From the Editor's Desk

Printed in the Fall 2019 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Smoley, Richard"From the Editor's Desk " Quest 107:4, pg 2

Richard Smoley This is an issue on ancient civilizations, but I hope you will indulge me if I talk about our present one.

Like me, many readers of this magazine came of age in the 1960s and ’70s, at the crest of the New Age movement. At the time many were hoping that civilization was advancing to a higher consciousness. This hope was fueled by the nascent environmental cause, the push for racial and gender equality, and a growing interest in alternative spirituality of the sort long embraced by Theosophy.

Many believed that the last quarter of the twentieth century was a precursor of this coming New Age. Once the third millennium arrived, these ideals would come to fruition.

Such has not apparently been the case. The twenty-first century has been a disappointment. In this country, the age has seen increasing division and turmoil. The 9/11 disaster looked (and still looks) like an omen of ills to come. The United States pursued unnecessary and criminal wars. Inequality of income increases. Environmental crisis is no longer a matter of speculation: it is a present reality. In some respects, the country is more divided than it has been since the Civil War.

So what happened? Did the New Age fail to show up? Was it yet another ridiculous hope to be dashed by the grim world? So it might appear, but I don’t think the answer is that simple.

Attitudes in America certainly have polarized furiously. The battle lines are drawn, and, it would seem, are being reinforced with every news report, every Facebook post. This trend does not appear to be abating, but that is illusory: all trends abate. Often they generate movements in the opposite direction. Everything reverses itself; every action has an equal and opposite reaction. This is as true in the affairs of humans as it is in Newtonian physics. I think it is unwise to ignore this fact, and yet we do this frequently. We assume the current trends are going to continue. But the only thing we can foresee about the future is that current trends will not continue. They are always forestalled by unforeseen events.

Nothing is more obvious, and nothing is more frequently forgotten. This truth might—and probably should—console those who despair about current events. But of course this sequence never stops: every event evokes a counterresponse, which provokes a counterresponse in turn. There is no end to this process, at any rate not on the plane of material reality.

In any case, many New Age ideas have entered the mainstream. Meditation is no longer regarded as an eccentricity. The need for environmental cleanup is evident to everyone who does not have a vested interest in pollution. Zen and Tao have become clichés. We see mindfulness practices taught in the workplace, and even occult subjects like the Tarot and the Kabbalah are familiar to millions. The organized religions are, for better or worse, caving in faster than anyone could have imagined.

Of course, even positive trends have their unfortunate sides. Corporate culture has embraced mindfulness to help staff deal with stress, but some have asked whether this isn’t a cynical way to avoid cutting the workloads of overtaxed employees. The Wall Street Journal informs us that “mindful snacking . . . is being promoted by companies who want to convince increasingly health-conscious customers that indulging in cookies, crackers and candy is OK to do sometimes.” Environmental solutions often come with their own costs: LED bulbs have cut power use, but they have enabled cities to put on many more streetlights, so that light pollution is far worse than it was even in 2010.

So the New Age has, in a sense, come. It was naïve to assume that it would come easily and simply; it has been a struggle, and a struggle that is far from over. The baby-boom generation—those born between 1945 and 1965—has been, so to speak, the field of Kurukshetra on which this battle is taking place. There are many ranged on each side. For reasons of my own, I suspect that this clash will reach a crisis point between now and the middle of the next decade.

After that, we shall see. The baby boom now rules the nation: every president since Bill Clinton has been a baby boomer. But this generation is now well into retirement age, and it is beginning to pass from the scene. I believe that many of these conflicts will pass with it.

What will be left? The millennial generation and Gen Z, whose values are quite different from those of their parents, and, I suspect, far less extreme and confrontational. In a 2015 study, the market-research firm Wildness said, “This is a generation of CCs (Culture Creators) . . . The CCs are empowered, connected, empathetic self-starters that want to stand out and make a difference in the world. They have created a new Cultural Currency that values uniqueness, authenticity, creativity, shareability and recognition. What’s different for this generation is not as simple as the internet or technology.”

The question is an ancient one: do problems get solved, or do they merely fade away?

Another question remains unanswered; maybe it is unanswerable. Civilizations have a lifespan of their own: they are born, mature, decay, and perish. Why? Possibly we can find an answer in the playroom. A child builds an elaborate structure with its blocks, admires it for a few minutes, then knocks it down and starts again. What if all of human history is like that?

Richard Smoley



Atlantis Then and Now

Printed in the Fall 2019 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Smoley, Richard ,"Atlantis Then and Now" Quest 107:4, pg 22-26

By Richard Smoley

Richard SmoleyTo this day Atlantis haunts the psyche of humankind. A half-forgotten continent that sank overnight into the ocean, reputed to have been the secret source of civilizations as far-flung as those of Egypt and Central America, it is believed to have had wondrous technology, natural and supernatural, and to have attained a level of development that we have yet to match. Even though no one has ever found any unassailable material evidence of this civilization, there are few ideas that reappear as often in occult literature.

Skeptics continue to jeer at the notion of a lost continent, but such a thing does not seem as unbelievable as it may once have—certainly not, for example, to the inhabitants of Male, the island capital of the Republic of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, threatened with submersion as global warming continues to raise sea levels. Once we admit this possibility, we may find ourselves asking whether the fall of Atlantis could be repeated with our own civilization, vexed with fears of ecodisaster.

The legend of Atlantis first appears in two dialogues by the Greek philosopher Plato (c.428–348 BCE)—the Timaeus and the Critias. These texts have been cornerstones of the Western esoteric tradition for millennia, and not entirely because of their discussion of Atlantis: the Timaeus in particular describes a cosmology that would leave its impact on mystical traditions ranging from Gnosticism and Hermeticism to the Kabbalah. But it is the story of Atlantis that has most captured the public imagination.

Many of Plato’s dialogues contain myths. They are not the traditional myths of Greek religion but compositions of his own. One of the most famous examples is found at the end of The Republic. It describes a near-death experience of a soldier named Er, who goes to the realm of Hades and returns, telling of the Homeric heroes who drew lots for the lives they would lead in the next incarnation. While Plato no doubt believed in reincarnation, this story has obviously been made up to fit its setting. Many scholars regard the tale of Atlantis as a myth in this sense, even though Critias, the narrator of this account, insists that it is “a tale, which, though strange, is certainly true, having been attested by Solon, who was the wisest of the seven sages” (Timaeus 20d-e).

The real Critias was Plato’s uncle. His name had an unsavory tinge in the Athens of Plato’s day. After the city lost the Peloponnesian War to Sparta in 404 BCE, Critias was installed as one of the Thirty Tyrants, a bloodthirsty junta that ruled for a year or so before being ousted. Nonetheless, his testimony in this dialogue has a ring of truth, because Solon—a lawmaker and poet who lived c.600 BCE and who, as we have seen, was renowned for his wisdom—was a relative of one of Critias’s ancestors. Since Plato belonged to the same clan, the story of Atlantis could have been a family tradition that Plato knew firsthand.

