Dion Fortune – Esoteric Orders
by Michael Colantoni
In all ages and among all races there has existed a tradition concerning certain esoteric schools or fraternities, wherein a secret wisdom unknown to the generality of mankind might be learnt, and to which admission was obtained by means of an initiation in which tests and ritual played their part. Whoever is familiar with the literature of folklore and anthropology knows that this belief exists among primitive peoples, from the Eskimos of the Arctic Circle to the Digger Indians of Tierra del Fuego. Whoever has also studied history knows that it has prevailed from the first dawn of human culture. Today, in the centres of the civilized world, this belief is still alive; and although it may be ridiculed by the orthodox-minded, an unprejudiced observer cannot fail to note that some of the noblest of men have been among its advocates, and that the greatest creative intelligences have, almost without exception, borne witness to a source of inspiration in the Unseen.
It is hard to believe that this rumour should be so widespread and so long-lived if it were entirely without foundation; moreover, the fact that it has the same form among races who have had no intercourse with each other, such as the primitive Mexican and primitive Egyptian, is a further evidence in favour of its truth. It is not possible to demonstrate to those who are without the pale the existence of the organizations to which we have referred, because with the revelations of their secrets comes the obligation of silence. It is permissible, however, to give sufficient information to enable the earnest seeker to discern the path whereby he may approach the entrance to one or another of these schools, and for that purpose the following teaching concerning the esoteric orders and their functions is placed before the reader, though the proofs of the statements therein contained must of necessity be withheld until he shall have entitled himself to receive them.
The different occult schools declare themselves to be the holders of a secret traditional science, communicated to them, in the first place, by divine founders, and enriched and revised from time to time by great teachers; this science concerns the study of the causes that lie behind observable phenomena and condition them. After preliminary tests as to character and fitness, the occult fraternities are prepared to communicate the theory of this science to accepted candidates, and subsequently to convey the powers for its practical use by means of ritual initiations. These, briefly, are the claims made for the occult schools by those competent to speak on their behalf.
It is very frequently, and very reasonably, asked why it is that societies avowedly formed for the service of humanity, and having such valuable teaching to give, should not freely communicate it to all corners; should not, moreover, conduct active propaganda work in order to induce people to come and share in their wisdom, and not, as they appear to be doing, hide themselves away as if seeking by every possible device to avoid observation and prevent themselves being discovered by those who would learn from them.
The answer to this question will be found when the nature of occult science is understood. It concerns certain little-known powers of the human mind and certain little-understood aspects of nature. Were its researches into these subjects purely theoretical there would be no need to guard their findings so carefully, but the knowledge of the facts thus discovered immediately reveals their practical applications; knowledge bestows power in this field of research, even more than in the fields explored by orthodox science, for the power thus rendered available is the power of the mind, and the effects of the use of this power are so far-reaching, whether for good or for evil, that it is a thing not lightly to be trusted into the hands of any human being, Just as the Dangerous Drugs Acts restrict the purchase and administration of potent drugs, so do those who are the custodians of this ancient traditional knowledge seek to safeguard its use. Being of so subtle a nature, it is impossible to guard it from abuse at the hands of the unscrupulous, and therefore its custodians do all in their power to prevent such persons from gaining access to it. Hence the restrictions with which its teaching is hedged about. But the restrictions are no more severe than those which attend the practice of medicine, for which a five years’ onerous apprenticeship is required. We are so accustomed, however, to see spiritual teaching freely given, to hear the call, ‘Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters of life and drink freely.’ that we cannot understand a policy which refuses any stream from this spring to those who are athirst. The reason lies in the fact, which cannot be too clearly understood by its would-be neophytes, that occult science is a mental, not a spiritual thing, and is neither good nor bad in itself, but only as it is used. It is potent for good or for evil; it can save souls which no other means could approach, and it can, even without evil intention, destroy them. It is no child’s play, and few there be who are suited to that path to the heights. Nevertheless, for such as can adventure it, here is a noble quest for the soul, a true crusade against the Powers of Darkness and spiritual wickedness in high places. In the hidden places of the world there is so much occult evil, little suspected by those who have not met it face to face, that men and women of courage, strength, and the necessary knowledge are needed to deal with it.
The training given in occult schools is designed to produce the adept, a human being who, by intensive training has raised himself or herself beyond the average development of humanity, and is dedicated to the service of God. Certain work in connection with evolution and the spiritual development and safeguarding of the nations is undertaken by highly-trained men and women, though their work is never seen and the place of their training is never known. Their actual training it may be said, is given on the Inner Planes, and only the preliminary training which fits them for the Inner Schools takes place on the physical planes. Consciousness is prepared for its Great Quest, and adventures alone into the Unseen.
Not much can be told concerning this training and not many are suitable for it, but enough has been said to give food for thought.
