Great Symbols Series @ Theosophy Trust


Awonawilona conceived within himself and thought outward in space, whereby mists of increase, potent streams of growth, were evolved and uplifted. Thus, by means of his innate knowledge, the All-Container made himself in the person and form of the Sun whom ive hold to be our Father and who thus came to exist and manifest. With his appearance came the brightening of the spaces with light, and with the brightening of the spaces the great mist-clouds were thickened together and fell, whereby was evolved water in water; yea, and the world-holding sea.

Zuni Creation Myth

 Light amplification by simultaneous emission of radiation is now known as the laser beam. It can probe as well as prune extraneous growths. It can penetrate to the hidden darkness within the surface of things like the crystalline mind when it pierces the thickening walls of encrusted inertia. Without the aid of the laser beam the long corridors of petty causes and predictable effects stretch and wind back and forth in front of the imprisoned soul. The tunnels become narrower and denser in their opaque complexity, leading further and further away from the light. But where is the obscured light? What is its ultimate source? Whence arises the light in the laser beam? If light is latent in the mind, then how were walls and corridors conceived and why should they thicken and narrow as one moves along them? This mode of reasoning is frustrating and seems redundant. How much simpler it would be to cut the Gordian knot, to grasp in hand the ruby laser and pierce through to its core! But the Wise have ever pleaded for patience and, like the Zuni priests, have clothed the arcane mystery of light and the elusive magic of life in the haunting code-language of hoary myths and parables.

 For millennia light has been invoked as the evocative symbol for the eternal Spirit. It has been hailed as superior owing to its luminous intensity, made manifest through intellect, morality and virtue. Being superior and anterior to all that can be perceived, it has been conceived as the archetypal manifestation of divinity, truth, life, and the Logos whose supernal radiance represents the primal point of creation and the rapid dispersal of darkness. The celebration of this re-creation of light is enacted all over the globe in sacred rituals like Deepavali and Candlemas and the Eastern Orthodox lighting of candles to commemorate Christ's ascension from the dead. This glorious emergence is saluted when common folk greet the birth of a child by exclaiming that it "saw the light of day", as though brightness were waiting on the other side of darkness. A similar opening to this outer light was rather precariously sought in ancient Egypt when the Pharaoh Akhenaton built the city of Akhetaten, which means 'realm of light'. The temples there had no roofs and let the light flood in directly and abundantly, unlike the earlier and later temples which were dim and dingy with walls of windowless stone. Those who resisted the noble efforts of Akhenaton were numerous, and some even accused him of having taken the mystery out of light. They believed that the seeker should penetrate, by stages, into increasing darkness when approaching the sanctuary of God, which would be illuminated by controlled rays of light only at certain auspicious times of the year. Others favoured a dramatic contrast between light and dark. At Karnak, dim halls alternated with bright sunlit courtyards, the alternation quickening as the areas got progressively smaller, creating a magnificent sort of strobe effect so that one passed ever more rapidly from light to darkness, through light to darkness, as one approached the inner sanctum.

 In the Christian tradition Christ is called the Light of the World, the Father of Lights, with whom there is no variableness nor shadow of turning. This echoes the Limitless Light of Ain Soph in the Kabbalistic tradition, the dazzling light of the Krishna Avatar in Hindu metaphysics, and the Zoroastrian Ahura Mazda, invoked as the Lord of Lights. In all mystery religions there is the adoration of the manifest god as the essence of light and as the auspicious light-bringer. There is also the Biblical theme of God creating the light. We might well pause to reflect upon the telling statement from the Book of Genesis; "and darkness was upon the face of the deep. . . . And God said, Let there be light: and there was light." What is suggested by these subtle variations is the notion of levels or degrees of light as well as the ontological distinction between Light and lights. The Parsi conception of the sacred flame of Light and the Taoist utterance that the Light of Heaven is the primordial expression of Unity and Non-Being point to a widespread recognition of the radical distinction between the noumenon and the phenomenon, the noetic and the psychic. This is at the heart of the divine mystery of Krishna, whose cosmic grandeur spans the seeming abyss between the macrocosm and microcosm. We have a similar hint in the Zuni mythical allusion to the Father "who thus came to exist and manifest".

