Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Theosophy Basics: The Doctrine of Cycles, part 1

The Doctrine of Cycles is an important aspect of the Theosophical world view and was introduced as early as chapter one, volume one of Isis Unveiled. Blavatsky’s theory of cyclical history is one of the more sophisticated ones to emerge in modern times and is beginning to  elicit more serious attention; for a more academic exposition on essentialists concepts of history, the classic work in the field remains Mircea Eliade, The Myth of the Eternal Return – Cosmos and History, 1954
What follows is a brief outline of Isis Unveiled, V. I, Chap. 1:

There is a dual, interactive process of spiritual and material evolution that functions according to cycles.
The revolution of the physical world, according to the ancient doctrine, is attended by a like revolution in the world of intellect — the spiritual evolution of the world proceeding in cycles, like the physical one. (34)

Civilizations rise and fall according to these cycles, with each new phase gradually bringing a new element of progress.
Thus we see in history a regular alternation of ebb and flow in the tide of human progress. The great kingdoms and empires of the world, after reaching the culmination of their greatness, descend again, in accordance with the same law by which they ascended; till, having reached the lowest point, humanity reasserts itself and mounts up once more, the height of its attainment being, by this law of ascending progression by cycles, somewhat higher than the point from which it had before descended. (34)

The ancient concept of the four ages indicates that civilizations go through a dual phase of unconscious inspired productivity followed by a phase of critical analysis.
The division of the history of mankind into Golden, Silver, Copper and Iron Ages, is not a fiction. We see the same thing in the literature of peoples. An age of great inspiration and unconscious productiveness is invariably followed by an age of criticism and consciousness. The one affords material for the analyzing and critical intellect of the other. (34)

Historical evolution is based on archetypal principles which are continually reflected in historical events.
Thus, all those great characters who tower like giants in the history of mankind, like Buddha-Siddartha, and Jesus, in the realm of spiritual, and Alexander the Macedonian and Napoleon the Great, in the realm of physical conquests, were but reflexed images of human types which had existed ten thousand years before, in the preceding decimillennium, reproduced by the mysterious powers controlling the destinies of our world.
There is no prominent character in all the annals of sacred or profane history whose prototype we cannot find in the half-fictitious and half-real traditions of bygone religions and mythologies. As the star, glimmering at an immeasurable distance above our heads, in the boundless immensity of the sky, reflects itself in the smooth waters of a lake, so does the imagery of men of the antediluvian ages reflect itself in the periods we can embrace in an historical retrospect.
“As above, so it is below. That which has been, will return again. As in heaven, so on earth.” (34)

There are many different smaller cycles contained in larger ones, as the diurnal cycle is a miniature reflection of the annual cycle.
As our planet revolves once every year around the sun and at the same time turns once in every twenty-four hours upon its own axis, thus traversing minor circles within a larger one, so is the work of the smaller cyclic periods accomplished and recommenced, within the Great Saros. (34)