Esoteric Christianity and the Signs of the Times
Richard C. Cook – Richard C. Cook.com
Part II: Gnosticism As the Esoteric Blueprint
Part II: Introduction; The Gnostic Revelation; The Vision of Edgar Cayce; Cayce on Atlantis; The Gardens of Eden; The Fall of Man; God Sends Saviors; Background of Esotericism in the Hebrew Tradition; The Mission of Jesus Christ; The Early Growth of Christianity; Christianity Becomes Official; Esotericism Goes Underground; The Christ Spirit Today; Prophecies of Rudolf Steiner; Bulgaria?; Additional Esoteric Inspirations; The Gnosticism of Gurdjieff; What Is Esoteric Christianity Really Telling Us?
This is the second of a three-part series on “Esoteric Christianity and the Signs of the Times.” Part I began with a discussion of organized Christianity’s largely ineffectual response to the contradictions of the scientific/technological era. Next came a discussion of the many prophecies from around the world of huge changes in human consciousness which are nevertheless said to be coming. Part II now delves into history, starting with a look at the ancient teachings of the Gnostics and what they may mean for us today.
The Gnostic Revelation
The ancestors of much Western esotericism are the Gnostic schools that flourished from around the time of Jesus Christ to about three hundred years later, when the Christianity of the emerging Catholic Church became the official religion of the Roman Empire.
The Gnostics never tried or wanted to compete with the Church. But most saw the human accessibility of the Christ-Spirit or attainment of something called the Christ-Mind as the decisive factor of spiritual striving.
What organization the Gnostics possessed revolved around particularly gifted teachers or small communities remote from the cities. Egypt was a place of considerable Gnostic activity, along with Palestine, Phoenicia, Syria, Asia Minor, Persia, and Italy.
Many of the Gnostics were Jewish, but not all. Gnosticism was also a movement quite distinct from Neoplatonism and other schools deriving from the philosophy and religion of ancient Greece and Rome.
The Gnostics avoided politics, both secular and ecclesiastical. The exception was the 4th century C.E. Manicheans, whose doctrines resembled those of the Gnostics.
Most Gnostics cared above all for individual freedom in conducting one’s spiritual search. This naturally made them suspect to guardians of the established order.
The Gnostics did not believe in doctrines of sin, guilt, and punishment or threats of hellfire and damnation. They believed instead that man was created in a world subject to error yet retained within a spark of God. So they sought a radical reorientation of consciousness based on direct experience of the divine light within.
Until the end of the 19th century, the only version known to most Westerners of how Christianity originated lay in the dogmas of the Christian churches and their interpretation of the canonical books of the Bible. Meanwhile, the intellectual classes of Western society, particularly in Europe, had ceased to take organized religion seriously. Christianity was viewed by them as largely a prop for political conservatism or a rationale for middle-class conformity.
Yet something new was stirring. Through the discovery and translation of ancient texts and the findings of archaeology, there was the growing availability to scholars and the public of alternative renderings of Christian origins. A key event came in 1900, when G.R.S. Meade, a graduate of Cambridge University and influential member of the Theosophical Society, published Gnosticism: Fragments of a Faith Forgotten.
Meade’s book reflected a tremendous upsurge of interest, particularly among the English-speaking public, in new spiritual ideas. Meade’s book threw open the doors to widespread public awareness of a mass of literature from the first three centuries after Christ which the Catholic Church had long suppressed as heretical. The discoveries would continue, including the surfacing of additional texts in the 1940s with the discovery of Gnostic writings at Nag Hammadi in Egypt and of related Essene works at Qumran on the Dead Sea.
As to doctrine, a key to the Gnostic viewpoint was the concept of the Logos, the divine Word. What became the Bible as we know it today had strong Gnostic elements, especially the Gospel of John. The term Logos was used in its majestic opening: “In the beginning was the Word.”
The Gnostics identified the Christ-spirit as it was embodied in Jesus as an emanation of the Logos. As Meade wrote:
“The claim of the Gnostics was that a man might so perfect himself that he became a conscious worker with the Logos. All those who did so became ‘Christs,’ and as such were Saviors, but not in the sense of being the Logos Himself.”
