IX. The Birth of Monotheism
All flows out from the Deity, and all must be absorbed in Him again.– Zarathustra
“And from the non-existent He made Something; and all forms of speech and everything that has been produced; from the empty void He made the material world, and from the inert earth He brought forth everything that hath life. He hewed, as it were, vast columns out of the intangible air, and by the power of His Name made every creature and everything that is; and the production of all things from the twenty-two letters is the proof that they are all but parts of one living body.”– Sefer Yetzirah
I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me:That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the Lord, and there is none else.– Isaiah 45:5,6
Judaism is one of the oldest religions still existent and one of the very first to preach monotheism, or the belief in a single God, though it did not become monotheistic until much later than the exodus. In fact, during the time of Moses, there was very little difference between this new system and the Egyptian religion. There is much to suggest that the core of the doctrine was inherited. After all, the Egyptian system was the only ‘religion’ available to those early tribes. Some sources describe some of the tribes as having built monuments and temples to Osiris, Ptah and Hathor. The key connection between the two religions can be found in the story of Moses.
It is generally believed that Moses was the author of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. There is some debate on this issue, and some clear problems, such as the fact that his own death was recorded in these books. “So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord.And he buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Bethpeor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.” (Deuteronomy 34;5,6) The fact that no one knew of his gravesite indicates that a great deal of time had passed between his life and the scribing of this book, or at least this passage.
There are many strong implications that Moses did write them, but that they were later heavily edited in transcription. They were likely based on cross-referenced oral traditions and compiled by a group of scribes, the Levites. The events spoken of in these early books would have been far in the past. With modern access to historical accounts, many flaws show up in the books. When anthologizing the history of one’s own people, oftentimes assumptions are made or political interests will guide the interpretation of the stories. It is clear that these ancient stories were very incomplete at the time they were scribed, and so it is hard to separate the invented filler from the true story.
For instance, had these books reported which Pharaoh’s daughter had found Moses in the Nile, many questions of chronology would have been answered. It seems then that this information was a mystery to the writers. Many details such as this are sure marks that the versions we have inherited were written at a time when these stories were already ancient history. The location of Mount Sinai would have aided historians a great deal as well. We are left to speculate that certain details were either unknown when the books were written, or else the scribes chose not to publish such information.
The life of Moses himself is a perfect example of this. There is little doubt that he was a very real person who was associated with leading the Hebrew people out of Egypt. Who he was is an entirely different question and the stories we’ve received of him are no more accurate than is the rest of the Pentateuch. For example, the story of his birth may be a complete fabrication. There are clear similarities between his birth and that of Sargon I who had ruled as king over Babylon and Sumer hundreds of years before. Both were described as having been conceived in secret and hidden for a period, then placed in a safe vessel and left by the river. Moses’ (and therefore Judaism’s) origin from the Nile is also a metaphor for creation being birthed by the water.
Though Moses is always considered to be Hebrew by birth, it is very possible that he was actually an Egyptian, or both. Even if he was born of a Levite woman, he was accepted as an Egyptian. His name actually means ‘Son of’ as Thutmoses means son of Thoth, or Rameses – son of Ra. For this reason, some speculate that his name used to have a prefix, perhaps the name of an Egyptian deity, but that this title was later cut from his name.
It is generally acknowledged that Moses was of very high rank in the Egyptian court. There is evidence that he was a general in a Pharaoh’s army and that he rose steadily to the heights of knowledge within the heavily guarded religion. Acts 7:22 states, “And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds.” Learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, can mean little else but that he was initiated into the priesthood and learned all the secrets that Egypt possessed at the time. This is not the fullest knowledge that the Egyptians possessed, as much of the secrets had already been lost since the early kingdom, but certainly his spiritual training enlightened him to a point beyond, perhaps, all of his contemporaries. Manetho described him as a hierophant of Heliopolis and a priest of the Sun God Osiris.
The cause of his separation from the Egyptian court seems to have stemmed from the violence against the slaves. It was not until he had killed an officer that he had to leave Egypt as a wanted man. At this time, he escaped to Sinai and was taken in by the Midianites. It was here that he first met his God, who claimed to be the God of his forefathers. At this time, belief in many gods was common practice. When traveling in a foreign land it was customary to pay tribute and worship to the deity of that land, as Gods were territorial. This God, later known as Jehovah, was a mighty God of thunder and war. This is a very different God from the modern Jehovah. In history, we often find the characteristics of Gods to be shifting as they increase or decrease in power and number of followers. Religions will diffuse ideas into each other and new attributes are often added onto the preexisting model of God. When Moses asked the God’s name he was only told, I Am as I Am, or something to this effect. In the Hebrew language it was written as IHVH. This name holds great significance in multiple ways to the Kabalists, yet to most practicing Jews, it is simply the name of God.
With this God as his new ally, he was led back to Egypt to set free the Israelites. When he had convinced his people that IHVH would protect them, they followed him out of Egypt. When Moses led the people to Mount Horeb, or Mount Sinai, he went to receive the new law from this God. Jehovah demanded many gifts of gold, silver and brass. He also demanded an ark to be built for himself to reside within as well as the stone tablets which contained his law. Writing and reading were considered at this time, to be a sort of magic and like the Egyptians, the Bible would use the term word of god, to describe these symbols that communicate ideas, yet can be stored in stone or parchment.