 The Pymander instructed Hermes Trismegistus that "God is not Light but the Cause of Light." The Algonquians carried this idea one step further in speaking of the Great Spirit whose potency is the breath of life and whose descent is "the light which reveals creation". As the Spirit of Light He shows himself in the visible sun which is "the eye of the Great Spirit". This beautiful metaphor of becoming places the stress upon the medium of the eye in relation to light revealed through the sun, while in the Sufi tradition it is shown in the lamp. The Sufi mystics speak of this metaphor in terms of a series of manifestations: "Allah is the Light of the Heavens and of Earth. The similitude of His Light is, as it were, a Niche wherein is a lamp. The Lamp is within a Glass: The Glass, as it were, a pearly Star. From a Tree right blessed is it lit, an Olive-tree neither of the East nor of the West, the Oil whereof is brightly luminous, though Fire touched it not: Light upon Light!" In Sufi thought light is graded in successive levels including that symbolized by the sun, the moon and the star. Thus the Niche is the sun, the Lamp the moon and the Glass around it the star. The tree that lights the Light is the kindling. It is the symbol of the ratiocinative mind, represented best by the olive tree because its oil feeds the lamps more brilliantly than other oils. The ratiocinative mind begins with one proposition, branches into two, four and so on, leading finally to conclusions that become germs producing replications of truths. These pure intellectual propositions do not admit of any relation to direction, so that the tree is neither of the east nor the west but branches out like the veins of "well nigh luminous" light.

 In the Mishkat al-Anwar (The Niche for Lights) there is mention of Seventy Thousand Veils of Light and Darkness which together veil the pristine Godhead from the imperfect human soul. The soul, in its upward sevenfold way, is stripped at every stage of ten thousand of these veils. But the veils may not fall away in the same manner for different souls, which are classed in terms of the darkness or the lightness of the veils that enclose them, thus suggesting both thickness and opacity as well as a necessary mode of understanding degrees of light. Of themselves, the Lights in this tradition say, "We are verily the ranked ones", and indeed, from the Ultimate Source, to the celestial, to the terrestrial, there are said to be precisely ranked grades of light. The Realm of the Supernal contains light-substances called Angels, from which, it is said, various lights are infused into the various classes of mortal spirits. In occult science three kinds of light are mentioned which parallel the Sufi teaching and point to the mystery of the First Light which is hidden in Absolute Darkness. From this emerges the Second, the Light of the Logos, and the Third, which is reflected in the Elohim who subsequently shed it upon the universe. The veiled sun is light to the struggling soul but the unveiled sun remains in Absolute Darkness until the soul finally succeeds in piercing through the last veil of separative consciousness.

 From these recurring mystical standpoints it would seem that sensory perception of light involves corresponding levels of light in its lowest grades, seen as dark bodies, or as bodies visible but unable to make others visible, or as bodies which are visible and can illuminate others. The Sufis taught that the term 'light' should be applied only to the last category and that there is in the mind of man an eye which "sees itself as well as others, sees the very distant and near, what is behind a veil, the interior of things and things infinite as well as finite". This mind's eye is Light (Spirit or Intelligence).

