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 21, “Influences of the Manifested Universe,” from the last paragraph on p. 94, beginning “The doctrine of the planes…” to the end of the chapter.
Millennium Edition: Chapter 22, “Influences of the Manifested Universe,” pp. 128-134.
With the subject of this section of The Cosmic Doctrine—teachings concerning the Planetary Spirits (in the revised edition, Planetary Beings), Star Logoi (in the revised edition, Ray Exemplars), and spiritual evolution—we again come into territory that has much to do with practical magic. Fortune’s writing here is extremely careful, since as always she was concerned not to hand out practical teachings to those who were not equipped to deal with them. In order to make sense of what she has to say, it will be necessary to jump back and forward a bit as we proceed.
Let’s begin with the Planetary Spirits. In Chapter Fourteen, Fortune explained that Planetary Spirits are “creations of the created,” patterns of enduring movement in space laid down by the three primal swarms in their journey down and back up the planes. They are kindled into being by the Lords of Flame, given bodies of the substance of each plane by the Lords of Form, and elaborated by the epigenetic play of the Lords of Mind. They do not have Divine Sparks of their own, and so their evolution depends on the evolution of the beings incarnated on them.
As we have seen in previous chapters, too, the planets did not come into being all at once. The primal swarms made them one at a time as they descended through the planes. In those chapters, the genesis of the planets was presented in a simplified form, as though the swarms moved step by step away from the Sun as they descended. That was useful for the sake of instruction, but the actual order—an important key to the practical dimensions of The Cosmic Doctrine—is rather different, and is shown in the diagram to the left.
As noted there, the Earth was the last planet formed, and is thus the planet of the physical plane; the Moon represents to us the upper half of the physical plane, the realm of etheric forces. Mars corresponds to the lower astral plane, the plane of instincts and passions, and Venus to the upper astral plane, the realm of the higher and more abstract emotions. Saturn is the planet of the lower mental plane, the realm of concrete mind, and Mercury the planet of the upper mental plane and the abstract mind. Jupiter, the first planet formed, is the planet of the lower spiritual plane, and the Sun itself represents the forces of the upper spiritual plane.
To what extent this order reflects the actual events of the solar system’s formation is a question I propose to leave to the cosmologists. As metaphor, it works well, because the planetary forces as understood in astrology and invoked in magic do in fact correspond very precisely to the planes assigned to them here: the cycles of Mars match the passions and instincts, those of Venus those of emotion and creativity, and so on. From now on, when you think of the swarms moving down the planes in their great journey, imagine them moving from planet to planet in the order given, dwelling on each world in bodies formed of the substance of the corresponding plane—bodies of the upper mental plane on Mercury, in other words, and the lower astral plane on Mars. This reflects, and in a certain sense might explain, the fact that of all the planets in our solar system, the Earth appears to be the only one that has physically incarnate life on it.
No doubt many readers will have noted by now that this scheme assigns no role in the process of spiritual evolution to the planets Uranus and Neptune, for minor planets such as Ceres and Pluto, or for any of the smaller bodies that make up the solar system (other than comets, which we discussed earlier). There is a good practical reason for this. The seven planets Fortune includes in her scheme are also the ones that have extensive bodies of magical lore built up around them. Any mage with a grasp of the traditional lore knows how to invoke the energies of Venus or Saturn, for example, while the same is not true of Ceres or Neptune. Centuries of hard work will have to go into reworking the existing lore of planetary magic to fit a ninefold rather than a sevenfold system, and in the meantime, mages have other duties to attend to. It may also turn out that, in the magical systems of the far future, the other planets, minor planets, moons, asteroids, and Kuiper Belt bodies have roles unrelated to providing homes to incarnate beings.
The Planetary Spirits of the seven planets Fortune discusses here are responsible for that last task, and they are the great conditioning influences for the evolution of each swarm as it passes from world to world. As explained back in Chapter 14, each Planetary Spirit acquires bodies corresponding to all seven planes, so that eventually swarms of Divine Sparks will be able to undergo the full evolutionary cycle on a single planet. Eventually is not yet, though, and the Planetary Spirit with which we are most concerned—the Planetary Spirit of the Earth—is the youngest of the Planetary Spirits, and since she is the planet of the physical plane, her highest and subtlest aspect is on the higher etheric sub-planes of the physical plane.
