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The Nature and Origins of the Mysteries: Selections from Theosophists

The “‘secret doctrine’ is the general name given to the esoteric teaching of antiquity.”



“Recent discoveries made by great mathematicians and Kabalists thus prove, beyond a shadow of doubt, that every theology, from the earliest and oldest down to the latest, has sprung not only from a common source of abstract beliefs, but from one universal esoteric, or “Mystery” language. These scholars hold the key to the universal language of old, and have turned it successfully, though only once, in the hermetically closed door leading to the Hall of Mysteries. The great archaic system known from prehistoric ages as the sacred Wisdom Science, one that is contained and can be traced in every old as well as in every new religion, had, and still has, its universal language — suspected by the Mason Ragon — the language of the Hierophants, which has seven “dialects,” so to speak, each referring, and being specially appropriated, to one of the seven mysteries of Nature. Each had its own symbolism. Nature could thus be either read in its fulness, or viewed from one of its special aspects.” (Blavatsky. 1888. The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 1., pg. 310.)

This language is described as “one universal esoteric, or ‘Mystery’-Language (…) the language of the Hierophants,” which is said to have seven dialects, each referring to one of seven mysteries of Nature.

“Skinner says the mystery language that he has hypothesized and that H.P.B. elsewhere calls Senzar can be expressed in a concealed fashion in ordinary language through the symbolism of the letter shapes or correspondences, but can also be expressed through parabolic stories and visually in constructions of many kinds. That mystery language is thus not a single form of expression, but is rather a symbolic use of many different forms.” (John Algeo, Senzar: The Mystery of the Mystery Language)

John Algeo explained, that we can summarize what Blavatsky says or implies about this universal Mystery-language of the initiates as follows:

  1. The Stanzas of Dzyan in The Secret Doctrine are based on an original Senzar version, and the original text of the Stanzas is described as pictographs and geometrical figures. The text of the Stanzas in The Secret Doctrine is not the original, but is a paraphrase based on Blavatsky’s understanding of the original and adapted to our ability to grasp the ideas symbolized.
  2. Senzar is the “Mystery language” used by initiates all over the world and from the earliest days of humanity. It is not a language known to philologists.
  3. The Mystery language was originally the common property of all human beings and was, indeed, the one language of our race, but by the time of our present humanity it has become an esoteric, that is, an inner or private system.
  4. Despite the fact that H.P.B. sometimes calls it “speech,” the Mystery language is not normal spoken language, but is “pictorial and symbolical.”
  5. On the one hand, the esoteric language is allegory like that found in the writings of the alchemists and Jewish scriptures.
  6. On the other hand, the esoteric language is a form of written symbols that can be interpreted in various ways and by various spoken languages, especially geometrical figures with a hieroglyphic, cipher-like appearance.
  7. The Mystery language is what we now call symbolism: it speaks to our unconscious minds and can be only imperfectly translated into ordinary, logical language.

Thus we can think of Senzar as being the whole complex of sacred symbols with expressions of various kinds, but of two chief types:

  1. the archetypal symbols in myths and fairy tales, allegories and parables, alchemical recipes and biblical history — stories that have a hidden meaning underneath the obvious narrative, stories that bear “a double interpretation”; and
  2. a visual representation of those archetypal symbols in pictographs or hieroglyphic and cipher-like characters whose meaning the initiated can interpret independently of any language.

“The proofs brought forward in corroboration of the old teachings are scattered widely throughout the old scriptures of ancient civilizations. The Puranas, the Zendavesta, and the old classics are full of them; but no one has ever gone to the trouble of collecting and collating together those facts.” (Blavatsky. 1888. The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 1., pg. 307.)


All mythologies were not built on the worship of the physical Sun:

“The study of the hidden meaning in every religious and profane legend, of whatsoever nation, large or small — pre-eminently the traditions of the East — has occupied the greater portion of the present writer’s life. She is one of those who feel convinced that no mythological story, no traditional event in the folk-lore of a people has ever been, at any time, pure fiction, but that every one of such narratives has an actual, historical lining to it. In this the writer disagrees with those symbologists, however great their reputation, who find in every myth nothing save additional proofs of the superstitious bent of mind of the ancients, and believe that all mythologies sprung from and are built upon solar myths.” (The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 1., pg. 303)


“There is a universal Divine Revelation called the Perennial Philosophy, or the “Wisdom Religion” and its traces can be found in the teachings, however fragmentary and incomplete, that are partially contained in ancient texts belonging to the Hindu, the Zoroastrian, the Chaldean, the Egyptian religion, to Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and to Christianity, but to none exclusively. The Secret Doctrine is the essence of all these. Sprung from it in their origins, the various religious schemes are now made to merge back into their original element, out of which every mystery and dogma has grown, developed, and become materialized.” (The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 1., pg., viii.)

