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 17, “The Lords of Mind as Initiators,” pp. 80-83.
Millennium Edition: Chapter 18, “The Goal of Evolution of a Life Swarm,” from the fifth complete paragraph on p. 109 (“It is a peculiarity of all vibratory objects…”) to the end of the chapter.
Over the course of the last several chapters, we’ve covered the journey made by each of the three primal swarms from the upper spiritual plane all the way down to the plane of matter, where they awakened into objective consciousness and began the corresponding journey back up the planes. We’ve also talked about the swarms that follow the three primal swarms down the planes and then back up them again, and hinted at some of the ways that the primal swarms interact with the younger swarms that follow them down and then back up the planes.
The primal swarms are able to interact with the younger swarms in certain ways. The Lords of Flame and Form, who are not individualized beings, interact with the following swarms collectively rather than individually. The Lords of Mind, on the other hand, are fully individualized, and they can select individual members of the following swarms to initiate. Both these means of interaction are of crucial importance as we proceed, because the influence of elder swarms on younger swarms plays an increasingly important role in evolution as the solar system’s history unfolds.
To talk about this, Dion Fortune uses a metaphor that is precise but not always transparent to readers today. “It is a peculiarity of all vibratory objects,” she says, “that they tend to tune with their own vibrations all objects of a slower rhythm than themselves.” This is quite true, by the way—a vibrating object tends to make other objects vibrate in tune with it. Operatic sopranos used to use a trick based on this to show off the power and precision of their voices; they would sing at a note that made a wine glass vibrate, and then suddenly shift to another, discordant note. The two sets of vibrations clashed and the glass literally exploded.
Metaphorically speaking, the same effect is used in a more constructive way by Divine Sparks on the way back up the planes as they interact with members of younger swarms on the way down. The elder being can communicate to the younger some of the capacities it has evolved on its journey, thus giving the younger being a substantial head start in the process of evolution. That’s the nature and the purpose of initiation, and much of the rest of this chapter is among other things a discussion of how initiation works—veiled, of course, under the convenient concealment of the nearest approximate metaphor.
In Fortune’s great cosmic metaphor there are three general classes of initiation. There are the initiations of the descending arc, which are discussed early on in this chapter. There are the initiations of the ascending arc, which are mentioned at in this chapter but not discussed in detail until later. Then there is the initiation of the Nadir, the point at which the direction of movement changes and descent gives way to ascent; this is also discussed later on.
The initiations of the descending arc are useful here as illustrations precisely because most of them are far in our past, long before the swarm of which we are part finished the long journey down the planes to the world of material incarnation. We all know on some level what it means to descend fully into matter, because we have all done exactly that at an earlier stage in the evolution of our individual souls. We all have some sense, however subconscious, of what is involved in descending through each of the planes above the material, adapting to the greater density and inertia of each new plane in turn, because that experience has left enduring traces in us. That helps us grasp the very different phenomena of the initiations of the Nadir and the ascending arc.
It’s a classic bit of strategy that having started talking about initiation, Fortune suddenly veers in what looks like a new direction and begins to talk instead about what happens when the first three swarms complete the ascending arc and return to the Solar Logos. She’s not actually talking about something else, for what happens between the primal swarms and the Logos is a form of initiation. When the Lords of Flame set out from the seventh plane, they were little bundles of looping tracks in space vibrating feebly to the rhythm of the Logos. When they return, they are almost unimaginably more complex, having absorbed the vibrations of every plane and developed capacities of action and reaction on all of them.
The Lords of Flame have also picked up the capacity to form a group spirit, and developed that capacity through the hard labor of creating Planetary Spirits on each of the seven planes. This is crucial to what follows. As the Lords of Flame return to the seventh plane, the Solar Logos contemplates them, picks up the intricate rhythms of vibration they have learned from their long journey, and is conditioned by those rhythms, absorbing the lessons they have learned in the same way that they absorbed the influence of the Solar Logos itself as they set out; as the Logos initiated them, so they in turn initiate the Logos. In the process, the Solar Logos becomes the group spirit of the Lords of the Flame—or more precisely, the group spirit is absorbed by the Logoidal consciousness and becomes one of the modes or capacities through which the Logos can experience and act.
And the Lords of Flame? As noted in a previous commentary, they become those beings that occultists and ordinary religious believers call angels. More to the point, most of them do. Some of the Lords of Flame have reached the point of evolution at which they are capable of coming into conscious contact with the Cosmic atoms that created them, and these leave the solar system behind and begin the long journey of a traveling atom in the Cosmos, to become Great Entities and Solar Logoi themselves after a vast interval of time. The others remain with the Solar Logos of our solar system and carry out the will of the Solar Logos, moving up and down the planes to keep the solar system in harmony. As their journey down and then up the planes brought the basic pattern of natural forces into being, they work through those forces, maintaining the balance of nature when the epigenesis of younger swarms threatens to pull it out of balance.
The Lords of Form return in the same way and go through the same process. As mentioned in an earlier commentary, they become the beings known as devas by some occultists and intelligences by others. Those of the Lords of Form that don’t make contact with their Cosmic atoms and begin life as traveling atoms in the Cosmos carry out the will of the Logos in the same way as the Lords of Flame, but their task is different. The Logos, as it mediates between its solar system and the Cosmic tides, is constantly evolving new archetypal concepts, and the Lords of Form take these and impress them on swarms of younger Divine Sparks who are still evolving.
