star in the heavens, heralded the inundation of the Nile that revived the vegetable and so also the animal and human world — literally a matter of life and death. The Egyptians made small mummies out of linen bags stuffed with corn — corn dollies. When it was watered the corn sprouted through the bag, showing that the great god was being reborn.

I am the plant of life, says the Osiris of the pyramid texts.

I WILL NOT DWELL ON THIS ASPECT OF OSIRIS because the level of meaning in myths that relates to fertility has become widely appreciated in the hundred or so years since Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough.

The trouble is that it is has tended to be appreciated at the expense of everything else.

If the Egyptian populace thronging the outer courtyards of the temples understood the story of Osiris on this level of the fertility myth, there was another, higher level known only to the priests of the inner sanctum, the Black Rite whose secrets Herodotus claimed to know.

This secret was a historical secret.

To get at the truth of it, we now need to look at a similarly bizarre and disturbing story from the Greek myths. We know from Plutarch that in antiquity Osiris, the last god-king to rule the earth, was equated with Dionysus, the last of the Olympic gods.

The sources disagree on the subject of Dionysus’s parentage. Some say his father was Hermes, others Zeus. All agree that the little god’s mother was Mother Earth and that, as with Zeus, she hid the infant Dionysus in a cave.

Dionysus, like Zeus, represents the evolution of a new form of consciousness, and again the Titans were determined to nip it in the bud. Again we see that the Titans are the consciousness eaters.

They smeared their faces white with gypsum to conceal their identity as the black-faced sons of the crow god. They didn’t want to frighten him as they lured Dionysus from a cradle hidden in a niche in the back of the cave.

Suddenly the Titans fell on Dionysus, tearing him into pieces. They flung these pieces into a boiling cauldron of milk, then tore the meat from his bones with their teeth.

Meanwhile, Athena had stolen into the cave unnoticed and she snatched away the goat-boy’s heart before it was cooked and eaten. She took this to Zeus, who cut open a hole in his thigh, inserted the body part and sewed it up again. After a while, just as Athena had sprung fully formed from the head of Zeus, the reborn Dionysus sprang fully grown from Zeus’s thigh.

IN ORDER TO UNDERSTAND THE HISTORICAL reality behind this mysterious story and the parallel story of Osiris, it is necessary to remind ourselves that in this account of the history of the universe matter was only precipitated out of the cosmic mind over very long periods and was only very gradually developing towards the sort of solidity we are familiar with today.

It is also as well to remind ourselves again that although we may view many of the great figures of myths, both gods and human, as having an anatomy like our own, this is only how they appear in the eye of imagination.

The world looked very different to the physical eyes that were evolving at this time. This was still the world recorded in the Metamorphoses of the initiate-poet Ovid, when the anatomical forms of humans and animals were not fixed as they are now, a world of giants, hybrids and monsters. The most anatomically advanced humans were evolving the two eyes we have today, but the Lantern of Osiris still protruded from the middle of the forehead, where the bone of the skull had not yet hardened.

Gradually, though, matter became denser. And the important point to bear in mind here is that, despite the fact that matter was precipitated from mind, it was alien to mind. To the extent that matter hardened, it became a greater barrier to the free flow of the cosmic mind. What gradually happened, then, was that as matter hardened to something approaching the solid objects we know today, two parallel dimensions evolved, the spirit world and the material world, the former viewed by the Lantern of Osiris and the latter by the two eyes.

The story of Osiris/Dionysius is the next and perhaps the most decisive stage in this process, when parts of the great cosmic mind, the universal consciousness, became parcelled off and absorbed into individual bodies. The bony roof of the skull hardened, closing over the Lantern of Osiris, so filtering out the great cosmic mind above.

According to the ancient wisdom, so long as there had been no barrier to the spirits, gods and angels ranged up above them, there had been no possibility of humans enjoying the individual free thought or will that distinguishes human consciousness. If we were not cut off from the spirit worlds and from the great cosmic mind, if our bodily make-up did not filter it out, our minds would be completely dazzled and overwhelmed.

Humans would now have some space for themselves in which to think.

The archetypal image of this model of the human condition is Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Prisoners are chained in cave so that they face a wall and cannot look round. Events taking place outside the mouth of the cave throw shadows on to the wall that the prisoners take for reality.

This is an exposition of the philosophy academics call idealism, which holds that the cosmic mind and the thoughts or Thought-Beings emanating from it (ideas) are the higher reality. Physical objects, on the other hand, are mere shadows or reflections of this higher reality.

Because we are remote from the time when people believed in idealism, it is difficult for us to appreciate it as a living philosophy of life, rather than just as a dry as dust theory. But people who believed in idealism experienced the world in an idealistic way and also understood idealism as a historical process.

Academics tend to miss the surprisingly literal layer of meaning in Plato’s Allegory. The cave here is the bony roof of the skull. The skull is a dark, bony room covered in flesh.

Plato was an initiate and would have been well aware of the delicate mechanism of shadowing and reflecting that takes place inside the human skull, the occult physiology and psychology of the secret doctrine.

The defining characteristic of human life, its crowning achievement, and also the crowning achievement of the cosmos, is the capacity for thought. The brain is the most complex, the most subtle, altogether the most mysterious and miraculous physical object in the known universe.

According to the secret doctrine the cosmos created the human brain in order to be able to think about itself.

IT IS VITAL, IF WE ARE TO UNDERSTAND WHAT is happening here, to snap out of a materialistic way of thinking, to look at things, as it were, through the other end of the telescope. If you are an idealist, you believe that the universe was created by Mind for minds.

More particularly, you believe that the cosmic Mind created the material universe in order to give human minds the form they have.

The idealist history of creation is the history of this process, and the great events in this history have been the putting into place of the sun, moon, the planets and the stars. Our consciousness now has the structure it has because the heavenly bodies are ranged above us in the way they are.

With the moon in place to reflect the light of the sun down to earth and with this process reproduced in microcosm within the human skull, with matter having at last become sufficiently dense that the human mind is ‘closed off’, we have reached the point where human anatomy and human consciousness have achieved a form we would recognize today. The basic conditions making it possible for humans to reflect, that is to say, to think, were now in place.

There is, however, one more issue to consider.

IN THE SECRET HISTORY THERE IS ALSO A specifically sexual dimension to this development.

The Mystery priests believed that as the Lantern of Osiris withdrew underneath the bony covering of the skull and begun to occupy the position where we know it today as the pineal gland, the fleshly penis protruded. According to the ancient wisdom, the penis was the last part of the human body to assume its present, fleshly form, which is why artists in the secret societies, such as Michelangelo and, Signorelli, Leonardo’s brother initiate, often depicted the penis of the men of mythology as plant-like.

At this great turning point in history, then, just as the penis became flesh, humans could no longer propagate themselves by the old plant-like method of parthenogenesis. Humanity gave itself entirely over to animal sexuality.

And from this opens up a third and terrible dimension.

The Companions of Pan by Luca Signorelli. This engraving is a rare record of a painting destroyed during World War Two.

Human bones were hardening and becoming material. A human skull became something half-living and half-dead.

This is why it is an axiom of the secret doctrine that the beginning of death was the birth of thought.

According to the secret doctrine, there is a fundamental opposition between life and thought. The life processes in humans — digestion, respiration and the processes of growing, for example — are largely unconscious. The conscious, thoughtful dimension in humans is only made possible by a partial suppression of these life processes. The human organism ‘steals’ forces which in animals are used for growth and biological structuring, and channels them to create the conditions necessary for thought. It is said that this is one of the reasons why humans are, comparatively, sickly animals.

Human thought is a deadly process, restricting both growth and longevity.

When proto-humans were vegetable creatures, they did not experience death. When they began to take on animal characteristics, they began to experience a foretaste of death. This was an experience like dream-filled sleep. After a while they would ‘awake’ again into the material world. This sleep, even when it was very deep sleep, no longer gave humans the refreshment they craved. As human bones and the body of the earth hardened and rigidified to something near to what they are today, humans moved less freely, indeed painfully. The call of death grew louder and louder until it became almost overwhelming.

Sleep deepened until it became like death, and then it became death.

Now humans were finally entangled in the savage cycles of life, death and rebirth, cycles in which creatures must die in order to make way for a new generation. They now lived in a place where fathers must die to make way for sons, where the king must die to give way to a younger, more vigorous successor. Scholars have managed to piece together textual references with carvings at the Step Pyramid complex at Saqqara near Cairo in order to understand something of what must have happened at the ‘Heb-Sed’ rituals that took place there. Having undergone a Mystery school ceremony of death and rebirth in an underground chamber, the newly regenerated pharaoh would emerge into a more public courtyard. There he had to undergo a series of trials of strength and potency, including running with a bull, to try to prove that, as he would ritually cry, ‘I am free to run through the land’. If the pharaoh failed these tests he would suffer the same bloody death as the bull. The following eyewitness account, of a bull god sacrifice in India, comes from a nineteenth-century British traveller: ‘When the stroke is given which severs the head of the victim from his body, the cymbals strike up, the tom-toms beat, the horn is blown and the whole assembly, shouting, smear their bodies with blood, they roll themselves in it, and, dancing like demons, accompany their dances with obscene songs, allusions and gestures.’

Herodotus must have witnessed something very like this if he was allowed see the Black Rite of the Egyptians. At the climax of the initiation ceremony we have been following, the candidate would also have seen something similar — the death of a great god.

In Northern Europe the god who became entangled in the cycles of nature was portrayed as the Green Man. A leaf-clad god, fierce like nature but also a victim of it, Osiris stares down at the congregation from the walls of countless Christian churches.

THE HUMAN CONDITION WAS CHANGING on many different levels. We have reached a pivotal time in the secret history of the world when matter had precipitated out of mind and hardened to such a degree that the human skull was finally formed into a shape very like it is today. But the Third Eye was still much more active than it is today and had not become vestigial. Perceptions of the material world were equally as vivid as perceptions of the spiritual world.

A human being ushered into a throne room might look at another human being sitting in front of him, or at least what appeared to be very like a human being. Although humans no longer had unlimited access to the spirit worlds, the man might then be permitted to look at the king again with his Third Eye, and, if he did, he might see a god sitting there.

The greatest historical record of humanity’s lost ability to exercise this double mode of perception comes in the Hindu sacred text the Bhagavad Gita. A charioteer called Arjuna has been full of doubts on the eve of battle. So Krishna, the leader he is about to drive into the fray, allows Arjuna to see him as he looks to the eye of vision, in his supreme, divine form. Trembling with awe and wonder he sees Krishna’s eyes as the sun and moon, sees that Krishna fills all of heaven and earth with radiance as if with the light of a thousand suns, that he is worshipped by countless other gods and that he contains within himself all the wonders of the cosmos. Afterwards Krishna shrinks into his human form again, and shows his gentle human face to reassure terrified Arjuna.

Osiris might equally have given this experience to someone who had walked into his throne room at Thebes. Jacob Boehme described the world of cut stone, carved wood, of royal robes and flesh and blood as ‘Outworld’. He intended to be a bit disparaging. He knew that the inner world, accessible to the Third Eye, is the real one, and in the midst of the bloody, painful, death-drenched world in which the followers of Osiris now found themselves, this is what they clung on to.

THE MYTH OF OSIRIS, THEREFORE, HAS many layers of meaning, but it is above all a myth about consciousness.

It informs us that we must all die — but in order to be reborn. The key point in this story is that Osiris is reborn not into ordinary life but into a higher state of consciousness. ‘I shall not decay,’ he proclaims in the Book of the Dead, ‘I shall not rot, I shall not putrefy, I shall not turn into worms, I shall have my being, I shall live, I shall live.’ Again we come across a phrasing, an idea of being born again that may seem strangely familiar to Christians. Osiris is here discovering that he has what Christians call ‘eternal life’.

IN THE STORY OF OSIRIS WE HAVE SEEN how the forces of sex, death and thought became ever more tightly entwined in order to create the unique thing that is human consciousness. The wise men and women of antiquity understood how death and sexuality are necessary for thought to arise, and because they understood how these forces had been woven together in a historical process, they also understood how conscious thought could be used to manipulate the sexual and the death forces in order to achieve higher states. Since ancient times these techniques have been among the best kept secrets of the Mystery schools and secret societies.

We will look into these techniques in some detail later, but all this is a difficult area for us because our understanding of sexuality tends to be on a very materialistic level.

For instance, it is very difficult for us today to look at paintings and carvings of the erect phallus adorning the walls of Hindu or Egyptian temples and to imagine how they would have been intended to be ‘read’, because in the modern world spirituality has for the most part been removed from sex.

In the ancient world sperm was understood to be an expression of the cosmic will, the hidden generative power in things, the ordering principle of all life. Each particle of sperm was held to contain a particle of the prima materia out of which everything was made, a particle which could explode with incredible burning heat to form a whole new macrocosm. Adolescents in our era may catch some reverberation of the ancient feeling, when the first stirrings of sexuality bring on feelings of keen, new intensity and an aching desire, felt in the breast, to embrace the whole world.

Desire is always open to corruption, though. What we desire, we possess in our imagination. Desire hardens. When we desire someone we ‘reify’ them to borrow Jean-Paul Sartre’s phrase. We want to bend them to our will, which is the influence of the Spirit of Opposition.

In the mind-before-matter view this diminishing of other people by the way we perceive them can be literally true. The way you look at people affects their internal physiological and chemical constitution.

Modern science has taught us to think of the sexual urge as something impersonal, something that has a will apart from our own, as an expression of the will to survive of the species. For the ancients, too, the sexual urge was an expression of a will beyond the individual. They saw sexuality impelling us towards the great moments of our lives, because they saw how sex controls who we are born to, as well as determining the people we are attracted to.

A man in the ancient world might see a woman he desired and be overcome by a quite frightening, overwhelming desire. He would know that the rest of life would be shaped by her response. He would also know that the roots of his desire lay very, very deep, having their origins long before his present lifetime. He would know that the sexual desire that drove him towards that woman was not merely biological — as in the modern account — but had other dimensions, spiritual and sacred. If the planet of love had been steering them towards this meeting, then so, too, had the other great gods of the sky been preparing this experience for them over many, many millennia and through many incarnations.

Melancholia I by Dürer and opposite The Death Posture by Austin Osman Spare. In the same way that in the secret societies techniques are taught to control sexual forces as a way of achieving higher forms of consciousness, so there are also teachings on channelling the closely intertwined death forces. Osman Spare developed a practice which involved closing off mouth, nostrils, ears and eyes. In India adepts including Bhagavan Shri Ramana and Thakur Haranath have achieved long, death-like trances which have even led to their being prepared for burial, then been reborn into a new, higher form of consciousness.

Today we know that when we look at a distant star we are seeing something that happened a very long time ago, because of the time it has taken for the light from that star to reach the earth. The ancients knew another truth, which is that when they contemplated their own will, they were also looking at something which they had formed long before they were born. The ancients knew that every time they felt themselves merging with another human being in the sexual act, the flight of whole constellations was involved. They knew, too, that how they made love would have an effect on the cosmos for millennia to come.

When we make love we are interreacting with great cosmic powers, and if we choose to do so consciously we may participate in this magical act. It was this magical element in the sexual act that Rilke was referring to when he wrote that ‘two people coming together in the night summon up the future’.

THERE IS ONE FURTHER TWIST TO THE STORY of Osiris, a dark shadow to an already dark story. We saw that Isis had a sister, Nepthys, and there was a suggestion of sexual impropriety with Osiris, some sexual fall from grace perhaps. But later Nepthys used her magic powers to help Isis in her search for the body parts of Osiris and helped, too, to bind them together again.

Nepthys, then, is a figure representing some dark form of wisdom, fallen but capable of redemption.

In Christian mythology this same figure, this same spiritual impulse, reappears as Mary Magdalene. We have been following the history of the Fall. We have seen that the Fall was not the fall of human spirits into a pre-existing material world — it is a very easy and common mistake to imagine it like this — but a Fall in which human bodies became denser as the material world became denser.

We live in a Fallen world. Just as myriad spirits help us to grow and evolve, so too others, just as numerous, work to destroy both us and the very fabric of our world. In Christian mythology — and in the secret doctrine of the Church — the earth suffered and was punished for having fallen by having her own spirit imprisoned deep in the underworld inside her. Sometimes called Sophia, notably in the Christian tradition, this wisdom is only reached when we travel down through the dark and demonic places of the earth and also of ourselves. It is because of Nepthys — because of Sophia — that we all have need to touch rock bottom, to experience the worst that life has to offer, to wrestle with our demons, to test our intellect to its limits and journey to the other side of madness.

We know from Plutarch that in antiquity Isis was identified with Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom. Athena had a half-sister, a dark-skinned girl called Pallas, whom she loved more than anyone. Carefree, they used to play on the plains of Anatolia, running games, wrestling and mock fights with spears and shields. But one day Athena was distracted. She slipped and accidentally speared Pallas to death.

From then on she called herself Pallas Athena, to acknowledge the dark side of herself, just as in a sense Nepthys represents the dark side of Isis. She also carved a statue of Pallas out of black wood to memorialize her.

This statue, called the Palladium, carved by the hand of a goddess and washed by her tears was revered as an object of world-changing power in antiquity. When the people of Anatolia kept it in their capital, Troy was the greatest city in the world. The Greeks wanted to know what the Trojans knew. When they carried it off triumphantly, the leadership of world civilization passed to them. It was later buried beneath Rome in all its glory, until the Emperor Constantine moved it to Constantinople, when it became the centre of world spirituality. Today it is said to be hidden somewhere in Eastern Europe, which is why in recent times, the great powers, the Freemasonic ones, have sought to control this region.

The cult of Nepthys together with its Greek and Christian equivalents, forms one of the darkest and most powerful streams in occultism. Great forces like these shape the history of the world even now.

7. THE AGE OF DEMI-GODS AND HEROES

The Ancient Ones • The Amazons • Enoch • Hercules, Theseus and Jason

WHEN HERODOTUS WAS PUZZLING OVER the strange wooden statues of the kings who had reigned before any human king, the Egyptian priests told him that no one could understand this history without knowing about ‘the three dynasties’.

If Herodotus had been an initiate of the Mystery schools, he would have understood that the three dynasties were, first, the oldest generation of creator gods — Saturn, Rhea, Uranos — the second generation made up of Zeus, his siblings and their children, such as Apollo and Athena — and lastly the generation of demi-gods and heroes. This last generation is the subject of this chapter.

ALL THE WHILE MATTER WAS GROWING denser, and because matter and spirit are inimical, the gods became less and less a constant presence. The higher, the more ineffable, the god, the harder it became to squeeze down into the tightening net of physical necessity that covered the earth. Great gods such as Zeus or Pallas Athena seemed to make their presence felt and intervene directly in human affairs only at times of crisis.

In the Mystery schools it was taught that a decisive change in this direction came about in 13,000 BC. From then on the higher gods would find it difficult to descend further than the moon. Their visits to the surface of the earth became infrequent and fleeting. It was believed that on these visits they accidentally left behind the strange and unearthly mistletoe, a plant which cannot grow in the soil of the earth, but which grew naturally on the moon.

Medallion showing Isis on the moon. In The Golden Asse by Apuleius, Isis is described in the following terms: ‘Just above her brow was a disk in the form of a mirror, or resembling the light of the Moon, in one of her hands she bore serpents, in the other, blades of corn.’

Without the presence of the greater gods to keep them down, the crab-like progeny of Saturn that had been imprisoned in underground caves began to creep up into the daylight again, infesting the surface of the earth and preying on humankind. Sea monsters also leapt on to the shore to drag off members of the tribe who had strayed too close. Giants carried off cattle and sometimes preyed on human flesh, too.

Full-scale wars took place between humans and armies of other creatures, stragglers from the previous epoch. The war between the Lapiths — a tribe of Neolithic flint-knappers — and the Centaurs is recorded on the Parthenon frieze. The Centaurs had been invited to the wedding of the leader of the Lapiths, but were inflamed by the sight of the white, hairless bodies of the Lapith women. They dragged off the bride and raped her — and her bridesmaids and page boys, too. In the ensuing fight a Lapith king was killed, and so began a feud that lasted for generations.

Drawing by the nineteenth-century Swiss-born artist Henry Fuseli of a demon sometimes called the Hanon-Tramp. Moon demons inhabit the ‘Dark Side of the Moon’, where they play a legitimate role in the spiritual economy of the cosmos, helping to tear corruption from human spirits after death. However, if they break through into the earthly realm, they appear as malevolent dwarves. The height of a six- or seven-year old child with large, hypnotic eyes, they sometimes emit an ear-splitting yell that can freeze a human with fear. More powerful when the moon is waning, these demons may account for some modern encounters with ‘aliens’, which in a physical form at any rate play no part in esoteric cosmology.

Battle of Lapiths and Centaurs in the Parthenon frieze.

As bones thickened, the animal world began to feel its weight. Creation grew tired and animals grew vicious, as they had to struggle to survive. As humanity continued to fall, so too did nature. It became red in tooth and claw. Lions and wolves began to attack humans. Plants grew thorns to scratch and make the gathering of fruit difficult, and poisonous plants evolved, like wolfsbane.

The Parthenon frieze also records battles against the Amazons, a race of warrior women, who were the first to ride horses into battle. An Amazon had to kill a man before she was allowed to marry. Wearing armour of fur and carrying shields in a half-moon shape, their cavalry scythed down row upon row of foot soldiers. They were magnificent, and they represented a new form of human behaviour, because hard on the heels of the possibility of death had come the possibility of killing and of murder. Cut us and we would bleed. Cut us hard or often enough and we would die. Some humans began to delight in this. The Book of Enoch describes how the surface of the earth became covered with warring armies, and says that ‘human flesh itself had become perverse’.

Because of the encasing, bony skull and the enmeshing of the organs of spiritual perception, humans were now shut off not only from the gods ranged above them, but also from each other. A shadow was falling over human relations. It became possible for one centre of consciousness to believe itself cut off from another. ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ asked Cain, who represents the evolution of the new form of consciousness. This question would have meant nothing to Adam and Eve, who were like branches on the same tree.

In the same way that we would be overwhelmed by the spirit worlds if they were not filtered out, if there were no filter on empathy we would feel everyone’s pain as our own and so be completely overwhelmed by the suffering of others. Without a degree of isolation no human could experience him or herself as an individual, no one could feel the burning fire in the forehead that drove Cain onwards. But of course there were pitfalls in this…

History shows that humans have a horror of humans with other forms of consciousness, which they often find hard to tolerate. Sometimes they feel the need to eradicate it from the face of the earth. We need only think of the treatment by Europeans of the Aztecs, the near genocide of the Aborigines of Australia or the attempt to wipe out gypsies by the Nazis. Later we will see that since the time of Moses, the Jews have often been at the forefront of forging new forms of consciousness.

Humans were now free to make mistakes, to choose the bad and to enjoy it. It was no longer the case that humans received all their spiritual nourishment from the milky sap-filled breasts of Mother Earth. The natural law and the moral law were no longer the same thing.

The earth grew colder, harder and more dangerous in many different ways. People struggled to survive and would sometimes find themselves stretched to the limits of endurance. They discovered that the road ahead would always be fraught with the danger of death, but unless they took that road they would die anyway. From now on they would have to put at risk what they valued most or they would lose it. Beyond a certain point, there is no return. That point, they discovered, must be reached.

They discovered uncomfortable things about themselves, too — that they had become brutalized by this new world, and had grown a hard, protective carapace of habit. To break open this carapace and expose the sensitive part of themselves, the better part that brought them fully alive again, was a bloody and painful process that few could face.

The world became darker, a place of paradox where opposites meet and where it is painful to be human, a world calling out for heroism.

THE LARGEST AND MOST TERRIFYING OF the monstrous, progeny of Saturn came last. Typhon emerged out of the sea, heading straight for Olympus, spitting fire from his mouth and blocking out the sun with his bat-like wings. He had the head of an ass, and when he emerged from the sea, the gods saw that below the waist he was nothing but a coiling mass of thousands of snakes. Zeus tried to fell him with thunderbolts, but Typhon only shrugged them aside. As Typhon bore down upon him, Zeus then snatched the flint scythe that Cronos had used to castrate Uranos. But the monster’s snake-like limbs wrapped themselves around the limbs of Zeus, holding them fast and snatching the scythe from him. Then keeping the king of the gods pinned down, Typhon cut out all his sinews. Zeus is immortal and could not be killed, but without his sinews he was completely helpless.

Typhon took the sinews away with him and retired to a cave to recuperate from his own wounds. Apollo and Pan then emerged from the shadows and hatched a plan. They went to find Cadmus, the dragon-slaying hero, who was wandering the earth looking for his sister Europa. She had been carried away by Zeus, disguised as a white bull. Now Apollo and Pan promised Cadmus that if he helped them, his quest would be over.

Pan gave Cadmus his pipes, and, disguised as a shepherd, the hero went to play for the wounded Typhon. Never having heard music before, Typhon was entranced by this strange new sound. Cadmus told him that it was nothing compared to the music he could make with a lyre, but sadly the sinews on his lyre were broken. Typhon handed over the sinews of Zeus, and Cadmus told him he needed to go back to his shepherd’s hut to string his lyre. So it was that Zeus regained his sinews and was able to surprise the monster, overpower him and bury him under Mount Etna.

The important point to note here is that Zeus was only saved with the help of a hero. The gods now needed humans.

THE MYTHS OF THE GREEK HEROES — Cadmus, Hercules, Theseus and Jason — are some of the most famous stories in human history. It might seem as if they are entirely missing from the biblical account, but according to the ancient tradition preserved in the secret societies Cadmus is to be identified with Enoch, the first human in Hebrew tradition to whom the gods turn for help.

The Old Testament contains only a few enigmatic words on Enoch. Genesis 5.21-24. ‘And Enoch lived sixty and five years, and begat Methuselah, And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years and begat sons and daughters; And all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years; And Enoch walked with God and he was not: for God took him.’

There is little to go on here but, as we have already seen, there is a literary tradition about Enoch in Hebrew literature, including, as we have seen, some books which are widely quoted in the New Testament. In one of these, the Book of Jubilees, Enoch is described as discovering the writings of the Watchers, but this is a clumsy translation. What is meant is that he discovered, which is to say invented, language itself.

Hebrew tradition presents Enoch as a strange figure. His shining countenance was uncomfortable to look at and he was evidently an uncomfortable presence. In this he may remind us of the Jesus of the Gospels, captivating vast crowds but feeling that he wants to withdraw in order to be alone with the great spiritual beings who are showing themselves to him.

In solitude Enoch was able to commune with the gods and angels with a clarity that humankind was fast losing.

Initially Enoch would spend one day teaching the multitude, then spend three days alone. Then he spent only one day a week, then one day a month and finally one day a year. The crowds yearned for his return, but when he did so his face shone so brightly it was so uncomfortable for them to look at that they had to avert their eyes.

What was Enoch doing on his solitary vigils? We will see repeatedly that great turning points in history are caused by two types of thought. First, turning points arise when great thinkers like Socrates, Jesus Christ and Dante think for the first time something that nobody has ever thought before. Second, turning points arise when thoughts are set down and inscribed indelibly, because they preserve some ancient wisdom that is in danger of being lost forever.

The generation of Jared, Enoch’s father, had been the last to experience an uninterrupted vision of the successive waves or generations of gods, angels and spirits emanating from the mind of God. What Enoch was preserving in the first language and the first stone monuments, the oldest stone circles, was this vision of the hierarchies of spiritual beings ranged above. Enoch is one of the great figures in the secret history of the world because he gave a complete account of what we might call, in today’s terms, the ecosystem of the spirit worlds. For this, he is remembered not only as Cadmus in the Greek tradition, but as Idris in the Arabian tradition and Hermes Trismegistus in the esoteric Egyptian tradition. He knew that, just as thought processes weaken health, language weakens memory. He also looked forward to an approaching catastrophe which would destroy everything made by mankind, except what he carried in his head and the sturdiest stone monuments.

He memorialized the heavenly hierarchies not only in stone monuments but in the invention of language itself. Because according to the secret doctrine all language originated with the giving of names to the heavenly bodies.

Indeed, the earliest art, such as is found at the famous caves at Lascaux in France and Altamira in Spain is likewise really a depiction of these same heavenly bodies. These heavenly bodies are the thoughts of the great cosmic mind, weaving through everything in the cosmos. Language and art now enabled humans to appropriate these cosmic thoughts in some way and to make them their own.

Enoch retreated further and further into the mountains, where the ground was inhospitable and the weather stormy. Fewer and fewer were able to follow him. He said: ‘And my eyes saw the secrets of the lightning and of thunder, and the secrets of clouds and the dew, and there I saw from whence they proceed and where they come from to soak the Earth. And there I saw closed chambers out of which the winds are divided, and the chamber out of which came the mist and the cloud that has hung over the earth from its beginning. And I saw the chambers out of which come the Sun and the Moon, where they go to.’

The Book of Enoch relates that in his final, ecstatic vision he was given a tour of the heavens, of the different spheres of heaven and the different orders of angels who live there and the whole history of the cosmos.

Finally, Enoch addressed the last ragged band of followers who had been able to keep up with him on his mountain trek. As he was speaking they looked up and saw a horse descend from the sky in a whirlwind. Enoch mounted the horse and rode into the sky.

WHAT THIS STORY OF ENOCH’S ASCENSION into heaven tells us is that he did not die as humans do — because he was not properly human. Like the other demi-gods and heroes of Greek tradition, Enoch/Cadmus was an angel occupying the body of a human.

The stories of Hercules, Theseus and Jason are too well known to need retelling here, but aspects of them have special significance for the secret history.

In the stories of the man-god Hercules we see just how deeply into matter humankind had fallen. Hercules wanted to be left alone to get on with his material life, to enjoy worldly pleasures — getting drunk, feasting, brawling — but he was repeatedly interrupted by his duty to follow his spiritual destiny. A stumbling, bungling, sometimes laughable figure, Hercules was torn between opposing cosmic forces.

Ovid also shows how, as the gods withdrew, Eros began to make mischief. Hercules was hag-ridden by desire as much as by the spirits who try to control him.

Today if we fall in love with a beautiful person, we may well see beauty as a sign of great spiritual wisdom. When we look into beautiful eyes, we may perhaps hope to find there the very secret of life itself. The story of Hercules’s love for Deianira, Ariadne’s love for Theseus, or Jason’s love for Medea, show that the spiritual connection between people was already becoming clouded. It was now possible to gaze into the eyes of a beauty and be deceived about what you saw there. Sexuality had become tricky.

The danger of delusion was made worse, by the love of delusion. What is best for me and what is worst for me, the thing I most ought to do and the thing I most ought not to do, look very much alike. In my heart of hearts I may know which is which — but then a spirit of perversity makes me want to choose wrongly. Great psychic perturbation always surrounds great beauty.

The twelve labours of Hercules show him moving through a series of trials each set for him by the successive spirits who rule the constellations. It is a series of trials which all humans take, and by and large they take them unwittingly, like Hercules. The life of Hercules, then, illustrates the pain of being a man. He is Everyman, trapped in a cycle of pain.

To modern sensibility the fact of a story’s being allegorical makes it less likely to be an accurate depiction of real events. Modern writers try to drain their texts of meaning, to flatten them out in order to make them more naturalistic.

To the ancients, who believed that every single thing that happened on earth was guided by the motions of the stars and planets, the more a narrative brought out these ‘poetic’ patterns, the truer and more realistic the text.

So, it may be tempting to view the journeys into the Underworld made by Hercules, Theseus and Orpheus as mere metaphor. It is true that on one level their adventures represent the beginning of humanity’s coming to terms with the reality of death. But as we try to imagine the adventures underground of Hercules, Theseus and the others, we must not imagine these to be purely internal or mental journeys such as we might contemplate today. When they battled with monsters and demons, they were confronting forces that infested their own beings, the corrupted human flesh, the dark labyrinth of the human brain. But they were also fighting real monsters of flesh and blood.

IF WE COMPARE THE STORY OF THESEUS and the Minotaur with a much earlier myth such as Perseus and the Gorgon Medusa, we can see that by the time of Theseus the rate of metamorphosis seems to have slowed down. In the Perseus story every episode involves supernatural powers or magical transformation. On the other hand, the bull-man Minotaur is apparently a rare survivor or straggler from an earlier epoch.

THE LAST ADVENTURE THAT THE demi-gods and heroes took together should also be interpreted as history. Wars were fought to try to steal the ‘inner sanctum’ knowledge of rival tribes, and on one level Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece was an example of just such a raid.

Isaac Newton revealed some of the secret wisdom of his brotherhood when he showed that the quest for the Fleece, like the labours of Hercules, shows the progress of the sun though the signs of the zodiac. What he did not reveal, though he undoubtedly would have been aware of it, was that the Fleece represents animal spirit that has been totally purified by catharsis, so that it shines like gold.

Curled round the tree is a snake that intends to prevent Jason from taking the Fleece. The snake is a descendant of the Luciferic serpent that originally worked this corruption into the physiology of humankind, coiled around the tree in the Garden of Eden.

But if Jason can wrest the Fleece from him, he will win great powers for himself. He will be able to ask his spirit to leave his body at will, to communicate freely with gods and angels like the people of earlier epochs. He will be able to control his own physiology, influence the minds of others telepathically, even transform matter.

So the text of Jason’s quest by Apollonius should be read as a manual of initiation as well as a true historical account. We will see later how alchemists of the Middle Ages and later Newton himself acted on this insight.

IF YOU LOOK AT THIS PERIOD OF ENOCH, Hercules and Jason with the eye of science, you will see none of the great events that have been described in this chapter. You will not see heroes or monsters arising from the sea or phantasmal deities like Zeus or black magic causing the fall of empires. You will see only wind and rain on a dreary, natural landscape whose only human features are at best some fairly unimpressive dwellings and primitive stone tools.

The Labours of Hercules. The neoplatonist philosopher Porphyry decoded these twelve labours to reveal the signs of the zodiac that lie behind them. According to modern thinking, if a narrative is allegorical in form, this is a good reason for believing it cannot be an accurate account of historical events. But if you believe, as the ancients did, that all events on earth are governed by the movements of the heavenly bodies, then the opposite is true. All accounts of real historical events must inevitably mirror astronomical events like the passage of the sun through the constellations. Hercules is here depicted on a sarcophagus relief journeying through the constellations of Leo, represented by the Nemean Lion, Scorpio represented by the Hydra and the Erymanthian Boar, representing Libra — by taming the Wild Boar Hercules is balancing animal spirits with a measured intelligence.

But perhaps science only shows us what happened on the surface. Perhaps more important things were happening underneath? What the secret history preserves is a memory of subjective experience, of the great experiences that transformed the human psyche during this period. So which is more real? Which tells us more about the reality of being human in this period, the scientific one or the esoteric one encoded in the ancient myths?

Might there be levels of truth or reality in today’s events that are missed by the science-oriented common-sense consciousness we use to navigate our way through traffic jams, supermarkets and e-mails?

8. THE SPHINX AND THE TIMELOCK

Orpheus • Daedalus, the First Scientist • Job • Solving the Riddle of the Sphinx

WHEN JASON SET OFF ON THE ARGOS ON what proved to be the last hurrah of the demi-gods and heroes, his boat contained many of the great figures of the age, including Hercules and Theseus. But among these muscle-bound super-heroes, there was one with very different powers, a transitional figure who looked forward to life after the demi-gods and heroes had left, when humans would have to fend for themselves.

Orpheus had travelled down from the north, bringing with him the gift of music. His music was so beautiful that it could not only charm humans and animals, it could make trees, even rocks move.

On the voyage with Jason he helped the heroes when brute force could not. Singing and accompanying himself on his lyre, he charmed the great clashing rocks that threatened to crush the Argos and he sent the dragon that guarded the GoldenFleece to sleep.

On his return he fell in love with Eurydice, but on the day of their wedding she was bitten on the ankle by a snake and died. Half-blinded by grief, Orpheus descended into the Underworld. He was determined not to accept the new order of life and death, determined to win her back.

Death was now a terrible thing, no longer a welcome rest when the spirit recuperated and refreshed itself in preparation for its next incarnation. It was a painful separation from those you love.

Descending deeper and deeper, Orpheus encountered the grim old ferryman Charon, who at first refused to row him across the River Styx to the land of the dead. But Charon was charmed by the lyre, as was Cerberus, the three-headed dog whose job was to guard the way to the Underworld. Orpheus charmed, too, the terrible demons whose task was to tear from the spirits of the dead the unregenerate animal lusts and savage desires that still clung to them.

Finally, he reached the place where the King of the Underworld held his love captive. The King was not unequivocally charmed by Orpheus, because the release he granted was not unconditional. There was just one, small condition. Eurydice could return to the world of the living if Orpheus could lead her up there without ever once turning round to make sure she was following.

But of course Orpheus, at the last moment, as the sunlight hit his face, perhaps worried he was being tricked by the King, did turn round. He saw the love of his life suddenly pulled back down away from him, down the stone passageways, out of sight, fading into the Underworld like a wisp of smoke. The other, more muscle-bound heroes had succeeded in their quests by fighting the good fight to the limits of their strength and endurance, by being brave and never giving up. But times were changing. The great initiates who preserved this story for us wanted us to understand that Orpheus failed because he tried to do what every good hero had done — he tried to make sure.

It may also be that his music lost some of its charm, because it did not stop a band of maenads, the female followers of Dionysus, throwing themselves upon him and tearing him limb from bloody limb. They threw his head into the river, and it floated downstream, still singing. As it floated by, the weeping willows crowded the banks. Finally the head of Orpheus was rescued and set on an altar in a cave, where crowds came to consult it as an oracle.

IF CADMUS/ENOCH NAMED THE PLANETS and the stars, it was Orpheus who measured them, and by measuring them, invented numbers. There are eight notes in an octave, but in a sense really only seven, as the eighth always represents elevation to the next octave. The octaves, then, refer to ascent through the seven spheres of the solar system, which in antiquity were central to all thought and experience. By giving a system of notation, Orpheus was originating mathematics. Concepts could be manipulated, paving the way for the scientific understanding of the physical universe.

Orpheus is a transitional figure because on the one hand he is a magician with the power to move stones with music, but on the other he is a forerunner of science. Later we will see a similar ambiguity in many great scientists, even in modern times, but the other representative of the transition taking place at the time of Orpheus was Daedalus. (We know he was a contemporary because he was the keeper of the Minotaur, killed by Theseus, who joined in the quest for the Golden Fleece.)

Daedalus is famous for making wings out of wax and feathers to help him and his son, Icarus, to escape from Crete. He also designed the labyrinth and is credited with inventing the saw and the sail. So he was an inventor, an engineer, an architect in ways we would recognize today. He did not use magic.

If science was an innovation of the age, so too was magic. Magic was the application of a scientific way of thinking to the supernatural. In this age we no longer see the seemingly effortless shape shiftings of earlier ages or the turning of those who have offended into spiders, stags or plants. Instead we see Jason’s wife Medea and Circe, to whom Medea went for help, advice and magical protection. Circe and Medea had to work in order to achieve their supernatural effects, using potions, spells, incantations. If the invention of words and numbers enabled humans to begin to manipulate the natural world, it also gave them the idea of being able to manipulate the spirit world. Medea offered Jason a blood-red potion, made from the juice of the crocus, to soothe the dragon that guarded the Fleece. She used chants and sprigs of juniper to spray the dragon’s eyelids. She dealt in magic elixirs and knew the secrets of the snake-charmer.

As the material world continued to become denser and as the beings of the spirit worlds were increasingly squeezed out, even the lowest level of spirits, the nature spirits, the sylphs, dryads, naiads and gnomes, became elusive. They seemed to disappear into the streams, trees and rocks, fleeing the first light of dawn. But they still seemed tantalizingly close, and it was these spirits — then as now — that magicians found easier to manipulate.

Some magicians tried to bend the great gods to their will, too, to draw them down from the moon. The myths of the original werewolf, Lycaon, who prompted the flood of Deucalion, of Poseidon’s flooding of the Thracian plain, causing Athena to move her city to the present site of Athens, and of the terrible storms that pursued Medea wherever she went are depictions of the environmental catastrophes that were resulting from the practice of black magic.

At the end of this period humanity is sick and so, too, is nature.

Magicians drawing down the moon. Greek drawing.

ORPHEUS MIGHT HAVE FAILED BY THE standards of the conventional hero, but his influence on history was greater and more long-lasting than that of Hercules, Theseus and Jason. The music Orpheus originated would be a balm for healing the sick and troubled spirit of humanity down the millennia.

If people were becoming isolated not only from the gods but from one another, if they were worn down by an always harsh and sometimes hostile environment, and if their imaginations were infected by the perverse and bestial impulses of magic, all of this would now be countered by the aesthetic influence on the imagination, not only through music but also literature, painting and sculpture. Inspiring images of beauty, truth and love worked on humanity at a level below that of the conscious mind. They were more powerful than any explicit, abstract moral teaching.

Orpheus was the mythical founder of the Greek mysteries that would light up and inspire ancient Greece.

PERHAPS THE MOST POWERFUL ARTISTIC expression of the spiritual crisis at the end of the age of the heroes comes in the Bible.

In the written form it has come down to us, the story of Job is one of the later texts of the Old Testament, but in its origins it is one of the oldest parts.

Job was a good man, yet he lost all his money. His sons and daughters died. Left all alone he was covered with a plague of boils. Meanwhile, the wicked prospered. The story of Job has come down to us, not because he was a great leader or doer of great deeds, but because he was the first human being ever to think a very important and deeply true thought: ‘life is unfair’. Hercules had been the sport of the gods, but it was Job who cried out to the heavens in defiance. Unlike Hercules, Job had the language to do this.

Today we take it for granted that we have enough mental manoeuvrability to choose what to think about. However, before the invention of language, which was the great achievement of this age, this manoeuvrability would not have been possible.

Language enables us to distance ourselves from the world. It helps us to withdraw from what is physically present, and can enable us to break down experience, whether present or not, into bits we can manipulate. To some degree we can put experience into order as we wish.

There is an alienating element to this process. As well as the advantages it brought, language made the world a colder, darker and trickier place. We saw earlier how thinking is itself a deadening process. Language, too, makes us unhealthy, less vividly alive and less sure-footed in our wanderings in the world.

So language brought with it a new form of consciousness. Before Job people fel that everything that happened to them was meant to happen to them, that there was a divine purpose behind everything. They did not — could not — question. Now language enabled Job to step back. He began to notice inconsistencies. Life is unfair.

Blake’s Job.

But God rebuked Job for understanding so little. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the Earth? When the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? Have you entered the springs of the sea or walked the depths of the deep? Have the gates of death been opened to you? Do you know where the Sun lives and where the darkness comes from? Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the belt of Orion?’

What saved Job was that he had that sense we all have when we awake from a wonderful dream, when we try to bring it back but cannot. He was aware that the range of human experience was in some way diminishing. ‘Oh that I was as in the times of old, when God watched over me, when his lamp shone on my head’ (Job 29:2-4).

Job refers, of course, to the ‘Lantern of Osiris’.

Today the word ‘apocryphal’ carries pejorative associations, but really it means hidden — or esoteric. In the apocryphal Testament of Job, he was rewarded for being conscious of what he did not know, conscious of what he had lost. Job’s sons and daughters were returned to him, his daughters wearing golden girdles. One belt gave Job the ability to understand the language of the angels, the second the secrets of creation and the third the language of the Cherubim.

MUSIC, MATHEMATICS AND LANGUAGE were invented in the age of the heroes and so too was astronomy — another achievement attributed to Enoch. The first stone circles not only marked out the dispositions of the hierarchies of the gods and angels, they marked out the positions of the stars and planets.

In the secret history, therefore, it also now becomes possible for the first time to begin to fix the dates of great events.

BETWEEN THE LION PAWS OF THE SPHINX at Giza, gazing eastwards, is a large stone that carries the inscription ‘This is the Splendid Place of the First Time’. The mysterious First Time, or Zep Tepi, was a phrase the Egyptians used to allude to the beginning of time. In their mythology Zep Tepi was marked by the rising of the primordial mound out of the waters and the alighting on it of the Phoenix.

By a remarkable feat of reconstruction, which he made while standing between the paws of the Sphinx, Robert Bauval has managed to determine the date of Zep Tepi. In Egyptian mythology the Phoenix arrived to mark the beginning of a new age. In Egyptian mythology the Phoenix, or Bennu bird, is the symbol of the Sothic cycle of 1,460 years, (which is the time it took the Egyptians’ 365-day calendar to resynchronize with the beginning of the yearly cycle, marked by the heliacal rising of Sirius). The synchronization of these two cycles, the yearly and the Sothic, took place in 11,451, 10,081, 7160, 4241, and 2781 BC. Bauval noticed immediately that these dates coincided with the commencement of some of the great building projects up and down the Nile. Clearly the starting of this cycle was very important to the ancient Egyptians…

Trying to figure out which cycle might have been the ‘first’ one, he was initially attracted by the idea that it might be 10,081 BC, because of an esoteric tradition that the Sphinx had been built at this time or even earlier.

Then Bauval worked out that on the earlier date of 11,451 BC the Milky Way, which had immense significance in ancient cultures around the world as the ‘river of souls’, was lying directly over the course of the Nile, so that they mirrored each other. Moreover, it also struck him that on this very early date of 11,451 the Sothic and yearly cycles coincided with a third cycle, the Great Year — the 25,920-year-long complete cycle of the zodiac — in a most meaningful way. Because on that date the Lion-bodied Sphinx’s eastwards gaze would have taken in the dawning of the Age of Leo.

