The Sabian Idea

 • The Core of the Vocabulary  • The Word Sabian

This book has been prepared as a manual for the self-discipline provided by the age-old tradition of a Solar Mysteries, and also as a guide for anyone wishing to investigate the project of which this discipline is a part. Whether the individual encountering the Sabian presentation for the first time is one who seeks the discipline, or is merely the investigator, he is likely to find the materials and procedures somewhat baffling. This usually is so because of the large number of terms with which he will be unfamiliar, and because the methods of analysis or forms of judgment are alien to his experience.

The broad use of unfamiliar words may well be the first and major problem in any approach to this threshold of the Solar Mysteries. Indeed, many a person seeking a greater self-realization has been frightened away before he has given himself half a chance to know the fascinating vistas of mind and heart just within the portal. Actually a rather considerable vocabulary of exact terms can be mastered simply enough if the Sabian materials are handled in the light of the explanations given at length in the course of these pages. Nothing unusual is involved. A special terminology, and an accompanying precision of usage, are to be found in any area of modern specialization. The sciences have a huge array of technical terms. This is the case to hardly lesser extent in the arts, in manufacture and business, and wherever there must be communication with a minimal possibility of error in connection with any complex structure or function. Every individual entering a new line of work will expect to learn hundreds of extra words in order to refer intelligently to things with which he must deal, and if he is a specialist the hundreds may be thousands.

A second and related problem in an initial approach to the Sabian materials is not so much a matter of the terms themselves as the characteristic and perhaps altogether unfamiliar way in which they are used, and also at times the method of employing even the short and simple words of everyday life. No matter which of man's myriad languages may be made the basis of a true occult writing, in order that anything of the sort may be able to convey the eternal insights or report the actualities of a deeper spiritual experience, there is an inescapable necessity for presenting the pertinent ideas in the interweaving pattern of relationship that permits the mind to keep them framed in its own transcendental orientation. This mode of communication is the cabala, and an understanding of its operation has never been beyond the powers of a person of average ability. Aspirants without a high-school education have entered the Sabian discipline, and through a grasp of simple cabalistic principles have brought great richness to their lives. Moreover they have accomplished this without any excessive agony of soul or strain on their capacity for understanding. While a broad intellectual training can be a very great help in approaching the Solar Mysteries, it also can prove an insurmountable obstacle if it endows its possessor with any blind pride of knowledge.

Where the exactions of the cabala on first encounter in English seem anything but justified is in the complicated sentence structure. If the language were more highly inflected the difficulty would disappear. However, the price of the simpler sentences in that one respect would be the loss of an extraordinary fluidity of insight, such as is sustained in both oral and written communication by the position of terms in their sequence with each other. The formulas of expression that constitute the heart of cabalistic English have created an exceptional means for the enlightenment of the human mind, and have made it possible to achieve in years what often has required the labors of a lifetime. And here, of course, is the area of understanding in which the student may come to realize why an Ibn Gabirol had to formulate his conceptions in Arabic rather than the cognate Hebrew, or a Paul make his contribution in Greek rather than the Semite tongues of his day or a Blavatsky in English rather than French, German or Russian, and so on.

A third problem at the Sabian threshold of the Solar Mysteries is one to which a newcomer is not likely to be sensitive in his initial experience with the materials. But when he continues his investigation, and gains a measure of familiarity with the special vocabulary and the cabalistic sentence, he may find he has encountered a subtle and wholly subjective sort of resistance to his progress. It is here, even more than at actual first approach, that he may be frightened away from the Solar path. What he has started to realize now is the uncompromising flux of the ideas presented to him, together with the accompanying and practical fact that things progressively decline to stay put in any familiar fashion. In time he will understand that without special effort at extrication on his part, and probably without considerable help and encouragement from others of both the present and the past, he is forever caught in the hopeless circling of his acts and reactions. This repetitiveness of experience, known to occultists as karma, has given him an illusion of stability. He has been conditioned in a way of going that in natural course has become his bondage.

In order that he may be extricated from the impasse, or that his limitations or frustrations may be transformed into a more gratifying sustainment and release of the self's true powers in a karma of his own choosing, he must be helped to an alignment with a more productive frame of reality. This is possible when the basic indeterminacy of the real can be demonstrated to him. At the beginning the consideration of abstractions in this fashion is likely to seem little more than a senseless playing with words. Is it necessary to speak of indeterminacy? And what is meant by the real? However, it should at least be possible for him to realize that his mind may be helped to its own rebirth, and to expect that mental birth pangs may be as painful as physical. And it can be pointed out that the procedure is far from difficult in overview, although any practical achievement of the goal may require much more than the ideal minimum ten years of effort.

As preamble let it be said that the ultimate point of reference in any instruction, discussion or reflection is the individual seeker. In consequence it must be remembered at all times that whatever is written or spoken occultly or with universal reference must mean all things to all people, and hence different things to different people as well as different things to the same person at different times. The phenomenon is evident when several hundred Christian denominations in the United States base their common and opposing beliefs on the one occultly written Bible. What is vital in this is not the spread of implication, but rather the immutable pertinency of it to the mind in each particular aspect of spiritual orientation. To reapply the principle enunciated by Jesus in respect to the Sabbath, the fundamental question here is whether man properly is the possessor or the victim of the meanings in his experience. Thus the mastery of meaning is made of first importance in Sabian procedures.

