History of Saint Nicholas

St Nicholas

– Alexander Wilder

The sixth of December has long been set apart by the holy church as the anniversary of the jolly Saint Nicholas, dear alike to school boy and maiden, and equally so of later days to the wee lad and lass of the nursery. He seems to have wandered far and wide,

“Through many a clime,
O’er many a land and sea;”

and everywhere he wins a joyous welcome. In western lands he has wrested from Christmas its peculiar rites; and so far as we know, the simpler ones imagine that his vehicle, and not the choir of angels, made the joyous announcement of Bethlehem; and the eager little ones drown the carol of Yule morning with their glad refrain: “Santa Claus has come!”

But in the long-ago, among our British ancestors, an ill repute long attached to the name of this saint of tankards and flagons. The tears of the Recording Angel, long wept, would not suffice to wash away the entries made in his book of the evil deeds of the knights and chiefs who worshiped at his shrine. The halo of canonization which distinguishes saints from men of commoner clay, served to give to light the records in which were inscribed the scandalous mischiefs wrought by his votaries. Doubtless, canonizing was the charity which the apostle declared “shall cover the multitude of sins.”

In the undated periods of antiquity, great and good men were delivered by apotheosis from the ordinary conditions of entombment, and given a wider sphere of activity. Afterward, when religions changed, many a divinity, archangel and patriarch was taken from his former shrine, and by solemn canonization was placed in the category of “lang-syne saunts.” Abraham and David, Michael and Gabriel, Bacchus, Mithra, Satur, even Seithin himself, and the Nik or ocean-god of Norse mythology are all duly enrolled in the Christian calendar.

Of those who have received the new adoption, St. Nicholas has, perhaps, the most equivocal record. Even his associate, George, the brigand of Cappadocia, hardly comes up to his measure. The first mention of the name is in the Acts of the Apostles – “Nikolaos a proselyte of Antioch.” He is there chronicled as “of honest report.” Unfortunately, that praise has not, in English-speaking countries, been since attached to his name. “Keep thy neck for the hangman,” cries Chamberlain to Gadshill,(1) “for I know thou worshipest St. Nicholas as truly as any man of falsehood may.”

This kind of worship will readily be comprehended by anyone conversant with our English classics. There is a quaint old volume entitled Plaine Percival, the Peacemaker of England, the author of which gives us this passage: “He was a tender-hearted fellow, though his luck was but bad, which hasting to make up a quarrell by the highway side, between a brace of St. Nicholas’s clargiemen, was so courteously imbraced on both parties that he tendered his purse for their truce.” Without a doubt our hero was content to let that interview pass for a last shrift.

The Golden Legend has recorded very properly that robbers were under the protection of St. Nicholas; and other writers style them his knights. The more usual designation, however, appears to have been his clerks or priests. “If they meet not with St. Nicholas’ clerks,” says Gadshill,(2) “I’ll give thee this neck.”

Sir Walter Scott also treats of them. He depicts Jim Ratcliffe, the keeper of the Tolbooth of Edinburgh, endeavoring to protect Jeanie Deans from highwaymen, when making her journey to London to implore his sister’s life.(3)
“He hastily scrawled a line or two on a dirty piece of paper, and said to her, as she drew back when he offered it: ‘Hey! what the de’il? it winna bite you, my lass; if it does nae gude, it can do nae ill. But I wish you to show it, if you have any fasherie wi’ ony o’ St. Nicholas’s clerks.’

“‘Alas!’ said she; ‘I do not understand what you mean.’

“‘I mean, if ye fall among thieves, my precious; that is a Scripture phrase, if ye will hae ane – the bauldest of them will ken a scart o’ my guse feather.'”

When Jeanie afterward showed this paper to Mrs. Bickerton, the hostess of The Seven Stars at York, that personage consulted her serving-man, Dick Ostler, who gave the assurance: “Only gentleman, as keeps the road o’ this side Stamford will respect Jim’s pass.” True enough, the heroine fell into the hands of highwaymen, …. resenting it, one ruffian exclaimed:

“‘Do you look at it, for d–n me, if I could read it, if it were for the benefit of my clergy.’

“‘This is a jark from Jim Ratcliffe,’ said the toller, having looked at the bit of paper. ‘The wench must pass by our cutter’s law.'”