Thus the swarms don’t simply repeat the same sequence of bodies and states; they pass into new shapes and new experiences. Glance back over the history of life, on the one hand, or the history of human culture on the other, and it isn’t hard to spot some of the archetypal ideas of the Logos as these arrive on the scene—for example, the way that mammals and birds, though belonging to distinct evolutionary lineages, both evolved warm blood around the same geological period, or the way that Greece, India, and China all invented philosophy in the same few centuries. In terms of Fortune’s great metaphor, these are among the works of the Lords of Form.
The Lords of Mind, finally, pass through the same process as their two preceding swarms, and become another set of spiritual beings that mediate between the Logos and its solar system. Like the other two primal swarms, their job is to range up and down the planes, bringing the solar system back into balance when it has been disordered by some vagary or other of epigenesis, but they can do so in a far subtler way than the others. The Lords of Flame work with the forces of nature, the Lords of Form work with the group souls of younger swarms, but the Lords of Mind are individualized and so they work with individuals.
The Lords of Mind are thus responsible for initiation in the sense that occultists usually use that term, the initiations of the ascending arc: they assist individual members of younger swarms who have completed the descent through the planes, and begun the return journey, to perceive planes higher than their own and bring down forces from those planes to assist the work of balance. These initiations of the ascending arc are by no means limited to occult lodges. Those churches and other religious bodies that preserve traditional sacramental rituals have their own set of initiations: for example, baptism and the ceremony of communion are initiations of this type, and so are holy orders when these are conferred by a bishop who has received apostolic succession.
Other initiations have survived in seemingly unlikely places. The initiations of Freemasonry, for example, are surprisingly potent even though most Masons have no notion of the real meaning of the rites they preserve and enact so carefully. It also happens, and not infrequently, that a Lord of Mind will guide an individual Divine Spark of a younger swarm through an initiatory process entirely outside of any organizational framework, or in the context of some organization or tradition with no initiatory tradition at all. When you encounter a case of spontaneous mystical experience, that’s usually what has happened.
Nearly always, the Lords of Mind remain as disembodied (or differently embodied) presences, communicating with their initiates in subtle ways through the higher planes of being. Fortune has it, though, that now and again it becomes necessary for a Lord of Mind to take on a body on one of the planes of manifestation. This is done with the help of an initiate on that plane, who lends her reproductive system to the process. Yes, we’re talking about virgin birth. Those of my readers who know their way around global mythology will recall how many important mythic figures are said to be born of a human woman impregnated in one way or another by a deity—or, rather less often, of a goddess impregnated by a human man. This is what Fortune has in mind here. When she described herself as a devout but very unorthodox Christian, she wasn’t joking.
Having dropped that tidbit to annoy the orthodox and give the rest of us something to think about, Fortune veers straight to a different theme. She reminds us that the Solar Logos has three primary aspects, reflecting the three great rings of the Cosmos, and goes on to envision the three primal swarms as representatives of these three primary aspects. While these three swarms evolved under the influence of the Logos alone, those that come after evolve under the influence of the Logos and its Regents, who are the Lords of Flame, Form, and Mind.
The subsequent swarms are assigned, not to the three primary aspects, but to the twelve Cosmic rays that influence the Logos. Each swarm sets out from the seventh plane under the influence of one of these rays, and takes on the imprint of that ray. The group spirits of the later swarms, once they have finished their evolution take on a special role in the evolving solar system. Only the three primal swarms have their group spirits absorbed by the Logos; the group spirits of the later swarms, once the Solar Logos has contemplated them and learned everything they have to teach, become the Star Logoi, exemplars of the influences of the twelve rays in the solar system, subordinate to the Solar Logos but distinct from it. (Later editions of the Cos. Doc. renamed the Star Logoi the Ray Exemplars, but here again, I find the original term more exact.)
With the birth of the last of the Star Logoi, the solar system is complete. At its center is the Solar Logos, surrounded by its hosts of angels, intelligences, and guardian spirits; the seven planes radiate out from it, each with its planet and Planetary Spirit, each inhabited by Divine Sparks descending and ascending the planes; around the outer rim stand the twelve Star Logoi, each mediating the energies of one of the zodiacal signs, each surrounded by its own cloud of spirits who have completed the journey through the planes and now dwell rejoicing in realms of light.
Those readers who know their way around the Qabalah, or more particularly around the specific version of the Qabalah discussed in great detail by Dion Fortune in her classic book on the subject, will find much of this image familiar, but not all. Much more of it can be found in an equally ancient but far less heavily publicized tradition. In the writings of late classical Neoplatonists such as Sallust and Proclus Diadochos, especially as interpreted by the great English Neoplatonist Thomas Taylor, Fortune’s great cosmic metaphor has its closest match. Read Sallust’s On the Gods and the World or Proclus’ Elements of Theology—again, Thomas Taylor’s translations and commentaries are the most revealing in this context—and it’s soon clear that you’re in the same cosmos Fortune has outlined in The Cosmic Doctrine.
This comes as no surprise. On the one hand, Fortune, her teacher Dr. Theodore Moriarty, and many of her close associates had a solid knowledge of occult philosophy, and at the time this normally included at least a nodding acquaintance with the writings of the old Neoplatonists. On the other, the entire Western occult tradition in modern times is a restatement of the Neoplatonic vision, as transmitted through the great Neoplatonic revival of the Renaissance. This is one of the things that makes the Cos. Doc. so important as a work of modern occult philosophy: it presents, in the form of the nearest approximate metaphor, the vision of reality that has been central to the tradition it represents since ancient times.
With this chapter, accordingly, Fortune’s account of the genesis of the cosmos and the solar system draws to a close. In the months ahead, we’ll proceed to the third part of The Cosmic Doctrine and explore what it has to say about the process of initiation and spiritual development that awaits each of us, should we be willing to pursue it.
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 December 18. Until then, have at it!