The bottom rung of the ladder represents that point where the involving soul can go no lower, the point where it contacts the mineral realm and first incarnates in objective form. The 7 upward steps represent the 7 states of its evolution from mineral to man. In this seventh state the soul has behind it those experiences which have given it a complex astral organization, which enables it to be attracted to a human mother. The travail at its birth into human form is represented by the neophyte when he painfully squeezes through the narrow cleft in the rocks. After the neophyte has passed through the cleft, symbolizing his expulsion into the world of human activities through the sacred yoni, he ascends the spiral stairway of 22 steps and halts before the entrance to the sanctuary. These 22 steps, symbolical of the influence upon human life of the 12 signs and 10 planets, signify his experiences under their influence from birth to the time that he seeks occult initiation. A grating of bronze—symbol of love and wisdom—bars his progress, but a magus, called a Pastophore, opens the gate and welcomes him in. Thus always is there a master ready to assist and instruct the neophyte who, in love and in devotion to sacred science, has successfully passed the early ordeals.
The neophyte now finds himself in a long gallery sustained by sculptured caryatides representing 24 sphinxes, 12 on either side. In each space between two sphinxes the wall is covered with a frescoed painting, these 22 pictures being lighted by a line of 11 lamps that extends between the two rows of figures.
A sphinx, representing the four quadrants of heaven, symbolizes any cycle of time, and as here arranged they designate the 24 hours of the day, as well as the 24 elders of the Apocalypse. The 22 frescoed paintings picture the 22 Major Arcana of the tarot, the symbolism of which at this time is explained to the neophyte and by him committed to memory. The eleven lamps are crystal sphinxes in each of which burns an asbestos wick at the surface of a sacred oil, each lamp being supported by a bronze tripod.
The flame of the lamp represents the ego, a living, brilliant, changeless spark of Deity. The asbestos wick which ever feeds the flame yet is never consumed, represents the immortal soul feeding the ego with the results of its experiences. These experiences, gained through cycles of time as symbolized by the form of the sphinx, and in objective realms as indicated by the crystalline structure of the lamp, are typified by the oil. The transparent quality of the lamp suggests that matter offers no barrier to the sight of the initiate. The tripod, upon which the lamp rests, an alloy of a positive and a negative metal, presents the symbolic aspect of two interlaced trines. The negative trine symbolizes involution, and the positive trine evolution, together constituting the support of the soul and making possible its conscious immortal existence.
One of the lamps is set slightly apart from the other ten and represents the final synthesis of the others, symbolizing also the point from which the neophyte departs to undergo further perils. The 22 frescoed pictures each correspond to one of the 12 zodiacal signs or 10 planets and constitute an esoteric interpretation of their attributes and functions. The 22nd picture corresponds to the unknown; but each of the other 21 correspond either to one of man’s seven physical senses, to one of his seven psychic senses, or to one section of his seven-fold constitution. Each is also related to one of the 21 branches of occult science that the neophyte is called upon to master before he can aspire to adeptship. Taken as a whole—as shown in detail in Course VI, Sacred Tarot—they constitute a science of the will and an absolute religious doctrine, and each corresponds to a definite step in the neophyte’s occult advancement. The 10 lamps represent the numerical decade as well as the ten emanations of the Sephiroth of the Kabbalah, and together with the 22 pictured Major Arcana point to the 32 paths of wisdom. With the final lamp, or 33rd symbol, they constitute the exoteric view of the same set of universal principles the esoteric side of which is set forth in the 33 TABLETS OF AETH previously mentioned. They, therefore, represent the original ideas from which the 33 chapters of the Kabbalistical book, Sephir Yetzirah, and the 33 degrees of modern Freemasonry, were derived.
The neophyte is permitted to remain in this Gallery of the Arcanum under the instruction of his master until he has thoroughly familiarized himself with all the symbols and their interpretations. This symbolizes all that he may hope to attain from the physical world.
