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Modern Esoteric Movements

by Alice A. Bailey

Printed in The Beacon October 1927 and July 1996

IT WOULD BE OF VALUE to many students of modern conditions in the world of thought, if certain basic differentiations were emphasized, and certain lines or trends of ideas were placed in juxtaposition, and their relation to each other studied. No movement is wholly evil and no movement is wholly right. No group of thinkers is the custodian of the whole truth, nor does any Bible or the presentation of truth by any Teacher convey all that can be known of God and His ways. Questions of right or wrong are individual and personal, and no man is his brother’s keeper nor may he dictate to his brother’s conscience.

The distinctions to be made fall into two main groups—those which concern the outer form and its inner teaching, or the esoteric and exoteric aspects of truth, and those which are the outcome of the old age which is passing and which indicate the coming influence of the new age.

With exoteric truth we need not concern ourselves. Forms of religion and of thought are but indications of life and growth. They are the distorted outer semblances of an inner reality; they are the symbolic interpretations that men’s minds have given to the truth, varying from age to age and from cycle to cycle. They rise and fall, they come and go, and during their life time serve a useful purpose and after their passing are regarded as limitations.

The forms that all group thought passes through, be they vast as a great religion or small as any of the insignificant cults or isms, demonstrate a similar history, and travel an analogous course. There is the period of their inception when the vision is seen in its initial beauty and the ideal is glimpsed in its glory and continuity. Some clear thinker, some great teacher, descending from the Mount of Initiation enunciates the truth, and pictures the vision. Thus the first form appears. As time passes on, a period of growth ensues during which the truth is covered up more and more and the vision recedes. Finally, we have a religion, or science, or art expressed in dogmatic formulas, laws, rituals and doctrines, with the usual paraphernalia of authoritative teaching and exalted teachers. As the form grows, the life weakens, but all the time a purpose is served, and use is made by many of the embodied truth.

Old age follows next, accompanied by crystallization, and the revolt of thinkers against the imposed limitations. Then it becomes apparent that the form is useless and eventually its destruction takes place with the consequent release of the life, so that it can build for itself a more adequate expression. Thus has it been down the ages, and thus it ever will be, though (as the race evolves in understanding, harmonious relationships and wisdom) the cycles of growth, old age, and death may well be more gentle, gradual, and smoothly transited.

An Age of Transition

We are now in an age wherein much destruction of old forms and old presentations of truth is to be seen, and this period of revolt and difficulty is increased beyond the usual extent, for we are not only transiting out of pre-war conditions into an era of extension and development, but are passing out of one great solar cycle into another. A study of the past will reveal the fact that similar tremendous epochs have always been distinguished by such radical changes in conditions (economic, social, racial and religious) that it is almost as if a new form-world was being ushered in. The cycles to which I refer are not only astrological, but are astronomical facts which can be verified at any astronomical observatory.

Beneath these exoteric forms, either rising into manifestation, attaining their growth, or passing away, lies that which is hidden, occult or esoteric—the life which is the cause of their being, the spiritual impulses which produce the tangible. Movements, therefore, which are termed esoteric are those which deal with the subjective side, with the soul indwelling the forms, with the life aspect in contradistinction to the material and objective.

True esotericism touches the hidden roots of every man’s being; it concerns the side of humanity which we term the immortal, and the eternal. It deals with that which is the cause of thought, feeling and action. It seeks to express and bring into the foreground of consciousness those divine persistent impulses which find expression in the intense activity and change which characterizes all nature, including man himself. It is that which lies back of all religious formulas, all scientific research, all economic pressures, and every basic direction which the social organism may take. In terms of the human unit, occultism or esotericism concerns the soul, as it expresses itself through the cerebral, emotional and mechanical apparatus, that aspect of himself of which man as yet knows so little, but which makes him what he is. True esotericism is not (as is so often supposed) a profound teaching with ceremonious rituals given under the oath of secrecy, but is an inner spiritual awakening which recognizes a similar awakening or potential spirituality in all other human beings and the life latent in all forms.

