The Star

Great Symbols Series @ Theosophy Trust


But if the great sun move not of himself; but is an errand boy in heaven; nor one single star can revolve, but by some invisible power; how then can this one small heart beat; this one small brain think thoughts; unless Cod does that beating, does that thinking, does that living, and not I. By heaven, man, we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder windlass, and fate is the handspike.

Herman Melville

 Bits of dust revolving round and round in space. Stars, far greater in dimension than the solar system, swirling in their radiant orbits millions of light-years away. Luminous eyes, rending the darkness which stretches through infinity, focussing upon some unseen centre. What mysterious order is it that knows the numberless balances expressed in the massings of particles and explosions of worlds occurring eternally in endless space? Where is the handspike, the spindle-shaft of necessity around which all this revolves? Where is the heart that inspires the pulsating oscillation of being and non-being, and does it throb in the flame of a star? Many a mariner, adrift on the ocean's curve, has sensed his immortality in the luminous rhythm of a fixed star and intuited a reflection of intelligence within its light. This, rather than the perception of a manifest design, has prompted men to discern an ordered depth to the cosmos.

 The outstanding characteristic of a star, whether it has four, five, six or multitudinous points of radiation, is its self-luminosity. It shines like the sun by radiation derived from energy sources within itself. Stars give light instead of reflecting it as planets do, and their rays point to the four corners of myriad systems beyond our own, the zenith and nadir of countless galaxies. The Navajo recognize groups of stars as figures, calling them by names like Slender First One and Whirling Male. They identify the source of luminosity with one star in each constellation called the Igniter and they say that in the beginning Black God, who is Fire, entered the hogan of creation and brought forth the light found in the stars. When he had done this, the stars of the Pleiades were lodged at his ankle. He stamped his foot vigorously and caused them to locate at his knee, then hip, then right shoulder and finally, with the fourth stamp, at his left temple. Thus he drew them up into the higher realm where they shine as a symbol of the septenary nature of cosmos. Although they shine and are self-luminous, they need their Igniter. The source of its light is the Black God, reminiscent of the Gnostic Dark Fire which is the hidden fount of all manifest light.

 The Navajo believe that the constellation called the First Big One was the original man and, like many other people, recognize all manner of human, animal and man-made forms in stellar patterns. Great triumphs and sacrifices have been traced in their supposed relations to one another. Recognized as a pervasive trait in the fourth century, Eusebius noted that "the ancients believed that the legends about Osiris and Isis, and all other mythological fables, have reference either to the stars, their configuration or their risings and their settings". While the patterns and meanings perceived in their relations are relative to the perspective of a particular people, the consistent truth remains that men perceive archetypes of the human drama in the stars. While these archetypes are divided into twelves, eights or sevens, the ideas behind the divisions are markedly similar, showing a pervasive awareness of sidereal influences and laying down the basis of world mythology. In symbolic systems like that of the American Indians, four-pointed stars signify a synthesis of the powers identified with the four cardinal points, while five-pointed stars indicate aspiration, education and the spiritual man. In ancient Egypt the word for star formed parts of terms meaning 'to bring up' and 'to educate', as well as 'the teacher'. To them the star, the light shining in darkness, symbolized spirit struggling within the obscuring folds of matter. The voice of the teacher echoed the highest spiritual impulse when it formulated the words: "I am a star that goes with thee and shines out of the depths." The six-pointed star of Solomon's seal combines the fiery and watery triads of creation and emancipation, while the eight-pointed star is the emblem of love and justice, the wheel of the unfolding Law. All of these symbols were associated with the divine origin of stars. The arcane teachings which their constellated patterns describe within the heavens have been observed by shepherds, poets and sages, "a natural progression for those who comprehend divine shapes in celestial mosaics and divine will in atmospheric activities".

