THE solution of the religious problem offered by the method of the mystics appears to be that which is destined to triumph in the present age. This is no new method, but one that has been in the world, obscurely and secretly, from the very dawn of religious thought, having its representatives and exponents in the ancient systems of both East and West, Buddhist, Alexandrian, and Christian. Their method consists in regarding the exterior and phenomenal presentation of religion as but the scaffolding necessary to the construction of the edifice – its mythologic scenery, to use Professor Tyndal’s expression – and not the religion itself. The true faith is interior and spiritual, and has for ages been in the course of elaboration within and by means of these exterior appliances. Representing an eternal verity, and based in the spiritual consciousness, it is independent of letter and form, tradition and authority, and superior, therefore, to all assaults of intellectual criticism. What this age is witnessing is the removal of the now superfluous scaffolding, and the disclosure, in all its finished perfection, of the true Catholic Church of the future.
The difference between exoteric or popular religion and mystic or acroatic religion may be thus defined. In the former, sacred personages and occurrences are understood in the physical and obvious sense, as phenomenal and relative, and related to particular times and places, and dependent for verification upon individual testimony. In the system of the mystic, on the contrary, sacred personages and events denote principles and operations which affect the spiritual Ego, and are to this what physical transactions are to the material personality. As these principles and operations belong necessarily to universal experience, they are unrelated to times, places, and persons, and are to be sought, not on the historical plane, but on that of the mind and spirit; not, as the Buddhist would say, in the “worlds of form,” but in the “formless worlds.”
Images and symbols of religious verities have their true and legitimate use in leading the soul to the apprehension of that which they imply. But when regarded – as the popular religionist regards them – as themselves essentials and coefficients in spiritual processes, they become instruments of delusion. The essential is related to the essential, the corporeal to the corporeal. The things of God are similars to themselves; the things of Caesar are similars to themselves. To God belong the things of God; to Caesar the things of Caesar. The redemption of the soul cannot be effected by means of coin on which is stamped the image and superscription of the physical. No events occurring in time, no acts of an historical personage, can “save” our souls. These events and acts must be translated into spiritual verities, and realised individually and experimentally, if they are to have any efficacy for the spiritual selfhood. (1)
The method of the mystics consists, then, in transmutation, or the conversion of the terms of the outer into the inner, of the physical into the spiritual; of the temporal and phenomenal into the eternal and noumenal. In them the key of the Scriptures, and of the functions and sacraments of religion, is found in the alchemic secret of transmutation. All the metals, says the alchemist, are gold in their essence, and by an application of the
Divine art can be made to appear in their essence. But the uninitiate judge superficially and reject as dross that which the adept knows to be gold. Gold is the alchemic formula for spirit; and as the precious metal lies concealed under the semblance of the baser, so the true secret of all sacred Scripture – its spiritual significance – is hidden under the letter in such wise that, though invisible to the vulgar, it is evident to the eye of the illuminated.
Following, therefore, the invariable rule of his order, and applying to the text of sacred tradition the “universal solvent” formed by the two words now and within, the mystic sees in the exposition of revelation, from Genesis to the Apocalypse, the history, not of past events in the external and sensible world, but of the soul, and of operations in perpetual process in the sphere to which the soul – whether universal or individual – belongs.
(140:1) Abstract, by Edward Maitland, of the Lecture given by Anna Kingsford, on the 13th May 1885, to the Hermetic Society, and published in Light, 23rd May 1885, p. 251.
(141:1) In a note to “Asclepios on Initiation,” in The Virgin of the World. Anna Kingsford says: “Mankind necessarily passes through the stage of nature-worship before becoming competent to realise the celestial order and the being of the heavenly Gods. For before the empyrean can be reached by the human intelligence, it must traverse the spheres intermediate between earth and heaven. Thus the images of the Gods are worshipped before the Gods themselves are known; nor are these images necessarily of wood or stone. All personalities are eidola (idols) reflecting the true essentials, and having, as it were, a portion of Divinity attached to them and resident in their forms, but none the less are they images, and however powerful and adorable they may appear to the multitude who know not divine religion, they are to the Hermetist but types and persona of essentials which are eternally independent of manifestation and unaffected by it. The signs of the truly Divine are three: transcendency of form, transcendency of time, transcendency of personality. Instead of form is Essence; instead of time, Eternity; instead of persons, Principles. Events become Processes; and phenomena, Noumena. So long as the conception of any divine idea remains associated with, or dependent on, any physical or historical circumstance, so long it is certain that the heavenly plane has not been reached. Symbols, when they are recognised as symbols, are no longer either deceptive or dangerous; they are merely veils of light rendering visible the ‘Divine Dark’ towards which the true Hermetist aspires. Even the most refined, the subtlest and most metaphysical expression of the supreme Truth, is still symbol and metaphor, for the Truth itself is unutterable, save by God to God. It is Essence, Silence, Darkness” (p. 88). – S.H.H.