The whole essence of truth cannot be transmitted from mouth to ear. Nor can any pen describe it, not even that of the recording Angel, unless man finds the answer in the sanctuary of his own heart, in the innermost depths of his divine intuitions. — The Secret Doctrine
How are those “innermost depths” to be sounded, so that knowledge of reality may be won? Through training, discipline, and self-born wisdom. Such training and soul-discipline is the distinguishing mark of the Mystery colleges, which since their inauguration have been divided into two parts: the exoteric form commonly known as the Lesser Mysteries, open to all sincere and honorable candidates for deeper learning; and the esoteric form, or the Greater Mysteries, whose doors open but to the few and whose initiation into adeptship is the reward of those whose interior nobility enables them to undergo the solar rite.
Universal testimony of stone and papyrus, symbol and allegory, cave and crypt, tells of the twofold trial of neophytes. Jesus the Avatara spoke to the multitudes in parable, but “when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples” (Mark 4:34). The Essenes had their greater and minor Mysteries, in the former of which Jesus of Nazareth is believed to have been initiated.
The Chinese Buddhists hold to a well-loved tradition that Buddha Gautama had two doctrines: one for the people and his lay-disciples; the other for his arhats. His invariable principle was to refuse no one admission into the ranks of candidates for Arhatship, but never to divulge the final mysteries except to those who had proved themselves, during long years of probation, to be worthy of Initiation.
Intensity of purpose marks the Hebrew initiates in their shrouding of inner teaching. To the multitude they taught the Torah, the “Law,” but to the few they taught its unwritten interpretation, the “Secret Wisdom” — hokhmah nistorah — “in ‘darkness, in a deserted place, and after many and terrific trials.’ . . . Delivered only as a mystery, it was communicated to the candidate orally, `face to face and mouth to ear.’ ” The Persian and Chaldean Magi also were of two castes: “the initiated and those who were allowed to officiate in the popular rites only” (Isis Unveiled).
Eleusis and Samothrace are limned in exquisite silhouette against the blue-black sky of history. Classical scholars tell us that the Lesser Mysteries were conducted in the springtime at Agrai near Athens, while the Greater Mysteries were celebrated in the autumn at Eleusis. In the Lesser Mysteries the candidates who experienced the first rites were called mystai (the closed of eye and mouth). In the Greater Mysteries the mystai became epoptai (the clear-seeing), who participated in the mysteries of the Divine Elysion — i.e., communion with the divine.
Similarly, the Hindu arhat, the Scandinavian skald, and the Welsh bard guarded the soul of esotericism with the sanctity of their lives and the discipline of their sacred tradition:
Belonging to every temple there were attached the “hierophants” of the inner sanctuary, and the secular clergy who were not even instructed in the Mysteries. — Isis Unveiled.
Further, in all ancient countries “every great temple had its private or secret Mystery-School which was unknown to the multitude or partially known,” and which was attached to it as a secret body. A Mystery school is not necessarily a school of people situated at some specific place, with definite and fixed locality throughout time, and with physical conditions of environment always alike. Wherever the need is great, work must be done; and the “mistake of all scholars and mystics is to put too much emphasis upon places as Mystery-Schools” (Studies in Occult Philosophy).
A Mystery school is not dependent on location; rather it is an association or brotherhood of spiritually disciplined individuals bound by one common purpose, service to humanity, a service intelligently and compassionately rendered because born of love and wisdom. It is a fact, nevertheless, that certain centers appear to be more favorable to success in spiritual things than others. Why, for instance, were the ancient seats of the Mysteries almost invariably in rock-temple or subterranean cave, in forest or mountain pass, in pyramid chamber or temple crypt? Because the currents of the astral light become quieter, more peaceful, cleaner, the farther removed from the madding crowd. Rarely will one find a seat of esoteric training near a large metropolis, for such are “swirling whirlpools . . . ganglia, nerve-centers, in the lower regions of the Astral Light” (Esoteric Tradition).
Hence the locations of the Greater Mysteries were usually carefully chosen and their schools were those which paid no attention to buildings of any kind, mainly for the reason that buildings would at once attract attention and draw public notice, which is the very thing that these more secret, more esoteric Schools tried to avoid. Thus sometimes, when the temples were mere seats of exoteric ritual, the Mystery-Schools were held apart in secret, conducting their gatherings, meetings, initiations, initiatory rites, usually in caves carefully prepared and hid from common knowledge, occasionally even under the open sky as the Druids did among the oaks in their semi-primeval forests in Britain and in Brittany; and even in a few cases having no permanent or set location; but the Initiates receiving word where to meet from time to time, and to carry on their initiatory functions. — Studies in Occult Philosophy.
It is the places of quiet, of peace, of strong silence, where the Adepts find themselves drawn, and where the secret or Greater Mysteries can most effectively function. There in the recesses of their initiation chambers the forces and currents are those of the higher astral light, the akasa, the tenuous substance which responds to the higher currents of spirit and intellect. In this way does the Brotherhood transmit its potent spiritual vitality to the initiation halls, and the candidate whose seven-rayed soul is attuned may receive the divine imprint.