The Sphinx embodies the four cardinal constellations of the zodiac, the four corners of the cosmos — Leo, Taurus, Scorpio and Aquarius, the Four Elements that work together to make the material world. The Sphinx, according to the secret history, is a monument to the first time the Four Elements locked into place and matter finally became solid.

When in the Timaeus Plato famously wrote of the World Soul being crucified on the World Body, he was not prophesying the crucifixion of Christ, as some Christian apologists have supposed. He was recalling this crucial moment in world history as idealism conceives it, when consciousness was finally fixed in solid matter.

The Sphinx, therefore, has a very special place in history as idealism tells it. It marks that point when, after wave upon wave of emanations from the cosmic mind, solid matter as we know it today was finally formed. That is why it is perhaps the greatest icon of the ancient world. The laws of physics as we know them today were only then set in motion, and from that point on the dates can be firmly fixed, because the great clock of the cosmos was finally set in its complex pattern of orbits.

If this late solidification of matter were what actually happened, it would, of course, invalidate dating methods, such as Carbon-14, conventionally used to try to establish early chronologies. Modern science makes an assumption in its calculations that the ancients did not, namely that the natural laws have held true in all places and at all times.

THE SPHINX ASKS OEDIPUS A RIDDLE: ‘What walks on four legs, then two legs, then three legs?’ If he cannot answer it, the Sphinx will kill him, but he correctly interprets it as a riddle concerning the ages of man. A baby walks on four legs, grows up to walk on two legs, until so old that a third leg, or walking stick, is needed. But ‘ages’ here is also another way of evoking the evolution of humanity. The form of the Sphinx is a monument to this evolution.

The Sphinx is defeated by the acumen of Oedipus, and casts itself into the precipice or abyss. The Sphinx’s dying is a way of showing that the gods of the elements, these organizing principles of the universe, became successfully absorbed inside the human body at this time.

Central to the Oedipal legend is the terrible fate he hoped — but failed — to avoid. He duly kills his father and becomes his mother’s lover. As the laws of nature become fixed and mechanical, humans are trapped in them.

So the Sphinx also marks the end of the Age of Metamorphosis, the fixing of the biological forms we know today. It also bars the way back. In Genesis it is one of the Cherubim who bars the way back into Eden, and the Egyptians called the Sphinx, made up of four Cherubim, ‘Hu’, meaning protector. By this they meant that he guarded against any slide back into the old ways of procreation.

It’s a common misconception that in 1650, when Bishop Usher famously calculated the date of the creation as humankind as 4004 BC, this was some last vestige of an ancient superstition. In fact Usher’s calculation was the product of a time when materialism was gaining ground — and so, too, was a narrow, literal interpretation of the Bible that would have seemed absurd to the ancients. They believed that human souls had existed for vast, immeasurable eras before 11,451 BC, and only then did the human body as we know it today fully materialize around the human spirit.

It is interesting to note that, according to the calculations of Manetho in the third century BC, this is almost exactly the time when the reign of the demi-gods came to an end.

WE WILL SEE LATER THAT, ACCORDING TO esoteric doctrine, not only was matter only precipitated out of mind a short while ago, but that it exists only for a brief interval. It will dissolve again in just over nine thousand years, when the sun rises again to meet the gaze of the Sphinx in the constellation of Leo.

In the teachings of the secret societies we live on a small island of matter in a vast ocean of ideas and imagination.

The Sphinx, which showed the Four Elements locked into place at the four cardinal points. In modern times the eminent Egyptologist R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz — protégé of Henri Matisse — was the first to reveal to a wider public that the Sphinx might have been carved before 10,000 BC. He pointed to the fact that the walls surrounding the monument show signs of water erosion that could not have been made after that time. The Sphinx, according to the secret history, is a monument to the first time the Four Elements locked into place and matter finally became solid. In 11,451 BC east, west, north and south were then locked with the Four Elements that make up the physical world.

9. THE NEOLITHIC ALEXANDER THE GREAT

Noah and the Myth of Atlantis • Tibet • Rama’s Conquest of India • The Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali

IF YOU HAVE A PASSING ACQUAINTANCE with the myth of Atlantis, you may well have been left with the impression that there is only one ancient source for this legend — Plato.

The Platonic account goes like this. Egyptian priests told Solon, a statesman and lawyer of the generation of Plato’s great grandfather, about a great island in the Atlantic that had been destroyed some nine thousand years earlier — in about 9600 BC.

The civilization on this island had been founded by the god Poseidon, and peopled by the descendants of his coupling with a beautiful woman called Cleito. (As we saw in Chapter 5, this intervention by a fish god is a coded account of evolution, common to mythologies all around the world.)

As well as the main island, this Atlantean civilization also ruled over several lesser islands in the region.

The largest island was dominated by a beautiful and fertile plain and a large hill. Here Cleito lived, and the people enjoyed food which grew abundantly on the island. Two streams of water came up through the earth, one of hot water and one of cold.

To keep Cleito for himself, Poseidon had a series of circular canals dug around the hill. In time a sophisticated civilization grew up, taming wild animals, mining metals and building — temples, palaces, racecourses, gymnasiums, public baths, government buildings, harbours and bridges. Many walls were coated with metals — with brass, tin and a red metal, unknown to us, called orichalcum. The temples had roofs of ivory and pinnacles of silver and gold.

The islands of Atlantis were ruled over by ten kings each with his own kingdom, the nine others being subservient to the ruler of the largest island.

The central temple, dedicated to Poseidon, had statues of gold, including one of the god standing in a chariot pulled by six-winged horses and flanked by hundreds of Nereids riding dolphins. Live bulls roamed freely around the forest of columns in this temple, and every five or six years the ten kings who ruled the islands between them were left alone in the temple to hunt these bulls without weapons. They would capture one, lead it up to the great column of orichalcum, inscribed with laws of Atlantis, and there behead it.

Life on the islands of Atlantis was generally idyllic. In fact life was so good that eventually people could not bear it any longer and began to become restless, decadent and corrupt, searching after novelty and power. So Zeus decided to punish them. The islands were flooded until only small islets remained, like a skeleton sticking out of the sea. Then finally a great earthquake engulfed all that was left in the course of one day and one night.

YES, IT WOULD MAKE THIS ACCOUNT OF the destruction of Atlantis unlikely to be true, if Plato were the only classical writer on the subject. Aristotle said of it, ‘Plato alone made Atlantis rise out of the sea, and then he submerged it again’, which has been taken to mean that Plato simply made the whole thing up. However, a little research shows that classical literature is packed with references to Atlantis, for example in the works of Proclus, Diodorus, Pliny, Strabo, Plutarch and Posidinus, and they include many elements which are not in Plato and seem to come from earlier sources — assuming, that is, that they haven’t been made up too.

Proclus says that three hundred years after Solon, Crantor was shown columns by the priest of Sais covered with a history of Atlantis in hieroglyphic characters. A near-contemporary of Plato’s, now known as pseudo-Aristotle, wrote about a similar island paradise in his book On Marvellous Things Heard.

The Greek historian Marcellus, also a near contemporary of Plato’s, is clearly relying on ancient sources when he writes that ‘in the Outer Ocean [the Atlantic] there are seven small islands and three larger ones, one of which was dedicated to Poseidon’. This ties in with Plato’s account in terms of the number of kingdoms. A Greek historian of the fourth century BC, Theopompus of Chios, retells a story told two hundred years before Plato by Midas of Phrygia, that ‘besides the well-known portions of the world — Europe, Asia, Libya (Africa) — there is another which is unknown, of incredible immensity where vast blooming meadows and pastures feed herds of various huge and mighty beasts and where the men are twice the height and live to twice the age of men’. As we have already seen, Enoch and the myths and legends of many cultures around the world recorded the prevalence of giants before the Great Flood.

Then, of course, there is the Greek myth of the Great Flood. The story of Deucalion is much older than Plato. As in both Plato’s account and the biblical one there is an implication here that the Great Flood was intended to destroy the greater part of humankind, because the development of humankind had gone wrong. Rudolf Steiner has pointed out that the stories of the demi-gods and heroes, Cadmus, Theseus, Jason — all involve journeys eastwards. We should read them, he says, as stories of migrations which took place as conditions on the Atlantean islands deteriorated and before the final catastrophe.

When Plato writes about Poseidon, the first god-king of Atlantis, this should remind us of what we saw in Chapter 5 — that Poseidon was the original half-fish form of Zeus/Jupiter. Poseidon was also god of the raging sea, god of subterranean, volcanic depths, whose bull-bellowing roar signalled climatic catastrophe. Poseidon was at work at both the beginning and end of Atlantis’s history.

Other ancient cultures cross-reference Plato’s account. The South American Aztecs recorded that they came from ‘Aztlan’, ‘the land in the middle of the water’. Sometimes this land was called ‘Aztlan of the Seven Caves’. It was depicted as a central, large step pyramid surrounded by six smaller pyramids. According to traditions collected by the invading Spaniards, humanity had nearly been wiped out by a vast flood, and would have been but for a priest and his wife who constructed a boat made out of a hollow log, in which they also rescued seeds and animals. The complex and sophisticated astronomy of these South American tribes has allowed one modern researcher to deduce that they dated this flood to about 11,600 BC.

This might seem a long way from Plato’s date of around 9600 BC, but the crucial point here is that both dates agree in setting the Flood at the end of the Ice Age. Modern geology tells us that as the ice caps melted, a series of floods swept down from the north. We have already noted the suggestion that the islands of Atlantis suffered several catastrophic floods over a long period before the last island was finally, completely, submerged.

Underwater archaeologists are today discovering in many parts of the world the remains of civilizations which were covered by floods caused by the melting of ice at the end of the Ice Age. In April 2002 divers stories told by local fishermen were used to help locate the lost city of the Seven Pagodas off the coast of Mahabalipuram in India. The temple-like structures that have been found are much grander and more complex than we would expect for the end of the Ice Age — the Neolithic, or New Stone Age. Author and investigator Graham Hancock, who has done so much to question our academic assumptions about ancient history, was quoted at the time as saying, ‘I have argued for many years that the world’s flood myths deserve to be taken seriously, a view that most Western academics reject. But here in Mahabalipuram, we have proved the myths right and the academics wrong.’

I myself have seen artefacts retrieved from the sea bed off the American Atlantic coast — the so-called Scott stones — which I am persuaded it would very difficult for technology to reproduce today, let alone eleven thousand years ago when the area in question went under the sea. In design terms the Scott stones show features which are remarkably similar to Egyptian artefacts. This is not my secret to reveal, but I hope that perhaps by the time this book is published Aaron du Val, President of the Miami Museum Egyptological Society, may have chosen to show the world what he has.

No detailed description of the events that put such artefacts under the sea has survived in the Greek myths that have come down to us, and the biblical account is characteristically brief, but these can be supplemented and illumined by accounts from other cultures, particularly the Sumerian and other Near Eastern accounts. No scholars dispute that some of these accounts from older cultures provided source material for the biblical story. Elements familiar to us from the biblical account, such as the ark, the doves and the olive branch, appeared in the earlier Sumerian account, where Noah is called Ziusudra. He appears, too, in the Mesopotamian account where he is called Atrahasis and in the Babylonian account which names him Upnapishtim. Weaving these different versions together creates an amplified version of the biblical story:

One day Noah was standing in a reed hut, when he heard a voice coming through the wall that warned him of a rainstorm that would wipe out mankind. Tear down your reed hut and build a boat, he was told. Noah and his family set about building a great vessel made out of reeds, finally daubing it with bitumen in order to make it watertight. Everything growing out of the ground, everything grazing on it, the birds of the sky, the cattle and the wild animals roaming open country, he put in. Then for six days and nights the storm blew and their boat was tossed about by the waves. The downpour, the storm and the flood overwhelmed the surface of the earth. On the seventh day, hearing the winds begin to fall, Noah opened a window and light fell on his face. The world was silent, because all humanity had been returned to clay…

The catastrophic deluge that nearly destroyed humankind is remembered every year by both the living and the dead on the Day of the Dead or Halloween. In England as late as the nineteenth century villagers would dress up as the dead, wear masks and make a mum-mumming sound with closed lips to imitate the sound made by the walking dead — hence the word ‘mummers’.

WHEN NOAH AND HIS FAMILY DISEMBARKED to set foot on dry land, something rather odd happened. ‘And Noah began to be a husbandman and he planted a vineyard, and he drank of the wine, and was drunken, and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham saw the nakedness of father and told his two brethren without.’ (Genesis 9.20-22)

It is entirely fitting that Noah should become a husbandman, because archaeology tells us that agriculture began during this period, the Neolithic. But what are we to make of the strange story of his drunken nakedness?

In order to make sense of it, we must turn to the tradition that identifies Noah with the legendary Greek figure Dionysus the Younger.

We need to disentangle two different strands of stories concerning two figures with the same name. Dionysus is the name of two distinct individuals, a god and later a demi-god. These two make very different contributions to human history in two different eras. The Dionysus who should be identified with Noah is very different from the earlier Dionysus Zagreus, the Elder Dionysus, the story of whose dismemberment we told in Chapter 6.

After the Flood, Dionysus the Younger, often depicted in a boat, travelled from Atlantis via Europe to India, with the aim of teaching the whole world the arts of agriculture, the sowing of crops, the cultivation of the vine and writing. This latter had of course been taught by Enoch, but was now in danger of being lost in the devastation brought by the Flood.

Dionysus and his followers carried the thyrsus, a pole wrapped with ivy-like snakes and topped with a pine cone like a pineal gland. This shows that Dionysus also taught the secret evolution of the human form, the development of the spine topped by the pineal gland we have just been considering.

The fauns and satyrs and the whole rout of Dionysus represent stragglers from Atlantis. They are the last remnant of a process of metamorphosis of forms. The curious story in Genesis of Noah’s sons uncovering his genitals while he was drunkenly sleeping also refers to the petering out of this process. We saw that the genitals were the last parts of human anatomy to evolve into their present form, and his sons were curious to find out about their origins. Were they the sons of a human or a demi-god, a man or an angel?

Noah’s ark. Legend has it that the only animal that missed the ark was the unicorn, which therefore became extinct. This is an obvious depiction of the diminishing of the powers of the Third Eye. As the waters of the deluge closed over Atlantis, the era of Imagination ended. The subconscious was formed.

Dionysus the Younger was educated by the satyr Silenus.

Stories about this individual in the Greek and Hebrew traditions — Dionysus the Younger and Noah — are both connected with the grape and intoxication. We have already met followers of Dionysus. The wild and savage maenads tore Orpheus limb from limb with tooth and nail. In a state of ecstatic drunkenness the maenads were possessed by a god.

PRIMITIVE PEOPLES HAVE ALWAYS LIVED in tune with the vegetable part of their natures. One of the results of this is that they have understood how different plants have different effects on human biology, physiology and consciousness.

What we see in these Greek and Hebrew traditions of the beginnings of agriculture is a depiction of a new, more thoughtful form of consciousness. What greater outward symbol of the impact of orderly human thought on nature could there be than fields of wheat?

The task of the leaders of humanity would now be to forge the new thought-directed consciousness.

In the Zend-Avesta, the sacred literature of Zoroastrianism, the Noah/Dionysius figure is called Yima. He tells the people how to build a settlement — a ‘var’- a fenced-in place, a kind of stronghold ‘taking in men, cattle, dogs, birds and blazing fires’. He instructs people that when they arrive at the place where they are to settle, they must ‘drain off water, put up boundary posts, then make houses from posts, clay walls, matting and fences’. He urges his people to ‘expand the earth by tilling it’. There was to be ‘neither suppression nor baseness, neither dullness nor violence, neither poverty nor defeat, no cripples, no long teeth, no giants, neither any of the characteristics of the evil spirit’.

The invasion of Ceylon by Rama, the ‘shepherd of the peoples’.

Again, we see an anxiety about a reversion to anomalous forms of the previous epoch such a giants.

The Greek epic poet Nonnus described Dionysus’s migration to India, and the same journey is also described in the Zend-Avesta as ‘the march of the Ram on India’. But the fullest description comes in the great Indian epic, the Ramayana.

Something that is clear from these accounts is that the great migrations eastwards were not moving into uninhabited territories. While the peoples of Atlantis had been all but eliminated, the emigrants travelled to new lands still occupied by aboriginal tribes. We see Dionysius’s reaction to what he found in these new lands in his forbidding of cannibalism and human sacrifice. Native priests would sometimes keep enormous snakes or pterodactyls, rare survivors from antediluvian times, which were worshipped as gods and fed the flesh of captives. The Ramayana describes how Rama and his followers suddenly invaded these temples with torches, driving out both priests and monsters. He would appear without warning among enemies, sometimes with bow drawn, sometimes defenceless except that he was able to petrify them with his pale lotus-blue gaze.

Rama was dispossessed, a nomad. His kingdom lay beneath the seas. He did not live the life of a king, but camped out in the wild with his beloved Sita.

Then Sita was abducted by the evil magician Ravana. The Ramayana tells of the completion of Rama’s journey with the conquest of India and the taking of Ceylon, the last refuge of Ravana. Rama formed a bridge over the sea between mainland India and Ceylon with the help of an army of monkeys, which is to say hominids, the descendants of human spirits who had rushed into incarnation too early and were doomed to die out. Finally, after a battle that lasted thirteen days, Rama killed Ravana by showering fire down on him.

We might see Rama as a Neolithic Alexander the Great. Following the conquest of India, he had the world at his feet. He also had a dream.

He was walking in the forests on a moonlit night, when a beautiful woman came towards him. Her skin was as white as snow and she was wearing a magnificent crown. He didn’t recognize her at first, but then she said, ‘I am Sita, take this crown and rule the world with me.’ She knelt humbly and offered him a glittering crown — the kingship which had been denied him. But just then his guardian angel whispered in his ear: ‘If you place that crown on your head, you will see me no more. And if you clasp that woman in your arms, she will experience such happiness that it will kill her instantly. But if you refuse to love her she will live out the rest of her life free and happy on earth, and your invisible spirit will rule over her.’ As Rama made up his mind, Sita disappeared amongst the trees. They would never see each other again, leading the remainder of their lives apart.

Stories about Sita’s later life suggest it was by no means obvious that she was as happy as the guardian angel had promised. In its ambiguity and uncertainty there is something very modern about this story.

We can also see in it a paradox that lies at the heart of the human condition. All love, if it is true love, involves a letting go.

With his prowess with the bow, his handsome face, blue eyes and lion chest, Rama is in many ways like the heroes that Greek myths describe, such as Hercules, but in the story of Rama there is, as I say, something new. Hercules was required to choose between virtue and happiness, and unsurprisingly chose the former. Rama’s story, on the other hand, contains an element of moral surprise. The reader of the story will probably agree with Sita as she argues with Rama that it is only right and fitting that he now accept the crown he has been cheated of since birth. But then Rama’s surprising choices — deciding not to take the crown that is rightfully his, not to marry the woman he loves — these dilate the moral imagination and quicken the moral intelligence. The story of Rama encourages us to see beyond the conventional, to imagine ourselves into the mind of others and also, ultimately, to think for ourselves. Esoteric thinking has always sought to undermine and subvert conventional, habitual, mechanical modes of thought. Later we will see how storytellers, dramatists and novelists steeped in esoteric thought, from Shakespeare and Cervantes to George Eliot and Tolstoy, would quicken the moral imagination, one of the distinguishing characteristics of the very greatest literature. If great art and literature give a sense of patterns, of laws operating beyond conventional thought, great esoteric art brings these laws near to the surface of consciousness.

The story of Rama also brings us back to the notion that according to the secret history the cosmos has been formed in order to create the conditions in which people could experience free thought and free will. Rama could have enforced what is good and right on his people by ruling them with a rod of iron, but he instead let them decide for themselves. Rama is thus the archetype of the exiled or ‘Secret King’ or ‘Secret Philosopher’ who influences the course of history not from the throne but by mingling incognito among the people. Rama tried to help humans to evolve freely.

Rama is a demi-god, but declines to be ruler of the world. No longer will gods or even demi-gods sit on thrones in bodies of flesh and bone.

AT JOURNEY’S END THE EMIGRANTS FOUNDED Shambala, a great spiritual fortress in the mountainous region of Tibet. The roof of the world, Tibet is the world’s biggest, highest plateau surrounded by high mountain ranges. Some traditions say the Tibetan population is directly descended from the people of Atlantis.

Some say that Shambala can only be reached via an underground tunnel, others that it exists in another dimension into which a secret portal opens somewhere in the region. St Augustine was the greatest Christian theologian after St Paul and, like St Paul, was an initiate of a Mystery school. He wrote about the place where Enoch and the saints lived, a terrestrial paradise so high up that the Flood could not reach it. Emmanuel Swedenborg, the eighteenth-century Swedish theologian, diplomat and inventor — and also the leading esoteric Freemason of the age — wrote that ‘the “Lost Word” must be sought among the sages of Tibet and Tartary’. Anne-Catherine Emmerich, the nineteenth-century German Catholic mystic wrote similarly of a Mount of Prophets where live Enoch, Elijah and others who did not die in the ordinary way but ‘ascended’, and where unicorns which survived the Flood may also be found.

From the mountain fastnesses of Tibet flowed streams of living spirituality which joined together, gathered force, depth and width and became a mighty river like the Ganges, feeding the whole of India.

IN THIS HISTORY OF THE WORLD WRITTEN in the stars, the next era began as the sun began to rise in the constellation of Cancer in 7227 BC and the first great Indian civilization, the earliest and most deeply spiritual of post-Flood civilizations, was founded. The founders felt little for the newly created material world, which they saw as ‘maya’, an illusion threatening to obscure the higher realities of the spirit worlds. They looked back with nostalgia to the time before this veil of matter had been drawn between humankind and the spiritual hierarchies.

The icy baths and other forms of self-torture of the ascetics can be looked on as part of the effort to stay awake to the spirit worlds. A conscious effort was made by them, while the veil was still relatively translucent, to remember the lineaments of the spirit world, and to impress them indelibly on human consciousness.

The success of this enterprise has meant that India is still the world’s greatest storehouse of spiritual knowledge, particularly as regards occult physiology. As a high level initiate recently said to me, ‘If you visit India today, you cannot help feeling how the air still just crackles with astrality.’

Great Western teachers such as Pythagoras, Apollonius of Tyana and St Germain have travelled to India in search of this astrality. The Gospels contain quotes from older, Indian sources and more ideas that originated there.

Sir John Woodruffe, the Sanskrit scholar who first translated the tantric texts in the nineteenth century, has written how even the venerable Sufi tradition leant on Hindu wisdom for teachings on the chakras, for example.

In the 1960s onwards, Indian religion was felt by many people in the West to offer a working spiritual knowledge, including practical spiritual disciplines and guides through the spirit worlds, which they could not find in church. A bookshop in the West is still likely to stock more books on mysticism derived from the Eastern than from the Western tradition.

FOLLOWING RAMA’S REFUSAL TO TAKE THE crown, no great single personality dominates this period. If Rama was an all-action hero who fought monsters, went on long, dangerous adventures and founded cities, his successors, sometimes called the Seven Wise Ones, or the Rishis, had a stillness, an inactivity about them. They built no stone buildings. They lived in buildings of mud or simple shelters twisted into shape from roots and tendrils. Nothing of the Rishis has lasted except what they knew.

There is a simple saying in the Cabala: ‘Everything you have seen, every flower, every bird, every rock will pass away and turn to dust, but that you have seen them will not pass away.’ This is a saying that would have seemed sympathetic to the Rishis. Seated with legs folded so that the soles of their feet turned upwards, they had no desire to feel gravity, the downward, reductive pull of the material world, but headed instead for the spirit worlds. They were able to see spiritual beings at work on the earth, how they help seeds to germinate in spring, flowers to blossom in summer, trees to bear fruit in autumn — and how seeds are preserved through winter by these same spiritual beings. The Rishis experienced the ebb and flow of spiritual influence like a giant breath. Ancient Indian civilization was like the lowest realm of Heaven.

Earlier we talked about the way materialists misappropriate words and phrases such as ‘the meaning of life’, using them in a secondary and slightly dishonest sense. The same is true of ‘spiritual’, often used by people to puff themselves as good-hearted or moral in a warm, fuzzy, perhaps pseudo-mystical way. What it really means is the ability to see, hear and communicate with the spirits like the Indian adepts.

They were also able to communicate in occult ways. Other people were felt by them to be sympathetic or not by their breathing. By breathing in someone else’s air, they could sense that person’s inner life.

Adepts were able to pour their knowledge into the souls of others in an unceasing flow of pictures. Much later this knowledge would be put into words and passed from generation to generation orally until it was finally written down as the Vedas.

Their gaze could drive away serpents and calm lions and tigers. Nothing could deflect the adepts from their contemplation. They wandered freely, building only the flimsiest shelters, eating fruit and drinking the milk of their flocks. They would eat only vegetable matter, never any meat. To do so, they believed, was to absorb the animal’s death agony.

They immersed themselves in vegetable consciousness, in the physical processes — waking, sleeping, breathing, digesting — which we have seen are the gift of the vegetable kingdom to the human body. By learning to control the ens vegetalis, or etheric body, they could control, too, breathing, the rate of digestion, even heart rate and the flow of blood, leading to the amazing feats for which Indian adepts are famous — the ability to stop the heart altogether just by thinking about it, for example.

The adepts understood, too, how sinking deep into contemplation of the solar plexus chakra enabled them to perceive clairvoyantly. And they knew how to wrap others in a protective beam of love emanating from the heart chakra.

In addition to the sixteen petals of the heart chakra, the adepts saw 101 subtle and luminous arteries issuing from the same area like spokes from a wheel. Three of these, larger ones they saw rising to the head. One rises to the right eye and corresponds to the sun and the future. Another rises to the left eye and corresponds to the moon and the past. They understood how it was by a combination of these two organs that humans are enabled to perceive the movements of material objects in relation to one another in space and so also to have a sense of time passing.

The middle of the three arteries ran up from the heart and through the crown of the head. By this route, the way upwards is illumined from below, by means of a radiant heart. And it was by the route of this middle artery, too, that the spirit would depart up through the crown and out of the body at death.

The Neolithic ‘swastika’ carved on a boulder on Keighley moor in Yorkshire, England, is a symbol of the revolving two-petalled lotus and above — the same device — in a Celtic sun brooch found in Sweden. The Rig Veda says, ‘Behold the beautiful splendour of Savitva the Sun-God of the swastika to inspire our visions.’

To the ancients all life was involved in a pulse, rhythm or breath. They saw all human lives as breathed temporarily into the world of maya, or illusion, then breathed out again, a process repeated through the ages. They saw great flocks or shoals of souls being breathed in and out of material life together.

This ancient Indian civilization was in some ways an echo of the sun-filled, watery, vegetable world of the period before the sun and earth separated. In some ways it too was a lotus-eating period that would have to end if progress was to take place.

We saw how great beings from the higher hierarchies could no longer appear in physical bodies as they had earlier on Atlantis. They could still appear as semi-material spectres or phantoms, but even this was happening less frequently. By the end of the age people might only see them with their physical eyes once or twice in a lifetime. As the gods withdrew, people would have to find ways to follow them.

In this way yoga was born.

At the height of their meditations a rush of energy from the base of the spine would travel upwards through the middle artery via the heart to the head. Sometimes this energy was thought of as being like a snake, which rose through the spine up into the skull and bit at a point just behind the bridge of the nose. This bite released an ecstatic lace-like flux of luminous currents, seven hundred thousand lightning flares sounding like millions of bees. Adepts would find themselves in another dimension that appeared at first to consist of a mighty ocean of giant weaving waves of light and energy — the preliminary mystical experience in all traditions. As they became more accustomed to the spiritual world, these apparently impersonal forces would begin to resolve themselves into outer garments of the gods, and finally the faces of the gods themselves would emerge from the light, the same faces of the gods of stars and planets that have become familiar to us over the last few chapters.

One of the shortest books in the world, but one of the most powerful, is called the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali. It was written down in its final form in about 400 BC, but originated in the teachings of the Rishis.

Pantanjali tells the reader to concentrate on the strength of the elephant and by this means attain that strength. He says it is possible to know past lives by concentrating on the past. It would be wishful thinking to believe you or I might be able to perform these feats just like that. These are things that now, as then, only the most advanced, the highest initiates, can attain. The rest of us will only be able to do them in future incarnations.

The Rishis taught that the evolution of the whole cosmos is the goal of existence, and that the seeds of all this transformation lie in the human body.

In 5067 BC these gods were moving the cosmos towards the next stage of human evolution as the sun entered the sign of Gemini. Just as, earlier, the impulse for the evolution of humankind had moved eastwards from drowning Atlantis to India, now it began to move westwards, as it continues to do today.

10. THE WAY OF THE WIZARD

Zarathustra’s Battle Against the Powers of Darkness • The Life and Death of Krishna the Shepherd • The Dawn of the Dark Age

IN 5067 BC IN THE REGION WE NOW call Iran, the birth of a great new leader was foretold. We should picture his mother living in a small agricultural community, like the one unearthed at Çatal Hüyük

It was in the depths of an exceptionally harsh winter when the plague struck. Tongues were wagging in the community, accusing the young woman of witchcraft, claiming the storms, the plague, were her doing.

Then in the fifth month of her pregnancy she had a nightmare. She saw an immense cloud and from it emerged dragons, wolves and snakes that tried to tear her child from her body. But as the monsters approached, the child spoke from inside her womb to comfort her, and as his voice died away, she saw a pyramid of light descending from the sky. Down this pyramid came a boy holding a staff in his left hand and a scroll in his right. His eyes shone with inner fire, and his name was Zarathustra.

Zarathustra with rolled scroll. The carrying of a rolled scroll in the right hand is always a sign that the subject is an adherent of the secret philosophy. Look around the streets of London, Paris, Rome, Washington DC or any of the great cities of the world, and you may be surprised how many statues of the great and the good carry rolled scrolls.

There are different schools of thought about the dates of Zarathustra. Some writers of the ancient world placed him at approximately 5000 BC, while others, such as Plutarch, at 600 BC. Again, this is because there was more than one Zarathustra.

The birth of the first Zarathustra unleashed storms of hatred. The king was in thrall to a circle of sorcerers who persuaded him the boy must die. He went to the young mother’s house and found the baby alone in his crib. The king was determined to stab the baby, but as he raised his hand, it became mysteriously paralyzed. Later he sent one of his servants to kidnap the child and abandon him in a wolf-ridden wilderness. But the pack of wolves the king hoped would tear the child in pieces saw something in his eyes and ran away terrified. The child grew to be the youth of his mother’s dream.

But the forces of evil knew their greatest enemy had come down to earth. They were just biding their time.

The Age of Gemini was one of division. It was no longer possible to live safely in Paradise, as people had lived in the Indian epoch. If the Indian epoch had been a recapitulation of the heavenly time before the separation of earth and sun, this new, Persian epoch was a recapitulation of the fiery period when the dragons of Lucifer had infected life on earth. Now the forces of evil reasserted themselves, led by Ahriman (the Satan of Zoroastrian tradition). The cosmos was invaded by hoards of demons that darkened the heavens. Demons thrust themselves between humans and the higher echelons of the spiritual hierarchies. If the Indian epoch was the time when the secret physiology of humankind was imprinted on human memory, then this Persian epoch is the time we look to for knowledge of demonology.

Etruscan depiction of a demon in the form of a Persian Asura. The name Asura literally means not-god, ‘a’ meaning ‘not’ and Sura being the Persian name for a god or angel. Demons in all traditions are often shown gnawing the viscera. This is because of the primordial understanding that consciousness and memory are not stored in the brain alone, but in the whole body. Things we have done that we would rather not confront, painful and undigested experiences, are stored in the viscera.

The hosts of demons against which Zarathustra led his own followers were also classified by him. These form the basis of classifications that the secret societies use today.

At this turning point in history people began to feel insecure on a level that today we call the existential. They were less sure that they lived in a cosmos that was ultimately benevolent, where everything would turn out right in the end. They began to suffer for the first time the species of fear that Emile Durkheim named anomie — fear of the destructive chaos that creeps in at the margins of life, that may attack us from the darkness outside the encampment or from the darkness that overwhelms us when we are sleeping. It may also lie in wait for us when we are dead.

WHEN WE FALL ASLEEP WE LOSE ANIMAL consciousness. In the teachings of the secret societies animal consciousness — or spirit — is pictured floating out of the body in sleep. This has two main consequences. First, without the animal element our body returns to a vegetating state. No longer sapped by the agitations of animal consciousness or the wearying effect of thought, the bodily functions that the vegetable element controls are renewed. We wake up refreshed.

Second, detached from the sensory perceptions of the body, the spirit enters an alternative state of consciousness, which is an experience of the sub-lunary spirit world. In dreams we perceive the spirit worlds, where we are approached by angels and demons and the spirits of the dead.

Or at least that is what humans experienced in the time of the Rishis. By the time of Zarathustra human nature had become enmeshed in matter and so corrupted that dreams had become chaotic and difficult to interpret. They were fantastical now and full of strange, distorted meanings. Still, dreams might contain promptings by spirits, fragments of past lives, even memories of episodes from history.

In deepest sleep the Third Eye may open and peer into the spirit worlds, but on waking we forget.

AFTER YEARS IN EXILE, THE YOUNG ZARATHUSTRA felt the need to return to Iran. On the border he had a vision. A gigantic shining creature of spirit came to meet him and told him to follow. Zarathustra had to take ninety steps to the spirit’s gigantic nine as the spirit swept over the stony ground, taking Zarathustra to a clearing, hidden by rocks and trees. There a circle of six other, similar spirits hovered above the ground. This shining company turned to welcome Zarathustra, and invited him to leave his physical body for a while in order to join them.

Marble group of the second century BC. Mithras, archangel of the sun — St Michael in Hebrew tradition — is here slaying the cosmic bull of material creation. From the bull’s spine sprouts the corn of vegetable life and from his blood the wine of animal life. Note that Mithras is wearing the ‘Phrygian cap’ which resurfaced into exoteric history when it was worn by initiates of the secret societies who led the French Revolution. The French Martinist Joseph de Maistre wove together from various sources an account of the Mithraic initiation ceremonies. A pit was dug, which the candidate stood in. A metal grille was placed over the opening to the pit, and on this stood a bull that was sacrificed. The candidate would become drenched by the blood of the bull raining down from above. In another part of the ceremony the candidate would lie in a tomb as if dead. Then the initiator would grasp him by the right hand and pull him up into ‘new life’. There were seven grades of initiate: Raven, Nymphus, Soldier, Lion, Persian, Courier of the Sun and Father.

We have met these shining spirits before. They are the spirits of the sun called in Genesis the Elohim. They now prepared Zarathustra for his mission.

First, they told him he must pass through fire without being burned.

Second, they poured molten lead — the metal of Ahriman — on to his chest, which he suffered in silence. Zarathustra then took the lead from his chest and calmly gave it back to them.

Third, they opened up his torso and showed him the secrets of his inner organs, before closing him up again.

Zarathustra returned to court and preached what the great spirits had revealed. He told the king that the sun spirits who created the world were working to transform it, and that one day the world would be a vast body of light.

The king he was addressing was a new one, but, like his predecessor he was in thrall to evil ministers. He did not want to hear this good news and let his ministers persuade him to have Zarathustra thrown in prison.

But Zarathustra escaped from prison and also from attempts to murder him. He lived to fight many battles against the forces of evil, battles where he pitched his magic powers against the powers of evil sorcerers. Later he became the archetype of the wizard, with a tall hat, cloak of stars and an eagle on his shoulder. Zarathustra was a dangerous, somewhat disconcerting figure, prepared to fight fire with fire.

He led his followers to secluded grottoes, hidden in the forests. There in underground caverns he initiated them. He wanted to provide them with the supernatural powers needed to fight the good fight. We know about this early Mystery school, because it survived five millennia underground in Persia before resurfacing as Mithraism, an initiatory cult popular among Roman soldiers, and then again in Manichaeism, a late Mystery religion which included St Augustine among its initiates.

Zarathustra prepared his followers to face Ahriman’s demons or Asuras by terrifying initiation ordeals. He who fears death, he said, is already dead.

It was recorded by Menippus, the Greek philosopher of the third century BC, who had been initiated by the Mithraic successors of Zarathustra, that, after a period of fasting, mortification and mental exercises performed in solitude, the candidate would be forced to swim across water, pass through fire and ice. He would be cast into a snake pit, and cut across the chest by a sword so that blood would flow.

By experiencing the outer limits of fear, the initiate was prepared for the worst that could happen, both in life and after death.

An important part of this preparation was inducing in the candidate conscious experience of the separation of the animal part of his make-up from the vegetable and material parts, as happens in sleep. Equally important was to experience the separation of the animal from the vegetable part, as happens after death. In other words initiation involved what we today sometimes call an ‘after-death experience’.

Paracelsus said: ‘It is as necessary to learn evil things as good, for who can know what is good without learning what is evil.’ Meeting of a contemporary secret society in woods in West Sussex, England. It is sometimes supposed that all secret societies engage in commerce with evil spirits. However, the great, historically significant secret societies, such as the Rosicrucians and the Freemasons, acknowledge the dark side in order to combat it.

By the act of leaving the body the candidate knew beyond any possibility of doubt that death was not the end.

People who learn how to dream consciously, that is to say with the ability to think and exercise willpower we normally only enjoy in waking life, may develop powers which are ‘supernatural’ by today’s definitions. If you can dream consciously, then you are on the way to being able to move about the spirit worlds at will, communicating freely with the spirits of the dead and other disembodied beings. You may perhaps learn about the future in ways which might otherwise be blocked. You may be able to travel to other parts of the material universe and view things where you are not bodily present — so-called astral travel. The great sixteenth-century initiate Paracelsus, who, as we shall see, has some claims to be the father of both modern experimental medicine and homeopathy, said he was able to visit other people in their dreams.

We will also see that many great scientific discoveries have been revealed to initiates while in this alternative state of consciousness.

Supernatural means of influencing minds is another of the gifts that initiation may confer. Initiates I have met have undoubted gifts of mind-reading way beyond the abilities of sceptical scientists to reproduce in ‘cold reading’ experiments.

Similarly science has only the flimsiest, question-begging explanations for hypnosis. This is because, though it may be abused by popular entertainers, hypnosis was originally — and at root remains — an occult practice. Ultimately explicable only in mind-before-matter terms, it originated with the Rishis of India and in techniques practised during the process of initiation by the temple priests of Egypt. In the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali, this power of influencing others’ minds is one of the powers called vibhuti. Mind-influence was used for benevolent purposes, but as the world became a more dangerous place it would have to be used for both defence and attack.

We saw earlier how in a mind-before-matter philosophy the way you look at someone can affect them at a sub-atomic level. The coiled cobra representations of the Third Eye on the foreheads of Egyptian initiates shows that it can reach out and strike at what it perceives. In the seventeenth century the scientist and alchemist J.B. von Helmont said that ‘a man may kill an animal by staring at it for fifteen minutes’. From the eighteenth century onwards European travellers in India were amazed by the ability of adepts to throw anyone into an immediate state of catalepsy, just by looking at them. The story of one nineteenth-century traveller was recorded by George Eliot’s friend, the initiate Gerald Massey. This traveller had been mesmerized by the gaze of a serpent. He was sinking deeper and deeper into a ‘somnambulic’ sleep under its fascinating influence. Then someone else in the party shot the snake, breaking its power over him — and he felt a blow to the head as if he too had been struck by a bullet. Travellers in the twentieth century reported tales of wolves that were able to freeze their victims and prevent them from crying out, even when the victim was unaware that he was being watched. In living memory in a small town called Crowborough, less than six miles from where I write, lived a local wise man and healer called Pigtail Badger. The villagers were afraid of him, because it was said that this tall, heavy-set, fierce-looking man could stop others in their tracks just by looking at them. It was said that sometimes he would do this to farm labourers, then sit and eat their lunches in front of them.

THE MOST IMPORTANT INITIATION TEACHINGS concerned the way the spirit worlds are experienced after death. This was not because a candidate would have doubted there was life after death — such a thought would have been unthinkable then — but because they feared what their experience would turn out to be. In the first instance they feared that demons they had evaded in their lifetime were lying in wait. Initiation showed candidates how to navigate the after-death journey safely.

Iconography of the spirit leaving the body in Egyptian and Christian art (Didron’s Christian Iconocraphy ). In the Egyptian depiction, the spirit is showing separating from the discarded soul-matter.

In sleep the animal spirit leaves the vegetable and mineral parts of the body behind. In death, on the other hand, the vegetable part, which orders the basic life functions, leaves with the animal spirit.

The vegetable part of human nature has many functions, including storing memory. As the vegetable part detaches from the material body, both begin to disintegrate. This disintegration of the vegetable part causes the spirit to experience a review of the life just completed.

The vegetable part dissipates and detaches itself from the animal spirit in a matter of days. Then the spirit passes into the sub-lunar sphere. There it is attacked by demons who tear from it all impure, corrupt and bestial desires, all evil impulses of will. This region, where the spirit has to endure this painful process of purification for a period lasting approximately a third of the time spent on earth, is called Purgatory in Christian tradition. It is the same place as the Underworld of the Egyptians and Greeks. It is the Kamaloca (literally ‘region of desire’) of the Hindus.

Meister Eckhart, the thirteenth-century German mystic, said ‘If you fight your death, you’ll feel the demons tearing away at your life, but if you have the right attitude to death, you will be able to see that the devils are really angels setting your spirit free.’ An initiate has the right attitude to death. He sees behind appearances and knows that demons in their proper place perform an invaluable role in what we might call the ‘ecology’ of the spirit world. Unless the spirit is purged in this way, it cannot ascend through the higher spheres and hear their music. Following its prodigal journey on earth, the spirit cannot be reunited with the Father until it has been purified.

It is important to continue to bear in mind that the knowledge gained in initiation is not dry or abstract, but existential. The initiate has an out-of-body experience which is shattering.

Illustration to Le Petit Prince showing the ascent through the spheres.

From the lunar sphere the disembodied spirit flies upwards to the realm of Mercury, from there to Venus and then on to the sun. Then the spirit experiences, as the Greek orator Aristides put it, ‘a lightness which nobody who has not been initiated could either describe or understand’. It is important to continue to bear in mind that this teaching was common to Mystery schools of all cultures in the ancient world and has been perpetuated in the modern world by the secret societies. From the Egyptian Book of the Dead, through the Christian Cabala of the Pistis Sophia through Dante’s Commedia, forward to modern works such as Le Petit Prince by the twentieth-century French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the secret doctrine is maintained, sometimes in books only initiates may read — and sometimes hidden in plain view.

In the ancient texts the initiate is told the secret names of the spirits who guard the entrance to every sphere and the sometimes secret handshakes and other signs and formulae needed to negotiate entry. In the Pistis Sophia these spheres are envisaged as made of crystal and the entrance keepers of these spheres as archons or demons.

In all the ancient religions, the being who guides the human spirit through the underworld and helps negotiate the way past the guardian demons is the god of the planet Mercury.

But the initiates of the Mystery schools kept a secret. Halfway on the journey through the spheres, there is a swap. The task of guiding the human spirit upwards is taken over by a great being whose identity may perhaps be a surprise. In the latter part of the spirit’s ascent through the heavenly spheres the guide who lights the way is Lucifer.

In the spiritual ecology of the cosmos Lucifer is a necessary evil, both in this life — because without Lucifer humans could feel no desire — and in the afterlife. Without Lucifer the spirit would be plunged into total darkness and fail to understand the ascent. The second-century Roman writer Apuleius wrote that in the process of initiation the spirit confronts the gods of heaven in all their unveiled splendour — and with all their ambiguities removed.

The spirit ascends through the spheres of Jupiter and Saturn, passes through the sphere of the constellations and is finally reunited with the great Cosmic Mind. It has been a painful, confusing and tiring journey. Plutarch writes: ‘But finally a wondrous light shines to greet us, beautiful meadows full of singing and dancing, the solemnity of sacred realms and holy appearances.’

Then the spirit must begin again the descent through the spheres, preparatory to the next incarnation. As it descends each sphere grants the spirit a gift which it will need when re-entering the material plane.

The following account has been compiled from fragments of ancient tablets, dating perhaps as far back as the third millennium BC, excavated in Iraq in the late nineteenth century:

The first gate he passed her out of, and he restored to her the covering cloak of her body.

The second gate he passed her out of and he restored to her the bracelets of her hands and feet.

The third gate he passed her out of, and he restored to her the binding girdle of her waist.

The fourth gate he passed her out of and he restored to her the ornaments of her breast.

The fifth gate he passed her out of and he restored to her the necklace of her neck.

The sixth gate he passed her out of and he restored to her the earrings of her ears.

The seventh gate he passed her out of and he restored to her the great crown of her head.

Even today every child is reminded of these gifts in the fairy story Sleeping Beauty. The human spirit still responds strongly and warmly to this story, experiencing it as true in a deep sense.

But in order to understand the esoteric content of Sleeping Beauty it is necessary to think in an upside down sort of way. The story relates that at the party to celebrate her birth, six fairies give the Princess gifts to help her have a happy and fulfilled life. The seventh fairy, who represents Saturn or Satan, the spirit of materialism, curses the child with death, which is commuted to a long period of sleep. These seven fairies are, of course, the seven gods of the planetary spheres.

