Accompanying the teaching concerning unitive consciousness, the Perennial Tradition also instructs in the attainment of the Unitive State, complete oneness 1 with God.
It's difficult for us to understand why there would be a fuss about a teaching concerning a "unitive state." We find it almost impossible to imagine that any mere teaching could contain a power that would be dangerous. It's necessary for us, therefore, to experience the full impact of the peril surrounding this teaching:A number of persons within the Perennial Tradition have been put to death because they realized and taught oneness with God.
The first of these was Socrates, who was falsely charged with corrupting the youth of Athens through such teachings as a spiritual death of the physical body and a rebirth experience in which the person achieved realization of oneness with Deity. An Athenian court found Socrates guilty and sentenced him to death.
Several centuries later, a Perennialist teacher named Jesus was murdered by Jewish and Roman authorities in Jerusalem, who claimed that Jesus was a terrorist and blasphemed by claiming to be one with God.
"I and the Father are One."
"Can you say to the one whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world, 'You are blaspheming' because I said, 'I am the Son of God?' If I fail to do what my Father does, then do not believe me. But if I do, even though you have no faith in me personally, then believe in the things that I do. Then you may come to know and realize that the Father is in me and I am in the Father."
"I assure you that the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. What the Son does is always modeled on what the Father does, for the Father loves the Son and shows him everything that he does himself."
In the ninth century after the death of Jesus, a Perennialist teacher named Mansur Al-Hallaj (858-922 CE) made statements concerning oneness with God.
"Your Spirit mixed with my Spirit little by little, by turns, through reunions and abandons. And now I am Yourself, Your existence is my own, and it is also my will."Hallaj experienced mystical awareness which he attributed to being in a state of oneness with God. During these mystical experiences he uttered Ana al-Haqq, meaning "I am the Truth," or "I am God." Reactionary Muslims charged Hallaj with blasphemy: claiming to be God. He was incarcerated for eleven years in a Baghdad prison, then tortured and publicly executed.
"I have seen my Lord with the eye of my heart, and I said: 'Who are You?' He said: 'You.'"
"I am He Whom I love; He Whom I love is I; we are two souls co-inhabiting one body. If you see me you see Him and if you see Him you see me."
|"Despite the soul's fall there lingers in it, although in a condition of atrophy and enchantment, a residual germ of that divine principle which once wholly actuated it; a germ capable of being so stimulated into activity as to raise the personal consciousness even to the point of unity and identity with the Universal Mind and through the healing efficacy of that principle's transmuting potencies, to effect such an organic change in the psychical, and even the physical parts of our present frail and imperfect nature as will bring them into a divinised condition."|
We must take the statements of Socrates, Plato, Jesus, Hallaj, and other Perennialist sages seriously--that is, literally and personally. Their words don't refer to some sham prayer meeting emotional uplift that moves us to enthuse: "I feel so at one with the Divine."
These savants refer to a tangible experience of unity--oneness--with God, an entering into God's essence, an identity and participation in the Divine Life. This is a discernible experience of merging with our Higher Consciousness, in which God is literally manifesting through us and we through Him.
We can feel the full impact of this astounding teaching if we draw out some of its implications. In regard to persons who have worked to realize unity with the Divine:
- God is actually expressing Himself through those persons. He is realizing himself through what those persons are able to understand and do.
- These persons experience God working through them. The Divine is looking out through their eyes; the Divine is manifesting through their actions. As a Hermetic psalm states: "Thy Reason sings through me Thy praises."
- God as the One manifests through all reality. Participation in Him means that realized persons live in All beings, that their minds are an aspect of the Divine Mind.
- By attaining unity they are reabsorbed into the Divine One from which they had gone out when born into a terrestrial body.
"A man should make all haste to escape from earth to attain unity with God. We escape by becoming as like God as possible. We attain unity with God by becoming holy, just, and wise. The man who desires assimilation in the divine must possess the wisdom of virtue." 2
Plato, Theaetetus, (176b)
Throughout the centuries, Perennialist teachers have taught initiates how to realize oneness with God:
- Jesus spoke of union with God: "I pray also that . . . all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you." (John 17:20)
- Paul taught that we attain unity with God precisely as Jesus was one with the Father."In Jesus the Anointed One, all the fullness of Deity lived in bodily form." (Colossians 2:9)
In God "we live and move and have our being." (Acts 17, 28)
"To be absent from the body, is to be present with the Lord." (II Corinthians 5:8)
- For Iamblichus (270-330 CE), the soul of the theurgist becomes a true "partner" (koinônos) with God, not merely a passive partaker of the divine nature.
- Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464 CE) taught that the only capability which conduces to union with the Divine is likeness to God.
"I have attained the capability of experiencing my own essence within myself, and for me this experience becomes enlarged into another, that in me and through me the universal essence expresses itself, or, in other words, knows itself. Now I can no longer feel myself to be a thing among things; I can only feel myself to be a form in which the universal essence has its life. At any moment I can have the higher experience that I am the form in which the universal essence looks upon itself. Then I myself am transformed from a thing among things into a form of the universal essence--and within me the knowledge of things is changed into an utterance of the nature of things. It is only in creating this higher cognition that man develops his nature, and only through the higher cognition of man does the nature of things come into actual existence."