 Like many people, the Aborigines of Australia hold that humans become stars when they die. The stars of great magnitude are held to be originators of the human race. Aboriginal dreamers speak of Nepelle, who is the great god of the stars and the Father of Mankind. Among the bands who still roam the desolate stretches of the outback, there are old men who study the positions of stars at night and gaze unblinkingly into their light for a sign of that which is known timelessly in the dreamtime, the non-world outside of time and space. Usually, stars are trusted and seen as benefactors and guides; elaborate ritual is observed by many people to ensure their protection as well as their instruction. In the Satpati rite a Hindu bridal couple propitiate the seven stars of the Great Bear, and orthodox Brahmins in general observe many rituals in connection with the constellations in order to avoid pollution and increase good fortune. At times these concerns take on a grossly material focus, as in the case of the worship of Rohini and Krittika, constellations linked with the rise and fall of the cotton market. But stars more frequently inspire men to those greater and more selfless realms of wonder where personal humility enables higher guidance to prevail.

 Ideals are like stars; you will not succeed in touching them with your hands. But like the seafaring man on the desert of waters, you choose them as your guides, and following them you will reach your destiny.

 The wise mariner chooses his star carefully, for there are those reputed to have harmful natures and whose rising is taken as an evil omen. The Secret Doctrine describes 'choirs' of genii whose numbers correspond to those of the stars. Accordingly, every star has its genii, good and evil by nature, and they are said to imprint their likeness on our souls and substance . . . the very marrow of our bones. These are elementals who preside over the birth of men and of which, at the many levels of his nature, he is composed. The allusion to the human soul being thus impressed suggests both a lofty and luminous parentage as well as a potential danger. Shelley pointed to the higher stellar light when he wrote of "The soul of Adonais, like a star, [which] beacons from the abode where the Eternal are"; but there is in the personal man a fixation which the astral and physical light of stars can inspire. The fidelity of the pole-star may not be reflected in the rosy glow of a stellar red giant or even in the golden rays of a yellow dwarf like our physical sun. Just as common folk avoid gazing into the flames of the midday solar orb, so wise men have cautioned against an indiscriminate intercourse with various stars. The entire history of human evolution can be traced in the heavens but it is the inner eye alone which can comprehend the nature in which humanity and the stars are bound together.

 In our galaxy the sun is a typical star of relatively small size and luminosity. From an occult point of view, it is significant that it has a radius of about 432,000 miles and that it has endured longer than giant stars because of its size, composition and the rate at which it's mass is converted into energy. To continue shining at its present rate, the sun converts 670,000,000 tons of hydrogen into the same amount of helium every second and more than 4,000,000 tons of material disappear into radiation within the same short length of time. This modest output can be compared to that of the giants like Aldebaran, which has a diameter of forty-five suns, or Antares and Mira, which are supergiants having two hundred and four hundred and sixty solar diameters respectively. The variable brightness of stars is expressed in terms of magnitude from the first to the twenty-third degree, which indicates little about their distance as most of the nearby stars are very faint. With a spectroscope it is possible to obtain information about the temperatures, chemical composition, rates of rotation and intrinsic brightness of stars through the transition in energy levels that produce spectral lines. Blue stars are very hot while red coloration is usually an indication of cooling, though it could be due to the absorption and reddening of light in space. Many are the variables that must be juggled by the modern scientist in his efforts to categorize what he can in the universe and approach some sort of a unified theory. There do seem to be certain identifiable characteristics of stars. They easily form doubles and multiple systems and tend to twine and spin around one another, spilling and spurting, as it were, into space. There are all sorts of binary stars which are either visible couples or spectroscopically distinguishable because of their equal brightness and paired velocity variations. Some binaries regularly eclipse one another within their own system and, in the neighbourhood of our sun, double stars outnumber the single, a fact which may inspire the mythical imagination to fresh heights of cosmogonical correlations.

