What are the Mystery Schools? As we all yearn for a more enlightened world amidst the frequent chaos in human affairs we see around us, I’m sure we all wonder, where can we find this knowledge of the mysteries of life? Is there a school somewhere where knowledge of the laws of life is available? Are there such things as Mystery Schools with genuine teachers of the Mysteries – and if so, where are they? How do I apply to be a student of such a school?

A Mystery School is a university of the soul, a school for the study of the mysteries of the inner nature of man and of surrounding nature. By understanding these mysteries, the student perceives his intimate relationship with divinity, and strives through self-discipline and devotion to become at one with his/her inner god.

But this is not wholly a journey of intellectual learning such as you might find in a regular school or university.  Such a centre of learning involves every aspect of life and requires inner learning through personal experience of what is initially learned academically.

Even though we have some descriptions of the outward operations of such schools from classical authors, an uninterrupted history of the occult network of the human race is not available to us today, for such records are the reward of the pledged disciple, but with the powerful lens of the ancient wisdom we can study the way of light flashed forth by each ‘Lightbearer’ over the centuries; can recapture the atmosphere of the ancient temples; can discern the purpose of the schools, their methods of teaching; and, last but not least, can learn of the strong discipline imposed upon the candidates seeking initiation into the knowledge of their secret origin and their still more secret destiny. 

The details of the Lesser and Greater Mysteries, will be discussed in our December issue. For the moment let’s look at the history, the continuing mission of such schools and progress through their various degrees of initiation.

Founding of the Mystery Schools: According to the Ancient Wisdom, millions upon millions of years ago in the darkness of prehistory, humanity was an infant, a child of Mother Nature, unawakened, dreamlike, wrapped in the cloak of mental somnolence. Recognition of egoity slept; instinctual consciousness alone was active.

Like a stream of brilliance across the horizon of time, divine beings, Manasaputras, ‘sons of mind’, some 18 million years ago descended among the sleeping humans, and with the flame of intellectual solar fire lighted the wick of latent mind, and lo! the thinker stirred. Self-consciousness wakened, and man became a dynamo of intellectual and emotional power: capable of love, of hate, of glory, of defeat. Having knowledge, he acquired power; acquiring power, he chose; choosing, he fashioned the fabric of his future; and the perception of this ran like a heady wine through his veins.

As the ages past, these divine ‘sons of mind’ were succeeded by divine instructors memorialized by the traditions of the world as the gods walking amongst men. They initiated them in the arts and sciences, taught them to sow their fields with corn and wheat, instructed them in the ways of clean and moral living — in short, established primeval schools of training and instruction open and free to all to learn of things material, intellectual, and spiritual.

At this early period there were no Mystery colleges: the ancient wisdom was the common heirloom of all mankind, for as yet there had been no abuse of knowledge, and hence no need for schools kept hid and sacred from the world. Truth was freely given and as freely accepted in that Golden Age, or Satya Yuga (we now live in the Iron or Black Age – Kali Yuga).

Just as today, there were different levels of capability and morality amongst men – some learning quickly and of high moral character and some slowly using their knowledge for now actively evil purposes.

During these first millennia the spiritual head and guardian of the earth (the Silent Watcher) had been stimulating wherever possible the individual fires of active spirituality. Gradually as knowledge of divine things became abused by those strong in will but weak in morality, truth was increasingly veiled. The planetary watcher now felt the need of selecting a band of co-workers to act as bodyguard and protector of the ancient wisdom. Alone a handful of spiritually illumined human beings, in whom the divine fervor burned bright, acknowledged wholehearted allegiance to their planetary mentor — the spiritual hierarch of humanity. Through long ages certain individuals had been watched over and guided, strengthened and tested in innumerable ways, and those who passed the test of self-knowledge and self-sacrifice were gathered together to form the first association of spiritual-divine human beings — the Great Brotherhood.

Since the foundation and establishment of the Great Brotherhood some 12 million years ago. From this center for millions of years have been streaming in continuous procession rays of light and strength into the world at large and, more specifically, into the hearts of those whose lives are dedicated to the service of truth. From this Fraternity have gone forth messengers, masters of wisdom, to inspire the grand religions of the past, and they will continue to send forth their envoys as long as mankind requires their care.

