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 16, “The Influences of the Lords of Flame, Form, and Mind,” pp. 76-79.
Millennium Edition: Chapter 17, “The Influences of the Regents upon the Globes,” pp. 104-106.
Last month’s commentary discussed the journey of the three primal swarms of Divine Sparks—the Lords of Flame, Form, and Mind—from the Solar Logos through the seven planes of being to the material plane, forming planets and Planetary Spirits as they go. This month we’ll explore the return journey, which is equally important. On the way down, the three swarms had the job of learning how to function on each of the seven planes, building bodies for themselves out of the substance of each plane, and in the process creating the planets and ensouling them with their Planetary Spirits.
On the way back up, they have a new task waiting for them, because there are other swarms of Divine Sparks following them. In place of the raw atomic matter they dealt with on the descent, they now have to cope with swarms of conscious beings, less developed than they are but of the same general type. That begins the moment the Lords of Flame finish their work on the seventh globe and return to the sixth globe, because the sixth globe at that point is still inhabited by the Lords of Form, who are just getting started on their own work on that plane.
They’re just getting started, in turn, because of the distinctive way they descend the planes. As noted in the previous chapter, the Lords of Form don’t go down the planes in a single journey; they return to the Solar Logos between their experiences on each of the worlds, and then have to work their way back down to the next world in order. So they’re still traveling while the Lords of Flame are busy building the pattern of energetic stresses that forms the subtle body of the seventh globe, and they and the Lords of Flame thus end up inhabiting the sixth globe together.
The Lords of Flame, having already experienced the sixth globe, can perceive it as something separate from themselves—in the words of our text, they have objective consciousness, the state of which human waking consciousness is a first very rough draft—and so they can also perceive the Lords of Form at work on it. The Lords of Form don’t yet have that capacity. They perceive only their own internal states—in the words of our text, they have subjective consciousness, like the consciousness human beings have while dreaming. So the Lords of Form don’t perceive the higher evolution inhabiting the same world they do.
That lack of awareness, though, doesn’t equal a lack of effect. Dion Fortune uses an awkward bit of phrasing—“the impactation of a cyclic rhythm inducing a vibration”—for a phenomenon that’s utterly familiar to anyone who’s ever given a push to a child’s swing or set a cradle in motion. That gentle repeated push—the “cyclic rhythm”—sets the pushed object swinging. That’s what the presence of the Lords of Flame does to the Lords of Form; the bodies the Lords of Form are building vibrate to the beat of of the complex rhythm laid down by the Lords of Flame, and as a result the Lords of Form end up with capacities in that body that embody the experiences of the Lords of Flame as well as their own.
As the Lords of Form complete their evolution on the sixth globe, they become indirectly aware of the Lords of Flame; they haven’t yet awakened into objective consciousness, but they can begin to notice that something’s affecting the bodies they’ve just finished forming. Then the two swarms finish their work on the sixth globe; the Lords of Form go through the complex process described in the previous chapter, shedding their bodies to provide matter for the globe they’ve been on, and return to the Solar Logos to begin the journey down the planes one last time. The Lords of Flame, having finished their work on the sixth globe in the returning arc, move to the fifth globe—and the Lords of Mind, who have been waiting on the fifth globe, proceed at once to the now-vacant sixth globe.
Once they’re on the fifth globe, the Lords of Flame busy themselves with the evolutionary work they need to do there. On the way out, they built bodies of the matter of each plane, and absorbed the rhythms and capacities of that plane; now, on the way back, they have achieved objective consciousness, and so they have to learn how to perceive and work with the other things and beings on each plane, using the body of that plane as a vehicle. They also interact with the swarm of divine sparks that’s inhabiting that plane on the descending arc. The nature of that interaction varies from plane to plane and from swarm to swarm, but there’s a generic term for that entire class of interactions, and that term is “initiation.’ We’ll discuss that more a little further on.
It’s important to remember here that the Lords of Flame, Form, and Mind are only the first three swarms—they’re not the only swarms. The same process that set them in motion set other swarms following the same route after them, and each of those following swarms follows the same pattern on the descent as the Lords of Mind: advancing to a new planet once the previous swarm moves on, busying itself with the work of its own evolution, finishing that up, and then waiting until it’s time to move further on. That waiting period is when epigenesis takes place—that’s the process, remember, through which random movements give rise to new capacities in the Divine Sparks, giving each of them their own individual characters and possibilities. The Lords of Flame and Form don’t engage in epigenesis, and so never become individuals. The Lords of Mind and those that come after them are individualized beings.
There’s a crucial difference between the Lords of Mind and the swarms that come after them, though. In the course of their evolutionary journey, the Lords of Mind never encounter another swarm further along than themselves. When they leave the fifth globe for the sixth, the Lords of Flame leave the sixth globe for the fifth, so they miss each other. Similarly, when the Lords of Form vacate the seventh globe on the return arc, heading back up the planes to the sixth, the Lords of Mind go from the sixth globe to the seventh to complete their outward arc. Once the Lords of Mind start back up the planes, they find the globes fully tenanted, and the next chapter will describe the work they do there as initiators of individual beings.