Critias’s story, which in fact revolves around Athens, is placed 9000 years before Solon’s time—that is, around 9600 BCE. We learn that Solon in turn heard it from an Egyptian priest, who told him, “There have been, and there will be again, many destructions of mankind arising out of many causes; the greatest have been brought about by fire and water.” The priest adds, “You remember a single deluge only”—the Greeks had a legend of a flood like the one in the Bible—“but there were many previous ones” (Timaeus 22c, 23b).

Before this flood, the priest goes on to say, there was an enormous island called Atlantis, “situated in front of the straits which are by you called the Pillars of Heracles [the Straits of Gibraltar]. The island was larger than Libya* and Asia put together, and was the way to other islands, and from these you might pass to the whole of the opposite continent which surrounded the true ocean” (Timaeus 25e).

*The ancient Greeks sometimes referred to the continent of Africa as “Libya.”    

The empire of Atlantis “had subjected the parts of Libya within the columns of Heracles as far as Egypt, and of Europe as far as Tyrrhenia [Italy],” and was moving to subjugate Egypt and Greece as well. It was then, according to the Egyptian priest, that Athens resisted the Atlantean invaders. “After having undergone the very extremity of danger, she defeated and triumphed over the invaders, and preserved from slavery those who were not yet subjugated, and generously liberated all the rest of us who dwell within the Pillars. But afterward there occurred violent earthquakes and floods, and in a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea. For which reason the sea in those parts is impassable and impenetrable, because there is a shoal of mud in the way, and this was caused by the subsidence of the island” (Timaeus 25c-d). The same inundation swept Greece as well, stripping its soil and leaving it comparatively barren, as it was in Plato’s time and still is today.

How literally did Plato mean his readers to take this myth? Like nearly all of his surviving work, the Timaeus is in the form of a dialogue, a genre that allows the author to stand back from the assertions in it: they are not necessarily Plato’s claims but those of his characters. Nevertheless, Crantor, the earliest commentator on the Timaeus, writing around 300 BCE, accepted it as genuine history, as did the ancient authorities Strabo and Posidonius.

    atlantis-kircher
     A map of Atlantis from Athanasius Kircher’s Mundus Subterraneus (1:82), 1664–65. The legend at the top left reads: “The location of Atlantis, an island long ago submerged into the ocean, according to Egyptian thought, and Plato’s description.” In this map, south is at the top, putting America on the right and Europe on the left.

Plato’s date of 9600 BCE is intriguingly close to the end of the last glacial period on earth—around 10,000 BCE—at which time some land that was above water was submerged (e.g., the continental shelf that had formed a land bridge between Britain and mainland Europe), so the disappearance of the fabled land fits reasonably well into conventional scientific chronology. Nonetheless, it is still necessary to find a plausible site for the lost continent. For some bizarre reason, the most popular choice has been Thera (present-day Santorini), an island in the Mediterranean, much of whose land mass was destroyed in a cataclysmic eruption of a volcano sometime between 1650 and 1500 BCE. But since Thera does not match Plato’s Atlantis in location or size (Thera is much smaller) and since the date of the eruption is nowhere near Plato’s estimate, it is an unlikely site for the doomed civilization.

The most plausible candidate for Atlantis is an obscure geological formation known as the Horseshoe Seamount Chain, located in the Atlantic about 600 kilometers west of Gibraltar. This is a series of nine inactive volcanoes, which rise from an abyssal plain of 4000–4800 meters deep. The highest, the Ampère Seamount, nearly reaches the sea surface. Thus in the last Ice Age, it could conceivably have been above sea level. This area in the Atlantic is a meeting place for three major oceanic flow systems, making its currents unusually disturbed (Hatzsky). The horseshoe shape of the formation also evokes Plato’s description of Atlantis, whose inhabitants “bridged the rings of sea round their original home” (Critias, 115c).

After Atlantis sank, according to Plato, the area beyond Gibraltar was impossible to navigate because of the mud shoals. Aristotle also mentions “shallows owing to the mud” in this area (Aristotle, Meteorologica 354a; Barnes 1:576), and another ancient source, Scylax of Caryanda, mentions a sea of thick mud just beyond the Pillars of Hercules. The now-defunct website “Return to Atlantis” observes, “It seems that even as recently as 2300 years ago—which on the geological scale is barely an eye-blink—the Ocean beyond Gibraltar was unnavigable because of deposits of mud from a vanished island. Even today an examination of the sea bed at this point reveals an exceptionally high level of sedimentation.”

The only difference between this site and Plato’s Atlantis is that the latter was a continent larger than Asia and Africa put together. While this is hard to believe, there is nevertheless the striking fact that Plato also says that Atlantis “was the way to other islands, and from these you might pass to the whole of the opposite continent which surrounded the true ocean, for this sea which is within the Straits of Heracles [i.e., the Mediterranean] is only a harbor, having a narrow entrance, but that other is a real sea, and the land surrounding it on every side may be most truly called a boundless continent” (Timaeus 25a).

This remarkable passage suggests that—contrary to the usual beliefs—the ancients knew that there was a continent across the Atlantic, to which Atlantis once served as a gateway. Although the Americas do not surround the Atlantic, they can, from an ancient point of view, be termed “a boundless continent.” That there was a memory of a continent across the Atlantic is one of the most striking details suggesting that this account is not just fantasy.

Whether the Horseshoe Seamount Chain was really the site of Atlantis is a question for geologists and archaeologists, but even in the case of this supposedly magnificent civilization, the absence of evidence is not as conclusive as one might think. The Greek historian Thucydides (c.460–c.400 BCE), the first man in history to think about archaeology, observes about Sparta (also called Lacedaemon):

If the city of the Lacedaemonians should be deserted, and nothing left but its temples and the foundations of other buildings, posterity would, I think, after a long lapse of time, be very loath to believe that their power was as great as their renown. (And yet they occupy two-fifths of the Pelopponesesus and have the hegemony of the whole, as well of their many allies outside; but still, as Sparta is not compactly built as a city and has not provided itself with costly temples and other edifices, its power would appear less than it is.) (Thucydides 1.10; Smith, 19)

Atlantis too could have been a great and comparatively advanced civilization that left few or no material remains.

The legend of Atlantis was itself submerged in the West from the fifth to the fifteenth centuries CE, when Plato’s works were almost completely unknown. As his writings surfaced during the Renaissance, Atlantis attracted increasing speculation. Although the Bible—the supreme authority at that time—did not mention the vanished continent, it did speak of a great deluge, and on the face of it there was no reason this flood could not have engulfed Atlantis. Over the last 500 years, the theories about the lost continent have been many and manifold, ranging from the plausible to the crazy. It is not possible to go into all, or even many, of them here. Readers might want to look at Joscelyn Godwin’s book Atlantis and the Cycles of Time, which explores these views in depth.

