THE CYCLE OF CULTURE AND SACRIFICE
The term "culture" has two essential meanings, an objective and a subjective one. The former is predominant in the German, the latter in the French and Anglo-Saxon conception. Objectively a culture is the sum-total of life-forms which directly express the spirit of a certain race in certain geographical surroundings during a certain period — to borrow somewhat from Keyserling's definition in "The World in the Making." Subjectively speaking culture, in the individual, is that condition of psycho-mental development and that type of behavior due to his being thoroughly permeated by the emanations, as it were the 'perfume,' of the life-forms above mentioned. We shall deal only with the objective aspects of culture. First of all the term "life-form" needs to be defined as clearly though as generally as possible, for the most important problems of culture, art and human activity as a whole can hardly be understood unless the meaning of a "life-form" and the nature of its components be thoroughly grasped.
A life-form is in every case an organic form. An organic form is a complex entity, the several parts of which are first related to a common center, then integrated into a whole by some sort of homogenizing power. A block of stone after being cut from the quarry is an inorganic form because its many particles or molecules are not related to any common center nor integrated into a whole. Thus while such a stone mass has a certain shape (one ought not really to call it a form) it does not constitute a life-form. In it life is not manifest. There being no life-center there can be no power of reproduction, no permanent "form" (i.e., formula of relationship between parts and whole). There is really no whole, only an ephemeral aggregate of many particles without any characteristic value, save that which is inherent in every particle considered singly.
In a life-form Life or Spirit expresses itself more or less completely and directly. One may abstractly conceive Spirit without any vehicle of manifestation, without any life-form in which it is expressed; in which case, Spirit is merely the unconditioned and eternal power of motion. But outside of such a purely abstract conception it is evident that Spirit is always connected with some form of substance which it animates. Spirit in such a connection with a form becomes Life. The form in which life expresses itself as a power of permanent form-preservation and of reproduction is thus a "life-form."
But life presents itself with an infinitude of characteristics, expresses itself in an infinite variety of modes depending upon that type and density of substance which it animates and correlates into organic forms. Thus we have life-forms which we call biological (plants, animals, human bodies) and which are organisms of physical substance (i.e., of substance perceptible by our ordinary senses) endowed with the power of reproduction by means of sexual action; but we have also life-forms which we may call cultural and which, though manifesting outwardly in and through sensorially perceptible elements, are dealing essentially with what we would define as "psycho-mental" substance. Among such cultural life-forms we will mention for instance esthetical forms in which reside the somewhat mysterious power of inspiring or "in-spiriting" human beings, (such forms may be poetic, literary, musical, plastic or dramatic), socio-political forms which we often call "states" and which include many types of secondary social organisms, religious forms "binding back" human personalities into great psychic units, churches, groups of worship, mystic brotherhoods, etc.
A culture is the sum-total of all these life-forms which are constituted during certain periods in the evolution of all human races. It is itself as a whole a great life-form. In it the spirit of a race, of a time, of a continent or a part of a continent manifests. Such manifestations deal with tangible phenomena which they organize. A state integrates human beings who are physical realities into a whole, more or less unified and permanent as the case may be. Yet the state itself as a life-form is really a psycho-mental entity of a psychomental nature. The esthetical character of art resides in its essential form which is an archetypal abstract element. All great art is first and foremost symbolic (in the true sense of the word); and all symbols are mental generalizations, super-physical realities.
But the fact that a culture is essentially a psycho-mental organism does not make it less subject to the general laws ruling the evolution of these other organic forms which we call biological organisms. Exactly as the latter grow, mature and decay and have their life-span mapped out by the character of the species and of the surroundings (in space and time) in which the organism lives, so the former also grows, matures and decays, has its own life-cycle encompassing a certain number of centuries determined by the inherent character of the race manifesting therein its spirit, its vitality, its mentality, as well as by geographical, telluric and presumably sidereal influences.
The idea that a culture is an organism which has a rhythm and morphology of its own and a certain fixed cycle of development obeying general laws valid in spite of variations of time and locality, has been recently popularized by Oswald Spengler and other German philosophers; but it is a very ancient idea indeed, which we find expressed in various ways in practically all archaic philosophies and mythologies.
Our aim in the following pages is to study in a more general and philosophical way than has probably been done by modern writers, the scheme of development of a culture. And in order to give to our study its full extension we will consider not only the period during which cultural forms appear, grow and mature but the much less understood period during which the spirit of a race as it were condenses itself into objectivity, that period which is often called involutionary in contradistinction to the evolutionary phase during which forms grow toward an ever fuller response to the subjective and unifying principle of life, which we might call Soul — as we shall see presently.
