The Sabian Orientation
The over-all orientation of the Sabian project is to be found in the occult tradition. Occultism by most simple definition embraces the arts and practices dealing with supernatural influences and agencies, together with the knowledge concerning them. In consequence the term includes all manner of speculative approach to the unknown. Also and less happily this can be what often is a purely superstitious attraction to the unexplained phenomena, or a compulsive desire for magical powers and foreknowledge. Esoteric, as an alternative designation, has been favored by many occultists since its adoption by Pythagoras to identify that which enters in behind the sign or the outer manifestation of anything in question. Arcane comes from the arcanum of the alchemists, and has the same general meaning.
The Sabian project interprets the occult tradition as a special mode of understanding, or a way of particular self-dedication, that at least by its own account has had an unbroken continuity from the dawn of recorded history. The occultists, in the frame of the varying and unfolding cultures through which they have struggled toward a larger understanding of their world and themselves, have created a body of arcane insights which in recent centuries they have sought to share with all. Unfortunately their efforts in this direction have tended to defeat themselves through an insistence on the caste system for spiritual reality, while at the same time decrying it in political realms. As a result today's aspirant must realize that the lingering notions of a favoritism whereby some are deemed more worthy for receiving broader knowledge or greater powers than others, simply because of their circle of association or of their conformity to particular standards and acceptance of special beliefs, is a case of transforming a very simple fact of psychology into the needless complexity of moral issue. All fancy theories to the contrary, whatever man may have for his use or his enjoyment is never more than the fruits of the experience necessary to bring this into his possession.
The occult need not be regarded as differing in any appreciable respect from any other area of human interest and effort, unless perhaps in the depths and catholicity of its roots and of course and most importantly in the living continuance of its invisible fellowship. Actually it is impossible to draw very sharp lines of definition between the arcane realizations and those that have a more general acceptance in a given generation or cultural milieu. The former in a sense are merely pioneer. Certainly from a half to three-quarters of Sabian activity would never be regarded as particularly esoteric either by the occultist or his more conventional contemporary. It would be difficult indeed to push very far forward into the less recognized potentials of human capacity or understanding without taking full account of whatever normalities of life may be brought to special importance in the process, and by the same token it would be hard for a person of any sensitiveness to go through his days without an almost continual awareness of unidentifiable intangibles in his experience.
Modern occultism had its beginnings on the American scene with the new birth of Spiritualism in 1848, the establishment of Theosophy as an organized movement in 1875 and the rise of New Thought at about the turn of the century. Parallel European developments had roots penetrating back through the Middle Ages in what probably can be accepted as an actual and conscious continuity with the ancient world. The most important events in Europe leading to the present development of the arcane tradition have been the rise of speculative Freemasonry out of the craft guilds in England during the seventeenth century, the crucial modification of the age-old therapeutic or magical use of hypnotism by Mesmer in the eighteenth and the creation of psychoanalysis by Freud late in the nineteenth. The familiar name Rosicrucian was employed by mystic groups of Masons and subsequently by organizations of a more Theosophical nature, and at the present time there is an unending proliferation of labels. The facts of occultism's history are often garbled or obscured, and many are involved in hopeless controversy. A short history of the tradition, together with a summary of its teachings, are provided in the author's Occult Philosophy.
The arts and practices that have predominant recognition as occult are most importantly astrology, the cabala and the Tarot. An account of astrological history in terms of its literature is given in the author's Astrology, How and Why It Works (New York, Sabian Publishing Society, 1945). The cabala has widespread simplification under the more familiar designation of numerology, and an excellent and popular exposition is Your Days Are Numbered, by Florence Evylinn Campbell (Hollywood, Tora, 1931). In the first section of this manual it has been explained that the Sabian materials are completely cabalistic. Indeed, participation in the Sabian project is primarily an application of the cabala's basic principles to every department of everyday living. The Tarot is of worldwide interest in the arcane tradition but in Sabian procedures its use is restricted to the acolyte and legate disciplines.
The healing art has always been prominent in esoteric activity, but when it is taken in all its branches it is seen to be interwound inextricably with endless religious practices of both orthodox and heterodox nature. In its secular form it has become a myriad of therapeutic techniques, and except in some particular aspect under arcane auspices it can hardly be identified as occult. However, it is of primary significance in the Sabian project as one of the two main emphases, and so it will have considerable analysis in the pages to follow.
Eastern occultism is of importance equal to that of the arcane tradition of the Western world, and in consequence there is a parallel and necessary attention to the former in the Sabian inquiries. But consideration of any phase of the Oriental tradition remains an option for members of the group, primarily because the aspirant seeking the Solar discipline through the Assembly is usually oriented beyond much chance of modification to the ways and thought patterns of the West. In the East the division between the occult and nonoccult is psychological rather than intellectual, and is to be noted most readily in the apprentice system or unusually intimate relationship of the pupil or chela to his guru or teacher. This is a pattern of instruction with very ancient antecedents, and in the last two or three generations it has become familiar in the West through the unquestioning devotion demanded for the Masters by some of the esoteric societies. The intimacy is an age-old method for facilitating the oral and ultimately nonverbal communication on which high initiation is based, but in the Occidental world of today it is apt to be needlessly cumbersome. On the intellectual side of the Oriental contribution the discipline of the senses and prejudices is well represented by Yoga, and the transcendental speculation on the nature of man and the universe has its significant ordering in the Vedanta.
