Secret Societies of All Ages - Charles Heckethorn

Book I — Ancient Mysteries

"Of man's original relation to Nature, whence we start, in order to render the essentials of physical science and Nature comprehensible in their inmost depth, we find but obscure hints. In the mysteries and the holy initiations of those nations that as yet were nearest to the primeval people, the mind apprehends a few scarcely intelligible sounds, which, arising deep from the nature of our being, move it mightily. Now our hearts are wrung by the mournful sounds of the first human race and of Nature; now they are stirred by an exalted Nature-worship, and penetrated by the breath of an eternal inspiration! We shall hear that suppressed sound from the temple of Isis, from the speaking pillars of Thot, in the hymns of the Egyptian priests. On the lonely coast under the black rocks of Iceland the Edda will convey to us a sound from the graves, and fancy shall bring us face to face with those priests who by a stern silence have concealed from future ages the holy science of their worship. Yea, the eye shall yet discover the lost features of the noble past in the altars of Mexico, and on the pyramid which saw the blood and tears of thousands of human victims."
—V. Schubert.

The Magi

21. Derivation of the term Magus.—Magus is derived from Maja, the mirror (11) wherein Brahm, according to Indian mythology, from all eternity beholds himself and all his power and wonders. Hence also our terms magia, magic, image, imagination, all implying the fixing in a form, figure or creature—these words being synonymous—of the potencies of the primeval, structureless, living matter. The Magus, therefore, is one that makes the operation of the Eternal Life his study.

22. Antiquity of the Magi.—The Magi, as the ancient priests of Persia were called, did not constitute a doctrine or religion only; they constituted a monarchy—their power truly was that of kings. And this fact is still commemorated by the circumstance that the Magi recorded to have been led by the star to the cradle of Jesus are just as frequently called kings as Magi. As sages, they were kings in the sense of Horace:

"Ad summam, sapiens uno minor est Jove, dives,

Liber, honoratus, pulcher, rex denique regum."

(To sum up, the wise man is second only to Jupiter:

he's rich, free, honoured, in a word a king among kings.)

—Epist i. 106, 107.

Their pontifical reign preceded the ascendency of Assyria, Media, and Persia. Aristotle asserts it to have been more ancient than the foundation of the kingdom of Egypt; Plato, unable to reckon it by years, computes it by myriads. At the present day most writers agree in dating the rise of the reign of the Magi five thousand years before the Trojan war.

23. Zoroaster.—The founder of the order was Zoroaster, who was not, as some will have it, a contemporary of Darius, but lived nearly fifty centuries before our era. Nor was his home in India, but in Bactriana, which lies more to the east, beyond the Caspian Sea, close to the mountains of India, along the great rivers Oxus and laxartes; so that the Brahmins, or priests of India, may be called the descendants of the Magi.

24. Doctrine of Zoroaster.—His doctrine was the most perfect and rational of all those that in ancient times were the objects of initiation, and has more or less survived in all successive theosophies. Traces of it may be found in the ancient "Zendavesta"—not the book now passing by that name, which is merely a kind of breviary—which entered into all the details of Nature.

This doctrine is not the creed of the two opposite, but equally powerful, principles, as has been asserted; for Ahrimanes, the principle of evil, is not equal with Oromazes, which is good. Evil is not uncreated and eternal; it is rather transitory and limited in power. And Plutarch records an opinion, which anon we shall see confirmed, that Ahrimanes and his angels shall be annihilated—that dualism is not eternal; its life is in time, of which it constitutes the grand drama, and in which it is the perennial cause of motion and transformation. This is the doctrine of the "Everlasting Gospellers," so violently opposed by the Church, for the abolition of the devil. What would it not entail? The Supreme Being, or Eternal Life, is elsewhere called Time without limits, for no origin can be assigned to him; enshrined in his glory, and possessing properties and attributes inapprehensible by our understanding, to him belongs silent adoration.

Creation had a beginning by means of emanation. The first emanation from the Eternal was the light, whence issued the King of Light, Oromazes. By means of speech Oromazes created the pure world, of which he is the preserver and judge. Oromazes is a holy and celestial being, intelligence and knowledge.

Oromazes, the first-born of Time without limits, began by creating, after his image and likeness, six genii, called amshaspands, that surround his throne, and are his messengers to the inferior spirits and to men, being also to the latter types of purity and perfection.

The second series of creations by Oromazes was that of the twenty-eight izads, that watch over the happiness, innocence, and preservation of the world; models of virtue, interpreters of the prayers of men.