 The revolving dust of a spiral nebula, the curve of stars around a hidden galactic centre, the whirling conglomerations and eventual disintegrations that describe the development of all forms in nature are recapitulated in the birth, growth, old age and final death of a star. One may imagine an infinite matrix of subtle material in which forms a cloud of sufficient mass for gravitational attraction to draw it together. As matter collects, the internal temperature and density increase until the fledgling star bursts into incandescence. It is now shining by its own gravitational contraction which, if continued, will reach a state where energy conversion is brought about by a series of collisions involving protons and electrons in accordance with the Einsteinian equation E = mc2, where E = energy released, m = mass annihilated, and c = the velocity of light. At this point the development of the star is stabilized in a main sequence where it will remain for most of its life. The length of the contraction phase depends upon mass, the greater mass requiring the lesser time. At the time that the star reaches the stabilized main sequence, it is still chemically homogeneous. Only after the hydrogen in the core is converted to helium and the temperature slowly rises to compensate for depletion of fuel does its composition become heterogeneous. The core becomes inert and energy production takes place in the shell, causing the outer portion of the star to swell outward in a rising luminosity.

 Stars of much lower initial mass than the sun never become hot enough at their core for nuclear reactions to begin, and sink down into the final white dwarf condition without going through the main sequence phase. Stars of much greater mass, like some red or blue giants, go through these stages very quickly and a few will become supernovas when they collapse, blowing much of their material out into space, leaving shrunken remnants of super-dense matter - a thimbleful of which would weigh a thousand million tons! Stars with more than ten times the mass of the sun will not produce supernovas upon their collapse but will contract rapidly to the point where there is no visible body at all, but where matter is so dense that not even light can escape from it. This is what is known as a black hole, and astronomers, having first identified it as a logical possibility in line with the general theory of relativity, believe they have evidence of the phenomenon in the constellations Cygnus and Sagittarius. They have calculated that when the radius of a star of a given mass has shrunk to a certain value of the compression of that mass, the radius becomes an 'absolute event horizon'. Any material near a black hole would feel its strong gravitational attraction, but if it fell within the 'absolute event horizon' there would be no return. Thus a particle of light, a planet, an atom, all would be swallowed up and compressed beyond any definition of matter the finite mind can comprehend. The possibility of such vortices in space has excited much imaginative speculation about disappearing rocket ships and crushed galaxies, but there is a haunting suggestion of their shadow in more than one of the binary systems. In some of these cases the primary star is a very hot, highly luminous supergiant, followed around by an invisible companion which has a mass many times greater than that of the sun. Like a dark contraction following a brilliant expansion, they move around in their vast orbit together.

 Some have thought that if our galaxy were not rotating, it would probably have become a black hole a long time ago, but the motion of each star in the system balances out the gravitational attraction towards its galactic centre. This wonderfully intricate balance involves perhaps 100,000 million stars and there may be millions of other galaxies with equally numerous stellar components describing similar balances. Like stars, the fainter galaxies are in a majority, the most common form being that of an elliptical cloud. Spiral galaxies are less common but have in them some of the larger and brighter stars, while irregular galaxies contain faint stars in their early youth and are more rare. Just as planets orbit around their source of light, so too the sun rotates around a more distant centre and the galaxies around even more distant naves as well. The Milky Way is slowly rotating around a centre roughly 28,000 light-years distant from the sun.

 Galaxies appear to be racing away in space as part of an expanding universe, but if the life and death of stars reflect these even larger patterns of cyclic development, one may expect that the expansion will eventually stop and a contraction begin. Those who favour a Big Bang theory of cosmogenesis are inclined to believe that the contraction will ultimately culminate in a great collision, producing an enormous explosion outward of material which would lay the basis for a cyclic recurrence with no absolute beginning or end. It is awe-inspiring to think of this occurring in one galaxy while another is in its early stages of development. One is inspired to adopt a picture of a vastly complex universe where enormous masses of material are coming into and going out of ordered existence simultaneously. But this is relative to one's perspective in the material universe and to one's conscious level of participation in space and time. This last is of considerable importance in terms of subjective experience as well as in relation to grasping the fact, for example, that we objectively see Andromeda as it existed two million years ago. This remarkable phenomenon is psychologically accentuated when one attempts to grasp the fact that we experience this because light (which travels 186,000 miles a second, or six trillion miles a year) requires two million years to complete its passage from Andromeda to the earth. Add to this the fact that Andromeda is a neighbouring galaxy and that others one thousand times more distant can be seen with large optical telescopes, and one perceives the necessity of adopting an abstract mathematical view of the universe. Time and space as we experience it on this earth become largely irrelevant. There is no absolute standard of reference in matter which permits us confidently to identify the variables affecting the complex lives and mysterious deaths of stars. We can observe everything our radio telescopes and spectrograms register, but corrections for 'space absorption' (the vagueness of the term is typical and reflects the highly speculative nature of modern astronomy), notions of randomness in the universe and the probability that our earth's atmosphere alters information gathered from space, all serve to underscore the central fact that everything in the universe is relative. To put this in the language of the great mystics, all things in life are an illusion perceived as relatively true by that which cannot perceive the whole.