One of the most important figures in comparatively recent times to talk about Atlantis was H. P. Blavatsky, who discussed it in her compendious works Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine. But Blavatsky’s Atlantis is not the same as Plato’s. Her intricate esoteric theory posited a number of Root Races that had preceded our own “Aryan” race. The Aryan race, in her view, was not limited to the Germanic or even to the Indo-European peoples but to practically the whole of humanity that has lived for the past million years. This Aryan Root Race was preceded by four others, two of which, the Chhaya (sic) and the Hyperborean, scarcely even made themselves manifest on the physical plane. The third and the fourth were Lemuria (named after another sunken continent that some nineteenth-century paleontologists believed to have been situated in the Indian Ocean) and Atlantis. Blavatsky wrote, “Up to this point of evolution [i.e., Atlantis, the fourth Root Race] man belongs more to metaphysical than physical nature. It is only after the so-called Fall that the races began to develop rapidly into a human shape,” although, she adds, they were “much larger in size than we are now” (Blavatsky, 2:227).

The denizens of Atlantis had a fatal flaw, Blavatsky claimed. They were “marked with a character of Sorcery . . .The Atlanteans of the later period were renowned for their magic powers and wickedness, their ambition and defiance of the gods” (Blavatsky, 2:286, 762). This fatal flaw led to their destruction by water.

So far Blavatsky’s account appears to correspond with Plato’s, at least apart from the sorcery. But the time frame she gives for the rise and fall of Atlantis extends much further back than his. Indeed “the first Great flood . . . submerged the last portions of Atlantis, 850,000 years ago” (Blavatksy, 2:332; emphasis Blavatsky’s). The inhabitants of Plato’s Atlantis were merely the last remnant of the race, the Atlanteans’ “degenerate descendants” (Blavatksy, 2:429).

Blavatsky’s account has influenced many subsequent pictures of Atlantis, particularly with its assertion that Atlantis perished because its inhabitants misused occult powers. The American “sleeping prophet,” Edgar Cayce (1877–1945) held a similar and highly influential view. His trance readings drew a picture of Atlantis that in many ways resembled Blavatsky’s, although his chronology was different and much more recent: he claimed that Atlantis was destroyed in three cataclysms in 58,000, 20,000, and 10,000 BCE. Like Blavatsky, Cayce said that Atlantis sank because its inhabitants abused their powers. Although of a spiritually higher caliber than those of the preceding Root Races, the Atlanteans mated with them, producing monstrous hybrids. The good Atlanteans, “Children of the Law of One,” wanted to help the hybrids and elevate them to their rightful position as children of God, but another faction, the “Sons of Belial,” treated the hybrids as objects for sensual gratification.

The first destruction of Atlantis, said Cayce, was due to a misuse of advanced technology for eliminating large carnivorous mammals that were overrunning the earth; the second, to a misuse of a “firestone” that gathered cosmic energy; the third, to a similar misuse of a crystal that employed both solar and geothermal power. This last destruction was complete by 9500 BCE—a date very close to Plato’s.

In a 1926 reading, Cayce mentioned the site of what he said had been the highest peaks in Atlantis—a pair of islands called Bimini, forty-five miles off the coast of Florida. For Cayce, it was (in his convoluted phrasing) “the highest portion left above the waves of a once great continent, upon which the civilization as now exists in the world’s history [could] find much of that as would be used as a means for attaining that civilization [Atlantis]” (Carter, 117. Bracketed materials are in the original).

Cayce also predicted major “earth changes”—a term that would resurface frequently in New Age circles—for the twentieth century. As he put it in 1940, “Poseidia (Atlantis) to rise again.” (Poseidia was Cayce’s name for the largest Atlantean island.) “Expect it in ’68 and ’69. Not so far away!” (Carter, 52).

Indeed Cayce predicted titanic upheavals of land and sea between 1932 and 1998. These would begin, he claimed, “when there is the first breaking up of some conditions in the South Sea [i.e., the South Pacific] . . . and . . . the sinking or rising of that which is almost opposite, or in the Mediterranean, and the Aetna (Etna) area.” But the changes would be felt all over the world. “The greater portion of Japan must go into the sea . . .The upper portion of Europe will be changed as in the twinkling of an eye.” In America, “all over the country many physical changes of a minor or greater degree . . . Portions of the now east coast of New York, or New York City itself, will in the main disappear . . . The waters of the Great Lakes will empty into the Gulf of Mexico” (Carter, 52).

The earth changes Cayce forecast for the last two-thirds of the twentieth century did not happen within his timetable, but it is becoming hard to laugh them off. Climate change today is not a possibility but a fact. To take only a couple of recent examples, the British newspaper The Guardian writes, “Alaska is trapped in a kind of hot feedback loop, as the arctic is heating up much faster than the rest of the planet. Ocean surface temperatures upwards of 10F hotter than average have helped to warm up the state’s coasts” (Cagle). As for the other pole, The Guardian also reports, “The plunge in the average annual extent means Antarctica lost as much sea ice in [the past] four years as the Arctic lost in 34 years” (Carrington). The rapid melting of the ice caps may (among other things) raise the oceans’ levels, flooding coastal areas such as the East Coast, as Cayce predicted. He may have been right about the events if not about the timing.

Furthermore, the theory of plate tectonics—which show that the continents drift around the crust of the earth over a period spanning geological ages—makes the idea of rising and falling continents somewhat more plausible than it was a hundred years ago (although on a much larger time scale than Plato allows). In any case, the idea of a flooded continent does not seem quite as foolish as it once did.

Concerns about a repetition of the fall of Atlantis are fed by another long-standing Western nightmare: the fear that the fall of the Roman Empire will happen again. This anxiety surfaces in curious places. A 1960 feature from Mad magazine tells us that “America is getting soft,” to the point where our legs will dwindle down to vestigial features, making us easy targets for “the lean, hungry barbarians from the East.” The accompanying cartoon shows a fat, blank-faced American being pushed over like a round-bottomed doll by a gaunt and bucktoothed Red Chinese soldier.

To turn to high culture, Edward Gibbon, whose eighteenth-century account of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire still remains the definitive version today, felt obliged to interrupt his history to prove that the fall of Rome could not happen again, partly because Western civilization had been transplanted to the Americas. “Should the victorious Barbarians carry slavery and desolation as far as the Atlantic Ocean,” Gibbon wrote, “ten thousand vessels would transport beyond their pursuit the remains of civilized society; and Europe would revive and flourish in the American world which is already filled with her colonies and institutions” (Gibbon, ch. 38). He would not have mentioned this fear, or felt the need to refute it, unless it was vivid in the minds of his eighteenth-century readers.