The Sabian policy is not to make its presentations simple, if that requires that they be left no better than sterile, but rather is to persuade the seeker to approach the materials within the framework of his own understanding. Newcomers at the portal have always been told that while they might feel it would be helpful to have introductory lessons, these would defeat every real entrance into the Solar Mysteries. The methods have to be freed from regimenting helpfulness if they are to offer any release from life's hampering regimentations. In consequence there can be no (1) prescribed course through which everyone must pass, (2) fixed sequence of facts on which spiritual knowledge is to be built, or (3) uniform exercises that must be performed for the achievement of an immortal awakening. The situation of the Solar aspirant, in his occult rebirth, is like that of the baby born into physical existence. Any external reality has importance for him only in the experience of its entrance into his sharpened consciousness. He must remember that whatever stirs deep within himself is to have the initiative always, and that at the start his concern with Sabian materials should be entirely in accord with his mood of the moment. He is not trying to go back to school any more than he is attempting to re-enter his mother's womb. Rather he is seeking to press forward into eternal understanding. He is preparing himself for service in fellowship with the Great Ones, and in consequence he should not try to stuff himself with spiritual truth as though it were so much pottage.

The Core of the Vocabulary

In general the Sabian presentation, in its use of the exceptionally large number of terms needed to convey the varying and fine shades of implication in its analyses, holds as closely as possible to the meanings familiar in everyday life. With but the rarest exception a full dictionary authority will be found for even the most technical distinctions. The rare coinage of a word, expansion of meaning or borrowing from some other language is always accompanied by repeated definition. There is, however, a certain core of the Sabian vocabulary that can be summarized with advantage for anyone approaching the materials for a first time. It merely must be remembered that points here treated very briefly or casually will have later and detailed amplification. The terms to be noted are introduced in small capitals in the following paragraphs.

The whole body of principles, assumptions and facts on which Sabian activities are based is designated as the occult tradition. Esoteric and arcane are used interchangeably with occult. Exoteric, secular and academic are used for nonoccult. The Sabian project is identified formally as the Sabian Assembly. As a school of thought it is the Philosophy of Concepts. As an initiatory organism it is said to be the Sabian Portal of the Solar Mysteries. Reference to it commonly is as the Sabian work or group. In our division of labor, responsibilities rest with the Administrator; the Esoteric Council, chaired by the Esoteric Secretary; and the Sabian Publishing Society. Inner as in distinction from outer identifies procedures or experiences of a subjective nature, or concerned with special obligations assumed for the purposes of initiation. Spiritual, higher and deeper are used with the same implication as inner. Initiation is the expansion of consciousness that has for its end result the acquisition of the special knowledge and the development of the higher powers to which the occult tradition has always devoted itself in principal part. Illumination is an alternative term for initiation.

As capitalized Solar and Lunar refer to the discipline of self at the hands of an authority recognized respectively as subjective or exercised from within the self and as objective or represented outwardly by a hierarchical establishment of ecclesiastical or similar sort. Mysteries is employed both for the advanced or more specialized knowledge of occultism and for the procedures in the investigation and acquisition of such a knowledge. Eternal Wisdom, or the ancient wisdom or the secret doctrine interchangeably, refers according to context either to the ultimate potentiality of knowing as a species of racial intelligence or to the illimitability of knowing a man may activate for himself. Occult knowledge identifies material of mind for which conventional verification is impossible.

The candidate for initiation is known interchangeably as the aspirant, the seeker or the student. In special relationship to a personal teacher or guru he is a chela. Men who have achieved conscious immortality and remained active in spiritual work through an invisible fellowship with those who will share it are identified as initiates or collectively as the immortal company or the Great Ones. The Masters or Brothers are initiates of this sort associated in the Solar Lodge, and this group or its function is also identified as the Great White Lodge or more simply as the Lodge. The Solar Hierarch, or more simply the Hierarch, is the Master or Brother with direct supervision over a channel of initiation such as the Sabian Assembly. His superior is the Solar Archon, or more simply the Archon and often alternatively the Mahachohan. An adept is an initiate in the exercise of thaumaturgic powers. An avatar is a world saviour and of high initiatory rank. The stages of growth or progress under Sabian auspices on the path of initiation, often abbreviated as the path, are in order the neophyte, or the candidate first pledging himself to work for occult illumination, the acolyte, or candidate undertaking special psychological drills after his initial orientation to the occult concepts, and the legate, or candidate thereafter accepting particular meditative and ritualistic responsibilities. In the Sabian work a stage of lay brother is recognized as beyond legate status, but candidates of more than legate achievement are identified to those of lesser development than themselves as legates.

