This week we continue a monthly discussion of The Cosmic Doctrine by Dion Fortune, which I consider the most important work of 20th century occult philosophy. Climb in and fasten your seat belts; it’s turning out to be as wild a ride as I expected. If you’re just joining us now, please go back and read the previous commentaries, which are listed here; the material covered in these earlier posts is essential to making sense of what follows.
As noted in earlier posts, there are two widely available editions of The Cosmic Doctrine, the revised edition first published in 1956 and the Millennium Edition first published in 1995, which reprints the original privately printed edition of 1949. You can use either one for the discussions that follow. The text varies somewhat between the two editions, but the concepts and images are the same, and I’ll be referring to both.
Revised Edition: Chapter 18, “Influences Acting on Human Evolution,” pp. 84-88.
Millennium Edition: Chapter 19, “Tabulated Summary of Influences,” pp. 114-115, and Chapter 20, “Cosmic Influences,” pp. 116-120.
With this month’s selection we begin a third part of our text. The first part dealt with the evolution of the Cosmos and the second dealt with the evolution of a Solar Logos and a solar system. Having drawn the outlines of the panorama of space and time within which we human beings have our very modest place, Fortune now proceeds to talk about human evolution—not as a process of the distant past, but as something going on right now in each of our lives.
It’s very common in the Western world for people who are first trying to make sense of the concept of spiritual evolution to insist on thinking of it as something that individual souls do all by themselves. Our culture teaches us to imagine ourselves as uniquely active beings doing things to a passive cosmos. That way of thinking about human nature and destiny did not evolve by accident, and it has its role to play in the unfolding of human potential now and in the future, but it is a half-truth at best. There are certainly ways in which human individuals act on the cosmos, but the cosmos also acts on human individuals, and if we ignore these latter influences we are stumbling blindly onward in the dark.
As Fortune’s convenient tabulation shows, there are three broad classes of influences that shape our consciousness and our evolution. The first of those classes comprises influences that come from or through the Solar Logos, the god of this solar system, who “hath set his tabernacle in the Sun.” As we saw in previous chapters, the Logos is influenced by the great cycles of the Cosmos: the rotation of the Ring-Cosmos in relation to the Ring-Chaos, which sets in motion immense tides of creation and destruction, and the twelve Rays, through which the Logos passes as he circles the Central Stillness in his orbit on the seventh Cosmic plane. The Logos is also influenced by the gravitational attraction of other Great Entities on the other Cosmic planes.
All these influences pass through the Logoidal consciousness to affect the solar system and every being in it. The primary effect is on the activities of planetary spirits and group souls, but those affect individuals at second hand, sometimes in very powerful ways. As an example from the history of ideas, consider the concept of living an ethical life in the Age of Aries, when compassion was not even considered a virtue and the goal of ethics was living a life of principled action independent of others, and compare it to the concept of living an ethical life in the Age of Pisces, when compassion was the central virtue and the goal of ethics was living a life of loving self-sacrifice in service to others!
The Solar Logos, meanwhile, is not a static being mired in perfection. Though it is vastly greater, more powerful, and more intelligent than any of the beings in its solar system, it too is growing, changing, and learning as its solar system grows, changes, and learns. Each swarm of Divine Sparks that ventures down the planes and then returns to the Logos brings back a rich harvest of experience that the Logos contemplates and incorporates into its own consciousness. The effects of this process also radiate outward to affect the planetary spirits of each planet and the group consciousness of the beings inhabiting each planet, and from there shapes the lives of human (and other) individuals. Such changes move very slowly in terms of an individual human life, but sometimes it’s possible to glimpse them by comparing past eras to the present.
Alongside the influences that flow outward from the Solar Logos, there are also influences shaping human life that derive from less exalted categories of being. We are currently incarnate on the physical plane, rather than one of the subtler planes through which we descended in past ages and through which we will ascend in ages to come, and that imposes certain very definite forms and limits on what we can accomplish as individuals and as a species.
