A Brief History of Esoteric Sacramental
Initiation and the Priesthood
by Rt.Rev. Timothy D. Harris, R.O., B.A
|The history of sacramental initiation begins with the growth of both religion and the priesthood
from prehistoric times for the eternal priesthood reaches back into the beginnings of history. During the
course of our studies we will come across certain terms which it seems pertinent to define here in the
The term shaman refers to a person who acts both as a priest and a doctor. The next term that needs to be addressed is specialist in the sacred. This term is synonymous with shaman. Religion and the priesthood developed together. In ancient times the priesthood and the shaman were synonymous. It is impossible to have one without the other. However, in this day and age the mystery of the priesthood is not very well taught.
In these days those who are called to the study of the mysteries and the priesthood must pass through years of academics in universities. The university trains the reasoning mind, but neglects the study of the intuitive side of our natures. Certainly the path of reason is a valid path, however as a result of the focus on academics many who are born mystics are diverted from the path and their spiritual quest because the mystical side is sublimated to the rational.
Religion is deeply involved with sacred rites and rituals, and a priest is the person who performs these rites and rituals. The priesthood is an eternal vocation which uses rituals, sacraments, ceremonies, and liturgy to accomplish the initiatory steps which leads humanity from a human being to a divine being. Rituals are rooted in the mysteries.
In the Esoteric schools once the aspirant has been initiated into the priesthood, the eternal journey of being a priest begins. Each lifetime from that point on will be involved in the mastery of the art of the priesthood. The priesthood exists beyond the veil between the upper and lower realms. The explanation of the upper and lower realms will be addressed later. Since the priesthood is intricately connected to the sacred our study will begin with the meaning of the sacred.
The religions of western and eastern civilizations are ways of life, which teach peace, joy, forgiveness, harmony, death, rebirth, ignorance, and human brutality. The key behind all that is talked about is mystery working. Mystery working is concerned with the wonder of nature, and the drama of physical death and spiritual rebirth.
To the ancient people the realm of the sacred was the realm of the truly real, the realm of the gods or powers. The experience of the sacred today stems back to this period and involves the sense of a mystery that is both fearsome and fascinating. Mystery has been most vivid in nature's manifestations of power, but it also occurs in initiation rites and ceremonial ecstasy. The sacred is the ultimate or deepest significance that any thing, place, or person can manifest.(1)
It must be pointed out that prehistoric refers specifically to that period of time before the development of written language. Thus the source for all information from the prehistoric period comes from archaeological data. Beliefs, rituals, ceremonies, and the priesthood developed as a natural part of human existence, rather than as an addition to it. The data used comes from burial sites, which includes the direction that the body was placed in, as well as artifacts that were buried along with the body. These things tell a story about the existence of religious beliefs as well as about the ceremonies used during the burial.
From the archeological data collected from the Paleolithic period we find the belief in survival after death, a symbolic system of notation based on the phases of the moon, evidence of the existence of specialists in the sacred, the use of the human voice and mystical syllables, the belief in the ability of the soul to leave the body and travel, and the existence of secret rites.
Burial sites have been found which archeologically date back to the Mousterian period (70,000 - 50,000 B.C.). "Belief in a survival after death seems to be demonstrated, from the earliest times, by use of red ocher as a ritual substitute for blood, hence as a symbol of life."(2) The interesting details of these burials include the fact that "burials were oriented toward the East, showing an intention to connect the fate of the soul with the course of the sun, hence the hope of a rebirth, that is, there was a belief in a postexistence in another world; belief in the continuation of a specific activity. Certain funeral rites also indicate offerings of objects of personal adornment and the remains of meals."(3) Connecting the fate of the soul to the sun is a recognition of a cosmic cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. From the solar cycles many long lasting ceremonies later developed.
From these graves sites we can draw many conclusions. First, about the importance of the use of red ochre which is directly related to blood by color alone. Its real significance comes from ideas about physical birth, and the menstrual cycle of the female. Second, the orientation of burials towards the East; this occurrence relates to the path of the Sun and signifies the notice of detailed observation of events occurring in the sky. Third, there is a significance that may be attached to the appearance of personal objects placed in burial sites.
Both birth and the menstrual cycle are marked by the issue of blood, as well as repetition. The ancients recognized that blood had a mystical connection to life. Through their observations they noticed that in the act of birth there was always an issue of blood. It is not practical to think that they did not notice that the female had an issue of blood monthly. The fact that they used red ochre in burials points out the importance that they placed on the issue of blood. Therefore blood was to them a major factor in life itself. The Ancients also made a connection between the issue of blood and the phases of the moon. The mystery of a women's ability to shed blood without dying every 28 days and the 28 day moon cycle of waxing and waning, full and new became intertwined. Ancient peoples measured time by the moon and worshiped the moon as a female goddess who ruled over life and death and the mysteries. Red became associated with Spirit and is still associated with the Holy Spirit today.
