Times change and part of the esotericism of one age becomes the exotericism of its successor. The heliocentric system, the electro-atomic structure of matter, the transmutation of electrical energy into heat, light and other radiation, the manufacture of explosives, psychosomatic medicine and demonstrations of human powers of extrasensory perceptionâ€”this carefully concealed knowledge of the mystery schools of old has now become well known. The upper layers, at least, of the ancient scriptural allegories and myths have now been uncovered. Deeper layers yet remain and these, in their turn, will be revealed as humanity evolves and the keys of interpretation continue to be discovered and employed.
One of these keys was given to his disciples by our Lord. His explanation of the parable of the sower shows that the seed was a symbol for the word of God, and the differing conditions of the groundâ€”rocky, thorny and fertileâ€”were descriptive of states of the human mind and brain at differing phases of evolutionary development. The publication of The Secret Doctrine by H. P. Blavatsky revealed other keys, bestowed a wealth of knowledge upon humanity and initiated a new cycle of esoteric research.
An example of a vivid use of the symbolic language is found in the words of Jesus: â€œVerily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal lifeâ€ (John 6:53â€“54 ). Clearly our Lord must here be making use of the words â€œflesh,â€ â€œblood,â€ â€œeatethâ€ and â€œdrinkethâ€ in a metaphorical sense. One simplified interpretation of this passage is that the flesh of Christ represents spiritual knowledge. When the human intellect has absorbed and become illumined by divine truth and is inspired by interior revelation, this experience is symbolically described as the eating of the flesh of the Deity. The blood of God, or Christ, is the ever-outpoured Divine Life by which the universe is sustained, without which it cannot live. When a spiritually illumined individual, having become aware of this universal life in all beings, becomes consciously identified with it, he or she is said in the symbolic language to drink of the blood of God, or Christ. An enriching mental-spiritual experience is described in terms of physical nourishment. Indeed, as our Lord said, these two attainments bring a realization of immortality or entry into eternal life.
The story of the stilling of the tempest (Mark 4:36â€“41 ) is another example of an inspired allegory. In a human and psychological interpretation, the ship may be regarded as a symbol of the body, which conveys the Soul with its various attributes over the waters of life. The disciples are regarded as personifications of human qualities and tendencies, such as: the impulsiveness of Peter; the simplicity of James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were fishermen; the business capacities of Matthew; and the deep and faithful love of John, the only disciple who was present both in the courtroom and at the foot of the cross. Judas, who betrayed his Master, is also present in each one of us as the tendency to fall below, and even betray, our highest principles for material gain. Happily the divine presence also exists in each one of us, even if asleep for a time, just as our Lord slept when the voyage began. A great storm arose, however, and in their anxiety, the disciples awoke the sleeping passenger, the Lord Christ. He, in his majesty and might, stilled the raging storm by a word.
Interpreting and applying this story to the storms of human life (especially of emotion, as is indicated by placing the incident upon water), when assailed by temptation, driven by desire or wishing to eradicate an unwanted habit, we are advised to withdraw our thoughts from the difficulty, concentrate powerfully upon our divine nature and, to the exclusion of every other thought, affirm its irresistible power. Then the darkness of the undesirable state of mind will disappear in the great light shining out from the God within. Symbolically, the awakened Christ will still the tempest.
Thus, in its purely human application, the story shows us that when we are threatened by the storms of life, the gusts of passion, anger and hatred and the cravings of sensual desire which threaten the success and even the safety of our lives, we should awaken the sleeping, divine power within us and call upon its aid. Thus exalted and empowered, we shall find ourselves able to say to the tempestuous aspects of human nature with certainty of obedienceâ€”â€œPeace, be still.â€ The importance of the trials and stresses of life is also indicated in this wonderful story; for had it not been for the storm on Galilee, the Christ might not have been awakened. So also, the struggles and storms of our lives. These can prove to be the means of the awakening of our higher, more spiritual powers.
The story of the woman healed after twelve years of incurable sickness (Matt. 9:20â€“22 , Mark 5:25â€“34 , Luke 8:43â€“48 ) is also capable of a symbolic interpretation, as are all the accounts of miraculous healing by the Christ. A deep faith awoke in this woman, so that she set forth to find the great teacher and healer who was in her land. Despite her weakness, she found him but was unable to come near on account of the throng of people in the way. Her faith was great, however; she stretched forth her hand and touched, not his person but the hem of his garment, and straightway she was whole.