In other words instead of considering the purely formal or manifested phase of what is nowadays called a culture especially by Spengler, we shall study the wider cycle of a Race development as it takes place on a certain continent.
Such a cycle may be divided as we shall see into three great periods, which we shall briefly study in turn. This being done we shall find ourselves in possession of a general and universal formula of cyclic development which, being based on universal and abstract Laws of Life, is adaptable to all lifecycles whatsoever, whether it be the birth of a universe, or of a single true work of art. We shall hint here and there at the possibility of applying the laws which we will define to several types of life-cycles. We shall do this not only to clarify by means of appropriate and corresponding symbolic representations the subject we shall be treating, but also to show the unity of the scheme in all realms of life-manifestations. It is only as such a unity is recognized and becomes a vital force in us that we are able to think, feel and act as truly spiritual (because Spirit-manifesting) beings. And this is the supreme goal of all men.
However we shall occupy ourselves mostly with racial culture and cultural forms, leaving the study of other lifecycles (for instance the cycle of a human existence or incarnation) to some further essay. We trust thereby to be able to give a coherent and easily apprehendable survey of matters which ought to be of vital interest to all men, especially at this critical moment when the old European culture-cycle proper is being ended, and a new phase of world life is beginning, affecting in very different ways Europe, America and Asia. We believe that this new phase is almost universally misunderstood and that dire consequences may flow from such a misunderstanding. In fact most of the present chaos in the mind of our generation is due to this; and we believe that a great deal of light and serenity will come to those who patiently and perseveringly probe the present situation of the world (especially the Western world) using the general ideas expressed in the following pages as instruments of knowledge and discriminative understanding.
II. Involution, Evolution, Transvolution
Let us consider again Keyserling's definition of culture. Culture means "nothing more nor less than life-form as direct expression of spirit." The elements involved in such a definition are: spirit, which may be at the limit and in the abstract the unconditioned and universal Spirit, but which, whenever a specific culture is considered, is the spirit of a certain time period in a certain geographical locality (in the case of a true world-culture this would mean the planet as a whole); then the process by means of which a direct expression of this spirit is made possible; then the Life-form, which means a collectivity of living cells (or molecules or whatever it may be) unified or integrated into an organic whole, following a certain pattern of organization, i.e., a certain formula of relationship between the composite parts of the whole entity.
Without attempting a complete and thoroughly adequate metaphysical explanation of the nature of these three elements, we may consider spirit to be a certain Impulse (in other words Energy in motion) issued from the center of a defined locality in space at a certain moment. This Impulse has a certain momentum, a certain power of expansion, thanks to which it spreads in all directions until the expansive power is exhausted and held in check by the resistance of the surrounding substance. As this occurs, one may say that the Impulse has reached its boundaries in whatever direction one may then consider its expansion. Should we make a sort of graph of such boundaries we would then get a definite shape.
Having reached these boundaries the Impulse rebounds as it were and begins to move center-ward. As it does so, the substance which it had passed through and permeated during the outgoing period becomes organized in response to the keynote of the Impulse, as, in the well-known experiment, sand shapes itself into geometrical patterns in response to the tone of the violin-string which sets it into vibration. When the center whence the Impulse originally arose is reached again, then the work of organization of the form is completed. A life-form is produced which is a direct and complete expression of the spirit which moved its substance into shape. A definite entity is produced with a rhythm of its own, with a certain character (modality of being), with a certain ethos.
This entity may be constituted by any type of substance; in other words it may be a biological entity like a cat or a tree or even a molecule, or else it may be a psycho-mental entity like a work of art or a culture in general. In both cases there is an entity, the difference being only in the type of Impulse and the type of substance filling the locality through which this Impulse radiated at first; and by 'locality' we mean not only a geographical locality, but any portion of space — using the term as modern physicists do, who speak of the electron being merely a locality from which energy radiates.
This Impulse and the substance through which it radiates originally are in a sense two aspects of the same thing; the former being spirit and the latter matter; spirit and matter being considered in all universalistic metaphysics as two poles of the same reality. In other words the Impulse is like a musical tone (a vibration, thus energy in motion) which must needs flow out of some sort of musical instrument. One may conceive the tone as a soundless abstraction (musical note of a certain pitch), and one may speak of the timbre of the musical instrument even when there is no one to play it; but in reality and in actuality one cannot differentiate the abstract note from the timbre in the tone-experience which reaches our consciousness. In the actual tone, abstract note and instrumental timbre are one. Likewise in the culture the Spirit-Impulse and the human substance this Spirit-Impulse ensouls are unified. In the life-form spirit and matter are married or rather integrated.