Nicholas of Cusa, On Searching for God
- Meister Eckhart states in his book The Aristocrat:"Neither the One, nor being, nor God, nor rest, nor blessedness, nor satisfaction is to be found where distinctions are. Be therefore that One so that you may find God. And of course, if you are wholly that One, you shall remain so, even where distinctions are. Different things will all be parts of that One to you and will no longer stand in your way."
The Perennial Tradition teaches the novice how to make the strenuous mental, psychological, and spiritual effort through which she can achieve an expansion of her ordinary consciousness into a widening unity with her Higher Self. She becomes aware of something divine in her being and turns the full powers of her mind, her will, her emotions, and her understanding to realize this Higher Consciousness in increasing increments with the goal of comprehending and merging with the One.
The Spiritual Baptism
The way to attain oneness with God is through a "spiritual baptism" as practiced by such Perennialist masters as Hermes, Plato, Jesus, Paul, Clement of Alexandria, Iamblicus, and Proclus. When the Perennial Tradition became fully perceptible once again in the West--after having worked invisibly in Eastern and Western mystical strains to avoid the deadly attentions of orthodox Islam and orthodox Christianity--such groups as the Cathars and other Medieval and Renaissance mystics re-discovered the teaching of this "spiritual baptism."
All embodiments of the Perennial Tradition instruct in the process of Regeneration, the mystic birth, death, and resurrection familiar to all the Mystery schools and communities of ancient times. "Rising again from the dead" was an integral part of the universal transcendental drama which was called the Mysteries or Spiritual Baptism. From the most ancient records of the Mysteries in Egypt, Greece, and India, to the teachings of Hermes, Plato, Jesus, and Iamblicus, the teaching concerning a spiritual baptism of resurrection is essentially the same. The initiate was made to partake mystically in passing through death to life and the resultant union with divinity became the promise of the person's own passage through death to an eternal life beyond.
We'll explore specific depictions of this spiritual baptism in Hermes, Plato, and Jesus of Nazareth and then examine the essential elements of spiritual baptism in other Perennialist teachings.
The Hermetic Spiritual Baptism
The Hermetic teachings describe a spiritual baptism in which humans attain godhood through knowledge: τουτοεστι το αγαθον τελος τοις γνωσιν εσχθκοσι, θεωθηναι. Hermetic baptism is a spiritual regeneration and vision (θεα) of God, while still in the body.
"This Rebirth or Regeneration was, and is, the mystery of the Spiritual Birth or Birth from Above, the object of the greater mysteries, even as in the lesser mysteries, the subject of the instructions was concerning the Birth from Below, the secret of genesis, or how a man comes into physical birth. The one was the birth or genesis into matter, the other the essential birth or palingenesis, 3 the means of re-becoming a pure spiritual being.
"It is the mystic rite of the' laying on of hands,' the rite of invocation by Hermes, the hierophant or father on earth, whereby the Hands of Blessing of the Great Initiator, the Good Mind, are laid upon the head of Tat, the candidate, his son. These Hands of Blessing are no physical hands, but Powers, Rays of the spiritual Sun, even as they are symbolized in the well-known Egyptian frescoes of the Atem-cult. Each Ray is a Gnostic Power, the light and virtue of which drive out the darkness of the soul's vices and prepare the way for transforming the fleshly body into the true ray-like or star like body of God-the augoeides or astroeides. . .
"This mystic rite of Gnostic initiation brings the God in man to birth; he is at first, however, but a baby God, who as yet neither hears nor sees, but only feels. And so when the rite is duly ended, Tat begs as a great privilege to be told the marvellous Song of the Powers of which he has read in his studies, and which his father, Hermes, is said to have heard when he came to the Eighth Sphere or Stage in his ascent of the Holy Mountain or Sacred Stairs.
I would, O father, hear the praise-giving with hymn which thou dost say thou heardest when thou wert at the Eight.
"In answer to Tat's request Hermes replies that it is quite true the Shepherd, the Divine Mind, at his own still higher initiation into the first grade of masterhood, foretold that he should hear this Heaven-Song; and he commends Tat for hastening to 'strike his tent' now that he has been made pure. That is to say, the final rite of purification has now been operated in Tat, the powers of the cathartic or purifying virtues have descended upon him, so that he now has the power to 'strike his tent,' or free himself from the trammels of the body of vice, and so rise from the tomb which has hitherto imprisoned his 'daimonic soul,' as the Pythian Oracle says of Plotinus.
"But, adds Hermes, it is not quite as Tat supposes. There is no one Song of the Powers written in human speech and kept secret; no manuscript, no oral tradition, of some physically uttered hymn.
"The Shepherd, Mind of all masterhood, hath not passed on to me more than hath been writ down, for full well did He know that I should of myself be able to learn all, and see all things.
"He left to me the making of fair things. Wherefore the Powers within me, e'en as they are in all, break into song.
"The Song can be sung in many modes and many tongues, according to the inspiration of the illumined singer. The man who is reborn becomes a psalmist and a poet, for now is he tuned in harmony with the Great Harmony, and cannot do otherwise than sing God's praises. He becomes a maker of hymns and is no longer a repeater of the hymns of others.