It is these movements which we will consider, in view of their prime importance and their responsibility. To them, realized or unrealized, is given the function of sounding a note and of indicating the direction which the newer and fuller presentation of truth will take. Upon the work done by them will depend the quality and the adequacy of those religions, organizations and groups embodying the social order which will prevail during the era of stability which must inevitably supervene upon the present age of transition and difficulty.

As we realize the significance of the life and its forms, and as we study the times in which we live, it becomes apparent that we are in the very midst of this most difficult transitional period. Two methods are at work simultaneously, those which have been nurtured, developed and utilized in the past and which are still most potent and influential, and those which indicate the newer tendencies and which are characterized by the incipient qualities which are the sign of the coming new era. The fact that they are both with us at the same time and that people are influenced by, or antagonized by, one or the other, is the cause of the present world dilemma and others are left in the direst perplexity through observation of the conflict.

A Clash of Forces

The force of the age of Pisces, out of which we are now passing, and the influence of the coming Aquarian cycle is producing the general chaos in all fields of thought and bringing about conflict between thinkers and workers everywhere. By an understanding of these two types of influence and by a consideration of the differences between the movements which may be claimed as representative of them, it should be possible to arrive at certain helpful conclusions and perhaps see how to steer a straight and smoother course.

Many such transitional periods have occurred and always the race has emerged from them benefitted, stabilized and with an expansion of consciousness, an intellectual unfoldment, and a growth of what may generically be called the God-idea, which has served as a foundation for a newer and better Temple of humanity, complete in all its parts and lasting for approximately 2500 years.

The passage of our sun through the round of the heavens and its progression through the twelve signs of the zodiac is as inevitable as time itself. Each solar cycle has seen our planet subjected to differing types of force and these have been responsible for the varying civilisations and cultures. A brief glimpse of the two cycles preceding the Christian (or the Piscean) may make this clearer.

Approximately 5000 B.C. our sun was passing through the sign Taurus, the Bull. We had then the worship of the Bull, as carried on in the Chaldean, Mithraic and Egyptian Mysteries. The Bull was the great symbol or sign of the Son of God, the Cosmic Christ, whose greater symbol or expression was the Sun itself. It was the great sign of the Voice. Sibyls and Oracles were the directors of the nations and individual activities. People learnt to obey implicitly what they heard, and the seeds of that adherence to the spoken word, and that dependence upon the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures were sown. People were led from without, nothing was self-directed from within, except in the case of those advanced souls who guided the destinies of the peoples.

The Jewish dispensation was inaugurated 2500 years B.C. The sun then passed into the sign Aries, the Lamb, and we have the institution of the Passover Lamb and the sacrifice of sheep and goats and lambs in place of the earlier use of oxen. It is interesting to note that the sin of the children of Israel in the wilderness was the worship of the Golden Calf or a reversion to an old form of worship which the race was supposed to have outgrown and left behind. The foundations also of the great altar of sacrifice in the Jewish Tabernacle and Temple, and of the laver of brass in the outer court were oxen, typifying that which lay underneath, or behind. It called the attention of a humanity who had hitherto been taught through the medium of the Voice and consequent childlike irresponsible obedience, to the fact that there was an animal nature, a foundational aspect, which must be subjugated by sacrifice and by self-imposed purification. Thus we have the basis for the great expansion which came when the next sign was entered and individual effort was inculcated.

The Age of Pisces

Then our sun began to traverse the sign Pisces, the Fishes, and 2000 years ago the Christian dispensation began. The Great Master of Galilee is ever associated in the minds of men with the fish symbol; He chose fishermen for His disciples; He sent them out to be "fishers of men"; with them He frequently went fishing and many of His miracles were associated with fishes. A fish drawn in the sand was a secret sign of the early Christians, also frequently seen depicted in the catacombs, and the Church has perpetuated the same idea in the use of fish on Fridays and other fast days.

Is there no deep significance underlying this sacrifice of the bull, the lamb, and the fish in religious ceremonies as they have sequentially developed when the Sun has passed through the signs Taurus the Bull, Aries the Lamb, and Pisces the Fishes?

In this present cycle we have the development of the heart approach to God, the era of the devotee, and the sublimation of the emotional nature and its lifting up into the heavens in the person of the great saints, mystics and teachers of the Church.