Every reader of Ivanhoe remembers the sacking of the Castle of Torquilstone, and doubtless he sympathized with the deadly fright of Isaac the Jew, when passing the night with Friar Tuck, “the Holy Clerk of Copmanhurst.” The hedge-priest tarried to solace himself with Front-de-Boeuf’s Gascoigne wine. He was missed in the morning by his merry penitents, the outlaws of Sherwood Forest, who had met to divide the plunder, and required his presence to receive the tithe for the Church. He was found in the ruins, with Isaac as his prisoner, in the predicament explained by his finder thus graphically; “the runlet of sack half empty, the Jew half dead, and the Friar more than half-exhausted.” Locksley addresses his chaplain:

“‘Curtal priest,’ said the Captain, ‘thou has been at wet mass this morning, as early as it is. In the name of St. Nicholas, who has thou got here?’

“‘A captive to my sword and my lance, noble captain,’ replied the Clerk of Copmanhurst; ‘to my bow and my halberd, I shall rather say; and yet I have redeemed him by my divinity from a worse captivity. Speak, Jew; have I not ransomed thee from Sathanas? Have I not taught thee thy credo, thy pater and thine ave Maria? Did I not spend the whole night in drinking to thee, and in expounding of mysteries?’

“‘For the love of God,’ ejaculated the poor Jew, ‘will no one …… I know not one word which the reverend prelate spake to me all this fearful night. Alas! I was so distraught with agony and fear, and grief, that had our holy father Abraham come to preach to me, he had found but a deaf listener.’

“‘Thou liest, Jew; O thou knowest thou dost,’ said the Friar; ‘I will remind thee of one word of our conference; thou didst promist to give all thy substance to our holy order.'”

The Friar was well worthy to be Vicar-General of the “Holy Order.”

St. Nicholas, we apprehend, gained much of his ill-repute from his early associations. The deeds and the doctrines of the Nocolaitans I hate,” is the declaration of the Apocalypse.(4) We are not told why. A legend says that he had a wife and would not leave her, as recommended in the Gospel.(5) The old anchorites of Essenean and Apostolic times envied and hated men that had good wives. In our later times of private interpretation, each one explains passages by the way things happen nowadays. Such exgesis would make the Nicolaitans, the children of Nikolaos the deacon; and everybody knows the peculiar naughtinesses of deacons’ children in classic New England.

Ecclesiastical legend, however, has set forth that the deacon, though “full of the spirit,” was not the Saint; but that a bishop of Myra, in Asia Minor, who died in 326, was the august personage. In his cultus, he seems to have replaced Poseidon, or Neptune, and in that character received similar votive offerings from seamen escaped from peril.(6) The Scandinavians had also an ocean-god, the Nikke or Nek, who was greatly feared by mariners. “The British sailor,” says Scott, “who fears nothing else, confesses his terror for this terrible being, and believes him the author of almost all the various calamities to which the precarious life of the seaman is so continually exposed.” Hence the name, or rather Nick-name, which has been conferred on the arch-enemy, him of electro-sulphurous emananations, bovine horns and Bacchic foot. But the reputation of St. Nicholas is rather that of Mephisto, or Mercury, as god of thieves. We would have presumed this from his tutelary charge of merchants and shipping, which till very recently combined the practice of piracy with lawful trade. But English legend-writers offer another explanation.

St. Nicholas, having restored three murdered children to life, was thenceforth the patron of schoolboys, and aided them in their enterprises. Hence in the play,(7) when Speed endeavors to decipher the “catelog” which Launce had received of his sweetheart, the latter exclaims: “St. Nicholas, by thy speed.”

Accordingly, the sixth of December, the anniversary of the scholars’ patron, was anciently celebrated with peculiar rites and practices. It was usual to consecrate a boy-bishop, who continued in office till the twenty-eighth. An endeavor was made, in vain, as far back as the year 867, by the Synod of Constantinople, to break up the custom. The English had a prelate of this character in every parish, who seems to have exercised, during his brief episcopate, all the functions of the office. The Reformers made several efforts to abolish the Lilliputian diocese, and finally succeeded in 1542 in unfrocking the bishop, after which the pupils in Eton school adopted the montem festivities.

