The Septenary Cosmology of Tayyibi and Blavatskyan Gnosis

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Isma’ili scholars have long made intriguing exegeses of the Arabic alphabet, the Quran, cosmology and history. Their excavations relying, primarily, on groupings of two, seven, and twelve. The name of God was composed of seven letters (Bism’ullah), which corresponded to the seven verses of the first sura; there were seven natiqs (prophets), whose endeavors inaugurated each epoch in world history, the seven letters also engendered seven heavens, seven earths, seven seas, and seven days of the week. The prophet Muhammad was understood to be the sixth natiq, and the Ismaili’s anticipated a seventh; a messianic prophet called a Qa’im, who would proclaim a seventh, and final epoch in this iteration of history.[1]

History, and orthodoxy, are constructed by a dominant narrative, as such, Ismaili cosmology is relegated to the esoteric sideline whenever a discourse on Islam occurs. The Isma’ili are a minority of a minority; a community belong to the Shia branch of Islam, a group who along with the Sunni, make up one of the two major branches of Islam. The Shia are differentiated from their Sunni counterparts in a myriad of different ways, one of which is the contested authority of leadership, following the passing of their Prophet Muhammad. The Shia believe that the spiritual authority of their faith continued in a series of Imams rather than the jurisdiction of the Sunni Caliphate. The two main branches of Shia Islam are the Twelvers and the Seveners, so named, because of the number of Imams that they recognize. The Seveners, also called Isma’ili, recognize Ismail as the last Imam before the seventh Imam went into occultation.

In the late nineteenth-century Helena Blavatsky, the Russian occultist, adventurer, and author dedicated her life studying religions, and exploring esoteric currents in Europe and Asia. Often, it is claimed, ingratiating herself into local communities and learning of their sacred beliefs and practices. During her travels, she collected the rituals and myths of different communities and synthesized them into a belief system called Theosophy. One of the groups that she lived with, the Druze of Lebanon, were an off-shoot of Syrian Isma’ili. Though the evidence is little more than conjecture, the similarities of cosmologies between the Isma’ili and Theosophy are tantalizing. Blavatsky wrote:

People call and believe me an “adept.” They verily [believe] that I was initiated in the pagodas! I, a woman, and a European!! The absurdity of the notion is really…calculated to make one stare in amazement! I, at least never pretended such a flagrant lie. I know too much of India and its customs…that no European man, let alone a woman, could ever penetrate the inner recesses of the pagodas. But I have had many friends among Buddhists and knew well two Brahmins at Travancore and learned a good deal fromthem. I belong to the secret sect of the Druzes of the Mount Lebanon and passed a long life among dervishes, Persian mullahs, and mystics of all sort.[2]

In Henry Corbin’s seminal work on Isma’ili cosmology, Cyclical Time and Ismaili Gnosis, he describes the unique meaning Isma’ili scholars ascribe to the doctrine of the resurrection. The sevenfold hermetic nature of the individual is resurrected by the effects of the principle immediately above it in the platonic scale.[3]

The movement of perpetual elevation is propagated from the summit to the base of the mystical hierarchy. Finally, just as the seven periods of a cycle are closed by a Grand Resurrection (Qiyamat-e-Qiyamat), instituted by the Qa’im par excellence, the “Perfect Child” who leads back (ta’wil) to the Angel all those in the cycle who have belonged to his posterity—that is, who have borne his image and fought his battle—so, likewise, at the end of the cycle of his individual life, at the seventh degree of his ascension, the adept finds him- self on the threshold of the perfect angelicity (fereshtagi) of the Tenth Intelligence. This is the dawn of his Grand Resurrection.

When compared with a Theosophical worldview, the parallels are compelling. In both belief systems, the doctrines of cyclical eschatology, hermetic microcosms, evolutionary time, and eternal progression are articulated. In Annie Besant’s lecture, The Sphinx of Theosophy, she explains:

And then, when that view of the Universe has worked itself into your thought, when you realize that you are part of this mighty whole, that your individual self is a portion of the evolving life, that your humanity is the very image in small of the Universe at large, that the evolution of humanity is the great object of this mighty cycling through eternity, then you have caught, as it were, the first glimpse of this great philosophy of life , you have taken your first steps on that path of knowledge which takes us so far onwards into the future, as well as gathers up for us all the treasures of the past. From this rough outline of the cosmical view, this view of the Universe as a mighty and evolving life through the seven stages, turn from that to man, the microcosm, who reproduces, as it were, in himself the very essence of this total evolution, the man sevenfold as the Universe is sevenfold, and each stage of the human life corresponding to a stage of the Universe.[4]

