The Way of Initiation

by Michael Colantoni

from “The Training and Work of an Initiate”.

The great majority of our fellow men are.willing to take the world as they find it, and so long as it does not treat them too hardly, they are content.” Others, however, question what lies behind the world as they see it, and until they learn the answer to that question, suffer from the divine discontent which has for ever urged men to “seek beyond the skyline, where the strange roads go down.” Most men are also inclined to take for granted the inevitableness of suffering, and unless they ‘are brought into personal contact with some flagrant case, or are themselves the victims, they offer no protest : others, however, seem to be so linked with the human race that they suffer with the suffering of humanity, and cannot accept happiness or peace for themselves while any are in grief or pain. In the older days such natures were few and far between; but now they are very many, and none who are observers of mankind can fail to be struck with this sense of fellowship with all things which is becoming increasingly common among us.

When we. consider these two types in relation to the problem of evolution we can see that they react to it differently, yet that the result of their attitude is fundamentally the same; the one type seeks to improve upon evolution by the application of science, so as to hasten the slow processes of Nature, the other seeks to lessen the suffering which the working out of Nature’s plan entails; and both seek knowledge in order that they may more efficiently serve their fellow-men.

If we study the lives and writings of these men and women who sought to know, not merely for the sake of the knowledge, but in order to apply that knowledge to the relief of human suffering, we shall be struck by the fact that these lives have many things in. common, factors which mark them off from the lives of eminent men of other types. They usually have from early childhood a sense of some work which they are to do; sooner or later they find this work, and never falter in their devotion to it ; and thirdly, whether they are agnostics or believers (we seldom find atheists in their ranks), they have a sense of being in contact with something higher than themselves which uses them as instruments for the service of their fellows; and we also see that these people, though often frail of body, possess an almost superhuman power of endurance when in the service of this power, and that they invariably ascribe their strength to a source outside themselves. We cannot fail to be struck by the fact that all these men and women, whatever may be the particular piece of work they are embarked upon, look upon life from the same standpoint, that of universal sympathy. We notice, moreover, if we observe them closely, that some, though not all, have tricks of phraseology in common, which indicates that they are familiar with some subject which has a terminology a little out of the ordinary, and that, although this subject is never directly referred to, its phraseology has influenced their literary style and unconsciously creeps into their writings.

We see then, that these workers for humanity had, one and all, community of character, and that some must also have had community of study. We also see that, one and all, they are no longer content to be borne along by the slow tide of natural evolution, but have commenced to swim. Self-consciousness has transcended the blind urge towards other things, and they dimly sense their goal, as it is said a thirsty horse will sense the presence of water afar off. And finally we notice that from afar off comes the response, and some power, such as material science takes no cognisance of, seems to co-operate with their efforts, to guide them in doubt and to support them in difficulties. The history of these individuals gives weight to the claim that this contact with something higher than themselves is no figment of an over-wrought imagination, for they achieved what men have seldom achieved, and with frail bodies endured what would have availed to break down the strongest.

What is this power that great souls contact? Esoteric tradition affirms that they take initiation of one kind or another ; for there are two kinds, physical and non-physical, which are usually taken together, though. some-times only one and not the other is experienced. The physical initiation admits to the study of the esoteric wisdom acquired by generations of men who sought beneath the surface of existence, who sought the inner meaning of things rather than their outer forms; it admits the student to the fellowship and confidence of these men, and disposes them to share their knowledge and to accept the initiate as a co-worker or pupil.

The second form of initiation is declared to be a spiritual experience, wherein the soul establishes contact with the higher powers and is admitted to the fellowship of great souls on the Inner Planes. Of these two forms of initiation, sometimes one and sometimes another comes first; some-times the physical, the lesser initiation, is the earlier, and the student is then taught how to prepare himself for the spiritual experience. In other cases it is the spiritual initiation that comes first, and then the student is shortly afterwards placed in the way of taking the physical initiation if he so desires; but esotericists are all agreed that, although. individuals may not necessarily take both initiations, the one always carries with it the opportunity for the. other.

