MYTH AND REDEMPTION
Transcendent Beings move variously over the earth. PLOTINUS
Mystics and seers perceive time as a limitation to be surmounted by meditation. It is an illusion produced by the succession of our states of consciousness. The stilling of the compulsive flow of thought allows the mystic to dissolve the illusory self. He rises to a plane of awareness that is timeless, relative to the restless mind trapped in the discontinuities of sense-perception. Medieval alchemists, like the ancient Hindus, taught that the rarefied realm of pure thought gives access to the sequence of human evolution as well as a coherent knowledge of the cosmic forces regulating its progress. They postulated a homogeneous realm of radiant matter pervading space, the Akasha or Mysterium Magnum, the universal medium upon which are impressed vast assemblages of thought-forms emanating from the Cosmic Mind, as well as the record of their interaction with human consciousness on earth. It is both the true source of creation and a permanent repository of everything created. The astral realm is composed of many layers and grades of subtle matter, from the most ethereal to that which is barely beyond the purview of the physical sense. At its highest level it is an Akashic potency reflecting the untrammelled ideation of the Divine Mind, whilst at its lowest it is the register of the selfish and chaotic emanations thrown off by human beings. The radical difference between these two poles suggests a firm basis for discriminating mythic imagination from mediumistic delusion, true vision from mere fantasy.
The subtler realm of the Akasha or celestial light is noetic in nature and accessible through the deepest contemplation. Access to this realm requires the complete withdrawal of consciousness from the seductive plane of sense-perception, wherein the limitations are greatest. Between this tangible plane of the senses and the heights of Akashic awareness lie the sub-regions of the astral light which can induce and inflame the most dire deceptions.
This "red mid-region", as A.E. called it, is a composite of unexpended animal desire, disintegrating shells discarded by immortal souls and odious thought-forms engendered by human fantasy. Matter on this plane is in a critical state, inherently unstable and turbid. Desires are quickened and pleasures intensified. The mystic must pass through this region speedily before succumbing to its temptations, symbolized in Tibetan texts by luxuriant blossoms beneath which lurk coiled serpents. The increasing prevalence of degenerate mediums and deluded mystics testifies to the nefarious influence of this region in inverting and perverting all higher aspirations. The perception of formless spiritual essences characterizes the higher imagination and is only gained by directing consciousness effortlessly beyond the plane of psychic distortion. This is the fruit of lifetimes of training involving mental purification and spiritual discipline.
Mythology and folklore not merely represent a recollection of extraordinary events, but also point to the plane of perception on which those events occur. If one cannot rise in consciousness to the reality of myth, then one is unable to interpret its symbols correctly. The mythic imagination does not deny the material world but rather includes it in a vaster cosmos wherein sense-perception is the least significant type of experience. The exploration of myth requires a radical transformation of consciousness. The mythic form never disintegrates but abides as a latent stimulus to creative potential. Myth spontaneously appears without author or title, contrivance or calculation, as the universal Logos speaking through receptive individuals. Men and women may be visited by its numen in their dreams, insights and memories, but to live within its sanctuary requires a complete subjugation of the personal ego together with an increasing identification with the whole of Nature. The release of the mythic imagination results from the fusion of self-forgetfulness with heightened self-awareness.
However sublime the archetypal realm may be, greater mansions of being lie beyond it. Myth is a record of intelligences still tied to form or rupa. By its very nature it is an authentic but still imperfect account of an ultimately seamless and formless reality. The Spiritual Sun cannot be known through its creations, but must be directly experienced in meditation and then traced throughout the stream of its emanations. This beatific vision, comparable to the prisoner's direct gaze into the sun in Plato's allegory, distinguishes the self-governed Sage from the mystic.
They tell in a sacred story of those the spirit took to itself who had the infinite vision. I never came nigh that infinitude, but because I sought for it I was often happy and content knowing it was all about me.
The limitless vision exemplified by Shiva, seated on snowy Mount Kailas, is the apotheosis of the mythic imagination. It represents that terrace of enlightenment where man is not only a shining mirror to the creative ideation of the Cosmic Mind but also a prime agent in its perpetual activity. He joins the Demiurgic Hierophants who turn the wheel of evolutionary law. His meditation is a benevolent current of noetic energy, an active conduit between divine and human worlds. He is a master of Kriyashakti, effortlessly creating forms from his sovereign imagination. Such beings are the source and subject of all great myths, although they themselves have risen above the realm of forms. These are the elect of the human race and the unacknowledged authors of the pioneering arts, sciences and mythologies of mankind. Fragments of their wisdom are strewn in the fables of all cultures, differing only in the symbols and veils through which they disseminate eternal verities.
