THE ETERNAL QUEST
This book has covered a lot of ground. With the exception of some of the previous chapter, the emphasis has been mainly on the esoteric background and nature of movements which rightly or wrongly, are seen by outsiders as secret societies. Various threads have become apparent during the course of the book; now it is time to draw some of them together. This final chapter should not be seen as a Conclusion per se, if only because any conclusions are bound to be tentative; it might better be seen as a Summary plus Suggestions.
Why people join secret societies
In the case of most Freemasons, probably the main reason for their membership is social: a men-only form of companionship and mutual support which has changed little since the days of Mithraism, and serving much the same function as the pub darts club, or the little league baseball team, though a considerable cut above either. In some cases Freemasonry is a family tradition: a son (or 'lewis') following in his father's footsteps. For some, membership is undoubtedly seen as a means of advancing their own careers, of getting on good social terms with future business contacts. For others with a social conscience, it provides a means for charitable giving, of their money and their time. For some, it's the secrecy which appeals: belonging to something and knowing things which the majority of people don't.
For most, it seems, the rituals of the first three degrees are little more than play-acting, a bit of mumbo-jumbo they're prepared to go through as their initiation into the club. A few take it more seriously; they look at the surface symbolism and see something deeper. These are the ones, along with some seeking social advancement or a rise up the 'club' career ladder, who take the higher degrees, up to 33rd degree, and who join related Orders.
A few others, who have studied the esoteric background of Freemasonry before joining it, already have a good idea of what they're looking for. They're prepared to put up with the social side of fairly low-level Freemasonry in order to study the deeper mysteries.
Rosicrucians, too, have a number of motivations. Some are initially attracted by the promise of power: increasing their memory, becoming more successful in everything they do. Their motivations are only a little different from those of people who respond to the 'Increase your sexual attractiveness' ads in the men's magazines. Once they realize they have to study comparative religion, mythology and history, astronomy and astrology, chemistry and alchemy, and the complexities of Cabala, few of these will last for much more than the first few months of lessons.
Others, right from the start, genuinely want to get closer to God; they feel a lack in traditional Christianity, and are looking for the Christ-spark within themselves. Their motivations are spiritual rather than particularly esoteric. Others, again, know something of the background of Rosicrucianism before they join. They know about the power, they know about the spiritual search, and they're already fascinated by the studies. They use what they learn from Rosicrucianism as a springboard for their further personal researches into the esoteric. The Schools of Occult Science attract those who already know something about Cabala, the deeper symbolism of Tarot, comparative religion, esoteric Christianity, mysticism: those who have encountered the Western Mystery Tradition, and who want to study it in more depth under the guidance of experienced teachers. Some may have tried the more open Rosicrucian Orders, and have found them both too broad and too shallow. They've worked their way through the side-salad and the bun; now they want the meat.
To the outsider, there often seem to be contradictions in what they know of the teachings of secret societies, not only between different societies, but within individual ones.
One of the most important aspects of any esoteric teaching is that the same statement may have two or more quite different meanings - factual and allegorical, exoteric and esoteric - and may reveal different layers of meaning at different levels of learning. This explains the outsider's impression of the apparent wilful contrariness of, for example, the eleventh-century esoteric Ismaili school in Cairo, or its adaptation in the Assassins, where at each level of initiation the student discovered that what he had learned at the previous levels was false.
It was not that the previous teachings were actually false as in untrue; rather that in the light of the new revelations they could be seen to demonstrate only a very limited understanding.
The converse is also the case: it is often said of the Hermetic Philosophers that they were able to accept two mutually contradictory statements as equally true. This is not as perverse as it seems. In everyday usage we speak of the Sun rising in the morning and setting in the evening, and moving across the sky in between, while in fact knowing that the Earth is actually rotating on its axis while orbiting around the Sun. But both statements are true. The astronomical version is a scientific statement; the other is a perceptual truth.
Max Heindel examines this point while discussing two different translations of Genesis 1:1.
Much has been said and written as to which of these two interpretations is correct. The difficulty is, that people want something settled and definite. They take the stand that, if a certain explanation is true, all others must be wrong. But, emphatically, this is not the way to get at truth, which is many sided and multiplex. Each occult truth requires examination from many different points of view; each viewpoint presents a certain phase of the truth, and all of them are necessary to get a complete, definite conception of whatever is under consideration.1
From the viewpoint of the esotericist, this is the problem with exoteric religion, particularly orthodox Christianity and even more particularly Evangelical Christianity. As was seen earlier in discussion of Freemasonry, Fundamentalist Evangelicals especially see Christianity as an exclusive religion; if it is true, as they believe it is, then all other religions must of necessity be false: made up by man, but inspired by the Devil. Within Christianity (and the same applies to a lesser extent within several other religions) there is even further exclusivity; each of a thousand different sects believes that it alone has the truth.
Such tunnel vision, of course, leads to argument, dissension, antagonism, and even to war. The smaller the differences between two groups, the more bitter, it seems, are the disagreements.
This doesn't apply to just Christianity; nor indeed to only exoteric religions. Esoteric movements can also have tunnel vision and stubborn pride. The history of occult societies, as for example with the Fraternitas Rosae Crucis and AMORC, is littered with disputes; it is also littered with schisms. Considering their emphasis on spirituality this may or may not be 'right', but it is quite understandable. If you receive messages from Hidden Masters on the etheric plane, whether they are from the Great White Brotherhood of Theosophy and its many offspring, or from spirits or dcmons, your messages are unlikely to agree in every respect with someone else's messages. This becomes most apparent when the leader of an esoteric religious movement dies, and his or her putative successors vie with each other for supremacy, each claiming to have had a personal revelation that they were to be the new leader. It often ends with the religion splitting into two or three, with members dividing to follow the several different leaders, each of whom claims to be the one true successor. In the US in particular it sometimes leads to lawsuits, each group staking its claim to the original name and organization (and to its property and funds).2
One of the classic American examples, perhaps surprisingly, is neither a Christian nor a Theosophical movement; it is the large number of competing groups each claiming to be the true successor to Radhasoami Satsang, a religious movement founded in 1861 in the Sant Mat tradition of esoteric Hindu/ Sikh-inspired movements, originally from Northern India. Although they all appear, to the outsider, to be teaching much the same thing, each apparently claims to have the only true, full and perfect distillation of the Truth. Some, like ECKANKAR, present themselves as the first time the Truth has ever been taught in its entirety, and seem to ignore the fact that their teachings are borrowed from earlier movements.3
So far as such esoteric organizations are concerned, it doesn't seem to occur to most of them that it is permissible for them to have different emphases within their overall teachings. At least two of the major Rosicrucian organizations concentrate on physical healing in addition to spiritual truths; others concentrate on personal development. This doesn't have to mean thatatiy one ofthem is 'right' and allthe others 'wrong'. But still, some claim to be the only true and legitimate bearers of the Rosicrucian mantle.
An Evangelical minister, explaining the bad behaviour of some of his congregation, once said, 'Christians are human too'. The same applies to esotericists; they can be just as selfish and bitchy as anyone else. They can also have the added temptation, especially if they have risen up through several levels of initiation, of the sin of spiritual pride.
Members of esoteric organizations are supposed to work for the greater good of mankind, just as Christians are supposed to obey Jesus' command to love one another. Sometimes they fail; sometimes they're human.