What is upside down and the other way round about this story is that by the deathly, dreamless sleep which is the curse of the evil fairy is meant life on earth. In other words, because of the intervention by Satan, humans gradually lose any consciousness, and eventually any memory, of their time among the heavenly hierarchies: ‘Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting.’ In this story, then, the party at the beginning of the narrative must be understood as taking place in the spirit world, and it is only when Beauty falls asleep that she is alive on the material plane. When she awakes, she dies!

In fact we have already seen a similar paradox in the story of Osiris, most of which takes place in the spirit world. When Osiris is nailed in the coffin that fits him like skin, it is his skin. He is only dead to Isis when he is alive on the material plane.

THESE STORIES SHOW HOW BOTH THIS life and the afterlife are ruled by the planets and stars. They should alert us to another very important dimension in initiatic teachings. Initiation prepares the candidate for meetings with the guardians of the different spheres both on the way up and on the way down. If these teachings are imprinted well enough on the individual spirit, this will ultimately prepare the spirit for conscious participation with the higher spiritual beings in preparing for a new incarnation. The key word here is ‘conscious’.

Rosicrucian beliefs about reincarnation are encoded in the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Snow White ‘dies’ and is laid in a glass coffin — a legendary custom of the Rosicrucians. The whole idea of reincarnation may seem alien to people brought up in a modern, Christian culture. As we shall see, though, the New Testament contains ideas of reincarnation, the early Christians believed in it, and senior Christians have believed in it in secret ever since. Secret beliefs about reincarnation are encoded in art, architecture and literature here in Andrew Lang’s Red Fairy Book.

Initiation involves forging a conscious, working relationship with disembodied spirits and an existential knowledge of the way they work in our lives and our afterlives. It reveals the way they operate when we are awake, when we dream and when we are dead. We have seen that the histories we have been examining, such as the trials of Hercules, are structured according to different astronomical cycles — the journey of the sun through the months of the year and in the precession of the equinoxes. The point is that the same patterns that structure life on earth also structure the spirit worlds. Hercules and Job suffered trials in their earthly lives that have been recorded in the history of the world, but they will also have to suffer the same trials in the afterlife — unless they can learn to become conscious of them. And if they can’t, they will also have to suffer them in their next incarnation.

This is the aim of initiation: to make more and more experience conscious, to roll back the boundaries of consciousness.

Initiation by Renaissance master Andrea Mantegna. Compare this with the ancient Roman depiction of the process of initiation on p.43. The hooded acolyte is threatened and suddenly made to feel he has been pushed into a fatal fall. This is part of the process of inducing an out-of-body experience that enables the acolyte to achieve personal, existential knowledge of what will happen when the spirit leaves the body after death. The continuity in this process can also be seen in the account by the great eighteenth-century magus Cagliostro of his initiation into a Masonic Lodge in London. In the Esperance Lodge above a pub in Soho, he was asked to repeat an oath of secrecy then blindfolded. A rope was then tied round his waist, and he heard pulleys creak as he was winched up to the ceiling. Suddenly he fell to the floor, his blindfold was removed, and he saw a pistol being loaded with powder and a bullet. The blindfold was replaced and he was handed the pistol and asked to prove his obedience by shooting himself in the head. When he hesitated, his initiators shouted at him, accusing him of being a coward. He pulled the trigger, heard an explosion, felt a blow to the side of the head and smelled gunpowder. He had believed he was going to die — and now he was an initiate.

In our individual lives — and collectively — we go round and round in the circles traced out for us by the planets and stars.

But if we can become conscious of these circles, if we can become conscious of the activity of the stars and planets in our lives in a most intimate way, then we are in a sense no longer trapped by them. We are no longer trapped by them, we rise above them, we are moving now not in a circle but in an upward spiral.

ZARATHUSTRA WORE A CLOAK COVERED with stars and planets as a mark of the knowledge that the great spirits of the sun had taught him. This was knowledge he passed on in initiation. When candidates re-entered the body, following their out-of-body experience, they were enabled by Zarathustra to explore the interior workings of their bodies in ways that thousands of years later people would only be able to rediscover though autopsies. Again the difference was that the ancients, according to their habit of seeing life as subjectively as possible, did not know human anatomy in an abstract, conceptual way, but rather they experienced it. This was how the ancients knew of the pineal gland long before it was ‘discovered’ by modern science.

At the transition from the sixth to the fifth millennium BC, humankind began to construct the great stone circles that survive to this day. In the same way that the withdrawal of the gods during the Indian period had forced humankind to think about ways of following them, now the obscuring of direct guidance from the gods made it necessary for humankind to discover new ways of seeking that guidance. Again humankind was being drawn out of itself.

As the initiator of these stone monuments, Zarathustra can be seen as a sort of post-Flood mirror image of Enoch.

The megalithic stone circles which began to spread throughout the Near East, Northern Europe and Northern Africa are intended to measure the movements of the heavenly bodies. In the 1950s Professor Alexander Thom of Cambridge University first realized that megalithic stone monuments across the world are constructed according to a common unit of measurement, which he called the ‘megalithic yard’. This has since been verified by wide-ranging statistical analyses of monuments. Recently Dr Robert Lomas of Sheffield University has shown how it was that this unit of measurement was derived to such astonishing unanimity and accuracy in different parts of the world; a pendulum swinging 360 times during the time it takes for a star to move through one of the 360 degrees into which the sky’s dome divides will be exactly 16.32 inches long, which is exactly one half a ‘megalithic yard’.

Because the ancients looked to the stars and planets as the controllers of life on earth, they naturally defined their original mathematical measures of the physical world by reference to these heavenly — which is to say spiritual — bodies. Therefore mathematics in its origins was not only holistic, in the sense that it took into account the size, shape and movement of the earth and its relation to the heavenly bodies, but it was also the expression of a spiritual impulse.

EVIL POWERS ALWAYS THREATENED TO DESTROY Zarathustra. There are poignant reminders in the small mountainside shrines of Zoroastrianism today, where a flame is kept alight, but in permanent danger of being snuffed out. At the age of seventy-seven Zarathustra was murdered on his own altar.

SHORTLY BEFORE THE END OF THE FOURTH millennium Krishna was born. The year was 3228 BC. This shepherd and prophet was in some ways a forerunner of Jesus Christ. (We shall see shortly how Krishna, Osiris and Zarathustra are depicted attending the Nativity, albeit in disguise, in famous Renaissance paintings.)

He is not, of course, to be confused with the war god Krishna, the earlier Atlantean Krishna who fought in an epic battle to defeat the Luciferic forces of desire and delusion. Now these forces had sunk deeper into human nature, and degenerated into a desire for gold and for the spilling of blood.

His mother-to-be, the virgin Devaki, had been increasingly beset by strange visions. One day she fell into a deep ecstasy. She heard a heavenly music of harps and voices, and in the midst of a bright flashing of myriad lights saw the Sun god appear to her in human form. Overshadowed by him, she lost consciousness altogether.

In time Krishna was born. Devaki was later warned by an angel that her brother, Kansa, would try to murder the boy, so she fled the court to live among shepherds at the foot of Mount Meru.

Kansa was a child-killer, hunting down the children of the poor. He’d even done it while still a child himself. Now he sent a giant red-crested snake to kill his nephew, but Krishna was able to kill the snake by stamping on it. A female demon called Putana, whose breasts were full of poison, pulled him to her, but Krishna sucked on her breast with such force that she crumpled and fell down dead.

Kansa continued to persecute his nephew, trying to hunt him down like a wild animal, but as Krishna grew to manhood he was protected by shepherds and hid in the hills and the forests, where he preached a gospel of non-violence and love for all humanity: ‘Return good for evil, forget your own suffering for another’s’, and ‘Renounce the fruit of your works — let your work be its own reward’. Krishna was saying things no one had ever said before.

When these teachings reached Kansa, they enraged him further, tortured him in the very depths of his spirit.

Among Krishna’s many titles are ‘The Cowherd’ and ‘The Lord of the Milkmaids’. He enjoyed a simple country life, preaching but avoiding direct confrontation with Kansa. The local milkmaids were all madly in love with the slender youth. He liked to play the flute and dance the dance of love with them. On one occasion he watched them as they went to bathe in the Yumana River, then stole their clothes and climbed up a tree where they could not reach him. On another he was dancing with many milkmaids who all wanted to hold his hand, so he multiplied himself into many forms so that each could believe she held the hand of the true Krishna.

Krishna is a god of transgression, whose numer — or sacred potency — takes him beyond conventional morality.

One day he and his brother entered Kansa’s city of Mathura, disguised as poor country people, in order to take part in an athletics festival. They met a deformed girl called Kubja, carrying ointments and perfumes to the palace. When asked by Krishna she readily gave him some, though she could by no means afford it, and he cured her of her deformity and made her beautiful.

But Kansa had not been fooled by the brothers’ disguise, and when they entered the wrestling competition he had primed two giants to kill them. If they failed, an enormous elephant was set to trample them to death. In the event Krishna and his brother turned the tables on all of them and escaped.

Finally Krishna decided to discard all disguise, to come out of hiding to confront Kansa. When he re-entered Mathura, Krishna was acclaimed as its saviour by a populace that showered him with flowers and garlands. Kansa was waiting with his retinue in the main square. ‘You have stolen my kingdom,’ said Kansa, ‘Kill me!’ When Krishna refused, Kansa had his soldiers seize him and tie him to a cedar tree. He was martyred by Kansa’s archers.

With the death of Krishna in the year 3102 BC, the Kali Yuga — the Dark Age — began. A yuga is a division of a great year, there being eight yugas in a complete processional cycle.

In both Eastern and Western traditions, this great cosmic shift began in 3102 BC and it ended in 1899. As we shall see in Chapter 24, Freemasons commemorated the approaching end of the Kali Yuga by erecting gigantic monuments in the centre of every great city in the Western world. Most people pass by these familiar constructions unaware that they are beacons for the history and philosophy proposed in this book.

IN THE GATHERING DARKNESS A LIGHT appeared. As Krishna died another great personage was growing to adulthood, a light-bearer, who incarnated, just as three thousand years later Jesus Christ would incarnate.

We shall examine the life and times of the incarnated Lucifer in the next chapter.

11. GETTING TO GRIPS WITH MATTER

Imhotep and the Age of the Pyramids • Gilgamesh and Enkidu • Abraham and Melchizedek

AS LONG AS SOCIETY HAS EXISTED THERE have been small groups within it which have practised secret techniques to work themselves into alternative states of consciousness. They have done this in the belief that this alternative state of consciousness lends the power to perceive things inaccessible to ordinary, everyday consciousness.

The problem is that from the point of view of today’s everyday consciousness, which is commonsensical and down to earth in a quite unprecedented way, everything seen in the alternative state is, almost by definition, delusional. If initiates of secret societies work themselves into hallucinatory states in which they communicate with disembodied beings, see the future and influence the course of history, then these things are just that — hallucinations.

But what if they can be shown to yield results?

We have begun to see how these states have inspired some of history’s greatest art, literature and music, but all of that might be dismissed by someone minded to do so as merely a matter of the life of the imagination, something without any relevance to life’s practical aspects. A lot of art, even great art, has an element of fantasy, after all.

Our modern mind-set prefers to see more concrete results. What about great feats of engineering or great scientific discoveries? In this chapter we will be following the development of an age when great initiates of the Mystery schools led humanity to some unequalled feats of engineering, from the temple of Baalbeck in Lebanon, which includes in its construction a block of carved granite weighing about a thousand tons that even today’s strongest crane could not lift, to the Great Pyramid at Giza and other lesser known pyramids in China.

At the start of this age the first great civilizations seemed suddenly to spring from nowhere — in the Sumerian civilization dominated by the bull hero Gilgamesh, in the Egypt of the bull cult of Osiris and in bull-running Crete. The age of these civilizations is the Age of Taurus, beginning early in the third millennium BC. For no very good reason conventional history can determine, vast numbers of people now began to live together in highly organized cities of extraordinary size, technical brilliance and complexity.

A SHADOWY BUT MOMENTOUS EVENT took place in China. It is shrouded in mystery. Even great initiates are unable to see it with anything approaching total clarity.

In the third millennium BC the people of China lived a tribal, nomadic existence and, according to Rudolf Steiner, it was into one of their encampments that an extraordinary individual was born. Just as thousands of years later another exalted heavenly being would descend to earth in order to incarnate as Jesus Christ, so now Lucifer incarnated too.

The birth of Lucifer was the beginning of wisdom.

Of course I’m using ‘wisdom’ in a particular sense — in fact the same sense academic, biblical scholars use it when they talk about ‘the wisdom books of the Bible’. The wisdom contained, for example, in the Book of Proverbs or Ecclesiastes, is a collection of rules for a happy and successful life, but unlike the teachings contained in other biblical books there is no moral or religious dimension here. This wisdom is entirely prudential and practical, advising you what you must do to look after your own best interests. There is no suggestion, for example, that good behaviour is likely to be rewarded or bad behaviour punished, except by human agency. There is no notion either of a providential order.

These books, compiled in the form we now have them in about 300 BC, were the fruits of a way of thinking which had developed approximately two and a half thousand years earlier. The secret history proposes that this form of wisdom became possible as a result of the incarnation and ministry of Lucifer.

For the most part initiations into spiritual disciplines have taken place between childhood and adulthood and after many years of preparation. For example, initiation into the Cabala has traditionally only been permitted at the age of forty, and candidates for initiation into the school of Pythagoras had to live in isolation and without speaking for years before their education could begin. But from birth Lucifer was raised entirely within the confines of a Mystery school. A circle of magi worked intensively on his education, allowing him to take part in the most secret ceremonies, moulding his soul, until at the age of forty he finally had a revelation. He became the first person ever to be able to think about life on earth in an entirely rational way.

WE SAW IN CHAPTER 8 HOW ORPHEUS invented numbers. But in the age of Orpheus it had been impossible to think of numbers without also thinking of their spiritual meaning. Now, because of Lucifer, it became possible to think of numbers without any symbolic connotations, to think of numbers purely as measures of quantity unencumbered by any notions of quality. People were now free to measure, to calculate and to make and build.

We know from Plutarch that Orpheus’s son Asclepius equated with Imhotep, who lived in about 2500 BC. By then this great wave of change, this revolutionary way of thinking had swept over from the Far East.

Vizier to the Egyptian King Djoser, Imhotep was known as the builder, the sculptor, the maker of stone vases. He was also called Chief of the Observers, which would become the title of the high priest of Heliopolis. Sometimes represented as wearing a mantle covered in stars, and sometimes, too, represented holding a rolled scroll, Imhotep was famous in antiquity as both as the great master builder and architect of the Step Pyramid at Saqqara. In the nineteenth century archaeologists excavating beneath the Step Pyramid discovered a store of secret treasures, sealed there since the founding of the building, that became known as the ‘impossible things of Imhotep’. Some of these are on display today in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Nineteenth-century commentators were amazed above all by the vases, which they suggested would be impossible for the craftsmen of the day to reproduce. Giraffe-necked and pot-bellied as they are, it’s still difficult today to see how the rock crystal of these vases was hollowed out.

Half an hour’s drive north from Saqqara is the Great Pyramid. Arguably the most magnificent building ever, it stands four-square at this crossroads in history, oriented to the cardinal points with remarkable accuracy. The world does not need another description of its magnificence. Suffice to say that although it would in principle be possible to rebuild it today, this would be crippling for all but the world’s richest economies. It would also stretch modern engineering to the limits of its abilities, particularly in the exactitude of its astronomical orientations.

But what makes the Great Pyramid even more extraordinary, almost miraculous according to the secret history, is that the fact that it was the first Egyptian building.

Conventional historians have assumed that the building ambitions of the Egyptians progressed from simple one-storey tombs called mastabas, through the relative complexity of the Step Pyramid and culminated in the massive complexity and sophistication of the Great Pyramid, conventionally dated to 2500 BC. In the absence of contemporary textual accounts, and because these buildings contain no organic material that can be carbon-dated, and because up till now there has been no method of dating cut stone, this has perhaps seemed an eminently commonsensical way of interpreting the evidence.

I suggested at the beginning of this book that this is an upside-down, other-way-round history, and in the secret doctrine the Great Pyramid was built in 3500 BC, before the founding of the great civilizations of Egypt and Sumeria, at a time when the only previously existing constructions were the stone circles and other ‘cyclopean’ monuments.

We must imagine Stone Age peoples wearing animal skins and carrying primitive stone tools gazing at the Great Pyramid in stupefaction.

According to the secret history, then, the Step Pyramid and the other lesser pyramids represent not an ascent but a decline.

The Great Pyramid has conventionally been seen as a tomb. As a variation on this theme, prompted by the narrow shafts which point from out of the so-called King’s and Queen’s Chambers towards particular stars, it has been seen as a sort of machine designed to aid the projection of the dead pharaoh’s spirit out of this tomb towards its heavenly resting place. On this view, then, the Great Pyramid is a sort of gigantic excarnation machine.

From the point of view of the secret history this interpretation is anachronistic. It was the universal belief at this time that all human spirits travelled up through the planetary spheres to the stars after death. In fact, as we have seen, the living still had such vivid experience of the spirit worlds that it would have been as hard for them to decide to disbelieve in the reality of the after-death journey as it would be hard for us to decide to disbelieve in the reality of the book or table in front of us.

We should look elsewhere for an explanation of the function of the Great Pyramid. The whole tenor of ancient Egyptian civilization is that it was trying to get to grips with matter. We see this in its innovatory drive to cut and carve stone.

We also see the new relation to matter in the practice of mummifying. We are never more ready to ascribe stupid beliefs to the ancients than when we link Egyptian mummification and elaborate grave goods to a supposed belief that the spirit might actually want to use these grave goods in the afterlife. The point of these burial practices, according to esoteric thought, is rather that they exerted a sort of magnetic attraction on the ascending spirit that would help it attain speedy reincarnation. It was believed that if the discarded body were preserved, it would remain a focus for the spirit that had left it, exerting an attraction that pulled it down to earth again.

The esoteric explanation of the Great Pyramid is similar. We saw in Chapter 7 that the great gods, finding it increasingly difficult to incarnate, had retreated as far as the moon, visiting the earth increasingly rarely.

The Great Pyramid is a gigantic incarnation machine.

EGYPTIAN CIVILIZATION REPRESENTS A great new impulse in human evolution, very different from the oriental civilization which had taught that matter is maya, or illusion. The Egyptians initiated the great spiritual mission of the West, sometimes called in alchemy, Sufism Freemasonry, and elsewhere in the secret societies, the Work. The mission was to work on matter, to cut it, carve it, to imbue it with intention until every particle of matter in the universe has been worked on and spiritualized. The Great Pyramid was the first manifestation of this urge.

THIS HISTORY IS ABOUT CONSCIOUSNESS in different ways.

First, this history has been told in various groups who have made it their aim to work themselves into altered states of consciousness.

Second, this history supposes that consciousness has changed over time in a far more radical way than conventional historians allow.

Third, it suggests that the mission of these groups is to lead the evolution of consciousness. In a mind-born universe the end and aim of creation is always mind.

I want to focus now on the second of these ways, to show that some academics have recently written in support of the esoteric view that consciousness used to be very different from what it is today.

Contemporary with the rise of Egyptian civilization in about 3250 BC Sumerian civilization arose in the land between the Tigris and the Euphrates. In the early cities of Sumeria statues to ancestors and lesser gods stood in family homes. A skull was sometimes kept as a ‘house’ that a minor spirit could inhabit. Meanwhile, the much greater spirit who protected the interests of the city was held to live in the ‘god house’, a building at the centre of the temple complex.

As these cities grew, so too did the god houses, until they became ziggurats, great rectangular, stepped pyramids, built out of mud bricks. In the centre of each ziggurat was a large chamber in which the statue of the god resided, inlaid with precious metals and jewels, and wrapped in dazzling clothes.

According to the cuneiform texts, the Sumerian gods liked eating, drinking, music and dancing. Food would be put on tables, then the god left alone to enjoy it. After a time the priests would come in and eat what was left. The gods also needed beds to sleep in and for enjoying sex with other gods. They had to be washed for this and dressed and anointed with perfumes.

As with the grave goods in Egypt, the aim of these practices was to try to tempt gods to inhabit the material plane, by reminding them of the sensual pleasures denied them in the spirit worlds.

The bee is one of the most important symbols in the secret tradition. Bees understand how to build their hives with a sort of pre-conscious genius. Bee-hives incorporate exceptionally difficult and precise data in their construction. For example, all hives have built into them the angle of the earth’s rotation. Sumerian cylinder seals of this time show figures with human bodies but bees’ nests for heads. This is because in this period an individual’s consciousness was experienced as made up of a collaboration of many different centres of consciousness, in the way we described in Chapter 2. These centres could be shared or even moved from one mind to another like a swarm of bees from one hive to another.

Bee-hive headed Sumerian goddesses.

A brilliant analysis of Sumerian and other ancient texts by Princeton Professor of History Julian Jaynes was published in 1976. The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bi-Cameral Mind argued that during this period humans had no concept of an interior life as we understand it today. They had no vocabulary for it, and their narratives show that features of mental life, such as willing, thinking and feeling which we experience as somehow generated ‘inside’ us, they experienced as the activity of spirits or gods in and around their bodies. These impulses happened to them at the bidding of disembodied beings that lived independently of them, rather than arising inside themselves at their own bidding.

It is interesting that the Jaynes analysis chimes with the esoteric account of ancient history given by Rudolf Steiner. Born in Austria in 1861, Steiner represents a genuine stream of Rosicrucian thinking, and he is the esoteric teacher of modern times who has given the most detailed account of the evolution of consciousness. Jaynes’s researches are, as far I know, independent of this tradition.

It is perhaps easier to appreciate Jaynes’s analysis in relation to the more familiar Greek mythology. In the Iliad, for example, we never see anyone in any sense sit down and work out what to do, in the way we see ourselves doing. Jaynes shows that for the people of the Iliad there is no such thing as introspection. When Agamemnon robs Achilles of his mistress, Achilles does not decide to restrain himself. Rather, a god accosts him by the hair, warning him not to strike Agamemnon. Another god rises out of the sea to console him, and it is a god who whispers to Helen of homesick longing. Modern scholars tend to interpret these passages as ‘poetic’ descriptions of interior emotions, in which the gods were symbols of the sort a modern poet might create. Jaynes’s clear-sighted reading shows that this interpretation reads present-day consciousness back into texts written by people whose form of consciousness was very different. Neither is Jaynes alone in his view. The Cambridge philosopher John Wisdom has written: ‘The Greeks did not speak of the dangers of repressing instincts but they did think of thwarting Dionysius or of forgetting Poseidon for Athena.’

The most famous depiction of other worldly suggestion is the statue in the Cairo Museum which shows Horus whispering in the ear of the pharaoh Kefren.

Here Athena restrains Achilies from striking Agamemnon, in a drawing by Flaxman, who was an initiate of the secret societies, and a demon sits on the shoulder of a saint.

We shall see in the concluding chapters of this history how the ancient form of consciousness continued to thrive very much later than even Jaynes posits. For the moment, though, I want to touch on a significant difference between Jaynes’s analysis and the way the ancients themselves understood things. Jaynes describes the gods who control the actions of the humans as being ‘aural hallucinations’. The kings of Sumeria and heroes of Greece are depicted by him as being, in effect, beset by delusions. In the ancient view, by contrast, these were not, of course, mere delusions but independent, living beings.

Jaynes believes that everyone in the Homeric era and earlier lived in a world of delusion until, as he sees it, the right side of the brain gained supremacy over the left. In Jaynes’s view, then, each individual, although believing himself addressed by a god equally present to everyone else, was in fact trapped in a private delusion. The problem with this view is that, because hallucinations are, almost by definition, non-con-sensual, it would lead you to expect these people to live in a totally chaotic and barbaric state, characterized by complete mutual misunderstanding. Modern clinical psychiatrists define a schizophrenic as someone who cannot distinguish between externally and internally generated images and sounds. Clinical madness causes extreme, disabling distress together with impairment of domestic, social and occupational functioning. Instead the people of this era constructed the first post-Flood civilizations with separation between priestly, military, agricultural, trading and manufacturing orders. Organized labour forces engineered great public edifices, including canals, ditches and, of course, temples. There were complex economies and large, disciplined armies. In order for these peoples to have cooperated surely the hallucinations would have had to be group hallucinations? If the ancient world-view was a delusion, it had to have been a massive, almost infinitely complex and sophisticated delusion.

What I have tried to present so far is a history of the world as it was understood by ancient peoples who had a mind-before-matter world-view in which everyone collectively experienced gods, angels and spirits as interacting with them.

Thanks to Freud and Jung we are all familiar with the idea that our minds contain psychological complexes which are independent of our centres of consciousness and so to some degree may be thought of as autonomous. Jung described these major psychological complexes in terms of the seven major planetary deities of mythology, calling them the seven major archetypes of the collective unconscious.

Yet when Jung met Rudolf Steiner, who believed in disembodied spirits, including the planetary gods, Jung dismissed Steiner as a schizophrenic. We shall see in Chapter 27 how very late in life, shortly before he died, Jung went beyond the pale as far as the modern scientific consensus goes. He concluded that these psychological complexes were autonomous in the sense of being independent of the human brain altogether. In this way Jung took one step further than Jaynes. By no longer seeing the gods as hallucinations — whether individual or collective — but as higher intelligences, he embraced the ancient mind-before-matter philosophy.

The reader should beware of taking the same step. It is important you be on your guard against any impression that perhaps — to be fair — this version of history hangs together in some way, or that it feels true in some unspecific poetic or, worse, spiritual way. Important because a momentary lapse of concentration in this regard and you might, without at first noticing it and with a light heart and a spring in your step, begin to walk down the road that leads straight to the lunatic asylum.

A representation on a cylinder seal of two heroes hunting, said to be Gilgamesh and Enkidu.

GILGAMESH, THE GREAT HERO OF SUMERIAN civilization, was king of Uruk in approximately 2100 BC. His story is full of madness, extreme emotion, anxiety and alienation. The great poet Rainer Maria Rilke called it ‘the epic of death-dread’.

The story as laid out here has largely been pieced together from clay tablets excavated in the nineteenth century, but it seems nearly complete.

At the start of his story the young king is called the ‘butting bull’. He is bursting with energy, opening mountain passes, digging wells, exploring, going into battle. He is stronger than any other man, beautiful, courageous, a great lover from whom no virgin is safe — but lonely. He longs for a friend, someone who is his equal.

So the gods created Enkidu. He was as strong as Gilgamesh but was wild, with matted hair all over his body. He lived among wild beasts, ate as they did and drank from streams. One day a hunter came face to face with this strange creature in the woods and reported back to Gilgamesh.

When he heard the hunter’s story, Gilgamesh knew in his heart that this was the friend he had been waiting for. He devised a brilliant plan. He instructed the most beautiful of the temple prostitutes to go naked into the woods, to find the wild man and tame him. When she made love to him he forgot, as Gilgamesh had known he would, about his home in the hills. Now when Enkidu came across wild animals they sensed the difference and no longer ran with him — they ran away from him.

When Gilgamesh and Enkidu met in the marketplace at Uruk there was a wrestling match of champions. The whole population crowded round to watch. Gilgamesh finally won, flinging Enkidu on to his back while still keeping his own foot on the ground.

So a famous friendship started a series of adventures. They hunted panthers and tracked down the monstrous Hawawa who guarded the way though the cedar forest. When they later slew the bull of heaven, Gilgamesh had the horns mounted on the walls of his bed chamber.

But then Enkidu fell dangerously sick. Gilgamesh sat by his bed six days and seven nights. Finally a worm fell out of Enkidu’s nose. At the end Gilgamesh drew a veil across his old friend’s face and roared like a lioness that has lost her cubs. Later he roamed the steppe, weeping, fear of his own death beginning to gnaw at his entrails.

Gilgamesh ended up at the tavern at the end of the world. He wanted to get out of his head. He asked the beautiful barmaid the way to Ziusudra, whom, we have seen, is another name for Noah or Dionysus. Ziusudra was a demi-god who had never really died.

Gilgamesh made a boat with punting poles topped with bitumen, such as are still used by marsh Arabs to this day, and went to meet the seer. Ziusudra said, ‘I will reveal to you a secret thing, a secret of the gods. There is at the bottom of the sea a plant that pricks like the rose. If you can bring it back up to the surface, you can become young again. It is the plant of eternal youth.’

Ziusudra was telling him how to dive beneath the seas that covered Atlantis, how to find the esoteric lore that had been lost at the time of the Flood. Gilgamesh tied stones to his feet like the local pearl-divers, descended, plucked the plant, cut himself free of the stones and rose to the surface in triumph.

But while he was resting on the shore from his exertions, a snake smelled the plant and stole it.

Gilgamesh was as good as dead.

WHEN WE READ THE STORY OF GILGAMESH we may be intrigued to see how he fails the test that humanity’s great leader has set him. There is a note of anxiety here that can then be heard spreading ever more widely in the Babylonian and Mesopotamian civilizations that grew up to dominate this region.

With the death of Gilgamesh we are in the time of the greatest ziggurats. The story of the Tower of Babel, the attempt to build a tower up to heaven and the resulting loss of a single language uniting all humanity, represents the fact that as nations and tribes began to become attached to their own tutelary spirits and guiding angels, they lost sight of the higher gods and the great cosmic mind beyond that gives all the different parts of the universe one destiny. The ziggurats represent a misguided attempt to scale the heavens by material means.

The Tower of Babel was built by Nimrod the Hunter. Genesis calls Nimrod ‘the first potentate on earth’. The archaeologist David Rohl has convincingly identified Nimrod with the historical Enmer-kar (‘Enmer the Hunter’), the first king of Uruk who wrote to the neighbouring king of Aratta, demanding tribute money in what is believed to be the earliest surviving letter.

llustration to The Wizard of Oz. Frank Baum was a Theosophist who encoded esoteric wisdom in his most famous book. The animal, vegetable and mineral bodies are symbolized by the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man respectively. ‘Oz’ is a cabalistic word with a geometric meaning of seventy-seven, illustrating the force of magic acting on matter.

Nimrod was the first man to seek power for its own sake. From this will to power came cruelty and decadence. In Hebrew tradition a prophecy of the imminent birth of Abraham prompted Nimrod to mass infanticide. We should understand by this that he practised infant sacrifice, burying the bodies in the foundations of his great buildings.

We join the secret story of Abraham in about 2000 BC wandering in between the sky scrapers of his native Ur (Uruk). He decided to go on a quest, to become a desert nomad to rediscover the sense of the divine that was in the process of being lost.

When he visited Egypt the pharaoh gave one of his daughters, Hagar, as a servant to Abraham’s wife Sarai. Hagar bore Abraham his first son, Ishmael, who was to become the father of the Arab nations. We should understand by this that Abraham learned great initiatic knowledge from the Egyptian priests. Marriages of this time were usually within a tribe or extended family. Supernatural powers were connected with blood, and marriage between people of the same blood strengthened powers, something which used to be a part of the tradition of the gypsies, for example. Marriage of individuals from different tribes could involve an exchange of powers and knowledge.

WHAT FORM OF INITIATION MIGHT ABRAHAM have received in Egypt?

We should picture the candidate for initiation laid out in a granite tomb. He is surrounded by initiates who have sent him into a very deep sleep-like trance. When he is in this trance state they are able to raise his vegetable body — and with it his spirit or animal body — up out of his physical body, so that it hovers like a phantom over the mouth of the tomb. A witness of an initiation ceremony practised on the Irish poet W.B. Yeats described how during the course of the ceremony a series of bells were rung to mark the stages. Yeats’s spirit could be seen shining with different degrees of brightness during the different stages, each marked by different patterns of colour.

Initiates who perform these sorts of ceremonies know how to mould the candidate’s vegetable body so that when it sinks back into the material body the candidate is able to work to use its organs of perception consciously. At the end of three days the candidate will be ‘born again’, or initiated, which is marked by the hierophant grasping him by the right hand and pulling him out of the coffin.

In esoteric philosophy the vegetable body is of utmost importance. Not only does it control vital bodily functions, but the chakras are, of course, the organs of the vegetable body. So this body in effect forms the portal between the physical world and the spirit world, and if the chakras are enlivened this may lead to powers of supernatural perception and influence, the ability to communicate with disembodied spirits and also healing powers.

In the temple sleep — which would still be practised by initiates of the Mystery schools two and half thousand years later, and is still practised in some secret societies today — someone who was ill would be allowed to sleep in the temple. This sleep would last for three days, during which time the initiates would work on their vegetative bodies in a way which was not dissimilar to the process of initiation.

Someone undergoing this healing process might have very realistic visions, directed by the initiates. First, he would be plunged in utter blackness. He would seem to himself to be losing all consciousness, to be dying. He would seem to himself to come round again, then be led by an animal-headed being travelling down long passages and through a series of chambers. At different stages he would be challenged and menaced by other animal-headed gods and demons, including monstrous crocodiles who would tear at him.

In the Egyptian Book of the Dead the candidate makes his way past these guardians of the thresholds by proclaiming, ‘I am the Gnostic, I am the one who knows.’ This is a magical formula he uses in the process of initiation and will be able to use again after death.

He approaches the inner sanctum. He sees an extraordinary, bright light shining through the cracks round the edge of the gates. He cries out, ‘Let me come! Let me spiritualize myself, let me become pure spirit! I have prepared myself by the writings of Thoth!’

Finally, out of the swirling waves of light a vision emerges of the Mother Goddess suckling her child. This is a healing vision because it takes us back to the paradisaical time we looked at in Chapter 3, before the earth and the sun became separated, when the earth was illumined from within by the Sun god, a time before there was any dissatisfaction, disease or death. And it looks forward, too, to another time when earth and sun will be reunited, when the earth will again be transfigured by the sun.

In all ages and in all places there have been people who have believed that meditating on this image of the Mother Goddess and child brings about miracles of healing.

AFTER HIS STAY IN EGYPT ABRAHAM moved westwards, towards the region we know today as Palestine. He had to arm and train his servants to rescue his brother who had been captured by local bandits. Following a fierce and bloody fight, he was walking through a valley (which today’s biblical scholars identify with the Kidron Valley), when he met a strange individual called Melchizedek.

As with Enoch, there is just a brief mention of Melchizedek in the Bible but an accompanying sense of the numinous and of something important left unsaid. Genesis 14: 18-20: ‘And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him and said “Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth and blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand.” This sense of the numinous is reinforced by a mysterious passage in the New Testament, Hebrews 6.20-7.17: ‘Jesus was made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek. For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him; to whom Abraham also gave a tenth part of all, first being by interpretation King of righteousness and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace; without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually… Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life. For he testifieth Thou art a priest forever under the order of Melchizedek.’

Melchizedek features in art and literature quite out of proportion to the brief mention of him in the Bible. For example, he features prominently in France’s most esoteric ecclesiastical statuary, for example, here in the North Porch of Chartres Cathedral. He is traditionally shown bearing the chalice or grail.

Clearly something strange is going on. Clearly this mysterious individual, who has the ability to live forever, is no ordinary human being.

In cabalistic tradition Melchizedek’s secret identity is Noah, the great Atlantean leader who had taught humankind agriculture, the cultivation of corn and of the vine, who never really died but moved to another dimension. He now reappeared in order to be Abraham’s spiritual teacher, to initiate him to a higher level.

In order to understand Melchizedek’s initiatic teaching, we must examine a later episode when, according to the ancient tradition, Melchizedek was present, even though this is hidden in the biblical version.

Isaac was twenty two years old when his father took him up a mountain to sacrifice him on the altar of Melchizedek.

IT IS VERY IMPORTANT IN CERTAIN FORMS of initiation that at a particular point in the ceremony the candidate believes, perhaps briefly but with total conviction, that he or she is going to die.

He has perhaps understood that he is going to undergo a symbolic death, but it suddenly dawns upon him that there may have been a change of plan. Perhaps he has sworn the most solemn oaths on pain of death that he will mend his ways and live up to high ideals. Now with the blade held against him, he wonders if the initiates who have him in their power know that he has lied to them. He knows, now he comes to think about it, that he has done things he ought not to have done, not done the things he ought to have done, that there is no health in him. He knows in his heart of hearts he does not have enough willpower to keep the oaths he has sworn. He has just condemned himself to death out of his own mouth, and he is utterly unable to help himself.

At this point he realizes he needs supernatural help.

We may catch a faint echo of these emotions of fear and pity if we are moved by a great tragedy, by Oedipus Rex or King Lear. In initiation the candidate is made to feel the tragedy of his own life, an overwhelming need for catharsis. He begins to judge his own lives as the demons and angels will judge it after death.

AS ABRAHAM’S KNIFE BEGAN TO SLICE open Isaac’s throat, an angel substituted a ram whose horns had been caught in a nearby thicket.

What the thorns in the thicket represent is the two-petalled — or two horned — brow chakra, already entangled in matter. Abraham acts as he does because this mode of vision would have to be sacrificed. For the time being at least, perception of the spirit worlds must be put to sleep for the sake of the mission of the ancestors of Abraham — to develop the brain as an organ of thinking.

The Jews will be guided by Jehovah, the great spirit of the moon, the great god of thou-shalt-not who helps humanity evolve away from animal and ecstatic experience, away from the life of tribal or group soul towards the development of individual free will and free thinking.

In the secret history this sacrifice of the brow chakra takes place on the altar of Melchizedek, the great high priest of the Sun Mysteries. What this signifies is that Isaac was initiated to such a level that he understood the necessity for this next, lunar stage of human development. The evolution of individual free will and free thinking will eventually enable humans to play a conscious part in the transforming of the world.

Isaac stayed at the Mystery school of Melchizedek for three and a half years learning of these things.

Because Melchizedek is a priest of the Sun Mysteries, this school should be pictured as containing within its precincts a stone circle. We have reached the great age of these sun temples, examples of which still survive in Lüneberg in Germany, Carnac in France and Stonehenge in England. In the fourth century BC the historian Diodorus of Sicily described a spherical sun temple in the north, dedicated to Apollo. Today scholars believe he was describing Stonehenge or, more likely, Callanish in the far north of Scotland, but in either case the association with Apollo should be understood as a looking forward to the rebirth of the Sun god from the womb of the Mother Goddess.

THE OTHER GREAT CONTRIBUTION TO THE development of thought came, of course, from the Greeks.

The siege of Troy marks the beginning of the rise to greatness of Greek civilization, when the Greeks seized the initiative from Chaldean-Egyptian civilization and forged their own ideals.

We have been tracing a history of the world in which — for the first time — the lives of great cultural heroes from around the world — Adam, Jupiter, Hercules, Osiris, Noah, Zarathustra, Krishna and Gilgamesh — have been woven together into one chronological narrative. For the most part they have left no physical traces, living on only in the collective imagination, preserved only in surviving scraps of story and scattered imagery.

The Trojan horse is depicted in the bottom panel. The story of the siege of Troy has come down to us, for the most part, in the account by ‘blind Homer’. In the language of the secret societies ‘blind’ is not necessarily meant literally. In the case of Homer it may mean he was an initiate, whose gaze was directed at the spiritual rather than the material world. Florence and Kenneth Wood have shown that the Iliad can be read as an astronomical allegory. But, as we have seen, this does not imply that it is not also a real historical event. As an initiate Homer would have been conscious of the great gods of stars and planets guiding the life below.

From now on, though, we will see that many legendary figures, presumed by most people to be entirely non-historical, have in fact been shown by recent archaeology to have left physical remains.

The discovery of the ruins of Troy by the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann in the 1870s has always been controversial. The archaeological layer he excavated probably dates to 3000 BC, and so is far too old to be Homer’s, but today the majority of scholars agree that the layer relating to 1200 BC, in the late Bronze Age, is consistent with Homer’s account.

In the ancient world wars were fought for the possession of sacred, initiatic knowledge, partly because of the supernatural powers this conferred. The Greeks fought because they wanted to carry off the statue made by the hand of Athena, called the Palladium. We should see their struggle to possess Helen in the same way.

Today we may see in the face of a beauty ‘the promise of happiness’, to use Stendhal’s phrase. Yes, we may cherish that promise in a crude or trivial sense, but we may also do so in a deeper sense. Great beauty can seem mystical to us, as if it holds the very secret of life. If I could be with that beautiful person, we think, my life would be fulfilled. The presence of exceptional beauty can induce an altered state of consciousness, and male initiates have often been associated with very beautiful women, perhaps partly because their participation intensifies the secret sexual techniques of the schools.

Possession of Helen would enable the Greeks to move forward to the next stage of civilization.

We see the change consciousness that the story of the siege of Troy is all about in the famous saying of Achilles: ‘Better to be a slave in the land of the living than the king of the shades.’ The heroes of Greece and Troy loved to live in the sun and it was a terrible thing when it was suddenly shut out, and their spirits were sent off to the land of the shades, the Western gloom. This was the ‘death-dread’ of Gilgamesh intensified to a level that seems almost modern.

Odysseus blinding the one-eyed giant Polyphemus, shows the progenitor of the new way of thinking destroying the old Third-Eyed one. The parallel story of David and Goliath, of some two hundred years later, when David slays the giant with a pebble aimed at the middle of the forehead, shows that such stragglers from earlier dispensations were still then a historical reality.

Note that Achilles was not doubting the reality of life after death, but his conception of it evidently did not go beyond the dreary, half-life of the sub-lunar sphere. A vision of the heavenly spheres above had been lost to him.

We can see this turning point in consciousness from another angle if we ask ourselves who out of the heroes really won the battle of Troy for the Greeks? It was not the brave, strong hero Achilles, the almost-invincible last of the demi-gods. It was Odysseus ‘of the nimble wits’, who defeated the Trojans by tricking them into accepting the gift of a wooden horse, which had soldiers hidden inside.

To today’s sensibility the story of the Trojan Horse seems almost completely implausible. From the point of view of modern psychology it just seems unrealistic to suppose that anyone could be so gullible.

But at the time of the Trojan war, people were only just beginning to emerge from the collective mind we followed earlier walking through the ancient wood and have just seen Jaynes define. Before the Trojan war everyone shared the same world of thoughts. Others could see what you were thinking. No such lie would have been possible. People interacted with a terrible sincerity. They had a sense that we have lost that in everything they did they were taking part in cosmic events.

the date of the siege of Troy is also the date of the first trick in history.

12. THE DESCENT INTO DARKNESS

Moses and the Cabala • Akhenaten and Satan • Solomon, Sheba and Hiram • King Arthur and the Crown Chakra

EGYPTIAN CIVILIZATION IS PERHAPS THE most successful in recorded history, lasting over three thousand years. Compare this with European-American, Christian civilization, which has so far lasted only about two thousand years. Another notable thing is Egypt’s extraordinarily well preserved historical records, which have survived on temple walls, on tablets and in papyri. These have been vital in placing neighbouring civilizations that have left less complete records and remains, in a chronological context.

The Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt has traditionally been placed in the reign of the pharaoh Ramasees II, one of the greatest and most expansive rulers of Egypt. A great builder at Luxor and Abu Simbel, his monuments also include the gigantic obelisk currently standing in La Place de la Concorde in Paris. In the Romantic poet Shelley’s Ozymandias , he became the archetype of the earthly ruler who comes to believe his achievements will last forever — ‘Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’

A worthy opponent for Moses, you might think. Cecil B. De Mille certainly thought so. But a problem has arisen. Archaeologists discovered that if you look for traces of the Hebrews in the reign of Ramasees II, or if you look, for example, for traces of the fall of Jericho or the Temple of Solomon in the corresponding archaeological layers, you find absolutely nothing.

This led to a consensus among academics that the epic myths of the origins of the Jews were ‘just myths’, in the sense that they had no basis in historical reality.

Is it worth pausing for a moment to wonder how much these people wanted the stories to be untrue, how much their convictions were informed by a sort of adolescent glee at the nursery certainties being overturned?

In the 1990s a group of younger archaeologists, based in Austria and London and led by David Rohl, began to question the conventional chronology of Egypt. More particularly they came to realize that in the period of the Third Intermediate Dynasty, two king lists which had been understood to run one after the other should really be understood as running concurrently.

This had the effect of ‘shortening’ the chronology of ancient Egypt by approximately four hundred years. Known as the ‘New Chronology’, it is gradually gaining ground even among the older generation of Egyptologists.

An incidental side effect of the New Chronology — I say ‘incidental’ because these scholars have no religious axe to grind — was that when field archaeologists began to search for traces of the biblical stories some four hundred years earlier, they made sensational discoveries.

The human condition gives us extraordinary latitude for believing what we want to believe, but for anyone who does not have a strong ulterior motive for believing that the biblical stories are ‘just fairy tales’, this new evidence is quite compelling.

