From the Editor’s Desk

Printed in the  Winter 2018  issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: Smoley, Richard, "From the Editor’s Desk" Quest 106:1, pg 2


As you know, myth conveys truths that cannot be expressed in ordinary language.

Here is one of the most ancient and universal myths. Once there was a cosmic being, who lived on a plane of existence on a much grander scale than our own. Something happened: a fall. We are not sure what this was—a deliberate choice, an act of rebellion, a fatal mistake, perhaps even a felix culpa: a “fortunate fault” that appeared to be a sin or an error but was in fact necessary for some unknown purpose—the acquisition of knowledge perhaps.

Of course this fall cannot be connected with anything on the timeline of history, even the history of the cosmos. That is because time and space—the background against which history takes place—are themselves the result of this event. We might be tempted to identify it with the Big Bang of physics, but I would be reluctant to do so, if only because ten or twenty or fifty years from now, physics may well change its mind (as it is entitled to) and decide that the Big Bang did not happen after all.

Often this being is imagined as a cosmic human that is composed of all men and women. But this fall caused this being to shatter into billions of tiny fragments, each of which believed it was alone and independent and forgot that it had ever been—and still was—united with a greater whole.

Each of these fragments is one of us. We imagine ourselves to be isolated and autonomous, but actually we remain inseparably connected to this universal human. We even know this truth at some level, although usually unconsciously. H.P. Blavatsky is quoted as saying, “ Universal brotherhood rests upon the common soul. It is because there is one soul common to all men, that brotherhood, or even common understanding is possible.” (Blavatsky, Collected Writings, 8:408).

Although the details vary, we can see this myth at the core of the tale of the biblical Fall of Adam, the Hindu descent of Purusha into avidya or obliviousness, and the dismembering of Gayomart in the Zoroastrian tradition, among many others. Indeed Adam, Purusha, and Gayomart are only a few of the names that have been given to this cosmic human over the course of time. I believe that this idea is also the central message of Finnegans Wake, the cryptic masterpiece by James Joyce.

To continue with the myth, even in this cosmic shattering there were some fragments that did not forget that they were part of this whole, or, if they did forget, remembered comparatively soon. They recognized, and recognize, one another, just as two people who are awake in a roomful of sleeping people soon become aware of each other. And they also understood that they had to awaken all the sleepers, not merely as a virtuous action, but because this was the only way that the cosmic being could be restored to his pristine state.

There are names for this group of people who are at least relatively awake. One of the best-known is the Brotherhood. (Of course the term is not gender-specific; it includes men and women equally.) The Brotherhood cannot be associated with any specific organization or tradition, no matter how much some may want it to be. It is not an organization. At street level, it is simply the collection of people who recognize their common origin and work to restore their common life. Beings on higher levels, which some identify with the Masters, are part of the same movement, but in other realms. We do not know much about these realms.

Some in the street-level Brotherhood are esotericists; many, no doubt most, are not. Their qualifications come not from any external initiatory rites (although these may take place) but from their awareness of their purpose and their commitment to fulfilling it. To invoke the theme of this issue, this Brotherhood can be seen as the divine seed that will bear fruit in the ultimate restoration of this cosmic being.

The Theosophical Society was almost certainly formed with some understanding of these ideas. That is very likely why its First Object is given as “to form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity” (note the word brotherhood here). Again, of course, the Theosophical Society cannot be equated with the Brotherhood in any simplistic way. It is, like all the others, merely a branch of something much larger that will never and can never be organized in the form of a company or foundation. (I note in Vic Hao Chin’s article “Brotherhood” in the Theosophical Encyclopedia that originally the First Object was “to form the nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity,” but in 1896 was changed to read “to form a nucleus.”) But we may believe that it remains connected to this larger entity and will continue to serve its purposes.

Richard Smoley

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