Caravanserai Magazine Archive

Published 1988-2000 semi-annually on behalf of the Sufi Movement International by the Sufi Movement in Canada.


1989 Volume 3. Sufia Carol Sill. "Notes on the Symbology of the Sacred Element Ritual"

The following notes on the Symbology of the Sacred Element Rituals were written (mostly in 1985) for my own exploration, to develop and evolve my understanding of this work. Some aspects of the writing are still unclear, but I felt the exploration could be shared with others. I trust you will forgive my inconsistencies and stumblings as I attempt to word the unwordable. — SCS

Let us gather together again

Like ripples, the waves spread in all directions as the remembrance links with the past to create the future. It has been done so many many times it becomes one thing/one action continuous over all time. This resonant gong must continually be struck by the peoples of the world. If it is not done, then the foundation of creation begins to crumble. Rebuilding requires more effort and is much more difficult than maintenance.

The process of symbology naturally assists the reconstruction. Western society and industrialized nations have worked out the impulse which the last rising of element symbology encouraged. Now comes another rising, another thunder, another striking of the powerful evolutionary impulse. Guided by devoted workers, the resonance will straighten and align all the forces which are now deformed and which have lost touch with their original face. Weak births, natural and unnatural dangers — the problems which conscious working in element symbology will help to solve is a long list of the woes of humanity.

The cure will come by realignment of and with the elements, the basis of our bodies and our minds.

Those involved in this effort vow to help humanity. They sacrifice themselves, to be reworked by God, so that the new flesh, the new mind and emotions can become more and more of service.

All words concerning symbology

All words concerning symbology are simply exploratory and are not in any way certain or permanent. A problem of describing this work in words is that it becomes conceptually framed, leading away from its true meaning.

The emotional balance required of initiates is impossible to describe in words. The exploration in this work brings to the surface human intentions, translated personally as feelings and ideas. Behind these personal interpretations, which are both central and peripheral, the human intentions — metahuman, ancient, and destined to fulfilment — surface in order that they may begin again their true force.

All ceremonies aside, it is in the total love of humanity that the Sacred Element Ritual is acted out, for without this love the understandings are cold and can become calculating. This leads to magic. And it is not the love of "God" or "light" or any abstraction. It is pure sweet fierce love of God light as humanity. This means each one is loved totally as God in a particular human form. It is not a separating out, a loving of God and a hating or ignoring of the personality. The whole thing is total, without the personality God would have no means of manifestation, no place in which to work.

The true symbolical working makes this fierce love inevitable. Gratitude overflows. The conductor loves all like a mother loves her variety of children. To those who wish to involve themselves, she gives all she can to encourage and strengthen, so that these too can develop this fierce protective all-encompassing love.

This love springs spontaneously from understanding human nature as it is based in the action and interaction of the elements. It is the celebration of this relationship enacted symbolically in the ceremony which gives to the soul an accurate symbolic picture of its true condition.

The symbolical activity is a connected revival

The symbolical activity is a connected revival of the ancient Greek mystery schools [see Gathas, 5. Oracles among the Ancient Greeks, 6. The Greek Mysteries, 7. The Greek Mysteries (2). 8. The Greek Mysteries (3)]

The Greater mysteries and the inner initiations correspond to the Zirat, which is the Sufism of all ages, (with or without the name). Those who wish to take the Message in a symbolical form discover a history which reveals itself through inner insights, as and when it is needed.

This study heightens all activity of each element in the nature of the initiate. Those involved find their nature shifting and changing more frequently than before, but there is greater awareness and ability to control these shifting moods. They are seen as they are, not with emotional identification. And in this way others are also more easily understood. Life is seen as living art, in which balance and equipoise are constantly being sought, found, and transformed again and again.

Human ecology

Just as the Universal Worship showers the unified blessings of all masters, saints and prophets (as in the Invocation, in the form of the Spirit of Guidance of all these) through the inner blessing of its sacred directing of symbols and uniting the devotion of the World's Great Religions. The power and beauty of these forces as they have created the dynamic civilizations of the world. The Sacred Element Ritual has a similar task, but one which is not as clearly visible.