However laudable their aims, is any of these present-day organizations, or their eighteenth - or nineteenth-century forebears, with all their uncertain lineages - is any of them actually Rosicrucian, as many of them claim? Again quoting A.E.Waite:
It seems undeniable therefore that the links are broken everywhere. The various associations and sodalities which have claimed the generic title exhibited in the early seventeenth century, rose up in their day, advancing their particular claims, and they died also in their day - again so far at least as any records are concerned. It is above all things probable that their connection one with another was in the bond of union furnished by an identical name and a certain consanguinity of intention, whatever the intention was.4
If we accept that as a valid premise, then it has removed one of the problems: the 'apostolic succession' of authority through proven lineage which so many Rosicrucian-type movements struggle so hard to claim. Quite simply, it doesn't matter. We know, almost for a fact, that the very first people to take up the Rosicrucian mantle in the early decades of the seventeenth century simply assumed the name that had been handed to them in the three Rosicrucian Manifestos - unless, of course, they themselves were the anonymous writers, in which case they had cobbled the shoes they then stepped into. What is as certain as anything can be in this whole field, is that the Rosicrucian Brotherhood, the Fraternity of the Rosy Cross, did not exist until the Fama Fraternitatis appeared in 1614. At least, not under that name, as a distinct, discrete order.
The people who became the first 'Rosicrucians' were pursuing exactly the same studies after 1614 as before. The Fama simply gave a new name and a more unified identity to the Hermetic Philosophers who had been studying alchemy and astrology and medicine and Cabala and geometry and architecture - and, note carefully, the spiritual philosophy underlying and encompassing each and all of these - for decades before.
As for today's societies - Fraternitas Rosae Crucis, Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia and in America, the Rosicrucian Fellowship, AMORC, Lectorium Rosicrucianum and others, and those which don't actually use the term Rosicrucian in their name, such as BOTA and Servants of the Light - their organizational lineage is unimportant if, in Wake's words, they have 'a certain consanguinity of intention', which they clearly do. True, they also have many differences in emphasis, but so did Pico della Mirandola, Francesco Giorgi, Henry Cornelius Agrippa, Paracelsus, John Dee, Giordano Bruno and the rest. Each pursues the truth in his or her own way.
There are still some, both inside and outside today's variety of esoteric societies, who claim a direct and actual lineage back from, say, the Freemasons to the Hermetic Philosophers and Renaissance alchemists, to the Knights Templar and/or the Cathars; some make claims right back to the Greek and Egyptian magical philosophers of 2,000 or more years ago.
True, not all the Cathars were wiped out in massacres such as Beziers and Montsegur. Some, with their beliefs, survived. And it is more than probable that when the Templars were disbanded and their leaders burned, some Templars went underground, banding together in small numbers, maintaining careful touch with each other, keeping their secrets and their rituals alive.
But however tempting it would be to believe that these hidden few managed to keep up their secret numbers and preserve their beliefs and rituals century after century, to re-emerge as the Rosicrucians or the Freemasons, there is no real evidence that this occurred.
Just as unscrupulous antique dealers sometimes create a convincing but false provenance for items with an uncertain or non-existent history, so, for example, did William Wynn Westcott for the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, with his faked letters from 'Fraulein Sprengel'; Samuel Liddell 'MacGregor' Mathers's 'ancient' rituals were the icing on the cake. With perhaps less deceit and more self-delusion, some of the early historians of the Freemasons did just the same, inventing an impressive but spurious history.
As for all the chivalric Orders and Rites within Freemasonry, it is far more than merely likely that these were all eighteenth-and nineteenth-century inventions, and nothing more. The whole of Masonic ritual is based on what they themselves (at least today) acknowledge to be legends rather than historical accounts. But does this make them untrue, or make Freemasonry a fake?
The importance of myth is not its factual basis; it is the message it contains. Jesus made up stories (dignified by the term 'parables') to make moral points, or to paint a concrete analogy of an abstract idea. Few actually believe that a man called Christian Rozenkreuz actually lived out his story for 106 years, and that his uncorrupted body was found in its tomb 120 years after his death. And it makes no difference to modern-day Freemasonry whether a few Knights Templar kept themselves together for four centuries, or not; the facts are unimportant if the message lives on.5
It is unlikely that those who created the Rosicrucian myth, and the perpetuation-of-the-Templars myth, were deliberately creating falsehoods to deceive people, any more than Jesus was lying when he told the story of the Good Samaritan. They were generating a mythos, a story to be remembered for what it teaches. A more fruitful enquiry than whether or not Pierre d'Aumont succeeded Jacques de Mo Jay and sailed to Scotland, is why a Freemason selected the Templars to be the spiritual forebears of his new Masonic Rite.
Here is Wake again, somewhat wordily:
If the Templars had a secret knowledge - and this is one hypothesis concerning them - it is certain to have been communicated from without the circle of chivalry; not to have originated in preceptory or chapter-house. To that secret centre the Order would have looked in the day of utter dereliction [i.e. when it was destroyed by Philippe le Bel], and could we turn in the same direction a light on this question of survival might yet reach us. There are many mysteries of chivalry and after more than a century of speculation - though we have ingarnered various materials - we have constructed no certain theory as to anything which lay behind it. In literature, in symbolism and by evasive suggestions of intention which manifest there and here, the student stumbles continually on apparent traces of something perdue in the deeps which may have cast up the rough, feudal Knighthood as a veil of its hidden project. I do not know that as such it is more than part and parcel of that strange growth of secret life which characterised the Middle Ages. On this side and on that it opens paths of speculation, and I know not where they may lead.6
The remainder of this chapter follows some of these paths of speculation, to see where they might lead - and to see, perhaps, if there could indeed have been 'something perdue in the deeps'.
The true lineage, as was said earlier, is not in the underground continuance of secret orders, but in the pursuit of similar ideas and ideals: a spiritual lineage. Much of this book has been about esoteric religious beliefs, classed as heresies by the orthodox mainstream; it has shown how the same ideas crop up again and again, and how the people with these ideas, these beliefs, have again and again been condemned and persecuted.
But even when these beliefs have been restricted, whether by persecution or by choice, to a select few, there has always been the urge, common to the Cathar perfecti, the original Rosicrucians, and the Freemasons today, to benefit mankind as a whole. This is an easily missed but vital point, which is at the very heart of the enquiry.
The quest for the Holy Grail
For whatever reasons, twelfth-to thirteenth-century France was buzzing with esoteric spirituality; it was also red with the blood, or dark with the ashes, of heretics. Whether by accident or by design, the principles, the ideals and the ideas of these heretics were preserved in such a way as to have a remarkable and continuing effect on society.
There are already far too many conspiracy theories linking the Freemasons and Rosicrucians back through the Knights Templar to the Holy Grail. We are all familiar with those glorious 'unified theory' books which link whatever the author wants to link. Throughout such books, in every argument, we read 'perhaps ... it could be that ... is possibly ... may be ... might be ...'; then by the following chapter these surmises have become facts to be built upon with yet further mights and maybes into yet more 'facts'.
However, as A.E. Waite says so succinctly (for once!), 'They prove nothing whose thesis proves too much.'7 This book has included its fair share of 'perhaps' and 'could be', but has always labelled them as such; no attempt has been made to turn supposition into fact. What follows is not an 'inescapable conclusion', nor even a 'strong conjecture'; although it has been arrived at independently during the course of researching and writing, much of it is not even original to this book. Just call it a series of thoughts which might be worth pursuing.
Every year sees yet more Arthurian novels published, usually as fat trilogies; historical fantasy is a popular genre. Most of these blithely set Arthur and co. in a late-medieval or early-Renaissance court, just as most Arthurian films feature glorious pavilions and jousting. A few authors strip away the twelfth- to fourteenth-century accretions, and write about a Dark Age warrior-leader instead of a glorious King of All Britain. If any historical fiction can be said to be accurate, these latter are certainly more so, historically, than the vast majority. If Arthur lived at all, as an historical personage, he and his court were nothing at all like the characters and settings of the Arthurian romances purporting to depict him and his kind.
