by Geoffrey Hodson
Presumably most of my readers are members of one or another of the Christian denominations. At the outset, therefore, I want to say that in presenting a special view of the Scriptures I have no desire to weaken the faith of any Christian in the literal reading of the Bible with all its beauty, consolation and inspiration. On the contrary, my hope is that such faith may be strengthened by a deepening understanding of the hidden wisdom which is said to be contained and concealed in many of the great books of our Bible.
The scriptures of the world as well as
our own Bible have been regarded by some scholars as belonging to a special
category of literature, sometimes called the Sacred Language. The distinguishing
characteristic of this kind of writing is that, while its narratives have a
distinct historical basis, the language itself is largely, though not entirely,
allegorical; it is constructed of symbols and allegories containing profound
spiritual truths. This language has another name. It is also called the Mystery
Language because it is said to have been invented by Seers and Prophets of old
who were members of the ancient Mystery Schools. These men are thought to have
brought this language into existence both to reveal profound knowledge and its
power to those who could be helped by it and to conceal it from those to whom
it would be a danger and a temptation.
The reason for such secrecy becomes fairly clear when we consider the use to which modern man tends to put his scientific knowledge and discoveries, one obvious example being the destructive use of nuclear energy in atomic bombs. The ancient Seers and Prophets, while recognizing that their knowledge belonged to the race, saw also that if its power came into the hands of disruptive elements of society great harm could be done both to the possessors themselves and to all who came under their influence. To meet this difficulty, the special language in which the inspired Scriptures are written was constructed. While founded generally upon historical events, the world's Scriptures have many undermeanings, a double, a triple, and even a sevenfold significance.
Our Lord referred to this language when talking to his Disciples in private, saying: "Unto you (that is, the Disciples, pledged, trained and tested) it is given to know the mystery of the Kingdom of God; but to them that are without, all these things are done in parables." (Mark IV, 11)
My theme concerns this Mystery Language, the sacred language which not only reveals deep spiritual truths but explains much in the Bible which has come under severe criticism. One prominent writer not long ago said that the Bible "heaps the incredible upon the impossible." If all of its subject matter be taken literally, one must admit a certain modicum of truth in this charge and stand silent before it unless equipped to reply.
What else is said against our Scriptures? What of the general charges that while socalled miracles may make the impossible seem to happen, the truth remains that physical laws and astronomical facts cannot be altered? Some accounts of miracles are said to strain beyond reasonable limits one's power to believe, such as, for example, the parting and holding back of the Red Sea for some hours, and also the River Jordan. Yet, granted a virtually omnipotent divine power, such tremendous feats might be performed.
In addition it is pointed out that the heliocentric system cannot be changed, even though our Bible reports such changes. Our Sun is the giver of light, without which there would be no light but starlight, the light of infinitely remote suns. It is the center of our solar system with planets circling round it, of which our Earth is but one. And it is the rotation, of the Earth on its axis which causes night and day. Yet Genesis records that there were three days and nights before the sun and moon were created. And Joshua is said to have made the sun and moon stand still in order to make a longer day. Critics naturally point out that the apparent movement of the sun through space has nothing to do with the length of the day; it is the speed of the earth's rotation which decides the length of day and night. If the sun literally were to appear to "stand still upon Gibeon" prolonging daylight, it would mean that the Earth had suddenly stopped rotating. No human being would have lived to tell about it. Every loose object on earth, including Joshua and the oceans and the atmosphere would all have continued at the normal rotating speed of movement and taken off toward the east faster than the speed of sound! One must admit that, as it is actually written, the recorded event could not possibly have happened.
We read other strange stories in our Bible, such as the following. The Lord told Moses to force Pharaoh by plagues to free the Israelites from bondage and captivity; but after each plague He hardened Pharaoh's heart. Samson was overcome, not by the ropes and willow branches which bound him but by having his hair cut off and being bound with that. The walls of Jericho were brought down by shouts and trumpeting. A fig tree was cursed and withered by the Lord of Love for not bearing fruit early in the spring before the Passover. All of these stories and many others are quoted when criticisms are directed against the Christian Scriptures and, unless one possesses the keys of interpretation, one must remain silent, unable to defend even one's own Bible.