At this point, the Judaic system was still polytheistic and therefore the new god had to demand complete reverence and any who worshipped other gods were to be destroyed. Apparently not all the Israelites were willing to commit themselves to Him and when Moses ascended the mountain, they constructed a golden statue of a calf, likely the Egyptian god Apis or Hathor, the Bull of Montu, or one of a host of other Gods taking cow or bull form. It was the age of Taurus after all, so there were many to choose from. More than likely, it was the Canaanite God Ba’al or Molech. At this the Jehovah grew angry and ordered these sinners to be destroyed. Three thousand of them, we are told, were killed.
This was not the only violence that occurred at that time. Though the story tends to sympathize with the enslaved nation, there seems to be great evidence of barbaric actions taken by these tribes of Israel. On their way to the Holy land, they had to defeat the people in their way. Their new God promised to bring them victory over the Canaanite populations. In Deuteronomy chapters 2 and 3, we read that the newborn nation traveled through and destroyed whole regions – men, women and children – taking whole cities at a time and leaving no survivors. We wonder what kind of God this must have been who handed these whole kingdoms over to the Israelites – this God who demanded the worship of his followers and instructed them to invade foreign lands and slaughter the native populations on a massive scale.
It was a harsh action to take, yet on the other hand, Ba’al was purely evil, and he was the object of Jehovah’s annihilation campaign. Jehovah did evolve over the ages and at the time of the Exodus, represented the Dark Age. History may likely have unfolded very differently had the Ba’al worshippers of Canaan, Egypt and the Holy Land not been destroyed at that time. The cult was not extinguished completely, but the vast majority of public, weekend child sacrifices to Ba’al tended to phase out from the temples of the land. By Jesus day, what was left of them had become covert.
Perhaps this initial war march was one of the only ways establish the idea that these various tribes were now a nation and had common culture and goals. These troubled times continued long after Moses day and all the following leaders of the movement found countless difficulties in holding their people together and convincing them that they were indeed the chosen people of God. This was no easy task when facing so many tribulations. Yet through all of the early parts of Semitic history, we find that the core of their religion and political system was generally identical to that of the Egyptians. As time went on, their God evolved as other influences added qualities to this entity and shaped it. Their religious practices and secret rites also shifted, yet the hidden core never strayed from the founding principles of the Egyptian Mysteries.
The secrets used by the Pharaohs to govern the Egyptians were the very same secrets used to govern the Israelites. Just as in Egypt, this sacred practice was performed in secret and only the adepts were even aware of this magical aspect of the religion. Only through initiation would these secrets be shared. It is said by certain Jewish Mystics that Moses ascended Mt Sinai three times, each for forty days and nights. During the first forty days in the presence of God, Moses acquired the Law, or the Ten Commandments. During the second ascent he obtained the Soul of the Law, and on the third, he received the Kabbalah, or the ‘Soul of the Soul of the Law’. The word Kabbalah itself means secret or hidden tradition, or the unwritten law. It contains the Egyptian Ka (spirit) and Ba (soul), much like the KaBa of IsLam (Isis, Elohim?), and Allah is curiously found in the name as well. The el or al in Hebrew denoted God or Gods, as in Elohim, or IsRaEl (Isis, Ra, Elohim?). This is why all the angels’ names end in el. Perhaps it is the root of the word All.
While the Jews, in general were taught from the Torah and instructed with the Ten Commandments, the arts of the Kabbalah were given only to the inner sect of Mystics. Just as in man, whose spiritual self is located within the depths of his human nature, the Kabbalah was hidden within the depths of the outward religion of Judaism. Just as the tradition was carried in Egypt, by initiation, so was the torch of the mysteries carried by Moses.
However, it is also said that, though Moses was va very gifted Kabbalist, he was not the first to practice it. Legend speaks of the wisdom being spoken from God to a school of angels before the fall of man. The angels then told Adam, in the hopes that these understandings might redeem man to his true purpose. After Adam, other angels were given the tasks of initiating the following prophets – Tophiel the teacher of Shem, Raphael of Isaac, Metatron of Moses, and Michael of David.
The Sepher Yetzirah, or Book of Formation, is one of the few Kabbalistic doctrines put in writing along with the Sepher ha Zohar (Book of Splendor) and the Revelation of St John. In the former, we find an explanation of how GOD created the Universe through three Seraphim, letters, numbers and sounds. By means of these, HE created thirty-two paths of wisdom. Ten of these make up the spheres of the Sephiroth, the Tree of Life, while the other twenty-two correspond to the pathways between these spheres, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
The Sephiroth is pictured below.
The diagram called the ‘Tree of Life’ shows the ten Sephirahs or spheres arranged into three columns. This diagram, the Sephiroth, is perhaps one of the most important images in the history of the magical tradition. It acts as a sort of map of the many attributes of creation and can be read within the human framework as well as that of the universe.
The columns to the left and right respectively are called the Pillar of Mercy and the Pillar of Severity. Each of these columns contains three spheres. The Middle Pillar, or that of Beneficence contains four spheres. Each of these spheres represents a different aspect or factor, which all together describe the process of creation. Through the study of the Sephiroth, one intends to balance them self between these two pillars of extremity. One intends to become centered on the Middle Pillar, expressing both mercy and severity. These two side columns represent, essentially, duality; Yin and Yang, Dark and Light, Male and Female, Observation and Action, Cold and Heat, etc. When one can balance all these forces, then they are in tune.
