In the deeper Mystery-training, the pupil must not only learn to build the mystic vessel of awakened consciousness which will carry him from plane to plane but, in the process of such individual becoming, must rediscover for himself the ageless routes of initiation.
In wisdom and foresight, nature is consistent throughout: one law, one plan, one structure. With charming thrift she rehearses the pathways of initiation through the cycles of sleep and death. Death and its processes form the heart and core of the Greater Mysteries: through death of the inferior the superior finds birth. Except the seed die, the flower cannot bloom; except the flower die, the seed cannot form. “He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (Matt. 10:39).
Sleep is an incomplete death — unconsciously experienced; death is a complete sleep — unconsciously experienced; initiation is a self-conscious sleep or “death” of the lower elements with a fully conscious liberation of the spiritual soul along the pathways of sleep and death.
In sleep the body “dies” imperfectly, for the golden cord remains linked to the slumbering body. If the soul is not weighted with material desire, then a natural quiescence ensues. During the brief hours of nightly sleep, if the karma be favorable the freed spirit-soul may ascend out of the sphere of earth along the invisible magnetic pathways to higher realms. The ascent is instantaneous, followed by the return along identic pathways until the soul once again enters the sleeping body and a new day dawns.
The pathways of sleep traversed night after night constitute an unconscious journey along the routes of initiation. Such momentary and unrecognized contact during sleep is not wasted; the very repetition of the selfsame process acts as an invisible spur to the ordinary person. If the aspirations continue and the life is made purer, faint impressions of beauty and grandeur will penetrate the soul, intuitions will manifest, and the aspirant will find benediction sweeping into his days through nightly communion with higher spheres.
Death is the following of the same processes of sleep, only perfectly so. The body is cast off permanently and dissipates; the golden cord is withdrawn, and the soul, freed of its terrestrial elements, enters the spheres of temporary purgation. Liberated and cleansed of earthly dross, the soul ascends to its spiritual parent, the higher self, and in peace and bliss undreamed of pursues the identic journey of sleep. In each of the mansions of space, a stop is made, shorter or longer depending upon the links of affinity formerly made through past experience of the spiritual soul until, strengthened by divine contact, it once again treads the ancient pathway, and a child is born on earth.
A human being is many-sided: he has within him a divine monad, a spiritual soul, and a human soul which works through his vital-astral-physical nature. We must guard against the lower gaining dominion over the higher and must watch carefully, particularly in discussion of these holy themes, lest we become so fascinated by their beauty and intellectual splendor, that we forget their essential worth — that of ethics. Unless an individual has made ethics the foundation of his character, his heart and mind will be continually shaken by the storms of desire.
Those who care for little beyond the immediate will have scant attraction to deeper things, but those who have begun to think and feel intuitively may find themselves irresistibly drawn to the ancient wisdom. However, to those already stirring from the sleep of matter, warning is repeatedly given against entertaining the notion that initiation is just around the corner. One must defend the heart against selfish desire for so-called occult powers as one would defend oneself against the bite of a serpent. The initiations referred to, more particularly in the previous chapter, are not described but only alluded to as hints of what some day the worthy disciple may find himself fortunate enough to experience.
In summation, over and over the journey of initiation is traversed: in sleep imperfectly, in death more perfectly; nightly by the soul in sleep, periodically by the soul in death. Unconsciously undergone, nature thus rehearses that which the soul must one day follow with will and consciousness fully active. This latter process is the journey of initiation: the deliberate paralysis of terrestrial influence followed by the self-perceptive journey through every plane and sphere of the cosmos.
The purpose of the passing of the Monad postmortem through the various planetary chains is to allow it to free itself on each such planetary chain of the integument or habiliment or vehicle which belongs to the vital essence of such planetary chain. It is only thus that the Monad strips off from itself one after the other the different “coatings” with which it has enwrapped itself during its long evolutionary journey; and thus when it has freed itself from all the seven “coatings” it is then ready, because freed and in its pure and “unclothed” state, to enter into its own native spiritual Home. When the return journey towards Earth’s planetary chain begins, the Monad then passes through all these same seven planets, but in reverse order to that by which it had ascended through them, and in each such planet that it visits . . . it picks up and re-assumes or clothes itself in the lifeatoms forming the “coatings” that it had previously dropped or cast off in each one of these seven planets respectively.
The soul as yet has not developed sufficient strength to withstand the full revelation of the universe. There is a Babylonian legend which points to a Mystery-teaching. Ishtar descends to the underworld and, arriving at the gates of Arallu (Hades), stands beautiful and regal. The archaic decree, however, demands that none may enter the dread precincts of the underworld who are not bare of garment or jewel.
Therefore at each of the successive gates through which Ishtar must pass, the keeper divests her of some garment or ornament: first her crown, then her ear-rings, then her necklace, then the ornaments from her bosom, then her many-jeweled girdle, then the spangles from her hands and feet, and lastly her loin-cloth. — Will Durant, The Story of Civilization
Free and pure she enters the Land of No Return where her sister, Ereshkigal, holds sway. Full of jealousy, she sends against Ishtar sixty diseases. Having passed the tests of the lower world, Ishtar retraces her steps through the seven gates, receiving in reverse order the garments and jewels which she had cast aside on her descending journey, and finally, as she ascends into the regions of light, Ishtar is adorned with the seventh jewel, the crown of spiritual glory.
The descent to the underworld is not an automatic process, but a willing decision to undertake the journey as a supreme test of intellectual and spiritual integrity. If the candidate succeed, union with the divine and bliss supernal will be his; if he fail, then death or madness lies in store. Far better had he never ventured upon these trials, for fearful indeed are they. But all is not lost, for in a future life he may try again.
If the aspirant has through austerity, utter devotion, discipline, and learning become as gold in the fire, swift and sure will be his passage through the lower worlds. With the flame of spirituality burning within, the successful candidate rises to the spheres superior, where the passage from planet to planet is made with full awareness. Passing the ultimate test, the pupil, now become master, returns to earth and to his entranced body. The guardian of the initiation chamber, who has watched over the body of his disciple with patient and loving care, is filled with joy: the initiation is consummated.