Soma and the Holy Grail: What Role Have Psychedelics Played in the Mysteries?

Soma and the Holy Grail: What Role Have Psychedelics Played in the Mysteries?

In the past two decades, the world has seen a renaissance in research on psychedelics, after being completely banned for the previous twenty-five years. Continuing the research that was done in the 1950s and 60s, scientists are further validating that the use of psychedelics in a therapeutic context has a high success rate for treatment of various mental disorders, ranging from addiction to depression and social anxiety. The research seems to indicate that it’s possible to treat, or in some cases perhaps cure, long-term mental disorders with only a short series of psychedelic-assisted therapeutic sessions. 

Psychedelics are arguably much more fascinating than any other class of psychopharmacologicals, in that the action which produces the healing effects is not simply an alteration of mood, but rather the creation of a radically altered, non-ordinary state of consciousness, leading to an acceleration and exacerbation of dormant or subconscious mental processes, which the patient can then face and deal with, to ultimately resolve the underlying psychological issue. It also includes, in some cases, the manifestation of the classical mystical experience, which has a healing power all it’s own. This last case is perhaps the most interesting as it relates to freemasonry, hermeticism, alchemy, and gnosticism, and the ancient mysteries to which we trace our origins.

Among the stories and legends of the esoteric mystery traditions are various clues and indications that psychedelics have played a role. So, how great a role have these magical substances played in the origins of Freemasonry and related occult sciences? 

Ancient Psychedelic Use: Shamans to Kykeon

stoned ape theory psychedelicsIf current indigenous peoples are any indication, we can be fairly certain that humans have been utilizing psychedelics perhaps since we became human. The Stoned Ape Theory, though considered radical by many evolutionary theorists, posits that psychedelic consumption may even have been a primary contributing factor to our development of language, culture, abstract thought, and everything that we typically regard as uniquely human.

Regardless of whether psychedelics were critical for our evolution to homo sapiens, there is no question that psychedelics have played a critical role in human life, particularly as it relates to the religious, or sublime. Shamans have been using these compounds for various purposes ranging from healing to divination, initiation, and ritual communion with spirits presumably from the time humans first gathered in tribes. This pattern extends even to this day, including the Ayahuasceros of the Amazon rainforest, the far Northern Sami using amanita muscaria mushrooms, the indigenous people of Central America’s consumption of psilocybin mushrooms, and in the depths of Africa where Iboga and other plant medicines are still used for healing and initiation rites. These are simply some of those ancient traditions which have survived to modern times, but we can reasonably infer that untold numbers of other cultures, now wiped out by colonialism and religious persecution, have utilized psychedelics for spiritual and other purposes from time immemorial. 

psychedelic somaAmong the history of what we refer to as civilization, we have evidence that the shamanic thread continued and evolved as a component of some earlier human societies. Perhaps the oldest example is that of Soma, a mysterious drink consumed by the Brahmins of India, who are the highest priestly caste in traditional Indian culture. Soma was also used by Zoroastrians of ancient Mesopotamia, meaning it extended beyond the boundaries of modern India. Some of the most ancient texts of the Vedic religions speak at length about Soma and its effects, which included mystical experiences, feelings of bliss, lightness of being, inspiration, and visionary states. Although there is no consensus or absolute proof of exactly what the ingredients for Soma were, the descriptions of its effects certainly fit the bill of a psychedelic. This doubtlessly influenced the philosophies and traditions of India, which ultimately have impacted the Western mystery traditions to some extent.

eleusinian mysteries kykeon
Another famous ancient psychedelic brew a bit closer to home for the Western mysteries is
Kykeon. Kykeon was a visionary drink which was imbibed at the ancient rites of Eleusis, commonly known as the Eleusinian Mysteries. The most popular theory on its ingredients is that it was made from barley infested with the fungus ergot, which contained alkaloids similar to LSD. No one knows with absolute certainty what happened in these rites, but they involved the participant going into an underground cavern or structure to drink the Kykeon and undergo a death and rebirth, an experience which was said to free the participant from fear of mortality. These psychedelic rites were undergone by great philosophers and influential figures including but not limited to Plato, Plutarch, Cicero, Aristotle, many playwrights, and the highest hierophants and priests of the day. Plutarch wrote:

“Because of those sacred and faithful promises given in the mysteries…we hold it firmly for an undoubted truth that our soul is incorruptible and immortal…when a man dies he is like those who are initiated into the mysteries. Our whole life is a journey by tortuous ways without outlet. At the moment of quitting it come terrors, shuddering fear, amazement. Then a light that moves to meet you, pure meadows that receive you, songs and dances and holy apparitions.”

These are some of the most famous examples of psychedelic use in ancient civilizations, and it seems to me that there are clearly symbolic correlations to the Eleusinian Mysteries in modern masonic ritual, at least in general theme of death and rebirth. 

Psychedelic Traces Left by Egyptians and Hebrews?

Perhaps most significant to freemasonry, alchemy, and hermeticism are the clues of possible ritual psychedelic use in ancient Egyptian, and even Hebrew cultures. However, these cultures’ psychedelic traditions are also the least popularly explored, or supported by evidence. While there is some speculation about the Egyptians’ use of blue lotus, which does have psychoactive properties, this particular plant is not known to be psychedelic at any dosage. Rather, it has a more mild, sedative effect. What is far more interesting is the possibility, though only supported by scant clues, of the Egyptian and perhaps Hebrew ritual use of acacia.