The First Mystery Schools: The awakening of mind occurred during what theosophists call the Lemurian or Third Root Race period. Lemuria will be the subject of an intensive article in our next (December 2023) issue. Lemuria gave birth to Atlantis, the third root-race to the fourth, the fiercest battle was waged: the war between the Lords of Light and Truth and the Lords of Darkness and Ignorance.

Moral strength is not guaranteed by awakening intellect nor by the possession of psychic and physical power. The Atlanteans at their acme of development were a civilization of vigorous intellect motivated by psychophysical force, unreined in the main by moral stamina. Magic, which had been a natural gift of the Lemurians, in the hands of these giants became matter-magic, psychical magic, and the race plunged into an orgy of sorcery, the effects of which we are experiencing even today in outbursts of hate and madness.

This situation led to the establishment of the very first Mystery Schools about 5 million years ago when Atlantis was threatening to destroy itself through spiritual iniquity. From these early centers sprang other Mystery schools in all parts of the Atlantean world. By the time the Atlanteans were in their heyday of material splendor, these schools were working their hardest to stem the increasing tide of sorcery.

Many — millions probably — were saved through the establishment of the Mysteries. The more awakened of the race intuitively sought training there, while the great bulk of humanity, though unable to partake of the sacred rites of initiation on account of insufficient interior development, nevertheless were helped by the indirect radiation of spiritual force.

The Turning Point: There were those, however, who had tasted of evil and found it to their liking, and whose hardening hearts led them to receive instruction in evil discipline. Simultaneously, therefore, with the establishment of spiritual centers of light and truth, Schools of Evil were founded whose pledged votaries became in time the Left-Hand Adepts. The Lords of Light and Truth united in a calm invincible force to balance the work of these Lords of Darkness.

There now occurred the most dramatic moment — a moment millions of years long — in the whole history of this round: the turning point of the cycle from matter to spirit. At the middle of the fourth root-race in this fourth round the Atlanteans saw spirit and matter equilibrated: which way would the scales turn? Towards light and spirit, and the eventual liberation of mankind? Towards darkness and matter, and the enslavement of humanity?

The moment of a million years or so passed. Fortunately for the human race, due in large part to the efforts of the Mystery schools, the majority retained sufficient awareness of divinity to balance the scales in their favor. An unconscious choice for millions, but nevertheless a choice made by the better part of their natures — by what slender majority perhaps we shall never know.

The Mission of the Mysteries: As myths around the world record, Atlantis and the 4th Root Race giants sank beneath the waves and new lands arose to accommodate the early races of the 5th Root Race – us. Again, higher entities descended to teach early humanity the skills of civilization and then retreated to higher worlds.

As the centuries passed and civilization succeeded civilization, the love of truth once again became dimmed in human hearts and the ancient precepts fell into disuse. The Mysteries were withdrawn even further, so that the knowledge once universal became the prized reward bestowed by the great Brotherhood upon that choice minority whose lives were dedicated to truth and truth alone, unstained by weakness or selfish ambition.

With enduring consistency, the ongoing purpose of the Mysteries has, throughout the ages, remained threefold in character:

  • the persistent spiritualization of the thought-life of humanity: so that knowledge of things spiritual may penetrate into the heart, and life in time may become a benediction of peace instead of a tragedy of conflict. This aim is fulfilled by the periodic appearance of world teachers, the inspirers of what later became the great religious and philosophical schools: messengers from the Lodge who come forth at cyclic periods to strike anew the “Keynote of Truth.” Hence every great religion, every noble philosophy, every fundamental scientific insight was born from the Sanctuary, to become a new religion, a new philosophy, a new science: fresh and new for the age and the people, but ancient beyond time because nurtured in the womb of esoteric antiquity.
  • seeding grounds of adepts: nurseries for future recruits, who through trial and initiation may become fit to receive the supreme dignity of membership in the great Brotherhood;
  • the preservation of truth for future races: unsullied by human hand; and the polishing of the knowledge of truth through investigation by trained seers of the secrets of nature in worlds visible and invisible.

Unthanked, unknown, unconsidered, the Masters of Wosdom go on in their compassionate work for mankind’s enlightenment, a work that has never ceased in its outpouring of spiritual vitality for many millions of years, to continue another such period if necessity demand, until such time as humanity stirs from its lethargy and once again wills to unite its heart with truth.