This is because the medieval Arthurian romances did just what religious paintings of the time did: without any attempt at historical realism, they set their characters (whether Arthur or Jesus) in an idealized setting of their own time.
But why was the Arthurian cycle suddenly so popular? Where did it suddenly spring from? What, if anything, was its purpose, its raison d'etre?
To answer these questions, instead of stripping away the late medieval trimmings in search of the historical Arthur, the exact opposite is needed: to discard for the moment whatever factual basis there might be behind the tales, and to look instead at what they say of the times in which they were written. Why were they written? What was so important to the writers that they had to create these wondrous tales out of (almost) whole cloth?
Remaining after the historical basis has been stripped away are chivalry, courtly love, the Grail, and questing knights. These are what the French romance writers were writing about, not a Dark Age British king at all; Arthur was little more than a convenient peg on which to hang what really concerned them.
Each of these four concepts will be treated in the next few pages, after a brief consideration of the Arthurian romances themselves, their significance and the influences on their writing.
Today, in Britain, the more scholarly Neo-Pagan groups and individuals, who tend towards the esoteric in their studies and interests, are often deeply committed to what has become known as the Matter of Britain, particularly the Arthurian and Grail cycles. This is unsurprising; Neo-Paganism in any country usually explores the mythology of that country.
What is a little more surprising is that at least two of the esoteric societies, or Schools of Occult Science as they sometimes call themselves, also focus strongly on this material, in addition to their studies of Tarot, Cabala, and Greek/Egyptian magico-philosophy. The Servants of the Light recommended book list gives nearly 30 titles of Arthurian books, most of them specifically on the Grail. SOL was founded by W.E. Butler, a former member of the Society of the Inner Light, and this latter organization, for this day and age, is quite extraordinarily British-chauvinist; it insists that candidates must be British-born, and have 'full knowledge of the legends and myths of our history i.e. heroes . . . saints and sages . . .'8 Its founder, Dion Fortune, was for many years associated with Glastonbury, rightly or wrongly the main centre of Arthurian and Grail attention in Britain.
Why should esoteric organizations which study and teach the complexities of Cabala, surely the ultimate in intellectual spiritual contemplation, be bothered with Arthuriana?
The clue lies in the dating. Geoffrey of Monmouth, who was as likely to have been Breton as Welsh, wrote his: largely fictional History of the Kings of Britain in Latin around 1136. The Norman-French Wace used this in 1155 as the basis for his Roman de Brut, which turns it from an heroic tale into a story of courtly romance, and also introduces the Round Table to the story. Chretien de Troyes wrote five romances between at the earliest 1159 and at the latest 1190; the last of these, Perceval or he Conte del Graal, introduces the Grail for the first time. Perceval, though unfinished, is clearly a parable of the journey from ignorance to knowledge; the Grail is described as a mystery. The idea of the Grail being a sacred chalice, either the cup from the Last Supper or the cup which was used to catch the blood of Christ on the Cross, did not appear until Robert de Boron wrote Joseph d'Arimathie, probably in the late 1190s. Layamon, an Englishman, put Wace's Brut back into English, dropping much of the courtly romance, around the turn of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The four Continuations of Perceval, by different hands, date from between 1200 and c. 1240. Each says more about the Grail than Chretien de Troyes did.
The spiritual culture
This is not the place to provide an in-depth study of the late medieval spirituality of the Grail romances, and in any case, there are others far better qualified to do so - Caitlin and John Matthews, R.J. Stewart and Gareth Knight in particular. Here, then, a simple comparing of some dates.
* The Crusades took place between 1095 and 1272.
Jerusalem was won in 1099, lost in 1187, recaptured in
1229 and lost again in 1244.
* The Assassins began in 1090, and were influential until
* The Knights Templar were founded in 1119, and came to
an end between 1307 and 1314.
* The Cathars existed from c. 1150, had largely been crushed
by 1209, and were effectively wiped out, in France at least,
at Montsegur in 1244.
* The idea of courtly love, written and sung about by the
Languedoc troubadours, migrated to northern France
(possibly with returning Crusaders) in the middle of the
* The Cabalist Sefer ha-Bahir was written in Provence around
1175. Medieval Cabalism developed in Provence in the
twelfth century and remained strong there; it spread from
Provence to Spain, where the Sefer ha-Zohar was published
* The medieval mythologizing of the Arthur story, with the
French emphasis on chivalry and courtly love, and the
introduction of the Grail, occurred between c. 1155 and
* Occitan and Provencal culture was largely wiped out by the
middle of the thirteenth century.
It is not being suggested that there were direct causal links between all of these; what is being pointed out is that some very interesting events occurred in France, particularly southern France, or involved the French, in the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries.9 There were a lot of heretical ideas around during that period. There was an emphasis on mysticism, on an individual search for and personal relationship with God, in contrast with an unquestioning acceptance of the Catholic insistence on salvation only via the Church. The Muslim Assassins, the Gnostic Cathars, the Christian Templars, the Jewish Cabalists, all in different but mutually comprehensible ways sought to get closer to God. (It is true that we don't know the Templars' beliefs; but if they had been completely orthodox it is unlikely that the Church would have used the specific charges of blasphemy and heresy to destroy them.)
Gnosticism and its descendant Catharism believed that the material world itself is evil. Not all the heterodox religious movements looked at in this book believed this, but they did have certain things in common. It seems that the main 'heretical' beliefs which have consistently refused to fade away are that:
* there is One Creator God, whatever he is called in different religions
* there is a constant battle between the good principle and the evil principle
* there is a part of God in each one of us
* by recognizing the God within we may become one with the God without.
So let us now look at chivalry, courtly love, the Grail, and questing knights.
There are two well-known and widespread religious movements today which are, from an orthodox Christian viewpoint, heretical, and yet which are accepted and respected by many Christians. These are the Quakers and the Unitarians. It has been said of both that their Creed consists only of the first four words of the Apostles' Creed - 'I believe in God' - and that any further details are between the individual believer and his or her God. The Quakers are also well known for their dictum 'There is that of God in every man', which should by now be a familiar concept. Both groups are respected partly for the honest simplicity of their belief, and partly for their good works in society.
Present-day Rosicrucians and Freemasons teach their members that by improving the individual person, they can have a beneficial effect on society. In biblical terms, a few grains of salt can flavour an entire meal. There is perhaps a similarity with the heretical religious movements examined in this book. The Cathar perfecti did not impose their chosen way of life on the ordinary bonshommes, but there is no doubt that the latter, who had a deep respect for their spiritual leaders, benefited (as also did the orthodox Christians who lived comfortably alongside them) if only in that there was less coercion and more tolerance in their society - at least, until the Albigensian Crusade.
Chivalry, in the Arthurian romances, meant that a knight should be a good force in society, rather than just lining his pockets with booty, as was too often, if not usually, the case in brutal reality.
Chivalry also meant that a knight should fix his thoughts on Cod, and be a holy man as well as a fighting man. Until the Knights Templar there was rarely any two; soldiers were often brutish, and got blood on their hands; in contrast, monks (at least in theory) lived Godly lives and kept their hands clean of blood. But the Knights Templar brought the two together: a fighting man who had also made his vows to God. Could this be where the idea of the Arthurian romances came from?
The Cathars, as has been seen, believed that sexual intercourse was to be avoided because it tended to result in babies being born, which meant more sparks of the Divine trapped in human bodies. Non-sexual relationships of mutual respect and love were encouraged.