Egyptian acaciaAcacia’s significance is attested to throughout ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic writings, where some even believe that it is equivalent to the Ished Tree, or the Tree of Life. Historians believe that Egyptians used acacia for a wide variety of medicinal applications, including the treatment of wounds, eye problems, and skin disease. Mythologically, the first Gods of Egypt were born beneath, or emerged from the acacia. In one version of the death of the God Osiris, he was buried in a coffin of acacia, out of which a new acacia tree sprouted, and Horus emerged. This is commonly regarded as one of the possible origins of the story of Hiram Abiff.

It just so happens that this plant so revered both medicinally and mythologically by the Egyptians also contains large quantities of the single most potent psychedelic known to man, n, n-dimethyltryptamine, more commonly known as DMT. This has been referred to by some as The Spirit Molecule, and is also thought to possibly be produced naturally in the pineal gland of the brain, which was also theorized by Descartes to be the “Seat of the Soul.” 

moses burning bush acaciaIn the Hebrew tradition, acacia is likewise regarded as sacred, and one controversial Israeli scholar even thinks that Moses may have had a psychedelic experience, possibly arrived at through the use of acacia, when he saw the burning bush on Mount Horeb. The acacia would likely have been combined with other plants which are also native to the region, which would add MAOIs to render the DMT orally active. If true, this would be a middle-Eastern analog to the ayahuasca of the Amazonian rainforest shamans, using different plants which are native to the Middle East, but with the same active components. 

There also seems to be some evidence that the use of psychoactive ritual incense of various sorts was a very common method of communing with God or various supernatural beings, which the Hebrews (among other ancient peoples) brought with them from Egypt as they wandered the desert. This tradition was possibly even revived temporarily by King Solomon, according to a speculative interpretation of certain biblical passages about the dedication of Solomon’s temple. If true, presumably the sacred acacia might be among the plants used as this sacred incense for divine communion, given it’s highly psychedelic contents. 

While the theory of Egyptian and Hebrew use of acacia for its psychedelic properties is not heavily supported by concrete evidence, the more well-established fact that both cultures regarded the plant as extremely sacred and medicinally useful should lead us to at least ask the question: Was their reverence for the sacred acacia purely because of its medicinal and perhaps symbolic significance? Or did it also represent for them a gateway to other realms, in which they could die and be reborn, or connect with supernatural intelligences?

A Psychedelic Thread Through History

Because of the prevalence of the use of psychedelics in rites and rituals in various civilizations throughout ancient history, we must ask ourselves: Did they simply stop, and their use in civilization die out until their rediscovery by Albert Hoffman, Gordon Wasson, and others in the mid-20th century? This seems like a strange idea, and if true, requires some explanation. Certainly, from a historical perspective, the spread of the Abrahamic faiths correlated to a decline, or more accurately, a persecution and religious cleansing of all psychedelic rites and rituals, particularly in Europe. This was certainly the reason for the fall of The Eleusinian Mysteries, and all similar “pagan” rites in general, whether involving psychedelics or not.

phoenix of the mysteriesAt least by outward appearances, the ancient mystery traditions seem to have been crushed beneath the heel of dogmatic empires, and to have disappeared from mainstream knowledge. Yet, you and I both know that they did not disappear, they merely went into hiding during the millennia of Abrahamic regimes. 

Could the same be true of the ritual and sacramental use of psychedelics? Have traditions such as alchemy and hermeticism kept the use of some types of psychedelic compounds alive secretly, or are their practices the symbolic echoes of ancient psychedelic rites? Certainly, figures such as the controversial hermeticist Aleister Crowley employed drugs of various kinds in ritual and magical use, but there is no known use of substances like this, or even much discussion of it, in organizations like Theosophy, Rosicrucianism, or Freemasonry. 

In lieu of any direct evidence of the ritual use of psychedelics in the more widespread modern mystery traditions, I present to you an alternative hypothesis: Could it be that these traditions hand down to us ritual structures which were originally based on psychedelic use, and that these ritual structures so painstakingly preserved through the millennia are like a holy grail, a container into which the sacred waters of psychedelic experience are waiting to be poured?

Certainly, based on what we know about psychedelics through both modern science, ancient shamanism, and the explorations of modern psychonauts, the ritual experiences of death and rebirth so emphasized in these traditions would almost certainly be given an exponential increase in potency, if undergone in a psychedelic state. On the other hand, the legal and ethical ramifications of doing so right now would be extremely prohibitive; however, perhaps someday in the future, when the therapeutic and religious ritual consumption of psychedelics is more widely accepted, as it is no doubt destined to be by the march of progress, this could be a possibility. 

 I’ll leave you with this passage from P. D. Newman, a Brother of the Scottish Rite:

The principle goal of Alchemy was (and is) the production of the lapis philosophorum. The Alchemical axiom states that the coveted stone is made “not of stone, not of bone, not of metal.” That is to say, it comes not from the mineral kingdom and not from the animal kingdom. It must, therefore, be deduced that the true stone of the philosophers is to be found only within the vegetable kingdom… the production… [was said to be derived] from the mysterious prima materia, or first matter… Truly, acacia is referred to precisely as the prima materia by both Cagliostro and Melissino in the respective Alchemico-Masonic rites authored by them. The same is true of the Fratres Lucis

“The search for physical immortality proceeds from a misunderstanding of the traditional teaching. On the contrary, the basic problem is: to enlarge the pupil of the eye, so that the body with its attendant personality will no longer obstruct the view. Immortality is then experienced as a present fact.” …The Alchemists purport that the stone of the wise has the power to give its possessor the knowledge of his very immortal soul. Hence, it’s also being called the stone of projection. For, the soul of its possessor is the very thing that appears to be projected upon the stone’s proper application.

acacia freemasonry

Ancient India, Yoga, and the Seven Chakras

Ancient India, Yoga, and the Seven Chakras

The word chakra (pronounced “shock-ra”) comes from the Sanskrit cakra, which means, “wheel.” The yoga systems of ancient India (roughly the 1st millennium BCE) conceived of the intersection between the physical body and the “ethereal,” “subtle,” or “light” body as spinning vortices of energy. Where our consciousness or life energy interpenetrates our physical body, there you will find the chakras. There are hundreds of chakras, or places of intersection, each of which can be related to acupuncture or acupressure points.