At the time Meade published, such a vision no longer existed in Western Christianity, Catholic or Protestant alike, which had become watered down to a mere set of formulas: go to church and partake of the sacraments; believe and do good works; fear going to hell; and obey the ecclesiastical and civil authorities.
In their studies, Gnostic devotees of the ancient world led disciplined lives and resisted the temptations of the world, though they were accused by the Catholic heresiologists of dissipation and license. The Gnostics also believed that help from higher spiritual levels was available.
At the head of the spiritual hierarchy was the Creator God, the Unknown Father. Spiritual beings known as the Aeons existed at the next level as a source of mystical inspiration. In his remarkable book Gnosticism: Mystery of Mysteries, Dr. James J. Hurtak defines the Aeons as:
“Originally ‘age,’ in the sense of a long period of time; then used of space, or the spiritual being governing a vast space either in the Pleroma above or here below.”
Hurtak defines “Pleroma” as “the totality of the highest Aeons.” In his book he uses such concepts for specific Aeons as “Silence,” “Intelligence,” “Grace,” Love,” “Wisdom,” etc.
After the Aeons came, according to Meade:
“…the great intermediate hierarchies, archangels, angels, and powers; the several creative spheres and their rulers; the builders of the universe and the fashioners of man. There were numerous inimical hierarchies and their rulers, and a scheme of regeneration, whereby a World-savior in the apparent form of a man, though not really a man, brings about not only the defeat of the evil powers, but also rescues all who have the light-spark within them.”
But where had the Gnostic teachings come from? History does not have a definitive answer to this question. Gnostic-type ideas, involving hierarchical cosmoses that man could ascend through contemplative practice, may be found in ancient teachings from the Druids in Celtic countries in the far west of Europe, through the Greek Mystery religions, to Persian Zoroastrianism, to the Vedas and Upanishads of India.
In other words, these ideas were very old. But the Gnostic teachings of the early Christian era were a phenomenon that burst forth suddenly, around the time Jesus lived and taught.
Gnostic doctrines were identified by Meade as arising in Egypt, whose political, intellectual, and spiritual center was Alexandria. More recently researchers have traced at least some of the roots of Gnosticism to ancient Hebrew mysticism, possibly even as far back as Abraham and the Patriarchs.
Whatever the sources, something amazing, powerful, and transcendent took place in the Eastern Mediterranean region that changed the history of mankind. It was within this milieu that Jesus Christ lived and taught.
The early Church Fathers condemned the teachings of the Gnostics as satanic. So the Gnostics were censored, persecuted, and eventually exterminated. But it was not before many achieved transcendence in one of the greatest periods of spiritual accomplishment in history, an era of which the rich overtones still reach us.
The Vision of Edgar Cayce
Now, over a century later, whole libraries of books have been written on the general theme of esoteric religion, Gnosticism included. This literature has proliferated with the arising of the internet.
So I will proceed simply by providing a short synthesis. Along with the teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff (1866?-1949), whom I discussed in Part I, central to this synthesis is the ideas of Edgar Cayce (1877-1945).
Cayce was a far more important spiritual figure than most people realize. In addition to his trance readings pertaining to health and human history, Cayce spent his adult lifetime teaching courses on the Bible and on spiritual development. His teaching center was at Virginia Beach, Virginia, a few blocks from the thundering surf of the Atlantic Ocean.
Cayce said he received his spiritual gifts through visitation from an angel when he was a boy, an encounter he described in convincing detail. Though extremely self-effacing, Cayce is viewed as one of the founders of the New Age movement. He may also be viewed as a 20th century Gnostic.
Cayce on Atlantis
Cayce’s history of humanity starts in earnest with Atlantis, as did Gurdjieff’s. Cayce’s account of man’s early journey is found in a trilogy by Robert Krajenke: A Million Years to the Promised Land, Man Crowned King, and Man the Messiah.
According to Cayce, the souls of humanity were created by God and had incarnated on Earth but in Atlantis developed in the wrong way, becoming prone to pride, power, and materialism. According to another source, the Atlanteans violated the natural order of nature by “experimenting medically to enhance the sexual experience between male and female.” Many Greek myths may be cultural recollections of Atlantis, with the attempt to alter sexuality being reflected in the myth of the Minotaur.
