Before embarking on this subject, we must realise that since occultism
has been popularised, a certain class of theosophical literature has
given rise to mistaken ideas as to the real goal of occult science. It
has been contended that the goal is the annihilation of the body
through asceticism and that reality is an illusion which must be
conquered, reference being made to the ‘maya’ spoken of by
Hindu philosophy. This is more than exaggeration; it is an actual
error, contradicted by the science and practice of occultism.
Greek imagery compares the soul to a bee and this is much truer to the
facts. Just as the bee emerges from the hive and gathers the juice of
flowers to distil and make it into honey, so does the soul come forth
from the Spirit, penetrates into reality and gathers its essence which
is then borne back again to the Spirit.
Occultism does not disdain reality but seeks rather to understand and
make use of it. The body is not merely the vesture, it is the
instrument of the Spirit. Occultism is not a science which
subordinates the body but teaches us how to use it for higher ends.
Could we be said to understand the nature of a magnet if we described
it merely as a piece of iron shaped like a horse-shoe? No, indeed. But
we have understood if we say: ‘The magnet is a piece of iron
having the power to attract other pieces of iron.’ Visible
reality is wholly pervaded with a deeper reality and it is this deeper
reality which the soul tries to penetrate and master.
For thousands of years the higher wisdom was guarded in profound
secrecy by Occult Brotherhoods. A man had to belong to one of these
Brotherhoods before he could learn even the elements of occult
science. To enter a Brotherhood he had to pass certain tests and swear
not to make wrong use of the truths revealed to him. But the
conditions of civilisation, and particularly of the human intellect,
have entirely changed since the sixteenth century and above all in the
last hundred years under the influence of scientific discoveries. As
the result of science, a certain number of truths pertaining to Nature
and the world of sense — which in olden times were known only to
Initiates — have become public property. Knowledge possessed by science
today was once in the keeping of the Mysteries. The Initiates have
always known that which all men were destined, in time, to know. That
is why the Initiates have been called prophets.
The advent of Christianity wrought a great change in the manner of
Initiation. Initiation since the time of Christ Jesus has not been the
same as before His coming. We can only understand this by studying the
nature of man and the seven fundamental principles of his being.
(1) The physical body, visible to the natural eye and familiar to
science. As a purely physical being, man corresponds to the mineral
world; he is a combination of all the physical forces of the universe.
(2) The etheric body. How does it become perceptible?
We know that hypnosis induces a different state of consciousness, not
only in the hypnotised subject but also in the hypnotist, who suggests
anything he pleases to his subject. He can make him think that a chair
is a horse, or that the chair is not there, or again that there is
nobody in a room which is really full of people. The Initiate
consciously exercises a power whereby he can blot out from his vision
the physical body of the person in front of him. Then, in place of the
physical body he beholds, not an empty space, but the etheric body.
This body somewhat resembles the physical body and yet it is
different. It takes on the form of the physical body, extending
slightly beyond it. The etheric body is more or less luminous and
fluidic. Instead of organs there are currents of diverse colours, the
heart being a veritable vortex of forces and streaming currents. The
etheric body is the ‘etheric double’ of the material body.
Man possesses it in common with the plants. It is not produced by the
physical body as naturalists might be led to believe; on the contrary,
the etheric body is the builder of every living organism. In the
plant, as well as in man, it is the force of growth, rhythm and
(3) The astral body has neither the form of the etheric nor of the
physical body. It is an ovoid and extends beyond the body like a
cloud, an aura. The astral body can take on all the colours of the
rainbow, according to the passion by which it is animated. Each
passion has its astral colour. Besides this, the astral body is, in a
certain sense, the synthesis of the physical and etheric bodies, for
the reason that the etheric body always has a contrary character to
the sex of the physical body. The etheric body of a man is female; the
etheric body of a woman is male. In both man and woman, the astral
body is bisexual. In this sense, therefore, it is a synthesis of the
two other bodies.
(4) The self — Manas in Sanscrit, Joph in Hebrew — is
the intelligent, rational soul. It is the indestructible individuality
which can learn to build the other bodies — the
‘inexpressible,’ the human self and the divine self.
The union of these four elements was venerated by
in the sign of the tetragram.
The evolution of man consists in transforming the lower bodies with
the aid of the self into spiritualised bodies. The physical body is
the most ancient principle — hence the most perfect — of
man's being. The task of the present epoch of human evolution is to
transform the astral body.