Besides the use of red ochre in burials, the ancients also buried their dead oriented toward the East. Since the Sun rises in the east and disappears towards the west, the ancients believed that the repetition of the menstrual cycle, the movement of the moon and the religious movement of the Sun had an integral connection. This is only a practical conclusion which can be drawn from the evidence which was found in the burial sites. Putting personal objects in the grave sites can only be thought of in terms of a belief in those that were buried were going to have need of these objects in an after life. This after life to them could not have been far removed from the present life, or there would be no need of objects from the present life.
It is therefore natural to assume that the ancients did not believe that death was a final act, but a transition from one form of life to another. The Sun to the ancients was born in the East, and then died in the west, only to be reborn again in the East. The cycle that the ancients recognized was a repetition and a continuation of all important acts of life.
As the decline of the Sun marked a death, it also marked a birth into spirit marked by the moon and the mystery the moon came to represent the other side or another world. This is also the rational explanation for their use of red ochre in burial. They believed that death was a birth into another world, or there would have been no logical reason for the use of red ochre in a burial. Thus birth, death and rebirth was a recognized as a cosmic cycle and other planes of existence were accepted as a fact.
This cosmic cycle will be found in the Neolithic period connected to agriculture and circular time. Along with the cosmic cycle there was evidence found of symbolic notation. This notation was based on the moon's phases. This points out the fact that prehistoric man was fascinated by the events in the sky. This fascination led to the observation of the moon over long periods of time. It is only by this type of observation that prehistoric man could notice any patterns that repeat themselves in the sky above them.
We find evidence of this type of observation from the writings of Alexander Marsha, when he writes,
Alexander Marsha has recently been able to demonstrate the existence, in the Upper Paleolithic (20,000 B.C.), of a symbolic system of temporal notation, based on observation of the moon's phases. These notations, which the author terms "time-factored, " that is, accumulated continuously over a long period, permit the supposition that certain seasonal or periodic ceremonies were fixed long in advance.... Writing, arithmetic, and the calendar properly speaking, which make their appearance in the first civilizations, are probably connected with the symbolism with which the system of notations used during the Paleolithic is impregnated.(4)
Along with the burial sites, paintings on walls of caves, and meanders engraved on objects "it now seems evident that these images and symbols refer to certain stories, that is, to events related to the seasons, the habits of game, sexuality, death, the mysterious powers of certain supernatural beings and certain persons (specialist in the sacred)".(5) The analysis of these paintings suggests the existence of a system of rituals which was important to the Paleolithics and indicate a religious calendar officiated over by priests was already in place.
The four major rituals were the Winter Solstice, Vernal Equinox, Summer Solstice and the Autumnal Equinox. The solstices are either of two times a year when the Sun is at its greatest distance from the celestial equator; about June 21, (Summer Solstice) when the Sun reaches its northernmost point on the celestial sphere, or about December 22, (Winter Solstice) when it reaches its southern most point. The equinoxes are the time when the Sun crosses the plane of the Earth's equator, making night and day of equal length all over the earth and occurring about March 21 (Vernal Equinox) and September 22 (Autumnal Aquinox).
Since the ancients believed themselves a part of nature these rituals had a dual meaning to them. Besides celebrations of the seasons they were also a celebration of the cycles of birth, death and rebirth. The ancient cultures did not have the marked distinction between the sacred and the secular that we have today. These ceremonies were lost to the western priesthood during the establishment of the Christian Church and replaced with other ceremonies; Easter for example replaced the Spring Equinox while Christmas replaced the Winter Solstice.
At a more metaphysical level, these rites were originally designed to aid the ancients in reestablishing or strengthening their connection with their divine source, to live in harmony with the cosmic, and thus to participate consciously with the intelligent powers that create and sustain the universe. For them, nature was the visible expression of the divine at work, and the ancient myths repeatedly associated the sky with universal mind or intelligence, which dictates the constitution and demeanor of stars, planets, and all the beings inhabiting them. The universe itself was considered to be a living consciousness in which all beings, including ourselves, were rooted, and drew life, meaning, and substance.
For ancient humanity, the Winter Solstice was an awe-inspiring, mystical, and powerful wonder. The word solstice means the standing still of the sun. From December 22-24 the sun seems to stand still. At the two solstices the sun appears to stand still for a day before beginning its return journey in the opposite direction. It was a time of transition in the annual struggle of radiance and shadow, cold and warmth, abundance and shortage, life and death. The darkest, coldest time of the year was at once the most dreaded and most hopeful of times. It was the period when, throughout human history, people have feared the possibility that days might continue to get shorter, and nights longer, with the inevitable dissolution of life.
Ancient humanity, living at the mercy of a hostile environment used supplicating rites to the forces of nature as a way of celebrating the return of longer, warmer days. To early cultures, the Winter Solstice represented the death of the old solar year and the birth of the new. The Winter Solstice was called the Great Birth.
It was during the Vernal Equinox, that the feminine principle ancient humanity worshiped was fertilized by masculine principle. In ancient times humanity connected spring with the return of life to the earth. Spring Equinox is the season of new life and new spirit. It marks the beginning of the season of fertility and growth. The Spring Equinox is a celebration of balance. For it is not quite Spring and yet not quite winter, it is the time when we are poised between the two seasons. The trees and plants are stirring with renewed life, even though we still receive the wintry storms of March.