"But Tat persists; his soul is filled with longing to hear some echo of the Great Song. 'Father, I wish to hear; I long to know these things!'
"And so Hermes is at last persuaded, and proceeds to give him a model of such praise-giving which he now can use in substitution for the prayers he has previously employed, and which were more suited to one in the state of faith.
"Hermes bids Tat calm himself and so await in reverent silence the hearing of the potent theurgic outpouring of the whole nature of the man in praise of God, which shall open a path throughout all Nature straight to the Divine. This is no ordinary hymn of praise but a theurgic operation or gnostic act. Therefore, Hermes commands:
Be still, my son! Hear the praise-giving that keeps the soul in tune, Hymn of Rebirth -- a hymn I would not have thought fit so readily to tell, had'st thou not reached the end of all.
"Not, of course, the end of all Gnosis, but the end of the probationary path of purification and faith, which is the beginning of the Gnosis. Such hymns were taught only to those who had been made pure; not to those who were slaves of the world or even to them who were still struggling with their lower vices, but only to those who had got themselves ready and 'made the thought in them a stranger to the world-illusion.' (ii, 220)
"Wherefore," says Hermes, 'this is not taught, but is kept hid in silence.'
"It is a hymn that must be used ceremonially at sunrise and sunset.
Thus then, my son, stand in a place uncovered to the sky, facing the west, about the sinking of the setting sun, and make thy worship; so in like manner, too, when he doth rise, with face unto the east.
"And for those who cannot perfect the rite on all planes, let them stand naked, with all the garments of false opinion stripped from them, naked in the midst of High Heaven's clear sphere, facing straight with the Spiritual Sun, or the Eye of Mind that illuminates the Great Sphere of our spiritual nature in stillness of the purified intelligence.
"And so Hermes, before he sings what is called 'The Secret Hymnody,' once more utters the solemn injunction:
"'Now, son, be still!'
The material below requires your earnest, focused attention, so it is suggested that you read aloud the words to yourself, participating personally in this theurgic rite while meditating on the meaning of the words and images.
THE SECRET HYMNODY
Let every nature of the world receive the utterance of my hymn!
Open, thou Earth! Let every bolt of the Abyss be drawn for me! Stir not, ye Trees!
I am about to hymn creation's Lord, both All and One.
Ye Heavens open, and ye Winds stay still; and let God's Deathless Sphere receive my word! For I will sing the praise of Him who founded all; who fixed the Earth, and hung up Heaven, and gave command that Ocean should afford sweet water to the Earth, to both those parts that are inhabited, and those that are not, for the support and use of every man; who made the Fire to shine for gods and men for every act.
Let us together all give praise to Him, sublime above the Heavens, of every nature Lord! 'Tis He who is the Eye of Mind; may He accept the praise of these my Powers!
Ye Powers that are within me, hymn the One and All, sing with my Will, Powers all that are within me!
O blessed Gnosis, by thee illumined, hymning through thee the Light that mind alone can see, I joy in joy of Mind.
Sing with me praises, all ye Powers!
Sing praise, my Self-control; sing thou through me, my Righteousness, the praises of the Righteous; sing thou, my Sharing-all, the praises of the All; through me sing, Truth, Truth's praises!
Sing thou, O Good, the Good! O Life and Light, from us to you our praises flow!
Father, I give Thee thanks, to Thee Thou Energy of all my Powers; I give Thee thanks, O God, Thou Power of all my Energies.
Thy Reason sings through me Thy praises. Take back through me the All into Thy Reason--my reasonable oblation!
Thus cry the Powers in me. They sing Thy praise, Thou All; they do Thy Will. From THEE, Thy Will; To Thee, the All. Receive from all their reasonable oblation. The All that is in us, O Life, preserve; O Light, illumine it; O God, inspirit it!
It is Thy Mind that plays the Shepherd to Thy Word, O Thou Creator, Bestower of the Spirit upon all.
For Thou art God; Thy Man thus cries to Thee, through Fire, through Air, through Earth, through Water, and through Spirit, through Thy creatures.
'Tis from Thy Aeon 4 I have found Praise-giving; and in Thy Will, the object of my search, have I found Rest (ii, 230-232).
G. R. S. Mead, The Hymns of Hermes, Echoes from the Gnosis
Plato's Conception of Philosophy as the Practice of Death and Rebirth
In the Phaedo, Socrates (Plato) reveals the secret nature of philosophia as spiritual death and rebirth."I hold that the true votary of philosophy is likely to be misunderstood by other men; they do not perceive that his whole practice is of death and dying. . . . When the soul exists in herself, and is released from the body and the body is released from the soul--death, surely, is nothing else than this. . . . In matters of this sort philosophers, above all other men, may be observed in every sort of way to dissever the soul from its communion with the body. . . .
"When does the soul attain truth? . . . Must not true existence be revealed to her in contemplation, if at all? . . . And contemplation is best when the mind is gathered into herself and none of these things trouble her--neither sounds nor sights nor pain nor any pleasure--when she takes leave of the body, and has as little as possible to do with it, when she has no bodily sense or desire, but is aspiring after true being. . . .
"If we would have pure knowledge of anything we must be quit of the body--the soul in herself must behold things in themselves; and then we shall attain the wisdom which we desire, and of which we say that we are lovers. . . .
