Satya Yuga – the Age of Gold – is where our history begins.
One of the most notable points which separates the perennial philosophy – that is, the wisdom common to all peoples at all times – from the single exception of Western Europe and its offshoots over the past three or four hundred years is their belief about the pattern of history.
In all places and at all times it has been agreed that the direction of history is always "downward", from the Satya Yuga, Golden Age or Garden of Eden to the Kali Yuga, Iron Age or Latter Days. The religions, philosophies, and traditions of the world are unanimous in seeing not a pattern of progress, but of decline and degeneration.
If they are correct, then it follows from what we know about the "matriarchal" origins of civilization that the highest and noblest and most spiritual forms of culture must have been those primordial feminine ones, while masculine-dominated civilizations must have come into being as quite a late phase of the process of decline.
This view of history, is, of course, completely alien to that of the late-patriarchal world-view with which we have all been inculcated from the earliest age, and which places late-patriarchy itself at the pinnacle of a long process of "human progress", relegating earlier civilizations to varying degrees of "ignorance" and "barbarism".
Nevertheless, when one looks at the facts pertaining to the very medium of our thought itself – language – it is hard to deny that superior intellectuality lies with the past rather than the present. Every language we know is a debased and simplified "scaling-down" of some earlier language. The modern Romance languages (French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian), for example, are greatly simplified dialects of Latin. Many of the grammatical complexities have slipped away with time, leaving the language less expressive, less flexible, less capable of dealing with subtle ideas, but very much easier. Latin and Greek are a maze of case endings for modern speakers, but as we go back further in time, to even earlier languages in the same Indo-European family, such as Sanskrit, we find language which makes Latin and Greek seem positively childish by comparison.
And wherever a language or group of languages can be historically studied, we find the same thing. The ancient forms of language require more concentration, more presence of mind, more sheer intelligence on the part of speakers than do the later forms. Language is clearly being progressively simplified for a simpler people.
These changes, as we might expect, also alter the character of language. It becomes less and less an instrument for expressing subtle spiritual and metaphysical concepts and fine shades of meaning, but it becomes increasingly well adapted to handling physical phenomena and the material world.
Now this change is precisely what we should expect according to the traditional philosophy. The movement of the historical cycle, from beginning to end, is from the pole of Essence toward the pole of Substance, from the domain of quality to that of quantity. Of course, all material phenomena are compounded of both Essence and Substance, but the movement of the historical cycle is from the greatest possible predominance of the qualitative or Essential at the beginning of the Golden Age (Skt. Satya Yuga) to the greatest possible predominance of the quantitative or substantial at the end of the Iron Age (Skt. Kali Yuga). This is true both in the human psyche and its culture and in the cosmic environment itself (the two things being by no means as separate and distinct as the modern mentality supposes).
We may express this another way, by saying that the earlier ages are dominated by the vertical dimension of being – that which connects maidenkind with higher levels of being – while the later ages are increasingly dominated by, and lived within, the horizontal dimension – that which relates only to the physical and individual domain.
When we understand this, we may understand also how, toward the late stages of the cycle, the notion of a "progress" becomes possible, blatantly inverting all that has been known and thought in earlier ages. This is because, at a certain point, the vertical dimension becomes all but lost to sight, and history, thenceforward, is interpreted purely in the light of what has happened on the horizontal plane. From this point of view, it is natural that progress in purely material aims and achievements should seem to be the only thing of importance, and, indeed, that such "progress" was all that earlier civilizations were groping for and only "we" have fully achieved. It is forgotten that there ever were any aspirations but material ones, or else relegates them to the margins of civilization; when for every civilization but that of the modern West, they have been the center.
To complete this brief introduction, we must understand that Essence is the feminine pole of being, while Substance is the masculine: therefore it is natural that as society becomes more quantitative or "materialist", the masculine principle becomes increasingly predominant. The further we go back, the more purely feminine is the orientation of civilization, and the further we come forward, the more purely masculine it becomes. The patriarchal revolutions were a stage on the way, but they were neither the first nor the last stage, and in the attempts of the last few decades to destroy femininity entirely; to remove it from woman herself – taking away her special characteristics and making her merely an equal working "person" (person, in a patriarchal context, being conceived always on the male model), we see the ultimate triumph of patriarchy.
