THEOSOPHY, Vol. 50, No. 12, October, 1962
(Pages 559-566; Size: 23K)

SYMBOLIC EVOLUTION(1)

IN Evolution, as it is now beginning to be understood, there is supposed to be in all matter an impulse to take a higher form; a supposition clearly expressed by Manu and other Hindu philosophers of the highest antiquity. The philosopher's tree illustrates it in the case of the zinc solution. The controversy between the followers of this school and the Emanationists may be briefly stated thus: The Evolutionists stop at the borders of "the Unknowable"; the Emanationists believe that nothing can be evolved -- or, as the word means, unwombed or born -- except it has first been involved, thus indicating that life is from a spiritual potency above the whole.

So-called exact science holds but to a one-sided physical evolution, prudently avoiding and ignoring the higher or spiritual evolution, which would force our contemporaries to confess the superiority of the ancient philosophers and psychologists over themselves. The ancient Sages, ascending to the UNKNOWABLE, made their starting-point from the first manifestation of the unseen, the unavoidable, and from a strict logical reasoning, the absolutely necessary creating Being, the Demiurgos of the universe. Evolution began for them from pure spirit, which, descending lower and lower down, assumed at last a visible and comprehensible form, and became matter. Arrived at this point, they speculated in the Darwinian method, but on a far more large and comprehensive basis.

If the Pythagorean metempsychosis should be thoroughly explained and compared with the modern theory of evolution, it would be found to supply every "missing link" in the chain of the latter. The harmony and mathematical equiformity of the double evolution -- spiritual and physical -- are elucidated only in the universal numerals of Pythagoras, who built his system entirely upon the so-called "metrical speech" of the Hindu Vedas. In both the Pythagorean and the Brahmanical systems, the esoteric significance is derived from the number: in the former, from the mystic relation of every number to everything intelligible to the human mind; in the latter, from the number of syllables of which each verse in the Mantras consists. Plato, the ardent disciple of Pythagoras, realized it so fully as to maintain that the Dodecahedron was the geometrical figure employed by the Demiurgos in constructing the universe.

Pythagoras brought his doctrines from the eastern sanctuaries, and Plato compiled them into a form more intelligible than the mysterious numerals of the Sage -- whose doctrines he had fully embraced -- to the uninitiated mind. With Plato, the Primal Being is an emanation of the Demiurgic Mind (Nous), which contains from the eternity the "Idea" of the "to be created world" within itself, and which he produces out of himself. The laws of nature are the established relation of this Idea to the forms of its manifestations. "The incorporeal world then was already completed, having its seat in the Divine Reason," says Philo, who is erroneously accused of deriving his philosophy from Plato. Creation, being proportional to the power of the Creator, the universe as well as its Creator must be infinite and eternal, one form emanating from its own essence, and creating in its turn another.

The evolution-hypothesis of the old Brahmans was embodied by them in the allegory of the mundane tree. The Hindus represent their mythical tree, which they call Aswatha, in a way which differs from that of the Scandinavians (the ash, or Yggdrasil). It is described by them as growing in a reversed position, the branches extending downward and the roots upward; the former typifying the external world of sense, i.e., the visible cosmical universe, and the latter the invisible world of spirit, because the roots have their genesis in the heavenly regions where, from the world's creation, humanity has placed its invisible Deity.

The Egyptian pyramid also symbolically represents this idea of the mundane tree. Its apex is the mystic link between heaven and earth, and stands for the root, while the base represents the spreading branches, extending to the four cardinal points of the universe of matter. It conveys the idea that all things had their origin in spirit -- evolution having originally begun from above and proceeded downward, instead of the reverse, as taught in the Darwinian theory. In other words, there has been a gradual materialization of forms until a fixed ultimate of debasement is reached. This point is that at which the doctrine of modern evolution enters into the arena of speculative hypothesis.