It shows that Moses did not live in about 1250 BC contemporary with Ramasees II. Instead he was born in about 1540 BC, and the Exodus took place in approximately 1447 BC. Using astronomical retro calculations, Venus observations recorded in Mesopotamian texts that cross-reference both the Bible and also surviving Egyptian records, David Rohl has provided strong evidence to show that Moses was brought up an Egyptian prince in the reign of Neferhotep I in the mid-sixteenth century BC. Rohl has found complementary evidence in an account by Artapanus, a Jewish historian of the third century BC who may well have had access to now lost records from the Egyptian temples. Artapanus related how ‘Prince Mousos’ became a popular administrator under Khenephres, Neferhotep I’s successor. Mousos was then was sent into exile when the pharaoh became jealous of him. Finally Rohl has shown that the pharaoh of the Exodus was Khenephres’s successor, Dudimose. Excavations at the Dudimose level have revealed the remains of a foreign settlement of slaves or workers — such as are also referred to in the Brooklyn Papyrus, a royal decree authorizing transfer of just such a group at just this time. This settlement may have been built for and by the Hebrews. There are also death pits and evidence of hasty, mass burials which may be traces of the biblical plagues.

Unearthing stone remains may ground us in historical reality, but in order to understand what was really important in human terms, what it felt like to be there, the highest and deepest that human experience had to offer, we must turn again to the secret tradition.

AS AN EGYPTIAN PRINCE MOSES WAS initiated in the Egyptian Mysteries. This is recorded by the Egyptian historian Manetho, who identified Heliopolis as the Mystery school. It is confirmed in Acts 7.22, where the Apostle Stephen says, ‘And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians.’

The teachings of Moses are steeped in Egyptian wisdom. For example, Spell 125 in the Book of the Dead describes the judgement of the dead. The spirit is required to declare to Osiris that he has led a good life, then deny having committed a list of specific immoral acts to the forty-two judges of the dead: ‘I have not robbed, I have not killed, I have not born false witness’ and so on. Of course this predates the Ten Commandments.

It is no denigration of Moses to point this out. His teaching could not have done otherwise than grow out of the given historical milieu. What is historically significant about Moses is the way he reframed the ancient wisdom with the aim of leading humankind into the next stage of the evolution of consciousness.

When Moses fled into exile in the desert, he encountered a wise, old teacher. Jethro was an African — Ethiopian — high priest, keeper of a library of stone tablets. When Moses married his daughter, Jethro initiated him to a higher level. This is what is being alluded to in the story of the burning bush. When Moses saw the burning bush not being consumed by the fire, this was a vision of the self that is not destroyed by the purging fire that awaits on the other side of the grave.

A sense of mission arose out of Moses’s vision of the burning bush, an impulse to work for the greater good of humanity, to lead us all to a land flowing with milk and honey.

But then, as Moses hesitated before the magnitude of the task in front of him, God stiffened his resolve: ‘And thou shalt take this rod in thy hand, wherewith thou shalt do signs.’ As Moses journeyed back to Egypt, he intended to ask the pharaoh to ‘set my people free’.

As Moses and his brother Aaron stood in the throne room, Aaron suddenly threw his rod down to the ground. It changed, magically, into a snake. The pharaoh ordered his court magicians to match this feat, but as they did so Aaron’s snake swallowed theirs.

As the battle of wills between Moses and the pharaoh unfolded, Moses used his own rod — or wand — to direct the course of events: to bring fire and hail down from the sky, to bring on a plague of locusts, to part the Red Sea, to strike a rock to cause water to gush out of it.

What does this mean? I suspect many readers may be well ahead of me already, but the folk legend that this rod was carved out of wood that originally came from the tree in the Garden of Eden points to its deeper meaning. The rod is part of the vegetable dimension of the cosmos. By mastering it and manipulating it as it runs through his own body, Moses, now an adept, was also able to master and manipulate the cosmos around him.

Later, after Moses had given up trying to persuade the pharaoh to set his people free and had led them out into the Sinai desert, he came down from the mountain with the tablets of stone. Moses proved to be a hard taskmaster, in some ways harder than the pharaohs. Again and again his people failed to live up to his demands. At one point they were punished by a plague of fiery and deadly serpents (Numbers 7.19). To save them Moses nailed a bronze serpent across a raised horizontal pole.

John 3:14 comments on his passage in the Old Testament: ‘And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.’

Clearly John is seeing the bronze serpent as foreshadowing the crucified Jesus Christ. ‘Lifted up’ carries with it a sense of being transformed or transfigured. The bronze serpent has been smelted, and so looks forward, John suggests, to the transfiguration of the material body of humanity.

The rod that Moses used to smite the Egyptians and to discipline his own people was an image of the Lucifer-serpent of animal consciousness that has been straightened and subdued by willpower and a moral discipline that is very hard to maintain.

The great gift Moses gave his people, then, was guilt. Morality emerges into history with Moses and with it a call to a change of heart.

If we look at the Ten Commandments from the perspective of the esoteric doctrine, what is most significant is the way that the first two commandments banned the use of images in religious practice and called upon the Jews to worship no other gods. Following Abraham, Moses was working towards a new kind of religion that did away with the practices of older religions with their elaborate, overwhelming ceremonies, the loud clashing cymbals, the blinding clouds of smoke and speaking idols. The old religion aimed to diminish consciousness. The worshippers would attain access to the spirit worlds but in an uncontrolled way, in the great, overwhelming and riotous visions of the followers of Osiris. It was this that Moses was concerned to roll back and replace with a thoughtful, more conscious communion with the divine.

By this ban on images, Moses was helping to create the conditions that would make abstract thought possible.

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS AND THE other laws of Exodus and Deuteronomy form Moses’s public teaching. They are for all the people. In esoteric tradition he also taught seventy elders the Cabala, the secret, mystical teachings of Judaism, at the same time.

The Cabala is as broad a church as a major world religion, and we will be returning to different aspects of it.

The udja eye as a series of fractions.

In sacred idealism the human form is a microcosm of the universe. The divine proportions can be found not just in ammonites and nebulae but also in the human body. The renegade Egyptologist R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz spent fifteen years on site tracing the divine-mathematical proportions of the Temple of Luxor. He showed how the ritual laying of the foundation and consecration of the temple was called the ceremony of Giving the House to its Master. Likewise in Hinduism, he wrote, the building of a temple in the form of a human body was a magical process. It was believed that if the overseer of the work of building a temple had made a mistake in the construction of a particular part of a temple, he would suffer an illness or injury in the corresponding part of his own body.

Again, it is no denigration of Moses or the Cabala to point out that it grew out of an older tradition, the mystical number system of the Egyptians.

Reams of mathematical calculations have not come down to us from ancient Egypt, but their understanding of higher mathematics has survived in Egyptian art. For example, the eye of Horus was often represented as the udja eye, which we now know was made up of a number of hieroglyphs representing fractions which add up to a total of 63/64. If you reverse this and divide 64 by 63, you come up with what has been called the greatest secret of the Egyptians, a number called the Comma of Pythagoras.

Highly complex numbers like the Comma of Pythagoras, Pi and Phi (sometimes called the Golden Proportion), are known as irrational numbers. They lie deep in the structure of the physical universe, and were seen by the Egyptians as the principles controlling creation, the principles by which matter is precipitated from the cosmic mind.

Today scientists recognize that the Comma of Pythagoras, Pi and the Golden Proportion as well as the closely related Fibonacci sequence are universal constants that describe complex patterns in astronomy, music and physics. For example, the Fibonacci sequence is a series in which each number is the sum of the two preceding it. Spirals are built up according to this sequence. It is rampant in nature in the spirals of galaxies, the shape of ammonites and the arrangement of leaves on a stem.

To the Egyptians these numbers were also the secret harmonies of the cosmos, and they incorporated them as rhythms and proportions in the construction of their pyramids and temples. A building made in this way would be ideal. A hall, a doorway, a window which had the Golden Proportion built into it, would be ineffably pleasing to the human spirit.

The great temples of Egypt are, of course, bursting with vegetable forms, such as the bulrush-shaped pillars of the great hypostyle at Karnak. But it was the vegetable life that gives proportion to human limb, the vegetable life that turns ribs and makes them curve according to a pleasing mathematical formula that the temple-builders were particularly concerned to reproduce.

The point is that Egyptian temples were built in this way because the gods were no longer able to inhabit bodies of flesh and blood. A temple was built to be the body of a god, no less. The god’s spirit lived inside the vegetable and material bodies that the temple embodied, just as the human spirit lives inside its vegetable and material bodies.

Hypostyle hall at Karnak.

THE HEBREWS HAVE NOT LEFT A RICH architectural heritage like the Egyptians. Their number mysticism has come down to us encoded in the language of the books of Moses.

The great book of the Cabala is The Zohar, which is a vast commentary on the first five books of the Old Testament, traditionally ascribed to Moses. If the world is materialized thought then, according to the Cabala, words and letters were the means by which this process happened. God created the world by manipulating and making patterns out of the Hebrew letters of the alphabet. Hebrew letters, therefore, have magical properties and the patterns they make in scripture open up layers, indeed vistas, of hidden meaning.

Exodus chapter fourteen contains three verses — 19, 20 and 21 — which each consist of 72 letters. If you write these verses on top of one another so that the 72 letters appear in columns, then reading a column at a time, you will discover the secret 72 Names of God.

Each Hebrew letter is also a number. Aleph, the Hebrew A, is one, Beth is two and so on. There are complex connections here. The Hebrew word for father has a numerical value of 3 and the word for mother has a value of 41. The Hebrew word for child is 44, the combination of Father and Mother.

It gets more mind-blowing.

The numerical value of the Hebrew phrase for the Garden of Eden is 144. The numerical value of the Tree of Knowledge is 233. If you divide 233 by 144, you get very close — to four decimal points — to the value to the golden ratio phi!

In the last few decades mathematicians have applied themselves to the task of finding messages encoded in the text of the books of Moses. Breakthrough work by Witztum, Rips and Rosenberg aimed at discovering transcription codes using equidistant letter sequences. The published results include some names of post-biblical historical figures from Hebrew history, but as yet no propositions, no sequences of sentences or anything that could be read as a message. Again, it is not my secret to reveal, but one Cambridge-based statistician has shown me the results of applying an extremely complex ‘skip code’, a code verified as valid by a Cambridge University professor of mathematics. The fragments he showed me were reminiscent of the Psalms.

Imagine if a whole other book — or series of books — were encoded in the text we have! Would each of these texts have different layers of meaning too?

Such an achievement is beyond the capacity of normal human intelligence.

Recent research by an occult group has shown that J.S. Bach composed some of the world’s most beautiful melodies — such as the famous Chaconne — while at the same time giving each note the value of a letter of the alphabet. Bach’s music spells out secret, Psalm-like messages. This again is surely something beyond normal human intelligence?

In esoteric circles language which is imbued by initiates with layers of meaning is sometimes called the Green Language or Language of the Birds. Rabelais and Nostradamus, contemporaries at Montpellier University, as well as Shakespeare, are all said to have written it. Wagner refers to it when he alludes to the tradition that Siegfried learned the Language of the Birds by drinking dragon’s blood.

One last possibility while we are still on this topic. Perhaps we all speak the Green Language all the time? Perhaps the only difference between us and great initiates like Shakespeare is that they do it consciously?

SIGMUND FREUD WAS DEEPLY INTERESTED in the Cabala. As we will see, it was a formative influence on his thought. But he got hold of the wrong end of the stick when he argued that the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten was the source of Moses’s monotheism. We now know Moses came first. Akhenaten’s ideas of monotheism were subtly but dangerously different.

At the height of the Egyptian New Kingdom, the reign of Akhentaten’s father, Amenhotep III, seemed to signal a new era of even greater peace and prosperity which, even if didn’t match the unique achievement of the Great Pyramid, would see the construction of the most magnificent temples of the ancient world.

After the birth of three daughters Queen Tiy gave Amenhotep a son. Perhaps because he had been long awaited, perhaps partly because it was clear his father did not have long to live, the boy who was to become Akhenaten was brought up inside the temple precincts and grew up with a sense of cosmic mission.

Akhenaten had been born with a chromosomal defect that gave him a strange, hermaphroditic, even unearthly appearance: womanly thighs and an elongated face that might be read as ethereal, even spiritual. This defect can also lead to symptoms of mental instability — mania, delusions, paranoia.

Some combination of these factors may have contributed to his actions, which threatened to disrupt the whole progress of human evolution.

Unlike in Babylon, where kings acted independently of the priesthood, leading to extremes of despotic cruelty, the pharaohs of Egypt ruled under the aegis of the initiate priests. This is why the popular view of Akhenaten’s revolution that sees it as an act of radical individualism is quite wrong.

The start of Akhenaten’s reign coincided with the beginning of a Sothic cycle. This was one of the greatest of the astronomical cycles that shaped history, according to the priestly theology.

The Sothic cycle is 1460 years long. In Egyptian mythology each new beginning of this cycle saw the return of the Bennu bird, the Phoenix heralding the birth of the new age and a new dispensation. When Akhenaten announced the closing of the most magnificent temple in the world at Karnak, and the founding of a new cult centre and capital city approximately halfway between Karnak and Giza, this was not the wilful act of an eccentric individual, but an initiate king acting out cosmic destiny. He was preparing to welcome the return of the Bennu bird in 1321 BC.

His first act was to build a new temple to Aten, the god of the sun disc. In the great courtyard of Akhenaten’s new temple was its centrepiece, an obelisk topped by the Benben stone on which the legendary Phoenix was to alight.

His next act, supported by his mother Queen Tiy, was to build his great new capital city and sail the whole machinery of government down to it on barges. He wanted to shift the earth on its axis.

He then declared that all other gods did not really exist and that Aten was the one, true and only God. This was monotheism in something very like the modern sense. The worship of Isis, Osiris, and Amon-Re was forbidden. Their temples were effaced and shut down, and their popular festivals declared superstitions.

There is something appealing to modern sensibility about Akhenaten’s reforms. Like today’s monotheism, Akhenaten’s was materialistic. By definition monotheism does away with other gods — and it tends to do away with other spirits and other forms of disembodied intelligence too. So monotheism tends to be materialistic in the sense that it tends to deny the experience of spirits — and that experience, as we have already said, is what spirituality really is.

So it was the physical sun that Akhenaten declared divine and the source of all goodness. As a result, the art of Akhenaten’s reign did away with the hieratic formalism of traditional Egyptian art with its ranks of deities. Akhenaten’s art seems naturalistic in a way we find easy to appreciate. Some of his beautiful hymns to Aten have survived and they seem, remarkably, to anticipate the Psalms of David. ‘How manifold is that which you have made. You created the world according to your desire — all men, cattle and wild animals,’ declaimed Akhenaten. ‘How countless are your works,’ sang David, ‘you made all of them so wisely. The world is full of your creatures.’

But behind the poetry, behind all the clean intelligence and modernism there lurked a monomaniacal madness. By banning all the other gods and declaring himself the only channel for the wisdom and influence of Aten on earth, he was in effect making the whole priesthood redundant and replacing them with just himself.

But despite making himself the focus of all religious practice, he withdrew deeper and deeper into the maze of courtyards of his palace with his beautiful wife Nefertiti and their beloved children. He played with his young family, composed hymns and refused to hear any bad news regarding unrest among the people or of the rebellions in Egypt’s colonies that threatened its supremacy in the region.

Collapse eventually came from within. Fifteen years into his reign the daughter on whom he doted died, despite all his prayers to Aten. Then his mother Tiy, who had always supported him, died too. Nefertiti disappears from court records.

Two years later the priests had Akhenaten killed, and they put on the throne the young boy who was to become known to the world as Tutenkhamun.

Immediately the priests set about restoring Thebes. Akhenaten’s capital quickly became a ghost town and every monument to him, every depiction of him, every mention of the name of Akhenaten was ruthlessly and systematically effaced.

Some modern commentators have seen Akhenaten as a prophetic, even saintly figure. It is significant, though, that as we know from Manetho, the Egyptians remembered his reign as a Sethian event. Seth is, of course, Satan, the great spirit of materialism, who always works to destroy true spirituality. If his envoy, Akhenaten, had successfully converted humankind to materialism, then the three thousand years of the gentle, beautiful growth of the human spirit, and many qualities that had evolved since would have been lost forever.

ALTHOUGH IT MAY NOT HAVE SURVIVED in anything like the same state of preservation as some of the Egyptian temples, no temple looms larger in the collective imagination than the Temple of Solomon.

Saul has recently been identified as a historical character who features in the letters of kings subject to Akhenaten. They loyally wrote to him with reports of local events. Saul’s name in these letters is ‘Labya’, the king of the ‘Habiru’. Following these identifications in the records of neighbouring cultures, we may now say with confidence that David — ‘Tadua’ — became the first to unite the tribes of Israel in one kingdom when he became king of Jerusalem in 1004 BC, which is to say in the reign of Tutenkamun. David lay the foundations of a temple at Jersualem, but died before he could build it, and so this task was left to his son, whom we now know was anointed king of Jerusalem in 971 BC.

Before the advances made by David Rohl’s New Chronology, it had been believed that Solomon, if he was a real historical character at all, lived in the Iron Age. This was a big problem because archaeology could find in the remains of that period no evidence of the wealth and building projects for which Solomon has always been famous. Relocating Solomon in the late Bronze Age has proved to be a perfect fit. The remains of Phoenician-style architecture that a Hiram might have built have been dug up in the appropriate strata.

The figure of Solomon glows in the popular imagination as the embodiment of all kingly magnificence and wisdom — and in the secret tradition, as the magical controller of demons. In the secret traditions of Freemasonry — as we know from an oration by Chevalier Michael Ramsay in 1736 — Solomon recorded his magical knowledge in a secret book which was later laid in the foundations of the second Temple in Jerusalem.

In Jewish folklore Solomon’s reign was so splendid that gold and silver became as common as stones in the street. But because the Jews had no tradition of building temples up to this time, having been a nomadic people, Solomon chose to employ as architect for this project a Phoenician, Hiram Abiff. If the building seems, on the evidence of the measurements given in the Old Testament, no larger than a parish church, it was nevertheless crammed with ornamentation of unparalleled magnificence.

In its middle stood the Holy of Holies, lined with gold plate and encrusted with jewels. It was designed to contain the Ark of the Covenant, containing the tablets of Moses. The Cherubim whose wings stretched protectively over it were, as we have seen, representatives of constellations of the zodiac belt. On the corners of the altar stood four horns, representing the moon, and a golden candlestick with seven lamps — of course, a representation of the sun, the moon and the five major planets on either side. The Pillars of Jakim and Boaz measured the pulse of the cosmos. They were so placed as to mark the furthest points of the sun’s risings of the equinoxes, and according to the first-century Jewish historian Josephus, and Clement, the first bishop of Alexandria, they were topped with ‘orreries’, mechanical representations of the motions of the planets. Decorative, carved pomegranates are mentioned several times in the biblical account. The robes of the priests were decorated with precious stones representing the sun, the moon, the planets and the constellations — emeralds being the only stone named.

The most extraordinary feature of the temple seems to have been a sea — or according to the Koran, a fountain — of molten brass. Again, as with the bronze serpent nailed to a pole by Moses, this image of smelting should alert us to the presence of secret practices dedicated to transforming human physiology.

Hiram, the Master Builder, employed a brotherhood of craftsmen to realize his designs. He classified them according to three grades, the Apprentices, the Companions and the Masters. Here we see ideas of fraternity that will eventually spread beyond the narrowly esoteric to transform the organization of society as a whole, and in the story of the murder of Hiram Abiff we see a warning of how it may all go wrong.

THERE IS AN UNDERCURRENT OF RIVALRY between Solomon and Hiram Abiff in some of the secret traditions. The Queen of Sheba visited Solomon, but she was also curious to meet the man who had designed such a miraculous temple.

And when she felt Hiram Abiff’s gaze on her, she experienced a sensation like molten metal inside.

She asked Hiram how he had managed to bring the beauty of the heavens down to earth in the architecture of the Temple. He responded by holding aloft a Tau cross, a cross in the shape of the letter T. Immediately all the many workers swarmed into the temple like ants.

Again the image of the insect. There are traditions preserved in the Talmud and the Koran that the Temple was built with the aid of a mysterious insect able to carve stone called the Shameer. As with the image of the beehive, we have here an image of spiritual forces — which Hiram is able to command.

Solomon’s Temple in an eighteenth-century print. The Freemasonic scholar Albert Pike called it ‘an abridged image of the cosmos’. The twin pillars Jakim and Boaz contain many layers of meaning, including, on a physiological level, the rhythmic motions of red and purple blood and, on a cosmic level, the spirit’s rhythmic entry alternately into the spiritual and material worlds.

Three of Hiram’s workers were jealous of his secret powers. They decided they wanted to know the secrets of the molten sea. They ambushed him at the end of the day as he was leaving the Temple. When he repeatedly refused to disclose his secrets they murdered him, each dealing him a massive, haemorrhage-inducing blow to the head.

It is said that certain secrets died with him and are still lost, that the secrets divulged in the Mystery schools and secret societies ever since have been lesser secrets.

There is a hint of a sexual element in the account of Sheba’s burning sensation and the Tau cross, but to begin to understand Hiram’s secrets we must ask ourselves, given all the astronomical elements in the design and decoration of the Temple, what was its particular orientation?

Two independent-minded Masonic researchers, Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas, have worked out this orientation, starting from the clue that Hiram came from Phoenicia, where the principal deity was Astarte — or Venus. Of course, this ties in, too, with the decorative details, already mentioned, the pomegranates which are the fruit of Venus and the emeralds which are the precious stones of Venus.

According to Clement of Alexandria, the curtain which sectioned off the Holy of Holies had cut into it the shape of a five-pointed star. The five-pointed star has always been a symbol of Venus, because the pattern that Venus traces around the ecliptic in its eight-year cycle — five appearances in the morning sky and five in the evening sky — forms a five-pointed pattern. It is the only planet to draw a completely regular figure in this way. This figure is seen sometimes as a pentagram, sometimes as a five-pointed star, and sometimes, as we shall see when we come to investigate Rosicrucianism, as a five-petalled flower, the rose.

As well as being a symbol of Venus, the pentagram is highly significant in geometry because, as Leonardo’s mathematics teacher Luca Pacioli revealed in his book on divine proportion, it embodies the Golden Proportion in every part of it.

But there is more. This sacred geometry operates in time as well as space.

Five Venus cycles of 584 days take place over exactly eight solar years, which means that a Venus cycle is 1.6 of a solar cycle. We have come across this number 1.6 before. It is the beginning of the Golden Proportion, one of the irrational and magical numbers that describe the precipitation of mind into matter.

In the ancient and secret doctrine, the planets and the stars control this precipitation of matter.

The Venus associations multiply, one dimension opening up into another like the bubble universes of modern science. There are many rival etymologies of the name Jerusalem, one being that the original name of the city was Urshalem, ‘ur’ meaning founded by and ‘Shalem’ being an ancient name of Astarte — or Venus — in her evening setting. In Masonic tradition its own lodges are modelled on the Jerusalem Temple. The five-pointed star of Venus is represented above the ceremonial chair of the Grand Master, and initiates greet each other in a fraternal five-pointed ceremonial embrace. Lodges contain dormer windows, aligned in such a way that the light of Venus shines through them on certain important days. A Master mason is raised into rebirth facing the light of Venus at an equinox.

Bearing in mind the identification of Venus with Lucifer, these associations might at first seem a bit disconcerting. But in esoteric history Lucifer is always a necessary evil. The human capacity for thought was forged out of a balance between Venus and the moon — and the moon, as we have just seen, also features prominently, in the design of the altar of the Temple.

The mission of Solomon was to lead humankind down into a darkening, more material world, keeping the flame of spirituality alive. It was the same mission that Freemasonry would take up in the seventeenth century at the dawn of the modern age of materialism.

THE SOLOMONIC LEGENDS FIND A DISTANT echo in the British Isles. Modern scholarship tends to hold the view that, if the legends of Arthur have any historical basis at all, this lies in the ‘Dark Ages’ following the withdrawal of the Romans from Britain, when a Christian warlord might have fought glorious but ultimately futile battles to repel pagan invaders. An intriguing case has been made that the historical figure behind the Arthur legends was Owain Ddantgwynne, a Welsh warlord who defeated the pagan Saxons at the Battle of Badon in 470. Arthur would in this case have been a title, meaning ‘the bear’.

But the original King Arthur lived at Tintagel a little earlier than Solomon, in about 1100 BC, when the peaceful, rural communities of Bronze Age Britain were overrun by the more militaristic hill-fort people of the Iron Age. His spiritual mentor, Merlin, the wizard of Cellydon Wood, was a survivor from the age of the stone circles. He helped Arthur to keep the Sun Mysteries alive. King Arthur himself was a Sun king, surrounded by the twelve knights of the zodiac and married to Venus, Guinevere being the Celtic form of Venere or Venus. His crown was a crown chakra ablaze to lead his people — as Solomon led his people — down through the darkness.

Herodotus recorded that in Iran the king was believed to emit such an intense unbearable light that he had to remain behind a curtain during audiences with his subjects. A crown was a symbol that a certain grade of initiation had been achieved and that the initiate was crowned with buddhic fire.

13. REASON — AND HOW TO RISE ABOVE IT

Elijah and Elisha • Isaiah • Esoteric Buddhism • Pythagoras • Lao Tzu

AFTER SOLOMON THE KINGDOM OF ISRAEL began to fall apart again.

An institution grew up called the prophets. Their role was to advise the kings — except that, unlike the relationship between Melchizedek and Abraham or Merlin and Arthur, theirs was adversarial, even subversive. They said uncomfortable and unpopular things no one wanted to hear. They ranted and raved. Sometimes they were thought of as mad.

Elijah was a wild man, strange and solitary, almost like a tramp, with a leather belt and a long cloak. Like Zarathustra he fought fire with fire.

Told by God to hide in the wilderness and to drink from a brook, he was fed by ravens. ‘Raven’ indicates that Elijah was being initiated in the ways of the wisdom of Zarathustra. ‘Raven’ was one of the grades of initiation in his mysteries.

The king of Israel, Ahab, married Jezebel and began to erect altars to Baal (the Canaanite name for Saturn/Satan). Elijah fought and won a battle with the prophets of Baal, calling fire down from heaven. On later occasions he called fire down from heaven to kill squads of soldiers sent by Jezebel to capture him.

Elijah was a man of blood and thunder, the prophet who lived closest to the borders of madness. There are stories of repeated, astonishing proofs of his charisma — his clairvoyance, his ability to turn a poisoned well wholesome, to make iron float, to heal a leper. There is a strange story of his bringing a young boy back to life by lying on top of him and infusing him with his spirit. When he had to flee into the wilderness again, he was fleeing for his life — and towards God. He found himself standing on a mountain in the middle of a terrible, raging storm. We may imagine him railing against the storm, a combination of Lear and the Fool.

Eventually he sank down, exhausted, and slept under a juniper tree, where he had a dream of an angel.

Then, while it was still dark, he set off to climb Mount Horeb in search of God as the angel had told him. But a great wind came, shaking the very mountain and sending enormous boulders bouncing down in his direction. Elijah knew that God was not in this wind and he managed to reach the safety of a cave.

Suddenly a sheet of lightning struck the ground right in front of the cave, causing a roaring blaze in the vegetation outside, which trapped him inside. He also knew God was not in this fire.

After a while the storm and the fire died down and as morning approached all was calm. The morning star arose and it was then, in the gentle morning air, that Elijah heard the still small voice of God.

An exuberant, even outrageous figure, he was nevertheless the prophet of a new interiority. This is a development of Moses hearing of the voice in the burning bush, but quieter, subliminal almost. Where people had once had an overwhelming sense of the divine, now they would have to listen very intently, to practise mental discipline and directed attention in order to discern it.

But in order to understand the true meaning of Elijah’s mission, it is necessary to understand his death, and in order to do that we will turn first to India.

There are testimonies about Indian adepts able to dematerialize and materialize at will. In Paramahansa Yogananda’s marvellous Autobiography of a Yogi, first published in 1946, he describes how he was due to meet his spiritual master, Sri Yukteswar, at the local train station, but received a telepathic message not to go there. His master had been delayed. The pupil waited in the hotel. Suddenly a window overlooking the street became brilliant with sunlight and his master clearly materialized in front of him. His master explained that he was not an apparition but flesh and blood, that he had been divinely commanded to give his pupil this very rare experience. Paramahansa Yogananda touched the familiar sandals made of orange canvas and rolled with rope. He also felt the ochre cloth of his master’s robe brush against him.

Elijah developed this gift to the next stage. He learned how to excarnate and incarnate at will.

You can’t take it with you, goes the popular saying, but according to the secret doctrine you can. The great twentieth-century initiate G.I. Gurdjieff said that exactly what is needed truly to become master of oneself in this life is what is needed to survive as a conscious being in the afterlife. Initiation is concerned at least as much with life after death as this life. In the seventh book of The Republic Plato said, ‘Those who are unable in the present life to apprehend the idea of the good, will descend to Hades after death and fall asleep in its dark abode.’

At the end of his life Elijah was carried up into the heavens in a fiery chariot. So like Enoch and Noah before him, he did not die in the ordinary way. He joined the college of ascended masters, who are for the most part invisible but return to earth at times of great change and crisis.

In cabalistic thought the chariot by means of which Elijah ascends is called the Merkabah. Great initiates are able to work on the vegetable body so that it does not dissolve after death, enabling the ascending spirit to keep aspects of consciousness only usually possible during life on earth. Initiates know of secret techniques by means of which very fine energies may be crystallized in such a way that they are not dispersed.

We will see later that Christian thinkers would call this chariot the Resurrection body. As Elijah ascended his mantle slipped from him to be taken up by Elisha, whom Elijah had chosen as his successor. By some mysterious process the confering of the mantle gives Elisha an increased portion of Elijah’s power. (We will return to look at the way this works when we come to consider the life and work of Shakespeare.)

The succession of Elijah by Elisha was not without ambiguity, though. Once Elijah seemed as if he might want to repudiate Elisha. He hurried off and, when Elisha caught up with him, said, ‘Go back. What have I done to you?’ Does he see something in Elisha he is not sure of? Later Elisha is mocked for being bald by a large gang of boys and uses his power to call two bears from the woods which attack and kill them. It is as if the prophet is still engaged in a deadly battle with Baal.

Two hundred years later, by the time of the later prophets, a new, transcendent understanding of the way the universe works had developed. The concept of Grace put prophets on a much less warlike footing. In 550 BC Isaiah proclaimed, ‘The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light… For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be on his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.’

Elijah ascends. Print from a nineteenth-century Bible.

The concept of Grace grew out of this prophetic sense of history. The kings of the two kingdoms and their peoples failed to do what was asked of them. They degenerated and the land was laid waste. But then, because of the Grace of God, a living root emerged from the wasteland. The prophets saw Grace operating in this way in their own lifetimes on a military and political level, in the rise and fall and rise again of their own little kingdoms. They also prophesied its repetition in the greater cosmic cycles of history.

For the followers of Baal, on the other hand, life was about the exercise of power. They believed that if they performed the correct religious practices — sacrifices and magical ceremonies — they could compel their gods to do their bidding.

Isaiah repudiated this view. He told his people that Yahweh had shown them Grace by choosing them, by empowering them to obey, by purging them of their sins, by saving them when they had been stiff-necked and disobeyed, and by the promise of restoring them to former glory even though they did not deserve it. Yahweh’s gracious love could never be demanded, bought or earned, he said. It is a love given in complete freedom.

Once this kind of divine love had been understood, it would only be a matter of time before this understanding opened a new dimension in the love of one human for another.

Isaiah had a great sense of both the history and the future fortunes of Israel — ‘there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse’. He also has a great vision of the end of history which we will return to later — ‘the wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid’.

The prophetic tradition would die out by about 450 BC. As the Cabalist Rabbi Hayyim Vital would write, at the end of the sixteenth century, after Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, prophets were only able to see into the lowest levels of the heavens and then only in a heavily shrouded way.

The last words in the Old Testament are the ringing words of Malachi, prophesying Elijah’s return, and today this is still looked forward to every year at Passover, when a place is laid for him at dinner, with a cup of wine and the door left open.

BUT IN DIFFERENT PARTS OF THE WORLD other remarkable initiates were opening up other new dimensions in the human condition. A great spirit of enlightenment was weaving through several different minds and several different cultures at the same time.

Prince Siddhartha was born into a time and place characterized by small warring states in Lumbini in modern-day Nepal.

Until the age of twenty-nine he lived in pampered luxury. His every need was met before it began to tug on him and his every vista was a delight. Then one day he left the royal palace and saw something he had never been allowed to see — an old man. He was horrified, but he looked further, discovering that his own people were ill and dying.

He decided to leave the palace — and his wife and child — in order to try to make sense of this suffering. Living among ascetics for seven years, he failed to find what he was looking for in the yoga sutras of Pantanjali and the teachings of the descendants of the Rishis.

Then, finally, when he was thirty-five he went and sat under a Bohdi tree on the banks of the River Neranjara, determined not to move until he understood.

After three days and three nights he realized that life is suffering, that suffering is caused by desire for earthly things, but that you can achieve freedom from all desire. Indeed, you can achieve such freedom, and such affinity for the spirit world, that you need never reincarnate again — and so you may become, as Siddhartha did, a Buddha.

The path to understanding — or enlightenment — was called by the Buddha ‘the Eightfold Path’, which involved right belief, right conviction, teaching, action, living, intention, thinking, contemplation.

The Eightfold Path may seem impossibly high-minded moralizing to modern Western sensibility. It may also seem a bit abstract, even impractical. But the teachings of the Buddha have an esoteric side, and like all esoteric teachings they have a layer of meaning which is eminently practical. Esoteric philosophy teaches its initiates how to achieve psychological transformation using practical techniques to manipulate human physiology. In the case of the Buddha’s Eightfold Path, these eight practices are exercises for enlivening eight of the sixteen petals of the throat chakra.

This represents a historic change in initiatic practice. In the initiation rituals practiced in the Great Pyramid, for example, the candidate had been sent into a deep, death-like trance, then a circle of — five — initiates had raised his vegetable body out of his physical body. They had worked on it, moulding it, coaxing it into forms capable of perceiving higher worlds, so that when the vegetable body sank again into the physical body and the candidate reawoke, he was born into a new, higher form of life. The point is that the candidate was unconscious throughout this process.

Now the followers of Buddha consciously participated in their own initiation, consciously working on their own chakras. Part of this work was living a new, more moral way of life, based on compassion for all living things.

Because people were growing increasingly independent of the spirit worlds, there was a danger that an individual’s powers would outstrip his desire to do the right thing and use them wisely. There was also a danger that the evil-minded might gain the supernatural powers that initiation confers.

It has also always been possible for people to gain these powers even though they have not been initiated. Sometimes it happens as a result of extreme childhood trauma. This can cause a rent in the psyche through which spirits rush in an uncontrolled way. Some modern mediums have suffered great childhood traumas. Sometimes people acquire powers through the practice of a magic which is either black or at least not attuned to the highest spiritual aims, as it is in the venerable secret schools which keep alive a genuine, ancient tradition. The danger in all this is that a non-initiate, even a well-intentioned one, may have difficulty recognizing the spirits he or she is communicating with.

In esoteric Buddhism, the Buddha is the spirit of Mercury. It is no coincidence, then, that the Celts called the planet Mercury ‘Budh’, meaning ‘wise teaching’. That the lotus position characteristic of the Buddha was known to the Celts is proved by this carving on a bucket, found in Oesberg, Norway.

The aim of the Eightfold Path is initiation as part of a controlled and protecting moral development. If you are able to control the world, you must first be able to exercise control over yourself.

The throat chakra is the organ of the formulation of spiritual wisdom. It connects the heart chakra with the brow chakra. In the physiology of an initiate currents of love stream up from the heart chakra through the throat chakra to light up the brow chakra. When this light streams up on to the brow chakra, it opens up like a flower in the sun.

We may all catch an echo — or foretaste — of this in our own lives. If we look at someone with the eyes of love, we see good qualities not perceptible to others. Just the act of looking at someone lovingly may also bring out these qualities and help them to blossom. If you meet someone with an extremely refined spiritual nature, he or she will probably be happy, smiling, laughing, almost childlike. This is because they look at the whole of humanity with the eye of love.

When the Buddha died he had achieved his aim. He would not be required to reincarnate.

But this is not to say he is no longer a part of this history, as we see when we come to look at the Italian Renaissance.

The Buddhist Emperor Asoka, grandson of the first man to unify India, ruled from 273 BC. When he lost more than a hundred thousand men in a battle, he renounced war, and from then on tried to rule by the shining example of his Buddhist spirituality. He had some 84,000 stupas, or shrines, erected in India, of which a handful survive. In conventional history he is remembered for his irrigation, roads, hospitals and botanical gardens, his vegetarianism and ban on the killing of animals. In esoteric history he is remembered, too, for having founded the Nine Unknown, a powerful secret society that many in the twentieth century, including D.N. Bose, one of India’s leading scientists, believed still operated.

PYTHAGORAS WAS BORN ON THE PROSPEROUS Greek island of Samos in about 575 BC, as the first blocks of marble were being placed one on top of the other on the Acropolis in Athens.

No individual has had a greater influence on the evolution of Western esoteric thought. Pythagoras was regarded as a demi-god during his lifetime. Like Jesus Christ, nothing he wrote has come down to us, only a few collected sayings and commentaries and stories written by disciples.

It was said that he had the power of being in two places at the same time, that a white eagle had permitted him to stroke it, that he once addressed a river god and a voice called out to him from the water, ‘I greet thee Pythagoras!’ It is also said that he once told some fishermen who had been having an unproductive day to cast their nets into the sea one last time, whereupon their catch almost burst their nets. He was a great healer, sometimes reciting particular verses from Homer he believed had great power, just as Christian mystics will recite verses from the Psalms and John’s Gospel. He used music for healing purposes, too. The early Greek philosopher Empedocles said Pythagoras could heal the sick and rejuvenate the old. Like the Buddha he could remember his past incarnations and it was even said that he could recall the entire history of the world from the beginning.

His wisdom was the result of years of research and multiple initiations into Mystery schools. He spent twenty-two years learning the secrets of the Egyptian initiate priests. He also studied with the Magi in Babylon and the descendants of the Rishis in India, where a memory was preserved of the great wonder-worker they called Yaivancharya.

Pythagoras was seeking to synthesize esoteric thought from all around the world into a comprehensive cosmo-conception — what Leibniz, the seventeenth-century mathematician and Cabalist, would later call the Perennial Philosophy.

At this point in the history of the world according to idealism, we have reached a turning point. The great ideas or thoughts emanating from the cosmic mind are now almost hidden by the matter they have worked together to create. The mission of Pythagoras was to record them as concepts before they disappeared entirely.

Pythagoras’s philosophy, therefore, begins the process of translating the primordial vision, the picture consciousness of ancient humanity, into abstract, conceptual terms.

In about 532 Pythagoras fell foul of Polycrates, the despotic ruler of Samos. Forced into exile, he set up a small community — the first of several — in Crotona in southern Italy. Candidates for initiation into his community had to undergo years of training, including a strange diet that included poppy, sesame and cucumber seeds, wild honey, daffodil flowers and the skin of sea onion from which the juice had been completely extracted. There was great emphasis on gymnastics as a way of bringing the three human bodies — material, vegetable and animal — into harmony, and candidates were required to remain silent for years on end.

Pythagoras was able to grant his pupils a great vision of the spirit worlds, which he would then interpret for them. Out of this, the first discursive teaching, would emerge mathematics, geometry, astronomy and music.

In his day Pythagoras was said to be the only human being able to hear the Music of the Spheres, conceived as a scale of different notes each made by the seven planets as they moved through space. This is easy to dismiss as mystical hogwash, but the story of how he measured the first musical scale has an authentic sounding ring to it.

One day Pythagoras was walking through town when he heard metal being pounded on an anvil. He noticed that different sized hammers made different sounds. Returning home, he fixed a plank of wood across a room and hung a series of weights according to the weights of the different hammers in an ascending scale. By a process of trial and error he determined that the musical notes that sound beautiful to the human ear correspond to different weights. He then calculated that they were proportionate to one another in a mathematically precise way. It is from these calculations by Pythagoras that we derive the musical octave we understand and enjoy today.

As Pythagoras and his followers began to describe the rational element in life, they started to formulate a parallel concept. It was a concept which had perhaps never been articulated before, because up till that point it had been a part of everyone’s everyday experience. The concept went like this: life can be explained in rational terms only up to a point. There is a vast irrational element in life, too.

The teachings of the Mystery schools relating to the rational side would help build cities, develop science and technology, structure and regulate the Outworld. The irrational teaching in its explicit form would be confined to the schools. To talk about it outside was dangerous and might well attract hostility. As Plutarch would put it, ‘One who knows the higher truths, finds the “serious” values of society difficult to take seriously. Eternity is a child at play.’

Here, at the birth of rational thought, the Mystery schools nurtured its opposite. It is no accident that individuals like Pythagoras, Newton and Leibniz, those who have done most to help humanity get to grips with the reality of the physical universe, have also been deeply immersed in esoteric thought. This is because it is undoubtedly true, as these great minds have seen, that if you look at life as subjectively as possible, rather than objectively, as you must do in science, some very different patterns emerge. Life viewed objectively may be rational and subject to natural law, but experienced subjectively it is irrational.

By consciously splitting experience in this way, Pythagoras made it possible to think more clearly about both dimensions.

The pupils of Pythagoras were taught to live apart from society, alternating between mystical ecstasy and intellectual analysis. Pythagoras was the first to call himself a lover of wisdom, that is to say ‘a philosopher’, but like Socrates and Plato who followed him, he was closer to a magus than a modern-day university professor. His pupils were in awe of him. They believed he had the power to make them dream what he willed, and that he could reorient their waking consciousness in an instant, too.

Pythagoras attracted murderous rage from those excluded from his inner circle. He refused to admit a man called Cyron into his Mystery school because of his reckless, imperious behaviour. Cyron stirred up a mob against Pythagoras. They broke into the building where Pythagoras and his followers were meeting and set fire to it. Everyone inside died.

IN THE ERA OF PYTHAGORAS TWO OTHER philosophers on different sides of the world, Heraclitus in Greece and Lao-Tzu in China, briefly come to the surface of history, trying to define rationally, the irrational dimension of life.

We cannot step in the same stream twice, said Heraclitus.

There is a story that Confucius went to see Lao-Tzu and asked to be initiated. Lao-Tzu turned him away, mocking him for his mixture of ingratiating manners and vaulting ambition. It is probably apocryphal, but it points to an important truth which is that Confucianism and Taoism represent exoteric and esoteric thought in China.

Confucius spent years collecting traditional Chinese wisdom and these collections would be adopted as manuals for government by later Chinese leaders.

The sayings of Confucius are eminently reasonable. A thousand mile journey begins with a single step. Value the task more than the prize. If you can’t meet your goals, adjust your goals. And so on.

We can compare Confucius with Rudyard Kipling. They were both servants of empire. If scientific materialism described everything there is in life, Kipling’s poem ‘If’ would be the last word on the conduct of life and esoteric philosophy would have nothing to teach us.

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them ‘Hold on!’…

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the earth and everything that is in it
And which is more — you’ll be a Man, my son!

The problem is that, though there may be times when the best thing to do is to try with all our might and not give up, there are other times, as Orpheus had found to his cost, when it is prudent to give up and go with the flow. Sometimes when you grab at what you want, you just push it further away. Sometimes the only way to keep something is by letting it go. As Lao Tzu says:

Because the awakened one puts himself behind, he steps ahead.
Because he gives way, he gains
Because he is selfless, he fulfils himself
The still is the lord of the restless.

THIRTY YEARS AFTER THE DEATH OF PYTHAGORAS, an enormous Persian army under Xerxes swept over Greece. Then, in the early years of the fifth century BC, Persian forces were defeated and driven back by the Athenians at Marathon and then by an Athenian-Spartan alliance at Mycale.

Pythagoras had institutionalized the open discussion of options and the making of collective decisions on matters which concerned the whole community — what we today call politics. From this — and in the space created by the Athenian-Spartan alliance — would emerge the unique character of the Greek city-state of Athens.

14. THE MYSTERIES OF GREECE AND ROME

The Eleusian Mysteries • Socrates and his Daemon • Plato as a Magus • The Divine Identity of Alexander the Great • The Caesars and Cicero • The Rise of the Magi

IF WE SEE IN THE ATHENIANS A GIFT FOR free, individual thought, we see in Sparta the development of individual will, competitive edge and admiration, to the point of hero-worship, of strong men. Heroes created the space for the flowering of Greek culture, which in the fifth century BC began to set standards in beauty of form and rigour of intellect that we have aspired to match ever since.

This was the Greece of the great initiates: the philosophers Plato and Aristotle, the poet Pindar and the dramatists Sophocles and Euripides.

The most famous of all the Greek Mystery schools was situated at Eleusis, a hamlet a few miles from Athens. The Roman statesman Cicero, himself an initiate, would say that the Eleusian Mysteries and what flowed from them formed the greatest benefit that Athens gave to the civilized world.

‘ELEUSIS’ COMES FROM ‘ELAUNO’, MEANING ‘I come’, which is to say ‘I come into being’. There is almost nothing left of the sanctuary — just a few scattered stones and a couple of panels from inside have survived — but a contemporary description of it talks of an unmarked exterior wall of grey-blue stone. Inside there were painted statues and friezes of goddesses, sheaves of grain and eight-petalled flowers. One account says there was an aperture in the ceiling of the inner sanctum that provided the only light source.

The Lesser Mysteries were celebrated in the spring. They involved rites of purification and also dramatizations of stories of the gods. A statue of a god crowned with myrtle and carrying a torch was led in procession with singing and dancing. The god was sacrificed and died for three days. When the sacrificed god was represented as being raised from the dead, the assembled hierophants and candidates shouted, ‘Iachos! Iachos! Iachos!’