It is at the Summer Solstice that the Sun reaches its most northern house, to begin its journey south once more. Earth wanders past the point in its orbit that results in the greatest tilt of the Northern Hemisphere toward the Sun, and all life responds. The long days and short nights indicate it is the time to celebrate the returning light. "The bare and forbidding ground of the winter months is now wreathed in the bright new shining of vivid green; hedgerows once dark and dreary are now decked in jewels and misted with incense, and trees are leafy castles in which singing birds are embowered. Earth has put on her fairest apparel."(6) Mystically the Summer Solstice is the time of renunciation and transformation. Summer symbolizes maturity and ripening judgment, when our natural interest turns to the needs of others. This solstice period is the sacred season of altruism and service.
The Autumnal Equinox is the time of change. The hottest days have passed and each is shorter than the last. Forests on mountains take on brilliant colors. There is much to be done because crops are ripe and it is the harvest season. The point of balance between day and night, is reached every year in late September. So, on the day of the equinox the Sun rises directly east, crosses our sky in the middle of its range, and sets directly west.
The Autumn Equinox also marks the time of the soul's harvest. "All nature is a reflection of God, and man is a reflection of nature, a god in the making. The important events of his life have their correspondences in the activities of nature. As the Autumn Equinox is commemorated, all about is the abundance of harvest time. Fields and storehouses are laden with the bounty produced by the earth in the year now drawing to a close."(7)
The solstices and equinoxes form a wheel. For the sensitive, those who are attuned to the cycles of nature, the seasons and the solstices and equinoxes, great mysteries may be revealed. For just as nature flourishes and grows and then retreats, so does mankind, whether one realizes it or not. The ancient priesthood was aware of these cycles and responded to them through ritual and worship. These rituals and worship services were geared to cleanse the people periodically of error and for rebirth.
The wheel of the solstice and equinoxes is pictured in the Tarot on the card as the Wheel of Fortune. This is both a symbolic representation of the cycles of nature and of reincarnation. Reincarnation is found in the Oral Tradition of all the religions.
Before the advent of spoken language ancient humanity used vowel sounds to communicate and kept history orally. This is the root of the Oral Tradition of the Esoteric schools. Vowel sounds were known to carry spiritual import and to effect change during mediation. Later, as language developed it was deemed as sacred due to the known effects produced by vowel sounds. The keeping of history was assigned to the priesthood as an Oral Tradition and passes down through the ages from one to another. Today the power of the spoken word is hardly realized by the masses.
Corinne Heline writes, considering the power of the human voice prior to the advent of articulate language:
The human voice was able not only to transmit information, orders, or desires but also to bring into being a whole imaginary universe by its sonorous explosions, its phonic innovations. It is enough to think of the fictional creation, not only paramythological and parapoetic but also iconographic, brought into existence by the preliminary exercises of shamans preparing for their ecstatic journeys or by the repetition of mantras during certain yogi meditations, which involve both the rhythm of respiration and at the same time the visualization of the 'mystical syllables.(8)
She continues, noting that nature had a profound effect on the ancient man.
We must always take into consideration the primary experience of the sacrality of the sky and of celestial and atmospheric phenomena. This is one of the few experiences that spontaneously reveal transcendence and majesty. In addition, the ecstatic ascents of shamans, the symbolism of flight, the imaginary experience of altitude as a deliverance from weight, contribute to consecrating the celestial space as supremely the source and dwelling place of superhuman beings: gods, spirits, civilizing heroes.(9)
As vowels gradually progressed into language the magical powers of it also increased. Thus, "the uttered word loosed a force difficult, if not impossible, to annul."(10) By considering the rites and beliefs of typical primitive hunters, some of which have survived until recent rimes in Tierra del Fuego, the Hottentots and Bushmen of Africa, and the Bambuti we can reconstruct certain aspects of the religions of prehistory. Thus the Paleolithic ecstasy of the shamanic type appears to be documented.
The implication of this is the belief in a soul able to leave the body and freely travel through the world, as well as the ability of the soul to meet superhuman beings from whom they can receive blessings and help. Even further, When considering the separation of the sexes, it is possible to believe in the existence of secret rites which men, prior to hunting expeditions performed. By means of initiation rites the secrets were revealed to the adolescents.(11)
The Paleolithics were hunters and gatherers. The Mesolithic period was a transition period between the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods. The Mesolithic and Neolithic periods brought the discovery of agriculture. In the Mesolithic not only do we find the domestication of animals, but also the cultivation of cereals. The various kinds of progress effected during the Mesolithic put an end to the cultural unity of the Paleolithic populations and launch the variety and divergences that will thereafter become the chief characteristic of civilizations."(12)
The root of our ritual of communion using bread and wine, sacred spaces, calendars and the idea of a great Mother may be found in the ancient past as well. It is in the Neolithic era that the technique for calculating time was perfected, the means of subsistence fell upon women, the concept of eating divine substance appeared, the connection of birth, death, and rebirth to vegetation, the common connection between religions, the origin of the concept of sacred space appeared, and finally there is evidence of the practice of libations.
