by Michael Maciel
We live in an age of relativism. Once it was discovered that any experience can be interpreted in an infinite number of ways, all beliefs in “universal truths” were dismissed as irrelevant. Context became the sole determinator of meaning. What’s more, any attempt to assert a universal truth became merely a way to dominate others. Truth systems began to be seen as tools of the oppressor. Religion became the “opiate of the masses” designed to make them more controllable. The old value systems were thrown out and people were left to formulate their own. Welcome to the 20th Century.
One of the most misinterpreted quotes in history is Nietzsche’s “God is dead.” This wasn’t a victory cry; it was a warning. He predicted almost fifty years in advance that relativistic thinking would dominate Western philosophy, and he was right. He also predicted that the result of such thinking would result in the deaths of hundreds of millions of people. In this, he was also right, because Marxist Ideology (and its offspring, Postmodernism) would decimate the world with two global wars, the Maoist Revolution, and Stalin’s genocidal purge of Soviet Russia. Millions of people—hundreds of millions—died!
Nietzsche’s prediction prompted the poet, Yeats, to proclaim:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
And to Yeats’ question, “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” the answer is clear: postmodern, relativistic, “truthless” thinking.
The Postmodernist’s rationale seems to suggest that there are an infinite number of word combinations, therefore none of them can be privileged over any others. But not all combinations have meaning, and of those that do have meaning, not all of them are meaning-ful.
So, when I hear otherwise spiritually intelligent people try to equate various spiritual philosophies in the name of “fairness” or egalitarianism, I have to say something, because I know that they have come under the sway of relativistic, postmodern thinking. And what I have to say is this:
In the science of spiritual development, there are certain rules and methods that have been proven—over vast periods of time—to work. These rules and methods are used in every spiritual discipline, regardless of religion or locale:
These DO NOT vary and they are always taught in the order listed here. They are so fundamental that they can easily apply to almost any other discipline as well, such as archery or music.
During the process of learning these skills, certain experiences will inevitably occur. These, too, are universal and come in a definite order. They are referred to as “initiations.” But they’re not the type of initiations commonly used in fraternities or Masonic Lodges. They are not “rites of passage.”
The initiations I’m talking about are transition points from one stage of consciousness to another.
They are as solid and predictable as the bodily changes we go through—losing our baby teeth, going through puberty, reaching the age of majority, becoming an adult, etc. Just as every human being goes through these stages of development, so does every person on the spiritual path go through a definite series of initiations, known to many as “The Hero’s Journey.”
These transition events can only occur when a person is ready, but the skills listed above hasten the process of development (along with learning to overcome challenges, studying sacred symbols and texts, and developing a sensitivity to the sacred and to the arts).
As an example of what these transitions look like, the first is when a person suddenly feels that the world he is accustomed to living in is somehow false, that there is something “behind” it, that what is perceived by the five senses is but the veneer of a deeper reality. This is the experience that sets people on the spiritual path.
Anyone who has had enough interest to read my description of these things thus far has almost certainly experienced this first initiation. However, it’s not too difficult to find people in your life who have not. Many people are strict materialists and regard this kind of discussion as meaningless.
Other transition events follow. The next is traditionally called “The First Threshold” where the seeker begins to venture into the world beyond the senses. This world “calls” to him. There, he or she will experience phenomena that will attest to the reality of this strange new world. In mystic circles, these phenomena are called the “illumination” and “Self-realization.” They are the direct encounter with the light of life and the underlying oneness of all Creation.
But before the aspirant crosses this threshold, there is a point of resistance—a dweller—which is the mundane part of his consciousness that tries to persuade him not to go any further. In mythology, this dweller is depicted in many forms, but always as a demon of some sort, or a dragon, which must be overcome. It’s a universal archetype. In reality, the dweller is not a being but our own mind that resists losing itself to something greater than itself.
After this comes the Second Threshold. The aspirant has seen the true nature of her being but has not yet integrated it into her personality. Therefore, she feels like two people—a rather schizophrenic condition. There is “me” and then there is the “real me.” Since she still has the worldly patterns of thought within her, she will then enter into a period of purification, a trial by fire whereby the new consciousness will emerge out of the old (the Phoenix motif). But in the meantime, she will suffer greatly. Many who enter this stage will experience a terrible depression called the “dark night of the soul.” It is the great darkness before the dawn that always comes at this point in the process of spiritual awakening.
This process is as old as humanity itself. It has left its footprints in the symbolism and mythologies of the most ancient civilizations. From the Sarcophagus in the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid to the caves of the Greek Mystery Schools, the theme of death and rebirth repeats itself, echoing the Mystery of the Sun and its diurnal cycle of death and renewal and its rebirth out of the three days of darkness at the Winter Solstice. Everywhere the cycle is repeated, from a seed dying seed so that new life can emerge from the chaos of the soil to the mysteries of gestation and birth. All undergo the same archetype, beginning with the call to venture into the unknown, having to endure trials and ultimate death, culminating in the victory of resurrection into the light. It has always been and will always be the same path—the Path of Initiation, the Hero’s Journey.