The air is full of souls.    
       Philo Judaeus

  The homeless tribe of mystics, the fraternity of spiritual exiles, inherit the ancient title mystikos, from mystes – those whose eyes and lips are closed, who have entered into the Mysteries. Its sacred verities can neither be fully articulated nor wholly validated in any language. The unmanifest may be suggested and shrouded by the manifest, and the mystic experiences this through his endeavours to translate his insights from the region of things felt to the region of things understood. The mystic's eyes are necessarily closed to the mundane world in as much as they intently and inwardly gaze upon the hidden realm of supersensuous realities. The mystic's lips are sealed – even in eloquent speech – because of the unutterable beauty of beatific experience and the transcendent glow of transfiguring insight. Authentic mystical awareness is markedly different from the varied forms of fantasy and reverie. Mystical experience is essentially noetic, rooted in the cognitive capacity for enlarged comprehension of noumenal truths, rather than the rush of emotion or the randomness of memory. Though the mystic path is etched across the awesome vault of infinite duration, each mystical experience is an event in time, transient, limited by a fragile beginning and a frustrating end. The experience is also episodic in that the temporal and captive consciousness of the individual cannot control it. In the enigmatic language of the Upanishads, the Atman – the universal overbrooding Spirit – shows itself to whom it will. Daydreams and fantasy, though they share the wayward charm of evanescent but joyous wonder, do not convey the ethical consequences of a deep mystic experience. In the presence of the magnanimous sweep of the mystic vision, a natural self-effacement fuses with a profound sense of self-completion. One becomes a selfless participant in the silent sacrifice of invisible and visible nature, in which each part has clarity and significance in relation to every other part, all sharing the diffused light of an architectonic unity.

  The mystic senses the priceless privilege of being alive and the sacredness of breathing; awareness of this sanctified continuity of all life affects every thought and act, at least during "peak experiences . The fragmentation and discontinuity in consciousness of the vast majority of mankind – gaps between thought and feeling, idea and image, sensibility and sense, belief and knowledge – are integrated in the mystic's self-awareness. Sensing a fundamental continuity within himself, the mystic witnesses an equally vibrant solidarity between individuals. What is possible for one person to discover is possible for another, however adverse conditions may appear. The intense flashes of awareness that the mystic is privileged to enjoy are stepping stones on the path of awakening, most of which are trod in silence.

  Within the historical tradition of sages, saints and seers, a few, like St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa, Bernard of Clairvaux, as well as the author of the Cloud of Unknowing, speak of actual experiences encountered upon the mystical way. Other sources, such as the writings of A.E., The Voice of the Silence and Light on the Path, characterize the phases of the mystic path without attention to details of particular experiences. Still other influential thinkers – Plato and Plotinus, Shankara and Eckhart – elaborated the metaphysical framework and philosophical underpinnings of the path itself. A.E. presents an account of his haunting visions both directly, in works like The Candle of Vision, and metaphorically in stories and poems like "A Strange Awakening" and "A Priestess of the Woods", interwoven with thoughts on the nature of the universe and man's relation to it. He affirms that anyone who wills it can awaken spiritual insight within himself.

  So the lover of Earth obtains his reward, and little by little the veil is lifted of an inexhaustible beauty and majesty. It may be he will be tranced in some spiritual communion, or will find his being overflowing into the being of the elements, or become aware that they are breathing their life into his own. Or Earth may become on an instant, all faery to him, and earth and air resound with the music of its invisible people. Or the trees and rocks may waver before his eyes and become transparent, revealing what creatures were hidden from him by the curtain, and he will know as the ancients did of dryad and hamadryad, of genii of wood and mountain. Or earth may suddenly blaze about him with supernatural light in some lonely spot amid the hills, and he will find he stands as the prophet in a place that is holy ground, and he may breathe the intoxicating exhalations as did the sibyls of old. Or his love may hurry him away in dream to share in deeper mysteries, and he may see the palace chambers of nature where the wise ones dwell in secret, looking out over the nations, breathing power into this man's heart or that man's brain, on any who appear to their vision to wear the colour of truth. So gradually the earth lover realises the golden world is all about him in imperishable beauty, and he may pass from the vision to the profounder beauty of being, and know an eternal love is within and around him, pressing upon him and sustaining with infinite tenderness his body, his soul and his spirit.

