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 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 10, “The Beginnings of Consciousness,” pp. 48-51.
Millennium Edition: Chapter 10, ‘The Relation Between the Projected Image and the Logoidal Consciousness,” and Chapter 11, “Auto-Reactions and Cosmic Memory,” pp. 67-72.
This month’s section from The Cosmic Doctrine goes further along the path sketched out last month—the trajectory that leads from one set of metaphors based on physics to another based on psychology. It’s an unfamiliar route in today’s world, for two reasons. First, our habitual way of dealing with knowledge is to break it up into separate sciences, so that – to borrow one of Buckminster Fuller’s jokes – nature has to call an interdepartmental meeting any time a kid throws a stone into a lake, to figure out how to resolve this unwarranted intrusion of one discipline on another that proceeds from psychology through anatomy to physics.
The point of the joke, of course, is that divisions between sciences have to do with the limits of human understanding, not with the thing that’s being understood. Psychology and physics exist in the same world, subject to the same characteristic observed sequences of events that modern materialist thinkers like to call “natural laws.” At least in theory, it should be possible to start from either science and move step by step to the other, making only the changes required by shifts in complexity or scale. That’s exactly what Fortune is doing in this section of The Cosmic Doctrine; having built up an elaborate set of metaphors relating to motion in space, she shows how increasing complexity gradually transforms motion into mind – and, of course, vice versa.
That’s where we enter into the second source of unfamiliarity, because the gap between physics and psychology, between matter and mind, has been turned into a no man’s land full of smoking craters and barbed wire by centuries of bitter quarrels between science and religion. For a long time, it was standard practice in the Western world to split the cosmos down the middle, handing the material world over to the scientists while turning the world of subjective experience over to the clergy. It’s the attempt to overcome this division and claim the whole of existence for one’s own that drives the efforts of scientific materialists to insist that mind is “nothing but” something matter does, if mind exists at all; the same attempt drives the efforts of Christian fundamentalists to insist that the Bible ought to be treated as a geology textbook.
One of the things that makes occultism so controversial in today’s society is that the subject matter of the occultist is the realm where physics and psychology impinge on one another. To be an occultist is to deal with the places where mind affects matter and matter affects mind – where a symbolic image held in the mind and filled with emotional energy can make things happen in the world of outward experience; where the positions of the stars at the moment of birth reveal an individual’s character and destiny; and so on through the roll call of the occult sciences.
It’s not unheard of for occultists to engage in the same sort of imperial thinking as scientific and religious fundamentalists, and try to impose occult explanations on the whole of existence. That’s why H.P. Blavatsky’s first big book, Isis Unveiled, spends one thick volume lambasting the science of her time and another lambasting the mainstream religions of western Europe and the Americas. (Her critiques didn’t age well, which is why even among Theosophists you won’t find many people who’ve put a significant amount of study into Isis Unveiled.) More often, the occultists of Fortune’s time placed their discipline in the gap between science and religion, and tried to maintain good relationships with both sides – an attempt that got no more encouragement from either side, to be sure, than it does today.
By and large, this latter approach was Fortune’s way of dealing with things; that’s why she encouraged her students to study the sciences and to participate in whatever religion made sense to them. (She practiced what she preached; she published books on psychology and soybean cultivation, and most Sundays you could find her at her Anglican parish church.) The Cosmic Doctrine, though, took a subtler tack. By presenting metaphors for meditation that move elegantly from physics to psychology, she provided a mental toolkit for bridging the gap between mind and matter without trying to impose any one set of explanations on either. That, to conclude this somewhat lengthy prologue, is the project that this month’s text is meant to further.
We are dealing at this stage in her cosmology with the mind of the Solar Logos, the god of this solar system, whose physical body is the Sun and whose aura embraces the planets. This is a metaphor that reveals much, though readers who don’t have the kind of occult training Fortune’s students got may need some help following out its implications. In occult teaching, the aura or Sphere of Sensation is a roughly egg-shaped body of subtle energies that surrounds the physical body. It’s the body of consciousness, and its outer surface is both the sense organ by which we perceive patterns in consciousness and the organ of action by which we create such patterns and radiate them outwards for others to perceive. (In modern English, we confuse these two processes by lumping them together under the single word “imagination.”)