"True philosophers. . . are always occupied in the practice of dying. . . ."
If we take that last statement seriously, we're sure to experience psychic upheaval. Philosophia is the practice of dying!
One of the things which makes it difficult to understand this teaching is that it occurs in the context of Socrates' own experience of final physical death. So it's easy to think that when Socrates speaks of death, he means only the cessation of bodily functions.
But as with all esoteric Perennialist teachings, when interpreted in an unexamined manner, using commonplace meanings, it doesn't make sense. It would be absurd for Socrates to say that seekers of wisdom are always occupied in the practice of dying if what he means by dying is physical death.
What Plato is referring to is the teaching about "dying before you die" which we have seen to be one of the central concepts of the Perennial Tradition. Philosophia, the love of and the search for wisdom, is the actual practice of learning to leave the body and live in the soul, the spiritual body.
This dying Plato refers to is not a simple concept to understand or an activity easily practiced, since it contains several levels of meaning. As a preparatory discipline, authentic dying consists in giving up those things which enchain the spirit, divide its interest, and deflect it on the road to Reality--whether these are possessions, habits, friends, interests, hatreds, or desires. Perennialists through the centuries have described how they found it necessary to die to self-love and to all the foolish interests in which their surface consciousness was steeped. They called this purgation or mortification and is the first phase of the regeneration process delineated in the Hermetic tradition.
"This dying has many degrees, and so has this life. A man might die a thousand deaths in one day and find at once a joyful life corresponding to each of them. . . . The stronger the death the more powerful and thorough is the corresponding life; the more intimate the death, the more inward is the life. Each life brings strength, and strengthens to a harder death. When a man dies to a scornful word, bearing it in God's name, or to some inclination inward or outward, acting or not acting against his own will, be it in love or grief, in word or act, in going or staying; or if he denies his desires of taste or sight, or makes no excuses when wrongfully accused; or anything else, whatever it may be, to which he has not yet died, it is harder at first to one who is unaccustomed to it and unmortified than to him who is mortified."
Tauler. The Inner Way
In philosophia, "dying's" second level of meaning involves the actual practice of learning to leave the physical body and live in the spiritual body.
"Do we believe there is such a thing as death? . . .
"Is it not the separation of soul and body? And when the soul exists in herself, and is released from the body and the body is released from the soul--death, surely, is nothing else than this?
"Just so, he replied. . . . "Then must not true existence be revealed to her [the soul] in contemplation, if at all?
"And contemplation is best when the mind is gathered into herself and none of these things trouble her--neither sounds nor sights nor pain nor any pleasure,--when she takes leave of the body, and has as little as possible to do with it, when she has no bodily sense or desire, but is aspiring after true being?
"Plato said: 'When freed from my body I beheld luminous spheres.' . . . Of himself, Plato said that in certain of his spiritual conditions he would shed his body and become free from matter. Then he would see light and splendors within his essence. He would ascend to that all-encompassing divine cause, and would seem to be located and suspended in it, beholding a mighty light in that lofty and divine place."
Shihab al-Din al-Suhrawardi, The Wisdom of Illuminism
The Spiritual Baptism Within Esoteric Christianity
From several extraordinary sources, it appears that Jesus practiced a secret spiritual "baptism" with specially chosen aspirants. In the Gospel of Mark (chapter 14) we come upon a strange passage describing what happened in the garden of Gethsemene as Jesus was praying and then arrested by the Jewish scribes and elders."Then all the disciples deserted Jesus and made their escape. There happened to be a young man among Jesus' followers who wore nothing but a linen shroud about his body. They seized him, but he left the shroud in their hands and took to his heels stark naked."
In trying to make sense of this strange statement, we must go to the researches of a biblical scholar named Morton Smith. In 1958 Smith, then a graduate student in Theology at Columbia University, was invited to catalogue the manuscript holdings in the library of the Mar Saba monastery, located twelve miles south of Jerusalem. Smith discovered a copy of a letter written by Clement of Alexandria. In the letter Clement mentions not the familiar canonical Gospel of Mark, but a different, secret gospel that Mark had written in Alexandria. Clement said that after Peter's death, Mark had brought his original gospel to Alexandria and had written a "more spiritual gospel for the use of those who were being perfected." Clement says this text was kept by the Alexandrian church for use only in the initiation into "the great mysteries" as it would "lead the hearers into the innermost sanctuary of that truth hidden."
Clement quotes from the Secret Gospel of Mark the tale of a young man who, like Lazarus, was raised from the dead by Jesus and who later came to Jesus "wearing a linen shroud over his naked body." Clement quotes the Secret Gospel of Mark as stating that Jesus spent the whole night teaching the young man "the mystery of the kingdom of God."
Morton Smith spent a decade examining this Secret Gospel of Mark and finally came to a remarkable conclusion concerning the special rite of psychic immersion into a new realm of being.
"Jesus could admit his followers to the kingdom of God, and he could do it in some special way, so that they were not there merely by anticipation, nor by virtue of belief and obedience, nor by some other figure of speech, but were really, actually, in." Morton Smith, The Secret Gospel
What we have, then, is a clear indication that Jesus--and his authentic followers--practiced a baptismal initiation rite in which they "immersed" aspirants into a new realm (kingdom) of Higher Consciousness. Through initiation, neophytes came into contact with an inner awareness of a Higher World--their Real Self.