That task is to unify those impulses which were present as pre-religious dynamic forces. Of course, the religious impulse is common to all humanity in all times. But the pre-religious impulse is that which contains the knowledge of the forces of the manifest and unmanifest world. The wisdom of Solomon and of all the prophets was only this understanding.

The Sacred Element Ritual is a symbolical method of gathering and transmitting this wisdom in the way which is appropriate to these times, when it is needed. The transmitting or expressing occurs simply, almost as an undercurrent or as an overshadowing — in which subtle changes of vibration are made to occur in harmony with those present. This harmony gives to all a remarkable peace in the soul, and a strong sense of basic humanity, with all the exquisite human virtues of love, compassion, gratitude, humility, gentleness, dignity, honour, and many more, including wisdom.

How does this rebalancing occur? Why is it not seen? It requires complete inspiration in the Sufi Message and the subsequent interpretation of the Message in beauty becomes the supreme symbolical representation of the human spirit.

How is this possible? It occurs in a spontaneous way because Pir-o-Murshid lnayat Khan has prepared deeply the unseen world for this occurrence. In the Sacred Element Ritual, the potent beauty of the Sufi impulse becomes clear and predominant, with many people active in developing humanity through self-discipline, love and service.

The breath of those who perform the Sacred Element Ritual becomes naturally harmonious. It is in this harmony of the breath, the lights of the breath, that the power of this activity is seen. The working out of this unseen power impulses humanity to create new forms.

As to those who dedicate themselves to service through the self-discipline of the love engendered through this work, the transparency of the physical vehicle becomes more and more evident as time goes by. Those involved in Symbolical activity as disincarnate incarnations are transparent vehicles, fully conscious of the simultaneous beauty of both worlds, seen and unseen, inner and outer. They are not a secret priesthood, nor are they a secret society.

The symbols are their own protection, revealing themselves only to those who can comprehend them. The conductor of the Ritual has a special function and a sacred responsibility. But in no way does this set her/him apart as a special person, someone more than and less than human. No — there is instead an amplification of human virtues and qualities, while progress through the stages of life on earth is made more and more interesting.

Participation in Symbolical activity, in the transforming of all through beautiful recognition, is a demanding lifelong dedication. In its aspect on earth, this effort involves ceremony, training, and art and education for humanity at large. The art and education is specifically tailored for the times in which it is given, with attention to the needs of humanity and the required development. These provide outer mysteries which cover and uncover themselves.

The understandings and responsibilities given to those entrusted with the work of symbology cannot be put into words. Those offering this service offer all without even knowing what the outcome will be, as through creative perception the world is made new.

To express the Sufi Message through symbology is no greater or lesser than any of the other vehicles established to carry on the Sufi effort in the west. But the way of working in the Sacred Element Ritual requires tremendous subtlety and grace combined with a will of steel, all in a heart of pure golden love. It is a demonstration of humanity. The outpouring of deepest poetry, music, art, and dance convenes to produce the mystical inner temple in each one.

By insight the history of element symbology is revealed. Naturally it is correspondent to the history of science — an evolution building on the work of previous thinkers, but the vital difference is that this present effort absorbs and synthesizes all that has gone before. That is, it does not discredit or throw out work that is no longer applicable, as in science. Over time, each new wave of symbology is created spontaneously and works with the elements as evolved through previous workers — with all as a total unified synthetic whole. Humanity — a great experiment evolving God; Sacred Element Ritual — one way of approaching the effort consciously.

Although the ceremony appeals to many, the symbolical work itself appeals to very few. When it begins, the initiate feels 'at last I have found it' but this sense soon erodes, leaving darkest emptiness.

Once the emptiness has turned all into a capacity, the play of the elements begins to be seen. The understanding of life begins also, and the direction of life's purpose is unmistakable, undeniable. The initiate becomes the embodiment of his or her life's purpose. All else is extraneous and soon falls away.

