Chapter 1 Magic, Sacred Mathematics and the Doctrine of Cycles
The first chapter starts off with a bang (the title, “Old Things With New Names”, doesn’t tell you much), as we are introduced with many of the classic theosophical notions pertaining to spiritual evolution including a brief excursis on reincarrnation (metempsychosis). All of this seems a bit of a tough read and hard to follow, but only because it has a somewhat odd structure; it actually makes for a solid basic introduction to the theosophical concept of esoteric evolution. So very early on we have the doctrine of cycles and its relation to evolutionary concepts which were later elaborated much more explicitly.
The structure is basically quite simple, the chapter is mainly about ancient sacred mathematics and the doctrine of cycles related to it; but to better explain the spiritual aspect of ancient science in general, pages 15-30 contain a digression on Magic as a divine and transformative science; but the placement of this digression is somewhat quirky and confusing.
There are quite a lot of side arguments, but it is clear enough that they all serve the purpose of introducing and illustrating a certain number of key concepts and strategies pertaining to esoteric philosophy or sacred science:
– Archaeological discoveries are uncovering important information about ancient wisdom which we can learn from.
– In many cases ancient knowledge was equal or even superior to modern knowledge.
– Ancient religion was in harmony with nature and had a clear understanding of spiritual principles and realities.
– This study of ancient philosophy shows the importance of the soul and an essential divine principle.
– Ancient adepts had a deep spiritual perennial wisdom that they guard and preserve.
– There has been a spiritual decline and we have lost much spiritual knowledge and so need to recover it
– History goes back a lot further than is commonly believed
– Modern science does not have all the answers.
Concepts of lost Ancient Perennial Wisdom:
There is a primitive divine universal revelation that gradually became dispersed and hidden.
One day they may learn to know better, and so become aware that the method of extreme necessarianism was practiced in ancient as well as in modern philosophy; that from the first ages of man, the fundamental truths of all that we are permitted to know on earth was in the safe keeping of the adepts of the sanctuary; that the difference in creeds and religious practice was only external; and that those guardians of the primitive divine revelation, who had solved every problem that is within the grasp of human intellect, were bound together by a universal freemasonry of science and philosophy, which formed one unbroken chain around the globe. It is for philology and psychology to find the end of the thread. That done, it will then be ascertained that, by relaxing one single loop of the old religious systems, the chain of mystery may be disentangled. (37-38)
Magic is a spiritual science and has been present in all cultures throughout history.
Magic was considered a divine science which led to a participation in the attributes of Divinity itself. “It unveils the operations of nature,” says Philo Judaeus, “and leads to the contemplation of celestial powers.”** In later periods its abuse and degeneration into sorcery made it an object of general abhorrence. We must therefore deal with it only as it was in the remote past, during those ages when every true religion was based on a knowledge of the occult powers of nature.(24)
Concepts of Esoteric Evolution
The Myth of the Fall symbolizes an evolutionary process of materialization from a primitive spiritual state.
A conviction, founded upon seventy thousand years of experience,** as they allege, has been entertained by hermetic philosophers of all periods that matter has in time become, through sin, more gross and dense than it was at man’s first formation; that, at the beginning, the human body was of a half-ethereal nature; and that, before the fall, mankind communed freely with the now unseen universes. But since that time matter has become the formidable barrier between us and the world of spirits. The oldest esoteric traditions also teach that, before the mystic Adam, many races of human beings lived and died out, each giving place in its turn to another. Were these precedent types more perfect? Did any of them belong to the winged race of men mentioned by Plato in Phaedrus? It is the special province of science to solve the problem. The caves of France and the relics of the stone age afford a point at which to begin. (1)
Science only studies evolution in its material phase; it is needed to understand the prior spiritual phase, which involves the emanation of spiritual archetypes.
For lack of comprehension of this great philosophical principle, the methods of modern science, however exact, must end in nullity. In no one branch can it demonstrate the origin and ultimate of things. Instead of tracing the effect from its primal source, its progress is the reverse. Its higher types, as it teaches, are all evolved from antecedent lower ones. It starts from the bottom of the cycle, led on step by step in the great labyrinth of nature by a thread of matter. As soon as this breaks and the clue is lost, it recoils in affright from the Incomprehensible, and confesses itself powerless. Not so did Plato and his disciples. With him the lower types were but the concrete images of the higher abstract ones. The soul, which is immortal, has an arithmetical, as the body has a geometrical, beginning. This beginning, as the reflection of the great universal ARCHAEUS, is self-moving, and from the centre diffuses itself over the whole body of the microcosm. (13-14)
If we accept Darwin’s theory of the development of species, we find that his starting-point is placed in front of an open door. We are at liberty with him, to either remain within, or cross the threshold, beyond which lies the limitless and the incomprehensible, or rather the Unutterable. If our mortal language is inadequate to express what our spirit dimly foresees in the great “Beyond” — while on this earth — it must realize it at some point in the timeless Eternity. (14)
Humanity is emerging from the lower arc of evolution.
Physiology, like everything else in this world of constant evolution, is subject to the cyclic revolution. As it now seems to be hardly emerging from the shadows of the lower arc, so it may be one day proved to have been at the highest point of the circumference of the circle far earlier than the days of Pythagoras. (8)
The ancient Hindus were aware of the sphericity of the earth and posit a phase were the earth was more ethereal.
The description of the earth in the shape of a round and bald head, which was soft at first, and became hard only from being breathed upon by the god Vayu, the lord of the air, forcibly suggests the idea that the authors of the sacred Vedic books knew the earth to be round or spherical; moreover, that it had been a gelatinous mass at first, which gradually cooled off under the influence of the air and time. So much for their knowledge about our globe’s sphericity; and now we will present the testimony upon which we base our assertion, that the Hindus were perfectly acquainted with the Heliocentric system, at least 2000 years B.C. (10)
The following authors and their works are commented on prominently in this chapter:
John William Draper (1811-1892)
History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science (1874)
Godfrey Higgins (1772-1833)
Joseph Ennemoser (1787-1854)
History of Magic (1819)
Mythology of the Hindus (1832)
Christian Karl Josias Bunsen (1791-1860)
Egypt’s Place in Universal History (1844)
Joseph Franz Molitor (1179-1860)