In Catharism women as well as men could be perfecti; the religion had several well-respected and well-loved female leaders, including Esclarmonde of Foix, who helped found a Cathar convent, and who owned Montsegur. Women were not, as in Catholicism, second-class citizens with no spiritual authority and no material rights. They were equals of men.
The mystical religions, whether Jewish Cabalism, Christian Gnosticism or Manichseism or Catharism, or Islamic Sufism or the Assassins, sought a knowledge of God and a close personal relationship with God. Often they spoke of the Wisdom of God in Greek terms as Sophia, or described the indwelling presence of God in Cabalistic terms as the Shekhinah; both of these were female. Sufi poetry saw no contradiction in using the language of sensual love to describe the joy of their closeness to God. God might still be thought of mainly in masculine terms, but the mystical religions had recovered the Pagan concept of the Eternal Female Principle. As the poems and songs of the troubadours of the Languedoc, extolling the beauty of love, worked their way north, were they mingled en route with Cathar, Templar, Cabalistic and other esoteric beliefs current in southern France? Taking all these ideas together, was this the origin of the devoted but chaste 'courtly love', the ideal of so many of the Arthurian romances?
What of the Grail itself? The traditional image is of a cup, a communion chalice, usually richly decorated with jewels and engravings. But the Old French word graal, from the medieval Latin gradale, simply meant a serving dish or platter, used to bring the meal to the table in stages.10
In the first known reference in the romances the Grail was not described as a cup. In Chretien's Perceval or Le Conte del Graal can be read, 'A damsel who came with the two youths held in her two hands a dish [un graal]; she was beautiful, well-attired and noble. When she came in there with the dish she was holding there appeared such brightness that at once the candles lost their brightness as the stars do when the sun or moon rises.'11 In another early romance the Grail is a stone with healing powers; in another it is the head of Christ; and in another it is a book written by Christ.
The concept of the Grail can be found in several traditions; it is often traced back, for example, to the Cauldron of Ceridwen in Celtic mythology. But researchers who go searching for a physical Grail - a cup, or anything else - are missing the whole point.12
The Grail is, like so much else in the Arthurian cycle - and indeed, in all religious stories - a symbol. In most of the Grail stories the Grail has to do with sustenance and plenty. As a cup it can be full of the Water of Life, or the Blood of the Saviour, or it can be overflowing with God's life and love. As a dish or platter it can be filled with the bounteousness of God's gifts, of life itself. It is a cornucopia.
As a stone - usually a green stone - it is said to represent Lucifer, not as the Christian Devil, but as the Light-bringer: as the Morning Star, or as the Angel of Light, or as Christ's elder brother, or even as the Zoroastrian Ahura Mazda. A name, like any symbol, may represent many things. For those who automatically equate Lucifer with the Devil, for instance, it should be pointed out that this identification wasn't made until the fourth-century St Jerome, who misread the single Bible reference (Isaiah 14:12) as a proper name instead of a reference to the Morning Star, Venus. In any case, the verse is actually talking in symbolic terms about the King of Babylon. And in theological terms even the Evangelical New Bible Dictionary says that the title (rather than name) of Lucifer should more properly be applied to the risen Christ in his ascended glory than to the Devil.13
The Grail-as-stone, whatever colour it is and whether or not it represents Lucifer, is always seen as an agent of healing - physical, mental, emotional and spiritual - a word which literally means 'making whole' (heal, whole and holy all come from the same root, the Old English hal, halig). It has obvious links with both the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, and the Philosopher's Stone of alchemy; the first is usually summed up in the phrase 'As above, so below'; the second brings not just health (wholeness) and holiness (wholeness), but immortality and oneness with God (the ultimate wholeness).
What of the head of Christ? It too has obvious links, first with the head of the Celtic God-king, Bran the Blessed, from the Mabihogion, and secondly with the talking head of either the thirteenth-century alchemist Albertus Magnus, teacher of Thomas Aquinas, or his close contemporary, the monk and scientist Roger Bacon, who was imprisoned for his 'heretical' teachings (see p. 175). The point of the Grail-as-head is that it speaks, and speaks the words of Christ; it is the words that are important, not the head, be it made of wood, brass or flesh.
Clearly the same applies to the Grail-as-book. It is entirely unimportant, save as a curiosity, whether it was physically written by the hand of Jesus; again, it is the words that are important.
Or perhaps the Word: 'In the beginning was the Word' (John 1:1) is talking about Christ, in the recognizable terminology of the Greek philosophers of the day.
But if we are talking about the words of Christ, rather than the Word-as-Christ, this is clearly not just referring to the New Testament accounts of his life and teachings; otherwise, the Grail would simply have been a Bible. The Grail is veiled in mystery; most of the time it is hidden. Could it be symbolic of the hidden words of Christ, the secret teachings of Jesus?
It has already been mentioned (see p. 23) that there were a number of Gospels and other writings circulating in the first few centuries of Christianity, before the New Testament canon was eventually fixed in 367 CE by Athanasius.
(NO, the canon of the NT was done by the apostles in the first century AD. An in-depth study on this website proves that fact - Keith Hunt)
Biblical scholars have long known that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were based on Mark, (Nope did not have to be at all - inspiration as Jesus said they would have when the Spirit came, guided them in their writing, and they needed not to copy from others per se - Keith Hunt) with large sections of a now-lost 'Sayings of Jesus' known as Q, from the German quelle meaning 'source' -and there are clear resemblances between the reconstructed Q and one such non-canonical work, The Gospel of Thomas, which begins 'These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke', and which has clear Gnostic overtones. Even the
New Testament Gospels tell us that there are other writings; Luke begins:
Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed (Luke 1:1-4);
while John's Gospel, as we have it now, ends with an added verse at the end of an added last chapter:
And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written (John 21:25).
Esoteric Christians say that the words of Jesus himself imply that not all his teachings were for the general public: 'And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables' (Mark 4:11); also, 'But without a parable spake he not unto them: and when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples' (Mark 4:34). Thus there were open teachings, often veiled in parables, given to everyone; and secret teachings, including the real meaning of the parables, given only to the inner circle.
If the Grail represents the secret teachings of Christ, known to the early Christian Gnostics, to the Manichseans, and perhaps to the Cathars, then the legend of the four perfecti escaping from Montsegur with The treasure of the Cathars' could refer to their teachings; perhaps they did indeed escape with the 'Grail'.
The questing knights
And so we come to the questing knights of the Grail mythos. Their chivalric code demanded courtesy, good behaviour and good works. Their courtly love meant not just chaste devotion to an individual lady, but deep respect for the very essence of woman. These were very much new concepts so far as medieval knights were concerned. They were sent to search for the Grail, and for many it was a life-long search. Whether the Grail symbolizes the life or love of God, the bounteousness of God, the wholeness of God, or the secret teachings of Jesus, the importance of the knights searching for the Grail is that individuals are questing for God. Finding the Grail is usually seen as attaining mystical union with God. 'It is difficult to resist the conclusion that the light of the Grail is the radiance of the Divine Presence, which is also the radiance of immortality,' says the esoteric scholar Richard Cavendish.14
Freemasonry has Degrees of the Knights of Constantinople, the Red Cross of Babylon and St Lawrence the Martyr, and Orders of the Knights of St John, the Holy Sepulchre, the Red Cross of Constantine, the Knights of Malta - and, of course, the Knights Templar. The Confederation of Initiates, a sort of umbrella group of certain Rosicrucian Orders which recognize each other as authentic, includes the Knights of Chivalry Order of the Holy Grail.
These are almost certainly all relatively modern creations, rather than in any way descendants of ancient Orders. The point is not whether or not there is a lineage; it is the fact that these more recent secret societies, secretive societies, or even 'societies with secrets', feel the need to link themselves with the concept of chivalric knighthood, as exemplified in the questing Grail knights.