The beings that follow the Lords of Mind down the planes, though, encounter the three primal swarms on the way down, and are transformed by the encounter, receiving capacities for action and perception they would not be able to attain so quickly on their own. Again, this is the basic pattern of all initiation. The initiations that humans confer on other humans in magical lodges have the effects they do, according to Fortune’s metaphor, because they follow the “tracks in space” laid down by elder swarms of Divine Sparks as they interact with younger swarms.
The exact nature of these primal initiations, though, depends on which plane the younger swarm is on when it encounters each of the primal swarms. The process of descending the planes is, among other things, the process of building a body on each plane, and so whatever body your Divine Spark built while it interacted with the Lords of Flame is the body that resonates most closely with the primary forces of nature, because those forces were created and are commanded by the Lords of Flame. Similarly, whatever body your divine spark built while it interacted with the Lords of Form is the body that interacts most closely with the bodies of other Divine Sparks, since the Lords of Form created and command all bodies.
The Lords of Mind can’t be categorized so neatly. The first two primal swarms never individualize, and so they initiate the younger swarms collectively. The third swarm consists of individualized beings, and so its members seek out individuals of the younger swarms who are suited for whatever initiation each individual Lord of Mind has to pass on, and communicate that initiation to those Divine Sparks and to them alone. The younger Divine Sparks are still capable only of subjective consciousness; they become aware of their initiators only indirectly, and only at the point when they and the initiators are both ready to move on; but the initiations stay with the Divine Sparks, and when they awaken into objective consciousness on the seventh globe, those initiations enable the younger Divine Sparks to renew contact with the Lords of Mind in a fully conscious and intentional manner. (How that happens will be discussed at quite some length in later chapters.)
For now, let’s follow the three primal swarms back up the planes. On the way down, the task before them was to enter ever more completely into the planes of manifestation, to build bodies of each plane and to accept the limits of that plane in order to master its conditions and develop a corresponding set of capacities in themselves. They do all this in a state of subjective consciousness similar to the dream-state or, to use an even more appropriate metaphor, the state of consciousness of an unborn child in the womb.
Once they awaken to objective consciousness on the seventh globe, the task before the primal swarms—and every member of every subsequent swarm as well—is to let go of the limitations of each plane while retaining the capacities that those limits have developed. When this has been accomplished, the body corresponding to that plane falls away, but the capacity to form a temporary body of the matter of that plane remains. The Divine Spark then rises further and does the same thing on the next plane up. When the process completes itself on the upper spiritual plane, the plane of the first globe, the divine spark has become a fully individuated being, capable of ranging up and down the planes at will, and becoming embodied on any of them whenever this is convenient.
How that works, again, will be discussed at great length later on. For now, it’s useful to remember that the three primal swarms interact with the planets they dwell on in significantly different ways. The Lords of Flame, again, are the creators and masters of the forces of nature, and they interact with the Divine Sparks of each swarm collectively, giving an entire swarm certain capacities for mastering the forces of nature in their turn. The Lords of Form are the creators and masters of bodies, and they work on the substances of the planets rather than on the Divine Sparks who dwell there. The Lords of Mind, finally, are individuals and work with individual Divine Sparks, choosing those who can best respond to the initiations they have to offer, and thus contributing to the diversity and complexity of each of the later swarms.
Before we finish this chapter, it may be helpful to think about how you and I fit into this grand scheme. As human beings in the present cycle of our evolution, we are on the seventh globe, the globe of the etheric and physical plane, in the process of awakening from subjective to objective consciousness. (We’re still in the middle of that process, which is why we have to spend some time out of every twenty-four hours or so in subjective consciousness—that’s called “going to sleep”—and why so many of us have such a hard time thinking clearly about much of anything.)
All the Divine Sparks currently tenanting this globe belong to the same swarm we do; epigenesis being what it is, some of us are further ahead and some of us are further behind, which is why some souls became saints and masters in the distant past and others are still doing time as blue-green algae. All of us will work our way through the lessons of the etheric/physical plane in due time. Right now on the sixth globe, the globe of the lower astral plane, there are two more swarms, an older one getting ready to rise up to the fifth globe and a younger one waiting to take our place on the seventh once we finish our work here and rise up to the sixth, incalculably long ages from now.
You, dear reader, have received certain capacities for shaping the forces of nature from the Lords of Flame, but you share these capacities with every other member of our swarm of Divine Sparks. Your bodies—you have more than one of those, remember, because each globe has the substances of all the higher globes present in it—have been shaped by patterns impressed on the raw materials of this planet by the Lords of Form; these, too, you have in common with every other member of our swarm. Finally, long before you first entered into a material body, you received certain initiations from one or more of the Lords of Mind, and you do not share these with every other member of our swarm; your individual mind, as it awakens from subjective to objective consciousness, has certain capacities it shares with certain other minds in our swarm but not with all, and the specific set of capacities you have—the specific initiations you have received, and then went on to develop through epigenesis on your own—is unique to you.
That’s where you stand in Fortune’s great metaphor. In the chapters to come, the focus will shift from where we are and how we got here to where we go next, and how.
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 November 13. Until then, have at it!