Now we must look a little more closely at the concept of the Historical Cycle. According to the traditions of the Indo-European world (though the same concept can be found as far afield as the Americas, despite the fact that no cultural contact between the two worlds had taken place for millennia), the Great Cycle or Manvantara is divided into four Yugas, or Ages. In the Hellenic tradition, which is the direct ancestor of modern European civilization, the ages were termed the Golden Age (Satya Yuga), the Silver Age (Treta Yuga), the Bronze Age (Dvpara Yuga), and the Iron Age (Kali Yuga) (these last two should not be confused with the similarly-named Ages of modern archaeology).
The duration of these ages accords to the pattern known as the Tetraktys; that is, ten units of time are arranged in the ratio 4:3:2:1; the Golden Age, or Satya Yuga, being the longest Age and the Iron Age the shortest. Precisely what length of time is involved is not known, but the most conservative estimates of the Iron Age put its length at over 6,000 years; many put it much longer. Part of the reason for the variation is undoubtedly that this macrocosmic pattern of the Historical Cycle is repeated microcosmically at various levels of historical movement. The greatest of all "Great Years" is that in which material manifestation – the entire universe itself – is manifested, developed and comes to an end. Within this, the life of maid on our planet is but a small sub-cycle, yet the Historical Cycle of which we speak is, if we may put it thus, a sub-sub cycle, a cycle within the greater cycle of the duration of humankind, and perhaps another cycle within that, nested several cycles deep. These things it is not given us to know. All that matters is that we should understand the fundamental nature of the cycle and know that microcosmically one cycle stands for all. So, if we speak at times of our Historical Cycle as if it were the entire cycle of manifestation, that is entirely legitimate, for it is the perfect mirror thereof and obeys the same laws.
It should be noted that even in the case of the smallest sub-cycle, the period of patriarchy occupies only a part of the Iron Age: thus, for the vast majority of history we are speaking of feminine civilizations.
What, then, was Satya Yuga, the Golden Age? Let us recall that the movement of the Cycle of manifestation is always from Essence to Substance; from the subtler and more refined to the grosser and more consolidated. In the earliest ages, maid was not manifest as a physical being at all. This is recognized by all traditions (the Semitic religions, for example, including Christianity, speak of humanity inhabiting Paradise before descending to earth).
As the Golden Age of Satya Yuga continued (and here, we are speaking of the primordial Satya Yuga of this earth), maid became increasingly earth-bound and materialized and her Intellectuality declined, though not, of course, to anything approaching the low level of later ages.
Here it is important to define what we mean by Intellectuality. Intellect is a faculty very different from mere reason (although the two have become increasingly confused in late patriarchal times). Its organ is the heart, which, in the human microcosm, corresponds to the sun in the cosmos. Here we are speaking of the True Heart, the spiritual center of the human being, rather than the mere physical organ which represents it on the plane of matter (just as the true or Supernal Sun must be distinguished from the ball of fire that represents Her on the earthly plane).
Heart-Intellect is that which sees pure Truth directly. Plato (who transmits a portion of the Primordial Tradition carried by Socrates from his female teacher, Diotima of Mantinea) speaks of the cave of the world, where the things about us are but shadows cast on the wall. He speaks of the soul who transcends the cave and sees the Real Things, the celestial Archetypes of which earthly things are but shadows. This soul, escaping from the cave and seeing the Real World, is exercising the faculty of pure Intellect. As maid declines from her primordial state, this faculty becomes more and more difficult of attainment, and rigorous disciplines of contemplation and meditation are required to lift even a corner of the veil of matter. But in Satya Yuga, the vision of pure Intellect was as natural to her as seeing physical objects is to you or me.
What she saw of the material world we cannot say, for she scarcely lived there.
