By W. E. Butler
I want to discuss with you the wonderful thing we call ‘personality’, for in endeavouring to understand something of this part of ourselves, we may also be enabled to deal with some of the many problems which are thrust upon us as we try to follow the Occult path.
For it is very true that our personality plays a very great and important part in our individual evolution. Hence the advice of the Delphic motto – “Know Thyself” – is so very valuable even though we often forget it.
What, then, do we mean by the term ‘personality’? As I have often said in the lessons themselves such a very great depends on what is meant by a word, for words are but the outer expressions of ideas (apart from their purely physical vibration value). The dictionary definition is “an individual”, but this is a somewhat inadequate definition. Perhaps we can improve on it by attempting to find out what the psychologists mean when they use the term. Here again we are faced with the difficulty that schools of psychology differ in their use of the word. So perhaps it will be best if we state here what we understand by the word ‘personality’. As our understanding of the word is tied up with all the instruction we have given in the SOL course, this is probably the best way of dealing with the term. The dictionary points out that the word is derived from a Latin root ‘persona’. This by definition means ‘the aspect of the person which is presented to the outer world’. In ancient Roman and Grecian times actors wore a mask to represent the dominant emotion – tragedy, comedy etc. which they were expressing and, as it is said, they spoke through the mask. Also in the Egyptian mysteries the expression “the priest wearing the mask of Anubis arose and said….” gives the same idea. Here, of course, we come to Shakespeare’s words “one man, in his time, plays many parts”. So we may begin to define personality by saying that, amongst other things, it denotes the mask which we wear when we face the outer world. Now we come to the root of the matter. Of what is the personality the mask and how does it arise in ourselves?
If we accept the basic teachings of the Qabalah, then we must think of ourselves as spiritual beings manifesting in the physical world through the mask of our personality. This personality has been built up through the encounters between our real spiritual self and the world around us. Various formative forces have caused us to build our mask after a certain pattern, it is through this same mask that we act upon the outer world and are acted upon by that world. Unfortunately, by a curious mechanism, we identify ourselves with our personality and so build up a false ego or self which causes much trouble both for us and those who come in contact with us. That which speaks ‘through the mask’ is not the true actor but an inferior consciousness who cannot control his instrument, and this is true of the greater number of people on this planet.
I have given you this elementary sketch of the nature and genesis of the personality because I wanted to lead up to one of the great dangers of the esoteric path. That danger is Personality-worship. In its various forms it is implicit in human nature because, in the last resort, it is an unbalanced aspect of one of the deepest and truest urges of the human self – the urge to worship and to merge with the ultimate object of that worship, the eternal life from which we came and to which we return in the fullness of time.
One of the commonest forms of this personality-worship is to be found in the uncritical and intensely emotional attachment which we show to some leader or teacher in the occult world. I was intrigued by a letter which appeared in a certain psychic periodical in which the writer claimed that the great teacher, Dion Fortune, was an “expert on the Qabalah”, and with an emotional fervour affirmed that which she had expressly repudiated in one of her books. Dr. Hugh Schonfield, the Hebrew scholar, tartly commented in the next issue of the paper that Dion Fortune was not regarded by orthodox scholarship as being in any way an expert on this subject. This somewhat unedifying spectacle was entirely unnecessary, if either of the correspondents in question had cared to look up Dion Fortune’s Mystical Qabalah chapter IV paras 3-7, they would have seen a refutation of both their points of view from the pen of Dion Fortune herself. Therein she admits her lack of academic knowledge and says “I do not say this is the teaching of the ancient Rabbis; rather do I say this is the practice of the modern Qabalists…. ” .
Some of you may wonder why I have retailed this particular episode since I myself owe so much to Dion Fortune, who was my teacher from the year 1925 until her death. Surely there are enough men with muck rakes (to borrow from Pilgrim’s Progress), enough denigrators ready to pull everyone down to their own pygmy stature? That is so and I have never joined those who appear to have a special dislike of Dion Fortune and all her works. However this little episode helps to establish my point regarding personality-worship. If the one who wrote the first letter had only stopped to read those paragraphs in the Mystical Qabalah, she would not have brought down the strictures of Dr. Schonfield on the Teacher she revered, in that way lowering the status of that Teacher in the eyes of those who never read occult books, who distrust the esoteric philosophy and who would be confirmed in their views by the expressed opinion of an undoubted expert in the field of Hebrew philosophy. So in the end, she did her idol a disservice and this is often the result of such personality-worship.