What is the solution to these and many other apparent anomalies and impossibilities related in a Book which is apparently inspired? One explanation, comprised of a group of ideas known as theosophical, offers a solution for nearly all of these difficulties.
It is that the Bible like other World Scriptures is written in a particular metaphorical language full of imagery and symbolism. This very ancient language was designed to reveal deep truths, to convey metaphysical ideas, to describe supersensory states of consciousness and the spiritual experiences of exalted men. The authors who wrote in this allegorical manner wanted to reveal these deeply hidden mysterious truths and to describe interior mystical experiences. They used history and time only as a warp and woof on which to weave a representation of eternal truths. Time and the world of time were of less importance to the inspired authors than eternity and the eternal verities of which they wrote.
When we read any of the world's Scriptures and Myths, we need to remember that we are reading a special category of literature. It seems strange to us at first. We need a dictionary from which we can learn the meaning of the words, and obtain the keys of interpretation before we can understand the special method of writing and discover the intention of the authors.
Let me suggest to you, quite undogmatically, four such Keys. And let me repeat, as I do so, that I have no desire to weaken anyone's Christian faith, nor am I attacking the historicity of the Bible. I believe that many of the recorded events really happened. But I also believe that, when once the veil of allegory and symbolism is drawn aside, there are revealed deep everlasting truths concerning the laws of creation, the laws of life and human happiness and self–healing, and the laws of the fulfillment of destiny. These mean far more than the historical events with which they are intertwined, however interesting those events may be.
The first Key is that many of the recorded events occur within the reader. They concern the inner man, the inner you and the inner me. They represent subjective experiences in the nature of man. An account of an outer event is so composed and so written as to describe a universal continuing human experience.
St. Paul must have known this language, for he uses it when, for example, he refers to the nativity of Christ as an interior attainment. He wrote to his converts: "My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you." (Galatians IV, 19) St. Paul thus regards the Nativity not only as an event occurring in Bethlehem, but also as an inner experience, an attainment in consciousness. He also wrote, not of the historical Christ Whom he did not meet but of the Christpresence in man: "Christ in you, the hope of glory." (Colossians I, 27)
So also do many of the great biblical stories describe interior experiences and attainments of man.
To understand them one must read intuitively and sensitively with one's mind open to that vaster consciousness which so often seems to be waiting to break through into the mind of the reader. In attempting this, the first Key, then, is that the stories describe interior experiences of man.
The second Key, I suggest, is that each of the persons in the Bible portrays a state or condition of man's character and consciousness. The actors in the great dramas can be seen as personifications of aspects of human nature, of human attributes, qualities, powers, and, as in the case of Judas, weaknesses as well. If the first and second Keys are used together, it is revealed that the personalities in scriptures are qualities within every man. The humility, the devotion and selfless love of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, of whom the Christ was born, are within us all, as are also the human frailty and inherent sainthood of a Mary Magdalene and a Peter. The Christprinciple, even if asleep in the early stages of evolution, is present in every man; and it eventually awakens or comes to birth as an inner Nativity the Christmas of the soul. Martha, the active, and Mary, the contemplative aspect of life, are both in us and the conditions of life draw out now one and now the other. In the beautiful story of our Lord's visit to Mary and Martha and Lazarus in Bethany, His words may seem a little unfair. Martha, who seemed to be rebuked, however gently, did all the work. Mary, who only sat at the Master's feet, was praised. Using the two Keys, one perceives that to attain enlightenment it is silent contemplation of the Divine which is important, indeed necessary, even though the work of the world must be done.
The second Key, then, is that the people in the inspired allegories personify aspects of the nature of man.
The third Key is that each story is a graphic description of some phase of the evolutionary journey of the soul of man towards its perfection.