How is it, we may ask ourselves, that any individual should come to step out of the march of evolution? We notice,. in the first place, that it is only men of advanced character who take this step. What is it that causes this abnormal development of character?

Esoteric science has its traditional explanation of this problem also. It begins by premising that the evolution in which we find ourselves taking part is not unique, but was preceded by other evolutions and will be succeeded by still others. It also declares that evolution is not a blind, mechanical, material process, explicable in terms of physics and chemistry, essentially a mental process, a coming into manifestation, the embodying in a concrete form of an idea in the Divine Mind. Esoteric science further declares that the subjects of this evolution can bear a part and aid in the work, for as soon as we become conscious of an idea that the Divine Mind is expressing, we ourselves are expressing it, we have given it a concrete form and embodied it in our lives, and so have ourselves taken up the work of evolution; we are consciously co-operating with God; for it is seldom that anyone who has achieved to the realisation of the greater purpose remains passive; this great idea fructifies within him so vigorously that he is compelled to colonise mentally; as a vigorous nation colonises physically.

We take spiritual initiation when we become conscious of the Divine within us, and thereby contact the Divine without us.

It is well known that like attracts like, and that sooner or later we tend to drift into the society of our fellows. Especially is this true of those who have contacted the Divine; the great mental currents which play through the cosmos, just as the invisible magnetic currents play round the earth, bear him to his appropriate place. This is why esoteric science never goes out to seek its pupils ;it knows that its pupils will come to it. We never see the occult lodges advertised on the hoardings, but we do feel the setting in of a current in men’s minds.

What are the ways whereby a man reaches the point when he is ripe for this deep spiritual experience? We have seen that it is a particular type of character that takes initiation; how is that character acquired? Esoteric science gives the explanation under the doctrine of reincarnation, the theory that the immortal soul takes many bodies, acquiring experience and character-growth in each, discarding each as its use is fulfilled and taking a new one for new work. Esoteric science always thinks in terms of an evolution, whereas the ordinary man thinks in terms of an incarnation, a single life; this difference of view-point fundamentally influences their attitude towards life; to the one, death is the end of all; to the other it is the end of a phase. To the one it is a cataclysm; to the other a sunset.

If, in the course of the long ages of evolution a soul shows the educability and the capacity to profit by the fruits of experience beyond its fellows, those great Intelligences. the product of earlier evolutions, who are consciously co-operating with the Divine Mind in concreting the abstract idea of good-just as we ourselves do when we become self-conscious of the Divine-these Intelligences pick that individual out from the generality of his fellows and give him special tuition, not for his own benefit, but because they see in him a future co-worker. The more of these co-workers with the Divine there are to leaven the inert mass of evolving life, the quicker and smoother will be the progress of evolution. Esoteric tradition declares that as soon as a mind is sufficiently advanced to be able to grasp its significance, it is made aware of the esoteric theory of evolution, so that, knowing the plan, it may be able to co-operate with the work. But long before the individual is ripe for the conscious realisation of this great task, his mind is being schooled and prepared in readiness; this training goes on for several incarnations before the realisation of the process to which he is being submitted works through into consciousness and the individual takes up the work on his own account.

If the record of the past lives of such an individual be recovered by means of certain methods known to esoteric science, the process of training can be plainly seen; the lives show a distinct type of experience; their course is much more adventurous than that of their fellows; into a few short lives are packed many adventures. Their training also is harder; but with the heavier burden there is also the greater strength. Life by life, this concentration of experience goes forward till the individual is finally brought in touch with the chance of physical initiation, usually into some minor degree, yet into a position which acts as a: starting-point of opportunity. One is struck, in looking over these records, by the fact that the individual frequently becomes attached to a temple or some other centre of esoteric knowledge in a menial capacity, as a cleaner, a craftsman, or one employed in the routine of the ritual. The inner teaching never seems to be given on the occasion of the first contact with esotericism ; the ritual, the outer form, is the first thing with which we make our acquaintance. But enough is seen to arouse curiosity, and if a mind can once be stimulated to ask a question, it proves its readiness for the answer.