In yet another way, personality-worship can injure the unfortunate object of it. As long as we are in incarnation, we are subject to the limitations of our personality. The mask which we have constructed through the years will prove difficult to adapt to changing conditions and new attitudes. Yet adapt it we must if it to remain of any value to us. There is a deep occult truth in the story of Lot’s wife who, looking back to the home from whence she came, was turned into a pillar of salt. Salt is a crystalline structure, perfectly exemplifying the rigid locking-up of matter through the action of internal stresses. So it is possible for each one of us to ‘stick’ in some one point of our life, to crystallise into the pattern of that period. But the cyclic changes which go on perpetually within the depths of our self – changes which are due to the overshadowing influence of our deeper self – tend to change the manner in which we react to outer conditions and one of two things may happen. Either the crystallised personality mask is so rigid that it chokes back the inner forces, or the inner forces, increasing in their pressure because they are being choked, finally find a flaw in the barrier set up by the personality and pour through in an overwhelming flood, breaking down the rigid personality and effecting drastic changes in the life and outlook of the person concerned.
Within each of us, teacher and student alike, is the ‘Shadow’; this is something with which we must deal at one time or another. If we recognise this and accept it, then we will be saved much trouble. If we cease to project upon the teacher any glamour-image and if we admit in our minds that he, like ourselves, possesses the shadow, then we will be able to respect and be grateful to him for what he has given us and see, reflected in him, something of that Light that to some extent he is able to bring to us. Even so will the teacher, recognising the Shadow within us, see also the promise and potency of that same Light hidden within us. Superstitious personality-worship, which shuts its eyes to the Shadow within its hero and insists on retaining the one aspect of the Teacher’s personality, binds that particular aspect upon the Teacher, the combined hero-worship of a Group can result in a mental imprisonment of the Teacher within that facet, and the Light which should have shone more fully through him becomes restricted and dim.
The converse is also true. If the Group in all its members, comes to terms with the shadow within, then this group reaction opens the channels by which a greater outpouring of the Light may take place, for the Teacher is lifted up as it were into a higher level of consciousness and becomes able to receive and bring through deeper teaching and more potent forces. For not all the value of the teacher lies in what he may give out as teaching – he becomes a channel through whom powerful forces may pour down into the Group and these forces will work upon the latent aspects of the personalities of his students and by a process of psychic induction, bring those latent aspects into conscious manifestation. This is one of the most important laws of the esoteric path and would suggest that you spend a little time on meditation thereof it will pay dividends.
Finally, it is a sad fact that should a Teacher fall from the pedestal upon which he has been placed, the first to revile and condemn him will be those who placed him upon that pedestal by their unwise personality-worship. It is for this reason – amongst others – that we have endeavoured to make our students accept the idea of a loosely knit association of students of the Mysteries, even where small groups of students have been formed – or formed themselves – the same law holds good.
Let us now turn to one or two other matters which are connected with this mundane personality of ours. As we have said previously, personality can be seen as the ‘mask’ which is worn by the true self. But there is another and far more positive and active aspect of the personality to which we wish to draw your attention. Alienists and psychiatrists of all psychological schools of thought have all experienced the activities of this more positive phase or aspect of the personality and have dealt with it according to the light that was in them. If, through the processes of psychological research we begin to look at this personality of ours, we find we have made contact with something which is at the same time both wonderful and terrible – we might say “aweful”, using the word correctly.
Looking into the depths of the personality, we see this awesome power flaming, expanding, contracting and revealing still further depths of power. It is as though we gazed into the terrible manifestation. This central point of the human personality, where the dual forces of Earth and Heaven meet and react one on the other, is indeed the microcosmic concourse of forces where personality in its basic structure is forged by the titanic forces in the microcosm into a vehicle of expression and manifestation of the self within.