Celtic cosmogony had been spawned by Druidic Adepts aeons ago. In their hoary legends we find the traces of a lost wisdom, an ancient cosmogony. The One gives birth to man, imaging within itself boundless fields of ineffable light which become more shadowy and dim as they recede further from the source. Through these fields rays of luminous intelligences shoot forth and fall from the celestial city to earth. The memory of that past always remains, and the fallen god, the divine ray in human form, preserves the knowledge of that heavenly sojourn in fable and legend. In Ireland the central characters in this long pilgrimage are the Tuatha De Danann, the gods who settled the sacred isle of Eire after conquering the gigantic races of the Fomorians. These chthonic forces are identifiable as the Atlanteans of antiquity, persons who had grown powerful through sorcery. The Tuatha De Danann who subdued them were men who had transformed themselves into gods by magical or Druidic power.
They were pre-eminently magi become immortal by strength of will and knowledge. Superhuman in power and beauty, they raised themselves above nature; they played with the elements; they moved with ease in the air.
They were those who had risen to supernal heights of knowledge and power in previous periods of evolution. They were distinct from the lesser gods who were nature-spirits or secondary intelligences having little to do with expanding frontiers of human consciousness.
The reign of the Tuatha De Danann was coextensive with the cycle of the Golden Age. This vibration, A.E. felt, resonated more deeply than any other throughout the Irish countryside. Tir na Nog is the mystical name of the land of the immortals, embodying a state of sublime awareness which could be experienced by children, poets and those of humble heart and pure perception. Romantic poets spoke in impassioned tones of the awful loveliness of a world lying just beyond the circumference of the terrene sphere. More than a vision, it was an assured prophecy concerning a future humanity which would establish wise sovereignty over itself and bring sweet concord to all of Nature.
These mysteries, all that they led to, all that they promised for the spirit of man, are opening to-day for us in clear light, their fabulous distance lessens and we hail these kingly ideals with as intense a trust and with more joy, perhaps, than they did who were born in those purple hours because we are emerging from centuries indescribably meagre and squalid in their thought, and every new revelation has for us the sweetness of sunlight to one after the tears and sorrow of a prison house.
The withdrawal of the immortals from their earthly habitation at the close of the Golden Age was a prelude to a final flowering of the Celtic peoples. This period, called the Age of Heroes, records the fabulous exploits of the mystic warriors of the Red Branch like Cu Chulainn, Conall Cernach and Conchobar, who freely discoursed with their presiding deities. They were followed by the heroes of the Finn cycle: Finn MacCumhaill and the Fenians. Their legends have persevered through millennia and still inspire movements for social reform in contemporary Ireland. The Gaelic tales speak of the protecting hand the native gods extend over Eire, gods who have not passed away but merely retreated to crypts in the hills or secret sanctuaries far removed from human sight. There they await the new cycle, and with it the ancient wisdom. The stirring of the mythic imagination is a premonition of that splendid resurgence, anticipated in the legends of diverse peoples as the return of the Adepts, Magi and Bodhisattvas, culminating in the appearance of the Avatar.
Belief in the coming of an Avatar was common among A.E.'s compatriots in the Theosophical Society at the end of the nineteenth century. Some years later A.E. found this faith transfigured in a dream in which he saw a divine hero returning to assist the Irish people. So great was the intensity of this dream that his son is said to have approached him that night asking, "What was the light?" For A.E. nothing was more sacred than the coming of an Avatar, the descent of Deity into the world. The Avatar exemplifies the consummation of the mystic's path, and extends the rainbow bridge between heaven and earth upon which the visionary becomes Vision itself. From this crowning vision springs the sacrificial desire to return to earthly life so as to give reality to the prospect of universal enlightenment.
A.E.'s The Avatars is an unparalleled portrait of a pair of heavenly Saviours. A futurist fantasy, it completes the allegory of The Interpreters, at the close of which the circle of idealistic revolutionaries faces execution at the hands of the State while the political fate of the nation is being decided in a general uprising. In The Avatars it transpires that the State maintains its control in the cities but yields the rural areas to migratory groups who are harbingers of a new civilization. Their numbers increase as a wave of spiritual regeneration sweeps across the countryside, but in the city spiritual hunger grows though material wants are satisfied. The Avatars appear in the countryside to galvanize the mystical aspirations of the seekers and to lay the foundations of a spiritual culture which will displace the materialistic values of a despotic regime. The divine pair of Avatars, Aodh and Aoife, do not appear directly in the book. What is intimated is the transformation in consciousness that they initiate in a group of companions – an artist, a philosopher, a poet, a recluse (like Wordsworth's Solitary) and a few friends in a rocky retreat in western Ireland.
