The Candle of Vision, by AE (George William Russell), , at sacred-texts.com
THERE is no personal virtue in me other than this that I followed a path all may travel but on which few do journey. It is a path within ourselves where the feet first falter in shadow and darkness but which is later made gay by heavenly light. As one who has travelled a little on that way and who has had some far-off vision of the Many-Coloured Land, if I tell what I know, and how I came to see most clearly, I may give hope to those who would fain believe in that world the seers spake of, but who cannot understand the language written by those who had seen that beauty of old, or who may have thought the ancient scriptures but a record of extravagant desires. None need special gifts or genius. Gifts! There are no gifts. For all that is ours we have paid the price. There is nothing we aspire to for which we cannot barter some spiritual merchandise of our own. Genius!
[paragraph continues] There is no stinting of this by the Keeper of the Treasure House. It is not bestowed but is won. Yon man of heavy soul might if he willed play on the lyre of Apollo, that drunkard be god-intoxicated. Powers are not bestowed by caprice on any. The formulae the chemist illustrates, making exposition before his students, are not more certainly verifiable than the formulae of that alchemy by which what is gross in us may be transmuted into ethereal fires. Our religions make promises to be fulfilled beyond the grave because they have no knowledge now to be put to the test, but the ancients spake of a divine vision to be attained while we are yet in the body. The religion which does not cry out: "I am to-day verifiable as that water wets or that fire burns. Test me that ye can become as gods." Mistrust it. Its messengers are prophets of the darkness. As we sink deeper into the Iron Age we are met by the mighty devils of state and empire lurking in the abyss, claiming the soul for their own, moulding it to their image, to be verily their own creature and not heaven's. We need a power in ourselves that can confront these mighty powers. Though I am blind I have had moments of sight. Though I have sinned I have been on
the path. Though I am feeble I have seen the way to power. I sought out ways to make more securely my own those magical lights that dawned and faded within me. I wished to evoke them at will and be master of my vision, and I was taught to do this which is as old as human life. Day after day, at times where none might interfere, and where none through love or other cause were allowed to interfere, I set myself to attain mastery over the will. I would choose some mental object. an abstraction of form. and strive to hold my mind fixed on it in unwavering concentration, so that not for a moment, not for an instant, would the concentration slacken. It is an exercise this, a training for higher adventures of the soul. It is no light labour. The ploughman's, cleaving the furrows, is easier by far. Five minutes of this effort will at first leave us trembling as at the close of a laborious day. It is then we realise how little of life has been our own, and how much a response to sensation. a drifting on the tide of desire. The rumour of revolt, the spirit would escape its thraldom, runs through the body. Empires do not send legions so swiftly to frustrate revolt as all that is mortal in us
hurries along nerve, artery, and every highway of the body to beset the soul. The beautiful face of one we love. more alluring than life, glows before us to enchant us from our task. Old sins, enmities, vanities and desires beleaguer and beseech us. If we do not heed them then they change, they seem to be with us, they open up vistas of all we and they will do, when this new power we strive for is attained. If we are tempted down that vista we find with shame after an hour of vain musing that we were lured away, had deserted our task and forgotten that stern fixity of the will we set out to achieve. Let us persevere in our daily ritual and the turmoil increases; our whole being becomes vitalised, the bad as well as the good. The heat of this fervent concentration acts like fire under a pot, and everything in our being boils up madly. We learn our own hitherto unknown character. We did not know we could feel such fierce desires, never imagined such passionate enmities as now awaken. We have created in ourselves a centre of power and grow real to ourselves. It is dangerous, too, for we have flung ourselves into the eternal conflict between spirit and matter, and find ourselves where the battle is
hottest, where the foemen are locked in a death struggle. We are in grips with mightier powers than we had before conceived of What man is there who thinks he has self-control? He stands in the shallow waters, nor has gone into the great deep, nor been tossed at the mercy of the waves. Let him rouse the arcane powers in himself, and he will feel like one who has let loose the avalanche. None would live through that turmoil if the will were the only power in ourselves we could invoke, for the will is neither good nor bad but is power only, and it vitalises good or bad indifferently. If that were all our labour would bring us, not closer to divine being, but only to a dilation of the personality. But the ancients who taught us to gain this intensity taught it but as preliminary to a meditation which would not waver and would be full of power. The meditation they urged on us has been explained as "the inexpressible yearning of the inner man to go out into the infinite." But that Infinite we would enter is living. It is the ultimate being of us. Meditation is a fiery brooding on that majestical Self. We imagine ourselves into Its vastness. We conceive ourselves as mirroring Its infinitudes,
as moving in all things, as living in all beings, in earth, water, air, fire, æther. We try to know as It knows, to live as It lives, to be compassionate as It is compassionate. We equal ourselves to It that we may understand It and become It. We do not kneel to It as slaves, but as Children of the King we lift ourselves up to that Glory, and affirm to ourselves that we are what we imagine. "What a man thinks, that he is: that is the old secret," said the wise. We have imagined ourselves into this pitiful dream of life. By imagination and will we re-enter true being, becoming that we conceive of. On that path of fiery brooding I entered. At first all was stupor. I felt as one who steps out of day into the colourless night of a cavern, and that was because I had suddenly reversed the habitual motions of life. We live normally seeing through the eyes, hearing through the ears, stirred by the senses, moved by bodily powers, and receiving only such spiritual knowledge as may pass through a momentary purity of our being. On the mystic path we create our own light, and at first we struggle blind and baffled, seeing nothing, hearing nothing, unable to think, unable to imagine. We seem deserted by dream, vision or inspiration,
and our meditation barren altogether. But let us persist through weeks or months, and sooner or later that stupor disappears. Our faculties readjust themselves, and do the work we will them to do. Never did they do their work so well. The dark caverns of the brain begin to grow luminous. We are creating our own light. By heat of will and aspiration we are transmuting what is gross in the subtle æthers through which the mind works. As the dark bar of metal begins to glow, at first redly, and then at white heat, or as ice melts and is alternately fluid, vapour, gas, and at last a radiant energy, so do these æthers become purified and alchemically changed into luminous essences, and they make a new vesture for the soul, and link us to mid-world or heavenward where they too have their true home. How quick the mind is now! How vivid is the imagination! We are lifted above the tumult of the body. The heat of the blood disappears below us. We draw nigher to ourselves. The heart longs for the hour of meditation and hurries to it; and, when it comes, we rise within ourselves as a diver too long under seas rises to breathe the air, to see the light. We have
invoked the God and we are answered according to old promise. As our aspiration so is our inspiration. We imagine It as Love and what a love enfolds us. We conceive of It as Might and we take power from that Majesty. We dream of It as Beauty and the Magician of the Beautiful appears everywhere at Its miraculous art, and the multitudinous lovely creatures of Its thought are busy moulding nature and life in their image, and all are hurrying, hurrying to the Golden World. This vision brings its own proof to the spirit, but words cannot declare or explain it. We must go back to lower levels and turn to that which has form from that which is bodiless.