It is upon this basic structure that our present personality is built up by the interaction of the impulse from the deeper self and forces and influences of the environment. But, whether we like it or not, some personality will be built even as the life of a plant imprisoned beneath a stone will triumphantly conquer its disability and grow from beneath that limitation, though in its misshapen leaves and twisted stem it shows lhe bitterness of its struggle to survive.
We should always keep in mind this amazing energy and purpose which lies at the very centre of our personality for it is these fiery depths of the psyche in which the will of the true self is endeavouring to find expression. Often, in the confined moralities to which we subscribe, the personality that is formed is, like the plant of which we spoke, distorted and pale and of that primordial fire which dwells within, very little is manifest in the surface self. We are not advocating the sweeping away of moral codes, but merely the reappraisal of them, so that those things which are of the essence of true morality may be separated from purely conventional, often hypocritical, modes of thought which have been linked with them in the eyes of society.
If we think of ‘morals’ in the meaning of the word ‘moris’ – a custom -, then we can see that there are customs which have outlived their usefulness, just as there are those which belong to no period, but are truly ageless. There are those also which are just coming into use and have to be tested by their effect upon society. The ageless customs underlie all religions, all creatures, since they are the expressions in the world of men of the ‘morality of the Masters’ – the rules of life which belong not to this or to that passing fad or fancy, but are the expressions of the ethical outlook of the followers of the Ageless Wisdom. Here is the true yardstick against which we may measure those ideas of morality and ethics which are being thrust upon us from all quarters at the present day.
Now let us consider another aspect of this personality of ours. We are often surprised at the curious moods which sometimes sweep over us without any apparent cause. We have called them moods but they seem to be more than mere moods, for they bring with them a feeling of power and, indeed, of individuality which is hard to describe, but most definitely experienced. What are these irruption’s into consciousness, these overshadowing clouds of emotion? Well, one thing they may be, and this is the impact of some powerful personality or some centre of power upon our personality – and this very often explains them fully. However, they may be due to the influence upon us of something else powerful, personal and very interesting. The personalities that have been built up in the past by our True Self still subsist in that deeper Self and continue their aeonian experience therein, though the bodies physical, astral and mental have gone into the discard. They have no need of such vehicles though they can, if necessary, materialise temporary bodies on whatever level they wish to manifest. More usually however, they overshadow the present personality and this overshadowing has a certain cyclic rhythm. Because of this, we can plot out a chart showing this cyclic out-turning and by extrapolation can see when these influences are likely to affect us. The knowledge of these particular tides within our personality is a very valuable part of education. For instance, would it be advisable to deal with tricky and highly emotional issues when the influence of a powerful martial personality from the past is likely to be strongly present within us? His way of solving the problem might not be helpful. Or, when it becomes necessary for us to venture upon a hold enterprise in the outer world, would it be helpful if we chose the time to essay this just when the personality of the past who all his life was in retreat from the world was exerting his influence upon us?
In summary, we have been endeavouring to show both the merits and de-merits of the personality or mask which we all build up as our instrument for dealing with the earth-plane and its conditioning influence. we have particularly laid stress upon undue dependence upon the personalities of others, especially on our Teachers. This leads to another angle of this guestion of personality. Why, if we say that the student must train himself to be self-sufficient in his esoteric efforts, do we speak of the invaluable help that we have received from our teacher. This appears to be contradictory.
Let us consider the positive benefits which a Teacher can provide. First of all, however, we must try to get the subject into proper perspective. There is an esoteric saying which is often quoted in this connection – “when the pupil is ready, the Master appears”. This is absolutely true, but it is capable of being grossly misunderstood. So many students think of it in terms of the sudden appearance of some white robed figure who announces to the awe-struck student that he has come to be his personal Teacher. That this does sometimes occur we do not deny. Such was the first meeting of Alice A. Bailey with one of the Masters, such was the experience of Madam Blavatsky also, there have been others who have met their Teacher in this unexpected fashion. But they are not typical of the rank and file of esoteric students.
