The Dialogues of G. de Purucker, A.L. Conger (ed.), TUP, 3rd ed., 2021


The Esoteric Tradition, G. de Purucker, TUP, 3rd ed., 2011


Encyclopedic Theosophical Glossary, G. de Purucker (editor-in-chief), TUP, 1999


Fountain-Source of Occultism, G. de Purucker, TUP, 1974


The Four Sacred Seasons, G. de Purucker, TUP, 1979


The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, A.T. Barker (comp.), TUP, 2nd rev. ed., 2021


Occult Glossary, G. de Purucker, TUP, 2nd ed., 1996


The Secret Doctrine, H.P. Blavatsky, TUP, 1977 (1888)


The Theosophical Glossary, H.P. Blavatsky, Theosophical Publishing Society, 1892


To Light a Thousand Lamps, Grace F. Knoche, TUP, 2001

‘The word initiation comes from a Latin root meaning to begin, and esoterically it connotes a new becoming, an entering upon a course of life and study which eventually will bring out all of the spiritual and intellectual grandeur that the individual has within him. It is in fact a hastening of the evolutionary process ... No initiation can be conferred upon another. All growth, all spiritual illumination, takes place within oneself. ...

‘To achieve the bond of union with one’s essential Self is the supreme aim of initiation. ... All the great sages have taught the same verity: “Man, know thyself,” which means going inwards in thought and feeling, in ever-greater measure allying ourselves self-consciously with the divinity at the core of our being – the divinity which also is the very heart of the universe.’ (FSO 54, 56, 61-2)

‘Every higher grade entered into during the long cycle of initiation before man becomes a bodhisattva is an awakening within the neophyte of a new plane of consciousness and the consequent coming into lofty personal relation with the different powers and forces and even entities that belong to each plane ...’ (FSS 63)

‘Initiation was always spoken of under the metaphor or figure of speech of “a new birth,” ... for it was a spiritual and intellectual rebirth of the powers of the human spirit-soul, and could be called in all truth a birth of the soul into a loftier and nobler self-consciousness. ... In India, such reborn men were anciently called dvija, a Sanskrit word meaning “twice-born.” In Egypt such initiates or reborn men were called “sons of the sun.” ’ (OG 67)

* * *

‘In olden times there were seven – and even ten – degrees of initiation. Of these seven degrees, three consisted of teachings alone, which formed the preparation, the discipline, spiritual and mental and psychic and physical – what the Greeks called the katharsis or “cleansing.” ’ (OG 67)

‘The first three grades or degrees are concerned with study, with unceasing aspiration to grow spiritually and intellectually, to evolve and become greater; and also with “living the life.” These are symbolic, i.e. dramatic in form so far as the rites go. There is likewise teaching (which is the main part of these rites) about recondite secrets of nature, teaching which is rarely given in a reasoned and consecutive form because that is the brain-mind way, but suggested by a hint here, an allusion there.’ (FSO 57)

‘When the disciple was considered sufficiently cleansed, purified, disciplined, quiet mentally, tranquil spiritually, then he was taken into the fourth degree, which likewise consisted partly of teaching, but also in part of direct personal introduction by the old mystical processes into the structure and operations of the universe, by which means truth was gained by first-hand personal experience. In other words, ... his spirit-soul, his individual consciousness, was assisted to pass into other planes and realms of being, and to know and to understand by the sheer process of becoming them. A man, a mind, an understanding, can grasp and see, and thereby know, only those things which the individual entity itself is.’ (OG 67)

‘From [the fourth initiation] the initiant starts to lose his personal humanity and to merge into divinity ... He is taught how to leave his physical body, how to leave his physical mind, and to advance into the great spaces not alone of the physical universe, but more especially of the invisible realms as well. He then learns to become, to be, to enter into the intimate consciousness of the entities and spheres he contacts. ...