However, the Chakra System as it was introduced in about the 8th century CE in Buddhist texts such as the Hevajra Tantra, identified seven major chakras, where the energy flows intersect. The system as it is taught in the West today has been subsequently influence by Chinese Taoism, Tibetan Buddhism, Japanese Buddhism, and the psychological interpretations of Carl Jung.

The seven chakras are arranged vertically, from the base of the spine to the top of the head, roughly centered through the middle of the body. In addition to corresponding toHevajrahTantra the nerves of the spinal column, they also correspond to certain glands in the endocrine system, as well as bodily functions like breathing, digestion, or procreation.

In elemental terms, these major chakras also correspond to earth, water, fire, air, sound, light, and thought. In psychological terms, the major chakras correspond to the major areas of our lives: survival and physical energy; sex and emotion; personal power and intellect; love and compassion; verbal and mental communication; psychic power and higher intuition; spirituality and enlightenment. Each chakra also has been charted with corresponding elements, goals, colors, planets, foods, basic rights, stones, animals, operating principles, yoga paths, and Jungian archetypes.


Muladhara – Root, Base, or First Chakra

This chakra is located at the base of the spine, in the area of the tailbone, encompassing the legs, feet, large intestine, supra-renal glands, and kidneys. It’s the chakra of vitality, physical energy, survival, and self-preservation. Its goals are stability, grounding, prosperity, the right livelihood, and physical health. Signs that this chakra is not functioning well include: obesity, hemorrhoids, constipation, sciatica, anorexia, knee troubles, bone disorders, frequent illness in general, frequent fears, inability to focus, being “spacey,” and the inability to be still. The color of the first chakra is red; its element is Earth, and its planet is Saturn. Proteins and meats are the foods associated with this chakra. The fundamental right of this chakra is the right to have what we need to survive. The stones of the first chakra are garnet, hematite, bloodstone, and lodestone, and its animals are the elephant, the ox, and the bull. This chakra’s operating principle is gravity, and its yoga path is Hatha Yoga. The Jungian archetype associated with the first chakra is the Earth Mother.

Svadhisthana – Sacral, or Second Chakra

This chakra is located one to two inches below the navel, and encompasses the lower abdomen, genitals, lower back, hips, digestive system, reproductive organs, and gonad glands. It’s the chakra of sexuality, the emotions, and physical creativity. Its goals are fluidity, pleasure, and relaxation. Signs that this chakra is not functioning well include: stiffness, sexual problems, and emotional isolation, instability, or numbness. The color of the second chakra is orange; its element is Water, and its planet is the Moon. Liquids are associated with this chakra. The fundamental right of this chakra is the right to feel – the right to express your emotions. The stones of the second chakra are coral and carnelian, and its animals are the fish and the alligator. This chakra’s operating principle is the attraction of opposites, and its yoga path is Tantra Yoga. The Jungian archetype associated with the second chakra is Eros.

Manipura – Solar Plexus or Third Chakra

This chakra is located in the solar plexus, the upper abdomen area below the breastbone and behind the navel that encompasses the stomach, liver, gall bladder, sympathetic nervous system, pancreas, and adrenal glands. It is the chakra of personal power and intellect, and its goals are vitality, strength of will, and purpose. Signs that this chakra is operating incorrectly include: ulcers, timidity, domination, fatigue, and digestive troubles. The color of the third chakra is yellow; its element is Fire, and its planets are Mars and the Sun. Carbohydrates are the foods associated with the third chakra. The fundamental right of this chakra is the right to act in a self-directed manner. The stones 5-Types-of-Yoga-Their-Benefitsof the third chakra are topaz and amber, and its animals are the ram and the lion. This chakra’s operating principle is combustion, and its yoga path is Karma Yoga. The Jungian archetype associated with the third chakra is The Magician.

Anahata – The Heart or Fourth Chakra

This chakra is located in the center of the chest, encompassing the heart, thymus, circulatory system, blood, and cellular structure. It’s the chakra of love and compassion, and its goals are balance, compassion, and acceptance. Improper functioning includes the symptoms of loneliness and co-dependence. The color of the fourth chakra is green, and its element is Air. The planet associated with this chakra is Venus. Vegetables are the foods associated with the fourth chakra. The fundamental right of this chakra is to love and be loved. The stones of the fourth chakra are emerald and rose quartz, and its animals are the antelope and the dove. This chakra’s operating principle is equilibrium, and its yoga path is Bhakti Yoga. The Jungian archetype associated with the fourth chakra is Quan Yin – The Goddess of Mercy.

