By the late Right Rev. Robert King, W E Butler’s first teacher
All the great religions – Hindu, Egyptian, Greek, Mohammedan – had, and still have their esoteric side, and Christianity too had its mysteries and has never been wholly without them, although in our day they are almost entirely neglected, and by the Protestant Churches are completely ignored.
The only clear difference between the Christian mysteries and those of other religions, lies in the fact that they are open to all who care to search for, and find them, whereas in older religions the teaching that led to them was jealously guarded, and reserved only for those few who were specially selected for instruction.
The hidden teaching in the Christian Church derives directly from our Lord Himself, and the following passages from the Gospels will show you how it was understood in his day. In St. Matthew ch. 13 the disciples had asked, “Why speakest thou unto them in parables,” for our Lord had been speaking to the multitudes in parables, and parables as you know are fables or stories with a hidden meaning. (They are used much in Hinduism and Buddhism today.) And our Lord replied: “Because to you is it given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, but to them it is not given.”
And again in St. Mark ch. 4, when he had been speaking to the people in a number of parables we find the remark: “And with many such parables spake he the word unto them as they were able to hear it. But without a parable spake he not unto them; and when they were alone he expounded all things to his disciples.” Again in St. Luke ch. 8, you find him teaching in parables, and explaining the inner meaning of his teachings to the disciples.
Two points that I have already made emerge from these passages from the Gospels. First that there was an inner teaching, and that our Lord himself taught both exoterically and esoterically, and second that that inner teaching was open to any one who “had ears to hear, etc.” It was reserved for such – yes – for without such ears there was no power to understand it, but given the ability to understand, the mysteries were open to all.
Passing now from the time of our Lord himself to that of the apostles, we find continued evidence of the existence of an inner teaching. We meet with that extraordinary character Simon Magus the Greek Gnostic, who came to St. Peter and tried to get information from him to give to his own sect. Simon was evidently on the power ray, and wanted to dominate other people. He got short shrift from St. Peter, but he evidently knew there was an inner teaching, and that it was known to St. Peter.
We find at this time, too, that the Gnostic aspect of religion was very strong, and it had a powerful influence on Christian teaching. St. Paul himself, an educated man, a Roman citizen, and an influential Hebrew from Tarsus, was soaked in it. It sprang from the Hellenic world, and it had to do with the Way of Attainment by knowledge; “Gnosis” as you know deriving from a Greek word meaning to know. (We get the same idea in the Gnani Yoga of India which teaches also the Way of Attainment by knowledge.) The Christian Gnostics of the earliest days endeavour to show that the inner teaching of the faith was linked with both Greek philosophy and Indian metaphysics, and that it contained within it the truths of the Egyptian mysteries. Not that it was these things, but that in its inner teaching were included the truths that they contained.
The great Gnostics of the early church were, of course, St. John and St. Paul, and it was they who preserved for us the esoteric tradition and teaching of the faith.
Let us turn for a moment to the conception of our Lord as it is presented to us by some of his followers. First is that which is most generally held by normal Christians, the idea of him as Friend, or Saviour, or Messiah, who went about with men, and was crucified, and will come again to judge the quick and the dead. That is the conception based mainly on St. Matthew, St. Luke and St. Mark, the three Gospels that are outstandingly narrative. In considering the four Gospels it is interesting by the way to note the symbolism attached to them – the Bull representing St. Matthew, the Lion St. Mark, the Eagle St. John. Astrologically St. John is represented by Scorpio, which combines the symbols of the eagle and the serpent, St. John being the Eagle (the higher wisdom) which destroys the serpent (lust). St. Luke is represented by Aquarius, the man with the water pitchers, respectively the higher astral, and the spiritual powers. In the Gospel of St. John we find then, as the symbols would lead us to expect, a different picture and a marked difference of conception from that of the other three Gospels. St. John was a cultured man and a Jew, but he was quite familiar with his early Gnostic contemporaries and their teaching, and from him we get the Gnostic aspect of Christianity. He expresses himself in terms of the Wisdom, of Gnosis, and his account of our Lord and his Life and his teaching, is in direct line of descent from the teaching of the ancient Egyptian Wisdom.
St. John in his Gospel plunges right into the centre of his subject, and speaks as it were from the very heart of the matter. There is no reference to genealogy, no account of the birth or childhood of our Lord, no “personal touch” of any kind, simply: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The ancient Egyptian formula says the same thing – “God spake and the worlds became.” Both St. John and ancient Egypt understood, and taught esoterically, the creative power of sound. Through the Logos, the Word, all things came into being. In man also the higher creative power resides in the larynx if and when he cares to lift it up to that centre.
St. John continues in the same vein:
“All things were made by him and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was Life and the Life was the Light of man.” Mark that word “Light.” It is a definite symbol in all mystery teaching, and it has reference to mental understanding. Again in the Ancient Egyptian mysteries we find “let the Light shine forth,” which referred to the opening of the understanding so that the Light of the Logos might be seen.