"As above, so it is below. That which has been, will return again. As in heaven, so on earth." Is it too much to believe that man should be developing new sensibilities and a closer relation with nature? The logic of evolution must teach as much if carried to its legitimate conclusion. As our planet revolves once every year around the sun and at the same time turns once every twenty-four hours upon its own axis, thus traversing minor cycles within the larger one, so is the work of the smaller cyclic periods accomplished and recommenced, within the Great Saros. The revolution of the physical world, according to the ancient doctrine, is attended by a like revolution in the world of intellect -- the spiritual evolution of the world proceeding in cycles, like the physical one. Thus we see in history a regular alternation of ebb and flow in the tide of human progress. The great kingdoms and empires of the world, after reaching the culmination of their greatness, descend again, in accordance with the same law by which they ascended; till, having reached the lowest point, humanity reasserts itself and mounts up once more, the height of its attainment being, by this law of ascending progression by cycles, somewhat higher than the point from which it had before descended.

Modern science insists upon the doctrine of evolution; so do human reason and the Secret Doctrine, and the idea is corroborated by the ancient legends and myths and even by the Bible itself when it is read between the lines. We see a flower slowly developing from a bud, and the bud from its seed. But whence the latter, with all its predetermined programme of physical transformations, and its invisible, therefore spiritual, forces which gradually develop its form, color, and odor? The word "evolution" speaks for itself. The germ of the present human race must have pre-existed in the parent of this race, as the seed, in which lies hidden the flower of the next summer, was developed in the capsule of its parent-flower: the parent may be slightly different, but it still differs from its future progeny. The creative energy having originated in the primordial point, the religious symbols of every people are so many illustrations of this metaphysical hypothesis expounded by Pythagoras, Plato, and other philosophers.

We may add, as a fact of interest, that this ancient theory of evolution is not only embalmed in allegory and legend, but also depicted upon the walls of certain temples in India, and, in a fragmentary form, has been found in those of Egypt and on the slabs of Nimrod and Nineveh excavated by Layard. Inorganic as well as organic matter possesses a particle of the divine essence in itself, however infinitesimally small it may be. And how could it be otherwise? Notwithstanding that in the progress of its evolution it may from beginning to end have passed through millions of various forms, it must ever retain its germ-point of that pre-existent matter, which is the first manifestation and emanation of the Deity itself. What is then this inexplicable power of attraction but an atomical portion of that essence that scientists and kabalists equally recognize as the "principle of life" -- the Akasha? As we ascend in the scale of organic beings in nature, we find this principle of life developing attributes and faculties which become more determined and marked with every rung of the endless ladder. Man, the most perfect of organized beings on earth, in whom matter and spirit -- i.e., will -- are the most developed and powerful, is alone allowed to give a conscious impulse to that principle which emanates from him; and only he can impart to the magnetic fluid opposite and various impulses without limit as to the direction.

Before any of our modern teachers thought of evolution, the ancients taught us, through Hermes, that nothing can be abrupt in nature. That she never proceeds by jumps and starts, that everything in her works in slow harmony, and that there is nothing sudden -- not even violent death. The slow development from pre-existing forms was a doctrine of the Rosicrucian Illuminati. As by gradual progression from the star-cloudlet to the development of the physical body of man, the rule holds good, so from the universal ether to the incarnate human spirit, they traced one uninterrupted series of entities. These evolutions were from the world of spirit into the world of gross matter; and through that back again to the source of things. The "descent of species" was to them a descent from the spirit, primal source of all, to the "degradation of matter." In this complete chain of unfoldings the elementary, spiritual beings had a distinct place, midway between the extremes, as Mr. Darwin's missing-link between the ape and man.

What is the WILL? Can exact science tell? What is the nature of that intelligent, intangible, and powerful something which reigns supreme over all inert matter: The great Universal Idea willed, and the cosmos sprang into existence. I will, and my limbs obey. I will, and my thought traverses space, which does not exist for it, envelopes the body of another individual who is not a part of myself, penetrates through his pores, and, superseding his own faculties, if they are weaker, forces him to a predetermined action.

