Is the mystery and magic in our world diminishing? Are there still secrets or subtle esoteric teachings to learn by following a metaphysical path of study? You may think that modern science has dispelled magic from the world, but if you look closer, you can see it exists in full view. The rituals we use to inaugurate a new President, to initiate a new member into a civic organization, or to begin a path of martial arts or spiritual study serve to make more concrete the intangible powers that inhabit our lives.
Every time a new President is inaugurated, a tremendous amount of power passes from the current president to the next. After Barak Obama was elected, George Bush invited him and his wife into the White House for coffee. Continuing with Presidential traditions, Bush left a note for Obama in the desk at the Oval Office. With each of these actions, Bush was furthering the transfer of power. Although the official transfer of power occurs at the inauguration ceremony, all the other rituals, public and private, are equally important to fully install a new President. We the people see each ritual event happening; and with growing belief and understanding, we collectively give our new President his power. Barak Obama may already be surprised to find that he is now living with the ‘President’ inside himself, a wholly independent and mysterious addition to his regular personality.
The Presidential rituals are just one secular example of a transmission of power that occurs in many different forms in our world. There are many different lineages of spiritual power and understanding, as well as physical learnings in the martial arts, and even social/moral traditions that utilize elaborate rituals to facilitate the transmission of different belief systems and powers.
The Freemasons, for example, have a tradition rich in symbolism and meaning. An initiate has to follow a long, intricate path of discovery, learning, and subsequent understanding in order to come into the knowledge and spiritual “freedom” that is esoteric Masonry. A lay person or initiate may understand that the square and compass, perhaps the most well known Masonic symbols, represent the concepts of judgment and discernment. However, only a Freemason who has gone through the rituals and embodied the practices of Masonry truly knows the esoteric meaning of these symbols and embodies them in his being. A Master Mason initiating a new apprentice knows the living depth of Masonry as only a sitting President can truly know the full meaning and power of his office.
The relationship between Elijah and Elisha represents one of the earliest Western records of the intentional transfer of a spiritual power. Elijah placed his mantle or robe on Elisha’s shoulders, effectively transferring his power of prophecy to Elisha. In modern times we still refer to a transfer of responsibility as “passing the mantle.” Whatever tangible symbol is used to represent a transfer of power becomes imbued with the power of the office. If Elijah’s mantle were still around, it would be considered a sacred object.
When an outside observer examines the elaborate and often puzzling rituals of the Freemasons, the traditions of the Roman Catholics, the Episcopalians, or other religions, or even many martial arts disciplines, it’s easy to judge them as having no logical use or meaning. You might try to separate the teachings from the ritual and believe you have the essence of what is important in these traditions in order to live in an ethical, spiritual, or healthy way in the world. But in doing so, you might be throwing out one of the most powerful ways in which these lineages could give you power and peace. The symbols and rituals may be what keeps them strong and vibrant. In a deeper way, the rituals may help to transfer the most important part of the teachings, which may not be verbal.
Symbols have power. When a Catholic priest offers the Eucharist to a Christian parishioner, the bread and the wine have become the body and blood of Christ, enabling both priest and parishioner to contact Christ’s consciousness and teachings. The priest, through his own initiation, education, and faith practice embodies his own understanding of the Eucharist. When he offers communion he knows the validity of this act, not just in his mind, but in his whole being. That knowledge vibrates in his body, blood, and consciousness. If a person is open to experience the Catholic faith and its symbols, he might receive the full meaning of that ritual. If a person is skeptical of the Christian beliefs and symbols or simply not aware of them, he may not experience any deeper meaning. At the moment of communion, if a person is open and receptive to the mystery and teachings of Christ, he might experience a spiritual awakening, as many people have reported.
In some Yogic traditions the transmission of spiritual awareness can be achieved quickly by awakening a person’s spiritual energy, or kundalini, with a transmission of energy called Shakti-Pat. “Shakti” in Sanskrit means pure divine energy and “Pat” refers to that energy coming down or in. In Shakti-Pat a guru will touch the third eye, the spot in the center of the forehead of the spiritual seeker, and initiate a cascade of insight, energy, even physical transformation. Swami Muktananda was one famous Yogi who regularly gave Shakti-Pat as part of his spiritual teaching. There are many stories from his followers of the transformations that they experienced—some sudden, some more gradual. Some devotees reported a sensation of immense heat, energy, and insight, sometimes involving a momentary loss of consciousness. Others reported only mild sensations with lingering long-term effects that changed their lives.
