The Sabian Procedures
The Message of the Hierarch
The Old Testament book of Isaiah has always had a marked pre-eminence among Hebrews and Christians alike, and with the discovery of the Dead Sea manuscripts in 1947 it has been curious to note that the monastic community at Qumran apparently held the Isaiah scrolls in particular veneration. The new evidence direct from two millenniums ago suggests that the text was much more settled in form than that of any other of the prophetic collections, and the fact that this section of the biblical writings came to be so central in the development of the Sabian project is rather striking indication of the integrity and self-rectifying power of the arcane tradition as it comes to a modern fruition in the Assembly.
Isaiah like nearly all Old Testament books is of composite authorship. The prophetic contribution of the man who gave his name to the whole, and who carried on his ministry in Jerusalem through the latter half of the eighth century B.C., not only is restricted to chapters 1-39 but in all probability comprises a relatively small part of that first of the main sections of the book. Biblical scholarship did not come to recognize and demonstrate the multiple nature of the compilation until the eighteenth century A.D., and it was more than a century later before chapters 56-66 came to be identified by many authorities as a third work perhaps as largely complete in itself as the two preceding. Neither conventional nor occult knowledge of the Bible has reached any degree of ready and adequate answers for the innumerable questions arising from the text in the form of its present survival. It is possible however, and with real certainty, to chart the great scenes of prophecy with which the whole sixty-six chapters are concerned. First was the era of Assyrian supremacy and the narrow escape of the Southern Kingdom in the days of the original Isaiah. The second offers a change of scene to Babylon at the time of the forty golden years of Nebuchadnezzar. This was the period 604-561 B.C. and four-odd decades exceptionally important in the esoteric tradition. The third locale is back in Jerusalem when Ezra and Nehemiah were faced with the many problems consequent on the return of a considerable number of the exiles about the beginning of the fourth century B.C. It is with the Deutero-Isaiah of chapters 40-55 and the sixth century B.C. that the Sabian project is most vitally concerned.
In 1892 the hypothesis of the Servant Songs was advanced, and a vast literature has developed around the controversy and the almost insuperable problems involved. Ultimately as many as ten of these songs have been recognized by various scholars, but a consensus of opinion that squares rather interestingly with occult knowledge of the matter identifies a total of four, namely, 42: 1-4, 49: 1-6, 50:4-9 and 52:13-53:12. Parenthetically it should be remembered that the biblical divisions of chapter and verse do not always make particularly good sense. They are arbitrary and relatively recent, with not too much agreement on the facts of their establishment. The modern chapter divisions may be the work of Lanfranc in the eleventh century or of Stephen Langton at the beginning of the thirteenth. The Old Testament verse divisions are probably the contribution of Rabbi Nathan in the fifteenth century, and apparently the New Testament verses were given their present form by Robert Stephens in 1551. Any occult significance of the numbers of chapter and verse in consequence is apt to be rather fortuitous.
Bible scholars who accept the Servant Songs as actually of separate composition from Deutero-Isaiah proper consider them interpolations or a later insertion, and this theory raises many difficulties through the quality and aptness of the verses as mere additions. The arcane tradition sees the connection more happily through reversing the order of relationship. Marie Corelli has fictionized the original drama of the insight in her Ardath, but any verification of the events by normal historical methods is impossible. It need only be reported that according to occult knowledge the songs were the work of an unknown poet and reputedly precocious youth who inspired a more mature and equally unknown but highly dedicated scholar to the writing of Deutero-Isaiah, and to the consequent preservation of the poetic gems by embedding them in the wonderful vision of Israel's messianic hopes.