Still another layer of this collective fear lies in the dread of apocalypse inspired by biblical books such as Daniel and Revelation. Anxieties about the demise of our civilization thus go back as far as Western civilization itself. Today, taking on a multicultural form, they have fastened onto notions of an end of time taken from native cultures (such as the 2012 sensation) and, in a secular context, to ecodisasters of one sort or another. Indeed one senses that certain interest groups foster this anxiety on the grounds that people will otherwise sit around in complacency.

I personally do not agree with this tactic. We have lived long enough with apocalypse, and we do not need updates of it to motivate us. People do not make the best decisions in moods of anxiety and panic. If we are to solve the problems that confront us, it will be by facing them soberly and realistically, without feeling the need to terrify ourselves into action.

To conclude with a prophecy of my own for the New Age: in the New Age we will have to live without prophecies.


This article previously appeared in New Dawn magazine and in Richard Smoley, Supernatural: Writings on an Unknown History (Tarcher/Penguin, 2013). Richard’s latest book, A Theology of Love () is reviewed in Quest, fall 2019.

Sources

“Atlantis,” Wikipedia; <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlantis>; accessed June 27, 2019.

Barnes, Jonathan, ed. The Complete Works of Aristotle. 2 vols. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton/Bollingen, 1995.

Berg, Dave. “America Is Getting Soft,” Mad 54 (April 1960), 25.

Blavatsky, H.P. The Secret Doctrine. 2 vols. Wheaton: Quest, 1993 (1888).

Cagle, Susie. “Baked Alaska: Record Heat Fuels Wildfires and Sparks Personal Fireworks Ban,” The Guardian (website), July 3, 2019.

Carrington, Damian. “’Precipitous Fall in Antarctic Sea Ice since 2014 Revealed,” The Guardian (website), July 1, 2019.

Carter, Mary Ellen. Edgar Cayce on Prophecy. New York: Paperback Library, 1968.

Hamilton, Edith, and Huntington Cairns, eds. Plato: The Collected Dialogues. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton/Bollingen, 1961

Hatzky, Jörn. “Physiography of the Ampère Seamount in the Horseshoe Seamount Chain off Gibraltar,” Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Bremerhaven (2005); http://doi.pangaea.de/10.1594/PANGAEA.341125; accessed June 27, 2019.

Hornblower, Simon, and Anthony Spawforth, eds. The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Return to Atlantis (website), http://www.returntoatlantis.com/retc/gradual.html; accessed Jan. 12, 2011.

Smith, Charles Forster, ed. and trans. Thucydides, vol. 1. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1930.

CAPTION: A map of Atlantis from Athanasius Kircher’s Mundus Subterraneus (1:82), 1664–65. The legend at the top left reads: “The location of Atlantis, an island long ago submerged into the ocean, according to Egyptian thought, and Plato’s description.” In this map, south is at the top, putting America on the right and Europe on the left.


Mind over Matter: Magic from Egypt

Printed in the Fall 2019 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Ellis, Normandi ,"Mind over Matter: Magic from Egypt" Quest 107:4, pg 17-21

By Normandi Ellis 

When the human race learns to read the language of symbolism, a great veil will fall from the eyes of men.
—Manly P. Hall

Nomandi EllisWords are magic. Thoughts create actions that manifest forms. No matter what language you use—English, Spanish, Sanskrit, Chinese, or hieroglyphs—thoughts are things, but especially in those languages that combine image, sound, and meaning (intention). Ancient Egyptians knew this to be true. They called their sacred hieroglyphs medju neter (the language of god), and the power of that language they called heka (magic).

Heka contains all potentiality. It is consciousness itself. You already live inside the world of magic at this moment. The late Egyptologist John Anthony West was fond of saying that the ancients would have seen the entire cosmos as one monumental magical act, that is, the manifestation of consciousness as the material world. The ancient Hermetic text known as the Poimandres calls mind “the father of all.” The creation of the world is (because it is ongoing) a mental act.

As a working definition, the ancients knew heka as a prescriptive language that created realities through the exact words uttered at the right time, properly intoned and filled with heady intention. Heka was the alchemical energy of the ancient world, which had its origins in the mystical land of Khem, that is, Egypt; thus, al-khemy meant something derived from the fertile black soil of Egypt. Alchemy and magic are only the “black arts” because they grew to fruition in the fertile black earth, in the same way that sesame and onion grow in the rich alluvial soil of an herbalist’s garden.

Heka, then, is a basic metaphysical concept that our thoughts, how we speak them, and the action that comes from that does in fact create our realities.

Like dream language and poetry, hieroglyphs work on multiple levels, encompassing all levels simultaneously. When words are spoken aloud or written, they become a physical presence—emotionally evocative, resonant thought-forms that linger on the tongue or in memory and acquire new meanings as the images and words repeat. Think of your favorite poem—for me, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” I first heard it when I was in college; I often listened to a recording of it, letting the sounds from the authorial voice of W.B. Yeats drip over me, letting the poem’s images of clay, and wattles, and waters lapping touch me and flow through me. The words of the poem rustle through my mind and sparkle like light on ripples of water. What a lovely poem to hear—a sensory phantasmagoria.

Later, hieroglyphs became another kind of poetry—symbolic and sensory (images), vibratory (sounds), and filled with mythologies (narratives). All three of these intertwine and nestle within the glyph, flowing in and resting there until these words become a living seed inside the reader. Ezra Pound described the three essential ingredients of poetry as phanopeia, melopeia, and logopeia—that is, image, melody, and story respectively. To make full sense of a single word inscribed in the ancient Egyptian language takes an intuitive leap in order to capture all the succulent images, sounds, and narrative references. It requires an even greater leap to read an entire sentence written in hieroglyphs. Single-word equivalents for the hieroglyphs never quite touch their richness.

Hieroglyphic language seems inherently poetical as well as magical; it creates a spell in those who understand it. Inside the corridors of Egyptian tombs, the priestly scribes who copied the ancient texts took the magic into themselves, capturing the symbolism and truths of how the sacred words were used to alter consciousness and thus transform death into life. They understood that in addition to the symbology of the glyphs, the very magical nature of their medju neter was oracular. Inside the hieroglyphic words resonated the voice of god. Ancient scribe-priests interpreted dreams and oracles in the same way that they used the language inside the scrolls, which contained their hymns to the deities or the burial rites for the dead.

