George William Russell (AE) – Ireland
Introduction: S. T. Adelante
George William Russell (10 April 1867 – 17 July 1935), whose nom de plume was AE (from aeon, a Gnostic term for a divine emanation), was a leading figure in the Irish Renaissance, which also included James Joyce, Sean O'Casey, John Synge, and William Butler Yeats. Russell was a mystic, poet, painter, critic, clairvoyant, Irish nationalist, and leading member of the Theosophical Society in Ireland. In the following extract, kindly sent to us by a good friend, Russell is poetically describing a basic Theosophical principle: the contrast between the outer and inner worlds, the personality and the individuality, samsara and nirvana.
From (Irish Theosophist, January 15, 1896) [paragraphing added]:
The dark age is our darkness and not the darkness of life. It is not well for us, who in the beginning came forth with the wonder-light about us, that it should have turned in us to darkness, the song of life be dumb. We close our eyes from the many-coloured mirage of day, and are alone soundless and sightless in the unillumined cell of the brain. But there are thoughts that shine, impulses born of fire.
Still there are moments when the prison world reels away a distant shadow, and the inner chamber of clay fills full with fiery visions. We choose from the traditions of the past some symbol of our greatness, and seem again the Titans or Morning Stars of the prime. In this self-conception lies the secret of life, the way of escape and return. We have imagined ourselves into forgetfulness, into darkness, into feebleness. From this strange and pitiful dream of life, oh, that we may awaken and know ourselves once again.
But the student too often turns to books, to the words sent back to him, forgetful that the best of scriptures do no more than stand as symbols. We hear too much of study, as if the wisdom of life and ethics could be learned like ritual, and of their application to this and that ephemeral pursuit. But from the Golden One, the child of the divine, comes a voice to its shadow. It is stranger to our world, aloof from our ambitions, with a destiny not here to be fulfilled. It says: "You are of dust while I am robed in opalescent airs. You dwell in houses of clay, I in a temple not made by hands. I will not go with thee, but thou must come with me."
And not alone is the form of the divine aloof but the spirit behind the form. It is called the Goal truly, but it has no ending. It is the Comforter, but it waves away our joys and hopes like the angel with the flaming sword. Though it is the Resting-place, it stirs to all heroic strife, to outgoing, to conquest. It is the Friend indeed, but it will not yield to our desires. Is it this strange, unfathomable self we think to know, and awaken to, by what is written, or by study of it as so many planes of consciousness.
But in vain we store the upper chambers of the mind with such quaint furniture of thought. No archangel makes his abode therein. They abide only in the shining. How different from academic psychology of the past, with its dry enumeration of faculties, reason, cognition and so forth, is the burning thing we know. We revolted from that, but we must take care lest we teach in another way a catalogue of things equally unliving to us. The plain truth is, that after having learned what is taught about the hierarchies and various spheres, many of us are still in this world exactly where we were before. If we speak our laboriously-acquired information we are listened to in amazement. It sounds so learned, so intellectual, there must need be applause.
But by-and-by someone comes with quiet voice, who without pretence speaks of the "soul" and uses familiar words, and the listeners drink deep, and pay the applause of silence and long remembrance and sustained after-endeavor. Our failure lies in this, we would use the powers of soul and we have not yet become the soul. None but the wise one himself could bend the bow of Ulysses. We cannot communicate more of the true than we ourselves know. It is better to have a little knowledge and know that little than to have only hearsay of myriads of Gods. So I say, lay down your books for a while and try the magic of thought. "What a man thinks, that he is; that is the old secret."
I utter, I know, but a partial voice of the soul with many needs. But I say, forget for a while that you are student, forget your name and time. Think of yourself within as the titan, the Demi-god, the flaming hero with the form of beauty, the heart of love. And of those divine spheres forget the nomenclature; think rather of them as the places of a great childhood you now return to, these homes no longer ours. In some moment of more complete imagination the thought-born may go forth and look on the olden Beauty. So it was in the mysteries long ago and may well be today.
The poor dead shadow was laid to sleep in forgotten darkness, as the fiery power, mounting from heart to head, went forth in radiance. Not then did it rest, nor ought we. The dim worlds dropped behind it, the lights of earth disappeared as it neared the heights of the Immortals. There was One seated on a throne, One dark and bright with ethereal glory. I arose in greeting. The radiant figure laid its head against the breast which grew suddenly golden, and father and son vanished in that which has no place nor name.