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Classification of Reality - the Four Worlds

Substance, that can take form, has numerous degrees of rarefaction and density. All that is, lives, and wherever there is life, intelligence and love can awaken. These are the primary qualities. The Cosmic Forces emanating from the Formless give form to, and perfect, worlds. The more rarefied degrees act as forces in the denser degrees.
from the Bases of the Cosmic Philosophy

The Four- and Seven-fold Cosmic Classification

The opening pages of the "Cosmic Tradition" were thus summarized by the initiators:

"The Cosmos of Being, that is, that which has form, is described as .consisting of four classifications, but one has to understand that these classifications are adopted for the sake of simplification and there is no real division between them. Just as in the rainbow, each color merges gradually into the adjacent colors.

"Of the four classifications, the one of Materialisms is the densest; Etherisms follow in the order of density; Pathotisms are the third, and Occultisms are the most rarefied.

"That which the "Cosmic Tradition" calls the Impenetrable or the Indivisible, is that which religions often call Pure Spirit without form or likeness. "Cosmic Tradition" also uses the term-the Formless. It is said that the Impenetrable is veiled by the Nucleolinus, the Occultisms by the Nucleolus, and the Pathotisms by the Nucleus. These terms are found most convenient because they were often used by advanced physicians and biologists such as Haeckel.

"Tradition teaches that the seven Attributes, or inherent qualities of Adonai (called also the Cosmic Cause of the Materialisms) are manifested in an intermediary region between Etherisms and Materialisms, of which earth and other celestial bodies of similar constitution are the densest.

"Thus, in the immense and magnificent cosmic order, those forces manifesting the Impenetrable and the Indivisible, permeate the entire spectrum of matter, from the most radiant and most rarefied to the densest, according to the receptive capacities of each state. "

Here is the diagram, giving Theon's cosmic "classifications"

the four worlds
the four worlds

Perusing this diagram, with its ineffable Absolute, seven sets of seven, and so on, we see amazing parallels with Theosophy. According to The Mother Mother's Agenda, vol 3, p.452, Theon met Blavatsky9 September 2005 in Egypt, although Chanel (Amazon com The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor p.9 ) considers this unlikely. This was also before he met Madame Theon, who channelled "The Tradition" as we now have it

In contrast to Theon's more straightforward terms, Blavatsky incorporated sanskrit and other terms from Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as comparative mythology, and her own clairvoyance. Blavatsky's ideas were further developed and altered by later theosophists like Dr Annie Besant and Bishop Leadbeater, as well as by Alice A. Bailey, and through her, the New Age movement in general.

Tracing back the origin of Theon's own ideas, one finds the strong influence of Lurianic Kabbalah. The four worlds are of course based on the four worlds of Kabbalah, each of which is seperated by a veil or barrier, called parso in Hebrew. The correspondence being Occultisms (the plural presumably being a statement of the fact that each world is subdivided) with Atzilut, Pathetisms with Beriah, Etherisms with Yetzirah, and Materialisms with Asiyah. Etherisms here has nothing to do with the "Etheric plane" as defined by Adyar Theosphy, Rudolph Steiner, and Alice Bailey. In fact, Steiner's Etheric Formative Forces I understand as pertaining to the Materialisms division (this latter also including all the auric bodies described by Barbara Ann Brennan). It should also be added that just because the four worlds of Theon's cosmology seem to follow a similiar pattern to the four worlds of Kabbalah, that does not mean that they are directly equivalent. It may well be for example that the world of Occultisms corresponds to the manifest Absolute; say to Sri Aurobindo's Supermind or the Adam Kadmon of some interpretations of Lurianic cosmology (depending on how you approach it, i.e. which Lurianic text one uses, the Adam Kadmon is either the most manifest part of the En Sof (Malkhut of En Sof in other words), eternal and unlimited, or a distinct and much lower and more finite world).

It is fascinating to use this cosmology as a sort of standard by which to compare and correlate other systems of thought.

The equivalence of the veils with biology, being based on Haeckel and others, shows how much Darwinian and quasi-Darwinian thinking had excited and influenced the imagination of the time (not unlike paradoxes in quantum physics, concepts like superstrings, black holes, etc today). These biological analogies clearly need not be taken too literally. The Theosophists are even today still paying the price for Blavatsky's tying her esotericism to the astronomy, biology and geology of her day, giving Theosophical scientific observations a quite fundamentalistic quality (something that Madame Blavatsky herself would have abhorred).

It is interesting to note that the fourth veiling (seperating the Etherisms from the Materialisms), seems to be itself a distinct hypostases, pertaining to the dynamic workings of deities and having a seven-fold structure. It can be considered one of the Psychic or Intermediate worlds, between the lower worlds of pure light (Etherisms), what I would term the Ideational World, and the Psycho-Physical and material physical. Note that the "Etherisms" here are the lower archetypal world of spirit and light, not the "etheric plane" of Steiner or Leadbeater or as elsewhere defined on this site. I have seen the word "Etheric" sometimes used in this higher context to describe a sort of spiritual plane - e.g. some spiritualist and New Age literature).

One can also see in the eight Materialisms states on the lower left of the table) an arrangement quite similiar to Barbara Brennan's sequence of subtle bodies, with the physical body making up the eight body. The seven subtle bodies can also be identified with the seven subdegrees of the Nervous degree of the Physical state of the fourth world (see diagram). The Theosophical tabulisations are also pretty close here. Madame Blavatsky, always a very original and creative thinker, substituted Theon's terminology for Vedantic Sanskrit terms.  But we still find Theon's classification reflected in Blavatsky's. Blavatsky has planes within planes, and her Objective or Terrestrial (First Prakritic) plane is equivalent to, say, Theon's Physical State of the Materialsms world. Later Theosophists like Besant and Leadbeater and Rudolph Steiner present a simpler and more comprehensible (which doesnt necessarily mean more correct) version.

This can be shown in the following table (note: these categories should not be taken as necessarily equivalent!):

Max Theon
"Cosmic Tradition"
H. P. Blavatsky
Terrestrial plane
Adyar Theosophy Rudolph Steiner Barbara Brennan - "Human Energy Field" (aura)
Free Intelligence Para-Ego or Atmic
Divine Spirit Man Ketheric template
(= higher knowing)
Spirit Atmic Celestial Body (transpersonal emotional)
Light Inner-Egoic or Buddhic
(vehicle of Spirit)
Life Spirit Spirit Self
Etheric template (higher etheric)
Essence Ego-Manas
(Immortal Ego)
Lower Mental or Abstract Mind Consciousness or Spiritual Soul
Astral (interpersonal emotional)
Mind Kama-Manas or Lower Manas Lower Mental or Concrete Mind Intellectual Soul Mental body
Soul Pranic Kama or Psychic
Emotional, or Astral (Kama) Sentient Soul
Animal soul
Emotional body
Nervous / Astral Sukshma Sthula
Astral double (= Egyptian Ka)
Subtle or Etheric body Soul body
Etheric body
Etheric body
Physical Objective, gross or physical Gross Physical Physical body Physical body

Although the four main worlds are like the three hypostases of Neoplatonism and the four worlds of Kabbalah, and the veils, if also considered worlds (as in the lowest veil, which is much more complex then the veils or barriers of Lurian Kabbalah), would give eight worlds. The alternation of "worlds" and "veils" recalls the description of the human energy field given by Barbara Brennan, which has alternating form and formless bodies. Also in the Indian Kosha doctrine, in Kabbalah and in elements of Islamic mysticism, each stratum of being is a veil in that it conceils of the Light of the Supreme.

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