The Sabian Aspirant
The Sabian project in its origins was a purely individual questing, and quite a side issue in comparison with the pursuit of wholly conventional religious interests. Indeed, there was little to suggest that what seemed a casual curiosity might in time give rise to group effort and perhaps develop an over-all potential of real significance.
The first identifiable beginning of any objective nature was the author's letter to the Chicago Evening Post, on February 6, 1912, requesting information on astrology. In the reply he was told that he was superstitious, and should beware of fortunetellers, but he had taken an initial step in his investigation of the occult. He was about to become the pioneer Sabian aspirant of this present age, and for a full decade he would remain the only one. His move to Los Angeles in November, 1913, and his acquaintance with Ella Woods in connection with his motion-picture writing, brought him in touch with a competent astrologer. Her interpretation of his horoscope led to the astrological researches that have occupied a large share of his time ever since. On October 17, 1914, his experience in what occultists usually describe as a meeting with a Master in the flesh led to his working contacts with Theosophy and then in train with New Thought, Spiritualism and an ever-widening world of transcendental literature and activities.
His inquiries in these occult areas remained entirely personal, however, until a rather persistent demand from a number of friends for practical information on astrological theory and methods resulted in an informal gathering and the start in a transition to group effort. The meetings were in New York City and they continued every other week from December 5, 1922, until April of the following year. During these sessions the author became aware of an effective and living contact with intelligences of long prior generations and proceeded to enlist them in what gradually became identified as the Sabian project. The investigation of the Eternal Wisdom under these occult auspices led back to what at the time were identified as Babylonian sources but which subsequently have been found to be more characteristically Sumerian. The developing scope of this new mode of research, which originally was largely of a spiritualistic nature, was dramatic demonstration of the value of collective as against merely individual effort. With the co-operation of many minds and the mobilization of a vast range of skills in the group, the chances of unsuspected error were reduced very considerably. Indeed, it had become all too obvious that the work had taken on a complexity requiring more than the author's unaided efforts. On October 17, 1923, in Los Angeles, what is now the Sabian Assembly had its tangible beginning in a class that he conducted under the sponsorship of Manly Palmer Hall at the Church of the People.
The original emphasis in the classwork was astrological, both in New York in 1922 and in California the following year, but before long the scope of attention broadened to embrace virtually every phase of occultism. Thus in the latter part of 1924 there was a study of the arcane principles built into the biblical book of Daniel, and brought to a fascinating simplicity as incorporated in the structure of Grimms' fairy tales. 1925 saw the publication of the author's Key Truths of Occult Philosophy, or the master thesis under the Solar Mysteries that qualified him as a genuine occultist for this incarnation. In October, 1926, came the first tentative translation and exposition of the all-important Fons Vitae of Solomon ben Judah ibn Gabirol, and this led in time to the complete commentaries on Plato, Aristotle and Plotinus. During the first Los Angeles years there was an intimate and warm association with Walter Raymond, Frederic W. Keeler and William Walker Atkinson, leading to an intensified interest and activity in the New Thought field. The more formal Bible studies began in 1926 and perhaps the final stage of basic orientations was reached with the formation in San Diego, shortly after the Sabian symbols for the zodiacal degrees were created, of the Spiritualistic church of which Elsie Wheeler was pastor and the author president.
The association with Theosophy has been part and parcel of the author's inner life from earliest childhood. Because of the depth of the relationship it did not take form until in the 1930's, when a series of summer conferences of exceptional inspiration was held at Halcyon, California, in co-operation with the Temple of the People. Ties with Jennie E. Bollenbacher in the following decade resulted finally in his literal and continuing affiliation with the Columbus, Ohio, Lodge of the Adyar Theosophical Society. The more personal details of his struggle of mind and heart toward the insights on which the Sabian project could be founded, and as seen in the orthodox rather than heterodox context of his life, are summarized in the foreword of his George Sylvester Morris (New York, Sabian Publishing Society, 1948).
The Sabian Assembly
As the Sabian Assembly has come into being and established its various procedures it has sought to avoid all overemphasis of particular directions of interest. Thus astrology, as one of the most exacting of the areas of study and investigation, is kept an option for student attention. In practice the stellar analysis never seems to become the concern of more than half the active membership, although it remains of fundamental import in the project. All possible phases of human experience are known to have their full part in the significance of the whole, however, no matter how potential this may have to be in the given instance.
At the beginning the author had envisioned a thoroughly informal gathering of people who would have a background in occult knowledge and experience and who could be found wherever his literary work might take him. In a way this was an adaptation of the seminar idea, and there are still those who look on the Sabian activities as a sort of graduate school of the transcendental realizations. It soon became evident, however, that the procedures and goals could hardly be educational in any established pattern if there was to be any possibility of breaking through either the unsuspected presuppositions of mind or the little-realized limitations of heart so characteristic of the age. A true occult inquiry to have enduring worth would have to cut across all lines of intellectual or cultural distinctions. Therefore it was necessary to learn what could have equal appeal to every mind from the most stunted to the most brilliant, and what could bring self-fulfillment of equivalent value both to the person little able to exert himself for his own well-being and to the one surcharged with ambition for position or creative effectiveness. In consequence no single type of individual could be seen as being more fit for Sabian participation than any other. New ground would have to be broken to achieve any real breadth of constituency, and the basis for this breadth would have to be an uncompromising respect for human personality.