‘In addition to the teachings and the symbolic or dramatic ritual, the neophyte ... learns how to control nature’s forces and become able to accomplish such wonders as consciously leaving the body, leaving our planet in order to pass to other centers of the solar system.’ (FSO 58-9)

‘After the fourth degree, there followed the fifth and the sixth and the seventh initiations, each in turn, and these consisted of teachings also; but more and more as the disciple progressed – and he was helped in this development more and more largely as he advanced farther – there was evolved forth in him the power and faculties still farther and more deeply to penetrate beyond the veils of maya or illusion; until, having passed the seventh or last initiation of all of the manifest initiations, if we may call them that, he became one of those individuals whom theosophists call the mahatmas.’ (OG 67-8)

In the fourth degree of initiation the initiant sends his consciousness to the other globes of the earth-chain. (DGDP 636)

‘[E]ntering the underworld ... refers to worlds, even globes, inferior to our own globe earth. ... [A]vataras are actually descents into our world from a higher world by a divinity ... undergoing initiation. [T]hat god’s purpose, while wholly compassionate, is identical with that of the human neophyte, beginning with the fourth degree, who enters the underworld partly to help the so-called enchained spirits there; but also partly to gain individual experience of what nature provides in the various underworld spheres.’ (DGDP 1172-3)

‘The fifth degree is along the same pathways of experience, when the man becomes a master of wisdom and compassion. In this degree there comes the final choice: whether, like the great buddhas of compassion, one will return to help the world, to live for it and not for self; or whether, like the pratyeka-buddhas, one will go forwards on the pathway of self – merely self-development.’ (FSO 59)

‘In the fifth initiation, called in ancient Greece theophany (the appearance of a god), the candidate meets for at least a fleeting moment his own spiritual ego face to face, and in the most successful of these cases, for a time actually becomes one with it. Epiphany signifies a minor form of theophany.’ (ETG, initiation)

‘It is the higher part of the human soul, not yet fully evolved into the manasaputric plenitude, which through the particular training involved in the initiatory ceremonies meets its own monadic essence, figurated as an entity, face to face. ... [T]he human soul of the aspirant meets his spiritual soul face to face, for the human soul is a man, and the spiritual soul is a demigod. ... It is an actual meeting, an actual cognition, recognition.’ (DGDP 217)

‘In the sixth stage, theopneusty (in-breathing ... of a god, divine inspiration), the candidate becomes the vehicle of his own inner god, for a time depending on the neophyte’s own power of retention and observation, so that he is then inspired with the spiritual and intellectual powers and faculties of his higher self.’ (ETG, initiation)

‘[A] temporary nirvana ... is one of the loftiest experiences of the sixth degree of initiation.’ (DGDP 641)

‘The sixth initiation runs to still loftier realms of consciousness and experience; and then comes the last and supreme initiation, the seventh, which comprises the meeting face to face with one’s divine self, and the becoming-at-one with it. When this occurs, he needs no other teacher. It also includes individual communication with the supreme Mahachohan who is practically identical with what has been called the Silent Watcher of the human race.’ (FSO 59)

‘In the seventh degree, theopathy (the suffering a god – suffering oneself to be one’s own inner god), the personal self has become permanently at-one with the inner divinity. The successful passing of the seventh trial resulted in the initiant’s becoming a glorified Christ, to be followed by the last or ultimate stage of this degree known in Buddhism as achieving buddhahood or nirvana. Since limits cannot be set to attainment, however, still loftier stages of spiritual and intellectual unfolding or initiation await those who have already attained the degree of buddhahood.’ (ETG, initiation)

* * *

‘The Mysteries were divided into the Greater and Lesser, inner and outer, esoteric and partly exoteric; and, as the former were guarded by well-observed secrecy the sources of ordinary information are mostly based on the latter. The more recondite Mysteries could not, from their very nature, be publicly divulged; they were revelations, appreciable only by an awakened spiritual perception and incommunicable to anyone not thus awakened. The Greater Mysteries were successive initiations for prepared candidates. The Lesser consisted of symbolic and dramatic representations for the public, in which, among other things, the profound symbology of the Greek mythology was employed.

‘The elevating and unifying influence of these institutions was acknowledged by Greek and Roman authorities and is apparent from a study of Greek history. With the advance of a cycle of materialism, the Mysteries became degraded, especially in Asia Minor in Roman times; the symbolism was perverted and even made to palliate licentious practices. What little was left to abolish was formally abolished by Justinian, who closed the mystic and quasi-esoteric Neoplatonic School of Athens in 529. ...