What does it mean that thoughts are things? Thoughts are the DNA of the universe, containing the code that gives form to our physical life experience. Without sensation or substance, we could not grasp any thought-form, yet symbols are much more complicated than a simple this equals that picture. The Lascaux cave paintings of cattle, for example, contain a complex series of dots that have been discovered to contain star patterns of the constellations. I recall one in particular that seems to represent the constellation Taurus; its seven spots depict the Pleiades. More than simply meaning “aurochs” (the extinct wild ancestor of the domestic cow) or “I am hunting a spotted ox,” the spots that appear in the painting embed information about the time of year that the herds are likely to travel along a particular path in search of greener pasture. “In the spring when the constellation of the Taurus bull appears in the night sky,” this cave painting says, “Aurochs will migrate through this part of France.” The information that implies is “Yay! We all eat!” This kind of art affords more than quaint Cracker Barrel decor. It offers important recorded information about how to amplify one’s quality of life while simultaneously providing a sense of order and beauty. (It doesn’t surprise me that the ancient Egyptian cow goddess Hathor sometimes bears within her horns seven stars, the so-called Seven Hathors, which represent the Pleiades.)

Symbolic language has been around since the beginning of time. It points to our origins of deepest understanding. It tells a truth hidden in the deep recesses of our memory. The imagery becomes almost second nature. Image conveys meaning. As psychologist Rollo May has said, “What if imagination and art are not frosting at all, but the fountainhead of human experience? What if our logic and science derive from art forms, rather than art being merely a decoration for our work?” But perhaps symbolic language goes far beyond even that. My friend Cosima Lukashevich, a mixed-media artist steeped in Egyptian culture and the arts, offered an intriguing possibility in a private Facebook message to me. She asked, “Could people (and I am suggesting here both artists and nonartists) use art to draw the world forward?”

My word! She just touched upon the power of heka.

I believe that idea would resonate with the Egyptian scribe who engaged in three-dimensional art, language, and architecture. To the ancient priest-scribes and visual artists, the mantic arts they employed built doorways into the mystery of interlinked science, spirit, and consciousness. Humankind continues to move through these open doorways, now as then, to create new worlds. It becomes entirely possible that the hieroglyphs draw us into transformative states of consciousness these five millennia later, just as the hieroglyphs moved and motivated the ancient mind toward its return to source. We are no longer talking about art as an individual expression of consciousness, or even as a cultural phenomenon; we are talking about the artistic process as consciousness itself—the universal pattern of our human creative DNA.

P.D. Ouspensky, in his book In Search of the Miraculous, quotes G.I. Gurdjieff saying, “Symbols not only transmit knowledge but show the way to it.” In speaking of the symbol of the Seal of Solomon, Gurdjieff went on to say, “The transmission of the meaning of symbols to a man who has not reached an understanding of them in himself is impossible. This sounds like a paradox, but the meaning of a symbol and the disclosure of its essence can only be given to, and can only be understood by, one who, so to speak, already knows what is comprised in this symbol. And a symbol becomes for him a synthesis of his knowledge.”

In her book The Mystical Qabalah, Dion Fortune speaks of how symbol works upon each plane of existence: spiritual, mental, etheric or emotional, until it touches the physical. It blooms in the mind, each association sending out a tendril to touch upon another diverse but associated meaning. She says, “These images are not randomly evolved, but follow along well-defined association-tracks in the Universal Mind.”

Thus it is not possible to say of any hieroglyph that “this” symbol equals “that” meaning. Hieroglyphs and symbols accrue meaning, expanding with endless, interrelated diversity and aspect. A symbol swims in the waters of endless possibility. Those who understand the power of symbol use it as a raft to float from meaning to meaning in a vast ocean of consciousness.

How did this language that is consciousness evolve? In essence, it drips from the Mind of God. More than one Egyptian myth suggests that the thought forms of Ptah, or Atum, or Thoth orchestrated the harmonies of the cosmos. Ptah, an inert being, spits the words of light into being. Atum secretes them into his hand. Thoth enumerates them as vibrations of sound and light, saying, “First, I was one; then I was two; then I was four; then I was eight; and then I was One again.” The deities speak the world into being. John 1:1–3 echoes this idea: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Medju neter in the ancient Egyptian hieroglyph meant the “word of god.” The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, a Greek magical text attributed to Thoth, tells us, “That which is below is like that which is above.” All created things originate from this one great thought.

Together Isis and Thoth created the magical, incantatory hieroglyphs, and any high priest, magician, or individual who knew and used them appropriately could command worlds, as did Thoth and Isis. The magical incantations written by Thoth were the laws of ma’at, Truth itself. Forty-two of the most exquisite, powerful hymns and chapters in the Book of the Dead were originally written by Thoth, so the ancients believed, “with his own fingers.”

The Cairo Calendar calls Isis “Provider of the Book.” The ancients believed that the words of Isis “come to pass without fail.” At the Delta city of Busiris she was called “The Great Word” because the incantations from her lips healed the sick, raised the dead, and, with Thoth’s help, stopped time by causing the boat of the sun god Ra to sail backward. Both Isis and Thoth are associated with the wisdom and magic of books. In a hymn to Isis, an aretalogy of the Ptolemaic era, the goddess asserts:

I am Isis, ruler of every land.
I was taught by Hermes (Thoth) and with Hermes devised letters, both hieroglyphic and demotic, that all might not be written with the same.
I gave laws to mankind and ordained what no one can change.

The scribe goddess Seshet, a companion of Thoth, establishes the foundations of temples, records the individual’s life deeds on a notched palm frond, calculates time by the star logs, keeps the library, and manages the Akashic Records. Mentioned as early as the first dynasty of the Old Kingdom, Seshet may be considered an early manifestation of Isis. While Isis was later associated with the star Sirius A, Seshet was associated with the Pleiades; both goddesses are linked to the cow goddess Hathor, the oldest goddess known. A primeval star goddess, Seshet was said to have created the story of the First Time (zep tepi). The scrolls in her library, per ankh or House of Life, contained the rituals and prayers for the daily rites of every deity for every day of the year.

Perhaps we can follow Seshet’s (and Cosima’s) lead by seeing writing and painting as more than a way to communicate, making no distinction between the symbolic and the real. What if the world is nothing but a set of symbols for a higher form of existence? What if our appearance on the canvas of earth was the equivalent of our being living, breathing hieroglyphs for the gods to read and understand?

The first full hieroglyphic religious poetry that we know appears in the disheveled pyramid of the fifth-dynasty pharaoh Unas. These Pyramid Texts, dating from approximately 2460 BCE, provide the earliest religious texts of transformation. They detail the intricate ways of soul resurrection, the shamanic mystery tradition associated with every high priest or pharaoh. The Old Kingdom Pyramid Text may be considered the original prayer book of a soul in translation; it precedes all of the books of the afterlife that followed in the Middle and New Kingdoms, and some of its original hymns were included in those books 2,000 years later. 

