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Ancient mysteries and the New Era – part 1
by Gaetano Dima
Towards a New Era – Time and Space – Cyclic and linear time – Cosmic Cycles and the precession of equinoxes – The Eras – From the Era of Aries to the Era of Pisces – Small and Great Mysteries – The Era of Pisces – On Art and Beauty – From the Era of Pisces to the New Era of Aquarius – The New Era of Freemasonry – Man and Woman in the signs of the zodiac
Towards a New Era
As a result of astronomic calculations (cosmic cycles and precession of equinoxes), many researchers and scholars of esotericism are positive that the humankind is on the threshold of a new age. What is this New Era for the Mason? Br Francesco Brunelli (at the time Sovereign Grand Master of the Ancient and Primitive Rite of Memphis and Misraim) authoritatively wrote about it in 1981:
«[…] it is approaching (or we are entering) a new era, bearer of transformations inside the psyche and consequently external transformations, too. A change is going to happen, similarly to what happened when Christianity was born two thousand years ago, when an old world collapsed and was replaced by a different civilization. This New Era we are entering is the Era of Aquarius . It is replacing the Age of Pisces.
«[…] The powerful energy dominating the sign of Aquarius, the bearer of water, a living and emotional sign, will stimulate the emotional body of men, leading it towards a new integration: human brotherhood; it will not give importance to racial and national differences and it will bring the life of men to unity and synthesis. This will involve a great afflux of unifying life of extraordinary power, which will slowly but surely join all the human family in a perfect brotherhood.»
For those who don't believe to the tight connection between stars and man's destiny, the actual stage of transition, at least from a Millennium to another, is characterized mainly by a series of ‘regressive' events; prevalence of tribalism on universalism, competition on cooperation, fundamentalism on ignorance, science on wisdom, horridness on beauty.
This grim picture doesn't leave much space to the utopias and fantasies of incurable optimists. Yet, during the centuries an uninterrupted chain has protected and fed the flame of the noblest and long lasting tradition. It was a chain of men who have continuously and strongly believed in the demiurgic power of creativity, however it is expressed: exoteric or esoteric, solitary meditation or work of art, spirituality or civic commitment.
The eyes of these wise men have always been turned to the stars, to the slow but perpetual motion of constellations, because what is above is below; this is the eternal link between microcosm and macrocosm. Here the cosmos is the body vibrating of an intelligence that transcends ordinary human comprehension: it is unfathomable only through science or philosophy, art or religion.
Every flower that blossoms, every snowflake that grazes a child's face, every manifestation of human intelligence are the expression of one life: the solar logos. Past, present and future are tightly and eternally linked in a perennial cosmogeny that guides all things towards a particular plane of the being. Slowly and relentlessly, mineral after mineral, cell after cell, race after race, human incarnation after human incarnation, all proceeds according to the principles of the unique energy that animates the whole universe.
Contradictions are only apparent because, once lifted the veil of Maya (Illusion) the true light enlightens the intellect and allows it to understand why all events exist in the form of synthesis of energy and all systems draw their vitality from conflicting dynamics. Such dynamics are conflicting but not contradictory, since they are related to a wider system. Furthermore, the nature of this dynamics is such that the actuation of one implies the potential actuation of the other. 20 th century physics theorizes it; Publius Ovidius Naso's poetry suggested it in his sublime work Metamorphoses… all flows and changes in the unceasing creating dance of the Gods. All is in all.
Everything flows and is formed as a fleeting image. […] Nothing keeps its own form, and Nature, the renewer of things, refreshes one shape from another. – Publius Ovidius Naso, ‘Metamorphoses'.
Trees, mountains, rivers, animals and men are appearances of a unique matter, a unique spirit. It is the secret of the priests of the pharaonic Egypt, of the initiates to the Eleusinian Mysteries, the Buddhas, the Essens, alchemists, Sufis, Templars, Rosicrucians and …. Freemasons! They believed that this secret couldn't be communicated through language and could be reached only through the initiatory process towards which all personal experiences converged, in the multiple status that belong to the Being.
I approached near unto Hell, even to the gates of Proserpine, and after that I was ravished throughout all the Element, I returned to my proper place. About midnight I saw the Sun shine, I saw likewise the gods celestial and gods infernal, before whom I presented myself, and worshipped them. Behold now I have told you, which although you heard, yet it is necessary you conceal it. – Apuleius, ‘Metamorphoses'.