‘The Mysteries came into Greece from India and Egypt, and their origin goes back to Atlantean times. ... [T]he spiritual stream still exists and does its work in the world, although for ages it has been acting more secretly and esoterically than ever.’ (ETG, mysteries)

‘Every nation had its exoteric and esoteric religion, the one for the masses, the other for the learned and elect. For example, the Hindus had three degrees [of initiation] with several sub-degrees. The Egyptians had also three preliminary degrees, personified under the “three guardians of the fire” in the Mysteries. The Chinese had their most ancient Triad Society: and the Tibetans have to this day their “triple step”: which was symbolized in the Vedas by the three strides of Vishnu. ... The old Babylonians had their three stages of initiation into the priesthood (which was then esoteric knowledge); the Jews, the Kabbalists and mystics borrowed them from the Chaldees, and the Christian Church from the Jews.’ (TG 333)

‘In Buddhist works four degrees of training, in these cases equivalent to initiation, are given: 1) shrotapanna (he who has entered the stream), one who has commenced the task of transmuting the forces of his nature to the purposes of his higher self; 2) sakridagamin (he who comes once more), one who will be reborn on earth only once again before reaching the lower degrees of nirvana; 3) anagamin (he who does not come), one who will no longer be reincarnated anymore, unless the choice be made to remain on earth in order to help humanity; and 4) arhat or arhan (the worthy one), one who at will can and does experience nirvana even during his life on earth.’ (ETG, initiation)

‘Three further higher grades have to be conquered by the arhan who would reach the apex of the ladder of arhatship. There are those who have reached it even in this fifth race of ours, but the faculties necessary for the attainment of these higher grades will be fully developed in the average ascetic only at the end of this root-race, and in the sixth and seventh.’ (SD 1:206-7)

‘The seats of initiation were often situated on mountains, which because of this were regarded as holy mountains. Often rocky caves or recesses in mountains were chosen for their inaccessibility, and used as initiation crypts or chambers for teaching; in ancient Egypt the Great Pyramid was an initiation temple.’ (ETG, initiation)

‘The initiated adept, who had successfully passed through all the trials, was attached, not nailed, but simply tied on a couch in the form of a tau Τ ... [and] plunged in a deep sleep ... He was allowed to remain in this state for three days and three nights, during which time his spiritual ego was said to confabulate with the “gods,” descend into Hades, Amenti, or Patala (according to the country), and do works of charity to the invisible beings, whether souls of men or elemental spirits; his body remaining all the time in a temple crypt or subterranean cave. In Egypt it was placed in the sarcophagus in the King’s Chamber of the Pyramid of Cheops, and carried during the night of the approaching third day to the entrance of a gallery, where at a certain hour the beams of the rising sun struck full on the face of the entranced candidate, who awoke to be initiated by Osiris, and Thoth the God of Wisdom.’ (SD 2:558)

The King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid.

* * *

‘[I]n the Masonic Lodges of old times the neophyte was subjected to a series of frightful tests of his constancy, courage and presence of mind. By psychological impressions supplemented by machinery and chemicals, he was made to believe himself falling down precipices, crushed by rocks, walking spider-web bridges in mid-air, passing through fire, drowned in water and attacked by wild beasts. This was a reminiscence of and a programme borrowed from the Egyptian Mysteries. The West having lost the secrets of the East, had ... to resort to artifice. But in these days the vulgarization of science has rendered such trifling tests obsolete. The aspirant is now assailed entirely on the psychological side of his nature. His course of testing – in Europe and India – is that of raja-yoga and its result is ... to develop every germ good and bad in him in his temperament.’ (ML 365)

‘[T]he “war in heaven” is shown, in one of its significations, to have meant and referred to those terrible struggles in store for the candidate for adeptship, between himself and his (by magic) personified human passions, when the inner enlightened man had to either slay them or fail. In the former case he became the “dragon-slayer,” as having happily overcome all the temptations; and a “son of the serpent” and a serpent himself, having cast off his old skin and being born in a new body, becoming a son of wisdom and immortality in eternity.’ (SD 2:380)

‘[One of the meanings of dweller on the threshold] refers to the imbodied karmic consequences of the man’s past, haunting the thresholds which the initiant or initiate must pass before he can advance or progress into a higher degree of initiation. These dwellers ... are ... the imbodied quasi-human astral haunting parts of the constitution thrown off in past incarnations by the man who now has to face them and overcome them – very real and living beings, parts of the “new” man’s haunting past. The initiant must face these old “selves” of himself and conquer or – fail, which may mean either insanity or death.’ (OG 41-2)

‘[Y]our thoughts are so much things, that a train of thought, in other words a bias of character, held throughout a lifetime becomes an actual entity in the astral world – an aggregated entity ... [T]he chela, the neophyte, in the schools of initiation, has to meet and face these his own astral children and slay them, kill them, which means dissipate them ...’ (DGDP 425)

* * *

‘Initiation can take place really at any time; but the greatest of the initiations take place at ... the winter solstice, the spring equinox, the summer solstice, and the autumnal equinox.’ (DGDP 541)

Winter solstice: the great birth (of the inner god)

‘At the time of the winter solstice, two are the main degrees which neophytes or initiants must pass through, to wit, the fourth degree and the seventh or last: the fourth for less great men, although they are great men nonetheless; and the last or seventh initiation, coming but at rare intervals as the ages cycle by, being the birth of the buddhas and of the christs.