The first Sephirah is called Kether, or the Crown. It represents a principle known as YECHIDAH, or the innermost self. This concept corresponds to the Id of psychology. It means the Monad, or the essence of mind that is intrinsically pure. Perhaps one of the hardest concepts to translate into English, Yechidah refers to the deepest core of our consciousness as well as the source of our life energy. Carl Jung insisted that this concept is also similar to Tao, which has been translated as God, goal, or heaven, but basically means, the Way. Looking at Yechidah from this perspective is most suitable, since Yechidah is not a thing, but more like a process. It is the pure consciousness or conceiving quality that contains within it all the lower spheres. The tricky part to understand is that this ‘Crown’ is also universal, and therefore it is the shoreline that divides the individual person from the unlimited ocean of consciousness. In other words, it is the highest level in which a person still retains individuality, but at the same time, this level is unified with all existence. In this way, it is the source of man as it serves as the stream of conscious energy, which pours into the lower realms and feeds the spirit. It represents the gateway into intelligent infinity – the Divine Ground.
In another way of interpreting the Sephiroth, we can imagine this framework relating to a timeline. For instance, the process of attaining enlightenment can be seen as working one’s way up through the ten spheres. In the end, the ‘Crown’ or Kether is given to the enlightened one and an active mastery of this principle is attained. This is similar to the rising of the serpent, Kundalini, through the Chakras of the body, in the end raising the vital energy all the way up to the Pineal Gland, the ‘Seat of Consciousness’. Israel Regardie’s book, The Middle Pillar, details this process of purification, and lays the Sephiroth over the image of a standing person to bring about the idea of certain points within the body that this energy crosses through on its way up to the crown.
In essence, Yechidah is the Divine principle within the deepest core of each individual. It is the section or point of life-giving energy that is allotted to each individual. As this stream of conscious energy filters down through the different realms, it is shaped and sculpted into our own personal energy.
As we move down, we find two spheres beneath Kether. These are CHIAH and NESCHAMAH. These two serve as Yang and Yin, or the masculine and feminine principle within all things. In Jung’s version, these are called anima and animus. Of course, duality is a concept that is found all throughout religion and philosophy, even science. The idea that there exists in the universe two fundamental opposites that push and pull each other has found its place all throughout history, probably because deep down, everyone can feel this. Nowhere is it better seen than in the Alchemical engravings, displaying balance between male and female – sun and moon – the hemispheres of the brain.
The trinity as well refers to this duality. Perhaps it is better to say that the trinity refers to the threefold nature of man and the universe, which is comprised of two existing forms, and one action or story of those two. As previously stated we have the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Father is the heavenly form, the Son, the earthly form and the spirit is the story or interaction of these two others. In the same way, Man is made of the physical body, the mind or mental body and the vital energy, or spirit. These three aspects of reality also apply to the Universe – we have a physical universe or body, universal consciousness serves as its mind, and time is similar to its ‘story’, action or spirit.
As stated earlier, this trinity can be seen in the first three spheres of the Tree of Life. Neschamah is negative, feminine and passive, like the anima, it represents intuition and imagination, or ‘inner reality’. Chiah is positive, male, and active, and like the animus, it represents outward reality. To say that male is positive and female negative is not entirely true. In opposition to the outward world, where male and female = man and woman, on the inner plane, male is negative and female positive. In following, our innermost self, or Yechidah, is negative and positive, male and female. Certainly our souls do not have gender, and that gender you had in your last life has only limited bearing upon your next incarnation. So, Chiah and Neschamah refer to the primary duality, the basic ‘division’, and these two oppose and attract each other like magnets. Above them is the Yechidah, which is the basic and pure ‘whole’, the story, energy, or active principle of them both.
In understanding the lower spheres, it is important to grasp that the three already discussed are the innermost forces within our being. Regardie likens us to onions, and insists that the Yechidah is the very center of ourselves. Outside of that are Chiah and Neschamah. This being a spatial example, it is of course not meant that deepest within our bodies these things exist, but think of the core of the onion as the part of us that functions in the highest reality. For it is important to understand that in the Kabbalah we find several layers of reality as well, and that man functions within all these levels, though he is only conscious of the lower physical one. Every sphere of the Sephiroth has its place within each of the worlds. The layout of these worlds is also reflected in the Tree of Life, just as the macrocosm is reflected in the microcosm (The Universe in Man).
This brings us to the RUACH. This level contains the six spheres beneath (or outside) the uppermost triad. This section of the Sephiroth is the conscious ego. It is not necessarily a singular unit, but rather a collection of functions. These functions make up the machine of psychological and spiritual evolution, the expanding of the consciousness as a whole. To explain this, we must understand that this series of forces or aspects are the tools which human consciousness uses to open up the limitations of experience. This is the border between the physical and spiritual realms. For this reason, it is known as the formative world.
Just as Chiah and Neschamah, when balanced produce a ‘whole’ that is Yechidah, the spheres of the Ruach, when balanced, produce the duality of Chiah and Neschamah. Generally, these six are the workings of the ego. The Ego itself is represented by the fifth sephirah, and clustered around it are memory, will, feeling and thought. Generally, we can think of this level as anything that is not the body nor is it the divine or universal. It is the invisible workings of our own individual consciousness, making it similar to the Persona, the mask we wear. On this level our individuality is formed and our personality created.
The lowest sphere of the Ruach is called YESOD or the Foundation. This refers to animal instinct. This is a sort of primal brain, one that is found within all animals and is the foundation on which higher intellectual processes rest. It also corresponds to the genitals and so it represents the seat of impulse, lust and instinct, as well as the necessary process of regeneration. This being very low on the diagram shows its closeness to the dense realm of material, which is the very last sephirah.
MALKUTH, or the Kingdom, represents the physical body/world. This is the container in which all these processes are carried out. This sphere is very easy to understand since we are all very familiar with our physical nature. The body is more a tool than anything else. In fact, the Sephiroth can be applied to a power tool with equal accuracy.