With the advent of agriculture came profound changes that forever effected the history of civilization. Along with agriculture came drastic changes in the social structure. During the hunting and gathering period of the Paleolithic age it was the chief responsibility of the male to provide the means of subsistence. This changed when agriculture became the chief means of subsistence. This change is stated by Mircea Eliade,
By becoming the producer of his food, man was obliged to alter his ancestral behavior. Above all, he had to perfect his technique for calculating time, the first discovery of which had already been made in the Paleolithic. It was no longer enough for him to ascertain certain future dates correctly by means of a rudimentary lunar calendar. From now on, the cultivator had to make his plans several months before they were to be implemented, had to perform, in an exact order, a series of complex activities in view of a distant and, especially in the beginning, always uncertain result: the harvest. In addition, the cultivation of plants imposed a differently oriented division of labor from that which had earlier been in force, for thenceforth the chief responsibility for assuring the means of subsistence fell upon women.(13)
The change from being hunters and gatherers to agriculturist also affected the religious aspects of life for prehistoric man. It is from this change that "the majority of origin myths have been collected among primitive populations practicing either vegeculture or cereal culture."(14)
The death of the semidivine maiden Hainuwele, allows for the first time a deity, the "goddess to be continually present in the life of human beings and even in their death. Obtaining nourishment from plants that have sprung from her own body is, in reality, to obtain it from the actual substance of the goddess."(15)
If the aspirant listens closely to the silence from within there shall be found the echo of this mythical meal of the substance of the body of the goddess in the words of Christ Jesus when he announces take eat for this is my body. "A similar mythical theme explains the origin of food plants both tubers and cereals-as arising from the excreta or the sweat of a divinity or mythical ancestor."(16) "The meaning of these myths is obvious: food plants are sacred, since they are derived from the body of a divinity. By feeding himself, man, in the last analysis, eats a divine being."(17)
With the development of agriculture people began to associate the mystery of birth, death, and rebirth to the rhythm of vegetative growth. Thus "the agrarian cultures develop what may be called a cosmic religion, since religious activity is concentrated around the central mystery: the periodical renewal of the world."(18)
Thus with the concept of cosmic time comes the idea
of circular time and the cosmic cycle. Since the world and human existence are valorized in terms of vegetable life, the cosmic cycle is conceived as the indefinite repetition of the same rhythm: birth, death, rebirth. In post-Vedic India this conception will be elaborated in two intertwined doctrines: that of cycles (yugas), repeated to infinity, and that of the transmigration of souls. In addition, the archaic ideas articulated around the periodic renewal of the world will be taken up again, reinterpreted, and made part of several religious systems of the Near East.(19)
It is during this period that we find the emergence of sacred space, "for the agriculturalist, the 'true world' is the space in which he lives: house, village, cultivated fields. The 'center of the world' is the place consecrated by rituals and prayers, for it is there that communication with the superhuman beings is effected."(20)
Recent archaeological discoveries point out the originality of old cultures of southeastern Europe. "A civilization that includes the cultivation of wheat and barley and the domestication of sheep, cattle, and the pig is manifested simultaneously, about 7000 B.C. or earlier, on the coasts of Greece and Italy, in Crete, in southern Anatolia, in Syria and Palestine, and in the Fertile Crescent."(21) It was in these cultures that, "a large number of objects (seals with ideograms, human and animal figures, theriomorphic vessels, images of divine masks) indicate ritual activities. The importance of this find includes, "a large number of altars and sanctuaries, as well as various cult objects, (that) bear witness to a well organized religion."(22)
"As soon as the earliest texts come to supplement the archeological documents of the Near East, we see how greatly they reveal a universe of meanings that are not only complex and profound but that have long been meditated on and reinterpreted."(23) The stories and myths from Sumer are written accounts of the myths and stories of creation and initiation which were previously pass on by an Oral Tradition.
The earliest text come from Sumer. Thus the "earliest information concerning a number of religious institutions, techniques, and conceptions is preserved in Sumerian texts."(24) Historians and linguist believe "that a population speaking Sumerian, a language that is not Semitic and cannot be explained by any other known linguistic family, came down from the northern regions and settled in Lower Mesopotamia...Not long afterward, groups of nomads coming from the Syrian desert and speaking a Semitic language, Akkadian, began entering the territories north of Sumer, at the same time infiltrating the Sumerian cities in successive waves."(25) The Babylonian culture was "the result of the fusion of these two ethnic stocks."(26)
"The earliest Sumerian texts reflect the work of classification and systematization accomplished by the priests. First of all is the triad of the great gods...At the dawn of its history, the Sumerian religion already proves to be ancient."(27)
The Sumerian triad was An, which meant sky, En-lii, the god of the atmosphere, and En-ki, the Lord of the Earth. The Sumerian account of creation is summarized by Mercia Eliade when he writes,
The Goddess Nammu ( whose name is written with the pictograph representing the primordial sea) is presented as 'the mother who gave birth to the Sky and the Earth' and the ancestress who brought forth all the gods.' The theme of the primordial waters, imagined as a totality at once cosmic and divine, is quite frequent in archaic cosmogonies. In this case too, the watery mass is identified with the original Mother, who, by parthenogenesis, gave birth to the first couple, the Sky (an) and the Earth (ki), incarnating the male and female principles. This first couple was united, to the point of merging in the hieros gamos. From their union was born En-lil, the god of the atmosphere.(28)
The Sumerian account of creation also includes the origin of man. The Sumerians had four narratives of the origin of man. "One myth relates that the first human beings sprouted from the ground like the plants. According to another version, man was fashioned from clay by certain divine artisans; then the goddess Nammu modeled a heart for him, and En-ki gave him life.