 Like the systole and diastole of a gigantic heart, there seems to be a centre in our own galaxy where, as matter collapses inward, enormous amounts of energy are released, yielding strong radio and infrared signals. This may be the source of quasars, which radiate more powerfully than whole galaxies put together. Waves of energy from such a centre are like stellar seeds that germinate in space to yield their genetic potential before degenerating and dying. The pulsation, even though marked by all the throes of explosive activity and darkened collapse that it is, involves the endless taking up and refinement of matter, over which process some inner stellar essence presides.

Thou canst not stir a flower
Without troubling of a star.

Francis Thompson

 More remote, perhaps, than even the soul of things, seem the distances in space, and yet the immortal soul must know the soul of all. It is only in terms of a living intelligent matrix that one can make any sense of the vast interconnectedness of all universal life-impulses. The fact of relativity of experience in terms of the sensorium exists in coadunition with the unifying experience of the inner man, who is capable of understanding the pulsations of stars in terms of the rhythmic wisdom stored within his own central heart. Great releases of energy in the universe, though relative to the environments in which they take place, are manifestations of that same force that explodes into flower at each earthly spring. It is not difficult to see correspondences between vast universal cycles and smaller ones affecting our globe, and one feels encouraged to brush aside the problem of relative blinds and interpret broadly the ancient doctrines such as the Stanzas of Dzyan which read:


 The older wheels referred to are the globes of our earth chain in previous rounds. Considering the appropriateness of this description in relation to the seeming appearances and disappearances of stellar matter in the physical universe, we are presented with striking analogies. We have a rotation downward and upward, outward and inward, on all coadunitional planes, and the battles fought between creators and destroyers, which are so evident in physical time and space, can be seen as reflections of great ethereal struggles that found their arena in astral matter. We are warned, however, that when extending our speculations beyond our planetary chain, we risk a great presumption. While accepting the Hermetic axiom, "As above, so below", as well as the notion of a corresponding interdependence and balance at all levels, we do not perceive the greater universal axis around which all relative balances revolve. The highest Dhyan Chohans are said to be ignorant of what lies outside our solar system, which clearly renders our speculations as guesswork. But we are told that they do know that all planetary worlds and stars are inhabited even though they themselves have access only to those in our system. Considering this, one is left to ponder the significance of the size and mass of that star which is our sun. What is the mystery behind its radius that combines the numbers 4, 3 and 2 which are recapitulated in so many cycles having to do with our globe? The numbers 4, 3 and 2 added together is the number associated with the heavenly man, the collective Prajapati, and the 9 joined with the 1 is the Pythagorean decade representing the divine monad, fully expressed. The nature of the Adepts of this system is a pure reflection of these ratios, and one may imagine Masters of Wisdom in other systems expressing perfection according to other ratios which reflect - in their own way - the light of a larger truth that overbroods myriad galactic arenas of potential perfectibility. In contemplation of such endlessly unfolding possibilities, the mind expands and the heart reveres the beauty of the ratios manifest to us which are keys to an ever greater cosmic comprehension.

