I don’t often review older books on this blog, but I have good reason to go back and review some Rosicurcian philosophy in books published from the 1920s by the 1940s. Two of the most important are books about Jesus by H. Spencer Lewis. Specifically, these are as follows:
Mystical Life of Jesus: An Astounding Account of the Known and “Unknown” Periods of the Great Master’s Life (1929), 316 pages, hardcover
The Secret Doctrines of Jesus (1939), 237 pages, hardcover
These books do not appear to have ISBN’s, possibly because of their time of publication.
There are a number of other books by Lewis, such as The Conscious Interlude, and Mansions of the Soul. There are other books related to The Great White Brotherhood and the supposed lost continent of Lemuria (even before Atlantis). Generally, these are published by the Rosicrucian Order AMORC, web site at this link. I visited their museum in San Jose, CA 1975, and various other areas of interest in California such as the Mt. Shasta area in 1978.
All of this bears comparison to the book Richard Kienenger (pn. Eklal Kueshana), The Ultimate Frontier (1970, rep 1992, Adelphi Org., ISBN 0963225200). Kienenger held monthly meetings in the Unitarian Church in Dallas (University Park) and was building a planned community near Greenville, TX; he had already built another one called Stelle, near Kankakee, IL around 1970.
To get back to Lewis, he starts with the thesis that Jesus was actually a member of the Essenes, a secret society that lived simple, ascetic lives in Palestine and studied mystical truths. The Essenes generally were quiet, and not given to calling a lot of attention to themselves, as Jesus would later (all of this in a time with no electricity, no Internet, no Myspace; but, according to Lewis, its own version of fantastic capacities and miracles). He points out that the Essenes were Gentiles, and were also Aryans, although that refers to descent from certain areas of India, not to the racist meaning to develop later in history. Lewis goes on to relate that the great avatars all had virgin births, and went through secret initiations. He describes young Jesus’s worldwide journey and initiation ceremonies.
Now I tried Rosicrucianism when I lived in New York City, and actually attended the Rosicrucian Feast on the first day of Spring on 1977, a cold drizzly Sunday, in a hotel ballroom. It was a three hour ceremony with considerable silence and ritual, but nothing that would seem spectacular or controversial. AMORC had a chapter that met in the East Village then.
The second book develops its own interpretation of Christianity. Now Lewis tends to be wordy, and drags the reader along with promissory sentences before giving a payoff. His writing style would seem expansive, egocentric, and “screed-like” by today’s standards. But that is OK if you want his message. He claims that the doctrines were secret and taught first to inner circle initiates, which for Jesus comprised 120 disciples, including his own mother Mary. He does not go into the Mary Magdalene controversy (of Leonardo da Vinci) but he indicates that women were able to become initiates just as were men. The “secrecy” would, for some people, be a red flag or indication that the philosophy is not for everyone.
Lewis’s books develop the idea of karma and reincarnation. Of course, everyone has heard of this, but they do take on a moral context. Lewis makes a distinction between the physical body and the soul, with discussions and language that are familiar in theology. At physical death, the soul goes back to the afterlife for a time (some accounts say 144 years). Depending on how the person performed in an incarnation, he or she lives as part of a group consciousness, or he or she may be reunited with the souls of loved ones, family members, or other significant people. In each successive incarnation, the person works off the karma earned or accrued in the previous incarnations, according to a kind of double-entry accounting system called the akashic records.
Spencer Lewis distinguishes between the outer self (the physical body and brain), the soul (which seems to be a collective entity) and the inner self, the individual identity which always exists and learns from incarnations (something like the notion or purgatory) as long as necessary. The inner self cannot sin. It does seem possible that a sin from the outer self could cause the inner self to be denied more incarnations (that is, remain in Hell). That would seen to behave with "spiritual bad faith," to fail to live up to convictions when they are known to be valid. Lewis acknowledges that some moral notions exist to prevent aggression on the rights of other individuals, some exist for the good of the community as a whole, and some moral notions have to do with essentially spiritual good faith. Because of the nature of the soul and complex problems of society, it is not easy for most people to parse moral teachings, but being one's brother's keeper can be important. Spencer's explanation of crucifixion and resurrection seems to be partly as a demonstration of the laws of karma and spiritual life cycle of the inner soul, but also to pass the knowledge among his disciples or adepts (which then numbered 120 but that collection would grow) and start the growth of a new spiritual kingdom.