There was also an overtly sexual element in these celebrations. Psellus, a Byzantine scholar, wrote that Venus was portrayed as rising out of the sea from in between moving representations of female genitalia, and that afterwards the marriage of Persephone and Hades took place. It was recorded by Clement of Alexandria that the rape of Persephone was enacted, and it was also said by Athenagoras that during this bizarre, violent, almost surreal drama, she was portrayed as having a horn on her forehead, perhaps symbolizing the Third Eye.

There were also accounts of ceremonial pouring of milk from a golden vessel in the shape of a breast. On one level this is obviously connected with the worship of the Mother Goddess, but it should alert us to the fact that on a deeper level these ceremonies were concerned with life after death. We know from Pythagoras that the Milky Way was conceived of as a vast river or troop of spirits. The star-like spirits of the dead ascended through the gate of Capricorn and up through the spheres, before descending back into the material world through the gate of Cancer. Pindar said, ‘Happy is he who has seen the Mysteries before being buried beneath the ground, because he knows what happens as life ends.’ Sophocles said, ‘Thrice happy are those who have seen the Mysteries before they die. They will have life after death. Everyone else will only experience suffering.’ Plutarch said that those who die experience for the first time what those who have been initiated have already experienced.

The Greater Mysteries, celebrated on or about the autumn equinox, were preceded by nine days of fasting, after which candidates for initiation were given a potent drink called the kykeon.

Surviving panel from Eleusis, showing Demeter and a candidate for initiation.

Of course extreme hunger can by itself lead to a visionary state, or at least a propensity for hallucinations. After fasting for so long, the candidate drank this mixture of roasted barley, water and poley oil, which can be narcotic if taken in sufficient quantities.

The Mysteries were known to involve people in the most intense experiences, the wildest fears, blackest horrors and raptures. Plutarch wrote of the terror of those about to be initiated, as if they were about to die, and, of course, in a sense they were.

Imagine if you had seen dramatic presentations of terrifying supernatural events in the Lesser Mysteries and now believed these things were going to happen for real, that you were going to take part in a drama in which you would be killed and in some sense really die! The accounts by Proclus suggest candidates were attacked by ‘the rushing forms of troops of earthly demons’. Though it was by this time very difficult for the higher spiritual beings, the gods, to squeeze down into a dense, material realm, it was relatively easy for lesser spirits, such as demons and spirits of the dead. The candidate was to be shamed and punished, tortured by demons. Pausanius in his Description of Greece describes a demon called Euronomos, with blue-black skin like a fly’s, who devoured the flesh of rotting corpses.

Are we to take this as literally true? As mentioned earlier, these initiation ceremonies were part ritual and drama — and part séance. That drugs played a part in conjuring up these demons does not necessarily — from an idealist point of view — mean they were illusory. We should also remember that in rural India perfectly respectable religious ceremonies still take place, the worship of lesser spirits, the Pretas and Bhuts and Pisachas and Gandharvas, ceremonies which we in the West would classify as séances.

The Mystery schools were concerned with granting the candidate an authentic spiritual experience, which in the context of idealistic philosophy means a genuine experience of spirits — first demons and the spirits of the dead, then later the gods.

By the fifth century BC it was, of course, difficult for a god without a material body to affect matter directly, to move a heavy object for example. But the initiate priests could mouth magic words into a cloud of smoke emanating from a sacrificial fire and the face of a god would sometimes appear. Karl von Eckartshausen, the late eighteenth-century theosophist, recorded the most effective fumigations for causing apparitions: hemlock, henbane, saffron, aloe, opium, mandrake, salorum, poppy seed, asafoetida and parsley.

The miraculously lifelike statues for which Greece is famous emerged from the Mystery schools. Their original function was to help bring the gods to earth.

We know from the earlier use of statues in Egypt and Sumeria that it was intended that the gods occupy them, live in them as their physical bodies and make them come alive. If you stood in front of the statue of Artemis in Ephesus, the Mother Earth loomed over you like a great tree. You had a sensation of being absorbed into the vegetable matrix of the cosmos, the great ocean of weaving waves of light, and of being at one with it.

The statues would breath, seem to move. It was said that sometimes they would speak to you.

After various trials the successful candidate was allowed to ascend to the Empyrean realm, a place flooded with light, music and dancing. Dionysus — Bacchus or Iacchos — appeared in a beautiful, radiant vision of light. Aristedes, the orator, recalled: ‘I thought I felt the god draw near and I touched him, I was somewhere between waking and sleeping. My spirit was so light — in a way someone who hasn’t been initiated wouldn’t understand. ’ By this lightness of spirit, he is referring to an out-of-body experience. It also seems clear that the gods sometimes occupied ethereal, vegetable bodies in the Mysteries and so appeared like luminous spectres or phantoms.

So the process of initiation gave direct, existential, undeniable first-hand knowledge that the spirit could live outside the body, and while in this state the candidate became a spirit among spirits, a god among gods. When the new initiate was ‘born again’ into the everyday material world, when he was crowned as an initiate he retained many god-like powers of perception and abilities to influence events.

In the upside-down, other-way-round doctrine of the secret societies, the Greeks created the first statues of perfect human bodies because human bodies only became perfectly formed at this point in time. The Greek cult of the body arose from the fresh experience of the perfect form.

Otherwise known as the Wand of Hermes, the Caduceus was a pole with two snakes entwined. The thyrsus was a representation of the Caduceus, probably made out of a hollow stalk like that of a fennel — in which Prometheus carried fire down to illumine humankind. The thyrsus in which the secret, sacred fire is hidden is the Sushumna Nadi of Indian occult physiology. On top of the stalk was a pine cone representing the pineal gland.

The experience of initiation was, therefore, a mystical one. However, as we have seen in the case of Pythagoras, practical and even scientific knowledge was shown to be implicit in this experience, too. After initiation the hierophant would elucidate what the new initiate had just experienced, drawing arcane disclosures from a book made of two stone tablets, called the Book of Interpretation. They taught the way the material world and the material, human body had been formed and the way both were directed by the spirit worlds. To help them in their teaching they also used symbols. These included the thyrsus made of a reed, sometimes with seven knots and topped with a pine cone. There were also the ‘toys of Dionysus’ — a golden serpent, a phallus, an egg and a spinning top that made the sound ‘Om’. Cicero would write that when you come to understand them, the occult mysteries have more to do with natural science than with religion.

There was a prophetic element in this teaching, too. The final initiation at Eleusis involved the candidate being shown a plucked green wheat ear, held up in silence.

Of course on one level the Mysteries were agricultural and looked forward to a good harvest. But there was another level to do with the harvesting of souls.

This wheat was the star Spica, the divine seed held in the left hand of the virgin goddess of the constellation of Virgo. I’m talking, of course, about the goddess the Egyptians called Isis. The grain she holds looks forward to the great cosmic ‘seed time’. It will be made into the bread of the Last Supper, symbolizing the vegetable body in Jesus Christ and also the vegetative dimension, or altered state of consciousness, we all must work ourselves into, according to esoteric Christianity, if we are to meet him there.

The importance of Spica in the ancient world is shown by the fact that, apart from Sirius, it is the only star represented on the famous planisphere at Dendera, a section of which is produced here. The great cosmic wheel grinds all the stars except for this single one that is saved, just outside its rim.

Again we see that the vegetative dimension of the cosmos is the focus of esoteric thought. In Plato’s philosophy it is the soul, the mediator between the material body and the animal spirit. If we are to leave behind the material world and enter the spirit worlds, this vegetative dimension must be the subject of our Work.

THERE ARE OTHER WAYS THAT SPIRITS could influence events.

Everyone who contemplates one of the busts of Socrates that have survived may be struck by the lively, satyr-like quality of his physiognomy.

In the secret tradition Socrates was a reincarnation of the great spirit who had previously lived in the body of Silenus.

Gem carvings of Silenus and Socrates.

The death of Aeschylus carved on a gem. Aeschylus was the son of a priest at Eleusis. He was threatened with execution for having betrayed the secrets of the Mysteries by portraying them on stage. He escaped execution by claiming that he had never been initiated, but when an eagle dropped a rock from a great height on to his bald head, killing him, many interpreted this as divine retribution.

Socrates sometimes spoke of his daemon, meaning a good spirit who guided him through life. Today this might seem an alien concept. But the following account of the daemon in modern times is perhaps instructive. It is an incident recalled by a pupil of the Russian esoteric philosopher P.D. Ouspensky, a formative influence on many of the great writers and artists of the twentieth century, including the poet and playwright T.S. Eliot, the architect Frank Lloyd Wright and the artists Kazimir Malevich and Georgia O’Keefe.

This man, a lawyer, had been to hear a lecture by Ouspensky at a house in west London. He was walking away, puzzled by it and full of doubts. But as he did so, a voice inside him said: ‘If you lose touch with this, you will be doing something that you will regret for the rest of your life’. He wondered where this voice came from.

Eventually he found an explanation in Ouspensky’s teachings. This voice was his higher self. One of the great aims of the process of initiation he found himself undertaking was to so alter his consciousness that he would be able to hear this voice all the time.

Socrates was a man guided by his conscience in this way. He carried forward the great project of converting instinctive wisdom of the lower, animal self into concepts, and his philosophy like that of Pythagoras is not merely academic. It is also a philosophy of life. The aim of all philosophy, he said, is to teach one how to die.

There is some dispute, even within the secret schools, as to whether or not Socrates was an initiate.

When accused of corrupting the youth of Athens and of not believing in the gods, Socrates committed suicide by drinking hemlock. He died forgiving his executioners.

The oath against suicide was one of the most terrible taken by initiates.

IT’S BECOME COMMONPLACE TO SAY that religion has had a negative, even destructive effect on human history. Wars of religion, the Inquisition, the suppression of scientific thought and restrictive patriarchal attitudes are routinely cited. It is worth remembering that some of the greater glories of human culture had their origins in the Mystery schools that were a central part of organized religion in the ancient world. Not only sculpture and drama but also philosophy, mathematics and astronomy as well as political and medical ideas arose out of this religious institution.

Above all the Mystery schools influenced the evolution of consciousness.

Conventional history puts little emphasis on the evolution of consciousness, but we can see it in action again if we look at changes in Greek drama. In the plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles, the first dramatists to have their work performed outside the Mystery schools, wrongdoing results in persecution by the winged demons called Erinyes or Furies — for example in the Oresteia of Aeschylus of 458 BC. By Euripides’s play of 428 BC, Hippolytus, this chiding has been internalized and given a name. ‘There is only one thing that can survive all life’s trials — a quiet conscience.’

In conventional history it is assumed that people have always been pricked by conscience. On this view Euripides was simply the first person to put a name to it. In the upside-down, other-way-round thinking of esoteric tradition the reason that there is no suggestion of conscience in any of the annals of human experience up to that point, is that the Eleusian Mysteries forged this new dimension of human experience.

Startling statue of an actor in a mask. Aristophanes satirized the Mysteries in The Frogs. If tragedy dramatized the machinations of Satan in the world, comedy dramatized the machinations of Lucifer.

Great dramatic art shows we often don’t feel exactly what convention tells us we should feel. It shows us new ways of being — feeling, thinking, willing, perceiving. To borrow a phrase of Saul Bellow’s, it opens the human condition a little wider.

When we experience Greek drama we are purged by catharsis. The Greek dramatists give their audiences an experience which is an echo of the experience of initiation, and their way of working is based on an understanding of human nature that is essentially initiatic. Our animal body has been corrupted. It has become hardened and carries something like a protective carapace. We become comfortable with this carapace, though. We even grow to rely on it. But our easy, basking lives have been made possible by blood spilled, torture, theft, injustice — and deep down we know it. So deep inside us there is a self-loathing that prevents us from living wholly in the moment, from living life to the full. We cannot truly love or be loved until the insect-like carapace is cut open by the agonizing process of initiation. Until we reach that point we don’t know what life is meant to be like.

When we see a great production of one of the tragedies inspired by the experience of initiation — Oedipus Rex, for example, or King Lear — we may catch an echo of this process.

IF SOME OF THE IDEAS OF THE GREEKS ARE hard to understand, hard to accept, others may at first glance look rather obvious, even bland, to the extent you might even think they are hardly worth saying at all. The handful of sayings attributed to Pythagoras that have survived include:

Above all things respect yourself

and

Do not yield to temptation except when you agree to be untrue to yourself.

In order to understand why these were challenging, even astounding things to say, things that shook the world and, as a result have been remembered down the ages, we have to see them in the context of a newly burgeoning sense of self.

Similarly when Socrates said:

An unconsidered life is not worth living, he was addressing people who up that point had had no faculty for abstract thought with which to contemplate their lives. This was the great gift of Socrates to the world.

WHEN SOCRATES DIED, HIS PUPIL PLATO became the leading figure in Greek philosophy.

Plato was born in 428 into one of the first generations systematically taught to read. He founded the Academy in the garden of the tomb of Academus in Athens.

His Dialogues are the greatest expression of the mind-before-matter philosophy called idealism that is at the heart of this book.

In the secret history everyone had experienced the world in an idealistic way up to this time. Everyone’s form of consciousness was such that he would not have questioned that ideas are a higher form of reality than objects. Everyone believed this unthinkingly, instinctively. It only became necessary for a great initiate to conceptualize the idealistic world-view and write it down in systematic terms at the point when consciousness had evolved to a stage that people could conceive of the opposing point of view. Plato’s pupil Aristotle made the philosophical leaps forward that would lead to the materialism that is the dominant philosophy today.

PLATO’S IDEALISM IS EASY FOR US TO misinterpret. It naturally seems to us to follow that if the material world is a precipitate of our mental processes, we should be able to manipulate the world in a very obvious and direct way just by thinking about it. In fact, if the world is nothing more than a sort of giant hologram, then couldn’t it just be switched off? In The Principles of Human Knowledge Bishop Berkeley, the most influential philosopher of idealism in English, advocated a version of idealism according to which matter has no existence independent of perception — and this is the version of idealism most familiar to students of philosophy in Anglo-American universities.

But as a matter of historical fact it is not the position held by the great majority of people throughout history who have believed in idealism. As I have already suggested, these people experienced the world in an idealistic way. The faculty of imagination was much stronger than the faculty for thinking, which was then only beginning to develop. They believed that the objects of the imagination were more real than the objects of the senses — but this does not necessarily mean that the latter are totally unreal.

Most people in history who have believed in idealism as a philosophy of life, have believed in matter being precipitated out of mind as a historical process that took place gradually and over vast periods of time. They have also believed — and still believe — that the hologram will, as it were, be switched off, but again gradually and over equally vast stretches of time.

Today’s university students debating the pros and cons of idealism probably find it difficult to equate Platonic ideas with gods and angels, as we have been doing. This association risks seeming crudely anthropomorphic to modern sensibility.

But again, as a matter of historical fact, people who believed in idealism as a philosophy of life have always tended to believe in spirits, gods and angels.

When considering the great world-weaving cosmic thoughts, the active principles behind the appearances of things, many idealists have asked themselves how far it is appropriate to consider them as being conscious beings like ourselves. Idealists like Cicero and Newton have considered these ‘Intelligencers’, to use Newton’s name for them, neither as crudely impersonal nor crudely personal. Cicero and Newton were neither crudely polytheistic nor crudely monotheistic. They experienced life as meaningful and the cosmos as meant. They believed, then, that something like human qualities, indeed something like human consciousness, is built into the structure of the cosmos.

And, crucially, initiates of the secret societies, like initiates of the Mystery schools, encountered these disembodied Intelligencers in altered states of consciousness. It is Goethe perhaps who writes best about what it feels like to be an idealist in modern times. He writes about feeling the real presence of living interconnections with the natural world and living connections with other people, even though such connections may not be measurable or visible. And crucially he writes about the great universal spirits that hold everything together. What Newton called ‘the Intelligencers’, Goethe calls ‘the Mothers’:

‘We all walk in the mysteries. We do not know what is stirring in the atmosphere that surrounds us, nor how it is connected with our own spirit. So much is certain — that we can at times put out the feelers of our soul beyond its bodily limits… one soul may have a decided influence upon another, merely by means of its silent presence, of which I could relate many instances. It has often happened to me that, when I have been walking with an acquaintance, and have had a living image of something in my mind, he has at once begun to speak of that very thing. I have also known a man who, without saying a word, could suddenly silence a party engaged in conversation by the mere power of his mind.. We all have some electrical and magnetic forces within us; and we put forth, like the magnet itself, some, attractive or repulsive power… With lovers this magnetic power is particularly strong and acts even at a distance. In my younger days I have experienced cases enough, when, during my solitary walks, I have felt a great desire for the company of a beloved girl, and have thought of her till she has really come to meet me. ‘I was so restless in my room,’ she has said, ‘that I could not help coming here.’

Goethe went on to speak about the living connections that underlie such phenomena…

Dwelling in eternal obscurity and loneliness, these Mothers are creative beings; they are the creative and sustaining principle from which proceeds everything that has life and form on the surface of the earth. Whatever ceases to breathe returns to them as a spiritual nature, and they preserve it until there arises occasion for its renewed existence. All souls and forms of what has been, or will be, hover about like cloud in the vast space of their abode… the magician must enter their dominion, if he would obtain power over the form of a being…

IN THE FIFTH CENTURY BC ATHENS AND SPARTA had fought for dominance. In the fourth century they were both overtaken by Macedonia, ruled by the robust Philip II. Plutarch noted that Philip’s son, Alexander, was born on the very day in 356 BC that the Temple at Ephesus was torched by a lunatic.

Each Mystery school taught a wisdom unique to it, which is why Moses and Pythagoras were initiated into more than one. The hierophants at the Mystery school attached to the temple at Ephesus taught the mysteries of Mother Earth, the powers that shape the natural world. In a sense the spirit of this school entered Alexander at birth. Alexander would spend his whole life trying to identify this divine element within.

One day the handsome, fearless boy with the burning eyes and leonine mane tamed a magnificent but fiery horse called Bucephalus that none of Philip’s generals could even mount.

Philip cast about for the greatest mind of the day to be his son’s tutor, and chose Plato’s greatest pupil, Aristotle. Alexander and the older man recognized each other as kindred spirits.

As soon as Plato gave formal, conceptual expression to idealism, it was inevitable that its opposite would quickly be formulated. Instead of deducing the truth about the world from immaterial, universal principles, Aristotle collected and classified the data of the material world. He worked out physical laws by a process of abstraction. Aristotle was therefore able to invent an entirely new and modern way of describing the hidden powers that shape nature. It is often said that the Roman Empire provided a vehicle for the spread of Christianity, and in the same way Alexander created the largest empire the world had yet seen. This, then, became the vehicle for Aristotle’s philosophy.

Philip was assassinated when his son was only twenty, but immediately Alexander established himself as a ruler of genius and an unbeatable military commander. In 334 BC he led an army into Asia, defeating the Persians at the Battle of Issus, even though they were outnumbered by as many as ten to one. Then he swept south through Syria and Phoenicia, before conquering Egypt, where he founded the city of Alexandria. Wherever he went he founded city-states on the Greek model, spreading Greek politics as well as Greek philosophy.

It was part of Alexander’s mission to save the newly evolved consciousness, forged by initiates such as Plato and Euripides, from being swamped by the greater wealth, grandeur and military might of Asia. More particularly, he was to save the new rationality from being swept away by ancient ritualistic clairvoyance and picture-consciousness.

In 331 BC Alexander defeated the Persians again, destroying their ancient capital of Persepolis, before pushing further into Afghanistan and finally into India. There he debated with Brahmin philosophers, the descendants of the Rishis. Admitted to watch the sacred, initiatory rites of the Brahmins, Alexander’s own priests were astonished to see how similar the ceremonies were to their own.

There is a story that Alexander sent a Greek philosopher to summon a Brahmin teacher into his presence, offering great rewards and threatening decapitation if he refused. The philosopher finally tracked down the Brahmin in the depths of the forest and received the following rather dusty response: ‘The Brahmins neither fear death nor desire gold. We sleep deeply and peacefully on forest leaves. Were we to have any material possessions, this would only disturb our slumber. We move freely over the surface of the earth without conflict and all our needs met as by a mother who feeds her baby her milk.’

This was a rare knockback for Alexander. Until the near the end of his life it seemed no one could stand in his way. As has happened only a few times in history, an individual seemed able to bend the whole world to his will.

As I’ve suggested, Alexander’s entire life can be seen as a quest to understand the origins of this divine power. At different times both Perseus and Hercules were claimed as his ancestors, according to variant traditions. Aristotle had given Alexander a copy of Homer’s Iliad, which he learned off by heart, and he sometimes saw himself as a demi-god like Achilles. In 332 BC he went on an expedition to the temple of Amun at the desert oasis of Siwa, some five hundred miles west of Memphis in Egypt. It was said he nearly died on this expedition, though this may be a reference to a ‘mystical death’. What is certain is that he was ‘recognized’ by the priests and initiated there.

It is sometimes speculated that the priests might have told Alexander he was a son of Amun-Zeus. It is supposed that the ceremonial horns he took to wearing afterwards were a mark of this. In some countries he conquered he was remembered as a horned man. In the Koran he appeared as Dhul-Qarnayn, which means ‘the two-horned one’. But according to the secret history, these horns are the horns of a hunter we have already met, and the two fiercely loving friends Gilgamesh and Enkidu, separated by the untimely death of Enkidu, were reunited when they reincarnated as Alexander and Aristotle.

At the age of only thirty-three Alexander ignored warnings by the astrologers of Babylon not to enter their city gates. Two weeks later he died of a fever. It would soon become apparent that Alexander’s empire had been held together only by his personal magnetism.

BUDDHISM EMERGED AS THE FIRST PROSELYTIZING, missionary religion in about 200 BC. Before then the religion you believed in was determined by your race or tribe. Now the human condition was changing. For the uninitiated the spirit worlds were a fading vision, leaving faint traces hard to be certain of, difficult to discern. Inspired by Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, people were developing a capacity for deductive and inductive thought. They were able to weigh up arguments on either side.

By 140 BC Rome was the capital of the world and a vortex of ideas. A citizen might have very different belief systems to choose from: the official cult of the planetary gods, the neo-Egyptian worship of Serapis, Epicurianism, Stoicism, the philosophy of the Peripatetics and the Persian cult of Mithraism. Buddhist monks and Indian Brahmins had certainly reached Alexandria.

Virgil from a painting by the Swiss-born artist Henry Fuseli. Virgil was the great initiate poet of the founding and destiny of Rome. Aeneid vi 748-51 gives expression to the doctrine of reincarnation, of the spirit’s ‘desire to return to the body’ when a thousand years comes round.

For the first time in history choosing one of these belief systems could be a matter of personal choice.

Individuals might choose in proportion to the evidence or they might choose what they wanted to believe. With the rise to dominance of the Roman Empire, therefore, we reach the age of inauthentic faith, with a cynicism and conscious cultivation of sensibility that was entirely new.

When we think of Rome we picture sophistication and grandeur but also paranoia. If we compare the Greece of Pericles with the Rome of the Caesars, we see in the latter the same kind of overbearing pomp, elaborate, awesome rituals of smoke, incense and clashing cymbals that had earlier been used to hypnotize the peoples into obedience to Baal. Now it was used to hypnotize people into believing that various strange and egomaniacal members of the ruling elite were in fact gods.

The Caesars forced the Mystery schools to initiate them. In the process they discovered the ancient initiatic teachings regarding the Sun god.

Julius Caesar eradicated the Druids because of their teaching of the Sun Mysteries — that the Sun god was soon to return to earth. Similarly Augustus banned astrology not because he disbelieved in it, but because he was anxious about what astrologers could see written in the sky. If the people could not read the signs of the time, he could perhaps get away with representing himself as the Sun god. Because he had been initiated, Caligula knew how to communicate with the spirits of the moon in his dreams. But because he had gained initiation by force and without proper preparation, he could not properly identify them. Caligula would refer to Jupiter, Hercules, Dionysus and Apollo as his brother gods, sometimes appearing in fancy dress to look like them. Nero’s reign of madness reached a climax when he realized he was not after all the Sun god. He would rather burn the whole world to the ground than let another, greater, individual live.

THE GOLDEN ASSE OF APULEIUS IS ONE of the great initiatic works of the Roman period. It contains a wonderful story concerning the life of the spirit. Cupid and Psyche carries familiar and fairly conventional warnings about the dangers of curiosity, but it also has an esoteric and historical level of meaning.

Psyche is a beautiful, innocent young girl. Cupid falls in love with her and sends messengers asking her to come to him in his hill-top palace at night. She is to make love to a god! But there is one condition. Their love making must take place in total darkness. Psyche must take it on trust that she is enjoying the love of a god.

Her elder sister is envious, though. She taunts her and tells her that it is not a beautiful boy-god she is making love to, but a hideous, giant serpent. One night Psyche can resist no longer, and while Cupid is in a post-coital slumber, she holds an oil lamp over him. She is delighted to discover the gloriously beautiful young god, but at that moment a drop of burning oil falls on him and wakes him. Psyche is banished from his presence forever.

The double meaning in this story is this: the god really is a hideous serpent. This is the history of the Nephilim, of the entry into the human condition of the serpent of animal desire — but told from the human point of view!

THE MYSTERY SCHOOLS WERE FALLING into decay. As we have seen, excavations of the entrance to the Underworld at Baia in southern Italy revealed secret passageways and trap doors used to help convince the candidates that they were having supernatural experiences. In the smoky, druggy darkness priests dressed up as gods would loom out of the darkness over candidates heavily drugged with hallucinogens. Robert Temple has reconstructed the initiation ceremonies of this late, decadent phase. They were largely a matter of scary special effects, even including puppets, like a ghost train today. The difference was that at the end of your initiation, when you re-emerged into daylight, the priests quizzed you, and unless you believed in their illusions without the slightest sliver of doubt, they killed you.

The Golden Asse which contains the story of Cupid and Psyche is a beautiful book, written by an initiate in a larky way that anticipates Rabelais. But it is also a consciously literary production. The colossal and monolithic sincerity of the ancient Mystery schools is no more.

The sincere men of Rome, the true initiates, withdrew into yet more shadowy schools that operated independently of the official cult. Stoicism became the outward expression of the initiatic impulse of the age, the growing point of intellectual and spiritual evolution. Cicero and Seneca, both deeply involved with Stoicism, tried to temper the egomania of their political masters. They tried to argue that all men were born brothers and that the slaves should be set free.

Cicero was an urbane and sophisticated man and one of the great forces for reform in the Roman Empire. He looked upon his initiation at Eleusis as the great formative experience of his life. It had taught him, he said ‘to live joyfully and to die hopefully’.

If Cicero looked askance at the plebs’ vain and superstitious beliefs in venal gods, he was also tolerant of them. He held that even the most ridiculous of the myths could be interpreted in an allegorical way. In The Nature of the Gods he gives a passionate exposition of the Stoic idea of the moving spirit of the universe, the guiding force that makes plants seek nourishment in the earth, gives animals sense, motion and an instinct to go after what is good for them that is almost akin to reason. This same moving spirit of the cosmos gives people ‘reason itself and a higher intelligence to the gods themselves’. These gods should not really be imagined as having bodies like our own ‘but are clothed in the most ethereal and beautiful forms’. He writes, too, that ‘we can see their higher, inward purpose in the movements of the stars and planets’.

When Rome’s political machinations finally caught up with Cicero, he stoically bared his neck to the centurion’s sword.

Seneca also believed in this cosmic sympathy of the Stoics — and the ability of adepts to manipulate this sympathy for their own ends. His play Medea probably quotes real magical formulae used by the black magicians of the day. Medea is portrayed as being able to direct her power of concentrated hatred so strongly that she can change the positions of the stars.

In this Age of Disenchantment it first became possible to consider that the gods might not exist. Among the intellectual elite, the Epicureans were formulating the first materialistic and atheist philosophies. What remained was belief in the lowest levels of spirits, the spirits of the dead and demons. If you read literature of the time, such as the Gospels of the New Testament, you see they record that the world was experiencing an epidemic of demons.

While the intellectual elite toyed with atheism, the people dabbled in atavistic forms of occultism that made use of the fact that demons and other low forms of spirit life are attracted by the fumes from blood sacrifices.

The high priest of the Jerusalem Temple wore little bells attached to his robes so that the goblins that lived in the shadows could hear him coming and hide their hideous shapes. The Temple needed a vast, complex drainage system to cope with the thousands of gallons of sacrificial blood that flowed through it every day.

All around the world increasingly desperate measures were taken. Plutarch wrote against human sacrifice in a way that implies it was common.

In South America, in a bizarre parody, a black magician was being nailed to a cross.

15. THE SUN GOD RETURNS

The Two Jesus Children • The Cosmic Mission • Crucifixion in South America • The Mystic Marriage of Mary Magdalene

IN PALESTINE A GREAT TURNING POINT IN the history of the world had been reached. Because the gods were no longer experienced as ‘out there’ in the material world, it was necessary for the Sun god, the Word, to descend to earth. As we are about to see, his mission was to plant in the human skull the seeds of an interior life that would become the new arena for spiritual experience. This planting would give rise to the sense we all have today that we each have inside an ‘inner space’.

The cosmic plan had been that human spirits should attain individuality, should be able to think freely, to exercise free will and to choose who to love. To create the conditions for this, matter became denser until each individual spirit was finally isolated inside its own skull. Human thought and will was then no longer wholly controlled by gods, angels and spirits, as it had been a thousand years earlier at the siege of Troy.

However there were dangers in this development. Not only might humanity become altogether cut off from the spirit world, there was a danger, too, that humans would become completely cut off from one another.

This was the great crisis. People no longer felt like spiritual beings, because the human spirit was in danger of being snuffed out altogether. The love that bound tribes and families, an instinctive, psychic blood-love like the one which binds packs of wolves, was weakened in the newly hardened skulls, in the new towns and cities.

Tracing the development towards a sense of individual identity, we have touched on Mosaic law, a rule for communal living strictly enforced, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. We have touched, too, on the obligation to feel compassion for all living things taught by the Buddha. We saw in both traditions the beginnings of moral obligation as a path of individual discipline and development. Now the Stoics of Rome gave the individual legal and political status in the form of rights and duties.

The irony, then, was that just as individual human identity was formed, the sense that life was worth living was largely lost. The blood baths in the Colosseum showed no notion of the value, let alone the sanctity of individual human life.

Jesus ben Pandira, the leader of the Essenes, might preach purity and universal compassion, but from a point of view of a movement to withdraw from the world altogether. Stoics might teach responsibility, but to them this was a duty without joy. ‘Never let the future disturb you’, the Stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius would offer as a philosophy of life — ‘you will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which arm you today against the present’. These words are full of weariness.

Humanity felt itself dragged along by a tide of suffering. We may imagine how people longed to hear someone say, ‘Come with me, ye that are heavy-laden, I will give you rest.’

We saw the candidate for initiation being shown the green wheat ear in the inner sanctum at Eleusis and taught to look forward to the ‘seed time’. In the inner sanctum of great Egyptian temples, candidates for initiation had been shown Isis suckling the infant Horus. This second Horus, this Horus-to-come, would be a new king of the gods bringing a new dispensation. He was called the Good Shepherd, the Lamb of God, the Book of Life and the Truth and the Life. Isaiah had told his people to make straight the ways of the Lord. He promised their sins would be washed away as he envisioned the coming of the Messiah. In the Fourth Eclogue the Roman initiate-poet Virgil predicted the coming of the man-god, the Saviour. ‘The Golden Age will return as its first-born descends from on high,’ he wrote, ‘… all the stains of our past wickedness will be washed away.’

In fact the life of Christ Jesus as it has come down to us might look like a patchwork of events in the lives of those who came before him: born to a carpenter and a Virgin, like Krishna: born on December 25, like Mithras; heralded by a star in the East, like Horus; walking on water and feeding the five thousand from a small basket, like Buddha; performing healing miracles, like Pythagoras; raising from the dead, like Elisha; executed on a tree, like Adonis: ascending to heaven, like Hercules, Enoch and Elijah.

It is hard to find any act or saying ascribed to the Jesus of the Gospels that had not been foreshadowed in some way. Anyone minded to think corrosively will decide to see this as evidence that his life was a fiction. But in the secret history this is a universal movement of convergence as the whole cosmos strained to give birth to the new Sun god.

Looking at the great imaginative image of the Nativity as it has been depicted in history’s greatest art, and decoding it according to the secret doctrine, we can see how the whole secret history of the world had been leading up to this point.

In Mary we should sense the presence of Isis; when the sun arose in the constellation of Pisces, the sign of Jesus, the constellation on the opposite horizon was Virgo. In Joseph, the patriarch carrying a crooked staff, we see Osiris — his staff symbolizing the Third Eye. The cave in which Jesus Christ is often represented as being born is the bony skull in which a new miracle of consciousness is about to be ignited. The baby in the manger has the luminous vegetative body of Krishna. The ox and the ass represent the two ages that have led to the new Age of Pisces — the Ages of Taurus and Aries. The star that guides the Magi is the spirit of Zarathustra (‘the golden star’). One of the Magi is Pythagoras reincarnated, and the Magi have been initiated by the prophet Daniel. The angel who announces the birth to the shepherds is the spirit of the Buddha.

THE SECRET TRADITION SOMETIMES HAS a propensity to see how things are with a, child-like simplicity.

The two Gospels with infancy narratives, Luke and Matthew, give very different, indeed inconsistent, accounts, starting with the different genealogies ascribed to Jesus, the time and place of the births, and the visit by the shepherds in Luke and by the Magi in Matthew. This is a distinction rigidly maintained in the art of the Middle Ages that has since been lost. While it may be glossed over in church, academic theologians accept that where these accounts conflict at least one must be false — perhaps an uncomfortable conclusion for anyone believing that scripture is divinely inspired.

In the secret tradition, on the other hand, there is no problem, because these two narratives describe the infancies of two Jesus children. These boys had a mysterious kinship. They were not twins, though they looked almost identical.

In the Gnostic text the Pistis Sophia, contemporary with the canonical books of the New Testament — and considered by some scholars to have equal claim to authenticity — there is a strange story concerning these two children.

Mary sees a boy who looks so exactly like him that she naturally takes him to be her son. But then this boy disconcerts her by asking to see her son, Jesus. Fearing that this must be some sort of demon, she ties the boy to the bed, then goes out into the fields looking for Joseph and Jesus. She finds them erecting vine poles. The three of them go back to the house. The boys gaze at each other, amazed, and embrace.

The secret tradition that traces the subtle, complex process by which human form and human consciousness was put together has a parallel in its tracing of the extremely complex process by which the incarnation of the Word was brought about. In this account it was necessary for one of the two Jesus children, who carried the spirit of Krishna, to sacrifice his individual identity in some mysterious way for the sake of the other. The spiritual economy of the cosmos required him to do this so that the boy who survived would in time be ready to receive the Christ-spirit at the Baptism. As the Pistis Sophia says, ‘ye became one and the same being’.

This tradition of the two Jesus children was maintained by the secret societies and can be seen on the north portal at Chartres, in the apse mosaic of San Miniato outside Florence and in the paintings of many initiates, including Borgonone, Raphael, Leonardo and Veronese.

The Leonardo Cartoon in the National Gallery, London. The esoteric dimension to this work is conveyed by the swirling, star-spangled light that suggests the world between the worlds. It depicts the two Jesus children. Similarly in the London version of the Virgin of the Rocks nearby, a later hand than Leonardo’s has added the elongated form of the cross that in Christian art is John the Baptist’s distinctive insignia.

‘IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORD, and the Word was with God and the Word was God… All things were made by him… And the light shineth in darkness and darkness comprehended it not… He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.’

The author of the Gospel of St John is here comparing the creation of the cosmos by the Word with the mission of Jesus Christ, the incarnated Word. John presents this second mission as a sort of second creation.

At a time when the material universe had become so dense that it was all but impossible for the gods to manifest themselves on the earth’s surface, the Sun god descended.

His mission was to plant a seed. This spiritualizing seed would grow to provide the space that would be the new arena in which the gods could manifest themselves…

The crucial point here, usually overlooked outside the secret tradition, is this: Jesus Christ created the interior life.

We have seen an intimation of the interior life in the still, small voice heard by Elijah. Similarly in Jeremiah the Lord says, ‘I will put my hand in the inward parts and in their heart I will write it.’ But the planting of the sun seed just over two thousand years ago was the decisive event in the process which has led to each of us experiencing inside of ourselves a cosmos of infinite size and variety.

Romulus and Remus. The story of the two Jesus boys is, in effect, a sanctified version of the story of Romulus and Remus, in which one brother murders the other in order for him to serve as the foundation sacrifice of the Eternal City. Great buildings and cities were founded on sacrifices in ancient times, and this is undoubtedly what the myth of Remus killed and buried in a ditch refers to. In the case of the two Jesus boys, one could be said to sacrifice himself for the sake of the New Jerusalem.

We also have a sense that others have infinity inside them. Over many hundreds of years, the conditions had been coming together which would make possible a sense of individual identity, what we today sometimes call the Ego. But without the intervention of the Sun god, the Ego would have been a small, hard, self-centred point, operating in isolation, intent only on its own immediate gratification, open to no outside interests other than the very lowest. Every human being would have been at war with every other human being. No individual would have any sense at all of any other as an independent centre of consciousness.

When his parents took Jesus to the Temple, at the time of the disappearance of his kindred spirit, he showed himself very wise. What passed into him from the other Jesus was the ability to read minds, to see deep into other people’s souls, to see how they related to the spirit worlds and to know what to do or say to make things right for them. He felt other people’s pain as his own. He was experiencing something — the gift of empathy — which no one had ever felt before.

Once an individual or small group develops a new faculty, a new mode of consciousness, it often spreads around the world with remarkable speed. Jesus Christ introduced a new kind of love, a gracious love based on the gift of empathy. An individual would be free to transcend the bonds of his or her isolated existence to share in what was taking place in another person’s innermost nature.

Love BC had been tribal or familial. Now individuals were able to rise above blood ties and to choose freely who to love. It is this that Jesus meant when, in Mark 3:32 he appeared to deny the importance of his own mother to him and when, in Matthew 10:37-8 he said: ‘He that loveth father and mother more than me is not worthy of me.’

Esoteric teaching is above all about loving in the right way. It says that when you cooperate with the gracious forces that form the cosmos, the force flows through you in such a way that you may become conscious of it. This process is called thaumaturgy, or divine magic.

Whether at this level or at the level of ‘little, nameless unremembered acts of kindness and love’ or the ‘little way’ of St Thérèse of Lisieux, the way of self-denial and acts of charity in small things, the new Christian perspective was focused on the inner life. If we compare earlier moral codes, such as the law of Moses or the even older Code of Hammurabi, with the Sermon on the Mount, it is clear that they were only rules to regulate behaviour in the Outworld — do not worship idols, steal, murder, commit adultery etc. The moral teaching in the Gospels, on the other hand, is directed towards inner states. ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit… they that mourn… the meek… the pure in heart…’

When Jesus Christ said, ‘But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart’, he was saying something no one had ever said before, that our innermost thoughts are as real as physical objects. What I think ‘privately’ has a direct effect on the history of the cosmos.

In an idealist universe, intention is of course much more important than in a materialist universe. In an idealist universe if two people perform exactly the same action in exactly the same circumstances, but one in a good-hearted way and the other not, the consequences are very different. In some mysterious way the state of our soul informs the results of our deeds, just as the elevated state of the soul of a great painter informs his paintings.

In esoteric interpretation of Greek myths, ambrosia, the food of the gods, is human love. Without it, gods fade away and their power to help us is diminished. In esoteric and mystic Christianity angels are attracted to us if we ask for their help, but if we fail to do so they fall into a twilit, vegetative state, and the phantoms and demons that insinuate themselves around our lower beings work on us instead.

We can of course resist the demons and train our baser animal selves in the same way that we train a dog — by a process of repetition. In esoteric teaching it is said that daily repetition of a meditative exercise for twenty-one days is needed to effect a deep-seated change in our habits.

But there is a yet deeper part of our animal selves which lies completely below the threshold of consciousness and is inaccessible to it. We cannot transform this part by the exercise of free will, no matter how persistent, because the corruption of our animal selves has seeped down into our vegetable and mineral selves.

In order to purify and transform these parts of ourselves we need supernatural help.

The mission of the Sun god, then, was to sink right down into deepest matter, introducing his transforming spiritual influence. The Sun god has the ability to reach right down into the most material part of humanity, which is why it was written ‘None of his bones shall be broken’.

THE TWELVE-PETALLED LOTUS RADIATES outwards from the region of the heart and envelops those we choose to love. It is also an organ of perception. What I truly love will open itself up to me and reveal its secrets.

Enveloping someone in love in this way is an exercise of the imagination. Of course imagination is not to be confused here with fantasy. It is a true perception of a higher reality — and the organ of this in both East and West is the heart chakra. This is what is being referred to on the road to Emmaus, where disciples who have just recognized who it was they have just encountered say to themselves, ‘Did our hearts not burn within us while he talked to us on the road?’

When the heart chakra blossoms and shines, we may perceive the Outworld in a supernatural way. A loving heart can give me conscious experience of the heart of the cosmos, of the loving intelligence that lives beyond the Outworld and controls it. ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’

Love works on the will as well as powers of perception. When we really love someone, we are willing to do anything for them.

This is why the heart chakra blossoms when love moves me to act according to my conscience. I am not then acting wearily, like Marcus Aurelius. I am not acting in a cold, unenthusiastic or inauthentic way. I am not doing my duty while part of me resents it. I am acting out of love and devotion.

The phrase ‘Son of Man’ is problematic to exoteric theologians because it seems to refer to both a state of mind and to Jesus Christ himself. In esoteric thought this is resolved because the individual who has evolved to the stage of enlightenment that Jesus Christ made possible, will, as a result, become aware of his or her Higher Self, or divine self. In Christian iconography this evolution is commonly symbolized by a child carried on the shoulder, for example in the story of St Christopher who carried the Christ child on his shoulders. In the Cabala these two same dimensions of meaning are contained in the three-pronged letter shin.

Initiation forges a new form of consciousness. It revives ways of being conscious of the spirit worlds that were common in the earlier stages of human evolution, but now with new elements. The initiations of Pythagoras that set the tone for the ages of the ascendancy of Greece and Rome, for example, had been concerned with achieving an alternative state of consciousness involving free communications with the spirit worlds that had been an everyday occurrence for, say, Gilgamesh or Achilles, but with a crucial difference. Initiates of the school of Pythagoras were able to think about their spiritual experiences in a considered, conceptual way that would have been impossible for Achilles or Gilgamesh.

Four hundred years later the initiations of Jesus Christ introduced a new element, opening up dizzying new dimensions in love.

IN ORDER TO UNDERSTAND THE MOMENTOUS events described in the Gospels better, we must now look at Jesus’s involvement with the Mystery schools.

We are trespassing on closely guarded academic territory here. Controversial findings now widely accepted by biblical scholars, but which have not yet filtered down to the wider congregation, show that there are some early Christian texts, rediscovered in Palestine in the 1950s, which contain versions of sayings of Jesus that are likely to be closer to the originals than the versions contained in the four Gospels.

And some of these texts contain sayings which don’t appear in the Gospels at all.

And the fact that texts like the Gospel of St Thomas contain ‘truer’ versions of the biblical sayings is a reason for believing that the entirely non-biblical sayings these texts contain may be authentic.

This is important for our history, because some of them relate to the secret teachings.

The Gospels hint that Jesus gives favoured followers teachings not for public dissemination. When Jesus warns against casting ‘pearls before swine’ he seems to be talking of holding some sacred truths back from the multitude. More explicitly, Mark 4.11 has Jesus say: ‘The secret of the kingdom of God is given to you, but to those who are outside everything comes in parables.’

A more striking and revealing account of Jesus’s involvement in secret teaching is to be found in a letter written in the second century by Clement, Bishop of Alexandria. This text was discovered in 1959 in the stacks of the library of the Mar Saba Monastery near Jerusalem by Dr Morton Smith, Professor of Ancient History at Columbia University:

… Mark, then, during Peter’s stay in Rome, wrote an account of the Lord’s doings, not however declaring all of them, nor yet hinting at the secret ones, but selecting those he thought most useful for increasing the faith of those who were being instructed. But when Peter died as a martyr, Mark came over to Alexandria, bringing his own notes and those of Peter, from which he transferred to his former book the things suitable to whatever makes for progress towards knowledge, and in this way he composed a more spiritual gospel for use of those who were being perfected… and dying he left his composition to the church in Alexandria, where it is still carefully guarded.

The Bishop of Alexandria then quotes from this ‘more spiritual’ version of Mark’s Gospel:

And they came to Bethanay, and a certain woman whose brother had died was there. And coming, she prostrated herself before Jesus and said to him: ‘Son of David, have mercy on me.’ But the disciples rebuked her.

And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightaway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand and, seizing his hand, raised him.

But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him.

And after six days Jesus told him what to do and in the evening the youth came to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of God. And then, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan…

The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. It has been suggested that this painting alludes to suppressed, secret doctrines regarding the feminine role in Christianity. We shall see shortly that this is true, though not in the way proposed by The Da Vinci Code.