 Most physicists today would answer the question "What is Light?" as Newton might have by responding that "Light is a particular kind of matter." The difference between light and dense matter is thought to arise from "relatively inessential differences between their constituent particles" (particles of all kinds seen as possessing wave properties). This represents a major shift from the manner in which the ancient Greeks approached the question. From the beginning of their explorations, the vision of light was considered a crucial factor. The Pythagorean and Platonic idea of an inner light which made vision possible was displaced by an Aristotelian perspective which encouraged a persistent focus upon the phenomenal characteristics of light such as reflection, refraction, diffraction and colour. Since Isaac Newton in the seventeenth century reproduced the spectrum and discovered that it was contained in white light, the modern world became fixated upon external light. The classical notion of an internal fire came to be scorned as the quaint absurdity of the irrational minds of the ancients. The attention of many minds was preoccupied with the protracted particle-wave debate brought to a high pitch by the followers of Newton and Young and elaborated in the work of Clerk Maxwell, who identified light as part of a vast continuous spectrum of electromagnetic radiation to which the eye is sensitive. In time, researchers came to recognize that the wavelengths along this cosmic spectrum varied from miles-long radio waves to tiny fractions of a millimeter in the upper gamma-rays. On the other hand, the discoveries of Planck, Bohr, Born and Einstein re-established the primary importance of particles or quanta and led to revolutionary changes in thinking about the entire field of reference involving space, time and matter.

 What kind of matter is light? Einstein showed that nothing in the world moves faster than light, while others have insisted that it is at once material and immaterial. When passing through a crystal it is dispersed as an 'immaterial' wave, yet it will fall of its own weight or bend under the stress of gravity from a star. A burst of light from a flash bulb can destroy a rat and it can also alter significantly the growth of organisms. It can be twisted like a cable or pumped through valves like gas. But behind these observations there remain unsolved problems. The speed of light is a convenient index but it is relevant only to the plane of visible phenomena, leaving vast areas open for question in relation to the psychophysical experience of light. The supposition that waves dispersed through a crystal are immaterial is logically contradictory and throws us back into the conceptual difficulties inherent in the persisting dichotomy of particles and waves. The arcane standpoint transcends this tug-of-war by affirming that light, heat and electricity are merely affectations (not properties or qualities) of matter. Matter is nothing more than the necessary vehicle for these agents and forces.

 In Isis Unveiled, H. P. Blavatsky brought forward the teaching of adepts and mystics when she wrote that "Light is the first begotten, and the first emanation of the Supreme, and Light is Life." Both are electricity - the life principle, or anima mundi, which pervades the universe as the electric vivifier of all things. "Light is the great Protean magician, and under the Divine Will of the architect [Universal Mind or collectivity of Dhyan Chohanic Minds], its multifarious, omnipotent waves gave birth to every form as well as to every living being. From its swelling, electric bosom spring matter and spirit. Within its beams lie the beginnings of all physical and chemical action, and of all cosmic and spiritual phenomena." It vitalizes and disorganizes, giving life and producing death, and from its primordial point there emerged gradually the myriad worlds, visible and invisible. It was with the pristine ray of this First Mother, the One-in-Three, that God, according to Plato, lighted a fire which we now call the sun. This is not the cause of light or heat, but merely the focussing lens by which the rays of the primordial light become materialized and are concentrated upon our solar system.

 This vast conception is in sharp contrast to the confident modern assertion that the sun is the source of light. According to the lamps of present-day science, starlight and chemically produced light, as well as light given off by radioactive atoms, contribute but an infinitesimal part of the light that reaches the earth. Even coal and oil can be seen as merely storehouses of solar energy that was captured by living plants ages ago. Most electricity is produced by steam generators fired by coal or oil, but even that produced by water is the result of a hydrological cycle based upon evaporation of ocean water caused by the sun. Though the study of such physical effects justifies certain assumptions about the place of the sun in relation to this solar system, theories regarding the broader framework accommodating the sun as well as light have been strongly influenced by the great controversy over particles and waves and the question of an etheric field in which light vibrates.

 Newton believed in aether as a sensorium del or the background for absolute mechanical motion in the universe. Maxwell held to the aether theory as a "mechanism for radiant energy transfer" despite the fact that his equations constituted a field theory and could stand alone.

 With the advent of quantum mechanics the idea of the aether began to diminish in importance. Einstein, criticizing the notion of simultaneity, abandoned it both as a luminiferous medium and a metaphysical basis for distinguishing between absolute and relative motion in the cosmos. Sir Oliver Lodge, realizing that the relativists were prevailing, lamented that their dismissal of the aether was an error.