Also according to Cayce, a series of disasters was visited on the Atlantean civilization, the most devastating of which was recorded in history as “Noah’s Flood.” Of course Cayce’s readings are unproven, as well as being completely unacceptable as sources of historical data to official scholarship. Yet millions of people have found Cayce’s material plausible and inspiring.
Gardens of Eden
From Cayce’s trance readings, we hear that before the Flood, the Higher Powers, knowing what was coming, created new centers of civilization at five separate locations. People were settled at these, with the hope they would be humbler, kinder, and simpler in their ways than those from Atlantis.
These centers, said Cayce, were situated in what are today the Carpathian and Caucasian Mountains, the Gobi Desert, India, the Andes region of South America, and the western plains of North America. Thus there were actually five “Gardens of Eden,” five “Adams,” and five “Eves.” Note that except for India, these do not correspond to what academic history calls the “cradles of civilization,” which actually seem to belong to a later stage of history.
By the time Atlantis was destroyed, Cayce indicated, adepts had also migrated to Egypt, where they became the forerunners of the Egyptian priests and pharaohs known to history. There, around 12,000 years ago, they built the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx, with Egypt remaining the world center of esoteric knowledge for millennia.
The Fall of Man
Unfortunately, the new experiments at the five Edens ran into serious trouble when the inhabitants began to believe they had a choice of whether or not to experience themselves as one in their essence with God or, alternatively, to imagine themselves as “other.”
Thus they identified with the external symbol of “otherness” which was their physical bodies, thereby falling into a deep metaphysical sleep. Psychologically, instead of feeling themselves to be Sons of God, which they were in spirit, they began to see themselves as separate and mortal.
We can see from this and related accounts of human spiritual history how error was born and, along with it, what American spiritual master Joel Goldsmith (1892-1964) said are our false beliefs in “sin, lack, limitation, disease, and death.”
These errors arise, said Goldsmith, from a state of “universal hypnotism,” and it has been this hypnotism that has ruled mankind ever since in all its infinite permutations of tortuous confusion. According to Goldsmith, “Something there is that does not want man to be free.”
This “something” was identified by the Gnostics with lower orders of spiritual entities who oversee material creation, symbolized by what St. Paul called, “the Prince of this World.” In common parlance, this may be called “Satan” or “The Devil.”
In coming to see ourselves as separate from God and neighbor, we feel compelled to compensate from a perceived lack in ourselves by taking from our fellow man, symbolized by the story in Genesis where Cain slays his brother Abel.
“The Fall” is central not only to Cayce’s explanations, but is also how the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic religions explain the fact that there is something deeply wrong with the disturbed psychology of human beings. In far-off India, Buddha sought to identify the psychological roots of human suffering, finding it in “desire.” The Gnostics had their own detailed metaphysical explanations of how the primal error began.
In modern parlance, what causes our perceptions of ourselves and the world to be so distorted is considered to be the ego, to the extent that the ego is an effect of an original psychological disaster. Life under the separated ego was literally hell on earth and remains so.
Modern esoteric thinking, mirroring the Gnostic emphasis on “error” vs. “sin,” states it is a hell we ourselves create by perceiving ourselves amiss, believing the lies of the serpent within. The serpent in this interpretation symbolizes identification with the world of the senses and loss of connection with our inner spiritual core.
God Sends Saviors
Again, says Cayce and other mystical teachers, mirroring Gnostic beliefs, God took measures to heal and save mankind. According to esoteric tradition, the Holy Spirit was sent to reconcile humanity with the Father and has been working to do so ever since.
A plan was set in motion to bring into incarnation one or more World Teachers who could help sleeping people recall their true source of good, which is oneness with God.
This was the esoteric meaning of Atonement—At-one-ment. The message: “Wake Up” to who you really are.
The teacher, Cayce said, who would eventually appear through the Carpathian/Caucasus culture, by way of the emergence of the Hebrews deriving from Abraham, would be Jesus. Further east, the Indian “Eden” would produce a series of incarnations of Vishnu, including Buddha. Other teachers would appear in China and the Americas, such as Quetzalcoatl, whom the Mesoamericans revered as their cultural hero and savior.