But presently the reputation of St. Nicholas became sadly clouded throughout England. Mr. Charles Knight suggests that this probably arose from the fact that the “poor scholars,” of whom there were many traveling about the country, and against whom, as vagrants, statutes were passed, may have occasionally “taken a purse” as well as begged “an almesse.” Be this as it may, both the saint and his pagan antecessor have been in turn, assigned to the patronship of robbers and outlaws.

But as the special tutelary of the children, Santa Klaus, as he is popularly designated, was widely known and esteemed. On the evening immediately preceding his anniversary, parents were accustomed, during many centuries, to indicate it by little presents and testimonials. The children were taught to believe that they owed these gifts to the kindness of St. Nicholas, his train, who came in at the window, even when closed, and made distribution. In Italy these presents were secreted in the shoes and slippers of the recipients, to surprise them when they came to dress in the morning. Young maidens were likewise under the protection of the bonny saint. He is recorded as having presented three destitute fiancees with marriage portions, by secretly leaving money at their windows. The pupils at convents used, on the evening of the fifth of December, to suspend their silk hose at the door of the abbess’s apartment, with a paper inclosed, recommending them to the great saint, and generally, the next morning, found the stocking filled with sweetmeats and other benefactions. In Flanders and Holland, all children put out their shoes or stockings in this way, in the confidence that Santa Klaus, or Knecht Klobes, as they call him, will put in a prize for good conduct before morning.

As a Dutch festival, St. Nicholas day transcends every other observance. Only lawful initiates are allowed to participate in the sacred orgies of the Holland Bacchus. When the awful night has come, the St. Nicholas societies meet in their mystic chapel. Proclamation is duly made: “Procul ite, o profani! donner und blitzen.” No Yankee may then remain, for of such is the abhorrence of every Dutchman of blue blood; nor is a “blarsted Englishman” welcome at the hearth of St. Nicholas. Even the English-tongued posterity of Dutch ancestors may be out of place. They only are welcome who utter aright the mystic password, KNICKERBOCKER. Alacki! for him who facilely lets drop the syllables, nick-kur-bok-kur. He has mispronounced the Shibboleth. He has intruded, like Clodinus at the rites of the Bona Dea. Like the man at the king’s marriage-feast, who had not on a wedding garment, he is incontinently driven away into the outer darkness.

Philologists, profound in Sanskrit and Semitic three-lettered radicals, have asserted that the secret of the password consists solely in properly separating the jaw-cracking consonants with a short vowel-sound, and clucking the heavy aspirates. Mr. Ellis once penetrated the adytum of a Brahman Temple by masonic grips and passwords; and perhaps even a drawling, nasal-speaking Yankee by saying as a suspiration, KUN-nikh-er-bokh-er, may enter the inmost sanctuary of the Dutch mysteries.

Much may occur that will never transpire. The “enterprising reporter,” so skillful in describing interviews and events that never had existence, has here no rightful place. It is the time of convocation of Dutch patriarchs and their unperverted discendants, to do honor to the manes and memory of their tutelary saint. The presiding officer, crowned – not with oak, laurel, or even oleaster, but – with the symbolic cabbage, exhibits a spectacle perhaps like that of Hendrick Hudson’s ghost in the Kaatskills, as nightly witnessed during Joe Jefferson’s personations of Rip Van Winkle. Of the brotherhood of St. Nicholas, it may be well not to say too much; it may be advised, however, that they refrain, as the sacred orgy, from quaffing any beverage of uncertain composition, lest it prove as lulling as the fiery draught swallowed by the luckless visitor from the village of Falling Water.