Hierohistory

The Tayyibi system of Neoplatonic emanation, preserved the structural integrity of earlier Fatimid traditions and literature, while developing increasingly more elaborate doctrinal innovations like the addition a primordial sacred dramaturgy. This haqa’iq system synthesized earlier Isma’ili ideas with the system developed in al-Kirmani’s Rahat aql and gnostic cosmology[5]; the result was a divine anthropology that saw ten separate intellects as opposed to earlier neoplatonic systems.[6]

Philosophical cerebration anchored in astronomical and astrological theory, saw a Tayyibi system that introduced a permutation in hiero-history with an ornate system of septenary emanations and prophetic eras.  Realized as a system of innumerable cyclical rounds of humanities, all leading from their genesis to a final Great Resurrection.

[7]In the Tayyibi cosmogenesis, the primordial Pleroma, or the Intelligible World (alam al-ibda) created itself at once, and populated itself with countless spiritual forms called suwar, which were equal in all respects; this was a state called the First Perfection (al-kamal al-awwal).

One of these suwar, in a spiritual singularity, contemplated himself, became self-aware, and realized that he was an originated being.[8] In gratitude and humility, this suwar gives praise to his originator, al-mubdi. For his servitude, he is recognized, with special distinction, variously, as the First Intellect (al-aql-al awwal), the First Originated Being (al mubda al-awwal) and The Pen (al-qalam).[9] For consistency and clarity, I will use the last of these three monikers, The Pen, throughout the rest of the paper.

The Pen, in what could most appropriately be described as the da’wa of heaven, appealed to his compatriot suwars to follow his example, and recognize the First Perfection and its tawhid. Those suwars who were beckoned by this call to veneration were rewarded with rank in the huqud of the celestial hierarchy. These positions, therefore, were arranged in descending order, in accordance to the alacrity of their response.[10]

The dramaturgy of creation is complicated by competition and rivalry in the first two emanations that sprang from the The Pen. The first emanation from The Pen, known as the Second Intellect and the Universal Soul responds swiftly and is rewarded accordingly. The second emanation, alternatively, the Third Intellect, recognizes The Originator, but refuses to acknowledge the authority of Universal Soul, because he believes himself to be his equal.[11]

The now stabilized, repentant, Tenth Intellect ripped a tear in the cosmological canvas, and created a temporal anomaly, takhalluf.

This insolent, and tragic transgression towards the preceding Archangelic hypostasis is understood to be the first sin. In punishment, the Third Intellect fell into a neglected, coma-like state. He fell from his exalted third rank in the hierarchy, to the tenth; now behind the successive seven intellects who had heeded the call. In his stupor, and resulting fall, the now stabilized,repentant, Tenth Intellect ripped a tear in the cosmological canvas, and created a temporal anomaly, takhalluf. This temporal rip, which allowed darkness to enter the universe, also causes an arrested eternity, and a prototype for septenary cyclical history.[12] The fallen protagonist, who is still a being of light, must now redeem himself by subduing the darkness he introduced to creation, and climbing the platonic chain of being.[13]

There were, yet, other suwars who had committed the sin of insolence; their fall, and the shadow of their sins, coalesced into the bedrock of a crass material world, a world in which the Tenth Intellect became the steward or Demiurge.[14] Their movements, the corporeal manifestations of confusion and doubt, became the blueprints of dimension; width, depth, space, spheres, elements, and matter. In his role as steward of these misguided spirits, the Tenth Intellect assumes the mantle of Spiritual Adam, where he will try to atone for his sins by shepherding the fallen spirits into repentance.[15]  Some of the fallen respond to the appeals of Spiritual Adam and become the celestial archetypes of the earthly proclaimers of spiritual Truth. It is a terrestrial homologue of the The Pen and the epiphanic form of the Spiritual Adam; a Universal Adam emanates from the Spiritual Adam and becomes the representative of the da’wa of Earth.[16]

Hence the primordial universe is transformed into the spiritual battleground between the children of the Spiritual Adam and the children of Iblis. The children of the Spiritual Adam, in his soteriological schema, battle the corrupt offspring of Iblis throughout cyclical history, until they are, at last, redeemed and triumphant.[17]

Theosophical Hierohistory

The septenary cycles of time in Blavatskyan gnosis become a central theme in the Theosophical worldview; perhaps using a similar grammar to Tayyibi thought but with a modified vocabulary for a new audience. While the analogues may simply be anecdotal, the resemblance is difficult to dismiss summarily.