It could be said that the Sacred Element Ritual will develop into a lasting form of the Sufi Message — carrying it through dark times when the worded message could seem old-fashioned to a visually oriented non-print non-linear society. It is natural in mysticism that the literate mind shifts out to make the open mind possible. But negation of the literate mind only does not at all open the total mind, instead we have a more closed system with dogmas held in icons. The open mind is actually a balanced mind, allowing the full resonance of images all play-space and giving mental constructs exposed scaffolding.

It is in caring, in compassion that the open mind is truly seen. For this mind is so open it includes and expresses the depth of the heart also. The error of analysis of mental function is that the heart is rarely included. But the heart is a vital part of all mental functioning — not in the sense of the mind as interpreter of feeling, but more in the idea of the heart as generator of thought.

Feeling, sympathy, loving-kindness, these are the attributes of a thinking person. The total open mind gives rise to sensitivity, to love, to consideration of others. The open mind expresses a loving heart. The grace of God is in the inner voice which expresses this love as a beautiful atmosphere.

Ecological balance

The temperament, or nature, gives each person their basic outlook and basic element balance. Then life experience and interactions cause rises and falls in these balances.

The person who is concerned only with the element balance is working only with the mind and body. There is also a greater balancing. It is essential that the basic balance be maintained not only because this is the optimal natural human condition, but because at that point the person is able to fulfil life's purpose. The activation of other ecologies begins and the inner dynamic and balance comes into play, with the so-called higher aspects of the element-vibrations (or angels) taking over the play.

As long as the mind and body are out of balance, there is little chance that the greater human virtues will be able to consistently manifest. In such a condition humanity remains at a barely evolved level until individuals take it upon themselves to balance the varied elements consciously. This work of conscious tuning of the vehicle is so deep and reveals all about the nature of life and of the world, it is a life's work in itself.

At each of the stages in a person's life this ecology shifts through great upheavals and rebalances in different order, creating a new condition, requiring other actions on the part of the person to retune the fine instrument again and again. Then there comes a profound change which is irreversible. The ecological balance has been relatively maintained for a period of time long enough that the organism intuitively recognizes the subtle differences and will spontaneously rebalance autonomically. At such a point, training has been completed. Retuning is necessary, but requires little effort and is only a reminder.

It is possible to remain in basic equilibrium under most average conditions. At this time, external life conditions also are in a relatively equal state, and in a cooperative symbiotic harmony with the balanced elements of the human being. Others also sense and respond to this balance, which radiates out a definite positive life signal, and life calls forth from this person all the human qualities which can then be seen fully without impurities on a consistent and continuous basis.

This state is not static, or stiff, but is like a continuous improvised symphony of body, mind, emotions and circumstances which continues throughout life.

At the same time as this balanced ecology is functioning in total harmony, the inner life comes more and more to the threshold of experience until it is one with the outer life and is experienced in the symphonic totality as the melodic theme. When attended to, the theme also reveals that which accumulate to be the refining process. It is not a sudden overnight occurrence. To be fine and strong as steel wire is no small feat. And then to walk unassisted along that self-created wire is an act of human daring.

The Element Ritual is a circus, it is a school, it is present day alchemy, it is human ecology. Ultimately all ideas, metaphors, and symbols fade. Human life becomes expressive of the divine in magnetic purity. Evolution is assisted. The mystery itself fades in the magnitude of the ONLY BEING. Then the goal of all universal play is achieved as divine ecstatic delight. The joy is in the privilege of participation.

Training, Ceremony, Art and Education

Symbolical activity appears to be divided into three main aspects: the training (which is inner), the ceremony, and art and education (outer and for humanity at large).

The training is an inner growth involving a greater understanding of human ecology using the breath, other indicators of the elements, and inner initiations.

The ceremony is a celebration and a service, a play of death, a devotion, a dance.

The Art and Education aspect is the outer gift to society at large.

