With the growing popularity of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Shamanism, we can forget that Western culture has always had its own traditions of transcendence, the Western Mysteries. Sometimes called the Divine Mysteries, the Western Mysteries are the study of the occult; occult means “hidden,” or secret teachings. “Mystery” means something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain, while “divine” comes from the Sanskrit root “dev,” meaning “to shine,” as in deva, deity or diva.
The Divine Mysteries are different from magic, the power to apparently influence the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces. For some people, this misinterpretation has given the Mysteries a bad reputation.
The Mysteries comprise of studies using the left-brain talents of intellect, reason and logic to access right-brain associative and perceptual experiences. The Western Mysteries then pivot and incorporate these right-brain experiences back into our left-brain, ego-based understanding. Thus descriptions such as “impossible to understand or explain” and “supernatural” reflect a left-brain bias, simply because right-brain experiences are beyond language or rational thought.
The Esoteric Teachings of Judaism, Christianity & Islam
The Divine Mysteries consist of the teachings of esoteric Judaism, Christianity and Islam. All of these stem from the ancient teachings of Greece and Egypt, and even further back into our collective spiritual past. In fact, these esoteric teachings are wellspring from which came the more conventional versions of those religions too.
How the Mysteries permeate Western culture can be demonstrated by one example; playing cards. The set of 52 cards in a deck plus two Jokers were derived from the Tarot deck. The Tarot deck has 74 images, divided into two groups: twenty-two major images and 52 minor images. The major images were taken out to produce the 52 cards in the regular playing deck we know today. The two Jokers were added in to represent the missing major images. In the Tarot deck the Jokers, reduced to just one, is called The Fool. In the Tarot the Fool represents freedom and adventure, among other things.
The Western Mysteries Tradition went Underground
Around 300 A.D. the fundamentalist Church of Rome consolidated, conservatized and politicized the teachings of Christ, which were rooted in the Divine Mystery tradition. Part of the Mysteries included more meditative and experiential teachings, presented as metaphors, and these were driven underground. There they remained until modern times, practiced more or less in secret by the likes of troubadours, Templars, Masons, Rosicrucians, Cabalists, Sufis, and more recently, new-age adherents.
These teachings appear in Mozart’s Magic Flute, Wagner’s Parsifal, and Cabalistic teachings that use the Tarot symbols. Conservative religious indoctrination has led to most people considering the Tarot deck, for example, as a fortune telling vehicle, and operas as mere stories; in fact they are spiritual teachings that can far outstrip conventional religion in profundity.
The Mysteries are also represented in the poetry of people like William Blake, Rainer Maria Rilke, in stories like Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge and in movies like The Fisher King and Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day. (It’s no coincidence that the actor Bill Murray played in both Groundhog Day and Razor’s Edge. Reportedly he made Ghost Busters on the condition that he could do The Razor’s Edge.)
The Interactive Nature of the Western Mysteries
While teachings like Buddhism are largely contemplative in style, the Western Mysteries are more interactive. Most of our arts and sciences, which enrich the modern world, were discovered and developed by initiates of the Mysteries: what started out as alchemy became chemistry, astrology became astronomy, and spiritual development became psychology. While left-brain analytics have created “hard” science, the early “scientists” still had right-brain inclinations: witness Leonardo da Vinci and his marriage of art and science. Some consider that right-brain insights informed the left-brain dialectic.
Galileo didn’t just believe in astrology: he practiced it, taught it to medical students, and conducted it for aristocratic patrons, who needed to know optimal days for alliances and military maneuvers. Historians have estimated that Sir Isaac Newton wrote more than a million words of alchemical notes throughout his lifetime.
Balancing the Left and Right Brain for a Balanced World
The Divine Mysteries draw on right-brain experiences to guide and inspire the left brain and its agent, the ego, to direct and intuit our next steps as a species. The ignoring of right-brain values like ecology, Gaia and universal consciousness (for example Buddha nature and Christ consciousness) have caused human beings to teeter imbalanced, imperiling our own – and other species’ – existence with mass species extinction, climate change and over population.
The key Message of United Consciousness
The Divine Mysteries use metaphor in lieu of fact, images in lieu of sensorial data and interdependence and impermanence in lieu of psychological ego to share this message: we are conscious beings living in a conscious universe, where everyone and everything are intimately connected to each other.
This implies we must wake up to the illusion that we are merely separate and individualistic beings in a hostile environment struggling to survive and facing a certain and unpleasant death.
Instead, the Mysteries teach us that we are cells in a living cosmos, perpetually in transformation from form to energy to form, and so on for eternity. The Mysteries teach that we can be, and are, conscious of this. As such we can shape and mold our present and future to reflect that understanding.
Being & Knowing
As individual human beings, the key ingredients in bringing this about is rising above an identity of being only a separate consciousness that can know, and also to tune into a united consciousness that is. The two qualities required for this are Compassion and Wisdom. The Mysteries show us the path to embody, combine and balance them.
Doug Duncan & Catherine Pawasarat are modern day teachers of transcendence. Their work with students draws upon Buddhist, Western Mysteries, modern psychology and other traditions. If you found this article helpful, consider sharing your gratitude by making a gift of Dana to the Teachers.
For those interested in studying the Western Mysteries and Eastern traditions further, Doug & Catherine offer courses and retreats throughout the year.