But we will not lift the veil that conceals the Batavian arcana. A Puritan ancestry of many generations, unmingled with any commixture from the region of the Elbe or Zuyder Zee since the emigration of Hengist and Horsa, has placed a Chinese wall between us and the sacellum of a Dutch sanctuary. We have never been permitted to taste the ambrosial kraut or drink the nectarean Johannisberger. We may not chronicle aught concerning the awe-inspiring ceremonials, the solemn processions, the invocations, the sacred incantations and the joyous smposiacs. All these we leave to every reader’s glowing fancy. We have heard of the distribution of pipes, stem a Flemish ell in length, and the ensuing holocaust accompanied with profuse and numerous libations. The fragrant wreaths and rings of smoke that ascend prepare all for the agonistics that follow. The Olympic games, the Isthmian and Pythian wrestlings cannot be compared with the contests at the festival of St. Nicholas. Mumming, blindman’s buff, and puss in the corner are all suggestions from this occasion. The scuffling queer antics which take place are the theme of many a jolly rehersal in the aftertime. It is against the unwritten law of St. Nicholas to permit a pipe to be carried out of the hall entire. Every tall man would have a superior opportunity; but few Batavi are of this character. The merry contest is kept up till the last pipe is broken. Immediately the blow of the gavel from the king of the night declares the festivities ended. But how the orgiasts find the street and the right way home, is a theme for the novelist. We pass it over, like Herodotus, in silence.

But may neither bigotry or indifference induce the abandoning of Santa Claus and his jolly rites. His journeys with car and bells from house to house down the chimneys and back again, leaving everywhere his remembrances, are so many green spots in life. Even the obliterated hearth, the pestilence-exhaling register and the sulphurous flues, have been ineffectual to drive him from the drawing-rooms and the children’s stockings. May he survive another millennium!

(from my book “The Perfective Rights, and Other Writings of Alexander Wilder,” originally “Merrie Saint Nicholas,” in The Evolution, Dec., 1877. The book is available at Lulu and Amazon.)

1 Shakespeare: King Henry IV, part I, Act ii, Scene 1.
2 Shakespeare: King Henry IV, part I, Act ii.
3 Heart of Mid-Lothian, xxv, xxviii, xxix.
4 Revelation of Joannes Theologos, ii, 6, 15.
5 Gospel according to Matthew, xix, 12.
6 Jonah, i, 5, 16.
7 Shakespeare: Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act iii, Scene 1.


Speed – More Speed!

The buildings rear immense, horizons fade
And thought forgets old gages in the ecstasy of view.
The standards go by which the steps were made.
On which we trod from former levels to the new.
No time for backward glance, no pause for breath,
Since impulse like a bowstring loosed us in full flight
And in delirium of speed none aim considereth
Nor in the blaze of burning codes can think of night.
The whirring of sped wheels and horn remind
That speed, more speed is best and peace is waste!
They rank unfortunate who lag behind
And only they seem wise who urge, and haste and haste.
New comforts multiply (for there is need!)
Each ballot adds assent to law that crowds the days.
None pause.  None clamor but for speed – more speed!
And yet – there was a sweetness in the olden ways.

– Talbot Mundy, 1921, “Guns of the Gods”

What is Theosophy?

Theosophy is a Greek term meaning Divine Wisdom, said to be the synthesis of religion, philosophy and science.  During the Dark Ages this wisdom was only taught in secret to dedicated pupils, but during the last century it became available to all seekers after spiritual truth, and its promulgation was intended to act as a counter-balance in our present age of scientific materialism. Theosophy is a Greek term meaning Divine Wisdom, said to be the synthesis of religion, philosophy and science.  During the Dark Ages this wisdom was only taught in secret to dedicated pupils, but during the last century it became available to all seekers after spiritual truth, and its promulgation was intended to act as a counter-balance in our present age of scientific materialism.
Two main teachings are stressed in Theosophy – Reincarnation and Karma.  Reincarnation means the successive births of every individual in a new human body, on this earth, birth and death following each other like waking and sleeping so that a period of activity is followed by a period of rest and assimilation.  Karma, meaning ‘action’, is the law of cause and effect, action and reaction being equal and opposite.
Put into practical terms, these two doctrines, called twins since one cannot be considered without the other, supply a rational and satisfactory explanation of what appears to be gross injustice in our lives.  Obviously we are not born equal, either physically or mentally, and our sense of justice demands a better explanation than laying the blame on the will of God or Fate.
If we realized the real implication of the Biblical injunction that “with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” and if we applied this in our thoughts and actions, the quality of life would be immeasurably improved, eventually permeating the whole fabric of society.
A belief in reincarnation, which is accepted by two-thirds of the world’s population, would remove the fear of death, putting it in its proper place as a part of living, a door into a new state of consciousness free of the limitations of the physical body.
During the period between physical lives, the immortal man, the undying individuality, assimilates the experience and lessons of the life just ended, so that when the time comes to enter a new body again, he will be wiser and better able to cope with life’s problems as they arise.
Theosophical students revere all the great teachers and sages of history, as examples of what is possible for every individual.  “I have said, ye are gods and children of the most High.”
The third basic idea in Theosophy is that of the unity of all life and human brotherhood as a fact, not a sentimental opinion.
We are very aware today of the interdependence in the chain of life in the kingdoms below man.  Theosophy always taught this, but in addition includes mankind.  We are all parts of the greater life, sparks of Divinity, united like the fingers of one hand, and we have learned that when one finger is injured the whole hand suffers.
These three basic ideas are the foundation of Theosophy and can be grasped even by a child, although the deeper reaches of the philosophy have given great minds their fullest scope and will satisfy the spiritual longings of those who are gradually turning away from self-centered materialistic living.
( Dorita Gilmour, from The Eclectic Theosophist, Jan 15, 1978 )