Any discernable primordial dramaturgy is largely absent in this system; this Blavatskyan worldview is a cyclical pulsation that emanates and contrasts within itself in overlapping rounds of seven. A round , in Theosophy, is the process in a planetary chain on which a monad (soul) begins its evolutionary life-cycle. The monad begins its journey on the first, most etheric and spiritual of the series of seven globes; upon finishing its evolution there, it transmigrates to increasingly dense planes, ending its rebirth on the most manifest globe called “D.” This most material globe, like the Tayyibi system, is the physical Earth.

From Earth, the monad proceeds on an arc of ascension, through increasingly ethereal planes. Each of these globes fuse with the physical earth, yet they are not of the same essence. Instead of a system of septenary Intellects and “apotheosis,” the rounds of ascension correspond to increasingly pure and spiritual earths.[18] In what is, essentially, the catechism of the Theosophical Society, The Key to Theosophy addresses the septenary constitution of our planet. As we see in this passage:

 

ENQUIRER. I understand that you describe our earth as forming part of a chain of earths?

THEOSOPHIST. We do. But the other six “earths” or globes, are not on the same plane of objectivity as our earth is; therefore, we cannot see them.

ENQUIRER. Is that on account of the great distance?

THEOSOPHIST. Not at all, for we see with our naked eye planets and even stars at immeasurably greater distances; but it is owing to those six globes being outside our physical means of perception, or plane of being. It is not only that their material density, weight, or fabric are entirely different from those of our earth and the other known planets; but they are (to us) on an entirely different layer of space, so to speak; a layer not to be perceived or felt by our physical senses. And when I say “layer,” please do not allow your fancy to suggest to you layers like strata or beds laid one over the other, for this would only lead to another absurd misconception. What I mean by “layer” is that plane of infinite space which by its nature cannot fall under our ordinary waking perceptions, whether mental or physical; but which exists in nature outside of our normal mentality or consciousness, outside of our three-dimensional space, and outside of our division of time. Each of the seven fundamental planes (or layers) in space — of course as a whole, as the pure space of Locke’s definition, not as our finite space — has its own objectivity and subjectivity, its own space and time, its own consciousness and set of senses. But all this will be hardly comprehensible to one trained in the modern ways of thought.[19]

Presumably, within both cosmological systems, the dimensions that govern our reality would be obsolete and meaningless as the spiritual migration toward the Originator develops.

The implications from this statement suggest an entire stratum of hierarchical planes that exist outside of the dimensions that we can comprehend on this Earth. In the Tayyibi system, the dimensions with which we use to measure dimensions exist solely as the result of a spiritual fall. Presumably, within both cosmological systems, the dimensions that govern our reality would be obsolete and meaningless as the spiritual migration toward the Originator develops.

The seven globes make up what is essentially a great globe and they each interpenetrate one another. These globes are united in one mass, though differing from each other in substance.[20]The Monads traverse through the evolution of the Earth Chain in a stream from the seven previous globes in what is called a “life wave” to reach this material Earth.

Like Tayyibi conceptions, all of creation occurs at once; cosmic intelligence being coeval with cosmic substance. Using Hindu terminology, Blavatsky calls this astronomical time measurement, Manvantaric, or an age of a Manu, after the Hindu progenitor of humanity. The primordial creator is the Universal Mind called the Mahat or Divine Thought who is the origin of all consciousness and intelligence and who engineers the manifestation of the universe. The labor for building the cosmos was supplied by “Hosts of Intelligent Powers and Forces.”[21] As explained in Blavatsky’s magnum opus, The Secret Doctrine:

Cosmic Ideation is non-existent; and the variously differentiated states of Cosmic Substance are resolved back again into the primary state of abstract potential objectivity. Manvantaric impulse commences with the re-awakening of Cosmic Ideation (the “Universal Mind”) concurrently with, and parallel to the primary emergence of Cosmic Substance—the latter being the manvantaric vehicle of the former—from its undifferentiated pralayic state. Then, absolute wisdom mirrors itself in its Ideation; which, by a transcendental process, superior to and incomprehensible by human Consciousness, results in Cosmic Energy (Fohat) Apart from Cosmic Substance, Cosmic Ideation could not manifest as individual consciousness, since it is only through a vehicleof matter that consciousness wells up as “I am I,” a physical basis being necessary to focus a ray of the Universal Mind at a certain stage of complexity.[22]