There are also the Star Logoi (also called Ray Exemplars), the group consciousness of swarms of Divine Sparks that have completed their own journey down and then up the planes, and now serve the Solar Logos. The Star Logoi are the entities behind the signs of the zodiac as we experience them; each Star Logos picks up from the Solar Logos the particular influence of one of the twelve vast Rays of the Cosmos, and radiates that into the solar system, influencing all things by the same process of resonance we discussed in earlier chapters. Their influences on human evolution are among the factors that astrologers track.
The planetary spirits are also among the sources of influence studied by astrologers. As explained in previous chapters, the planetary spirits are “creations of the created,” brought into being by the activities of the swarms of Divine Sparks as they travel up and down the planes. As each swarm completes its evolution on a planet, it resonates with the rhythms of the Solar Logos, and as a result the planetary spirits are attuned with the Logos. To make use of a word that C.S. Lewis borrowed from the medieval Neoplatonist Bernard Sylvester, the planetary spirits are the Oyarses of the planets, the regents of the Logos in the turning worlds. The planetary spirit of the Earth, the earth goddess of so many ancient religions, is the being of this kind who influences human evolution most at this point in our species’ history, but the spirits of the other planets are also active in our lives by way of other factors tracked by astrology.
The presence of other beings, more or less advanced than humanity, as an influence on human evolution is a complex matter, and will be dealt with at length in later chapters. So, too, are the laws of nature sketched out briefly in the tabulation, and they also will receive extensive discussion later on. Those readers who know their way around Rupert Sheldrake’s writings, especially A New Science of Life, will find Fortune’s take on natural law instantly familiar: the laws of nature, in her vision, are simply “tracks in space,” patterns repeated so often that they keep repeating themselves whenever opportunity permits. That emphatically does not make them powerless! The laws Fortune presents here are, among other things, basic principles of magic, and careful attention to them will teach much.
The tabulation laid out at the beginning of this chapter (or, in the Millennium Edition, in the first of these two chapters) summarizes most of what will be discussed in the third part of The Cosmic Doctrine, and readers who familiarize themselves with the concepts listed here will be better able to navigate the complexities ahead. That becomes true as soon as we move from the tabulation to Fortune’s analysis of the influences on human evolution that come from the Cosmos itself, which follows immediately afterwards.
Here Fortune plunges immediately into a branch of occult lore that was the subject of extensive and passionate discussion in her time, and for decades before and after. It was widely held in her time that the Piscean age, the period of 2160 years ruled by the zodiacal sign Pisces, had ended sometime in the last years of the nineteenth century or the first years of the twentieth, with very late 1887 or the beginning of 1888 as one common accepted date for the transition. (For what it’s worth, my take is that the occultists of that period were right; compare the ruling ideas of the twenty-one centuries before 1888 with those of the period since that time, and correlate them to the differences between Pisces and its ruler Neptune on the one hand, and Aquarius and its ruler Uranus on the other, and it’s not hard to watch the turning of the ages.)
With the transition to the new Aquarian age, changes as drastic as those that followed the shift from Aries to Pisces are under way, and Fortune’s great metaphor provides, among many other things, a way to make sense of the process. Fortune refers to this branch of the study as sidereal astrology, and distinguishes it from planetary astrology. In some ways “sidereal astrology” turned out to be an unfortunate choice, because some astrologers have used the same label for a different kind of planetary astrology, in which the boundaries of the signs of the zodiac are determined by the constellations rather than the solstices and equinoxes.
This is not what Fortune was talking about. Her “sidereal astrology” is the astrology of vast cycles of time marked out by the movements of the stars, and her “planetary astrology” is the standard system of Western astrology—tropical astrology, to give it its technical name—which sees the zodiacal signs as 30° wedges of the ecliptic, with the celestial point where the spring equinox takes place defined as 0° Aries. As the precession of the equinoxes moves different stars through these wedges, the influences of the zodiacal signs change subtly: that’s Fortune’s sidereal astrology as seen by a skywatcher on the physical plane. On the inner planes, the whole solar system moves through one after another of the twelve Cosmic rays and is influenced by the immense cycle of the rotation of the Ring-Cosmos within the Ring-Chaos.
