Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Cosmic Doctrine - how it all began!

In Glastonbury back in 30th July 1923 two friends, Violet Mary Firth and Charles Thomas Loveday, were about to embark on a psychic experiment that sent reverberations going in the esoteric world even down to our day. It was the first session of what came to be known as The Cosmic Doctrine. The 33 year old Violet Firth had for some time been intent on teaching herself the art of trance mediumship the basics of which she seemed to have picked up as a close associate of Dr Theodore Moriarty whom she had met eight years before and who had  mightily impressed her. She became a member of a co-masonic group that he founded in 1919, attended residential classes given by him, in which he was, by her own account (in her semi-autobiographical Psychic Self Defence) adept at this kind of work.

            Not that this was the only string to Violet Firth’s bow for, apart from being the daughter of Christian Science parents, she had also become a member of the Theosophical Society, and of a branch of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. All of which, for various reasons, she later moved on from, to form her own esoteric group,  the Community (later Fraternity and then Society) of the Inner Light.

She also had journalistic ambitions and during 1922 wrote some esoteric stories for the Royal Magazine, later published in book form as The Secrets of Dr. Taverner, the first of which, Blood Lust, was closely based on an incident she had observed that involved Moriarty, and that had so impressed her that she gave up her studentship as a psychological counsellor with the Medico-Psychological Clinic to  become, in 1916,  a member of the Women’s Land Army. This was a patriotic gesture in time of war but the main reason was her conviction that psycho-therapy could not make much progress if it did not take cognisance of the esoteric field. Her Dr Taverner stories were aimed at bringing to public awareness the possibilities of psychological problems having their root in preternatural causes – or “little known powers of the human mind” as she liked to call them. She wrote these stories under the pen name of Dion Fortune, by which he has since become more generally known.

The first indication we have of Dion Fortune (as we shall now call her) experimenting in trance techniques was in January 1921 with the assistance of her Golden Dawn mentor and family friend Maiya Curtis-Webb (later Tranchell-Hayes). This was obviously apprentice work, but by September 1921 she had become sufficiently competent to undertake some work for the Glastonbury psychical researcher Frederick Bligh Bond, the result being what became known as the Glastonbury Script to her later followers.

Within six months, through a chance meeting at Chalice Well,  she made the acquaintance of Charles Thomas Loveday, an esoterically inclined Christian mystic some fifteen years her senior, with whom she formed a close esoteric (and completely platonic) association that was to last the rest of their days. He encouraged her trance work, a key point of which, in August 1922, was a more sustained follow up to the Glastonbury script via an inner plane contact with a group known as the Company of Avalon.

However, this did not last, as they were passed on from the mystically based Company of Avalon, with its mission of a national spiritual influx into the church, towards a more Hermetically oriented hierarchy. This began on 28th September 1922 from which there developed a systematic series of teachings about the seven planes of the universe which, in personal terms, were more attuned to Dion Fortune’s long standing psychological/sexual concerns than Thomas Loveday’s mystical/ecclesiastical ones.

This very soon developed into a contact with some specific inner plane communicators with whom Dion Fortune was closely concerned for the rest of her life. The first, known as David Carstairs, became evident in October 1922, a somewhat cheeky informal contact, apparently killed in action in the 1st World War, who acted as a kind of introductor to other more “heavyweight” contacts. The first of these came through on 15th November, apparently the once famous lawyer and Lord Chancellor Thomas Erskine, (1750-1823), and closely followed on November 30th by one referred to as the Greek master, later identified with the ancient philosopher Socrates.

Something of the atmosphere of the time is well caught in a transcript of the time, in the words of Carstairs:

Well, how are you getting on with the new teacher? He is finished for tonight. He does not find it easy to do yet. He has been over a long time. He was a Greek. Yes, the one mentioned before. He is working from a pretty high plane, and the result is that the vibrations get a bit faint. Not like me; just next door. He may be a bit scrappy. It will want sorting out. He is fond of aphorisms.

Lord Erskine was unusually good. He was used to public speaking. This man is more used to dealing with pupils by question and answer, as they did in Greece. He would get on the step of some public building, and young men would come and ask how many eggs made five, and he would tell them. He was later than Pythagoras. He got put to death, was a bit too much for them.

Most of the teaching received at this time was written up and subsequently published as The Esoteric Philosophy of Love and Marriage, in many ways a transitional book that has not stood up too well to the passage of time. It combined elementary esoteric theory, with a strong emphasis on the theory of planes as featured in Theosophical Society literature, combined with social and sexual problems that had concerned Violet Firth in her time at the Medico-Psychological clinic.  