The Candle of Vision  

  A.E.'s mysticism emphasizes understanding through love, and he embroiders mystical naturalism with suggestions of the rich void beyond and throughout nature. He emphasizes man's identity with all nature because he sees the soul in nature and in humanity. "The great heart of the earth is full of laughter", one of his characters says, "do not put yourselves apart from its joy, for its soul is your soul and its joy is your true being." As the veil of visible nature is dissolved before the mystic's sight, time itself is seen as an illusion from a metaphysical standpoint. Consciousness is expanded or constricted by its apprehension of time. The mystic senses a vibration prior to visible nature, though insofar as it is expressible, it too has a beginning and an end. Mystical experience is timeless though located in time, and the mystic is hard pressed to describe the crossings between the unmanifest and the manifest. Speaking of the hour of twilight as a metaphor for that time when "the Mystic shall be at home", A.E. calls it "the hour for memory".

  . . . wherever it is spent, whether in the dusky room or walking home through the blue evening, all things grow strangely softened and united; the magic of the old world reappears. The commonplace streets take on something of the grandeur and solemnity of starlit avenues of Egyptian temples; the public squares in the mingled glow and gloom grow beautiful as the Indian grove where Sakuntala wandered with her maidens; the children chase each other through the dusky shrubberies, as they flee past they look at us with long remembered glances: lulled by the silence, we forget a little while the hard edges of the material and remember that we are spirits.

  When the horizon set by one's awareness of time is foreshortened, memory is reduced to recent particulars redolent with echoes of childhood remembrance. As that horizon is expanded through a sense of eternity, recollection arises with a profound awareness of mythic time, and the soul gazes within the archaic history of humanity. Soul-memory exhibits natural affinities to strange dreams, insignificant in detail yet suggesting a cosmic drama in which each creature plays an appropriate role. Soul-memory also portrays to waking consciousness what would otherwise be witnessed only in sushupti or Devachan. If most individuals see nature as a static created world comprising myriad separate entities, the mystic beholds natura naturans, a dynamic process constantly unleashing creative energies. The mystical experience is grounded in the commonality of human life.

  For this in truth it seems to me to mean: all knowledge is a revelation of the self to the self, and our deepest comprehension of the seemingly apart divine is also our furthest inroad to self-knowledge; Prometheus, Christ, are in every heart; the story of one is the story of all; the Titan and the Crucified are humanity.

The Hero in Man  

  Precisely because Christ is incarnate in all humanity, every human being has golden moments and mystical glimpses, yet because Prometheus is bound for ever within us, such moments and glimpses are obliterated in waking life through indulgence, egotism, obsession with results and the concern for salvation. And if these barriers to deeper unity are bypassed without genuine self-transcendence, they become still stronger obstacles: passivity, aggression, fantasy and malign interference in the lives of others. To thread passing moments into a continuous current in life, one must hold firmly to a selfless line of thought and motivation.

  . . . these moods, though lit up by intuitions of the true, are too partial, they belong too much to the twilight of the heart, they have too dreamy a temper to serve us well in life. We should wish rather for our thoughts a directness such as to the messengers of the gods, swift, beautiful, flashing presences bent on purposes well understood.

The Hero in Man  

  One's mind must be prepared and alert. One needs to identify with the whole of nature so as to become inconspicuous as a persona, yet ever vigilant and willing to follow the injunction given in The Voice of the Silence – "Thy Soul has to become as the ripe mango fruit: as soft and sweet as its bright golden pulp for others" woes, as hard as that fruit's stone for thine own throes and sorrows." Although this lies far ahead of contemporary humanity, there is a fundamental continuity between the mystic's unwavering vision of the Hero in man and everyday experience, through the idea of sacrifice on behalf of the wretched of the earth.

  Now if the aim of the mystic be to fuse into one all moods made separate by time, would not the daily harvesting of wisdom render unnecessary the long Devachanic years? No second harvest could be reaped from fields where the sheaves are already garnered. Thus disregarding the fruits of action, we could work like those who have made the Great Sacrifice, for whom even Nirvana is no resting place. Worlds may awaken in nebulous glory, pass through their phases of self-conscious existence and sink again to sleep, but these tireless workers continue their age-long task of help. Their motive we do not know, but in some secret depth of our being we feel that there could be nothing nobler, and thinking this we have devoted the twilight hour to the understanding of their nature.