‘During the [fourth] initiation ..., the postulant is taught to free himself from all the trammels of mind and from the lower four principles of his constitution; and being thus set free he passes along the magnetic channels or circulations of the universe, even to the portals of the Sun, but there and then he stops and returns. Three days usually are the time required for this, and then the man arises a full initiate ...

‘As regards the seventh initiation, this occurs in a cycle lasting some 2,160 human years, the time which it takes for a zodiacal sign to pass through a constellation backwards into the next constellation; in other words, what is called among mystics in the Occident the messianic cycle. When the planets Mercury and Venus, and Sun and Moon and Earth, are situated in syzygy, then the freed monad of the lofty neophyte can pass along the magnetic pathway through these bodies and continue direct to the heart of the Sun. ...

‘Two weeks later, ... when the moon stands full, his peregrinating monad returns rapidly as flashing thought along the same pathway by which it ascended to Father Sun, retaking to itself the habiliments which it dropped on each planet as it passed through it ... [F]rom the Moon the monad returns to the entranced body left behind. Then for a while, shorter or longer according to circumstances, the neophyte’s whole being is irradiated with the solar spiritual splendor, and he is a buddha just “born.” ...

‘There are in any root-race but two racial buddhas. But the bodhisattvas of differing degrees of evolutionary grandeur are very numerous. The cyclical bodhisattvas as above hinted come, one each, in every messianic cycle of 2,160 years, and are usually of an avataric character.’ (FSS 3-6, 8)

Spring equinox: the great temptation (adolescence)

‘The initiations which take place even today with more or less uninterrupted regularity at the time of the spring equinox include, not only the passing through trials and an ultimate resurrection from the personal man of the god within and an ascension into the spiritual realms, at least for a time, of the initiant’s percipient consciousness, but includes also ... the descent of the neophyte-initiant, however grand his spiritual stature may be, into the underworld, into those very real but to us utterly invisible realms of space which have their being in cosmic reaches still more material than our gross sphere of physical mayavi-substance. ...

‘Just as at certain times in the progress of cosmic destiny a certain divinity leaves its own luminous realms in order to “descend,” or more accurately to transfer a portion of its own divine essence, into the world of men for the purpose of aiding and helping erring mankind, so exactly does the neophyte-initiant descend or transfer his percipient consciousness into the underworld in order to learn and also to help the denizens of those gloomy spheres. ... The avataras appear on Earth at intervals when the spiritual energies are running low ...’ (FSS 24-6, 29)

Summer solstice: the great renunciation (adulthood)

‘[At] the summer solstice, ... the neophyte or aspirant must undergo, and successfully prevail over, the greatest temptation known to man ...; and if he so prevail, which means the renouncing of all chance of individual progress for the sake of becoming one of the saviors of the world, ... he dedicates his life to the service of the world ... For this reason the initiation at this season of the year has been called the Great Renunciation. ...

‘There are many grades of those who take the path of the Great Renunciation ... Celestial buddhas, dhyani-buddhas, manushya-buddhas, bodhisattvas, masters, chelas, inferior chelas, and great and noble men and women – there in brief is the line or ladder of being which forms the Order of Compassion.’ (FSS 43-4, 61)

Autumn equinox: the great passing (death)

‘[I]n this initiation, are learned all the intricate and very mysterious secrets connected with death, some of them sublimely beautiful, and some of them dreadful beyond any ordinary human imagination. ...

‘In the initiation of the winter solstice the planets visited usually are the Moon, Venus, Mercury, and the Sun, and then there is a return; whereas in this fourth initiation of the autumnal equinox these same planets are passed through ... and the superior planets Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, are likewise visited, and thence the freed monad wings its way outwards into the kosmic spaces. ... [T]he divine monad returns to its own stellar parent and passes from star to star ... [It] must pass through every one of the twelve houses of the zodiac ...