The sacrifice of the individual and his martyrdom out of love for the great Personality that has embodied the God-idea in this era has been the characteristic of this age. "What", said the Christ, "shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his Soul?" In response to this men have emphasized the need of personal salvation and the development of the Christ principle in their hearts at any cost.

In the Christ was given to the world the revelation of a perfect soul, and a picture of a divine possibility open to every son of man. What was the great proclamation of the Christ? Save your Soul! No emphasis laid upon groups, but the great teaching given that we have to work out our own salvation, achieve individual perfection, and regulate our personal conduct upon lines laid down in the Sermon on the Mount. The same idea is to be seen working out in the Orient in the teaching of the Gita on the Self and the Yoga Systems which teach Self-development.

What has been the result of this teaching? The Piscean age as no other age has been distinguished by numbers of outstanding achieving Personalities. Great men and great women have emerged into prominence and demonstrated divine characteristics in every walk of life. In relation to the masses of humanity, their numbers are relatively few but their names are remembered for achievement in every department of our civilisation, religious, political, social, artistic and scientific, for the Christ principle does not only manifest through the medium of religious fervour and devotion. It shows itself in any man who reaches great heights in any constructive field, such as music or science, and whose genius exalts itself above the rank and file. One who has found the divine Christ within himself will be superlative along his own line but that not necessarily a religious one.

A New Cycle

Now we are passing slowly out of the Piscean age, out of that cycle which is outstandingly Christian, into that of Aquarius, the Water Carrier. Though 500 years at least must elapse before the transition is completed, the influence of the new age is being felt and increasingly will it become dominant. It is interesting to note that Christ (as every great world Teacher has done) not only embodied the note for the cycle which He represented but linked Himself with the coming age and showed the unity of the life force. He said, "I am the water of life." Water is the symbol of the new age, and perhaps it is the Aquarian influence that lies back of the increased tendency of people to use water, to store it and bathe in it, things unknown on a large scale 500 years ago.

What will be the tendency of the new age? Group service and work! No longer will the emphasis be laid upon individual salvation, but the unit who has realized himself will lose himself and his interests in the good of the whole. Developed people (and their numbers will be increasingly great) will "carry the water of life" to all. Group consciousness will be emphasized, and group need will be dealt with.

The methods employed in the Piscean age and in the Aquarian are unlike, the results aimed at in many cases are quite diverse, and the keynote of each age is very different.

It might be of value in understanding where we ourselves stand and what our attitude should be, if we compared these two great movements, and noted their characteristics and benefits, and also their unavoidable dangers. It will be apparent that the worst side of the Aquarian age tendencies will be hidden to us as they only demonstrate in their strength at the close of the age.

The Great Teacher of the Piscean age, the Christ, set the note for His workers in the words "Feed my sheep." Sheep are trained to follow, and to take and accept the food that is given to them. Thus obedience to imposed authority and the following of the leader has been the method employed. Teachings on the nature of the Christ have been the main fundamental and with that the New Testament deals. How to follow His example and how to get into heaven so as to be with Him, in a personal sense, has been the work which the Church has set itself to teach. The re-iterated statements that "This is the way; Follow the leader; Do as we say; These are the rules" have been the intended and rightful method. The emotions and the heart have been deliberately nurtured, for that was the need of the race. Desire has been trained into aspiration and feeling has been translated into heaven. Appeal for personal devotion to Christ has ever been made and men and women have laid down their lives gladly and willingly for the beloved leader. The ideal has been held up, and a divine fanaticism in pursuit of it has been fanned. Thus idealism, aspiration, devotion, and ability to recognize a leader, coupled with obedience to that leader, has been unfolded in the race, and now finds its apotheosis in the worthy but often unreasoning idolatry of leaders, workers, and prominent public figures in all departments of life....

Anything that stultifies the human mind and produces blind unquestioning obedience must be deplored in an age when better things are possible, and a mediumistic response to statements made by a personality or a group is most undesirable. Under these conditions no clear thinking is possible; no self-reliance is developed, and the average member of a group, organized around a personality, is there because he personally likes the leader, or because his friends are there too, or because he is fed with a constant stream of mysterious, and often meaningless information, or directions purporting to come from planetary intelligences and masters....

