THE CHRISTIAN MYSTERY
Christian initiation has existed since the founding of Christianity.
Through the Middle Ages and in our own time it has remained the same
among a number of religious Orders as well as among the Rosicrucians.
It consists of a spiritual training which culminates in certain
identical and invariable symptoms. The Brotherhoods where, in profound
secrecy, this training used to be given, are the home of all spiritual
life and religious progress.
In certain respects the Christian initiation is more difficult of
attainment than the initiation of ancient times. It is bound up with
the essence and mission of Christianity which came into the world at a
time when man had descended most deeply into matter. This descent was
to imbue him with a new consciousness, but the struggle involved in
rising from the depths of materialism demands greater effort and
renders initiation more difficult. That is why the Christian masters
demand intense humility and devotion of their pupils.
The Christian initiation has always consisted of seven stages, four of
which correspond to four of the Stations of Calvary. The stages are:
- The Washing of the Feet.
- The Scourging.
- The Crowning with Thorns.
- The Bearing of the Cross.
- The Mystic Death.
- The Entombment.
- The Resurrection.
The Washing of the Feet is a preparatory exercise of a moral
character, relating to the scene where Christ washes the feet of the
disciples before the Easter Festival (St. John 13): “Verity,
verily I say unto you, the servant is not greater than his Lord;
neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.” Theology
gives a purely moral interpretation to this act and looks upon it
merely as an example of the profound humility and devotion of the
Master to His disciples and His work. The Rosicrucians also held this
view but in a deeper sense, relating the story to the evolution of
all beings in Nature. The scene is really an allusion to the law that
the higher is a product of the lower. The plant might say to the
mineral: I am above you since I have a life which you have not; yet
without you I could not exist, for the substances which nourish me are
drawn from you. The animal again might say to the plant: I am above
you, for I have feeling, desires, the capacity for voluntary movement
which you have not; but without the food which you provide, without
your leaves and fruits I could not live. And man should say to the
plants: I am above you, but to you I owe the oxygen which I breathe.
To the animals he should say: I have a soul and you have not; yet we
are brothers and companions, involved in the great process of
evolution. The esoteric meaning of the Washing of the Feet is that
Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, could not exist without
The neophyte who meditates on this theme for months and years has a
vision of the Washing of the Feet in the astral world during sleep.
Then he is ready to pass to the second stage of the Christian
The Scourging, — At this stage man learns to resist the
scourgings of life. Life brings sufferings of all kinds — physical,
moral, intellectual, spiritual. Life is felt to be a dreadful and
incessant torture. The disciple must endure it with perfect equanimity
of soul and heroic courage. He must cease to know physical or moral
fear. When he has become fearless, he sees, in dream, the scene of the
Scourging. In another vision he sees himself in the Christ Who is
scourged. Certain symptoms in physical life accompany this event.
There is an intensification of the life of feeling, a wider sense of
life and of love. We have an example of heightened sensibility
transferred to the world of intelligence, in the life of
After lengthy osteological studies of the skeleton of man and of the
animals, as well as comparative embryological research, Goethe came to
the conclusion that the intermaxillary bone must exist in man. Before
his time, science denied the existence of this bone in the upper jaw
of man. Goethe himself says that he was overcome with joy and a kind
of ecstasy when he actually discovered the intermaxillary bone in the
human jaw, adding that it was one of the most wonderful experiences of
his life. During his Italian journey he again had the same experience.
He was looking at a fragment of a sheep's skull, and another idea came
to him — an idea still more significant in regard to human
evolution — that the human brain, the seat of intelligence, the
centre of voluntary movements, is a development and a metamorphosis of
the spinal marrow, just as the flower is a culmination and synthesis
of root and stem. What faculty was it that enabled Goethe to make these
marvelous discoveries which by themselves deserve to make his name
immortal? It was his sublime intelligence on the one hand, but also his
intense sympathy with all living beings and the whole of Nature. Such
sensitiveness is a refinement and an extension of the forces of life
and love. It corresponds to the second stage of Christian initiation
and is the recompense for the trial of the Scourging. Man acquires a
feeling of love for all beings and this gives him a sense of living in
the heart of Nature herself.
The Crowning with Thorns, — At this stage man must learn
to brave the world morally and intellectually, to desist from anger
when all that is most dear to him is being attacked. The capacity to
remain aloof when everything is tumbling about our ears, to say
“Yea” when the rest of the world says “Nay”
— that is what must be acquired before the next step can be
taken. This gives rise to a new symptom, namely a dissociation, or
rather the power of a momentary dissociation of three faculties which,
in man, are united: the faculties of willing, feeling and thinking.
We must learn to separate and to re-unite them at will. So long, for
example, as some outer event carries us away with uncontrolled
enthusiasm, we are immature, for such enthusiasm comes from the event,
not from ourselves, and we may even exercise a shattering influence
of which we are not master.