The Mystery Schools Established All Over the World: We have no reliable history of the early efforts to spread the wisdom tradition via the Mystery Schools established in these early days of all over the world in India, Greece, Persia, Egypt and even as far as the British Isles. What we do have are the great monuments established as mute testimony of the early travels of the great initiates to the far corners of the world. All taught the same truths but with different analogies and emphases to their students in the scattered corners of the world.

One primeval humanity, many children-colonies; one Mystery teaching, many Mystery Schools; one archaic pattern, many variations of color and texture as each nation contributed its national Mysteries. 

The Purpose of the Mystery Schools: Characteristics of this early effort to establish Mystery Schools around the world:

1/ the original unveiling of truth to infant humanity: by divine instructors working in consonance with the Spiritual Planetary of our earth who, through the early millennia, successfully gathered together the choice few into a center of esoteric light — the great Brotherhood;

2/ the secondary unveiling springing directly as the fruit of the first: the spiritualizing influences uninterruptedly sent forth by the Brotherhood, and more specifically energized at cyclic intervals by their disciples, the great world teachers;

3/ the unveiling born as the progeny of (1) and (2): the penetration of truth into human life through the Mystery Schools, the centers of esoteric discipline, in whose inner chambers initiation of the “elect” alone takes place, but in whose outer courts the world-at-large may seek entrance to learn fundamental verities so that life may be ennobled and death accepted as naturally as is sleep. Thus is the pattern of esotericism woven century by century on the loom of truth.

The Dual Character of the Mysteries: Since their inauguration the work of the Mystery Schools has been divided into two parts:

1/ the exoteric form commonly known as the Lesser Mysteries, open to all sincere and honorable candidates for deeper learning;

2/ the esoteric form, or the Greater Mysteries, whose doors open but to the few and whose initiation into adeptship is the reward of those whose interior nobility enables them to undergo the solar rite.

In every country of the world, we find this pattern of Mystery teaching but let’s look at the Greek teachings: Classical scholars tell us that the Lesser Mysteries were conducted in the springtime at Agrai near Athens, whilethe Greater Mysterieswere celebrated in the autumn at Eleusis. In the Lesser Mysteries the candidates who experienced the first rites were called Mystai (the closed of eye and mouth). In the Greater Mysteries the Mystai became Epoptai (the clear-seeing), who participated in the mysteries of the Divine Elysion — i.e., communion with the divine.

Where were the Mystery schools located? In all ancient countries every great temple had its private or secret Mystery-School which was unknown to the multitude or partially known, and which was attached to it as a secret body. A Mystery School is not necessarily a school of people situated at some specific place, with definite and fixed locality throughout time, and with physical conditions of environment always alike. Wherever the need is great, work must be done; and the mistake of all scholars and mystics is to put too much emphasis upon places as Mystery Schools.

A Mystery School is not dependent on location; rather it is an association or brotherhood of spiritually disciplined individuals bound by one common purpose, service to humanity, a service intelligently and compassionately rendered because born of love and wisdom. It is a fact, nevertheless, that certain centers appear to be more favorable to success in spiritual things than others. Why, for instance, were the ancient seats of the Mysteries almost invariably in rock-temple or subterranean cave, in forest or mountain pass, in pyramid chamber or temple crypt? Because the currents of the astral light become quieter, more peaceful, cleaner, the farther removed from the madding crowd. Rarely will one find a seat of esoteric training near a large metropolis, for such cities generate ‘swirling whirlpools’ . . . ganglia, nerve-centers, in the lower regions of the Astral Light.

Examples of places where spiritual initiations were held include: the Himalayan Mountains and the Nilgiri Hills in India; parts of the Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory of Australia; and man-made structures such as the Elephanta Caves in India, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the Great Pyramid at Gizeh in Egypt.

It is such places of quiet, of peace, of strong silence, where the Adepts find themselves drawn, and where the secret or Greater Mysteries can most effectively function. There in the recesses of their initiation chambers the forces and currents are those of the higher astral light, the Akasa, the tenuous substance which responds to the higher currents of spirit and intellect. In this way does the Brotherhood transmit its potent spiritual vitality to the initiation halls, and the candidate whose seven-rayed soul is attuned may receive the divine imprint.

