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 19, “The Logoidal Relationship to the Manifested Universe,” pp. 89-91.
Millennium Edition: Chapter 21, “The Logoidal Relationship to the Manifested Universe,” pp. 121 through the end of the second paragraph on p. 124, ending with “…the positive evil of the manifested universe.”
As we proceed further into Fortune’s discussion of human evolution, more and more of the concepts already discussed in the Cos. Doc. will be brought into play, because our evolution as individuals and as a species does not take place in a vacuum. We are able to be what we are, and to evolve in the way we do, because the Earth and the solar system more generally have passed through long cycles of evolution before we came on the scene.
Our minds and their capacities were built by the labors of the Lords of Mind; the bodies we indwell and the planet we live on were shaped by the Lords of Form; the basic patterns of this solar system were laid down by the Lords of Flame; these first three swarms were able to become what they are, and to build the solar system as it is, because of the work of the Solar Logos—and behind the Logos we can dimly glimpse its own vast evolutionary history as a Great Entity and a traveling atom, with the emergence of the Rings, Circles, and Rays of the Cosmos as the background to the Solar Logos itself.
To make sense of this short but intricate chapter, it’s important to remember that the Solar Logos is the mediator between the Cosmos and the solar system it has created and conditioned. The Logos is fully conscious of its solar system and everything within it. It is not conscious, though, of the Cosmic background that works through it. In terms borrowed from human psychology, the Cosmos affects the Logoidal subconscious, and the Logos becomes conscious of the Cosmic influences affecting it only when those influences flow through it to affect its solar system.
This, as Fortune explains, is an important part of what the swarms of Divine Sparks do. As each swarm proceeds down the seven planes of the solar system, passing from world to world and accomplishing its subjective evolution on each world in turn, the swarm takes some factor in the Logoidal subconscious and embodies it in itself and the worlds it inhabits. On the way back up the planes, in turn, the swarm awakens into objective consciousness on each plane and becomes consciously aware of the factor that it has established—and when it returns to the Logos, the Logos becomes conscious of the same factor. The entire arc of evolution within a solar system is thus the process by which the Logos of that solar system becomes conscious of everything that it embodied unconsciously during its long journey up and down the rays as a traveling atom.
There is a rhythm to this process, however, and it’s one we have already encountered in other contexts in Fortune’s grand metaphor. The Logos alternates between positive and negative periods, or to put things another way, it spends some periods focused on objective awareness of its solar system and other periods in a subjective condition of absorption in Cosmic realities. Fortune compares this explicitly to the human process of reincarnation. The sending out of the swarms is equivalent to the process of incarnation; their return to the Logos is what we call death; and the period between one swarm and the next, when the Logos contemplates what it has learned and is withdrawn into its own consciousness, is equivalent to the state human beings enter into between lives.
It’s a useful metaphor, worth close meditation as a way to help the student understand the relationship between the Individuality (the part of the self that endures from life to life) and the Personality (the part of the self that comes into being with each new body and dissolves at its death). Another metaphor is also worth considering, however, because the dance of the Logos and the swarms of Divine Sparks is also closely parallel to the human experience of waking and sleep. We wake up each day and enter into objective consciousness, go out into the world, and encounter whatever we encounter; at day’s end, when we go to sleep, we settle back into subjective consciousness, and our dreams are dim echoes of the processes by which we absorb the experiences of the day into our mental structure.
(This kind of nesting of metaphors, by the way—in the present example, waking and sleep = life and death = the positive and negative phases of the Solar Logos = the positive and negative phases of the Cosmos—is very common in occult philosophy. To the occult teacher, having an abstract notion of some Cosmic process doesn’t mean much; the goal of occult teaching is to enable students to understand such processes, and that inevitably means finding comparisons and metaphors for them in the realm of ordinary human experience. Of course that makes the use of metaphor inevitable. You can replace each of the equals signs in the equation above with the words “is metaphorically equivalent to” and yield a more accurate result.)
Of course there’s a reason why Fortune focuses on life and death as her core metaphor in this chapter, or more precisely several related reasons. First of all, very few people worry that when they go to sleep they won’t wake up the next morning; in Western industrial societies, the same thing is not true of death, and getting past the mistaken notion that equates death with absolute extinction is an important step in occult education. (As she points out in one of her essays, it’s something that should be taught far more widely than it is.) Second, if you understand reincarnation, you understand a great deal about the overall trajectory of the soul through time, and this makes it a good deal easier to assess your current life and figure out what to do with the challenges and opportunities that confront you.
On another, deeper level, understanding where you’re going is useful if you’re going to further the process of getting there, and that’s what the next section of the text is meant to do. Here Fortune talks about the goal of all the backings and forthings of swarms and incarnations. For the Logos to awaken fully to its own potential, as already noted, it needs swarms of souls to act out in objective consciousness everything the Logos contains in its subjective consciousness, so it can experience its own internal content objectively, as though standing outside itself. Each time a swarm of Divine Sparks does this, in turn, the subjective content of the Logos that the swarm is sent out to make manifest becomes part of the objective solar system. In Fortune’s terms, it becomes a new set of tracks in space, and so the solar system forever after mirrors that part of the Logoidal mind.
At the endpoint of this process, everything in the Logoidal consciousness is manifest throughout the seven planes of the solar system. The creation has become an exact copy of its Creator; more precisely, it has become the sevenfold body of its Creator, the perfect outward expression of the Solar Logos. In terms of Fortune’s quirky but devout Christianity, this is the coming of the Kingdom of God. Before then—and in her view we have a long way to go until that time arrives—the words of the teacher she liked to call the Master Jesus are relevant: “The Kingdom of God is within you.” In Fortune’s terms, the Divine Spark that guides the seed-atom at the center of your sevenfold body is in rapport with the Solar Logos, and expresses through you as much of the Logoidal nature as you have evolved the ability to work with. Until the process of unfolding the Logoidal nature is complete, that’s as close to the Logos as you can come.