It is only after entering into the search for the unitive state that one can begin to discern the authentic parts of the New Testament and other genuine spiritual literature. It makes it possible to discriminate between what is real and what is concocted. Only that which speaks to a dying to self and re-birth to a Higher Consciousness is understood to be genuine.
In all descriptions of spiritual baptism, it is clear that the initiate is placed in an altered state of consciousness as he experiences spiritual death and rebirth. Gaining entry into the unitive state through spiritual baptism is a highly advanced power and is possible only if a person can achieve a higher trance state and if that person develops advanced understanding and attainment.
The person initiated begins to experience a force kindled within him, his true spirit. A new being has entered him and become active in his life. Forces slumbering within are awakened; he begins to experience inspiration from a Higher Source and feels the necessity to act in such a manner that he can share in the life of others. Spiritual transformation--re-birth--has occurred, bringing about a change in that part of him that is open to "inspiration," the voice of "the teacher within."
The Essential Elements of Spiritual Baptism
Perennialist teachings concerning spiritual baptism explicate extraordinary dimensions of key concepts:
- Second death
- Resurrection: rebirth, palingenesis, metamorphosis
- Baptism through trance induction
The Meaning of Death
At the heart of the mysteries was the allegory of the death and resurrection of an incarnated god, known by different names in different cultures: in Egypt he was Osiris, in Greece Dionysus, in Asia Minor Attis, in Syria Adonis, in Italy Bacchus, in Persia Mithras. The name "Osiris-Dionysus" was sometimes used to denote his universal and composite nature. As we examine various references to the death of the incarnated god in ancient Egyptian, Chaldean, and Greek Mystery writings, we come upon a concept of death which is entirely at variance with the meaning in ordinary interpretations of philosophic and religious thought. Death was seen as the descent of the soul into the terrestrial realm, the immersion of the Higher Self in the "tomb" of the earthly body.
In ancient Egyptian writings, Osiris, the Father, is assigned the functions, prerogatives and sovereignty of the "king of the dead." He is hailed as the Ruler of the Underworld, or as Lord of Amenta. As we examine these writings in detail it becomes evident that the Egyptian Amenta and the Greek Hades are terms referring to the terrestrial plane. Osiris, the incarnating deity, is indeed the king in the realm of the dead. For humans are the dead, and the god within us has come to rule this kingdom, according to the arcane meaning of Egyptian, Chaldean, and Greek teachings.
"The earth was the coffin of Osiris, the coffin of Amenta . . . The buried Osiris represented the god in matter . . . The soul is now dwelling in 'the grave which we call the body.'"
Gerald Massey, Ancient Egypt, the Light of the World
In the Egyptian Mystery writings we find Osiris referred to as the god who "descended into Hades, was dead and buried" in Amenta. Amenta, Tanenet, Aukert, Shekhem, Abydos, Tattu were designations for earth as the place of burial for the incarnate soul. Osiris-Dionysus was seen as the symbol of the initiate in the Mystery rituals, God made flesh, the immortal Spirit embodied in human flesh.
The Egyptians called the coffin "the chest of the living." The shrine in the Egyptian temples, representing the vessel of salvation, was in the form of a funeral chest, the front side of which was removed so that the god might be seen.
Plato taught that the soul, until purified by philosophy, "suffers death through this union with the body."
"But indeed, as you say also, life is a grievous thing. For I should not wonder if Euripides spoke the truth when he says: 'Who knows whether to live is not to die, and to die is not to live?' And we perhaps are in reality dead. For I have heard from one of the wise that we are now dead; and that the body is our sepulchre; but that the part of the soul in which the desires are contained is of such a nature that it can be persuaded and hurled upward and downwards."
The soul was seen by the Egyptians and Greeks as possessing a composite nature. It was related to the eternal world as it emanated from God, partaking of Divinity. It also had connection with the phenomenal world through incarnation, subject to carnal passions. In the ancient Mysteries, to incarnate was to be plunged into the condition of bodily existence. The soul dwells in the body as in a prison or a grave. "Death" was terrestrial embodiment, comprised of two aspects: waking and sleeping, living and dying. The earthly life is a dream rather than a reality. When this esoteric knowledge was lost, the concept of death was reduced to the termination of terrestrial existence.
The Necessity of Incarnation
Though incarnation is seen as death in the Perennial Tradition--as taught in all the Mysteries--this does not make terrestrial existence an abode of evil and desolation. Plotinus taught that the soul need not regret her contact with matter and body if she does not allow herself to become totally enmeshed in carnal existence. It is a part of the divine order that humans come to dwell in mortal bodies, just as a seed must be buried in the ground. The soul descends into the terrestrial realm to become germinated, quickened, so she may experience a new birth, a resurrection of her latent faculties at a higher level of capability.
'I was a hidden treasure;
creation was created
so that you might know me.'"