A.E. was as concerned with the descent of the gods as with the moral elevation of men. He sensed that only the spiritually vigilant could recognize and profit from the presence of an Avatar. The concept of the Avatar is one of the most recondite in the philosophy of religion. As Jesus declares in the Gospel According to Thomas,
If the Flesh
He alludes to the mystery that Spirit should choose to become other than itself for the sake of that other – the body – a sacrificial act which cannot be understood in mundane terms. The Word made flesh is incomprehensible to men because it is the supererogatory act of an intelligence greater than man's. It is the prerogative of beings who have wholly transcended the circle of delusion, decay and death, who have travelled beyond even the realm of ethereal forms into the infinitudes of undivided Being. According to the Gupta Vidya, the magnanimous minds and hearts that attain to this exalted state are exempt from involuntary incarnation and may enjoy the blissful repose of nirvana or unconditioned consciousness. But there have always been those noble souls who have renounced this beatific peace to return across the ocean of incarnated existence to aid human beings in approaching supreme enlightenment. In performing this renunciation, "the Great Sacrifice", they freely accept the limitations of those to whom they have come. Their compassionate descent represents the ideal of unconditioned love unintelligible to those bound down by the evanescent allegiances of an egocentric world.
The Avatar signifies the descent of Spirit into matter for the sake of the progressive elevation of the latter to the state of self-conscious godhood. Without the sacrifices of such selfless exemplars, evolution towards perfectibility could not proceed and the innate impulse of all beings to aspire upwards would be aborted. This is the deeper significance of the Promethean myth. Had not Prometheus sacrificed himself, the human race would have continued to be enslaved by Zeus. Threats to the spiritual survival of man were real possibilities at critical points in human evolution. The race of man may not have been destroyed physically, yet the compassionate intervention of wise Teachers at decisive moments enhanced the effective potential for human beings to rise above ignorance and fear and touch the radiance of hidden mental and spiritual fires. Such has been the sacred work of the Avatars that recorded history has celebrated, saviours such as Krishna, Buddha and Jesus. They come for all humanity to rekindle the flame of spiritual aspiration in the secret heart.
The Avatar cannot be comprehended from below. By its very nature, the exemplification can only be apprehended by attaining the level of impersonality it represents. In this enlarged perspective, enlightenment is an ever-present possibility for each human being. Were it not so, we could neither contemplate the prospect nor consider the means to its attainment. Avatars have taught why the human soul is dual in nature, at once demonic and divine. The latency of the immortal spark in the individual soul enshrines the seed of enlightenment, known as bodhichitta. To the mind submerged in the dichotomies of incarnated existence, the germinating spiritual seed appears twofold: as the ascent of the soul to the Divine and as the descent of the Divine into the world. Spiritual aspiration is the channel through which a luminous intelligence may work for the welfare of all. As the pre-Socratics often repeated, the way up and the way down are the same. Each man is potentially a Buddha. Christhood is a divine archetype towards which all human growth aspires with differing degrees of self-consciousness. The extent to which a person has approached or is seeking this demonstrated ideal is his true measure as a human being.
There are myriad avenues for the Logos to incarnate in the world. Indeed, every pure act of sacrifice is a drawing down of the Avatar-light. Each pain endured in the effort to transcend oneself for the sake of others cleanses a channel through which higher energy may flow, and A.E.'s humanized notion of the Avatar draws upon this esoteric truth. The Avatars portrays them not as those exalted beings mentioned in canonical texts, but rather as a highly evolved type of man who has won a self-validating assurance of his divinity and a supreme sense of the fullness of his being. This is undoubtedly a restricted use of the term "Avatar", but it does serve to highlight the universal possibilities for human growth. Above all, A.E.'s Avatars come to influence folk behaviour, to establish patterns of communion and celebration, and to serve as microcosmic models for the future:
The purpose of an Avatar is to reveal the spiritual character of a race to itself.
An Avatar transmits some fundamental truth to an epoch and initiates a new cycle of inner growth. The resounding vibration released by the Avatar provides the keynote for the epoch he inaugurates. Thus Krishna came to teach a philosophy of joy and love to a humanity about to descend into the darkness of the Iron Age or Kali Yuga. A.E.'s Aodh and Aoife similarly seek to propagate the Krishna vibration amidst the tyranny and oppression exerted by the modern State. They bequeath the vision of a new humanity conscious of its divine kinship with all of Nature. They transmute the everyday relationships between human beings, enabling the qualities of fidelity, altruism and civility to arise spontaneously as the basis of a spiritual culture:
By the presence of these two the days had been coloured with a rich wonder. . . . Then came stories of men and women raised above themselves in some transfiguration so that they saw each other in some shining way in dances which had been taught them by the mystic visitors. . . . In their enchantment they were god and goddess to each other.