 Mythohistory

 At the dawn of the Tayyibi mythohistory, the epiphanic Universal Adam makes his entrance; he launches the inaugural first cycle of epiphany (dawr al-kashf) in the cycle of cycles. He became the archive and transmitter of the Imamate Cosmic, and as the primordial Imam (ma’sum) he is immune to impurity and sin. The celestial architecture of the heavenly da’wa is reflected in the terrestrial da’wa in which the Universal Adam establishes. The Earth is divided into twelve regions (jaza’ir) and each jurisdiction is under the governance of a loyal lieutenant who responded to the da’wa of the Spiritual Adam/Demiurge.[23]

This inaugural cycle is said to have endured fifty-thousand years, and was a period of knowledge (ilm) sans action; a generation of pure gnosis where laws were not required. This Arcadian society lasted until the advent of the Era of Concealment (Dawr-al satr), when the reemergence of the Iblis disturbed the harmonic order and the time of manifestation was overshadowed by an era of concealment. In the end, however, Iblis is conquered by the Spiritual Adam and the next cycle of cosmic history begins.[24]

It is important, here, to note that these manifestations of the Adamic Force, that is to say the Spiritual Adam and the Universal Adam, should not be conflated with the Historic Adam, the Adam of the Qur’an and Bible. The textual Adam, the progenitor of our species, is understood, in this system, to be only a partial Adam; one part of the larger body-Adamic.[25] 

At the end of the Inaugural Cycle, the Universal Adam and his adherents ascended to the Horizon of the Tenth Intellect and took his place, in turn the Spiritual Adam/Tenth Intellect advanced a degree to the Ninth Intellect, ascending ever closer to the original rank he held in the primordial Pleroma.[26] Subsequent cycles follow this initial pattern; the last Imam of a cycle, who is known the qa’im, is a messianic-like figure that becomes the seal of that respective rotation and the governor of the resurrection (qiyama); after his passing, the structure takes the place of the Tenth Intellect. It is in this scheme of petite-apotheose that each qa’im al-qiyama, the conclusion of every cycle, marks the progressive septenary elevation of the Spiritual Adam toward the primeval archangelic-couplet in the celestial hierarchy from which he first emanated.[27] As the evolution progresses throughout the cycles from qa’im to qa’im, the Spiritual Adam gradually rises in rank and time and heals the cleavage that resulted in the escape of Iblis; this merger, the annulment of darkness, and an alloyed archangelic-hypostasis with the Universal Soul, is a central concept to this system of gnosis.[28]  

The Universal Adam initiated the first Imamate, and became the first to fulfill the task which would establish the precedent for every subsequent Imam and Qa’im in a cycle, particularly the final Qa’im. The Universal Adam represents the first terrene, epiphanic-form of the Spiritual Adam and the final Qa’im will, thus, be his final terrestrial form. It is the Qa’im of each partial, septenary cycle who is the manifestation of the eternal imam and who will consummate all the aeons comprised of an innumerably vast number of cycles. When all the partial resurrections are synthesized in the last qi’yamat, the Qa’im of the Great Resurrection will close the Grand Cycle (al-kawr al-a’zam) and see the restoration of Spiritual Adam to his rightful throne and redeem humanity.[29]

There have been an unknown number of successive cycles of kashr and satr predating our current era; each one of these cycles consisting of structured septenary rotations of evolution. This, our current epoch, was initiated by the our partial-Adam; the first natiq; the Historic Adam described in the Qur’an. Like all other cycles in this schema, when this era is closed by the Qa’im and seventh natiq, there will be another cycle of manifestations inaugurated by the next Adam. Countless alternations of these cycles will continue until the Qa’im of the Great Resurrection becomes the Lord of the Resurrection and reaches the summit of the eternal imamate and achieves the culmination of Tayyibi mythohistory. [30]

The homologous Theosophical conception of the Adamic Force, is the reinterpreted Manu of Hinduism. The term Manu has come to represent various meanings in the constellation of Hindu mythologies. In early literature, he refers to the archetypal man, and progenitor of humanity. In Sanskrit, the term for ‘human’, maanava, translates to “the children of Manu”; in later traditions Manu is a title of spiritually enlightened beings that inaugurate each cyclic aeon (kalpa) when the universe is reborn.[31]

In the milieu of Theosophical works, Manu refers to the hierarchy of celestial beings that act as stewards for shepherding the evolution in Planetary Chain. Like the partial-Adams of Tayyibi cosmology, there is a Manu in charge of each of the septenary Theosophical rounds, as well as a globe and root-race. And like the Universal Adam’s epiphanic manifestation from the Spiritual Adam, they are all understood to be emanations from the primordial Manu. Blavatsky even explains the concept using motif of spiritual light