Hakim Sanai, The Walled Garden of Truth
All the Mystery schools engaged seekers in a nature allegory, an experiential participation in the action of life in the vegetable world with the changing of the seasons. Each year nature passes through the cycle of the burial of the seed, its apparent death, and its Palingenesis into a new being. In winter, vegetable life is dead and Demeter, the giver of life, grieves for the loss of her daughter Persephone who has been taken underground by Pluto. But with the coming of spring the life of nature revives again, and the sorrowing mother receives her daughter back with rejoicing. Through the summer the mother abundantly maintains the life of nature until autumn, when again her daughter returns to the underworld and earth becomes desolate once more. Thus year after year nature re-enacted the Mystery of Eleusis.
It is within the divine plan that we descend into the terrestrial domain--as seeds are planted in the ground and die there. The soul immerses herself in matter for the purpose of bringing to fruition her latent capacity for spiritual perfection into conscious realization and actualization.
"The soul, says Plotinus, would never know her powers, indeed she would never really exist, if she did not manifest her potentialities and actualize her nature by progression into matter and form. But this requires that she subject herself to the same inexorable necessity as that which confronts the acorn if it is to engender the new oak. She must bury herself in the dark soil of the kingdom just below her, and seize upon and transform by her fiery energy the elements of that kingdom into the likeness of her own divine essence, and so lift it up. This is the logic of the incarnation, this is the ground-fact in all religion. And this was the deftly hidden meaning carried in the minds of the initiates in the Mysteries of old by the use of the term 'death' in all the grand schools of the arcane teaching."
Alvin Boyd Kuhn, The Lost Meaning of Death
The Second Death
The first death is a kind of perishing to a higher form of life through incarnation. But the Mystery teachings spoke of two deaths: the descent into a terrestrial body which places the soul under the heavy influence of fleshly existence. But a second death was possible if the individual allowed himself to sink farther down and become lost in ignorance and intemperance to a degree that made a return to his heavenly state next to impossible. If he allows himself to become overpowered by his animal nature, a person suffers the "second death." Pluto, the lord of the underworld, represents the body intelligence of man; and the rape of Persephone is symbolic of the divine nature assaulted and defiled by the animal element and dragged downward into the somber darkness of Hades, the symbol for the material sphere of consciousness.
The soul in its essence was said to stand in fear and terror of this second death, the failure to rise and "return unto the Father."
"When the soul had descended into generation (from this first divine condition) she partakes of evil and is carried a great way into a state the opposite of her first purity and integrity, to be entirely merged in it . . . and death to her is, while baptized or immersed in the present body, to descend into matter and be wholly subjected to it. . . . This is what is meant by the falling asleep in Hades, of those who have come there." Plotinus, Enneads I, lviii
Plotinus refers to the first death as a state the opposite of the original purity and integrity of the soul. But the second death--total death to the soul--was to become consumed by ignorance and intemperance to the point of completely forgetting one's higher essence: "falling asleep in Hades."
"The first death is merely the coming to dwell in body; the second is to fail to effect an escape from it. Proclus warns us that we may undertake the transformation of the lower nature on condition that we do it 'without merging ourselves in the darkness of body.' Plotinus enforces this with a statement that the soul need not regret her contact with matter and body 'if she flee promptly from here below.' That is to say -- and it is a matter of the most vital import for humanity -- that it is in the order of nature for us to come to dwell in mortal bodies, but it is in contravention of the normal flow of evolutionary currents for us to become so involved in body as to go down to dissolution with it. By natural analogy it is no ill hap for the seed to fall into the ground and even die there; but nature is defeated if in dying the seed does not germinate again in a new generation of life." Alvin Boyd Kuhn, The Lost Meaning of Death
The Mystery teachings all speak of this second death. Paul, the only apostle of Jesus to understand the Mysteries, taught: "To be carnally minded is death." In the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the triumphant soul at the conclusion of its earthly trials exults: "I have not died the second death." In the New Testament book of Revelation one of the rewards given to those who overcome is to escape "the second death."
The soul's going out from the realm of eternity, does not mean that it ceases to be. It suffers diminution of its power as it descends from its primal source, until at last it is incarnated in the inert realm of matter. In this state of death, its living quality can become completely quiescent, smothered in the meshes of matter. The "dying away" of a voice or other sound, as in the Hymn of the Pearl, is allegorical of the type of "death" here signified. The soul departs from its Origin and meets its death in the terrestrial realm. But this is not its absolute annihilation or extinction, merely an entrancement. The soul is merely held quiescent in the grip of an element able to silence its activities. The soul has not ceased to be. Its powers have only gone into latency. They can emerge again; they can experience resurrection.
"Just as the Lesser Mysteries discussed the prenatal epoch of man when the consciousness in its nine days (embryologically, months) was descending into the realm of illusion and assuming the veil of unreality, so the Greater Mysteries discussed the principles of spiritual regeneration and revealed to initiates not only the simplest but also the most direct and complete method of liberating their higher natures from the bondage of material ignorance." Manly P. Hall, The Secret Teachings of All Ages
The Mysteries were created as instruction and guidance for "those in their graves" of earth-life, participation allegories and rituals for "the dead," in the dark underworld of the terrestrial realm: Hades, Sheol, Amenta. Unfortunately, the esoteric wisdom concerning human resurrection from the tomb of the physical body has largely been lost through ignorance, neglect, and deliberate misinterpretation.