Gems from the East

Gems from the East

Days end with sunset, nights with the rising of the sun; the end of pleasure is ever grief, the end of grief ever pleasure.

Two things are impossible in this world of Maya: to enjoy more that Karma hath allotted; to die before one’s hour hath struck.

Seek refuge in thy soul; have there thy Heaven! Scorn them that follow virtue for her gifts!

Patience leads to power, but lust leads to loss.

The soul ripens in tears.

A narrow stomach may be filled to its satisfaction, but a narrow mind will never be satisfied, not even with all the riches of the world.

A learned man without pupils, is a tree which bears no fruit; a devotee without good works, is a dwelling without a door.

When Fate overtakes us, the eye of Wisdom becomes blind.

He who keeps to his business, he who loves his companions, he who does his duty, will never be poor.

He who knows not his own worth, will never appreciate the worth of others.

Whomsoever Riches do not exalt, poverty will not abase, nor calamity cast him down.

All the air resounds with the presence of spirit and spiritual laws.

[from “Gems from the East, A Birthday Book of Precepts and Axioms,” compiled by H. P. Blavatsky, which consists of a quote or axiom for every day of the year.


Why 360 Degrees?


                                  – L. Gordon Plummer

The division of the circle into 360 equal parts called ‘degrees’ is very ancient. The early astronomers and mathematicians who divided it thus, knew well what they were about, and if we embark upon a short excursion into the mystic Land of Numbers we shall soon learn that there are wonderful correspondences between cycles of time and geometrical form. Let us first study the interesting astronomical cycle known as the Precession of the Equinoxes.

Those who have studied astronomy will recall that the points on the Earth’s orbit where it is crossed by the plane of the celestial equator, move slowly westward, making the complete circle in nearly 26,000 years. The number as reckoned by the ancients is 25,920 years. This cycle is known as the Precessional Cycle because the points of intersection above referred to are the points on the Earth’s orbit where the planet is at the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, and these equinoctial points move very slowly in the clockwise direction, while the Earth travels once around its orbit counter-clockwise every year, in other words, the time of equinox ‘precedes’ that of the year before. Hence the word ‘precession.’

The ecliptic is the great celestial circle in whose plane the Earth moves in its orbit, and as the other planets move in orbits whose planes are nearly identical with that of the Earth, these other planets actually, and the Sun apparently, move in the ecliptic. As we move along this circle or track in one year the Sun appears to pass across 12 great constellations called the Constellations of the Zodiac. The ecliptic is divided into 12 equal areas, which take their names from these 12 constellations, and therefore these divisions are called the Signs of the Zodiac. Imagine now the ecliptic (in which the Earth’s orbit lies ) to be a great wheel revolving slowly in the heavens. The point on the Earth’s orbit – and hence on the ecliptic – where the Earth passes through the vernal, or spring, equinox marks the beginning of the first of the 12 divisions, and they are reckoned counter-clockwise, or eastward. Since, as we have observed, the point of the vernal – and consequently of the autumnal – equinox moves westward, we may consider that it carries the ecliptic along with it. The great circle turns round and round in the heavens, and requires 25,920 years to make one revolution. The Signs of the Zodiac then move with it because they are a part of it. Thus, the Sign of Aries, which begins at the spring equinoctial point and the ecliptic, and which once occupied a position in the sky identical with the constellation Aries, has shifted, and is now entering the constellation Aquarius. That is to say, the Sun is now in the Constellation Aquarius at the time of the spring equinox, whereas it was once in the constellation Aries at the same equinox.