The solar system is the aura of the Solar Logos. It is the screen on which the influences of other Logoi and of the twelve great Rays of the Cosmos are projected. So – and this is where the metaphor becomes extraordinarily useful – everything Fortune says about the relation between the Solar Logos and the solar system is also being said about the relation between your consciousness and the realm of images and ideas reflected from other minds or created by yours.
So we begin with some developmental psychology. The Solar Logos, remember, has settled into its orbit on the seventh Cosmic Plane after aeons of journeying, and the atoms swept up with it in its outward journey form a vast formless cloud around it. The Logos and its companion atoms all go through the various changes and reactions possible to them in their new setting – think of it as settling into a new neighborhood, meeting the neighbors and figuring out where to shop and what pub’s going to be your local from now on, and you’ve got a decent metaphor for this process – but the companion atoms, being much simpler than the Logos, get settled in much faster and then begin a process that’s going to play a very large role in what follows.
Fortune’s term for this process is “epigenesis.” Another term for it, which Fortune also uses and which expresses one of its core aspects very well, is “play.” The companion atoms have finished settling in long before the Solar Logos has finished brooding over its experiences, and so they find ways to fill the time until the Logos begins to act on them. That’s the first phase of Logoidal evolution – the creation, by the Cosmic atoms, of new possibilities through play – and it’s also the seed from which free will, in a certain nuanced sense, eventually unfolds.
The second phase of Logoidal evolution happens as the Logos reflects on its experiences, and those reflections shape the cloud of companion atoms around it. Since the Cosmos is what the Logos has experienced, the solar system (Fortune, like the astronomers of her childhood, calls this “the universe”) is drawn into the image of the Cosmos, with seven Circles or Planes surrounding the Logos and twelve Rays streaming outward from his solar body.
The third phase begins as the Logos begins to reflect on the solar system around it. It has been conscious of the Cosmos, and then of itself; now it becomes conscious of its surroundings; the differentiation between subject and object now shapes its awareness; and since its broodings are reflected outward into its aura, the Cosmic atoms that form its aura reflect this, and begin to perceive themselves as subjects and other things as objects.
This is an immense shift. Think of what you experience when you wake up out of a dream. You move from a state of consciousness with no center, in which “you” can mean a dozen different things in as many moments, to a state in which your own consciousness becomes the center of your experiences. You become a subject, and other things become objects; that allows you to know the things that surround you, but it also allows you to know yourself. That’s what happens in the third phase of Logoidal evolution.
It’s important to remember that none of this takes place in a vacuum. We’ve already learned that as the Solar Logos and its companion atoms move in their orbit, they’re affected by the forces of the twelve Cosmic rays, and also by the influences of Logoi on other planes. Once the Logos has awakened to objective consciousness, it is no longer directly aware of these things. They become the exact equivalent of the subconscious influences that affect each of us, and work their way out into the brooding of the Logos and the answering movements of the solar system in exactly the same way that subconscious influences on the human mind reflect themselves first in our thoughts and feelings, and then in the events we experience around us.
Since the Logos isn’t deliberately repressing the influences of the Cosmos, though, they work their way into consciousness in a roundabout fashion – the same way, in turn, that each of us can come to terms with our own subconscious patterns. A Cosmic influence shapes the brooding of the Logos, and causes certain modifications in the solar system; the Logos perceives these, reflects upon them, and integrates them into its own understanding of itself and its solar system – in words Fortune borrows from the Book of Genesis, it “sees that it is good.” This is the process by which the great creative periods take shape: the Days of Creation in Christian esotericism, for example, or the periods of geological history understood by science.