To modern sensibility this story — which appears to be a more detailed version of the story of the raising of Lazarus in John’s Gospel — might seem to describe a homosexual liaison, but, as we shall see as we come to examine the nature of initiation ceremonies more clearly, it is certainly a Mystery school initiation that Mark alludes to here.

The raising of Lazarus from the dead has traditionally been seen as an encoded account of initiation. The clues are there. Lazarus ‘dies’ for thee days and when Jesus Christ raises him, he uses the phrase ‘Lazarus, come forth’ that the hierophants had used in the Great Pyramid when, after three days, they stretched forth a hand to raise the candidate from the open tomb in the King’s Chamber.

What was the initiation of Lazarus like from Lazarus’s point of view? What was the alternative form of consciousness it conferred? Readers may be surprised to learn that we know the answer to these questions. Because in the secret history the man called Lazarus in the Gospel of John later wrote the Revelation of St John the Divine. According to the secret doctrine, the opening of the seven seals and the great visionary events that follow that are described in Revelation, refer to the revivifying of the seven chakras.

Unpalatable though some may find it, the fact of the matter is that the teachings of Jesus Christ are steeped in the ancient and secret philosophy, and this is equally true of his sayings recorded in the Bible as it is of the newly discovered sayings.

I have led up to this point gently. Those of us brought up as Christians may find it easier to recognize these things in alien cultures, partly, no doubt, because of the greater focus that distance brings, but also because we are less acutely aware of treading on sacred ground. Christianity’s most sacred texts are deeply occult:

The meek shall inherit the earth

Faith moves mountains

Ask and it shall be given.

There is deliberate obfuscation by Church leaders when it comes to these and other key tenets of the Christian faith. Modern liberal Christianity has tried to accommodate science by playing down its occult dimensions, but the sayings from the Sermon on the Mount listed above are descriptions of how the supernatural operates in the universe. Not only are they paradoxical and mysterious, not only are they irrational, not only do they describe what is highly unlikely according to the laws of probability, they describe the universe behaving in a way which would be completely impossible if science described everything there is.

For the meek will certainly not inherit the earth and prayers will not be answered by the forces that science describes. Neither virtue nor faith will be rewarded — unless some supernatural agency makes them so.

The New Testament is full of occult and esoteric teaching, some of it explicitly stated. The problem is that we have been educated to be blind to it. But the text quite clearly says that John the Baptist is Elijah come again — that is, reincarnated. There is magic too. The late Hugh Schonfield, Morton Smith and other academic experts have shown that Jesus’s miracles, particularly in the form of words he uses, are based on pre-existing magical papyri in Greek, Egyptian and Aramaic. When in John’s Gospel Jesus Christ is described as using spittle to make a paste to apply to the eyes of a blind man, this is not a purely godly action, in the sense of an unmediated influx of spirit, but a manipulation of matter in order to influence or control spirit.

Apollonius of Tyana. Of the many itinerant wonder workers and healers contemporary with Jesus Christ, the one who made the greatest impression on contemporary chroniclers was Apollonius. This Pythagorean from Cappadocia let his hair grow long, wore only linen clothes and shoes of bark. He cast out demons and performed many healing miracles. But perhaps the most interesting parallel to Jesus Christ is his insistence that the day of blood sacrifice was over. ‘We should approach God,’ he said, ‘only with the noblest faculty with which we are blessed — namely intelligence.’

Again, it is no denigration of Jesus Christ to point this out. One must not view these things anachronistically. In terms of the philosophy and theology of the day, this sort of divine magic — or thaumaturgy — was not only respectable, it was the highest activity to which a human being could aspire.

IF YOU POLITELY TURN A BLIND EYE TO the supernatural content of the story of Jesus Christ and the rise of Christianity, you still have to accept that something extraordinary happened which needs explanation. Because whether or not anything miraculous happened in that obscure corner of the Near East in the early years of the first century, its effect on the history of the world is unparalleled in its breadth and depth. It gave rise to the civilization we now enjoy, a civilization of unprecedented freedom, prosperity for all, richness of culture, scientific advance. Before the time of Jesus Christ there was very little sense of the importance of the individual, of the sanctity of individual life, the transcendental power of one individual’s freely chosen love for another. Of course some of these ideas were foreshadowed by Krishna, Isaiah, the Buddha, Pythagoras, Lao-Tzu, but what was unique to Christianity, the ‘mustard seed’ planted by Jesus Christ, was the idea of the interior life. With Jesus Christ not only did the individual began to experience the sense we all have now that, parallel to the limitless, infinitely various cosmos out there, we each have inside us a cosmos which is equally rich and limitless, but Jesus Christ also introduced the sense that each of us now has of a personal narrative history that weaves in and out of the general history. Each of us may fall as humanity as a whole has fallen. Each of us experiences crises of doubt and finds individual, personal redemption — very different from the tribal consciousness of earlier generations of Jews or the city-state consciousness of the Greeks.

THE MINISTRY OF JESUS CHRIST LASTED just three years from the Baptism to Good Friday on 3 April AD 3 when at the place of the skulls, Golgotha, the Sun god was nailed on the cross of matter. Then at the Transfiguration the Sun god began to transform that matter, to spiritualize it.

We have seen how in the Mystery schools from Zarathustra to Lazarus, candidates had undergone a three day ‘mystical death’ and rebirth. The candidate was put into a deep, death-like trance for three days during which his spirit travelled the spirit worlds, bringing back knowledge and power to the material world. The ‘death’ then was a real event, but on the spiritual plane. What happened with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ was that for the first time this process of initiation occurred as a historical event on the material plane.

The Resurrection, part of the Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald is a cosmic vision of Jesus Christ as the Sun god. Grünewald depicted what the Church father Tertullian, drawing from the Greek Mystery tradition, called the luminous seed, the ‘augoeides’. Planted in the earth, it now arose as a luminous, star-like body, a body of light rays. When the disciples on the road to Emmaus failed to recognize Christ it was because they were encountering his augoeidean body.

The Cross in the middle of the Four Cherubim who symbolize the Four Elements. As we have seen, the Four Elements, working from the constellations at the four corners of the cosmos work together to hold the material world in place. Jesus Christ is here represented in his cosmic role as Fifth Element, the Sun god who comes to Earth to spiritualize the Four Elements and dissolve matter.

THE SHADOW SIDE OF THIS GREAT EVENT is contained in the story of Christ’s journey into Hell. This happened immediately after his death on the cross. It is a story which has fallen into desuetude, part of the process by which we have lost a sense of the spiritual dimension of the cosmos. Initiation is always concerned as much with lighting the way of the journey after death as with this life’s journey. In the centuries before Jesus Christ, humanity’s sense of the afterlife had shrunk to an anticipation of a dreary half-life of shades in the sub-lunar realm, Sheol. And after death human spirits lost consciousness as they started their ascent through the higher, heavenly spheres. The result was that in their next reincarnation these spirits returned with no intimations of the journey.

By descending into Hell, Jesus Christ was following in the footsteps of Osiris. He was lighting up a way through the Underworld that the dead could follow. The living and dead would have to walk together if the great cosmic mission, the Work, was to be completed.

ACCORDING TO ESOTERIC DOCTRINE, the whole history of the world can be summed up as follows:

There was a Golden Age when earth and sun were united and the sun gave the earth form.

The sun then separated from the earth, causing it to materialize and become colder.

The god of the sun returned to infuse his spirit in the earth, so that the whole cosmos will eventually dematerialize and again become spiritualized.

This is the cosmic vision of the mission of Jesus Christ which inspired the early Christians, the Work which helped shape the great churches of the Middle Ages and the art of the Renaissance. It has been lost to modern, exoteric Christianity.

The Harrowing of Hell by Andrea Mantegna. I Peter 6: 18-9: ‘He also went to the spirits in prison… the gospel was also preached to those that are dead.’ Following what St Paul termed Jesus Christ’s ‘descent into the lower parts of the Earth’, spirits had Him as their guide to light the way.

IF THE DEATH OF JESUS CHRIST WAS meant to happen on a cosmological level, we should still ask ourselves, what made it happen on a historical level? What were the immediate causes of the crucifixion?

Although Jesus Christ instructed Lazarus in private, his rebirth, and his being called forth to a new life, was a public event. It did not happen, like all previous initiations, within the closely guarded confines of a Mystery school and neither was Jesus Christ a hierophant of one of the state-sponsored Mystery schools. As a result Jesus Christ made deadly enemies of the Sadducees, who controlled the dissemination of initiatic knowledge on behalf of the ruling elite. The act of initiating Lazarus in public was a revolutionary one, signalling that the tie that bound initiates to the ruling elite was being broken. It was the beginning of the end of the Mystery schools and it prepared the way for the secret societies.

Jesus Christ also posed a threat to the Roman elite. The soldiers who draped him in a purple cloak and placed a crown of thorns on his head had no other king, no other god than Caesar. They mocked Jesus Christ by draping on him the purple cloak that was worn as a sign of initiation in the Adonis mysteries. The crown of thorns was a satire on the wreath bestowed when a candidate achieved initiation in the mysteries of Eleusis. The Caesars were the great occult enemy of Jesus Christ.

WHAT IS LESS WELL KNOWN IS THAT ANOTHER enemy was at work on the other side of the world. There an initiate wielded a blacker, more powerful magic than that wrought by the Caesars.

This magician had, according to Rudolf Steiner, worked to build up his supernatural powers over several incarnations, and he now threatened to pervert the whole course of history.

He had achieved this power on the back of multiple human sacrifices. José Ortega y Gasset, the Spanish philosopher, talks of the release of spirits that the spilling of blood brings. Blood is a frightening mystery, he says. It carries life, and when it is spilled and the ground stained, the whole landscape is maddened and excited. Occulists know that humans can be killed in a particular way so that the human spirit is harnessed. We saw how great initiates like Elijah fashion their own vegetable and animal selves in such a way that they can become chariots with which to travel through the spiritual worlds. In occult circles it is also known that black magicians can use the souls and spirits of others, their sacrificial victims, as chariots.

The great enemy, a magician, was therefore able to control people beyond the grave. By sacrificing great numbers of victims, he created an army for himself in the spirit worlds.

At the turn of the millennium a Sun hero was sent to earth to oppose him. He was called Uitzilopotchtli, as we know from the Codex Florentin of Sahagun, one of the few scraps to survive the Conquistadors. Like earlier Sun heroes, his birth was prophesied. He was born to a virgin mother and after his birth the forces of evil conspired to kill him.

Mary Magdalene. Esoteric thought is essentially reincarnational. It is not primarily concerned with spirits passed on through genes. Jesus Christ came to do away with bloodlines as a way of transmitting clairvoyance and wisdom. Love was to be freely chosen rather than instinctual and tribal. The notion of Jesus marrying Mary Magdalene and having children is therefore irrelevant to his mission. Esoteric literature and the teachings of the schools refer rather to a ‘Mystic Marriage’ of the sun and the moon, the hieros gamos, which we will return to in a later chapter.

But Uitzilopotchli survived the early attempts on his life and after many trials he waged a three-year magical war against the black magician. Finally, he succeeded in crucifying him.

When Jesus Christ was crucified, a huge power to spiritualize the earth was unleashed. When, simultaneously, the great black magician of the South Americas was crucified, a vortex opened up that would draw into itself the great currents of world history, the extremes of both good and evil.

THE GOSPEL OF PHILIP CONTAINS intriguing hints about Jesus Christ’s relationship with Mary Magdalene. ‘Jesus loved her more than all the disciples and used to kiss her often on…’ Then intrigingly the script fragments. But this seems to be a reference to the Song of Songs, ‘Let him kiss me with kisses of the mouth’ and so, too, to the ‘love that is stronger than death’.

The Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voraigne, the most popular collection of saints’ stories in the Middle Ages, describes how a particular group of Christians began to be persecuted in Jerusalem. Seven of them were set adrift in the Mediterranean in a small boat. Eventually they were washed ashore in a place east of the town known today as Marseilles.

In the centre of a great cliff rising above the shore it is still possible to see the cave where Mary Magdalene, who stepped out of that boat, spent the last thirty years of her life.

She is usually depicted penitent, naked apart from her long red hair. A painting of her by Fra Bartolomeo in a small garden chapel near Florence shows her with her jar of oil, used to anoint the feet of Jesus Christ. It is resting on a stone inscribed with the following words:

I HAVE FOUND HIM WHOM MY SOUL LOVES

16. THE TYRANNY OF THE FATHERS

The Gnostics and the Neoplatonists • The Murder of Hypatia • Attila and Shamanism • A Touch of Zen

IN THE SECRET TEACHINGS OF THE SCHOOLS the life and death of the Sun god marked the halfway point of the secret history.

Although it was unnoticed by the official chroniclers of the day, at the end of time this event will come to be seen as the great hinge on which history has turned.

To many people living at the time, the magnitude of this event undoubtedly made it hard to get into perspective. After a long period of spiritual aridity many now began to enjoy vivid, if atavistic, experience of the spirit worlds. Maybe some had an inkling of what the great revolution that had taken place in the spirit worlds actually was, but in the absence of the sort of unified, institutional authority that the hierophants of the Mystery schools had commanded, these new experiences were interpreted in a variety of ways. We see this in a proliferation of sects in the decades following the death of Jesus Christ.

Many of the Gnostic texts are as old as the books of the New Testament, some with clear claims to validity. We have already touched on the Gospel of St Thomas with its more authentic versions of the sayings of Jesus and the Pistis Sophia’s account of the two Jesus children. The somewhat fragmentary text of the Acts of St John offers a fascinating glimpse of the inner group practices of Jesus Christ.

A circular dance is described. The disciples first hold hands to form a circle, then whirl in a ring around Jesus Christ. In the liturgy that accompanies this dance, Jesus Christ is the initiator and his interlocutor a candidate for initiation.

Candidate: I would be saved

Christ: And I would save

Candidate: I would be loosed

Christ: And I would loosen

Candidate: I would be pierced

Christ: And I would pierce

Candidate: I would eat

Christ: And I would be eaten

The Acts of John use language in a paradoxical, even absurdist way. It will become easier to understand as we proceed.

Candidate: I have no house and I have houses

I have no place and I have places

I have no temple and I have temples.

Only fragments of the next bit have survived, but they seem to refer to some Osirian/Christian Mystery of death and resurrection. After which Christ says: ‘What I am now seen to be, that I am not, but what I am, thou shalt see when thou comest. If thou hadst known how to suffer, thou wouldst have had the power not to suffer. Know then suffering and thou shalt have the power not to suffer’.

A Hindu dance in honour of Krishna is described as ‘a circular sunwise dance’. The dancers twist and turn and wheel around the Sun god in imitation of the planets. This should alert us to the fact that the Acts of St John is inspired by a cosmic vision of Jesus Christ as the Sun god returned.

The Gospel of St Philip refers to five rituals, the last and greatest being the ritual of the bridal chamber. Is this a ritual-sexual practice like the ones that took place in the temples of Egypt, Greece and Babylon?

Later the Church would want to emphasize the uniqueness of Christian revelation and distance Jesus Christ and his teachings from what went before. But to the early Christians it was only natural to see Christianity as growing out of what had gone before and as a fulfilment of ancient prophecies. Many early Christians understood Christianity in terms of what they had been taught in the Mystery schools of Egypt, Greece and Rome.

The early Church father Clement of Alexandria may have known people who had known the Apostles. Clement and his pupil Origen believed in reincarnation, for example. They taught more advanced students what they called the disciplina arcani, devotional practices which today we would classify as magic.

Early Christian leaders like Origen and Clement were erudite men participating in the intellectual advances of their age. The most exciting of these found representative expression in Neoplatonism.

Plato had pretty comprehensively converted a mind-before-matter experience of the world into concepts. What happened in the second century AD was that what we now call Neoplatonists began to develop Plato’s ideas into a living philosophy, a philosophy of life, even a religion with its own spiritual practices. It is important to remember that while we consider Plato in a dryly academic way, for his followers in the centuries after his death his texts had the status of scripture. Neoplatonists saw themselves not as originating ideas but writing commentaries making clear what Plato really meant. Passages which are today considered merely as rather abstruse exercises in abstract logic were used by practising Neoplatonists in their devotions.

They were concerned with describing real spiritual experience. In On the Delay in Divine Justice, Plutarch, who was heavily influenced by Neoplatonism, describes what different spirits look like as they can be seen beginning their after-death journey. The deceased are said to be surrounded with a flame-like envelope, but ‘some were like the purest full-moon light, emitting one smooth, continuous and even colour. Others were quite mottled — extraordinary sights — dappled with livid spots like adders; and others had faint scratches.’

Plotinus, the greatest Neoplatonist in the Alexandrian school, was a practising mystic. His pupil Porphyry reported seeing his Master in ecstatic raptures, unified with ‘the One’ several times. Plotinus said of Porphyry, perhaps a bit dismissively, that he had not achieved this once! Neoplatonists who came after them, Iamblichus and Jamblichus, put great emphasis on the importance of theurgic, that is to say godly, magical practices, Iamblichus leaving detailed descriptions of his visions.

Plotinus elaborated an extremely complex metaphysic of emanations of the kind we touched on in chapter one. Neoplatonism influenced other traditions, especially by its systematic approach, particularly the Cabala and Hermeticism.

Hermeticism and the Cabala are viewed by some scholars as, respectively, Egyptian-and Hebrew-flavoured Neoplatonism. But in the secret history the hermetic and cabalistic writings that began to appear at this time are understood as the first written down, systematized expressions of ancient and largely oral traditions.

The Hermetica purported to have originated with Hermes Trismegistus, an ancient Egyptian sage, but were written down in Greek and collected at this time in forty two volumes. Yuri Stoyanov, a distinguished researcher at the Warburg Institute, recently confirmed to me that most scholars now accept their genuine, Egyptian origins. The Hermetica were genially tolerant of other traditions, no doubt partly because of an underlying assumption that all traditions addressed the same planetary gods and opened up the way to the same spirit worlds.

In fact it is possible to draw parallels between the numbered emanations of Plotinus, the gods of the Hermetica and the spheres of heaven as described in the Pistis Sophia.

In the Cabala the emanations from the cosmic mind — the sepiroth — are sometimes thought of as forming a sort of tree as they descend — the sepirothic tree. The allegorical interpretation of scripture that emerged with the Jewish scholar Philo of Alexandria opened up the shared structure of all religions. St Paul hinted at different orders of angels — not only Angels and Archangels, but also Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Mights, Powers, Principalities. He is alluding to a system he evidently expected his readers to understand. This system was set out explicitly by St Paul’s pupil Dionysius the Aeropagite. The nine orders he described can be equated with the branches on the sepirothic tree — and with the different orders of gods and spirits in the ancient polytheistic, astronomical religions. For example the ‘Powers’ of St Paul should be equated with the gods of the solar system of the Greeks and Romans, the Powers of Light being the spirits of the sun and the Powers of Darkness being the gods of the moon and the planets.

The Jewish scholar Rebecca Kenta has even compared the ascent through the gates of wisdom on the cabalistic Tree of Life with Sufi teachings, and made connections between the sepiroth and the chakras of Hindu tradition.

All idealism, the religious systems of all cultures, sees creation in terms of a descending series of emanations from the cosmic mind. But what is distinctly esoteric is this identifying of these emanations with the spirits of the stars and planets on the one hand and occult physiology on the other. It is this that leads to astrology, alchemy, magic and practical techniques for achieving altered states.

It is important to keep bearing in mind that we are not here talking about piled up abstractions, but lived experience. The nine angelic hierarchies were sometimes divided up into three parts, and when St Paul talked of being raised to the Third Heaven, he meant that he had been initiated to such a high level that he had had direct personal experience of the exalted spiritual beings, the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones.

The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even by Marcel Duchamp. Stripped bare, the bachelors reveal their planetary identities.

CHRISTIANITY WAS FORGED OUT OF INITIATIC experiences and beliefs like these. The greatest of the Church fathers, St Augustine, was an initiate of a late-flowering Persian mystery school called Manichaeism.

Mani was born in 215 in the region that today we call Iraq. At the age of only twelve a being appeared to him. This mysterious being he came to call the Twin revealed to Mani a great hidden mystery — the role of evil in the history of humankind. He learned of the intertwining of the forces of darkness in the creation of the cosmos. He learned, too, that in the great cosmic battle between good and evil, the forces of evil virtually triumph.

The cosmic nature of Mani’s vision can also be seen in its syncretism, in his account of the great events of history and the exalted parts played by Zarathustra, the Buddha, the Hebrew prophets and Jesus Christ.

The universalism of initiates tends to worry local tyrants. The initiate’s heightened awareness of the forces of evil is also always open to misinterpretation. Mani was protected by two successive kings, but their successor persecuted him, torturing and eventually crucifying him.

‘I entered my innermost soul and beheld beyond my light and soul, the light.’ Augustine’s towering intellectual achievement was to give a comprehensive account of Church doctrine in terms of Platonism. What is usually glossed over in conventional Church history is that this account was based on the direct, personal experience of the initiate. Augustine has himself seen with ‘the mysterious eye of the soul’ a brighter light than the light of the intellect. He is not only concerned with eternal abstractions. His Confessions show him tortured by a sense of time passing, in his often quoted phrase ‘O Lord make me chaste — but not yet’ and also in his poignant cry in another moment of visionary experience: ‘O Beauty so old and so new, too late have I loved thee.’ St Augustine’s sense of time passing carries over into an esoteric sense of history. Later we will see the way in which he understood that the successive stages of the history of the world would unfold when we look at his prophecy of the founding of the City of God.

This was also the age of the great Christian missionaries. Having been captured and sold into slavery, St Patrick later went on a mission to spread the feeling for the sanctity of human life that Jesus Christ had introduced into the stream of world history. He fought to abolish slavery and human sacrifice. But he was also a wizard in the tradition of Zarathustra and Merlin, a terrifying figure casting all the snakes out of Ireland with his wand, casting out demons and raising the dead.

Christianity was readily accepted by the Celts. St Patrick overlaid with historical knowledge of the life and work of Jesus Christ the Celts’ cosmic prophecy of the return of the Sun god. Celtic Christianity would happily intertwine Christian and pagan elements. In Celtic art intertwining motifs would also stand for the interweaving waves of light that characterize the first stage of mystical experience in all traditions.

The fiercely independent Celts would continue to insist on the primacy of direct, personal experience of the spirit worlds, and would develop esoteric traditions independent of Rome. Some of the beliefs and practices of these and other early Christians would come to be dubbed heretical by the Roman Church.

When people care deeply about the same things, when they share what the existentialist theologian Paul Tillich called ‘ultimate concerns’, they are sometimes incredibly sensitive to different shades of opinion. Differences of opinion may lead to murderous hatred, so that my greatest enemy is not the alien conqueror coming over the horizon with bloody tears carved into his cheeks but a brother or sister I rub shoulders with in the congregation.

Sometimes, too, members of a congregation will try to ban beliefs — as had the Emperor Augustus — not because they believe them to be false, but because they believe them to be true.

THE HISTORY OF THE FOUNDING OF THE Roman Church and its dissemination through the good offices of the dying Roman Empire has been written both by the Church and by its enemies. The Emperor Constantine claimed that in the middle of the night, before he went into battle against rebels, he had a dream in which Jesus Christ appeared to him and told him to put the sign of the cross on his battle flag, with the inscription ‘In this sign thou shalt conquer’. Constantine obeyed and the rebels were duly defeated.

He declared Christianity the official religion of the Empire, donating the Lateran Palace to the Bishops of Rome. There were undoubted political benefits to this. The new form of consciousness that had been initiated in Jerusalem was spreading with great vigour through the Empire, and Constantine capitalized on this by offering freedom to any slave who converted and twenty pieces of gold to any who were already free.

As we have seen, the Romans made a cult of cruelty. The imposition of power by one man on another, taken to its furthest extremes, was exalted. The Romans were ruthless and ruthlessness was a manly virtue. So the Christian exaltation of meekness and humility turned everything upside down and inside out. The Christians clearly knew of new joys and satisfactions, new ways of being in the world.

Consider how strange meeting a Christian initiate must have seemed to a Roman. Here was a new form of consciousness. Here were people able to live inside their heads. They were lit up inside by an enthusiasm and a certainty about spiritual experience. It must have been as baffling and intriguing as it was, hundreds of years later, for a pygmy in Papua New Guinea to meet for the first time a European explorer. There were whole new worlds behind those eyes.

CONSTANTINE MAY HAVE HOPED THE RIGOROUS new religion would help slow down the decline of the Roman Empire, but he remained anxious about a prophecy in the Sibylline Oracles that Rome would again become the haunt of wolves and foxes.

Exsternsteine in Germany. This ancient carving is a few paces away from an older carving of a Norse god hung on a tree, in a happy acceptance of the fact that Christianity grew out of pagan traditions. Note that esoteric understanding of the different bodies of the individual is alluded to in the fact that while the material body of Jesus Christ is being taken down from the cross, his spirit already rests in the arms of his Father.

He decided to try to thwart this prophecy by transferring the spirit of Rome to another location and founding an alternative capital. So from under a porphyry pillar he dug up the Palladium, the ancient god-carved statue that, as we saw, had been carried from Troy for the founding of Rome. Then he reburied it at the site of the city that would be called Constantinople. It was buried under the same pillar but now topped by a statue of the Sun god, crowned with the nails from the true cross in the form of a sort of nimbus.

This symbolism, incorporating initiatic teaching regarding the Sun god, would have been understood by initiates of all religions, so it is perhaps slightly ironic that under the aegis of Constantine, the Church began to suppress initiatic teachings and to reduce its exoteric teachings to dogma. In 325 the Council of Nicea decided which gospels among the many in circulation were the real thing. Imperial edicts also forbad pagan practices. On the orders of Constantine’s sons, women and children were force-fed, their mouths held open by a wooden engine while consecrated bread was stuffed down their throats.

When Constantine’s nephew Julian came to power in 361, he reversed the tide of religious intolerance. Having been brought up a pupil of the Neoplatonist philosopher Iamblichus, he well understood the mission of the being he called the ‘Seven-rayed god’. He gave equal rights to all subjects regardless of their religious beliefs and gave permission for pagan temples to reopen.

Julian wrote a famous polemic against the narrow, dogmatic Christianity that had grown up during the time of Constantine, which is why later Christian writers came to call him the Apostate, meaning someone who discarded the faith. He believed that Christianity had been seeking to deny the reality of the gods he had encountered through initiation.

Julian led a military campaign into Persia. Just as the Greeks had besieged Troy to control the initiation knowledge hidden within, Julian wished to understand the secret knowledge of the Manichaean Mystery school based in Persia. He knew enough to know that the mission of the Sun god was under threat, and that the inner mysteries of Manichaeism concerned the secrets of the war between the Sun god and Ahriman — or Satan — the spirit of materialism.

But before he could accomplish his mission, Julian was murdered by a follower of Constantine, and a new Saturnine era began, when knowledge of true, initiatic spirituality would finally be driven underground. The Emperor Theodosius began a ruthless policy of suppressing all disagreement with the imperial line on Christian doctrine. He confiscated the property of ‘heretics’ and took over their temples. Statues of Isis were rededicated to Mary. The Pantheon in Rome has a sublime and cosmic beauty unlike any purpose-built church. This temple to all the gods was converted by Theodosius into a temple of monotheism.

Theodosius closed down the Mystery schools and in 391 besieged the Serapeum in Alexandria. This sacred compound with a vast cloud-capped temple to Serapis was one of the wonders of the ancient world. Inside a statue of the god was suspended from the ceiling by a magnet. There were also libraries that housed the world’s greatest collection of books. Fortunately many books were smuggled out before the Serapeum was burned to the ground and its sacred statues dragged through the streets.

Finally Theodosius turned his attention to the Neoplatonic school of philosophy based in Alexandria, foremost preserver of the intellectual legacy of the Mystery schools. The great personality of Neoplatonism at that time was a young woman called Hypatia. Daughter of a leading philosopher and mathematician, she was educated in philosophy, maths, geometry and astronomy. Her father had also developed a series of exercises to make her body a fitting vessel for a brilliant mind. She loved swimming, horse riding and mountain climbing. So she was beautiful as well as clever, and she soon won fame as an inventor of scientific instruments, including one to measure the specific gravity of liquids. Only a few fragments of her writing have survived, but she was known far and wide as one of the most brilliant minds of the time.

She attracted large crowds as a lecturer. Well versed in the wisdom of Plotinus and Iamblichus she explained in her lectures how Christianity had evolved out of the teachings of the Mystery schools, and she argued, like her father, that no single tradition or doctrine could have exclusive claim to the truth.

One afternoon in 414 when Hypatia was leaving a lecture hall, a gang of black-cowelled monks forced her from her chariot, stripped her naked and dragged her through the streets to a nearby church. There they pulled her through the cool, flitting shadows to the altar. In an atmosphere perfumed with incense they swarmed all over her body, her naked form now covered by black cloth, and they tore her limb from limb. Later they scraped the flesh from her bones using oyster shells and burned all her remains.

The church was trying to erase Hypatia from history just as the priests of Amun had tried to erase Akhenaten.

The Pantheon in Rome. Ovid explains that temples represent the whole cosmos in the form of a sphere. The great rotunda of the Pantheon is 143 feet in diameter with an aperture in the roof to admit the sun. The height from the floor to the top, where this hole is, is equal to the diameter, so that it contains a vast sphere of air. The niches around the floor originally held images of the planetary gods.

IT IS TOO EASY TO SEE THE CHURCH AS the evil repressor of free thought and to romanticize outlawed groups and antinomian schools like the Neoplatonists and the Gnostics. From its early history the Church has numbered among its leaders practitioners of black magic and other initiates who have abused their supernatural powers for selfish ends. But it is equally true — and perhaps more important — to say that from the time of St Paul and St Augustine the greatest Church leaders have been initiates of the highest order who have sought to guide humanity according to the divine plan outlined in this book. They knew that it was necessary for any understanding of reincarnation to be suppressed in the West. According to the cosmic plan, the West was to be the cradle for the developing sense of the value of an individual human life.

On the other hand the Neoplatonists, though they had continued the work of Pythagoras and Plato, converting into concepts the direct experiences of the spirit worlds, seemed altogether unaware of the great revolution that had taken place there. In their writings there is no trace of the gospel of universal love that Jesus Christ had introduced. Similarly the Gnostic emphasis on direct, personal experience of the spirit worlds, as distinct from passive acceptance of abstract dogma, was in line with the impulse introduced by Jesus Christ, but many of the Gnostics were also vehement world-haters in a way that ran contrary to the mission of Jesus Christ to transform the material world. Many of the beliefs that the Gnostic sects took from their adventures in the spirit worlds were also quite fantastical. Not only did some Gnostics believe that Jesus Christ had not sunk so low as to inhabit a physical body, that he had lived on the earth only as some kind of phantom, but they also practised bizarre extremes of mortification and debauchery as a way of disrupting their own, despised bodily senses and gaining access to the spirit worlds. Some encouraged snakes to crawl over their naked bodies, some drank menstrual blood, saying ‘Here is the blood of Christ’, and others believed that their sex magic would lead to the birth of god-like creatures. Others castrated themselves and boasted, ‘I am deader than you are.’

ROME WANTED TO STAMP OUT DOCTRINAL differences. Christian conviction and moral purpose were useful for Constantine and Theodosius, unifying the Empire and strengthening it from within at a time when barbarian hoards were threatening it from the East.

A steadily expanding empire in China had caused a domino effect across Central Asia and into Europe. Under pressure from the Far East Goths, Visigoths and Vandals invaded parts of Europe, even reaching as far as Rome before retreating again. Then, in the second quarter of the fifth century, the nomadic Mongolian tribes were united under a great leader, Attila the Hun. He swept through the territories previously invaded by Goths and Vandals and built an empire which stretched from the plains of Central Asia to northern Gaul. He pushed into northern Italy and raided Constantinople.

Attila, the ‘scourge of God’, has become a byword for barbarity, but an eyewitness account of a visit to Attila’s encampment by a Greek historian, Priscus, gives a very different picture. Priscus shows Attila living in a simple wooden house of polished boards, surrounded by a wooden enclosure. Woollen mats served as carpets, and Attila — literally ‘little father’ — received his visitors wearing simple linen clothes, unadorned by gems or gold. He drank — moderately — from a wooden bowl and ate from a wooden plate. He showed no emotion during the interview except when his youngest son arrived, whom he chucked under the chin and regarded with a look of satisfaction.

It is also said that when Attila conquered the Christian city of Corinth, he was outraged to find a prostitute on every street corner. He gave them the choice of marrying one of his men or exile.

If Attila was not the ravening monster of popular imagination, it is nevertheless true to say that if he had succeeded in overrunning the Roman Empire, this would have been disastrous for the evolution of human consciousness.

The Romans feared Attila more than any of their other enemies. Attila would not allow his people to live in Roman territory or buy Roman goods. When he invaded Roman territories he reversed Romanization, demolishing Roman buildings — and he also took thousands of pounds of gold from Rome in tribute money. When in 452 he finally had Rome itself in his grip, the Emperor sent out Leo, the Bishop of Rome, to meet him.

The future Pope Leo negotiated a deal with Attila by the terms of which Honoria, the daughter of the Emperor, would be his wife together with a dowry of thousands more pounds of gold.

At this point Attila believed he had achieved his ambition to take over the Roman Empire and rule the world.

Attila and his people practised shamanism. In all battles Attila was guided — wisely as it turned out — by his shaman-priests. The great terror-striking uproar of a Hun army going to battle was made up of the howling of dogs, the clanking of weapons, the sounds of horns and bells. All this was intended to summon the battalions of the dead, the ghosts of their ancestors, to fight alongside them. They were also shamanistically calling on the group souls of carnivores, the wolves and the bears, to enter into them and give them supernatural powers.

BECAUSE WE HAVE BEEN CONSIDERING the barbarian invasions from the East, this is perhaps a good place to pause to consider shamanism. The word shaman comes from the Tungus-Mongol noun meaning ‘one who knows’.

Shamans, from the time of the barbarian invasions to the present, have used a variety of techniques — Mircea Eliade has called them ‘archaic techniques of ecstasy’ — to work themselves into a trance state: rhythmic drumming and dancing, hyperventilation, frenzied self-mutilation, sensory deprivation, dehydration, sleep deprivation — and also psychoactive plants, including ayahuasca, peyote cactus, the ergot fungus. Recent studies by Wiliam Emboden, Professor of Biology at California State University, and others have also made it look likely that drugs were used to induce trance states in Mystery centres — for example, the kykeon at Eleusis and the blue water lily taken in conjunction with opium and mandrake roots in ancient Egypt.

Scientists have isolated an enzyme in the brain that induces these trance states. Research seems to suggest that 2 per cent of us have high enough levels of dimethyltryptamine naturally occurring in the brain to give us spontaneous and involuntary trance states. It also seems likely that we all have higher levels until adolescence, when a process of crystallization takes place, cladding the pineal gland and impeding its function. For the rest of us these ancient techniques or similar are necessary.

Anthropologists have noticed that accounts of shamanistic experience across many different cultures show a progression through the same stages.

First, a blacking out of the world of the senses, and a sense of a journey through the darkness. Great pain is often experienced as if the body is being dismembered.

Second, a sea of lights, often with a shifting net of geometric patterns — the matrix.

Third, these patterns morph into shapes, most commonly snakes and half-human, half-animal creatures often with pliable, semi-transparent bodies.

Lastly, when the trance fades the shaman has a sense of enjoying supernatural powers, the ability to heal, information about enemies, mind-to-mind influence on animals and the gift of prophecy.

This may all seem to fit nicely with the accounts of initiations in Mystery schools that we have looked at. Gregg Jacobs at Harvard Medical School has said that ‘by the use of shamanistic techniques we can work ourselves into powerful ancestral states of consciousness’.

But in the view of modern esotericists, the example of shamanism will only take us so far when trying to understand the Mystery schools and secret societies. Many of the paintings produced by shamanistic cultures as records of their trances are startlingly beautiful, but they do not give the same magnificent, comprehensive panorama of the spirit worlds found, for example, on the ceilings of the temples of Edfu or Philae. Moreover, the beings encountered by shamans seem to be from the lower levels, rather than the more elevated planetary gods with whom the temple priests communed.

In the view of modern esoteric teachers, then, all shamanism, whether that of the old Hunnic or Mongol hordes or that practised by the sangoma in South Africa today, represent a degeneration of a once magnificent primordial vision.

Again we see that in the secret history everything is upside down and the wrong way round. In conventional history religion’s early stages were marked by animism and totemism, then developed into the complicated cosmologies of the great ancient civilizations. In the secret history humankind’s primordial vision was complicated, sophisticated and magnificent, and only later degenerated into animism, totemism and shamanism.

Attila’s tribespeople practised a shamanism that gave them an access to the spirit worlds that many a churchman might envy, but it was access in an atavistic state. It ran contrary to the impulse of the evolution of human consciousness that had been developed by Pythagoras and Plato and had now been given new direction by Jesus Christ and Paul. The aim of this evolution was a beautiful one — that people would be able take joy in their individual intellectual strength and superiority, and that they should be able to choose to move freely, powerfully and lovingly not only through the material world but also through the spirit worlds.

Drug-taking is, of course, a big part of modern shamanistic practice, but it is forbidden by most modern esoteric teachers as a means of reaching the spirit worlds. The aim of these teachers is to achieve experience of the spirit worlds with intelligence and critical faculties as unimpaired as possible, indeed heightened. To enter the spirit worlds on drugs, on the other hand, is to do so without proper preparation, and may open up a portal into a demonic dimension which then refuses to close.

WHEN IN 453 ATTILA PREPARED TO CELEBRATE MARRIAGE to a high-born, soft-skinned young woman — he already had hundreds of wives — he was a man in the prime of life and full of potency, about to oversee the end of the Roman Empire.

The delicate early growth of a new stage of human consciousness was about to be nipped in the bud.

In the morning Attila was found dead. He had suffered a massive nosebleed.

‘I BELIEVE BECAUSE IT IS ABSURD.’ This famous phrase by the first of the Latin-speaking Church fathers, Tertullian, influenced many thinkers in the late nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century.

We may imagine how absurd life might have seemed to a citizen of the Roman Empire in the days of its decline. He lived in a disenchanted world, where the great spiritual certainties on which the civilizations of the ancient world had been founded seemed doubtful. They no longer corresponded to his experience. Pan was long dead and the oracles had fallen silent. God and the gods seemed little more than empty, abstract ideas, while the really vigorous thought-life was in the realm of science and technology, in the atomic theories of Lucretius, in amazing engineering projects — aqueducts, drainage systems and roads thousands of miles long — that were springing up all round. Spiritual certainties had been replaced by harsh political and economic realities.

Yet if this citizen had been minded to listen to the inner promptings of his spirit, he might have noticed that this harsh and mechanical grinding of the wheels of necessity, this new way of the world, threw into relief something very like its opposite, something elsewhere called ‘the nameless way’. If this citizen had chosen not to shut it out, he might have caught suggestions emanating from underground streams of thought.

At this critical juncture we move from the age of the Mystery schools to the age of the secret societies, from the directing of the course of history by the political elite to something much more subversive coming from below. A new mood was taking over the soul-life of initiates which may be traced in the life of God’s joker, Francis of Assisi, in Shakespeare’s fools and in the gently undermining work of Rabelais, in Gulliver’s Travels, Alice in Wonderland and in the cuttings and pastings of Kurt Schwitters.

IN ANSWER TO A QUESTION ABOUT THE meaning of Zen, a monk raised a finger. A boy in the class began to ape him, and then afterwards, whenever anyone discussed this monk’s teachings, this naughty boy would raise his finger in mockery.

But the next time the boy attended class, the monk grabbed him and cut off his finger. As he ran off crying, the monk called after him. The boy turned round to look at the monk, and the monk looked back at him and raised his own finger.

At that moment the boy was enlightened.

This conte cruel is not a historical episode but one of the classic fables of Zen, formulated at the time of Attila’s nosebleed.

The capacity for abstract thought had been developing for less than a thousand years, inspired by Pythagoras, Confucius and Socrates. Buddhism had spread from India to China with the visit of the twenty-eighth Buddhist patriarch Bodhidharma. Then in China over the next two hundred years Buddhism and Taoism fused to create a philosophy of spontaneous, intuitive enlightenment called tch’an — or Zen as it would later come to be called in Japan.

Tch’an brought a new cautionary sense of the limitations of abstract thought.

The boy and his fellow pupils had been struggling to understand what the monk was saying. We may imagine them frowning with the effort to grasp enlightenment cerebrally.

But the boy is suddenly enabled to see the world from the point of view of an altered state of consciousness. He is suddenly seeing the world from the point of view of the vegetable consciousness that is centred in the solar plexus rather than the skull. It is by means of this vegetable consciousness that we are connected individually to every other living thing in the cosmos. These connections can be visualized as tendrils of a great cosmic tree and every solar plexus as a flower on the tree. In another way of looking at it, this vegetable consciousness is another dimension, the world between the worlds and the gateway to the spirit worlds. It is consciousness, the ‘light beyond the light of the intellect’, to quote St Augustine, that anyone must slip into who wishes to become enlightened.

The boy is enlightened because from the point of view of this other form of consciousness the monk’s finger belongs to him as much as it does the monk. The normal categories of human head-thought are inadequate to cover this.

Laughter erupts when you suddenly see the cosmos upside down, inside out and the other way round. At the beginning of the second half of the fifth century a new sense of absurdity entered the world and from then on the great initiates of the secret societies, in the West as well as in the East, would always have a touch of Zen.

UNDER A STRONG RULER, JUSTINIAN, the Byzantine Empire expanded, even regaining territories from the barbarians. Justinian closed down the remaining schools of Greek philosophy, causing teachers to flee, taking with them texts like the writings of Aristotle, including his now lost alchemical treatise.

Many arrived in Persia where King Khusraw dreamed of founding a great academy like the one that had inspired Greek civilization. In an intellectual ferment that took in elements of Neoplatonism, Gnosticism and Hermeticism, the methodology of Aristotle was applied jointly to the material world and the spirit worlds. So began the golden age of Arabian magic.

All our childhoods are lit up by a vision of magic — of genies, magic lamps and abracadabra. These stories began to weave their magical influence on the history of the world in the sixth century. There were rumours of automata and flying machines and caches of self-generating gold, of powerful magic spells that would become collected in forbidden books.

Soon the whole world would be under the spell of Arabia, as books of its spells were published far and wide, books containing the whispers of demons.

17. THE AGE OF ISLAM

Mohammed and Gabriel • The Old Man of the Mountains • Haroun al Raschid and the Arabian Nights • Charlemagne and the Historic Parsifal • Chartres Cathedral

A GRIMLY FORBIDDING FIGURE LOOKED down from the spirit worlds on these developments.

In 570 a child called Mohammed was born in Mecca. When he was six he lost both his parents and was hired out as a shepherd’s boy. He grew broad shouldered, with curly black hair and a beard through which shone dazzling white teeth. He became a camel-driver, transporting the spices and perfumes that were the speciality of Mecca to Syria. Then, at the age of twenty-five, he married a wealthy widow of Mecca and became one of the richest and most respected citizens of that city.

Although he had in one way now won back all he had lost at the death of his parents, Mohammed was dissatisfied. The religious centre of Mecca was a large, black, granite stone called the Kaaba, which in some traditions is said to have fallen to earth from the Sirius star system. At that time Arabia was populated by shamanistic tribes, each worshipping their own gods and spirits and at the centre of this whirlwind, next to the Kaaba, stood a sacred tent which housed hundreds of their idols. Mecca had also become corrupted by the sale of holy water — taken from a spring which Ishmael had caused to spring from the sand. To Mohammed’s eyes all of this looked lax. He saw a people interested only in money-making, gambling, horsemanship and getting drunk.

While driving camel trains down to places like Syria and Egypt he heard about Judaism and also stories about Jesus Christ. Did the story of the cleansing of the temple strike a chord? Mohammed became convinced that Arabia needed a prophet, someone like Jesus Christ who could purge the people of superstitions and of corruption and could unite them in one cosmic purpose.

Mohammed was sitting in the hills surrounding Mecca, brooding darkly on how all this might be achieved, when an angel appeared before him, saying: ‘I am the angel Gabriel.’ The apparition then showed Mohammed a golden tablet and told him to read it. Mohammed protested that he was illiterate, but when Gabriel commanded him a second time, Mohammed found that he could indeed read. So began the series of angelic conversations that became the Koran. Later Mohammed went into town and preached what Gabriel had taught him with blazing sincerity and irresistible power. He would summarize his creed in these down-to-earth terms:

My teachings are simple.
Allah is the One God
Mohammed is his prophet
Give up idolatry
Do not steal
Do not lie
Do not slander
And never become intoxicated
If you follow my teachings, then you follow Islam.

When challenged to perform a miracle to prove that his preaching was divinely inspired, he refused. He said that Allah had raised the heavens without recourse to pillars, had made the earth, the rivers, the fig, the date and the olive — and that these things were miraculous enough.

We may hear in this ecstatic materialism the first whisperings of the modern age.

DURING THEIR ANGELIC CONVERSATIONS, the Archangel Gabriel asked Mohammed to choose refreshment. Mohammed chose milk, which occultists call moon juice. Alcohol would be forbidden in Islam.

It is highly significant, from an esoteric point of view, that the angel who dictated the Koran to Mohammed was Gabriel, traditionally Archangel of the Moon. Allah is the Muslim name for Jehovah, great god of the moon and thought. Gabriel is here heralding the power of thought to control human passions and quell fantasy, and his god is the great god of thou-shalt-not, represented in Muslim iconography by the crescent moon.