This human substance we spoke of grows out of earth contacts and every day life experience. Every day experience is moulded by geographical surroundings, by climate, by the type of nature-forms which are beheld and in many ways apprehended by the human consciousness feeling outward and reacting to the impact of other lives. And so the substance of a certain culture is really made up of an infinitude of psychic reactions to the surroundings, to the earth.
In such wise is the theory of economic determinism based upon the influence of environment justified to a large extent; in fact to the extent that the substance of a culture, or the psychic nature (which truly is earth-born) is considered. But substance and form must not be confused, however interrelated they may be, however unified the elements of Spirit-impulse, Form-boundaries and Substance (within and without these boundaries) may appear to the metaphysician. For all practical purposes these three elements have to be considered separately; or else nothing but confusion will ever result.
Let us define once more the process above described. An Impulse arises at a certain point of space (let us say in Europe) and at a certain time. A new sense of life, a new Tone of life, a new Ideal and Thought are brought out, expounded through some human agencies which we shall consider later. This Spirit-Impulse spreads, pervading as it were many lands and many souls. It does so, not really as a doctrine or system — but rather as a Faith, as a wave of enthusiasm for a new Spirit flowing outward. This flow however does not and cannot last indefinitely. A reaction is bound to follow. Powers of opposition are aroused; the old ideals, old faiths, old systems oppose more and more powerfully the spread of the new Spirit which eventually reaches the limit of its expansion. This marks the end of the Involutionary Period.
After this occurs, the Impulse as it were turns back to the center whence it sprang and there begins the second Evolutionary period of the cycle — that of concentration. Centrifugal expansion of radiating Energy sweeping through the surrounding regions transforms itself into centripetal concentration, into the effort to stabilize, to organize the ground conquered — whenever such ground is not lost and reconquered by the reactionary powers of the old.
Then form appears. The boundaries are surveyed, the meaning and powers of the substance which they encompass is studied; this substance is organized, that is, differentiated into specialized organs whose functions become defined. The "life-form" reveals itself progressively as an entity, as a culture; a process culminating at the time the center is reached back; then the second phase ends.
This reaching back to the center discovers the meaning of the entire process, centrifugal and centripetal. It impresses the life-form with the meaning of its limitations, of its destiny, therefore, of its individual character. Such an impression manifests as and indeed IS Consciousness. The Individual Self becomes conscious of the quality and quantity of Energy that radiated in the Original Impulse, conscious also of the power of resistance of the surroundings (of the old substance) to that Impulse — two quantities and qualities which in a sense are interchangeable. The life-form, which is the Individual Self in manifestation, becomes conscious of its center and heart. It becomes thus fully integrated, unified in consciousness; thus a fit vehicle for significant activity.
Until the center was reached at the end of the period of concentration the activities of the substance within the boundaries set by the limitations to the outgoing Impulse were not fully 'organized,' not fully integrated, that is, illumined by the realization of the center. They were activities born of the substance as substance-elemental activities we might say. But once the center is reached at the end of the period of concentration and the life-form is thus centered, equilibrated, made significant, then the activities of the substance become not only activities in function of the life-form as a unit, but activities with a full individual meaning. The substance ceases to react to impressions, stimuli and internal desires in terms of automatic elemental movements; it begins to function as differentiated energies working for the purpose of the life-form i.e., of the Whole. This purpose is of course merely for the life-form to fulfill itself, to enact its own character, its own dharma: to sound out the individual tone it is in the Great Symphony of Life. This inherent character of the individual self (individual because limited in a form and thus differentiated from all other selves), this congenital nature manifests also in what is called the ethos of the life-form — ethos of the individual human being, ethos of a work of art, or of a culture as a whole.
Thus again the ethos of a life-form is the emanation, the perfume flowing out therefrom. This ethos then begins to expand outward, and the third phase of the life-process begins, also a centrifugal phase like the first, but of a different character. While, during the first, Life or Spirit radiates as energy and cosmic Impulse, during the third it flows from or rather through the life-form as a threefold emanation: as consciousness and knowledge, as compassionate (i.e., encompassing) love, as significant thus symbolic activity. Life or Spirit has become Soul. Soul acting itself out through the life-form, this is what we call: Transvolution.
The old Gnostics (as well as modern Theosophists) spoke of the three Logoi, or Life-periods really. The first was Motion, the second Form, the third Mind or Man. Man is that which totally relates Motion to Form, or in a sense Spirit to Matter. From all life-forms there must arise some sort of consciousness, some type of perfume or ethos; so that no living entity is totally deprived of consciousness, however rudimentary this may be. But in Man alone this consciousness emanating from the life-form is related to and unified with the Original Impulse which is Spirit-Motion, thereby transforming mere consciousness into Self-consciousness.