“And the darkness comprehended it not.” How perfectly and how pithily St. John puts the whole case. Today as then, those who are treading the path know how difficult it is, how the darkness of non-knowledge clouds everything, and creates difficulties in all fields of action.
“There was a man sent from God whose name was John. The same came for witness to bear witness of the Light,” (The Light of understanding). “He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him and the world knew him not.” (In the darkness of non-knowledge he was not seen.) “He came unto his own and his own received him not.” (He came bringing the Light of understanding, but they failed to recognise it. “But as many as received him to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believed on his name.” Note the power of the Name. We have spoken often of the occult power that is behind the giving of a name, and how important it is. When you receive a name you receive a sound-form, and you are then called by a name which has a peculiar inner power. As his Name has a divine power, so those who believe on his Name put themselves in line with his sound-form, and its mighty living power, and are enabled thereby to become even the sons of God. The power and mystery of the Name is something which is not very clearly realised in our day.
“Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of a man, but of God.” Notice three kinds of birth: by blood, by the will of the flesh and by the will of man. Blood indicates sensual birth – passion, lust, a purely animal expression; the will of the flesh is also through passion but less gross, not entirely, but very strongly emotional; the will of man means by controlled and directed selection. “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, (and we behold his glory the glory as of the only begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth.” These are the first fourteen verses of St. John’s Gospel; they are its keynote, and they show it immediately as related to the Gnosis, the understanding and knowledge side of the Christian life. It might also be said that he who understands those verses will understand the rest of the Gospel. It is coloured throughout by the influence of the Gnostics and their line of teaching, in which things stand as symbols of the real; for the meaning of symbols according to the Gnostic teaching is that they represent inner truths, the whole of the teaching being based on the reality represented by the symbols. They – the Gnostics – had a definite conception of man which followed the old tradition that man had a threefold constitution, viz., the pneumatic, which is a Greek word for air or breath; the psychic or the soul, being the mental emotional part; and the hylic or body physical. So there we get spirit, soul and body, the normal man being formed of the two lower. When Christ came two thousand years ago, he brought the spiritual down even into men’s bodies, and imparted in his death a new impulse into physical matter itself, for when his side was pierced upon the cross, the blood and serum (water) which flowed from the wound fell upon the earth, and added to it a new power. So we humans were given in our very physical bodies something which we had never had before. It is important to realise that.
It was six hundred years before the Christ that the Buddha was born, and founded his wonderful compassionate religion, and many have asked what was the difference between the Buddha and the Christ. The name Buddha means enlightened, that is one who had the Light, his earth name being Gautama. He was the first of our humanity in time, who from below pierced upwards to the Christ condition, and if you read his life you will see what he went through to attain to that state. Christ on the contrary came down for mankind, so you see the Buddha worked up from below while the Christ came down from above. With his coming as I have just said, power came even unto human flesh, so that the very substance matter of our bodies was not the same thereafter. Something had been added which raised its power of vibration, for his blood and water, representing the purified astral and divine life, came into the very earth from whose particles our bodies are built.
And so St. John tries to point to us in symbol the reality the living truth behind the appearance. He shows us our Lord – his master, remember, whom he knew and loved – not so much as Friend and Saviour but as Light and Truth. He is the way, and his Light shining in the mysteries opens the Way to all who having ears to hear and eyes to see, have also the courage to enter upon it and push forward through the three great degrees – which at all times and everywhere are symbolised by the square, the triangle and the circle – until they reach to sonship of God which Christ himself promised to them.
We may note in passing that these three degrees of the square, the triangle and the circle still exist in Freemasonry today. They existed also in the early Christian mysteries, for in the Mass of the Early Church we find the threefold division of the Preparation, the Mass of the Catechumens, and the Mass of the Faithful. At the end of each division those who had advanced no further than that degree withdrew from the service, until only those who were fully initiated remained for the supreme mystery of the Mass of the Faithful.
That then is St. John’s conception of our Lord. A Light shining in the darkness of our ignorance and egoism, for the most part “uncomprehended” and unknown, but when recognised and believed in, lighting the Way to the sonship of God. From St. Paul we get yet another picture which is linked up with a definite idea current in Greece and Egypt at the time. St. Paul as I have already said was an educated man, and from him we get the great conception of the Christ as the archetypal man, the Divine Man in whose image all men are Christs in the making. That was his fundamental conception, and we can see that it is in its essence closely related to St. John’s idea. Further he held that in our Lord’s resurrection is the hope of salvation.