It is not just courtesy and good works, though a member of the Society of the Inner Light ‘is expected to remedy defects in his own nature and practise more assiduously a civilized way of life'.15
It is not just respect for women, though the equality of men and women is taken as given in all the Rosicrucian and sub-Rosicrucian movements; and even the all-male 'official' Freemasonry emphasizes strong respect for women: in what today seems rather old-fashioned language, Freemasons always refer to women as 'ladies'.
The chivalry of all these organizations is something more than social niceties or proto-feminism. It is the continuing knightly quest for the Holy Grail.
Here is just one example: 'Masonry is designed to produce regeneration in the individual life ... The characteristics of a true Mason are humility, purity, fidelity and perseverance.'16
These are also characteristics of the questing Grail knight.
And so the ideas of chivalry, of courtly love, of the Grail and the personal quest for the Grail were written into the Arthurian romances - and so, at least to some extent, passed into court society. The tales were being told, and people, hearing them, absorbed the power of the ideas within them. Individuals, and society, were changed because of them.
Within a couple of centuries, though, with further additions to the Grail literature, substance had given way to form, content was less important than packaging, surface appearance was more important than the ideals within. This always happens; Chretien de Troyes warned of its likelihood when he had Perceval mistake the mere possession of armour for the state of being a knight.
The message needed to be restated, in a different form for a different age.
The Devil's Picture-Book
The 'psychic historian' Graham Phillips asserts 'The view of most modern historians is that the Tarot probably originated with the Albigenses',17 though with no supporting evidence whatsoever for such a bold claim. The 'inventor' of Tarot, or his exact era, is not known. If there is any connection at all between the Cathars and Tarot, it is likely to be an indirect one. The Cathars were more or less eradicated in 1244, in France; the earliest surviving Tarot packs are from c. 1445, and are from Italy. However …Tarot, as has been shown, connects well - or can be made to connect tolerably well - with several other esoteric systems: Cabala, astrology, Celtic mythology, Runes and Norse mythology, Egyptian and Greek mythologies, among others.18 It is not to be thought that someone sat down one day, pen or brush in hand ready to draw the cards, with the Tree of Life, maps of the heavens, and the Mabinogion spread out on the desk in front of him or her. The complex correspondences which have been drawn between Tarot and other esoteric systems are ex post facto. The reasons they can be made are two fold: first, mankind's innate ability to see patterns in anything, from entrails to clouds to flames to dreams to ink blots, and to match one pattern onto another, which lies at the heart of most soothsaying and fortune-telling; and second, the fact that all these systems and mythologies stem from related peoples and from their esoteric concepts of the relationship between themselves and the Divine.
A lot of ideas have been proposed for the origin of Tarot; some are plausible, others quite ridiculous. Probably in reaction to these latter, some writers eschew all such ideas, saying that the occult symbolism of Tarot was invented in the late eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, which is largely true, and that Tarot was originally simple an attractive card game.
This last is just as Antoine Court de Gebelin’s assertion that Tarot is the ancient Book of Thoth. Even in the very earnest patlts, Trrarry or the cards are clearly religious. The Cary-Yale Visconti pack, dated 1440-45, has Fortitude, Faith, Hope, Charity, Death and Judgement; the Visconti-Sforza pack, c 1450, has the Pope, the Papess, and Judgement, among others; the Charles VI pack (1470-80) has the Pope, Temperance, Fortitude, Justice and Judgement; the Ercole d'Este pack (1475-80) has the Pope, and the cards for the Star, the Moon and the Sun dearly show astrological study. These packs also have Urinaria Hanged Man, the Lightning-struck Tower, the Wheel of Fortune and the World, all of which have religious connotations.
There cannot be any doubt that the Tarot images, from the very beginning, had religious significance. The imagery is not just religious, but largely Christian; and not just Christian, but in some cases esoteric Christian.
To take just one example, the Papess or Popess - sometimes turned into Juno in later Classical-inspired packs, and more often into the High Priestess in modern packs - was, in the Visconti-Sforza pack, very clearly a female pope, wearing the papal triple tiara. She may well, as most authorities think, have represented the popular medieval myth of the ninth- or eleventh-century Pope Joan; or she may have been Sister Manfreda or Maifredadi Pirovano, a relative of the Visconti family and a member of the small Milanese sect of the Guglielmites, who was burned by the Inquisition in 1300, the year in which the sect believed she would become pope; or she may have been a reference to the sexual equality in Catharism, such a contrast to the position of the Catholic Church. Whichever, in one way or another she represents the esoteric, heterodox concept of female spirituality.
The six essential interrogatives taught to trainee journalists -Who, What, When, Where, How and Why? - are all fascinating when applied to the origins of Tarot; but the one to concern us here is the last. Why were these particular religious images used on sets of cards designed and made -hand-painted, and richly embossed with gold leaf - for the Italian nobility?
What follows in this section is an hypothesis, offered in the hope that others will follow it up, whether it be to provide further supporting evidence or to shoot it down in flames - but with evidence.
While Tarot quite possibly had as a primary pictorial basis the Triumphs of Petrarch - itself exemplifying the virtues of Classical Greece - it also embodied from the start some aspects of Cabalistic thought (strong in southern France and northern Spain); and some Gnostic ideas most recently seen in Catharism (southern France and northern Italy); and - as Arthurian literature strayed from its original ideals - the essence of the quest for the Grail (all of France, but at least in part inspired by the Languedoc troubadours and taking in the ethos of that area's heterodox beliefs and culture); and all that within a Theatre of Memory aide-memoire. If stained-glass windows were orthodox sermons in glass, then Tarot was heterodox beliefs on card.
Any supposedly Egyptian elements were Greek/Egyptian magical-mystical-philosophical concepts as passed on through the Neo-Platonism which became such a powerful spiritual and intellectual influence in the Renaissance. The whole was presented in a pictorial format which would be understandable by the people of the day - familiar social and religious images -just as paintings of Christ were put in a late medieval or early Renaissance setting.
With some regret, but with firmness, those 'standard' Tarot images, which nineteenth- to twenty-first-century esotericists have spent so much time analyzing, - the Hanged Man with his legs crossed in a figure 4, the exact creatures climbing up and down the Wheel of Fortune, the figure of Temperance with one foot on land and one in water, the crayfish and the dogs in the Moon card, and so on - and all the detailed symbolism from these familiar images must be put out of mind. They were later design features, no doubt added for very good reasons, but not in the original Tarot images.
How can one even guess at the original symbolism? The Hanged Man might perhaps originally have represented a heretic about to be executed; they were sometimes burned upside down. The Tower - in early packs sometimes called Lightning, and often called la Maison Dieu - could perhaps have represented the divine reproval of those who build a tower to God, whether the mythical Babel or the vast and corrupt edifice of the established Christian Church. From the images on the very earliest packs the card now called The World probably represented originally the Christian's hope and destination, the City of God, the Heavenly Jerusalem; in medieval maps Jerusalem, the Holy City, was>always shown at the centre of the world.
Whatever the original symbolism, it is now difficult if not impossible to find it under the layers of accretions of symbolism of the following centuries. The symbolism was relevant to its day, to the mind-set of the people for whom the first Tarot packs were designed.
Paradoxically, this frees us, if we wish, to redesign and redefine Tarot within whatever new symbolic parameters we wish. Those Tarot purists who complain that modern packs have strayed from the original designs (by which they tend to mean Rider-Waite, or at the earliest, Marseille) forget that the pictures always have changed. The Visconti-Sforza Fool (c. 1450) is quite different from the Charles VI Fool (c. 1470-80) and the Ercole d'Este Fool (c. 1475-80). The same applies to other cards. The world-views change; the images change; the precise symbolism changes.