So things continued with weekly meetings along these lines until on 28th March 1923 they were warned by a different communicator ( simply referred to as “an Agent of the Lords of Karma”)  that: This Easter will prove a turning point in more ways than one. You will see a new life opening up before you, and new work. Your first duty will be to equip yourself for the new work that will open up ahead of you. You must be equipped upon the outer and the inner planes, both working together…Conditions are being put in order for the work to go forward. Ties are being adjusted, and the financial position is being made secure. All things are being harmoniously worked out. There is much work ahead, a great work to be done for which conditions are being made. You will always work in obscurity, but your influence will be felt further than you yet dream. Means are being provided to this  end… You will follow the study marked out for you. You will be in the hands of certain teachers. Trust them, but trust no one with confidences.

On the mundane side of things this came to pass the following year in the acquisition of physical premises in which to work in both Glastonbury and London and the foundation of the prototype of the Society of the Inner Light. On the inner side of things it was kicked off  by the arrival of the Greek on 30th July 1923 to begin a series of teachings that became known as The Cosmic Doctrine.

The first six sessions, which lasted over the course of a calendar month (30th July to 30th August 1923), sought nothing less than to describe the genesis of the Universe at a spiritual level.

            Whoever the inner plane communicators were, and it appears there was a group of them, they seem philosophically to be Neoplatonists. That is to say their teaching – although they never said so in so many words – follows closely that of the 3rd  century philosopher Plotinus (c.205-270 A.D.) who was in turn a follower of Plato (429-347 B.C.), a student of the historical Socrates. (469-399 B.C.)

            It would seem that Dion Fortune and Thomas Loveday were quite unacquainted with the terms of Neoplatonic philosophy – (the One, the Demiurge, the World Soul) – so the terms used in The Cosmic Doctrine were whatever happened to be within the medium’s subconscious mind. These were mostly based upon early 20th century popular Theosophical teaching tinged with some of the ideas of Theodore Moriarty.  It was, therefore, a formidable challenge for the communicators to get their message across without the benefit of a classical philosophical vocabulary. Hence many of the terms in The Cosmic Doctrine had to be made up or borrowed from other systems of ideas.

            Neoplatonism is essentially a religious philosophy. According to Neoplatonic teachings the prime Source of all Being is called the ONE or the INFINITE. In Cosmic Doctrine terms it is the source of All. In Judeo-Christian terms it could be equated with God Transcendent, the Creator, the Elohim, the Dove of the Holy Spirit moving upon the face of the Primal Waters. In Qabalistic philosophy it corresponds to the Ain Soph Aur – the Limitless Light of the Three Veils of Negative Existence. In The Cosmic Doctrine it is the creator of the spiritual Cosmos, from which springs all the rest in which we live and move and have our being.

The process of creation is somewhat ingeniously described in terms of a mathematical diagram, starting from a one dimensional point that moves to form a line, that curves to create a two dimensional figure, a circle, which then begins to turn upon itself in a third dimension to form a sphere. From thence the sphere develops an internal organisation or pattern of forces in terms of 7 internal spheres (known as Planes) and 12 ovoid radial figures (known as Rays). These in turn produce within their converging forces tangential movements or eddies each of which has the potential to become a spiritual being in its own right. These in The Cosmic Doctrine are (somewhat confusingly) called Atoms although they have nothing whatever to do with the atoms we learn about at school in chemistry classes. They are the root of all forms of spiritual being – including ourselves!

There are however different degrees of complexity in these Cosmic Atoms. If we just follow the development of one of the more complex ones, by reason of its greater spiritual “weight” (we begin here to move from purely mathematical analogy to one akin to physical mechanics) it becomes a Travelling Atom which undertakes a complete tour of all aspects of the One, through all the Rays and Planes to end up attracted to the very centre of things, called in The Cosmic Doctrine the Central Stillness – which more poetically might be called the Bosom of God.

Then, after assimilating the experience of Godhead it is shot forth down the Cosmic Planes to the periphery of the Cosmos with the ability to project a lesser system of its own.

As such it is known as a Great Entity or Great Organism or, as it is ultimately in its full physical expression, a Star, a Solar Logos capable of producing a Solar system. In classical Neoplatonism this would have been known as the DEMIURGE or the NOUS, capable in its turn of projecting the WORLD SOUL which forms the essence of the corporeal world we know – wherein we find ourselves in physical bodies on a solid planet with the Solar Logos manifesting physically as a flaming nuclear furnace and immediate source of light and life to our planet.