Vissudha – The Throat or Fifth Chakra

This chakra is located in the neck, centered at the throat, above the collarbone, and encompasses the thyroid gland, throat and jaw areas, alimentary, canal, lungs, vocal cords, thymus, and the breath. It’s the chakra of verbal and mental communication, and intellectual creativity, and its goals are clear communication, creativity, and resonance. Signs that this chakra isn’t functioning well include sore throats, stiff neck, and poor communication. The color of the fifth chakra is bright blue. The corresponding element is Sound, and its planet is Mercury. Fruits are the foods associated with the fifth chakra. The fundamental right of this chakra is to speak and hear truth. The stone of the fifth chakra is turquoise and its animals are the elephant and the bull. This chakra’s operating principle is sympathetic vibration, and its yoga path is Mantra Yoga. The Jungian archetype associated with the fifth chakra is Hermes.

Ajna – The Third-Eye or Sixth Chakra

This chakra is located between and about one finger’s width above the eyebrows, and encompasses the cerebellum, nose, central nervous system, the pituitary gland, and the left eye. It’s the chakra of psychic power and higher intuition, and its goals are psychic perception and imagination. Signs that this chakra is not functioning well include headaches, nightmares, and hallucinations. The color of the sixth chakra is indigo, its element is Light, and its planet is Neptune. Visual beauty is the nourishment of the sixth chakra. The fundamental right of this chakra is to see clearly. The stone of the sixth chakra is Lapis Lazuli, and its animals are the owl and the butterfly. This chakra’s operating principle is projection, and its yoga path is Yantra Yoga. The Jungian archetype associated with the sixth chakra is the Hermit, the Psychic, or the Dreamer.

Sahasrara – The Crown or Seventh Chakra

This chakra is located at the crown or top of the head, and encompasses the cerebrum, the right eye, and the pineal gland. It’s the chakra of spirituality and enlightenment, and its goals are wisdom, knowledge, and spiritual connection. Signs that this chakra is not functioning well include confusion, apathy, and being overly intellectual. The color of the seventh chakra is violet. The planet Uranus is associated with this chakra, and fasting is the nourishment of the seventh. The fundamental right of the seventh chakra is to know – including the right to information, education, and truth. The stone of the seventh chakra is amethyst, and its animals are the elephant, ox, and bull. This chakra’s operating principle is Consciousness, and its yoga path is Jnana Yoga. The Jungian archetype associated with the seventh chakra is the Sage, or Wise Woman.

chakras-horizontal


Sources:

Judith, Anodea and Vega, Selene. The Sevenfold Journey: Reclaiming Mind, Body, & Spirit Through the Chakras. The Crossing Press, 1993.

Melody. Love Is In The Earth – The Crystal and Mineral Encyclopedia. Earth-Love Publishing House. First Edition, Second Printing, 2011.

“Chakra”. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chakra.

Annie Besant: The Pearl of the Indian Renaissance

Annie Besant: The Pearl of the Indian Renaissance

She loved India with a fervor and devotion all her own. Our country’s philosophy, our history or legends, our spiritual heritage, our achievements in the past, our sorrows in the present, our aspirations for the future were part and parcel of Mrs Annie Besant’s own life.” – Sri Prakasa in Indian Political Thought

A consideration of Annie Besant’s role in the cultural and spiritual renaissance of India – in a period from the dusk of the 19th century to the dawn of the 20th – must be appropriately examined in the context of the larger renaissance movement which began with the Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772 – 1833), founder of the Brahmo Sabha movement, in the early years of the 19th century. Affectionately deemed the “Herald of a New Age,” Ram Mohan was, no doubt, largely responsible for laying the groundwork forRaja Ram Roy the revitalization of the Indian spirit which was to follow.

Upon his death, the Brahmo Sabha became moribund, and out of its eclipse emerged the movement that would become the Brahmo Samaj, considered from an historical perspective as a significant contribution to the making of modern India, and among the most influential religious movements to spring forth from Hindu soil. The purpose of this latter was, in short, the total renaissance of Hindu culture; this to be accomplished by the rejection of scripture as an authoritative source of spiritual truth; the denial of the infallibility of Avatars; a denunciation of polytheism and idol-worship; a breaking down of caste systems; and freedom of thought as regards the doctrines of Karma and Rebirth.

Also significant to the Hindu reformation movement was the establishment of the Arya Samaj in 1875. This samaj was opposed, in certain of its objectives, to those of the Brahmo Samaj; and yet its influence is significant to the later work of Annie Besant towards the revival of the Hindu religion and cultural identity. The Arya Samaj was founded by the sannyasi, Dayananda Saraswati (1824 – 1883), who advocated the infallible authority of the Vedas and denounced the idolatry and ritualistic worship so prevalent in Hindu society at that time. The significance of this movement in paving the way for the reclamation of the Hindu identity led Annie Besant to state that, “It was Dayanand Saraswati who first proclaimed that India was for the Indians.

This movement is noteworthy in theosophical history for the fact of the 1878 alliance between the Arya Samaj and the Theosophical Society, this emerging out of Colonel Olcott’s (1832 – 1907) extensive correspondence with the President of the Bombay Branch of the former. Whilst short-lived, this alliance is evidence of the importance of Hindu reformation in the thought of the theosophical Founders; a perspective which would, in time, spur the activism of Annie Besant towards the accomplishment of a Hindu revival.

That period of the Indian renaissance which was to follow, was undeniably due, to some significant extent, to the selfless and unabating toil on the part of Annie Besant for the liberation of the spirit of the Indian nation from the chains of ignorance and spiritual recession; to kindle in the darkness of the chasm of despondency a bright flame of hope Annie_Besant_at_deskand brotherhood to illuminate the way for troubled souls whose path is shrouded by the shadows of oppression.

