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 9, “The Creation of a Universe,” pp. 44-47.
Millennium Edition: Chapter 8, ‘The Relation of a Great Entity to the Cosmos,” from page 61 to the end of Chapter 9, ‘The Projection of the Concept of the Universe,” p. 66.
To understand the material in this chapter, it’s important to remember one of the crucial points made in last month’s chapter: the concept that motion and consciousness are two ways of talking about the same thing. When one pool ball hits another pool ball and the second ball moves in response, that response is akin—in a very, very simple way—to what happens when an idea enters your mind and interacts with the ideas already in place there. Is that a metaphor? Of course; everything in The Cosmic Doctrine is a metaphor. As we’ll see, though, it’s a metaphor that has a great deal to teach.
This is especially important to keep in mind as our text shifts focus from the Cosmos as a whole to the individual solar system we live in. As the protagonist of our tale gradually changes from traveling atom to Great Entity to Solar Logos—or to say the same thing in different language, as we move from that entity’s relationship to the Cosmos, through its relationship to the solar system it creates, to its relationship to those beings who inhabit that solar system—the metaphors Fortune uses change gears from physics to astronomy to psychology. Those are all ways of talking about the same things, but “the nearest approximate metaphor” changes as the context changes. It’s well to keep that in mind, to avoid the sort of fundamentalism that fixates on the words and loses their meanings.
With that in mind, we plunge at once into the inner brooding of the Great Entity. That being has gone spiraling outward to the seventh Cosmic plane to take up an orbit there, and swept along with it a vast number of other atoms of all seven basic types. It does this while the Cosmic cycles are in their negative or destructive phase. Why? Because it’s in the destructive phases that a settled order is shaken apart and change becomes possible. Once this is over, the Great Entity sorts itself out—we can think of this in terms of movement, as the vast and intricately tangled pattern of “tracks in space” that form the Great Entity settling into a stable equilibrium, or we can think of it in terms of psychology, as the Great Entity brooding over what it has experienced in its long pilgrimage through the Cosmos.
It doesn’t brood over the Cosmos. The Great Entity is entirely unconscious of the Cosmos, in much the same way that you and I are unconscious of the deep processes of our own minds. The Cosmos forms the foundation or, as Fortune says, the conditioning background of the Great Entity. What the Great Entity broods over, rather, is itself. It becomes aware, not merely of this or that sensation within itself, but of itself as a whole. (In terms of motion, we can describe the same process as the achievement of a state of equilibrium in which every motion balances, and is affected by, every other motion.)
That act of self-knowledge brings a universe into being. That’s easy to say and just as easy to misunderstand. Remember that in The Cosmic Doctrine, consciousness is movement, and everything that exists is space moving. The universe that the Great Entity creates is a pattern of movement in space, set in motion by the intricate movements of the Great Entity itself. The pattern of movement gathers up the atoms that have accompanied the Great Entity out to the seventh Cosmic Plane and begins to move them the way the original traveling atom was moved by the great wheeling currents of the Cosmos.
The universe brought into being by the Great Entity’s knowledge of itself isn’t static. While the Great Entity isn’t directly aware of the Cosmos, it is aware of changes in its own state that are caused by the great Cosmic tides. So the Great Entity comes to know itself as a being in time, changing in long slow cycles as the Cosmic tides shift, and changing also in less predictable ways as other Great Entities on other Cosmic planes sweep past in their own orbits and briefly come between our Great Entity and the Central Sun at the heart of the Cosmos. All these changes become part of the Great Entity’s understanding of itself, and shape the pattern of movements in space that surrounds the Great Entity.
The Great Entity is therefore, in Fortune’s words, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe it has brought into being. It is the god of that universe, if you’re a monotheist, or the chief and parent of the gods if you’re a polytheist. Druids in the Revival tradition who work with the Cos.Doc. thus tend to identify the Great Entity with Hu the Mighty, and the tale of his leading the Cymry from Deffrobani to the Island of Britain with the Great Entity’s journey from the Central Sun to the seventh Cosmic plane; readers who prefer other myths and other theologies will likely have no trouble finding something suitable to their needs in their own tradition’s resources.
To say that the Great Entity is the god of the solar system is to court certain misunderstandings, and Fortune does her best to confront those. Is such a god infinite and omnipotent? From the point of view of the universe it creates, sure, because from within that universe the Great Entity defines and shapes everything there is. From the Cosmic point of view, though, the Great Entity is finite and subject to Cosmic conditions; from the point of view of the Unmanifest, meanwhile, the entire Cosmos and everything in it is a pipsqueak phenomenon not worth noticing.
In the space around the Great Entity, though, are the atoms of all seven Cosmic planes that the Great Entity swept along with it as it went out to the seventh Cosmic plane to take up its orbit. Like the Great Entity, these atoms are complex vortices of movement in space, born of the same Cosmic processes as the Great Entity. Unlike the Great Entity, though, they haven’t done the rounds of the Cosmos, moving through the Rings and Rays and absorbing every Cosmic influence from every angle. Think of them as the wallflowers of the Cosmos, waiting nervously for someone to invite them to dance. That’s what the Great Entity did, and now they’re dancing with it, pirouetting around it as it makes its more dignified way around the inconceivably vast arc of the seventh plane.