Jesus Christ and the other saviors around the world would work for the same goal—attainment of the original state of God-consciousness from which the separation occurred. According to esoteric tradition, the word “Christ” is a universal designation of this higher consciousness to which anyone may aspire. Esoteric teachings indicate that while Jesus and figures like Krishna and Buddha got there first, they showed us the way.
The Carpathian-Caucasian civilization from which Jesus emerged had developed along several different lines through the cultures of ancient Persia, Greece, and Rome, with the Persian Zoroaster, actually a line of spiritual teachers, not a single individual, playing a central role. To all these, the much more ancient civilization of Egypt was always a presence in the background.
But the culmination, at least for Western civilization, would take place in Palestine, where the Hebrews would follow an up-and-down course lasting almost two millennia before Jesus was born. Throughout Hebrew history, the flame of esotericism was kept burning by the School of the Prophets which existed in Palestine from the time of Moses.
Background of Esotericism in the Hebrew Tradition
It can be deduced from the Pentateuch (the Hebrew Torah) that Moses brought two distinct teachings: the exoteric, which was the teaching of rituals, animal sacrifices, and the social ethics of the Ten Commandments; but also the esoteric: the teaching of the divine science of Being. Moses was heir to the Hebrew traditions coming down from Abraham but also an initiate of the Egyptian mysteries.
Both the exoteric and esoteric were based on the words and acts of Yahweh, whose essence was expressed through the Tetragrammaton: YHVH. The esoteric side explained how the meaning of the Tetragrammaton was rooted in the formulation derived from the words through which Yahweh described Himself to Moses on Mount Sinai: “I AM THAT I AM.”
Another element of Moses’ secret doctrine may have consisted of some form of the Kabala, the ancient Tree of Life. This depicted the stages of creation from God downward as well as the path of return. The Kabala anticipated the later Gnostic teachings.
It was the School of the Prophets where “I AM” was first realized. It had its main location on Mount Carmel in northwestern Palestine. Today the home church of the Carmelite Order encompasses a shrine at the location of the reputed cave dwelling of the prophet Elijah.
The School of the Prophets was a forerunner of the Essenes, the sect that is credited with writing the Dead Sea Scrolls and hiding them in caves when the Romans advanced to crush Judea in the Jewish War of 68-70 C.E. According to some esoteric teachings, Mary and Joseph, the parents of the one they called Yeshua, were Essenes from Mount Carmel. Yeshua was called “the Nazarene,” or “the Nazorean,” not because such a town as Nazareth existed, which it likely did not, but in possible reference to a religious designation recalling the “Nazirites,” who were ancient practitioners of a form of Hebrew asceticism.
Both G.R.S. Meade and Edgar Cayce spoke of the Essenes long before the Dead Sea Scrolls were even discovered in the late-1940s. Some of the Essene scriptures had previously been found by Edmund Bordeaux Székely (1905-1979) while a young scholar seeking in the depths of the libraries of the Vatican in Rome and that of the Habsburg emperors in Vienna.
Working from the early 1920s onward, Székely translated these scriptures from Aramaic and Old Slavic into several volumes, including the Essene Gospel of Peace. He wrote that the teachings of the Essenes blended the ancient Hebrew teachings of the Patriarchs and Moses with the stream of Zoroastrian ideas which the Hebrews imbibed in Babylon during their exile.
While Székely does not use the term “Gnostic,” the cluster of mystical teachings that existed in Babylon and elsewhere under that name later became part of Christianity. The Zoroastrians postulated a Universe where good and evil were locked in combat, an idea the Gnostics generalized into a conflict between spirit and matter but at a level below that of the ultimate Godhead.
Such teachings have a powerful personal appeal, because the conflict between spirit and matter is evident to every spiritual seeker, then as now, in the inner struggle between identification with the desires of the flesh vs. the higher aspirations of the soul. Reconciliation, said the Gnostics, comes only when the third force of Christ-consciousness is applied. Székely’s translations are filled with the beauty of this spirit of reconciliation.
The Mission of Jesus Christ
The mission of Jesus, or Yeshua, lasted only three years and began with his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, who was also believed by some researchers to be an Essene from Qumran. Another Essene location was in Syria, while another was near Lake Mareotis in Lower Egypt, to which, it is said, the Holy Family fled to escape the persecutions of Herod. Coptic churches in Egypt today retain legends of the Holy Family’s sojourn.