If we trace the record of this individual, we see him advancing and receding as the waves of the sea according to the use made of opportunities, but if he is to make good and become one of the greater initiates, advancing steadily through all set-backs, as does the tide, and working his way gradually into the deeper knowledge. In incarnation after incarnation taking his initiation into the Mysteries of his time and race, and using the experiences gained in each life as a starting-place for the next. interesting to note that what is acquired is never lost; capacity remains although memory disappears ; that which has been learnt is stored in the sub-conscious mind and goes to the formation of character. In each life we quickly recapitulate the progress we have made in previous lives till we come to the point where we left off, then we begin the laborious process of acquiring the new. This fact accounts for the. rapid progress made by some, while others slowly toil their way up ; but let it be remembered that the piece of road over which we so painfully struggle to-day, we shall rapidly recapitulate when the to-morrow of a new incarnation dawns.

Let us now consider what happens in our present life if we have followed this road in the past. To begin with, we recapitulate; as soon as we begin to think for ourselves, we arrive at the mental state we were in when we left off. Though we have not yet got the actual data on which to base our opinions, yet we find our minds possessed by certain foregone conclusions, which, to those who do not look upon things from our point of view, seem to be reasonless prejudices. and yet which are so much a part of our. deeper selves that no evidence or argument serves to move them ;we know, in the same way that we know we have hands and feet, because this knowledge has been ground into us by centuries of experience, and the pressure of a single life is insufficient to force us out of these deep· scored ruts. Thus it is that a man can go through life finding no sympathy or support for his views and yet remain unshaken; but sooner or later, though it may not be until the point of death, he will be drawn into the company of his fellows.

These ideas seem to be inherent in the mind, so early are they recovered; and every scrap of information bearing on the subject sticks in the memory as if. it were endowed with some peculiar fascination of its own; we all no doubt recall the. reading of many novels the memory of whose plots has completely passed away. and yet some chance reference to the Mysteries has stayed in the mind. All studies of this nature come easy to the student, for he is in reality not learning anew but revising; he is not introducing ideas into his mind for the first time, but recalling to consciousness that which is lying dormant in the sub-conscious mind. It seems as if much of our sub-conscious mind. carried on from incarnation to incarnation, it is the conscious mind only that. we build again with each life.

The student will often recover from his sub-consciousness many memories of things he has learnt in the past, and these he may be inclined to look upon as of the nature of revelations. so foreign are they to his normal consciousness; it is unlikely, however. that the student at this stage of his career would be reading from the ” Akashic Records,” he is much more likely to be exploring the depths of his own sub-conscious mind, whose wealth is far greater than he suspected.

This tapping of the sub-consciousness may be mistaken by the student for external aid and teaching, and because this. error is common it must not be thought that such aid is never available; it is indeed ever present and its avail-ability depends solely upon our power to avail ourselves of it.

External aid always comes to the student who has advanced sufficiently far to be benefited by it, and many will relate how apparent chance played into their hands so repeatedly that they could no longer look upon it as unmotived. It must be remembered however, in this connection. that the power of the mind over circumstances is very great, and we must not make the mistake of looking without until we have looked within. We can, moreover, do much to bring about that which we desire by realising the power of the mind. The potency of a clearly-formulated. and long-continued wish is difficult to overrate.

So the earnest desire goes forth in search of the Master, and it has not far to seek. If the student is worthy he will presently be rewarded either by the inner knowledge that he has achieved this mental contact, or he will find that “chance” has placed him in touch with a source of occult information and training, and his conscious. work has commenced. The gate is open, it is for him to tread the Path.

Dion Fortune – “The Training and Work of an Initiate”, Ch 2