[Based on the article in the Theosophical Encyclopedia, by Philip S. Harris]
The information contained in this article was derived primarily from an article in the Theosophist of August 1927, pp. 549-560). The statements made in the article were reviewed (in 1994) by a highly placed authority in South Africa (who asked not to be named), and he verified the material, which is associated with the various gifted grades of Sangoma (in southern Africa, a witch doctor, usually a woman, claiming supernatural powers of divination and healing grades), only commenting that the information is partial. There is much more information that is given only to high initiates, face to face with the teacher, and not written down.
The Isanusi, or spiritual teachers, give to those whose intelligence or education would make it difficult to grasp the higher teachings, a simplified version. They teach that individuals have a body and that within that body is a soul; within the soul is a spark or portion of something is called Itongo, which is commonly interpreted as the Universal Spirit of the Tribe. They teach that after death the soul (Idhlozi), after hovering for a space near the body, departs to a place called Esilweni (Place of Beasts). This is not to be thought of as entering the body of a beast. In Esilweni, the soul assumes a shape, part beast and part human. This is its true shape, maintain the Isanusi, for our nature is very like that of the beast, save for that spark of something higher, of which the ordinary person knows very little.
For a period which is long or short, according to the strength of the animal nature, the soul remains in Esilweni, but eventually throws aside its beast-like shape, and moves onward to a place of rest. There it sleeps until a time comes when it dreams that something to do or learn awaits it on earth, when it awakes and returns through the Place of Beasts to earth and is then born again as a child. Again and again does the soul travel through the body, through the Place of Beasts to its rest, dreams its dream, and returns to its body until at last it become truly human, after which, when it dies, it returns to the place of rest and ceasing to dream, becomes one with that from which it came.
Later, the recipient of this teaching (Patrick Bowen), was privileged to be given a glimpse of the higher teaching which is here given in synoptic form. The Itongo (Universal Spirit) is all that ever was, is, or ever shall be. All power, all wisdom, all substance is of it, and it is in them and manifest through them, but is above them and beyond them, eternally unmanifest.
The individual who is of the Itongo can never know Itongo while he or she is at the human stage of evolvement. All that can be known of it are certain manifestations that come within the human range of perception. The pupil is generally taught that the manifestations are three in number: (1) universal mind, (2) universal force, and
(3) universal substance or matter. But really there are only two manifestations — mind and matter. Force is simply the portion of mind that endows matter with form. In the beginning of a cosmic cycle, the Itongo first manifested in all the many grades of mind, downward into all the grades of matter. At first both mind and matter were not individualized. Individuality began on the highest planes of mind — those planes that are close to pure spirit. Individuality being set up, the soul begins its descent into matter or the physical and then a slow ascent to spirit. The individual is on a journey, the goal of which is to reach the source of its being, the Itongo. To reach that goal, the individual must pass through all experience the cosmos affords and must discard all accretions accumulated during the descent into matter.
These are the principles of a human being: (1) physical body (Umzimba); (2) etheric body (Isitunzi), the medium through which the lower Mind functions;
(3) lower mind (Amandhla), which is the portion of mind that functions as life-force and other forms of what we call energy; (4) animal mind (Utiwomunti), the levels of mind that manifest as passions, emotions, and instincts; (5) human mind (Utimomuntu), the planes of mind that manifest as human consciousness, intellect, and higher emotions; (6) Spiritual Mind (Utiwetongo), the higher planes manifesting spiritual consciousness; and (7) Itongo, the ray or spark of universal spirit that informs all lower manifestations. The Ancient Wisdom is, in Africa, enshrined in a Brotherhood (a term used by them, but which embraces women as well), which they call Bonaabakulu abasekhemu, using an ancient Bantu term. That term might be translated as “the Brotherhood of the Higher Ones of Egypt.” The Isanusi gives the grades of the Brotherhood as: (1) pupil, (2) disciple, (3) brother, (4) elder, (5) master (6) those who know, and (7) Isangoma. Additionally, there are lay disciples and lay brothers.
The Isanusi emphasize that the Isangoma, elevated though they are, represent the supreme development possible to humans on the physical plane. There are others, not of any brotherhood, save the brotherhood of all. They are called Abakulubantu (that is, supreme or perfect ones). These are those for whom the necessity of rebirth has ceased; they dwell on earth in physical form by their own will and can retain or relinquish that form as they please.
It will not be necessary to draw the reader’s attention to the startling similarities between classical Theosophy and the teachings of Isanusi. For more details regarding this teaching, refer to the Theosophist article (mentioned above), which is the chief source of the information herein.