In The Secret History of the World, Mark Booth, who derives many of his interpretations from the teachings of Austrian esoteric master Rudolf Steiner, writes of Jesus’ mission that it was “a great turning point in the history of the world…” Booth writes that Jesus “created the interior life” of mankind and says his life was “the decisive event in the process which has led to each of us experiencing inside of ourselves a cosmos of infinite size and variety.”
Through his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus proved that no one could kill a fully-realized Son of God. The Gnostics say that while the body of Jesus suffered, the Christ within was untouched. After his Ascension, as recorded in Acts of the Apostles, a small community of Jewish followers in Jerusalem kept his teaching alive in its purest form.
According to Annie Besant (1847-1933), who succeeded Madame Blavatsky as head of the Theosophical Society and published a book entitled Esoteric Christianity in 1905, the ideas taught by Jesus had a secret Gnostic dimension—what Besant called “the Mysteries of Jesus”—given only to initiates.
The Early Growth of Christianity
As knowledge of Christianity was spread throughout the Mediterranean world by Paul of Tarsus and his successors, the original esoteric ideas became mixed with Greek and Roman myths, the emphasis now being placed on the image current at the time of a god allowing himself to be killed as a sacrifice. This concept came from ancient vegetation myths and the changing of the seasons.
Paul was a curious figure in the history of Christianity. He was doubtless a member of an esoteric school affiliated with the Gnostics.
Paul mainly visited Jewish congregations in Syria, Asia Minor, and Greece but with a message that also eventually resonated with non-Jews as well. According to G.R.S. Meade, while Paul lived and taught he evidently had little knowledge of the stories of Jesus’ life and sayings that later became the basis of the New Testament.
But Paul knew about the crucifixion and resurrection. He spoke of direct spiritual experience—attaining “the mind that was in Christ Jesus.” This was pure Gnosticism. Yet the broader movement to bring the teaching to the Gentiles exposed it to social and political forces that would alter it significantly.
It was the distorted idea of Jesus’ identity as God Himself that formed the basic doctrine of the Christian churches as they developed in the West. The purer teachings of how Jesus paved the way for Sonship that anyone could replicate, though seemingly taught by Paul, later was confined to the heretical sects, including the Gnostics.
Another sect with similar beliefs was the Nestorians, who were driven out of the Roman Empire toward Persia after Christianity became the official state religion in the fourth century C.E. It was the Nestorians who preserved the Essene scriptures Székely eventually found in Rome and Vienna. There is a tradition that Mohammed, the founder of Islam, was raised in a Nestorian community in Mecca.
Christianity Becomes Official
The doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church were set in stone at the Council of Nicaea, convened by the Emperor Constantine in 325 C.E., and the Council of Constantinople called by Theodosius in 381 C.E. At the Council of Constantinople, the Church affirmed the doctrines of Jesus’ divinity that Theodosius had already decreed as mandatory beliefs for all citizens of the Empire. The Theodosian Code XVI.1.2 stated (Documents of the Christian Church, Oxford University Press, 1943):
“It is our desire that all the various nations which are subject to our clemency and moderation, should continue to the profession of that religion which was delivered to the Romans by the divine Apostle Peter, as it has been preserved by faithful tradition and which is now professed by the Pontiff Damasus and by Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, a man of apostolic holiness. According to the apostolic teaching and the doctrine of the Gospel, let us believe in the one diety of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in equal majesty and in a holy Trinity.
“We authorize the followers of this law to assume the title Catholic Christians; but as for the others, since in our judgment they are foolish madmen, we decree that they shall be branded with the ignominious name of heretics, and shall not presume to give their conventicles the name of churches. They will suffer in the first place the chastisement of divine condemnation and the second the punishment of our authority, in accordance with what the will of heaven shall decide to inflict.”
Making a doctrine official through governmental decree is the kiss of death for a living idea. Through this remarkable dictate, anticipating the Inquisition by 800 years, the Catholic Church became the instrument by which Theodosius crushed dissent and consolidated imperial power. The Roman emperor had also once been declared a god himself and now was obviously able to assimilate himself to the Christ figure.