The key to the danger of the Piscean influence lies in the idea of separateness. A claim making leader sets himself on a pedestal apart from the rank and file; his followers regard themselves as the elect of the Lord, and condemn to varied penalties all who do not recognize their leader, Bible or formulation of truth as correct. Thus the great heresy of separateness spreads.

Yet in view of all this, we need to remember that the Piscean movements have met a world need, that in their day they have been right and have developed in humanity that which needed developing. They have brought us to our present point of evolution. Therefore, let us not criticise, but let us recognize the passing of an old form and the need for a newer presentation. It is only the distance that we have travelled since the Great Personality Who inaugurated our Piscean Age was with us that has caused the trouble. Therefore the Voice that said "I am among you as him that serveth" has grown very dim and the newer less worthy voices very loud. The claim He made was a life lived and a service rendered, and that is why His example will persist when all the present claim makers are forgotten.

The Aquarian Age

As the influence of the incoming Aquarian age spreads and increases, what will be its distinguishing characteristics? Are there indications as to the nature of its types of thinkers? Here we must remember that much water must flow under the bridge before the pure Aquarian type of thinker and movement can be defined, but certain indicative tendencies may even now be noted.

In the Piscean instruction as to work the Master said "Feed my sheep". In these days of wide general thought and of close and immediate intercommunication, is it not to be expected that some Word may go forth to the sheep instead of to a handful which will embody the idea of service and of initiative? The sign of Aquarius is called the Sign of Knowledge universally applied, and what could be more apposite and understandable in these days of mind development and the acquirement of that which can be known. The ideal Aquarian may well be an intelligent freed soul, rendering self-less, yet self-initiated, service to all.

The Piscean age utilized and purified the hearts of its people. The Aquarian age will render the same service to the race, only this time working with the mind. The Aquarian man will be distinguished by his mind control acquired through concentration, or one-pointed attention. He will be focused in his own centre. He will know himself and that which he has to do; he will have found in that centre, in that secret place, the esoteric point of his entire being—God, his divine Self. From that centre he will work, self-directed, not led. He will be self-confident and self-reliant in the higher sense, the self-reliance of a man who knows his own soul and works intelligently under that soul’s direction. The ideal Aquarian will have overcome his animal consciousness, and the Taurian training will have done its work; he will have dominated his emotional nature and raised his desires by following his Master into heaven and so the Piscean episode will have left its mark upon him; and in the Aquarian age he will learn to work from that heavenly centre by the intelligent use of the mind. All dovetails together in a most wonderful way. When these three aspects of man (the physical, the emotional and the mental) are developed and made into the instrument of the soul, then rapid spiritual growth becomes possible and a new era can be ushered in on earth.

Groups in the Aquarian age will surely be associations of free souls, self-reliant and self-centred in the spiritual sense, yet banded together for the general uplift of the race. They will not be built up around some dominating personality but will be organizations of illuminated men and women, submerging their personalities in the general good.

At present our world is the field for the play of Piscean force plus the growing Aquarian influence. Movements which have grown up along Piscean lines are completing their work, and must necessarily and rightly do so. Movements which are hall-marked as Aquarian, being groups of people, thinking independently and refusing to give unquestioning allegiance to any human being, are beginning to be noted amongst us. Many people with Aquarian inclinations, free souls, tolerant yet standing squarely on their own feet, harmonious yet siding with no group, catholic in their outlook, yet clear in their definition, are everywhere to be found.

And these Piscean and Aquarian types frequently clash! They fail to understand each other and they omit to recognize that each type is right, that each group is fulfilling its function, and that both, in this transition period, are needed and must learn to work together.

Both Groups are Needed

Let us recognize the sincerity of both groups; let us recognize the differing functions; let us realize that both must play their parts for both are needed, and that no question of right or more right, no condition of ignorance or wisdom is involved. It is a question simply of a differing method and the use of a different part of the organism, both parts being equally divine. The Piscean works emotionally and the Aquarian mentally; one uses his head and the other his heart and who shall say which in the sight of the divine Director of our human destinies is more right.