The Taoist sage Chuang Tzu writes:
"The knowledge of the ancients was perfect. How perfect? At first they did not yet know that there were things (apart from the Tao, the Way, which signifies the Eternal and Infinite). That is the most perfect knowledge; nothing can be added. Next they knew that there were things but did not yet make distinctions between them... "
As the golden age, Satya Yuga wears on, maid becomes more rooted in the earth. Both she and her physical environment become more consolidated (though still extremely subtle as compared to the materiality of later ages), and she turns increasingly from the higher faculty of Intellect to the lesser faculties of memory, imagination and reason. Just as Intellect is the Solar faculty, so these are Lunar faculties (the very words "mind" and "mental" are connected to "moon", Gk. mene). They have no light of their own, but reflect the light of the Solar Intellect in a lesser mode, and they act upon the "things" of which Chuang Tzu speaks: that is, the shadows on the cave of the world – material objects and events, (but still perceived primarily in the light of their underlying Archetypes). For the mental faculties, like the moon herself, stand ever between the sun and the earth; sometimes dark like the earth, sometimes bright like the sun, mediating between them.
Much later in her downward course, various things became necessary to maid: language (first spoken, much later, as memory deteriorates, written) was one, art another (and all the crafts necessary to material existence – for the distinction between art and craft, and the divorce of both from spiritual symbolism belongs only to the later Iron Age), and in each case, the development was not from crude beginnings upward, but from the highest level downward. Language, as we have seen, rather than describing an upward course from "primitive" squeaks and grunts, becomes ever more complex as we go backwards, and we have heard a distinguished professor of linguistics forced to the conclusion (much to his own surprise) that the earliest spoken languages must have been akin to poetry.
In his book Palaeolithic Art, the art historian Paolo Graziosi writes: "Undoubtedly the most perplexing aspect of the art phenomenon when it appears to us for the first time is the high degree of maturity shown in the earliest expressions. The sudden appearance of stylistically evolved works of art takes us completely by surprise, with a marvelous eruption of aesthetic values... even the examples which belong unquestionably to the earliest phase... are works of amazing artistic maturity."
This would not
be referring to the art of Satya Yuga itself (which would not have been
sufficiently material to leave traces accessible to the modern gross
state of the world) but to the art of periods far less "devolved" than
It must be understood, moreover, that these early artists and craftmaids were not trying to "imitate nature" or make realistic copies of material objects, but were depicting, in a highly subtle artistic language, the Archetypes – the Real Forms – behind those objects. This was true of the art of every civilization until the European "Renaissance" (with the exception of the Western "classical' period, where Plato rebuked the artists for making "copies of copies": that is, "naturalistic" representations of material objects which are themselves only copies of the Real Forms), but these first artists did it most purely.
The renowned art historian and metaphysician Ananda Coomaraswamy tells us: "The characteristic pronouncements of anthropologists on the 'primitive mentality' ... are often very remarkable, and may be said to represent not what the writers intended, the description of an inferior type of consciousness and experience, but one intrinsically superior to that of 'civilized' man and approximating to that which we are accustomed to think of as 'primordial' ... Dr. Macalister actually compares what he calls 'the Ascent of Man' to Wordsworth's Ode on the Intimations of Immortality, not realizing that the poem is a description of the descent or materialization of consciousness."
R. R. Schmidt in The Dawn of the Human Mind writes: "In 'heathenish' popular customs, in the 'superstitions' of our folk, the spiritual adventures of prehistoric times, the imagery of primitive insight are living still: a divine inheritance."
Dr. Coomaraswamy comments further: "We say that what seems to 'us' irrational in the life of 'savages' and may be unpractical since it unfits them to compete with our material force, represents the vestiges of a primordial state of metaphysical understanding, and that if the savage himself is, generally speaking, no longer a comprehensor of his own 'divine inheritance', this ignorance on his part is no more shameful than ours who do not recognize the intrinsic nature of his 'lore' and understand it no better than he does. We do not say that the modern 'savage' exemplifies the 'primordial state' itself, but that his beliefs, and the whole content of folklore, bear witness to such a state."