Other texts name the goddess Aruru as the creator of human beings. Finally, according to the fourth version, man was formed from the blood of two Lagma gods immolated for the purpose. This last theme was revived and reinterpreted in the famous Babylonian cosmogonic poem, Enema elish."(29) In the Sumerian culture the cosmic order is continually troubled by a serpent and mans errors, crimes and faults, "which must be expiated and purged by the help of various rites. But the world is periodically regenerated, i.e., re-created, by the festival of the New Year."(30)
The theory of celestial models was found in Sumerian, "according to the Sumerian tradition, after the creation of man, one of the gods founded the five cities; he built them in pure places, called their names, apportioned them as cult centers. Since that time the gods have contented themselves with imparting the plans of cities and sanctuaries directly to the sovereigns."(31)
This is found in the works of Plato in the doctrine of Ideas. "Indeed, the theory of celestial models continues and develops the universally disseminated archaic conception that man's acts are only the repetition (imitation) of acts revealed by divine beings."(32) As the Sumerian cosmic order continually goes through the cycle of birth, death and rebirth we also find through the myths of Inanna and Dumuzi and later that of Ishtar and their descent into the underworld, the annual death and rebirth. "The myth relates the defeat of the goddess of love and fertility in her attempt to conquer the kingdom of Ereshkigal, this, to abolish death. In consequence, men, as well as certain gods, have to accept the alternation life/death."(33)
"The Epic of Gilgamesh is certainly the best known and most popular of the Babylonian creations."(34) It is not only the story of Gilgamesh's failed attempt to overcome mortality, it "can also be understood as illustrating the belief that certain beings are capable, even without help from the gods, of obtaining immortality, on the condition that they successfully pass through a series of initiatory ordeals."(35)
The Egyptian myth of Osiris tells of his murder by Seth, who dismembers his body and scatters the parts over the Nile. The son and successor of Osiris, Horus, gathers the body back together and brings Osiris back to life, then Osiris ascends into the spirit world of the gods. The act of dismemberment is found in the myth of Tammuz, and again in Greece in the myth of Orpheus. "Great Mythologies that were finally transmitted as written texts, the "primitive" mythologies, discovered by the earliest travelers, missionaries, and ethnographers in the "oral" stage, have a "history." In other words, they have been transformed and enriched in the course of the ages under the influence of higher cultures."(36)
The importance of myth is that it "narrates a sacred history; it relates an event that took place in primordial Time, the fabled time of the "beginnings." In other words, myth tells how, through the deeds of Supernatural Beings, a reality came into existence, be it the whole of reality, the Cosmos, or only a fragment of reality."(37)
Myths have both an exoteric and an esoteric tradition. They originated with the priesthood as a means if imparting teachings. The myth itself is exoteric, meaning suitable for or communicated to the general public. The esoteric was intended for only the initiates or priests. The Oral Tradition contained the esoteric doctrine of initiation. The esoteric doctrine of initiation in both ancient and modern times is taught face to face in the Oral Tradition.
It is in this tradition that the arts of the priesthood were revealed. The esoteric doctrine is what Jesus imparted to the apostles in secret. This doctrine is alluded to in the New Testament, Matthew 1: 34-35.... "All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world."(38)
The dismemberment of Osiris is analogous not only to the shamanic illness, but also to the crucifixion of Jesus. The dismemberment refers to a total dissociation with the old human form, and the reassembly of the body by Horus refers to the rebirth. St. Paul referred to this when he wrote, " It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit."(39)
The rebirth is an initiatory experience. This experience was most beautifully written in the Gospel of Luke, " The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness. Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness. If thy whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light."(40)
This experience is known as illumination, and was reserved for priests and shamans only. It was Jesus who opened this experience to the common man. Today the priests of the Western Tradition seek to carry on the work of Jesus Christ. This called The Great Work or simply The Work.
The ancient teachings contained in the myths were taught in the early Christian church, but were systematically replaced by orthodoxy. It was after the Apostolic age of the Christian Church that the actual teachings of Jesus Christ were systematically abandoned. The apostolic age lasted through the death of the last apostle. It was then that the teachings were lost and the mystery schools began to cloister themselves from public view. The Esoteric priesthood hid itself as the Christian Church began to establish their own interpretation of the teachings of Christ, hence the evolution of church dogmas and the demise of the Oral Tradition wherein teachers and students interfaced in a personal relationship.