The Hour of Twilight  

  When the Ever-Unknowable reflects itself in the process of manifestation, the root substance-principle – the absolute Archaeus – unfolds itself as the invisible and visible cosmos in three hypostases. The first may be called Spirit, transcendent and overbrooding; the second, matter, the immanent side of nature; while the third, connecting these two at every point, might be likened materially to electricity and spiritually to mind. This third term is the impersonal intelligence of number and ratio, geometric form and arithmetic progression. The basic triad is present at every level of being, for Spirit expresses itself through matter – like the partially revealed dancer in the Dance of the Seven Veils – while matter lives and is transformed only under the vivifying impulse of Spirit. Both join in innumerable permutations and elaborations of the initial threefold Word, fused in cosmic intelligence (Mahat) which is also cosmic law (Rta). In the sphere of self-consciousness, this triad can be qualitatively defined as Wisdom (Prajna), Compassion (Karuna) and Intelligence (Buddhi). Each depends upon the others for its own level of purity, clarity and activity. The elaboration of the primal Word is the movement from homogeneity to heterogeneity, from subtle to gross, from potential to actual, and from subjective to objective. The creative energy enshrined in the Word is pure eros, and its every expression reveals as well as masks its more fundamental nature. Hence every level of being finds light and darkness, the greater and the lesser, knowledge and relative ignorance, in ceaseless contraction. The urge to manifest is the urge to objectify, to take form, to exist in time, rather than to abide in eternity. At the spiritual level, this impulsion is towards individuation, but at the natal level it is the desire to live as an ego; psychophysically it is the thirst for life.

  The mystic retraces this gestation of consciousness and returns, self-consciously and spiritually awake, to its source. He experiences, understands and controls the avenues leading from personal and individual existence to cosmic and universal consciousness. Self-transformation requires self-knowledge at every stage, a path fraught with dangers. The mystic recognizes that "knowledge is power" but also knows that power corrupts the unwary. He must make compassion his own. Only then will persistent effort and unremitting vigilance lead to supreme wisdom. A.E. depicted the quest as lying

  . . . between the darkness of earth and the light of spiritual self-consciousness, that the Master in each of us draws in and absorbs the rarest and best of experiences, love, self-forgetfulness, aspiration, and out of these distils the subtle essence of wisdom, so that he who struggles in pain for his fellows, when he wakens again on earth is endowed with the tradition of that which we call self sacrifice, but which is in reality the proclamation of our own universal nature.

The Hour of Twilight  

  This passage is similar to that from the rich silence of dreamless sleep, where all personal consciousness is dissolved, through the veneer of chaotic images in the transition from dreams to the waking state. But self-created enemies lie along the uncharted paths waiting to mislead and destroy the pilgrim who glimpses the golden summit in the distance but ignores the steep ravines and rocky ledges between himself and that glorious height. Ethereal sights may be mistaken for divine intimations, misleading the erratic seer. In the archetypal story "A Priestess of the Woods", the daughter of a magician learns about the elemental intelligences of nature.

  She saw deeper things also; as a little child, wrapped up in her bearskin, she watched with awe her father engaged in mystic rites; when around him the airy legions gathered from the populous elements, the Spirits he ruled and the Spirits he bowed down before; fleeting nebulous things white as foam coming forth from the great deep who fled away at the waving of his hand; and rarer the great sons of fire.

  But her father died before she learned about more than superficial signs and appearances. Her knowledge of the spirits of the earth was sufficient to make her priestess, but she knew nothing of the formless orders and divine principles. In the course of time, her message was reduced to the repeated warning of the dangers of becoming linked to gnomes, sylphs, salamanders and undines. She saw how men utterly enslave themselves to elemental intelligences through seeking worldly delights, and how they bargain away their lives for momentary gain. There is law in nature, and to violate its orders is necessarily to call forth recompense. Yet she could teach nothing that confers a greater vision, a larger perspective, a fuller hope.