As the great American scholar John Ellerton Lodge has said: "From the stone age until now – quelle dégringolade [what a degeneration]".
In short, modern scholarship, often to its own surprise and consternation, finds itself continually making discoveries that undermine the evolutionist prejudices with which it approaches its task, discoveries that confirm again and again the wisdom handed down from the earliest times: that Primordial Maid – the maid of Satya Yuga – represented not a lower, but an immeasurably higher state of humanity and that her increasing involvement with the world of matter, the progressive "consolidation" of herself and her environment, while leading to ever greater developments on the horizontal plane – from language to art, from art to cities – was bought at the cost of a steady decline on the highest plane of all: that of pure Intellect and spiritual vision.
But let us recall that in these relatively early times – let us say, the period of maid fully acclimatized on earth in the first Silver Age cities – we are still speaking of a state of spiritual refinement, of subtlety and beauty almost inconceivable from our position toward the dark end of the historical cycle, while the Golden Age, or Satya Yuga is completely inconceivable to us.
The life of maid in Treta Yuga, as all traditions agree, was much longer than the hundred years or less enjoyed by the people of the Iron Age, and her wisdom, though descended from its primordial pinnacle, was yet majestic. Her vision, while now fixed upon "things" rather than the Principle, was far subtler than ours, seeing always, though at an ever lower level, the immaterial essences behind material manifestation. Much of what later ages achieved by material force, she accomplished by subtle means which a later age might call "magic"; and the essential harmony of her being with nature as a whole (being at one with the essence behind it) allowed her to live with but minimal "struggle for existence" and great concentration upon the higher things.
What might strike a modern visitor most about life in these early times would be its beauty – especially if she were enabled, as the people of those times were, to see the subtle forms as well as the outward physical shell of such a civilization. Beauty has always been considered primarily a feminine quality, and as the patriarchal age progressed has been more and more relegated to the position of an inessential and trivial part of life: increasingly the first thing to be sacrificed when "serious" practical or economic considerations conflicted with it, yet, until very recently, preserved carefully and at times fiercely by the female sex, in her surroundings, her home and her personal appearance.
Plato, so often the spokesman for the traditional consciousness to the early patriarchal West, by no means thought beauty trivial or unimportant. He used to kalon – the Beautiful – as a term for the Absolute, expounding the primordial knowledge that all earthly beauty is such only because it participates in the absolute Beauty of the Divine. Beauty is not, as the modern dogma would have it, a mere subjective product of the human brain, but a universal quality that predates the very existence of earthly humanity.
Beauty is the mark of Essence or Form. Only insofar as the Essences or Archetypes are imperfectly reflected in matter can there ever be ugliness in this world, and above this material world, ugliness cannot exist. To make life beautiful is to bring it into conformity with its spiritual Source.
Thus the first ages, from Satya Yuga onward, just as they were ages of femininity, were also ages of beauty; while, as the feminine orientation of civilization diminished, its beauty diminished likewise. The patriarchal ages were in many respects ugly, though almost always they retained a reverence for beauty. Only after the seventeenth-century 'Enlightenment' do we begin to see beauty formally written off as a matter of no serious importance, and not until the twentieth century itself do we see a cult of deliberate ugliness manifest itself in human life – an ultra-masculine sensibility which actually prefers the deformed, the lopsided, the odd and the low to things high and noble and fair of aspect. In the early part of the century this perversion was confined to certain distorted "intellectuals", but after the cultural Eclipse of the 1960s it increasingly invaded the everyday sensibility of the entire culture until the point when (to take one highly significant example) a large proportion of late-twentieth-century women deliberately dressed in a manner that was as unkempt, drab and masculine as possible, and human culture had reached the complete inversion of the Golden Age.
Woman had capitulated and accepted completely the masculine scale of values against which she had for so long been the bulwark and the "reminder" of a higher mode of being. She was now at the furthest remove from the feminine majesty of Primordial Maid.
Read much more about the Pattern of History in The Feminine Universe
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