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 12, “The Beginnings of Mind,” pp. 55-58.
Millennium Edition: Chapter 13, “The Beginnings of Mind and Group Consciousness,” pp. 77-81.
This chapter is trickier than most, and has to be read carefully in order to dodge a pitfall or two and find the trail Fortune has marked out. I suspect, for what it’s worth, that this is entirely deliberate. Whenever the text of The Cosmic Doctrine comes close to certain of the secrets of practical occultism, Fortune does something of the kind. That was standard practice among occult authors in her time, and she herself defended the practice in her writings. Times have changed, and a great many things that were secret in her time can be found splashed all over the internet in ours; that was one of the reasons I decided it was time to write a commentary on the Cos. Doc. that’s noticeably less reticent than the original text.
Fortune starts out by drawing a distinction between objects, on the one hand, and the tracks in space left by the movements of objects, on the other. An object moves and then comes to rest, but the track in space left by the movement keeps on flowing. These two things, concrete objects and abstract movements of space, form the two halves of the universe we experience. Atoms in motion form the half we call matter, substance, manifestation; pure movements apart from atoms and other objects form the half we call spirit, mind, consciousness.
Did you spot the trap? Atoms are themselves pure movement, as Fortune explains repeatedly in the first part of this book. Movement and space, between them, are all there is. Thus the distinction between objects and tracks in space is more apparent than real. Objects are tracks in space that, through repetition, have settled down into a stable condition. The tracks in space that still look like pure movement apart from objects are those that haven’t yet gone through all their changes.
One important implication is that what is spirit, mind, consciousness today, if it sustains itself over time, becomes matter, substance, manifestation tomorrow. We explored that same point earlier in a different context, when talking about the difference between the Individuality (the part of the self that endures from life to life) and the personality evolved in each life. The point applies more generally, though. Understand it in its fullness and you grasp the necessity of repetition and rhythm in operative occultism.
With that point made, or rather hinted at, Fortune turns at once to the narrative of the solar system’s development she’s been tracing out since Chapter Seven. On the Cosmic side of things, we have the Solar Logos, once a traveling atom moving through the Cosmos and now the center of a solar system, and we have the Cosmic atoms that were swept up with the Solar Logos on its journey out to the seventh Cosmic plane, and now circle around the Logos. From this point on references to the Cosmic atoms will be relatively sparse in our text.
This is because we have passed from the Cosmos to the solar system: in effect, into the dream the Solar Logos dreams as it orbits the central stillness. That dream is our reality. Though each of us has a Cosmic atom at the core of our being, we don’t wake from the dream until we have passed through an entire cycle of evolution.
Within the dream, the phenomena of the solar sytem itself take center stage. Those consist, first, of the tracks in space laid down by the uncoordinated movements of the Cosmic atoms, which (since any repeated movement ends up becoming a manifested reality) become atoms in their own right, the raw material out of which the solar system will take shape. Second, we have the tracks in space laid down by the dance of the Solar Logos, which reflect the Logoidal experience of the Cosmos and draw the atoms of the solar system into their pattern.
Those are the ingredients of a solar system. Because the consciousness of the Solar Logos has been imprinted with the rhythms and patterns of the Cosmos, its dance imitates the Cosmos, and everything else in its solar system is drawn into that imitation and become parts of a Cosmos in miniature. At the center, in place of the Central Stillness of the Cosmos, is the Solar Logos, and the same pattern of Rings, Circles, and Rays discussed in the commentary to the first part of The Cosmic Doctrine is recreated anew on a smaller scale.
That process doesn’t happen all at once. Remember that the Solar Logos is still part of the Cosmos, and is constantly being influenced as it follows its orbit on the seventh Cosmic plane around the Central Stillness by the Rays through which it passes and by other Great Entities on higher Cosmic planes. Each of these things causes adjustments in the movements of the Logos—that is to say, in the Logoidal consciousness, for in Fortune’s metaphor mind and movement are the same thing—and these adjustments cause corresponding adjustments in the dance of the atoms about the Logos.
Thus the Logos moves in its immense and intricate dance; one after another, the movements of the dance lay down tracks in space; through repetition, the tracks become enduring currents of space, and begin to influence the movements of objects that encounter them. One after another, the structures of the Cosmos are mirrored in the newborn solar system, and every object in the solar system is drawn into those patterns and begins to absorb the imprint of the Cosmos to at least some degree.
The objects that matter most at this stage of the process are the secondary atoms—the atoms created by repeated movements in the solar system, not the Cosmic atoms that existed before the solar system was born. As in the Cosmos, so in the solar system, some atoms are more complex than others. They sort themselves out in exactly the same way, most of them settling out into seven planes, which can be imagined as great concentric circles orbiting the Solar Logos.
