I have been thinking about reading this book for a while, since Manly P. Hall is often cited in other texts I have read. So I finally decided to tackle this hefty tome. I am reading it along with a good friend of mine, and after each block (about 4 or 5 chapters) we get on a call to discuss our thoughts. That said, my blog posts will follow the same pattern. After reading a bit and taking notes, I will talk a little about something that has stood out for me. This first post in the series will focus on Hall’s explanation of the use of symbolism employed by the ancient mystery traditions.
Symbolism is the language of the Mysteries; in fact it is the language not only of mysticism and philosophy but of all Nature, for every law and power active in the universal procedure is manifested to the limited sense perceptions of man through the medium of symbol. Every form existing in the diversified sphere of being is symbolic of the divine activity by which it is produced. By symbols men have ever sought to communicate to each other those thoughts which transcend the limitations of language. Rejecting man-conceived dialects as inadequate and unworthy to perpetuate divine ideas, the Mysteries thus chose symbolism as a far more ingenious and ideal method of preserving their transcendental knowledge. In a single figure a symbol may both reveal and conceal, for to the wise the subject of the symbol is obvious, while to the ignorant the figure remains inscrutable. Hence, he who seeks to unveil the secret doctrine of antiquity must search for that doctrine not upon the open pages of books which might fall into the hands of the unworthy but in the place where it was originally concealed.
That symbols are employed to express the ineffable is common knowledge, but I really like the way Hall explains it in this passage. And Hall brings up a very important point, which is any symbolic representation of hidden knowledge must be considered within the context of when, where, and how the symbol was created. When examining symbols from antiquity, we need to consider what they would have meant to the initiates of those times, not what they mean to us today. As an example, let’s take the Bible. The symbolism incorporated into a book from the Bible, written in Aramaic two thousand years ago by someone living in the Middle East, is not going to mean the same thing as an English translation of those words read by a twenty-first century American. We just do not have the same context. So does that mean we should not attempt to tap into these ancient secrets? No – we must certainly try. But when we approach any form of expression that is symbolic in nature, we need to keep it foremost in our mind that we are dealing with symbols, and by nature they are going to be difficult to understand, and we may get them wrong initially and have to reassess their meaning in light of other information. It is a process of unfolding. I think the lotus would be an appropriate symbol here.
I think that is all I have to say about this topic, for now anyway. Thanks for stopping by, and remember to always read critically. Cheers!