Think for a moment of a power drill. The drill itself is the tool, the body, Malkuth. Within it are the various electronic parts, gears and gizmos which all work together to provide an overall function. These inner workings are the Ruach. Chiah and Neschamah could be the battery, providing a negative and positive flow of electricity, while Yechidah could be thought of as the electrical current itself, or even as the entire action that the drill performs. In other words, Yechidah is the totality of the energy or action while, on the other end of the spectrum; Malkuth is the totality of the structure.
So it is with man. Malkuth is his whole body, and Yechidah is his whole life. Everything in between holds a necessary place between the physical realm and the heavenly realm.
Amongst the ten Spheres on the tree are the twenty-two pathways which each corresponds to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. These also are divided into groups, elaborated in the Sepher Yetzirah. The first three are the elements, air, water and fire. They are called the mothers or fundamentals, which form a balance. Surrounding these are the seven ‘double letters’, which represent the seven planetary rulers, or those who sit upon the seven heavenly spheres. Outside of these are twelve simple letters, which resonate with the twelve signs of the Zodiac. We have already seen the significance of three, seven and 12, but each of these three sets also has many more symbolic attachments.
In a broader view, the letters each represent archetypal forms that the universe was created with, much like the Neters. They represent qualities that are seen within every living being. Also, all of these letters established their presence within the universe, the year, and humankind (male and female).
From the three Mother letters in the universe, heaven was created by the elementary fire, or ether. The earth of land and sea was composed of elementary water, and the atmospheric air was formed of the elemental air, or spirit, which balances the former two. In the year, these three mothers produce heat, from fire, coldness from water and a temperate state from air, which again balanced the others. These relate to the two solstices and the equinoxes. In man, the three mothers produced the head or intellect of fire, the abdomen or generative, physical body of water, and the breath or spiritual balance from the air.
Of the seven ‘double letters’, each holds two different sounds, one weak and one strong; one soft and one hard. These symbolize wisdom, riches, fertility, life, power, peace and grace. They also represent the opposites of these properties; of wisdom, foolishness; of riches, poverty; of fertility, sterility; of life, death; of power, servitude; of peace, war; and of beauty, deformity.
These letters also correspond to the seven directions, up, down, north, south, east, west, and within. Also, of these seven were formed the seven planets of the Universe, seven days within the week, and the seven gateways of the senses in Man. (Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, and the Moon; the seven days of the week; and two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and the mouth.)
The Twelve simple letters embody twelve fundamental properties; speech, thought, movement, sight, hearing, work, coition, smell, sleep, anger, taste and mirth. These also correspond to twelve directions which we can imagine emanating from the center of a cube and passing through each one of the twelve edges, four on the top, four around the sides and four below. These twelve also produced in the Universe the twelve arcs of the Zodiac; in the year, twelve months; and in man the twelve principle organs. (Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces; Nisan, Ijar, Sivan, Tammuz, Ab, Elul, Tisri, Marcheshvan, Kislev, Tebet, Sebat, and Adar; and two hands, two feet, two kidneys, gall, small intestine, liver, esophagus, stomach and spleen.)
Over all these things is GOD, who is above the balance of three; three stand over seven, seven stand over twelve, yet they are all connected together. This God is an incomprehensible principle. The essence of Kabbalistic study is formed by eliminating all aspects of reality from its source. What is left is called AIN SOPH – the eternal state of being. After all, for something to be understood as infallible truth, it must not be limited by anything, including time and space. So AIN SOPH is a principle that is nearly impossible to grasp. Manly Hall presented a helpful illustration. Think of a great field of rich soil that gives rise to thousands of plants, all of different colors and properties, yet all rooted in the very same earth. The plants can be conceived as universes, gods, and man, while the ground is symbolic of AIN SOPH – that which births them, nourishes them and eventually reclaims them. This principle is near identical with the Hindu divine ground, Brahman.
The principle of Ain Soph is also threefold. This world lies outside the Sephiroth, above our worlds. It has three layers concentrically radiating from outside our reality. The first of these is Ain or nothing, the Abyss. Outside of this is Ain Soph, the Boundless. And the furthermost layer of existence is Ain Soph Aur, the Boundless Light.
The Sephiroth, with its ten spheres and twenty-two pathways was essentially a restructuring of the Egyptian system of Neters, those powers that ruled over creation. Each describes a system in which these aspects of life demonstrate the qualities that determine our reality. So the Sephiroth, the core of Kabbalah and therefore of Judaism, is essentially a renaming of an Egyptian system. This we must keep in mind as we travel through time, away from Egypt and towards the oncoming Christian movement, which also had its roots in this ancient philosophy.
We also must keep in mind the fact that Judaism was not initially monotheistic. Instead it took on this form when it became clear that Jehovah did not tolerate the worship of other gods. At this time, the quite personified God gave way to the more universal GOD. Over several millennia, this shift took place, but not only for the Israelites.
“He who upholds Truth with all the might of his power,
He who upholds Truth the utmost in his word and deed,
He, indeed, is Thy most valued helper, O Mazda Ahura!”– Zarathustra (aka Zoroaster)
In Persia the same transition was under way. Here, the ancient Iranians lived simple lives, farming and such. They believed in benevolent spirits of nature who would help them when appeased with praise or gifts. These were called Daivas, and once again we see the concept of the Neters – agents of Nature on a higher plane. The Persians and Chaldeans eventually came to believe in other spirits as well, such as clan gods and family gods. With these came the making of idols and effigies as well as temples to represent these gods, and naturally a priesthood developed. The Persians believed that their priests were capable of influencing these gods and controlling the outcome of wars or crop production.
The belief in magic and sorcery was generally acknowledged by the people as it has been so many times throughout history, and in this way, the people had to put great faith in their priests. These were people who depended on protection as they were constantly on guard from savage nomadic tribes.