Much of the academic study which has been published on the life and work of Annie Besant has tended to emphasize her political and activist endeavors; whilst these are, no doubt, highly significant aspects of her spectacular and spirited life, equally worthy of acknowledgement are her great efforts towards the liberation of the spiritual essence of India in the revitalization of Hindu culture and the development of education.

Such was the impact of her multifarious work that distinguished persons of vastly varied backgrounds and temperament were unanimous in their praise and admiration for her industrious travail, her prodigious commitment, her unparalleled oratorical potency, her generosity towards the underprivileged, and her fairness in dealing with associates and adversaries alike.  

Annie Besant’s life was a necessarily public one; indeed, she considered herself a humble servant and missionary of the Masters in the guiding of humanity along the evolutionary path. Her role was the carry out the outer work of the Inner Government of the World by the means of selfless service and in the practical promulgation of the ideals of Truth, Unity, Altruism, and Brotherhood. As she wrote at the close of her Autobiography:

I am but the servant of the Great Brotherhood, and those on whose heads, but for a moment, the touch of the Master has rested in blessing, can never again look upon the world save through eyes made luminous with the radiance of the Eternal Peace.” 

In many ways, her early years – prior to her involvement with the Theosophical Society – may be considered, from a historical standpoint, as a “training ground” for the work that was to follow. The rare qualities which would be necessarily endowed in the individual H.P. Blavatskywho was to follow in the noble footsteps of H.P. Blavatsky, were suitably imbued in Annie Besant from those days of her youth; both by the blessings of congenital inherence, further due to the endeavors and trials of earlier life.

Thus, did she possess all those qualities of bodily vitality, a brightness and intensity of intellect, an unequalled power of oratorical ability, moral integrity and courage, and, more significant than all the aforementioned, a sensitive and indomitable solicitude for the weak, the needy, the destitute, the subjugated, the oppressed, and the suffering. For over a decade prior to her momentous meeting with H. P. Blavatsky in 1889, she had been preparing the way for the theosophical work which would constitute the greater portion of her life; undergoing, as had been the case in Britain, the arduous training in public service (spurred, in significant part, by the ruin of her own private life), and in fearless defense for the rights of workers and woman alike.

After her move to India, she worked tirelessly for the religious, social, educational, and political reform which seemed to her and the vast population alike, to be imperative to the development of a new India, freed from the shackles of colonization. Central to her impact on the educational advancement and revitalization of the Indian nation was the founding of the Banaras Hindu University. This was initially intended to be Banaras Hindu Universitya theosophical college, however later took shape along the lines of Hindu spirituality, as an institution dedicated the ideals of unity, rationality, and harmony between differing sects and subdivisions then existent in the Hindu community.

In line with her support of Indian self-rule, Annie Besant advocated for placing Indian education in the hands of Indians, and sought to inject a spirit of patriotism into the developing educational outlook of the nation. In the establishment of a Hindu university, she hoped to reunite education with the essence of religion, and further to bring it into affinity with the emerging fields of Western science and technology. Like Ram Mohan Roy, Annie Besant advocated for social reforms in Indian culture and spoke highly of the advantages of Western education in the elevation of the Indian people.

However, unlike the earlier reformer, she also supported the revival of traditional Hindu education, endorsing a full-rounded system of instruction which integrated the two spheres of thought. She emphasized that whilst Western education would be an enriching complement to traditional teachings, India must be cautious not to succumb to the pressuring grasp of Westernization, and that the Hindu people must, rather, return to the glory and greatness of their own Oriental past and culture for inspiration and encouragement.

This conception of a Hindu university followed in the wake of the establishment of a number of such religious institutions, challenging the heretofore strictly Western and secular education offered by the existing universities of that period. Among these was were the various colleges and schools which had been established by the Arya Samaj in the late nineteenth century, and the traditional gurukuls – consisting of shishya, or students, in a residential setting with a guru residing nearby – which epitomized theAligarh Muslim University Samaj’s ideals of reformed Hindu culture.

There was also the Khalsa College in Amritsar, founded in 1892 by the leaders of the Singh Sabha movement, which would become a highly significant educational institution for adherents of Sikhism, and which aimed to revive Sikh religion by the means of formal religious instruction. The Muslim community was also actively attempting to establish a university, with a proposal to transition the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College into the Aligarh Muslim University. This proposal was, however, initially met with considerable opposition from the secular government at that time, which was not inclined towards acceptance of what they perceived to be faith-based and sectarian educational endeavors – whether Muslim or Hindu. The transformation would not be finalized until 1920, when the Aligarh Muslim University Act was enacted by the imperial legislation.

All these endeavors – Annie Besant’s Central Hindu College, the Arya Samaj colleges and schools, the Sikh Khalsa College, and the Aligarh Muslim University – could be rightly considered to be a part of that same movement of the Indian people towards an education which represented their cultural and traditional ideals and heritage. Annie Besant’s contribution to this educational movement corresponded with the general spirit of change and the rediscovery of identity which the nation was undergoing – spurred by the voices of the children of India, she channeled all the resources at her disposal towards the accomplishment of this high ideal.

At the time of her idea for the founding of a Hindu university, she was in contact with one Madan Mohan Malviya (1861 – 1946), an Indian educationalist and politician, renowned for his role in the Indian independence movement. Both fostered the idea of establishing a specifically Hindu university, and Annie Besant had already previously established her Central Hindu College in Varanasi in the year 1898, with plans for itsMadan Malviya expansion. A shortage of funds towards this end led Besant to join hands with Malviya and Kameshwar Singh (1860 – 1929), the Maharaja of Darbhanga, who were jointly responsible for financing much of the endeavor.