Thought is a death process that feeds on life-giving energies. In the Middle Ages — the great Age of Islam — the sexual impulse would have to be suppressed in order for the human capacity for thought to grow. And in order to quell the outgrowths of Gnostic fantasy, religious leaders imposed their authority on the people.

From the point of view of conventional, Western history, Europe was besieged by the uncivilized Muslims during the latter part of the Dark Ages and on into the Middle Ages. From the point of view of esoteric history the truth is something pretty nearly the mirror image of this. The impulses seeded at this time that would grow and transform Europe, indeed the whole human race, came from Islam.

The caves of the desert fathers in an early nineteenth-century print. The desert fathers, living in isolation, devoted their lives to practising extreme techniques that would gain them access to the spirit worlds, a way of life that would develop into the monastic movement. St Antony the Great, the greatest of the desert fathers, would stay for long periods in tombs in a trance-like state. On one occasion Antony advised a man to cover himself with meat. When this man was shredded by wild dogs, he learned something of what it would be like to be attacked by demons on the other side of the grave. In the episode known as the temptation of St Antony, he himself entered the sphere of the moon, otherwise known as kamaloca, or purgatory, and was granted a vision of the Devil, a tall black man with his head in the clouds. He also saw angels who were able to guide some human spirits up beyond the devil’s reach.

MOHAMMED’S PREACHING IN THE MARKETPLACE at Mecca prompted a plot to assassinate him. He escaped to the town of Medina with his disciple Abu Behr in order to marshal his supporters. In 629 he returned to Mecca and in the four years until his death he established control over the rest of Arabia. When Abu Behr became his successor — or ‘Caliph’ — the will to conquer continued at an astonishing rate.

One of the things that makes a religion successful is if it works in the world, that is to say if it brings material benefits. The combination of Mohammed’s radical monotheism with the scientific methodology of Aristotle that had earlier pervaded Arabian thought would quickly encircle the globe from Spain to the boundaries of China.

Absorbing new ideas as well as spreading them, the Arabs took in Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Chinese science, including the manufacture of paper. They made great advances in astronomy, medicine, physics and mathematics, replacing the clumsy Roman numerals with the system we use today.

BY ITS OWN ACCOUNT SUFISM HAD ANCIENT, even primordial roots. Some traditions date its origins to the Saramong Brotherhood — or Brotherhood of the Bee — founded in the Caucasus in Central Asia during the first great post-Atlantean migration. Later, Sufism was undoubtedly influenced by Gnosticism and Neoplatonism.

If there was a tendency in Islam in its triumphant period to become dogmatic and paternalistic, Sufism represented a contrary impulse, a fascination with the sometimes perverse and paradoxical twisting this way and that of the spirit. Esoteric Islam advocated immersing oneself in the gentler, more feminine and feeling side of the spiritual life which would find expression in the great outpouring of Sufi poetry.

The question of what constitutes ‘oneself ’ is also a big issue in Sufism. What we generally imagine to be our own self, it teaches, is really an entity that operates independently of us, made up for the most part of fears, false attachments, dislikes, prejudices, envy, pride, habits, preoccupations and compulsions. A lot of Sufi practice involves breaking down this false self, this false will.

‘God is nearer to a man than his jugular vein’ according to the verse from the Koran (50:16), yet for the most part, distracted by our false selves, we are not awake to this.

The great Sufi writer Ibn Arabi said that a Sufi master is someone who unveils one to oneself.

Practices under instruction from a Sufi master might involve breathing exercises and music used to attain an altered state. Sufism taught the sometimes painful process of ‘waking up’, of becoming aware of ourselves and of the cosmic, mystical current that runs through us and becoming more fully alive.

Because they opened themselves totally to this mystic current, Sufis could be wild, unpredictable and disconcerting. We will see later that Sufism has had a vast, though largely unacknowledged, influence on Western culture.

Mohammed’s brother-in-law, Ali, was to him as John to Jesus Christ, receiving and transmitting the secret teachings. Sufis obeyed Islamic law but believed it to be the outer shell of esoteric teaching.

Ali and Mohammed’s daughter, Fatima, established what became known as the Fatimid Empire, ruling a large part of North Africa and Cairo, where they established a school for esoteric philosophy called the House of Wisdom. There were seven initiatory grades taught within. Candidates would be initiated into timeless wisdom and gain secret powers. Sir John Woodruffe, the nineteenth-century translator of the key Tantric texts, also uncovered a Sufi tradition with a parallel understanding of occult physiology. In this Sufi tradition centres of power had beautiful and intriguing names such as Cedar Heart and Lily Heart.

One of the initiates to emerge from the House of Wisdom was Hassan-I Sabbah, the famous Old Man of the Mountains.

He founded a small sect which in 1090 captured the castle of Alamut in the mountains south of the Caspian Sea in modern-day Iran. From his mountain fastness he sent his secret agents all over the world to do his bidding, exerting a puppet master’s control on distant rulers. His Hashishim — Assassins — infiltrated courts and armies. Anyone who even thought of disobeying Hassan was found dead the next morning.

The Western view of Hassan is no doubt distorted by a passage in Marco Polo’s account of his travels. He claimed that the Old Man of the Mountains gave his young followers drugs which put them to sleep for three days. When they woke up they found themselves in a beautiful garden they were told was paradise. They were surrounded by beautiful girls who played them music and gave them anything they wanted. After three days the young men were sent back to sleep. When they awoke, they were brought again before Hassan, convinced that the Old Man had the power to send them back to Paradise on a whim. So when Hassan wanted someone killed, his assassins would do it willingly, knowing that Paradise would be their certain reward.

In reality Hassan banned all intoxicants, even executing one of his own sons for being drunk. He banned music, too. Among his own people he was renowned as a holy man and alchemist, an adept who was able to control events all over the world by supernatural means. This was despite the fact that once he arrived and set up his court there, he only ever left his room at Alamut twice.

In the twentieth century the archetype of the man who appears mad, but really controls the whole world from his cell appeared as Dr Mabuse, in the deeply esoteric films of Fritz Lang.

HAROUN AL RASCHID WAS ANOTHER OF the extraordinary, compelling characters of this era. He became Caliph in his early twenties and quickly made Baghdad the most splendid city in the world, building a palace of unparalleled splendour served by hundreds of courtiers and slaves and a harem. It was a place of glittering materiality, where a man might experience every pleasure the world has to offer, grow bored with them all and long for novelty.

The turbaned oriental potentate of all our imaginations and Caliph of the Tales of the Arabian Nights, he drew to his court all the great writers, artists, thinkers and scientists of his day. It was rumoured that, as related in the Arabian Nights, he would sometimes slip out of a secret door in the palace in disguise in order to eavesdrop on his people and find out what they really thought.

In one of the most famous tales a fisherman on the Red Sea catches a large iron pot in his nets. When he has hauled it on board he sees that the metal cover is engraved with the interlocked triangles of Solomon’s Seal. Naturally curious, the fisherman opens the pot and at once a black vapour rises out of it and spreads itself all over the sky, so that all he can see is darkness. Then the vapour condenses again into the monstrous form of a Jinn, who tells the fisherman he was imprisoned in the pot by Solomon. He says that after two hundred years he swore he would make rich anyone who set him free. After five hundred years he swore he would reward his liberator with power. But after a thousand years of captivity he swore he would kill whoever set him free. So the Jinn tells the fisherman to prepare to die. But the fisherman says he can’t believe the Jinn was really inside the pot, and so the spirit, to prove it, turns himself back into vapour and sinks with a slow, spiralling motion back inside — at which point, of course, the fisherman claps the lid back on.

This might seem just a silly story for children, but for occultists it is packed with esoteric lore. But the word ‘Jinn’ means ‘to hide’, and a detailed theory and practice of dealing with these entities, said to live in ruined houses, in wells and under bridges, was actively cultivated among Arab peoples. Moreover, the imprisoning of spirits and demons in amulets, rings and stones using magical sigils such as the Seal of Solomon was well known. By the Middle Ages such lore, largely Arabic in origin and concerned particularly with the empowering of talismans by astrological means, would be collected in many famous grimoires. The greatest of these, called the Picatrix, would fascinate many of the more influential personalities in this history, including Trithemius, Ficino and Elias Ashmole.

RUMI GREW UP TO BECOME the great poet at court. He was a disconcerting presence even as a small child. At the age of six he began the habit of fasting, and began, too, to see visions. There is a story that one day he was playing with a group of children who were chasing a cat from rooftop to rooftop. Rumi protested that humans should be more ambitious than animals — and then vanished. When the others cried out in fright, he suddenly reappeared behind them. He had a strange look in his eyes, and said spirits in green cloaks had carried him away to other worlds. The green cloaks may have been shadows of El Khidir, the Green One, a powerful being able to materialize and dematerialize at will. The Green One is said by the Sufis to come to the aid of those on a special mission.

At thirty-seven years old, now a young university professor, Rumi was adored by his students. One day he was riding his horse, followed by his students, when he was accosted by a dervish. Shamsi Tabriz had made a name for himself, insulting sheiks and holy men, because he would be guided by nothing but God — which made him unpredictable and sometimes an overwhelming, even shattering presence.

The two men embraced and went to live in a cell together, where they meditated for three months. Each saw what he had been searching for in the eyes of the other.

But Rumi’s students grew so jealous that one day they ambushed Shamsi and stabbed him to death.

Devastated, Rumi wept and wailed and grew thin. He was desolate. Then one day he was walking down the street, past a goldsmith’s shop, where he heard the rhythmic beat of a hammer upon gold. Rumi began repeating the name of Allah and then suddenly began to whirl in ecstasy.

This is how the Mellevi, or whirling dervish order of Sufis, was born.

The magnificent civilization of the Arabs both fascinated and horrified medieval Europe. Travellers returned with tales of life at court, of hundreds of lions on leashes, of a lake of mercury on which lay a leather bed, inflated with air and fastened by silk bands to four silver columns at the corners. The most common report was of a miraculous mechanical garden made out of precious metals and containing mechanical birds that flew and sang. In the middle of it stood a great golden tree bearing fruit made out of astonishingly large precious stones and representing the planets.

To many these prodigies seemed necromantic. They existed on the border between magic and science. A partial explanation at least may lie in the discovery made in Baghdad in 1936. A German archaeologist called William Koenig was excavating palace drains when he discovered what he identified immediately as a primitive electric battery. It dated back as least as far as the early Middle Ages. When a colleague created a replica, she found she was able to generate an electric current with it that coated a silver figurine with gold in under half an hour.

IN 802 HAROUN AL RASCHID SENT THE Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne, a gift of silks, brass candelabras, perfume and ivory chessmen. He sent, too, an elephant and a water clock that marked the hours by dropping bronze balls into a bowl and little mechanical knights that emerged from little doors. It was a gift intended to impress upon Charlemagne the superiority of Arabian science — and the reach of its empire.

If it hadn’t been for three generations of Frankish kings, Charles Martel, Pepin and Charlemagne, Islam might have wiped Christianity off the face of the earth.

Born in 742, Charlemagne inherited the spear of Longinus, used to pierce the side of Jesus Christ on the cross. Charlemagne lived and slept with the spear, believing it gave him powers to foresee the future and forge his own destiny. In the first decade of the ninth century he won victories against the Muslims. He wielded his sacred sword Joyeuse to keep them from invading northern Spain and to protect, too, the route of the pilgrimage to St James of Compostela.

The call to prayer. A great impulse of upside-down, other-way-round thinking entered the world through Sufism. ‘The Truth is also seeking the Seeker.’

P.L. Travers, creator of Mary Poppins, was a disciple of the twentieth-century master G.I. Gurdjieff, who was influenced both by the Sufis and Tibetan Lamas. The character of Poppins — in the books rather than in the more sentimental film — is that of a Sufi adept, disconcerting in the way she is able to turn the world inside out and upside down and bend the laws of nature.

Charlemagne had an imposing physical presence. Some seven foot tall with blazing blue eyes, he was a man of simple, moderate habits, yet he managed to impose his will on the course of history. Not only did his vision of Fortress Europe maintain a Christian sense of identity in the face of Islamic invasion, but he also moved to protect his people against corrupt and tyrannical nobles.

It is from the writings of one of the great magi of the Renaissance, Trithemius, Abbot of Sponheim, that we learn the strange story of the Holy Vehm, or Secret Tribunal of Free Judges, founded by Charlemagne in 770 with secret ciphers and signs to exclude the uninitiated. Sometimes known as the Secret Soldiers of Light, masked men would nail a summons to the gates of a castle whose owner thought he could live above the law. Some nobles disobeyed the summons. They would try to protect themselves with bodyguards, but inevitably they would be found stabbed to death with the characteristic cruciform dagger of the Holy Vehm.

A noble who chose to obey the summons would arrive late at night alone at the designated place, sometimes a lonely crossroads. Masked men would appear and place a hood on his head, before leading him off to be interrogated. At midnight the hood would be removed and the nobleman would find himself perhaps in a vast underground vault, facing the Free Judges, masked and dressed in black. Sentence would be passed.

This secret society is not obviously esoteric or arcane in its philosophy, but the vault motif points to legends of Charlemagne’s underground initiation.

The Enchiridion of Pope Leo was a book of spells, including protection against poison, fire, storm and wild beasts, which emerged into exoteric history in the early sixteenth century, but was said to have been worn at all times by Charlemagne, who carried it tied to his person in a little leather bag. One note of authenticity in this story is that the first chapter of St John’s Gospel was included in the Enchiridion as its most powerful spell. These verses are still used in this way by practising esotericists.

More solid evidence of Charlemagne’s initiatic way of thinking can be seen today in the Aachen chapel. Added to Charlemagne’s palace, it was the largest building in the world north of the Alps. Its octagonal shape looks forward to the walls that will surround the New Jerusalem, according to the esoteric numerology of the Revelation of St John. Entry is by the Wolf Door — named after the legendary wolf who tricked the Devil out of possession of the chapel. The visitor looks up to the first-floor gallery to see the imposing throne of the Holy Roman Emperor, made from simple slabs of white marble. In the centre of the chapel a solid gold casket contains Charlemagne’s bones. Above it ‘the Crown of Lights’, a gigantic wheel-shaped chandelier, hangs like a crown chakra ablaze.

Charlemagne’s achievements include his bringing together of the great scholars of Christendom in an attempt to rival the court of Haroun al Raschid. The greatest scholar was perhaps Alcuin of York.

This British connection is significant in the secret history. The spirit of King Arthur lives and breathes in the history of Charlemagne. He is a defender of the faith who keeps pagans at bay with the help of a weapon that confers invincibility and of a circle of faithful knights, or paladins as they are known in the case of Charlemagne.

We have seen that the original King Arthur lived in the Iron Age, a champion of the Sun god at a time of encroaching darkness. The stories of the Grail which were added to the canon at the time of Charlemagne are based on historical events.

You might assume that the story of Parsifal is an allegory, but in the secret history he was a man of flesh and blood, a reincarnation of Mani, the third-century founder of Manichaeism. Though he did not know it, he was the nephew of one of Charlemagne’s paladins, William of Orange, who fought in a battle against the Saracens at Carcassonne in 783. This battle cost the Muslims so dearly that they withdrew from France to Spain.

Raised to be a forester, Parsifal lived with his mother deep in the woods, far away from the glamour of court life and the dangers of chivalry. He did not know his father or his uncle. He was never to be a knight like Roland, famous in his own day, a knight whose deeds were blazed across the sky and celebrated in the official records, but his local deeds, his private battles, would change the course of history.

One day Parsifal was playing by himself in the woods when a troop of knights rode by. The episode is described in a passage by Chrétien de Troyes that lights up the imagination:

Trees were bursting into leaf, the iris blooming and birds singing when the son of the widow went out into the wild and lonely forest. He was practising hurling spears when he heard a clashing, jangling, thumping sound. Then suddenly he saw five knights ride out from among the trees in full armour, their helmets shining in the sun. The gold, silver, white and blue of their liveries danced before his eyes. He had never seen anything like this before and thought he was being granted a vision of angels.

Parsifal’s own imagination was fired. He left his mother, heartbroken, and set off in search of adventure.

For all his ideals Parsifal was a foolish knight and his missions were often fraught with misunderstanding and accident. His was a journey of loneliness and failure.

Then one day, as dusk approached, he was riding by a river and asked two fishermen if they knew where he could find shelter. They directed him to a great castle, set high on a hill. This turned out to be the castle of the Fisher King, Amfortas, who had been wounded and was bleeding from his thighs. It seemed that an evil king, Klingsor, had laid a trap for Amfortas, involving some kind of sexual temptation, and had succeeded in inflicting this wound on him.

While Parsifal was sitting at dinner a wonderful procession appeared, page boys carrying a bleeding spear and a shining bowl. After dinner Parsifal fell into a deep sleep. In some versions of the legend he also faced a series of trials. He was menaced by wild beasts — lions — and was tempted by a beautiful demon. He also had to cross the Bridge Perilous, a giant sword that spanned the moat. As we shall see these variations can be reconciled.

When he awoke he found that the castle was deserted. He rode out to find that the crops had failed and the country become a wasteland.

Parsifal was later accepted at court and received his spurs. But one day an ugly crone, the Loathly Lady, accosted him. She explained that the country was suffering because, when presented with a vision of the Grail, he had failed to ask the question which would have healed the Fisher King and restored his kingdom’s fortunes.

On his second visit to the Grail Castle, Parsifal asked Amfortas what ailed him, and he succeeded in the quest for the Grail where all other knights had been denied. Sir Launcelot had failed, for instance, because of his love for Guinevere. He did not have a pure heart.

At the climax of his quest, Parsifal sees first the spear of Longinus — a reminder of the connection with Charlemagne — and then, finally, the Grail itself.

What are we to make of this as history? The visionary element should certainly be understood as an account of an initiation ceremony. Parsifal’s trials and visions took place in a deep trance.

But, of course, the fact that events are symbolic or allegorical does not mean that they are not to be understood as literally true, too.

What, then, is the Grail?

In chivalry the helmet, the sword and the spurs are symbols of initiation. The ceremony of creating a knight by the tapping of the shoulder with a sword is a memory of the ancient initiation ceremony of tapping the forehead with the thyrsus rod that makes springs of water and of wine flow. In some modern initiation ceremonies this is remembered in the form of quite a fierce blow to the forehead. The blow allows the birth of a higher form of thought, as Athena, goddess of wisdom, was born from the forehead of her father.

Esoteric heraldic devices featuring many of the creatures and symbols of the secret history from A Grammar of British Heraldry, 1854.

We saw that in the early German version of the story the Grail is a stone. In this version the Grail also seems to have the properties of the philosopher’s stone of the alchemists. It shines, it regenerates, makes flesh and bones young again and, in the words of von Eschenbach, ‘offers so much of the world’s sweetness and delight that it seems like the kingdom of heaven’. Of course, if this stone that fell out of the forehead of Lucifer had been shaped into a bowl, it would also be a stone that had been worked on.

In order to understand what the Grail really is, we should recall what its function is, listen carefully to what the well-known story is telling us. It is a chalice or receptacle to hold bodily fluids. More particularly, it was to hold the blood of Christ, used to catch it as it spurted from his body on the cross and then later, symbolically, at the Last Supper.

As we have seen, blood is the distinguishing feature of animal consciousness, and in occult physiology the animal part of our nature nestles in or is carried by — as if by a chalice — the vegetable part of our nature.

The secret of the Holy Grail, then, is not that it represents a bloodline. This, I have already suggested, would go against the esoteric doctrine of reincarnation. Rather it alludes to the role of the vegetable part of our nature as a living receptacle for our spirit or consciousness. The quest for the Grail is the quest for a purified receptacle fit to carry a higher form of spirit, and the trials in the course of the quest involve certain esoteric techniques of purification of the vegetable body. Rudolf Steiner, perhaps the greatest teacher of the twentieth century, said that all serious esoteric work begins with work on the etheric, that is to say the vegetable body.

Because of the Fall our animal selves have become so corrupted and we are in thrall to our sexual selves. In fact our animal selves are so corrupt that this has seeped down into our vegetable and material bodies, and it is beyond our power to purify them. We need supernatural help, and esoteric techniques are intended to enlist this help.

If the plant-like dimension of humanity is purified, we will naturally become more plant-like. Saintly individuals can sometimes live on almost nothing but sunlight, after the manner of plants. The twentieth-century German mystic and miracle-worker Therese Neumann lived for some forty years on nothing more than the daily consumption of a consecrated wafer.

But if techniques to transform our vegetable bodies have existed since ancient times, what was new and distinctive about the techniques involved in the Grail initiation?

In his deeply meaningful second encounter with the wounded Fisher King, Parsifal asks the question, What ails thee, brother?

This shows a combination of selfless compassion and — most significantly — shows a free, enquiring spirit which was new in the eighth century. Here, then, is the beginning of a new impulse towards freedom of thought that marked the beginning of the end of the age of Church authority.

When Parsifal achieves a vision of the Holy Grail, this is a vision of the vegetable body or soul which has been so transformed by moral feeling and intellectual questioning that it is fit to carry a higher form of spirit, the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

The historical dimension of the story is contained in the way that Amfortas’s wound causes the country to become a wasteland. The private devotions of initiates affect the destinies of nations.

The form of the story is significant, too. The story of Parsifal’s attainment of the Grail is presented in terms of Parsifal’s inner imaginative vision.

In the temples and Mystery schools of earlier ages wonderful statues were fashioned and gods were called down to inhabit them. In the Middle Ages the great initiates would inspire wonderful imaginative pictures, and it was into these mental images that the gods would descend and breathe life.

On the death of Charlemagne in 814, his empire quickly fell apart, but what has survived to this day is the living idea of a united Europe. Like King Arthur, Charlemagne has never really died but waits to return in time of need.

THE CHURCH GREW IN POWER AND WEALTH. It wanted to be the sole keeper of the keys to the Kingdom. The Church had earlier emphasized that an individual has but one life by suppressing teachings on reincarnation and had emphasized one god by suppressing knowledge of its astronomical roots. Now it emphasized the unity of the disembodied parts of the human being. In 869 at the Eighth Ecumenical Council, the Church effectively closed the door to the spirit worlds by abolishing the ancient distinction between the vegetable dimension of the soul and the animal dimension of the spirit. Soul and spirit were declared to be the same thing, and the result of this was that the spirit worlds, formerly encountered in the Mass, would come to seem an empty abstraction.

Experience of the spirit worlds was replaced by dogma to be accepted on authority.

Meanwhile, a vital Islamic influence, part intellectual, part spiritual, continued to flow into Europe through centres of scholarship like Toledo and Sicily. The study of mathematics, geometry and natural science, inspired in part by the Arabs’ translation and preservation of the works of Aristotle, as well as astronomy and astrology, spread northwards, leading to the formation of the first universities in Europe, based on the Islamic model. It led, too, to the arabesques of Gothic architecture, influenced by the intricate vegetal forms of mosque architecture.

IN THE NORTH PORCH OF THE CATHEDRAL at Chartres, founded in 1028, stands Melchizedek bearing the Grail. The astrology that Islam was bringing back to Europe, after it had been driven out several hundred years earlier by Rome, can be seen in the symbolism of the west porch — the fish of Pisces and the twin Templar Knights of Gemini. The pediment also has a fine example of a vesica piscis, a Third Eye that sees the spirit worlds coming through into the material world.

Chartres is a fusion in stone of Islamic mysticism, ancient Celtic spirituality and Neoplatonic Christianity. Atop a hill honeycombed with ancient tunnels and caves, it is believed to have been built on a site sacred to the Mother Goddess. A black virgin, resonant of the kinship between Isis, mother of the Sun god, and Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, can still be seen in the crypt.

Set into the floor of the nave is the most famous labyrinth in Europe. Built in 1200 it is some forty feet in diameter. Before it was taken up to help make canons in the French Revolution, a bronze plaque in the centre depicted Theseus, Ariadne and the Minotaur.

You must reverse direction seven times but never tread the same path. This spiral represented in two dimensions is depicted here, based on an original drawing by Botticelli.

Of course labyrinths and mazes are ancient pagan artefacts, remains of which are found not only at Knossos but at Hawara in Egypt and in the many open-air labyrinths and mazes found cut in the turf in Ireland, Britain and Scandinavia. Many other Christian churches had labyrinths before the eighteenth century, but these were destroyed because of their pagan associations.

One of the burial mounds at Newgrange in Ireland was still called ‘the spiral castle’ by the locals in the 1950s, because of a spiral carved by the entry portal. The expression ‘our king has gone to the spiral castle’ was an idiomatic way of saying that he had died.

This is the key to understanding the secret symbolism of the labyrinth and of Chartres Cathedral itself. If you enter the labyrinth and follow its track on foot you find yourself moving in a spiral motion, first to the left then curving back to the right as you move towards the centre. Pilgrims following its route are engaged in a dance like the dance of Jesus described in the Acts of St John. The aim, as in all initiatory activity, is to enter an altered state in which the spirit journeys up through the spirit worlds, experiencing the after-death journey while still alive.

Ariadne, who intercedes to help save Theseus, is, in the Chartrean context, Mary who gave birth to the Sun king and through whose intercession we may give birth to our own higher selves.

The labyrinth at Chartres can therefore be seen as a sort of mandala or aid to meditation and to achieving an altered state. In the sacred geometry of the cathedral the labyrinth is mirrored by another mandala, the great rose window.

The stained glass of the Middle Ages appeared first in Iran/Iraq in the eleventh century. The extraordinary, luminescent glass of Chartres was manufactured by medieval alchemical adepts who had learned the secrets of the Arabs and whose techniques we cannot now reproduce. Schwaller de Lubicz, the great Egyptologist, explained to his biographer André Vanden Broeck that the brilliant reds and blues of the stained glass at Chartres used no chemical pigmentation but a separation of the volatile spirit of metals that he tested with the famous alchemist Fulcanelli and also found in shards of glass he unearthed in Egypt.

The rose window, which in its outer circle displays the signs of the zodiac, represents the chakra ablaze as it should be when we reach the centre of life’s labyrinth, dancing finally to the Music of the Spheres. Not for nothing has Chartres Cathedral been described as an alchemical crucible for the transformation of humanity.

Islam was weaving its way into the fabric of the whole world both esoterically and exoterically. Then, in 1076, Turkish Muslims took control of Jerusalem.

18. THE WISE DEMON OF THE TEMPLARS

The Prophecies of Joachim • The Loves of Ramón Lull • St Francis and the Buddha • Roger Bacon Mocks Thomas Aquinas • The Templars Worship Baphomet

IN 1076 TURKISH MUSLIMS TOOK control of Jerusalem and began to persecute Christian pilgrims. The Crusaders freed Jerusalem, then lost it again.

In 1119 five knights met under the leadership of Hugo de Payens at the place of the Crucifixion. Like the knights who had ridden in the quest for the Grail, they vowed to make themselves worthy vessels to carry the blood of Christ. In order to protect pilgrims, they set up their headquarters in what was believed to have been the site of the stables attached to the Temple of Solomon.

Founded between the first and second Crusade, they became Christianity’s crack troops. The Knights Templar or the Order of the Poor Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, to give them their full title, always wore sheepskin breeches beneath their outer clothing as symbol of their chastity, and they were forbidden to cut their beards. They were to own nothing except a sword, holding all property in common. They were never to ask for mercy from the enemy, only retreating if the odds were three to one. And though they might retreat, they would always in the end have to fight to the death.

St Bernard of Clairvaux, the founder of the Cistercian monastic order and the most influential churchman of the day, wrote the ‘order’, or rule book, of the Templars in 1128, so that they became, formally, a religious order. Bernard wrote of the Templars that they knew no fear, that ‘one of them has often put to flight a thousand’, that they were gentler than lambs, grimmer than lions, and theirs was ‘the mildness of monks and the valour of knights’.

The archaeological evidence seems to confirm that the Templars may have had an ulterior motive for their order — to excavate the site of the Temple. Templar artefacts have been discovered in tunnels deep below it. These tunnels have been cut out of solid rock in a direction that would have taken them directly under the supposed site of the Holy of Holies.

The initiation ceremonies of the Templars clearly brought together different traditions, including Sufism and the Solomonic wisdom of the Temple. A lamb was killed and from its body a cord was made and placed around the candidate’s neck. He was led into the initiation chamber by this cord. He had been made to swear that his intentions were completely pure, on pain of death, and now the candidate wondered if the Grand Master could see into his soul by occult means — was he about to die?

Candidates endured frightening ordeals of the type that candidates for initiation by Zarathustra had had to undergo, involving confrontations with dreadful demonic forces, so that they would be prepared to face death or any horrors they might encounter in their later lives.

These confrontations with demons in initiation would come back to haunt the Templars, but for about two hundred years their esprit de corps and tight organizational structure made them extraordinarily successful in influencing, if not directing, world affairs.

Because many nobles joined the order, giving over rights to their property, the Templars became extremely rich. They invented letters of credit so that money could be transferred without risk of being stolen by robbers. Their Temple in Paris became the centre of French finances. They were in some ways the forerunners of banks, instrumental in preparing for the rise of the merchant classes. The Templars were also patrons of the first trade guilds to be independent of Church and nobility. Called the Compagnons du Devoir, these guilds were responsible for the Templars’ building projects, maintained ethical codes and protected members’ widows and orphans.

AT THE END OF THE TWELFTH CENTURY other challenges to the supremacy of the Church were arising.

In 1190-91 Richard the Lionheart, grandson of Guillaume of Poitiers, the first Troubador, was returning from the third Crusade. He stopped off to visit a mountain hermit, who was becoming famous for his gift of prophecy. The report came back with Richard: ‘What black tidings lie beneath that cowl!’

Born in a small village in Calabria in about 1135, Joachim had lived as a hermit for many years before joining an abbey and eventually founding his own Abbey of Fiore in the mountains.

He was trying to understand the Revelations of St John, wrestling with it, as he put it — and being defeated. Then one Easter morning he awoke a new man, having been granted a new faculty of understanding. The prophetic commentaries that then poured out of him would influence spiritual thought and mystical groups throughout Europe during the Middle Ages, and then later the Rosicrucians.

There is a cabalistic dimension to Joachim’s writings even though the central books of the Cabala had yet to be published, perhaps the result of his friendship with Petrus Alphonsi, a Spanish Jewish convert. Of course, the Old Testament itself has a strong sense of God working through history, but what is specifically cabalistic about Joachim’s thought is his interpretation of biblical texts in terms of complex number symbolism and his vision of what he called the Tree of Life. He published a diagram of this tree two hundred years before a similar idea was published by Cabalists, most likely drawing on oral tradition he encountered through his friendship with Alphonsi.

But the aspect of Joachim’s teaching that really grabbed the medieval imagination was his theory of three. He argued that if the Old Testament was the Age of the Father, which had called for fear and obedience, and if the New Testament was the Age of the Son, the age of the Church and of faith, then the reality of the Trinity suggests that a third age is coming, an age of the Holy Spirit. Then the Church will no longer be necessary, because this will be an age of freedom and love. Because Joachim was an initiate there was also an astrological dimension to his thought, usually glossed over by Church commentators. The Age of Aries was the Age of the Father, Pisces the Age of the Son, and Aquarius the Age of the Holy Spirit.

Joachim prophesied that there would be a time of transition from the second to the third age, when a new order of spiritual men would educate humanity, when Elijah would reappear, as prophesied in the last verse of the Old Testament in the Book of Malachi. Elijah would be the forerunner of the Messiah, arriving to usher in the great inovatio. Joachim also prophesied the Anti-Christ will incarnate before the third age began. As we shall see, Joachim’s prophecies still fascinate the secret societies today.

RAMÓN LULL, DOCTOR ILLUMINATUS, was a missionary to the Muslims whose thought was nevertheless saturated with Islamic ideas.

Ramón Lull was born in Palma, the capital of Majorca, in 1235 and brought up as a page in the royal court. He led a carefree life of pleasure. One day, lusting after a Genoese lady and wanting her badly, he rode his horse into the church of Eulalia where she was praying. She turned him away, but one day she responded to verses he had sent her by summoning him to a tryst. When he arrived, without warning she exposed her breast to him — it was being eaten away by a malignant disease.

This shock marked the beginning of the process of Lull’s conversion. It helped form his view of the world as a place of oscillating extremes, where appearance might well mask their opposites. In his most famous book, The Book of the Lover and the Beloved, he asks, ‘When comes the hour in which water that flows downwards shall change its nature and mount upwards?’ He talks of the Lover falling among thorns, but how they seemed to him like flowers and a bed of love. ‘What is misery?’ he asks. ‘To get one’s desires in this world… If you see a Lover clothed in fine raiment’, he says, ‘sated with food and sleep, know that in that man thou seeest damnation and torment.’ The scent of flowers brings to the Lover’s mind the evil stench of riches and meanness, of old age and lasciviousness, of discontent and pride.

Astrology re-introduced into Europe via Islam, personified here in a sixteenth-century French manuscript.

Lull wrote of mounting the ladder of humanity to glory in the Divine Nature. This mystical ascent is achieved by working on what he calls the powers of the soul — feeling, imagination, understanding and will. In this way he was helping to forge the deeply personal form of alchemy that, as we will see, would be the great engine of esoteric Europe.

In one of his harsher sayings he said: ‘If thou speaketh truth, O fool, thou wilt be beaten by men tormented, reproved and killed’. While preaching to the Muslims in North Africa he was set upon by a crowd, led out of the city and stoned to death.

FRANCIS WAS BORN INTO A WORLD WHERE serfs suffered extreme poverty and where the deformed, the aged, the destitute and lepers were treated with utter contempt. The wealthy clergy made a good living out of the serfs and persecuted anyone who disagreed with them.

In 1206 Francis was a rich young man in his twenties in Assisi in Italy. He was leading a carefree and heartless life, avoiding all contact with hardship, holding his nose if he saw a leper.

It is impossible not to see the parallels with the life of Prince Siddartha.

Then one day he was out riding when his horse suddenly reared up and he found himself looking down at a leper. He dismounted and before he knew it was grasping the leper’s bloody hand, and kissing the supurating cheeks and lips. He felt the leper withdraw his hand, and when Francis looked up he saw the leper had vanished.

He knew then that, like St Paul on the road to Damascus, he had had an encounter with the risen Christ.

Francis’s life and philosophy were turned upside down and inside out. He began to see with all clarity that the Gospels recommended a life of poverty, devoted to helping others, possessing ‘neither gold nor silver nor money in your purse, no wallet for your journey, nor two coats, nor shoes’. Poverty, he was to say, is to have nothing, to wish for nothing, yet to possess all things truly in the spirit of freedom. He came to see that experience itself, not things experienced, were important. The things we possess have a hold on us and threaten to rule our lives. A voice emanating from a painted crucifix in the Church of San Domenico near Assisi told him, ‘Go, Francis, and repair my House, which as you can see, is falling into ruin.’ Francis felt that this experience was ineffable.

He so transformed his nature in the animal, vegetable and, as we shall see shortly, in the material dimensions, that animals responded to him in an amazing way. A cricket sang when he asked. Birds gathered to hear him preach. When a large, fierce wolf terrorized the mountain town of Gubbio, Francis went out to meet it. The wolf ran towards Francis, but when he ordered it not to hurt anyone, the wolf lay down at his feet. It then began to walk alongside him, completely tamed. A few years ago a wolf ’s skeleton was found buried underneath the floor of the Church of San Francesco della Pace in Gubbio.

If we compare the mysticism of Ramón Lull with that of St Francis we see that a profound change has taken place in a very short time. Francis’s mysticism is the mysticism of simple, natural things, of the open air and the everyday.

In the first biography of St Francis, The Little Flowers of St Francis, it is said of him that he discovered the hidden things of nature with his sensitive heart. To Francis all things were alive. His was an ecstatic vision of the cosmos as idealism conceives it, everything created and charged with life by the celestial hierarchies. All creation sings in unison in the Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon:

All praise be yours, my Lord, through all you have made
And first my lord Brother Sun
Who brings the day.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon and Stars
In the heavens you have made them
Bright and precious and fair.

The spirit of Christianity had once helped the evolution of Buddhism. It had introduced a spirit of enthusiasm that helped the Buddha’s teaching of universal compassion find fulfilment in the material world. Now, although the Buddha did not incarnate again, his spirit here helped reform Christianity by inspiring a simple devotion and compassion for all living things.

Near the end of his life Francis was meditating on Mount La Verna, praying outside his hermit’s cell, when suddenly the whole sky blazed with light, and a six-winged Seraph appeared to him. Francis realized that this great being had the very same face he had seen on the painted crucifix that had set him out on his mission. He understood that Jesus Christ was sending him on a new mission.

Shortly after the death of St Francis trouble broke out in the order he had founded, the Franciscans. The Pope asked the order to take on extra responsibilities involving owning property and handling money. Many of the brothers saw this as a violation of St Francis’s vision, and they formed breakaway groups called the Spiritual Franciscans, or Fraticelli. Both to themselves and to many outsiders they seemed like the new order of spiritual men whom Joachim had prophesied would oversee the end of the Church.

So it was that followers of St Francis came to be hunted down and killed as heretics.

A famous fresco by Giotto shows St Francis propping up the Church. If Francis saved the Church from complete collapse, can he be said to have succeeded in reforming it as the voice from the crucifix had asked? In esoteric Christianity it is believed that the Seraph who gave Francis the stigmata told him that his new mission was to be fulfilled after death. Once a year, on the anniversary of his death — 3 October — he was to lead the spirits of the dead out of the lunar spheres into the higher hierarchies.

Initiation, as we continue to see, is as concerned with life after death as much as this life.

IN THE LIFETIMES OF RAMÓN AND Francis new, different impulses for reform and purification of religious practice were growing up in many parts of Europe, in Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Germany, Italy and above all in the south of France.

There the Cathars attacked the corruption of the Church. Their Gnostic-like central tenet was that they should keep themselves completely pure from an evil world. Like both the Templars and St Francis they renounced material possessions and kept strict vows of chastity.

The ministry to the dead, carved on a sixteenth-century sarcophagus.

The Cathars had no churches of wood or stone. They rejected a sacramental system that made the Church the only intermediary between God and the people. ‘We value virginity above everything,’ said one witness. ‘We do not sleep with our wives but love them as we would our sisters. We never eat meat. We hold our possessions in common.’ They had only one prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, and their initiation ritual, the consolamentum, was a saying goodbye to an evil world. They welcomed martyrdom.

The Church obliged. In 1208 Pope Innocent III ordered a Crusade against the Cathars. Arriving at the town of Béziers, the Crusaders demanded that it hand over the five hundred or so Cathars inside. When the townspeople refused, all of them, running into many thousands, were slaughtered. When one of the soldiers asked the papal legate Arnaud-Amaury how they might distinguish the Cathars from the others, he is said to have replied with a phrase that has echoed down history: ‘Kill them all, God will find his own.’ At Bram they stopped off to take a hundred hostages. They cut off their noses and upper lips, then blinded all except one who led a procession to the castle. At Lavaur they captured ninety knights, hanged them, then stabbed them when they took too long to die. An entire army of prisoners was burned alive at Minerve.

In 1244 the last few remaining heretics, who had survived a nine-month siege of the mountain-top castle of Montségur, gave themselves up. Two hundred Cathar monks descended the mountain and walked into the fires awaiting them.

According to legend four monks had escaped the mountain-top refuge a day earlier, taking with them the secret treasure of the Cathars. We do not know whether this treasure was gold, relics or secret doctrine, but perhaps it is too easy to romanticize the Cathars. They taught that the world was evil in a way that suggests that they, like the Gnostics before them, were under the sway of a world-hating, death-loving oriental philosophy. The Church at Rome suppressed the Cathars with maximum force — but the true esoteric thought of the day was closer to it than the jugular vein.

IN THE CLOSING YEARS OF THE THIRTEENTH century a weak and sickly child was born. Shortly after birth he was taken in and looked after by twelve wise men. In Rudolf Steiner’s account, they lived in a building that had belonged to the Templars at Monsalvat on the border between France and Spain.

Because the boy was kept completely shut away from the outside world, the locals were unable to see anything of his miraculous nature. He was filled with such a strong, shining spirit that his little body became transparent.

The twelve men initiated him in about 1254, and he died shortly afterwards — having shared his spiritual vision with those who had looked after him. The thirteen had helped prepare for his next incarnation in which he would change the face of Europe.

ALBERTUS WAS BORN IN 1193, APPARENTLY a dull and stupid boy until, inspired by a vision of the Virgin Mary, he began to pursue his studies so zealously that he quickly became the most famous philosopher in Europe. He studied Aristotle’s science, physics, medicine, architecture, astrology and alchemy. The short text The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, containing the central hermetic axiom ‘as above so below’, first surfaced into exoteric history as part of his library. He almost certainly explored methods of divining the presence of metals deep in the earth using occult means. It is said he built a strange automaton he called the Android, able to speak, perhaps even think and move about of its own free will. It was made of brass and other metals chosen because of their magical correspondences with heavenly bodies, and Albertus made it come alive by breathing magical incantations into it and with prayers.

The legend that Albertus Magnus was the architect of Cologne Cathedral probably derives from his authorship of Liber Constructionum Alberti, containing the secrets of Operative Freemasons, including the laying of the foundations of cathedrals along astronomical lines.

STORIES OF JOURNEYS UNDERGROUND, like those of Albertus Magnus, to discover metals, are often ways of alluding to underground initiations. We know that initiations of this type survived into the Middle Ages because of an account of one that took place in Ireland, which has come down to us from three sources.

A soldier called Owen, who served the English King Stephen, went to the Monastery of St Patrick in Donegal. Owen fasted for nine days, processing around the monastery and taking baths of ritual purification. On the ninth day he was admitted to the underground chamber ‘out of which all who enter do not return’. There he was laid down in a grave. The only light was from a single aperture. That night Owen was visited by fifteen men robed all in white, who warned him that he was about to undergo a trial. Then, all of a sudden, a troop of demons appeared. They held him over a fire, before showing him scenes of torment like those described by Virgil.

Finally, two elders came to guide him, and showed Owen a vision of Paradise.

ALBERTUS WAS SPIRITUAL GUIDE TO Thomas Aquinas, nearly thirty-three years his junior. It seems that Thomas smashed his master’s Android to pieces, in some accounts because he believed it diabolical — in others because it would never stop talking.

Aquinas had come to the University of Paris to study Aristotle at the feet of the master, but he was to discover that the greatest Aristotelean was in fact a Muslim. Averroës argued that Aristotelean logic showed Christianity to be absurd.

Would logic eat up religion, all true spirituality?

Aquinas’s life’s work culminated in his massive Summa Theologica, perhaps the most influential work of theology ever written. Its aim was to try to show that philosophy and Christianity are not only compatible — they illumine each other. Aquinas applied the sharpest analytical scalpel to thought about the spirit worlds. He was able to categorize the beings of the heavenly hierarchies, the great cosmic forces that create natural forms as well as creating our subjective experiences. The Summa contains, for example, the Church’s definitive teachings on the Four Elements and this is achieved with a living, penetrating intellect rather than a stultifying reshuffling of dead dogma.

Aquinas is a key figure in the secret history, then, because his great intellectual triumph over Averroës prevented Europe’s being overcome by scientific materialism several hundreds years too early.

Again it is important to bear in mind that this triumph was achieved from the standpoint of direct, personal experience of the spirit worlds. There is not a shadow of a doubt that Thomas Aquinas, like Albertus Magnus, was an alchemist, who believed it was possible to harness the power of disembodied spirits to effect changes in the material world. Of the many alchemical texts attributed to him, scholars accept at least one as undoubtedly genuine. In order to understand this better, it’s useful to compare him with his contemporary Roger Bacon.

Today alchemy can seem a strange, hole-in-the-wall activity. In fact it is quite familiar to all church-going Christians because it is what is said to take place at the climax of the Mass. Aquinas first formulated the doctrine of the transubstantiation of the bread and wine. What he described is essentially an alchemical process in which the substance of the bread and wine changes and a parallel transubstantiation takes place in the human body. The Mass brings about not just a new frame of mind, a new determination to do better, but a vital physiological change.

Title page of Testamentum Cremeri, showing Thomas Aquinas as a practising alchemist.

It is no accident that Aquinas formulated his doctrine at the same time that the stories of the Grail began to circulate. They describe the same process albeit using different methods.

Though they were enemies — Bacon mocked Aquinas for only being able to read Aristotle in translation — both Aquinas and Bacon were representatives of the impulse of the age: to strengthen and refine the faculty of intelligence. They found magic in thinking. The capacity for prolonged, abstract thought, for juggling with concepts, had existed once before but only briefly and locally in the Athens of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, before being snuffed out again. A new, living and more long-lasting tradition arose with Aquinas and Bacon. Both put experience before the dead old categories of tradition, and both were deeply religious men who sought to refine their religious beliefs on the basis of experience. ‘Without experience,’ said Bacon, ‘it is impossible to know anything.’

Bacon was the more practical, but when he explored the mind’s supernatural capacities, he invoked entities from the same spiritual hierarchies that Aquinas categorized. Both applied rigorous analysis and logic, and their mysticism was quite unlike the unthinking, ecstatic mysticism of the Cathars.