Schopenhauer's doctrine is that the universe is but the manifestation of the will. Every force in nature is also an effect of will, representing a higher or lower degree of its objectiveness. It is the teaching of Plato, who stated distinctly that everything visible was created or evolved out of the invisible and eternal WILL, and after its fashion. Our heaven, he says, was produced according to the eternal pattern of the "Ideal World," contained, as everything else, in the Dodecahedron, the geometrical model used by the Deity. The will of the Creator, through which all things were made and received their first impulse, is the property of every living being. Man, endowed with an additional spirituality, has the largest share of it on this planet. It depends on the proportion of matter in him whether he will exercise its magical faculty with more or less success. Sharing this divine potency in common with every inorganic atom, he exercises it through the course of his whole life, whether consciously or otherwise. In the former case, when in the full possession of his powers, he will be the master, and the universal soul will be controlled and guided by him. In the case of animals, plants, minerals, and even the average of humanity, this ethereal fluid which pervades all things, finds no resistance, and being left to itself moves them as its impulse directs.

The Hermetists and later Rosicrucians held that all things visible and invisible were produced by the contention of light with darkness, and that every particle of matter contains within itself a spark of the divine essence, or light, spirit -- which, through its tendency to free itself from its entanglement and return to the central source, produced motion in the particles, and from motion forms were born. Light is force, and the latter is produced by the Will. As this Will proceeds from an intelligence which cannot err, for it has nothing of the material organs of human thought in it, being the superfine emanation of the highest divinity itself (Plato's "Father"), it proceeds from the beginning of time according to immutable laws, to evolve the elementary fabric requisite for subsequent generation of what we term human races. All of the latter, whether belonging to this planet or to some other of the myriads in space, have their earthly bodies evolved in the matrix out of the bodies of a certain class of elemental beings which have passed away in the invisible worlds. In the ancient philosophy there was no missing link to be supplied by what Tyndall calls an "educated imagination"; no hiatus to be filled with volumes of materialistic speculations made necessary by the absurd attempt to solve an equation with but one set of quantities. Our "ignorant" ancestors traced the law of evolution throughout the whole universe.

Light is the great Protean magician, and under the Divine Will of the architect, its multifarious, omnipotent waves gave birth to every form as well as to every living being. From its swelling electric bosom, springs matter and spirit. Within its beams lie the beginnings of all physical and chemical action, and of all cosmic and spiritual phenomena. It vitalizes and disorganizes, it gives life and produces death, and from its primordial point gradually emerged into existence the myriads of worlds, visible and invisible celestial bodies. If, out of the material portion of the ether, by virtue of the inherent restlessness of its particles, the forms of worlds and their species of plants and animals can be evolved, why, out of the spiritual part of the ether, should not successive races of beings, from the stage of monad to that of man, be developed; each lower form unfolding a higher one until the work of evolution is completed on our earth in the production of immortal man? The Hermetic, Orphic, and Pythagorean cosmogonical doctrines, as well as those of Sanchoniathon and Berosus are all based upon one irrefutable formula, viz.: that the ether and chaos, or, in the Platonic language, mind and matter, were the two primeval and eternal principles of the universe, utterly independent of anything else. The former was the all-vivifying intellectual principle; the chaos, a shapeless, liquid principle, without "form or sense," from the union of which two sprung into existence the universe, or rather, the universal world, the first androgynous deity -- the chaotic matter becoming its body, and ether the soul.

Three spirits live in and actuate man, teaches Paracelsus; three worlds pour their beams upon him, but all three only as the image and echo of one and the same all-constructing and uniting principle of production. The first is the spirit of the elements (terrestrial body and vital force in its brute condition); the second, the spirit of the stars (sidereal or astral body -- the soul); the third is the Divine spirit (Augoeides). "The Mundane God, eternal, boundless, young and old, of winding form," say the Chaldean oracles. This "winding form" is a figure to express the vibratory motion of the Astral Light, with which the ancient priests were perfectly well acquainted, though they may have differed in views of ether with modern scientists; for in the Æther they placed the Eternal Idea pervading the universe, or the Will which becomes Force, and creates or organizes matter.