The latter two had originally formulated the idea of founding a university at a meeting in 1904, shortly after which a prospectus was published and circulated prominent educationalists and representatives from all corners of the Indian nation. They were met with overwhelming support for the scheme, gaining approval from the Congress of Hindu Religion under the presidentship of Jagadguru Sri Sankaracharya. This led to the final drafting of the prospectus, which was released to the public and press in 1906 to be met with instant approval and support.

It was around this time that Annie Besant was also laying the foundations for the potential establishment of a university in Varanasi under the proposed name of “The University of India.” In April of 1911, she met with Malviya to discuss their visions for such an educational enterprise, and decided to join hands in the founding of a common Hindu University in Varanasi. This shared vision was brought into actuality later that year, with a revised prospectus outlining the need for the university and its objectives being issued to the general public.

A condition set forward by the government necessitated that the Central Hindu College be absorbed by the Hindu University; Annie Besant, Dr. Bhagavan Das (1869 – 1958), and the fellow Trustees of the former agreed to its incorporation as the nucleus of the latter, and thus in November of 1915, the Central Hindu College was relinquished to the Hindu George ArundaleUniversity Society, who were responsible for the campaign for the university’s establishment. Other theosophists from around the world traveled to India to assist with this, among them George Arundale (1878 – 1945) and Francesca Arundale (1847 – 1924).

The seeds having been sown, the university was formally established in Varanasi in the year 1916. It is today the largest residential university in Asia, with over 35,000 students. The success of the endeavor, and its continuing and significant influence and impact on the educational development of the Indian nation, places the founding of the Banaras Hindu University among the forefront of Annie Besant’s contributions to Indian society. Her role in its formation, too often overshadowed by the contributions of Madan Mohan Malviya and the other founders, was a decidedly central and vital one, the idea for which emerged out of her passionate service towards the betterment and rejuvenation of India’s education system. Indeed, in the perspective of Annie Besant, it is education which lays at the bedrock of a harmonious and just society; the lack of which logically results in conditions of injustice, poverty, oppression, and inequality.

Her fervent advocation of educational reform led her to publish several pamphlets on the subject; among these were Education as a National Duty (Banaras, 1903), The Education of Indian Girls (Banaras, 1903), Principles of Education (Madras, 1915), Education for the New Era (London, 1919), Theosophical Education Report (Madras, 1917), and the Kamala Lectures: Indian Ideals in Education & Philosophy, Religion and ArtAnnie Besant in Madras (Calcutta, 1925). Further, she wrote a variety of books and pamphlets on the topics of sociology, physics, physiology, biology, and the status of women in society.

In it clear that Annie Besant’s philosophy of education was rooted firmly in the principles of Theosophy. Indeed, the ideals of unity and universal brotherhood run like a constant thread interwoven throughout the vast variety of her life’s activities and work, permeating every aspect of the endeavors she brought into fruition, both during her time in India and elsewhere around the world. She envisioned an all-rounded education for Indian children, wherein the elements of literary, scientific, artistic, and technical branches of study would be taught. Her aim was to provide children with the skills they would need to earn an honest living, by which the conditions of poverty and destitution may be gradually assuaged.

She advocated the development of individual faculties; this being the idea that children should receive an individualised education best suited to his or her particular background, needs, and objectives. The ideal was that in receiving such an all-rounded, individualised education, the child would thus be equipped with the capacities necessary to becoming a healthy and useful citizen in his or her community. As such, the objects of theosophical education as outlined by Annie Besant were to train the body, emotions, and the mind towards the expression and love of all that is beautiful, compassionate, just, and inspiring. She emphasised the importance of developing the child’s ability to sympathise with the happiness and suffering of others, and in so doing to foster a spirit of universal brotherhood and kinship with all of life. Further, she stressed the disciplining of the child’s mind in the discernment of right thinking, right judgment, and right action.

As regards the ethics advocated by Annie Besant and instilled as ideals in the formation of the Banaras Hindu University, she promoted, among other things, the pledge of boys and girls to delay early marriage. It is possible, as suggested by historical researcher Gail Reekie, that she was influenced in this regard by Thomas Robert Malthus (1766 – 1834), Thomas Robert Malthusbelieving birth control methods within marriage to be the answer to the problem of over-population. However, it is likely that she discarded this perspective on birth control upon deepening her involvement in the Theosophical Society – birth control being against the philosophy set forward by Madame Blavatsky’s Master K. H.

In accordance with Annie Besant’s ethical perspectives on early marriage, the Central Hindu College was not open to married pupils. She advocated the Hindu ideal of Brahmacharya, or celibacy, insisting that such was necessary to the intellectual, physical, and emotional growth of students in their adolescent years. Further, religion and social work were considered as joint pillars of a proper education, and thus were such organisations as the “Sons and Daughters of India” and the “Scouts and Guards of Honour” formed, with the intention of training youths for selfless and practical social service.

It was her promotion of these ideals which culminated in the founding of the Banaras Hindu University, and further, in the formation of various theosophical and theosophically-inspired schools, among these the Vasanta College for Women in Rajghat (founded in 1913), the Besant Theosophical College in Andhra Pradesh (founded in 1915), the National High School in Basavanagudi (founded in 1917), the Annie Besant School in Allahabad (founded in 1926), and the Besant Memorial School in Chennai (founded in 1934). [20] In recognition of her efforts for the development of Indian education, the Banaras Hindu University granted her the Degree of Doctor of Letters in 1921.