Each of the Planetary Spirits, however, also has a Lord of Flame as its guide and guardian. In the language of ceremonial magic, these Lords of Flame are the archangels of the planets; other traditions have their own names for them. Each of these beings has other spiritual beings working under their direction to further the evolution of the Planetary Spirit and the swarms who work out a stage of their evolution on the planet. Fortune refers to these helping spirits as “Initiates who know the consonants of the Names,” which is a subtle bit of Cabalistic wordplay; originally, written Hebrew included the consonants of words but not the vowels, which had to be learned from a teacher in the days before the current system of vowel points came into use. In the same sense, the spirits who serve the archangels of the planets are furthering their own evolution by doing so; having mastered the obvious aspects of the plane on which they operate, they are learning the subtle inner aspects of the plane through their labors.
The Star Logoi are similar to the Planetary Spirits. As explained in Chapter Seventeen, the Star Logoi originated as the group souls of the swarms that followed the three primal swarms, and now function as the guiding forces of the signs of the Zodiac. Each of the Star Logoi has a Lord of Mind assigned to it as its guide and guardian; in ceremonial magic these are the angels of the twelve signs of the Zodiac. Each new swarm receives particular guidance from the Star Logos corresponding to whichever one of the twelve Cosmic rays was affecting the solar system at the time the swarm set out down the planes, but all twelve of the Star Logoi influence each swarm and establish twelve basic types of soul in each swarm.
Our Earth is in the midst of all this. It has a Planetary Spirit who is the youngest of her kind and still has long ages of evolution ahead of her. It has a Lord of the Flame, called the archangel Sandalphon in Cabalistic literature and other names in other traditions, who is the regent of the Solar Logos on this world. It has many other spiritual beings inhabiting it, including Lords of Form and Lords of Mind; and it also has beings of our swarm who have completed the work of this plane and, having been initiated by the Lords of Mind, assist the evolution of other souls.
As Fortune points out, this involves work with the other Planetary Spirits and their regents, and also with the Star Logoi, because the Planetary Spirit of the Earth reaches only as far as the etheric sub-planes, and humanity has almost completed its evolution on those sub-planes. To awaken the capacities of the higher aspects of the self—those that correspond to the planes above the physical—the Planetary Spirits and Star Logoi and their guiding archangels and angels must be brought into the picture, because they possess the contacts with the higher planes that our Planetary Spirit has not yet evolved. This has important implications for human evolution.
As incarnate human beings we have already received the initiations of the Earth and the Moon. We have awakened to objective consciousness on the physical plane, and the next great step for us will take us from Earth to Mars, where we will begin the process of awakening to full objective consciousness on the lower astral plane. That journey will not be made with spacecraft, however, since the densest bodies we will have then will be made of the substance of the lower astral, and the transition will be a movement of souls rather than of bodies. As Cosmic time is reckoned, Fortune says, that transition is not far off. What does that work out to in human terms? Our text doesn’t say—nor, of course, does it say how literally or metaphorically this statement is to be taken.
There’s a practical lesson to be learned from this point, however. At this stage of our species’ collective evolution, for a great many of us, a fixation on the purely material aspects of life—on what Fortune calls “the supreme humanity of the animal aspect”—is a form of retrogression that leads to the Left-hand Path. Remember that Fortune gives a very specific meaning to that term, one that differs from some of the uses it’s been given since her time. The diagram shown here offers a useful mnemonic; for Fortune, the Left-hand Path is the path of retreating back along the line of evolution already accomplished, while the Right-hand Path is the path of forward motion toward modes of evolutionary experience we haven’t had yet. Both rise up the planes—but one involves gaining abilities we haven’t developed yet, while the other involves shedding abilities we’ve gained and reverting to older forms.