One can note the similarities between Shakti-Pat and the laying on of hands as a healing practice as used in many different faiths. In some Jewish traditions, Semikhah refers to the laying on of hands in Rabbinic ordination. When a Pentecostal practitioner is “slain in the spirit,” the minister lays her hands on the person’s head and transfers the spirit. It seems that if one is a believer or if one is receptive to the teaching being offered, there can be an immediate transformative response. More commonly though, people experience much milder sensations—warmth, a lightening of body or mind, or a calmness. Even then, if there is a receptivity to the teaching being offered, one is said to be initiated into that stream of meaning and knowledge, with its symbols and living energy.
This transfer of power is not just in the mind of the believer. There may be measurable physical correlates to phenomena such as Shakti-Pat. Mahendra Kumar Trivedi, commonly known as Guruji, is a living spiritual teacher who claims to have given “energy transmission” to over 100,000 people in the last 16 years with thousands of anecdotal reports of healing. His organization, the Trivedi Foundation, is doing scientific research into how his particular form of energy transmissions can affect reality in the following ways: 1) affect the genetics of plants to increase nutritional value and yields; 2) alter harmful microbes to become less virulent; 3) reduce viral loads in people with HIV or Hepatitis B and C; and 4) alter the mass and sizes of atoms and affect their boiling and melting points. These measurable, physical effects make us wonder whether belief is necessary to experience a ritual’s effects. The plants and molecules being affected do not seem to have a choice in the matter, yet they are still affected. Why? What is going on?
This research suggests that something tangible may be transmitted when one receives a blessing, an energy transmission, or even a ritual initiation into a spiritual order. There may be something physically held in the body of a teacher that is transferred to the student, something not communicated just through words and language. Was there something imbued in Elijah’s mantle that sparked a transformation in Elisha? This physical transference may relate to a belief from many traditions about the importance of the lineage of the teaching. Is there a line of direct knowledge transmission from the originator of the practice to the present teacher? If so, then the current teacher may be thought to be carrying in her body the essence of the teaching and, therefore, may be able to more effectively communicate the original inspiration.
The importance of lineage is strongly supported in the martial arts. There are many different schools that can trace their lineage to original teachers. The same is true with the various forms of Buddhist disciplines. What is passed down through each successive generation is a teaching and a form, but what is passed on through direct lineage is what could be called the spiritual DNA of the teaching—the blood and the genes. Encoded in this spiritual DNA is a body of knowledge, particular methods, and principles for living the practice. The hard-coded knowledge that isn’t able to be communicated by language is what is embodied by each successive teacher in that lineage. For this kind of knowledge we could also use the word “meme,” referring to an individual unit of cultural or spiritual knowledge. In addition to certain physical effects, it may be the memes that are transferred from person to person in a lineage. You, as a practitioner, may have direct access to these memes when you spend time in the company or the aura of those who are realized or empowered with knowledge.
In some Muslim practices, the teacher’s abilities are thought to be caused by an affiliation he has with a certain djinni, or spirit. When he gives his student his Baraka, or blessing, what is transferred is thought to be that djinni. This djinni may ultimately decide to join forces with the student enabling him to do geomancy, healing, or prophecy as Elisha was able to do.
In some traditions, there needs to be a physical transference such as a hard knock on the forehead of the student to initiate Shakti-Pat. Saliva or sweat are also sometimes used to catalyze the change and allow the djinni to transfer successfully. The teacher might spit into a student’s mouth at the right moment in the initiation. Sharing food is thought to have the same effect, similar to that of the Eucharist ritual. As with Elijah’s mantle, the Baraka of a teacher is also thought to be imbued into the objects that surrounded him and even the place where he lived. One can access the lineage of a great saint by touching or meditating with objects from her life or meditating at the same place where she did her prayer.