            Where The Cosmic Doctrine makes an advance on classical Neoplatonism is that it regards all the stars we see in the sky in the same terms, each a Demiurge for its own particular system. However, the main thrust of its teaching is confined to our own Earth, our own Sun and the seven planes (from physical to spiritual) of which they are comprised.

The Cosmic Doctrine was reckoned by Dion Fortune, by her inner contacts and by her Fraternity to be one of the most important works of mediation that she ever did. After its initial reception in 1923 it became a confidential study text for senior members of the Fraternity. Despite further pressure from the inner planes in 1930 to do something about getting it published, owing to its abstruse content this was easier said than done, and it was not until 1949 that it eventually publicly appeared via Aquarian Press, edited by the Warden of the time, Arthur Chichester. In 1966 this was succeeded by a slightly revised and enlarged edition, containing additional material received principally by Margaret Lumley Brown, who had largely taken over Dion Fortune`s mediumistic function in the Fraternity after 1946. Despite an interim reprint by Helios Books when Aquarian Press lost interest in the title, it eventually went out of print, until, in 1995 the Society published a completely new edition.

This was particularly interesting because it reverted to the original unedited text of 1923, together with explanatory diagrams drawn up by Dion Fortune`s colleague C.T.Loveday when the work had first been produced. This edition was taken over and republished by the American publisher Samuel Weiser in 2000, although unfortunately without correcting some of the idiosyncratic use of apostrophes that had been sprinkled in by the largely amateur editing of the SIL edition.  However these remain a minor, if irritating, blemish.

            What follows is the result of much personal study of the text over the past sixty years, taking account of variations in the editions, for some of Arthur Chichester`s revisions were the result of a remarkable grasp of the principles involved, and it would be a loss completely to discard them. He had a particularly precise mind that enabled him to refine some of the original terminology more accurately, such as substituting Planetary Being for Planetary Spirit and Ray Exemplar for Star Logos. He also omitted, for reasons that remain obscure, sections on the Laws of Impactation and Polarity that however were restored in the later editions.

            More understandably, he regretted allowing the continued use of the term Negative Evil, as it could be greatly misunderstood. The problem was, and still is, to find an alternative term at this level that means opposition to Good without pejorative connotations. He rather inclined to the term Negative Good.

            There is indeed much in the terminology of The Cosmic Doctrine that can mislead, particularly in the use of the word atoms, when something very different from the current scientific use of the term is intended. Again other terms were borrowed from various esoteric sources, via Moriarty, but used with an entirely different meaning from the original.

However, such problems were to be expected given the initial task of bringing through ground breaking metaphysical teaching of this nature. We at least have the advantage of being able to reflect upon the work at leisure, filling in the gaps and pondering the difficulties, and there is sufficient value within the work for it to form the basis for making an intuitive connection to the source from whence these teachings issued. Or indeed respectfully to take up the role of a “devil’s advocate”!

The term “Devil’s Advocate” referred originally to a canon lawyer in the Roman Catholic church whose duty was to argue against the canonisation or beatification of a person nominated to be a saint. In common parlance it is someone who takes a position against an argument in order to test its quality and identify weaknesses in its structure, either to improve, to correct or even to disprove parts of it if necessary.

            In the case of the Cosmic Doctrine, because of its abstruseness and the less than ideal circumstances of its reception, it seems to be a necessary discipline, particularly as there has been a tendency to regard it almost as infallible holy writ. Dion Fortune can hardly be blamed for such an attitude as she plainly states at the beginning of her introduction to the work:

            I hope my readers will believe that these pages are the result of honest experimentation and acquit me of charlatanry or attempted deception. I vouch for neither the completeness or accuracy of the communications here recorded; in my opinion, no extra weight should be attached to any ideas or teachings because an unusual origin is claimed for them; any value which they possess as a contribution to speculative thought or scientific knowledge must depend on their intrinsic worth, not on their sphere of origin. The manner of their obtaining is a psychological question and has no bearing on the problem of their truth.

            With this in mind, we should, as a matter of duty, seek to test any statements that are made within the teachings and face up to them and any possible errors, misconceptions or misuse of terms that we may find.  Some of these relate to questionable terminology. Some to errors of scientific fact. Yet others to internal contradictions within the script. Hence the rubric that the contents are intended to train the mind as much as to inform it.  This includes intelligent critical analysis. It is not a matter of crying that “the Emperor has no clothes!” but taking account of the fact that he might, here and there, not be quite properly dressed! 

1 comment:

Occult Connection said...

Thanks for sharing Gareth. I wasn't that acquainted with Dion Fortune and her work. But now I am!