When Self-consciousness is not merely enjoyed for its own sake in a state of blissful selfishness, then Compassionate Love urges on the individual self away from the center and into the third phase of activity above mentioned. Then Man enters the period of significant and symbolic deeds. He acts truly as a Logos, or incarnated Word. He brings forth meanings realized in its own fully centered Self-consciousness, shining through deeds imbued with such meanings. He emanates his own ethos, the Law of his own being — a Law increasingly significant to an ever greater number of human beings, as his own being becomes more and more universal.
The more powerful the Original Impulse the vaster the field of manifestation conquered, and the greater the cycle of expansion organized during the second period of return centerward. The more encompassing the life-form the fuller and more universal the consciousness arising therefrom, and the nearer the individual self to the Universal Self; and as the self pours itself outward again in words and deeds, the more significant do these become to all men, because they are the manifestation of an ethos richer and fuller with the totality of Life-experience. Thus it is said that men like Buddha or Jesus lived in parables, for their every deed and word were universal symbols true and meaningful to all who had ears to hear.
Such lives as those of all great Spiritual Teachers, and to a measure of all men who act out from their Soul-center the third phase of Life, are in the true sense of the term sacrifices, that is, series of sacramental actions. The best way of defining such sacramental actions is to say that they are actions performed by an individual acting as the representative of some spiritual power, and in a sense of the Universal Self. When a Catholic priest consecrates the Host and distributes it to the congregation he is acting symbolically and, from the Church's standpoint, as a temporary manifestation of the Christ or Universal Soul. He is not acting from his own personal self center, but the Universal Soul is acting through him. He is merely an instrument out of which Soul-force radiates into humanity at large. He is performing a function in terms of the Whole.
The difference between substantial and functional activity already mentioned must be emphasized, for it is the key to the very problem of spiritual living. To make it clearer let us consider the little spot in the retina in which nearly all the function of vision is focused. It is composed of a few cells, these cells of molecules of substance, which change constantly, the old ones being replaced by new ones, the elements of which are drawn from the blood, itself renewed by the food assimilated. These cells are groups of changing molecules, and as such impermanent; but as particular types of cell-formation adapted to the function of seeing they are relatively permanent, unchangeable as long as the human being, or even our present race of human beings, lives.
In other words the molecular aggregation changes, but the cell-form especially adapted to a definite function does not. This cell-form is a more or less perfect organic form, a life-form. The molecular aggregation is the sum-total of these molecules which after having been assimilated by digestion and incorporated into the blood-stream have reached a certain locality of the human body and thereafter having adapted themselves to the functional action required by that particular locality of the body, perform as an organic cell the functional actions needed.
In a normal human body such molecular groups perform at once the required functional actions, because the human body is a thoroughly organic, or organated, entity. However, in case of disease, the performance of the functional actions is not perfect, the organic power of the body as a whole not being able to enforce its functional Will upon a certain group of molecular aggregations.
What happens then, is that these molecular groups, instead of performing functional actions (in terms of the whole of the body) are indulging in substantial (or elemental, or chemical) activities of their own. That is to say they are acting as molecules, singly or in groups, and not as organic cells; this, because as molecules they have a life and certain attractive or repulsive propensities of their own. These propensities govern their behavior as molecules as long as the superior will of the function does not compel them to act as cells of the whole. When it does, that which was molecular activity becomes cellular action, and the molecular agglomeration (we might say the molecular mob) becomes a cell having a definite form for the fulfillment of a definite functional purpose in terms of the Whole.
This disease condition in a fully organated body is a normal condition when the body is not yet really a body, but only a colony of cells. In the coralline stage of life, molecules coalesce with certain definite cell characteristics, but functional activities are practically non-existent because there is not yet any organic whole, i.e., any organizing center. The cell is not functionally differentiated. At such a stage it is the unit, the very simplest life-form. Truly such cells do coalesce, but the colony thus constituted has no definite organic form of its own, merely some general morphologic tendencies easily modified by the condition of the surroundings.
As a result under the stress of molecular forces the cell may expand enormously or see its growth thwarted. For in such a cell the dominating power is that of molecular affinity or repulsion; while in cells which are parts of an organic body molecular forces have become subservient to the functional requirements demanded by the body as a whole. Then these molecular forces get loose as it were and overpower the functional will of the organic Whole, then the cell begins to expand beyond measure and a sort of cancerous growth occurs within the body. On the contrary, if the molecular forces slacken, the cell becomes atrophied or dies and the functional actions not being performed, a condition of inertia occurs in the organ, which causes disease and affects the Whole.