The Occult Literature
The literature of the esoteric tradition is voluminous beyond all belief, and there has been no adequate and impartial study of it as a whole. Ranging back into ancient times and into all languages, the books and manuscripts still in existence are scattered in libraries and private collections all over the world. Many writings that would be of the greatest value to the Sabian aspirant for collateral reading are out of print and difficult to find, and as a result he is restricted almost of necessity to the materials that are kept available for purchase or easy consultation by organizations whose particular beliefs and points of view are expounded and preserved. Thus the newcomer to occultism must gain a large part of the information with which he must work in a highly slanted or prejudiced form, learning only through his own experience how to screen out the worth-while from the fruitless and at times even from the ridiculous. Before he can proceed very far on any real path of aspiration he will have to know how to distinguish almost at first glance between what this author in his Occult Philosophy has found convenient to term the profane mysteries and the Lunar or Solar realizations lying beyond the outer façade.
Perhaps the most important work in modern and Western occultism is the Secret Doctrine by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (London, Theosophical Publishing Society, 1888). With fascinating and on the whole remarkably convincing detail the text develops the conception of a sacred or literally esoteric all-knowledge screened carefully from the profane mind through all the ages, and now revealed to humanity by the special dispensation of divine hierarchies who have it in charge and indeed have been responsible for it through untold generations. The substance of this all-knowledge is presented in the framework of an evolution of the totality of existence through a series of orderly emanations. Involved are various planes of manifestation or worlds of expression on the spatial side, and on the temporal the great epochs to be recognized in (1) the formation and disintegration of planets and stars in the heavens, (2) the changes in the arrangement of the land masses relative to the waters on the surface of the globe and (3) the appearance and disappearance of the root races of man with their transient distribution in subraces and smaller units. The charting of all this is essentially mathematical. Reality is described as repetitive or cyclic, and in a sense spiral in motion, so that one cycle passes into another illimitably and all the smaller and larger components of anything in question are maintained thereby in a creative complementation.
Madame Blavatsky's work is not too difficult reading, and is both remarkable and illuminating in its wealth of reference. All the differentiations that measure and analyze the myriad outer appearances and activities of the objective universe, and that now are fairly familiar to the average person through geology, archeology, anthropology and similar sciences, are woven with infinite imagination into the great mathematical construct of the arcane tradition. And into this frame and with equal skill are then fitted the whole of the psychological and rational manifestation of conscious life, from man not only upward to all the evidences of divine beings but also down to the least recognizable aspects of living matter. The exposition is oddly haphazard, with a continual and merciless criticism of the science and philosophy as well as the religion of the nonoccultist, but the insights in their potentiality are superb. The formulation of them by Blavatsky and by those of the invisible fellowship on whom she draws is a monumental achievement by any standard of judgment.
The clearest simplification of this mathematical schematism, as it has come to an outstanding effectiveness in modern Theosophy, is unquestionably the Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception by Max Heindel (Oceanside, Rosicrucian Fellowship, 1909). The most dramatic and stimulating capture of the emanation idea, as it has become the root of the best of modern Western occultism, is found in the Outline of Occult Science by Rudolf Steiner (in translation, Chicago, Rand McNally, 1914). Both these authors were Theosophists who became founders of their own organizations outside the Theosophical orbit. Both books start out with superlative clarity, and then thin out in divergencies of interest and emphasis that will be of little value to anyone reading them primarily for a general orientation.
In the Enneads of Plotinus (translation by Stephen Mackenna, London, Medici Society, 1921-30) the classical roots of the mathematical schematism on which the esoteric tradition rests can be examined in an earlier Western formulation. The exposition may not be easy reading for the aspirant, but it is of the utmost value in a contemplative perusal. Its author was born in Egypt in the third century and he brings a different and stimulating perspective to the divine emanations, and to man's interrelation with reality in its downward and upward aspects or its inward and outward potentials. Plotinus not only had an enormous impact on the early Christian church but in spirit if perhaps not in any literal succession of ideas he has provided much of the deeper foundation for various phases of the occult. This may be true particularly of modern New Thought and its dramatization of man's healing capacities. At times the beautiful prose rendering of the Greek by Mackenna is more a paraphrase than a translation, but it has preserved the original flavor and meaning with very real genius.
The development of the aspirant into his spiritual powers has a dramatization at the threshold of modern Western occultism in the novel Zanoni by Edward Bulwer-Lytton (London, 1842) and the fictional account of the cabalist's seeking in The Comte de Gabalis by Abbe N. de Montfaucon de Villars (Paris, 1670; translated with commentaries by Lotus Dudley, New York, Macoy, 1922). The Hidden Way Across the Threshold by J. C. Street (Boston, Lee and Shepard, 1887) presents an excellent meditative approach to self-fulfillment. The hauntingly beautiful miscellany of insights and remembrances has come from a rich personal experience in the frame of modern European occultism, and they have an essentially spiritualistic slant.
On the American scene the original Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy (Boston, Christian Science Publishing Society, 1875) was an indigenous and unique development in the Western tradition. Truly epochal was the emphasis of man's self-creative potential as free from any necessary point of origin for its manifestation, that is, from any necessary control exercised by the time-and-space matrix of the workaday reality in which he finds himself. This insight provided the perfect complementation of Madame Blavatsky's revelation of man as nothing except the focus provided by his being for whatever elements may have a common convergence of effectiveness in his act or reaction. In Tune with the Infinite by Ralph Waldo Trine (New York, Crowell, 1897) is a simple and popular exposition of human nature in terms of this nothingness as it is brought to its somethingness through God's essential presence in its substance and in its powers of self-awareness and choice.
The aspirant entering the Sabian portal of the Solar Mysteries should read or at least examine these nine works of other than Sabian perspective or emphasis, or an equivalent number of others more or less of the same type and scope, during the course of his initial years under the discipline. This is recommended to the end that his realization may not be too conditioned by the points of view used as a basis for consistency in the Sabian materials.