Compass Newsletter Summer 2019, No 39
History or Memory…
Why Don’t We Remember? By Grace F. Knoche
THE FABLE OF THE “MEMBERS” — A. E. Urquhart
“I AIN” VERY MUCH, BUT I’SE ALL I GOT” — Irene R. Ponsonby
SEMPER FIDELIS — Madeline Clark
From The Proem of Volume 1 of The Secret Doctrine.
In the book The Gates of The Forest (1966) the author, Elie Wiesel, tells a tale often referred to as “God made man because He loves stories” in which he tells of a series of spiritual leaders who followed a 3 step process taken when attending to followers at times of crisis. The 3 steps involved 1/ going to a specific place in a forest to meditate. 2/ saying a specific prayer. 3/ the last part of the process was to light a fire. Over time subsequent leaders forgot the steps of the process, first only the first two steps could be remembered, then only one step could be remembered. It came that even the first step could not be remembered by the leader of the times. He sat and said to his God “ all I can do is tell the story”. This was sufficient and his prayer was answered. From this he understood “God mad man because He loves stories”.
Many have asked the question, if we have lived other lives why can’t we remember them? But are we able to deal with the objective and, sometimes seemingly cold facts of history or are we protected from these facts until we are better equipped ? We wait for that time and until then these facts are wrapped in a narrative, a story. The facts don’t alter but remain as they are until we have developed to a quality to deal with them. There’s a difference, sometimes subtle, between History and Memory. Nature in its wisdom cares how and when we receive either. The following article by Grace F. Knoche from Sunrise Oct/Nov1998 provides an interesting read.
Drugged with the waters of Lethe, we forget that Nous, our spiritual guide and mentor, does remember, does have knowledge, and could re-collect for us those fleeting visions of things spiritual, those faint yet potent draughts from wisdom’s well, would we but place Psyche, our soul, in her care.
In ancient days the Greeks sought guidance from oracles at Delphi, Trophonius, Mount Olympus, and other sacred shrines. If the heart was pure, the mind disciplined, the answers received reawakened inner sources of wisdom. What lines of communication existed then between gods and humans? Today we seek guidance as of old, seek light upon the vexing problems of fear and despair which long ages of folly, ignorance, and greed have precipitated upon us in the present confusion of ideals. Where are the oracles of ancient memory, the shrines to induce god and goddess to pay heed to our call? Indeed, where are the Mysteria of Eleusis, of Samothrace, and of other centers in which an aspirant could experience the requisite training and discipline so that the world might benefit? Alas, the woods are full of quack oracles, counterfeit priests and priestesses who, professing communion with the divine, sell their unholy wares to the foolish and emotion-blinded. Nonetheless, communion between god and man is and always will be possible, for the power to tap the secret wellspring of truth is resident within the soul. Knowledge of such, however, is reserved for those who consort with Nous, the knower within, personified as Mnemosyne, Goddess of Memory. Who is this goddess and what her function? Mnemosyne, mother of the Muses, is the handmaiden of Nous, whose duty it is to arouse Psyche, the soul, to recollection of truth, so that remembering her divine origin she will at last claim union with Nous. Among the relics of the Orphic mysteries, recovered from tombs in Crete and southern Italy, are eight small and very thin gold-leaf tablets finely inscribed in Greek characters. One of these near Petelia, in the environs of Strongoli, tells of two wellsprings near the entrance to the Underworld: the fount of Lethe or Oblivion (unnamed) on the left, that of Mnemosyne or Memory to the right:
Thou shalt find to the left of the House of Hades a Well-spring,
And by the side thereof standing a white cypress.
To this Well-spring approach not near.
But thou shalt find another by the Lake of Memory,
Cold water flowing forth, and there are Guardians before it.
Say: “I am a child of Earth and of Starry Heaven;
But my race is of Heaven (alone). This ye know yourselves.
And lo, I am parched with thirst and I perish. Give me quickly
The cold water flowing forth from the Lake of Memory.”
And of themselves they will give thee to drink from the holy Well-spring,
And thereafter among the other Heroes thou shalt have lordship. . . . (1)
In this Hymn the Orphic candidate is warned against imbibing the waters of Lethe. In another account by Pausanias, 2nd century ad Greek traveler and geographer, the candidate drinks from the well of Lethe in order to “forget all that he has been thinking of hitherto.” Thereafter he partakes of the waters of Mnemosyne, that he may remember all he has seen and heard, for Mnemosyne is “the holy wellspring” whose waters are for the “pure and healthy in hand and heart and who have no evil conscience in themselves.” (2)
Long periods, perhaps lifetimes, were and always will be required before one is able fully to resist the seduction of Lethe. As aid thereto, the Orphika invokes the fair goddess of Memory, not by empty ritual but with unshakable faith that Nous will at last stir Psyche to remembrance. Thomas Taylor (1758-1835), indefatigable translator of Greek and Neoplatonic classics, published in 1787 a small collection of Orphic Hymns, from which we
reproduce the following:
To Mnemosyne or the Goddess of Memory:
The consort I invoke of Jove divine,
Source of the holy, sweetly speaking Nine [Muses];
Free from th’ oblivion of the fallen mind,
By whom the soul with intellect is join’d.