You will be asking what all this has to do with Christmas? You will most of you know that the tradition of the virgin birth of a Saviour is very ancient, and very widespread. We get it in India, in Egypt and in Greece, but there is a difference in our Christian faith, and it is a very important one. It is found in the story of the overshadowing of the Virgin Mary by the angel Gabriel. The account of this is in St. Luke ch. 1, and in no other faith do we get anything comparable to it. It is in St. Luke’s gospel only, a fact not without interest if we glance back a moment at the symbols of the four evangelists. In the older faiths it is always by direct contact of the male principle with the virgin that the birth is brought about, but the birth of Christ depends upon the intermediate agency of the archangel Gabriel. Occultly speaking this is of immense importance. According to Jewish tradition Gabriel was the angel of the moon, and the moon as you know has to do with the personality, that is with you and me. The word “persona” or mask, comes from the Latin persona, being the mask the actors held in front of their faces to depict the characters they were acting. So when I talk about my personality, the personality of Robert King, I am using the word in the inner sense, and I mean the mask or outer husk, as it were, of my real self. The personality is of immense importance to the personality! We waltz around ourselves so much. What happens to us, and what we do is of such great concern to us, and the less evolved we are the more closely we associate ourselves with the body of thought and feeling. Only as we begin to move forward in evolution, does the pace and intensity of our self-centred dance begin to slacken a little.
The moon then symbolises the personality, and Gabriel is the angel of the moon. From a higher sphere he brings down with him a ray which, passing through him is connected with personality; therefore, in a special way it has to do with you and me. But it is only from a virgin that this birth can take place, from the Virgin Mary, and “Mary” derives from the Latin word maris, the sea. So we get the virgin sea, and in Roman Catholicism, Mary is sometimes called Stella Maris, star of the Sea. What does the sea mean? Remember we are trying to understand the occult meaning of it all. The sea in all symbolism has always represented the great emotional-astral nature, that plane of being which comes between the physical and the mental. Therefore you can realise that anything which comes through the sea – the emotional nature – that we might call the subconscious – is going to be very much coloured by that subconscious. It is of great importance what the condition of the sea may be, for you can well understand that the purer the quality of the water, the purer the condition of that which passes through it. That is why you have to have a virgin birth, for the true Light can only pass through a virgin sea, that is through a nature of limpid tranquillity; a nature to whom the storms of the self-centred emotions are unknown. When that mighty ray of the Christ, descending through the angel Gabriel as a personal ray, enters a personality that has become a virgin sea, then the Christ is born. That is what differentiates the Christian religion from all others and gives it its peculiar stamp as a personal religion. For Christianity the angel Gabriel had to be there; he was an essential part of the great plan.
In the writings of St. Paul we find an enormous amount of material that throws further light on this great mystery of the birth of Christ, and if you have the eyes and the ears to see and to hear you can perceive and understand what is meant.
Let us see ourselves for a moment for what we are. We are threefold beings consisting of a body physical, a soul made up of emotions and modicums of mentality, and the spiritual Self – the great unnameable. As I have already pointed out, this threefold division was well known in the Gnostic tradition, and their terms – the hylic, the psychic and the pneumatic – correspond exactly to our modern ones of body, soul and Spirit. What then has the angel Gabriel and the virgin birth to do with you and me? Here we are each and all of us, threefold beings confined in a five-sense body. Each of us has passed through certain stages of evolution from the animal upwards, all of us are oscillating between the lower and higher selves, and nearly all of us are lashing around within the great ocean of emotions, involved wholly in our little all- important personalities.
Gabriel I repeat, is the angel of the moon, governing the personality, and it is around that personality that the Christian mysteries revolve. They exist to enable us to escape from the thraldom of the personal self, and to bring into manifestation that divine self which is no other than the Christ within, and it is through the influx of power descending through the angel Gabriel, and entering into the personality, that this can be brought about. This act was anciently known by a very definite name; it was called the Conception of the Christ within. That is a name which fits it exactly, for it has to take place in two ways – by the opening of the personality upwards to receive, and by the descent and entering in of the power from above – corresponding significantly with the uniting of the sperm and the ovum out of which the body physical is created. St. Paul gives us this analogy, and he knew what he was talking about, for he was a great initiate. After his conversion on the road to Damascus he was two or three years in hiding, and during that time passed through initiations, so when he came again as a teacher his words were of extreme importance.
Sometimes we are aware in our consciousness when this great conception takes place within us; there is a feeling of greater compassion for all things, a flowing out to all humanity. This may come, but it may not last; that depends upon you, and it is this that is sometimes known as Conversion. But whether you are conscious of it or not, it comes with its inevitable consequences, and in the mystery teaching you are always warned that when the fructifying has taken place, changes will be felt down here in the personality. All occult teaching confirms this.
