Esotericism might be described as the philosophy of the evolutionary process both in man and the lower kingdoms in nature. It is neither solely an art, nor a science; nor is it a religion, but partakes of something of all of these. It is the science of the accumulated Wisdom of the ages, but dynamic rather than academic in its application to our lives from day to day. It presents a systematic and comprehensive account of the energetic structure of the Universe and of man’s place within it, and it describes the forces and influences that lie behind the phenomenal world. It is also the process of becoming aware of, and gradually mastering, these forces.
It is about the evolution of consciousness, not of the physical form. If you want to know about the evolution of the physical form, turn to Darwin – he has pretty well summed up the nature of evolution as regards the form of the animal and the human kingdoms. But in terms of the evolution of consciousness, you have to turn to the esoteric – esoteric only so far; for that which is esoteric gradually becomes exoteric. Nothing which humanity can safely use is ever withheld, so it is up to us how much of this teaching is given at any time….
The Ageless Wisdom Teaching is as old as humanity itself. This is the teaching of a group of men Who have gone beyond the strictly human stage and have entered the next kingdom, the Spiritual Kingdom. They are the Masters of Wisdom and the Lords of Compassion. They are men and women like us Who have expanded Their consciousness to include the spiritual levels. There are a large number of these Enlightened men on our planet, Who have been living in the remote mountain and desert areas for countless thousands of years. From time to time They release aspects of Their teachings, in so far as we can absorb and use them, to enlighten us. In modern times the major expression of this teaching was given through Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, one of the founders of the Theosophical Society, between 1875 and 1890. Her book, The Secret Doctrine is the preparatory phase of the teaching given for the new cosmic cycle which we are now entering – we call it the Age of Aquarius. A later phase was given through an English disciple, Alice A. Bailey, between 1919 and 1949, by a Tibetan Master, Djwhal Khul, and this is seen as the intermediate phase of the teachings. Between 1924 and 1939, a further body of teachings – the Agni Yoga Teachings – was given through another Russian disciple, Helena Roerich. These Ageless Wisdom teachings are the means by which humanity is kept informed of its essential divinity, and of its journey of evolution toward perfection.
To the esotericist, an artist is someone who attunes himself to the vibration of Reality and gives that expression. Without expression there would be no art. Art, all painting, is a convention. The painter does not deal with flesh and blood, sinew and bones. He works with forms and colours, usually on a flat surface, and creates an artificial thing, either a sign or a symbol. Every art is a result of making signs. When a child makes an oval shape and puts two eyes and a stroke for a nose and another stroke for a mouth, it has created a sign which stands for "head" and we all recognize it. There are archetypal, universal signs which, as soon as we see them, we recognize as man, head, dog, horse or whatever, however unlike, in naturalistic terms, the sign may be to the original form. We read into these signs that for which we know they stand. Even the most naturalistic, photographic-type image, when it is placed on a flat surface is a convention and a sign of some kind. It stands for a head, a woman, a dog, a plate of apples or whatever.
Signs can go further than being simply signs; they can, if conveying meaning, become symbols. As a painter, I think my own painting has moved from the sign to the symbol. Symbols, of course, can be at different levels. The greater the art the more profound the symbol will be, the more expressive it will be of the meaning which it symbolizes. The great art of the past, of the Leonardos, the Raphaels, the Rembrandts, the Michaelangelos and so on, have their resonance in our lives today because of the nature of the artist who created them. From their profound response to the world of meaning, they drew these symbols and, from their knowledge of their craft, were able to describe and express them in pictorial terms.
The symbol, then, is something which conveys meaning over and above that of the sign. While remaining a sign, it is a way into that aspect of reality which we call beauty or God. The great artist can show us something of the nature of that mysterious essence of reality known as beauty and something of the nature of that which we call God. Ideally, of course, every painter wishes his paintings to speak for themselves. I think very few painters like to talk about their paintings, and in many cases they feel they are weakening their impact by speaking about them. This is not universally the case; Leonardo, Delacroix and Van Gogh, for example, wrote a great deal about their art.
Symbols, if they are truly symbols, do carry meaning, and I believe something can be said, not to explain the picture, but to give an insight into the ideas behind the image; probably no more than that. It is really the provision of a 'way in' for the viewer; but to know what the picture is about is not the same thing as to experience the painting. People say: "I don't understand this painting." What they really mean is: "I don't recognize the image or sign." When people said: "I don't understand what this is about," Picasso would say: "Do you understand the song of a bird?" A painter paints like a bird sings and it is as direct an expression of his experience as the song of a bird is for the bird. (Benjamin Creme, from The Esoteric Art of Benjamin Creme)