I grabbed the sword and beating the sun I turned it into dust; I hit it again and every molecule became a golden salt similar to what I destroyed: ‘The work is done' a strong and melodic voice shouted at that moment. After that cry the children of light joined me promptly. The doors of immortality were opened to me, the cloud that veils the eyes of mortals disappeared, I SAW, and the spirits that govern the elements recognized me as their master. – Count of Saint Germain, ‘La Très Sainte Trinosophie'.
This is the fire that Prometheus stole from the gods and gave to men, this is the tree of knowledge of good and evil; indeed it is the similitude of the form. – Giordano Bruno, ‘The Seal of the Seals'.
Is this, then, the great secret jealously kept (communicated only by mouth and ear) in the Temples for millennia? Is this perhaps the secret that Freemasonry offers to its Brothers and will be revealed (re-veiled, or veiled again…) to the good men of the New Era? Here, at the threshold, it is necessary to take into consideration another point of view, moreover authoritatively expressed by Br Athos A. Altomonte (S.G.I.G.):
‘[…] The New Era, or Age of Aquarius, is not the result of an astral conjunction, like some people believe, but it is the accomplishment of a new and higher general status of conscience (collective consciousness). It is reached and reachable also through the Initiates that go out of their way to keep and spread the ‘Light' of the initiatory science in the darkness of profanity (carnal conscience). On this point we find the relation with the principles that motivate the Great Work and the White Work.
Having to face different states of conscience and different cultural representations, it has become necessary to elaborate different points of view and different ‘languages' (esotericism, hermeticism, etc.) so that ‘the same notions' can be understood by different mentalities and cultures. It is all based on meaningful subjects such as education, the reaching of real initiations, the disinterested service to the Humankind, esoteric psychology, esoteric probationship, the exteriorization of the initiatory hierarchy, white Masonry, universal and not sectarian Religion. It is the so-called New Era, then, that nothing has to share with the commercial intentions of the many ‘new age movements' that are the shadow world of the most mercenary exotericism. The New Era is a ‘new' direction that aims at recovering the ‘ancient' paths of wisdom. Certainly the proposed path might be disliked by someone and its points of view might not be shared; but there is a relevant version on the subject of real initiation. […]'.
His reference to the ‘collective consciousness' is enlightening; I consider this concept specular of collective unconsciousness and the overworld of archetypes masterfully explored by the psycho-analyst as well as Brother Carl Gustav Jung. Likewise the hint to the ‘Great Work' and therefore to Alchemy, which we will deal with later on. The point of view of A. A. Altomonte, apparently opposite to the theory of the cosmic cycles, offers the opportunity to verify the possibility of existence and co-existence of several visions and fully convergent multiple paths in esotericism.
The same happens to the man who sits on the side of the river and watches the water flowing slowly. If he was a profane, he would only examine what is inside his view: that stretch of river with water, stones, sand, vegetation, etc.
The initiate, on the contrary, perceives that the identity of the river exists simultaneously from the sources for all the flows of the water up to the mouth. What he sees with the eyes of the body is only a part of what he can visualize thanks to the expansion of his (spiritual) being, able to understand the identity of the river (as a whole).
In this sense the New Era can be seen at the beginning as a result of cosmic conjunctions, human efforts or anything else; this will lead to the hermetic synthesis that is the final goal of our research.
Time and Space
The Universe is man, man is the Universe and, although individualities are different, they are all vitally joined through the Universe. – R. A. Schwaller De Lubicz, ‘The Holy Science of Pharaohs'.
The Goddess Nut
Every Initiate to the ritual works of the Masonic Temple knows the concept of sacralization of space and suspension of time.
Then the apprentice sits, absorbed and fortified in silence: he waits for the Fellows of Art, the Masters and the Great Lights. They enter and look at the Temple clockwise, carrying out the ‘miracle' of sacralization of space, where all the Brothers led by the Master of Ceremonies and by the Three Lights, through a unanimous will, achieve the transformation of an unlimited space from north to south, from east to west and from zenith to nadir. The apprentice is called to expand his conscience from the limits of the profane world to the initiatory immensity. He is in a new world where there aren't any boundaries or time; the latter can become midnight or midday by the Worshipful Master's order.
Masonic Temple – is the place where the hermetic synthesis reveals itself through symbology. Here Time and Space converge and then expand again.
Artists, poets and essayists say that there are concrete chances of exiting what the masses think is the only possible dimension. Elèmire Zolla starts a famous essay as follows:
Going out of the space that centuries and centuries have laid upon us is the most beautiful action we can do. We don't even realize our silent obedience and automatic submissions, but they can be revealed by moments of unbiased observation, which give us a healthy horror; the gift of clairvoyance and freedom clicks and for a moment we are masters and our destiny is unveiled to our eyes.