Conventional Christianity stresses salvation after one lifetime through grace and the atonement on the cross by Jesus Christ. The other major Lewis (C. S. Lewis) tried to develop as thorough an intellectual foundation for this in his works like Mere Christianity (1960). An important moral concept is what kind of living brings one closer to God or to shows the proper kind of faith. C. S. Lewis, for example, sometimes wrote that sexual morality is important, not just for society’s good, but because it tended to encourage people to develop active social empathy for others through the family (by becoming a parent and accepting family responsibilities) – a process of countering the natural inclination to focus on one’s own ability to compete and perform in a competitive world (this concept is part of the institutional concept of marriage being debated by the “challenge” of gay marriage). This has always been a bit of a problem, as men have to “compete” to provide for their own families, so it is a paradox that politicians can exploit to maintain class and tribal (and religious) divisions. However Spencer Lewis maintains that, while one improves one’s karma by helping others and indeed must do so (although it seems that one may keep the right to control one's own emotional distance from people), eventually one grows by practicing various mysteries (certain sounds, prayers, rituals, mantras, and so on) that lead to cosmic consciousness and abilities that seem supernatural to the normal world, including what amounts to astral projection. It would seem to the reader that a man is, in an physical incarnation, becoming more like a god. Initiates and masters of this practice supposedly are around the world, "the invisible empire of the Rosicrucians." Of course, other great spiritual leaders are well known, such as the Dalai Lama of Tibet (whose history is quite convincing). I actually met him in line waiting to board a flight from Amsterdam in May 2001.
Lewis obviously believed that the world would discover these secrets and that the result would be some kind of social revolution. In some sense, with global communications one could say that this has in a sense happened, because of ‘the geeks.”
In comparison, it’s important the Kienenger believed that it is important for men to find wives, marry, and have children. In Stelle, at one time, a man was required to be the sole economic support of the family. Other unusual religions have emphasized the family and its relationship to the afterlife. For example consider the Mormon Church and eternal marriage, with its layers of afterlife in which marriages continue. Karma for them is a family affair.
Many people would find this sort of idea “offensive” if they look at the world around them. Are all of the poor people in undeveloped parts of the world poor because of their own individual karma? In economics, we see similar justifications, that growth (to raise living standards) in poor countries has to start somewhere, in situ. We saw similar objections to the ideas Rhonda Byrne's best-selling book The Secret. Indeed, the charity in the New Testament seems to transcend helping people out of utility or objective “enlightened self-interest” (as in Ayn Rand’s writings), but accepting some kind of communal emotional bonding. That can tie back to notions of sexual morality, as a way directing people into “God centeredness.” Even Spencer Lewis says at some point that the laws of karma are God’s laws.
For me, the central ethical issue comes up over the practical problems of being able to follow one’s own chosen goals in life (that is, this life). After all, the theory of karma says that one makes progress only during incarnations. In practice, external events, disasters, political hardships, and the needs of others in an immediate environment (even when one did not marry and have one’s own children) can affect what one is able to accomplish. Now, I personally feel that some one what I accomplish has to come from me, on my own, without the intrusive demands from others. It is good to have two feet on the ground when entering a relationship. Accomplishing these goals does seem to be part of fulfilling karma. Then what happens when one is sidetracked? Perhaps one makes a “sacrifice” because of the needs of a family members. Maybe one has no choice, and owes the family members a debt. Yet, if the family member’s own ends are improper, then in paying the “debt” back, one will incur the other person’s karma as one’s own debt. Lewis often comments that failure to help others with their karma will hurt one’s own. It seems reasonable to suppose that karma can move around in a family or other group of people, and that in time one’s karma could become connected to that of another person and become absorbed.
In any case, it is not enough, in this system of thought, to sacrifice according to the needs of others and become connected to them, just as proof of “faith.” Doing so does not by itself get one "saved" and does not necessarily satisfy one’s own karma. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and one should not be pressured to fight for someone else’s goals, even if they seem charitable, if at a deeper level they seem incomplete or wrong. Regardless of one’s own circumstances or inborn abilities or disabilities, one is presumed to be responsible for one’s own progress – unless it is somehow assumed by someone else.
It's interesting to compare all of this to Calvinsim and predestination, Puritan concepts that suggest that only certain people are predestined to be saved, contradicting today's ideas of salvation through Grace available for everyone. These ideas also looked at Man as totally sinful. Reincarnation doctrines would suggest that most people will need to "earn" their way into a favorable eternal place with works in successuve lives. It's interesting to compare to Mormonism and Judaism, also.
Book review on book about C. S. Lewis by Purtill, at this link.
Related post here.