The educational philosophy set forth by Annie Besant was rooted in a balance of secular and spiritual instruction. The Banaras Hindu University may be considered, in many ways, to be the epitome of her educational idealism. It represented all the principles and ideals of the theosophical conception of education, and yet far from being a fringe orIndian Boys Scouts Association alternate institute of learning on the wayside of society, succeeded in establishing itself as one of the most prestigious and renowned of India’s learning establishments.

Also significant to Annie Besant’s contributions to Indian culture and modern national history was the establishment of the Indian Boy Scouts Association, based out of Madras, in 1916. This emerged out of the aforementioned emphasis set forth by Annie Besant on the necessity of an all-rounded education – on intellectual, emotional, and physical levels alike. Organised along the lines of the international Scout Law, these Indian troops also incorporated aspects of their cultural background into their national expression of the movement, wearing Indian turbans and singing Indian songs at their meetings and events.

The Indian Boys Scouts Association was preceded by various efforts towards the founding of a Scouting movement in India, the first of these emerging out of the Bishop Cotton Boy’s School in Bangalore in 1909. Annie Besant’s involvement began in 1913, when a group of educationalists and representatives opened Scouting to Indian natives; it had previously been open only to British and foreign Scouts. Assisting her in this endeavor was fellow theosophist George Arundale, alongside Justice Vivian Bose (1891 – 1983), Madan Mohan Malaviya (1861 – 1946), Hridayanath Kunzru (1887 – 1978), and Girija Shankar Bajpai (1891 – 1954).

In 1916, Annie Besant sent a request to the founder of the international Boy Scouts movement, Lord Robert Baden-Powell (1857 – 1941), to formally recognize the Indian troops as a branch of the international movement. The request, however, was denied – on account of Baden-Powell deeming that Indians were unfit to be Scouts. This came as a surprise to Annie Besant, who was immediately up in arms, interpreting Baden-Powell’s declination as an affront on Indian race and the assumption of racial superiority on the part of the British.

Lord Baden-Powell experienced a change in perspective upon his visit to India in 1921, when a perusal of Annie Besant’s now 20,000 members and the incontestable success ofBadge of the Silver Wolf the movement led him to recognize not only her Association, but further all the Scout organisations in the country, as part of the international Boy Scouts movement.  As a result of her efforts, she was made the Honorary Scout Commissioner for India, and in 1932 Lord Baden-Powell conferred upon her the highest Scout distinction: the Badge of the Silver Wolf.

Her assiduous and dedicated work to the Indian cause resulted in her election to the presidency of the Indian National Congress in 1917. This was significant for a variety of reasons; among these for the fact of her being the first woman to ever assume such a position. B. Palammal writes:

In 1917, seeing the services and sacrifices of Annie Besant, the Congress elected her as the president of the 32nd session of the Indian National Congress at Calcutta. Being the first woman president of the Congress, She enhanced the prestige of Indian womanhood. Her presidential address was widely applauded as the charter of national liberty. But Annie Besant already had contacts with the Congress in the year 1914 when she participated in the 29th congress held at Madras during 28 to 30 December.

She was the first lady to occupy a post on the platform of India’s National Assembly. As the president of the Indian National Congress, she got an opportunity in planning out a system of national education in India. It was a graded scheme suiting each type of unit to be educated. Regional universities were established with research facilities in the indigenous knowledge of ancient literature, science, art and crafts, village education was to be developed country wide.

Equally significant to arriving at an understanding of her character and work, was Annie Besant’s influence from, and on, Hindu spirituality and religion; an influence which would permeate many aspects of her societal, cultural, educational, and political work both in India and elsewhere. It was, in many ways, this religious, philosophical, and intellectual aspect of her work which laid the foundations for such later initiatives as the Central Hindu College and Banaras Hindu University; these serving as the practicalAll India Home Rule League Movement manifestations of her Hindu-inspired spiritual ideals.

Her work towards reform in the areas of Indian education, Hindu social customs and traditions, the place of Indian women in the new India, her ardent support of Indian self-rule and the Swadeshi movement, her attempts at alleviating the suffering of the depressed classes, and the development of the Scout Movement in India may all be considered as being rooted in a spiritual foundation. For Annie Besant, it was spirituality which formed the core of all altruistic service; this latter being the keynote of the theosophic life.

It is important, also, to remember that Annie Besant was largely responsible not only for the rekindling of Hindu spirituality within the continent of India, but further for influencing the awakening of interest in Hindu religion, thought, and culture in other corners of the world, at a time when the sons and daughters of India herself were becoming strangers to the essence of their own culture and thought. It was with the object of the reawakening of the Indian man and woman to the profundity and spiritual quintessence of their own theosophic teachings that she undertook the work of spurring the Indian renaissance from an ideal into actualization; only once this was achieved, in her mind, could India become the nucleus of a global shift in thought, in which materialism would give way to the revival of mysticism through the consolidation and uplifting of ancient Hindu ideals.

Her intensive study of Sanskrit and Hindu religious texts culminated in her translation of the Bhagavad Gita into simple, comprehensible English, alongside which she also published a variety of short booklets of Aryan legends and tales for children with the objective of the instilling spiritual ideals and principles at an early age. Also published Annie Besantwere a number of booklets and pamphlets for general English-speaking readers. It was largely these efforts of Annie Besant, alongside those of Swami Vivekananda, which served to introduce the multifarious gems of India’s treasure chest of wisdom to the world of the West.