In the mid 6th century BC, however, we are told that a man was born who would turn over the whole system of sorcery and suspicion. Zarathustra was his name, though he is today more commonly known as Zoroaster, and like Moses and many others, the tales of his birth and early life are full of miraculous occurrences and powerful symbolic omens. It was said that the chief magician of Persia, Durasan, trembled in fear at the time of his birth and ordered for him to be killed in several different ways, though all his attempts failed. (This is quite reminiscent of the story of Kullervo in the Kalevala.) As he grew, his parents sought to give him a quality education and support in becoming a fine man. He married but could not bring himself to settle down and raise cattle or harvest grain. Instead he left for the hills to become a hermit and meditate on the source of suffering in the world. This tale is also an old one, very similar to many other prophets such as Siddhartha Gautama.
On Mount Sabalan he sat and thought until finally determining that the world was ruled by two forces, one of good and the other of evil. He determined that, like night and day being light and dark, good was always good and evil always evil – that these forces are immutable and unchangeable. The good force he called Ahura Mazda and the evil one was named Angra Manyu. To him this meant that the priests must be wrong. How could they influence a good god to perform evil actions or an evil god to perform good actions?
He still had many questions in his mind, but he left the mountain and began his quest to bring his basic understandings to his fellows. Since suspicion and fear gripped much of the population, it is not surprising that many whom he spoke to were not interested in his radical thoughts. By the time he was beginning to grow old, his only disciple was his cousin who told him that his ideas were too lofty for the common people to understand and that he would have greater success if he were to speak with those of higher learning such as nobility or royalty. This made sense to Zarathustra and he decided to visit the royal court of King Vishtaspa in the city of Balkh. He convinced the guards to have an audience with the King who watched over a debate between Zarathustra and his wise men and magicians. This debate lasted three days and finally the King decided that Zarathustra was truly able to answer all the questions of the wise men, so he was made the chief of priests.
The other magicians and priests then accused him of sorcery and framed him by placing objects in his room that were generally used by sorcerers. For this he was imprisoned, but at the same time, the King’s horse went ill and would not get up. His priests and physicians could not help it, so Zarathustra sent word to the King that if he would set him free, he could save the horse. This he did and in turn he received a promise that the king would endorse his religion and punish those who conspired against him.
The King then ordered the slaughter of thousands of cows and the tanning of their hides to be used to scribe the wisdom of Zarathustra. This sacred book of scriptures was called the Avesta. It is the primary sacred text of Zoroastrianism, though today much of it has been lost and only fragments remain. When the original text was written, Zarathustra enjoyed a secure place within the court as High Priest. His daughter, Porucista eventually married the prime minister, and this secured his place even more.
Soon he addressed the king and told him that Ahura Mazda was not only the God of the Parsees, but of the whole world, and so the wisdom of this condition must be shared with the rest of the world. Vishtaspa agreed and began sending out missionaries to foreign lands. Soon they decided to force the religion onto the neighboring kingdom of Turan. They sent notice that they would not pay their debts to Turan unless Turanians stopped worshipping their idolatrous gods. The return message stated that Turan would declare war on them in three months time unless they gave up their Zoroastrian religion.
War ensued and Zarathustra eventually emerged as the victor. He became a hero among his people, while the Turanians despised him and plotted revenge. They attacked the city of Balkh and while he was praying in the temple, they stabbed him through the back. The King took swift action to avenge his beloved prophet’s death and reestablished the religion throughout Turan, and then sent more missionaries to far ends of the world.
After Zarathustra’s death, however, his religion lost much of its core teachings. For instance, he claimed that Ahura Mazda was not alone in his work and identified Angels that helped this wise lord. The most important of these he claimed were called good mind, good order, wisdom, piety, well being, and immortality. These of course were not people who flew around with wings in the sky, but attributes of God’s character. After his death, of course, these ‘angels’ came to be personified and idols were made to them. Eventually thousands of angels and demons were believed to be the helpers of Ahura Mazda and Angra Manyu.
Thus his original message was turned backwards and as it so often happens, the religion in his name betrayed its original purpose. Just like the Buddha who ordered against the idolatry of his day, yet idols were, and still are, made of him. It was only about 300 years after Zarathustra’s death that Alexander would conquer Persia and destroy the Avesta, replacing it with the Greek religion. Eventually, Iran was given back its independence and the teachings of Zoroastrianism were sought out. Much of the Avesta was lost, but bits and pieces remained in print as well as in memory. The fragments were pulled together and a new version of the Avesta was compiled. Further complications pushed the religion out of Persia however, and eventually the remaining followers came to be based in India.
Zoroastrianism played a large role in bringing about monotheism. Between this religion and early Judaism, we can see how the idea that natural forces, or aspects of a divine reality have been turned into a single all powerful (and humanlike) God. This God became the one true GOD, and those beneath him are his angels or helpers.
In Judaism, there arose a belief in a single God because their new God demanded that they observe no other, thus becoming the greatest God. This still acknowledges that other Gods existed though. For Zarathustra, the belief came from the idea of Dualism, in which two fundamental opposites are constantly working against each other, but only one is worthy of our praise and worship. It is worth noting, however that both these traditions did still believe in the many aspects, characteristics, or faces of God – the belief that beneath this supreme deity were relatively minor forces used to carry out the divine will.
All in all, these two religions offer examples of steps away from the ancient traditions that were held by Egypt, Sumer, Chaldea and other civilizations that were long gone in these times. We must remember that the greatest secrets of the ancient traditions had already fallen out of memory, and lesser secrets had taken their place. Several early historians including Pliny and Marcellinus have demonstrated that Zarathustra was merely a reformer of Chaldean and Egyptian magic, and as we have discussed, Moses was no different.
