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 14, “The Evolution of a Planetary Being,” pp. 65-69.
Millennium Edition: Chapter 15, “Evolution of the First Planetary Form,” pp. 91-96.
This chapter continues the discussion of planetary evolution started in the previous chapter, “The Evolution of the Divine Sparks,” adding additional details to this phase of Fortune’s grand metaphor. Fortune begins by briefly recapitulating the themes of the previous chapter, and then spends several paragraphs reviewing the structure of the individual entities that have come into being at this stage of the evolutionary process. It’s worth taking the time to work through what she’s saying here, because it provides—in metaphoric terms, of course—a key to that very large branch of occult philosophy that deals with the subtle bodies of the individual human being.
Fortune sorts out the different parts of the entity as follows:
The Cosmic atom or Traveling Atom—this is the essential core of the entity, the one part that partakes of the reality of the Cosmos and does not simply belong to the dream-body of the Solar Logos—or as we call it, the solar system. Like the Solar Logos, it came into being out of the play of energies in the Central Sun of the Cosmos, but was insufficiently complex to set out as the Solar Logos did on the long journey up and down the twelve great Rays, and settled down instead on one of the seven Cosmic Planes surrounding the Central Sun. It then was gathered up by the gravitational attraction of the Great Entity as that being swept out to the Seventh Plane to become the Solar Logos of our system. The Traveling Atoms then, by their uncoordinated movements, created the patterns of movement in space that became the atomic raw material of the solar system.
As Cosmic realities, the Traveling Atoms are real in a way the atoms of the solar system are not. They are also far more primitive, because the atoms of the solar system, once the Logos begins to coordinate them, receive the imprint of the Logoidal awareness and absorb some of its complexity. The long history of the soul, in Fortune’s metaphor, is the process by which a Cosmic atom not yet prepared to make the journey through the twelve Cosmic rays is prepared for that journey through its initiation by the Solar Logos.
The Seed-Atom—this is the atom within the solar system created by the steady rhythmic movement of the Traveling Atom at rest, and therefore is most directly connected to the Traveling Atom. You can think of it as the representation of the Traveling Atom within the dream-body of the Solar Logos. You can also think of it as the Lower Self or Personality in relation to the Traveling Atom as Higher Self or Individuality.
The Divine Spark—this is the pattern of abstract movement set in motion by the Solar Logos, which affects the Seed-Atom and functions as the first template of its mind. Each Seed-Atom has such a pattern linked with it, created by the movements of the Seed-Atom in response to the vast and complex dance of the Solar Logos. If the Seed-Atom is the Lower Self and the Traveling Atom is the Higher Self, the Divine Spark is the guardian angel, which is set to watch over the Lower Self until such time as it is able to contact and unite with its own Higher Self, and begin to act on the Cosmic level.
The Seven Shells—these are the bodies the Seed-Atom gathers around itself by its own repetitive movements, and are made of the atomic matter created by the Traveling Atoms in the early days of the solar system. Each Traveling Atom has its own ordinary rhythmic motion, which forms its associated Seed-Atom, but each Traveling Atom also makes other movements in response to the various influences impinging on it from the Logos and from other Traveling Atoms, and when these become rhythmic they create atoms. From the mass of unorganized atomic matter thus produced, each Seed-Atom gathers up a certain number of atoms in its dance, and those form its body on whatever plane it then inhabits.
As we saw in the previous chapter, the Seed-Atoms make their way outward through the seven planes of the solar system, and in each plane they evolve the capacity to build a body of the matter of that plane. Those bodies are the seven shells Fortune discusses. In her taxonomy, they belong to the physical-etheric (1st), lower astral (2nd), upper astral (3rd), lower mental (4th), upper mental (5th), lower spiritual (6th), and upper spiritual (7th) planes. Each Seed-Atom evolves the capacity to build a seventh plane body first, and then adds the others one at a time as it descends the planes to the plane of dense matter, the one we perceive with our senses.