Man is a little world -- a microcosm inside the great universe. Like a foetus, he is suspended, by all his three spirits, in the matrix of the macrocosmos; and while his terrestrial body is in constant sympathy with its parent earth, his astral soul lives in unison with the sidereal anima mundi. He is in it, as it is in him, for the world-pervading element fills all space, and is space itself, only shoreless and infinite. As to his third spirit, the divine, what is it but an infinitesimal ray, of the countless radiations proceeding directly from the Highest Cause -- the Spiritual Light of the World? This is the trinity of organic and inorganic nature -- the spiritual and the physical which are three in one, and of which Proclus says that "The first monad is the Eternal God; the second, eternity; the third, the paradigm, or pattern of the universe"; the three constituting the Intelligible Triad.

Everything in this visible universe is the outflow of this Triad, and a microcosmic triad in itself. And thus they move in majestic procession in the fields of eternity, around the Spiritual Sun, as in the heliocentric system the celestial bodies move round the visible sun. The Pythagorean Monad, which lives "in solitude and darkness," may remain on this earth forever invisible, impalpable, and undemonstrated by experimental science. Still the whole universe will be gravitating around it, as it did from the "beginning of time," and with every second, man and atom approach nearer to that solemn moment in the eternity, when the Invisible Presence will become clear to their spiritual sight. The Secret Doctrine teaches that man, if he wins immortality, will remain forever the trinity that he is in life, and will continue so throughout all the spheres. The astral body, which in this life is covered by a gross physical envelope, becomes -- when relieved of that covering by the process of death -- in its turn the shell of another and more ethereal body. This begins developing from the moment of death, and becomes perfected when the astral body of the earthly form finally separates from it. This process, they say, is repeated at every new transition from sphere to sphere. But the immortal soul, "the silvery spark" observed by Dr. Fenwick in Margrave's brain, and not found by him in the animals, never changes, but remains indestructible "by aught that shatters its tabernacle."

The essential is forever the same. Whether we cut away the marble inward that hides the statue in the block, or pile stone upon stone outward till the temple is completed, our new result is only an old idea. The latest of all the eternities will find its destined other half-soul in the earliest. Kingdoms have crumbled and nations succeeded nations from the beginning until our day, the races alternately mounting up to the highest and descending to the lowest point of development. How analogous this theory to the law of planetary motion, which causes the individual orbs to rotate on their axes; the several systems to move round their respective suns; and the whole stellar host to follow a common path around a common centre. Life and death, light and darkness, day and night on the planet, as it turns about its axis and traverses the zodiacal circle representing the lesser and the greater cycles. The "coats of skin" mentioned in the third chapter of Genesis as given to Adam and Eve, are explained by certain ancient philosophers to mean the fleshy bodies with which, in the progress of the cycles, the progenitors of the race became clothed. They maintained that the god-like physical form became grosser and grosser, until the bottom of what may be termed the last spiritual cycle was reached, and mankind entered upon the ascending arc of the first human cycle.

Then began an uninterrupted series of cycles or yugas; the precise number of years of which each of them consisted remaining an inviolable mystery within the precincts of the sanctuaries and disclosed only to the initiates. As soon as humanity entered upon a new one, the stone age, with which the preceding cycle had closed, began to gradually merge into the following and next higher age. With each successive age, or epoch, men grew more refined, until the acme of perfection possible in that particular cycle had been reached. Then the receding wave of time carried back with it the vestiges of human, social, and intellectual progress. Cycle succeeded cycle, by imperceptible transitions; highly-civilized flourishing nations waxed in power, attained the climax of development, waned, and became extinct; and mankind, when the end of the lower cyclic arc was reached was replunged into barbarism as at the start.

When every particle of matter, even the most sublimated, has been cast off from the last shape that forms the ultimate link of that chain of double evolution which, throughout millions of ages and successive transformations, has pushed the entity onward; and when it shall find itself reclothed in that primordial essence, identical with that of its Creator, then this once impalpable organic atom will have run its race, and the sons of God will once more "shout for joy" at the return of the Pilgrim.


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