In other words the cell is always a form. But either it is energized by molecular forces or it serves some functional purpose within an organic Whole. In the former case we may liken the cell to the personal soul, in the latter to the spiritual or universal (or we should really say: univerted) Soul of man. Personality and Individuality: we must emphasize this duality, which we will trace presently in cultural manifestations as well. Man as a personality is a cell in the coralline stage of development. Man as an individuality is a cell in the fully organic stage, that is having value in function of a Whole Humanity, or Man — and performing actions which have functional meaning in terms of the Whole, which are significant deeds, parables — sacrificial actions.
In terms of our preceding definition of the three great Periods of Life we can say also that molecules constitute that cosmic substance which the Original Impulse beginning the entire process finds surrounding its source-center, and which it pervades. The second or evolutionary Period is that during which the cell is formed. The cell being the life-form unit, the simplest possible life-form, is the basic result of the form-building process which is the very essence of evolution. In the cell, as the cell, molecular forces become progressively centered and unified. But it is only as the centering is really accomplished and functional differentiation occurs in terms of some greater Whole that these molecular forces change as it were their focus; that their automatic, elemental and chemical activity takes a functional meaning and becomes the significant deeds of the Whole which acts through them.
To explain the entire process from a cosmic standpoint from the universe down to the single cell, would require many pages and would involve considerations far beyond the scope of this essay. We present this merely as a formula which when properly and perseveringly studied and applied, will provide explanations for all conceivable problems of life, as it is one of universal significance and application — the application of which to particular cases however, requires much care and a certain intuitive perception of the Whole.
The main point which we wish to bring out here is this: that there are two different types of life-activity, one which we may call substantial, molecular, personal, the other which is functional, individual (in the restricted sense of the term), spiritual because Spirit-manifesting, sacrificial, or sacramental. These two types of activity, when leading to the creation of cultural and esthetical forms give birth to two fundamentally different types of such forms; and it is of great importance that we should know how to distinguish these two types and to appreciate their effects upon men's lives.
But before coming to this point let us study more specifically the unfoldment of a cultural cycle as a whole, and especially the development of the European cycle which is now ending.
III. The Evolution of a Culture
The cycle of a culture begins with a Spirit-Impulse, which is like the sounding out of a new Tone of life, a new keynote or vibration; with the coming into activity of a new rhythm of life, a new Ideal or Faith. At the source we always find some great Spiritual Personality or Personalities whose lives are perfect symbolic manifestations of that new Ideal of life. These collectively constitute the Original Impulse, or rather they are the channels through which this Spirit-Impulse flows into the racial substance of humanity.
We shall explain later on what these Personalities represent and whence they came. At present let us temporarily forget them and consider only the Spirit-Impulse which flowed through them and is spreading outward, pervading surrounding collectivities of human beings. Unlike Spengler who, in his "Decline of the West," begins this cycle of Christian European culture with the 9th century A.D., at the time when a new type of cultural form came definitely into existence in the north of Europe, we shall take as our starting point the first century B. C. which may have been truly the century during which Jesus lived (according to many traditions).
At that time the Spirit-Impulse occurred which we may characterize generally by the term Christianity. We will call the Christian cycle that cycle which lasted from about 100 B.C. to 1900 A.D., that is, two thousand years. The first half of this cycle is what we called the Involutionary Period, during which the Spirit-Impulse of Christianity spread outward until it reached its destined boundaries; during which also the old forms of the preceding Greco-Latin culture crumbled into pieces like decaying leaves during Fall (which decaying leaves provide the future Spring-vegetation with chemical elements, with manure).
In the yearly cycle of vegetation, which is a very remarkable symbol of the cultural human cycle — a year in the former corresponding roughly to the time of the passage of the sun through a zodiacal sign by precession (about 2100 years) — we find that this Involutionary Period includes the six months from the Fall to the Spring equinox, each season corresponding roughly to 500 years. It is the seed-period, during which no green vegetation is to be seen and vegetable life lies hidden within the seed. Let us not forget that life during this first period exists only as dynamic motion and not as manifested form; thus it is hidden. In the outer world the only thing perceptible sensorially is the decay of old forms.
As the Involutionary Impulse reaches its furthermost limits the direction becomes reversed and it moves centerward. Then the birth and development of life-forms takes place. It is Spring in the year, as in the Race cycle.
It is the time which Spengler regards as the beginning of the cultural cycle; and in a sense truly he is right. However he considers thus only the form-side of life, the evolutionary growth and devolutionary decay of life-forms. This leads him into many difficulties, the main one being the need to find a name for what took place during the first eight or nine centuries of our era, and the creation of a fictitious cultural entity which he calls the Arab culture — a matter the discussion of which would however lead us far from our present subject.