As so often, when she talks about important occult teachings, a certain evasiveness creeps into Fortune’s writing. She explains that each phase of the rotation of the Ring-Cosmos is equal to four Ray phases. Thus the Ring phase remains positive through four astrological ages, and then switches to negative for four more—but which four? Only at the end of the chapter does she give the hint that’s needed to bring clarity to the picture. The nineteenth century, she says, was a positive period; the first quarter of the twentieth—the only part of the twentieth that had passed by when she wrote the Cos. Doc.—was a negative period. Between these two, according to the occult teachings of her time, was the transition from the Piscean to the Aquarian age. So we know that from her perspective, the Geminian, Taurian, Arian, and Piscean ages took place under a positive Ring cycle, and the Aquarian, Capricornian, Sagittarian, and Scorpian ages to come will take place under a negative Ring cycle.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that the four ages just past were “positive” in the simplistic sense or that the four ages to come will be “negative” in that sense. It means that the four ages just past were typified by a movement toward the center, which then reversed, and the four ages ahead will be typified by a movement toward the periphery, which will then reverse. Each age under a positive Ring phase thus sees a gradual coalescence toward some standard, which then comes unraveled as the age ends. In the context of politics, think of the way the city-state became the fixed form of social organization in the Arian age, not only in the Mediterranean and the Middle East but in large parts of Africa, India, and the Americas as well, and how scriptural religions of salvation provided a similar fixed form in the Piscean age.
In the Aquarian age and the three ages that will follow it, an opposite procedure will be the rule. Instead of moving toward a common fixed form, the human societies of these ages will differentiate themselves more and more from each other, moving in their own unique directions over the course of each age, and then gradually blend and establish syntheses as the age draws to an end. One consequence is that the disintegrating and diversifying forces that came into play as the Piscean age entered its twilight period will continue to work for many centuries yet, and attempts to impose some kind of uniform vision on humanity will simply generate resistance and accelerate the movement toward differentiation.
Across these broad (and broadly predictable) movements of time, as noted already, come a less regular set of influences that pass through the Logoidal consciousness into the solar system. These are the influences of other Great Entities on other planes of being. The human mind isn’t capable of grasping the calculations necessary to figure out when one of these comes into play, but we’re fortunate in that there’s a marker on the physical plane that can be used to track them: the appearance of comets. That makes sense even from a purely physical perspective; astronomers have suggested that what detaches comets from the Van Oort Cloud and sends them plunging into the inner solar system are the movements and gravitational forces of celestial bodies outside the solar system entirely. The occultist would simply add that these celestial bodies need not be composed of matter as we know it—that is, of the substance of the material plane of our solar system.
Fortune is quite correct that the astrology of comets still needs a great deal of development. As H.S. Green notes in Mundane or National Astrology: “There are many known comets that are permanent members of the solar system. These have not yet been examined astrologically or their influence determined.” A great deal of very useful work could be done here, and Fortune’s suggestion of using the spectrographic profile of comets as a way to tease out their influences is well worth following up. One point worth keeping in mind in this research, though, is that in traditional astrology comets are always malefic influences—and the Cos. Doc. explains why.
Comets in the Cos. Doc. are the strange attractors of the solar system, reflecting the influence of Great Entities other than the Solar Logos. In a sense, they are similar to the Star Logoi, which mediate the influences of the twelve Cosmic rays into the solar system. Two great differences divide the comets from the Star Logoi, however. First, the Star Logoi are group souls in harmony with the consciousness of the Solar Logos, and the influences they mediate have been assimilated to the solar system. Think of them as being like the electrical transformers that step down high voltage current and make it safe for household use. The forces radiated by the comets, by contrast, have not been stepped down in this way, and are as dangerous to us as electricity straight from high voltage transmission lines would be.
The second difference is that while the Star Logoi are group souls that have evolved into their current state and continue to evolve, the group souls of comets are incapable of evolution. They simply reflect the influence that created them in a repetitive, mindless way. This gives certain comets their second function in the solar system, that of scavengers.
