The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
March 2008 -- Vol. 11 Issue 1
A most inspiring interpretation of ascent/descent myths deals with the coming of great teachers. Responding to the cries of the suffering world, compassionate souls "descend" into what to them is a hell. They labor in every way possible to bring light and freedom from the chains of ignorance and fear. Jesus' love and light have inspired believers for two thousand years, while in the Orient Buddha and Avalokitesvara or Kwan Yin are corresponding embodiments of mercy and love. In response to the vow made ages ago to bring to enlightenment all sentient creatures, they benefit the world in "a thousand, thousand ways."
Reflection on these various stories brings conviction that a part of our natures lives even now in unseen worlds, below and above. Thus we can become a part of and at one with our Supreme Self to the degree that we transfer our attention from the personal and material to the impersonal and spiritual. As we do, higher faculties gradually unfold until one day we "see" the marvels most wonderful which were revealed to Naciketas, Ardai Viraf, Hermes, Hercules, and others. When this occurs we, like them, will be free of the fear of dying and able to bring back from those unseen realms knowledge that will bless life on earth, and make the hereafter "bright with hope and beautiful." – Eloise Hart
A universal conception of resurrection was taught in former times. It was the supreme goal of initiation, the virgin birth of the soul which each must achieve: "Except a man be born again he cannot enter the kingdom." But to achieve this rebirth, this resurrection, there must first be a mystical death, a conquest or crucifixion of all earthly passions, and a descent into the underworld. One's own soul must meet and triumph over all the powers of darkness – within itself – and as Dionysos, as Christ, as Odin, become one with its God.
In very truth, then, the story given in the Gospels of the passion, death, and resurrection of the Nazarene teacher is the same in essentials as that told ages earlier of other saviors: the same teachings, the same rites and sacraments, the same crucifixion of self, the same hope of resurrection. This formed the core of the wisdom-teachings of antiquity which are among the greatest heirlooms that have come down to us, brought to each people and age by its divine savior who gave his life, not merely for his own people but for all humanity.
The return of spring is nature's proof, as the resurrection is divine proof, that there is no death for the soul. The seed falls into the ground and soon upsprings a flower, a stalk of wheat, a tree. Yet the outer form had to die before the life-force within could grow into the light. The way of nature is a quiet yet constant succession of day and night, summer and winter, birth and death, until at last, after many cycles, all that earth has to teach will have been learned. But the "death" and "rebirth" as taught in ancient schools was something more than we witness every year, inspiring as this is. The method and purpose of "the Mysteries" of which Jesus spoke is a quickening process – for those who have the courage to undertake the task – the conquest of one's self, the triumph over death, the resurrection of the Christos that dwells in the human heart. This is the significance of Easter: the atonement with Divinity itself. It is the awakening within the soul of that power by means of which each person becomes co-worker with Deity, co-worker in very truth with all the great ones of the past, present, and all future time.
Today we are witnessing events appalling in their significance. Is it the closing of one age and the beginning of another? Can the new emerge? The past is irrevocable, yet the present is ours, and out of it shall grow the future. What, therefore, is the duty and opportunity of our time? Are we not called upon to herald a resurrection of the spirit of brotherhood such as the world has never yet seen? That, I think, is the message of this Eastertime, the challenge of the Christos today. – Joseph H. Fussell
Our next subject is "Meanings of Easter." We will be discussing such questions as: What is the relation of the divine, the human, and the material? Do we need divine beings to save or liberate us? Why have there been so many dying and resurrecting saviors and gods? What is initiation? St. Paul said “I die daily”; do we also resurrect daily? Why is sacrifice central to many religions? What meanings do symbols like the cross, bread, wine, lamb, dove, butterfly, egg, and lily have? What is the human significance of the spring equinox? Is knowing what happens to us after death important or irrelevant? Come and share your ideas!
Open to the public, unsectarian, non-political, no charge
These subjects are currently being considered for the Monthly Discussion group. As always, those who have a particular topic they would like to have featured are encouraged to contact us.