Profane ‘Time' and ‘Space' are conventions related to one of the many states where our being can expand (see Renè Guenon , ‘The multiple states of the being'). We can peacefully decide to live all our life in this dimension, conforming to the habits and complying with all the standards of the dominating culture. We might even have the pleasure of creating and accomplishing something particularly nice and useful to be reported in ‘History'. But this will only be the history of one of the many planes where the Being unfolds.
History is definitely not unidirectional and purely consequent. It can be considered as a superimposition of widely expanded presents. The fact that the different ways of action are contemporaneous, that they are caught in the same moment, doesn't mean that they will all be at the same stage of development. At the same date the political, economic and artistic side will not have the same position on their respective curve; the line that joins them at a certain time is mostly sinuous. […] History is usually a conflict of precocity, actuality and memories. – Henry Focillon, ‘Life of forms'.
In order to deeply understand all the possibilities inside time and space, we should expand our consciousness, trying to see esoterically the world around us.
Seeing is more than simply ‘looking'; it allows us to penetrate beyond the surface.
Likewise by closing your eyes you will swap your view with another, re-awake the sight that is owned by everybody but used only by a few.[…]
…who sees must commit to contemplation, in order to make himself similar to the contemplated thing. No eye has ever seen the sun without becoming similar to it; no soul can see beauty without becoming beautiful. – Plotinus, ‘Enneads'.
Plotinus reminds us that if we see little is because we know little! In order to practice mental sight there is no need to go far away or to have a special subject. A simple flower that stretches above the grass to capture the sunrays is enough; we could have many surprises if we set to see it with attention. We would discover the buzzing of the bee that sucks its nectar and then flies towards the beehive. A (diachronic) succession of micro events is in front of our eyes: in the soil the seed dies to generate a plant that, thanks to water and sunrays, will grow and then blossom. Now the bee can gather its nectar and take it to the beehive, where a laboratory will turn it into honey. What is honey but the Quintessence of the alchemic laboratory of Mother Nature?
The initiate has the prerogative to see all this in a flash (synchronically) beyond time and space. Only if we take such position we can understand the differences (if there are any) between the idea of cyclic and linear time, in order to ‘go out of the space that centuries and centuries have laid upon us' and acquire the instruments to work and build.
Cyclic and linear time
According to the ancient Hebrew and Christian tradition time is linked to creation: ‘ In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth' (Genesis). Time is created with the world and, from this point on, it develops unilaterally progressing towards a future that will have a limit. Therefore time is a reality that has a beginning and that will have an end, it is enclosed between two points and it is represented by a line.
The same concept is expressed by the Hebrew Apocalyptic current and John's Apocalypse. If time has an end and it is included between a starting and a final point, the consequence is that only between these two extremes the history of the world can flow; just like a bowling ball on an alley. If the succession of time starts from a point represented by creation, we don't have any more the figure of the circle rotating on itself or the eternal repeat of events; a difference between the line of time and eternity arises as well.
Before time and after time there is only God in the simultaneousness of his existence or his eternity. Therefore eternity is not so much the absence of succession, of before and after, but rather in being ‘ all at the same time' .
God can only be absolutely transcendent in relation with the heavens and the earth he created. The consequences of this idea of time affect man's history. Events and people are unrepeatable and unique. This abolishes the idea that an experience can be repeated in the following cycle of time. Any idea of metempsychosis, palingenesis and an endless return to the past according to the scheme of the cycle is annulled as well.
Everything happens only once; men and events don't repeat themselves. This (biblical) idea of a linear time has fed the thought of the western man for at least two millennia, contributing to develop the idea that time exists as an absolute unique case. Science and physics have turned this idea into a dogmatic value until the end of the 20 th century.
At the opposite end, in all the traditional civilizations time has been represented with the image of a wheel or a circle that returns on itself , always and forever, under the influence of the movement of the stars that govern its course. Therefore cyclic time is also called cosmic; determined and measured by the revolution of the celestial spheres and, for its ordered and punctual flowing according to the circle, mobile image of the immobile eternity and its imitation, like Plato writes in his Timeus:
«Now the nature of the ideal being was everlasting, but to bestow this attribute in its fullness upon a creature was impossible. Wherefore we resolved to have a moving image of eternity, and when he set in order the heaven, he made this image eternal but moving according to number, and this image we call time.