This applies both to normal evolutionary progress and also to a hastened attainment made possible by entering in at the "strait gate" and travelling by "the narrow way." (Matthew VII, 13) Accounts of, and guidance in, both normal and speeded evolution are skillfully blended and given in many of the wonderful biblical stories. Thus they apply to the life of every human being and to the race as a whole. We, ourselves, enact and pass through such episodes.
Do we not all have our personal awakenings to idealism, our spiritual nativities? Are there not times in our lives when a change of consciousness occurs within us bringing an ardent aspiration towards heights of attainment both material and spiritual? Are we not also, on occasion, deeply bathed in the waters of this world's sorrows, the symbolical waters of Jordan? Indeed we are, both as individuals and as a race. The Gospels imply that if we are courageous and steadfast we will emerge, as did Jesus, with a new Heaven open to us, meaning a new power and understanding born of life's experiences.
We are also "tempted in the wilderness." The wilderness means a mental condition of aridity, spiritual dryness, when the lower aspects of our nature, personified by Satan, tempt us to betray the ideals and truths we know. Many people have also their transfiguration, exaltations of spirit on the symbolical mount, when, for a time the world seems full of light and beauty and wisdom and truth. Gethsemane, too, a dark night of the Soul, can close in upon us when those upon whom we are wont to rely, our friends and trusted helpers, are found to be metaphorically asleep as we turn to them for aid. Sometimes we, too, cry out to them: "Could ye not watch with me one hour?" (Matthew XXVI, 40)
Mankind, individually and racially, lives out the great drama of Golgotha many times in many lives. At first it is in miniature, but eventually in full, as a spiritual coronation. Man, throughout history, has found himself betrayed and alone, crucified of heart and crying out "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me!" (Matthew XXVII, 46) Nearly all of us pass through in some degree that experience of aloneness, later to emerge with a new power and a great discovery, as did Jesus Who said "I and My Father are one." (John X, 30) He had come to know that man spiritually is the Eternal and that the Eternal is himself. When man attains to that awareness he is for all time beyond the possibility of loneliness and separateness.
One day all men will enact in full this great drama of the Christ life, from Annunciation through to the Passion of the Cross and on to Ascension, or Adeptship, attaining to "the perfect man, the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." (Ephesians IV, 13) Great expansions of consciousness, called Initiations, await those who find and successfully tread the Way of Holiness. Thus the great biblical stories describe by means of allegories the evolution of life in Nature, in man, and in the disciple, the Initiate and the Adept.
The fourth Key to the sacred language is that all objects have their own special meanings. This secret language of the Initiates of the Mystery Schools of old is built of symbols whose meanings are ever constant throughout the whole world, east or west. Constant also is the doctrine which this ancient language everywhere reveals.
A symbol has been described as a "recorded parable," and a parable as a "spoken symbol." Biblical symbols are further classifiable according to their reference to one or another of the four elements earth, water, air and fire. Each of these refers to a level of human consciousness. Solid earthly objects indicate waking physical consciousness. Scenes on or in water have to do with the emotions. Fire symbolizes both the destructive, hypercritical aspects of the human mind and also the fire of the creative lifeforces in the universe and in man. Air indicates intuitive perceptions; and the birds of the air indicate the divine Triplicity, the Trinity itself, as well as the threefold spiritual Soul of man, the God within.
Such are four Keys to a remarkable language invented and used to keep on file in a kind of shorthand pf the occult, hidden under meanings in the scriptures and mythologies of the world. Let me say again that this Mystery Language was very particularly designed to reveal and to conceal: to reveal to those who intuitively interpret and rightly use the knowledge, and to conceal from those who could be injured by its possession. Let us now look more closely at the components of this ageold tongue.
Objects of earth, as I have said, indicate conditions of physical consciousness. Mountains, for example, tell of exalted mental states. Abraham prepared the great sacrifice to the Lord of his beloved son "on a mountain;" Elijah heard the still, small voice, Moses received the Ten Commandments, and our Lord preached His greatest sermon and was transfigured "on the mount," or in states of uplifted consciousness.