These hieroglyphs were perfectly executed, ritually infused, and considered holy—meant solely for the eyes and lips of a high initiate of Egyptian magic. These images hold a grammatical lyricism that, in my opinion, makes them the first sacred poetry known to man. A whole philosophy appears within each hieroglyphic image. Chant lines and sound vibrations repeat, the images hypnotically recur, all intending perhaps to induce a trancelike state in the individual, a frame of mind that allows him to mentally slip the physical plane and ascend into the heavens. Thus, riding on this incantatory language, he converses with his ancestors and his Creator. With the image of a goose, its wings outstretched, with the words that resemble the cry of a bird, the text reads: “He rises, he flies. He flies away from you, O men. Body to earth. Soul to sky.”

Not only were the hieroglyphs alive, sprung from the lips of the deity, but the whole world was composed of living hieroglyphs. Every frog, every tamarisk tree, every ripple of water was a living mirror that reflected the divine presence in the world. Divinities, like the things of the world, have their diversities in nature. The ancient Egyptian word for a god or goddess, neter, was understood as “nature,” and the laws of God were the natural laws of the world.

The consciousness of the Creative Intelligence that envisioned hieroglyphic communication operates in thought waves that defy logic. The mind-boggling, symbol-infused reality of hieroglyphic thinking is probably why dreams equally confuse most people, and why most people confound most other people around them, because—when it comes right down to it—we are all likewise diverse and created from that enigmatic Mind of God. That makes each of us perhaps as confounding as walking hieroglyphs.

Taking at face value any language and any religious text (ancient or modern) creates interpretive problems. Mere equivalent thinking (“this for that”) misses the delightful fullness of what is being expressed. Beyond literal meaning, hieroglyphs express thought patterns that are the essence of creative thinking. The deeper truths we crave cannot be found in single-word translations, but must be derived from a core understanding of myth and mythic language. Myth unites the inner world of human experience with the outer world of the universe.

If we look at the example of a single word, we might see how hieroglyphic thinking works. Let’s examine my favorite word, heka. One needs five hieroglyphic signs to write the word for magic; only two of them, H and K, are phonetic. (See illustration.) Yet all of these images work together to create the concepts of divine magical utterance.

The first hieroglyph offers a hard H sound. Most Egyptologists see that hieroglyph as a candle wick of twisted flax fiber. It looks like three crisscrossing loops, or perhaps three circles stacked on top of each other. A single strand of fiber, looped at the top, separates into two ends at the bottom. Actually our roman letter H also implies two strands that meet in the middle, like one rung of a ladder. The Egyptian language used three distinctly different types of H sounds. There is a soft, breathy H—like a sigh or a breeze; a throaty, combined Kh sound that is more frequently used in Middle Eastern languages and in Hebrew; then there is a hard, raspy, explosive H, as if you put your hand over a lit candle flame and said, “HOT!” Potentially, that hard H provides an aural impression of the word for magic.

     
      An ancient Egyptian carving depicting the hieroglyphs for heka, meaning  magic.  The ideograph on the left, a single twisted fiber with three loops, represents H. The central character is ka, written as a pair of arms. The one  on the right, a rolled-up scroll, is a determinative indicating that the matter discussed is occult. Image courtesy of Normandi Ellis.

The visual impression of the candle wick—a single twisted fiber with three loops—reminds us of DNA combining and recombining; DNA is the magic of creation. Certainly it demonstrates separation and reunion, in a fluid motion that is a visual reminder of the natural laws of opposition, of attraction and of unity. This one image projects many metaphysical concepts. For a novice, simply learning the power of these natural laws might seem magical. The image also points to the four planes of existence, the upper loop being the spiritual resting on top of the mental plane, the mental plane above the astral plane, and, finally, the two ends of the string like two legs standing on the earth in the physical plane.

It might also be that magic is a kind of scientific phenomenon that the ancient Egyptians understood. Did they know about the DNA double helix? To the modern mind, that image applies very well to a concept of magic—for what does DNA do? It creates life through the union of separate chemical strands that combine, separate, recombine, twist, and transform into matter. (Rather like the eight beings, male and female, in the cauldron stirred by the god Thoth.)

Plus there is an explosive chemical reaction whose fire quickens and sets the life of the organism in motion. These energetic light codes at the moment of human conception are mirrors of the magic that created Egypt. (Ah! Did you know that when a sperm meets the egg, a spark of light is emitted? True! It’s called zinc fireworks.) Gods made the world by magical means, and shaman priests used that formula to create and alter realities thereafter.

Now between the first hieroglyph, H, and the second hieroglyph, which is ka, we really don’t have a sign for a vowel sound. Standard practice among early Egyptologists was to insert an E in almost every instance where a vowel should be, but wasn’t. Most Arabic, Hebrew, and Near Eastern languages contain a flame letter as part of their alphabets. These marks above the consonants inserted vowels where originally there were none. That breathy part of the word was connected to the breath of god. The true name of the creator god is not to be taken lightly.

The inspiration, or the intake of the breath, and its exhalation creates the spirit of the word. Because the vowel sound is unwritten, that allows for similar words to be implied. The hieroglyph h-ka-t can be seen as another word for a ruler, a chieftain, a pharaoh, or a shaman. It can also be understood as Heket, the frog goddess of transformation who holds the ankh or breath of life to the nose of a child, who is being sculpted by the ram god Khnum on his potter’s wheel. Ancient Egyptian medicine knew that every embryo from chicken to child begins its first stage of life resembling a frog. All life moves from the zygote, subdividing and reuniting until it turns into an embryo that resembles a tadpole. Thus Heket, the goddess of magic and the goddess of creation, holds the ankh, the key of life. Again, we circle back to that idea that something invisible (a vowel) is still a primary part of thought; it is as invisible as a strand of DNA.

Now we encounter a second hieroglyph, ka, written as a pair of arms extended from the chest at right angles with palms up so that the chest opens fully. It is a bilateral sign, which uses one sign for two sounds working together in the same way that “th” or “wh” work. Ka similarly signifies multiple things, depending upon how the hieroglyph is written. It may refer to an animal, specifically a bull, suggesting the magic of creation, insemination, and conception. Apis bulls, or kau, were divine aspects of Osiris, the god of regeneration, and many kau were buried in the Serapeum in Saqqara. All living beings contained the divinity of god. Because meat was often a sacrifice made to the gods, ka was another word for food and for that which nourishes and sustains. When we ingest any living thing, we partake of god, because everything has its source in God. The ingestion and processing of food within the fire of the belly is also an alchemical, magical process.

The hieroglyph ka became a symbol denoting spirit. The energy that inhabits matter and becomes its life force is ka. With both arms open wide to open the chest, the heart cavity opens fully to the divine. Sometimes the ka was viewed as the double of a person or a god. Ka energy connects us to our ancestors, and to life through our desire nature, through our needs to be fed, to be loved and to feel connected to Source and imbued with purpose. Every bit of that is ka energy. Essentially, magic implies a life-giving reciprocity between the human and divine worlds.