To progress farther on the path, the soul must temporarily leave the physical world and soar into other realms where ascended souls will conduct its initiation on the inner planes. To reach the spiritual plane, either while still connected with the physical body or after death, the soul must pass through the four kingdoms of the astral world. To symbolize this journey, the neophyte leaves the Gallery of the Arcana. First, to represent his travel through the realm of the gnomes he passes through a tunnel. At the end of this tunnel, to represent the realm of salamanders, he is confronted with a roaring fire through which he must go if he would not retreat. This fire is really not so great as it at first appears, and he passes through it without injury, but no sooner has he passed it than it is replenished by unseen hands to make his return impossible. Thus he realizes an important truth; that in occultism he who places his hand to the plow and then turns back is lost. Next, as representing the influence of the undines, he is compelled to wade through a stagnant lake the water of which rises to his chin, but by going on tiptoe he manages to reach the opposite shore, and climbs dripping and cold upon a platform which he sees in front of a closed door.
This door is of bronze, and is divided laterally by a column on which is sculptured the head of a lion having in its mouth a ring figuring a serpent biting its own tail. The ring in the form of a serpent symbolizes eternity, and the lion symbolizes courage. Courage, therefore, he is made aware, should sustain his efforts throughout eternity. To open the door he grasps the ring, and as it resists he uses both hands. But no sooner does he get a firm grip upon it than the platform beneath his feet drops from under him and leaves him suspended in air, in the realm of the sylphs. The trap beneath his feet rises again promptly, and he passes through the door which now opens to permit his entrance. This bronze door symbolizes love and wisdom. It is divided into a right, or positive, half, and a left, or negative, half; the dividing column, placed where positive and negative forces join, symbolizing the tree of life that confers immortality. The sign Leo is natural ruler of love affairs. The lion’s head, however, as Leo is ruled by the sun, also typifies the male element, while the circle in its mouth typifies the female element. The symbol as a whole, therefore, represents the complete and harmonious fusion of the sexes, actuated by love. Thus is conveyed to the neophyte’s mind the thought that the door of the sanctuary opens only in the union of two harmonious souls inspired by love and guided by wisdom. Not by one alone can the spiritual heights be scaled, but through the mighty movement within the finer substances of space caused by the soul union of both.
The neophyte thus having triumphed over the tests by earth, fire, water, and air, representing his passage through the astral kingdoms, is now met by 12 Necores. These men typify the translated souls of those who once lived upon the earth and who belong to each of the 12 zodiacal signs. They blindfold his eyes, to signify the dullness of the real spiritual perceptions until higher initiation is attained, and lead him to a crypt beneath the pyramid where the college of the magi awaits him. This crypt symbolizes the spiritual world which he now ritualistically has entered. The pyramid above is a symbol of the earth which he has abandoned, and being directly above this crypt indicates the exact correspondence between the physical world and the world spiritual, between that which is above and that which is below. The walls of this crypt are sculptured with the pictures of the 48 constellations that represent the influence and spiritual significance of the 12 zodiacal signs and the 36 zodiacal decanates. There are also pictured representations of the 7 planetary angels, and the 360 genii of the degrees of the zodiac, through which the sun passes in one year.
The neophyte, whose eyes are now unbandaged, is required to demonstrate his knowledge of astrology by erecting and delineating a birth chart, calculating the progressed positions and passing judgment upon the events that have taken place in some person’s life, and the times when these events have taken place. In order to check the accuracy of his delineations, the chart of some person known to members of the college is selected, but its identity is kept secret from the neophyte. He is expected to portray the temperament of the person, to select the channels of activity into which the life has chiefly been turned, to designate what departments of life are fortunate and what are unfortunate, and to select the times and natures of the principal events that have transpired in his life. Also he is expected to know something of all the other six branches of astrology.
After his knowledge of astrology has been thoroughly tested, he is required to demonstrate his knowledge of the tarot. He must be familiar with the meaning of each of the Major Arcana in each of the three worlds as well as the divinatory significance. He must know the vibratory influence of names, numbers, colors, tones and flowers, and must have some knowledge of the talismanic properties of gems. And he must know how a particular name, number, or other vibratory influence will affect a certain person, as revealed by comparing it with the birth chart. Finally, he is required to lay out and correctly read a tarot spread, thus demonstrating his ability to use these tablets as divinatory instruments.