It is obvious that since the first point in the sign of Aries – usually called the ‘first point of Aries’ – takes 25,920 years to pass around the Zodiac, or across the 12 constellations, it will take one-twelfth of that time or 2,160 years to pass through one constellation, assuming for the moment that all the constellations occupy equal portions of the sky. This number, 2,160 years, is extremely important, because it is a basic factor in computing the ages of the Earth, and the Rounds and Races, as also in counting the numbers of degrees in the geometrical solids. Further, the length of the Messianic Cycle, or Cycle of certain Avataras is 2,160 years. A point of great interest is that the cube, which was anciently held to symbolize Man, has for the sum of its plane angles, 2,160′. The cube unfolded into a plane surface becomes a cross. At the commencement of the Avataric Cycle of 2,160 years a candidate for the highest initiation is placed upon a cruciform couch, and while his body remains there, his spirit soars through the inner realms of the spiritual world, reaching at last the ‘Heart of the Sun.’ When he arises from the couch, he does so as a glorified Adept, a Teacher of Men.

But we have digressed somewhat from the purpose in view, that is, to find out just why the circle is divided into 360 degrees. So let us note that the number 2,160 is 10 times the cube of 6. Now the cube of 6 is equal to the sum of the cubes of 3, 4, and 5. Among the important numbers, the numbers 3, 4, and 5 play a leading part in the building of form. The five regular polyhedrons, held so sacred by the ancients, are built upon the 3, 4 and 5. At some future time, we may devote an article to the study of these most interesting figures, so we will make but few allusions to them here.

There are five regular solids in geometry. These are: the icosahedron, having 30 edges, 20 equilateral triangular faces, and 12 vertices; the dodecahedron having also 30 edges, but 12 pentagonal faces, and 20 vertices; the cube with 12 edges, 6 quadrilateral faces, and 8 vertices; the octahedron having also 12 edges, but 8 triangular faces, and 6 vertices; and the tetrahedron, or triangular pyramid, having 6 edges, 4 triangular faces, and 4 vertices. The numbers 3, 4, 5 and 6 play a very important part in the building of these figures, both as to the numbers of faces, vertices, or edges in them, and as to the numbers of degrees in their angles. These figures are the working out in geometrical form of the same principles which are behind the manifested universe, which, before manifestation, may be represented by the circle. A circle may be divided into 3 equal arcs, each of these into 4ths, each resulting 12th part into 5ths, and the resulting 60ths, into 6 equal parts each, and the whole will be then divided into 360 equal parts, or degrees. Now the product of 3, 4, 5 and 6, or 360, divided by their sum, or 18, gives us 20, a number suggestive of the icosahedron, the most complex of the geometrical solids. Lines may be drawn, joining interiorly all the points of the icosahedron, and we shall find that within it we have a new figure, the dodecahedron. The dodecahedron, having 30 edges as well as the icosahedron, we have now 60 lines. (Note that 60 is the product of 3,4, and 5.) The dodecahedron was considered to represent the solar system – the 12 faces, symbolic of the 12 Signs of the Zodiac – and the icosahedron, the outer stars.

Suppose, now, that we take a circle, and divide the circumference into 10 equal arcs, suggestive of the 10 planes of consciousness, join each point with every other point . . . . . and we have drawn the icosahedron surrounding the dodecahedron! The point at the center of the circle, where some of the lines cross, becomes in reality 2 points, coinciding and forming the north and south poles of the icosahedron.