Degrees of Initiation: Every country has its own methods of preserving the knowledge and tradition of the Mysteries. The degrees are variously reckoned, sometimes three, four, five, seven, or even ten; but whatever the divisions, during the days of their purity they all honored the one divine purpose of consummating the spiritual marriage of the higher self with the awakened human soul, from which union springs the seer, the adept, the master of life.

Let’s take the example of Persia during the time of Mithraism, when the sun god was honored above earthly things, seven were the degrees, the candidate receiving a name relevant to each stage of interior growth. Using the Graeco-Latin names that have come down to us,

  • First-degree neophyte was called Corax, “Raven” — the dark bird, one in whom the light of wisdom had not yet awakened in great measure. It signified likewise a servant: one who gives of his heart totally before receiving;
  • Second degree which was termed Cryphius, “occult”: one accepted as a disciple of esoteric lore;
  • Third was Miles, “soldier,” one who had received sufficient training and purification to become a worker for good.
  • Fourth — Leo, “lion,” emblem of solar power — has reference to the fourth initiation in which the candidate begins the conscious solarizing of the nature through instruction and specialized training.
  • Fifth degree was known as Perses, “Persian,” signifying to the Persians of the time one who was becoming spiritually human — ‘manasaputrized’, that is, mind-born.
  • Sixth degree, Heliodromus, “messenger or runner of Helios (the sun)” is a reference to Mercury or Budha, as messenger between the sun in the cosmos and the sun in man: the bloom of buddhi.
  • Seventh was called Pater, “father,” the state of a Full Initiate

The Hindus likewise had various names for their disciples as they passed from one degree to another. For instance, in one school the candidates received the names of the ten Avataras of Vishnu:

  • First degree neophyte was termed Matsya, “fish”: one yet low in the scale of spiritual mastery.
  • Second was Kurma, “tortoise”: one step higher in evolutionary development.
  • Third degree was called Varaha, “boar,” a further advance in individualization,
  • Fourth was termed Nara-simha, “man-lion.” This fourth stage marks the turning point between the preliminary degrees of the Lesser Mysteries and the advanced degrees of the Greater Mysteries. This title of man-lion points to the choice demanded of the aspirant between dominance of animal soul qualities and the supremacy henceforth of the truly human attributes. Success in the fourth degree insured the entrance into:
  • Fifth called Vamana, “dwarf,” in which the candidate assumed the robes of occult humanhood, though such humanhood was as yet infantile compared to full mastery.
  • Parasu-Rama, “Rama with an axe,” name of the sixth-degree neophyte, suggests one capable of hewing his way with equanimity through the worlds of both spirit and matter.
  •  Seventh degree the disciple becomes fully humanized, receiving the name of Rama, hero of the Ramayana, an important epic of Hindustan.
  • Eighth: Krishna, the avatara whose death ushered in the Kali yuga some 5,000 years ago;
  •  Ninth: Buddha, whose renunciation of nirvana brought light and peace to a sorrowing world;
  • Tenth: Kalkin or Kalki, the “white-horse” avatara who is yet to come. As noted in the Vishnu Purana (Bk IV, ch. xxiv), he is destined to appear at the end of the Kali or Iron Age, seated on a white horse, with a drawn sword blazing like a comet, for the destruction of the wicked, the renovation of creation, and the restoration of purity. In ancient symbology the horse also symbolized the sun, hence the tenth avatara will come riding the steed of solar glory to usher in the New Age clothed with the sun of spiritual illumination.

Whilst seven were the degrees usually enumerated in the Mysteries, hints have been given of three higher degrees than the seventh. But so esoteric would these be that only the most spiritualized of humanity could comprehend and hence undertake these divine initiations.

Rare indeed are those who become avatara-like; rarer still, “as rare as are the flowers of the Udumbara-tree” are the Buddhas. As for the tenth and last — such has been left unmarred by description. – Condensed from Grace F. Knoche’s book: The Mystery Schools, with some additions by Andrew Rooke.

“ … It appears that all the perfections of civilization, and all the advancement made in philosophy, science and art amongst the ancients are due to those institutions [ie. The Mystery Schools] which, under the veil of mystery, sought to illustrate the sublimest truths of religion, morality, and virtue, and impress them on the hearts of their disciples … Their chief object was to teach the doctrine of one God, the resurrection of man to eternal life, the dignity of the human soul, and to lead the people to see the shadow of deity, magnificence, and splendour of the universe.” – Robert Macoy from his General History of Freemasonry.