For there were no days and nights and months and years before the heaven was created, but when he constructed the heaven he created them also. They are all parts of time, and the past and the future are created species of time, which we unconsciously but wrongly transfer to the eternal essence. For we say that he ‘was', ‘he is', ‘he will be', but the truth is that ‘is' alone is properly attributed to him, and that ‘was' and ‘will be' only to be spoken of becoming in time, for they are motions, but that which is immovably the same cannot become older or younger by time, nor ever did or has become, or hereafter will be, older or younger, nor is subject at all to any of those states which affect moving and sensible things and of which generation is the cause. These are the forms of time, which imitates eternity and revolves according to a law of number.»
The doctrine regarding the universal cycle and the eternal return of events is ascribed to Pythagoras himself. In his ‘ Life of Pythagoras' , Porfirius (Plotinus' contemporary and pupil) mentions an ancient tradition where we can find the three main points of Pythagorean philosophy.
- the immortality of the soul,
- its transmigration from one body to another
- the reappearing of events happened in the past within certain periods, hence the conviction that nothing is new under the heavens and of the cyclic repeating of things.
A precise idea of time is also subjected to the idea of the eternity of substance, shared by pre-Socratic philosophers; it is linked to the primordial matter that is always the same, even though its modalities change.
The term used in this context is Nature (Physis), since this is the principle where all things come from. This principle is Water for Thales, the Infinite for Anaximander , the Air as vital breath for Anaximenes , the Fire as the element that creates and destroys everything for Heraclitus.
This universe, which is the same for all, has not been made by any god or man, but it always has been , is and will be an ever-living fire, kindling itself by regular measures and going out by regular measures – Heraclitus, ‘ Fragments'.
Next to the speculations made by the western schools we can consider all the forms of eastern thought that postulate the cyclic nature of time, although in such contexts it is impossible to reach a philosophy of history where we can give importance to free choice of man and therefore to creativity and novelty of the historic process.
At the beginning of the 20 th century Einstein's discovery that the speed of light appears the same to every observer, however it moves, led to the definition of the theory of relativity and to abandon the idea of a unique and absolute time.
For us believer physicists the distinction between past, present and future is only an obstinate illusion. – Albert Einstein
The most recent science has had to acknowledge and then theorize the existence of at least three distinct arrows of time. First of all there is the thermodynamic arrow of time, then the psychological arrow of time, which is the direction where we feel time flowing, the direction where we remember the past but not the future.
Finally there is the cosmologic arrow of time: the direction of time where the universe expands rather than contracting. Science and Wisdom coincide again, here and now, at the dawn of the Age of Aquarius! It is not a simple coincidence , as Jung says, it is a meaningful coincidence.
Cosmic Cycles and precession of equinoxes
The earth, like everything that lives through it, on it and of it, has a determined time, its evolutionary ages are strictly established, separated by as many inactive periods. Therefore it is condemned to die in order to be reborn; these temporary existences between its regeneration or birth and its mutation or death, are called Cycles by the whole of ancient philosophers. – Fulcanelli, ‘Dwellings of the philosophers'.
Keeping in mind the esoteric meaning of time and space, and the cyclic value of the latter, we can start a further path that will allow us to understand the kind of relationship between Cosmic Cycles and terrestrial Eras.
Traditional civilizations have used heaven and stars to give a rhythm to social and spiritual life; equinoxes and solstices have been the most interesting astronomic events.
Historic sources testify how a temporal division based on time intervals belonging to the precession of equinoxes has been considered since the most ancient times in pharaonic Egypt.
In the sky there are twelve constellations, twelve astrological signs that have always had both a practical and symbolic value. The practical value refers to cultivations, for example the calculations for the floods of the River Nile in the Pharaonic Egypt or the division of the solar year in seasons.
Solstices and equinoxes were the four days of the year that all the oldest civilizations have been able to identify and use. Ancient stars watchers could verify that equinoxes were slightly earlier every year.
This is the phenomenon of precession of equinoxes , which we can explain from a strictly scientific and profane point of view as follows:
The gravitational attraction of Moon and Sun tends to modify the direction of the rotation axis of the earth, therefore clockwise it describes the surface of a cone in a little less than 26,000 years. The axis of this cone is perpendicular to the plane of the terrestrial orbit, that is the ecliptic.
As a consequence, the celestial poles describe a circle around the corresponding poles of the ecliptic, keeping at a distance of 23° and 26' from them. The equatorial plane is solid with the rotation axis, therefore its intersection points with the ecliptic (called Gamma and Omega points) slowly move clockwise for about 50” a year.
