Perspectives on initiation
Perspectives on initiation is the English translation of a book written in French by René Guénon ("Aperçus sur l'initiation") and firstly published in 1946 at the Editions Traditionnelles publishing house.
Table of contents
- The initiatic and mystical paths
- Magic and mysticism
- Various errors concerning initiation
- Conditions for initiation
- Initiatic regularity
- Synthesis and syncretism
- Against mixing traditional forms
- Initiatic transmission
- Tradition and transmission
- Initiatic centers
- Initiatic organizations and religious sects
- Initiatic organizations and secret societies
- The initiatic secret
- Initiatic qualifications
- Initiatic rites
- Rite and symbol
- Myths, mysteries and symbols
- Symbolism and philosophy
- Rites and ceremonies
- Ceremonial magic
- Psychic 'powers'
- The rejection of 'powers'
- Sacraments and initiatic rites
- Prayer and incantation
- Initiatic trials
- Initiatic death
- Profane and initiatic names
- The symbolism of the theater
- 'Operative' and 'speculative'
- Effective and virtual initiation
- Initiatic teaching
- The limits of the mental
- Initiatic knowledge and profane 'culture'
- Academic mentality and pseudo-initiation
- Initiation and 'passivity'
- Initiation and 'service'
- The gist of tongues
- Rose-cross and rosicrucians
- Greater and lesser mysteries
- Sacerdotal and royal initiation
- Some reflections on hermeticism
- Transmutation and transformation
- The notion of an elite
- The initiatic hierarchy
- Traditional infallibility
- Two initiatic devices
- Verbum, Lux, and Vita
- The birth of the Avatara
Lesser and greater mysteries
In his book Perspectives on initiation, Guénon clarifies the signification given by the ancient Greeks to the classical names of lesser and greater mysteries: "they are not different "types" of initiations, but stages or degrees of a same initiation".
Lesser mysteries lead to the "perfection of the human state", in other words to "something traditionally designated by the restoration of the "primordial state", a state that Dante, in the Divine comedy, relates symbolically to the "terrestrial paradise". On another hand, "greater mysteries" refer properly to "the realization of supra-human states"; they correspond to the Hindu doctrine of "delivrance" (Moksha) and to what Islamic esoterism calls the "realization of the Universal Man": in that latter tradition, "lesser" and "greater" mysteries correspond exactly to the signification of the terms "el-insân el-qadîm" and "el-insan el-kâmil". These two phases are related to an interpretation of the symbolism of the cross with the notions of "horizontal" and "vertical" realization. They also correspond respectively to what is traditionally designated in western hermeticism by the terms royal initiation and sacerdotal initiation:
Pure metaphysical knowledge relates consequently to "greater mysteries", and the knowledge of traditional sciences to the "lesser mysteries". From an historical perspective, the "lesser mysteries" being merely a preparation to the "greater mysteries" [...] ultimately one has to go back beyond the very origin of humanity, and this is why a question such as an "historical" origin of initiation appears to be devoid of the least signification.
The traditional sciences whose knowledge provides restoration of "primordial state" are known under the name of cosmological sciences: among them, one can quote alchemy, astrology, the science of letters, and more generally what is referred under the name Hermeticism. In the West, the Brothers of the Ross-Cross were beings that had effectively achieved the completion of lesser mysteries, and Rosicrucian initiation inspired by them was a particular form linked to Christian Hermeticism. René Guénon writes moreover that this Rosicrucian initiation is lost today and is completely unrelated to the various modern organizations bearing that name Rosicrucian, as they belong to modern fallacies falling under the general denomination of pseudo-initiation given by Guénon to them – more on this later. That word 'Hermeticism' indicates a tradition of Egyptian origin, afterward clothed in a Hellenized form, and in the Middle Ages transmitted in this form both to the Islamic and Christian worlds, and, to the second in great part by the intermediary to the first (something which relates to the relationship that Rosicrucianism had at its origin with Islamic esoterism), as is proven, writes René Guénon, by the numerous Arabic or Arabized terms adopted by the European Hermeticists, beginning with the word 'alchemy' itself (al-kimya). 'Hermeticism' designates a doctrine related to Hermes "insofar as the latter was considered by the Greeks to be identical with the Egyptian Toth". Hermeticism cannot be regarded as constituting a traditional doctrine complete in itself, "for here we are dealing with knowledge that is not of a metaphysical order, but is only cosmological". Hence, Hermeticism was later incorporated into Islamic esoterism where it was rooted into a purely metaphysical doctrine, as it is shown for instance with Mohyddin Ibn Arabi who is both designated as the Seal of Saints and The Master of Red Sulfur, that latter designation referring to a very high degree of the initiatic hierarchy.
Notes and references
- Perspectives on initiation, chap. XXXIX: Greater mysteries and lesser mysteries.
- Perspectives on initiation.
- René Guénon, The Esoterism of Dante.
- Perspectives on initiation, chapter 41, Some reflections on Hermeticism.