The third host of pure spirits is more numerous, and forms that of the farohars, the thoughts of Oromazes, or the ideas conceived by him before proceeding to the creation of things. Not only the farohars of holy men and innocent infants stand before Oromazes, but this latter himself has his farohar, the personification of his wisdom and beneficent idea, his reason, his logos. These spirits hover over the head of every man; and this idea passed over to the Greeks and Romans, and we meet with it again in the familiar spirit of Socrates, the evil genius of Brutus, and the genius comes of Horace.

The threefold creation of good spirits was the necessary consequence of the contemporaneous development of the principle of evil. The second-born of the Eternal, Ahrimanes, emanated like Oromazes from the primitive light, and was pure like it, but being ambitious and haughty, he became jealous. To punish him, the Supreme Being condemned him to dwell for twelve thousand years in the region of darkness, a time which was to be sufficient to end the strife between good and evil; but Ahrimanes created countless evil genii, that filled the earth with misery, disease, and guilt. The evil spirits are impurity, violence, covetousness, cruelty; the demons of cold, hunger, poverty, leanness, sterility, ignorance; and the most perverse of all, Peetash, the demon of calumny.

Oromazes, after a reign of three thousand years, created the material world in six periods, in the same order as they are found in Genesis, successively calling into existence the terrestrial light (not to be confounded with the celestial), the water, the earth, plants, animals, and man. Ahrimanes assisted in the formation of earth and water, because the darkness had already invaded those elements, and Oromazes could not conceal them. Ahrimanes also took part in the creation and subsequent corruption and destruction of man, whom Oromazes had produced by an act of his will and by the Word. Out of the seed of that being Oromazes afterwards drew the first human pair, Meshia and Meshiane; but Ahrimanes first seduced the woman and then the man, leading them into evil chiefly by the eating of certain fruits. And not only did he alter the nature of man, but also that of animals, opposing insects, serpents, wolves, and all kinds of vermin to the good animals, thus spreading corruption over the face of the earth. But Ahrimanes and his evil spirits are eventually to be overcome and cast out from every place; and in the stern combat just and industrious men have nothing to fear; for according to Zoroaster, labour is the exterminator of evil, and that man best obeys the righteous judge of all who assiduously tills the earth and caused it to bring forth harvests and fruit-bearing trees. At the end of twelve thousand years, when the earth shall cease to be afflicted by the evils brought upon it by the spirits of darkness, three prophets shall appear and assist man with their power and knowledge, restoring the earth to its pristine beauty, judging the good and the evil, and conducting the first into a region of ineffable bliss. Ahrimanes, and the captive demons and men, shall be purified in a sea of liquid metal, and the law of Oromazes shall rule everywhere.

It is scarcely necessary to point out to the reader the astronomical bearing of the theogony of Zoroaster. The six good genii represent the six summer months, while the evil genii stand for the winter months. The twenty-eight izads are the days of a lunar month. But theosophically, the six periods during which the universe was created refer to the six working properties of Nature.

25. The Light worshipped.—We have seen that Zoroaster taught light to be the first emanation of the Eternal Life; hence in the Parsee writings, light, the perennial flame, is the symbol of the Deity or uncreated Life. Hence the Magi and Parsees have been called fire-worshippers. But the former saw and the latter see in the fire not a divinity, but simply the cause of heat and motion, thus anticipating the most recent discoveries of physical science, or rather, remembering some of the lost knowledge. The Parsees did not form any God, to call him the one true God; they did not invoke any authority extrinsic to life; they did not rely on any uncertain tradition; but amidst all the recondite forces of Nature, they chose the one that governs them all, that reveals itself by the most tremendous effects. The modern Guebres are the descendants of the ancient Magi.

26. Origin of the word Deus, God.—In this sense the Magi, as well as the Chinese, had no theology, or they had one that is distinguished from all others. Those Magi that gave their name to occult science (magic), performed no sorcery, and believed in no miracles. In the bosom of Asiatic immobility they did not condemn motion, but rather considered it as the glorious symbol of the Eternal Cause. Other castes aimed at impoverishing the people and subjecting it to the yoke of ignorance and superstition; but thanks to the Magi, the Indian Olympus, peopled with monstrous creatures, gave place to the conception of the unity of God, Which always indicates progress in the history of thought. The text of the most ancient Zend literature acknowledges but one creative ens of all things, and his name, Dao signifies "light" and "wisdom," and is explained by the root daer, "to shine," whence are derived all such words as deus, dies, etc. The conception of Deity indeed was primarily that of the "bright one," whence also the Sanskrit dyaus, "sky," which led to so many mythological fables. But the original id6a was founded on a correct perception of the origin and nature of things, for light is truly the substance of all things; all matter is only a compaction of light. Thus the Magi founded a moral system and an empire; they had a literature, a science, and a poetry. Five thousand years before the "Iliad" they put forth the "Zendavesta," three grand poems, the first ethical, the second military, and the third scientific.