Esotericism, Occultism and Mysticism
Before embarking upon the study of the subject of this book, The Esoteric Orders and their Work, it is necessary to define the sense in which the term esotericism is used to include all aspects of super-physical science. To do this is a matter of some difficulty as it is a relative term, being used in contradistinction to exotericism. Esotericism begins where exotericism ends; and as the boundaries of exoteric science are always advancing so the boundaries of esotericism are always receding; that which was taught to the initiates of Egypt is taught to the schoolchildren of England. Reading, writing and arithmetic were once occult arts. So also are the profounder aspects of hypnosis, though some of its minor aspects have been rediscovered by exoteric scientists. As evolution advances, the average man becomes capable of that which once was only possible to the exceptional man. As the civilized man is to the savage, so is the adept to the average man. The powers of the civilized man appear miraculous to the savage because he does not know the laws to which they conform; but the civilized man knows only too well that he does not transcend the realm of law when he flies like a bird or heals the sick; he achieves his results by knowing certain natural laws and utilizing them, and so does the adept.
The individual savage may be capable of benefiting by education, or he may not; it depends upon his capacity The average man may be capable of benefiting by initiation, or he may not; it also depends upon his capacity; but each individual should have the opportunity of advancing to the highest development of which he is capable. A certain degree of evolution must be reached before initiation becomes operative; a student does not enter upon a postgraduate course until he has graduated. It is the function of exoteric religion to see to it that each member of the race reaches the normal standard of evolution; it has to seek the lost sheep and raise the submerged tenth. Until a man has learnt the lessons of his faith he is not ready for the lessons of initiation.
It is the function of the Lesser Mysteries to enable each individual admitted to their teaching to attain the highest degree of development of which he is capable. In the Lesser Mysteries are unfolded the latent capacities of man; but in the Greater Mysteries are unfolded the hidden capacities of nature. The Lesser Mysteries deal with the subjective sphere, the Greater Mysteries with the objective sphere, and the one is the essential preliminary to the other. It is not possible for a man to command the elemental essences of nature unless he is master of the elemental aspects of his own nature, for the powers within, if rebellious, will betray him to the powers without. Discipline must precede dominion. We operate upon that which is without by the corresponding aspect that is within. If the nature be not purified, it will make a mixed contact when it touches the Unseen. The operations of occultism are based upon the powers of the will and the imagination; both blind forces. Unless they are controlled and directed by a motive which has relation to the universe as a whole, no ultimate synthesis is possible. The personality must be universalized by the ideal at which it aims in order that it may function as an organized part of the cosmic whole. It is this urge towards universalization which is the ultimate hunger of the soul; the lesser self seeks to achieve it by drawing all things into itself in a rage of possession; the greater self seeks to achieve it by transcending the bounds of self and becoming one with the universe There are two unions to be achieved: the self may become one with the universe by means of universal sympathy—this is the goal of the occultist; the self may also be made one with the Creator of the universe by means of absolute devotion— this is the goal of the mystic. But the occultist, having achieved his own goal, has not yet made the ultimate integration, he has not yet passed from the manifested phenomenal aspect into the cosmic; and the mystic, having achieved his transcendent union, cannot hold it, but must lapse back into the phenomenal universe. The ultimate integration can only be achieved by means of universal sympathy and absolute devotion united in one nature. Into such a one all things are gathered by means of sympathy, and he is in his turn gathered into the All by means of devotion.
This is the ultimate aim of evolution for the manifested universe as a whole; and he who goes by the Way of Initiation does but anticipate evolution. It is the function of the Mysteries to assist the initiate to tread that section of the Path which has already been explored, but beyond lies a section that is known to no consciousness that is in a physical form; this section a man must tread alone with his Master; and beyond lies a section where a man is alone with his God.
Not in one incarnation can this be achieved. Three incarnations of absolute devotion without error may serve; but who is without error, and how far must we be upon the Path before absolute devotion is attained? We cannot step out of the march of evolution with one foot, into the Cosmic Light with the other; it takes many steps to tread the Path, and some of them slip and have to be retraced. The difficulties are emphasized because many embark lightheartedly upon this great and terrible venture, but the fruits of it are not minimized, for they transcend all that eye can see or heart can dream. Neither do we have to wait until the end of the journey before we begin to reap. Day by day the manna fell during all the journey through the wilderness, though Egypt had to be abandoned and the Red Sea over-passed before it appeared.
So in the great journey of the soul to the Promised Land, which is the Way of Initiation, the safety of human habitations has to be left, and the soul journeys houseless and alone into the wilderness and comes to the Red Sea; here it is that the weak turn back and return into slavery to make bricks without straw for which they receive no wages. But if the supreme test of the Red Sea is faced, the waves are parted by an unseen force and the traveller passes through dry-shod, with a wall of waters standing up on either hand; this is the test of faith, for by mundane law those waters should fall; it is only a higher law that keeps them back.
Then, the test being safely passed, though still in the wilderness, waters flow from the rock and manna falls daily, for though still in the world of sense, the traveller has come under the operation of a higher law.
Dion Fortune – Esoteric Orders and Their Work 1928