The rest of this chapter needs to be understood with some care, as Fortune here brings in her own personal religious beliefs. At the time she penned The Cosmic Doctrine, she believed, as many Christians in her time believed, that the polytheist faiths of the past were appropriate at that stage of evolution, but that they had passed their time and the strict monotheism of the Abrahamic faiths was appropriate now. She also believed, as many people influenced by the Theosophical movement believed, that monotheism was also a transitional phase, and that it would be supplanted in turn by reverence for the Masters and the hierarchies responsible for spiritual evolution, with Christ as the Master of Masters off beyond the hierarchies.
These beliefs were very common in Fortune’s time, but not many people hold them these days, even in the occult community. Fortune herself, later on in her career, reevaluated her dismissal of the gods and goddesses of traditional Paganism, and ended up using her considerable abilities as a novelist and ritualist to attempt to reestablish reverence for Isis and Pan in the modern world. If you happen to be a Theosophically influenced Christian, in other words, by all means take what she says as face value; if not, take it as the way a broader pattern of ideas looks from within the worldview of a Theosophically influenced Christianity.
That pattern of ideas can be outlined readily enough. On each plane except for the physical plane, there are always two swarms moving through—one in a subjective state descending through the planes, the other in an objective state rising back up. The swarm on the descending arc receives its initiation from the swarm on the ascending arc. So far, so good—but here on Earth, at the nadir of the arc where involution ends and evolution begins, there is only one swarm present; there ain’t nobody here but us chickens. Furthermore, in Fortune’s scheme, the most important initiation of all—the initiation of the nadir, the point at which the individual soul wakes to objective consciousness and begins to make use of the potentialities it has picked up on its long journey down the planes—can only be given and received on the physical plane.
This initiation is therefore conferred straight down the planes, as Fortune says, “by those who have attained perfection on the seventh plane”—that is, the upper spiritual plane, which has the Sun for its planet. This is the initiation of the Logos, which Fortune identifies with the initiatory aspect of Christian faith. That identification works well enough so long as it is not treated as an exclusive matter, since the logic of Fortune’s great metaphor requires that all the souls in our swarm (or nearly all, since the comets take some few) receive that initiation, and this includes people who completed that part of their journey long before Christianity came into existence. One way to understand this part of the metaphor is to see the initiation of the Logos as something that every religion can provide to its believers.
There are subleties to this scheme that deserve close attention. While our swarm was still completing its descent into matter, having arrived on this planet but not yet fully awakened to objective consciousness on the material plane, we still interacted to some extent with the beings of earlier evolutions, whom we called spirits, gods, and many other terms of the same kind. This corresponds precisely to the worldview of traditional societies, full of spirits and half-glimpsed beings of all kinds—the “demon-haunted world” Carl Sagan denounced so angrily, if you will, as well as the world full of gods that the Greek philosopher Thales described in reverent terms. At the nadir, the point of deepest descent into matter, that is no longer the case, and the only beings who can reach us at that point are the perfected entities of the upper spiritual plane.
Fortune suggests, though, that this is a temporary state. On the far side of the initiation of the nadir, the terrible silence of a cosmos of empty space and dead matter gives way to a living world again. We again come into contact with other spiritual beings, but our relationship to them has changed. We have woken into objective consciousness, and can begin to perceive the planes above matter; we can, once that point has passed, begin to take part in the greater processes of the cosmos, and prepare ourselves to help later evolutions as we have been helped. To make use of a homely metaphor, we will cease to be clients and will be hired as members of the staff—in entry-level positions, to be sure, but with very nearly limitless possibilities for advancement.
Within the structure of Fortune’s great metaphor and the broader context of occult tradition generally, it is not unreasonable to speculate about whether other groups of human souls made the same transition before us, either in civilizations known to history or in those more distant ages that occult literature and Fortune’s own writing discusses—the Atlantean era, the Lemurian era, and so on. Whether or not this is the case, the entire structure of The Cosmic Doctrine requires that all other created beings in our solar system, from the Lords of Flame on down, have been through some analogue of the same experience we are undergoing now: the temporary descent into a world made only of matter and void, the collective equivalent of the mystic’s Dark Night of the Soul, followed by a return to life and light.
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 May 13, 2020. Until then, have at it!