Reason’s increase and thought to thee belong,
All-powerful, pleasant, vigilant, and strong.
‘Tis thine to waken from lethargic rest
All thoughts deposited within the breast;
And nought neglecting, vig’rous to excite
The mental eye from dark oblivion’s night.
Come, blessed pow’r, thy mystics’ mem’ry wake
To holy rites, and Lethe’s fetters break. (3)
It is remarkable that we have these testimonials of a wisdom that speaks to the immortal and not merely to the ephemeral. To Mnemosyne her duty is plain: with vigor and exactitude to waken us to our true heritage so that consciously we will begin the ages-long task of loosening the bonds of selfishness and matter-based thinking. Then, prudently partaking of the spring of Forgetfulness, and drinking deep of the cooling waters from the Lake of Memory, we may rightfully utter the ancestral password:
I am a child of Earth and of Starry Heaven;
But my race is of Heaven (alone).
The descent into Hades completed, the successful candidate returned to light clothed with the radiance of things seen and remembered. That the independent experiences of each might be recorded while still fresh in memory, upon ascending from the grotto Trophonius for example, the one newly-born was required “to dedicate a tablet on which is written all that each has heard or seen.” Thus Pausanias reports what he had learned from personal experience and also from others who had undergone the sacred rite. (4)
So much for the daring disciple of ancient or modern Mysteria, but what about you and me, who may feel genuine nostalgia for knowledge of things unseen, but who yet require the sweet oblivion of sleep and partial non-awareness until we have sufficiently grown in self knowledge, judgment, and compassion. Imprisoned though we may be by self-made bonds, a part of us longs to waken our “mystic memory” of holy things.
Again we ask: Why don’t we remember? Plato gives us a hint near the close of his Republic, when the souls had each one chosen their lot for their coming birth on earth. Having been warned to have a care and not be covetous, they pass before the three Moirai or Spinners of Destiny. Arriving at sundown at the arid plain of Forgetfulness, they were enjoined to drink”a certain quantity” from the river Lethe. Sagely he notes that “those who were not saved by wisdom drank more than was necessary,” and so forgot “all things.” In those few words lies the whole drama, the tragi-comedy of human existence, and also its enduring hope. Who of us in our desire to forget the painful encounters of the day does not welcome the boon of sleep; how much more should we not appreciate the mercy of death, whereafter the noble and beautiful of a life leaves its indelible impress on the soul?
Nature is ever compassionate and just: since the bright waters of Mnemosyne could be death-dealing to the unready, she provides a caring method whereby one or more of her daughters may inspire to nobility of soul. Do we not even today seek Terpsichore, Melpomene, or Polyhymnia — Muses of Dance, Song, and Hymn — for inner as well as outer refreshment? Do not scientists, in self-sacrificing labor and research, receive intuitions from Urania whose magic staff points to heavenly spheres whence comes her celestial knowledge? Assuredly, every human being is the particular care of one or more of the “sweetly speaking Nine” — messengers of our spiritual self, whose life-giving wisdom is a constant aid to remembrance.
So profoundly was this understood that the poet Hesiod exclaimed:
He whom the Muses love.
1. See “Critical Appendix on the Orphic Tablets”contributed by Professor Gilbert Murray to Jane Harrison’s Prologomena to the Study of the Greek Religion, Meridian Books, 2nd printing, 1957, pp. 659-73.
2. Inscriptiones Graecae Insularum Maris Aegaei, vol. 1, No. 789, quoted in Pagan Regeneration: A Study of Mystery Initiations in the Graeco-Roman World by Harold R. Willoughby, University of Chicago Press, 1929, p. 44n.
3. Thomas Taylor, The Mystical Hymns of Orpheus: Translated from the Greek, and demonstrated to be the Invocations which were used in the Eleusinian Mysteries, New Edition, Bertram Dobell, London, 1896, p. 146.
4. Description of Greece, The Loeb Classical Library, vol. IV, Greek with English translation by W. H. S. Jones, Litt.D., Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1979, Section Boeotia, passim.