Then, with the advent of printing, Tarot suddenly became widely and cheaply available. The images were more crudely executed, and inevitably copying errors crept in. (For example, the well-known image of the Hermit holding a lamp was originally an old man holding an hourglass, representing time.) Tarot changed from being a rich symbolic library for the educated nobility to no more than a popular card game with interesting pictures.
Tarot, like the Grail stories, lost its initial sense, the ideals represented within the pictures; substance gave way to form again. There is no evidence that the Hermetic Philosophers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, with their emphasis (theoretical or practical) on Cabala, astrology, alchemy and magic, saw anything significant in Tarot. Did Cornelius Agrippa or John Dee own a Tarot pack? This, quite simply, is not known.
The eighteenth- and nineteenth-century occultists, with all their bad scholarship, at least realized that there was more to Tarot than a pretty card game. Whatever their ideas, misconceived or otherwise, they brought Tarot back to the attention of those interested in esoteric religion. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, for good or for bad (or both), leapt on Tarot and added their own interpretations.
Today, esoteric schools such as Builders of the Adytum and Servants of the Light use Tarot for study, for teaching, for meditation, for spiritual illumination, for religious ritual - and not, generally, for divination. Their teachings include Cabala, Gnosticism, the Grail, mysticism; they honour the Divine Feminine. Tarot's own Wheel of Fortune has thus gone full circle: after centuries as a card game and then a fortune-telling device, Tarot has come home.
As has been seen with the Church's treatment throughout history of those with divergent beliefs, whether they be labelled heretics, magicians, witches or whatever, it has always-been standard practice to calumnize and demonize heterodox beliefs and practices. From the narrow viewpoint of orthodoxy (or today, of Fundamentalism), anything which is not sanctioned by themselves is evil; anything heterodox is, by definition, of the Devil.
If Tarot is indeed a pictorial memory-theatre of Classical Pagan, Neo-Platonist, Gnostic, Cabalist, Grail and mystical beliefs - and alchemy and astrology also fit into it well enough - then, from the Church's point of view, the Devil's Picture-Book is not a bad description.
In a nutshell, the established Church has to be vehemently opposed to all these belief-systems, which have surfaced again and again in different forms throughout history; if they caught on widely, as they did in southern France in the twelfth century, they would make the Church completely irrelevant.
One of the most sound Tarot authorities today, Rachel Pollack, expresses it clearly and simply: 'the goal remains the same despite the system - a reunion of the self and the divine.'19
And that would put hierarchical religion out of business.
The continuing revelation
Just before the previous section, it was said of the Grail romances, which were becoming little more than pretty stories, that 'The message needed to be restated, in a different form for a different age.'
Tarot originated some time in the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century as, it is suggested, an esoteric aide-memoire, heterodoxy on card. A century or so later; with the invention of cheap printing methods, it had become a popular card game, and any message it contained had become forgotten. The message needed to be restated, in a different form for a different age.
In 1614 the Fama Fraternitatis appeared; it called on those adepts, generally known as the Hermetic Philosophers, who desired to benefit the world, to make themselves known.
It is quite categorically not being stated here that throughout history there has been a continuing secret band of initiates who have guarded a secret Truth, and from time to time have launched a wider dissemination of esoteric, heterodox ideas.. What is being suggested is that these ideas just won't go away, however much they may be pushed out of public view. Every now and then, probably quite independently, someone who had discovered for himself the value of esoteric teachings seems to have decided to share what he had found - not necessarily in the wide-open marketplace, but with others who would recognize the clues. So, for example, the Hermetic Philosophers studied alchemy and Cabala, usually alone; one or more of them decided to write and publish the Rosicrucian Manifestos.
In the late nineteenth century a handful of British members of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia started a new society; its membership should be wider, including non-Masons and women; its esoteric enquiry should be deeper. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was born.
In the early twentieth century a group of Americans decided that the teachings of the Societas Rosicruciana in Civitatibus Foederatis should not be restricted to Freemasons. The Societas Rosicruciana in America was born.
In the late 1930s the Stella Matutina bad lost impetus and members; rather than risk its (originally Golden Dawn) teachings vanishing altogether, Israel Regardie broke ranks, and his vow of secrecy, and published all its teachings and rituals. The secret teachings were made public.
Time and again over the centuries, someone brings the hidden teachings out into the light. But time and again they are pushed back into the dark again, either by the established Church, or by such as the eighteenth-century Age of Reason or the nineteenth-century Age of Scientific Rationalism; or in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries by science on the one hand and Fundamentalism on the other. Orthodoxy appears determined to wipe out heterodoxy.
There are many, very different, versions of orthodox, exoteric Christianity. They share the same God, the same sacred text, similar creeds, and probably some of the same hymns; but the supremacy of the pope, the veneration of Mary, the doctrine of transubstantiation and so on are anathema to Evangelicals, while the lack of a priesthood and sacraments of some Evangelical Churches are anathema to the Catholic Church. Yet both are seen as legitimate varieties of the multi-faceted organism which is the Christian religion.
In contrast, the more mystical, more Gnostic, more esoteric varieties of Christianity are regarded as heresy, or even as anti-Christian, by most denominations within mainstream Christianity. Perhaps it is because orthodox, exoteric denominations say of themselves, in effect, ‘There is one way to salvation, and this is it,' while esoteric Christians generally say, 'There may be many ways to salvation; here is the road-map, here are the signposts; now you follow your own route.'
Esoteric spiritual beliefs stick in the craw of orthodox believers, of whatever religion. Christian critics of secret societies often, at some point, come up with the argument, if these people really do have some wonderful spiritual truth, it's not right that they should keep it to themselves; they should share it with everyone, just as we proclaim the good news of Christ crucified.'
But that is the very difference between exoteric and esoteric religion.
The great world-religions have been ordained to teach in their respective manners the same truths as the Mystery systems have taught. Their teaching has always been twofold. There has always existed an external, elementary, popular doctrine which has served for the instruction of the masses who are insufficiently prepared for deeper teaching; and concurrently therewith there has been an interior, advanced doctrine, a more secret knowledge, which has been reserved for riper minds and into which only proficient and properly prepared candidates, who voluntarily sought to participate in it, were initiated. Whether in ancient India, Egypt, Greece, Italy or Mexico, or among the Druids of Europe, temples of initiation have ever existed for those who felt the inward call to come apart from the multitude and to dedicate themselves to a long discipline of body and mind with a view to acquiring the secret knowledge and developing the spiritual faculties by means of experimental processes of initiation of which our present ceremonies are the faint echo.20
W.L.Wilmshurst is speaking here of Freemasonry; he could as easily have been speaking of Rosicrucianism or one of the modern Schools of Occult Science.
Anyone finding this quotation elitist should consider three points. First, esoteric teachings are always available for those who wish to pursue them; 'Seek and ye shall find.' Second, recall what happened when esoteric Christianity did come out into the open in southern France in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. And if Freemasonry is, as Wilmshurst claims, in the same line of esoteric spirituality, then it is making such teachings openly available to anyone (if male); the only restriction is the awareness of the initiate to what is being placed before him - and that was always the case.
Throughout this book certain ideas have cropped up over and over again. Throughout history these same (or similar) ideas have surfaced, and flourished, and in most cases died. Either they have been stamped on and stamped out, or they have faded away, or they have ossified. The Cathars are the obvious example of the first, the Freemasons of the last.
