First published in The Cosmic Dawn, July 1930

Black and White
By C. F. Russell

The candidate for Initiation, that is, any man or woman who aspires to the attainment of Divine Love, Wisdom, and Power, finds three sorts of esoteric disciplines which are more often than not acroamatic in nature. These three methods are the Mystical, Hermetic and the Occult, or respectively the Religious, the Philosophical, and the Scientific and Artistic. The Adepts of these systems are respectively the Priest, the Sage, and the Magician. Having selected the Way of Attainment best suited to develop his own personality, sooner or later the aspirant learns that the key of the Treasure-house seems to be held equally by each of two societies or Orders, who are open enemies, and who are called respectively the White and the Black Brotherhoods. He learns that there is a Dark Tradition supposedly of Cainitic (Hamitic-Cushite) origin, which consist of practices of black magic, deals and pacts with the devil, sexual aberrations practiced under the sanction of religion, and the whole business termed Bab-Il, "The Gate of God." On the other hand, he finds this attempt to attain to the heights of Divine Power through the instrumentality of the Powers of Darkness termed by the opposite school, Babel, "Confusion." The White Brotherhood or Celestials supposedly derive their traditions from Adam, through Noah. The general idea is that black is evil and white is good; the modern interpretation is that black is selfish and white is altruistic. But when it comes to applying one of these two adjectives to any particular act or detail the majority of both teachers and pupils seem to have no clear cut conception of just what to do. I have been expected and asked many times to explain the difference between black and white and also to define my own stand or position with respect to these two Paths. I hope this essay will constitute a satisfactory answer.


Every true system of initiation provides the candidate with a trinity of trials or crises, the first two of which are in their proper order called "The Angel" and "The Abyss." The second of these is the real turning-point, where the Left-hand Path and the Right-hand Path diverge. The Left-hand path never reaches the third trial or ceremony of initiation. But the Brothers of the Left-hand path have so confused the symbols that the mere terms, black and white, cease to have any meaning with reference to either path.

He who would attain the final initiation must use formulae which cannot be described to the uninitiated except through the use of such terms as black and evil. Initiation is a real or cosmic fact, not simply a personal history, and every force of the universe is subject to the will of the Magus. The purpose of the initiate is that of Prometheus to obtain an influx of divine power in order to communicate the same to every other creature. His aim is identical with the will of God, namely the ultimate apotheosis of all nature, including persons, elementals, elements, and even the ultimate particles. This is the object for which man was created —that every creature both corporate and incorporate, both vast and minute, may become equal to the Infinite. Adam took the very first step in this path when he ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, which confers initiated intelligence by stimulating latent possibilities of structural growth. The Hebrew word in Gen. 2, 25 which is translated "naked" or "ashamed" has primitively the same meaning as that of Gen. 3, 1, which is translated "most intelligent," and refers to the arousing of the vaso-motor brain, whose chief organ is the pineal gland and the Serpent who taught man to do this, the sorcerer with the "Evil-eye" is really the Hierophant with the "All-seeing eye," possessed of clairvoyant power. Thus you see how the real black brothers have succeeded in confusing the meaning of words so that the aspirant is warned away from the very things he needs and must have to attain his goal. It is the same with many other symbols and doctrines.

The only point where the subject of morals and ethics bears on initiation concerns the law that Hermes has expressed in the Emerald Table: That which is above is like that which is below for the performance of the miracle of the one substance. This means that he who would open the barriers above himself must at the same time open those which lie below him and separate himself from those below. Everything secured during his incarnation on this planet must be used for the benefit of this planet and all its inhabitants. He who would join the White Brotherhood must have as his sole aim —attainment for the purpose of communicating attainment to others— as a Master he is an instrument for the making of instruments. He can only fulfill this mighty task by standing not only with his head above the heavens but also with his feet below the deepest hells. Thus to the near-sighted he often appears to be travelling wholly in a direction opposite to that which they imagine is the right one. Because he at all times strives to exercise an infinite compassion his deeds often appear to be wholly evil and his words black.

And there is another reason why the Brother of the Right-hand path may seem to be a Black Brother. The Force which he learns to handle, symbolised by the Swastika, is that light, or electro-magnetic wave, which penetrates all bodies, and is described as BLACK LIGHT.

The White Adept is determined to discover the secrets of initiation in order that he may initiate himself and confer initiation upon others by imparting these secrets. This is accomplished when he is able to articulate a certain symbol. In articulation it is unimportant who articulates, and it is extremely important that the ego does not become articulate along with the given symbol. The unpardonable sin of the black brothers is to confuse all issues, because they have not gotten rid of their egos. In ordinary life this is true too. Self-consciousness spoils any expression. A clear and definite articulation requires that the element articulated be dissociated from every other and that the instrument of articulation be consecrated and devoted utterly and exclusively to one end. There is only one way to achieve this, and that is the absolute annihilation of the self. You cannot always distinguish a white from a black brother by the symbols employed, but if you find that he has devoted himself entirely to the service of the universe, that he has made himself an instrument for the enlightenment and illumination of his fellows, you may rest assured that he is on the right path. The inevitable defects of the personality can often obscure and hide the blaze of glory which dwells within.