While these prophets may have brought light to the darkened beliefs of their time, their religions did not rise to heights of the older wisdom traditions. The people around them were living in a darker time and though they taught true doctrines, their peers confused and deformed the message to lower and lower forms. Now instead of praying to and worshipping the spirits of nature and learning how to truly be in harmony with divine will, we find the people at the whim of their priests, paying money to the temple in order to secure good fortune, offering blessings to dead idols, and being controlled by their shepherds. The names of the old gods and powers were simply changed into terms that made them harder to understand.
Another major accomplishment of Zarathustra was that this was the first time an obscure God existed. Ahura Mazda might be called the first god that is intangible. Before his time, people were not used to believing in something that they could not see or touch. That is likely why the religion soon fell back into idol worship.
These two religions also affected each other. Both were pulling from the same source as Eastern and Egyptian/Mesopotamian thought, and so both had very similar stories. It is thought that the Satan spoken of in Job may have been taken from the Zoroastrian principle of Evil, not to mention being loosely equivalent to the Egyptian Set or Seth. It is clearly evident that both the Mosaic and Mazdean concepts shared many beliefs that would one day be the founding ideals of Christianity, though some aspects of the faith (such as Dualism) would fit more into the category of Gnosticism, which was seemingly omitted from the Christian religion.
It was during the Babylonian exile of the Jews that they likely encountered Zoroastrian concepts, much of which they adopted into their own religion. For this reason, a great deal of the reformed Chaldean magic would have found a place amongst the Kabbalists. Certainly the dualism found in ancient cultures was greatly detailed and defined by Zarathustra and this concept might be described as the central focus of not only Zoroastrianism, but also of later Judaism and certainly for the Gnostic Christians. Islam, as well, would be greatly influenced by Zoroaster.
Another aspect of Zoroastrianism that clearly demonstrates the ancient wisdom is in its concept of time. For Zarathustra, there were two types of time, eternity and sovereign time. Sovereign time, said Zarathustra, was a piece of time that Ahura Mazda carved out from the immeasurable eternity. This he believed would last twelve thousand years, divided into four cycles of Three thousand years each. This period matches quite well with the time we’ve been discussing. In his book, Magic, Supernaturalism and Religion, Kurt Seligmann writes;
“The first three thousand years are those of spiritual creation, during which all creatures remain in their transcendental form. The second triad is that of material creation, of celestial beings, of spirits, sky, water, earth, plants, animals, and mankind. The third period is that of the irruption of the Evil One, that dominated man’s history before the coming of revelation. The last period, that which started with the advent of Zoroaster, will end with the day of judgment.”
If Zoroaster lived towards the early part of the first millennium BC, then this final period would be ending very soon, meaning we live in the final hours before the Day of Judgment. If this is true, then our twelve thousand year period would stretch back to around ten thousand BC. It would also mirror quite closely the system of Yugas, which take twelve thousand years to pass once through all four stages of the cycle, then another twelve thousand to traverse back to the starting point. Once again, we see a focus put on this time period, the past half of a precessional cycle, which we are continually reminded is currently ending. Similarly, the Kabbalists also had an understanding of long-term calendars and thus were able to calculate the coming of their messiah and other major events.
During the time of Zoroaster and the exile of the Jews in Babylon, there were many other players in the game of religion and thought. Though these two were of prime importance, and served a certain purpose, there were other takes on the ancient wisdom that were moving in different directions. Judaism and Zoroastrianism both sought large congregations in order to spread their influence across the world, but some other traditions sought to preserve the inner mysteries of nature in a way that would not attract any attention but from those who truly wished to know. Greece was the central player in this, the age of mystery schools and secret cults. The teachings held and preserved in such organizations were much like the Kabbalah or the magical knowledge of Persia, but without the outer shell of a religion. The art, practiced outside of Judaism, was often designated with a Q when written, as Qabbalah. In Christian practice it is thus Cabbala.
Before even considering the inner secrets of the mysteries, we can simply look at the mythology of the civilization that carried the torch of Egypt to realize not only that its religion was entirely based on Egypt’s, but also that the Egyptian version was far superior to all the later versions. Of course, we are talking about Greece, one step down from the perfection of Egypt. Greek culture copied Egypt in every way it could, and was wise to do so. Even still, the statues and artifacts of Greece were not as perfectly balanced or as flawlessly formed. This slight loss of perfection applied to the mythology as well. All the Greek Gods were copies of Egyptian ones.
The Mystery Schools of Greece each had their own head deity. For instance, Bacchus was seemingly identical to Jehovah. Perhaps we can notice that polytheism found in Greek mythology as well as Hindu, brings the concept of these forces out to the public a bit more than Judaism, where these principles are found only on the inside. Even more so, as we move on to Christianity, they have moved into an even deeper hiding, and the One God theory is pushed forward into the public to the point where the many attributes of GOD are only thought to be a vast school of angels doing HIS bidding as would employees. Of course, we can see how the idea of a single, all powerful entity could be described as the Godhead of the hierarchy – Yechidah – or the connection of an individual to the universal consciousness, and so monotheistic religion can be born of those who know the interior mysteries, but it seems to hold within it more illusion than wisdom, and therefore, may be more for the purpose of advancing itself rather than its congregations.
These ancient mysteries accepted as initiates only those who were deemed worthy. This is the same across the board of time and geography regarding the mystery religions. Those selected for initiation in Egypt were also tested for purity, as are those today who are initiated into Freemasonry and other secret schools. From all these groups we find the explanation that, contained within these groups, are secrets too great to be given out to those without the experience and understanding to use them for the good of man.