Christian cultural forms begin thus to appear with the later Romanesque and still more the Gothic styles of art, preceded by the Viking invasions, and followed by and developed during the Crusades. The period between the death of Charlemagne, which marks the beginning of the morphological differentiation of European nations (especially of the dualism France-Germany on which the entire history of Europe is based), and the death of Joan of Arc, followed a little later by the discovery of America (1492), has all the characteristics of Spring time. It has the youthfulness of a life filled with the exuberance of its own discoveries. It has the mystic fragrance of pre-sexual love. The fantastic Crusades, chivalry, the Celtic tales, the mystery of alchemical lore, these and many other significant manifestations symbolize perfectly the entire era, the first half of the Evolutionary Period.
The second half, the Summer quarter in the year cycle, begins with the Renaissance, preluded by its occult and spiritual counterpart: Rosicrucianism. It is characterized by the development of mind, scientific mind. The life-form becomes more and more organic and reaches more definitely toward some sort of a center, toward some sort of self-consciousness. It becomes thus more set. The problems of Form increase in importance; we have then the classical period. Nations become more strictly individualized.
This leads to the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, during which the three aspects of Soul-consciousness, Soul-redemption and Soul-regeneration (Knowledge, Love and Sacrifice aspects of the Soul) develop respectively, that is to say, in the few human beings who reach Soulhood. The last century mentioned, our present one, is in fact the beginning of the third phase, or Transvolutionary Period; and the supreme moment of Consciousness occurred for the Race as a spiritual Whole during the 19th century, the century of prophets, of avatars, of leaders in all realms of life and activity, philosophical and scientific knowledge, religion, etc., beginning with the great religious movement of the Bab and Baha'u'llah in Persia and Syria, which gave the keynote — in a cosmic sense — of the new Era (first declaration in 1844); then following with the Communist and Socialist movements (Communist Manifesto 1848); the Theosophical Movement and its numerous off-shoots; and the general change of our mode of living which came in the wake of numberless scientific discoveries and inventions.
Since the Great War we are beginning to witness the breaking down of the life-forms evolved during the Christian European cycle. Devolution is the key-note, life turning destructive of the very form it had built and which, in the case in question, had been perverted or calcarized into a shell.
Yet there has been in the Race considered as a whole a supreme moment of Consciousness; that is to say, there have been a few individual souls who have become vehicles transfigured by such a Consciousness of the racial or cyclic Whole, in whom the European Cycle has known its primordial and ultimate Meaning, who collectively have become the Seed grown as the ultimate achievement of the European plant. What their names as personalities were, we will not take time to discuss. We consider them here merely in function of the European Cycle as a whole, as functional parts of that Cycle, those parts which have been the organs for Soul-consciousness, for universalized Self-consciousness.
As the Evolutionary Period ended, as evolution neutralized involution, the Cycle in a sense had been balanced, fulfilled. Yet Life and Becoming had to go on. How could they go on? Through the sacrifice of these Seed-Personalities in whom Consciousness had been reached and who thus became Soul. Now this Soul goes forth in sacrificial activity, and transvolution begins. Through it the Spirit-Impulse flows anew.
This collective Seed-Soul of the Christian-European Cycle will play in the coming centuries, the first of the new cycle which We may call for lack of a better term the Aquarian find that this Involutionary Period includes the six months Cycle (connecting it with the passage of the sun by precession through the sign Aquarius), exactly the same part as was played in the early centuries of the Christian era by Jesus and the great Christian Gnostics, the Neo-Platonists of Alexandria and, perhaps even before them, by some significant Egyptian Personalities like Pot-Ammun.
To mention only the Christian Gnostics (heirs to the Egypto-Kabbalistic and Chaldean traditions) and the Neo-Platonists and Neo-Pythagoreans (heirs to the spiritual wisdom of Greece), we may well consider these the flowering and the seed of the preceding East-Mediterranean Cycle. In them that cycle reached supreme Consciousness and through them the new Spirit-Impulse, the Involutionary Period of which then began, flowed outward.
Just as the seed must sacrifice itself as a seed so that the plant may come into being, likewise these Seed-men were the very energy which condensed later into the Form of the new cycle. They were thus the individual self of that new cycle. For, and this is the important point, the supreme moment of centering and of Consciousness at the end of a cycle transforms itself immediately (speaking in general) into Soul. Soul turns then into sacrificial activity, and that activity, that motion energy going forth again throughout the Transvolutionary Period, is indeed the individual self, the Tone of the new cycle. This Tone little by little loses part of its momentum and becomes a Form in contact with the raw substance which it encounters in its outward going. An instance of such a raw substance in the case of the European Cycle was the Barbarians who had swept from the North-East into the crumbling forms of the old Celtic and Mediterranean world.