The Christ undoubtedly possessed and exercised superior knowledge and power which enabled him to perform seeming miracles. The historicity of the accounts of them is not here in question. The narrative method does, however, suggest that universal applications of the events are also being revealed; for all who are spiritually imperfect, and so â€œsick,â€ will become whole if they but seek within and there discover the divine principle, the Christ presence, the â€œChrist in youâ€ referred to by the apostle Paul (Col. 1:27 ). The throng in the way symbolizes all the un-Christlike attributes: impurity, cruelty, unkindness, selfishness and self-indulgences which come between us and our highest nature. Eventually these must go, but in the meantime if, full of faith, we reach upwards with our aspiring thought and prayer, we may touch the fringe of the divine consciousness within us, as symbolized by the hem of his garment. Those who have passed through this experience will know that when once the consciousness of the divine Self within has been found and entered, floods of inspiration and healing grace descend upon both Soul and body. Indeed, thereafter, straightway one is whole.
In the initiatory sense sickness, suffering, limitations and wounds all refer to the mystic ill-health inseparable from the transformation of a person into a super-being and an initiate into an Adept. The apostle Paul thus had his thorn in the flesh; he was said to suffer from epilepsy. St. Francis of Assisi, St. Catherine of Siena and St. Theresa of Avila all bore testimony to the receipt of inner wounds, mystical sufferings endured in addition to their physical sicknesses. All of these wounds refer in part to the forceful breaking down and the dissolution of the illusion of self-separateness and to the transcendence of the limitations of matter and the material vehicles.
The â€œhealâ€ for every wound is, as an old English medical maxim says, â€œwithin the wound.â€ It consists of the Christ principle, power and life which form the second aspect of the threefold spiritual Soul; for each Soul is a reproduction of the Universal Soul, the triune Godhead, the blessed Trinity. When once this redemptive healing, this Christlike power, is aroused into activity and the outer man or woman becomes aware of that power and surrenders to it, then, as if by a miracle, a mystical transformation occurs. Integration, wholeness, and relative perfection are attained. Mystically, the Master within draws the disciple into union with himself or herself. This process is assisted by the external Master who increases the idealism, the power and the aspiration of the outer individual so that he or she becomes responsive to the Master, the Christ, within.
The weapons by which wounds are made symbolize the dangers through which knowledge of the mysteries may alone be approached and by which those mysteries are guarded. The crown of thorns portrays the true royalty of spirit and indicates that sovereignty is only attained by suffering. The thorns, nevertheless, symbolize the possibility, which is almost a certainty, that suffering will result from the wrongful use of the separative and analytical attributes of the formal mind, especially in the early stages of its development. These mental characteristics inevitably cause pain and sorrow (the pricks of the thorns), and since the head is the physical center of mental life, the thorns are placed upon it as a crown. Before perfection the two aspects of the mindâ€”the higher and the lower (the two thieves crucified with Christ)â€”strive continually for mastery, and the pains and wounds of that mystical conflict are also symbolized by the thorns, the whip, the nails, the spear and the pain they produce. The true meaning of the crown of thorns is ever unperceived, is indeed unrecognizable, by unillumined individuals (the throng demanding and watching the Crucifixion). By them it is thought to be a crown of thorns, a mockery of royalty, since the suffering only and not the triumph and the mystical coronation is seen.
In one aspect, the opened rose upon the cross, in Rosicrucian symbolism, also represents perfected humanity. The rose is a symbol of the higher Self of a perfected human being in its body of light, from which universal love, wisdom and blessing flow out upon the world, as represented both by the special fragrance of the flower and by the water and the blood flowing from the wounds of the crucified Christ.
The cross is generally interpreted as the symbol of self-sacrifice, immortality and holiness. Esoterically, however, the cross describes the whole mystery of creation. Creative spirit as the positive, masculine creative potency, the great breath or Word (the vertical arm), descends into and penetrates matter as Space, the feminine creative potency, the great deep (the horizontal arm). The point of intersection is the critical center at which the process of creation occurs and from which the product, the manifested cosmos, arises. In this sense, the rose upon the cross symbolizes the newly formed universe. The descent of spirit into matter (the vertical into the horizontal arm of the cross), and the subsequent attainment of self-conscious and perfected life (the rose), also suggests the processes of involution and evolution, of forthgoing and return, depicted in the parable of the Prodigal Son.