Let us remember that the Piscean follower of a leader gets into dire trouble when he blindly follows his heart and fails to use his head; and it may equally be inferred that a person who is developing as an Aquarian and encouraging in himself the independent self-reliant mental standpoint, following only his head and not his heart also, may well be most difficult and dangerous! The ideal Aquarian (to be seen presumably on a large scale in about 3000 years) is a synthetic blend of head and heart.

Three questions arise out of this consideration of our times and the dual influence prevalent.

How can an ordinary man recognize Piscean movements?

How can he also recognize a new age movement?

What are the functions of a true teacher at this time?

The replies might be very briefly given and perhaps should be for the sake of clarity.

1. Piscean movements always make an appeal to hierarchical authority; they claim to be backed by authority, and always demand obedience from their followers, and the acceptance of the claims, wishes and demands of the leaders. In their worse aspects and more blindly developed, they impose upon their followers fanatical devotion and make them intolerant of all other groups of thinkers. They usually possess a central Authority, a Bible and a set of dogmas, no matter how loudly they may deny it....

2. Individuals with a tendency towards the Aquarian nature exist. There are no Aquarian movements for the time is not yet ripe for the successful activity of the latter. The Aquarian age is not yet with us; all we have are forerunners. But when they do come and we can truthfully speak of Aquarian movements, what can we look for? What will be their distinguishing marks?

They will be characterized by the freedom to think as they choose which they will allow their adherents; they will refuse to emphasize any particular teacher, Bible, or organization as the sole repository of truth, but will accord an equal recognition to all groups who seek to present knowledge of God as it can be gained through science, religion, art or philosophy. They will, therefore, be conspicuous by the absence of rancour, criticism or condemnation of any other leader or group effort. They will be inclusive, not exclusive; they will emphasize principles not personalities, service not selfish pursuits, and by the broadness of their vision and the trueness of their perspective they will lead humanity towards a consummation of universal recognized unity.

Everyone will be free to teach as he likes, to use his own terminology, and to express truth as he sees it, and to work out his own methods in service. All, however, will be unified in the knowledge that there is one work, but many ways of working, one temple of God but many stones and parts, one Great Central Truth but many diverse aspects, one divine Life but many forms of expression.

Only tendencies in this direction can now be seen, but they do indicate, as straws, the way the wind is blowing. Some day that wind will be upon us in full force and will blow away our clouds of differences and distinctions, and let through the bright light of the Sun dispelling the mists and the fogs of the present era.

3. What are the functions of the true Teacher? To make and keep a contact with his own soul, and to allow, as far as he can, nothing to cloud his vision; to keep himself unspotted from the world and thus be an instrument that his divine Self can use. He must make no claims, for he recognizes that he is only a server, and that by his words and works alone is he justified and known. The true teacher repudiates personality exaltation. He avoids (wherever possible) all reference to himself, and seeks ever to be in the background. In his teaching work he has but three things to do.

First, to tell every man that he is a divine Son of God, that the Kingdom of God is within, and that all power, and all knowledge is the privilege of a Son of God.

Secondly, he will enunciate only those fundamental and basic principles which are the equal heritage of all presentations of truth. He will eliminate the non-essentials and the points of difference, stressing those general and universal truths which have stood the test of time and experiment and which every religion recognizes—the Fatherhood of God, the Boundless Immutable Principle in Whom we live and move and have our being; the Brotherhood of man, for all souls are identical with the Oversoul, and the manifestation of God in nature and of the Spirit in man.

Thirdly, he will present these fundamentals and their implication in as many aspects as possible and through as many synonyms and symbols as may be. Thus only can the student and devotee in any group, Church or ism arrive at a knowledge of his brother’s way to God.

Having presented the essentials as universally recognized, he leaves his hearers to make their own deductions, decisions and applications.

In this way each seeker after truth finds it for himself and in himself and, having found it, he discovers that it is the same truth which knowers in every age and clime, cycle and race, have likewise found. Back of every religion lies the great harmony, back of every method lies unity and on every path God meets the seeker. [-]