We have more hieroglyphs to attach to the word for heka; they are called determinatives. Unvocalized, these images simply connote the flavor of the hieroglyphs that precede them. The determinative we find here is a rolled-up scroll tied with string, which implied that whatever text lay inside that papyrus was occult, that is, being hidden from view. In other words, magical knowledge was not for everyone to know. In the wrong hands, heka could be misunderstood or misused with as much devastation as plutonium. The natural laws behind the phenomenon of magic were powerful and inalterable—not easily understood by all, and, sadly, sometimes used to harm. A priest scribe had an ethical responsibility to preserve the mystery. Many stories say this was not always done, so magic and sacred ritual need to be preserved to prevent their misuse. For this reason, most sacred scrolls were kept in a temple library and not in the home or workplace. A separate script, hieratic, was used as the everyday shorthand of the hieroglyphs.

In some versions of the word, a final hieroglyph (not visible in this image) might depict three seeds. Three of anything indicated multiples thereof, which is why the divine families appear in clusters of threes—i.e., Isis, Osiris, and Horus, even the three sun gods Khepera, Ra, and Atum. The seeds represented multiple ways of making and creating magic. It also implied multiple outcomes with innumerable intentions. This idea of multiplicity carries with it a responsibility. In other words, “As ye sow, so shall ye reap.” The seeds not only represent the idea of producing a harvest generation after generation, but remind us to take care in our planting and magic making.


Normandi Ellis’s books on ancient Egypt include Awakening Osiris: The Egyptian Book of the Dead; Imagining the World into Existence: An Ancient Egyptian Manual of Consciousness; and Dreams of Isis: A Woman’s Spiritual Sojourn. Her next book, Hieroglyphic Thinking: Words of Power, will be published by Bear & Company in May 2020.  


Members’ Forum: Nurturing New Students of Theosophy

Printed in the Fall 2019 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation:  Craig, Carol"Members’ Forum: Nurturing New Students of Theosophy " Quest 107:4, pg 8

By Carol Craig

Carol CraigThe Theosophical Society of Wichita, Kansas, became a certified study center in February 2018. It is not easy to start a new study group in America’s Bible Belt, and developing a core group of committed students to study Theosophy is an even greater task. But I am happy to report that we have a dedicated, enthusiastic study group and we are learning from each other at every meeting.

The majority of our Wichita membership heard about our group from the newsletter of the bookstore where we hold our meetings. We have a few people who have heard, or read, the word theosophy somewhere. When they googled it, they found the Theosophical Society in America website, which led them to our local group. We are the only TSA group in the entire state of Kansas. We have one member who travels two hours, in both directions, to come to a meeting,

The TSA recommends that to become a certified study center, the new group must study and complete John Algeo’s Theosophy: An Introductory Study Course. This was certainly a blessing here in Wichita, because every person who came to our group—whether only once, twice, or regularly—was absolutely brand-new to Theosophy. Most had never even heard of it before. Algeo’s excellent course introduces basic Theosophical concepts without going so far over your head that you give up!

Now in our second year, we are soon to finish Robert Ellwood’s Theosophy: A Modern Expression of the Wisdom of the Ages (A prudent next step after Algeo’s introductory course, as Ellwood’s book takes the basic concepts to the next level, and all of our members, who are new to Theosophy, need to have a solid background before moving on). Recently we were discussing that it is time to start thinking about what we want to study next as a group. I heard myself say, “You know, after only one year of studying Theosophy, by this time y’all are way ahead of where I was in my understanding of basic Theosophical concepts.”

If the TSA lodge I originally joined had recommended Algeo’s course to me in the beginning, a lot of things would have come together for me much sooner. For quite some time, most of the public lectures, and members’ meetings, were over my head. The course would certainly have been of great assistance to me as a new student of Theosophy by giving me understanding and confidence as I started on this journey.

I say that to encourage all TSA groups around the world to pay particular attention when someone comes to their meetings who is absolutely new to Theosophy. Because I started attending meetings at an established group—as opposed to a newly formed group that would be studying Algeo’s course first—I just had to jump in and tread water alone for years.

We must do our part to introduce those who are  ready to hear about and study Theosophical concepts. When the student is ready, the teacher will come. How long has it been since you introduced Theosophy to your community? To those who are ready and waiting to hear?

Therefore plant the seed for studying the Ancient Wisdom: consider putting flyers around town—particularly in metaphysical bookstores—announcing an introductory course in Theosophy by your group. Older, more established groups might even offer the introductory course periodically at a separate time from the regular meetings, so that new students who have joined during the year will not feel so intimidated and will be able to grow and develop with confidence as new Theosophists.

This article applies not only to study centers that are already formed but to those who would like to start a Theosophy study center in their communities. Even though the TSA website offers us many wonderful ways to study Theosophy alone (which I did for almost two years after moving away from my longtime TSA group), it was very important to me to have a group to study with.

Algeo’s introduction says:

H.P. Blavatsky has been reported as saying that the study of the great universal principles of Theosophy requires a special kind of mental effort that involves “the carving out of new brain paths.” It is not always easy for us, with our conditioned minds, to submit to so rigorous an undertaking, but once we have overcome our reluctance and inertia, we may find it the most exciting adventure of our lives.

All new students of Theosophy should be nurtured so that they do not become overwhelmed, or frustrated, and walk away. Therefore I suggest that all new students of Theosophy should be offered the opportunity to start that journey with Algeo’s course.

I am always open to suggestions of ways to introduce Theosophy to new students and would be very happy to share the way it was done here in Wichita. You can find me on the TSA website under Local Groups, Central District.

As the spring 2019 issue of Quest so enthusiastically states, “Together, we can elevate the consciousness of our world. YOU can be the change!”


Carol Craig is secretary of the Wichita Study Center of the TSA.


Viewpoint: Learning from the Past

Printed in the Fall 2019 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Hebert, Barbara,"Learning from the Past" Quest 107:4, pg 10-11

By Barbara Hebert
National President
 

Barbara HebertWhat comes to your mind when you think of ancient civilizations? Some of us might think about ancient Greece or Rome, Crete and the Minoan civilization, Mesopotamia, or even Atlantis and Lemuria. Others might even wonder about the connection between ancient civilizations and aliens. One thing is certain: the concept of ancient civilizations gives us the opportunity to peer into antiquity, imagine what it must have been like, and contemplate what we can learn from the ancient past.

If our thoughts drift toward Atlantis, we may have uplifting images of an advanced culture: vistas of beautiful buildings surrounded by tranquil blue seas, noble and gifted people, and a utopian society. Those of us who believe in reincarnation can almost imagine our lives there.