The human body is perfectly symbolized by the cross, the vertical arm representing the spirit and the horizontal the material entered, impregnated and supported by the former. The physical body is cruciform in a number of ways. The spinal column, for instance, is a vertical support from which, at right angles, the ribs extend horizontally. The spinal cord is the major electromagnetic cable of the body, and from it at right angles and horizontally large numbers of afferent and efferent nerves carry the nerve fluid and nerve impulses throughout the body. With arms outstretched in love and sacrifice, the whole human body makes a perfect cross. An individual only assumes this posture, however, when, rose-like, his or her heart is open in love and compassion for the world. Thus the rose upon the cross is both a beautiful and a dynamic symbol and an ideal to which to aspire, despite the inevitable pricks of the thorns.
The mount is frequently used as a symbol of exalted states of consciousness. Many of the great events recorded in the Bible occurred on mountain tops. Elijah, for example, had need of the counsel of the Lord, and a voice said: â€œGo forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lordâ€ (1 Kings 19:11 ). This is interpreted as an exhortation to elevate the center of human awarenes s from the physical to the inner spiritual nature.
In the story of Elijah, illumination was preceded by an earthquake, rushing wind and fire. The earthquake is a symbol of the purely physical state of consciousness and of the instability and impermanence of the physical world, also symbolized by the sand upon which a house must not be built. The rushing wind refers to the disturbed state of the emotions, while the fire in one meaning represents the restless and disruptive activity of the critical, analytical and prideful mind. The Lord was not in any of these three phenomena; but after they had passed, a great peace descended upon Elijah. His Soul was steeped in silence and in that stillness â€œthe voice of the silence,â€ the â€œstill small voiceâ€ of God, was heard. The story may now be seen as a manual of meditation, a description of the means through which self-illumination may be obtained. The center of self-awareness must be dissociated from the physical body (earthquake), from the emotional body (rushing wind), from the mind (fire) and established on those still higher levels in which the spiritual Self perpetually abides. Thereafter a great stillness descends upon the devotee, and in that profound quietude of heart and mind, self-identification is attained with the God-Self, the Christ within. Thereafter illumination, comprehension, and knowledge are communicated to the mind and brain.
In this preliminary chapter, single interpretations, applying to psycho-spiritual human experience only, are given as illustrations of the theme of this book. Other keys of interpretation, macrocosmic and microcosmic, are described and the results of their application offered in later chapters of this volume.
As stated elsewhere, one of the several possible methods of interpretation is that in which each story is regarded as descriptive of an interior, subjective experience, as if all happened within the Soul of every individual. The apostle Paul evidently took this view. For him the nativity of Christ, for example, was a condition of the Soul, for he said: â€œI travail in birth again until Christ be formed in youâ€ (Gal. 4:19 ). Even the physical presence on Earth of the historical Christ, whom Paul never met, is regarded by him as a mystical experience rather than an external visitation. The interior, rather than the historical Christ was apparently of more importance to Paul, who said: â€œChrist in you, the hope of gloryâ€ (Col. 1:27 ) and â€œwork out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in youâ€ (Phil. 2:12â€“13 ).
A German mystic of the Middle Ages who wrote as Angelus Silesius expressed in the following words the necessity for translating into interior experience certain episodes in the life of Christ:
Though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born
And not within thyself, thy soul will be forlorn.
The Cross of Golgotha thou lookest to in vain
Unless, within thyself, it be set up again.
Here lies the heart of true religion, which is less of theology, creed, blind faith and outer observances than of deep interior experience. The inspired authors of many biblical narratives were well aware of this fact and had themselves attained to profound mystical illumination. They knew that realization of the presence and activity of God within the Soul of every individual bestowed spiritual, intellectual and esoteric powers which could, in truth, be grievously misused. Serious injury could be caused, both to those who prematurely discovered these interior powers and to all others who came within the range of their influenceâ€”hence the safeguard of the symbolic language.