“My little children, of who, I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you,” wrote St. Paul to the Galatians, knowing well that wheresoever the knowledge of the mysteries, Christian or pagan, existed, those words would be understood. Through pain and stress, often through the pain and difficulty of precipitated karma which comes upon us at this point, we have to bring into manifestation the divine self that has been conceived within us. We have to struggle until we are strong enough to bring forth from the womb of our personality the child Christ. In due course the struggle gets less, and presently we have what we call the actual birth, a wonderful moment, difficult to put into words. It is a birth remember, not a carrying something on, not a development of what you already have, but an added something which is not of the personality; it is not brought about by working upwards as a water spout works up to join the clouds. It is in physical life; after conception comes the hard, difficult carrying period, then the struggle of labour, and then finally the birth, when a new, an individual being, is brought into the world. Hindu books, written purely from the Eastern point of view, attempt to describe the wonderful flare up of illumination in the heart centre when the Christ is born, but it is only an attempt.
When this birth has taken place, but not until, we become as St. Paul puts it, writing this time to the Christians in Corinth, “as babes in Christ.” Think again for a moment, in terms of the physical, just what those words mean. Up to the moment of birth the child, though living its own little life, is still a part of the mother who is bearing it. But with the severing of the umbilical cord something quite complete built up by the mother from the life force of the father, is separated entirely, and given an individual life of its own. That is what St. Paul meant by “babes in Christ,” something new, something helpless in a way, but alive and independent; and individuality as distinct from a personality.
So then the growth begins, and goes ceaselessly on. Have you ever thought what growth means? We are all adults here, we are not growing physically any more, but the child grows, and growth implies action. The steadier and more sustained the action the better the growth. If you refuse action to the body it becomes stunted; a good example of this is the binding of the feet of Chinese women, growth being denied to them they become almost useless. All this applies to our inner growth just as to the growth of the physical body. If the Christ that has been born – “the babe in Christ” – is to grow, it has to act, but unless we use action along the right lines we do not grow aright. In the ancient mysteries, when the candidate stepped off the circle he was robed – up to that time he had been naked – and the hammer and block were put into his hands, and he was set to work to knock the block into shape. This is the symbol in Freemasonry today. If he did not do this he did not grow. So in the Christian mysteries, unless the new Christ rhythm of oneness with love and sacrifice is brought into play, you stay where you are. Action and growth must take place in the understanding, and service and sacrifice have to inform the emotional nature. As you work, the astral body becomes more and more sensitive, and as the mind grows in understanding, and in recognition of the Christ within, you are enabled to become a conscious co-worker with those great beings who are carrying out God’s purpose. You can put yourself in line with them up to your own capacity, so that working, and striving to attain, the life force flows through you more and more, and you continue to grow towards that sonship of God of which St. John speaks.
Working steadfastly, and with one-pointed intention, we arrive in due time at that state which St. Paul, writing now to the Ephesians, describes as “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Note the agreement in this of St. John and St. Paul. The stature and fullness of Christ is what comes to us if we attain. What does this tremendous thing, this full stature, this sonship, imply as far as we mortals, you and I, are concerned? It means the full stature of understanding – not book learning – of power, and of love. We are to grow to the perfection of the triangle, that three sided, perfectly balanced figure – perfect Love, balanced by perfect Wisdom, balanced by perfect Strength. In this we have the end and destiny of man. This is the job we are all of us engaged upon.
The birth of Christ is astrologically and astronomically expressed at Christmas by the movement of the sun, which in this northern hemisphere sinks to its lowest point on December 22nd, and on December 25th, after having been stationary for three days, makes its first upward movement. Think what that means to us. Physically we depend absolutely upon the sun. In all occult tradition the sun stands for life, so that as for our physical selves Christmas brings us the first promise of life renewed, so for our inner selves it is the moment when the birth of the Christ within takes place. That is why we keep Christmas at this time. Looking back we find that in Greece and Rome this was the date of the feast of the Saturnalia, a great feast in its origin, and a wonderful ceremony celebrating a turning point in time, and kept as we keep Christmas in its earthly aspect today, as a feast of kindliness and good cheer.
So we see that this day, December 25th, is both exoterically, and esoterically a day of great opportunity. Esoterically it is the birthday of another year in Christ. It is open to us to turn our attention in thought and feeling to the great purpose that is unfolding itself in time; to take advantage of the wonderful renewal of power that flows into the world that day. I want to leave you with the thought that the Solar Power, the Power of the Son, lies within you. It is you, once you get away from the false you of the personality. I would suggest that for a few minutes of Christmas morning – any time from midnight till noon – you should withdraw yourself from the distinctions of the lower world, and hold your mind steady upon the inner purpose of the day. So will the new divine outpouring of love be enabled to enter, and to link itself to the real, the egoic you – the Christ within. For this purpose the midnight Mass is a very wonderful service. Through your intention there may flow into you then that divine grace, a peace, and love which will help to bring reality the words which 10,000 years ago went singing down the Nile Valley: “The day of the God be with us!”