In the exoteric teaching, he is the beginning of this earth, and from him and his daughter Ila humanity is born; he is a unity which contains all the pluralities and their modifications. Every Manvantara has thus its own Manu and from this Manu the various Manus or rather all the Manasa of the Kalpas will proceed. As an analogy, he may be compared to the white light which contains all the other rays, giving birth to them by passing through the prism of differentiation and evolution. But this pertains to the esoteric and metaphysical teachings.[32]

Henry Corbin describes a fascinating theological concept that articulates a proto-root race concept, that would certainly not be misplaced in a Theosophical mythohistory. He describes various incarnations of humanities in the cyclical plenary rounds and the partial-Adams that were their engineers and guides:

“Or rather, this proposition is intelligible only if we have in mind the universe constituted by 18,000 worlds—that is to say, successive cycles each of which is actually one world. These worlds result not from a historical causality but from a homology between cycles exemplifying the same archetypes. In short, there was a race of human beings superior to ours, who were the educators of our race; to this race belonged the Adam of the Bible and Koran. Far from having been the first man on earth, Adam was one of the last survivors of the cycle of Epiphany preceding our cycle of Occupation.”[33]

The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett are important works that framed Theosophy’s views of the cosmos and spiritual hierarchy.  Letter sixty-five is particularly rich in cosmological explanations and detailed descriptions of the evolutionary cycles of various sevenfold nature of humanity. “Then comes man on (globe) A, an ethereal foreshadowing of the compact being he is destined to become on our earth. Evolving seven parent races with many offshoots of sub-races, he, like the preceding kingdoms completes his seven rings and is then transferred successively to each of the globes onward to (planet) Z.”[34] In the current evolutionary round of the Theosophical worldview, we are on our fourth globe and fifth race of humanity advancing towards our next incarnation. “The descending arc from (globe) A to our earth is called the shadowy, the ascending to Z the ‘luminous’ . . . We men of the fourth round are already reaching the latter half of the fifth race of our fourth-round humanity…”[35] 

The sevenfold Earth is an entity and not a “mere lump of gross matter”[36] and being an entity of a septenary nature there must be, according to Theosophists, six other globes which roll with it in space (perhaps reminiscent of the fallen spirits of the Tayyibi heirohistory, whose bodies formed Earths corporeality). This company of globes is called the Earth Chain or Planetary Chain.[37] The septenary Earth Chain is a direct reincarnation of a previous chain of seven globes. When the vast entity of a former chain coalesces into one mass, and reaches the limit of its collective life, the “body” expires and their energy is sent into the next round.

And the whole number of Monads now going through evolution on our Earth Chain came over from the old seven planets or globes which I have described. Esoteric Buddhism calls this mass of Egos a “life wave,” meaning the stream of Monads. It reached this planetary mass, represented to our consciousness by the central point our Earth, and began on Globe A or No. I, coming like an army or river. The first portion began on Globe A and went through a long evolution there in bodies suited to such a state of matter, and then passed on to B, and so on through the whole seven greater states of consciousness which have been called globes. When the first portion left A others streamed in and pursued the same course, the whole army proceeding with regularity round the septenary route.[38]

In both Tayyibi and Theosophical arrangements there is a mythohistory that sees a progenitor (Adam/Manu) who inaugurates a cyclical sevenfold evolutionary system of human progression. There is prehistory in both these cosmologies, lost in our modern era, that describes a radically older timeline for the human story and with a multiplicity of realities and geographies. The spiritual excavation of both these schemes would reveal a cosmology of interpenetrating bodies of light and matter predicated upon emanating septenary rotations.

To the Tayyibi, different fates are prescribed for those who are believers (mu’mim) and those who are unbelievers. One is considered mu’mim, and eligible for salvation, if one affirms the tawhid of God, and by as acknowledging and obeying the true Imam of his era; recognizing the hudud of the da’wa hierarchy.  Other groups outside of the mu’mim may yet, however, have an opportunity for redemption.[39]

The individual soul of a neophyte (mustajib), upon initiation into the da’wa, is joined by a point of light, which becomes his spiritual soul. This point of light stays with the initiate and evolves when its possessor develops in knowledge and virtue. When the possessor is ready to leave this world, the point of light which has fused completely with the soul, transfigures into a being of light called al-sura al-nuraniyya. This luminous soul escapes the material body and ascends to join the soul of the holder of the next highest rank (had) in the hierarchy.[40]

The souls are drawn in ascension toward the superior Had by the result of a magnetized beam of light, the summit of which extends into the Pleroma of the court of archangels. Each Had is the superior spiritual maximum of the Had immediately below, also known as the Mahdud. The relationship between these two stations, the Had and its Mahdud acquire a special eschatological significance; each Had becomes the Imam for its Mahdud and the journey for the Imam elevates each adept; transfiguring and transporting him, in ascension throughout the celestial hierarchy.[41]

The soul of each believer climbs this ladder of ascension until it is welded together with the luminous souls of all the other believers. Collectively, these souls become the scaffolding for an edifice called the Temple of Light (haykal nurani), which assumes the shape of a human being, but is nevertheless purely spiritual in constitution. Each one of these individual souls maintains a distinction without any confusion, in this ocean of light. This Temple of Light is the imamate, reflecting the divine nature of the Imam, distinct from his human aspect.