Now the circle here represents the Unmanifested, which, however, as soon as manifestation takes place becomes 10 Cosmic planes. These Cosmic planes we have learned to divide into sub-planes, 10 in each, as follows: 3 subjective or formless planes: 4 intermediate planes, upon which the globe-chains which belong to that particular cosmic plane manifest; then 3 lower planes of a substance and energy lower in vibration even than the lowest of the seven globes of the planetary chains occupying the four intermediate planes. Thus the planes can be numbered, 3, 4 and 3. (Incidentally, the number 343 is the cube of 7, the number of manifestation.) These sub-planes are not to be considered as layers in a cake, but are interpenetrating. Suppose, then, we divide in this fashion each of the 10 arcs of our circle: first, into 3 equal parts, each of which will be one-thirtieth of the whole, each of these into 4ths, making 120ths, then each of these into 3rds again, and we have our circle divided once more into 360 equal parts, or degrees.

To sum up, then, we find that the numbers 3, 4, 5 and 6, and also the number 10 considered as the sum of 3, 4 and 3 are of especial interest and importance in connexion with the number of degrees in the circle, because they represent active agents in the constructive side of Nature. The number 12 (the sum of 3, 4 and 5) has a particular function which will require further consideration, but it may here be said that the numbers 11 and 12 represent the zenith and the nadir of any hierarchy of 10 planes, because they represent the higher and lower connecting-points, as it were, between that hierarchy and the ones above and below it. The relations between the numbers are as intricate, apparently, as are the lines of the geometrical figure here illustrated, yet when we have a bird’s-eye view of the whole subject, we can see clearly the part that each number has to play.

And we have but touched the shores of the mystic Land of Numbers. We shall set sail again and find out more about the geometrical solids. Wonderful are the lessons we can learn about Nature and her majestic laws, and sublime is the inspiration that will come to us if we approach her with eager hearts, and a love of Truth, free from personal desires.

Theosophical Path, Jan., 1934


The Earth


. . . . One night when I had tasted bitterness I went out on to the hill. Dark heather checked my feet. Below marched the suburban street lamps. Windows, their curtains drawn, were shut eyes, inwardly watching the lives of dreams. Beyond the seas’s level darkness a lighthouse pulsed. Overhead, obscurity.

I distinguished our own house, our islet in the tumultuous and bitter currents of the world. There, for a decade and a half, we two, so different in quality, had grown in and in to one another, for mutual support and nourishment, in intricate symbiosis. There daily we planned our several undertakings, and recounted the day’s oddities and vexations. There letters piled up to be answered, socks to be darned. There the children were born, those sudden new lives. There, under that roof, our own two lives, recalcitrant sometimes to one another, were all the while thankfully one, one larger, more conscious life than either alone.

All this, surely, was good. Yet there was bitterness. And bitterness not only invaded us from the world; it welled up also within our own magic circle. For horror at our futility, at our own unreality, and not only at the world’s delirium, had driven me out on to the hill.

We were always hurrying from one little urgent task to another, but the upshot was unsubstantial. Had we, perhaps, misconceived our whole existence? Were we, as it were, living from false premises? And in particular, this partnership of ours, this seemingly so well-based fulcrum for activity in the world, was it after all nothing but a little eddy of complacent and ingrown domesticity, ineffectively whirling on the surface of the great flux, having in itself no depth of being, and no significance? Had we perhaps after all deceived ourselves? Behind those rapt windows did we, like so many others, indeed live only a dream? In a sick world even the hale are sick. And we two, spinning our little life mostly by rote, seldom with clear cognizance, seldom with firm intent, were products of a sick world.

Yet this life of ours was not all sheer and barren fantasy. Was it not spun from the actual fibres of reality, which we gathered in with all the comings and goings through our door, all our traffic with the suburb and the city and with remoter cities, and with the ends of the earth? And were we not spinning together an authentic expression of our own nature? Did not our life issue daily as more or less firm threads of active living and mesh itself into the growing web, the intricate, ever-proliferating pattern of mankind?

I considered “us” with quiet interest and a kind of amused awe. How could I describe our relationship even to myself without either disparaging it or insulting it with the tawdry decoration of sentimentality? For this our delicate balance of dependence and independence, this coolly critical, shrewdly ridiculing, but loving mutual contact, was surely a microcosm of true community, was after all in its simple style an actual and living example of that high goal which the world seeks.

The whole world? The whole universe? Overheard, obscurity unveiled a star. One tremulous arrow of light, projected how many thousands of years ago, now stung my nerves with vision, and my heart with fear. For in such a universe as this what significance could there be in our fortuitous, our frail, our evanescent community?