Most of the Avatar's work is indeed invisible and hidden. A.E.'s Avatars accomplish nothing stupendous on the physical plane, but we recognize them by their subtle influence, by the institutional germs they have begotten and by the lives they have changed. They themselves appear and withdraw almost without trace. Their origins and destiny are shrouded, yet for those who momentarily shared their vision the world is totally transformed. They endow their disciples with the power to promulgate their message of joy and freedom to those who are spiritually deprived. A.E. was aware that the gift of Divine Wisdom was so potent that the presence of one enlightened man could gently start a soul-revolution on a global scale. In this sense The Avatars was less a fantasy than a dramatization of the cycle of descent of the Fraternity of Sages, the Brotherhood of Bodhisattvas. In the fourteenth century the Tibetan reformer Tsong-Kha-Pa initiated a septenary centennial movement which would signal the spread of a spiritual impulse during the last quarter of each forthcoming century. These impulsions would be focussed through the noble work of disguised emissaries of the Brotherhood. As a young man A.E. had witnessed the tidal wave initiated by H.P. Blavatsky and W.Q. Judge, and for the rest of his life he sought to prepare for the next great impulsion. He wrote in 1897:
Avatars, kingly souls once on earth, and now returning again with the wisdom of a greater day and the world spirit urgent within their wills. I seem to see this confused transition period or plan whereto all is tending; a true social state with divine dynasties and solar heroes at its head, like those who ruled Egypt in its mystic beginning. Already spirits with such imperial instincts begin to appear amongst us, laying a deeper foundation for the spiritual revolution. . . . We have become expectant.
As the impulsion of the nineteenth century drew to a close, A.E. became increasingly concerned that careless speculation about Teachers and Avatars was disproportionate to the willingness of students to assimilate and apply the Teachings as aids to self-transformation. In his articles on "Shadow and Substance" and "Self-Reliance", he warned that incessant talk on spiritual matters is useless and even harmful if the ethical requirements of the philosophy are not enacted in daily life. He counselled that the failures of his fellows lay in their wish to use the magical powers of the soul without having first grasped the indivisible nature of the Self. The student must fit himself to the Teacher and not the other way around. Indeed, one's faulty attempts to externalize a convenient image of the Teacher would be the greatest barrier to finding one. A.E. knew that access to Teachers was not arbitrary, but wholly dependent upon the efforts of the disciple. He recognized that the student was drawn to the Master by a law of spiritual gravitation – spiritual qualities attract by magnetic affinity. A person who has sufficiently developed within himself the marks of an unprejudiced mind, a pure heart and an ardent desire for wisdom will be naturally drawn to the true exemplar of these excellences.
No one should seek a Teacher for instant salvation. Masters come to train disciples in the intelligent service of humanity, not to relieve the burdens of those who refuse to exercise their own powers of choice and self-determination. A.E. knew that one must earn discipleship and that this in itself is an arduous task. But he insisted that anything less might mean a disastrous fall into delusive speculation which could prevent the aspirant from ever finding wise Teachers. He recognized that though access to them is never easy, it is aided by devoted study of their Teachings. As a man thinks, so shall he be. The power to pursue and incarnate spiritual ideals is coeval with the soul's assumption of a human form. One's thought and ideation determine one's destiny. They constitute both the cause of imprisonment and the means of liberation from the darkness of ignorance and servitude.
"What a man thinks, that he is: That is the old secret." In this self-conception lies the secret of life, the way of escape and return. We have imagined ourselves into littleness, darkness and feebleness. We must imagine ourselves into greatness.
For this reason, the earliest Avatar in recorded history – Lord Krishna – descended amidst humanity on the eve of the Iron Age to show the spiritual attributes of the Sage. In his second discourse to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, he offers a classic portrait of an enlightened being, confirmed in self-knowledge.
A man is said to be confirmed in spiritual knowledge when he forsaketh every desire which entereth into his heart, and of himself is happy and content in the Self through the Self. His mind is undisturbed in adversity; he is happy and contented in prosperity, and he is a stranger to anxiety, fear, and anger.
Contemplation of such qualities by anyone mired in illusion can emancipate the mind and confer upon it the pattern of its own growth. A.E. knew that discriminating the essence of spirituality from its formal expression was a prerequisite for enlightenment. The Avatars sought to give the aroma of the awakened soul "a local habitation and a name", thereby testifying to the perfectibility of man.
Hermes, February 1985