It might be noted that in all ages, we, as humans have approached the questions regarding our purpose – our place in the universe – in differing ways. While some calmly investigate the facts, others are overwhelmed and justify themselves in the fact that the vast majority of the population takes the same stance, a frustrated ignorance of the subject. The first approach is that of a qualified initiate, the latter asks for someone else to answer the question, and such a person is therefore unable to learn the truth for himself. In this way, such flocks are at the will of their shepherd. It does not make them stupid or worthless, but only means that they are not yet ready to see the fullness of reality.
Once again, this is why the outer religions are developed, and the inner mysteries kept separate. Later on, we will see Jesus and his disciples explaining the same need for separate wisdom given to separate peoples. In fact, the word sacred actually means separate, in the way that the Kabballah is separate from Judaism. It is hermetically sealed, like the Corpus Hermeticum itself.
It is interesting to note that this was a time in which groups very similar to the ‘inner cells’ of various religions were also existing on their own, without outer religions. While we could say that they were surrounded by the outer shell of mythology, that is quite different. This was a time when knowledge still flourished and it was found in many different forms and many different places. Eventually these varied traditions, spread from Scandinavia to Jerusalem and all through Europe, would be brought together by the hand of Alexander the Great and all would be united in Alexandria. Here, the different sources would be reunited with the Egyptian Religion and the Kabbalists, among many others.
We must ask, what were the teachings of the mystery schools of Greece? What did these secrets pertain to? Embodying many different symbolic systems, these groups generally share many principles. The whole object of the philosophy was identical to all the other traditions we’ve seen. A focus was put on understanding the natural principles that govern us. A storyline linked qualities of the universe with characters that are godlike. Most of these early traditions involved sun worship, which was a consistent theme passed straight down from Atlantean culture. Of course, the Sun is something that is clearly going to be revered by all ancient cultures, being the provider of all heat, energy and light on our planet, but there are considerable similarities within the Greek mystery schools. The Solar deity was usually represented by a youth with long golden hair, showing the rays of the sun. This God was killed by a character or group, which represented evil. The ceremonies of the mysteries usually involved an reenactment of the rituals used to resurrect this God who then returns to life and becomes a savior for his people. Resurrection is generally a central theme to any initiatory fraternity. Usually it is part of the ceremony itself. This holds true even today for freemasons acting out the death of Hiram Abiff before being given the title of Master Mason.
In acting out one’s own death, this person is able to accept and understand their own mortality and thus to see the importance of looking past life, or outside of life, to find the truth of their condition. It aids the initiate in realizing that they are not limited to this lowly physical personality, but that in truth they are a much grander type of being. The essence of the mystery is found within this process. It is symbolic of the same process by which the Kabbalist climbs the Tree of Life, and the Alchemist performs the magnum opus. All of these represent the redemption of man and his realization of the higher nature that he used to possess. In this way, these Mysteries were meant as assistance programs for those wishing to achieve these ends.
Appropriately, such groups can be referred to as the Theurgic Mysteries. Theurgy is just another name for the process – direct ‘conversation’ with the most high. To be initiated into these mysteries was to lift oneself to higher levels of consciousness by the process of theurgy – the art of conversing with one’s higher self to obtain spiritual truths.
Oftentimes initiates were prominent figures, such as Plato and Pythagoras. Both of them contributed a great deal to these secret schools, and the secret schools also contributed to their personal philosophies. Since certain people are simply gifted in these arts, they can come along and learn a great deal from their ‘higher selves’ and refresh those around them by clearing up details and simply providing more insight and instruction to those who wish to know. Plato and Pythagoras both fall into this category, as do Jesus, Muhammad, Moses, Leonardo da Vinci, Shake-speare and countless others.
The Eleusinian Mysteries were perhaps the most famous of them. Based out of the city of Eleusis, near Athens, this tradition lasted roughly two millennia. Demeter, the earth goddess journeyed across the land searching for her daughter, Kore, and finally finding her at the city of Eleusis, she established herself and began to teach her mysteries to the wise men of the city. Every year the lesser mysteries were celebrated and every five years, the greater mysteries. The ceremony was an experience for the initiates. They first had to purify themselves in water, usually the sea, and also by fasting. They then drank a special drink and acted out parts of the story of Demeter. Certain artifacts were presented and passages were recited. The ceremony was very secret and those who exposed the secrets were put to death.
It was said that this secret was also a promise – one having to do with the afterlife. In a hymn to Demeter, Homer wrote, “Happy he of the mortals who has seen this; in the dark kingdom of shadows, the fate of the initiate and of the uninitiate is not the same.” This is to say that to be in possession of this secret could determine the fate of one’s soul after death. This concept is not unlike the lessons written out in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, or more appropriately interpreted, the Book of What is in the Duat. As we have discussed, being taught how to navigate this realm was of great importance to the Pharaohs, and it is a similar tradition that is likely preserved in the Eleusinian Mysteries as well as others.
Initiation to these mysteries apparently involved a sort of underground labyrinth of tunnels that had to be solved. Through the dark the student must wander to an invisible end where he is bombarded with terrors until finally allowed to see the light once again. Clearly this is another form of a resurrection ceremony – one that tests the will of the initiate and pushes him to realign his perception. In a sense, solving the darkened labyrinth was equivalent to crossing the Duat.