(A note on planes is probably in order here. In the Rosicrucian occult philosophy that provides the unstated subtext for The Cosmic Doctrine, there are seven great Cosmic planes, six of which are completely outside our knowledge and understanding; everything we are capable of knowing about exists on the seventh Cosmic plane. The seventh Cosmic plane is divided into seven planes, which are the planes on which our spiritual evolution takes place.
(Each of the seven planes is divided in turn into seven sub-planes or regions; the physical plane, for example, is divided into the solid region, the liquid region, the gaseous region, and four etheric regions, the chemical ether, the life ether, the light ether, and the reflecting ether. Fortune’s students learned all this material from the standard occult literature of the time, and some of the details of The Cosmic Doctrine make more sense if you keep the Cosmic planes, the planes, and the sub-planes separate in your mind.)
There’s an interesting reversal between the Cosmos and the solar system that needs to be kept in mind here as well. In the Cosmos, the seventh Cosmic plane, where the most complex Cosmic atoms settle out, is the plane furthest from the Central Sun. In a solar system, by contrast, the seventh plane is the one nearest the center, and thus closest to the Logos. This is one of the ways that a solar system is a Cosmos turned inside out.
This is crucial here because not all the atoms of the solar system settle out into the seven planes. Some are too complex and become traveling atoms, like the traveling atoms of the Cosmos but on a far smaller scale. The traveling atoms, like their Cosmic equivalents, have a more complex destiny than their simpler cousins; they are imprinted by the Logoidal consciousness—and since this has been conditioned by the Cosmos, the traveling atoms of the solar system receive at second hand the same Cosmic imprint as the traveling atoms of the Cosmos.
In the metaphor, of course, that’s expressed in terms of motion. So you have great numbers of secondary atoms that are too complex to settle out in any of the seven planes of the solar system, and each of these dances in rhythm with the Solar Logos. The dance, as it repeats itself, becomes a track in space echoing the thoughts of the Logos. So these traveling atoms become twofold entities: a complex atom, with a track in space laid down by its attunement with the Logos which governs the motion of the atom.
Since that track in space is pure motion, it is of the same nature as the motions of the Logos and can interact in some sense with the Logoidal consciousness. Since it has been shaped by the motions of the Logoidal consciousness, it contains in embryonic form all the possibilities for reaction that the Logos itself evolved during its long ages as a traveling atom of the Cosmos. The secondary atoms that settle into place in the seven sub-planes have that same potential, but since they don’t come into direct contact with the Logos the potential remains unfulfilled for the time being. In the traveling atoms, that potential becomes a reality. In this way, as already noted, God makes man in His image and likeness.
So we have our secondary traveling atoms. Each one is a set of movements that has become stereotyped through repetition and now acts like an object. Each one also picks up a new set of movements absorbed from the dance of the Solar Logos, which gives it a set of new possibilities for reaction and memory—which, as my readers will recall, is Fortune’s definition of consciousness. Finally, each of these atoms begins to attract other atoms into its dance. These latter are not traveling atoms but ordinary stay-at-home atoms of the seventh plane. These form a body, the seventh-plane body of a new kind of entity.
The original traveling atom is called the seed atom, and Fortune calls it “the beginnings of a vehicle.” The term “vehicle” was much used in the occultism of her time where nowadays occultists prefer “body.” It is overshadowed by the track in space that guides its motions and those of its seventh plane body. As we’ll see, this track in space has a special destiny. If the seventh-plane atoms attracted by the seed atom are the first foreshadowings of a body, the track in space is the first foreshadowings of a spirit, and the composite being made up of these three things is an entity capable of evolution.
Each such entity is a reflection, within the solar system, of a Cosmic atom which is the spiritual essence of that entity. As already noted, Fortune will have little to say about the Cosmic atoms in much of what follows, but they should not be forgotten. The Cosmic atom was there before the solar system was born and will be there after it has dissolved; it enters into manifestation in a solar system for an entire evolution the way a soul enters a body for a single incarnation—and the composite form made up of a seed atom, a track in space, and a seventh plane body is the most basic form of its embodiment, the form you had at the beginning of your own journey through the realms of manifestation.
That’s a key theme to keep in mind as we proceed. We are not talking about things that happened to some other kind of being in some other Cosmos far, far away. What Fortune is trying to communicate, using the nearest approximate metaphor, is your own spiritual biography, the immense journey that brought you to the beginning of this life: as Iolo Morganwg’s Barddas puts it, “through every form capable of body and life to the state of man.” As we proceed further, the applicability of Fortune’s great metaphor to our individual lives will become increasingly clear.
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 July 10. Until then, have at it!