 One of the septenary keys which provides an important clue in unravelling the symbolic and essential nature of the star is that of the seven polar stars of the Rishis. They, whose name comes from the Sanskrit root rsi ('seer') related to rksa ('star'), are the primary kronotypes who symbolically mark the beginning of time in heaven. This event is related to the second creation or the origin of rupa in the first stage of cosmic life called the Fire-Mist period, which follows the chaotic stage when atoms issue from the laya. They are representatives of the Seven Great Gods or Archangels in their essence, and take their place in a series of descending manifestations of the divine Logos. They are a reflected product of the original prima materia (Fohat emanated from the Logos or universal mind) which forms the nuclei of all self-moving orbs in the cosmos.

 The divine monad manifests as Mahat, or the Logos emanates out of itself the Seven Logoic Sons of Light. From these issue the Seven Sons of Light called Stars, who are the Dhyani Buddhas of form. It is these lofty ones "That Thou Art", O Lanoo, for it is one of these Stars under which every human is born. From the Stars emanate the Bodhisattvas of Celestial Realms who are the prototypes of super-terrestrial Bodhisattvas, who themselves reign over the terrestrial Buddhas and men. It is the Dhyani Buddha of that Star, which we in truth are, who presides over every new rebirth of the monad which is part of his own essence. The spirits of stars are said to be the amanuenses of the eternal Ideation. They project into objectivity from the passive universal mind the universal plan upon which the Builders reconstruct the cosmos after every pralaya. If we extend out the concept of cosmos to encompass the entire universe, then we can speak of the spirits of stars as the Lipika, whereas those connected with our solar system are referred to as planetary spirits. At either level, the monad can be compared to an indestructible star which, for us, in this system, is thrown down on our plane as a plank of salvation. In this way we are in essence stars, and every star, in its essential nature, is the temple of a god, while these gods themselves are the temple of God, the Unknown Source of all. Truly, there is nothing profane in the universe, and in reaching towards a conscious knowledge of his spiritual star the Adept crosses over the supreme threshold of initiation. Each Master of Wisdom has his 'twin soul' Dhyani Buddha, and in crossing that threshold comes face to face with that bright image of Self, that Augoeides which is the luminous divine radiation of the ego. The beauty of such a triumph assumes a great poignancy when one observes the condition of the human race and recognizes how much we have forgotten. The lighted thread connecting man to the hierarchy of Self-Luminous Ones enables him to rise to the stars and, beyond all relative directions, approach their spiritual essence. As a sojourner in the world he could carry forth this Fohatic beam, never forgetting that he was that light which Wordsworth celebrated when he wrote:

Thy soul was like a star, and dwelt apart;
Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,
So didst thou travel on life's common way,
In cheerful godliness.

 The stars that "fell like rain upon the earth where they are now hidden" are the reincarnating egos of human beings. Their magnitude of brilliance varies as they project forth from their source, differing in degrees of conscious self-knowledge ranging from a Krishna, who tells Arjuna that he is unborn with exhaustless Atma yet born by the power of illusion, to the involuntarily incarnating ego whose knowledge of the Seven Flames is lost along with the memory of his past lives. To such the arcane teachings alluding to the Regents of the seven divisions of the world seem a fairy tale, and they are no longer capable of trembling with awe in contemplation of the divine Logos, whose highest emanations watch over and guide the countless beams of which each immortal soul is one. Let anyone contemplate the lesson displayed upon the heavenly slate and remember. Every brilliant star followed round by its dark companion is echoed in their own intellectual strivings, and the Igniters of constellations may be found as teachers of mankind. Let everyone look to the stars, realize the infinitesimal smallness of personal existence, and wonder at the omniscient grandeur of that within oneself which can contemplate all that extends beyond our earthly experience of time and space. Let each person fasten to that beam of light which can be known, and can yoke the individual to a cosmic design whose luminous beauty exults over all the seven worlds. This is the handspike around which all else revolves, the central star of individual initiation into the mysteries of the Logoic Sons of Light.

 Have patience, Candidate, as one who fears no failure, courts no success. Fix thy soul's gaze upon the star whose ray thou art, the flaming star that shines within the lightless depths of ever-being, the boundless fields of the Unknown.