“The oldest religions of the world — exoterically, for the esoteric root or foundation is one — are the Indian, the Mazdean, and the Egyptian. Then comes the Chaldean, the outcome of these — entirely lost to the world now, except in its disfigured Sabeanism as at present rendered by the archaeologists; then, passing over a number of religions that will be mentioned later, comes the Jewish, esoterically, as in the Kabala, following in the line of Babylonian Magism; exoterically, as in Genesis and the Pentateuch, a collection of allegorical legends. Read by the light of the Zohar, the initial four chapters of Genesis are the fragment of a highly philosophical page in the World’s Cosmogony. (See Book III., Gupta Vidya and the Zohar.) Left in their symbolical disguise, they are a nursery tale, an ugly thorn in the side of science and logic, an evident effect of Karma. To have let them serve as a prologue to Christianity was a cruel revenge on the part of the Rabbis, who knew better what their Pentateuch meant. It was a silent protest against their spoliation, and the Jews have certainly now the better of their traditional persecutors. The above-named exoteric creeds will be explained in the light of the Universal doctrine as we proceed with it.” (The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 1, pg. 10-11)

“What is the history of the “Wisdom Religion ?” It has its origins with thinking man. It is the one religion which underlies all the now-existing creeds. That “faith” which being primordial, and revealed directly to human kind by their progenitors and informing Egos required no “grace,” nor blind faith to believe, for it was knowledge (…) It is on this Wisdom Religion that Theosophy is based.” (Theosophical Glossary, pg. 343). It is an “unveiling” of old, very old, truths to minds hitherto ignorant of them, ignorant even of the existence and preservation of any such archaic knowledge.” (Key to Theosophy, 1889, pg. 30)

“The Wisdom-Religion was ever one, and being the last word of possible human knowledge, was, therefore, carefully preserved. It preceded by long ages the Alexandrian Theosophists, reached the modern, and will survive every other religion and philosophy. It was preserved among the Initiates of every country; among profound seekers after truth—their disciples; and in those parts of the world where such topics have always been most valued and pursued: In India, Central Asia, and Persia.” (Helena P. Blavatsky, Key to Theosophy, pg. 7.)

“We can assert, with entire plausibility, that there is not one of the many sects—Kabalism, Judaism, and our present Christianity included—but sprang from the two main branches of that one mother-trunk, the one universal religion, which antedated the Vedic ages—we speak of that prehistoric Buddhism which merged later into Brahmanism.” (Isis Unveiled, Vol. 2, pg. 123). By Buddhism (…) we mean that religion signifying literally the doctrine of wisdom, and which, by many ages, antedates the metaphysical philosophy of Siddharta Sakyamuni.” (Isis Unveiled, Vol. 2., pg. 143)


“The untiring researches of Western, and especially German, symbologists, during the last and the present centuries, have brought every Occultist and most unprejudiced persons to see that without the help of symbology (with its seven departments, of which the moderns know nothing) no ancient Scripture can ever be correctly understood. Symbology must be studied from every one of its aspects, for each nation had its own peculiar methods of expression. In short, no Egyptian papyrus, no Indian tolla, no Assyrian tile, or Hebrew scroll, should be read and accepted literally. (The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 1., pg. 305)

The origin and meaning of mythology have been missed altogether by these solarites and weather-mongers! Mythology was a primitive mode of thinking the early thought. It was founded on natural facts, and is still verifiable in phenomena. There is nothing insane, nothing irrational in it, when considered in the light of evolution, and when its mode of expression by sign-language is thoroughly understood. The insanity lies in mistaking it for human history or Divine Revelation.* Mythology is the repository of man’s most ancient science, and what concerns us chiefly is this — when truly interpreted once more, it is destined to be the death of those false theologies to which it has unwittingly given birth. (The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 1., pg. 304)

“When the “false theologies” disappear, then true prehistoric realities will be found, contained especially in the mythology of the Aryans — ancient Hindoos, and even the pre-Homeric Hellenes.”  (The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 1., pg. 304 fn.)

“This every scholar now knows. (…) every symbol in papyrus or olla is a many-faced diamond, each of whose facets not merely bears several interpretations, but relates likewise to several sciences. This is instanced in the just quoted interpretation of the moon symbolized by the cat — an example of sidero-terrestrial imagery; the moon bearing many other meanings besides this with other nations.” (The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 1., pg. 305)