But the ideas have never gone away altogether. The Manichaean version of Gnosticism resurfaced in Catharism. Neo-Platonism resurfaced in the philosophers of the Renaissance. The alchemists became the Hermetic Philosophers, who spawned the Rosicrucians. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn gave birth to (among others) the Society of the Inner Light, which itself sparked off the Servants of the Light.
Today, more than at any time in history, individual spirituality is out in the open. One can find books on Cabala, on Rosicrucianism, on spiritual growth, not only in specialist shops but in high street bookshops; one can even buy the secret teachings of the Golden Dawn in their entirety. There are not only specialist publishers, but specialist imprints of the major publishing companies. 'Mind, Body, Spirit', 'New Age', 'Esoteric': the labels proliferate.
The ideas are on open display. In many ways this is good, but there are three possible dangers. The first is commercialization: thousands of books, dozens of Tarot packs, crystals, pendulums, self-help kits of many varieties. The second, related to this, is the difficulty of finding the pearl in a sea full of oysters. The third is the rise of Fundamentalism, which is implacably opposed to what it sees as the Devil's work.
A need for secrecy?
Is there still any need for secrecy, whether in the Freemasons, the various Rosicrucian or occult schools, or any other secret societies? Only they can answer for themselves, but a general outsider's view might be: 'If they have nothing to hide, why not dispense with the secrecy, come out into the open, and so lose all the suspicion attached to them. If they do have something to hide, what?'
One reason for secrecy was given right at the beginning of this book, by the Lemurian Fellowship. It is worth quoting again: 'the Lemurian lesson material is available only to qualified students. Not because it is "secret" but because each lesson's information provides a basis for the next; along with this the Fellowship teachers' guidance to each student according to his individual needs makes the deeper benefits possible and adds to the uniqueness of Lemurian Training.'21
In other words, it is progressive, cumulative teaching.
It is not generally considered a good idea to try teaching post-Einsteinian physics, to someone who hasn't mastered basic Newtonian physics, even though the more complex teachings often overturn what we learned in our schooldays. A skilful novelist can break rules of grammar to good effect; but a sensible English teacher hammers those rules into pupils without exception. It may be a tautology, but at every level of understanding we can understand what we are taught at that level. The next level might show that the previous one was a gross over-simplification - or even that it was incorrect, but needed to be learned in order that the contradiction of the next level would have a basis.
Even those esoteric societies which are comparatively open rarely reveal the details of their initiation ceremonies. The widow of the founder of the Rosicrucian Fellowship gives another reason why this should be so:
. . . his consciousness is lifted to the level required for the Initiation which he is being given. This is the reason why the secrets of true Initiation cannot be revealed. It is not an outward ceremonial but an inward experience. This description is the nearest to what Initiation really is that can possibly be given to one who has not experienced it himself. There is no secret about the pictures in the sense that one would not tell it, but they are secret because no earthly words are coined which could adequately describe such a spiritual experience.22
A.E. Waite says much the same in his brief discussion of the subject of Masonic secrecy in his Encyclopaedia. The true secrets of Freemasonry, he says, are not the handshakes, the closely guarded Words, the jewels or insignia or the internal layout and decorations of a lodge. All of these, in any case, have been public knowledge almost since Freemasonry began. Even the workings of the different degrees can be found in full detail in books in most public libraries. According to Waite,
The true secret is the peculiar life of Masonry which is incommunicable to the uninitiated by the irrepealable nature of things. There is a sense in which Masonic symbolism is a part of this life ... the Mysteries are not taught openly even in the Orders themselves, being acquired in the course of the life. What happens actually is that certain Keys are put into the hands of the Brethren, as each initiate in his turn passes through the successive Grades; and it is for him - if he is able - to open the Temple into which they do or may give entrance. It comes about in this manner that there are always Mysteries behind the Mysteries and a more withdrawn adytum behind the Holy of Holies, because growth in the knowledge of Masonry is growth in its life and consciousness.23
Interestingly, the Builders of the Adytum (which means 'inner temple') call their Tarot cards 'Keys'.
There is also the very vital point that many of the esoteric societies claim that their initiates are able to improve their mental powers - not in the sense of telepathy, invisibility or walking through walls, but in the sense of vastly improved memory, self-confidence and personal authority. According to W.L. Wilmshurst, Freemasonry offers much the same:
In fact, part of the purpose of all initiation was, and still is, to educate the mind in penetrating the outward shell of all phenomena, and the value of initiation depends upon the way in which the inward truths are allowed to influence our thought and lives and to awaken in us still deeper powers of consciousness ... the neophyte Mason who aspires to Mastership. He will become conscious of an increase of perceptive faculty and understanding; he will become aware of having tapped a previously unsuspected source of power, giving him enhanced mental strength and self-confidence; there will become observable in him developing graces of character, speech and conduct that were previously foreign to him.24
This, of course, is dependent on the Mason understanding and applying the inner depths of the teachings, rather than just going through the motions by rote, as many undoubtedly do; it does, however, help explain why Freemasons tend to be very capable and successful people.
Such increases in personal powers are quite real. They are very clearly open to abuse. When coupled with ritual, whatever one's views on magic, they become even more powerful. A self-seeking individual could do major harm to others through abusing such powers. The Builders of the Adytum insist on associate members 'demonstrating harmonious fraternal qualities' before they allow them to be initiated into the higher levels.
It should also be remembered that ritual has power of its own, whether this be explained in spiritual or psychological terms. Even someone with no religious beliefs can be moved by the spectacle of a Roman Catholic high mass, or the serenity of an Anglican Prayer Book Evensong. This is what has been lost in modern 'plain speech' services: the grandeur, the peacefulness, the sense of mystery, the otherness - or perhaps simply the beauty of poetic language - evoked by the old rituals. Initiates taking part in a Masonic ritual, or any other esoteric ritual, will be changed by it to some extent, even if they have no perception of its inner meaning.
As discussed above, esoteric societies from the Rosicrucian Manifestos to the present day all speak of society benefiting through the personal development of their members. Most stipulate that candidates at the lowest level should be of good character, but unless initial entrance is by invitation only, they often have to depend on the candidate's own word for that. Interestingly Freemasonry, if it sticks to its own rules, not only bans women from membership (they are, after all, in a patriarchal society, traditionally weaker of intellect and will) but also bastards and men with physical disabilities — both, historically, sure signs of unfitness of character.
A carefully graded course of instruction over several years, with initiation to the next level never being assumed as automatic, but always being by invitation, means that the more senior (and presumably wiser) adepts can keep a careful check over the rise of members through the grades. Those judged unsuitable in their character for the next level of knowledge find their way blocked. This unsuitability might only become apparent after a certain level has been reached.
This was the problem with Aleister Crowley. After only a year he had progressed through the Outer Order of the Golden Dawn, and demanded initiation into the Second Order. The leaders of the Order refused on the grounds that he was morally unsuitable. The ensuing events rapidly led to the break-up of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. With the example of Crowley still sharp in their memories a century later, it is little wonder that today organizations descended from the HOGD are wary about who they allow to join them. All such groups are protective of their secrets; for some, even their existence is a closely guarded secret. Secrecy not only protects those within, it also keeps out undesirables.
The recognition signs and the wording of the rituals in Freemasonry are supposed to be kept secret. Speaking more generally of the Mysteries lying behind Freemasonry, one writer mentions
... the secrecy and the intense watchfulness and carefulness of the stewards of the Mysteries lest the secret doctrines find expression on the lips or through the action of unfit persons to possess the secrets. For the secret power of the Mysteries is within the signs. Any person attaining to natural or supernatural states by the process of development, if his heart be untuned and his mind withdrawn from the Divine to the human within him, that power becomes a power of evil instead of a power of good. An unfaithful initiate, in the degree of the Mysteries he has attained, is capable, by virtue of his antecedent preparations and processes, of diverting the power to unholy, demoniacal, astral and dangerous uses . v.25
Hence, at each stage of initiation, only certain information is revealed; it is also why, in Freemasonry as in other societies, entry to the higher levels is by invitation only.