Equinoxes (Gamma and Omega points) seem to precede the stars towards the sunset, hence the name Precession of Equinoxes given to this phenomenon. The Gamma point apparently moves clockwise towards the ecliptic and goes towards the Sun that moves, anticlockwise, on the same plane. For this reason the tropic year is about 20 minutes shorter than the sidereal year.
The tropic year lasts 365.2422 days, that is 365 days 5 hours and 49 minutes, whilst the sidereal year lasts 365.253 days that is 365 days 6 hours and 9 minutes. The phenomenon of precession, changing the position of the Spring Equinoxes in relation to the stars, leads to the change both in the straight ascent and the declination (viz. the coordinates used to identify the position of a celestial body from a given point on the terrestrial surface). This is the scientific explanation whose only purpose is to introduce us on a different plane, the hermetic one. The circle that the terrestrial axis forms in about 26,000 years is a kind of pointer on a quadrant that we can picture made by twelve zodiacal signs. The consequence is that the Sun in the spring equinox will be in the same sign for about 2,160 years (for example the one just gone by, Pisces).
Once we have examined this phenomenon from a strictly scientific point of view, we can quickly proceed on the ground that most suits our research. We will therefore write about ‘signs' rather than ‘constellations', focusing our attention on the fact that the sign that has the honor to host the Sun at the Spring Equinox is not always the same, it changes very slowly during the millennia. The Point of Equinox, that is the degree zero of the Zodiac where the Sign of Aries starts, slowly moves backwards through constellations:
Aries > Pisces > Aquarius > ...
‘Precession' is a very slow but very important phenomenon, because from the earth it sets the Great Eras that occur on Earth. The Sun needs 26,000 years (25,776 in the latest estimates) to cross backwards all the twelve constellations; this period is a Great Year, a whole cycle of the cosmic Phoenix.
Since the New Era is spreading in an initiatory space and time, it is advisable to know what happened in the past; we need to carefully examine the developments regarding the previous transition, when we went from the Era of Aries to the Era of Pisces. Then we need to identify the specifics belonging to the period just gone, which we can safely consider starting with the birth of Christ.
By finding out ‘Who we were' we can better understand ‘who we are' today, at the beginning of the Era of Aquarius. But most of all ‘Who we will be' in the future and what will mean that we will gather and work for the glory of the Great Architect of the Universe.
Uroboros – The snake, or dragon, that eats its own tail (also symbol of the alchemic work carried out thanks to the use of only one matter) represents the cyclicity of time that keeps going back to itself.
From the Era of Aries to the Era of Pisces
More than two thousand years separate us from the men who lived in the last part of the Era of Aries ; they become more than four thousand if we start from the moment when the terrestrial axis entered this zodiacal sign. If we want to compare it to the average life of a single man ( ontogenesis) , it is a huge period of time; but if we refer it to the extremely slow proceeding of races and civilizations ( phylogenesis) , it is a tiny interval.
For our research it is best to start from ancient civilizations and the initiatory knowledge of that time, which mark the boundary between written History and prehistory.
Traditional societies were based on the idea of hierarchy and they were organized in groups that had to be functional to the harmonic operation of the state. Perhaps the most suitable example (since the public knows this civilization very well) is offered by the Pharaonic Egypt.
At the bottom of the social pyramid we find the working people. Just a few steps above there were administrators, professionals and merchants. A very important role was given to warriors, guardians of the inner order and safety at the borders.
Just below the Pharaoh (worshipped like a God on earth, viz. the point of contact between divine and human) there were many priests. Cities, temples, places and even animals were consecrated to countless Gods. Yet, inside the Egyptian sacerdotal caste, there was one substantial distinction.
It is the same distinction mentioned by the neo-platonic Iamblichus (which is inspired by Apuleius, who spoke about true magic , which achieves divine works thanks to faith, viz. the intimate union – an exquisitely hermetic idea – with the divine) between theologos and theurgos.
The theologian held and transmitted the science around Gods; he communicated with the people, attended ceremonies and rites officiated for the believers. He acted exoterically.
The theurgist , on the other hand, acted directly on the divinity and produced positive effects on himself and others. This is a magic process of authentic reunification with the divine, where the ‘ operator doesn't manipulate the gods, but has a divine vision of them and the world; this view gives him powers and benefits beyond the purely human dimension'.
In more recent times, Plotinus and Porfirius have masterfully dealt with the differences between theologos and theurgos.
[…] we must be similar to the gods rather than to good men; the purpose is not to be free from sin, but to be a god. – Plotinus, ‘Enneads'.
The master of Eternity is the first god, the world is the second, man is the third. – Hermes Trismegistus, ‘Corpus Hermeticum'.
(to be continued)