Through the first century the teachings of the Christian church consisted of the Old Testament and the words of Jesus circulated in the Oral Tradition. "For the first hundred years, at least, of its history the Church's Scriptures, in the precise sense of the word, consisted exclusively of the Old Testament."(41)
It is important to note that "Judaism was the religion of a book in a way that no other ancient religion was...There were no more prophets to proclaim the immediate word of God. God's revelation to his people was in writing,"(42) Jesus was born into this Jewish tradition.
There were three main groups in the early church, the Gentiles, the Christian Jews, and the Gnostics. Contrary to the beliefs of many historians the Gnostics were not a product of the early church, rather they were the ancient priesthood--those who sought gnosis or a personal experience of God.
Many of the early Christians were "devout Gentiles commonly called 'God-Fearers' (the term applied to any good synagogue member)."(43) Many of the Gentiles were admitted by the Hellenized Jews as "adherents without insisting on circumcision as generally necessary to salvation."(44)
The Christian Jews on the other hand held to the necessity of circumcision. Christianity was also able to attract the more traditional Jewish adherent. "It appealed both to the Pharisees' sense that the revealed will of God was a matter demanding to be taken with the most intense seriousness and also to the ordinary Jew's feeling that too much of the Pharisaic scrupulousness about the law had ended in niggling ceremonial niceties that missed the central point of religion."(45) The other major sect was the Gnostic.
The term Gnostic comes from the Greek word gnosis which means knowing. The Gnostics believed that God is to be experienced rather than just blindly accepted. Gnosticism has been regarded "as a movement or, more precisely, a tendency which was wider and older than Christianity.
The product of syncretism, Gnosticism drew upon Jewish, Pagan and Oriental sources, and brought a distinctive attitude and certain characteristic ideas to the solution of the problem of evil and human destiny."(46) In the Gnostic sects as well as the Gentile and Christian Jews there was no homogeneity. Thus the early Christian churches composed a landscape of many differing ideas in competition with each other.
While there were numerous Greek translations of the Old Testament, "the Septuagint, or version of the Seventy translators, became the authorized version of the early Gentile churches."(47) The early Christians probably "appeared only as one more sects or groups within a Judaism that was already accustomed to considerable diversity in religious expression."(48) There were three main sects of Judaism, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Essenes.
"The Pharisees were the party most anxious to preserve the distinctively religious and theocratic character of Jewish life."(49) While the Sadducees "tended to be drawn from the leading aristocratic families, held only to the Mosaic Law and did not feel bound by scribal tradition; moreover, they rejected belief in the resurrection of the dead as a doctrine only found in writings like the book of Daniel, composed long after Moses' time."(50)
"The Pharisees were the champions of the oral Law which at first was quite independent of the written Torah, and was deeply entrenched in old popular custom and usage. On the other hand, the Sadducees mainly represented the old conservative positions of the priesthood, and inherited the tradition of the older scribism."(51)
The Essenes "rejected the sacrifices and priesthood of the officially recognized worship in the temple at Jerusalem, and looked back to their founder-hero, the Teacher of righteousness."(52) The Essenes were close adherents to the practice of initiation. Even "entrance to the community was hedged about with tests and solemn vows preceded by a novitiate, and any delinquency led to expulsion."(53) They lived a ritualistic life style which included "frequent ritual washings, and had a sacred common meal to which the uninitiated were not admitted."(54)
The fact that Jesus did not write anything, and that his disciples did not commit anything to writing until the latter half of the first century, gave the orthodox view the time and circumstance necessary to gain control of the early church. There was not much thought given to writing the teachings of Jesus because throughout much of the first century the original disciples were still living and could tell orally what they had seen and heard. Jesus himself did not write anything that we know of. Indeed, he taught in the Oral Tradition.
The earliest writing was the Gospel of Mark. "Tradition connects it with information supplied by Peter, and may justify us in associating its composition with the Roman church about 70 A.D."(55) The Gospel of Matthew uses the Gospel of Mark as one of its sources, "but only one; the unknown author draws on special traditions, including a collection of Sayings, which, in some form or other, must also have lain before Luke."(56)
The Gospel of Luke "the third Gospel is the most literary of the four, with a preface in which the author explains his aim and method. He too had access to special traditions, besides the Gospel of Mark... Few doubts are felt that he was the physician and friend of the apostle Paul, although his work was written after the latter's death."(57)
"Luke's Gospel is the only one of the four which has a sequel. His second volume, called The Acts of the Apostle, carries on the tale of the primitive disciples from the 'Ascension to the arrival of Paul at Rome about 60 (65) A.D."(58)
John the fourth Gospel "along with the contemporary pamphlet, called the First Epistle of John, comes from a circle at Ephesus toward the close of the first century, and whatever be its sources, its affinities are Greek, in thought and language."(59)
The Epistles or letters provided supervision and guidance to the early churches during the absence of the apostles. "The earliest part of the N.T. literature consists of such letters, about a dozen in all, mainly sent by the apostle Paul to various communities founded by himself or by some of his coadjutors."(60)
"The only apostle besides Paul who is known to have written in this way is Peter. The First Epistle of Peter falls with the Pauline letters inside the years 50 - 65 A.D....Between 70 and 100 A.D. the other epistles came into being, though little is known about their origin."(61)
The bulk of what Jesus taught was passed on through the Oral Tradition. The incursion of orthodoxy into the early church used a three fold attack to nullify the Oral Tradition which contained the fullness of the teachings of Jesus. This signaled the end of the esoteric teachings of Christ.