‘The return journey is made along the same pathway, and the sheaths or veils of consciousness that the monadic pilgrim dropped during these peregrinations in each one of the planets and in each one of the planes, are again picked up and reassumed ... Finally, [it] re-enters this world, raises its body anew and reappears among men, shining with a supernal light ...

‘The Great Passing is the fourth and concluding initiation which every master of wisdom must go through, and the glories of which he must renounce. ... The initiant is enabled to pass through these terrible trials precisely because the Great Renunciation had previously been made at the time of the initiation of the summer solstice, and he has gained the strength to die completely and fully and yet to return to human physical existence. ...

‘All the greater initiants must pass through this initiation, but they return. They taste in it of death and vanquish it ... [But] multitudes, crowds, of human beings, at some time in their evolutionary pilgrimage, choose this initiation with deliberation for the sole purpose of passing out of the world and ken of men, to return no more. Such are the pratyeka buddhas, and those who, like them, prefer the bliss of individual nirvana to the self-sacrificing but sublime life and destiny of a buddha of compassion.’ (FSS 76-80, 83-4, 86)

* * *

‘[T]he greatest and simplest preparation for all the various grades of initiation is our daily life. Here one can prove what he is made of; ... here he can strengthen his character, evoke his will, enlarge his understanding, expand his heart-life. The masters judge, or rather test, a beginner, a neophyte taking his first steps, by the way in which he acts in daily life and reacts to the temptations and trials that daily life puts upon him.’ (FSS 66-7)

Mahatma KH to A.P. Sinnett: ‘Does it seem to you a small thing that the past year has been spent only in your “family duties”? [W]hat better cause for reward, what better discipline, than the daily and hourly performance of duty? [T]he man or woman who is placed by karma in the midst of small plain duties and sacrifices and loving-kindnesses, will through these faithfully fulfilled rise to the larger measure of duty, sacrifice and charity to all humanity – what better path towards the enlightenment you are striving after than the daily conquest of self, the perseverance in spite of want of visible psychic progress, the bearing of ill-fortune with that serene fortitude which turns it to spiritual advantage ...’ (ML 372)

‘We tend to think of initiation as far removed from everyday happenings, but every time we conquer a weakness, every time we have the courage to see ourselves as we are, we undergo the testing by our higher self of our lesser self; we are proving the mettle of our character. “Fire tests gold, adversity proves strong souls” wrote Seneca, 1st-century AD Roman statesman and philosopher. Any form of intense suffering, particularly when self-caused – through weakness of will, emotional instability, or being caught in a vortex of thought beneath our private inner standard – may become an initiatory experience. ... To have penetrated the darkness of our individual hell and come up into the light of our radiant self, able to meet its demands, is a kind of initiation. ...

‘One of our noblest opportunities is to give confidence to our fellow humans that, no matter how fragile we may be or think we are, all of us have sufficient power to live our lives in an honorable, thoughtful, and self-disciplined way. We must allow our higher self to take charge of our life’s destiny. Is there any greater gift one can offer than assuring another he has what it takes to handle his karma, with head high, regardless of how many times he may be knocked down? We are not alone in our struggles. Everyone has some cross to bear, some weakness of character to overcome; just so everyone has his or her strengths to build on. Simply put: if we have the fortitude to “hang in there” no matter how often we stumble or how far we fall, there is no failure, only triumph.’ (TLTL 176-8 )

‘Everyone who successfully resists temptation to do wrong, to be less than he is, is exercising the faculty within him which one day will enable him to pass self-consciously behind the veil in the dread tests of initiation.’ (ET 54-5)

‘Esoteric training ... means accelerated growth ... It is painful at times because, instead of slowly growing to see the beauty and harmony of life everywhere, one must learn to master oneself with an iron will; to forget oneself utterly, to serve all: to give up one’s self for the universal self, to die daily so that one can live the cosmic life. ...

‘One cannot trifle with occultism with impunity. The entire nature is aroused, and the battle with the lower self at times may take on the character of desperation, for the neophyte instinctively feels that he must conquer or fail. But if he perform faithfully the first duty that comes to hand, no matter how humble and simple, that is his path. In conquering our own weaknesses, we help not only our own nature, but all mankind; more, we help every sentient, living thing, for we are at one with the very forces which are the circulations of the universe.’ (FSO 54, 61)

‘The Path’, painted by Reginald W. Machell. Click to enlarge.
(Explanation of the symbolism)

compiled by David Pratt. March 2023.

The spiritual path

Our after-death journey

The mahatmas

Masters and chelas

Evolution in the fourth round

Warrior of the soul