  When a young man passing through the forest heard her compelling discourse to the woodland fold, he took up his lyre and sang:

I never heed by waste or wood
  The cry of fay or faery thing
Who tell of their own solitude;
  Above them all my soul is king.

  Though angered by the intrusion, the eyes of the youth dazzled the young priestess with the secrecy of joy. Fearlessly he told her:

 " Your priestess speaks but half truths, her eyes have seen but her heart does not know. . . The great heart of earth is full of laughter; do not put yourselves apart from its joy, for its soul is your soul and its joy is your true being." She could not counter his confident affirmation, so she bowed down before it, telling her people, "His wisdom may be truer; it is more beautiful than the knowledge we inherit."

  Though she maintained her vigils and cleaved to her knowledge, her heart dwelt upon a deeper mystery. Her dominion over nature spirits ebbed, and with it her life. Life is structured by a lesser mystery, and her awakening was accompanied by a release from incarnate life itself. The young priestess, despite her ignorant elemental worship, was pure, and so her heart was touched. Those more travelled on the spiritual path may not find awakening to a deeper life so easy, for their images of the goal may involve conditional aspiration, residual desires for unearthly sensations and incomplete knowledge. The gods have many names and titles, each signifying some level and form of manifestation. The celestial Aphrodite points beyond herself to Alaya, compassion absolute, which, like boundless space, encompasses all things arising in it but favours none. She also appears as the terrestrial Venus of Plato's Symposium, who satisfies every desire without quenching the endless thirst of desire itself.

  In "A Tragedy in the Temple" Asur entered the service of the Temple of Isthar wherein a friend blew to flames the mystic fire which already smouldered within him, but became attracted to her sidereal form.

  "Brother," he said, "I am haunted by a vision, by a child of the stars as lovely as Isthar's self; she visits my dreaming hours, she dazzles me with strange graces, she bewilders with unspeakable longing. Sometimes I know, I must go to her, though I perish. When I see her I forget all else and I have will to resist no longer. The vast and lonely inspiration of the desert departs from my thought, she and the jewel-light she lives in blot it out."

  The tendencies and habits of lifetimes do not easily melt away under the heat of religious fervour. As the pilgrim-soul approaches the gateway to the arduous spiritual path, all which must perish in the divine fire precipitates the conflict between the aspirant's will to merge in the universal light and all temporal traits. This fierce struggle has been portrayed as the great battle in the Bhagavad Gita, shown in the Buddha's final contest with Mara before his Enlightenment, and depicted in the Psalms as the valley of the shadow of death. Mara-Lilith waits at the entrance to the mystic path to fascinate and terrify the lonely wayfarer. "At the portal of the "assembling", the King of the Maras, the Maha Mara, stands trying to blind the candidate by the radiance of his "Jewel"" (The Voice of the Silence).

  Asur's friend could not help him, not understanding how the jewel of Mara is formed from all the lurking passions which agitate the dark recesses of worldly consciousness. But in a dream he saw the dreadful prospect:

  The form of Asur moved towards a light streaming from a grotto, I could see within it burning gigantic flowers. On one, as on a throne, a figure of weird and wonderful beauty was seated. I was thrilled with a dreadful horror, I thought of the race of Liliths, and some long-forgotten and tragic legends rose up in my memory of these beings whose soul is but a single and terrible passion; whose love too fierce for feebler lives to endure, brings death or madness to men. . . . I saw her in all her terrible beauty. From her head a radiance of feathered flame spread out like the plume of a peacock, it was spotted with gold and green and citron dyes, she raised her arms upward, her robe, semi-transparent, purple and starred over with a jewel lustre, fell in vaporous folds to her feet like the drift of a waterfall.

  For anyone not unconditionally devoted to the diamond light of formless Spirit, this opalescent glamour exercises a fatal fascination. When his friend next saw Asur, "his face was as white as the moon, his eyes only reflected the light".

  The dominion of Mara-Lilith is limited to the weaknesses of human beings. In A.E.'s "The Cave of Lilith" the temptress tells a sage:

  I, here in my caves between the valley and the height, blind the eyes of all who would pass. Those who by chance go forth to you, come back to me again, and but one in ten thousand passes on. My illusions are sweeter to them than truth. I offer every soul its own shadow. I pay them their own price. I have grown rich, though the simple shepherds of old gave me birth. Men have made me; the mortals have made me immortal. I rose up like a vapour from their first dreams, and every sign since then and every laugh remains with me. I am made of hopes and fears. The subtle princes lay out their plans of conquest in my caves, and there the hero dreams, and there the lovers of all time write in flames their history. I am wise, holding all experience, to tempt, to blind, to terrify. None shall pass by.