Those atoms will take on considerably more importance in our narrative as it proceeds. One thing that Fortune mentions a little later on may make them a little more interesting right now, and that’s the far from minor point that you, dear reader, are one of those atoms.
More precisely, the essential spiritual core of you is one of those atoms. Just as the Great Entity started out as a single atom and became a vast and intricate structure of movements in space (i.e., of consciousness) over immense ages of evolution, you started out the same way and are heading in the same direction. The Great Entity is the creator of the solar system in which we exist, the parent and great conditioning force of that solar system, but at the heart of each being in that solar system is something that has its origins in the Cosmos. The Solar Logos is in Fortune’s view not our father but our elder sibling.
(It’s probably worth taking a moment here to remind those of my readers with strong theological opinions that nobody is required to believe The Cosmic Doctrine, in the sense of “believe” normally heard in churches. The Cos.Doc. is not a scripture. It’s a set of metaphors designed to teach certain ways of thinking that are otherwise very difficult to grasp. I’m fairly sure that Fortune did believe that the metaphors of The Cosmic Doctrine were true, to the extent that any statement that can fit inside a human mind can be said to be true, but I’m just as sure that she didn’t make a fuss about that. If you believe other things about God or the gods, bracket Fortune’s claim as a misplaced metaphor; the rest of the story works just as well if you identify the Great Entity as a mighty angelic being, for example.)
Let’s take a moment to follow the Cosmic atom that became you as it moves through the first phases of its existence. Like the traveling atom that became the Great Entity, it came into being in the seething cauldron of forces at the center of the Cosmos, but its basic geometry was such that it drifted out to one of the seven Cosmic planes and stopped there, settling into an orbit while the traveling atoms were preparing for their great adventure along the Rays. For ages it circled around, absorbing the influences of the Rays passively, until finally the Great Entity invited it to dance and the music started to play.
As the Great Entity settled into its orbit on the seventh Cosmic plane and began to bring itself into conscious equilibrium, so did the atom. Since the atom had been through a much narrower range of experiences, that process was much simpler, but your atom and all its companions ended up with their own modest bits of self-knowledge, or to put the same thing another way, their own sets of tracks in space, laying out the range of reactions possible to each. If you like, you can think of the individual atom as the very first and simplest form of soul, and the pattern of reactions in space surrounding it as the very first and simplest form of body.
So we have the Great Entity brooding over its experiences, and the individual atoms that have accompanied it doing the same thing, forming a vast cloud surrounding the Great Entity; and we have the thoughts of the Great Entity becoming movements in space, and drawing the atoms of that cloud into patterns of motion (and thus of consciousness). Since the only thing in the consciousness of the Great Entity are patterns of movement/consciousness that came from the Cosmos, the Great Entity’s brooding draws the cloud of atoms into a replica of the Cosmos.
So seven planes appear, each one stocked with atoms drawn from the corresponding Cosmic plane—the first plane with atoms from the first Cosmic plane, and so on out to the seventh plane with atoms of the seventh Cosmic plane. Each of the planes divides in turn into seven sub-planes; these are called Regions in the Rosicrucian teachings from which Fortune seems to have derived some of her cosmology, but we’ll stick to her term here. Each sub-plane represents one set of possible reactions on the part of atoms of that plane, and—since substance in The Cosmic Doctrine is always and only movement in space—as the atoms of each plane act out those reactions repeatedly, they create substance.
From this point on, as a result, it’s necessary to draw a distinction between the original atoms of the seven Cosmic planes, on the one hand, and the patterns laid down by their movements within the solar system, on the other. Fortune calls the first set Cosmic atoms, reasonably enough, and uses the bare term “atoms” hereafter for the latter. A little later on, as the Cosmic atoms take up their role as the spiritual essences of beings otherwise composed of ordinary atoms, the Cosmic atoms will get another name: Divine Sparks.
The Divine Sparks ultimately belong to the Cosmos, not to the solar system in which they dance. They are younger siblings of the Great Entity, and while they dance in the pattern the Great Entity’s brooding sets in motion, that’s not the only force that influences them. That’s where the idea of the Great Entity as an infinite and omnipotent god becomes complex, because the Great Entity may be infinite and omnipotent in terms of its solar system but it’s not quite either of these in relation to the Divine Sparks. They know nothing outside the solar system, but they are still influenced by the background of the Cosmos.
Each Cosmic atom, to be specific, is influenced by the Cosmic plane where it orbited for all those ages, and when Great Entities of that plane come close, the Cosmic atoms that came from that plane are affected by it. Thus the Divine Sparks or Cosmic atoms aren’t simply puppets of the Solar Logos, the Great Entity at the heart of their solar system. They have their own independent reactions. At times they will contend with the Solar Logos, and the Logos will contend with them—and out of this intricate fabric of contention, compromise, and ultimately cooperation, the solar system takes shape and seeks its destiny.
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 April 10. Until then, have at it!