Implied here, of course, is the idea that the Solar Logos learns and grows. It is the god of its solar system—we’ll see a little later on where the other beings worshiped by polytheist religions come from and how they relate to the Logos—but neither it, nor they, nor any other being in Fortune’s vast metaphor, exists in a static condition of perfection. Everything is learning, growing, exploring new possibilities.
The Cosmic atoms are also learning and growing. Like the Solar Logos, they are conscious of the patterns of tracks in space they have created around themselves, and of the similar patterns that other Cosmic atoms have created around themselves—we call these patterns, in their present extremely complicated form, “bodies,” and call the tracks in space that form them “matter.” At first that consciousness is of a very simple form, like the bodies that are its objects, and both grow more complex as the solar system ripens. We’ll get to that in future chapters.
Notice, though, that the Cosmic atoms or Divine Sparks are not conscious of the Solar Logos. Instead, the Logoidal consciousness becomes the subconscious background of the newborn minds of the Divine Sparks, in exactly the same way that the Cosmos forms the subconscious background of the Logoidal consciousness. As the Divine Sparks ripen and engage in further epigenesis, they will each develop a personal subconscious, but the Logoidal consciousness remains as the deeper background to their acts and awareness. If you want to borrow a turn of phrase from another occultist with a strong background in psychology—yes, that would be Carl Jung—you can call these the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious respectively. The implication, as Jung and Fortune would both have agreed, is that the collective unconscious that humans experience is identical at its deepest level with the mind of God.
But what is this thing that we’re calling “consciousness”? It’s to Fortune’s credit that she does not try to dodge this difficult question. She starts by pointing out that consciousness does not belong to the Cosmos; it is not a reaction of the Cosmic atoms in and of themselves; it does not originate from and return to the Logos. It is a modification that affects the Logos and the Divine Sparks, and it is the first such modification that comes into being as a result of conditions in the solar system as distinct from the Cosmos. It is, to be precise, a matter of tracks in space.
Tracks in space, as my readers will doubtless remember, are how the Cosmos got started in the first place. The same principle gives rise to the solar system as we experience it, but there’s a difference, of course. The tracks in space that gave rise to the Cosmos were set in motion by the movement of empty space itself; the tracks in space that become a solar system are set in motion by the movement of Cosmic atoms, whether we’re talking about the immensely complex Cosmic atom who has become the Logos of the solar system or the far simpler Cosmic atoms who were swept up in the outward movement of that Great Organism. It’s all tracks in space, but within the context of a solar system, there’s a point to drawing a distinction between tracks in space that have a Cosmic origin and tracks in space that originate within a solar system, as a result of the actions of things that have a Cosmic origin. That distinction is in fact drawn very often; we call things of the Cosmos by the term “spirit,” and things of the solar system “matter.”
Between these lies a third kind of thing, which also originates within the solar system and is also a matter of tracks in space. A Cosmic atom reacts to something, and that reaction leaves a track in space that continues to flow even when the Cosmic atom is doing something else. That ongoing flow is memory. As reaction follows reaction and more tracks in space are formed, memories flow together into patterns of pure movement that we can, without too much confusion, call “thoughts” and “images.” Over time, the Cosmic atom or Divine Spark develops a rich network of movements in space surrounding it, expressing all the potentials for reaction that Divine Spark has gained.
So we have the Divine Spark, or spirit; the network of tracks in space surrounding it, which is mind; and the specific repeated movement patterns the Divine Spark acts out at any given time, which is body. It can be helpful to try to imagine these in some simple form—say, a Divine Spark as a single point of light tracing out the pattern of a triangle repeatedly, going from angle to angle to angle and around again, while all around the point of light whirl the faint tracks of other possible motions the Divine Spark isn’t making just at that moment. The point of light is spirit, the tracks whirling around it mind, the triangle body. Then imagine yourself as a far more complex version of the same thing: a glowing point of light, which is your spirit; a whirl of possibilities tumbling through your consciousness, which is your mind; and a pattern of movement which has swept up billions of other, smaller lives—the cells of your body—into its dance.
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 8. Until then, have at it!