Each Imam has his own Temple of Light, and as the terrestrial representative of the Celestial Adam, he acts as the support for the column of light. When an Imam passes away, he and his Temple of Light ascend into the Pleroma. The qa’im of each partial cycle has his own Corpus Mysticum, or Sublime Temple of Light composed from all the Temples of Light belonging to that cycle of humanity. At the closure of each particular cycle, when a resurrection has occurred, the Qa’im of that cycle, with his Sublime Temple of Light, and assumes the rank of the Tenth Intellect.

This brings the entire universe one degree closer to healing the cleavage of arrested time, alloyed fusion with the Universal Soul, and bringing all repentant beings of the cosmic order ever closer to salvation. The unbelievers, the adversaries of the people of the truth, cannot escape gross materiality, and achieve redemption; their souls represent a form of darkness and are anchored to their corpses after they die. Their bodies decompose in the earth; after several mutations, they are transformed into different substances and beast depending on the nature and degree of their sins.[42]

Theosophy has no comparable doctrine of salvation, but the language of columns of magnetized light which attract the imprint or soul of individuals who have passed, may have some resemblance to the Theosophical notion of Astral Light. The term itself, Astral Light, was coined by French occultist, Eliphas Levi, to describe the medium of light and energy. The Victorian theory of luminiferous ether influenced his theory that there was a fluid life force that fills all life forms and space. Blavatsky, however, used this term to describe a terrestrial phenomenon, not a universal one; it was a light that extended up four planes of existence and could unreliably reflect the highest strata. This light became an archive of knowledge that could be accessed by an adept:

“As the Esoteric Philosophy teaches us, the Astral Light is simply the dregs of Akâsa or the Universal Ideation in its metaphysical sense. Though invisible, it is yet, so to speak, the phosphorescent radiation of the latter, and is the medium between it and man’s thought-faculties. It is these which pollute the Astral Light, and make it what it is—the storehouse of all human and especially psychic iniquities. In its primordial genesis, the astral light as a radiation is quite pure, though the lower it descends approaching our terrestrial sphere, the more it differentiates, and becomes as a result impure in its very  constitution. But man helps considerably in this pollution, and gives it back its essence far worse than when he received it.”[43]

 

Theosophical soteriology is vast and elaborate, but the key themes that emerge, circle around the transmigration of the soul into various planes of existence and states of being. Theosophists believe that the quintessence of a human never dies; mortality only exists in the physical realm, which they believe to be merely an outer shell. The Astral Body, a mirror to the physical body, will disintegrate when the body perishes, and the life force (prana) that animates the body, will return to the universal life force. When the chord that attaches the Astral Body to the Physical body breaks, complete physical death occurs. The soul enters into the Astral Plane, and then continues to travel to join one’s own higher and spiritual nature in a heaven Theosophists call Devachan. There is a certain resemblance, in the two cosmologies, of an individual soul fusing to a lumiferous materiality and imprinting ones collected experience into an integrated body.

So…

The septenary cosmology that was used by the Theosophists bears more than a passing resemblance to the spiritual infrastructure of the Ismaili conception of celestial evolution. It could be argued, of course, that Theosophical scholars, like the Ismaili scholars before them, had mined the corpus of thought left behind from Mazdaism, Zoroastrians and Neo-Platonists. That may be a possibility, but it’s also not mutually exclusive; given Blavatsky’s propensity to make syncretic connections between different cosmologies, I believe that she used the Isma’ili template as a canvas on which to paint with the colors of other religions.

By its very nature, the study of occultated tributaries is tricky endeavor for any scholar; exaggerated lineages and sources that lead to dead-ends are par the course. It would be impossible at this point to declare definitively that Theosophy creolized Ismailism, but a side by side comparison suggests some influence.