The enthusiasm of the disciple must have its well-spring in the depths
of his inner life. He must therefore be able to remain impassive in
the face of any event, no matter how catastrophic. That is the only
way to reach freedom. The dissociation of feeling, thinking and
willing produces in the brain a change that is symbolised by the Crown
of Thorns. If this test is to be passed without danger, the powers
inherent in the personality must be sufficiently intense and in
perfect equilibrium. If the disciple has not reached this stage, or if
he receives wrong guidance, the change in the brain may lead to
insanity. Insanity is nothing but an involuntary separation of these
faculties without the possibility of their re-union by dint of the
inner will. The disciple brings about the separation by an act of
conscious volition. A flash of his will re-establishes the link
between the organs and the activities of soul. In the lunatic, the
cleft may be incurable and produce a physical lesion in the
In the course of the stage in the Christian initiation known as the
Crowning with Thorns, there arises the phenomenon known as the
Guardian of the Threshold — the appearance of the lower
double of man. The spiritual being of man, composed of his
impulses of will, his desires and his thoughts, appears to the
Initiate in visible form. It is a form that is sometimes repugnant and
terrible, for it is the offspring of his good and bad desires and of
his karma — it is their personification in the astral
world, the Evil Pilot of the Egyptian Book of the Dead. This
form must be conquered by man before he can find the higher Self. The
Guardian of the Threshold which has been a phenomenon of astral vision
from times immemorial, is the origin of all the myths concerning the
struggles of Heroes with monsters, of Perseus and Hercules with the
Hydra, of St. George and Siegfried with the dragon.
The premature appearance of the astral world and the sudden apparition
of the Double or Guardian of the Threshold may lead a man who is not
fully prepared or who has not taken all the precautions necessary for
the disciple, to madness and insanity.
The Bearing of the Cross refers, symbolically, to a virtue of
the soul. This virtue which consists in a sense of having ‘the
world on one's conscience’ as Atlas bore the world on his
shoulders, may be called a feeling of indentification with the whole
Earth, or in the words of oriental occultism the cessation of the
feeling of separateness.
In general, and above all in modern times, men identify themselves
with the body. (In his Ethics,
says that the basic and
fundamental idea of man is the idea of the body in action.) The
disciple must cultivate the idea that in the sum-total of things, his
body in itself is of no more importance than any other body, whether
it be the body of an animal, a table or a piece of marble. The self
is not bounded by the skin; it is united with the great organism of
the universe as the hand is united with the rest of the body. The hand
alone would be as dust and ashes. What would the body of man be
without the soil on which he rests, without the air he breathes? It
would die, for it is but a tiny organ of the Earth and the air. That
is why the disciple must sink himself in every other being and
identify himself with the Spirit of the Earth.
Goethe has given a marvelous description of this stage at the
beginning of Faust. The Spirit of the Earth to whom Faust aspires,
appears before him and speaks these words:
“In the tides of life, in Action's storm,
Thus at Time's humming loom 'tis my hand prepares
A fluctuant wave,
A shuttle free,
Birth and the Grave,
An eternal sea,
A weaving, flowing
The garments of Life which the Divinity weaves.”
To identify oneself with all beings does not mean that the body is to
be despised. It must be borne as some exterior object, even as Christ
bore His Cross. The Spirit must wield the body as the hand wields the
hammer. At this stage the disciple is conscious of the occult powers
lying latent in his body. In the course of his meditations, the
stigmata may even appear on his skin. This is the sign that he is ripe
for the fifth stage, where, in sudden illumination, the Mystic
Death is revealed to him.
The Mystic Death, — In the grip of the greatest of all
suffering the disciple recognises that the world of the senses is
illusion. He is actually aware of death and of descending into the
world of shades, but then the darkness breaks and a new light —
the astral light — shines out. The veil of the temple is ‘rent
in twain.’ This light has nothing in common with the physical
light of the sun. It rays forth from the inner being of man. The
impression it makes is wholly unlike that made by outer light. The
following comparison will give us some idea of what is meant. We
imagine that we are leaving a turbulent city behind us and entering
a dense forest. The noises gradually cease and the silence becomes
complete. We finally begin to be aware of what lies beyond the
silence, to pass the zero point at which all external sound has
ceased. And now sound arises again for the inner ear from the other
side of existence. Such is the experience of the soul of one who
enters the astral world. He is then in contact with the inverse
quality of the things with which he was familiar, just as in
arithmetic, beneath the zero point, we enter into the growing series
of negative numbers.
Thus do we need to lose all in order to regain all, and this applies
to our own existence. In the moment of losing all we appear to die to
ourselves and it is in the world around us that we begin to live
Such is the Mystic Death. When a man has passed this stage, the
time has come for the next:
The Entombment, — Man feels that he is freed from his own
body and is one with the planet. He is one with the Earth and finds
himself again within the planetary life.
The Resurrection, — This is a sublime experience,
impossible of description unless it be within the walls of the
sanctuary. The last stage of Christian initiation transcends all
words and all analogy fails. At this stage man acquires the power
of healing. Yet it must be realised that he who possesses it,
possesses at the same time the inverse power to bring about disease.
The negative invariably goes in hand with the positive. Hence the
tremendous responsibility attaching to this power which may be
characterised by the saying: The creative word issues from the soul