27. Mode of Initiation.—The candidate for initiation was prepared by numerous lustrations with fire, water, and honey. The number of probations he had to pass through was very great, and ended with a fast of fifty days' continuance. These trials had to be endured in a subterranean cave, where he was condemned to perpetual silence and total solitude. This novitiate in some instances was attended with fatal effects, in others the candidate became partially or wholly deranged; those who surmounted the trials were eligible to the highest honours. At the expiration of the novitiate, the candidate was brought forth into the cavern of initiation, where he was armed with enchanted armour by his guide, who was the representative of Simorgh, a monstrous griffin (28), and an important agent in the machinery of Persian mythology, and furnished with talismans, that he might be ready to encounter all the hideous monsters raised up by the evil spirits to impede his progress. Introduced into an inner apartment, he was purified with fire and water, and put through the seven stages of initiation. First, he beheld a deep and dangerous vault from the precipice where he stood, into which a single false step might throw him down to the "throne of dreadful necessity"—the first three properties of Nature.

Groping his way through the mazes of the gloomy cavern, he soon beheld the sacred fire at intervals flash through its recesses and illuminate his path; he also heard the distant yelling of ravenous beasts—the roaring of lions, the howling of wolves, the fierce and threatening bark of dogs. But his attendant, who maintained a profound silence, hurried him forward towards the quarter whence these sounds proceeded, and at the sudden opening of a door he found himself in a den of wild beasts, dimly lighted with a single lamp. He was immediately attacked by the initiated in the forms of lions, tigers, wolves, griffins, and other monstrous beasts, from whom he seldom escaped unhurt. Thence he passed into another cavern, shrouded in darkness, where he heard the terrific roaring of thunder, and saw vivid and continuous flashes of lightning, which in streaming sheets of fire rendered visible the flitting shades of avenging genii, resenting his intrusion into their chosen abodes.

To restore the candidate a little, he was next conducted into another apartment, where his excited feelings were soothed with melodious music and the flavour of grateful perfumes. On his expressing his readiness to proceed through the remaining ceremonies, a signal was given by his conductor, and three priests immediately made their appearance, one of whom cast a living serpent into his bosom as a token of regeneration (57); and, a private door having been opened, there issued forth such howlings and cries of lamentation and dismay, as struck him with new and indescribable emotions of terror. On turning his eyes to the place whence these noises proceeded, he beheld exhibited in every appalling form the torments of the wicked in Hades.

Thus he was passed through the devious labyrinth consisting of seven spacious vaults, connected by winding galleries, each opening with a narrow stone portal, the scene of some perilous adventure, until he reached the Sacellum, or Holy of Holies, which was brilliantly illuminated, and which sparkled with gold and precious stones. A splendid sun and starry system moved in accordance with delicious music. The archimagus sat in the east on a throne of burnished gold, crowned with a rich diadem decorated with myrtle boughs, and habited in a tunic of bright cerulean hue; round him were assembled the preesules and dispensers of the mysteries.

By these the novice was received with congratulations, and after having entered into the usual engagements for keeping secret the rites of Zoroaster, the sacred words were entrusted to him, of which the Tetractys, or name of God, was the chief. The Tetractys of Pythagoras is analogous to the Jewish Tetragrammaton, or name of the Deity in four letters. The number four was considered the most perfect, because in the first four properties of Nature (11) are comprised and implied all the rest; wherefore also the first four numbers summed up make up the decad, after which all is only repetition.

28. Myth of Rustam.—This progress was denominated ascending the ladder of perfection, and from it has arisen the tale of Rustam, the Persian Hercules, who, mounted on the monster Eakshi, which is the Arabic name of Simorgh, undertakes the conquest of Mazendaraun, celebrated as a perfect earthly paradise. Having amidst many dangers fought his way along a road of seven stages, he reaches the cavern of the White Giant, who smites all that assail him with blindness. But Rustam overcomes him, and with three drops of the giant's blood restores sight to all his captives. The symbolical three drops of blood had their counterparts in all the mysteries of the ancient world. In Britain the emblem was three drops of water; in Mexico, as in this legend, three drops of blood; in India, a belt composed of three triple threads; in China, the three strokes of the letter Y, etc. The blindness with which those who seek the giant are smitten, of course refers to the emblematic mental blindness of the aspirant to initiation.