Myths & Legends

Wise Men from the East

Is there a secret brotherhood of masters who direct the spiritual progress of humankind?

There is a strange and persistent legend that probably originates in the East. It proposes that in some hidden locations on the earth (generally the highlands of Central Asia, particularly Tibet, although other sites, such as the Andes and even some mountains in the U.S., such as the Grand Tetons and Mt. Shasta, are mentioned at times), there exists a group of persons who possess both exceptional powers and a highly perfected character and consciousness. They are known variously as the Hierarchy of Adepts, the Great White Lodge, the Great White Brotherhood, the Masters, or simply the Hierarchy. While most sources emphasize the Eastern (particularly Indian and Tibetan) nationality of these persons, Western embodiments of the legend are not unknown. Some have suggested that portions of this legend traveled westward during the Crusades or even earlier and that their sources are thus primarily to be found in secret and semisecret Islamic traditions. Beginning with the publication of the mysterious Rosicrucian document Fama Fraternitatis in 1614, the existence of certain "unknown superiors" or "Brothers of the Rosy Cross" who live and work in secret and yet direct much of the spiritual destiny of the world became a part of the beliefs of many Western esotericists.

To these transmissions may be added diverse strands of legends connected with Arabian poetry, wise men wandering among the troubadours, the fabled kingdom of an adept priest-king names Prester John in Africa, alchemical masters of an elusive and potent aspect led by Elias Artista, as well as the Templars and the esoteric Freemasons. By the nineteenth century, the foundations for a major unfolding of the adeptic myth were laid. This unfolding took place by way of the Theosophical movement, without which the entire myth would probably have remained forever in obscurity. In the biblical legend of the Three Wise Men from the East we have an archetypal prefiguration of the myths and speculations about the mysterious adepts who are involved with the fate of the world. The term "Secret Directorate" was coined in this regard by British author Ernest Scott, who, drawing primarily on Islamic sources, has made an impressive plea for the reality of an assembly of men known in some Middle Eastern circles as the "Friends of God" or "People of the Secret." In this still quite vital idea of a hierarchy of adepts, we are faced with a mystery that no one has succeeded in solving.


Although the Theosophical dispensation of esotericism may have brought the subject into prominence, even now, when Theosophy functions mainly as a "grandfather movement" to innumerable teachings and organizations, the idea of the Adepts is far from outmoded.


Recent efforts, such as K. Paul Johnson's, have shed light on a few dark corners but have failed to illumine the whole subject. While new dimensions have been opened up, others remain obscure.


Kemo D. 7

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