Out of the limitation of Babylonian prosperity and the materialistic version of the good life, seen as in reality the worst of all captivities of the soul, came what has proved to be one of the greatest voices of all time to speak up for the truer destiny of man and to reveal the essential nature of an avatar. The anonymous writer and a sort of reallife prototype of Corelli's Alwyn, leaning on the parallel and unexampled insights of an almost contemporary Jeremiah, lifted up the promise of the new covenant conceived by the man of Anathoth and proceeded to set the stage for Jesus and for a fresh and outer ramification of the Eternal Wisdom in the Western World. His work is hailed by James Muilenburg in the most recent and ambitious of biblical commentaries, the Interpreter's Bible, as the noblest literary monument bequeathed from Semite antiquity and as such to be ranked not only with Job for epic stature but with the writings of Paul and Augustine for perceptiveness and imaginative insight.
It is significant in the unfoldment of the Sabian vision that Richard G. Moulton's new edition of the Modern Reader's Bible, published in 1907 at the very moment when the author of this manual was making the contact with source materials and languages of which he gives account in the foreword of his George Sylvester Morris, should place dramatic emphasis on Deutero-Isaiah. The identification of these sixteen chapters as the Rhapsody of Zion Redeemed made an indelible impression on at least one creative mind reaching out slowly to grasp and use its powers. It was thirteen years later, or on December 26, 1920, when David James Burrell, at one time interested in Theosophy and a brilliant expounder of the Scriptures at the Marble Collegiate Church on Fifth Avenue in New York City, preached a sermon on Deutero-Isaiah's 44th chapter and in so doing and without knowledge of the fact provided sudden added breadth and depth of inreaching and its tie back to Babylon and the Sumerian culture. The author then was thirty-two, preparing to begin his work as executive secretary for a world's convention of young people and thereby about to precipitate events leading in turn to the first mobilization of Sabian group potentiality. That took place in the Judson Tower at the foot of the same Fifth Avenue, an even two years afterwards.
The adaptation of the 44th chapter for occult purposes came in California in another two years, when the author was asked to prepare material of an esoteric sort for the inner students at the headquarters of one of the established occult societies. It was then that the mode of adaptation, soon to key the formation of the Sabian rituals, was invented in the course of a long solitary session in the most available equivalent of the Judson Tower. In still another two years the sudden need for a strictly Sabian Full Moon ceremony was met by the initial employment, for liturgical purposes, of this highly arcane interpretation of man and his propensity to idol worship. From that evening forward it has been an integral part of the substance or the life of what for long was the one Sabian observance of consistently ceremonial nature. The fuller exposition and explanation follow now after many years (since 1946) of unbroken continuity in its use.
The term recension is given an expanded and in a sense an inversion of meaning in Sabian usage. Thus what is implied is not any literal recovery of a better or truer meaning, or any degree of return to an initial expression of concepts that have been twisted from their first import, but rather a development of the ideas in their suggestiveness or enduring allusion in order that an original stimulation or power of insight may be recreated for use by a later and different culture and psychological set of mind. The technique has been perfected to facilitate a measure of standing on the shoulders of giants. What is to be seen literally is a paraphrase of a given text, with no effort at verbal translation but instead a free interpretation or what might be seen as a cradling of new realization in the convenient form of the old.
The composition of the so-called Rhapsody of Zion Redeemed has been recognized almost universally as the work of a single inspired mind, although suffering some emendations and a little editing, and it can be broken up into identifiable segments such as then can be seen fitted into the more or less haphazard mosaic required by the spirit of oriental poetry. Chapter 44 presents an introductory five verses at the beginning and a summarizing four more at the end, and in substance and respectively these framing conceptions are part of a preceding presentation of redemption by grace starting in the 43d chapter and of a vision of the anointing of Cyrus that runs into the 45th. Out of this rather exceptional fortuitousness of chapter division the recension gains its outer or fourfold frame of two parts starting and two parts closing every individual's lunar cycle of experience. In the structure of the poem as thus delimited, and as the Bible scholars almost invariably outline it, there is a section concerning Yahweh's glorification of himself in Israel consisting of verses 6-8 and 21-3, and this provides the occultist with a convenient inner and also fourfold frame or two parts adjacent both to the beginning and the ending. The recension does not follow the scheme quite literally, however, since verse 5 is paraphrased for the inner rather than the outer frame. Then there is the core of the chapter, in the satire on the idol maker that rightly is regarded as among the finest examples of irony in all literature, and this provides a dramatization for the five ordeals.