The first attack was on the issue of authority, who really had the teachings, the second was the gradual formation of the New Testament, and the third was the Rule of Faith.
In the late first century and early second century Ignatius of Antioch sought to answer the question of authority by "claiming that the bishop is God's representative on earth, an earthly counterpart corresponding to the heavenly Monarch, so that 'we ought to regard the bishop as the Lord himself.' "(62) Hence the bishop was given authority to rule over members of the church even if he was not accepted by the membership. Students were denied the right to choose their teachers and the Oral Tradition was stultified.
Clement (180-200 CE) extended this idea and said about any secret teachings or the Oral Tradition ascribed to Jesus forty days after the resurrection that "the Apostles Peter and Paul could not have failed to impart such doctrines to those whom they had set over the churches."(63) This was the doctrine which established apostolicity which later became equated with orthodoxy. The written word became the sole authority for teaching and receiving teaching.
Orthodoxy sought "control of authentic tradition which a written document possessed and which oral transmission did not."(64) The disputes as to which books should be included in the new testament went on until the latter part of the third century.
"Athanasius, the Bishop of Alexandria, who had lived in exile in Rome in the period after Constantine and who enjoyed the support of the Roman Church, served as a mediator. His Festal Epistle of A.D. 367 is commonly regarded as the first to define the canon of the New Testament as consisting of those twenty-seven books that now make up its content."(65)
The Rule of Faith used by Irenaeus (180 CE) and Tertullian (200 - 210) was a summary of the redemptive process as they saw it. "Irenaeus declares that the whole Church believes 'in one God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and the seas and all that is therein, and in one Christ Jesus the Son of God, who was made flesh for our salvation, and in the Holy Spirit who through the prophets preached the dispensations and the comings and the virgin birth and the passion, and the rising from the dead and the assumption into heaven in his flesh of our beloved Lord Jesus Christ, and his coming from heaven in the glory of the Father...to raise up all flesh."(66)
"This Rule (that Irenaeus claimed) is what the bishops teach now and therefore comes down from the apostles,"(67) states Henry Chadwick. Tertullian also wrote in his time period that "To appeal to the Rule of Faith is to appeal to what is now being taught by the churches of apostolic foundation."(68) By the second century the Oral Tradition and the priesthood established by Christ had been reduced to a rigid and dogmatic structure. The mysteries had been lost.
The effect of these three doctrines was to eliminate from the early church, not only the Oral Tradition but also the Gnostic sects; those who accepted as truth only that which came from within, however, the oral tradition for one who has had the inner experiences may be found woven within the New Testament in spite of the attempts of the Early Church Fathers to eradicate it. Only a few examples will be cited. Other writings on these teachings will follow in the future.
The first doctrine to be examined is that of reincarnation. "It is the Sanskrit word samsara that has been translated as reincarnation. Literally the word reincarnation means to incarnate again, to be re-embodied, or more accurately, to be re-enfleshed: to return after death to the physical world in another physical body."(69)
The doctrine of reincarnation is found in the New Testament in the Gospel of John.
"And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."(70)
Since the man was born blind the question itself contains the concept that the man lived before. Since Jesus did not rebuke the disciples for having the concept of reincarnation is in itself an admission to teaching the doctrine.
We again find reference to the doctrine of reincarnation in the Gospel of Matthew when it is written,
And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.(71)
In this passage Jesus is directly stating a fact. That fact is that John and Elias are the same person. Jesus then states if you have ears then hear what was just said.
Reincarnation depends upon the doctrine of cause and effect. These two doctrines go hand in hand, one cannot be taught without the other. Thus if one asserts that Jesus taught reincarnation, the doctrine of cause and effect must also be present in his teachings. To find this doctrine we turn to the Gospel of Matthew where it is written, "Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again."(72) This is a succinct expression of the Buddhist doctrine of samsara. The doctrines of cause and effect and reincarnation are elementary principles involved in the teachings and initiation.
Initiate means to admit with formal rites into secret knowledge. It is this secret knowledge which the oral tradition passes to its adherent. The purpose of initiation may be found in what it produces. The purpose of life is the meaning behind initiation. It is a journey which was beautifully expressed by Max Heindel when he wrote,
"Ever since mankind, the prodigal spirit sons of our Father in Heaven, wandered into the wilderness of the world and fed upon the husks if its pleasures, which starve the soul as husks would starve the body, there has been within man's heart a soundless voice urging him to return; but most mean are so engrossed in material interests that they hear it not."(73)
We find this journey or return in the New Testament as the parable of the prodical son.