During the first centuries of the Christian era we find therefore three types of human beings or human groups: (1) Those who represented the old Mediterranean forms and the automatic life born out of these decaying forms, some of whom stuck frantically to the names of old, others (more clever and ambitious) who adopted the new names of the Christian Cycle but used them merely to camouflage the old forms and ideals (for instance the Alexandrinian Greeks who adopted Christianity, became Bishops, and perverted thus spiritual Christianity into an orthodox Church of which they became the rulers); (2) Those who after having communed with the flower of Consciousness of the past cycle, had realized the Soul, the Christos within and were going forth individually or in groups radiating Soul-energy in sacrificial action, others preserving preciously the memory of the Consciousness- Tradition reached; (3) The Barbarians, including of course the slaves and the submerged classes of the old cycle, who were sweeping away the old shells and bringing in clean new human substance for the forms of the new cycle to be built with.
The whole development of any life-cycle is conditioned by the interaction of these three types of abstract elements; decaying forms and form-born ideals, sacrificial Personalities manifesting the Soul outward, and the inchoate masses. The first represents the inheritance of the past, usually trying to resist progress and thus acting as a reactionary force; the second stands for the future and for Life in general ceaselessly moving onward to greater achievements; the third is the raw material out of which this future may be born. We say "may be born" for while there will of course always be some sort of a birth, yet if the powers of the past are strong enough to attract to their reactionary ideals the raw material of the race, then in a sense no real future will be born; it will be mostly a repetition of past errors and past failures under conditions of which but the outer aspect will have been changed.
If this is the case, then the sacrifice of the few who constituted the Soul-Seed of the new cycle will have been almost in vain; at any rate it will have affected but a small elite, but not the race as a whole. This has been really the case as far as the European cycle is concerned. The true Gnostics and Neo-Platonists who manifested in their sacramental lives and their sacred brotherhoods the transvolutionary Soul-aspect of Life were defeated by the Alexandrinian Greek and the so-called Church Fathers in general. Thus they became heretics, persecuted all throughout the European cycle. Manicheans, Templars, Albigenses, Alchemists, Rosicrucians, and later the true Masons; these are many names which hide a more or less identical tradition. The history of such groups is the history of the Transvolutionary Period of the East-Mediterranean cycle (to which we should add also the Celtic Irish cycle contemporary with it, the influence of which on medieval Europe was tremendous) which preceded and in a sense gave birth to this Christian European era.
The important point to grasp is the continuity of the cyclic process. It is true that each cultural cycle is a somewhat independent whole; but not independent as Spengler seems to conceive such an independence. Independent, yet closely related by the law of cyclic inheritance, by the fact that the Transvolutionary Period of a cycle is simultaneous with the Involuntary Period of the succeeding cycle, and not only simultaneous in an unrelated way, but the very Soul of that new cycle.
This alone makes spiritual progress possible. Otherwise we would have the Eternal Return process exalted by Nietzsche — taught by him for reasons which his disciples apparently have not discovered and which, when properly grasped, justify his idea, which was both highly metaphysical and practical. Because there is spiritual transvolution and sacrificial action, the circumference becomes a spiral. Sacrifice pulls humanity upward toward the Soul, toward an ever greater sense of Universal Life, toward an ever greater realization of the Universal Self, of the Christos within.
Such an upward pull manifests in various ways; and one of these ways or methods is Art, but a type of art which we must differentiate from what usually passes under the name of art: Sacred Art.
IV. Sacred Versus Esthetical Art
Art presupposes forms. Whether we consider a symphony or a dance or a painting, we are really dealing with forms, that is with certain material or substantial elements organized into a meaningful artistic form. A symphony is a musical form composed of tones or notes, a dance-ritual or ballet, a choreographic form composed of evolving gestures or bodily patterns, a painting, a pictorial form made up of points, lines and surfaces of various colorations.
Where the difference lies however is in the spirit animating those forms, in the meaning attributed to and the work required from them. Forms are essentially what the life within them is; and therefore if there are three typical periods in the complete cycle of Life-unfoldment, in the universal process of Life-manifestation, there must be also three fundamental types of forms.
It is true that during the first or Involutionary Period there is in a sense nothing but energy in motion, a radiating impulse; and thus, strictly speaking, no form can be conceived of during this period. Form begins to appear only as limitations are imposed upon the impulse by the resistance of the surrounding substance — which means the beginning of evolution. But we have seen that the Involutionary Period of a cycle is always simultaneous with the Transvolutionary or Devolutionary Period of the preceding cycle; thus we have two types of forms, which we shall study presently.