For the next several centuries government and church authorities launched a holocaust of murder and destruction against anyone who adhered to either the old “pagan” religions or to Gnostic-type teachings. By this time, what was viewed as “Gnostic” had become wildly diverse following three centuries of elaboration by hundreds of sects.
What had happened was that religion was taken over by politics. After the seat of empire shifted to Constantinople in the 4th century, the Pope in Rome gradually became the ecclesiastical overlord of Western Europe. The rule of the Emperor in the East and the Pope in the West was total.
Esotericism Goes Underground
From Roman times until today, established Christianity, whether Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, or otherwise has been unable to escape the expectation of acting as a bulwark for official political authority and serving as a backstop for the rule of dictators. Yet appearing side-by-side with the Christian churches historically, and often persecuted by it, were figures such as the Knights Templars, the Cathars, Giodorno Bruno, Jacob Boehme, Christian Rosenkreutz, Nostrodamus, Paracelsus, St. Germain, Swedenborg, and others who kept the flame of mysticism burning over the centuries.
But as the 20th century approached, the mystical side of religion returned to the West, starting with Germany, Great Britain, and America. Gnostic-type ideas depicting life as a struggle between good and evil had also been brought forth during the European Enlightenment.
As discussed in Part I, word of the Eastern mystical teachings had reached the New England transcendentalists by the mid-19th century. Ideas with mystical overtones reminiscent of Gnosticism were appearing in such American religious movements as Unitarianism, Christian Science, New Thought, and Unity.
The first American mystics had been the Quakers. Similar to the Church of the Brethren, Mennonites, and Amish, the Quakers derived from a movement of contemplative spirituality arising in 17th century England and Wales.
Also coming into vogue during the latter part of the 19th century were books about the lost continent of Atlantis and topics related to clairvoyance, reincarnation, channeling of spirits, etc., that were of burning interest, if not to scholars, then to the general public. Gradually there began to emerge a different perception among many intelligent people of what religion was about and what it could do for its adherents, based on a vision of history different from that of orthodox scholars.
For the last century-and-a-half, Earth has been a battleground between the dark forces of matter and the divine light of Spirit. On the side of matter is the war machine, international banking, global capitalism, and communist and fascist tyranny, all of which have tried to harness organized religion as their servant in keeping the masses under control or simply to obliterate spirituality altogether.
On the side of spirit is the entire panoply of Gnostic-type teachings working within the soul of mankind for inner peace and a higher level of compassion and understanding. It has been this spiritual warfare that I believe to be the visible reflection of “Armageddon.”
The Christ Spirit Today
Now, in the 21st century, I believe that the Christ spirit is alive in the world and working actively, despite the growing appearance of social, political, and economic chaos. In former days, the Christian churches had attempted to confine this spirit within walls and dogmas, but it escaped into the surrounding world, becoming available to anyone who took time to sit quietly and experience his own inner sense of “I am.”
Matters have come full-circle, for the type of contemplative practice that is being spoken of and demonstrated by many teachers and spiritual groups today is, in fact, Gnosticism for modern times. This is why so many people identify themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”
We want to experience the joy and peace of divine consciousness directly, in our own hearts and souls, not indirectly through churches, rituals, or priesthoods. We want to experience our own holiness, not be told it can only be found through something or someone outside ourselves.
A new round of persecution, however, has been launched by the secular controllers of society who seek to establish their own New World Order based on war and economic control. But materialism will never succeed in stamping out spiritual aspiration, because at bottom man is a spiritual being.
Prophecies of Rudolf Steiner
The central role of the Christ spirit in our age was prophesied by Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), who offered a series of profound teachings on the exalted place of the Christhood whose presence, he said, would be basic to the human heritage for thousands of years to come.
Of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, Steiner said at a 1913 lecture in London that:
“…the mystery of Golgotha was a unique event in the whole history of the Earth. In the evolution of mankind on the Earth it was a mighty impulse which had never before been given in the same way and will never be repeated in a similar form.”
Steiner reached his conclusions through study, philosophy, clairvoyance, and initiation. The latter took place starting in his early 20s when he met a mysterious figure he referred to only as an “herbalist” on a train ride in Austria on his way to the university where he was studying.