Note the phrasing above: each Seed-Atom evolves the capacity to build a body of the matter of each plane. In terms of Fortune’s metaphor, that capacity consists of a network of tracks in space laid down by repetitive motion, into which atoms of the appropriate plane are then drawn. Exactly the same process leads to the emergence of another category of beings, the one with whom this chapter is chiefly concerned: the Planetary Spirits. (These are called Planetary Beings in the revised edition of Fortune’s text, but I prefer the original term “Planetary Spirit,” as it refers usefully to older occult traditions.)
The Planetary Spirits are “creations of the created,” to use a term Fortune deploys extensively in other parts of her writing. They are not, as the Solar Logos and the Cosmic atoms are, realities on the planes that transcend the solar system; they exist entirely within the solar system, and they are not created not by the Solar Logos, the god of the solar system. They are independent beings in their own right, however, and as waves of evolution pass over them, they themselves evolve, becoming vast and complex thinking beings in their own right. The Planetary Spirit of the Earth is the being that systems ecologists call Gaia, the natural philosophers of an earlier time called Nature, and the natural religions of the world describe as the goddess of the Earth. She passed through immense cycles of evolution long before you and I started on our own evolutionary journey, and our lives on Earth are conditioned by her consciousness.
As already hinted, the evolutionary process that brought her and the other Planetary Spirits of this solar system into being echoes the process by which the Seed-Atoms acquire bodies. As we saw in the previous chapter, the Planetary Spirits are created by the activities of the swarms of Seed-Atoms guided by their Divine Sparks. Each swarm, as it forms itself into a planetary mass and goes through its evolution on the resulting planet, creates a set of tracks in space that will affect all other entities, and all atomic matter, that come into contact with it. Thus the first swarm builds the planetary forms as it proceeds on its way from the seventh to the first plane; every subsequent swarm is drawn into the form already established. Once it has finished absorbing the influences left behind by previous swarms, it elaborates the pattern of tracks in space further, taking the evolution of the Planetary Spirit further. In the process, each swarm gives the Planetary Spirit the capacity to build the same body the swarm itself is learning how to build in that phase of its evolution.
Did you catch Fortune setting another of her traps for the literal-minded here? The way the metaphor was set out in the previous chapter, each planet exists on its own plane, and each swarm comes to the planet, learns how to build new bodies of the matter of that plane, and then goes on. In the next chapter we’ll be given a different metaphor, according to which the planet of the seventh plane just has seventh-plane matter, the planet on the sixth plane has matter of the seventh and sixth planes, and so on down to the planet on the first plane, which has matter of all seven planes. In this chapter, by contrast, each planet gradually picks up the capacity to build bodies of all seven kinds of matter, until each planet has the capacity to take a swarm of Divine Sparks all the way through the process of evolution right there, on its own surface.
Fortune stresses that the Divine Sparks don’t have to go from planet to planet to gain the ability to take on an additional body, since atoms of all types are everywhere—another shift from the metaphor in the previous chapter, in which the atoms of each type form separate rings extending outward from the Solar Logos. Which of these is the truth about the way the solar system was built? Ahem. “These images are not descriptive but symbolic, and are designed to train the mind, not to inform it.” The Cosmic Doctrine is not a textbook of astrophysics. It’s a set of metaphors meant to teach you to think in certain ways, so that you can understand the universe in a way that furthers the process of initiation.
Of the various ways to think about Planetary Spirits and the Solar Logos, for what it’s worth, the one that comes closest to the way astrophysicists currently talk about the genesis of planets and the sun is the one given in this chapter. There are, in fact, eight planets circling the sun—Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune—along with a flurry of moons, another flurry of dwarf planets such as Ceres, Pluto, and Sedna, not to mention the asteroid belt, the Kuiper belt, and the Van Oort Cloud out there at the solar system’s blurry edges. Getting all this to fit into some kind of sevenfold order would require enough stretching and chopping to put Procrustes to shame.