 The reality of the aether of space depends on other things, and . . . the establishment of the principle of relativity leaves it as real as before, though truly it becomes even less accessible . . . nevertheless, the aether is needed for any clear conception of potential energy, for any explanation of elasticity, for any physical idea of the forces which unite and hold together the discrete particles of matter, whether by gravitation or cohesion or electric or magnetic attraction, as well as for any reasonable understanding of what is meant by the velocity of light.

 Ironically, one year later, in 1920, Einstein claimed in a much neglected paper that "Space without ether is unthinkable; for in such a space there not only would be no propagation of light, but also no possibility of existence for standards of space and time, nor therefore any space-time intervals in the physical sense." This suggests that aether is equivalent to the kinematical properties of space, but Einstein's use of the term 'ether' instead of the classical term 'aether' suggested that he still had a substantial and mechanical view in mind. His reconsidered openness to the idea of the aether did lead to a resumption of the famous Michelson-Morley experiment, but Sir Oliver seems to have anticipated its failure when he insisted that "the reality of the aether of space depends on other things".

 His awareness of a larger series of causes and effects suggests a familiarity with mystical teachings such as those found in the metaphysics of The Secret Doctrine - wherein primordial light in its unity is recognized as the causal Light and Life of the universe. This light of the Unmanifest Logos or Daiviprakriti manifests as the Light of the Logos which is reflected through the Dhyan Chohanic Host as the fire and aether of Mind. Through these Fiery Spirits the ray sparks the Buddhic Oversoul corresponding to fire, aether and water, and to the point in the Zuni myth where mists of increase emanate from the androgynous deity Awonawilona. This Universal Soul gives animation to the ideal and spiritual Central Sun, the first begotten, who is said to be "concealed in Akasha and present in Ether". Thus, Deity as Aether (Akasha) pervades all things and is the Spirit of Fire, like the oil branching through the ratiocinative tree described in The Niche for Lights. In this way the Light (the Omnipresent Spiritual Ray) calls cosmic matter to begin its long series of differentiations which was directed from the beginning by the Host, the Fiat Lux, or angels of primordial light.

 The word lux is a classical term used to designate the light of the soul or mind. In the Timaeus Plato instructed that the gods "contrived that all such fire as had the property not of burning but of giving a mild light should form a body akin to the light of every day". That, he said, is the pure fire within us which flows through the eyes "in a smooth and dense stream". Plato thought that this 'fire' was complemented by an external light reflected (refracted, etc.) from the object seen but that the internal visual 'fire' gave life and substance to the object seen, which was what it appeared as a result of the entire process. Aristotle, in his summary dismissal of this, argued that "if vision were produced by means of a fire emitted by the eye, like the light emitted by a lantern, why then are we not able to see in the dark?" That most subsequent Western philosophers and scientists have followed the Aristotelian presumption is evident, but some, like the great mathematician Kepler, felt that the eye was a link between lux and the exterior light of lumen. Despite his influence, however, the focus of attention after Newton shifted to lumen, and lux was all but forgotten.

 Is the perception of light a physical or psychological phenomenon? What is the source of light and colour in dreams? Why is it that a man suspended in outer space, with the sun behind him, would see nothing but blackness? Does this simply have to do with the lack of objects capable of bouncing light back into his eyes? Imagine a dark world without light and colours but with bodies endowed with movement and energy which can be transferred and has a wavelength between 0.4 m and 0.8 (the visible spectrum). Though lacking in luminosity and colour, these waves can produce reactions upon the retina which induce transmissions of nerve impulses to the brain. In the brain a deep analysis of these impulses takes place and their intensity, origin and complexity are assessed, resulting in a creation of 'luminous, coloured phantoms'. More precisely, the nerve impulses produced by one single element of the retina are defined in terms of three parameters represented by what we call brightness, hue and saturation. The number of simultaneous transmissions is as great as the number of elements in the retina which are stimulated. On the basis of these triple pulses, the psyche precisely constructs corresponding elements which together form the phantom endowed with brightness, hue and saturation. This is the essential process of vision in its entire complexity. It is physical, physiological and psychological, and light and colour exist only in the psychological phase. As absolutely and exclusively subjective entities, "they are therefore not part of the external world and cannot be included in the realm of physics".