But now irrationally I was seized with a strange worship, not, surely of the star, that mere furnace which mere distance falsely sanctified, but of something other, which the dire contrast of the star and us signified to the heart. Yet what, what could thus be signified? Intellect, peering beyond the star, discovered no Star Maker, but only darkness; no Love, no Power even, but only Nothing. And yet the heart praised.

– Olaf Stapledon [from Starmaker, 1937]

Fundamental Buddhist Beliefs

Buddhist Temple

The following text is of the fourteen items of belief which have been accepted as fundamental principles in both the Southern and Northern sections of Buddhism, by authoritative committees to whom they were submitted by me personally…… [ – H. S. Olcott (1881) ]
I. Buddhists are taught to show the same tolerance, forbearance, and brotherly love to all men, without distinction; and an unswerving kindness towards the members of the animal kingdom.

II. The universe was evolved, not created; and it functions according to law, not according to the caprice of any God.

III. The truths upon which Buddhism is founded are natural. They have, we believe, been taught in successive kalpas, or world-periods, by certain illuminated beings called BUDDHAS, the name BUDDHA meaning “Enlightened”.

IV. The fourth Teacher in the present kalpa was Sakya Muni, or Gautama Buddha, who was born in a royal family in India about 2,500 years ago. He is an historical personage and his name was Siddhartha Gautama.

V. Sakya Muni taught that ignorance produces desire, unsatisfied desire is the cause of rebirth, and rebirth, the cause of sorrow. To get rid of sorrow, therefore, it is necessary to escape rebirth; to escape rebirth, it is necessary to extinguish desire; and to extinguish desire, it is necessary to destroy ignorance.

VI. Ignorance fosters the belief that rebirth is a necessary thing. When ignorance is destroyed the worthlessness of every such rebirth, considered as an end in itself, is perceived, as well as the paramount need of adopting a course of life by which the necessity for such repeated rebirths can be abolished. Ignorance also begets the illusive and illogical idea that there is only one existence for man, and the other illusion that this one life is followed by states of unchangeable pleasure or torment.

VII. The dispersion of all this ignorance can be attained by the persevering practice of an all-embracing altruism in conduct, development of intelligence, wisdom in thought, and destruction of desire for the lower personal pleasures.

VIII. The desire to live being the cause of rebirth, when that is extinguished rebirths cease and the perfected individual attains by meditation that highest state of peace called Nirvana.

IX. Sakya Muni taught that ignorance can be dispelled and sorrow removed by the knowledge of the four Noble Truths, namely:
1. The miseries of existence;
2. The cause productive of misery, which is the desire ever renewed of satisfying oneself without being able ever to secure that end;
3. The destruction of that desire, or the estranging of oneself from it;
4. The means of obtaining this destruction of desire. The means which he pointed out is called the Noble Eightfold Path, viz.: Right Belief; Right Thought; Right Speech; Right Action; Right Means of Livelihood; Right Exertion; Right Remembrance; Right Meditation.

X. Right Meditation leads to spiritual enlightenment, or the development of that Buddha-like faculty which is latent in every man.

XI. The essence of Buddhism, as summed up by the Tathagatha (Buddha) himself, is:
To cease from all sin,
To get virtue,
To purify the heart.

XII. The universe is subject to a natural causation known as “Karma”. The merits and demerits of a being in past existences determine his condition in the present one. Each man, therefore, has prepared the causes of the effects which he now experiences.

XIII. The obstacles to the attainment of good karma may be removed by the observance of the following precepts, which are embraced in the moral code of Buddhism, namely: (1) Kill not; (2) Steal not; (3) Indulge in no forbidden sexual pleasure; (4) Lie not; (5) Take no intoxicating or stupefying drug or liquor. Five other precepts which need not be here enumerated should be observed by those who would attain, more quickly than the average layman, the release from misery and rebirth.

XIV. Buddhism discourages superstitious credulity. Gautama Buddha taught it to be the duty of a parent to have his child educated in science and literature. He also taught that no one should believe what is spoken by any sage, written in any book, or affirmed by tradition, unless it accords with reason.

Drafted as a common platform upon which all Buddhists can agree.

– H. S. Olcott, P.T.S. (from Appendix of “The Buddhist Catechism”)