What does this mean for the “real world”? Take, for example the idea of Anthroposophy, the German off-shoot of Theosophy. Rudolf Steiner tweaked the mechanics of Theosophy towards a more Western world-view, but more or less preserved the cosmological timescales and sevenfold evolutionary chain.  It is this organization, the Anthroposophist’s, that created the Waldorf schools of holistic education. Part of this holistic education is the attendance of faith classes; faith classes that promote the septenary Theosophical cosmology.[44]

This is just one example of mapping out esoteric thought in an exoteric world. The synthesis of Ismai’li ideas in Theosophy gave these concepts an incredibly eclectic audience, an audience which cross-pollinated them, with other traditions. In understanding the nuanced, alternative histories, and alternative modernities, we can hopefully have a richer and more rewarding dialogue in pluralism.

 

 

 

[1] Daniel Merkur, Gnosis: An Esoteric Tradition of Mystical Visions and Unions (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1993) 108.

[2] H. P. Blavatsky and John Algeo, The letters of H.P. Blavatsky, vol. 1, Letter no. 110, 1861-79 (Wheaton, IL: Quest, 2004).

[3] Henry Corbin, Cyclical Time and Ismaili Gnosis (London: Kegan Paul International, 1983) 55.

[4] Annie Besant, The Sphinx of Theosophy: A Lecture (London: Theosophical Publ. Society, 1891).

[5] Kikuchi, Tatsuya. “The Resurrection of Isma’li Myth in Twelfth Century Yemen.” Ishraq Islamic Philosophy Yearbook 4 (2013): 345-59.

[6] Farhad Daftary, The Isma’ilis: Their History and Doctrines (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007) 269.

[7] Daftary, 269.

[8]  Ibid., 269.

[9]  Ibid., 269.

[10] Ibid., 269.

[11] Ibid., 269.

[12] Ibid., 269.

[13] Ibid., 270.

[14] Ibid., 271.

[15] Ibid., 271.

[16] Ibid., 271.

[17] Ibid., 271.

[18] H. P. Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy (Los Angeles, CA: The Theosophy Company, 1987) 88.

[19] Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy,88.

[20] William Quan Judge, The Ocean of Theosophy (Los Angeles , Ca: The Theosophy Company, 1987) 24.

[21] H. P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, ed. Boris De Zirkoff, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 279.

[22] H. P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine: The Synthesis of Science, Religion, and Philosophy (NY, NY: Tarcher Perigee, 2016), 240.

[23] Daftary, 271.

[24] Ibid., 271.

[25] Ibid., 272.

[26] Ibid., 272.

[27] Ibid., 272.

[28] Ibid., 272.

[29] Ibid., 272.

[30] Ibid., 272.

[31] Roshen Dalal, The Religions of India: A Concise Guide to Nine Major Faiths (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2010), 229.

[32] H. P. Blavatsky, Collected Writings, vol. X (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Pub. House, 1988),

363-364.

[33] Corbin, Ismaili Gnosis, 44.

[34] A. P. Sinnett, The Mahatma Letters: to A.P. Sinnett from the Mahatmas M. & K.H., comp. A. T. Barker (London: T. Fisher Unwin LTD, 1923), 65.

[35] Sinnett, The Mahatma Letters, 65.

[36] Judge, The Ocean of Theosophy, 23.

[37] Ibid.,23.

[38] Ibid., 25.

[39] Daftary, 273.

[40] Daftary, 273.

[41] Daftary, 273.

[42] Daftary 274

[43] H. P. Blavatsky, Collected Writings, vol. X (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Pub. House, 1988), 251.

[44] “Waldorf education,” Wikipedia, April 26, 2017, , accessed May 07, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waldorf_education#Spirituality.

 

 

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White Lotus Day

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Madame Blavatsky, in her will, requested that her friends might gather together on the anniversary of her death (May 8, 1891) and read excerpts from Sir Edwin Arnold’s The Light of Asia and from The Bhagavad Gita. We take time today to honor her memory and her overlooked contributions in the pursuit of Truth.

 

“One of the symbolic figures for the Dual creative power in Nature (matter and force on the material plane) is Padma, the water lily of India. The Lotus is the product of heat (fire) and water (vapour or Ether); fire standing in every philosophical and religious system as a representation of the Spirit of Deity, the active, male, generative principle; and Ether, or the Soul of matter, the light of the fire, for the receptive female principle from which everything in this Universe emanated. Hence, Ether or Water is the Mother, and Fire is the Father. Sir W. Jones (and before him archaic botany) showed that the seeds of the Lotus contain — even before they germinate — perfectly formed leaves, the miniature shape of what one day, as perfect plants, they will become: nature thus giving us a specimen of the preformation of its production …the seed of all phanerogamous plants bearing proper flowers containing an embryo plantlet ready formed.