But considering now the Evolutionary Period, we witness the growth and maturation of life-forms throughout. Such a growth and maturation of life-forms is evolution. Such life forms we shall call: evolutionary forms. They are the result of the progressive and ever more perfect and more total centering and organization of the substance pervaded by the outgoing involutionary Impulse. What we call physical or sensorially apprehendable forms are the less centered or homogenized ones. Mental forms, ideas, archetypal forms are much more homogeneous, much nearer the center of universal Life, more permanent therefore. Yet just the same they are forms composed of substantial units; units however of a more tenuous essence, of a less dense material. The nearer the center — that is, the absolute Center of Life-radiation — the less dense, the more extensive and universal.
When however the Evolutionary Period, in any one cycle we may consider, comes to an end and therefore the further point of centering and homogenization is reached for that particular entity-cycle, then the Third Period begins which produces two kinds of forms and activities: transvolutionary and devolutionary. In the first case the forms constituted during the evolutionary phase are then used by the Soul as vehicles for its sacramental deeds, its sacrificial outpouring. In the second case the evolutionary life-forms either speedily disintegrate after the withdrawal of the life-principle, or else they remain for a more or less long time as empty shells, beautiful perhaps yet dead — and very often poisonous!
We have thus three types of forms: evolutionary, transvolutionary and devolutionary; that is, forms in which life is growing toward Soulhood and meaningfulness, forms through which Soul is accomplishing sacramental deeds, forms which life is abandoning or has abandoned and retain only a certain kind of automatic activity due to memory and the force of habit. We will call these various forms from the point of view of culture and art: Esthetical forms which are either alive (evolutionary) or dead (devolutionary), and Sacred form which are channels for Soul-activity.
The difference between esthetical and sacred forms is a very definite one, even though it be often but a difference of focus or emphasis. The former is reaching toward a center of consciousness, while the later is springing from a unified and to some extent universalized consciousness or Soul; the former is a bud, an efflorescence at best, the latter a seed falling into the ground, perfect, unchangeable because rooted in universality, the perfect vehicle for the life of the species.
In our next essay we shall consider these two types of forms from another typical standpoint as forms born out of gestures (thus centrifugal) and forms which are the result of intellectual association of sensorial elements (thus centripetal); this will lead us to a very precise and highly practical definition of the terms spiritual and materialistic, spiritual living being that type of living which manifests outward spirit or Soul, materialistic living being that which is merely the gathering of sensations, especially if this is done for selfish enjoyment or aggrandizement.
Before closing this brief analysis of a tremendous subject the ramifications of which are really ubiquitous, let us however add a few words to ward off a possible misunderstanding. When we say that sacred forms manifest during the Transvolutionary Period of the cycle and evolutionary or esthetical forms during the Evolutionary Period, let us not apply such an idea in any stiff and illogical manner; especially let us not forget that every greater cycle is the sum-total of lesser subcycles and that therefore one must discern sub-transvolutionary periods even during the Evolutionary Period of the larger cycle, and vice versa.
In other words all the sacred art in our restricted sense of the term sacred, of the European cycle did not come between the years 100 B.C. and 900 A.D. For two reasons: first, because the Soul-forces during this cycle were stifled and had hardly any chance of manifesting outwardly; then because sacred art — as we shall see in the next essay — being essentially the art of gestures is characteristically expressed through music and dancing. Now the real sacred art of this Christian epoch found its embodiment essentially in the magical chants and the sacred rituals of the numerous Gnostic brotherhoods of the time.
The important point to consider is that out of such chants came plain-chant which was the foundation of all later European music, and out of such rituals came all Church ceremonies, including the conventionalized and mystical life-acts of Christ, which became almost exclusively the substance of the religious arts of the cultural period of Christian Europe.
Here is to be found the meaning of the title of this essay: the cycle of culture and sacrifice. For indeed it is a cycle. Culture has its very roots in the substance of the sacramental deeds and art-expressions of the beings and groups who lived sacrificially as transvolutionary beings, as Souls. For these are the very SEEDS out of which Culture, the Plant of the Evolutionary Period, develops.
Truly plastic arts proper, architecture, painting, sculpture, etc., being essentially evolutionary arts, are not to be found during this typical sacred period; or when found they are very deeply influenced by the devolution of the old forms. These arts are but the secondary manifestations of ART, the reactions to the actional powers manifesting as music and dancing (sacred, ritualistic dancing) — just as the sand-patterns formed on a vibrating plate by violin strings are reactions to the actional gesture of the string, the form of the tone.
Let us therefore not confuse religious with sacred Art. Religious forms are typically evolutionary forms; sacred forms are typically living enactments of Mysteries which are sacrificial, transvolutionary activities. The latter are the source of the former. It is a constant cycle with a kind of spirallic motion. It leads Man onward; from impulsive actions to forms, from forms to realization of meanings, from consciousness to Soul-activities, and upward into ever greater cycles of Life.
Art as Release of Power