April 24: The Magic and Mystery of NumbersJune:
May 15: Facing Illness
Tao, Yin, and YangJuly: Understanding, Tolerance, Respect
By Sally Dougherty
Easter celebrates rebirth and resurrection. Let’s look at a few of the symbols associated with this holiday.
The cross: its two lines represent duality – of spirit and matter, energy and inertia, male and female, etc. – as well as the union of these opposites. A physical cross, Roman sign of victory, was not used by Christians till the 4th century, beginning with the Emperor Constantine, nor the crucifix until the 5th century. A human figure on a cross was a prominent pagan symbol; for example, images of Hermes on a cross were placed at crossroads and carried in processions. The crucifix may stand for incarnated divinity crucified on the cross of material life, and also for our own inner divinity crucified in bodily existence. This cosmic Easter theme is brought out by Alan W. Watts: “There is the ‘sacrifice’ of the Creative Spirit ‘descending’ into Matter and forming the universe, which then ‘rises’ out of the darkness of chaos. This is the ‘eternal’ sacrifice which takes place ‘before’ time begins. There is then the sacrifice occurring in time, restoring the eternal life of the Spirit which seems to have been lost in the beginning.” (Easter, p. 75)
A wooden cross also represents the Tree of Life. Many world traditions feature a savior or divinity hung on a tree. Osiris is associated with the tamarisk and Attis with the pine, while Odin in the Edda says: “I know that I hung in the wind-torn tree nine whole nights, spear-pierced. Consecrated to Odin, myself to my Self above me in the tree, whose root no one knows whence it sprang.” This cross may also represent the world tree or universe, with its roots in the underworld, its trunk on earth, and its branches in the heavens. Sometimes the tree is inverted, with its roots drawing sustenance from the invisible spiritual realms and its branches and leaves forming the manifested worlds. The world tree of the Kabbala, the Sefirotal Tree of ten divine emanations, forms the spiritual, intellectual, and material aspects of both the cosmos and each individual being.
Cosmic and redemptive meanings are brought together in the egg. As a sphere or circle, it is an emblem of eternity, infinity, and immortality. With its germ, often pictured as the central point of a circle, it symbolizes the beginning of manifestation. The egg may also stand for primordial chaos, the waters of space or universal “virgin mother.” The first cause is sometimes pictured as a cosmic bird that drops the world egg into the waters of space or broods over it; at other times a god may fashion this cosmic egg from which the universe emerges. Often the upper half of the opened egg becomes the heavens, the lower part the earth.
As a symbol of new life and resurrection the egg can represent a tomb imprisoning the life within. Here the shell must be destroyed before the new life can emerge. The seed falling into the earth, dying as a seed to become a plant, is similar, as is the butterfly: the caterpillar “dies” in becoming a chrysalis, then emerges from this tomb transformed, flying free through the air. Christians adopted this ancient Greek emblem of the soul and its evolution, initiation, or rebirth.
In Egyptian myth the gods of sky and earth produce the egg of the Bennu or phoenix bird. Christianity adopted this bird as an image of the resurrected Christ because after a period of centuries the phoenix bursts into flames, to be reborn from an egg appearing in the fire.
Christ is often called the Lamb of God. Most Biblical scholars agree that the Gospels were fashioned to reflect Jewish scripture and liturgy, rather than as literal biographical reports. Matthew’s Gospel in particular organizes its material around a parallel between the life of Christ and the history of Israel, with Jesus dying as the sacrificed Pascal lamb. Passover, a spring equinox festival, commemorates Jewish deliverance from captivity in Egypt (symbol of the material world), while Easter celebrates deliverance from mortality and sin. Animal sacrifice was common in the ancient world, among the Jews, Romans, and Greeks; perhaps this is why the metaphor of a blood sacrifice to purify and renew humanity and please divine powers soon became so central to Christian theology. Partaking of the divine body and blood in the form of bread and wine was a rite used in other Mediterranean mysteries; those of Demeter, goddess of grain and patroness of the Elusinian mysteries, and of Dionysios, god of wine (wisdom), come to mind.We are only now acknowledging how diverse early Christian movements were and the variety of meanings hidden in the Christ story. In this light the meaning of Easter and its symbols is as complex as the human spirit itself.