The influence of Annie Besant’s role in the cultural and spiritual renaissance of India is a continuing one; indeed, she was at the very forefront of the changing tides, the depths from which India would arise renewed and reborn, its people awakened to the dawning of a better day, illuminated by the radiant rays of hope. Her life was one of service and dedication to the ideal of Truth; she was, in every sense, a freethinker; a radical of her time; a world leader equipped with the steady sword of resolute sincerity and the infrangible shield of principle.

To the afflicted sons and daughters of India, she was a beacon of light amid the howling winds of oppression, a devoted Steward of the Flame of Truth. Into the bosom of India did she cast her warming light, to impart the breath of life unto the lifeless, and to instill the seed of hope in the broken hearts of the hopeless. Now passed beyond these finite realms, still yet in the depths of the spirit of India may be felt the sublime presence of Annie Besant – the Pearl of the Indian Renaissance.



~ By Luke Michael Ironside, from a paper published in the Friends of Theosophical Archives Newsletter in July, 2017 

 

Is Freemasonry a Cult?

Is Freemasonry a Cult?

As one of the largest organizations in the world, Freemasonry has weathered its share of criticism. In America, questions have been raised as to whether the fraternal organization qualifies as a “cult.” The Oxford Dictionary defines cult as “a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.” However, another definition describes a cult as “A relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.” Obviously, the definition utilized makes a difference as to which organizations fit the term “cult.”  Is Freemasonry a cult?

 Sociological Analysis of Cults

The German political economist and sociologist Max Weber is considered to be a founder of Sociology:  the scientific study of social behavior, including its origins, development, maxweberorganization, and institutions. In his book Theory of Social and Economic Organization, Weber describes the role charismatic leaders play in the formation and operations of extreme groups such as cults.

Weber writes about charismatic leaders as possessing a “certain quality of an individual personality, by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities.” Weber established a way to distinguish different religious organizations, such as churches, sects, and cults. Utilizing a continuum along which religions fall, Sociologists differentiate between protest-like orientation of sects to the equilibrium maintaining churches. The diagram below illustrates a church-sect typology continuum.

ReligionChurchSectCultBeginning in the 1930s, Sociology was utilized to explore cults within the context of the study of religious behavior. In the sociological classifications of religious movements, a cult is a group with socially deviant or novel beliefs and practices. Sociologist Roy Wallis argued that cults are “oriented towards the problems of individuals, loosely structured, tolerant, non-exclusive” without possessing a “clear distinction between members and non-members” and having “a rapid turnover of membership.”

By sociological typology, cults are new religious groups representing a radical rejection of the teachings and beliefs of established faith traditions. Often resulting during periods of social turmoil, cults tend to operate within a distinct period of time before either collapsing or amalgamating into another larger religious group. Three main characteristics are often used in defining the “cult” status of an organization:

  1. Founded by a charismatic leader, as described by Max Weber
  2. Claim a new revelation or insight from God that deviates from traditional faiths
  3. Viewed with extreme suspicion by society and dominant religions

Freemasonry and Religion

Freemasonry is an ancient system designed to impart morality and ethics and teach mutual service to its members. Utilizing the matrix enumerated above, we can examine whether the organization qualifies as a cult by sociological metrics. Modern Freemasonry is generally traced back to the early 1700s although some groups claim it existed prior to the 18th century and was not founded by a single leader.

Furthermore, Masonry is founded upon traditional faiths and does not espouse any new bible-lightrevelations. Within a Masonic Lodge, many holy texts are revered including the Bible, the Torah, the Koran, and the Hindu Vedas. All of these books provide examples of moral truths, such as the Golden Rule, and constitute ethical guides to teach individuals.

Expanding beyond sociology, general definitions of a cult, as listed at the beginning of this article, are tied to whether or not the organization is a religion. Although Masonry expresses a belief in a Supreme Deity and the immortality of the human soul, Freemasonry is not a religion. Each individual is entitled to hold their own view about the nature of God.

Within Freemasonry there are Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, etc. In order to join Freemasonry, individuals must believe in God, but they are left to their own choice as to the attributes of God. The renown Free Masonic scholar, Albert Mackey, wrote describing the religious inclusivity of the fraternity by stating: “God is equally present with the pious Hindu in the Temple, the Jew in the Synagogue, the Mohammedan in the Mosque, and the Christian in Church.”

To qualify as a “Religion,” Academic Scholars have established characteristics including, but not limited to:

  1. A Plan of SalvationThe-Four-vedas-of-Hinduism
  2. A Theology
  3. Dogmas
  4. Sacraments
  5. Clergy

Freemasonry lacks the tenets which define an organization as a “Religion.” Instead, Masonry seeks to make good individuals better through education, improvement, and service. While containing religious elements, Masonry is also a fraternal organization that encourages morality, charity, and philosophical studies. It has no clergy, no sacraments, nor a prescribed path of salvation. Moreover, Masonry rejects dogma and inspires individuals to utilize reason to search for Truth.

Among Freemasons, discussions and debates on social, philosophical, or religious questions help in understanding the universality of mankind and inspiring the let-there-be-lightintellectual development. Such discussion enable all members to reach for a greater understanding of themselves and Humanity in the pursuit of fulfilling their duties as Freemasons.

In Universal Co-Masonry, those duties include: to think high, to do well, to be tolerant to others, to search after truth, and to practice liberty under law, fraternal equality, justice and solidarity. Utilizing builders’ tools as symbols, Freemasonry teaches basic moral truths that enable individuals to meet in harmony and be charitable.