Aesop, the wise and witty Greek writer who lived more than two thousand years ago, told in one of his pointed little stories, of an alleged quarrel between the various members or parts of the body, as to which ranked first in importance, each in turn boasting ridiculously of its superiority over the others. The story, of course, was intended to carry a lesson to some of the great men of the day, who were even then, in their personal pride and vain-glory, engaging among themselves, in the dissensions which ultimately destroyed the unity of Greece, and brought down her splendid civilisation to the dust. Yet the story has a much wider application than the temporary one for which it was written, for it illustrates the truth taught in Theosophy, that neither man nor any other being in all Creation can live to itself alone, but that all existent things are bound together by underlying laws of unity and harmony, which cannot be broken except under penalty of disorder, suffering and unhappiness.
To understand this fact, we turn to the Theosophical explanation of the structure of life, which shows that the entire Universal economy is built or arranged as an organic unity, each part being not only an essential adjunct to every other part, but also an essential component of the whole. This law runs throughout all existence whether on the lowly scale of the atomic, physical structure of things, or on the higher phases of nature which we call consciousness and intelligence. Even in the structure and workings of the living human body, as Aesop so aptly discerned, this principle shows itself with striking clearness. Every tiny atom in the fabric of the body has its part to play in the well-being of the organ which contains it. Every organ likewise has its particular essential part to play in promoting the harmonious functioning of the body as a whole. Thus every lower part, by the very nature of things, serves all that is greater than itself. The greater reciprocates by being the link which holds each lower part in harmonious association with its neighbours. Health is nothing more nor less than the efficient operation of this fundamental law of spontaneous, mutual interchange throughout the body. Disease exists only when the law is broken.
The purpose of Theosophy, we repeat, is to point out the existence of certain basic principles or laws which run through the whole fabric of life. If this is so, then we should be able to discover the above described principle repeated in other aspects of our lives. Surely we cannot fail to do so. Consider for instance the example chosen by Aesop. Do you not see, as clearly as Aesop saw, that the laws of organic unity apply as literally in the life of a nation,as in the physical constitution of its individual citizens? In terms of the nation, you and I are the “atoms.” Our hometown or county, in which we accept the burdens of civic duty is the”organ” which we serve. The towns and counties, in their united aspect, make up the “body politic” of the nation. Reciprocally, the national organisation returns benefit to the towns and counties by instituting and controlling educational, legal, and other general services whose application is wider than that of any particular town or county. The civic authorities, in turn reciprocate to the citizens in terms of local services, and the preservation of peace, law and order within their own areas. Thus the organisation of a nation is good or bad according to how well or ill it expresses these basic principles of mutual service. Peace, freedom, happiness, progress (the “health” of a nation) exist where all parties high and low, shoulder ungrudgingly the full burdens of their respective positions. On the other hand, poverty, strife, crime and discontent are the disease of the body social, arising where mutual service and obligation have been ignored, and personal greed, vainglory, and self-interest allowed to hold sway. It was the beginnings of such undisciplined individualism that Aesop sought to stamp out in the civilisation of his own time. He failed, and the glory of Greece died out in internal turmoil. Are not our nations today (and likewise that wider “nation” which is all humanity) suffering from exactly the same sort of trouble arising inevitably from unbridled self-seeking among all classes of the community?
The constitution of the family group expresses the same law of organic unity. So does the natural organisational system of a factory or a Theosophical Lodge, and a ship’s crew, or a school. And in each case the penalties arising from undisciplined selfishness are the same, namely, chaos, deprivation, inefficiency, unhappiness. Remember also, that no organic unity of which we are “part” (and we are all part of many such in our complex lives) needs to claim all our lives, all our service, for itself — only such part as reasonably belongs within its particular scope. Thus undoubtedly a large part of our lives must be devoted — and should be devoted, gladly and willingly — to the wide variety of duties proper to our age and stations. Yet an important part and particularly the part within ourselves, should remain free for the development of our own individuality. It is, if you like, our wider duty to the whole Universal Organism, that we should maintain a free mind, free thoughts, and a courageous experimental attitude toward the deeper things of life. To such a man, life may be full of duties, but he can never be a slave, for he has that which is beyond the reach of tyranny — a free soul.
(Theosophical Forum – November 1938)
This simple statement made by Noah to De Lawd in Green Pastures expresses several of the verities of universal being. What actually are we? and what part of ourselves can we claim as our own?
We are vast treasuries of eternity. Out of the spheres ethereal in nebula and comet, by attraction and repulsion weaning from the fulness of space our contacts, we have come. Air, water, and earth, have equipped us: we have shared the vigil of elemental, mineral, vegetable, and beast; and now, as man, we presage the infinite scope and sublimity of an endless future stirring within us. We are signets of eternity: we are children of the Universe — and we are human beings.
Truly, we are not what we ought to be. We are only that part of ourselves which is ensouled. We are intellectual and spiritual or moral, or moral and intellectual or spiritual, when we should be the three as one — the perfect Man. However, if what we are be true to the vision of our ideal at all times, that much reaches towards Godhood, and some day will lead us through manhood to divinity and onward. Our yearning aspirations speed our flight.