A young scholar at Oxford in the 1250s, Roger Bacon resolved, like Pythagoras before him, to know everything there is to know. He wanted to gather together into his own mind all that the scholars at the court of Haroun al Raschid had known.

Roger Bacon became the image of a wizard. Known as Doctor Mirabilis, he sometimes appeared on the streets of Oxford in Islamic robes. At other times he worked without rest day and night in his rooms in college which would be rocked by explosions from time to time.

Bacon busied himself conducting practical experiments, for example with metals and magnetism, discovering gunpowder independently of the Chinese or scaring his students by shining a light on to a crystal in order to produce a rainbow — something which up until that time people had believed only God could do. He also had a magic looking-glass that enabled him to see fifty miles in any direction, because he, unlike anyone else alive at the time, understood the properties of lenses.

But it is undoubtedly true that Bacon had powers beyond the ability of science to explain today. He sent his complete works to Pope Clement IV in the mind of a twelve-year-old boy called John, whom he had taught to know all his many books off by heart in a few days. Bacon used a method that involved prayers and magic symbols. Similarly, he was able to teach students Hebrew so well that they could read all of scripture in a matter of weeks.

All magic is a power of mind over matter. As we are beginning to see, esoteric philosophy is concerned with methods for developing the faculties of the mind so that natural laws can be manipulated.

In Roger Bacon the faculties of intelligence and imagination were highly developed and each worked one on the other. In 1270 he wrote: ‘It is possible to make engines of navigation which have no need of men to navigate them, so that very large sea-going ships may go along with one man to steer and at greater speed than if they were full of men working them. And cars could be made that would move at inestimable speed without animals to draw them. Flying machines can be built so that a man sitting in the middle of the machine may turn an instrument by which wings artificially made will beat there…’ In the Middle Ages this remarkable man had a complete vision of the modern technological world created by experimental science. Bacon was a Franciscan who, like the founder of his order, longed for a better, cleaner, kinder world for the poor and the dispossessed.

There is a telling point in Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose when William of Baskerville, Eco’s Sherlock Holmes-like hero, explains that there are two forms of magic, a Devil’s magic that seeks to harm others by illicit means, and a holy magic which rediscovers the secrets of nature, a lost science known to the ancients. Like the Arab alchemists who influenced him, Bacon worked on the borderline of magic and science — and this borderline, we will see, is what alchemy essentially is.

Bacon wrote a treatise called The Mirror of Alchemy and liked to recall a saying of a great scholar of the Cabala, St Jerome: ‘You will find many things quite incredible and beyond the bounds of probability that are true for all that.’

In 1273 Thomas Aquinas, nearing the completion of his massive Summa Theologica, was taking Mass at a church in Naples when he had an overwhelming mystical experience. He wrote ‘What has been revealed to me now, makes all I’ve written worth no more to me than a stack of straw.’

WE’VE HAD HINTS OF THE TRAINING OF THE imagination in Lull and Bacon. Of course idealists have a more exalted view of imagination than materialists. For idealists imagination is a faculty for grasping a higher reality.

The discipline of training the imagination is central to esoteric practice, the initiations of the secret societies and, indeed, of magic.

For esotericists and occultists imagination is also important, because imagination is the great creative force in the universe. The universe is the creation of God’s imagination — imagination, as we saw in Chapter 1, was the first emanation — and it is our imaginations that allow us to interpret the creation and sometimes to manipulate it.

Human creativity, whether magical or non-magical, is the result of a particular channelling of the powers of the imagination. In alchemical tracts, for example, sperm is described as created by the imagination. This is a way of saying that imagination not only informs desire, it also has the power to transform our very material natures.

Powerful magical transformations in the material world outside their bodies can be made by initiates who know how to work on these creative powers of the imagination. An Indian adept is taught from an early age to practise seeing a snake in front of him with such concentrated power, with such a highly trained imagination, that he can eventually make others see it, too.

Of course there is a danger in all this emphasis on the imagination that is perilously close to fantasy. There is always a danger that these workings on the imagination will only end up in delusion. Magic can seem a self-deluder’s charter.

The systematic approach of the secret societies was intended to militate against this.

St Bernard of Clairvaux, who wrote the rule book of the Templars, recommended a systematic training of the imagination. By summoning up images of the birth, infancy, ministry and death of Jesus Christ, you could invoke his spirit. If you imagined, say, a domestic scene involving Jesus Christ, imagining the pots and pans, the clothes, his likeness, the lines on his face, the expression in his features, your feelings when he turned to look at you, then if you all of a sudden banished the visual images, what might be left is the very real spirit of Christ.

In thirteenth-century Spain a Cabalist called Abraham Abulafia wrote amplifying the idea of God’s creative word. In earlier cabalistic texts the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet had been described as creative powers. ‘In the beginning’, then, God had combined these letters in patterns, changed them round and made words out of them, and out of this process unfolded all the different shapes of the universe. Abraham Abulafia proposed that the initiate could participate in the creative process by combining and recombining Hebrew letters in the same way. He recommended retiring to a quiet room, dressing in white robes, adopting ritual poses, pronouncing the divine names of God. In this way a state of ecstatic, visionary trance could be achieved — and with this state, secret powers.

The notion of ‘words of power’ which give the initiate dominion over the spirit worlds — and so over the material world — is a very ancient one. Solomon was said to have this dominion, and in his Temple the Tetragammaton — the most sacred and powerful name of God — might only be pronounced once a year on the day of the Atonement by the High Priest alone in the Holy of Holies. Outside trumpets and cymbals prevented others from hearing. It was said that someone who knew how to pronounce it could inspire terror in angels. Even earlier, among the Egyptians, it was said that the Sun god, Ra, had created the cosmos using words of power, and it was said that knowledge of these words gave the initiate power not only in this life but in the afterlife.

Abraham Abulafia also recommended using the names of God in diagrammatic form. The practice of working with magical signs and sigils again features largely in Hebrew tradition, but with an admixture of Egyptian and Arab elements it became widespread in the Middle Ages. This was largely because of the spread of grimoires — grammars — of spells such as The Testament of Solomon and The Key of Solomon. Most of the spells promised the fulfilment of selfish desires, whether sexual, avenging or the finding of treasure. Preparation of materials such as beeswax, the blood of an animal, powdered lodestone, sulphur and perhaps the brain of a raven, might be followed by an act of purification. Then the ceremony itself, perhaps involving sickles, wands, swords, performed at propitious times. The result might be that a ring or perhaps just a scrap of paper was inscribed with the sigil — or signature — so that the carrier of it, wittingly or unwittingly, would be duly affected by the disembodied being for good or for ill. In the mid-fourteenth century, The Sacred Magic of Abraham the Jew taught how to excite tempests, raise the dead, walk on water and be beloved of a woman. All of this was to be achieved by using sigils and squares of cabalistic letters.

Today the Church makes a clear distinction between a few strictly regulated ceremonies intended to invoke spiritual powers taking place within a church context — and all other ceremonies intended to invoke or otherwise engage in commerce with disembodied spirits not under its aegis. These latter are labelled ‘occult’, which in modern Christian parlance usually means black magic.

In the Middle Ages no such distinction would have been practical. Rituals were performed under the aegis of the Church to try to ensure, for example, good crops or success in a duel. Consecrated bread was seen as a cure for the sick and a preservative against the plague, amulets giving protection against lightning and drowning were made out of church candles. Scraps of paper bearing magical formulae were inserted into roofs as protection against fire. Church bells could ward off thunder and demons. Formal curses were pronounced to drive away caterpillars. Holy water was scattered on the fields to ensure a good harvest. Holy relics were wonder-working fetishes. Baptism could restore sight to blind children and overnight vigils at the shrines of saints would bring vivid visionary dreams and cures in the tradition of the ‘temple sleep’ advocated by Asclepius.

Later Christian apologists tried to distinguish between legitimate Church practice, a matter of petitioning high-level spiritual beings who might choose to agree to a request or not, and magic conceived as a mechanical process involving the manipulating of occult forces. But this involves a misunderstanding. Magic is also an uncertain process of invoking spirits, including some spirits of very high levels.

In the Middle Ages everyone believed in these spiritual hierarchies. Underlying all Church practice and lay spiritual practice was a belief that repeating a formula such as a prayer or performing a ceremony had the power to influence material events for good or ill. By means of these activities people believed that they could communicate with the orders of disembodied beings who controlled the material world.

That prayer was efficacious, that providence rewarded the good and punished the bad was then the universal belief and the universal experience.

If history was seen unquestioningly as a providential process, it was not in a fatalistic way. God had a plan for humankind that different orders of disembodied beings and different orders of incarnated beings were helping to unfold, a plan encoded in the Bible and elucidated by prophets.

But it was a plan that might go wrong at any time.

FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH IS STILL remembered as an evil day. On Friday 13 October 1307 the kings of the world finally moved to try to eradicate the esoteric influences they feared had been growing further and further from their control.

Just before dawn the seneschals of France, acting on the orders of the French king, Philip the Fair, descended on the temples and lodgings of the Templars, arresting some 15,000 people. In the Paris Temple, France’s great centre of finance, they found a secret chamber containing a skull, two thigh bones and a white burial shroud — which is, of course, what you will find if you break into a Freemasonic temple today.

Only a few of the knights — from La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast — managed to escape. They fled to Scotland, where they lived under the protection of the rebel king, Robert the Bruce.

The Inquisition accused the captured knights of making novices spit and trample on the cross of Christ. They were accused, too, of sodomy and worshipping a goat-headed idol called Baphomet. They confessed to seeing this idol with a long beard, sparkling eyes and four feet. Under pressure from Philip the Fair, Pope Clement published a Bill of Abolition, putting an end to the Knights Templar. All their assets were seized by the monarchy.

Appearing before a papal commission the knights said they had been tortured to make them confess. One Bernard de Vardo produced a wooden box in which he kept the charred bones that had fallen from his feet as they were roasted over a fire.

What was the truth behind their confessions?

Shortly before he died I was privileged to work with Hugh Schonfield, the great scholar of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Schonfield did much to explain to Christian scholars Jewish roots of the New Testament that had hitherto been overlooked or misunderstood. Schonfield knew of the ATBASH cipher, in which the first letter of an alphabet is substituted for the last, second for the second last and so on. He also knew that this cipher had been used to encrypt messages in the Book of Jeremiah and in some of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Instinct led him to try it out on the word Baphomet. In this way he found coded in the word Baphomet the word ‘wisdom’.

The personification of wisdom that Templars confessed to communing with was, however, the goat-headed god of worldly wisdom. Since the time of Zarathustra initiation ceremonies had induced in the candidate altered states in which he underwent terrifying ordeals, was attacked by demons and so prepared to overcome the worst that life — and life after death — had to offer. Now the cunning torturers of the Inquisition were able to cause their victims such pain that they re-entered an altered state of consciousness, and it was then that the demon-king Baphomet appeared to them again, this time in triumph.

They were indeed facing the worst that life and death had to offer.

19. FOOLS FOR LOVE

Dante, the Troubadors and Falling in Love for the First Time • Raphael, Leonardo and the Magi of Renaissance Italy • Joan of Arc • Rabelais and the Way of the Fool

IN 1274 IN FLORENCE A YOUTHFUL DANTE first saw the beautiful Beatrice.

It was love at first sight.

It was also the first time anyone fell in love at first sight.

In the annals of the secret societies this is a great and important historical truth. In conventional history people have been falling in love and been romantically in love since the dawn of time. It’s part of our biological make-up, they say. The odes of Pindar and Sappho are expressions of romantic love.

In the secret history, though, these odes from ancient Greece are read as being narrowly sexual. They do not exhibit the moon-calf pain of separation, the ecstatic delight in the beloved’s appearance and the interlocked gaze which characterize being in love today.

Dante wrote of his first sight: ‘She was wearing a beautiful, delicate crimson robe tied with a belt and the moment I saw her I say in all truth that the spirit that loves in the innermost depths of my heart began to tremble in such a way that it overtook my whole being… the beginning and end of my life’s happiness had been revealed to me.’ He said he became wholly absorbed in the love in her eyes. Later he wrote of her that when he first saw her he thought by some miracle an angel had materialized on earth. It would be wrong to read this in terms of poetic convention.

In the Commedia he described the sensation of being wholly absorbed in her eyes and says that the erotic charge he took from them led him to Paradise. Again, this is no mere poetic fancy. The erotic and the mystical intertwined in a way that was new in the West.

Dante and Beatrice would both marry other people, and she died young. What today we think of as romantic love with its mystical yearnings and sense of destiny — the feeling that this was meant to be — all derives from the mystic ferment of Islam. Just as the characteristically Christian understanding of love of your neighbour freely given can be seen to have grown out of the Hebrew prophets’ concept of grace, so now the modern world’s understanding of the sacred was illumined by the altered states of consciousness achieved by Sufi mystics such as Ibn Arabi. His revolutionary The Interpretation of Longing expressed sexual love in terms of divine love. The Sufis expressed a feeling never felt before and so creating the conditions for everyone else to feel it.

For over a thousand years the erotic instinct had been repressed. Sexual energies had been channelled into the development of the human intellect. By the time of Aquinas and Bacon this development was complete. Devised in overnight vigils kneeling at the altar, Aquinas’s Summa Theologica is more than two million words of densely packed syllogisms, testimony to a capacity for unrelenting intellectual focus that today’s greatest philosophers would find it hard to match.

Now, prompted by an impulse spreading up from Arabia, people began to take a new delight in the material world, a sensual pleasure in light, colour, space and the touch of things. The point of evolution of human consciousness moved out of monkish cells and into the pleasure garden. A scintillating sexual sheen was spreading over everything.

The Islamic occupation of Europe lasted longest in Spain. Then, as the brilliant civilization of Mauresque Spain spread northwards, this new way of being spread to the rest of the world, first to the south of France.

In the twelfth century Provence and the Languedoc became the most civilized region in Europe. Provençal poets called Troubadors adapted the Arabic-Andalusian poetic forms, inspired by their erotic éclat. Though she was not an esotericist, Helen Waddell’s The Wandering Scholars remains the classic account of this period of transition. She relates the story of an abbot riding out with a young monk who is being allowed outside the monastery for the first time, when they pass some women on the road.

‘They be demons,’ said the abbot.

‘I thought,’ said the boy monk, ‘that they were the fairest things I ever saw.’

The first Troubador to surface in the stream of exoteric history was Guillaume, Count of Poitiers and Duke of Aquitane, who began composing tender, yearning love songs when he returned from the Crusades. But although this early flowering was courtly, it spread through all classes. Among the Troubadors Bernart de Ventadorn was a baker’s son and Pierre Vidal was a furrier’s son. Perhaps as result of the influence of men like these, poetry now filled with vernacular objects — toads, rabbits, farm machinery, pubs, tumbling pigeons, crackling thorns and a cheek pillowed upon an arm.

The Troubador poet Arnaud Daniel, whom Dante described as il miglio fabbro, boasts of ‘hunting hares with an ox, gathering the winds and swimming against the tide’. He is talking in the topsy-turvy way characteristic of esoteric thinkers about the powers initiation has given him.

The Romance of the Rose was the most influential work of literature of the age. It describes a castle surrounded by a sevenfold — and therefore planetary — wall covered with emblematic figures. Only those who can explain their meaning are admitted to the beautiful garden of roses.

As well as crossing class barriers, the Troubadors reversed the traditional subjection of women to men. In Troubador poetry men enslave themselves to women. Marriage had worked as an agent of social control, but now the Troubadors encouraged a new form of love that was not arranged but spontaneous, and could flow between individuals of different social status.

Love became subversive like the secret societies themselves.

Being in love in this new way made people feel more fully alive.

It was a new and intense form of consciousness. In the poetry of the Troubadors love, this new way of being, can be reached if you successfully negotiate your way through a number of trials — passing through hell and high water, finding a passage through the labyrinth, combat and the slaying of wild beasts. You must solve riddles and choose the right casket.

Already pale and tortured by doubt the lover is trembling when he is finally allowed into the presence of the beloved. In consummation he achieves an altered state of consciousness, one that confers supernatural powers. All true lovers know that when they gaze deeply into each others’ eyes they really are touching each other.

In other words not only was the experience of falling in love introduced into the stream of human consciousness by initiates, but the experience of being in love was given the deep structure of the process of initiation.

Troubador literature is full of the symbolism of initiation, too. The most popular symbol of the Troubadors, the rose, was probably derived from Sufism where it was a symbol, among other things, of the entrance to the spirit worlds — and an obvious allusion to the chakras. In the famous story of the Nightingale and the Rose, the bird represents the human spirit’s longing for the divine. There is also an undeniable sexual level of meaning here, connected with the sensual, fleshy qualities of the rose. The ubiquity of the rose in Troubador love poetry should alert us to the presence here of esoteric, perhaps — as Ezra Pound believed — alchemical techniques of sexual ecstasy. Guillaume of Poitiers wrote, ‘I want to retain my lady in order to refresh my heart so well that I cannot age. He will live a hundred years who succeeds in possessing the joy of his love.’

At root the impulse behind the birth of the Renaissance was a sexual one. Let us be clear about the outrageous thing we are saying here — that the whole of human consciousness was transformed and moved to another level of evolution just because a few people performed the sexual act in a new way.

They made love for the first time.

When we reach the altered state of consciousness that is orgasm, can we think, or is orgasm inimical to thought? We can — and should — ask the same question of a mystical ecstasy.

Secret societies and heretical groups such as the Cathars, Templars and the Troubadors were teaching techniques of mystical ecstasy. Would the hard-won faculty of human thought be strong enough to survive these ecstasies?

IN THE COMMEDIA DANTE TOOK THE erotic-spiritual impulse of the Troubadors to another level. He expanded his love for Beatrice to embrace the whole cosmos.

At the beginning of the Commedia Dante describes how in middle age Dante found himself lost in a gloomy wood, when he was met by Virgil, one of the great initiates of the ancient world.

Virgil takes Dante through a portal with the words Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here written over it. Virgil then leads him into an underworld like the one described in the Aeneid — and containing characters we have already met in our history. They cross the River Acheron and enter the realm of shades. They encounter the judge of the dead, Minos, and Cerberus, the three-headed dog. They enter the minareted city of Dis, encounter the three Furies and the Minotaur. They walk the banks of Lake of Blood in which the violent are immersed, including Attila the Hun. They traverse the Wood of the Harpies and the burning plain of sand. They meet a famous Scottish wizard Michael Scott, Nimrod and finally, in the deepest rung of Hell, Dante sees what he first takes to be a windmill. It is really Lucifer’s wings.

It would have been perfectly well understood by Dante’s contemporaries that this, the first part of his poem, described a real journey underground — in other words that Dante had undergone an underground initiation. He would perhaps have been led through a series of ordeals and ceremonies like the ones we saw the knight Owen undergo in Donegal.

‘Virgil’ may well have been the mask for Dante’s initiator in real life, a scholar called Brunetto Latini. Journeying as an ambassador to Spain, Latini had there met savants from both the Hebrew and Arab traditions. His great work The Book of Treasure included occult teachings on the planetary qualities of precious stones. The uninitiated often fail to appreciate the initiatic quality of Dante’s description of the cosmos, that the rungs of hell that spiral downward in the other direction are characterized by planetary qualities. Dante’s work is written to read on several different levels — the astrological, the cosmological, the moral, even, some say, the alchemical.

In the ancient world the underworld was conceived of as being seven-layered or seven-walled, as the labyrinth of Minos was depicted on Cretan coins. The same idea is to be found in Origen’s account of the Ophites with their invocations to the seven demons who guard the seven gates of the underworld. However, the closest model for Dante’s account of the underworld in the Commedia is now known to be the great Sufi master Ibn Arabi’s account of Mohammed’s journey into the other worlds in the Fotuhat. Illustration from early translation.

Like the Fotuhat and like an earlier model, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Commedia is, on one level, a guide to the afterlife, on another a manual of initiation and on a third level an account of the way that life in the material world — quite as much as the afterlife — is shaped by stars and planets.

The Commedia shows how when we behave badly in this life we are already constructing a Purgatory, a Hell, for ourselves in another dimension that intersects with our everyday lives. We are already suffering, tormented by demons. If we do not aspire to move up the spiral of the heavenly hierarchies, if we ‘make do’ with purely earthly successes and pleasures, we are already in Purgatory.

Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray has become a part of public consciousness. We all know that, beautiful and vain, Dorian keeps a painting in his attic, which decays and becomes monstrous as he plunges into a life of debauchery, while he himself remains perfect and unlined. At the end of the novel the decay in the painting suddenly afflicts Dorian all at once. According to Dante, we’re all Dorian Grays, creating monstrous selves and devising monstrous punishments for ourselves. What makes Dante’s vision incomparably grander than Wilde’s is that not only does he show that we each create a heaven and hell inside us, he also shows what our misdeeds do to the structure and very texture of the world. He turns the world inside out to reveal the hideous effects of our innermost thoughts and the deeds we most want kept secret. According to Dante, everything we do or think materially alters the universe. Umberto Eco has called his poem ‘the apotheosis of the virtual world’.

Giordano Bruno executed in the Campo dei Fiori in Rome. It’s often assumed that Bruno was burned at the stake by the church for championing the modern, scientific view that the earth revolves around the sun. In fact it was his esoteric views that really frightened the Church. His experiences of the spirit worlds led him to claim that there are an infinity of interlocking universes and dimensions. He invoked the authority of the ‘Pythagorean poet’, Virgil to back up his belief that the human spirit could travel between these universes, but would eventually ‘desire to return to the body’ in accordance with the laws of reincarnation.

IN 1439 A MYSTERIOUS STRANGER CALLED Gemistos Plethon slipped into the court of Cosimo de Medici, ruler of Florence. Plethon was carrying with him the lost Greek texts of Plato. As fate would have it, he was also carrying various neoplatonic texts, some Orphic hymns and, most intriguingly, some esoteric material which purported to date back to the Egypt of the pyramids.

Plethon came from Byzantium where an esoteric, neoplatonic tradition still thrived dating back to early Church fathers such as Clement and Origen — a tradition that Rome had repressed. Plethon was able to fire Cosimo with the idea of a lineage of universal but secret lore that went back beyond these early Christians to Plato, Orpheus, Hermes and the Chaldean Oracles. He whispered in Cosimo’s ear of a perennial philosophy of reincarnation and personal encounters with the gods of the hierarchies which might be achieved by ceremony and the ritual singing of the Hymns of Orpheus.

It is this appeal to vivid, personal experience that inspired the Renaissance. Cosimo de Medici employed the scholar Marsilio Ficino to translate Plethon’s documents, starting with Plato, but when Cosimo learned about the Egyptian material, he told Ficino to put Plato aside and translate the Egyptian stuff instead.

The spirit that Plethon introduced into Italy by his translations of the hermetica spread quickly among the cultural elite. Appetite for new experience, together with a fresh and vital relationship with the spirit worlds, is captured on the page by the Italian magus Giordano Bruno. He writes of a love that brings ‘excessive sweat, shrieks which deafen the stars, laments which reverberate in the caves of Hell, tortures which afflict the living spirit with stupor, sighs which make the gods swoon with compassion, and all this for those eyes, for that whiteness, those lips, that hair, that reserve, that little smile, that wryness, that eclipsed Sun, that disgust, that injury and distortion of nature, a shadow, a phantasm, dream, a Circean enchantment put to the service of generation…’

This is a new note in literature.

The literature of the Renaissance is lit up by the stars and planets. The great writers of Renaissance Italy invoked this energy by the active and intelligent use of the imagination. Like Helen Waddell, Frances Yates was not an esotericist — or, if she was, left no hint in her writings — but thanks to her meticulous research and brilliant analysis, and that of the scholars at the Warburg Institute who have followed in her footsteps, we have a detailed understanding of the esoteric discoveries of the Renaissance and of the ways they inspired art and literature. The translations of the hermetic texts by Marsilio Ficino talked of the fashioning of images in esoteric terms: ‘Our spirit, if it has been intent upon the work and upon the stars through imagination and emotion, is joined together with the very spirit of the world and with the rays of the stars through which the world-spirit acts.’ What Ficino is saying is that if you imagine as fully and vividly as you can the spirits of the planets and the stellar gods, then, as a result of this act of imagination, the power of the spirit may flow through you.

Raphael: Madonna and Child.

We saw in the last chapter that the Middle Ages was the great age of magic. Then esoteric thinkers and occultists began to construct images in their minds which gods and spirits could inhabit and make come alive, as once the makers of the temples and Mystery centres of the ancient world had manufactured objects such a statues for disembodied beings to use as bodies. In Italy in the Renaissance artists with esoteric beliefs began to recreate the magical images in their minds with paint and stone.

In the Middle Ages, the dissemination of grimoires had been a wholly underground, sub-cultural activity. Now the more widely published hermetic literature of the Renaissance gave instructions on how to construct talismans designed to draw down influences from the spirit worlds which were taken up by the artists of the day. Hermetic literature explained how occult influences could be more effective if they were constructed of metals appropriate to the spirit being invoked — gold for the god of the sun, for example, silver for the god of the moon. Particular colours, shapes, hieroglyphs and other sigils were revealed afresh as sympathetic to particular disembodied beings.

An art critic has talked of Sandro Botticelli’s ‘predilection for minor tones’ and for lighter colours, which suggests an ethereal quality, as if he is depicting beings from another realm not yet fully materialized. We can see Ficino’s influence on Botticelli’s painting popularly known as the Primavera, which illustrates the process of the creation of matter in terms of the successive emanations of the planetary spheres from the cosmic mind. The Primavera herself has shown a remarkable propensity to live and breathe in the minds of those who have seen the painting ever since.

The neoplatonic artists of the Renaissance believed they were rediscovering ancient secrets. Following Plato they believed that all learning is a process of remembering. Our minds are protrusions of the great central cosmic mind into the material world. Everything that has been experienced or thought in history is held in the memory banks of the cosmic mind — or perhaps, more accurately, lives in a sort of eternal now.

If Plato is right, this book is already inside you!

IT IS WITH THE ITALIAN HIGH RENAISSANCE that we come to the idea of the towering genius — not just Botticelli but Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo. The genius is someone set totally apart from the rest of us by the magnificence and clarity of his or her visions, and it is perhaps appropriate that this flowering took place in Italy because it was a continuation of the tradition of the ecstatic visions of Joachim and St Francis.

Like the saints, the great artists were sometimes mouthpieces for great spiritual beings. According to esoteric tradition the painter Raphael was directly inspired by the Archangel Raphael. The hand that painted the masterpieces was divinely guided.

But there is a stranger and more mysterious tradition — that the individuality who incarnated as Raphael had previously incarnated as John the Baptist. According to Steiner, this explains why there are no major paintings by Raphael of events that took place after the death of John the Baptist. His great masterpieces depicting the Madonna and child with a strange and uniquely compelling quality were in effect painted from memory.

MANY MAGI LIVED IN ITALY IN THE HIGH Renaissance in the time of Leonardo. They often worked within the closed brotherhood of an artist’s studio, where artistic and spiritual progress could be guided together and go hand in hand. For example, the mathematician and Hermeticist Luca Pacioli, who was the first to write openly about the secret formulae behind the Venusian pentangle, was one of Leonardo’s teachers regarding ‘divine proportion’.

Another magus we know had an influence on Leonardo (because Leonardo owned some of his books and mentioned him in his own notebooks) was an architect of an older generation. Leon Battista Alberti was the architect of the Rucellai Palace in Florence, one of the earliest classical buildings in Renaissance Italy, and of the façade of Santa Maria Novella, also in Florence. He was also the author of one of the strangest books in the Italian language: Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, the proto-surreal story of Poliphilo (the title may roughly be translated as ‘the lover of many things in his struggle for love in a dream’).

The hero awakes on the day he is to go on an adventure, but falls into a dream. He pursues his beloved through a strange landscape inhabited by dragons and other monsters, through a labyrinthine course that takes him into many marvellous buildings which are half-stone, half-living organism. The inside of a temple, for example, appears as its viscera. Alberti was obsessed by nature and natural forms and incorporates them in his work in a most unusual way. When we look at, for example, the two versions of the Virgin of the Rocks, this same obsession appears in the spiritually epressive forms of the landscape a clear example of Alberti’s influence on Leonardo.

Illustration from the Hypnerotomachia. Here we may catch an echo of the translation from vegetable to animal life, as taught in the secret history.

The story unfolds with the logic of a dream. On one level the Hypnerotomachia is an architectural manifesto. Alberti is proposing that the new architecture of the Renaissance that he was instrumental in creating should have the logic of a dream. Instead of a slavish and inhibited following of precedent, architects should operate in a new, free state of mind where nothing is forbidden, where architects should let themselves be inspired by the combinations of forms that altered states of consciousness may suggest. Alberti is recommending, then, a kind of controlled thought-experiment as a way of facilitating a new way of thinking — and not just in architecture.

That the channelling of sexual energies is involved becomes clear at the end of the story when the hero is finally united with his beloved in a series of mystic rites in the Temple of Venus. His beloved is asked by the priestess to stir a cistern with a flaming torch. This causes Poliphilo to fall into a trance state. Then a shell-shaped basin full of whale sperm, musk, camphor oil, almond oil and other substances is set alight, doves are sacrificed, and nymphs dance around an altar. When the beautiful beloved is asked to rub the ground around the base of the altar, the whole building convulses as if in an earthquake and a tree bursts out of the top of the altar. Poliphilo and his beloved taste the fruit of this tree. They are transported into an even higher state of consciousness. The volcanic power of libido has been channelled by the priestess-adept so that all prohibitive rules of behaviour, of morality and creativity, even the laws of nature, have been turned upside down.

Perhaps the most mysterious of all the great masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance is the Mona Lisa. Who can explain its power? The great nineteenth-century art critic and esotericist Walter Pater wrote of it: ‘Hers is the head upon which all “the ends of the world are come” and the eye lids are a little weary. It is beauty wrought out from within upon the flesh, the deposit, little cell by cell, of strange thoughts and fantastic reveries and exquisite passions… She is older than the rocks among whom she sits… she has been dead many times and learned the secrets of the grave and has been a diver in deep seas and keeps their fallen day about her…’

Pater is perhaps hinting at what he knows. The Mona Lisa is indeed older than the gods.

We saw earlier how the moon separated from the earth in order to reflect sunlight down to the earth and make human reflection possible. We saw, too, how in 13,000 BC Isis withdrew from the earth to the moon to become mistress of this process of reflection. Now at the beginning of the fifteenth century, after the cosmos had spent aeons working to create the conditions to make possible reflection in the sense that we understand it today, it happened at last. Leonardo’s masterpiece is an icon in human history because it captured the moment this step in the evolution in consciousness took place. In the face of the Mona Lisa we see for the first time the deep joy of someone exploring her inner life. She is free to detach herself from the world of the senses pressing in on her and roam within. She has what J.R.R. Tolkien in another context called ‘an unencumbered, mobile, detached inner eye’.

The Mona Lisa is perhaps the most reproduced image in the history of painting, here in a nineteenth-century engraving. In his Treatise on Painting Leonardo recommends working oneself into a state of receptivity to imaginative imagery in which cracks and stains on old walls can evoke — or invoke — gods and monsters.

The Mona Lisa, then, creates a magical space which the spirit of Isis may inhabit. Of course it almost impossible these days to be alone in the Louvre with the Mona Lisa, but like The Lohan in the British Museum, it was created so that if you commune with it, it will speak to you.

FAR AWAY FROM THE GLITTER AND GRANDEUR of the courts of the Italian Renaissance, in the unsophisticated north of Europe another spirit was making itself felt. At the age of twelve or thirteen a young girl, living in a simple, rustic cottage in France in the heavily wooded Loire Valley, began to hear voices and see visions. The Archangel Michael appeared to Joan and told her she would have spirit guides. She was reluctant to go along with this, saying she would rather spin by her mother’s side. But the voices became increasingly insistent. They told her of her mission. When an invading English army seemed about to take the city of Orleans, they told her to go to the nearby town of Chinon to find the Dauphin, the heir to the throne of France, and from there lead him to be crowned at Rheims Cathedral.

Joan was still little more than a child when she arrived at the court of the Dauphin. He played a trick on her, letting a courtier sit on the throne and pretend to be him, but Joan saw through it and addressed the Dauphin directly. Convinced by Joan, he equipped her with a white horse and a suit of white armour. She wore it in the saddle for six days and nights without respite.

Joan saw a vision of a sword hidden in a church. The sword she described — with three distinctive crosses on it — was discovered hidden behind the altar of the nearby Church of St Catherine de Fierbois.

As sometimes happens in history, when great beings from the spirit worlds bring their powers to bear on a particular individual, she could not be denied. Nothing could stop her even though the odds against her looked overwhelming.

When on 28 April 1429 Joan arrived outside Orleans, now occupied by the enemy, the English troops retreated before the young girl and her small band of supporters. Only five hundred of them defeated an English army of thousands in a way which even her captains described as miraculous.

At Joan’s urging the Dauphin was crowned King of France at Rheims. Her mission had been accomplished in less than three months.

It is difficult to think of a clearer example of the influence of the spirit worlds on the course of world history. George Bernard Shaw, who was deeply interested in esoteric philosophy, would write that ‘behind events there are evolutionary forces which transcend our ordinary needs and which use individuals for purposes far transcending that of keeping those individuals alive and prosperous and respectable and safe and happy’.

Betrayed by her own people, Joan was sold to the English. She was questioned closely on her voices. She said they were sometimes accompanied by visions and bright lights, that they advised her, warned her and even gave her detailed instructions, often several times a day. Joan was also able to ask their advice and would receive detailed answers to her questions.

Such easy familiarity, such deep and detailed communications with the spirit worlds outside the aegis of the Church was characterized as witchcraft and on 30 May 1430 Joan was burned at the stake in the marketplace in Rouen in northern France. An English soldier turned to another and said, ‘We have burnt a saint.’

It was as if the great spiritual powers that had made her inviolable had now deserted her and all of a sudden the forces of opposition rushed on her together in order to overwhelm her.

The English thought of her as the enemy, but according to the perspectives of the secret history it would be England that most benefited from the divinely inspired actions of Joan of Arc. France and England had been locked in conflict for hundreds of years and, though at the time of Joan England had the upper hand militarily, it was dominated culturally, in its language and literature, by the French. Without Joan’s severing of France and England, the particularly English contribution to world history — the psychological realism of Shakespeare and the detached and tolerant philosophy of Francis Bacon — would not have been possible.

THE PAINTER ALBRECHT DÜRER WAS returning to Germany following a trip to Italy, where he had been initiated into the esoteric lore of the painter’s guilds. Weird visions of the Apocalypse would begin to inspire his woodcuts. He would also paint a portrait of himself as an initiate, holding a flowering thistle, sparkling with dew, the sweat of the stars, as a sign that his organs of spiritual vision were opening up on a new dawn.

On the way he stopped by the wayside to paint a clump of turf. This watercolour was the first still life ever painted. There is nothing leading up to it in the history of art. Before Dürer no one had really looked at a rock and a clump of grass in the way we take for granted today.

Dürer’s journey should also be taken as a sign that the impulse for the evolution of human consciousness was moving to the north of Europe. Northerners would find themselves at odds with the more narrowly Catholic countries of the south. New political developments saw the rise of newly powerful northern states which would become vehicles for new forms of consciousness.

In The Zelator by David Ovason my friend Mark Hedsel is quoted as giving a fascinating analysis of the iconography of the Fool, whose image appears in the frontispiece to the first edition of Gargantua and Pantagruel in 1532 and also, of course, in the Tarot. The Fool is following ‘the Nameless Way’. The stick across his shoulder represents the vegetable dimension of his being that lies between the spiritual part and the animal part down below, where the dog clawing at his leg represents unredeemed and corrupted animal elements. The unredeemed part of the vegetable body is represented by the burden carried in the sack. His three-pointed hat alludes to the higher bodies he has yet to evolve — the transformed animal, vegetable and mineral bodies — and his upward gaze represents his aspiration towards these. If his beard represents a downward tug, the upward swoop of his hat shows the Third Eye on the point of opening.

FRANÇOIS RABELAIS, BORN TOWARDS THE end of the fifteenth century, walked the narrow streets of Chinon some fifty or sixty years after Joan’s footfalls had died away. His life and work is animated by the spirit of the Troubadors. While Dante, the southerner, had written with a yearning for the spiritual heights, all Rabelais’s delight seems, at first glance at least, to be in the material world. His great novel Gargantua and Pantagruel tells stories of giants rampaging around the world causing havoc because of their gigantic appetites. The joy in everyday objects that had been characteristic of the Troubadors was given a humorous new twist by Rabelais. Gargantua contains a long list of objects you might want to use to wipe your bottom that includes a lady’s velvet mask, a page’s bonnet, feathered in the Swiss style, a cat, sage, fennel, spinach leaves, sheets, curtains, a chicken, a cormorant and an otter.

The long struggle to wake up to the material world that had begun with Noah is finally completed and the result is sheer delight. Love of light and laughter, food and drink, wrestling and love-making drives the densely packed, punchy prose. In the pages of Rabelais, the world is not the terrible place the Church has made it out to be. The Church’s world-denying philosophy is shown to be unhealthy. ‘Laugh and face it out boldly whatever it may be,’ said Rabelais. Laughter, jolliness and good humour were a cure for both mind and body. Both could be transformed.

Rabelais loves the world and in his writing love of objects and love of words go hand in hand. A profusion of things and the coining of new words come tumbling off the page. But there is a sly initiatic undercurrent for those who wish to look for it. Rabelais is a mystic but not in the otherworldly style of the Middle Ages.

Troubadors had written of the madness of being in love and some of them had written of themselves as fools and madmen. By this they meant that they had found new ways into the spirit worlds, and that when they returned they saw life upside down and inside out.

For the Troubadors, then, everyday reality had looked very different, and Rabelais now turned this new way of seeing into a narrative, creating a subversive style of humour that would become characteristic of initiatic writers such as Jonathan Swift, Voltaire, Lewis Carroll and André Breton. Not only does Rabelais find that he is able to rampage around the spirit worlds with new-found freedom, but when he returns to the material world he is unable to take people’s assumptions about it, their conventions, their morality, seriously. In his story his heroes found the Abbey of Thelema, which has the instruction ‘Do what thou wilt’ inscribed above its gate. Rabelais envisioned a company of initiates whose consciousness is so transformed that they are beyond good and evil.

At the end of Gargantua and Pantagruel, after many voyages of exploration over many seas, during which they have seen many wonders, battled with cat-people, armies of sausages and windmill-eating giants, our heroes finally reach a mysterious island. The twentieth-century alchemist Fulcanelli explained that by this arrival Rabelais means to say that his heroes are entering the Matrix.

Initiatic humour enlivens this startlingly dark image of the Fool by Jacob Jordaens. Like his fellow Dutch artists Rubens and Rembrandt, Jordaens was deeply immersed in the Cabala. The fool’s cap mimics the Hebrew letter shin, which inserted in the Tetragrammaton, or sacred name of God, to yield the name of Jesus. It also symbolizes, in its three prongs, the spiritualizing of the three bodies of man — animinal, vegetable and mineral.

They are led to an initiation chamber in an underground temple. Stories of going underground should always alert us to the fact that occult physiology is being referred to. The journey underground is a journey inside the body.

In the centre and deepest part of the temple stands a sacred fountain of life. Fulcanelli pointed out that Rabelais allowed his esoteric, alchemical interests to come to the surface in this description of the fountain with its seven columns dedicated to the seven planets. Each planetary god carries the appropriate precious stones, metals and alchemical symbols. A figure of Saturn hangs over one column with a scythe and a crane at his feet. Most tellingly Mercury is described as ‘fixed, firm and malleable’ — which is to say semi-solidified in the process of alchemical transmutation.

What flows from this fountain and what our pilgrims — which is how we should think of them, we now realize — drink is wine. ‘Drinking is the distinguishing character of humanity,’ writes Rabelais, ‘I mean drinking cool, delicious wine, for you must know, my beloved, that by wine we become divine, for it is in its power to fill the spirit with truth, learning and philosophy.’ In some oriental occult physiology wine is used as a symbol of the secretions within the brain that stream into consciousness in ecstatic states. In the twentieth century some Indian scientists went so far as to suggest that ‘wine’ in Vedic texts referred to what we today call dimethyltryptamine, the enzyme that streams down from the higher regions of the cerebellum that we have already touched on in our discussion of shamanism. Swami Yogananda likewise talked of neuro-physiological secretions he called ‘blissful amrita’, the pulsating nectar of immortality that brings with it moments of heightened consciousness, and enables us to perceive directly the great ideas that weave together the material world.

‘Oh Lord,’ wrote the Sufi master Sheikh Abdullah Ansari, ‘intoxicate me with the wine of Thy love.’

20. THE GREEN ONE BEHIND THE WORLDS

Columbus • Don Quixote • William Shakespeare, Francis Bacon and the Green One

WHEN IN 1492 CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS reached the mouth of the Orinoco he believed he had found the Gihon, one of the four rivers that flow out of Eden. He wrote home: ‘There are great indications suggesting the proximity of the earthly Paradise, for not only does it correspond in mathematical position with the opinions of the holy and learned theologians, but all other sages concur to make it probable.’

The impulse to discover everything about the world that would inspire the scientific revolution was also inspiring men to voyages of exploration. Never had wonder at the material world been so strong.

Hopes of finding a New World were inextricably connected with expectations of a new Golden Age, but the gold found turned out to be the more earthly kind.

Much has been made of Columbus’s connections with the Knights Templar. He was married to a daughter of a former Grand Master of the Knights of Christ, a Portuguese order that had grown up after the Templars had been driven underground. It’s been noted as significant that Columbus navigated ships whose sails carried the distinctive red cross ‘patte’ of the Templars. But the reality is that the Knights of Christ did not pursue the same independent commerce with the spirit worlds that had pushed the Papacy to such desperate measures in the case of the Templars. As with other later crypto-Templar orders such as the Knights of Malta, Rome was here adopting the powerfully glamorous mystique of the original Knights Templar, and using it for its own purposes.

Columbus wrote to Queen Isabella expressing hope that he would find a ‘barrel of gold’ that would finance the reconquest of Jerusalem, just as she and her husband, Ferdinand, had recently managed the reconquest of Granada, bringing Spain back to the Church. Columbus did not know that that gold would be needed to fund a war against an enemy nearer home and fast growing in strength — an enemy with much greater claims to be called the spiritual heir of the Knights Templar.

The battle lines for control of the world were being drawn, not only geopolitically, but in the spirit worlds, too. It would be a battle for the whole spirit of humanity.

CERVANTES AND SHAKESPEARE WERE pretty nearly exact contemporaries.

Don Quixote, the elderly knight who tilts at windmills, believing them to be giants, and who sees a squat, garlic-chewing peasant girl as a beautiful, aristocratic maiden out of tales of chivalry, called Dulcinea, might at first seem like a character in a rather knock-about comedy. But as the story progresses its tone changes and the reader senses some strange magic at work.

On one level Don Quixote is trying to insist on the old chivalric ideals of the Middle Ages as they pass away. On another he is entering his ‘second childhood’, harking back to a time when imaginings seemed so much more real. The point is, of course, that in esoteric philosophy imaginings are more real. Some Spanish scholars have argued on the basis of a close textual analysis that Don Quixote is an allegorical commentary on the cabalistic Zohar (or Book of Splendour).

At one point in the story Don Quixote and his down-to-earth servant Sancho Panza are tricked by Merlin into believing that the beautiful Dulcinea has been bewitched so that she looks like a squat peasant girl. Apparently the only way she can regain her beautiful form is if Sancho Panza submits to a beating of 3300 lashes. We shall return to examine the significance of the number thirty-three shortly.

An account of an initiation lies at the heart of the novel. It marks the point when simple-minded comedy gives way to something more troubling and ambiguous. This is the strange episode of the Don’s descent into the Cave of Montesinos…

Sancho Panza tied a rope a hundred fathoms long to his master’s doublet, then lowered him through the mouth of the cave, Don Quixote hacking his way through brambles, briars and fig trees, dislodging crows and rooks.

At the bottom of the cave the Don could not stop himself falling into a deep, deep sleep. He awoke to found himself in a beautiful meadow. But unlike in a dream he could think reasonably…

He approached a vast palace of crystal where he was met by a strange old man in a green satin hood, who introduced himself as Montesinos. This man, evidently the genius of the transparent palace, told him he had long been expected. He took the Don to a downstairs chamber and showed him a knight lying on a marble sepulchre. This knight had been bewitched by Merlin, Montesinos told him. Furthermore, he said, Merlin had prophesied that he, Don Quixote, would break the spell, and so would revive knight errantry…

Don Quixote returned to the surface and asked Sancho Panza how long he had been gone. Told not more than hour, Don Quixote said this could not be, that he had spent three days underground. He said he saw what he saw, touched what he touched.

You’re saying the most foolish things imaginable, said Sancho Panza.

The whole novel is a play on enchantment, illusion, disillusion — and a deeper level of enchantment. It reads like a series of parables in which the meaning is never explicitly stated and never quite clear. But the deepest level of meaning has to do with the role of imagination in forming the world. Don Quixote is not just a buffoon. He is somebody who has the strongest desire to have his innermost questions answered. He is being shown that material reality is just one of many layers of illusions, and that it is our deepest imaginings that form them. The implication is that if we can locate the secret source of our imaginings, we can control the flow of nature. By the end of the novel the Don has subtlely changed his surrounding