Planes, on the other hand, refer to normal waking consciousness, and valleys to grossly material mental attitudes. Gardens, vineyards and fields refer either to spiritually fruitful states of consciousness, or to the opening of new cycles. The story of man's creation begins in the Garden of Eden. Our Lord was first met after His resurrection by Mary Magdalene in a garden. She did not know Him at first, took Him for a gardener, showing that her inner consciousness was not fully awakened, or had been closed by grief. The Lord brought the spiritual principle in her into action in her mind, symbolically by calling her name, her spiritual name. And she at once said "Rabboni," which is to say "Master." (John XX, 16)
Deserts and wildernesses, I repeat, describe conditions of mental dryness and spiritual aridity when idealism declines and aspiration almost disappears. The sun is a symbol for the highest spiritual nature of man, the Monad, or Divine Spark, and has nothing to do with the physical orb. When Joshua made the sun "stand still in the midst of heaven" he brought his highest spiritual power to its position of maximum influence, and its spiritual light shone upon his mind "the moon" so that, symbolically, for him it was day.
The higher criticism, with its references to astronomical and other scientific errors, is thus seen to be beside the point. The stories describe mystical, not physical, phenomena and events. When, for example, by meditation and a powerful act of will, the divine spark (the "sun" in man) is brought into a position of maximum power over his whole nature, including his physical brainconsciousness, the person (represented by Joshua) is illumined. For him, mentally and spiritually, there will be no more darkness or night, but perpetual light or day. The moon symbolizes the mortal man, particularly his mindbrain, which by meditation and initiation becomes illumined only by light reflected from the innermost Self, the Sun.
The stars represent cosmic Beings. Animals represent the predatory desires. Lions and tigers are symbols of animallike passions, lusts and desires, which everyone who seeks to tread the Path of swift unfoldment must face. Indeed he must face them alone, and overcome them, not by their repression but by transmuting the forces of which they are an expression into positive creative wisdom and fruitfulness. This can be achieved only by each one for and by himself, alone and largely unaided.
A few references will show how this is taught in the Sacred Language of Myth and Scripture. Hercules slew the Nemaean lion. It was one of his symbolical twelve labors, each of them pregnant with deep significance. First he fired his arrows which merely bounced from the side of the lion. Then he slew the lion with his hands, took the skin and wore it ever after, symbol, as it was and is, of victory and royalty. Such victory is won, not by repression of desire but by the transmutation of the energy of desire into regal power. Similarly, Samson met a lion "in the way," meaning "on the pathway of evolution." He also slew it with his bare hands (unaided). You will remember that some bees made their nest in the carcass so that, when Samson returned three days later, there was honey therein which he ate. And afterwards, he invented and asked the famous riddle: "Out of the eater came forth meat and out of the strong came forth sweetness." (Judges XIV, 14)
Exoterically the answer to the riddle consists of an account of that single event in time. Esoterically it is a revelation of a profoundly significant universal law. Honey (sweetness and food) is a symbol of the wisdom attained when the creative lifeforce is transmuted from an emotional to a spiritual expression. Then, out of man's strong desires (the lion), wisdom (honey) is attained by transmutation or spiritual alchemy (killing the lion and extracting the honey). Thus are profound psychological and spiritual truths concealed within stories of physical events in time.
Ships, arks, and cradles represent vessels, whether of containment or conveyance, whether physical, spiritual, superhuman or divine.
The element of water symbolizes the realm of emotion and the feelings of man; and wine, the human intuition and wisdom.
The fish represents the Christconsciousness, just as the astrological significance of the Zodiacal sign Pisces (the fishes) is Christlike wisdom, universal love. That means love which is purified, rendered all inclusive, and expressed as compassionate ministration. All this is symbolized by the fish in the Piscean Age which is concurrent with the Christian Era. The Bishop's mitre is shaped like a fish's head with open mouth pointing upward, possibly as a symbol that such a high dignitary has attained to this state of consciousness and that his life is consecrated to its expression.