Laya center conveniently identifies the persisting reality of an original potential. It is the potentiality in question as it is able, without any compromising of its initially unlimited and unconditioned possibilities, to channel any pertinent and dynamic stimulus to the execution of itself. It is the nothing that constitutes the continuum or the core genius of every particular something, and in its active rather than passive role in experience it is the archetype of entity per se. It is order as an organism rather than a mechanism or a metaphysical reality. It is place without extension in space when such concomitantly is moment without extension in time, i.e., it is point as impingement of anything identified by time and space as within a time-and-space context. Thus virtually beyond definition, and gaining its great usefulness from that fact, the term is one of the very few from Sanskrit used by occultism but not to be found in the English dictionary. The basic idea is expressed also in thought form, although with too much implication of substance to be of equivalent value, and in the philosopher's stone as the psychological actuality.

Work in consciousness is effort centered in or at a laya center, and it is the entire foundation of Sabian healing on the one hand and of Solar initiation on the other. It has a more common designation as meditation, or alternatively as concentration, retrospection and communion. Source and center refer to the laya center of selfhood in its ultimate totality, and Source as capitalized also refers to deity. Chakras are areas in the physical body that facilitate the powers of laya center in varying specific reference.

A recension in characteristic Sabian usage is a paraphrase of sacred writings prepared to facilitate the rehearsal of spiritual experience. A signature is the object or event that stimulates the mind to the recognition of heightened potentials in experience. Magic squares are suggestive arrangements of concepts on the pattern of the mathematician's squares from which the term is taken, and they borrow no less of course from the somewhat similar word squares. Quadrangles are groups of four students engaged in common work in consciousness. Chapters are groups of at least six students in pursuit of specific Sabian projects which also may be included in work in consciousness. Karma and dharma are terms much used in Theosophy for the prevailing or over-all patterns of obligation and opportunity respectively in the life of the aspirant. Root races and subraces are designations of the human life stream in evolution on the globe in the dimensions of tens of thousands and mere thousands of years respectively, on the scale provided by the present focus of history. Worlds and planes are an over-all designation of areas of dimension in time-and-space existence and experience respectively. Activity, substance and form are basic distributive terms for all-manifestation in its possible aspects. Tarot is a technique of occult divination and analysis through playing cards. The cabala has been introduced, but its wide variety of spellings should be noted as in kabbalah or qabbala. The term myob is coined from the first letters in the injunction, mind your own business.

The author's Occult Philosophy (New York, Sabian Publishing Society, 1947) includes a glossary of more than a thousand of the terms found most frequently in the occult literature.

The Word Sabian

The use of the word Sabian to designate the present project was a gradual development. The author employed the term originally in his Key Truths of Occult Philosophy (Los Angeles, J. F. Rowny, 1925), to identify the fifth Atlantean subrace. By the time he came to rewrite and expand the earlier text as Occult Philosophy, a recognition of the Sumerians as typical of the racial substream seemed to promise a more helpful orientation in what still remains an almost insuperable problem of charting. In the meanwhile the first attempt at an improved patterning for the races had given the word its special association with the occult brotherhood under whose auspices the group was taking form. Its adoption as a name for the work, then fairly well in progress, was a curiously casual contribution of the students in the California classes.

There has long been a marked confusion between Sabaean and Sabian. The former identifies the star-worshipers of the ancient Near East, and may arise from Saba or Sheba. This was the kingdom made familiar to history by its queen, who visited Solomon in order to investigate the quality of his wisdom. There is a likely relationship between Sabaean and Sabaoth, or the hosts in the designation of God as Lord of Hosts. These hosts would be armies literally, but in more important and symbolical reference they were the stellar myriads that represented the powers of heaven. Sabian, which would translate roughly as Baptist, probably refers to the Gnostic Mandaeans or Observants of St. John the Baptist more commonly and improperly known as the Christians of St. John. Its significance stems from the fact that these Sabians were included with the Jews and Christians in the Koran as the three groups entitled to tolerance. In selecting his earlier term for the Atlantean subrace the author had Sabaean in mind. As it happened, the authority on which he relied at the time preferred the spelling Sabian for which there is indeed some recognition, and this accident of less than the best scholarship proved a fortuitous circumstance.

The city of Harran in Mesopotamia was a frontier place of importance long before Abraham's people stopped there and so of course before his son and grandson made the journey back to select wives of the idealized close relationship. As a seat for the worship of the moon god Sin it created an effective foundation for the Lunar Mysteries of what then was perhaps the fifteenth century, B.C., and it became a famous center of magic from the time of Alexander the Great until the coming of the Mongols in the thirteenth century A.D. In the ninth century it faced real trouble when the Caliph Mamun threatened to destroy it unless its people either embraced Islam or convinced him their beliefs and practices were entitled to toleration. On the advice of a Mohammedan jurist they identified themselves as Sabian. Nobody knew what the designation implied, despite the Koran's favorable attitude, and in consequence the Harranites were able to continue in their usual ways. Under the necessity to have a holy book, they adopted the writings of Hermes or the traditional collections of Egyptian lore, and ultimately this arbitrary ordering of their speculations must have been quite instrumental in giving European occultism its characteristic slant in the later medieval period. The city became famous as a clearinghouse for the great final flame of the Arabian enlightenment, and thus its inhabitants blessed the name they adopted and in their achievements they truly challenge the present Sabian group.

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