Thus, if you want to think about the genesis of the actual planet you’re standing on, you can think of each planet as starting out as a pattern of stresses created on the upper spiritual plane by the actions of the first of the swarms—the Lords of Flame, as we’ll be calling them shortly—and being given additional bodies by each of the subsequent swarms, until they each finally sweep up their quota of dust and gases and become physical planets. That said, thinking about the genesis of the actual planet you’re standing on is not the only thing Fortune has in mind here, and the other metaphors also have their place in the structure of ideas Fortune is building.
In terms of this chapter’s metaphor, however, we have a sequence of planets, each with its own Planetary Being. These beings are far from identical, for each one is powerfully shaped by the stage of evolution the Lords of Flame had reached when they were building the Planetary Being’s initial structure. Here we have the basis, in terms of Fortune’s metaphor, for the differing influences of the planets in astrology. On these planets, various beings go through the process of evolution, taking on forms of increasing complexity so that they can absorb the patterns of abstract movement that underlie the forms, and so develop their own capacities.
And the goal of this whole process? That’s the last theme Fortune develops in this chapter.
Each of the entities we’ve been discussing, as already noted, consists of a Cosmic atom linked to a series of movement-patterns within the aura or dream-body of the Solar Logos—the Seed Atom, the Divine Spark, and the seven shells forming its bodies on each plane. The Seed Atom is a creation of the Cosmic atom, the Divine Spark is a creation of the Solar Logos, and the atoms forming the seven shells were created by the Cosmic atoms collectively through their uncoordinated movements at the dawn of the solar system.
The Cosmic atom itself, though, was not created at all—not created, at least, in any sense relevant to the things of the solar system. The Cosmic atom is a younger brother or sister of the Solar Logos, born as the Logos was, out of the surging energies of the Central Sun of the Cosmos. As the Seed Atom linked with it goes through the mighty dance of evolution with the Solar Logos, the Seed Atom gradually increases in complexity and power until it can identify itself with the Cosmic atom that created it. Once this happens, the Cosmic atom has reached a level of complexity and power sufficient to become a Traveling Atom in the Cosmos, and go through the long journey up and down the twelve great Rays that will eventually prepare it to become the Logos of a solar system of its own.
“These last details have never been revealed before,” Fortune says. In making that claim, she’s prevaricating, because they may have been new to the English occult scene in 1949 but they were far from new in any other sense. A nearly identical scheme of cosmic evolution has played a central role in the theology of the Mormon church since well before the death of Joseph Smith in 1844. Where Smith came by it is an interesting question, and I’m by no means prepared to dismiss out of hand the claim that he got it from the angel Moroni—John Dee, very much to his dismay, was introduced to the concept of reincarnation by an angel named Madimi in 1586—but similar ideas can be found all through American occultism and alternative spirituality in the 19th century, and Smith was far from being the illiterate farm boy who sometimes features in both pro- and anti-Mormon literature.
How literally should this part of the metaphor be taken? Any of my readers who happen to be Mormons, or find themselves entranced by such grand visions of Cosmic evolution, are welcome to take it as literally as they wish. My own take, for whatever that’s worth, is that if evolution has some kind of goal—which is frankly an open question—and if that goal is the same for every single being in the Cosmos—which strikes me as a highly questionable claim at best—then the nature of that goal would inevitably be far beyond the reach of the very modest mental capacities possessed by human beings.
What remains to us is metaphor. Christian evangelists in the eighteenth century trying to find a way to talk about the bliss of Heaven to audiences of working class people exhausted by sixteen-hour days in the shrieking clamor and smoke-filled darkness of early industrial factories got the idea across by picturing a realm of luminous clouds and unbroken rest where the loudest sound was the soft plucking of harp strings. In much the same way, the idea of each individual soul becoming the Solar Logos of a future solar system and presiding over the process by which more souls take the same path is, among other things, a potent way to talk about the way that each initiate becomes capable of passing on initiation, whether in the formal setting of a magical lodge or in casual interactions in the course of ordinary life. What other meanings might be extracted from this aspect of the metaphor, and whether to give Fortune’s proposal any credence at all on a less metaphoric level, is up to each individual student of The Cosmic Doctrine.
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 September 11. Until then, have at it!