What the Message of the Hierarch presents, as in contrast with the steps of initiatory focus dramatized on the basis of Matthew's text for the purpose of rehearsal in the healing ceremony, is the cyclic ebb and flow in the realization by the self of its own being as at core a ceaseless spiritual experience. It is not the ritual of an accomplishment, but rather of the process of conscious continuousness as this takes place round and round the cycle of the lunar year. There is no possible beginning or ending, and the designations of the lessons as 1st and on through 13th is for convenience in identifying the sequence and no more. In the strictest of occult terms there is here a measure or a charting of the psychic acuity of the seeker, or of his rushing forward and pulling back in sensitiveness on his approach either to a reality higher than anything he yet has known or to a potentiality greater than his own.
The first lesson is the Assurance (verses 1-2) or the regrasping of the cycle after the Eternal Promise and the Fulfillment preceding it have re-established the outer frame with a somewhat impersonal application. The orientation is to be made personal through the second lesson, and in the Outpouring (verses 3-4) the aspirant is encouraged to spill out the wholeness that he will be seeking again after a season in which he has opportunity to mature a little more and so reorder his own distinctive ongoing.
The third lesson is the Dedication (verses 5-6) or the move towards self-establishment in the change of self-orientation from the outer to the inner frame, and in the adoption of a special form of act and reaction to identify the aspirant's seeking among his kind. The fourth lesson is the Witnessing (verses 7-8) or the fulfillment of the responsibility the seeker has assumed. Here is the certification of his self-assignment in this more intimate of the spiritual frames of reference through which he proposes to function.
Thereupon come the five ordeals that as a group alternate in the arbitrary annual cycle of subjective or spiritual experience with the group of eight self-orientations and their consequent acceptance by reality in general. The fifth lesson or first ordeal is the Great Shame (verses 9-11) or the experience of humility as the self periodically and of necessity must discover how far it can fall short of its own expectations of itself. The sixth lesson or second ordeal is the Adoration of Self (verse 12) or the experience of emptiness as the aspirant in due course must discover that a mere exercise of his potentials in their potentiality is hardly the outgiving by which alone the being is able to know its fullness. The seventh lesson or third ordeal is the Surrender to the World (verse 13) or the experience of frustration when the reality of the self is measured by whatever of universal and eternal promise may be brought to its manifestation. The eighth lesson or fourth ordeal is the Great Futility (verses 14-17) or the experience of self-debasement as the things of God are seen through their ridiculous counterfeit in man's audacious pretence to eternal worth. The ninth lesson or fifth ordeal is the Bitter Lesson (verses 18-20) or the experience of disillusionment as the self, with some recapture of its better sense, is able to see itself more clearly and to shudder at the inevitable self-judgment it must face.
The tenth lesson or the Exhortation (verses 21-2) is the desperate outreach again to the security of the inner or intimate frame of self in the general reality of the world, and the ultimate regaining of a basic spiritual aplomb as the inner ear is opened and the seeker experiences the call of self to its true service for its kind. The eleventh lesson or the Indwelling (verse 23) is the purification of self as through the catharsis of its ordeals it finds itself for the moment again at peace in the core of its being, and thereupon is fit to receive the divine incarnation in some one or another phase of eternal realization.
The twelfth lesson or the Fulfillment (verses 24-5) is the achievement of the new power and potential. The thirteenth lesson or the Eternal Promise (verses 26-8) prepares the aspirant once more for his pilgrimage. As he comes to grasp the spiral nature of all genuine evolution of the spirit he is able to bring more and more of himself to the ever-repeating phases of realizations ahead, but as conversely he fails to keep the light strong and bright before him he falls into the more and more meaningless revolution of the cosmic wheel and so does not even know that for him there is no longer any creative distribution of his destiny.