In esoteric teachings the return is enumerated through twelve solar initiations and the word man is noted as an abbreviation for the word manifestation. These require study, mediation and contemplation in order to be understood.
The first initiation is of air, it is like looking in the front of a book before reading it.
The second initiation deals with study of will and soul with the emphasis on mental development and memory.
The third initiation deals with the demonstration of alchemic principles and mental phenomena. The cause and effects in God.
The fourth initiation is the introduction into the mysteries of life.
The fifth initiation deals with ritual and understanding; the receiving of ancient philosophy. This is the time of intuitive development, the opening of the door of intuition.
The sixth initiation deals with lessons and explanations of the secret processes of the body.
The seventh degree is the beginning of intuitive initiation, dispensing with reality of material life and earth matter. The art of projection of the spiritual body and development of ones etheric body and the lost word in preparation for complete intuitive realization.
The eighth initiation is a recapitulation and preparation for final study of higher principles and of projection through and in space.
The ninth initiation relates to the final hours of earth, the final physical initiation.
The first nine initiations bring a person to a state of consciousness of one degree or another of reality, and they leave a stamp which the individual may not remember, but will learn to use as the being progresses into the Greater Mysteries.
The tenth, eleventh, and twelfth initiations are the higher initiations which are necessary to realize the God-Self and enter into the priesthood which is the right of every being and the gift that Christ brought.
The priesthood is explained in Hebrews,
If therefore perfection were by the Levitical Priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchizedek, and not be called after the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law. For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood.
And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchizedek there ariseth another priest, Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life. For he testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek. For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof. For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God.
And inasmuch as not without an oath he was made priest: (For those priests were made without an oath; but this with an oath by him that said unto him, The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek:) By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament.
And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this he did once, when he offered up himself.(74)
Peace Be Unto You.
1. Dr. Susan T. Mahan, "Western Religions Reader II: Religious Studies 70A" (San Jose State University, 1991), 4-7.
2. Mircea Eliade, A History of Religious Ideas, vol. 1, From the Stone Age to the Eleusinian Mysteries (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1978), 9.
3. Ibid., 11.
4. Alexander Marsha, The Roots of Civilization, 81, quoted in Mircea Eliade: A History of Religious Ideas (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 22.
5. Ibid., 23.
6. Corinne Heline, Star Gates (Los Angeles: New Age Press, Inc, 1965) 153.
7. Ibid., 48.
8. Ibid., 27.
9. Ibid., 27.
10. Ibid., 28.
11. Ibid., 24-25.
12. Ibid., 35.
13. Ibid., 38.
14. Ibid., 38.
15. Ibid., 38.
16. Ibid., 39.
17. Ibid., 39.
18. Ibid., 41.
19. fIbid., 42.
20. Ibid., 42-43
21. Ibid., 49.
22. Ibid., 49.
23. Ibid., 51.
24. Ibid., 56.
25. Ibid., 56.
26. Ibid., 56
27. Ibid., 57.
28. Ibid., 57-58.
29. Ibid., 59.
30. Ibid., 60.
31. Ibid., 61.
32. Ibid., 62.
33. Ibid., 67.
34. Ibid., 77.
35. Ibid., 80.
36. Mircea Eliade, Myth and Reality (New York: Harper & Row, 1963), 4.
37. Ibid., 5.
38. King James Version Matthew Chapter 1: 34-35.
39. Ibid., I Cor 15: 44-45.
40. Ibid., Luke 11:34-36.
41. J.D.N. Kelly, F.B.A., Early Christian Doctrines (San Francisco: Harper & Row 1978).52
42. Henry Chadwick, The Early Church (New York: Dorset Press 1986).11
44. ibid 11
45. ibid 15
46. Early Christian Doctrines. 23
50. ibid 13
51. The Abingdon Bible Commentary edited by Frederick Carl Eiselen, Edwin Lewis, David G. Downey (Nashville: Abingdon Press 1929). 841
52. The Early Church. 13-14
53. ibid. 14
54. ibid 14
55. The Abingdon Bible Commentary. 856
56. ibid. 856
57. ibid. 856 - 857
58. ibid. 857
59. ibid. 857
60. ibid. 854
61. ibid. 854
62. The Early Church. 41
63. ibid. 42
64. ibid. 43
65. Christianity. 72
66. The Early Church. 44
67. ibid. 45
68. ibid. 45
69. Manly P. Hall, Reincarnation the Cycle of Necessity (Los Angeles: The Philosophical Research Society, Inc. 1967) 15
70. King James Version John 9: 1-5.
71. Ibid., Mat 11:7-15.
72. King James Version. Matthew 7:2.
73. Max Heindel, Ancient and Modern Initiation (Oceanside: The Rosicrucian Fellowship 1931) 9.
74. King James Version Hebrews 7:11-27.
These writings are posted with the permission of the writer.
All Rights Reserved.