  The sage knows that desire attaches itself to objects which must decay and perish, and that much sorrow ensues. When suffering becomes so intense that it touches the inmost depths, the soul searches for a profounder joy. "When desire dies the swift and invisible will awakens", the sage replies. Those who have entered the cave of Lilith emerge again, never to go back.

 "The Secret of Power" depicts the war within and without the individual over his destiny. Light and darkness are qualities embodied by beings. In a universe where magic is possible – where Nature's secret operations may be learnt – both good and evil magicians exist, and both exert their magnetism on the soul.

  Two figures awful in their power opposed each other; the frail being wavering between them both, It alone wavered, for they were silent, resolute and knit in the conflict of the will; they stirred not a hand nor a foot; there was only a still quivering now and then as of intense effort, but they made no other movement. . . . Here were the culminations of the human, towering images of the good and evil man may aspire to. I looked at the face of the evil adept. His bright red-brown eyes burned with a strange radiance of power; I felt an answering emotion of pride, of personal intoxication, of psychic richness rise up within me gazing upon him. His face was archetypal; the abstract passion which eluded men in the features of many people I knew, was here declared, exultant, defiant, giantesque; it seemed to leap like fire, to be free. . . . I withdrew my gaze from this face and turned it on the other. An aura of pale soft blue was around this figure through which gleamed an underlight as of universal gold. . . . I caught a glimpse of a face godlike in its calm, terrible in the beauty of a life we know only in dreams, with strength which is the end of the hero's toil, which belongs to the many times martyred soul; yet not far away nor in the past was its power, it was the might of life which exists eternally.

  All desire is an aspect of love. In "A Talk by the Euphrates" Merodach the priest explains:

  There are two kinds of love men know of. There is one which begins with a sudden sharp delight – it dies away into infinite tones of sorrow. There is a love which wakes up amid dead things: it is chill at first, but it takes root, it warms, it expands, it lays hold of universal joys. So the man loves: so the God loves. Those who know this divine love are wise indeed. They love not one or another: they are love itself.

  Universal love is the philosopher's stone, reducing all things to their essence because it is consubstantial with prima materia, the core of the cosmos. Personal love may warm but it is partial, while the greater love identifies with and affects every condition. In "The Meditation of Ananda" the monk comes to feel this love for all creatures flowing through him.

  From his heart he went out to them. Love, a fierce and tender flame, arose; pity, a breath from the vast; sympathy, born of unity. This triple fire sent forth its rays; they surrounded those dark souls; they pervaded them; they beat down oppression.

  The divine magic of universal love invisibly affects beings everywhere. Kind acts by others may be sparked by Ananda's love, though unknown to the doers or to him. Magic is a force of nature directed by self-conscious intelligence, and its exercise affects all nature for better or for ill. As a science, magic involves exact knowledge, but as an art, it must be either wisdom or sorcery. In time this becomes an ultimate question for the soul. Will its sorrows be merged with the sorrows of humanity, as in "A Strange Awakening", so that the gloom of the world is dispelled by the pristine light of the Spiritual Sun, or will suffering only drive the soul to a ferocious, demonic pride, leading it to join the company of Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor? A.E. saw that one dare not experience joy and hear the whole world cry in pain, that the quest is completed successfully only when one helps to lead others to its goal. "The Midnight Blossom" expresses this great affirmation:

  "Brother," said Varunna, "here is the hope of the world. Though many seek only for the eternal joy, yet the cry you heard has been heard by great ones who have turned backwards, called by these beseeching voices. The small old path stretching far away leads through many wonderful beings to the place of Brahma. There is the first fountain, the world of beautiful silence, the light which has been undimmed since the beginning of time. But turning backwards from the gate the small old path winds away into the world of men, and it enters every sorrowful heart. This is the way the great ones go.

Hermes, July 1979
by Raghavan Iyer