 In thinking about the profound implications of this statement, it becomes apparent that the loss of the distinction between lux and lumen has indeed been unfortunate. The word 'light' ought to refer to lux as the opposite of darkness, because this has remained its meaning since ancient times. Thus, lumen might be called radiation instead of being used in reference to the light that we see. However this semantic issue may be resolved, it is an undeniable fact that the physical world is permeated with radiation which has no light or colour. The physical world is black and dark. When the particular radiations with wavelengths between 0.4 and 0.8 m reach the psyche through the organ of sight (eye and brain), they trigger the formation of luminous, coloured phantoms. One may continue to insist that the cause of the process is still external, but such important discoveries in the field of optics have not sought to spell out the nature of the source of this internal light (lux). Instead, they provide us with a brilliant analogue to Plato's discussion in the Theaetetus and Timaeus, especially in regard to the idea that the inner fire gives 'life' and substance to the object seen, which appears as it does because of that inner visual light.

The Secret Doctrine teaches that "light and heat are the ghost or shadow of matter in motion". When the Universal Spirit sleeps (at the Pratisanchara Pralaya), there is no light, for there is no being to see it. Consciousness has been disintegrated or dissolved by Mahat. If this is so and if the light we see is a ghost, then the cause of it must be found in such super-sensuous states as those perceivable by the Adept who rests in a trance under the sushumna ray, the first of the Seven Mystic Rays of the sun. This light of higher understanding is reflected at a simpler level in the wisdom of folk-sayings where people admit their lack of understanding by saying they "are in the dark" or that they hope to "throw light" on something. Men have always recognized that the mind participates in this light as does the heart of one who is 'light-hearted'. A poignant reference to the illumined state was made by Wordsworth, who wrote:

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore -
Turn wheresoe'er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.

 One is reminded that before the Fall mankind was clothed in Light. Only after its great descent was conscious effort needed to achieve a percolation of mental through physical perceptions. In attempting this alchemy, the "mental circle must become visible through light" and become one with physical visibility or light itself. In dreams there is sometimes an experience of light so powerful that it transcends all form and any distinction between the observer and the light. It is significant that this can occur against a backdrop of form and even seem to radiate through and out of forms while never ceasing to exert its powerful supremacy over any limitations of those forms. This can be seen as analogous to the experience alluded to by Wordsworth which, though taking place in his youth, had "the glory and the freshness of a dream". One slips across the boundaries of waking and dreaming without falling asleep and the more intense light of the dream is anchored more deeply within the Akashic fire of the universe. It waits to illuminate with its supreme power and dazzling ability to reveal as phantoms the props of this physical world.

Nor ever once ashamed
So we be named
Pressmen; Slaves of the Lamp;
Servants of Light.

Sir Edwin Arnold

 At the death of Eleanor Roosevelt, Adlai Stevenson wrote, "I have lost more than a friend, I have lost an inspiration. She would rather light candles than curse the darkness and her glow has warmed the world." Such persons cast a light on the pathway which is an authentic reflection of that greater Light that pours forth along the Guruparampara chain of being. Like the torch-bearers of the Eleusinian Mysteries, intuitive individuals point the way in the darkness. In reading about the lives of Thomas Paine or Mohandas Gandhi or any great exemplar of spiritual truth who lived ahead of his time, one is made acutely aware of the fact of their intensely lonely solitude of soul. Surrounded by the darkness of ignorance, fear and misunderstanding, they survive as beacons treading a dark road right to the end. Such a powerful light cannot come from outside. There is no light outside these heroic souls. It is only within, shining like a steady flame. They become that inward light of daring. Hence their universal appeal, whilst no sociological or historical analysis can explain their enormous inspirational impact upon the world of struggling pilgrims. Christ warned his disciples: "Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you." Men and women of inner light do not need such reminders. They are inwardly assured that their ceaseless efforts to nurture the Flame of Spirit within themselves at every step along the way of incarnated existence will establish in their immortal souls a firm and fiery devotion to the Light in lives to come. All will not be lost at death. The ineffable experience of the Light is a sacred encounter with the Ultimate Reality which dies not nor fades away.