“As a learned Mason and Theosophist, the late Mr. Kenneth Mackenzie, has shown in his Royal Masonic Cyclopaedia, there is a great difference between emblem and symbol. The former “comprises a larger series of thoughts than a symbol, which may be said rather to illustrate some single special idea.” Hence, the symbols (say lunar, or solar) of several countries, each illustrating such a special idea, or series of ideas, form collectively an esoteric emblem. The latter is “a concrete visible picture or sign representing principles, or a series of principles, recognizable by those who have received certain instructions” (initiates). To put it still plainer, an emblem is usually a series of graphic pictures viewed and explained allegorically, and unfolding an idea in panoramic views, one after the other. Thus the Puranas are written emblems. So are the Mosaic and Christian Testaments, or the Bible, and all other exoteric Scriptures. As the same authority shows: —

All esoteric Societies have made use of emblems and symbols, such as the Pythagorean Society, the Eleusinian, the Hermetic Brethren of Egypt, the Rosicrucians, and the Freemasons. Many of these emblems it is not proper to divulge to the general eye, and a very minute difference may make the emblem or symbol differ widely in its meaning. The magical sigillae, being founded on certain principles of numbers, partake of this character, and although monstrous or ridiculous in the eyes of the uninstructed, convey a whole body of doctrine to those who have been trained to recognise them.” (Helena P. Blavatsky. The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 1., pg.)

“The writer is quite certain that there was an ancient language [not an ordinary language] which modernly and up to this time appears to have been lost, the vestiges of which, however, abundantly exist. . . .The author discovered that this (integral ratio in numbers of diameter to circumference of a circle) geometrical ratio was the very ancient, and probably the divine origin of linear measures. . . . It appears almost proven that the same system of geometry, numbers, ratio, and measures were known and made use of on the continent of North America, even prior to the knowledge of the same by the descending Semites. . . . .”

The peculiarity of this language was that it could be contained in another, concealed and not to be perceived, save through the help of special instruction; letters and syllabic signs possessing at the same time the powers or meaning of numbers, of geometrical shapes, pictures, or ideographs and symbols, the designed scope of which would be determinatively helped out by parables in the shape of narratives or parts of narratives; while also it could be set forth separately, independently, and variously, by pictures, in stone work, or in earth construction.”

To clear up an ambiguity as to the term language: Primarily the word means the expression of ideas by human speech; but, secondarily, it may mean the expression of ideas by any other instrumentality. This old language is so composed in the Hebrew text, that by the use of the written characters, which will be the language first defined, a distinctly separated series of ideas may be intentionally communicated, other than those ideas expressed by the reading of the sound signs. This secondary language sets forth, under a veil, series of ideas, copies in imagination of things sensible, which may be pictured, and of things which may be classed as real without being sensible…” (Ralston Skinner, The Hebrew-Egyptian Mystery and the Source of Measures; also see The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 1., pg. 308.)


The mysteries of the kingdom of heaven is a system of the colleges of the initiates, and the keys are its dialects, or modes of interpretation.

“Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.” (The New Testament, Luke 8:10)

The mysteries never were, never can be, put within the reach of the general public, not, at least, until that longed for day when our religious philosophy becomes universal. At no time have more than a scarcely appreciable minority of men possessed nature’s secret, though multitudes have witnessed the practical evidences of the possibility of their possession. The adept is the rare efflorescence of a generation of enquirers.” (The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, Letter no. 2. Simla Oct. 19, 1880)

“…the world is yet in its first stage of disenthralment if not development, hence — unprepared. Very true, we work by natural not supernatural means and laws. But, as on the one hand Science would find itself unable (in its present state) to account for the wonders given in its name, and on the other the ignorant masses would still be left to view the phenomenon in the light of a miracle; everyone who would thus be made a witness to the occurrence would be thrown off his balance and the results would be deplorable. Believe me, it would be so — especially for yourself who originated the idea.” (K.H., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett,  Letter no. 1., Simla, Oct. 15, 1880.)

Were we to accede to your desires know you really what consequences would follow in the trail of success? The inexorable shadow which follows all human innovations moves on, yet few are they, who are ever conscious of its approach and dangers. What are then to expect they, who would offer the world an innovation which, owing to human ignorance, if believed in, will surely be attributed to those dark agencies the two-thirds of humanity believe in and dread as yet? You say — half London would be converted if you could deliver them a Pioneer on its day of publication. I beg to say that if the people believed the thing true they would kill you before you could make the round of Hyde Park; if it were not believed true, — the least that could happen would be the loss of your reputation and good name, — for propagating such ideas.” (ibid.)

“The danger was this: Doctrines such as the planetary chain, or the seven races, at once give a clue to the seven-fold nature of man, for each principle is correlated to a plane, a planet, and a race; and the human principles are, on every plane, correlated to seven-fold occult forces — those of the higher planes being of tremendous power. So that any septenary division at once gives a clue to tremendous occult powers, the abuse of which would cause incalculable evil to humanity.