To reconnect with this Mystery wisdom, it's first necessary to realize that "resurrection" does not connote the mere raising of decaying physical bodies from a grave or tomb. The essence of resurrection is the re-arising of the soul buried in a physical prison, its bursting the bondage of death in the body. The Mystery rituals and myths are a series of spiritual allegories, designed to reveal the nature of our own personal soul-life, the history of every person's experience in the world of flesh and matter, and our rebirth into the Higher realm.
Our resurrection constitutes being quickened, awakening from this lethargic state of terrestrial consciousness, and attaining a new dynamic of spiritual energy that revitalizes all of our faculties into vibrant activity. "Awake, thou that sleepest," Paul entreats us, "and arise from the dead, and the Anointed One will shine upon thee."
The entire Mystery of resurrection is found in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, written as early as 6000 B.C. E. In this primeval teaching, humans are identified as "mummies in their graves", "the sleepers in their coffins," as well as "the prisoners in their cells." The Perennialist resurrection teaching originated as an allegory, and it remains a metaphorical rite in Perennialist practice even today.
"Now of the process of re-birth there is and always has been a definite and exact science, the knowledge of which has been the property of the smallest of minorities and, for adequate reasons, has not been suffered to be promulgated to the multitude, although individuals who earnestly sought for it never failed in discovering it. The Mystery-schools of antiquity, at least before the days of their degeneracy, possessed and administered it; it was the raison d'etre of their existence, as was well known to the public of the time, any member of whom, prepared to abandon secular life and apply himself to the higher vocation, could seek admission therein. The Christianity of the first two centuries took over the doctrine and the science, confirmed and expanded as they became by the advent of Christ, but eventually lost them and put in their place the ecclesiastical machinery and dogmatic theology which have ruled throughout the subsequent centuries of European history, with the result that popular Christianity has for long known nothing of them. With the enjoinder of the assured necessity for regeneration proclaimed by the Master of their faith it and its theologians and pastors are well familiar. But can it be said that 'Ye must be born again' means for them more than a vague, mysterious, metaphoric counsel of perfection capable of being satisfied by living the ordinary natural life as far as possible in accordance with the standard of conduct indicated in the Gospels? Are the words accorded more than a value for ethical purposes, to the total neglect of the possibility of their literal practical fulfillment?"
Walter Leslie Wilmhurst, Introduction to M. A. Atwood,
Hermetic Philosophy and Alchemy
Resurrection Baptism Through Trance Induction
As Plato and all other Perennialist savants taught, resurrection is our final release, in an ecstatic experience, from bodily incarnation. As we saw above in the section on Hermetic baptism, Hermes inducted Tat into the realization of the Blessed Sight by putting himself into a higher state of consciousness. Tat, the initiate, was baptized in his Master's spiritual beatitude--the Cup of the Mind. Hermes described the change that took place in himself when he passed into the high spiritual consciousness: "Whene'er I see within myself the Simple Vision. . . I have passed through myself into a Body that can never die. And now I am not what I was before; but I am born in Mind."
The Master entered the trance state by focusing his consciousness on the higher part of his spiritual nature. The way to do this is only taught to initiates, and it cannot be understood through any ordinary sensory or intellectual experience. No physical sight can penetrate this Mystery. "Thou seest me with eyes, my son," said Hermes, "but what I am thou dost not understand." The outer physical form of the Master was there, but his soul had been liberated from the body. This mystery could only be understood by one who himself had attained Higher Consciousness.
Tat's spiritual senses were awakened by experiencing the Master's higher state of consciousness. Tat said, "Into fierce frenzy and mind fury hast thou plunged me, father, for now no longer do I see myself." Tat had transcended the physical plane of consciousness, but something more was necessary. Hermes explained: "I would, my son, that thou had'st e'en passed right through thyself." That is, Tat had to pass into his higher "body that can never die," into his transcendent spiritual being. It was not enough to separate from the physical body; it was necessary to relocate one's consciousness in the Higher Self. The Mystery cannot be explained fully in words, it must be experienced; the initiate must himself participate in the higher state of unity with the Divine.
"Now this initial process towards discovering the '[Philosopher's] stone' . . . was accomplished in a condition of magnetic trance mesmerically induced upon the aspirant by some wise and skilled operator. . . .
"The separation was that of the aspirant's sense-nature and objective mind from his subjective [subconscious] nature. The former needed to be reduced to quiescence that his consciousness might function in the latter alone and in a necessarily quickened, vivid manner. The aspirant therefore would be placed in the condition of a person at the moment of death or in anaesthesia; but with this difference, that, whilst thus reduced to subjectivity, he would be at the mercy of the compelling will and direction of the operator into whose power he had committed himself. His consciousness, withdrawn from externals, would be restricted to and focused upon the mind's internal content, and these inania regna he would be directed to explore and to consider."
Walter Leslie Wilmhurst, Introduction to M. A. Atwood,
Hermetic Philosophy and Alchemy
To examine the process of resurrection baptism through trance induction, we'll refer to a book written by Dr. Paul Brunton 5 entitled A Search in Secret Egypt. I have reasonable certainty that Brunton's accounts are reliable, because I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Brunton in person and get to see just what kind of person he was.