If we can see that these different sets of symbols all show the same meaning, then we can understand the place that these schools held in history. They preserved the original tradition to the best of their ability and, notably, they possessed a drink known as Soma, that was revered as the key to their mysteries. We might remember that at Mitla, Mexico, and Chavin de Huantar, Peru we also find the combination of mind-altering substances and underground labyrinth. Both these sites are decorated with elaborate patterns in stone that are, for lack of a better term, psychedelic.
In the following chapters, we will continue to see this tradition advance under many more names. But simply to acknowledge the vast expanse and influence these groups had on the world will be an important mental note. There were the Orphic Mysteries, related to Orpheus, the Dionysian Mysteries, Persian, Mithraic, Chaldean, Arabic, Pythagorean. Platonic… the list goes on. Many were described almost like holidays or festivals, often with orgies and fertility ceremonies, but regardless of how much fun was had, there was always something very profound that was present in such gatherings – a secret that was being learned and practiced. It is not so much of a stretch to consider modern music festivals as derivative of such a thing. In a sense, the very same mysteries are being celebrated and practiced and the tradition essentially caught its stride with Woodstock in 1969, once LSD had fully taken hold of America, the age of musical mystery cults began naturally.
These groups stretched all across Greece, though similar traditions were scattered all throughout the known world even reaching out into the most isolated cultures. Ultimately what we are describing is the shamanic tradition, which existed literally everywhere, but that is more general. The Druids who took to the British Isles in early times might also be categorized as an ancient Mystery Tradition. It is likely that the many megalithic remains they have left behind played a large role in their ceremonies, and continue to release geomantic effects to this day. By other names people of a similar mind were already spreading through the New World, giving rise to the Maya and Aztec cultures on a completely separate timeline.
Another curiosity of these ancient mysteries is that many of their symbols and images are found within Christianity. Within the Vatican is the greatest mystery religion of all. Of course the names have all been changed again, and of course the inner religion is not given to the masses. The peaceful world of the Mysteries was ending. As we move forward into the time of Jesus, the world takes on some very different traits.
In the following chapters we will see the great transformation that has profoundly affected humankind ever since. This transformation ended a period in which esoteric wisdom was the common goal of the theological student. In this time, the mysteries served as the outlet for these individuals. It is against the backdrop of the above-mentioned age of learning and philosophy that the enemy of wisdom first showed its face. This transformation begins with the life of an unparalleled sage (at least in terms of the effect he had on the course of history) followed by his assassination, the controversy of his teachings among his followers, and the eventual theft of his name by his enemy.
This period can quite appropriately be considered the greatest step that man has ever taken into the darkness of ignorance. Beforehand, in the age of mysteries, mythology was the primary religion for the masses, while afterwards monotheism served this purpose. While both are exoteric teachings, the older mythology encouraged its followers to seek out the greater truths hidden within, to unfold their own personal spirituality. Afterwards, the Christian tradition sought to control masses of people by withholding the esoteric basis of the religion. As we have seen, this esoteric knowledge is where the truth of our universe lies, within ourselves. But after this great transition of thought, the conglomeration of ancient teachings we call Christianity guided its members towards faith in itself rather than instructing them in how to attain this wisdom from within. Besides, even in the rituals of the ancients, no one was ever told the universal secrets, but only guided toward their own illumination.
The end of the mysteries was known of as the “Death of Great Pan”. This was in part because of the imposing Christianity, but at the same time, this shift of ideals was a cause of Christianity. There came a time when it was thought that rather than holding these secrets and releasing them only to those who proved themselves, they should be expounded unto the masses and anyone should have access to them. Christians pleaded with the ‘pagans’ to reveal their secrets. Many did, ending the reign of the institutions that had been caretakers of this doctrine for centuries.
It was only a few centuries before the Church had changed its mind and decided to recycle all the ancient mysteries and rituals that it had overthrown. While the Ancient Mysteries sought to preserve the flame of knowledge by secret, underground techniques, they realized that they were entering into an age of darkness, a time in which man would no longer view the sky with wonder and amazement, and when those who did admire the perfect beauty of nature would be persecuted and murdered.
The age of Magic was ending. The time of Sybils, Oracles, Seers and Prophets would fade into the age of spiritual and mental domination by psychological superpowers formed from brotherhoods of nobility and corrupt politicians. At this time, then, it was only appropriate that the greatest prophet of historical memory would arrive to counteract this shift of paradigm. Though he fought against the tyranny, the battle continues today.
“When he was with us He gazed at us and at our world with eyes of wonder, for His eyes were not veiled with the veil of years, and all that He saw was clear in the light of His youth.
Though He knew the depth of beauty, He was for ever surprised by its peace and its majesty; and He stood before the earth as the first man had stood before the first day.
We whose senses have been dulled, we gaze in full daylight and yet we do not see. We would cup our ears, but we do not hear; and stretch forth our hands, but we do not touch. And though all the incense of Arabia is burned, we go our way and do not smell.
We see not the ploughman returning from his field at eventide; nor hear the shepherd’s flute when he leads his flock to the fold, nor do we stretch our arms to touch the sunset; and our nostrils hunger no longer for the roses of Sharon.
Nay, we honour no kings without kingdoms; nor hear the sound of harps save when the strings are plucked by hands; nor do we see a child playing in our olive grove as if he were a young olive tree. And all words must needs rise from lips of flesh, or else we deem each other dumb and deaf.
In truth we gaze but do not see, and hearken but do not hear; we eat and drink but do not taste. And there lies the difference between Jesus of Nazareth and ourselves.
His senses were all continually made new, and the world to Him was always a new world.
To Him the lisping of a babe was not less than the cry of all mankind, while to us it is only lisping.
To Him the root of a buttercup was a longing towards God, while to us it is naught but a root.”– Kahlil Gibran, Jesus the Son of Man