The documents were concealed, it is true, but the knowledge itself and its actual existence had never been made a secret of by the Hierophants of the Temple, wherein Mysteries have ever been made a discipline and stimulus to virtue. This is very old news, and was repeatedly made known by the great adepts, from Pythagoras and Plato down to the Neoplatonists. It was the new religion of the Nazarenes that wrought a change for the worse — in the policy of centuries. (Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 1., pg. xxxv.)

“And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted…” (The New Testament, Matthew 13:10-11.)


“Ages before the Royal Society found itself becoming a reality upon the plan of the “Prophetic Scheme” an innate longing for the hidden, a passionate love for and the study of nature had led men in every generation to try and fathom her secrets deeper than their neighbours did. Roma ante Romulum fuit — is an axiom taught to us in your English schools. Abstract enquiries into the most puzzling problems did not arise in the brain of Archimedes as a spontaneous and hitherto untouched subject, but rather as a reflection of prior enquiries in the same direction and by men separated from his days by as long a period — and far longer — than the one which separates you from the great Syracusian.” (The Mahatma Letters, no. 1., Received Simla October 15th, 1880)

“The above enumerated societies are all comparatively modern, none dating back earlier than the middle ages. How much more proper, then, that the students of the oldest Archaic School should be careful not to divulge secrets of far more importance to humanity (in the sense of being dangerous in the hands of the latter) than any of the so-called “Masonic Secrets,” which have now become, as the French say, those of “Polichinelle!” But this restriction can apply only to the psychological or rather psycho-physiological and Cosmical significance of symbol and emblem, and even to that only partially. An adept must refuse to impart the conditions and means that lead to a correlation of elements, whether psychic or physical, that may produce a hurtful result as well as a beneficent one. But he is ever ready to impart to the earnest student the secret of the ancient thought in anything that regards history concealed under mythological symbolism, and thus to furnish a few more land-marks towards a retrospective view of the past, as containing useful information with regard to the origin of man, the evolution of the races and geognosy; yet it is the crying complaint to-day, not only among theosophists, but also among the few profane interested in the subject. “Why do not the adepts reveal that which they know?” To this, one might answer, “Why should they, since one knows beforehand that no man of science will accept, even as an hypothesis, let alone as a theory or axiom, the facts imparted. Have you so much as accepted or believed in the A B C of the Occult philosophy contained in the Theosophist, “Esoteric Buddhism,” and other works and periodicals? Has not even the little which was given, been ridiculed and derided, and made to face the “animal” and “ape theory” of Huxley — Haeckel, on one hand, and the rib of Adam and the apple on the other? Notwithstanding such an unenviable prospect, a mass of facts is given in the present work. And now the origin of man, the evolution of the globe and the races, human and animal, are as fully treated here as the writer is able to treat them.” (The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 1., pg. 306)


“All this may have been the experience of the Past, and these strange records lie embedded in the “Mystery language” of the prehistoric ages, the language now called Symbolism.” (The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 1., pg. 309)

“The proofs brought forward in corroboration of the old teachings are scattered widely throughout the old scriptures of ancient civilizations. The Puranas, the Zendavesta, and the old classics are full of them; but no one has ever gone to the trouble of collecting and collating together those facts. The reason for this is, that all such events were recorded symbolically; and that the best scholars, the most acute minds (…) have been too often darkened by one or another preconception; still oftener, by one-sided views of the secret meaning.” (The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 1., pg. 307.)

Yet even a parable is a spoken symbol: a fiction or a fable, as some think; an allegorical representation, we say, of life-realities, events, and facts. And, as a moral was ever drawn from a parable, that moral being an actual truth and fact in human life, so an historical, real event was deduced — by those versed in the hieratic sciences — from certain emblems and symbols recorded in the ancient archives of the temples. The religious and esoteric history of every nation was embedded in symbols; it was never expressed in so many words. All the thoughts and emotions, all the learning and knowledge, revealed and acquired, of the early races, found their pictorial expression in allegory and parable. Why? Because the spoken word has a potency unknown to, unsuspected and disbelieved in, by the modern “sages.” Because sound and rhythm are closely related to the four Elements of the Ancients; and because such or another vibration in the air is sure to awaken corresponding powers, union with which produces good or bad results, as the case may be. No student was ever allowed to recite historical, religious, or any real events in so many unmistakable words, lest the powers connected with the event should be once more attracted. Such events were narrated only during the Initiation, and every student had to record them in corresponding symbols, drawn out of his own mind and examined later by his master, before they were finally accepted. Thus was created in time the Chinese Alphabet, as, before that, the hieratic symbols were fixed upon in old Egypt. In the Chinese language, the alphabet of which may be read in any language (…) every word has its corresponding symbol conveying the word needed in a pictorial form. The language possesses many thousands of such symbol letters, or logograms, each meaning a whole word; for letters proper, or an alphabet, do not exist in the Chinese language any more than they did in the Egyptian till a far later period.” (The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 1., pg. 307.)


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