I had just completed my masters at Yale Divinity School and was about to enter Yale Graduate School for my work toward a doctorate in philosophy. I traveled from New Haven and met with Dr. Brunton in his New York City apartment. During that visit, I got the distinct impression that he was a man of unimpeachable character. At the end of our session, we meditated together for a short time, at the end of which time Dr. Brunton told me that he had imparted a vital energy to my inner being which would remain with me.
Dr. Brunton described the mystical initiation procedure in these terms in his book:
"Although this process of initiation [into the Higher Mysteries] bore all the outward semblance of expert hypnotism, it was something that went far beyond the entrancement methods of our modern experimenters, who tap the subconscious mind of man but who cannot make their subjects conscious of still profounder planes of existence."
"Moreover, to confuse such a sublime experience with the mental handiwork of the modem hypnotist would be a grave error. The latter plunges his subject into a strange condition which neither fully understands, whereas the hierophant of the Mysteries was in the possession of a secret traditional knowledge which enabled him to exercise his power as one fully armed with complete understanding. The hypnotist taps the subconscious mentality of his entranced subject down to a certain level, without himself sharing the change of condition, whereas the hierophant watched and controlled every such change by his own percipient powers. Above all, the hypnotist is only able to elucidate from his subject such matters as concern our material world and life, or to perform abnormal feats with the material body. The hierophant went deeper, and could lead the mind of the candidate step by step through an experience involving the spiritual worlds--a feat beyond the power of any modern hypnotist to achieve."
"There existed an exalted and final degree of initiation where the souls of men were not merely freed temporarily from their bodies in a condition of simulated death, in order to prove the truth of survival, after the great change, but where they were actually carried up to the loftiest spheres of being, to the realm of the Creator Himself. In this marvelous experience the finite mind of man was drawn into contact with the infinite mind of his superior divinity. He was able for a brief while to enter into silent, spell-bound communion with the Father of All, and this fleeting contact of incomparable ecstasy was enough to change his entire attitude towards life. He had partaken of the holiest food that exists in life. He had discovered the ineffable ray of Deity which was his true innermost self, and of which the soul-body which survives death was merely the intangible vesture. He was, in verity and fact, born again in the highest sense. He who had thus been initiated became a perfect Adept, and the hieroglyphic texts speak of him as one who could expect the favor of the gods during life and the state of paradise after death.
"Such an experience came with an entrancement which, although outwardly similar, was inwardly completely different from the hypnotic entrancements of the earlier degrees of initiation. No hypnotic power could ever confer it, no magical ceremony could ever evoke it. Only the supreme hierophants, themselves at one with their divinities, their wills bent with his, could by their astonishing divine force arouse the candidate to consciousness of his superior nature. This was the noblest and most impressive revelation then possible to Egyptian man, and still possible, albeit through other ways, to modern man."
Paul Brunton, A Search in Secret Egypt, 1936
The Perennial Tradition continues to be active in a new, current embodiment. The esoteric teachings and rites which were used by Hermes, Plato, Jesus and other Perennialist savants are still being applied today by contemporary Perennialist teachers--but in ways which are not easily recognized by those "who have eyes to see but do not see."
1 In the ancient Greek language, the concept of oneness with Deity was denoted by three separate terms:
- henosis: èνôσισ -- the deification of the human being
- theosis:θεοσις -- living a divine mode of existence
- homoiosis theou:òμοιωσις θεου -- assimilation to God
2 In Plato, phronesis describes virtue which is dependent upon reason. A given act was viewed as the result of both an intellectual and a moral decision-making process. Phronesis is the virtue that results from wisdom.
3 The Greek word Palingenesis is a compound which means "coming again into being," or "becoming again." The meaning attached to this word is quite specific, although having a wide and general application. The idea included in it may be illustrated, as is found in the philosophical literature of the ancients who lived around the Mediterranean Sea, by the example of the oak which produces its seed, the acorn, the acorn in its turn producing a new oak containing the same life that was passed on to it from the mother oak--or the father oak. This transmission of an identic life in cyclical recurring phases is the specific meaning of the word palingenesis. Thus the thought is different from the respective ideas contained in the other words connected with the doctrine of reimbodiment. Perhaps another way of stating the specific meaning would be by saying that palingenesis signifies the continuous transmission of an identic life producing at each transformation a new manifestation, these several embodiments being in each case a palingenesis or "new becoming" of the same life-stream. Its specific meaning is quite different from that embodied in the word transmigration.
4 The term Aeon is a Latin transliteration from the koine Greek word aion. In Perennialist writings the term refers to:
- A long, indefinite, period of time
- The timeless and spaceless realm of ideal being (Plato's domain of the Forms)
- A Lesser Power than the Deity or an emanation of the Deity
Some of the Hermetic Corpus, especially the discussion of the divine Nous, the creation of man, and the seven Governors in Poimandres likely refers to man's development of understanding during earthly life and the life beyond. The seven circles or spheres represent humankind's evolution to higher levels of wisdom. These are among the teachings which later became distorted and corrupted in the first century C.E. religious sect named Gnosticism, resulting in the anarchic and incomprehensible concept of hundreds of spheres and a multiplicity of archons or rulers.
5 Paul Brunton (1898-1981), published this book in 1936. During a successful career in journalism, he developed an interest in comparative religion, mysticism and philosophy. He traveled extensively in the Orient, living among yogis, mystics and holy men.