It is common for Fundamentalist opponents to lump together secret societies, esoteric religion, high ritual magic Neo-Paganism and Satanism as equally 'occult', and their rituals as equally evil. In fact, the power made available through esoteric ritual is neutral, like electricity, or a motorcar, or the contents of a pharmacy. It can be used for good or for evil, to heal or to harm; but usually, like these more mundane powers, it is used only for good.
Secrecy, then, is also to ensure that only those fit to receive powerful knowledge may be allowed to do so.
One further reason for the secrecy of societies should be considered: it might be necessary for their own safety. The growing influence of Fundamentalism has already been noted. Rightly or wrongly (from other people's point of view), Fundamentalists sincerely believe that it is their sacred duty to combat Satan and all his works in any way they can. It is their firm belief that anything which is not of Christ is of the Devil, and their definition of what is 'of Christ' is somewhat narrower than most. The activities of secret societies, especially those (the majority) with some spiritual element, are clearly in danger from increasingly strenuous opposition to their existence because of this attitude; the equation is simple: heterodoxy is esoteric, esoteric is occult, and occult is Satanic.
Fundamentalists, like everyone else, have every right to their freedom of belief and freedom of speech. It has become more and more apparent in recent years, however, that.they believe this gives them the right to constrain the beliefs and the speech of others; they see this as permissible in their fight against Satan. More effective than breaking the law in their prosecution of that fight, though, would be changing the law.
Freedom of speech can legitimately be curtailed: for example, for reasons of national security - the Official Secrets Act; or in the greater cause of equal rights for all people, regardless of their skin colour - it is illegal to incite racial hatred in speech or writing. The first is a Government imposition, generally accepted (with some reservations) by most of the population; the second is very widely accepted as right.
Over the last few decades, as Western countries have moved further into a liberal democracy and a multi-cultural environment, there has been a general understanding that one should accept the diversity of different religious beliefs, and accept the right of others to practise their religion as they wish. Occasionally Hindu or Muslim worship is shown on British television; most people would agree that this is a positive development - but not all. There have been complaints when non-Christian religions, both orthodox and heterodox, have been given air-time, even in documentaries about unusual beliefs.
In the last few years there have been calls for a tightening up of the Blasphemy laws. According to the existing Blasphemy Act, one can be prosecuted if a publication contains 'contemptuous, reviling, scurrilous or ludicrous matter relating to God, Jesus Christ or the Bible, or formularies of the Church of England.' Insulting the 'formularies' of Hindus, Muslims, Jews, and even Roman Catholics and Baptists, is quite permissible under the law as it currently stands.
The British Blasphemy law is based on thirteenth-century Church Law, which originally stipulated the death penalty. Over the years public opinion changed, so that blasphemy became not so much a sin against God as an offence against one's fellow man; penalties were reduced accordingly. The law is no longer for the protection of the reputation of God, so to speak, but for the protection of the feelings of believers.
Most people would agree that inciting religious hatred should be as illegal as inciting racial hatred; but at what point should the line be drawn? The phrase 'causing offence' is not a reliable guideline. Most Christians of whatever persuasion would find the assertions that Jesus either didn't die on the cross or didn't rise from the dead, for example, both offensive and blasphemous, and yet many who call themselves Christians believe this - not to mention countless millions of Jews and Muslims. Despite that, anyone suggesting such a belief as a thesis to be considered objectively would be condemned by Fundamentalists; they would be called a blasphemer or a heretic.
Other unorthodox beliefs are also under fire; there have been serious calls by British Fundamentalists for the Witchcraft Act, which was only repealed as late as 1951, to be reinstated.
Fundamentalists are opposed to other people's freedom of belief and worship.
We are in a new millennium, but it seems that the divide between religious conservatives and liberals, between the orthodox and the heterodox, between Fundamentalists and Freethinkers, is becoming wider and more entrenched. There is a possibility that mainstream Christian MPs could be pressurized by increasingly vocal Fundamentalists into passing legislation which would, ultimately, restrict freedom of speech on religion, and thus restrict the freedom of belief. There is at least one Islamic Republic where it is illegal 'to injure the feelings of a Muslim'; the equivalent could easily occur in both America and Britain. A poorly drafted Religious Hatred Bill, which very nearly passed into law in Britain in 2006, could even have made humour about religion illegal. One British MP, former secretary of the parliamentary all-party cult group and also on the Council of Reference of the most outspoken anti-cult organization, has already called for alternative religious movements - 'sects' and 'cults' - to be registered and regulated. It is a small step from that to imposing restrictions on their beliefs and practices. The same would undoubtedly apply to secret societies, most of which have heterodox religious beliefs and rituals.
If this happened, Western liberal democracies would effectively be instituting a new witch hunt. The organizations mentioned in Chapter 4, and their members, could find themselves in serious trouble. As was said near the beginning of Chapter 2, in the Middle Ages the burning of uneducated country women and the burning of highly educated heretical priests were two sides of the same coin. Whatever the spiritual beliefs of individual secret societies might be, including those of mystics within Freemasonry, they tend to be heterodox. For a vocal and increasingly influential few, heterodox equals heretical equals blasphemous equals Satanic.
The need for secrecy might, sadly, be greater than ever.
WHAT CAN BE SAID ABOUT “SECRET SOCIETIES” ON THE HUMAN LEVEL? I THINK THEY CAN BE SAID TO BE A MIXTURE OF GOOD AND EVIL, SOME WITH GRADES OF GOOD AND EVIL; IN OTHER WORDS SOME MORE EVIL AND GOOD THAN OTHERS.
ONE THING FOR CERTAIN IS I CAN SAY WITH FULL ASSURANCE….. THERE WILL BE NO SECRET SOCIETIES IN THE AGE TO COME, WHEN THE KINGDOM OF GOD RULES ALL NATIONS. THERE WILL BE AN OUT POURING OF GOD’S SPIRIT ON ALL NATIONS; THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD AND HIS WORD AND WAYS, WILL COVER THE EARTH AS THE WATERS COVER THE SEA BEDS. SPIRITUAL BLINDNESS WILL BE A THING OF THE PAST. A NEW HEART AND MIND WILL BE GIVEN TO ALL PEOPLE. ALL WILL THEN KNOW THE TRUTHS OF THE ETERNAL GOD IN HEAVEN.
MUCH HORROR, PAIN, AND DEATH, IS YET TO COME IN THIS EARTH, SUCH AS NEVER BEFORE SEEN; THE PEOPLE OF EARTH HAVE TO COME TO THE POINT OF ERADICATING THEMSELVES FROM THIS PLANET; IT SADLY WILL TAKE ALL THIS, TO BRING PEOPLE TO AN ATTITUDE OF SAYING, “O LORD, WE HAVE SINNED, WE ARE A MESS, WE WILL NOW BE WILLING TO LISTEN, AND TO OBEY YOUR WAY OF LIFE AND SALVATION.”
IT WILL BE AN AGE WHEN THE LAW OF GOD SHALL GO FORTH FROM ZION, AND THE WORD OF THE LORD FROM JERUSALEM. PEOPLE WILL SAY, “LET US GO UP TO THE MOUNTAIN OF THE LORD GOD, AND WE SHALL LEARN HIS WAYS AND DO HIS WILL.”
AH YES, ALL OF THIS AND MUCH MORE IS WRITTEN; AND SO IT SHALL COME TO PASS.