Previous discussions of the influence of other Great Entities on the solar system have noted that these are the sources of positive evil—not the negative evil of the Ring-Chaos, the Cosmic thrust-block that enables creation to come into being, but the active evil of individual beings. The value of positive evil is that the entities who contend with it in themselves and in the world undergo a more intensive epigenesis: in human terms, they become wiser, stronger, and more richly individualized from the experience. Those entities who refuse to contend with the disruptive influence and assimilate themselves to it instead, not just once but in life after life, finally resonate with that influence so completely that they cease to incarnate on the same planet as the other souls of their swarm, and incarnate instead on a comet that embodies that influence.
The comet then proceeds on its way with its cargo of lost souls, sweeping out into unknown interstellar distances. In Fortune’s metaphor, it does not stop there, but proceeds all the way to the Ring-Pass-Not at the boundary of the Cosmos itself. What happens there? Nobody knows. Fortune refers to it as the Unknown Death. When the comet returns to the solar system, perhaps after countless ages, the entities it carried with it are gone without a trace, and they and their karma never trouble the solar system again.
(There’s a curious parallel between this teaching and old Yuletide traditions surrounding St. Nicholas and his sinister partner, called Krampus in some parts of central Europe. St. Nicholas, as we all know, brings gifts for good children; Krampus carries birch switches to remind the others of their misdeeds, and a wicker basket on his back to take away those spoiled little horrors who fail completely to learn from such reminders. These latter are of course never seen again. Folklore is a funny thing; quite often it contains remarkably deep occult teachings in quaint symbolic form, and this is a good example.)
All these Cosmic influences, the great tides of the Rings and Rays as well as the less predictable irruptions of cometary influence, have major roles to play in human evolution. On the broadest scale, a swarm leaves the upper spiritual plane to begin its evolutionary pilgrimage when the Ring phase of the Cosmos turns positive, and it finishes its outward journey on the physical plane as the Ring phases are changing, though how many phases will have gone by between those events is a complex matter. The same principle applies on a smaller scale; whenever an influence from the higher planes finishes its descent into matter and begins to rise back up the planes, this has to be done when the tides of the Cosmos are turning, and any working meant to influence humanity as a whole or any of its large collective groupings thus needs to pay close attention to the set of the Cosmic tides.
In this discussion we also encounter for the first time the concept of the Left-Hand Path. That term was borrowed a long time ago from the Tantric occultism of India, and has been used in quite a range of senses in Western occult writings. Fortune uses it in an extremely specialized sense here and elsewhere. To her, as we will see, the Left-Hand Path is the path of retreat along the lines of our species’ previous evolution, while the Right-Hand Path is the path of advance along the lines of our species’ future evolution. The Left-Hand Path is thus not the same as the path that leads to the Unknown Death; the former responds to influences that are native to this solar system, while the latter reacts to influences from outside the solar system. The nature of the Left-Hand Path, and the reasons why the choice of a Path matters so greatly, will be covered in quite some detail in the chapters to come.
Notes for Study:
As already noted, The Cosmic Doctrine is heavy going, especially for those who don’t have any previous exposure to occult philosophy. It’s useful to read through the assigned chapter once or twice, trying to get an overview, but after that take it a bit at a time. The best option for most people seems to be to set aside five or ten minutes a day during the month you spend on this chapter. During that daily session, take one short paragraph or half of a long one, read it closely, and think about what you’ve read, while picturing in your mind’s eye the image you’ve been given for that passage of text.
As you proceed through the chapter and its images, you’re likely to find yourself facing questions that the text doesn’t answer. Some of those are questions Fortune wants you to ask yourself, either because they’ll be answered later in the book or because they will encourage you to think in ways that will help you learn what the text has to say. It can be helpful to keep a notebook in which to write down such questions, as well as whatever thoughts and insights might come to you as you study the text.
Questions and comments can also be posted here for discussion. (I’d like to ask that only questions and comments relevant to The Cosmic Doctrine be posted here, to help keep things on topic.) We’ll go on to the next piece of the text on February 12th, 2020. Until then, have at it!