The Lotus, or Padma, is, moreover, a very ancient and favourite simile for the Kosmos itself, and also for man. The popular reasons given are, firstly, the fact just mentioned, that the Lotus-seed contains within itself a perfect miniature of the future plant, which typifies the fact that the spiritual prototypes of all things materialised on Earth. Secondly, the fact that the Lotus plant grows up through the water, having its root in the Ilus, or mud, and spreading its flower in the air above. The Lotus thus typifies the life of man and also that of the Kosmos; for the Secret Doctrine teaches that the elements of both are the same, and that both are developing in the same direction. The root of the Lotus sunk in the mud represents material life, the stalk passing up through the water typifies existence in the astral world, and the flower floating on the water and opening to the sky is emblematical of spiritual being. ” (The Secret Doctrine I, 57-58.)

Lo! ye shall read it in the Sacred Books
How, being met in that glad pleasaunce-place —
A garden in old days with hanging walks,
Fountains, and tanks, and rose-banked terraces
Girdled by gay pavilions and the sweep
Of stately palace-fronts — the Master sate
Eminent, worshipped, all the earnest throng
Catching the opening of his lips to learn
That wisdom which hath made our Asia mild;
Whereto four hundred crores of living souls
Witness this day. Upon the King’s right hand
He sate, and round were ranged the Sâkya Lords
Ananda, Devadatta — all the Court.
Behind stood Seriyut and Mugallan, chiefs
Of the calm brethren in the yellow garb,
A goodly company. Between his knees
Rahula smiled with wondering childish eyes
Bent on the awful face, while at his feet
Sate sweet Yasôdhara, her heartaches gone,
Foreseeing that fair love which doth not feed
On fleeting sense, that life which knows no age,
That blessed last of deaths when Death is dead,
His victory and hers. Wherefore she laid
Her hand upon his hands, folding around
Her silver shoulder-cloth his yellow robe,
Nearest in all the world to him whose words
The Three Worlds waited for. I cannot tell
A small part of the splendid lore which broke
From Buddha’s lips: I am a late-come scribe
Who love the Master and his love of men,
And tell this legend, knowing he was wise,
But have not wit to speak beyond the books
And time hath blurred their script and ancient sense,
Which once was new and mighty, moving all.
A little of that large discourse I know
Which Buddha spake on the soft Indian eve.
Also I know it writ that they who heard
Were more — lakhs more — crores more — than could be seen,
For all the Devas and the Dead thronged there,
Till Heaven was emptied to the seventh zone
And uttermost dark Hells opened their bars
Also the daylight lingered past its time
In rose-leaf radiance on the watching peaks,
So that it seemed Night listened in the glens
And Noon upon the mountains; yea! they write,
The evening stood between them like some maid
Celestial, love-struck, rapt; the smooth-rolled clouds
Her braided hair; the studded stars the pearls
And diamonds of her coronal; the moon
Her forehead-jewel, and the deepening dark
Her woven garments. ‘Twas her close-held breath
Which came in scented sighs across the lawns
While our Lord taught, and, while he taught, who heard —
Though he were stranger in the land, or slave,
High caste or low, come of the Aryan blood,
Or Mlech or Jungle-dweller — seemed to hear
What tongue his fellows talked. Nay, outside those
Who crowded by the river, great and small,
The birds and beasts and creeping things — ’tis writ —
Had sense of Buddha’s vast embracing love
And took the promise of his piteous speech;
So that their lives — prisoned in shape of ape,
Tiger, or deer, shagged bear, jackal, or wolf,
Foul-feeding kite, pearled dove, or peacock gemmed.
Squat toad, or speckled serpent, lizard, bat;
Yea, or of fish fanning the river-waves —
Touched meekly at the skirts of brotherhood
With man who hath less innocence than these;
And in mute gladness knew their bondage broke
Whilst Buddha spake these things before the King

— Sir Edwin Arnold

The Light of Asia

 “I shall now describe to you the different paths of passing away from this world, O best of the Bharatas, one of which leads to liberation and the other leads to rebirth. Those who know the Supreme Brahman, and who depart from this world, during the six months of the sun’s northern course, the bright fortnight of the moon, and the bright part of the day, attain the supreme destination. The practitioners of Vedic rituals, who pass away during the six months of the sun’s southern course, the dark fortnight of the moon, the time of smoke, the night, attain the celestial abodes. After enjoying celestial pleasures, they again return to the earth. These two, bright and dark paths, always exist in this world. The way of light leads to liberation and the way of darkness leads to rebirth.”
Bhagavad Gita Chapter 8, Verse 23-26