Plato described Atlantis, including its demise, in his dialogues the Timaeus and the Critias. In them Critias (Plato’s uncle in real life) narrates the story of Atlantis, which was apparently told to the Greek sage Solon by an Egyptian priest some 200 years previous. According to this account, the people of Atlantis, an island located in the Atlantic outside the Straits of Gibraltar, became greedy and corrupt, so the gods destroyed the civilization through a tremendous earthquake that caused the land to sink to the bottom of the sea.

Many historians believe that the story told by Critias, or more accurately by Plato, is merely legend or a fairy tale. Others believe that Plato created the story of Atlantis to illustrate his philosophical perspectives on society and human behavior.

In Theosophical teachings, H.P. Blavatsky indicates that Atlantis (and Lemuria, a continent destroyed even earlier) existed. She writes that Atlantis was not simply one island but “a whole continent.” She says the island of Poseidonis, the last surviving island, was submerged approximately 11,000 years ago (Collected Writings, 5:221, 223). Her descriptions of Atlantis and Lemuria are intermingled with discussions of the evolutionary stages of humanity.

We also find references to Atlantis and Lemuria in the Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett. The Mahatma Koot Hoomi writes, “We affirm that a series of civilizations existed before, as well as after the Glacial Period, that they existed upon various points of the globe, reached the apex of glory and—died.” He also writes:

Our present continents have, like “Lemuria” and “Atlantis,” been several times already submerged and had the time to reappear again, and bear their new groups of mankind and civilization; and . . . at the first great geological upheaval, at the next cataclysm—in the series of periodical cataclysms that occur from the beginning to the end of every Round,—our already autopsized continents will go down, and the Lemurias and Atlantises come up again. (Mahatma Letters, chronological edition, 310–11; emphasis in the original)

These statements give us pause as we consider the millennia that it took for these ancient civilizations to be born, rise to their zenith, and then disappear into the abyss of time. Contemplating these civilizations encourages us to think beyond the accepted limits of history and to question what we have been taught in history classes. It has also provided us with opportunities of dreaming about previous lifetimes in the (relatively) utopian society of Atlantis. But one may sincerely ask: how does consideration of these ancient civilizations help us today? What value is there in looking back through millennia to civilizations that no longer exist?

We may think of this paraphrased quote from philosopher George Santayana: “Those who fail to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors are destined to repeat them.” Are there lessons to be learned from the tales of Atlantis, Lemuria, and other ancient civilizations? From a Theosophical perspective, there are always things to be learned that help us expand our awareness and our consciousness.

Whether one believes that Atlantis existed and sank because the people who inhabited it became greedy and corrupt is really immaterial. If we perceive it as a modern morality tale, it encourages us to consider the importance of living moral and ethical lives, dedicated to the benefit of humanity. One might assume that we all comprehend the meaning of morality and ethics, but each of us has our own specific understanding of these concepts. What seems to be ethical for one individual is not necessarily perceived as ethical by another.

One example of this can be seen from our spring 2019 Quest issue, dealing with ahimsa. Some say that the only ethical diet is vegan, others say that being vegetarian is an appropriate ethical diet, while still others believe that neither diet is necessary for one to live an ethical life. These are personal decisions based on individual beliefs. From a Theosophical perspective, each one of us must listen to our own inner voice for guidance on morals and ethics.

Therefore, when we contemplate morals and ethics in our lives today, personal questions such as the following may arise: How many of my behaviors/thoughts/feelings today were in alignment with my moral and ethical beliefs? What would I change? How will I change? What will be different tomorrow?

We can also use the morality tale of Atlantis to guide us in our wider perspectives of the world around us. While the Theosophical Society in America will not become politically involved in any way, members of the Society may and do become involved. As individuals who are committed to working for the benefit of humanity, it makes sense that we review our own personal moral and ethical beliefs in light of what is happening in our world. As Theosophists, we can support efforts to expand the consciousness of humanity, to expand the awareness that each of us is an emanation of the Ultimate Reality (regardless of how we name it). Again, these are personal decisions for each of us and must be guided by our own inner voice.

We may also ask what other lessons can be learned by looking back through time. The antiquity of civilizations upon this planet may provide us with additional insight. As quoted above, K.H. indicates that the history of humanity on this planet is far more ancient than modern science believes. The millions of years that the earth requires to move large land masses, including both emergence and submergence, is mind-boggling. According to many modern historians, the oldest fossil of a human being, a jawbone found in Malawi in 1991 is estimated to be 2.3–2.5 million years old. Yet from statements made in the Mahatma Letters, we realize that 2 million years is relatively recent in comparison to the eons required for the earth’s changes and shifts. Interesting, again, but how can this understanding help us in our lives today?

When one considers the number of times we have lived (assuming one believes in reincarnation) and the millennia involved in the succession of those lives, it puts this current incarnation into perspective. So does the recognition of the antiquity of our world and our role in it. How important is one incident—even one that causes tremendous difficulty and suffering—in the overall scope of our many lives and of our spiritual evolution? This perspective can decrease some of our attachments. If we believe that we have lived before and that we will live again, if we believe that our souls have been evolving for millions of years, we may respond differently when a loved one dies. While the personality understandably grieves, there is a realization that the separation is temporary and we will be reunited, as we have been through the millennia.

Going a step further in this line of thinking, let’s play. Imagine yourself living in Atlantis or Mesopotamia or even ancient Greece. You have a nice home. You have a family whom you love dearly. You have work that fulfills you. The sky is a beautiful blue; there are gorgeous trees and plants surrounding you. Life is good.

If this scenario is accurate, at least partially, through the lens of time we realize that none of it exists any longer: the home, the family, the work, even the trees and plants. It may be a shock to suddenly realize that it’s all gone, but do you feel overwhelmed with grief?

Does this exercise help you understand that everything temporal passes into the abyss of time? It is the Ultimate Reality, and our souls as emanations of that Ultimate Reality, that exist eternally. While the ancient family is gone, the souls have not disappeared. Rather, they are likely with us, dwelling in some other physical body today.

This entire viewpoint may sound paradoxical. On the one hand, we talk about living moral and ethical lives today as well as supporting efforts in our communities and nation to increase the awareness of humanity; on the other hand, we talk about the temporal nature of everything except the Ultimate Reality and ourselves as its emanations. Paradoxes can be very uncomfortable, because there is no definitive answer to them, but then many spiritual concepts are shrouded in paradox. Paradoxes provide us with the opportunity to contemplate, listen to our inner voice, and make decisions for ourselves rather than simply following statements made by others. It is in this way that we learn, grow, and expand our consciousness, which then expands the consciousness of all. Contemplating the past can thus provide us with guidance for today.


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