In secular life we also honor the idea of lineage. We desire to attend a prestigious school because of it’s history. When we enter the work force, we show on our BIO what luminaries we studied with in our given field, from which schools we earned our diplomas, and even which lands and languages we lived within. This information gives credibility and informs others which educational genes and memes we carry.
It benefits us greatly not just to read the writings of great thinkers and activists but to be in their company. When we exchange thoughts and ideas with someone immersed in a particular stream of knowledge, we absorb the physical resonance of her ideologies and spiritualities. Modern schooling in these aspects becomes similar to the gradual initiation and attitudes one would gain in a secret society or a faith. We are given diplomas, with robes and sashes, signifying certain stages of learning. We learn the languages of the practices we study and gradually embody the core symbols we have adopted. A student may not truly feel he has accomplished the learning of his field until he feels the diploma in his hands, and parents and peers may only fully recognize him as learned when they recognize the same diploma.
Each of these initiations that we embody is a kind of trance, a lens and lexicon through which we engage with the world. Yet I think it’s worth mentioning that we receive the same kinds of blessings, education, and worldview from many other aspects of our environment. Special or sacred places may impart a djinni to us when we dwell long enough and pay attention to the spirit of the place. Similarly, animals can be great teachers of languages and ways of being, resonating more with an animistic worldview. Many shamanistic traditions have healers who have certain animal totems that help them. It is thought that the animal helpers are the ones who actually do the healing work. In these cases, there isn’t a true lineage, in the sense of a human chain of teaching. But there may be a genetic memory of the animal spirit or sacred place which becomes the lineage.
Qigong serves as an example of a martial art thought to have originated from an animal spirit. It has since been taught through the human lineage tracing back to the original form. Similarly, many other martial art forms and spiritual practices are thought to have originated from direct contact insights. Realized individuals had experiences with animal spirits through their shamanistic practices. These lineages, as they have progressed, have become structured to fit within various human cultures.
The first great guru for any of us though could be our mother, who in so many nonverbal ways instructs us from birth in the living meaningfulness of her personal symbols—her faith and her physical and spiritual DNA. In this primary relationship, we may learn the joy of being open and receptive to what resonates within us in our hearts and bodies, an awareness which is at the core of many people’s personal learning. Even with such a powerful and pervasive teacher, the innate tendencies of a person often direct him towards what he is attracted to, which might be different than the maternal way. A guru can give Shakti-Pat, but the student will only open if that is what his spirit wants and if he is ready for it. It is because of a child’s unique spirit path that some children may reject the teachings of their parents, maybe giving up fundamental values and beliefs. As adults, we reject or accept ideas or beliefs we encounter as we continue in the evolution of our own unique path.
Furthermore, if the mother, guru, or master is trying to teach something she doesn’t embody, the child will not pick it up. For example, if a mother wants to teach a child honesty but doesn’t express honesty in her life, then the child may be unable to understand and embody honesty and will instead express what is being modeled. Children often express what we haven’t fully processed in ourselves. As parents, we might have core beliefs with which we are in conflict. We might express the conflict in our lives and end up teaching this conflict to our children. To teach effectively, one has to walk the walk and have congruence.
On the other hand, a parent, guide, or even president who is alive and thrumming in her symbols and ideologies can become the teacher that inspires students of any age to jump into a lifelong path. The aliveness of a belief system is communicated moment by moment through the body of one who believes. That person expresses her symbols in the daily rituals of her life. The teacher or the scientist holds the book with reverence. The priest drinks the wine knowing it is the blood. The healer approaches the patient with reverence and love. The authentic politician can shake hands with a worker while being cognizant of the larger office that he holds. Daily we express the power and the mystery of long lines of meaning that flow through our lives. In each case, the receiver of those mysteries has the choice to open and enlarge or not. What mysteries and symbols are you drawn to? If you open to them, you might live the greater depth and breadth of those mysteries.
Patrick Marsolek is the director of Inner Workings Resources. He is also a clinical hypnotherapist and the author of A Joyful Intuition. See www.AJoyfulIntuition.com for more information.