Birds represent the threefold Deity whether of the universe or in man. They are triple, with body and two wings. The swan, the dove, the pelican, the hawk, the falcon and the eagle are all symbols of the Deity. Female birds generally aquatic are symbols of the maternal aspect of Deity which is said to conceive the universe mentally, or as a germ or an egg. This it lays on the waters of space, and hatches by the rhythmic beating of its wings, with the result that the seeds of living things emerge, universes appear, and cyclic evolution begins.
The divine Self in man is often symbolized by a predatory bird which preys upon the lower, mortal man (the consciousness in the body), grasps it in its talons, ascends into the air (exalted consciousness) to devour it or absorb it into itself (to produce union with the divine). In Egypt, the vulture, the falcon and the eagle, the kingly bird, all represent the spiritual Self in man.
Fire is used both as a symbol of the restless, destructive aspect of the human analytical mind, and also of the divine creative force within Nature and man.
Trees, staffs, wands, rods, pillars, in fact all "uprights," refer to the human spinal cord in which the creative force, the "serpent fire" is sheathed.
And the serpent, which is generally associated with trees in symbology, also partly represents the creative force which, in man, moves along the spine in a serpentine or winding path.
Marriages, in the sacred language, are spiritual, heavenly marriages and are descriptive of the union of the consciousness of the mortal man with his own divine nature, and, later, with the divine Self of the Universe. At the marriage feast at Cana the Christ is a guest. There is no wine, but by a miracle He turns water into wine. (John II, 3) At a marriage, or mystical union, the Christnature in man shines forth within him (Christ as a guest) when the inner and the outer consciousnesses are united (married). Water (the emotions) is then automatically transmuted into wine (intuition).
The story of the stilling of the tempest by Christ is a beautiful illustration of this allegorical method of writing. The disciples set sail on the Sea of Galilee. They navigated the ship while the Master who accompanied them slept. All was well until a great storm arose. Then the disciples awoke the sleeping Passenger, and He in His might confronted the storm and stilled it by uttering three words, "Peace, be still."
Many of the symbols to which I have drawn your attention are used in that story. The scene is on water, meaning that it concerns the emotions of man. The ship is the containing and conveying vessel, the body which carries the Soul over the waters of life. The disciples personify human attributes of the Soul, such as the impulsiveness of Peter and his inherent sainthood, the simplicity of the fishermen James and John, the busyness of Matthew at the receipt of custom, the faithful love of John, the only disciple who was present both in the courtroom and at the foot of the cross. All are within man, as also is Judas, who on occasion, tempts us to betray the divine within us. But also within each and every one of us is the Christ Nature, the God within us, our "hope of glory" as St. Paul said.
At the beginning of life (the voyage) that inherent divinity is unconscious (sleeps) until the storms of life, the gusts of desire, anger, hate, malice, greed, jealousy, threaten the safety of the soul. Then what is to be done? Do as the disciples did. Turn inward to the deeper part of your nature in search of the divine, the ChristNature, reach up to it, touch and awaken it, and thus exalted and inspired, confront fearlessly the storms of the lower nature and, with certainty of obedience, say to them "Peace, be still."
The value of the storms of life is also indicated in this story for, had it not been for the storm, the Christ might not have been awakened. So also the storms of life, difficult, painful and often tragic as they are, have their place in our lives and evolutionary progress. If we can learn to deal with them intelligently, rise intuitively above the emotional storms, and exalt ourselves into realization of our spiritual Selves, the awakened divinity within us, we shall find the most difficult of emotional problems relatively easy of solution.
This narrative also suggests the full evolutionary journey of the innermost Self of man with its peaceful sleep at the beginning (the unawakened condition of the human Monad, the divine spark). At the commencement of man's evolutionary pilgrimage, all powers are latent; but human life with its experiences stormy and otherwise fructifies, awakens the germinal divine powers; and these, consciously wielded, give peace at the end. This latter is not the peace of innocence and ignorance but the peace of power, fully awakened and consciously employed.