After these tests of his knowledge, he is required to take an oath, similar in its wording to that administered in modern Freemasonry, never to reveal the sacred sciences or other portions of the mysteries. Then he is required to take a second oath, vowing himself to submission and obedience. This second oath represents the pledge the initiate makes to himself to obey always the voice of his conscience. At this point a terrible noise is heard and an artificial tempest is produced during which the Magi point their swords at his breast and accuse him of past crimes, typifying the day of judgment when the soul will be called upon to render an account of its deeds done while in the flesh. Next, two Necores, each carrying a cup of wine, approach and offer the cups to him. Then the startled candidate is told that one of the cups is quite harmless but that the other contains a deadly poison. Reminding him of the oath he has just taken to obey, the neophyte to make a choice of, and immediately to drink, the contents of one of the cups. the neophyte, whose eyes are now unbandaged, is required to demonstrate his knowledge of astrology by erecting and delineating a birth chart, calculating the progressed positions and passing judgment upon the events that have taken place in some person’s life, and the times when these events have taken place. In order to check the accuracy of his delineations, the chart of some person known to members of the college is selected, but its identity is kept secret from the neophyte. He is expected to portray the temperament of the person, to select the channels of activity into which the life has chiefly been turned, to designate what departments of life are fortunate and what are unfortunate, and to select the times and natures of the principal events that have transpired in his life. Also he is expected to know something of all the other six branches of astrology.
After his knowledge of astrology has been thoroughly tested, he is required to demonstrate his knowledge of the tarot. He must be familiar with the meaning of each of the Major Arcana in each of the three worlds as well as the divinatory significance. He must know the vibratory influence of names, numbers, colors, tones and flowers, and must have some knowledge of the talismanic properties of gems. And he must know how a particular name, number, or other vibratory influence will affect a certain person, as revealed by comparing it with the birth chart. Finally, he is required to lay out and correctly read a tarot spread, thus demonstrating his ability to use these tablets as divinatory instruments. Next, two Necores, each carrying a cup of wine, approach and offer the cups to him. Then the startled candidate is told that one of the cups is quite harmless but that the other contains a deadly poison. Reminding him of the oath he has just taken to obey, the Hierophant commands the neophyte to make a choice of, and immediately to drink, the contents of one of the cups.
His clothing is removed by attendants, indicating that all grossness has been purged away. He is dressed in white linen to symbolize the strength of purity. An exquisite repast is enjoyed while his ears are refreshed by strains of rapturous music, emblematical of the higher states of ecstasy and the music of the spheres. As he finishes the refreshments, curtains are drawn aside, revealing to him beautiful young women dancing. To conceal their identity, even as the body hides the soul, they wear masks attached at the brow by a circle of gold, typical of intellectual illumination. They are scantily clad in a gauzy veil spangled with golden bees, the veil indicating how slight is the obstruction that bars man from realization, and the golden bees signifying the divine creative essence in its most spiritual aspect, and further, that the veil may be penetrated only by the industrious; for the slothful soul will never penetrate the spiritual states. Across each girl’s shoulders is thrown a filmy scarf, symbolizing the spiritual raiment formed by exalted aspiration and devotion to truth; and each carries a garland of flowers, indicative of innocence, joy and supreme happiness. If the neophyte dares to violate the sanctity of the mysteries he is in actual danger, but if he continues to conduct himself with propriety the Magi come to congratulate him upon passing the last of the trials, and confer upon him the title of Zelator. This final act in the initiation symbolizes the reunion of twin souls, which takes place upon the boundary of the sixth and seventh spiritual states. While conveying the idea that all passion must be evolved upward into pure unsullied love before this state can be reached, and that this sacred union must not be profaned with violence or carnal desire, it at the same time, by the two girls dancing about the neophyte, symbolizes the original trinity that existed before the separation of the sexes—ego, male soul, and female soul. It should be noticed that this scene is very different from that representing the separation; for that was a region of hideous monsters and dim consciousness; while this is a place of joyous beauty, ecstatic sensations, and vivid perceptions. By this union the soul is represented as passing into the seventh spiritual state together with its long missing mate, and can no longer be considered human, for it has now attained to the state of angelhood; immortality is no longer a possibility, but an assured fact.