Yet all we can have and all we need lies within us. Our aspirations act as magnets in quickening our own universal contact-centers, whereupon all the forces of life rush in to exhilarate, to build, and to test every step in this process of ensouling. The result of this mystical alchemy is what we possess: a solar system in potentia is what we are!
We have known immeasurable heights, but vicariously, so to speak. During our sojourn on Earth we plumb the depths so that the human being, becoming universally ensouled, may win the heights by his own effort and right. And what then? To quote Mary Brent Woodside:
“Who has known heights must bear forevermore
An incommunicable thing
That hurts his heart, as if a wing
Beat at the portal challenging
And yet — lured by the gleam his vision wore —
Who once has trodden stars seeks peace no more.
(Theosophical Forum July 1939)
What we love better than we love ourselves we find means to safeguard and protect. Theosophy is that to us, because it is the wellspring of truth and spiritual Tightness, and because it brings the promise of better things, like the waters of life, to humanity.
We know from what unsullied heights the pure stream of Theosophy comes down to us; and there is no wish nearer to our hearts than that of preserving its purity: passing it on to others without divergences from its fundamental verities. For well we know in this regard that any departure from the original, eternal quality of its essential truths can only come about through the vagrant and transitory conceptions of our imperfectly evolved human minds.
Herein lies the significance and value to Theosophists of the traditional words that have come down through the centuries in the schools of Theosophy: “Iti maya srutam” — “Thus have I heard”; with the added implication: ” — and thus only do I pass it on.” Here we have the surest of all safeguards to the preservation of the teachings: not in the mere formal utterance of words, of course, but in the traditional attitude of mind and heart which gives us, first, in all our studies, an intentness upon the true import of the teachings; and then, the same high quality of intellectual honesty in giving them forth again.
There is profound interest attaching to this tradition of the passing on of the teachings. It takes us back through the ages to the half-forgotten days of the Mystery-Schools, and farther back to that period in Atlantis when the Mystery-Schools had their beginnings; and beyond these again to the Divine Instructors of the later Third Root-Race, when they first entrusted to mankind the treasures of divine wisdom. Through such a lapse of time the Ancient Wisdom has been passed down from teacher to pupil, from elder to younger, with such integrity that we have it now, today, as pure and fresh as when the gods first sent it forth. We are the beneficiaries of this long, long labor of fidelity; we are the generation whose turn it is now to preserve and pass on the sacred heritage.
(Theosophical Forum, November 1940)
‘The Occult Catechism contains the following questions and answers:’…
“What is it that ever is?” “Space, the eternal Anupadaka.”* “What is it that ever was?” “The Germ in the Root.” “What is it that is ever coming and going?” “The Great Breath.” “Then, there are three Eternals?” “No, the three are one. That which ever is is one, that which ever was is one, that which is ever being and becoming is also one: and this is Space.”
“Explain, oh Lanoo (disciple).” — “The One is an unbroken Circle (ring) with no circumference, for it is nowhere and everywhere; the One is the boundless plane of the Circle, manifesting a diameter only during the manvantaric periods; the One is the indivisible point found nowhere, perceived everywhere during those periods; it is the Vertical and the Horizontal, the Father and the Mother, the summit and base of the Father, the two extremities of the Mother, reaching in reality nowhere, for the One is the Ring as also the rings that are within that Ring. Light in darkness and darkness in light: the ‘Breath which is eternal.’ It proceeds from without inwardly, when it is everywhere, and from within outwardly, when it is nowhere — (i.e., maya,† one of the centres‡). It expands and
* Meaning “parentless”
† Esoteric philosophy, regarding as Maya (or the illusion of ignorance) every finite thing, must necessarily view in the same light every intra-Cosmic planet and body, as being something organised, hence finite. The expression, therefore, “it proceeds from without inwardly, etc.” refers in the first portion of the sentence to the dawn of the Mahamanvantaric period, or the great re-evolution after one of the complete periodical dissolutions of every compound form in Nature (from planet to molecule) into its ultimate essence or element; and in its second portion, to the partial or local manvantara, which may be a solar or even a planetary one.
‡ By “centre,” a centre of energy or a Cosmic focus is meant; when the so-called “Creation,” or formation of a planet, is accomplished by that force which is designated by the Occultists life and by Science “energy,” then the process takes place from within outwardly, every atom being said to contain in itself creative energy of the divine breath. Hence, whereas after an absolute pralaya, or when the pre-existing material consists but of one Element, and BREATH “is everywhere,” the latter acts from without inwardly: after a minor pralaya, everything having remained in statu quo — in a refrigerated state, so to say, like the moon — at the first flutter of manvantara, the planet or planets begin their resurrection to life from within outwardly…