The story of the woman healed is also susceptible of similar interpretations. She had been sick for twelve years, had seen many physicians without being healed by any. Then she heard of the great Teacher and Healer who was in her land. In spite of her weakness she arose, sought Him and came into His presence. But there was a "press" of people, a throng in the way. Despite this barrier she stretched forth her hand and touched not Him, but the hem of His garment. And straightway she was made whole.
The woman may represent Everyman. Are we not all sick, or imperfect, unillumined, from the evolutionary point of view? How may we become illumined and enlightened? By doing as she did. By seeking and finding the Christnature within us. At first we find a "throng" in the way, meaning all those qualities which shut us away from the Divine within us. Every unChrist like motive, thought, word, or act constitutes a barrier between us and the Divinity which is the healing Grace within us. If, however, we stretch forth our hands (our aspiring thoughts) towards and into the presence of the divine within us, we shall become whole. If we but touch the hem of His garment beautiful symbol for the fringe of the divine consciousness it will be sufficient. Floods of divine light and life and healing power will pour down, and, like the woman healed by that method, we shall be made whole.
Death, blindness, and night all symbolize conditions of spiritual darkness, mental darkness, unreceptiveness to inner light. Upon occasion "night" is also used as a term to indicate the end of a great period the night of Deity. Being brought back to life and being cured of blindness both refer to a spiritual awakening and a new understanding. When a person sincerely aspires and the intuitive Christ nature begins to manifest itself, then the darkness goes, then one lives again.
Allegorically, Christ appears upon the scene and heals the blind or raises the dead. I am not denying the miracles at all. I am merely saying that wonderful though the actual events were, the telling of them has a far deeper meaning. For there is an inner death far more serious than physical death, and a mental blindness more serious than physical blindness.
In the story of the blind Bartimaeus, he cried out to the Lord for help, and though the crowd of people tried to stop him, Jesus summoned him. Bartimaeus "cast 'away his garment, rose and came to Jesus," received his sight, and followed Jesus "in the way." There, in a few words, is a wonderful description of the processes of interior illumination in a seeker for the light. An additional bit of symbology is found in the shedding of the garments. Nakedness is one of the great symbols and refers to the clearing of consciousness from all the encrustations of dogmatism, prejudice, and superstition, necessary before spiritual truth can be perceived. Also you will note that when Bartimaeus received his illumination he followed "in the way" on the Path of holiness.
The symbol of the fish is used many times in our Gospels. With a few fishes, five thousand people were fed by the Christ, and there was more food afterwards than before. The scene was on a hill, referring again to the exalted state of consciousness. Remembering that fishes represent divine love, wisdom, and healing grace the greatly needed nutriment of the human mind and soul we recognize that an inexhaustible supply exists within, and that the more this interior Christlike love, healing power and wisdom are poured forth upon the world (the multitude) the more of radiant life will there be welling up from within for further ministration, and the wider will be the channel for its onward flow.
There, I suggest, is the central message of Christianity for the world. It is best expressed in the words of St. Paul, "Christ in you, the hope of glory." All that we can ever need of spiritual power, wisdom, understanding, love, and peace is abundantly present within us. The beautiful miraculous Gospel story bids us seek and find that inexhaustible fountain of happiness and wisdom within us, and with it serve and help mankind.
Even in the necessities of daily life, always using good sense and discriminative wisdom, we may find an interior source of supply. When tribute money was wanted by Christ and His disciples, where did He tell His disciples to find it? "Within a fish" (the Christconsciousness) which they caught and opened, finding therein the needed denarins. One is reminded of the admonition "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." (St. Matthew VI, 33)
The subject is well nigh inexhaustible and I offer this merely as an introductory study. In bringing it to a close, let me repeat that, for me, the central teaching of all religion is that the Divine is not far away, above, without, or separate from man, but is within him as an allsufficing power. St. Paul drew attention to this great truth with the words "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you." (Phillipians II, 1213)
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