Usually, when we are ready for the next phase in our esoteric training, the Master does come to us. But he comes in a way for which we are not, as a rule, prepared. We may easily, because of this, fail to make the new grade and so have to mark time – or even to apparently drop back in our work. So it may be helpful if we point out to our students that in the majority of cases, the Teacher comes to us in the person of one or another of those who are linked to him. The new contact which we receive and the new teaching we are given, enable us to forge ahead in our training. This process may be oft repeated, but pari passu with these new influences and teachings there should be a corresponding expansion and development of our own selves until we become attuned to the Teacher himself, then the conscious personal contact with the Teacher takes place. These things are matters of both teaching and ‘contact’ using the word in a particular technical sense. But before we consider that point, we must consider the point regarding the one who comes to us in the power and influence of the true Teacher? It is so easy for us, in this present period of time, to be overwhelmed by the various claims made by gurus, swamis and chelas of Eastern esoteric systems on one hand, and Teachers who claim to be the ‘channels’ of beings of various grades (usually they claim that their particular inner plane Teacher is of the highest grade).
How far can the average student trust such self-appointed ‘channels’ and what are the criteria by means of which he may judge the value of their messages? The answer is the old biblical one – “By their fruits ye may know them”. But on the face of it, many such channels and the groups which form around them would appear to be of a high ethical tone, so it would seem that the problem is not so easily disposed of as it would appear. This is a serious matter, for it is far easier to become a member of a Group than it is to leave it. Contacts are made and influence are brought to bear which can profoundly affect everyone who is linked by membership with the ‘group-mind’ of the group concerned.
Here an old esoteric saying is very relevant – “Discrimination is the first virtue of the Path”. When the student has to make a decision regarding his membership of any group, society or fraternity, it is not only the general ethical teaching he should examine, but also the lives of those who are the products of the teaching. “If I follow you, shall I become like you?” is a good question to ask – at any rate it is a good attitude of mind to adopt, even though you never voice it to the members of the Group concerned.
Apart from what may be termed the general ethical atmosphere, there is also a most important aspect which should be considered, that is the mental and spiritual balance which should be apparent in the teachings and in those who follow those teachings. Here the Qabalistic Tree of Life with its associated philosophy should help the student to evaluate any organisation which competes for his allegiance.
If the student practices the virtue of discrimination he will be saved much unnecessary wandering in the dark. Having found the person who for the time being is the means whereby the Teacher is dealing with him, the student soon begins to realise that there is much more to esoteric training than mere mental instruction. Here we come to the question of ‘contacts’ of which we wrote earlier.
‘Contacts’ is the name given to the imponderable psychic and spiritual influences which are brought to bear upon the members of a group which is headed by one who acts as the channel for the teachings and influences of the Teacher or Master who is the Inner Plane Master concerned with the work of the Group. It should be remembered that, associated with every Group of this nature, there is a corresponding group of workers on the Inner Planes, they too mediate the Master’s influence. This influence, working upon the members of the Group, begins to affect them all in varying degree just as the atmosphere of a hot house causes the plants therein to grow and develop. So, in a well-knit Group, properly contacted, the steady development of the spiritual and mental nature goes hand in hand with a balanced development of the psychic and intuitional faculties. This is the ideal, but because of the differing temperaments, weakness’ and out-of-balance aspects of most of us, the development of a Group does not, as a rule, proceed along such ideal lines. Often there is dissension and strife and it is here that the wisdom as well as the power of the leader of the Group is put to the test. A good mental attitude for the student to take under such circumstances is that which Dion Fortune adopted towards the Lodge of the Golden Dawn in which she trained. She says “I took no part in the various dissension’s within the Lodge, but worked steadily on the principles which were taught”. It is sometimes better to remain outside any organised group, but the help such a group can give is very great indeed and it would be foolish for a student to refuse to consider the possibility of joining one, if the chance presented itself. With the touchstone of discrimination, he can test the quality of the group.
However, it is imperative that the student remembers always that even though, through the Group or through the individual Teacher who offers him the next step on the way and mediates to him the influence of the Masters, the ultimate aim of both Group and Teacher is to so train and develop the student that one day he may attain to the Knowledge and conversation of his own Holy Guardian Angel, and so be committed, as Abramelin the Mage remarks to a far greater teacher – his own true Spiritual Self – and from that inner Teacher he may receive that true initiation that will work in him unceasingly towards the goal of his evolutionary pilgrimage.