In civilised man, the astral body is divided into two parts — a
lower and a higher. The lower part is still chaotic and dark, the
higher is luminous, penetrated even now by the forces of Manas — that is
to say, it has a certain order and regularity.
When the Initiate has purified his astral body of all animal passions,
when it has become wholly luminous (the first phase of Initiation), he
has arrived at the stage of catharsis. Only then can he work at
his etheric body and by this means ‘affix his seal’ to the
physical body. Of itself, the astral body has no direct influence upon
the physical body. Its forces must pass by way of the etheric body.
The task of the disciple, therefore, is concerned with the
transformation of the astral and etheric bodies in order, finally, to
acquire full and complete control of the physical body. This is how he
becomes a master.
We are touching here upon a marvelous law of human nature, proving
that the self and Manas are the central points of man's development.
When Manas dominates the astral and etheric bodies, man acquires new
faculties and these in turn influence the spiritual and divine form of
man. When Manas works upon the etheric body, light and power for the
purpose of man's spiritual being (Budhi) are generated. When Manas
works upon the physical body, light and power for man's divine Spirit
(Atma) are generated. The evolution of man, therefore, amounts to a
transformation of the lower bodies by the higher Self.
We have a paramount example of the working of the lower self in an
anecdote told by
On one of his journeys he conversed with a
cannibal and asked, through an interpreter, if he felt no repugnance
against eating human flesh. Whereupon the savage burst into laughter,
saying: “One must have tasted human flesh before one can know
whether it is good to eat. And you know nothing about it
The transformation of the astral body goes hand in hand with the
control of feelings and their purification.
The lower part of the astral body of man in our age is dark; the
higher part is limpid and full of colour. The higher part has been
transmuted and permeated by the self but not the lower part as yet.
When man has transformed the whole of his astral body we say that he
has changed it into Manas. Not until then can he begin to work on the
etheric body. There is a reason why this is so. Everything in the
astral body is ephemeral. Everything that happens in the etheric body
leaves an indelible trace which is, furthermore, impressed like a seal
into the physical body.
The higher stages of Initiation consist in controlling all the
phenomena connected with the physical body, in mastering and
controlling them at will. The Initiate possesses Atma to the
extent to which he achieves this; he becomes a sage and has power over
The difference between Eastern and Western Initiation lies in the
method by which the master brings the pupil to the point of being able
to work on his etheric body. Here we must consider the different
conditions in which man finds himself during sleep and waking life.
During sleep the astral body is partly freed from the physical body
and is in a condition of inactivity, but the vegetative activity of
the etheric body continues.
At death, the etheric and astral bodies are wholly severed from the
physical body. In the etheric body — which is the bearer of
memory — inheres a remembrance of the past life and at the
moment the etheric body frees itself, the dying have before them a
tableau of their whole life. Freed from the physical body, the etheric
body becomes much more sensitive and impressionable because it is no
longer impeded by physical substance.
Oriental Initiation consisted in a process whereby the etheric and
astral bodies of the neophyte were forced out of his physical body. He
lay in a trance lasting three days and during this time the hierophant
controlled his freed etheric body, poured impulses into him and taught
him wisdom which remained as a powerful, lasting impression. When he
awoke from the trance, the new Initiate found himself in possession of
this wisdom, for the reason that memory inheres in the etheric body.
The wisdom was occult doctrine but it bore the permanent and personal
stamp of the hierophant who had imparted it. A man who had passed
through this Initiation was said to be ‘twice-born.’
The process of Western Initiation is quite different. Eastern
Initiation takes place while man is in a state of sleep; Western
Initiation must be achieved in a state of wakefulness. In other words,
there is no separation of the etheric and physical bodies. In Western
Initiation the neophyte is free; the master simply plays the rôle of
an awakener. He does not try to dominate or convert; he simply
recounts what he himself has seen, — And how ought we to listen?
There are three ways of listening: to accept the words as infallible
authority; to be sceptical and fight against what is heard; to pay
heed to what is said without servile, blind credulity and without
systematic opposition, allowing the ideas to work upon us and
observing their effects. This latter is the attitude which the pupil
should adopt towards his master in Western Initiation.
The Initiator knows that he who is master must also be servant. It is
not his task to mould the soul of his pupil to his own image but to
discover and solve the enigma of this soul. The teaching given by the
Initiator is not dogma; it is simply an impulse for development. Every
truth that is not at the same time a vital impulse, is a sterile
truth. That is why all thought must be filled with the element of
soul. Thought must be permeated with feeling; otherwise it will not
pass into the realm of soul and it will be stillborn thought.