Shadow and Substance
George William Russell - A.E.

Many are the voices that entreat and warn those who would live the life of the Magi. It is well they should speak. They are voices of the wise. But after having listened and pondered, oh, that someone would arise and shout into our souls how much more fatal it is to refrain. For we miss to hear the fairy tale of time, the aeonian chant radiant with light and color which the spirit prolongs. The warnings are not for those who stay at home, but for those who adventure abroad. They constitute an invitation to enter the mysteries. We study and think these things were well in the happy prime and will be again the years to come. But not yesterday only or tomorrow - today, today burns in the heart the fire which made mighty the heroes of old. And in what future will be born the powers which are not quick in the present? It will never be a matter of greater ease to enter the path, though we may well have the stimulus of greater despair. For this and that there are times and seasons, but for the highest it is always the hour.

The eternal beauty does not pale because its shadow trails over slime and corruption. It is always present beneath the faded mould whereon our lives are spent. Still the old mysterious glimmer from mountain and cave allures, and the golden gleams divide and descend on us from the haunts of the Gods.

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.

Irish Theosophist, January 15, 1896

Present article was scanned and proofread and made available for publication by Mr. Jake Jaqua.

Last update: januar 2009
Copyright © 2005 Theosophy in Slovenia