Steiner wrote that the 20th century would see the beginning of a renewed presence of Christ in the affairs of mankind under the direction of the exalted being known as the Archangel Michael. Steiner said further that materialism had become so dominant, starting with the Renaissance, that by the 19th century it had literally crucified Christ in consciousness as sleeping humanity had done to Him in his physical body two thousand years previously. But he also said that under Michael’s guidance a new awakening was at hand.
This new phase of spiritual evolution, Steiner said, would gradually override resistance from the spirit of materialism presided over by the dark spirit he called Ahriman. Steiner viewed Ahriman, not as a swashbuckling maniac of evil, but as an extremely boring and pedantic adherent to bureaucratic order who would crush individuality in an endless round of forms, procedures, regulations, and credentials.
I believe that exemplary Ahrimanic institutions are government agencies, public schools, banks, prisons, and concentration camps, as well as much of the medical and pharmaceutical industries. This deadly matrix is what the New World Order is all about.
Regarding the other major aspect of evil, the fiery one, Steiner identified this with Lucifer. Both Ahriman and Lucifer can be viewed as symbols of differing aspects of human egotism and their cumulative effects.
But again, while the hypnotic effects deriving from these lower orders of existence are formidable, they do not contain any law of God, so are not “real.” And they do not touch the divine spark within.
Steiner, at first a Theosophist, then founder of his own school of Anthroposophy, is sometimes viewed as a latter day adept of the Rosicrucians, who, with the long list of individuals like Bruno and Paracelcus mentioned previously, carried the torch of the ancient Gnostic-related esoteric teachings in Europe from the Middle Ages onward. But was it the out-of-the-way country of Bulgaria where the fountainhead of the Christ-spirit in the 20th century could be found?
According to esoteric history, St. John of Patmos, reputed author of the Revelation of St. John the Divine, carried the deeper teachings into what is today Bulgaria, where, almost two millennia later, the Great White Brotherhood eventually surfaced under spiritual master Peter Deunov (1864-1944) and his successor, Omraam Mikhaél Aivanhöv (1900-1986). Both have had a profound effect on modern thought.
Deunov was a spiritual hero to none other than Albert Einstein, who reportedly said, “All the world renders homage to me, and I render homage to the master Peter Deunov.” According to a statement attributed to Krishnamurti, whom the Theosophists tried to deify, “I said to them that I was not Maitreya….the World Master was already incarnated, in Bulgaria.”
Omraam Mikhaél Aivanhöv was Deunov’s successor, who left Bulgaria for France at the start of World War II. Because Bulgaria was part of the German Reich, the French authorities cast him into prison, where he gave esoteric teachings to his fellow inmates.
After he was released he stayed in France for most of the rest of his life. The honorific title “Omraam” came after a trip to India, where he was said to have received initiation from the legendary Babaji.
A year after his death in 1986, I visited one of Aivanhöv’s pupils at a house in Connecticut, where the master had stayed during his sole visit to the U.S. She gave me some of his books consisting of transcripts of his talks at his study center in France.
Aivanhöv’s teaching was heavily imbued with the symbolism of the Kabala. I had already read several of Aivanhöv’s books, which were actually transcripts of his lectures to pupils.
One of these books was entitled The Splendour of Tiphareth. In the Kabala, Tiphareth stands for the Sun. The book introduces the reader to what Aivanhöv prophesied as the coming solar-inspired civilization; i.e., one that will be fully under the direction of the Christ-mind.
Additional Esoteric Inspirations
Other sources of esoteric Christian sources may be found in connection with literature from the world of Orthodox Christianity, including Mt. Athos in Greece. In these teachings the path to awakening had definite Gnostic roots. It was called the “Royal Way” and may be found today through organizations like the Praxis Institute.
Russian philosopher P.D. Ouspensky (1878-1947), discussed in Part I, was one of those who most fully explained the difference between the esoteric path and what may be found through orthodox teachings. Along the way, Ouspensky said it was a great mistake to think that the world today is like any other historical era. He believed in enormous changes that would be ushered in through a rebirth of esoteric ideas.
Expressing his views in a manner similar to Steiner’s depiction of Ahriman, Ouspensky wrote that the devil was not at all a powerful, imposing figure. Rather he was “a seedy little man in a bowler hat.”