And after the process is complete? Having awakened to complete objective consciousness of its own nature, the Solar Logos directs its attention to the Cosmos, where it can now begin a new phase of activity, about which we can grasp absolutely nothing. All the tracks in space that formed the solar system have been synthesized into the Logoidal mind and exist as realities on the Cosmic level, and so they no longer function within the solar system. The solar system therefore dissolves back into formless atomic movement, which Fortune calls the “Night of Brahma” in the Millennum edition and the “Night of God” in the revised edition. There will be a new day following that night—the entire logic of Fortune’s system requires this—but here again, we cannot even begin to understand what it would be like when the Solar Logos, having absorbed another vast array of new experiences from another round of Cosmic experience, settles back down into the dream of the solar system to process those experiences and rebuild the solar system in their image.
Here again, though, as above, so below: the vast cycles of experience through which the Solar Logos grows and evolves are mirrored in the cycles we undergo as individuals and as souls. At the end of each life, we withdraw from material existence so that we can bring together the lessons of a life’s worth of experiences, and prepare for a new cycle of experiences in a new incarnation. In the same way, at the end of each evolution, we withdraw from manifest existence entirely so that we can bring together the lessons of hundreds or thousands of lives in many different forms, and prepare for a new cycle of experiences in a new evolution.
Why is this necessary? In the last part of this chapter, Fortune explores some of the reasons behind the alternation of periods of manifestation and periods of dissolution, and in the process lays the foundations for crucial points discussed later on in the volume.
The pause between each swarm—the Lesser Night—is necesary because the Logos needs to synthesize the experiences the previous swarm has brought to it. This allows each new swarm to begin its journey with a richer set of reaction capacities than those that went before it. Since each swarm has the task of bringing part of the Logoidal consciousness into manifestation in harmony with what has already been manifested, its members need to begin their journey with all the experiences of the earlier swarms in their subjective consciousness. In the language of Fortune’s metaphor, it takes time for the Divine Sparks to come into rapport with the rhythm of the Logos, and while that takes place, the solar system sleeps.
The substance of each of the seven planes, however, is not just sitting there waiting for the Divine Sparks to set it moving in new ways. One of the basic principles of Fortune’s metaphor is that once set in motion, tracks in space keep moving, and so all the forms created by previous swarms are still in place, potentially or actually, waiting for souls of the next life-wave to inhabit them. This is problematic for two reasons—the first being that, as we’ve just seen, each new swarm of Divine Sparks begins its descent into matter at a greater level of complexity than the last, and problems ensue when the newcomers build bodies of matter that naturally moves in ways better suited to less complex souls. This is retrogressive, and forces a certain degree of deformity on the incarnated souls.
The second reason is even more serious. Part of what shapes the matter of each plane is the working out of the Logoidal ideas by previous swarms, but from the time of the Lords of Mind onward, part of it is epigenesis—the free play of Divine Sparks exploring their own possibilities and those of the plane they inhabit. The Logoidal ideas are profoundly simple, but the reaction-capacities of the souls who embody those ideas are immensely complex and by no means always appropriate either to the Logoidal ideas or to any given plane of manifestation.
This, as discussed earlier in these commentaries, is the origin of positive evil—not the negative evil that is the thrust-block of Cosmic inertia, but evil in the ethical sense of the word. In a sufficiently complex consciousness, epigenesis becomes what in ordinary speech is called “free will.” It’s easy to misunderstand this. Epigenesis happens any time you have one process that produces random results and another process that picks and chooses among the results, in terms of some set of preferences or goals. The result is one kind of freedom—movement toward a desired set of ends via unpredictable paths.
Epigenesis develops into “free will” when the picking and choosing process turns back on itself, and the preferences or goals are reinforced or discarded depending on the results of actions guided by the first kind of epigenesis. We all do this: “Now that I’ve tried this, I realize that it was a bad idea all along.” The result is a second kid of freedom—movement toward unpredictable ends via unpredictable paths. That second kind of freedom is the source of creativity and novelty in the world, but it is also the source of positive evil, since epigenesis that becomes recursive and changes its own goals can run off the rails into self-destructive and self-defeating modes of thought and action.
All these vagaries are eventually synthesized by the Solar Logos, but “eventually” takes its sweet time arriving. Meanwhile, positive evil shapes the substance of the seven planes of the solar system, and each swarm that makes its pilgrimage down the planes has to deal with substance that has the habit of moving in directions shaped by epigenesis—and by positive evil. The resulting wrestling match between the Logoidal idea expressed by the Divine Spark and the various modes of positive evil woven into the substance of the various bodies can be observed in action in the ethical literature of every culture and era.
That is what the Greater Night clears away. When all the reaction-capacities of the Cosmos are taken up into the Logos and synthesized, the seven planes of the solar system dissolve into uncoordinated tangential movement. It’s as though the Solar Logos will hit the reset button for the solar system and bring everything back to its original simplicity and purity, so the new Day of God or Brahma can begin with a clean slate. Until that happens—and in Fortune’s view, at least, that time is still long ages in the future—we have to contend with the legacies of the swarms that came down the planes before us, for good or ill, and work out our destinies and that of the solar system in that context.
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 March 11th, 2020. Until then, have at it!