The orientation to formal religion has been a problem from the first change-over from an individual to a group development of the project. It was realized from the outset that the Assembly above all else must avoid becoming a cult, and so demanding adherence to some special body of beliefs. To operate in competition with any identifiable form of faith would be to exclude every real contribution of transcendent realization, other than those of the type thereupon accepted by the Sabian aspirants for their unification in the particular direction of outreach. The orthodoxy thus set up would defeat the spiritual end in view before a single effective step could be taken toward its achievement. But because of this necessity a question arises very promptly. How can religious things be studied profitably without a genuine experience with them?
One procedure encouraged very commonly in occultism is the participation in religious allegiances and ceremonies with the assumption of a personal possession of deeper and more inward insights, and a consequent winnowing of what is true or false according to the self-endowed and private superiority. Such infiltration is not only no actual acceptance of the beliefs and practices to which attention is given but in its essential dishonesty is a complete stultification of every spiritual aspiration. The seeker on the path must approach the doctrines and usages of any and every church with the same respect he is expected to show for personality in its individual manifestation through each of his fellows. This means that he must recognize an illumination and a complete sufficiency of revealed source in every form of religion he may approach as a basis for worship, and must remember that he can gain an experience of its reality only as he is able to give testimony to its eternal potentialities. He is not a zealot worming his way into a social institution in order to change or destroy it, or to make it a vehicle for something other than it is, but rather he is the preserver seeking the fulfillment of everything he touches through offering a contribution of at least some small measure of admiration for the genius of its being.
Quite as great as the basic difficulties of the underlying intellectual and religious orientations of the group members, in the transition from a purely personal advancement of the project to the co-operative working out of its potentials, has been the perfecting of the necessary mechanics of organization in a way that will not contribute to an ultimate ineffectiveness and dissolution. All human history seems to demonstrate that when authority is formalized, and established at some central point, the result is an increasing diversion of every energy and resource from the major goal to the perpetuation and increase of the power and its prerogatives at the center of administration. Such a core of crystallization is fatal to all actual progress or growth. The author as an individual had no difficulty keeping the operation of the project as fluid as he wished, and the earlier achievements that in embryo have proved to be an exceptionally correct anticipation of everything later brought to more detailed focus in understanding and applicability are unquestionably due to the basic fluidity of the effort. Nothing is accomplished in a vacuum, but little more is achieved in a senseless complex of limitations.
Above all else it has been necessary to bring to the Assembly a freedom from needless groovings of mind and unthinking acceptances of prejudice, since this freedom alone can be a basis for any wide and unlimited participation in both speculative and actual experience. The vision has been of an organic or momentarily convenient rather than of a mechanical or rigid ordering of thought and impression. To dramatize the policy the project has been identified almost from the start as a philosophical laboratory, or something that of itself is largely nothing in order that it may serve the ends in view more impartially. In the years of functioning continuity, from the inception of the group down to the moment of present writing, the details of operation have been given definite organization only to the extent of unquestioned necessity. A general headquarters has been avoided. Tasks such as the editorial work on materials and their preparation and distribution, arrangements for meetings or conferences, and indeed every possible operation of the project, have been left in the hands of the volunteer workers among the students.
For the volunteers in Sabian service there is no worldly remuneration. Those in whom tangible or commonplace authority is vested are not expected to derive any payment for their effort from Sabian funds or from any form of assessment of their fellows. Free interchange of a genuine fellowship is seen to be hampered by conventional incentives or rewards. True spiritual effort cannot found or operate a business. Occult participation in the reality of man's day-by-day manipulation of physical needs and goods must be on transcendental levels. Thus matters of the essential or practical categories such as the cost of lessons, traveling and the publication of books and the like are handled in a fashion proper to the time and conditions, but always with the irreducible minimum of mechanical organization.
In the light of all this it might well be expected that the details of group establishment and method should be a result of gradual growth, and that each procedure should unfold or be created as need arises. The Full Moon ceremony, adapted from the Church of the New Civilization of the author's friend and true voice of the Eternal Wisdom, Julia Seton, was given Sabian form spontaneously as conducted for a first time in the Hollywood Studio of Philosophy. The system of pledges was inaugurated in 1926 when the expulsion of two members of the Los Angeles class from the inner section of a Rosicrucian group, for their refusal to drop the classwork, in a sense challenged the Assembly-in-evolution to provide a fullscale initiation for any seekers anywhere who otherwise might be denied it. It was at this time that a charter was obtained from the Great White Lodge, to explain the event in the manner usually adopted by occultists, and the group's lily-and-snake symbol was then delivered as the hallmark of the special authority. The healing ministry came into being in a simple clarification of the New Thought patterns, and all later details of procedure have developed in the step-by-step outreaching toward the vision of a collective destiny.