The Gnosticism of Gurdjieff
In a manner similar to the Gnostic teachings, G.I. Gurdjieff, Ouspensky’s mentor, produced a complete cosmology along Gnostic lines that depicted creation as an emanation from the Absolute-One down through the Absolute-Nothing.
Gurdjieff called it the Ray of Creation and gave extremely detailed explanations of the laws by which all existence was manifested. These laws were expressed mainly through the Law of Three and the Law of Seven, combined in the symbol known as the Enneagram.
Gurdjieff’s depiction of the Enneagram also figured in the digestion within the human body of food, air, and impressions taken in during the course of everyday life. Through spiritual effort, these substances could be transmuted and “higher bodies” formed within the organism. These bodies would then be a bridge to the divine spirit within.
Gurdjieff said that any being within the Universe can be defined by what it “eats” and what eats it. For instance, flies eat feces and are eaten in turn by birds.
Within human life, ordinary people eat a limited variety of cooked and raw foods, while their energy is eaten, according to the Gurdjieff system, by rather crude cosmic entities at the level of the Moon. But people of a higher level of consciousness can consume substances at the level of the Sun—“fire”—and be “eaten” by archangels.
In such cases they retain their individuality but live forever after in the world of divine being; i.e., “heaven.” Failing to reach this level, one may assume, the person must reincarnate over possibly very long periods of time.
What Is Esoteric Christianity Really Telling Us?
What, then, are we to learn from all this? Returning to the Old Testament, it is said repeatedly that the religion revealed by Moses was a teaching, not to worship dead idols, as with the pagan cults of the time, but “the living God.”
The worst “sin” against Yahweh, one even King Solomon committed, was to pay homage to idols of wood or metal which, as stated in the Book of Chronicles, literally “are nothing.” Many of the Christian churches, of course, have come perilously close to making Jesus Christ himself into such an idol.
We in the West, similar to many apostates among the Hebrews of old, also continue to bow down to empty idols when we worship the acquisition of a high position in life or material possessions, both of which eventually turn to ashes and dust.
The ashes and dust mirror our own inner state, where our finer etheric energies are dissipated through identification with such ephemera. But our idols may also be ideas, especially outdated or dead ideas about who we think we are, ideas that glorify the nation-state, or ideas of domination of one religion over another. Above all we idolize our egos, the ultimate illusion.
What comes next then becomes the question, which brings us, at the end of this essay, to what may have been the downside historically of Gnosticism and of mystical philosophies in general. This downside has been a tendency to reject ordinary life as unworthy, beneath contempt, or even inherently evil.
In other words, a Gnostic-type philosophy can lead to a kind of spiritual snobbery, a holier-than-thou attitude. For all their faults, the organized churches have at least recognized throughout their history the need to provide their members with some ability to cope with or even transcend the demands, sufferings, and disappointments of everyday life.
So it is now that a new approach to spirituality in the world is needed, one where a person can be free inwardly of identifying with life but still not reject it. For is God not to be found as well in the beauty of nature and the fulfillment of human relationships?
Joel Goldsmith said wisely that the world “does not need a new religion.” Rather it needs healing.
I would add that, as anticipated in Part I of this essay, an accounting must also be made of the vast impact on humanity of science and technology, both its peril and promise. As part of this accounting must come attention to major social problems. An expanded list to what has been mentioned previously in this essay includes such things as global overpopulation, depletion of resources, constant warfare, genocide, economic injustice, the lies and aggression of governments, and pollution.
And with all the hurting and pain today and in recent decades the world also has an overwhelming need for understanding and forgiveness, even as the religious and secular authorities are desperately trying to hold on to what they imagine they possess. But the world is changing in ways that we, and they, cannot even imagine.
And changes are indeed necessary. Could an impartial visitor from outer space, looking at Earth today, avoid an opinion that humanity has failed miserably in organizing its collective life? So have God and the Higher Powers abandoned us? Part III will explore that question.
Richard C. Cook is a former U.S. federal government analyst, now a writer on contemporary spiritual, economic, and political issues. His books can be ordered from his website at www.richardccook.com.
Last updated 30/10/2010