 The Occultist sees in the manifestation of every force in Nature, the action of the quality, or the special characteristic of its noumenon; which noumenon is a distinct and intelligent Individuality on the other side of the manifested mechanical Universe.

 The progressive realization of the inner light does not occur automatically. Mankind is no longer clothed in Light. The heroic effort required to reach the Light within and draw it down through all the vestures is great indeed. But the perception of light as it appears to us in the world gives valuable clues to understanding this internal process. The mechanical phenomena of vision are no more than imperfect analogues of inward noumenal states of consciousness. Just as there is observable reflection, refraction, diffraction and dispersion of light in the physical world, so too the mind reflects in myriad ways. Mental analysis presupposes an inner beam of light, capable of giving 'life' and substance to otherwise dead categories. The substance of thought can be reshuffled at atomic levels just as with matter in the external world, which can be lit up and highlighted to appear real and meaningful, at least for a while. The psychological and alchemical reshuffling, however, requires a continual rethinking of conventional categories and concepts, a process inspired by what seem to be the forces of necessity which themselves break up as they are seen through. In this renovative process there are endless expressions of refraction and dispersion but rarely is there the pure and calm reflection of a universal and omnipresent light. To initiate this breakthrough necessitates a conscious and magical summoning of that 'grade' or 'Angel' of Light which is capable of setting in resonant vibration the noetic core of clusters of material particles which constitute the different vestures of the immortal Monad. This arcane magic requires that one gradually come to 'know' the Light within, think on it deeply, embrace it constantly, and ever discover its divine will and the complex design that it traces out in the service of the Logos, Krishna-Christos.

 When conscious thought mirrors the will of the One Unified Light, its distinctive aspect is brought in line, crest to crest and trough to trough, as it moves in synchronized waves with other focalized sets of particles. The One Source vibrates within itself and every particle of itself, but only through the unifying field of the Akashic Light. The mind's 'eye' which sees itself is seeing behind the veil of separated particles and waves. Its speed is beyond time and all measurement for it is one with that which it sees. It is not limited by points along a spectrum for it has penetrated beyond the 'affectations' of light, heat, radio and gamma-rays and experiences them in a radiant unified field which lies behind and within the Seventy Thousand Veils of phenomenal existence. This is the 'Dark Field', the eternal matrix in which phenomenal light appears and disappears as interchangeable modes of one another. How far a disciple can discern this Light within Darkness depends entirely upon his or her powers of spiritual visualization, fidelity of faith, and continuity of visionary consciousness.

 Plato saw the Light and comprehended it and sought to clothe it in the garb of Reason. He used the language and metaphors of time, space and limitation in order to communicate its resplendent mystery. That lesser men misconstrued and failed to understand what he conveyed only demonstrates the degree to which the Light of the Soul has been dimmed in mortal vestures. And yet, like the calculated strobe effect of the light and darkness at the temple of Karnak, ideas and events in life can be apprehended as nothing more than alternating qualities strung together by consciousness. In every human being the Perceiver within the semi-conscious mask can emit from the hidden Eye of Wisdom the sacred fire of soul-awareness which shows things in their true light. One who sees steadily with this indestructible if hidden Light glides upon the great Ocean of Akashic Fire while simultaneously focussing the laser beam of understanding, which is wholly capable of penetrating to the noumenal Truth that lies within the great mesmerizing façade of the phenomenal world.

Hold fast! beam of light turned inward
To that vast countryside where all revolves
'Round a point that holds apart the clouds
And focusses a shaft of virgin light.