These three aspects are interdependent and often simultaneous. They are all both inner and outer at the same time as well. Thus the training is not only inner work, but involves the total environment of the adept as well as the inner centres.

Everything is always seen and known in relation, in context, as interactive and interdependent. Nature, or human nature, is studied both within and without, and 'the universe in man' becomes more and more visible as a living reality.

Identification and analysis give way to synthesis.

Poetically, the human being is described and known to contain and express all things, all elements, all of nature and what appears beyond earthly nature. All animals, all weathers and climates, all varieties of vegetation, all forms of fruit and flower, all types of terrain and water formations are seen in humanity. All angelic qualities, all powers of mind, all virtues and aspirations, all capabilities for tremendous evil, all good and wisdom — it is there in the human capacity. Looking outward, we see the picture of humanity as the world, looking within, we see the universe in ourselves. It is one life.

Symbology reveals life, unveiling the secret of the pine tree, the meaning of tears. It shows the stars of the intellect, the fire of the heart, the supreme elegance of grace and gratitude. In Symbology, the Sufi Message is known, seen, felt and heard in and through all things, events, and circumstances, but most especially in all beings. In a most natural way, Symbology reveals the innermost secret of humanity simply and without pretense.

The Sacred Element Ritual exemplifies and deepens the Sufi thought that there is one holy book, the sacred manuscript of nature, and the idea that nature is the only teacher. Of course, our present idea of nature, and of what nature is, is limited by the earth element, for just as the breakthrough came into ecological understanding, so our idea of nature must break to include (re-include again) ourselves, humanity, inextricably and totally involved in nature's cycles. As this effort is the worship of God in human nature, the elements and their play only offer a helpful vocabulary. Understanding the elements is not the focus. It is the understanding and refinement of human nature which is involved, not the abstraction of element, colour, direction, etc.

These ideas can be seen and known and as they come to form in the consciousness of the adept, the vocabulary of the elements gives a great richness and appreciation to life. Just as in music, it can be felt and understood on various levels. One unschooled in music may feel and understand its communication heart to heart, while another technician may be so involved analyzing the musical form and performance that the intent and contact of the music are lost. Better yet, to experience music from the point of view of a composer which requires technique, appreciation, skill in expression and inspiration. Then is expressed the song of the soul.

Just so in life: the art of personality reaches its peak in the human being who is a composer of life, using the elements in beautiful control to express this art of life — or is it allowing the elements play through disciplined improvisation?

The Symbolical Activity is not simply the study of the interaction of the elements. That is only a useful alphabet, a stimulus to understanding. The action of this study helps open the adept to the perception of the presence of God in humanity, as humanity, and all. There is little worth in the analysis of all things as earth, water, fire, air, and ether [and even the subtle analysis of the breath] without the inner perception of the divine ideal.

On earth, in manifestation, love, lover and beloved are caught in their own web. The web of perceptions elaborated by thought can never penetrate itself to become pure insight. Insight, intuition, wisdom, all come from within, from beyond the web. It is only from such a viewpoint that the alphabet of the elements can be effectively known and understood — as a help to understanding life and humanity — as an aid to synthesis rather than analysis.

The love of humanity, the service of God through man, the gentleness of purity, do not need analysis of the elements. The understanding of symbols is awakened spontaneously, without analysis of the elements. The Message itself is passed from person to person without analysis of the elements. Subtlety is the most necessary attribute of mind when dealing with these questions.

Of course, the heritage of ancient wisdom has always included the basic understanding of the elements, their attributes and their manifestation.

In healing body and mind, in everyday life, in controlling or mastering circumstances, the applied knowledge of the elements has proven invaluable down through the ages. In our times there is not much difference, for an understanding of the action of the elements helps in our understanding of life and ourselves. But to develop this awareness fully, it must, paradoxically, be abandoned. In the Sacred Element Ritual, each element is honoured, but what is left is exalted humanity — each human being as a unique beautiful manifestation of God.


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